I first exhibited at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in 1998. I had been photocopying issues of my comics work for about two years at that point and had never been to a con, much less exhibited at one. I made 50 copies each of Litmus Test 4 and 5 because I had read an article about the APE in which the author claimed that she had moved over 100 copies of her magazine. I ended up selling 3 copies of Litmus Test 4, and 2 of Litmus Test 5 (I still have plenty of copies of both). I sat at my half table between Richard Becker (Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales) and Keith Knight. I saw how Becker looked middle aged and yet was sitting behind a table watching the crowds like I was. I felt sorry for him (little did I know…). I saw Johnen Vasquez parade around the floor followed by a gaggle of goth girls. Keith Knight rolled his eyes at the scene, but encouraged me to give copies of my comic to Dan Clowes (and he actually wrote me back and praised my work). And I made a total of $15. It was a blunt welcome to the world of comics. But I met a lot of nice people, like Jesse Hamm, Lark Pien, Derek Kirk Kim, and Gene Yang. And through them I was invited to a comics creators meeting where I met Jimmie Robinson, who was at the APE this year.
Except for 2006 and 2011, I went to every APE from 1998 to 2013. I saw it move from San Jose to San Francisco, saw it change hands from Slave Labor to Comic-Con, saw my sales gradually improve, saw familiar faces start to disappear, saw the art students take over and the photocopied books go away. But it was always basically the same two-day marathon of sitting behind a table watching people walk by.
So though it had been awhile, I decided to do it all again. I had new books and it felt like a way to come full circle. I was worried though. Reviews of 2016 said attendance was low. And up to a week before the APE, the “Panels” page on the con website was blank and the blog hadn’t been updated since February. That didn’t really inspire confidence that this thing was in good hands. But I decided to try it anyway. And so this weekend I ventured back to the APE one last time.
First off, this APE was much smaller than any other. It was comprised of three aisles of about thirty booths per aisle. Besides Slave Labor and Last Gasp, there weren’t any publishers. And, oddly, many of the booths remained empty all weekend. Sometimes the place reminded me of a dying downtown with stores boarded up and empty. The attendance was also pretty sparse. There were never more than a few people in front of any one table, and usually no people. Though the attendees that did come seemed nice and because the con was so small, they could really take in every booth.
It also seemed to me that there weren’t many booths dedicated to comics that focused on fiction. And there weren’t any art comics. Most of the stuff there were prints of superhero, video game, fantasy, and sci-fi art work, and when there were comics they were often adventure stuff that looked similar to other corporate work. Like one guy behind me kept comparing the main character in his comic to Harry Potter.
As with any con, there were weird interactions. Like one guy took issue with the fact that I was calling my old 5 1/2 x 8 1/2″ copies of Litmus Test minis. Another guy made a big deal about comparing me with Fellini. A cartoonist whom I will not name, but who used to always show up at cons or in anthologies I was in, bought Holiday Funeral from me, which I’m pretty sure he bought years ago. And a guy that I had a summer job with in high school bought Kit Kaleidoscope and Carnivale.
While I talked with other exhibitors, I didn’t make a connection with anyone new. That may say more about me than them, but I didn’t feel like I was a part of something, which I’ve felt at other cons. The only connection I felt was that we were all putting in our time under the flourescent lights. There was no new movement and no real excitement about a work or artist.
But in keeping with coming full circle, Johnen Vasquez walked by once. He looked the same, though his goth girlfriend was gone, replaced by a cell phone. And I eventually said hi to Jimmie Robinson. We only chatted for a minute, but he admitted that he still didn’t know what he was doing in comics, but he was still stumbling ahead. “It’s a strange kind of love.,” he said.
On Sunday, an older man who had bought some individual issues of Carnivale from me back in 2013 came up and bought the new collected edition. He told me work like mine made coming to the APE worthwhile.
And I sold the last copies of the first comic I ever put together, Jack Face.
Are you ready for the irony?
I made more money at the APE this year than I’ve ever made at a con.
Now that’s not saying much, since I never make much. Still, the fact that such a slow con not only met but exceeded my previous levels shows that the people who showed up were dedicated comics people.
But… I don’t think I’ll be going back next year.