Alternative Press Expo

I had never been to the Alternative Press Expo (APE) before this year, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and can’t intelligently compare it to previous ones. Although everyone seems to agree it was much larger than last year, perhaps twice the size. However I will say this; it was a lot of fun and I can definitely see going back.

APE is the little sister to WonderCon in San Francisco, also run by the Comic-Con International folks. Like those other events, it is focused on comics and similarly nerdy stuff, but with the emphasis on alternative/indie in this case.

I had vague images of artist ghetto-style tables with handmade zines and comics being made on the fly and the occasional vendor with boxes of old overpriced counterculture and lit zines. In reality, the scene was much more like a lit-focused WonderCon dealer’s hall. For one thing, homeprinting technology has come a long way in recent years, and so even homemade, small-run, super-indie zines and comics are likely to be slicker than those photocopied hand-lettered editions of yore. For another, the alternative press in San Francisco appears to be thriving, in quality and numbers, if not economically. Last Gasp, Hi-Fructose, McSweeneys, Top Shelf were all there with some gorgeous books, comics and magazines.

Most of the tables seemed to be publishers with a range of their books, but single cartoonists and artists also had a good presence, although we noticed not very many were drawing at their tables, nor did we spot a specific area set up for that. Another thing that I noticed was that while there was a sprinkling of toys, jewelry and the like, it was almost all handmade arts and crafts such that it added to the variety rather than overwhelming the original purpose of the show. I don’t recall seeing any DVD reseller-type vending going on. And more importantly, even the comparatively “big” names such as the Academy of Art blended in with the surrounding tables. There were no large overwhelming acts of marketing going on that I saw.

Classic flimsy comics were the least represented of genres, most indie comics seem to go the trade route. There were one or two sellers with back issues in long boxes, but I didnít notice any new releases.

Likewise, there were not a whole lot of costumes, but I did see a couple of people in steampunk casual and the “Unemployed Man” folks were dressed in character. We did, however, have a nice chat with Ejen Chuang, author of a coffee table book of photography called Cosplay in America, who was there selling copies of his book. Of course from a Yipe! angle, we were interested in learning more about it. And since it turns out he is based in Los Angeles, we may have talked him into visiting some of the conventions down there to get a perspective on mainstream costuming and smaller fan run conventions.

Other standouts were the Silver Sprocket table, which had some preview art for the upcoming Phenomenauts comic, which looks fantastic and a lot of fun. In a different vein entirely were the gorgeous handmade art/pop-up books from Two Fine Chaps, which were a little pricier than I could justify given my current economy, but absolutely beautiful and very, very tempting. I did make a few purchases including a Keith Knight comic. I dithered over which book to get, because the others were too large to carry around but I Left My Arse in San Francisco had a cartoon ass on the cover. I bought it anyway and was amused to see when I went through my loot the next day and actually looked at the inscription that Knight had kindly personalized it with an extra cartoon ass on the inside as well.

Eventually the assault on the senses started exhausting us, even the renewed energy from an emergency caffeine run could only get us so far, and so we decided to call it quits and head out into the night for food and drinks before the Cartoon Art Museum/APE party opened.

We wandered without a definite destination and ended up at Bindi’s Indian restaurant on 2nd Street, which had a lively looking happy hour. As we wrapped up, there was a tap on my shoulder and I turned to see Jacob Weisman, of all people. We had walked right past the table of SF in SF folks eating their pre-reading dinner. Normally, these dinners are at Henry’s Hunan a block down, so I took this as a sign, and we paid our bill and followed them over to the Hobart Building for the reading.

Claude Lalumiere had an interesting post-zombie apocalypse story, and Karen Joy Fowler had a heartbreaking excerpt from a Lincoln story. I adore Terry Bisson’s interview style but the sitting had sapped the group’s energy so we didn’t stay for the Q&A, leaving during the intermission instead to head to our final destination for the evening, Marlena’s over in Hayes Valley.

Mette had interviewed one of the performers there for an upcoming issue of Yipe!, and Carrie from Borderlands Books showed up for a few drinks, since she lives nearby. And so it really felt like an extension of the fannish experience, as though we had condensed a convention weekend worth of fun into one single day.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #110, October 27, 2010