[Text by Jason Viola, comics by Cara Bean.]
It was never clear how to pronounce RIPExpo, so no one was calling it RIPExpo. Even then there was disagreement; some called it RIP, some called it RIPE. The Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo, held August 2 & 3 at the Providence Public Library, was a celebration of comics, zines, and poetry that was in many ways as idiosyncratic as its name.
That is not really a complaint; Cara and I had a lot of fun. It was a unique festival that felt true to the organizers’ personalities. The fair was imbued with a punk spirit that was proudly LGBTQ-friendly with an unabashed DIY aesthetic. The logo, poster, and flyers advertised an underground event that was outside the mainstream – something wild and raw. Instead of a website, RIPExpo had only a Tumblr. The programs were unstapled zines whose insides were folded backwards, so that their pages were out of order (this was probably not deliberate but it still contributed to the festival’s personal, handmade feel). Even the table assignments were anarchic; there were no table assignments. Exhibitors arrived and selected their own tables.
What distinguished RIPExpo from other zine fairs was the incongruous choice of the Providence Public Library as a venue. The entire affair was sponsored and hosted by the establishment. The library was an inviting space for a festival, full of natural light, handsome displays, and a beautiful ceiling. A central, public, free space is always ideal for an event like this. The comfortable rooms and the implications of being in a library encouraged attendees to browse and linger. Everyone appeared to love being there.
Exhibitors were given small signs to put on their tables to promote any books that are kid-friendly. This makes sense; comics in a library are bound to attract children and families. But it was another piece that seemed at odds with the show’s overall marketing. I personally enjoyed these contradictions. But I wonder if it contributed to the show’s low turnout. If RIPExpo had embraced the event it became, played with the stately feel of the venue, and advertised itself as family-friendly, would it have attracted more attendees? Conversely, it might have had greater success in an environment closer to its heart (like AS220), and held when college is in session instead of mid-summer.
RIPExpo brought in talented exhibitors from all over the country; we spoke to artists from New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Portland, OR. We took home way more books than we’d planned to. The first year, of course, is always quiet. And we did meet people who had never been to an event like this before, which is encouraging. A young, bearded man named Rob came to our table about ten minutes before Saturday closing. He had ridden in from Massachusetts on his motorbike and was awestruck, behaving as if independent comics held the key to the doors of perception. He regretted that he only had a few short minutes remaining and vowed he would be back tomorrow. I gave him a postcard and he accepted it as a blessing. Unfortunately, we can only speculate on why he didn’t return.
Not everyone shared Rob’s enthusiasm, though.
With a full schedule of programming and a weekend full of exhibits and events, a friendly and helpful staff, and two rooms full of talent, RIPExpo was a lot of fun. We’re eager to see what it grows into next year.
A few tables down from us sat Krystal DiFronzo, whose minicomic Saint’s Love was recently featured on Festival Season. Eleri Mai Harris was selling copies of her CCS thesis about the Battle of Lake Champlain, as well as a touching comic about sleeping at the house of an old Hungarian woman (which you can and should read here).
I was happy to be exposed to the elegant and mysterious comics by Andrew White as well as the fantastic, colorful work of Jen Tong. I brought home nearly all of Whit Taylor’s excellent autobio comics. Sam Alden produces incredible comics at an inhuman pace. L. Nichols promises that the next chapter of Flocks (a memoir about faith and sexual identity) will be available at SPX next month.
We were enchanted by the beautiful colors and weird shapes of Talya Modlin. Walker Mettling from the Providence Comics Consortium inspired us with his techniques for using comics as an outreach tool. And it’s always a delight to cross paths with Kevin Czapiewski, a remarkable cartoonist and dedicated festival organizer.
Tony Breed was happy to be in his hometown talking about his new webcomic Muddlers Beat, featuring old and new characters who (so far) start a college radio station, donate sperm, and mourn a pet (Tony’s previous series was one of Kenan’s favorite finds at CAKE 2013). Alexander Danner gave us copies of Gingerbread Houses and Two for No, and we will write about at least one of these comics at a later date (you can read how to send us your comics here).
On Saturday night, Cara and I went to the Animation Breakdown Roundup, which was presented by RIPExpo exhibitor Peter Glantz. We loved these films, which changed in tone from silly to psychedelic to sublime. I was particularly struck by Move Mountain by Kristen Lepore and Eager by Allison Schulnik.
- The Dean is an old rooming house transformed into a boutique hotel. There’s an old fashioned elevator with a scissor gate and our room had a hardwood floor with an Oriental rug. Oil portraits of 19th century gents adorned the walls. The bathroom fixtures were thoroughly modern, however, following the current trend of getting everything wet.
- The Duck & Bunny serves crêpes, crêpe ravioli, crêpe pizzas, crêpe burritos, and Cara ordered these delicious smoked salmon crêpe maki rolls that everyone was unprepared for. The menu listed neither duck nor bunny, but the walls featured duck and bunny variations of famous paintings.
- Also, this: