If I had to chart my comics reading life, it would look something like this:
As you can see, there was a long period when I had little or nothing to do with comics. That wasn't due to any dissatisfaction with comics, I just had other things going on (mainly music and teaching). But since I've gotten back into comics, there's so much I'm learning that I was never aware of before. For instance, last year I learned about the Small Press Expo...one day after it had ended. So I was determined to go this year.
Which I did. I took a day off from work and made up my mind I'd go for one day of SPX in Bethesda, Maryland (only about 45 minutes from my house). Although I'd been to the Baltimore Comic Con and a few others, I didn't really know what to expect, other than lots of indie creators and publishers. I'd also told my friend Derek at The Comics Alternative that I'd try to interview as many creators as possible, but also hoped that interviewing them would not take away from my enjoyment of the event. I did interview lots of creators for the podcast (You can hear those interviews here.), but also took frequent breaks just to take it all in and spend a few $.
I can report that SPX is an exceptionally well-run event. Everything is clearly marked for first-timers like me. The registration process is easy and there are plenty of friendly folks to help you if you need help. Signing schedules are posted and important announcements are made when necessary. And did I mention that everyone is friendly? (Comics people generally are.)
Although I saw just one or two people doing cosplay, there weren't many. SPX isn't that type of con. Neither is there much focus on media; it's all about the comics and there are tons of them. You'll find publishers you're probably familiar with, such as Fantagraphics, First Second, Drawn & Quarterly, Nobrow, Ad House, and SelfMadeHero, but you'll also find smaller publishers and self-publishers. You'll find people with several self-published comics at their tables and some with only one or two. Everyone I talked to was very approachable, very friendly, and very willing to talk.
Although there were several people I wanted to meet and have their work signed (Lynda Barry chief among them), I decided not to stand in line, although the lines seemed to be moving fairly quickly. I like how the organizers have the signings set up: people line up outside the doorway leading into the convention floor and once you're inside, it's just you and the creator, which makes it more of a personal, one-on-one situation. (I'm sure both fans and creators appreciate that set-up.)
The only criticism I have is with the exhibitor badges. Nowhere on the exhibitor badge is there a place for the creator's name. (Some, however, went ahead and wrote their names on them anyway.) At some publisher's tables, it would be helpful to know if you're talking to one of the creators or someone else. But it's not a deal-breaker. You can always ask if so-and-so is there...
(My loot from this year's SPX)
Some other observations and suggestions:
The price of attending the event is VERY reasonable. I would've paid twice what they charged. (Any SPX organizers reading this, please disregard the last sentence.)
Parking is free across the street at the Metro station. FREE!
If you see a book that you think you might want to buy, don't hesitate. Get it. It might not be there by the time you make up your mind.
Don't be afraid to meet/talk to the creators. They will not bite you. (Well, maybe a couple of them might, but think of the story you'll have to tell your friends...)
When you arrive, walk the entire convention floor once to get a feel for where things are and how the event is organized.
Pace yourself. Take frequent breaks.
Move out of your comfort zone. Take risks. If you see a book that looks interesting, buy it. Support the creator(s).
Vote for the Ingatz Awards. You can do it right there and it's easy.
Bring a large bag or purchase one there. Canvas bags are best.
Even if you don't buy anything at their table, at least visit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They do a lot of great stuff and have lots of great (free) information and handouts.
Mark your calendar for SPX 2015. (I'm guessing Sept. 12 & 13, 2015.) Go to SPX. Tell your friends. Repeat.