APE 2011 in San Francisco – Review

Khalid at the DWAP Productions booth. ©Bryan Glosemeyer

Khalid at the DWAP Productions booth. ©Bryan Glosemeyer

The words “Alternative Press Expo” still hold kind of a heroic aura. You could think it was a barely legal rowdy-dowdy event where you could procure anti-government pamphlets, banned books, zines about the most demented music, et cetera. At first glance APE (which actually centers around indie comic books) would seem like a more vegetarian enterprise, proposing to dive into other people’s imaginary worlds and private fantasies, most of which are far from X-rated. Nevertheless, the concept of the fair is – I wouldn’t call it radical, but indeed alternative, since it is based on kindness, not (or not only) on the bare need or desire of the consumer. It presupposes two subjects, one of which is genuinely interested in the other’s inner world and ready to not only engage in fruitful conversation, but to reward the other for having such curious fantasies. It’s quite a different model of commodity exchange from what we’re used to in our society, because the focus is equally on the consumer and on the producer (moreover, the line between the two is blurry, since I assume that most of the APE visitors are “creatives” of some sort). Ideally, APE would function as a space for exchanging ideas and opinions and thus preparing the ground where strange flowers would grow.

Everybody at APE is super friendly. Everyone smiles and offers you candy. Every minute you feel like you’re being invited for a cup of tea. Cuteness fills the air: everywhere you see bunnies, owls, and nameless hybrid beasties which tempt you to take them home and make them your best friends. I resisted, since (horrible confession!) there are already enough toys in our apartment (because I am creepy…) Dale of DWAP Productions shared a table with Jason (Carpe Chaos) and Khalid (Fried Chicken and Sushi); the latter’s the creator of the only “cute” thing I grabbed at the fair – a comic called “Caffeine Baby” where he tells a crazy little family story in his trademark dynamic style.

Other stories I lay my hands on were a tad more uncomfortable and queasy. Speaking of families, by the way: this APE is where I got acquainted with the work of Austin English, whose book “The Disgusting Room” combines a crooked narrative about a dysfunctional family unit with a very unusual drawing style. His human figures, executed in a faux-childlike primitivist manner, always threaten to melt into abstract puddles of thick paint, calling to mind the post-World War II gestural painting. There are more comics by him in a publication called Windy Corner Magazine, which also features a pretty interesting work by Sakura Maku. Here not only the narrative, but some sentences as well are fragmented. While English’s characters seem to exist in an out-of-time state, Maku places hers in a contemporary urban space oversaturated with data. Drawing is neighbored with collage, figuration with pattern, English language with Japanese… And her deep, dark reds are simply beautiful. The same publisher, Sparkplug Comic Books, issued “Flesh and Bone” by Julia Gfrörer. It is a great Gothic horror tale about a witch.

Austin English - The Disgusting Room ©Windy Corner Magazine

Austin English – The Disgusting Room ©Windy Corner Magazine

Upon seeing “Ego,” a series of books by Dunja Jankovic that feature picassoid figures in dreamy scenarios, I understood that a Surrealism aficionado had been lying dormant in me. So I grabbed them all. Dunja Jankovic is Croatian, and her style has something vaguely Eastern European in it. There was a time in my life when I looked at a lot of reproductions of non-official Soviet paintings, and I can feel that atmosphere, kind of desolate, kind of introverted, in her work. Finally, I got a DVD called “Zebratron,” which is basically a case study in what happens when you give a hipster a camera, some magic mushrooms and a fake golden axe with a ruby on it. There are little animations telling nonsensical stories about an eight-legged zebra in a candy-colored world, kind of a narcotic twist on kids’ shows such as Teletubbies. Zebratron was hilarious, I hadn’t laughed like that in a while.

Who didn’t come to APE this year: V. Vale, of Re/Search Publications! His magazines feature seminal figures from the worlds of punk and Industrial, including William S. Burroughs and Genesis P-Orridge. I am a fan of the latter, so I will conclude this post with his band Throbbing Gristle‘s song “Convincing People.”

Posted by Julia Glosemeyer

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