The Alternative Press Expo (APE), the world's largest convention for independent and alternative comics, can be a little intimidating, as you navigate the masses (5,000 strong last year) down seemingly endless lines of vendors. The tables with underground celebrities are mobbed, while unknown D.I.Y. artists make puppy-dog eyes at you, offering free candy and $3 zines.
However, among the chaos, there are definitely opportunities you don't want to miss. Artists sorely in need of a writer, and vice versa, can find the perfect match in the new event, Comics Collaboration Connection, two, two-hour "speed-dating" style sessions. For the first time ever, APE is also offering how-to workshops on writing, drawing, and getting the results published and noticed, in addition to its usual artist talks and panels.
In particular, APE puts a spotlight on the Bay Area's one-of-a-kind contribution to the world of comics. Here are some must-sees:
Daniel Clowes: This cartoonist is possibly the most famous name on APE's special-guest roster, thanks to a little 2001 film about sardonic misfit teens called Ghost World. The movie -- based on a compilation of narratives that first appeared in his Eightball anthology comics -- was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay adaptation. Clowes' latest misanthrope, Wilson, the title character of his new book-length comic, wallows in the isolation he creates with his cantankerous, ungenerous personality as he faces life's moments of bleakness and hope. Born in Chicago in 1961, Clowes lived in New York City before settling down in Oakland with his wife and son. He speaks with Comics Comics editor Dan Nadel in a 2pm Saturday talk.
The Bay Area Comics Scene Through the Years: This panel takes a look at the unique role the San Francisco Bay Area has played in comics history, starting with the 1968 debut of Zap Comix. Published by Beat writer Charles Plymell, this comic book gave a platform to the lascivious, irreverent countercultural satire of one R. Crumb, launching the underground comix movement. Panelists like Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams, who founded the '90s Berkeley comic collective Puppy Toss, and Susie Cagle, whose graphic novel, Nine Gallons, gives an unflinching portrait of the Food Not Bombs program, explain what's been going on since. Panel is 1pm, Saturday.
Keith Knight: While living in San Francisco in the 1990s, Knight formulated his unique drawing style, which blends the aesthetics of Calvin & Hobbes with that of underground comix. His "The K Chronicles," appearing in The San Francisco Examiner, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Salon, tackled issues of race and politics through the eyes of Knight's alter ego, Keef. The winner of the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con Inkpot Award, Knight speaks at two back-to-back Sunday panels, Indie Comics Survival Guide at 4pm, and The Fight for Intellectual Freedom, held by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, at 4:45pm.
Queer Cartoonists: The comic-book artists on this panel have wildly different stories, themes, and drawing aesthetics. Some of their work, like Jon Macy's "Teneley and Camille" and Sean-Z's web comic "Myth," are unabashedly homoerotic tales; others, like Christine Smith's web comics "Eve's Apple" and "The Princess" and moderator Justin Hall's "Glamazonia" give trans heroines the spotlight. Others tell more childlike stories, Ricky Worley gives autobiographical snippets through a cute gay rabbit in "A Waste of Time," while Desmond Miller ("Hansel and Gretel") and special guest Tommy Kovac (author of "Stitch" and the only non-San Franciscan on the panel) mine fairy tales. Hear these artists discuss the changing face of queer comics at 3pm Saturday.
Shannon Wheeler: This Eisner Award winner was born and raised in Berkeley, where he also got his start drawing comics while studying at UC Berkeley. After moving to Austin in the '90s, Wheeler created his most famous character, Too Much Coffee Man, whose beverage of choice fuels his constant state of anxiety and existential crisis. Now, Wheeler has moved to Portland, where Too Much Coffee Man became the first comic book character to have his own opera. His one-panel "Postage Stamp Funnies" ran in The Onion, and now he draws comics for The New Yorker. Wheeler teaches a class called Gag Cartooning and the Single-Panel Comic, at 4pm on Sunday.
The Alternative Press Expo runs Saturday and Sunday, October 16 & 17, 2010 at the Concourse in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit comic-con.org/ape.