by Kevin Czap
By the grace of show organizer Sarah Morean, I’m still basking in the warmth of this past weekend’s Minneapolis Indie Expo. When I discovered how far the drive was from Cleveland to Minneapolis earlier this summer, I had to scratch MIX off of my list of shows to check out. Then, right after the highs of SPX, I return home to an email from Sarah, effectively pulling me off of the waiting list and into the show. I’m really glad it worked out, because MIX ended up being as wonderful an experience as I was hoping it would be. Family, friends and comics – here’s how it went down.
The Minneapolis scene is a lot more stacked than one might think initially. Besides claiming heavies like Tom Kaczynski, Zak Sally and Sam Hiti as residents, there’s also a remarkably strong arts and hand-crafting culture in general that permeates the comics landscape. These Minnesotans on a whole seem to be masters of book arts and screen printing – almost every local cartoonist I met either worked in a screen printing studio or at had something silkscreened at their table. That being said, MIX had a very diverse group of exhibitors, featuring equally strong representation from the webcomics world, like Anthony Clark, Spike Trotman, Josh Lesnik and native Paul Taylor. There’s also no escaping the fact that a show that pulls Koyama Press (!), Adhouse, 2D Cloud, Uncivilized Books, Grimalkin Press, Cloudy Collection, Kevin Huizenga, Spit and a Half, La Mano, Sparkplug, etc, etc all together for one weekend is going to be a crackerjack event.
Other ways that MIX shone: an ATM on the premises. I felt that, for a show of its size, this was really unprecedented. Well done. The most amazing lunches. Most indie shows (actually, most shows in general) leave feeding yourself in your hands, which can prove difficult when you’re going solo at your table. Not only did MIX have a concession stand, with water, coffee and muffins available throughout the whole weekend, they also gave everyone donuts on the first day (this was thanks to a generous donation by the Midwest Comic Book Association). But the crowning achievement was wheeling a food truck up the door during the lunch hours. Now, I’ve been to shows that do provide food for the exhibitors, and while I don’t want to seem ungrateful, the choices have been just ok, generally. The MIX food truck, on the other hand, was so damn good. Veggie curry. Oh my goodness. Space had a lot of character. The Soap Factory was just a cool venue, that’s all. Sweet after-party. The Honey Lounge was another good choice of locale for the Saturday night mixer. Free pens! Pink ones, at that.
I was only able to catch one panel, but it was pretty swell – Annie Koyama, Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing1, Tom K and Zak Sally all talking about being small publishers with moderator Robyn Chapman. As someone who’s always felt drawn to that area, it was particularly interesting for me, if not a bit somber, given the realities of the job. One of the main take-aways, in that sense, was that it’s critical to be realistic about the whole thing – do right by your artists any way you can, but know your limits – both in terms of finances as well as what your skill-sets are. Another important message from the panel was that there’s no one right way of doing it, as the varying experiences of all four speakers testified to.
This was a good show. Got to catch up with some familiar faces, met a bunch of other good folk/people I admire, and had a home-cooked meal with family. It’s a shame that it won’t be back next year (or ever again), but of course no one can blame Morean for taking care of herself. From what I was gathering, there’s already at least one other great show lined up for next year, so it’s not like the good people of Minneapolis will be wanting for comics events. Of course, that’s not to say it’s replacing (or even could replace) MIX, which has been one of the best run shows I’ve been to. I can’t recall a single problem coming up for myself or anyone else I spoke with, so kudos to Morean and Andy Krueger, the whole team of volunteers and everyone else who helped make this a damn fine weekend.
