Artists from all over the country converged in Cambridge recently for a weekend of art, discussion panels and workshops — celebrating the present while looking toward the future of their art form — at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) at University Hall.
The Internet has revolutionized the way art is shared, and comic art takes on a life of its own on the Web, gathering followers who may have never even held the panels between their fingers. This new realm of art’s survival in the Internet generation has made independent conventions like MICE even more important to have around. Form is pushed, content is tangible, and the human element very much keeps the independent comics world pulsing.
“It used to be that to break into mainstream comics, you had to live in or be willing to move to New York,” College of Art and Design animation professor and MICE exhibitor Tim Finn said. “Now you can create from anywhere, but a lot of the groundwork should be laid before exhibitors show up to conventions — social networking and building up an audience.”
The owner of Hub Comics, Finn pointed out other benefits of shows like MICE. “Ultimately, a bigger advantage to MICE itself might be the access it offers. It’s on the subway and admission is free,” he said. “Even a broke student who doesn’t buy anything at MICE is going to learn or be inspired by something.”
The atmosphere at University Hall reflected Finn’s words. Sparked by an unusually diverse board of prominent comics creators and the discussion panels they led, the weekend itself was a conversation electric with possibility. Independent artists proved eager to continue introducing and establishing themselves as part of this creative community.
“That we have more small-press comics conventions is only a good thing,” Finn added. “With the right care and attention, I foresee MICE growing into a more prominent show in the next five years, maybe where the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Fest was five years ago, or where the Small Press Expo was ten years ago.”
MICE already has the type of loyalty Finn alluded to. Its exhibitors make it clear that behind the tables proved to be just as colorful an experience as the comics displayed on them. Art Institute of Boston alumnus Michael Rapa has exhibited at MICE for three of its four years. Rapa, a Cambridge-based illustrator and graphic designer, described the camaraderie at MICE as part of its charm. “There’s something special to be said about the bond you develop with the people tabling next to you,” he said. By the end of the weekend, Rapa was referring his visitors to his neighbor’s mailing list.
Accessibility and openness is what Evolutionist comic Manvir Singh cited when asked about the Sept. 28 and 29 exposition. Singh, a new-to-Cambridge artist, is a first-time exhibitor at MICE but not to expositions themselves. He likened MICE to older conventions like the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Fest, and Copenhagen Comics, saying, “[MICE] feels just as robust and happening.”
When elaborating on the way exhibitor content contributes to the importance of holding expos, Singh discusses forms he came across when exploring tables. “It seems like comic art is constantly evolving, really building on previous experimentations … there were comics pushing the limits of form, shape, and paper. I got a book that was just a long, continuous panel, another one with a colorful single panel fold-out cover, and one that was just a paper bag with a folded piece of paper in it. It was that cool experimentation with what a book could be that especially stood out this weekend,” he added, as his own playful blend of scientific comics and spreads sat on the table in front of him.
Though relatively young in comparison to other conventions, MICE has established itself as its own animal, though much bigger than a mouse and with a lot more humanity than is found in the pixels behind a computer screen. Creating during a time when technology has a hand in everything means that having something made by hands is more important than ever. The ones behind MICE have created something that is very much pulsing, and just as colorful as the artists they welcome