The following interview appears in EXPO 2001, available through the CBLDF [www.cbldf.org]
EXPO: When did you start attending the Expo?
KURT WOLFGANG: My first year was 1998. The first day, I sold one comic. One stinkin comic. That night I walked around Bethesda with my wife, thinking I was the biggest loser in the world, wondering why I came. The next day was so much better, great actually. Having people buy a comic, then coming back an hour later to buy the rest of them really knocked my socks off.
Not only was it my first convention, but it was right around the time that I first started showing my comics to people other than my wife and some friends. I drove home with all kinds of lofty goals and ideas. I don't think I'd really taken my comics too seriously prior to that point. SPX sorta charges your batteries up a bit. Unlike most things, SPX gets better every year. It's so refreshing to experience something cool and not have old timers pining for the good old days before you got hip to it.
EXPO: What do you find striking about the show in comparison to other conventions?
WOLFGANG: Actually, until I attended APE this year, I'd not attended any conventions other than SPX. What I've heard of the other, bigger shows doesn't appeal to me much. I just don't think that what I do has much to do with Klingons and Billy Dee Williams and all that. Everyone in alternative comics complains about being associated with that stuff, yet they willingly walk hand and hand with pro wrestlers and action figure manufacturers at those big shows. It probably isn't fair for me to make such assumptions about the bigger shows, having never attended any... Still, I get those promotional pamphlets in the mail for San Diego, with the costume contest winners and pictures of like, Lou Ferigno, and it all just scares the hell out of me.
As far as comparing it to APE, SPX feels to me like the big end of the year comics event, where everything sorta gets summed up. What's really cool is that more people seem to be debuting new work there, which seems to create a level of excitement you'd not find if it were simply a hotel full of comics. I walk around at SPX thinking that I'm really glad that I'm not missing this. I really dug APE, and I plan to go again, but it felt like a really cool flea market, where SPX feels like an event.
EXPO: Describe the mini-comics community at the show. What artists attend and how do they interact at the show?
WOLFGANG: The term "mini comic community" is sorta weird to me. The lines between "real" comic and "mini" comic have gotten somewhat fuzzy in every way. In terms of quality, you've got guys like Brian Ralph, Jordan Crane, Mat Brinkman, Kevin Scalzo and Greg Cook putting out minis. In terms of exposure, John Porcelino was an alternative comics staple long before he was ever published outside of minis. In terms of sales, plenty of mini comics have outsold a number of "real" comics. I don't think that a mini comic has to be the demo tape of the comic book industry, when you've got some people doing such great stuff, with such high production values. When people talk like minis are quaint little books by people who aren't quite "there" yet, whip a copy of Brinkman's Bolol Belittle at their forehead and ask them to find something at the local comic book store that's nearly as beautiful. There's only two kinds of comics, good and bad. The essential difference between the minicomic guy and the "real" comic guy is the amount of time they spend at Kinko's.
EXPO: Describe the creative spectrum of mini-comics at the Expo.
WOLFGANG: Like everything else in the world, the spectrum runs from the most god-awful soulless garbage to the most perfect little objects that ever existed. Anytime you have something that ANYONE can do, plenty of people will, and loads of it will be painful to look at. This also makes the gems all that much more precious. One of the best things about SPX is coming across those artists that you've never heard of, the mini comics people who've been toiling away in obscurity, creating these beautiful books that for the most part, you won't find anywhere else.
EXPO: Is there a common attitude towards comics that binds the show's mini-comics community together?
WOLFGANG: I think so, though I don't think it's in any way limited to a mini comics thing. I think that something comes out of being in a hotel full of people who are, for the most part, taking part in this jazz for the simple love of doing it. I don't imagine people get that sort of feeling at a plumbers convention. All year long you're hunched over the Bristol board by yourself, in your little world, trying to figure it all out. Most people you know don't feel the way you do about Krazy Kat or know what the hell a Winsor Newton is or give a rat's ass about when the next issue of Schizo comes out. Then you're at SPX, and everyone knows what you're talking about. There are dozens upon dozens of people that can appreciate things like a really good stapler.
EXPO: What sort of exchange have you noticed between the show's "big name" artists and the mini-comics scene? Do you feel like the show creates an equal footing between them or is there a sense of hierarchy?
WOLFGANG: It's like this: If Joe minicomic guy walks past you and doesn't say hello, he's just a guy that didn't say hello. If some well known creator walks by and doesn't say hello, he or she is a snobby-assed, highfalutin jerk. That's just nonsense. One thing that struck me about SPX the first year is just how cool everyone was. You have to realize that prior to my first SPX, I knew NOBODY. I had no knowledge of the comics industry at all, the economic realities and whatnot. To me, guys like James Kochalka and Steve Weissman were like Elvis or something. I figured that anyone with a real book was like, rollin in dough and living like a movie star, so it blew me away when everyone was so approachable. The second year I was there, I met even more people. When Sam Henderson told me that he'd picked up some of my comics at Hanley's, it floored me. He'll probably make fun of me for that, but it's true.
I've never experienced any snobbery or anything like that. It's not like they give different color badges to the mini comics guys and make us sit in a drafty, dark room. That's another thing that's great about SPX, they don't have a separate "zine" ghetto. It's not unlikely to see some kid with a 4 page xeroxed book situated within arms length of a well known established professional, and I think everyone benefits from that.
EXPO: What kinds of exchanges have you had about comics at the show? Are there any conversations you've had or artists you've met at the show that have impacted your attitude about comics?
WOLFGANG: I don't think any actual exchanges had much impact on me. I think most of the impact has come from work that I became exposed to and the eventual friendships that began at the show. Knowing other cartoonists makes all the difference in the world to me, knowing people who can answer some of my dopey technical questions, offer advice from a more objective viewpoint than non-cartoonists, and simply relate to what it is that I'm doing, or trying to do. When you devote so many of your waking hours to creating comics, simply knowing other people who do the same thing can keep you from going insane.
EXPO: What are your favorite SPX moments?
WOLFGANG: I wish I could come up with something in particular, but it's really the experience as a whole for me. There's just an energy there, and even the most jaded of people get a little giddy. Of course, Lowjinx 2 getting an Ignatz was really cool, and the time that Sam Henderson and Johnny Ryan wrestled naked in the lobby.
Defend Your Comics
Support the CBLDF www.cbldf.org