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Friday, October 9, 2009

Atomic Books

Atomic Books party celebrates comics and eccentricity

Issue date: 10/1/09
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Atendees of the Atomic Books pre-party perused comic books, action figures and other such paraphenalia before the evening's events.
Media Credit: Mary Dzwonchyk
Atendees of the Atomic Books pre-party perused comic books, action figures and other such paraphenalia before the evening's events.

Baltimore icon John Waters once said, "I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore and decided to stay."

Last Friday, Atomic Books held their annual community party as a kick-off event to the Small Press Expo which took place the following day in Bethesda.

This year's party, called "SPX-Plosion 2!" featured readings and performances by members of the tight-knit local Baltimore cartooning community. The artists of Baltimore are the ultimate example of this eccentricity that Baltimore fans such as Waters value so highly.

Within the first half-hour of the party, the narrow book store was already tightly packed with an audience trying to get a view of the projector at the back of the store.

In typical Baltimore fashion, the audience was an assembly of all types of colorful personalities.

There were the artistic personalities, cool in their casual eclectic wardrobes, a selection of Hampden locals and a smattering of MICA and Hopkins students.

All of the event's proceedings grew from the central population of local artists, cartoonists and sympathizers of the cause of uniqueness, all of whom seem to know one another personally.

Atomic Books is a sight worth seeing at any time. There is a unique selection of books on a variety of subjects from crafting to freak show history to cooking, locally produced art of a distinctly urban feel and an extensive supply of comics for any fan from the superhero lover to the fan of experimental art comics.

The back room, where the cake and beer for the show were kept, is a room of erotic art and comics. On the wall is a collection of autographed Christmas cards from regular patron John Waters.

The readings were from recently-published graphic novels that were also featured at the Small Press Expo. The first reading was by MK Reed from her recent publication Cross Country, a comic about a business trip with one's boss. Reed's illustrations were basic and uncomplicated.

Though her reading seemed somewhat disjointed as it was impossible to tell if the panels read were all part of the same story or not, Reed drew laughs from the audience with her colorful reading and dramatic sound effects.

My Brain Hurts Vol. 2 by Liz Baillie starred a character with an almost identical look to its author. Each shared the same punk-fashion sense and short-cropped faux-hawk.

With illustration techniques only slightly more sophisticated than Reed's, Baillie told her story of discovering a friend, a young gay man suspended from school, drunk on the street corner. Despite the somewhat subversive and potentially tragic nature of her story, Baillie was able to draw laughs with her dramatic reading.

Ken Dahl, a recurring star at the Atomic Books shows, began his reading with the disturbing introduction, "This will be the most awkward reading of all time," then began reading statistics on sexually transmitted infections that forced everyone in the room to consider the likelihood that the person next to them could have an STI.

Dahl's book Monsters tells the story of the main character's struggle with the discovery that he has herpes and has given it to his girlfriend.

A disturbing and mature story of self-discovery and definition, Dahl presented the most masterfully-drawn piece that was at once the most sophisticated and expressive.

Julia Wertz read two stories from The Fart Party Vol. 2, the first about her relationship with her brother's imaginary twin, and the second about her childhood belief that she had accidentally killed Jesus. Wertz gave the longest reading of the evening, a sign of the crowd's approval of her stories' realness and humor.

Though her drawings left much to be desired and she may have built stronger story elements with more detailed illustrations, her reading was popular.

Peter Kuper was the final reader, discussing his book Diario de Oaxaca, a chronicle of his years recently spent in Oaxaca during the period of strife and revolution.

Kuper's work featured many expressive paintings and illustrations, as well as real photographs from his trip. His was a work that showed dedication and total immersion within his experience.

The event closed with the presentation of the Nerdlinger Awards, a ceremony in which last year's winners nominated their friends in the cartooning community for unique and comically-titled awards.

The awards included "Best Depiction of Space or Sea Creature Genitalia," and the "Most Likely to Become Rich and Famous and Thank Me for it, and Don't You Forget It, Steve."

The show ended with a comic signing and a cake and beer party for the illustrators, while the guests milled about the store. The SPX-Plosion 2! party was a reaffirmation of the communal spirit of the local Baltimore artistic community, and the sense of camaraderie therein.

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