The Austin Chronicle

Collating the Underexposed

Chris Nicholas and Austin's STAPLE! Independent Media Expo

By Wayne Alan Brenner, March 4, 2005, Books

Got a comic book that's just itching for some attention, something beyond what's provided by your meager circle of ink-stained simpaticos? Feel like you've been snubbed by the popular media and their current graphic-novel hullabaloo? Like you're one of the overlooked multitude laboring in the shadow of In The Shadow of No Towers?

Tell it to Chris Nicholas, the man behind STAPLE!:The Independent Media Expo, the event that's providing a meeting place, a marketplace, a showcase for the folks who publish comics and zines and possible literary masterworks out of their own apartments.

"It was difficult trying to find an audience for You Chose Right the First Time," says Nicholas, speaking of his and artist Dave Lamplugh's comic of noirish grit and crime. "And I knew other people doing indie comics who had the same experience. And other small press publishers in town, people who do zines of one kind or another, and we were always griping about where's the outlet or organization for this stuff. And I figured, why not stop bitching about the situation and actually do something?"

Nicholas, an affable guy who looks like somebody's just-out-of-rehab uncle, takes another drag from his second cigarette in 10 minutes. Marlboro Lights are what have kept him going through all the planning and organizing and running around.

"I got together with the folks from the Austin Zine Library," he says, "who I met at a MonkeyWrench Books benefit. And John Rubio of the Austin Sketch Group. And I contacted all the indie people I know, and anyone who had connections with any bigger-name comic creators. Anybody I could think of, to try to get this thing going and make it more than just small potatoes."

Terry (Strangers in Paradise) Moore is going to be at STAPLE!, signing books as a benefit for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Scott Kurtz, creator of the online phenomenon PvP, will be anchoring a webcomics panel (featuring Sequential Tart's Barbara Lien-Cooper, Lea (Girlamatic) Hernandez, and Aaron Romo of Fairview High fame). And STAPLE! sponsor Austin Books is flying in Shannon (Too Much Coffee Man) Wheeler from Portland to lend his aura of local-comics-boy-who's-made-damn-good to the proceedings. No, the potatoes don't seem all that small – at least for Austin.

"We've definitely got a good program here," says Nicholas, grinding a darkened butt into his crowded ashtray. "Signings, panels, a chance to meet the creators, a chance to show off what's being done locally." He pulls another Marlboro from the half-empty pack, lights up. "That's the most important part," he says, taking a drag. "The community, the exchange of ideas and publications. We've got a lot of exhibitors for the event – we sold out all the tables weeks ago – we've got creators, comics studios, zine publishers, a whole bunch of folks displaying their stuff. It's gonna be great. It's gonna be a party."

It's gonna be a party. At the Elks Lodge?

"It's almost impossible, finding an affordable venue around here," Nicholas says. "I looked around for two months; everything was either too small or too expensive. Then I found the Elks Lodge listed online, and for my money, they're the best deal in town."

There are a lot of comics online, too, as evidenced by STAPLE!'s own inclusion of them. And aren't those the best deal in town, these days? Aren't paper comics, in this DreamWeaver-and Shockwave-mediated era, a little horse-and-buggy?

Nicholas grins. "The printed stuff looks better than a lot of webcomics out there," he says. "And there's something about paper, too, about holding a comic in your hand. The whole tactile sensation of feeling the pages between your fingers, all that stuff. That's a big part of STAPLE!:the actual, palpable objects that comics are.

"This expo is the biggest thing I've ever accomplished," he continues. "It's been a hell of a learning experience for me, a lot of groping through the dark and figuring out what needed to be done. But everybody's been pitching in – Gary Bartos and Nate Southard. Manton Reece, who designed our Web site. The Zine Library people, everybody, I couldn't even name them all. And the response has been really encouraging, from here and out of town, and, yeah, it's gonna be great. Like I said:It's gonna be a party." end story

STAPLE! happens from 10am to 6pm, Saturday, March 5, at the Elks Lodge, 700 Dawson. Admission is $5. For more information, see

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