"A LOT OF FUN" The Expo poster.
The grand Washington Street entrance of the Providence Public Library will open to the public this weekend for Saturday and Sunday’s inaugural Rhode Island Independent Press Expo. RIPExpo — not RIIPExpo, for some reason — is a comic-heavy affair where swarms of comic artists, zinesters, and small press publishers will travel from Portland, New Orleans, Chicago, and even Mexico City to collectively geek out over one another’s work. The expo will also bring local attention to dozens of independent print media producers living in and around Providence.
Considering the strong local tradition of zines, comics, and artists books, it’s actually pretty surprising an event like RIPExpo hasn’t happened before. Pronounced “ripe expo,” the event is being put together by five local artists and book-makers: Cybele Collins, Mimi Chrzanowski, Cathy Johnson, Dailen Williams, and Katrina Clark. “We want to bring new audiences in,” says Jack Martin, director of Providence Public Library, who eagerly agreed to host. “We want to support comic artists and book makers. Plus it sounds like a lot of fun; this is one of the first big public events like this that we’ve done in a long time.”
The expo will feature zines and handmade books by local writers, including the poet Kate Schapira, whose Climate Anxiety Counseling kiosk was a fixture in Kennedy Plaza earlier this summer. But RIPExpo is primarily comics-driven, largely because the event is being organized by comics artists who reached out to friends and folks they knew from similar events around the country. “In Boston there’s MICE, the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, and a few of us go to TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival,” says co-organizer Mimi Chrzanowski. “[TCAF] might have been our inspiration for having it in the library, since that show takes place at a public library. We’re trying to create a mix of a comics fest and a zine fest, which are usually two separate things. But we thought Providence needed this.” Chrzanowski, who makes comics, designed a sticker for a sticker vending machine that will be dispensing at the Expo.
Tony Breed is one of the visiting exhibitors. Although he was born and raised in Providence, he now lives in Chicago, where he produced his four-volume web comic Finn and Charlie Are Hitched, a low-key, generally upbeat chronicle of a gay married couple. “I was always aware that Providence was a cool place,” he says, “but growing up on College Hill it always seemed that the arts scene was centered around RISD. I didn’t know there was an accessible, non-student community of artists until after I’d left.”