Alternative Press Expo 2016 — Review

My haul from 2015

I absolutely love the Alternative Press Expo. It’s a unique, small convention that primarily features independent artists, and for the last two years has been happening in San Jose, CA. It’s open tomorrow (Sunday) as well so drop by and give some support!

My haul from 2016 — much smaller, alas :(

I go to events like this for a couple of reasons: To check out artwork that I might not come across anywhere else, be inspired, and to meet and support artists and writers directly with my money, rather than through percentages via publishing houses.

I totally met Stephen Notley last year. I completely fangirl’d out. I might have shrieked; I can’t remember.

In particular, I do tend to be a little judgy; I do check out marketing displays and honestly, if it looks like you have a good marketing budget (ipads with presentations of your artwork, complete with high-end motion graphics, huge professional signage that might be more at home at the Oracle convention than at an indie show) I’m unlikely to buy because really, you look like you’re doing pretty well for yourself. I prefer to get my cash to the small individuals who are bankrolling their work on their own, typically while also working full-time jobs.

The other primary aspect that will have my hand reaching for my wallet will be the artwork. Writing is critical, of course. But I’m coming from Art Land and so I’m an absolute sucker for your drawings, first and foremost.

I was, admittedly, somewhat disappointed with APE 2016. When I arrived it was quiet — disturbingly so. It was a complete departure from last year, which was full of noise and laughter, panels and talks happening in the back of the convention hall, and me stealing a pumpkin from a booth and running it over to another booth in order to score a free comic. The fun was… missing this year. Additionally, I only saw a few artists returning from last year, and most exhibitors that I spoke to appeared to be attending for the first time. This is worrying because I found myself wondering if last year’s artists felt it wasn’t worth it to attend again. And how do we bring them back? I’d really like to see APE grow, and this year showed evidence to the contrary, which was unfortunate. I also felt like having panels offsite wasn’t the best decision; While the back of the convention hall isn’t as exciting or intimate of a space as the two wonderful SJ galleries that hosted the panels this year (Anno Domini and MACLA — check them out! They usually are part of SJ’s First Fridays artwalk), it was great to walk through the booths, then hit up the food spot at the back, sit down with a cold drink, and listen to the panels. I found myself taking my time and soaking everything in when the panels were in the same hall as the exhibitors. Having the panels meet offsite does create a disconnect for an attendee, where you’re forced to decide between attending one or the other.

But regardless of the sedated ambiance of this year’s APE, let’s go through what I picked up!

Matt McFarland’s “The Teaching Chronicles”

Matt McFarland is a teacher as well as artist, and we swapped some thoughts on the differences between teaching younger kids versus older kids. He said that this comic is typically picked up by teachers, and I can absolutely see why. The comics are absolutely, 100% conversations that happen in the classroom. If you want to get the Inside Baseball on what teachers experience while working with your kids, this is it. I think the pacing and composition of the panels could use tightening up to really punch those lines in, but man… this is Real Talk. The writing is on point, not just the conversations but the inner thoughts of the teacher. He also gave me a Dark Pants magnet, which I covet. Check out his work here:

Automata by Garrett Sneen and 101 Drawing of Jesus, 101 Drawings of Hitler, various artists

Last year I picked up two installments of 101 Drawings of Jesus, 101 Drawings of Hitler, and found myself snickering away while reading them at home. Therefore, when I saw there were more at APE 2016, I had to continue the collection. These aren’t really comics; Rather, they are collections of drawings of, well, Hitler and Jesus. Sacrilege? Well, sure (depending on your beliefs). Ridiculous? Yep. NSFW? Absolutely. It’s brilliant and I love this concept and will keep coming back for more. They have a site but I’m not sure how often it’s updated — I kept getting 404'd on most links, which is a bummer (should they read this, pester me with a working link to post!).