Study Group 12 #4, ed. by Zack Soto — This is one of those grand-daddy dream books that collects a large group of my favorite cartoonists. This issue contains work by Eleanor Davis, Steve Weissman, Michael DeForge, Jim Rugg, Blaise Larmee, Aidan Koch, Vanessa Davis, Tom Neely, Corey Lewis, Nick Gazin, Richard Hahn, Angie Wang, Farel Dalrymple and series editor Zack Soto. All printed in gorgeous purple ink (some with a second pink added in the mix). Everyone delivers great material – a really great book. link
CCS Guidebook, Kevin Huizenga and James Sturm — As someone who chose their college based on their admissions catalog, I can appreciate the a-bomb promotional material that this Center for Cartoon Studies mailer is. I’ve long admired the contents digitally (featuring one of my favorite images – the waltzing duck, ghost of carefree days!) and now I’ve got a physical copy! Very cool. Also at the CCS table I got to catch up with old buds Lena Chandhok and Paul Swartz, who I haven’t seen since we met at last year’s PIX. Swell folk indeed. link
Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1, Tom Kaczynski — Not only does Tom K construct beautiful book objects through his Uncivilized Books press, he is also one of the most intellectual cartoonists working. His comics are illustrated critical essays, addressing important political and existential concerns. With so much of the funny book world tending towards centrism and the apolitical, it’s refreshing to have something so engaged in these kinds of issues, handled so thoughtfully. I recommend checking out his talk with Mike Dawson on TCJ Talkies for a taste.
“Easy Metaphors,” Hannah Blumenreich — Collection of cute autobio strips that scratches my Jules Fieffer itch, in terms of the loose, ropey drawing style. Hannah’s got a strength for facial expressions here, and at times the art really sings – capturing that perfect space between economy of line and feeling of completeness. link
Viewotron #1, Sam Sharpe and David Goodrich — Sam Sharpe is an artist we’re lucky enough to have coming to Genghis Con this year, and this book, a MIX debut, is a testament to his talents. His brushy cartooning is paired with friend David Goodrich, who has a Derek M. Ballard geometry to his drawings that I like quite a bit. Sharpe’s longer piece in this is a funny Brunetti-style strip with some nice use of typography. Really recommend picking this one up. link
Scooter Patrol in the Ghost House #1, Curtis Square-Briggs — This mini by Curtie Pie, finished just a few hours before the expo started on Saturday, ended up being the book of the show, I think. I remember seeing waves of attendees pass my table with this tucked under their arms, and when my table-mates showed me their copy, I was blown away. Commanding a strong sense of design, the art is rendered beautifully, depicting a bunch of weird stuff that grabs you by the back of your brain. The first page of the story proper, we’re treated to a detective of sorts whose face and office are all over the place with an almost cubist energy. Things continue to get weird from there, and it all ends up with pizza. link
“Monster,” britt c. H. — Cool mini about a little deer creature with a massive chip on his shoulder. Great cartoon style, nice use of solid blacks, and I really dig the character designs, especially of the deer, with its boxy antlers and floating crown. link
Infinite Chest: An Infinity Wall Compendium, Nick Straight and Cory Speets — I got to share my table with Nick and Cory who make the webcomic Infinity Wall. Done in a Marvel-Method-type arrangement, Straight draws the weekly strip and then hands it to Speets who comes up with the text and design to accompany it. The pair had already won me over at the start with their production design, but of course the content is good stuff too. link
“Monster Party,” Chris Eliopoulos — Eliopoulos has a style like none other, and reading anything of his is just fun by definition. Everything wiggles and it’s all super cute. I’m consistently impressed with the unity of the artwork here, everything is drawn with the same language. While it seems obvious enough, it’s not something we see as often as you’d think, at least not with this consistency. link
Grey Supreme 1, Mark Laliberte — Gorgeously designed art book, featuring drowning and rainbows. Speaks to you deeply in a silent, wholly visual way. link
“Cat Rackham Loses It!,” Steve Wolfhard — Steve Wolfhard’s Cat Rackham strips are a feat of cartooning, combinations of great lines, the adorable, the bizarre, the depressing, the dark and, at times, the profound. That it does all this equally well and without pretension is admirable. There’s no question the unified front of praise for this book is well deserved. link
“Can’t You Draw Me?” Kickass Annie practice pad — Annie’s tough love on each page is the perfect motivation for nailing your own rendition of the Kickass Annie logo. Very cool idea.
