I had such a good time at MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo) last weekend. I went there on a spur of the moment impulse after an artist I follow on twitter tweeted something about wishing she could be there. (Carey Pietsch, she’s great!) The following day I was making tracks for Boston.
I was a little anxious going in. The last comic expo I went to was Linework in Portland, OR. This event was similar but BIGGER. There were two levels of tables for artists and publishers and a couple side rooms for panels and workshops. But apart from the size of the space and the mass of people, the works the artists were selling seemed bigger too. At Linework a lot of the zines sold seemed self-published by artists, small paper works ranging from 8-20 pages long. MICE had a lot more long tables of small publishing houses selling artists work. Bigger names, larger crowds, and more comics! I went in with $50 deciding firmly that I wouldn’t spend any more than that. Twist ending: I totally spent more than $50.
I always feel weird at these expos. I love the opportunity to become exposed to a variety of comics and artists’ works but it is a little awkward book shopping with the artist sitting right there, eagerly trying to talk to you about what they did. Not that I can blame them (better to have an engaging artist than an ambivalent one), but shopping for anything (for me) is a pretty private affair. Plus, when I start thumbing through somebody’s work and decide not to buy it, I sometimes feel like I’m rejecting them personally. I need to stop taking everything personally. Either way, this probably explains the Wicked Good Haul I returned home with:
Now I’m still reading a lot of these longer works, but there are a couple I really want to gush about because they are So. Good.
- Comics For Choice
This is a tremendous comic anthology that illustrates the history, politics, and stories of abortion. Unsurprising given the complexity of the subject, this anthology is big. It contains the work of over forty artists, some illustrating their own experiences with abortion and others illustrating the stories of others. There are educational explanations of policy reform and stories from history, trial proceedings and episodes of women’s groups attempting to offer what the government will not. It is incredibly well researched; some of the contributions are written by health practitioners, lawyers, and historical pioneers in the field; additionally, the last five pages of the book contain a bibliography of sources. The art is beautiful, stunning, and diverse. The stories are heart-wrenching and informative. It is an incredible resource to help understand such a commonly misconstrued subject. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, especially in a day and age where fear and misinformation pulses through the veins of the internet. While abortion is a topic often draped in shame and confusion, Comics For Choice tackles the issue with empathy, understanding, and a solid education.
2. Not On My Watch by Isabella Rotman
In a similar vein as Comics For Choice, Isabella Rotman explored issue of consent and sexual violence prevention with a playful and informative 50 page zine. It’s structured as an instructional booklet for those who want to be part of the Consent Calvary, a imaginary group of ordinary folks who want to stop being bystanders to acts of sexual violence. The comic is a bit wordy (which is to be expected; this is another complicated subject), but Rotman breaks down specific examples of ways people use sexual violence to exhibit power and dominance and how one can intervene or prevent these acts from occurring. One of my favorite parts of the book is when she compares getting consent to ordering pizza; asking friends if they’d like pizza instead of waiting for them to say “no,” or assuming that everyone likes olives on their pizza, etc. I love her illustrations too. The comic is very legible and fun to read. The best part? You can download the e-book for free!
3. Mary Shyne (everything she’s done)
I loved everything Mary Shyne did, all three of the zines she had for sale. (She also had a mini comic for sale, but I’m kind of against mini comics on account of how I think I would mistake them for gum wrappers or receipts and therefore would rather not spend money on something I’m likely to destroy or throw away.) I think what I’m most drawn to (heh… drawn…) is her artistic style. She is super good at rendering figures both simply and with that exaggerated, cartoonish style that I wish I could replicate effortlessly. You can check out a section of her zines on her tumblr and you’ll see what I mean. Oh and content-wise? Am I in awe of another comic artist who can illustrate intimate details of her life beautifully and with such apparent ease? Go figure.
So apart from spend way too much money (I don’t know what I expected going to a comic expo….), I attended a couple workshops and one particularly helpful panel. The workshop I found the most useful was one regarding how to write comics, which is a process I’ll use when I finally start writing my Untitled Pirate Comic. I also attended a panel entitled “Making Comics (When Everything Sucks)” in which four cartoonists discussed basically how they’ve found their works changing (or the general will to continue drawing) in a Trumpian political atmosphere. A lot of them were really upfront about their depression and anxiety, and they described how they’ve coped with this hostile and despairing political climate. Eventually, at the very end, I mustered enough courage to ask them if they felt like they had a moral obligation to have their comics be more political or if there was value in escapist, fantasy comics. This is something I’ve been struggling with, especially when I read comics like Comics For Choice or Not On My Watch. I love throwing myself into my inktober sketches of he mythological creatures, but a nagging part of my brain is continually insisting that this escapism is cowardly and privilaged. Shouldn’t I be using my skills in a more productive, socially-progressive area? Well, I asked the professional cartoonists, shouldn’t I?
And the unanimous consensus was a resounding: NO. They basically said that I shouldn’t feel obligated to create something because of what I feel I should do. Whit Taylor (who’s another artist I want to read more of) said something along the lines of how there will always be a reader who will want to read what I’ve created. That brought me such relief. There was something very validating by hearing this from a bunch of established cartoonists. Relax, Kristen. You’re fine.
So that was my MICE experience. I left Saturday feeling guilty (for spending so much money), stressed, overwhelmed, intimidated by such an immense collection of talented artists, and exhausted from elbowing through crowds. I left Sunday feeling hopeful, optimistic (I actually talked to some artists instead of shyly stumbling through words), excited, and ready to draw.
I look at it this way: when it comes to integrating myself into any society, there’s really only one golden rule that, when applied regularly, will achieve success.
Just keep showing up.
This is how I made all my friends in Portland and got good at rugby. This is how I’ll find whatever margin of success within the art world. Eventually I’ll stop being so stupid shy about considering myself on the same level as some of these other artists. I’ll have things to trade or give away (zines, stickers, etc.). I won’t mumble something to myself and then rush away forgetting to leave a card. This confidence will come eventually. I’m totally not there yet (trying to convince myself that I can’t just Emily Dickinson this), but I will be. I just have to Keep. Showing. Up.