Many SPX comics artists have online websites for their work

Troy Price

Comics are moving online.

Many of the comics artists at the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, Md. this weekend have online websites where they post their work. Some use social media sites to promote it as well.

Thousands of comics lovers poured into SPX to rub elbows with some of the best writers, artists and small publishers that the independent comics scene has to offer. The event attracts more than fans. For several of the 360-plus creators in attendance, the expo is one of the most important weekends on their calendars, offering a chance for fledgling and veteran independent comic creators alike to champion their latest work while also connecting with their audience.

“A lot of people have web comics that they do online, or put their stuff on Tumblr, or have been doing independent comics for years,” said Jonathan Gray, who had a table at the convention. “It’s a chance for fans to meet the creators, the creators to meet the fans, meet people who have been following you for weeks, months on end.”

Gray was a rarity at the event, having had experience as a professional comic creator for Archie’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” and the Walt Disney Co. The experience put Gray in stark contrast to someone like his fez-wearing tablemate, Jonathan Griffiths, who has always worked independently, either freelancing or on his own comic, Beyond the Canopy. Gray thinks it’s a testament to the strength of the convention that it can comfortably house people with such different experiences.

“The nice thing about the SPX is that everybody comes from different backgrounds,” he said. “I started doing independent stuff, and then by a fluke got hired into doing professional stuff. Now I want to try and slowly ease back into doing my own stuff again.”

Griffiths hasn’t worked on comics in a professional setting, but he’s a lot further in his independent work, according to Gray.

“That’s one of the interesting things about a place like this,” Gray said. “Everybody has their own path that they’ve taken to get to where they are now, to get further ahead.”

For some, like Ashley Quigg, there’s much path still to be traveled. A New York native and writer of the manga-esque and sci-fi tinged Space Case Sally, Quigg was having trouble luring potential clientele at the expo that she calls “the biggest of the small.” Despite this being her second year at the convention, and updating her website one to two times a week, she seemed unable to attract much attention at the expo.

Quigg didn’t let her difficulties dampen her spirits. She said it’s a slow process to develop a following and in the independent comics sphere, you can’t be discouraged when things don’t break your way.

Some comics bring themselves to the following, using social media to reach a wider audience. Quigg has been forming a presence on websites like Facebook and Twitter to further her brand.

Through social media, comics writers and artists like Quigg aim to connect with their audience, receive feedback and ultimately create a better product.

As far as Quigg is concerned, that approach is working. In just a few short years of creating comics online, Quigg has significantly improved as a writer and has seen a shift in her personal style, attributed in large part to the rigorous demands of maintaining a consistently updated online comic. Though her development as a writer hasn’t yet brought her a huge audience, it has yielded a better comic, and Quigg remains confident that she will eventually break through.

Other comic writers and artists have also discovered how valuable a legitimate social media presence can be. Rick Spears, a 10-year SPX veteran who has written for popular Marvel titles like Wolverine and Daredevil, uses social media to communicate with fans and also remind them of relevant upcoming events, like SPX. Spears is able to turn an online following into a tangible bolstering of sales by drawing in more of an audience.

“Especially with independent stuff, you usually can’t afford too much traditional advertising,” said Spears. “So the internet, and Facebook and Twitter is really the way to promote yourself.”

The most important thing for up-and-coming creators to keep in mind is to never stop creating, according to Spears and Gray.

“The ones that get the furthest in this industry are the ones that don’t stop doing,” Gray said. “Eventually, it might take months, it might take years, but you’ll find your break. You’ll find that little spot where your puzzle piece fits.”

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