Josh Sullivan’s 2003 Small Press Expo Adventure
by Josh Sullivan
Small Press Expo – Bethesda, MD Sept. 5-7, 2003
Hi, I’m Josh and I look like I’m 12. Please don’t step on me.
I hadn’t planned on going to the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD because I had been extremely exhausted after selling comics and babies at the San Diego Comic-Con. What changed my mind was that I miraculously had gotten nominated for an Ignatz Award in the Outstanding Minicomic category so I figured I would go just in case I won. The problem was that I had already made plans to fly up to Michigan from Florida to visit friends and family. My dad and I decided to rent a car and we drove our tiny Irish asses to Maryland from Saginaw, Michigan and had quite an adventure.
The Small Press Expo is the best comic convention in the whole world and it was my first time venturing to it. I was only going to hand out comics and talk with people for the whole weekend but I ended up getting a table so I could sell my lovely creations. I shared it with the super cool Trevor Alixopulos, who just did the book “Dread”. Selling comics and meeting and greeting was only the start of the fun that ensued. The whole day, I kept eyeing the Slave Labor Graphics tables looking at Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, wondering what the hell I was going to say to them. Evan has been my idol since I was 14 (yeah, I look 14 now but I’m 21) and I had never met him before. I felt more nervous and geeky than I ever had in my life.
Evan Dorkin wanted to shoot me.
It took almost all of Friday, the first day of the convention, to get up enough courage to go talk to him. I wandered over looking like a scared little troll and finally opened my mouth and I gave them some comics. Right away, Evan started joking around and was talking all sorts of shit to me, which made me idolize him even more. The more he ripped into me, the harder I laughed and I continued taking the abuse since I was so happy to just be standing there. Besides, I knew he was just joking so I kept standing around and pestering all of the SLG people. I told them I’d be back tomorrow and I headed off to sleep since I had just driven ten hours, dealt with the fun of a comic convention, and I was beat.
Todd and I have been friends since we were 17 and just finally met face to face last year at MegaCon in Orlando. He’s only a week older than me, and him and I are going to take the comics world by storm.
Batton Lash is another amazingly nice human being. His comics are superb and he’s the only person in the comics field ever to give me any valuable criticism about my work and I cherished it so much. You better check out his site and say hello to him and Jackie Estrada.
On the second day of SPX, we walked to the store for unhealthy sustenance and my dad wandered off into the road to take a picture. I then took this picture of him.
My dad drives me nuts sometimes but I love him and I’m really happy he went all the way to Maryland so he could see how far I’ve come in my comic life. He always used to take me to the Motor City Comic-Cons just outside of Detroit and that’s what fueled my desire to try my hand at making comics.
Saturday was real exciting because more people had showed up to partake in the festivities. I had made plans to attend a panel where first time attendees to SPX could go and show off their books and talk about themselves. It took forever to find which room it was in because the door was blocking the name “New Jersey Room”. I went in and babbled and passed around my “Best of Josh Comics” book. I met Ed Cunard, who writes for www.comicworldnews.com, a site I’ve contributed comics to. I also got to see some of the others who are part of the new explosion of talented young cartoonists. Those who are skeptics of us need to watch out because you’re definitely going to be impressed by the work we churn out.
The rest of the day went well because I sold a bunch of books and gave out a lot of flyers. I made some new fans and even found time to go over and bother Evan and Sarah. Dan Vado dragged me away and that was followed by Todd dragging me away at Evan’s insistance. After that, I told them I’d see them later and a ton of us comic-types went out for eat. Todd and I got job applications for the restaurant we sat in front of because they said they were looking for “spunky people”. We both wrote down that we like Wil Wheaton, who was behind our tables hanging out with us for a short time when we were set up at the San Diego Comic-Con.
We got back to the hotel and most everyone had congregated in the lobby. Evan and Sarah had given us some extra drink tickets and I ran off to get some alcohol. I made my way back and the people of SLG wondered if I was really 21 so I showed them my license. Those that were staying in my room went upstairs and Dalton and I decided to head back down to get some more beer. Chris Haskett from Slave Labor then asked what I was doing and invited me over to hang out with him and the others.
I forget what Evan is doing here but I’m pretty sure it’s his impression of me.
I sat there pretty much speechless as I was so excited to just be hanging out with the SLG people and Evan and Sarah. This had been a dream of mine for years and I wondered why I was so calm about it. Joe Nakamura then asked why I was sitting by myself and told me to come talk with them. We laughed, joked around, and drank and this was one of the best nights of my life.
