This article originally appeared on The Comics Journal 11/20/2011
Minneapolis / St. Paul, MN Scene Report scene report
by Tom K
The Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) have a long and storied relationship to comics. We’re best known for the St. Paul born Charles Schulz who created Peanuts as an instructor of the Minneapolis based Art Instruction School. But there is a lot more to our scene. I left the Twin Cities at the turn of the century, when I came back a almost a decade later I found the city transformed. Since I left whole neighborhoods gentrified, a nice new light rail system sprouted, and a bike shop graced every corner. The comics scene had grown significantly during my absence. There seem to be a lot more cartoonists around and generally the scene feels vibrant and growing… this was not how things seemed in the 90’s.
Comic-book stores are a key component of the scene. Dreamhaven Books & Comics, the 800 lbs gorilla of the scene in the 90’s, recently announced that it will close it’s doors next year. It’s a huge loss, though not unexpected. The franchise was going through a slow-motion contraction for years. The two stores that carry on the torch are Big Brain Comics (in Minneapolis) and The Source (in St. Paul). Big Brain Comics has to be counted as one of the great comics stores in the country. Proprietor Michael Drivas keeps the store stocked with pretty much everything, with a special emphasis on independent comics. The Source is similarly well stocked though its focus is decidedly more mainstream with a prominent section for games. Both shops are destinations and draw a loyal clientele of cartoonists and fans from all over the Twin Cities. Also worth noting is Nostalgia Zone. The Nostalgia Zone is exclusively focused on back-issues and has an amazing collection comics going back to the beginnings of the medium. It’s also a great place to scour vast bins of 25 & 50 cent comics for early 80’s gems. There are several other smaller shops scattered throughout serving smaller local clientelle. They tend to be focused on the weekly whims of the big-two superhero publishers.
Comics events have taken a recent turn for the better in no small part due to comics scenester/cartoonist Sarah Morean. She revitalized the Twin Cities Zinefest and started MIX, The Minneapolis Indie eXpo, last year. The 2010 MIX was well attended (1,000 attendees during a one day show) for a first year show and had a great guest list. This year (MIX 2012 happened two weeks ago) was even better. The festival expanded into a two-day event. Half the table space was reserved to a group of curators to do with as they saw fit, the rest of the space sold out almost instantly upon being available. This resulted in a stellar exhibitor list and interesting programming schedule, while still allowing less well known talent to get a foothold on the floor. There was great buzz leading up to the show and it had great local media coverage. According to Sarah, MIX drew 2,200 attendees, an increase of over 100%. Pretty much everyone I talked to had a positive experience at the event. The main negative was the announcement that MIX would not return next year. Here’s hoping someone can step-into her shoes to keep a great show running. In just two years MIX has become a powerful shot in the arm to the local scene. Every cartoonist around was busy in the run-up trying to get new work done for the show. I haven’t seen this much urgency and ambition around here in a long time!
Spring Con & Fall Con are two long-running mainstream (read long-box) events that have recently embraced the local indie scene to some extent. At every show the organizers allow a certain number of creators to have free tables (and free food!). It’s a great & cheap way for young & upcoming creators to see what it’s like to be on the other side of that convention table. The show also brings in interesting creators every year. Recent artists included: Howard Chaykin, Pete Bagge, Jose Louis Garcia Lopez and many others.
The annual Twin Cities Book Festival has been the goto event for local literati (it’s been said that Minneapolis is the most literate city in America) for almost a decade. In recent years the presence of cartoonists & comics publishers has increased dramatically. Many of the attendees still don’t know what to make of the ‘picture stories’ they encounter, but comics are quickly becoming a regular part of the vibe of the show. The festival also brings in great comics guests every year. This year it was Ben Katchor, past years included Jamie Hernandez, Gabrielle Bell and others. The festival takes its name from the Rain Taxi Review of Books. It’s a long running & well respected literary publication available free in the Twin Cities and in many of the better book stores across the nation. Head honcho Eric Lorberer is a great fan of the comics medium and has championed serious reviews of comics since before it became trendy.
