This year’s Small Press Expo was held in a new location – the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center in Bethesda, MD. It’s the one show above all others that means the most to me. I’ve gone to every one they’ve held for almost a decade, as a fan, an exhibitor, and as a reporter. Selling comics was always important to me, but SPX was and still is all about the people; the friends I’ve made, and the creators I’ve met. In that spirit, this week I’ll share three brief interviews conducted at this year’s show with three highly influential creators.
The first is with Scott McCloud, author of the recent how-to graphic novel Making Comics, the third in his series of books about the nuts and bolts of the comic medium and industry, following Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. He and his family are currently on a year-long, 50-state tour promoting the book.
Rich Watson: So what do you think of the new location?
Scott McCloud: I think it’s alright. It’s cool to have everything in one room; I do like that. I feel a little bit like the hotel is maybe a little set off. I thought things were more accessible and walkable, although it’s not too bad, walking between restaurants and what not here in this place [Marinelli Road]. But I liked the fact that you can stay in a couple of different hotels in the old location [Wisconsin Avenue, also in Bethesda] that were near each other. You get used to certain restaurants and things and you get spoiled [laughs]. But at times, I thought the dumpy Holiday Inn helped keep SPX’s flavor, but it’s cool.
I think there’s a pretty positive vibe here and there are a lot of people, and as I say, it’s great to have it all in one room. It’s hard not to have walls, though – I didn’t bring any stuff with me, but if I really was exhibiting and I had a lot of art and stuff, it’d be frustrating to have no place to put it up. [His table was part of one of the eight islands in the middle of the room. There were more tables along the perimeter, against the walls.]
RW: Is your family here at the show with you?
SM: Yeah, they got away, but they’re definitely here. I don’t see them at the moment. All four of us – Ivy, Sky, Winter and I, are here. We’re at almost every event I do for the full year that they’re with me. I just have a couple of side trips – one to Seattle, one to Tennessee, maybe one or two others, but for the most part it’s all of us together in everything…
RW: What’s the hardest part about going on the road for a whole year with your family promoting the book? For instance, you’ve been home schooling the kids, is that right?
SM: Yeah, that’s right; home schooling, car schooling, hotel schooling! We think it’s a valuable education, and a lot of people agree with us. Seeing the world and applying academic principles in the real world is really valuable. The hardest part of the trip: morning! Like when you have to check out – that’s hard. It’s hard to have to pile everything back into suitcases and head down to the car, and that’s when I think we’re at our most tired, especially if we have to get up early on any given morning.
RW: How far in advance did you plan this tour?
SM: I started planning it in broad strokes a good six, seven months in advance, maybe eight or nine. Maybe even more – come to think of it, we started really seriously thinking about it as early as spring of 2005 when we were in New York and we attended Will Eisner’s memorial. We talked to my publisher about the idea. It was really Ivy’s [idea]. Ivy’s the one who always wanted to do a 50-state tour, and when the book was done, it seemed like a nice opportunity to do it and define it as something of a book tour, and that’s what we’ve done. But it really started to come together over the spring and summer of this year, when people started to check in and secure speaking dates on the tour.
RW: Have you seen the effects of the book on people who want to be self-publishers? Have you had people who want to get into the game tell you that reading the book has helped them?
SM: Well, it’s a little early, but I have been told that, in so many words, by a few people. Artists especially, or writers, people who are trying to write comics. That has been some help to them, But like I said, it’s still early. Right now, some people are coming up to me, having read the book earlier today or yesterday, so it’s early to see the effects of that. But for those who’ve had it for a few weeks, I’ve had people with very practical, specific comments about, “Here’s what I drew today and it’s because I read the book,” that sort of thing, and that’s really gratifying.
RW: This is gonna sound like a silly question, but I wanted to ask you anyway: the fact that you draw yourself in Making Comics with gray sideburns… that’s a bit of a jarring contrast to the way you looked before, because we don’t normally think of comic book characters as aging. Did you give it any other thought other than, “Okay, this is how I look now, so this is how I’ll draw myself”?
SM: [laughs] Well, there was always that option of just letting my icon always be the same, you know, that fixed Mickey Mouse type of thing. And I guess I just felt it was important to be a little bit honest. My belt line’s gotten a little wider, I’ve gotten the graying of the temples – and the problem, especially with going out on the road and speaking in a public context, [is] you don’t want the avatar to be too far away from who you actually are, otherwise it, I dunno, it just feels like a lie.
This is a real person, y’know? And the fact that the original version was slim and younger… it’s not just that it was different, it’s not just that it was a rectangle over a square with a couple of dots in it or something abstract. This was really a young, skinny guy, and there are plenty of slightly fatter, graying guys out there who would like to be young skinny guys! And it’s one thing for it to be something other than what I am, but it’s something else to be something other than what I am and more flattering! Then it just seems self-serving. So, I figure okay, let’s make him a little fatter and a little grayer, but maybe not quite as fat as I was when I finished the book because I had spent all that time sitting at a drawing table, so I can always lose some weight!
RW: Would you agree at least that this image of yourself in this and the other books has taken on a kind of iconic status?
SM: Yes, exactly, and that’s where I think it becomes a little unnerving when the icon changes. You’re really not ready for that.
SM: It’s like the Quaker Oats man suddenly has arthritis! I mean, what the hell is that? [laughs] Tony the Tiger losing his hair because of a degenerative skin condition! [laughs] You’re not ready for this; this is not supposed to happen!
RW: Because you’ve taken on this new life in your comics, so to see a change like that, even though it’s so minor, it’s a little jarring.
SM: I think maybe it’s my way of saying this guy, this avatar guy, while he may be separate from me, while he may be in some ways greater than me, he is not my master. I still get to have my life, and he still does my bidding once in awhile.