Richmond comic scene flourishes at Small Press Expo

Photo by Gareth Bentall
Photo by Gareth Bentall
Photo by Gareth Bentall

Independent comics lovers have congregated in Bethesda, Maryland, for the Small Press Expo (SPX) each year since 1994.

The annual nonprofit festival aims to provide public exposure to artists, writers and publishers of comic art, and this year featured more Richmond creators tabling at the show than ever before.

Shannon Wright, a 2016 VCU communication arts alum said SPX is inspiring.

“Going here and seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time and their work makes me excited to draw comics,” Wright said.

More than 600 contributors presented at SPX this year, including big names like Daniel Clowes, the writer of “Ghost World,” Lisa Hanawalt, production designer on “Bojack Horseman,” and acclaimed comics journalist Joe Sacco, among others.

Wright said she wasn’t intimidated by the heavy-hitters in attendance.

“We’re all here doing the same thing,” Wright said. “There’s no competitive vibe.”

Ameorry Luo, another tabler and VCU communication arts graduate, agreed that the event is far from unapproachable.

“I’ve been tabling for a while now so the initial jitters are long gone,” Luo said.

Luo speculated on the possibility of SPX recognizing the Richmond crowd, as most of the River City creators were tabled close together, as if the organizers were doing it on purpose, Luo said.

“More and more people recognize Richmond as having a vibrant comics community,” said Nicole Hamilton, who studied kinetic imaging at VCU.

Annually, since 2011, the SPX Executive Committee has selected a library system to be awarded a gift of over 300 books, graphic novels and comics from publishers including Adhouse Books, Cartoon Books, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Koyama Press and Top Shelf.

The Richmond Public Library was this year’s recipient of the SPX Graphic Novel Program. According to the SPX website, $6,000 worth of comics and graphic novels were donated to the library’s collection.

Warren Bernard, the director of SPX, said that the organization tries to focus on providing content to libraries that aren’t in affluent areas.

“We have people that come up from Richmond, and there is a really interesting comics community there, so we thought that it would be great to bring some SPX publisher books to their public library,” said director of the Graphic Novel Program, Catherine Fraas.

For artists just getting started in the independent comics world, Fraas said she suggests going to SPX to see how professional artists live and manage their travel and time as well as to experience an inspiring and creative space.


Gareth Bentall. Photo by Julie TrippGareth Bentall
Gareth is a cartoonist and illustrator currently in his senior year as a communication arts student. He specializes in political cartoons, humorous illustration, underground comic trivia, bird watching, hoarding, forwarding, boogie boarding and Parcheesi. Gareth currently resides inside of his inkpot. Last year, Gareth won the National Society of Professional Journalists award for Editorial Cartooning.
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