I also picked up Automata by Garrett Sneen, which is beautiful. By beautiful I mean that it will aesthetically cleanse your eyes and send you into a cool, yet meditative space as you soak in the drawings, which Sneen draws digitally. What I was primarily impressed with however was Sneen’s composition and the immaculate pacing structure of the work. He has an excellent sense for visual language and uses drawings physically much like some of the best poets manipulate the sound structures of language. His work is downloadable for free (seriously dude, you need to charge for this) at:

Above The Clouds chapter 3 cover, Melissa Pagluica

Melissa Pagluica is a returning artist and I was looking forward to seeing her work this year, since I picked up two of her exquisitely-drawn comics last year and was hoping for more. I picked up Chapter 3 of the Above The Clouds series (I already had the first two) and am not disappointed. Reading through her work reminds me of the fluid, ethereal work of Ralph Bakshi and the illustration and design of Stoic’s The Banner Saga. Clean, gestural lines that flow, dreamy watercolors, and solid storyline will have me saving up more $$ to continue buying her work. Find her work here:

Fractal: Waves In Tyranny by DaeJuan Jacobs

First, apologies if I’m completely messing up DaeJuan Jacob’s first name — it’s in all-caps in the comic book so I wasn’t sure if the J is upper or lower case. ANYWAYS. This was a nice treat to pick up and I enjoyed how the artwork reflects the name of the comic. There are strong visual references to Jim Lee and yet the artist for Fractal, Buci, takes the color and smashes it into hard geometric structures that lend a grittiness and disphoria unique to the world in which Fractal takes place. Additionally, it’s great to see more (much-needed) breaks from the white superhero; Bryce is Black Nathan Drake. He’s an EveryMan with complex layering and relatability in his character; You find yourself instantly connecting with and rooting for him. Check out more on Fractal here:

Legend issues 1–5 by Samuel Sattin and Chris Koehler

Did you ever read Watership Down? No? Go read it. It’s canon. I’ll wait.

Legend, written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Chris Koehler, is Watership Down but with dogs. And I love it. I was sucked in by the gorgeous illustration work by Koehler. I’m reading it right now because of Sattin’s writing, which references linguistic styles of anthropomorphized animals that have been explored in other mediums, yet refrains from falling into previous tropes. The dogs have unique language structures and rhythms to the cats, and clearly reference the behavioral and physical differences between the two species. The storyline is highly engaging and well-paced, and I’m looking forward to digging into the rest of the series. Website here:

Gulls by Jack Kent and War Days by Melisa Des Rosiers

Gulls, by Jack Kent, was new to me and I admit that I absolutely walked over to his booth because of the bright yellow electric guitar that he had propped up on it. I grabbed this small collection of comics and I think cute is definitely a good descriptor. In a way, the writing reminds me of how I will think up things to say in my head that I really believe are clever, yet always come out awkward when I actually say them. This isn’t to say that the writing is awkward; rather, it illustrates — via a seagull — the fact that most of us are not as clever as we think, yet we can still revel in our own inside jokes and personal humor. What I find hilarious is not necessarily what you will find hilarious; my observations and amusements in this world are often mine alone, yet are what make the everyday so magical to me. Gulls celebrates the individual, the weirdo, the goof, the strange that we all experience in our own inner worlds. You can find Kent’s comics here:

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen War Days by Melisa Des Rosiers before, possibly at last year’s APE. If you were raised Catholic, you will Get This. War Days is a collection of one-page comics following a girl (jr-high age, I believe?) who attends Catholic school. I have had her inner dialogue. I know each scenario. Admittedly, the nuns at the school that I attended were actually pretty laid back and would even let us dip our fingers in the hot wax of the candles (fingertip wax!) after meditative prayer. But the teachers? Oh man. I have been through the War Days. Des Rosiers work can be found here:

Boxed In by William Erik Evans and Eugene Smith

Boxed In, written by William Erik Evans and illustrated by Eugene Smith, will have you scanning exit/entry points every time you enter a Costco. Imagine if one of these stores went on lockdown, letting no one in or out, and everything that could possibly go wrong; that’s Boxed In. This is Superstore gone dark. Solid illustration work combined with a Stanislavskian dialogue and a well-built storyline that throws a nicely twisted cliffhanger at the end. Unfortunately the website listed on the inside cover of their work didn’t lead me anywhere (?) but I did some googling and found a link to purchase the comic here:

Colored Comics by Derrick Johnson

Colored Comics by Derrick Johnson hits me in all the right spots. There’s Futurama-type banter. There’s nods to The Incredibles. I think Brock Samson’s twin makes a cameo. B.E.T.T.I.E. BOT had me wanting to GIS scenes from Metropolis. Johnson knows his sci-fi and superhero history and plays with a range of drawing styles, riffing off of some of the big publishing greats and tossing a sly grin at some classic comic book art tropes. The main stories are punctuated throughout with one-page visual stories that have nothing to do with the longer work, yet create a rhythmic shift that doesn’t ruin the flow. This is the kind of work we come to indie comic cons for. More of Johnson’s work can be found here:

