I have a terrible memory for details but a fantastic memory for embarrassment and disappointment. To this day I remember spelling “errand” wrong during a third-grade spelling bee. I wondered, “What the heck even is an errand?” My intimate relationship with errands developed only later.

I wish I remembered more clearly the first time I picked up a comic not published by Marvel or DC. What I do know is that at some point I set out to learn what independent comics were all about. I still haven’t figured this out, I think, but my search brought me to a list that purported to include the best comics of the year. It was the Ignatz Awards nominees, circa 2011, brought to you by SPX, the Small Press Expo.

Explaining SPX

I wondered, “What the heck even is SPX?” Since its inception in 1994, SPX has been the indie comics world’s preeminent annual show. Those more familiar with comics and cosplay conventions can think of it as a miniature version of that, with greater emphasis on comics and individual cartoonists. Those familiar with indie shows can think of it as home. The names on that list were totally new to me then but are absolutely familiar now: Michael DeForge, Gabrielle Bell, Box Brown, Sammy Harkham. For me, SPX offered a doorway into a new universe of comics, and it continues to do so six years later.

SPX is back for another round this weekend at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. One of the best parts of the show is finding fresh comics from old favorites and new faces. Heading into this weekend’s installment of the show, here are nine SPX debut books to consider (note: this list is not at all comprehensive and is completely the product of my own preferences).

READ: Need more convincing on why independent comics rock? Here’s the article for you!

NOW #1 (Fantagraphics)

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Image courtesy of Fantagraphics.

We begin with the first issue of NOW, the new anthology magazine from Fantagraphics. It was back in 2005 that editor Eric Reynolds launched MOME, a quarterly comics anthology magazine that included some of the most important talents in the industry. In his eulogy to the series, after its final issue was announced, Sean T. Collins observed that MOME had overcome the difficult market conditions that comics anthologies tend to face. “Turns out that ‘Comics that Eric Reynolds likes’ was more than sufficient….”

Reynolds is back for round two with NOW. The consummate late bloomer that I am, I missed MOME (except for the handful of issues that are still on the shelves of some comic shops), so I’m glad we’re getting a new anthology magazine, this time scheduled for three releases each year. The first issue is a monster, with a lineup including Gabrielle Bell (who also appeared in MOME #1), Sammy Harkham, Noah Van Sciver, Malachi Ward, and Antoine Cossé.

Available at Tables W56-61 or for online preorder.

READ: For another great comics anthology magazine series to come, check out the Kugali Magazine, publisher of African comics!

ZEGAS by Michel Fiffe (Fantagraphics)

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Image courtesy of Fantagraphics.

From the new Fantagraphics anthology magazine, we move to what I think is the most exciting new solo project from the publisher this season. Readers might be forgiven for finding Michel Fiffe’s COPRA a bit daunting. Thirty-plus issues in, Fiffe has woven his massive cast into a dense narrative that demands periodic rereads.

Beyond that, though, Fiffe is a can’t-miss cartoonist at the height of his career. This new book gives readers a chance to experience another of his stories in a collected edition. The story follows the Zegas siblings, Emily and Boston, as they deal with everyday problems set against a surreal landscape. Fiffe has always seemed to emphasize high production quality, like in the oversized individual issues of ZEGAS, and I’m hopeful Fantagraphics stays true to the original comics. Count on brilliantly creative artwork in this one.

Available at Tables W56-61 and (I believe) W79 or for online preorder.

READ: Fiffe’s COPRA made our “Best Indie Comics of 2016” list! Let’s celebrate the old with the new take a look at these awesome indie comics!

EXPANSION by Malachi Ward and Matt Sheean (AdHouse Books)

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Image courtesy of AdHouse Books.

One of many talents linking MOME to NOW, Malachi Ward is a versatile artist who brings special creativity to his science fiction work, much of which he produces with partner-in-crime Matt Sheean. Ward and Sheean are back with EXPANSION after 2016’s excellent ANCESTOR from Image.

In EXPANSION, “agents of an advanced civilization clash with a pacifist cult over control of prehistoric human society,” according to the book’s press blurb. For those unfamiliar with Ward and Sheean, Ward’s interview on the Process Party Podcast is worth a listen, as it grants readers insight into their creative process. There, Ward touches on the versatility of science fiction as a genre, and I’ve always been struck by this duo’s ability to use sci-fi as a vehicle for insightful and interesting commentary.

Available at Tables A53-55.

READ: For another unique take on the sci-fi comic genre, take a look at our review of ETHER vol. 1!

I’M NOT HERE by GG (Koyama Press)

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Image courtesy of Koyama Press.

During a panel discussion at this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, an audience member asked publisher Annie Koyama which young cartoonists readers should look out for. Her response: GG.

GG has done work independently and for publishers like 2dcloud, but I’m especially looking forward to her first work with Koyama Press. The book follows a young woman traversing the memories of her upbringing as the child of immigrants in eight linking eight vignettes. I’M NOT HERE demands the reader’s full attention, with no narration and not even a name for its protagonist. GG’s abstractions, though, have always given way to incredibly powerful work defined by a beautiful and totally distinct art style. At SPX this weekend, I’M NOT HERE will be among six new Koyama releases that all deserve a look.

