I am the person I am today in large part to the creative scene of St. Louis. Over the years here, I’ve gotten to know a wide range of writers, artists, graphic designers, mixed media magicians, and I’ve become a better writer due to a multitude of interactions with them. I’ve also gotten more exposure to the nooks and crannies into pop art and pop culture thanks to the people I’ve met. It would also be fair to say that I would not be a writer for Black Nerd Problems had it not been for the employees of my first comic book shop and the friendships I made because of that store. This is why I’m very excited that I get to spend the next thousand some words gushing over one of the best con experiences I’ve had during the enduring pandemic years because of its organization, variety, and overall chill vibes.
Just for a little bit of context, in the before times, St. Louis used to be home to the St. Louis Small Press Expo, centered around predictable small press. It was one of the first local cons I ever got to attend and featured a variety of small publishers and local sharing their works from magazines to mini-zines and art prints, and it was overall a chill vibe. However, like many other conventions their 2020 iteration was canceled due to COVID-19, and the show would go on indefinite hiatus. Enter 2023, there would be a major rebranding and re-imagining and thus the St. Louis Independent Comics Expo (and their adorable mascot with a menacing exacto-knife, Mr. SLICE) took stage.
With its expanded scope, the board members of SLICE made sure that the Opening Ceremony and one day event would be a memorable one. The night before the con proper attendees gathered around the Hi-Pointe Theater for a special panel featuring the three special guests of the expo.
- Bianca Xunise (they/them), illustrator and cartoonist
- Zachary Clemente (he/him), owner of Bulgilhan Press
- Cassi Mothwin (she/her), tabletop RPG designer, writer, and illustrator
This panel was moderated by none other than our local St. Louis Cartoonist and SLICE board President Steenz (they/them) who had a candid conversation about the communal aspects of being in a creative field, the hard realities of business, and also the actual physical taxing process that creating is capable of inducing. In particular, the one piece of career advice for aspiring creators from each of the guests was particularly resonate.
Failure is just a state of being in the process of creation… It’s a thing that naturally happens in the course of doing things. – Zachary Clemente
Be the hype-person for your friends. -Cassi Mothwin
Start stretching. -Bianca Xunise
That last comment led to a fun exercise with Steenz where they walked us through a simple three step stretch that was extraordinarily easy that could easily be remembered with the mnemonic: “Stop / this pizza / is mine.” And thus, opening night was a rousing success.
And before we talk about the show proper, I do want to highlight one of the policies I greatly appreciated was SLICE having a mask mandate, something I wish more cons were adamant about.
Come Saturday, October 15th, the Sheldon had been converted to a lively con space. I was helping as a volunteer, doing odds and ends around the venue, but I got to spend just as much time as a participant. As you walked in the front doors, you saw a screen-printing station where you purchase and screen your own SLICE themed tote bag with the fantastic Mr. SLICE mascot.
The second floor (accessible via elevator or stairs), featured the various sponsors of the cons. Nearly two dozen St. Louis local business and institutions gave support and resources to bring the revival of this expo back, and it was inspiring seeing all of the support for creators and creatives alike. Local comic book and book shops, Cinema St. Louis, art supplies vendors, restaurants, the St. Louis Public Library, and more backed this convention and allowed the board to fully realize their vision.
Additionally, the space held an information booth, a workshop space that throughout the day featured button-making, poetry writing, and figuring drawing, and a lecture hall in an art gallery where the panelists from the opening ceremonies presented much deeper insights into respective fields. There was Bianca Xunise discussing the difference between syndication and zines, Zachary Clemente in conversation with Jefferson City based magazine publisher Tina Casagrand Foss, or Cassi Mothwin going into detail about the different solo RPGs out on the market.
There were recurring themes about the power of community and collaboration. Suggestions to start small before attempting to create your magnum opus. Candid conversations about the sacrifices and requirements to run a small business. and a laundry list of recommended media.
The third and final floor of the convention exhibit held all of the vendors. As you can imagine, it was a veritable treasure trove of a wide range of independent artists sharing all of the cool things from comics, bespoke prints, and every single type of trinket imaginable. There were 66 tables set up there and it was incredibly dangerous for my wallet.
Throughout the day, volunteers and organizers could be spotted with fashionable berets as they kept the event running smoothly. It was a smooth operation all around, and you’d be hard pressed to believe that this was the first con that the board had ever formally attended. They demonstrated incredible organizational efficiency as upwards of a thousand some people by my estimation game throughout the seven hour event.
The St. Louis Independent Comics Expo is a testament to the power of vitality of small cons. It was a lovely event that featured several different levels of engagement, a diverse group of people and programming, and overall just a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. The creators and creatives of St. Louis came out in full force, and anyway you slice it, SLICE set a fantastic precedent for itself and I am already looking forward to 2024.