China Comics by Sushu Xia

This was my last purchase (and the last of my allotted spending money) at APE, and it was a great high note to end on. I chatted with Sushu Xia and she said that she created this because so many fellow Americans that she knows have some (media-influenced, mostly) misconceptions about China and what it’s like in that country. It’s a huge country; you can’t define a place that massive with a generalization. Yet Xia has often come across assumptions based on the media stories that we come across, whether it’s assumptions about culture, about work conditions, about food, all of it. She wanted to make a comic that would show what China is actually like, from her experience. Of course, China is a *big country*. Xia — nor, really, anyone — isn’t able to breakdown all the unique facets; Unless she’s got plans to write massive volumes. Maybe she does. China Comics isn’t simply illustrations; On opposite pages Xia includes writing and photos that delve even deeper into the subject matter of the comic. This isn’t simply her own observations and experience; she’s done her research and China Comics is engaging and eye-opening and has me absolutely hooked learning even more about Chinese culture. This needs to be in libraries and museums, now. Xia’s work can be found here:

Colma and Parking Space, both by Jarred Russell

Both of Jarred Russell’s comics — Colma and Parking Space — won top awards at the Graphic Novel Contest hosted by the San Jose Library. Parking Space is a neat little collection of vignettes that essentially follows parking attendants — IN SPACE. Russell described it to me as follows: “You’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Remember the parking valets who took the Ferrari for a spin? It’s those guys.”

Colma plays off a unique history point of the Bay Area; San Francisco has no cemetaries. All of the dead in San Francisco were, at one point, exhumed and moved to Colma, CA. I have not been to Colma, but according to Russell the dead now outnumber the living, and this is why he felt it would be the perfect place for the dead to rise again. This isn’t a dark zombie apocalypse storyline; it’s humorous and light and so very, very Bay Area, complete with Zombies Are People Too and Pro Un-Dead protesters. Unfortunately there’s no website listed and my google-fu failed me with finding a good link for his work, but if anyone has something useful please let me know — I’d like to be able to point people to where they can find his work!

Zotz by Daniel Parada

Zotz, by Daniel Parada, is beautifully illustrated and, as likely indicated from the cover, pulls from indigenous history from Mexico. Pareda was at a booth with another artist and the two of them pretty much made up the Latino contingent of APE. Considering that we’re in San Jose, in California, with APE panels happening at MACLA, this struck me as bizarre. This was definitely not the case last year, and I’m left wondering where the other Latino artists were? What I love so much about Zotz — in addition to storytelling that pulls from a complex and rich cultural history — is the range of Pareda’s artistic skills. He fluidly swaps between highly-detailed realism to direct referencing of Aztec and Mayan art styles, to minimalist line work, to painterly landscapes,all used depending on the beat of the story in which the art appears. While I’d like to see more experimentation with panel structuring to really play with the story’s flow, it’s an intricately woven work and I look forward to seeing future issues. Parada’s work can be found here (NOTE: Many illustrations are adult-orientated and NSFW):

The Grimwood card game by Angela Wu and Morgan McAllister

Of course, someone had to have a cool card game and I had to get it. The Grimwood, by Angela Wu and Morgan McAllister, took me in with the illustrations, and Wu won me over with the description of the gameplay. Essentially, cards are worth a certain amount of points, and the goal is to get more points than anyone else. Cards also have powers and can affect other players’ cards, which makes things much more interesting from both strategic and tactical perspective. My thinking is that this will provide enough of a strategy/tactics challenge to keep me very engaged, but it’s not so deep into the weeds of tedium like a deckbuilder such as Dominion (ugh). I haven’t played this yet, but game night is imminent and I plan to bring this along. This game is good for 2–6 players, and I’m looking forward to playtesting it. Here’s the link for the kickstarter:

business cards

And of course, I walked away with a ton of business cards. These are all people who are cool and whom you should check out.

That wraps up my APE for 2016! I might hit up the Jack Kirby talk tomorrow — I skipped out on the panels today because I had a case of the Literally Can’t Even and just… didn’t feel like heading over to Anno Domini or MACLA. I’m hopeful that APE will see an increase in exhibitors next year and that it’ll get that fun and exciting vibe back that I loved from 2015. These artists are creating important work and deserve lots of visitors and support.