Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Should SPX be free?
I remember talking to a 60 year old woman at my first Small Press Expo in 2000. She was a teacher and had heard that comics were being used in some classrooms. Somehow she heard of SPX, and decided to see what the fuss was about. I was stunned. In 2000, this was not a familiar conversation for me. It is one of my favorite comic book show experiences.
SPX is an amazing show and has influenced my work more than any other comic book show. With that in mind, I wonder if it’s time for the show to drop its admission fee and reposition itself as THE East Coast comic book show.
According to Publishers Weekly paid attendance for this year’s show was a little over 2000 people. Meanwhile, TCAF’s attendance level this year was 12,000 according to Chris Butcher.
SPX began in the 1990s, during one of the worst financial periods in comics history – the speculator market had collapsed, all of the major comics distributors folded (except for Diamond), and Marvel declared bankruptcy. SPX was a beacon of hope in this dark time, and in my mind it was a precursor of the state of the industry today. It welcomed genre work like David Lapham’s Stray Bullets and Frank Miller’s Sin City. It celebrated creator-owned works like those of the Spirit of Independence tour (Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Steve Bissette, Dave Sim, Rick Veitch). It offered comic book creators and fans an alternative to Marvel and DC’s superhero, corporate-owned melodramas. Located near New York City and its traditional publishing houses, it was a showcase for literary and art comics, and contributed to the rise of the graphic novels that are so prevalent now. For many years it exhibited with ICAF – an academic and international comic conference that championed comics as an art form. In addition to showcasing cartoonists’ talent to new fans, creators, and editors, SPX became a venue for many publishers to promote new business models like Top Shelf and Oni’s graphic novel-based lines or Highwater and Picturebox’s art and design-conscious work.
This year, I have done shows all over the country. It seems like there are three shows every weekend – from small regional dealer shows to extravagant pop culture events. I have been surprised at every show by the level of enthusiasm and the size and diversity of crowds.
Book publishers, movie studios, Walmart, G4, the internet, libraries, artists, writers, and cartoonists have been banging the drum for the last decade that comics aren’t just for kids anymore. I think that message has sunk in.
A lot of the success of comics today can be traced back to SPX. It is a brand with history, value, longevity, and a great location (I mean the East Coast and Washington DC, not any particular venue).
This show hasn’t changed a lot in the last 10 years, while the comics industry (like many industries) seems to be in a constant state of flux. As more and more specialty retail stores close (like Giant Robot in New York), I believe trade shows will play a bigger, more prominent role in the immediate future. With San Diego’s assimilation into LA’s hype machine, SPX could become THE comic book show.
So my question is, would it be feasible for SPX to hire a PR firm, and see about getting its attendance up to 10,000+?
*I know part of SPX's charter is to raise funds for CBLDF. But I think if the attendance were to double, triple, quadruple, or more...that the lost revenue from free admission could be made up in extra table sales (there's always a waiting list), extra fundraising events (membership drives, auctions, etc.), merchandise sales, etc. Not to mention raising overall awareness of the CBLDF and its mission.