Deb Moskyok from Slave Labor Graphics and the best damn colorist in the universe/Action Girl Comics founder and editor, Sarah Dyer, organizing my wallet to show me that it doesn’t have to be a cluttered mess.
At one point after Dan Vado and a couple others had left to go back to their rooms, Gary Groth of Fantagraphics and The Comics Journal fame sat down and chatted with me for a minute. After many beers, Sarah and Deb insisted that I grab some waters and drink those before I went to sleep. I said goodnight to everyone and drunkingly waltzed back to the room around 3am with the biggest smile in the world on my face.
Todd Webb wakes up happy at the notion that him and I can cause more trouble for one more day.
I woke up and was a little tipsy, but otherwise fine. I took a little nap and when I woke up the second time, I had a hangover to keep me company for part of the day. I sold most of the rest of my books and gave away almost all off my flyers. I also got a billion people to sign up for my e-mail list so they can keep track of what kinds of crappy comics I produce and my offbeat adventures.
From front to back: Joe Nakamura, Chris Haskett, Dan Vado, Sarah Dyer, and Evan Dorkin.
I left my table for awhile to see what was going on with Slave Labor. Evan wondered if Boxcar Willie (what he called my dad) was watching my table and I told him I actually didn’t know where the hell he went off to. The funniest thing he said was that people were going to think my dad was the one doing the comics and they would feel sorry for him and think he was some old man who does mini-comics and he can’t find a publisher. I think everything Evan said was funny but this stands out more than the rest. Pretty much all of the comic stuff I bought during the weekend was off of him since everyone was cool enough to trade with me.
I also chatted it up with two of my new favorite people: Tod Parkhill and Corey Marie Kitley, who had tables adjacent to the SLG tables. They each do better comics than me, so go explore their worlds.
The Small Press Expo 2003 was winding down and everyone was packing up. I shook everyone’s hands at Slave Labor and thanked them for a great weekend. Every day needs to be SPX or else Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer need to adopt me. As we were waiting for the slowest elevators ever to get back up to the rooms, Evan put his joking aside and wished me luck at the Ignatz since he couldn’t stay because him and Sarah had to drive back to New York City. That meant so much to me to hear him say that.
We went to the room to rest and kill an hour and a half before the Ignatz Awards started. My dad had arrived just in time to tell us his adventures around Washington, D.C. and that made me wish I could’ve gone with him. Todd, Toby, Dalton, my dad, and I then headed downstairs and I wasn’t really nervous at all. I was honestly still in shock over being nominated, which is a huge honor, so I was happy just to be there.
I sat at a table with Raina Telgemeier and Ted Slampyak (pictured above) as well as Dave Roman, Scott Roberts and his brother. Raina was up for the same Outstanding Minicomic award I was for her book “Take-Out” and we both were on edge about sitting at the VIP tables. People probably thought I was some other comic artist’s kid. We sat through some speeches and the other awards and then they got to the category we were in (Raina was also nominated in the Promising New Talent category). They projected big scans of our covers to the books we were nominated for on a screen. When they showed the cover to “The Best of Josh Comics”, Todd let out a “Whoo, Josh!” and I was so thankful for all of the support from him and my new comic friends were giving me. Raina and I both looked at each other and said good luck and the the Ignatz went to Jeffrey Brown for “I Am Going to Be Small”. I was real happy for him, even though I had never seen his work. I honestly thought Raina or Jesse Reklaw would’ve won.
We all said our goodbyes afterwards because I had to drive back to Michigan overnight and then I flew back to Florida a day after that appreciating the comics medium so much more. Please support small press comics and events like the Small Press Expo. Comics that don’t involve superheros are so much better anyways.
Before I finish this report, I’d like to mention a bunch of the other incredible comic creators I met over these three days:
Monica Gallagher, Eric Knisley, Philip Chan, Adam Sacks, Rhett Dornack, Neil Fitzpatrick,
George Tautkus, Frederick Noland, Simone Nemes, Rusty Rowley, Jose Mochove, James Kochalka, Manuel Gomez Burns, Matt Holdaway, Joshua Moutray, Gina Kamentsky, Matt Madden, Mia Wolff, and Bill Roundy.
Even more fun from the 2003 Small Press Expo can be found at:
I’d like to let you know that I’m also putting together a giant ‘zine and organizing a ‘zine fest to go along with it. If anyone is interested in submitting something for the book, check out: www.joshcomics.com/zinefest.html.
Now, here’s a comic I just did for added entertainment: