Community notebook :: Cartoonishly talented

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August 16, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

Cartoonishly talented

// New expo for independent comics keeps focus on the artists //

In case you haven’t set foot in a movie theater in the last few years, comics are huge right now. Huge like the Incredible Hulk. Huge like the box office sales from “Iron Man 2.” The panels-and-word-bubbles art form, once relegated to the nerdy realm of hobby store fanatics, has proven a goldmine for pop culture profiteers, their storylines tapped again and again for blockbuster movies, commercials, video games and TV shows.

But the surge in comics isn’t just commercial. It’s artistic, too — and surprisingly local. Andy Krueger, co-organizer of a brand new Twins Cities comics expo, would like to shift the spotlight onto local writers, illustrators and animators, and away from the hype.

“San Diego Comic-Con [International] just happened,” said Krueger. “And it’s been taken over by the movie business. A big part of that is about toys and merchandising and TV shows and movies. And the comics have gotten smaller and smaller as a part of that. Now it’s a little comics ghetto, and all around it is a big entertainment machine. To a lesser extent, that’s happening around the country.”

Together with Sarah Morean, who writes as a critic for independent comics website the Daily Cross Hatch, Krueger is putting on Minneapolis Indie Xpo (MIX), a one-day celebration of the Twin Cities’ independent comics scene, which will take place for the first time on Saturday, Aug. 21 at the Soap Factory.

More than 100 artists, most of them local, will exhibit their work, along with a handful of nationwide indie publishers, including Top Shelf and Sparkplug. There are even a few big-name out-of-towners, most notably Aaron Renier, John Porcellino and Chris Hastings. Hastings is the author of the popular webcomic “The Adventures of Dr. McNinja.”

Just don’t start coordinating your cape and tights just yet. MIX isn’t that kind of party.

“This isn’t something that you go to a big convention for and put on your superhero costume,” says Krueger. “Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your scene. But we want to invite a wider audience. And just framing it as an art event and hosting it at the Soap Factory is a big part of that.”

MIX, says Krueger, is all about access. Admission is free, so the comics-curious novice can drop in and check it out. Artists rent exhibition space for as cheap as $20, ensuring that students and first-time creators can get their work out in front of an audience. Workshop and panel discussions detail the ins and outs of making your own comic, so as to encourage future artists. And the garish distractions of other conventions have been stripped away.

So-called “indie comics” events exist elsewhere in the country, but they’re pretty rare in the Midwest.

“I’m hard pressed to even think of one in Chicago that is really indie-focused,” says Will Dinski, a Stevens Square resident and cartoonist who will be debuting his first graphic novel at MIX. Dinski graduated from MCAD with a degree in comic arts and has been touring the indie circuit over the last four years. His book “Fingerprints” is a dark exploration of plastic surgery and celebrity culture.

Normally, he says, “I’ll have to fly out to Bethesda, Md., or I gotta fly out to New York. Or last year I flew out to San Francisco. You kind of have to get up and go to a show that really has that kind of focus.”

MIX’s DIY ethic is something Krueger honed while developing the St. Paul Craftstravaganza. The annual urban craft expo — held every May on the State Fairgrounds since 2006 — has been a boon to local artisans, many of whom have used the festival to reach a larger market for their goods. Krueger says arts organizing, rather than comics, is his real enthusiasm, and connecting independent artists with new fans is his goal with MIX.

“What’s come out of the craft fair, which I’m hoping will come out of the comic show, is a lot of artists have been able to catch the attention of someone big and make something amazing happen,” he said. “They get book publishing deals. They go on TV. They open their own craft store.”

Morean, too, has a background in indie organizing. Since 2008, she’s served as coordinator for the Twin Cities Zinefest, an expo featuring local DIY publishers, held annually at Stevens Square Center for the Arts.

According to Krueger, Morean had long thought about planning a comics show. But it took the two meeting at the Midwest Comic Book Association’s FallCon event last year to really get the ball moving. Morean was instrumental in connecting Krueger — who says he “had no cache with local creators at all” — to the local comics scene.

Krueger, inspired by the old “Calvin & Hobbes” strips, had authored a comic for his Roseville high school newspaper and had dabbled with illustration in college. But he wasn’t a serious comics artist himself. Morean, on the other hand, had spent several years publishing her own mini-comics. She offered a service where subscribers could receive two handmade books per month.

“She is a machine,” says Krueger. “She has really taken over with this. She has made this happen. Once we really got going, she was just the main drive behind it. My main role, the way I look at, is just giving it a push.”

Though the expo itself is only one day, the MIX festivities get going on Thursday, Aug. 19. Local animation outfits, including East Hennepin-based PUNY Entertainment, will gather at St. Anthony Main Theater to show short films inspired by comics. Big Brain Comics will be on hand selling books by Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of the popular Scott Pilgrim series.

On Aug. 20, Big Brain hosts a book-signing event with authors Will Dinski, Aaron Renier and Zak Sally. A kick-off party featuring The Great Confinement, Dreamland Faces and Robots from the Future happens that night at the 501 Club.

MIX officially begins at the Soap Factory at 9 a.m., with the Donut Collective on site selling baked goods, coffee and water. At 6 p.m., Altered Esthetics hosts a gallery talk and after party, with an exhibition featuring Volume D of the popular local comics compilation Lutefisk Sushi. The party will also feature a screening of Joanna Kohler’s short film “Big Time Attic” and a music by DJ Cross Hatch.

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North Loop Kids Group publishes family guide

Members of the North Loop Kids Group have published a guide to family-oriented businesses, events and other resources Downtown.

From cupcakes to museums and from transportation to free concerts, the 13-page guide covers a breadth of options. According to organizer Tammy Sproule Kaplan, the group plans to continually solicit updates and additions, ensuring that the guide remains relevant and useful.

The guide can be downloaded at northloop.org/North_Loop_Neighborhood/NL_Kids.html.