Superhero comics are dead.
Sorry be the one to break it to you, but between the convoluted and confusing continuity, overblown marketing stunts, ever-increasing prices, and the Hollywood bastardization of established (and not so established) characters, the news really should come as no surprise. Heck, even staples of the industry like Grant Morrison seem to be giving four-color heroes their last rites.
Yet, as is the case with any art form, from the smoldering ashes of the mainstream arises an unconventional and heartfelt new wave. Each day, more and more talented artists and writers are eschewing aspirations of selling-out to the "big two" (i.e. Marvel and DC Comics). Instead, they opt to tell their unique and personal stories on their own terms, heading off to Kinkos to staple together mini-comics or posting series on the internet--establishment be damned.
Likewise, whereas major comic conventions like Comic-Con International in San Diego and the New York Comic Con continue to showcase the likes of Spider-Man, Batman, and the movies and video games that they inspire, there too has been a rise in the popularity of alt-comix festivals that cater to fans looking for something other than a cape-and-tights epic. Fortunately, indie-comic fans here have our very own gathering: the Minneapolis Indie Xpo (MIX for short).
[jump] Although the event is only a year old, MIX made quite the entrance last year on the indie scene, both locally (to the tune of over 1,000 attendees for the one-day event) and throughout the national comics press. This year, table space for local talent to sell their wares sold-out just seconds after being made available, and well-respected independent publishers such as Top Shelf Productions, AdHouse Books, and Capstone will be setting up shop and meeting the emerging scene face-to-face.
At the heart of the ever-growing alt-comix community stands MIX co-founder and director Sarah Morean. A transplant from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Morean traces her love of comics back to the mid-aughts when she had her first glimpse into the world of graphic storytelling while trying to break into children's publishing.
"I was working at a public library in Eden Prairie, and would often take children's books home as research. After all those heavy English books, I'd want something light," she recalls. "I was shelving books in the teen section, came across a copy of Craig Thompson's Good-bye, Chunky Rice, and thought, 'Well, that's in my comfort zone right now, it doesn't seem too heady.' It just blew me away."
Like most fanboys and girls, comics soon became a drug and Morean was hooked, immediately burning through Thompson's award-winning follow-up Blankets, and then hunting down anything with panels that she could get her hands on.
"I just started reading everything that Top Shelf ever did, meeting people at parties, and being like, 'So, are you into comics?' If they were I'd be like, 'Well, loan me everything you have,'" she says with a laugh. "So, I got into a lot of really cool stuff that way: Vanessa Davis, Dan Clowes, Jeffrey Brown, and so on."
As with most drugs, simply reading comics wasn't enough. Morean began creating her own work while reviewing mini-comics for websites and blogs. Eventually, Morean found another avenue to show her love for local comic creators and cartoonists.
"I got involved with the Twin Cities Zinefest, ran that for three years, and through that met [MIX co-founder] Andy Krueger," she explains. "There are a lot of independent cartoonists here--the whole thing has been snowballing for years, so I can't take credit for shining a light on this scene--but it's like when a great idea pops up simultaneously all over the place. Everyone thinks that it's theirs when really it's just the natural progression. Andy in his heart always loved comics, so we went out in search of like-minded people and created partnerships. I'm really happy that MIX happened this way, I think that this is it in its most pure form."
Along the lines of her humble approach to her role in putting the Twin Cities comics scene on the geek map, Morean is also quick to acknowledge the Soap Factory's part in the success of last year's debut festival.
"At first, the Soap Factory was kind of treating us like a wedding or something. They didn't know what to expect," she says. "Then during the show we saw them checking in and being kind of happy and surprised. Immediately after that year they were like, 'This is great. We really want you back next year!' How do you give that up? We're friends now!"
Despite being the kids at the cool table these days, Morean has nothing but praise for the local alt-comix crowd and the Minnesota (Geek) Nice that has become synonymous with it.
"One thing I've noticed since I have moved to the Twin Cities is that every weird thing that you'd ever possibly be into, there's already kind of a group for that. So it's very easy to find like-minded people and to find people that will comfort and agree with you if you're into something bizarre. People are really supportive of crude art, creativity, and expression here," she says.
This year's MIX fest will take place at the Soap Factory on November 5-6. Morean is always looking for volunteers to help out with the event so for more information, visit mplsindiexpo.com/support.