<%@ Language=VBScript %> <%response.buffer = TRUE%> A Visit to the Alternative Press Expo
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A Visit to the Alternative Press Expo

A walk amongst stars and the soon-to-be well-known artists of the independent comic circuit leaves us happy we are beyond the superhero genre ... well, at least for a day.

Article and photos by Chris Ching


I never read independent comics as a kid. They were hard to follow, usually lacked superheroes, and most of them weren't in color. Give me Spiderman , Batman, or Captain America any old day. To me, those were comics.

Today, however, the super hero genre leaves me cold, and it's the earlier despised independent comics that entertain and yes, move me.

Cut to The Alternative Press Expo held late February in San Francisco. The APE -- or "Um, what?" by my girlfriend when informed of our weekend plans -- is the foremost gathering for fans of independent comics, magazines, and books. Along with aisles upon aisles of creators and publishers displaying their work, the convention offers a number of panel discussions like "Comics on the Internet" and "Only Fools Self-Publish." Of course what would a convention be without celebrities, and this year's special guests included Terry Moore, the creator of the long-running Strangers in Paradise series and Judd Winick, the writer/artist behind Barry Ween, but best known for his stint on MTV's "Real World."

Not so light showers and sinister clouds threatened all weekend, but the weather didn't affect turnout or spirits. As always, the main draw of the APE was the exhibit hall where fans and creators get a chance to meet face to face. For some it’s to shoot the breeze, while others like Anuj Shrestha showed his self-published comic Kichkanni! to various professionals in hopes of making connections.

Established companies like Oni Press and Drawn and Quarterly mingled amongst self-publishers trying to gain interest in their work. The APE golden rule: there are no rules. In true fashion, the range of work shown straddled all styles, content, and production quality. From the professionally printed Asian-American culture magazine Giant Robot to the most guerilla Xeroxed comic tales, fans could sample the best and worst the indies had to offer.

Being able to interact directly with the creators, is probably the best thing about attending the APE. Still this secret handshake ambience between creator and audience only emphasizes that the independent comic business is not a mainstream industry and doesn't come anywhere close to selling the numbers that a Marvel does. While the various independent publishing houses have had to deal with resistance from merchants stocking their titles, it's the self-publishers who ultimately face the toughest battle getting their work to the public.

Paul Sloboda has produced a number of issues in his humorous Fool's Errand comic series, but he works in animation to pay the bills. Another self-publisher, David Walker almost shelved his pop culture magazine Bad Ass Mofo despite a strong following and being stocked at Tower and other stores. Like Sloboda and many working in alternative comics, Walker acts as both publisher, editor, writer, and designer; he simply became burnt out from producing something that was financially killing him. Like most independent endeavors, the comic industry takes each day one at a time, never knowing if they'll make it to the next issue -- or even want to.

Judd Winick doesn't subscribe to that outlook though. Its almost misleading to even label Winick as an alternative creator since he writes DC's Green Lantern, and will soon be working on X-Men for Marvel. Of course neither of the aforementioned mainstream comic giants would have had the guts to publish Pedro and Me, Winick's touching graphic novel about his "Real World" castmate Pedro Zamora and his death from AIDS. Winick is up for a Pultizer Prize for Pedro and Me -- "It's ridiculous" Winick humbly says -- and even if he doesn't win, his example does show that breaking into the mainstream on your own terms isn't a pipedream ... well, as long as you're on MTV first.

Who knows? Maybe those two guys from LA and their Comics for Stoners will be the next to see their dream come true. And, if not, the look on their faces suggested true success when a woman flashing film credentials paused at their table to set up a meeting.

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