Another busy weekend, but for me, by far the highlight was the Autoptic Festival, a two day festival of independent cartoonists, zines, and other graphic art culture. Perfect for an MSP Reading Time adventure. Started in 2013, this was the first time I’ve attended, though I was only able to attend the first day, 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.
I biked downtown on Saturday morning to see what was happening, having not attended Autoptic before. 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. I am writing more about the comics I read, discovered, and devoured on my BookLikes blog, Reading Rainstorm. Also, check out my sister’s take on the event at her comics blog, I’m Reading Comeeks! We were both wowed.
A lot was happening on Saturday in downtown Minneapolis; after heading out of Autoptic, I went a few blocks down the street to check out the Pizza Luce Block Party, also for the first time. A hot, humid day for some hot music, hot pizza, and some cold beer and ice cream. This, too, was free to get in to enjoy the music, though of course you could spend plenty on the refreshments. Izzy’s ice cream is always good, especially on a hot day, and I also tried out some of Summit Brewing’s new Make It So, and extra special bitter infused with Teasource Earl Grey. Beer and tea? Of course I had to try it, and it was a rich, wonderfully citrus beer I will definitely have again. After listening to Minneapolis bands Tiny Deaths and Pink Mink, and enjoying the people watching, I headed to the next thing.
Finally, over the weekend I also checked out a couple more Fringe Festival shows before the end of this years fest; The Morning Meal Society and Too Punk to Care. Each of these were great ways to end off the Fringe Fest season. The Morning Meal Society was a irreverent and political parody of The Breakfast Club and ‘80s culture in general, performed by the Young Artists Council of Youths, all under 18! Quite interesting to see the group take on this nostalgic culture that existed before they were born, and use it to reflect their own concerns in 2010s America. Basically, it has everything the Fringe goer is looking for (they say so themselves!).
Too Punk to Care was one of my favorites, the actors debating and fighting as they attempted to pin down the meaning of punk in the Minnesotan hinterlands, starting up bands, playing instruments, and belting obscenely hilarious jokes. The mayonnaise guy was particularly disgustingly funny. Personally, I’d rather go for some lutefisk than mayo straight from the jar! From the use of a zine for the show’s program, to the song lyrics and the frenetic instruments, the DIY ethos of punk came through very strong, and I was really impressed with the music, too.