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October 22, 2013

Going APE on the West Coast


San Francisco’s Alternative Press Expo (APE) celebrated its twentieth anniversary on October 12 and 13. APE is different from most cons in that it shines a light on self-publishers and alternative creators so they don’t have “to compete with major publishers or movie studios.”

That doesn’t mean that some of the comic industry’s brightest stars weren’t there: Thien Pham (Level Up), Jackie Estrada, editor and convention organizer, and Ron Turner, underground comix publisher extraordinaire, are just a few of the big-name creators who turned up to this year’s final Concourse show. APE is pulling out of the repurposed train station and next year will be moving to the waterfront at Fort Mason. 


The panels were as creative as the authors and artists. “Graphic Novels Versus Collected Works” discussed the process artists go through to put together a complete graphic novel. Bill Griffith (Zippy), Diane Noomin (DiDi Glitz), and Colleen Coover (Bandette) all discussed their decision-making process when putting together a complete work.


“Love and Comics” attempted to share the inside story of teams made up of romantic partners and included the creative couple Paul Tobin (Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies) and his wife, Collen Coover.


“Raising a Reader” featured an all-star panel of kids’ comics creators and educators who discussed ways to get children excited about reading. The panel was moderated by Betsy Gomez of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The CBLDF recently published Raising a Reader!, a comic that teaches how comics and graphic novels can help your kids to love to read (available online). The 12-page work has lots of advice for everyone who wants to encourage children to read.


Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy) led off saying he “can’t imagine not reading” because everything he loves is based on comics and comics seem to be where everything starts --- from movies to video games. He went on to say that he believes the industry has in some ways alienated children and there is a need for more kids’ comics.


Alexis Fajardo (Peanuts, Kid Beowulf) found “reading just like breathing” as a child and can’t recall never reading. His first comic memory was a Pogo collection. He believes, “You can learn a lot from comics.” Reading books like Axterix teaches geography and world history about such empires as the Romans and the Gauls in addition to parsing out words through context clues. Overall, he finds books to be more immersive; you can put yourself in the world found between the pages.


Jack Baur, Berkeley librarian, believes that his adult patrons sometimes have a “common misperception that all comics are for kids—due to the Comics Code Authority --- works fit only for 11-year-olds.” He deals with a lot of parents and their objections to comics, advising them that if you say “don’t read that book,” a kid hears “don’t read.” He encourages parents to relate to the visual environment of comics.


Raina Telgemeier (Smile) notes that 10 years ago comics were geared more toward adults. The industry seems to be moving or expanding toward kids, but most independent comics are still for adults. She often hears her young fans say, “I never finished a book before” --- until they picked up a comic. She encourages parents to read with their children.


Dave Roman (Teen Boat) believes the evolution of the comic audience was anchored to destination. First, comics were found on newsstands and marketed to kids. When comics moved to comic book shops, they were aimed at the male, over-18 crowd, who wanted to keep their superheroes while transforming them into something dark and edgy. This made some superhero titles unsuitable for children. On the flip side, today’s libraries are just the opposite with their diverse clientele. 


The panel recommended Scholastic Books as a good publisher of children’s comics. Some of the titles they recommended were Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl, Eleanor Davis’ Secret Science Alliance to let your nerd flag fly, Chris Schweizer’s The Crogan Adventures for the pirate in all of us, Astro Academy, Stinky, Bumper Boy, and Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese.


I headed back onto the APE floor and saw some great newbie titles, artists and other creators. Steven L. Wyatt was signing Thor and the Hill Giants: A Short Story and Other Strange Art, a work featuring clean lines, beautiful women, and varied settings. But Wyatt isn’t just a comic creator; he is also the organizer of BigWow! Comicfest held in San Jose (May 17-18, 2014) --- billed as the original creator-friendly show. 


Brian Herrick’s new work, Ebb and Flood, features the inhabitants of Beacham Bay, where people, ghosts and the ocean collide together, combining the strange and mundane. The heavy black-and-white artwork is often set against the night sky as the cast of characters attempts to navigate through life’s ebbs and floods.


The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade by David Lucarelli is a based on a true story. “In 1954 hundreds of schoolchildren descended upon a Scottish cemetery looking for a vampire with iron teeth they believed had killed a couple of local kids.” Today, according to Lucarelli, “it is looked upon as an incident of mass hysteria. But what if some of those children found what they were looking for?” The artwork is four-color slick, but done in a black-gray-white monotone that fits this gothic detective tale featuring a kilt-wearing villain.


Speaking of zombies, Jarred R. Russell’s Colma is the tale of Jack, who was once married to Jill, a minor league baseball player turned truck driver, who runs across the zombie apocalypse in the small town of Colma. Colma, where the dead outnumber the living, was created when San Francisco forbid burials within its city limits. So what happens when characters like Emperor Norton and Wyatt Earp come back as the undead? You’ll have to read this zombie comedy find out. Sharp imagery and sharp storytelling make this creator someone to watch out for.


Taking Eden by Jason Beckwith and Malcolm Johnson is a cautionary tale about the modern underworld. As Beckwith puts it, “Marnie is a naïve small-town girl who gets lost in the big-city club scene. Along with her gothic DJ cousin, she becomes an unwitting part of a unique drug culture.” Detailed four-color artwork accompanies a sophisticated storyline in this series of comics meant for mature readers.


The Boston Metaphysical Society is a beautifully rendered full-color steampunk webcomic by Madeline Holly-Rosing and Emily Hu. The creators set the story in 1895, when an evil from a parallel dimension roams the city of Boston. “The world has developed along the lines of steampunk technology, but with a modern twist: computers and electronics are steam-driven and dirigibles rule the sky.” Who is going to save the world? An ex-Pinkerton detective, of course.


Inferno Los Angeles by Ron Bassilian and Jim Wheelock reimagines Dante’s classic work in a heavily inked work of browns, orange, and black --- appropriate to the classic journey. A woodcut style portrays “a new traveler who finds his gateway to Hell beneath the urban jungle of the City of Angels.” Inferno Los Angeles “revisits Dante’s journey, weaving new characters and contemporary scenarios with the timelessly familiar scenes Dante described. It is an adventure of pure imagination, fraught with obstacles, monsters, horrific visions and prophecies.” Bassilian’s hard cover work is receiving praise from librarians and teachers.


APE always provides plenty of new fare for those looking for expanding their comic universe or for those interested in meeting industry giants. The big-name creators are fun and more than willing to spend a few minutes chatting with their fans, while the newly arrived author/artist is happy to share the journey and give advice to those just starting out. Whether you are looking for works for kids or adults, spooky or sweet, mature or silly, you can find it at APE, where the creators go to showcase new works. Next year, I’ll meet you by the Bay!