[Smudge! Expo 2014] A Great New Event! Plus We Were Pirates, and Dear Mr. Watterson


Yesterday I attended the very first Smudge! Expo, and I hope that it will be the first of many. It was a lovely and very creator focused show, the kind we need more of, especially as the big conventions grow into larger and larger media spectacles. The expo is the creation of comic creator Matt Dembicki and event manager Tina Henry, and was hosted at Artisphere in Arlington, VA (an excellent venue, by the way). The whole thing lasted from noon until 6pm, and featured exhibitors and great programming both in terms of presenters and classroom-like workshops. At 7:30 it was capped by a screening of Dear Mr. Watterson, which also included a short performance by We Were Pirates, who composed the score of the documentary. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, and only wish it had lasted longer than just a single day – an in depth description of my day-long venture follows below.

On a personal note it was great to have such an event happen so close to home. Even SPX is an adventure into the wilds of Maryland, and it was nice to have something so much closer. As a result, I arrived a little after 12pm in considerably more relaxed fashion, and proceed to explore every exhibitor table one by one. Even for a smaller event like this one this was quite an undertaking, and ultimately meant I didn’t check out any of the programming. Fortunately, whatever else I might have missed out on, I definitely got to meet some great creators and have some lively conversations.

There is no way for me reflect all of the amazing talent that I encountered in this post, but I will attempt to spotlight some of it, while also noting that I will surely delve deeper in the days to come. Each of these events are an explosion of new content for me, and perhaps one of the cooler aspects of attending Smudge! only a few months after Small Press Expo was getting to pick up on a few of the things I missed out on previously. A perfect example is Guilded Age, a webcomic, and also a successful kickstarter. I had the pleasure of discovering Erica Henderson’s artwork last year, and had peripherally been made aware of Guilded Age. Suffice to say that after talking with co-writer Terrell Campbell about everything from House of Cards to breaking the fourth wall and like-minded comics such as Skullkickers, it is now awaiting closer inspection.

On a similar note, I got to meet and become familiar with the work of Dechanique, author and artist of La Macchina Belicaand artist of Kindling. The first volume of the former made it home with me. She is another frequent SPX exhibitor, and I sadly missed her booth last year.

Finally, the biggest example of meeting creators I may have missed previously, were Kevin Panetta and Brooke A. Allen, who shared a table. Kevin is the writer of Zodiac Starforce, which (occasional contributor to the blog) Brandon had introduced me to previously. Brooke will be doing the art on the upcoming Lumberjanes, for which I am incredibly excited. Suffice to say that I visited their table several times, herded some friends their way as well, and of course bought some swag too – including Brooke’s variant cover for Midas Flesh #1, which she signed in awesome fashion!

I also got to meet Kristy Cunningham creator of Infinite Spiral. I had to get one of her fantastic prints, and will likely catch up on the comic soon! Her artwork reminded me of Paul Duffield and Kate Brown (both favorites I’ve spotlighted before) in the best way possible. Print-wise, the bird-themed postcards of Andrew Cohen made it home with me as well, and so did a Lost Art Books print of Frederick Richardson, plus two volumes of Heinrich Kley’s art – all of which look great! Lost Art Books’ mission of preserving otherwise forgotten artists is admirable, and well worth your support. I’m definitely planning on spending more money on their books eventually.

A few final shout-outs. Telegraph is a contemporary art gallery and boutique in Charlottesville, VA, and they have amazing prints! Beyond The Canopy looks amazing! As does Cuddles and Rage, which is indeed a disturbingly cute comic that uses a mixed media approach I find really interesting. Michael S. Bracco’s Novo also requires further investigation. Lastly, did you know that DC had not one, but two comic creator circles! DC Conspiracy and Square City Comics, look them up!

All this and I’ve just really scratched the surface of how many people I got to interact with and how much I discovered. Which truly says something, considering that this was only a day long event, and certainly only a fraction of the size of something like Small Press Expo. Plus, the whole place was packed with kids, which was a refreshing sight. The smaller size and free cost of admission I’m sure made it less intimidating and welcoming to all audiences. Hopefully this also translated into new fans – although I definitely spotted more than a few youngsters eagerly reading their newly acquired comics, so yay for that!

I capped day by attending the screening of Dear Mr. Watterson, which to the chagrin of many of my friends sold out. Unfortunate as that was, it definitely speaks to the popularity of Calvin and Hobbes, and the level of interest surrounding its creator Bill Watterson. I was lucky enough to buy a ticket early, and thoroughly enjoyed both the documentary and the short performance beforehand by score composers We Were Pirates – who definitely reminded me of the indie style of bands like Plumtree, and by extension Scott Pilgrim, which is certainly a good thing.

The ultimate compliment I can pay to both is that I now own the entire discography of We Were Pirates, and have decided to invest in the complete Calvin and Hobbes. I used to read the strip in the paper, as I’m sure many have done. However, I’ve never read or bought a collected edition. After seeing the documentary, and how deeply it has touched so many – both as individuals and creators – I simply had to get it so that I can read the whole thing top to bottom. So that will be coming up soon!

By the end of the night I was exhausted in the very best way. I can’t believe in retrospect that I almost glossed over Smudge! Expo, and am grateful for all of my friends that brought it to my attention in various ways. I sincerely would like to see it become a yearly tradition. Its focus on creators, and the broad audience it welcomed are both things that are desperately needed. I can’t imagine anyone walking out of this event and not understanding on some level the energy and excitement that goes into comics or the art behind them, and just how infections it is! I definitely wouldn’t be writing all of this if it wasn’t, so with that in mind here’s hoping I’ll be writing another one of these next year!

About: Alex

Alex is the guy that runs and edits this blog. He’s been reading comics for as long as he’s been able to read, and somewhere along the way started forming opinions that extended beyond just Batman is cool, or Spider-Man is awesome, and more importantly decided to share these. Lately, he’s been getting a little burned out on mainstream comics, but has found solace in the indie world. There’s also his inhuman love of heavy metal, but we do not speak of that.

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