Available at Tables M1-2.

READ: Here’s another great Koyama Press title with CRAWL SPACE!


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Image courtesy of Birdcage Bottom Books.

One list, two anthologies. I can’t tell if BOTTOMS UP! is technically a debut comic, as it seems to be available right now from the Birdcage Bottom Books store. Still, I’ll make an exception. I like Birdcage Bottom as a publisher and distributor because of the company’s varied (and affordable) catalog, and I love the talent in this anthology.

BOTTOMS UP! is a collection of true stories about addiction of all types, from alcoholism to sex addiction. The book is packed with work from a wonderfully diverse cast of nearly 40 cartoonists, including the 2017 Ignatz-nominated Ben Passmore on the cover. I somehow missed this offering when it was funded on Kickstarter back in May, but I won’t miss it at SPX this weekend.

Available at Table W10 or online (perhaps for preorder).

READ: Speaking of Kickstarter comics, here’s our beginner’s guide to crowdfunding indie comics! 

REPTILE MUSEUM #6 by Cody Pickrodt (Ray Ray Books)

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Image courtesy of Ray Ray Comics (note: the image above is of REPTILE MUSEUM #1, as the new issue’s cover is not yet available).

Of the dozens of books debuting this weekend, REPTILE MUSEUM holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the first books I found at Chicago Comics and I felt like I was onto something. Shows like SPX have a tremendous concentration of stellar cartoonists offering work independently or through micro-publishers, and REPTILE MUSEUM is an example of why readers shouldn’t pass on a book just because they haven’t heard of the artist before.

Reptile Museum #6 will be a continuation of Cody Pickrodt‘s “post-post-apocalyptic” story that began back in 2013. While the series has been released a bit slower than Pickrodt initially intended, the latest installment is certainly worth a read because of the unique narrative and Pickrodt’s strong cartooning. For those unfamiliar with REPTILE MUSEUM but are looking to get started, the first five issues are still available from some online retailers, including Birdcage Bottom Books.

Available at Table A3B.

READ: What’s an apocalyptic hellscape without zombies!? Here’s an analysis on the morality of living dead in comics!

SOUTH BELOIT JOURNAL by John Porcellino (Uncivilized Books)

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Image courtesy of Uncivilized Books.

It feels like all of the indie comics energy in the universe converges at SPX. As always, there seems to be a particularly strong pull, like a black hole, toward the Uncivilized table. There, one of the great small publishers will feature a debut book from the mini-comics king, John Porcellino.

Porcellino’s description of SOUTH BELOIT JOURNAL is… woof. From the Uncivilized product listing comes this lead-in from the author: “Over the winter of 2010-2011 I found myself at the lowest point of my life: Twice divorced, heartbroken, mentally insane, and living in poverty and isolation in a cold, grey cinderblock apartment in a small, gritty town in Northern Illinois… South Beloit.” Emerging from that is a collection of uninhibited diary comics, surely the next in a long list of excellent pieces from Uncivilized. I’m always down for comics from the Midwest, and I’m looking forward to this glimpse into Porcellino’s day-to-day life.

Available at Table H1-2 or for online preorder.

READ: For another webcomics creator who portrays her day-to-day life with mental illness, here’s our interview with Chuckdrawsthings! 

SHOWTIME by Antoine Cossé (Breakdown Press)

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Image courtesy of Breakdown Press.

This is another book that I’m not sure technically constitutes a show debut  even more so than BOTTOMS UP! because this one is most certainly for sale on Breakdown’s website. Still, SHOWTIME gets the nod here because Antoine Cossé is such a force.

One of the stars of Breakdown’s rich catalog, Cossé’s last book-length work was the gorgeous MUTINY BAY in 2014. While his work sometimes sails over my head, Cossé consistently produces comics that feel like fine art. This new work promises an abstract and surreal landscape evolving into the story of a magician who blurs the line between fact and fiction. SHOWTIME will undoubtedly feature a heavy dose of the abstract but delicate cartooning that places Cossé’s style in the company of Sammy Harkham and Connor Willumsen (the latter will also be debuting his new book, ANTI-GONE, this weekend).

Available at Table B1 or online.

READ: Like road trip comics? Here’s why you should be reading THE LESS THAN EPIC ADVENTURES OF TJ AND AMAL!

BOTTLED by Chris Gooch (Top Shelf Comix)

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Image courtesy of Top Shelf Comix.

Attending a show like SPX requires some risk taking. It’s impossible to be completely familiar with the work of every exhibitor at the show. That means, though, that these shows offer a great opportunity to find new favorites.

That’s why I’m closing out the list with a book I have very little knowledge of. There are countless intriguing debuts this weekend, but BOTTLED, by Australian cartoonist Chris Gooch, will stand in for them because of the totally distinct and attractive art featured in Top Shelf’s online preview of the comic. This book tells the story of a complicated relationship between friends, one of whom escaped their small-town suburban upbringing while the other is looking for a way out. If the preview is any indicator, BOTTLE looks to be a nice pickup at this weekend’s show.

Available at Tables W64-67 or for online preorder.

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