Going (to) APE

Yesterday I went up to the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco. I’ve known about it for years, but I’ve never gone; it seems like every year someone at the comics shop would ask if I was going, and I’d say, “Oh, is that this weekend? I already have plans…” But this year I planned ahead and put it on my calendar. It helps that you don’t have to preregister to attend (if you arrive just as the doors open, it doesn’t even really save you much time in line).

When I arrived, I wondered how long it had been since I’d gone to a comics convention. As best I can recall, I haven’t actually been to one since a little convention in New Orleans back in college, around 1989. Madison didn’t have any, and I know I didn’t go out of town for them, and I’ve never gone to any of the local cons (although I hope to get to Wonder Con next spring).

APE is being held in the Concourse Exhibition Center, which is in a part of town I’d never been to before. It’s about 4 blocks from the CalTrain station, in an area that seems to have been renovated since AT&T Park as built 10 years ago, but which still has some older buildings. It’s across from the “San Francisco Fashion Collective”, which seems like an “only in the first world” sort of organization.

The con itself is primarily a large showroom of vendors and artists, with some programming and some sessions on creating and producing comics. As the name says, the con is geared towards independent comics companies, not the major ones. The “big name” publishers at APE are Fantagraphics, Slave Labor Graphics (SLG), Last Gasp and Top Shelf. So my goal in going up to the con was to find some comics to read that I wasn’t familiar with, and get exposed to some new stuff. On the other hand, I’m not really a fan of “slice of life” comics which have been hallmarks of independent comics over the last 20 years (the sorts of books by APE guests Lynda Barry and Daniel Clowes), and I also have a strong preference for polished artwork and a mild preference for colored artwork. So, would APE be for me?

Going to conventions is always a little awkward for me anyway, since I’m never really sure how to approach them, and it reminds me that I am, at heart, not very social, so I feel uncomfortable chatting with the people in the booths. I also feel awkward around actual writers and artists, partly because I don’t want to offend them, by looking at their wares and not buying them or by saying that I’ve never seen their work before. APE worked both in my favor and against it, since I assumed that most creators at the con were there in large part to get their work in front of a larger audience who’d never seen it before, but on the other hand most of the people behind the booths were the actual creators and not, say, staffers from a retail store.

I got to the con shortly after opening and spent the first couple of hours walking around looking fairly briefly at each booth, planning to look at the ones that looked interesting to me in more detail later. Some of the vendors had “sales pitches” as you walked by, while others didn’t (perhaps unsurprisingly, the degree of personal outgoingness among these folks who are writers and artists varied widely). My first purchase was from Barry Deutsch, creator of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, largely because he did have a witty sales pitch, asking if you’ve been looking for a young adult story of an orthodox Jewish girl who really wants to go off on fantasy adventures. It’s a nice hardcover with attractive artwork, so I picked up a copy (here it is at Amazon).

The next artist to grab me was nearly the last one I walked by: He had a set of nice color art prints up, and one titled “The Adventurers” attracted my attention because it was large and colorful and extremely detailed, but the one underneath it, “Wishing Well”, really sucked me in because it had a terrific color scheme, beautiful execution, and a really neat idea behind it. The artist was Travis Hanson, who specializes in fantasy art focused on children and young teenagers, and who also does free sketches – lots and lots of free sketches – a sketch in every book you buy from him, and an additional free sketch on sketch paper. His sign said he’s done over 900 sketches at some conventions! He and his friend who was working the booth were both friendly and talkative and very approachable. I picked up all 6 issues (to date) of his series The Bean, and went back later for some of the prints. Really nice stuff.

Other things I bought:

A pretty good haul, all things considered. For the most part I picked books which initially attracted me with art styles I liked, and which seemed to have interesting stories too on closer inspection. There were a few books that had nice-looking art, but whose stories didn’t grab me when I thumbed through them, and one or two others which had stories that seemed interesting but the art just wasn’t for me. Given how much I picked up, I don’t feel like I really missed out on anything. Two books I arguably “should” have picked up, but which I decided instead to read first in their Webcomic form, were Templar, Arizona (which I’m already part-way through) and Family Man.

A friend of mine, Becky, also went up to the con, and we had lunch together, and later rode the train home. (Well, I got off a little early to meet Debbi for dinner in Menlo Park.) I don’t see her very often, so it was fun to hang out and chat with her.

All-in-all I had fun, even if I did feel awkward for much of the con. Despite being a life-long comic book fan, I’ve never really felt connected to the larger comic book community, other than occasionally chatting with folks at my local store. But I found a lot of neat stuff at APE, and I certainly hope to go back next year!