The following interview appears in EXPO 2001, available through the CBLDF www.cbldf.org
EXPO: Youíve been an ardent supporter of the Expo for years, what attracted you to the show in the first place?
SMITH: Itís where my roots are. Bone started as a small press book and technically still is a small press book. So when I originally was going to the first APE and early SPX shows, I was going as a small press guy just like everybody else.
EXPO: How have you watched the show grow since those early years?
SMITH: I remember at one of the first SPXs there were five of us in Chris Oarrís back yard for the first pig roast. There was Chris Oarr, Chris Staros, me, and about two or three other people and that was it. That was the first pig roast so itís obviously grown quite a bit since then. That picnic makes SPX feel special and healthy. I love that itís a bunch of cartoonists sitting outside on the grass in the sun talking about comics.
EXPO: What kind of comics culture do you find at the Expo?
SMITH: When I go to the Expo I want to find comics that are on the edge, new stuff. Iím looking for cartoonists that havenít been discovered yet and are just showing up for the first time. One thing that struck me about SPX from the very beginning until now is that every year some piece of work rises to the top. It gets on everybodyís list and thereís a real buzz about it. So every year you can find something thatís gonna break out and I think thatís very exciting and thatís why I like to be at the show.
EXPO: What friendships did you make at the show over the years?
SMITH: Well, Paul Pope for one. Even though heís from Columbus, Ohio like I am, I really connected with him at SPX and APE and thatís a friendship thatís lasted. Chris Staros, whose original Staros Reports didnít look too favorably on Bone. Iíve since become very good friends with Chris. By the way, I finally got him to read Bone and he wrote me a letter saying that he liked it now [laughs]. Iíve gotten to know a lot of the new cartoonists like Dean Haspiel, Craig Thompson, Dave Cooper, and Ivan Brunetti, and the list just goes on and on.
EXPO: What work has stood out from the show over the years?
SMITH: The first one that rings a bell for me is that of James Kochalka. Thereís other work, like Steve Weissmanís Yikes, and of course thereís Craig Thompson. Goodbye Chunky Rice came out of SPX specifically. I remember seeing Cave In there for the first time.
EXPO: What feeling do you have towards the show?
SMITH: I have a personal bond with SPX and Iím not sure why that is. Iíve gone to a lot of them and have made a lot of good friends. I feel really good there. I feel that the future of the industry is there not only in terms of the talent but also in terms of the possibilities it represents for the retailers and the industry. The retailers have an opportunity to see what the medium small press are holding up as new examples of good comics. When the small press comes together and says Goodbye Chunky Rice is good, that gives retailers some comfort level when ordering.
EXPO: What importance do you think the show has to the American and International comics communities?
SMITH: The international comics community has a lot more in common with the small press in America than they do with the mainstream. The people who go to the Expo love comics with all their hearts and have a very intelligent way of looking at comics. I think that the Expo benefits from the presence of the international community because international comics are so vast compared to the American small press scene. Their presence can only benefit the show by giving it prestige and that much more visibility across the pond.
EXPO: Tell me about your new endowment to the show; what is it and why are you making it?
SMITH: My new endowment to the show is going to be a scholarship. Itís a small grant, the purpose of which is to bring master cartoonists to the show from all over the world. I think it will be hugely beneficial for everybody else and for me as well to spend time with artists like Moebius or Spiegelman or Eisner. I think having those kinds of masters come spend time with us creates a two way process of good will. We can learn a lot from their presence, and they can see that there is indeed a vital new generation of cartooning that keeps developing every year. I know from my own experiences that it takes some money to set these people up. You canít expect a master cartoonist from France to get himself to SPX. They need to be flown in and be put up in a hotel and taken care of while theyíre here. We want something from them, so we should make a good faith effort to pay for them. So this scholarship is a small stipend for the organizers to use at their discretion for whatever expenses they need to get cartooning masters here for us to visit with.
EXPO: Where do you hope to see the show grow in coming years?
SMITH: Iíve been very pleased with SPXís growth. Obviously the attendance has always gone up. The Washington/Bethesda area community has always supported the artists by buying a lot of comics. The panels have grown and become fantastic. I especially enjoyed last yearís Internet panel. That proved that the future of comics is in Bethesda in September; we had them all Rick Veitch, Steve Conley, Scott McCloud, othersÖ
Thereís one aspect of the Expo that Iím hoping will grow and thatís a retailer presence. Iíve always hoped that the Expo could become a place for retailers across the country to come and find out what was happening in comics. And of course thereís very good local retail support, but we need to get to the point where guys like Rory Root, Joe Field, and Joe Ferrara from the west coast would think itís worth their while to fly across the country and buy box loads of these comics to sell at their stores. Iím cautiously optimistic that thatís going to happen. Once we have enough hits come out of the Expo like Goodbye Chunky Rice, or the work of James Kochalka and Paul Pope, after a while they canít help but recognize that this is a show that must be acknowledged.
In the end, though, SPX is less about trying to sell books than it is talking about comics, which is why I like to participate in ICAF like I did last year when I interviewed Will Eisner. And itís why I go year after year. I like to go to the Tastee Diner and have breakfast with cartoonists and then stay up late at night talking to Scott McCloud and Will Eisner. And then when itís all done I love playing softball and sitting on the grass talking to Dave Cooper and Craig Thompson. Like it could get any better than that.
[This message has been edited by Charles Brownstein (edited 09-15-2001).]