The event was held at The Source, a local comics and games store. The Source has a large back room that they use to host, among other things, gaming nights and Free Comic Book Day. This was the first time it was used for Indy Comic Book Week. “When I heard about the event, I thought it was a great idea,” said Burl Zorn, a Source employee with a gray ponytail and a long earring dangling from one ear. Zorn has been working at the Source for ten years, and plans to be here for many years to come. Zorn’s job requires him to wear many different hats, and he does it all with a smile. Throughout the night, I watched him interact happily with all the different attendees, restock the free chips and pop, and talk excitedly with the artists about their work.
In all, there were 17 local artists tabling at the event, and over 150 different local comics represented on the racks that usually house the regular sampling of D.C. and Marvel titles. (Some artists submitted multiple titles.) The event lasted from 5:00 to 9:00, with a steady crowd throughout. “Things usually die down an hour earlier in the winter,” said Zorn, “because it gets so cold and dark, and people want to go home.” But the Indy Comics event seemed to keep things bustling longer.
The creator tables were covered with bright red and blue tablecloths, and a fancy name card marked each person’s place. I quickly found my own card next to Danno Klonowski’s. Klonowski is a pivotal member of the Minneapolis branch of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy, and throughout the evening, our corner of the room was visited by many different cartoonist conspiracy members, including Steve Stwalley, Dan Olson, Ryan Dow, and Mike Toft. Cross Hatch correspondent Sarah Morean also made an appearance (I was excited to finally meet her in person!). The small size of the event, and its emphasis on being local, gave it a friendly, intimate atmosphere that is often absent at larger conventions.
A highlight of Klonowski’s table was the first two issues of False Witness! The Michele Bachmann Story. False Witness was written by Bill Prendergast, and features the artwork of many local cartoonists, including Klonowski. Other brilliant offerings from Klonowski were issues from his ongoing series Many Tales of Cowardice, and his latest 24-Hour comic, from last October. Klonowski recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of his comics site, Staple Genius. To celebrate, he wrote up an insightful, hilarious, and self-deprecating history of his life as a cartoonist and posted it to his site, complete with images of Xeroxed copies of his early comics. In the last 10 years, Klonowski has created an impressive body of work, and the strength and variety of his work far outshone my own two pitiful minicomics.
Other creators at the event included Jennifer Menken, who is not actually a cartoonist but the creator of an online web series called Transylvania Television, populated by a cast of gorgeous handmade puppets. Menken was in fact sketching a puppet design during the event. Beside her was Michael May, of Cownt Tales, a comedic series “for moo-chure audiences.” He works on the series with fellow Minnesota cartoonists Gavin Spence, Paul Taylor, and Jessica Hickman.
At the next table over were Mitch Gerads and Scott Dillion of Johnny Recon. The two grew up together and have been close friends since second grade. Though they parted ways for college, they stayed in close contact, and eventually decided to collaborate on comics. Dillion’s the writer, Gerads is the artist—and the comic looks really cool.
Beside those two was Mike Bullock, a comics writer who has been part of many different collaborations over the years. One of the comics at his table was Lions, Tigers and Bears, an ongoing series that he says has a “Pixar movie feeling” in that it’s kid-friendly, but has something for all ages. Bullock is also currently writing for The Phantom, a job he originally got because he had a friend at Moonstone Books. It was supposed to be a temporary gig, but just as his temporary issue was finishing up, the regular writer quit, so Bullock became a full-time Phantom writer. Bullock declares himself a “lifelong comics fan,” who became interested in D.C. comics at age three. “I used to irritate my brother because I’d make up stories to go along with the pictures before I could read the actual words,” he said.
Sharing a nearby booth were Becky Grutzik and Matt Wendt, a comic-creating team and married couple. Their booth was full of beautiful colorful, expressive artwork, including Wendt’s dark comedy series Peep about an evil chicken, which Grutzik later spun off into a series called Peep Lite, for kids. Wendt and Grutzik do a number of art-related jobs to help pay the bills, including illustration work for Lerner Publishing in Minneapolis, and teaching a Tuesday night art class.
Across the room was Brent Schoonover with some fantastic and stylish books, including Horrorwood, a 1950’s murder mystery and Astronaut Dad, which follows “three NASA families from Houston, Texas during the boom years of the space race.” “Minneapolis is a great place for artists,” says Schoonover, who attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which is where he met his wife, a photographer.
Near Schoonover was Carl Borg, of the Christian Comic Arts Society. He’s not a comics-maker, but a distributor. He was there with comic work by a number of his friends. Borg was born and raised in the Twin Cities area, and has been going to Fall Con for ten years.
Next to Borg was Bob Lipski, another Cartoonist Conspiracy regular, who has been working on his Uptown Girl series for six years now. Initially interested in working on children’s books, Lipski eventually decided to try his hand at comics and has been working on Uptown Girl ever since. He’s currently working on a giant Uptown Girl graphic novel. “I still enjoy writing and drawing these characters,” he says. “They feel real: it’s like I don’t have to write it anymore, they just tell me where to go. I’m not sure I could ever do a different series; it would be like cheating on my characters.” Lipski self-publishes all of his work, and sells it at various local comics events.
Towards the end of the evening, Burl Zorn circled the room with a large cardboard box, from which he pulled popcorn balls with a flourish, handing them out to the artists and their friends. We all munched on them happily (albeit awkwardly—that’s a difficult food to eat!). As the hour approached 9:00, comic books were piled into boxes, cardboard cut-outs were folded and tucked away, and comic fans piled into their cars and drove home. It was still ungodly cold out, but selling a few of one’s own comics (and acquiring a stack of new ones by local talents) kept us all a little warmer.
- Athena Currier