Another anchor in the local scene is MCAD, The College of Art & Design. The school is one of the few places in the country you can get a Comic Art degree (undergrad & grad) and it’s a magnet for young comics talent from across the country. The comics program was founded in the 90’s by Peter Gross and is run by Barb Schulz. The faculty includes Zak Sally, and visiting artist Jim Keefe (conflict of interest dept.: I’ve been known to teach a class or two). The school often flexes it’s institutional muscle and brings interesting talent into town. A recent event with Craig Thompson drew an overflow crowd that had to be split into two rooms. Many students leave when they complete school, but many choose to stay and enrich the local scene. Some of the most prominent young talent of recent years (Tim Sievert, Will Dinski, Brittney Sabo and others) are MCAD grads who stuck around. The school is also a magnet for established cartoonists interested in teaching.
Beyond MCAD, the Twin Cities are chock-full of colleges and universities which bring tens of thousands of young people here every year. The University of Minnesota is one of the biggest state colleges in the nation. When I was a student there in the 90’s there was very little comics in the curriculum and comics were often actively discouraged in the art program. These days things are changing for the better. Teachers like print-maker & occasional cartoonist Jenny Schmid mix-in comics casually into art classes. The school also does one off intensive courses with well known cartoonists. This summer Jessica Abel led one such seminar. Other schools like Hamline University, MCTC, College of Visual Art, Macalester College and others have comics focused courses as well and contribute to a pool of serious comics readers & scholars. I can’t end this section without mentioning the Art Instruction School. Best known for having Charles Schulz as a student and instructor, the correspondence school is still a going concern locally.
One thing the local scene is blessed with is boutique publishers. A number of small press publishers set up their HQs in the Twin Cities:
Zak Sally’s La Mano 21 is the most prominent of the bunch. It’s probably best known for Zak Sally’s work: Recidivist, and the just-completed Sammy The Mouse collection. It’s also published books by John Porcellino and an amazing Kim Deitch portfolio among several other amazing projects. Zak operates his own press and every book he releases is lovingly printed by his own hand.
2D Cloud, run by Raighne Hogan & Justin Skarhus has been growing in prominence and ambition. They started out a few years back with locally focused anthology called The Good Minnesotan. Since then they’ve published some great work by Nic Breutzman and Noah Van Sciver. They released a few books during MIX including Things You Carry by Vincent “King Mini” Stall and Motherlover an anthology modeled after D&Q Showcase featuring Nic Breutzman, The Holden brothers and Raighne himself.
Jordan Shiveley runs Grimalkin Press and is planning some interesting project in the near future. In addition to the next issue of the Hive anthology there are plans for a 200+ page book of comics by Phil McAndrew & a large format art book by Chris Mostyn.
My own mini-comics label Uncivilized Books (file under shameless plug dept.:) has been busier then ever. We’ve published 10 minis (by Gabrielle Bell, Jon Lewis, Dan Wieken & me) over the last 2 years and there are some bigger project brewing under the radar.
The International Cartoonist Conspiracy is an organization of cartoonists structured like a terrorist cell. There are no leaders and yet is seems well organized and manages to put on several comics oriented events every year. The most prominent of these is Lutefisk Sushi. It’s an almost annual series of mini-comic filled ‘bento-boxes.’ Each box is screen printed and designed by a different cartoonist. The box is released in conjunction with an exhibition of the work collected in the box. The ICC also organizes a well attended 24-hour comic day, a monthly comics jam and a number of other projects and events. They are always welcoming to new cartoonists. Their fez covered heads are a prominent staple at all local comics events.
But there’s no comics scene without cartoonists. So here’s a roll call (necessarily partial, but what can you do). In no particular order:
Zander & Kevin Cannon (no they are not brothers, they’re not even related) work together as Big Time Attic. Zander has been in Minneapolis since the 90’s when he was publishing the well regarded Replacement God. He has since done some high profile work for DC (Smax & Top 10) in the recent past. Kevin is best known for his Top Shelf published Far Arden. Together hey specialize in educational comics. They’ve been busy and have published books on evolution (Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth), DNA (The Stuff of Life) & the space race (T-Minus) over the last few years.
Vincent Stall has been part of the local scene since the early 90’s. As King Mini he’s published countless beautifully designed mini-comics. He has been very productive lately. Over the last couple of years he’s created several well received art exhibitions and 2D Cloud just released his new book Things You Carry during MIX.
