Danno Klonowski on the Rain Taxi Book Fest

Categories:  Events, Features


Minneapolis is a great place for comics. Have I said that enough?

Last weekend, two of our best festivals fell on the same date.  For one day only you could attend either the Rain Taxi Book Festival or FallCon.  Pretty good for the people of Minneapolis.  Pretty tough for cartoonists wanting to exhibit at both shows.

The exodus from FallCon this year was substantial — at least ten indie cartoonists went to the Book Festival instead of FallCon.  By all accounts, this year’s FallCon was the best yet.  It’s still a great show, but decidedly more mainstream, which is why more cartoonists are spending money for space at Book Fest instead of enjoying the free tables and wonderful hospitality at FallCon.

No hard feelings, FallCon.  Sometimes a cartoonist just needs to get out and try new things.  Experiment a little.  Test a new market.  And they did.  So how was it?

Danno Klonowski, Minneapolis cartoonist and prominent International Cartoonist Conspiracy member, was kind enough to write us a little something about his experience exhibiting for the first time at the Rain Taxi Book Festival.  Full particulars after the cut.

— SM

This past Saturday, October 16th, the 10th Annual Twin Cities Book Festival was held in downtown Minneapolis. In the decade that Book Fest has existed, this weekend marked only my second time attending. The first time was in 2003, and then only as a spectator, when a few of the early Cartoonist Conspirators and I went to go hear a talk from, and then meet, the legendary Peter Kuper who was that year’s cartooning Guest of Honor.

In the years since, Book Fest has played host to the likes of Harvey Pekar and Jaime Hernandez. But — and it still shocks me to say this — the vast Minnesota comics community of both creators and fans were largely oblivious to such greats being in our own backyard. The reason for our collective ignorance is simple: In the years following 2003, Book Fest and FallCon (MN’s own take on the standard, big-time comic con) have always fallen on the EXACT SAME WEEKEND!


As an exhibiting creator, the choice of which event to attend has always seemed more or less obvious. FallCon offers creators free (yes, FREE!) tables but charges an admission fee for attendees.  Book Fest lets everyone through the door at no cost, but exhibitors pay a table fee (albeit a reasonable one compared to the aforementioned standard, big-time comic cons).

FallCon is run by Nick Post and the fabulous Midwest Comic Book Association.  They have been pushing our thriving indie comic scene on attendees largely hungry for superheroes and action figures.  The level of appreciation for indie cartoonists at FallCon, then, falls into some middle ground.

According to Book Fest organizer Eric Lorberer, “We’ve always wanted more involvement from the local comics community.” Still, if you were a MN comic book fan, would you go to the show without the word “comic” anywhere in the description? Until last year, FallCon was a two-day event whereas Book Fest only occurs on Saturday. While basic math proves both events could be attended in a broken-up weekend by a creator, it’s been my experience that Saturday is the “money day” at FallCon, and Sunday is mostly reserved for socializing, networking, nursing hangovers and spending all the money you made on Saturday. So until this year, I only exhibited at one show. The comics one.

In 2010 two events transpired which caused myself (and several other indie creators) to skip out on the autumnal fanboy classic in favor of the gathering for the literary set. The first event was that FallCon and it’s little one-day sister MicroCon switched places, turning MicroCon into the two-day SpringCon and FallCon into the micro one-day event it will remain for here on out. The second event was MIX — The Minneapolis Indie Expo — our little fly-over hamlet‘s first big indie show. MIX was everything my fellow indie creators and I had always hoped for. Instead of a day spent making awkward eye contact with each other as a gaggle of Storm Troopers sauntered past, we were all too busy engaging a very large crowd of curious, fascinated, and genuinely appreciative indie-friendly fans. Best of all, the Midwest Comic Book Association was so cool with this upstart indie show that they even helped with the physical set-up and promotion of it.


So when offered by my friend Kevin Cannon to try something new, something possibly MIX-ish, and join him at Book Fest I jumped at the chance. Kevin is one of the very few regular comic exhibitors at Book Fest. In years past he did Book Fest on Saturday while his Big Time Attic studio partner Zander Cannon (they’re sisters or something) did FallCon. Both would then be in attendance at FallCon on Sunday. The same goes for 2D Cloud, a local mini-comic publisher operated by Raighne and Maggie Hogan. Half the team goes to Book Fest, half the team to FallCon, and then the grand reunion occurs on the Lord’s Day.


