Autoptic: "We tried to make this so an average person would come in and see cool shit"
Fans headed to Autoptic on Sunday may get a bonus piece of performance art to go along with the comics, posters, and zines on view. When asked if he's putting out anything new for the festival, curator Zak Sally laughs and says, "Yeah, I'm premiering me losing my mind."
Though he's joking (hopefully), preparing for an event like Autoptic is often a mad-dash to the finish line. Everyone involved is currently in the midst of preparing for the event in one way or another. Autoptic features more than 100 artists, small presses, and independent record labels from around the world, celebrating alternative comics, animation, and independent art in general.
"We're really trying to expand the limits of what comics are and how they combine with other art forms," says Anders Nilsen, a curator and exhibitor whose graphic novel Big Questions was named one of the 100 best books of 2011 by The New York Times.
The headlining guest is Jaime Hernandez, creator of the groundbreaking series Love and Rockets. He's also the subject of a current MCAD exhibition highlighting his influential punk/Archie-style and groundbreaking storytelling (he's giving at talk at the MCAD gallery 6 p.m. Friday night).
Though Hernandez and other bright lights in the alternative comics world are the festival's main draw, there's a lot more to it than works on paper. Doomtree will be among the record labels presenting, and the festival's animators will be featured in a show at 7 p.m. Saturday at Open Eye theater.
Lilli Carré, a filmmaker and cartoonist whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, is coordinating and headlining the screening, called "EYEWORKS/SALTWATER WEATHER."
"She has a playful perspective," Nilsen says of Carré, "but is also really smart and funny."
A contingent of French and Belgian authors and artists will also be in attendance, continuing the experimental comics residency PFC, a.k.a. Pierre Feuille Ciseaux (rock, paper, scissors in English). It's the fourth iteration of the week-long collaborative residency, which has been held in France for the last three years.
Sally's personal history in the world of comics makes it easy to see where this multi-genre, international, everything-at-once ethos comes from. The former Low bassist first published comics on a copy machine when he was 13.
So when Sally was planning Autoptic as a follow-up to the Minneapolis Indy Xpo, an annual comics- and zine-focused show that ran in 2010 and 2011 at the Soap Factory, he wanted to reflect this reality of alternative culture.
"The earlier iteration felt like a niche -- a niche that we all loved and participated in, but still a niche," he says. "We tried to make this so an average person would come in and see cool shit. That's what the whole umbrella is of alternative culture. You make these distinctions -- I like music, I like posters, I like comics -- but they aren't even true. People who like comics also like music right? It's just natural."
At this point, it's clear what Autoptic is, but one major question remains: How the hell do you pronounce it? The international phonetic alphabet spelling of autoptic -- an adjective meaning "seen with one's own eyes" -- is \(ˈ)ȯ¦täptik\. However, Caitlin Skaalrud, a curator for the show and the mind behind talk weird press, has a simpler explanation.
"It's pronounced like Hot Topic," she says, "but aw - topic."
Skaalrud has four books out through the press, with a new release, Houses of Holy, due for Sunday's exhibition. She was stapling books, which use a polyester printing plate as a cover, as we spoke. Houses chronicles a metaphoric and poetic journey through a darkened and mysterious house.
"You open up the doors, and there's a secret inside," she says.
Houses of the Holy
The book makes use of what Neil Gaiman calls "night logic." "Day logic would be something that makes sense and is rational and linear," Skaalrud explains, "and night logic is dreamy and dark and doesn't really make sense." She expects the book to eventually be part of a larger series.
Skaalrud isn't the only festival curator premiering new work at Autoptic. Nilsen is presenting a new extended version of his graphic novel The End, which explores issues of grief, loss, meaning, and transformation in the time after his fiancée Cheryl's death in 2005.
"[Autobiographical work] wasn't something I'd done before," Nilsen says, "and I wasn't interested in doing it previously. But it became the only thing I could think about."
Nilsen previously wrote about the experience in Don't Go Where I Can't Follow, but his new book is a more introspective work than his previous tribute.
"The End isn't really about Cheryl at all," he says, "it's about grief."
The art in The End covers a wide range of influences and styles, from experimental geometric motifs to more realistic depictions. One major influence in Nilsen's work is the cartoon realism of Tin Tin artist Georges Remi.
To cover all the exciting work going on at Autoptic would go beyond the scope of a short preview.
"There's an insane amount of the talent in the room," Skaalrud says. She specifically shouts out Jay Ryan's The Bird Machine ("If there's a band that you like, he's probably done a poster for them"), and local print studio Aesthetic Apparatus ("Whenever they have a sale I'm one of the first ones there"). Beyond seeing cool work, Skaalrud and others see Autoptic as a major community event.
"It's also seeing some of my friends again," she says. "That's part of it for all of us."
The scale of the alternative comics world, with its long history and interlocking cross-genre influences, can seem intimidating for beginners. Nonetheless, the curators of Autoptic all stress the accessibility of the scene.
"Some of the most fun, approachable comics are also highly realistic and sophisticated," Nilsen says, mentioning Hernandez's Love and Rockets series and Daniel Clowes's Ghost World. "They deal with real life, real issues."
Sally dismissed describing the alternative comics scene and its offshoots as intimidating. To him it's, well, autoptic -- you know it when you see it, and that's really all you need.
"It's like the organic farmers of art," he says. "What is independent culture? I don't know what independent culture is, but this is people who make art and are beholden to no one. It's all about putting out art yourself, and finding friends in it. I hope when people get in the room they'll be able to see that as well."
"Anyone who has even a passing interest in the things listed -- comics, prints, music, animation -- they're gonna be just blown away by what's going on."
IF YOU GO: Autoptic Aria 105 North 1st Street, Minneapolis 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, August 18 Free For more information and a complete listing of events, visit autoptic.org
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