California, Gary Fong, San Francisco, See, USA — October 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm




Andysaurus Comics, one of the many exhibitors at this year’s Alternative Press Expo.


SAN FRANCISCO  – So, I’m what you’d call comic book challenged.  I’m the guy who asks (while watching the recent Avengers movie) whether Captain America can die and whether Black Window and Hawkeye actually have super human powers and, if they don’t, then how can they be super heroes, let alone members of the Avengers (okay, perhaps in addition to being comic book challenged, I’m also a bit annoying).  What little I do know of comics (or manga or graphic novels) comes from reading loads of Peanuts (and the Archies) as a kid, and my time in Tokyo where Japanese manga is required reading for any foreigner studying the local language (I was quite taken with the Great Teacher Onizuka – or GTO - series).  As I mentioned, I’m challenged.

That said, I’m always up for new things so when my self-described fan boy of a brother (he’s been a collector since he was young) invited me to experience all the fuss, first-hand, of a comic book convention, I couldn’t resist.  The “con” (apparently, that’s what they’re referred to by fans) he took me to goes by the somewhat odd name of APE or the Alternative Press Expo which, according to the exhibitor’s guide, has been happening annually in San Francisco Bay Area for the last nineteen years (who knew, right?).  And unlike the infamous Comic-Con in San Diego, APE is all about the indie and emerging comic book publisher/artist.  In other words, you won’t find the likes of Marvel and DC Comics there, nor the major film studios with their flashy star- studded events.  Nope.  In the words of my bro, APE is for “the underground comic book artist.”

While that may sound a tad 1980-ish (apologies to my bro but that’s probably the last time I heard something referred to as underground), it turns out APE is not just for the hardcore comic book fan but……gasp….for the comic book challenged as well.  The technical abilities and creative concepts on display at APE are so impressive that even if you have just a small appreciation for art, regardless of the medium, it’s difficult not to be compelled or moved by it all.  Moreover, the casual APE format is heavy on artist interaction – most of them are very open to discussing their work – which provides another interesting facet to the experience.

Clockwise from top left: Pao Jitmakusol’s HANGBoY, Fuji Dreskin and Ajuan Mance’s 1001 Black Men.

I saw so many works at APE that I loved.  Unfortunately, with +400 exhibitors, my comic-book challenged mind was unable to keep track of even a small portion of them.  But here are a few that stayed with me:  Pao Jitmakusol’s HANGBoY illustrations ( and his amazing graphic novel HANGBoY World War Too, Oakland-based Ajuan Mance ( and her efforts to “push past entrenched stereotypes to create images of Black men that reflect the wonderful complexity of African American lives” in 1001 Black Men (she recently completed image #373), and Fuji Dreskin’s disturbing images of “the most prolific female serial killers of all time” (  Again, those are just a few – there were so many more talented artists at APE.

So, a big shout out to my bro for introducing me to the “underground” comic book world.  He was right – it didn’t disappoint.  And thanks to him, I now have another, much-needed arty thing to do (along with the always interesting 941 Geary) when I’m in San Francisco.

What’s the little thing that makes the Alternative Press Expo worth a visit?  All that great art; and that you don’t have to be a fanboy to appreciate it.

When is it?  The Alternative Press Expo is held every October Concourse Exhibition Center at 635 8th Street (at Brannan).  For more information check out the APE website:

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Author:  Gary Fong

Photography:  Gary Fong


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