Michael Drivas, owner and operator of Big Brain Comics, has always had a table at Book Fest, being for many years the lone representative of the graphic novel form that the NPR-listening attendees had been hearing so much about. Drivas chooses Book Fest over FallCon because he feels it to be much better promotion for his downtown Minneapolis store than FallCon, which occurs at the State Fair Grounds in St. Paul.


While I didn’t get into the particulars of “Why Book Fest?” with all the indie comic creators on-hand, the ones I did speak with more or less echoed my decision-making process. And there were several of us, including Lars Martinson, Tom Kaczynski, Zak Sally, Will Dinski, Lupi McGinty, Mike Toft, Bill Prendergast and Cartoonist Conspiracy founder Steven Stwalley (who actually did double duty, leaving the FallCon Conspiracy table in capable hands halfway through the day so he could hit up Book Fest). The Minnesota Historical Society Press book Superheroes, Strip Artists, and Talking Animals: Contemporary MN Cartoonists by Britt Aamodt debuted a month ahead of its official release date at Book Fest and features many of the artists listed above, as well as Ken Avidor and Andy Singer who also showed up to show their support of both the book and Book Fest.


While there was a limited amount of Aamodt’s books at FallCon, the publishers put most of their advanced copies in Book Fest’s hands since author Britt Aamodt was moderating a panel on MN cartoonists at the show. The panel brought out even more creators including recent MN transplant, and Vertigo darling, Bill Willingham. While I didn’t get a chance to speak with him, I did meet and chat it up with panelists Michelle Silva, creator of Love Buzz from Oni Press, and Duluth’s Chris Monroe, creator of the syndicated strip Violet Days.


Aside from finally getting to hold Aamodt’s book in my hands (yes, I am one of its featured cartoonists), meeting Monroe was the highlight of the show for me. In addition to being a fan, we’ve been social network “friends” for a while and it was thanks to dear old Facebook that she recognized me, leading to a delightful conversation. As for the panel itself, talk of what it “means” to be a MN cartoonist broke down pretty quickly into an informational session on what it “means” to be a strip cartoonist, a new-comer in the age of the internet, a mini-comics and Top Shelf artist, and a Big Two war-horse. If the panel’s purpose was to open the average, non-comic reader’s eyes to the varied world we’re all deeply familiar with it more than succeeded. Willingham and Dinski did a great job of keeping the levity going, and the final, totally non-ironic Q&A question of “Who are your influences? Like the guy who does The Simpsons or Cathy?” had everyone in stitches.

Organizer Eric Lorberer said, “I’m heartened that so many indie cartoonists have opted to join our show and bring their work to a wider-than-comics-only audience. There’s no question that indie comics have benefited from increased awareness on the part of traditional book readers — and vice versa!”

I’d have to agree.  I think with such an undeniable presence this year, people will hopefully come to EXPECT a cartoonist turn-out next year. “We’d absolutely welcome an ‘indie comic show within a book fair’ vibe,” said Lorberer, “and we’re even looking at renting more space so that an expansion like that can happen.”

Ultimately though, the question has to be “Book Fest: Was it worth it?”


Like every show I’ve ever done, the final tally for other creators is a closely guarded state secret, but everyone seemed to be happy with the choice they made. The overall consensus seemed to be that a crowd who would never attend FallCon was well-served at Book Fest, and everyone they missed at FallCon would be well-served at SpringCon next April.

“I wouldn’t want to take anything away from such a beloved and longstanding show as FallCon,” said Lorberer, “and I think it’s unfortunate that our date coincided with theirs. In the past their shows have been two weekend days, giving both comics enthusiasts and professionals more opportunities to see both. Hopefully enhanced communication can prevent something like that from happening again.”

Well, I guess we’ll have to wait until 2012 to find out. Both FallCon and Book Fest 2011 will occur on October 15th.

Danno Klonowski

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Comment to “Danno Klonowski on the Rain Taxi Book Fest”

  1. TC: FCBD–part 9(of 12)–by Bastian and Dank, also: I go all ‘cross hatchy’ on your ass « Staplegenius.com(ics)