Since Zak Sally swapped music for comics he’s has been an active publisher and cartoonist. His best known work is the Recidivist an ambitious one-man anthology that started as mini-comics in the 90s and was recently collected by Fantagraphics as Like a Dog. He’s published Diary of a Mosquito Abetment Man by John Porcellino and the amazing Kim Deitch Files and just released a beautiful collected edition of his Ignatz series Sammy the Mouse.
Sam Hiti exploded on the scene with his Tiempos Finales horror/western a decade ago. He’s remained busy with a variety of projects. He recently released the first volume of his new series Death Day.
MCAD alum Will Dinski has been creating well designed mini-comics for a long time. Last year Top Shelf published Fingerprints his first graphic novella.
Nic Breutzman moved to the Twin Cities only recently, but he’s already had the well received Yearbooks published by 2D Cloud a couple of years back. Nic is hard at work on a couple of new projects and his newest work has just appeared in the 2D Cloud anthology Motherlover.
Tim Sievert is a prolific mini-comicker and recently released several issues of Intrepideers (a project with Brett Von Schlosser… see below). A couple of years back Top Shelf released That Salty Air his debut graphic novella. The cryptozoologically obsessed Sievert is hard at work on a follow-up book and his Clandestinauts web comic.
Lars Martinson spends as much time as he can in Japan teaching English to youngsters and studying Asian calligraphy. But in between his stints abroad he sets up shop in his hometown of St. Paul. He’s published two volumes of Tonoharu and hard at work on the next volume.
Raigne Hogan runs 2D Cloud with co-conspirator Justin Skarhus. Raighne is a cartoonist of his own right with work published in the Good Minnesotan. He has also gained a reputation as a colorist. His painted colors grace Nic Breutzman’s Yearbooks, the cover of Noah Van Sciver’s The Death of Elijah Lovejoy, and the Motherlover anthology.
Brittney Sabo is another MCAD alum. She was one of the 2010 Xeric Grant winners and published Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny, which she co-authored with Anna Bratton.
Jordan Shiveley is recent transplant to the area and runs Grimalkin Press. He’s also a cartoonist and released an untitled mini at MIX. Grimalkin has some interesting projects in it’s future (see above). Jordan was drawn to the Twin Cities for it’s “underlying & thriving printmaking and bookbinding arts scene” which leaves the local cartoonists “no excuse for slovenly books.”
JP Coovert is a CCS grad and another fairly recent transplant. A t-shirt designer by day he’s released a slew of mini-comics with One Percent Press which he also co-founded.
Brett Von Schlosser gets my vote as the best dressed cartoonist in Minneapolis. In addition to working at Big Brain Comics and teaching comics to the kids at the library he just released a new Intrepideers mini.
I could go on and on… There’s Curtis Square-Briggs, Roger Lootine, talented recent MCAD grads Peter Wartman, Bart King, Caitlin Skaalrud, Ashby Utting, & Robert Algeo. Cartoon Conspirators Steven Stwalley, Athena Currier, Britt Hammerberg, DWITT, Danno Klonowski, Dan Olson. There is Ryan Kelly, Dan Jurgens, Peter Gross, Peter Krause, Chaz Truog, and many, many more I know I’m forgetting.
Over all the Twin Cities comics scene is pretty big and vibrant. It has significant local institutional support and a large pool of young talent that keeps replenishing the scene and growing it into the future.
INTERMISSION FUNNIES with MICHAEL DEFORGE
Frank Santoro here. I’m accepting scene reports. 400 words MAX. I told Tom K – “500 words and a couple pics” and he turned in 2000 words. What’s the word for that? Loquacious? Geez-o-man, Tom. I’m not complaining. Just saying. I wanna run more than one scene report a week so try and rein it in, fellers. Gals. (I asked Sally Bloodbath for a scene report and she forgot. Ted May? Pffft, yeah, right. Supposedly, St. Louis has a scene.) Sorry. Just riffing. If you wanna send in a report – please do. 400 words MAX. If you go over fine just try and write like a bad pulpy writer and use clipped sentences. Works. Try it. Send that and a couple pics. Send the HTML in a plaintext document (.txt) so that I can just copy from there and paste it right into the WordPress.