[This is written in conjunction with my local Twin Cities activies blog's book segment, MSP Reading Time]
Last weekend, I attended Autoptic Festival here in Minneapolis, a two day expo of independent cartoonists, zines, and other graphic art culture for the first time, along with I’m Reading Comeeks!. Started in 2013 to celebrate independent artists in a variety of formats, especially comics and graphic novels, I will most definitely return next year.
The DIY ethos of the artists, writers, musicians, and others who packed the old warehouse of Aria in the North Loop was inspiring to me and really resparked my desire to try my hand at some comics of my own (in spite of my own lack of drawing background). It was almost overwhelming how many awesome people and creations were being shared. Held in conjunction with MCAD’s week long comic residency program Pierre/Feuille/Ciseaux, an experimental comics workshop which invited cartoonists from across North American and Francophone countries to collaborate in cartooning, the event celebrates the possibilities of comic art. The Minnesota comics scene has been really interesting and Autoptic is a perfect celebration of this dynamic and wonderful artform, and its great that our city plays host.
The event was free to the public, and full of really interesting programs, exhibitions, special guests, and art. Two of my favorite cartoonists, Gabrielle Bell and Jillian Tamaki discussed their comics, and independent comics in general. Listening to this conversation was the highlight of the day for me.
Bell’s work has been a favorite of mine for five or so years, with her self-deprecating memoir and semi-autobiographical comics, especially The Voyeurs and Truth is Fragmentary. I find her both her ability to express everyday thoughts with such elegance and her use of magic realist elements to illustrate these feelings to be fascinating and her use of travelog to be a major influence.
Jillian Tamaki’s work has really impressed me as well, and I recently read, and loved, her webcomic Super Mutant Magic Academy, with fandom parodies and absurdist comedy. Of course, I also was wowed by her Caldecott winning graphic novel, This One Summer, written with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, finding it to be a very evocative and thought-provoking look back at the confusion, joy, and fear of childhood.
In their conversation, I was particularly struck by Tamaki’s comment regarding how it doesn’t really matter what the comics look like, but how effective the message is. Of course, her art is beautiful, but it is still inspiring to those of us who are still working on their art, as it were. Bell’s comments on how the internet greatly expanded her ability to share her work were also very interesting, as I toy with the idea of getting more of my own work out there.
Of course, I really identified with both of their statements on how they first were introduced into the comics scene; through newspaper comics, Archie, and Mad Magazine. For a long time, I never really considered myself a fan of comics, having never gotten into the superhero type that seems to be what people think about when the word comes up, but then I thought, too, how big an influence Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side were upon me growing up, and how much I enjoyed those comic versions of classic literature. There are so many different ways comics can express the human condition.
Later, I listened to the idiosyncratic cartoonist Charles Burns talk about his artistic style, seen in his most well known work, Black Hole and, most recently, his X’ed Out trilogy; his work has always been a little hard to approach for me, but fascinating, and I love his art style and his melding of everyday suburban banality with grotesque, monstrous horrors; interesting how well they pair…
There were some interesting parallels brought up by an audience member too between Burns’ work, which reimagines mid-century kitsch and pop culture (romance comics, Tintin, etc.) with that of Mark Mothersbaugh, a child of same generation who also refurbishes pop culture into new, and bizarre, configurations.
In addition to picking up a nice selection of rare, limited edition comics and art, I was extremely lucky to get my portrait done by the fabulous Gabrielle Bell herself! I always feel so awkward chatting with authors, but I now have an awesome new picture for my social media accounts.
Spending some time in the dealers area, I could not help picking up a few comics I’d never seen before, along with some wonderful and elaborate postcards and prints. I picked Sarah Becan’s Ouija Interviews and Shut Eye: Six Tales of Dreams and Dreamers; both of these are right up my ally, with their mix of spooky ghost lore, humor, and "found" information. Of course, I am also definitely a person who enjoys talking about the weird dreams I have.
I also picked up a really cool looking anthology of horror comics, The Sleep of Reason, which includes a pieces from many comic artists, including representing quite a few Minnesotans! There looks to be a lot of frightening, eerie, and bone chilling work contained here, with lush and diverse art styles. I think I'll read it closer to Halloween!
I also grabbed a few zines as well, including "Mungo the Skugg," a collection of Minnesota comic author Chris Monroe’s Violet Days comics, which I reviewed on Goodreads a few months ago. I've followed her comic in local papers for years and it's great to have them collected. Tyler Page's full draft of "Raised On Ritalin," a memoir comic, looks very interesting as well. I picked up a beautiful zine by Monica R. Howell, "Short Poems on Working in a College Library," from awesome local bookstore Boneshaker Books and, finally, Kyle Harbadian's "The Occult Library" (of course, I have to get everything that has the word "library" on it!)
I can't wait to peruse them at my leisure, along with my sister's choices!