“Wowee Zonk: Pobody’s Nurfect,” Ginette Lapalme, Patrick Kyle, Chris Kuzma — A thin little volume of work by this stellar art group. I’ve been admiring what each of these guys have been doing individually, and this book is a great sampler of the wild creative energy that they share. link
“Jesse Wars Here,” Jesse Harris — When I picked this up at the Koyama Press table and it all but melted into my hands, I was knocked flat. Printed on the softest newsprint I’ve ever held and filled with arresting imagery in yellow, magenta and black, it doesn’t take long to be hypnotized by Harris’ work here. There’s a kind of contemporary Barbara Kruger thing going on in this book, turning up the luminosity and scrambling the broadcast. Recommended for you visual carnivores. link
“Lepos,” Diego Bergia — Really cool book documenting the multimedia/graffiti/street art work of Diego Bergia. I have a special place in my heart for this kind of wide-ranging conceptual storytelling. link
“Island Brat,” Colleen Frakes — Frakes telling the true story of her youth spent on a prison island. link
Arabesque, ed. by An Nguyen — Very cool zine with production values through the roof. Featuring work by favorites Jordyn Bochon, Kris Mukai, Jane Mai and Anthony Cudahy. link
Brew Ha Ha #1, Ryan Maticka — A comic all about beer! Those who know me will know this isn’t a subject that would interest me in the slightest, but this is a cool book, very nicely designed, by MCAD art student Ryan Maticka. Let’s just say it’s done well enough to invest me in the topic at hand. link
“Return Me to the Sea,” Sam Sharpe — Another beautiful, beautiful book from Sharpe. If I’m remembering right, he said he was pretty much biting the style of his friend David Goodrich in this, but that’s totally fine by me. This is cartooning that will make you weep if it catches you in just the right mood.
WunderKammer #1, Nicholas Di Genova — This should have been included in my Koyama Extravaganza above, but poor planning and all that… Anyway, really striking inky drawings of members of the animal kingdom that always find a way to veer off into the unfamiliar. There’s something about the style that keeps making me think of origami. Anyway, this book is almost a testament to biological diversity and the unpredictable paths evolution can take. link
“Relation,” Cathy G. Johnson — Very nice little book filled with sexual imagery of twisted male bodies and snippets of text that pack quite a punch (for example: “The things I want to say to you are few and far between”). Cathy had a lot of great stuff at her table, including a couple beautiful prints that stopped just about everyone who passed by. She’s got a versatile drawing style – ranging from highly naturalistic to sketchy, Quentin Blake looseness. More on her work in a bit. link
Sketchbook that came with Arabesque
“Finnegan Strappe is Never Satisfied,” Jordyn Bochon — A reformatted version of the Finnegan Strappe book that Jordyn debuted at TCAF earlier this year, with a custom drawing on the cover. Read more about it here. link
King Cat #s 68-70, John Porcellino — You can never go wrong with King Cat. link
“It was their first spring,” Cathy G. Johnson and Tessa — Really touching vignette of young romantic punks. It makes my brain sweat a bit seeing that the front and back covers are part of the story, the title being the first few words. Basically, this is really smart book design, using the iconography and pacing of comics to deliver the emotional impact.
“Going Back,” Cathy G. Johnson — And finally, we’ve got this. Johnson was advertising herself more as a book artist, and this piece, essentially a travel diary, does a lot to back up that claim. I died a little when I saw the light blue set type inside, punctuated with lovely zen ink wash paintings of scenery that she encountered on her journeys. What’s kind of cool is how the events in this book coincide with my brief meeting of Cathy at the Atomic Books reading that preceded SPX back in September. All in all, a beautiful collection of personal musings, right up my alley.
Breathers sampler, Justin Madson — Breathers was this thick book that caught my attention, drawn in a blocky kind of style. I wouldn’t have had room to take it back on the plane with me, so I’m glad I got this sampler to investigate further. link
“Trans Alaska,” Tom Kaczynski — The first of Tom’s travel musings. Once you try one, you need to get the rest.
Killer Patch below — A gift from my uncle. Don’t mess around.
While I was away, a scene report I wrote for Cleveland went up on The Comics Journal. This is pretty exciting for me – go check it out. Thanks, Frank.
1 I’ll try and leave as much political ideology out of this con report, but for those interested, I’m just going to leave this link here and hope that, if you choose to read it, it doesn’t dominate the overall positive atmosphere of this post.