It’s a comic book world and we’re all living in it. But while pop culture has been subsumed by Marvel and DC’s biggest heroes over the past two decades, comic books are, of course, much more than that—they’re also a vehicle for personal expression, for artistic experimentation, for stories of every genre under the sun. Or, as the great Harvey Pekar once put it, “Comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.”
It’s that spirit that’s the organizing principle behind the inaugural St. Louis Independent Comics Expo (or SLICE, for short). The event, which is free to attend, runs this Saturday, October 14th, at the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries (3648 Washington Ave.) from 10:00am to 5:00pm. “What makes SLICE different from other conventions is that the focus at SLICE is on independent work,” says Steenz, Board President of the SLICE board of directors as well as the Dwayne McDuffie Award-winning cartoonist of the daily strip Heart of the City. “You won’t see any Marvel or DC Comics, but you’ll get to see smaller publishers and creators of a greater variety. We’re talking literary magazines, local printmakers, poets, and tabletop roleplaying game designers. And many of these creators are from St. Louis and the surrounding Midwest region!”
Calling this the “inaugural” SLICE (as I did above) is a bit misleading, as the event is really a reinvention/refocusing of the St. Louis Small Press Expo (or STLSPEX), which ran from 2014 to 2019 before being forced into hiatus by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s more to it than just a name change: “What SLICE and STLSPEX have in common is our focus on small press and independent work,” says Steenz. “I think the biggest difference between SLICE and STLSPEX is that we’re putting a bit more focus on comics. There are so many great cartoonists in the area and I’d love for there to be a St. Louis-based comics show for those creators to attend and exhibit at.”
Another huge difference is the venue: after launching at Firecracker Press in St. Louis’ Old North neighborhood, STLSPEX made its home in the Great Hall at the Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, a beautiful space but a tight fit for the number of exhibitors and attendees that STLSPEX drew every year (and also quite echo-y). SLICE promises to put its new environs at the Sheldon to good use. “The Sheldon is a gorgeous building and we have the privilege of using several floors of the place,” explains Steenz. The fun starts before you even get in the building: a screenprinting station will be set up on the sidewalk outside to allow attendees to make their very own tote bag featuring the Expo’s adorable new mascot, Mr. Slice. The Sheldon’s second floor will feature panel discussions in the Gallery on topics like comic strip syndication, zine making, and the publishing lifecycle, while workshops on button making, poetry, and figure drawing will take place in the Patron’s Lounge. The second floor will also include the event’s sponsors/partners, including booths from local bookstores like Betty’s Books, Fantasy Books, and Apotheosis Comics. “We love the new space,” enthuses Brandon Daniels, a writer, artist, educator, and fellow member of SLICE’s board, “and we are hopeful that being in Grand Center will help us draw a large crowd of art lovers.”
Travel up to the third floor to the Sheldon’s newly renovated Konneker Room, which will serve as host to over 100 independent artists selling their wares, including yours truly—find me at booth 7, selling anthologies from local St. Louis comics collective Ink & Drink Comics. The rest of the show floor is a mix of local stalwarts like infographic-style comic/printmaker (and frequent Riverfront Times contributor) Dan Zettwoch, crime- (and other genre-) themed publisher Brain Cloud Comics (run by this site’s webmaster, Carlos Gabriel Ruiz), punk-horror artist Marie Enger, and the experimentally minded Floating Head1 alongside dozens of newcomers. “There was a much larger number of applicants than ever before,” explains Daniels. “The decision-making process was very difficult and took a long time. We took into consideration applicants’ breadth of work, the uniqueness of their work, their demographics, and more. We strove to curate a show that was diverse and exciting to attendees.” “We wanted to give equal attention to the variety of mediums that you’ll see at the show,” Steenz continues. “We also wanted to make sure we had a balanced ratio of newcomers, favorites, and a few wild cards!”
This year’s special guests are Bianca Xunise (contributor to the syndicated comic strip Six Chix), Massachusetts-based indie publisher Bulgilhan Press, and award-winning tabletop RPG designer Cassi Mothwin. The trio will kick off the show the night before on Friday, October 13th, with a panel discussion at the Opening Night Ceremony at the Hi-Pointe Theatre (1005 McCausland Ave.), which runs from 6:00-8:00pm.
In short, there’s tons of amazing art being created in town, and SLICE is your best opportunity to see as much of it as possible all under one roof, not to mention it’s totally free to get in the door. “I’m excited to see what our regular vendors have been creating over the last few years,” Daniels enthuses, “and I’m excited for the many new faces at this year’s event.” “I’m really excited to see how many people take a photo with Mr. Slice,” Steenz adds. “Our mascot has been looking forward to this day all year!” | Jason Green
For more information, visit slicexpo.org!
1 Full disclosure: I’ve edited and published work by all of these extremely, extremely talented people, including Steenz, Daniels, and several other attendees.