2019 was the 10th annual MICE and my first, and it was like coming home. The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo is, at its heart, zines and punk. Over the last decade, these axioms of DIY have matured; from self-publishing into printmaking, from intersectional politics to building a community.
MICE was tightly wound across a few floors of Lesley’s University Hall building in Porter Square. Admission was free! More than two hundred exhibitors and two days of workshops, panels, and demonstrations. It was people behind the tables, not publishers. And when it was publishers, it was some hot shit cool stuff. I was going to MICE for a couple of things specifically but mostly I was going to be surprised and ensnared by artists I didn’t know. What I found was a lot of witchy smut and thinky reading. A Boston comics jam.
The energy there was great. Punk LGBTQ+ art zine family reunion. It felt boisterous, like everyone was getting to see their friends from camp (I’ve read Be Prepared, I know that is a Thing out here). This family aspect, it’s not just the kids and the workshops at the convention, or the significant presence of YA work in the creators’ history. There’s a found family friendliness. There’s a generational presence in the exhibitors at MICE. I bought a book from Jaime Hernandez and a book from someone who I believe is still currently enrolled in the Center for Cartoon Studies.
Really, MICE is magic. It’s a zine show grown up, a cocktail of love for comics and self-publishing. When it comes time to collate, bind, and fold, one is reminded comic’s ain’t an easy hobby. You get emotionally invested in the process of creating facsimiles, you get passionate about the printing process, about bookmaking, and you get the exhibitors at MICE. Imaginative book sizes in beautiful colors. Prints where the artist can tell you about each layer of ink ad infinitum, where the boundaries of the process become an aspect of the art.
I bought a blank notebook with a tiger face screen printed on it (in three colors) from one table, a card sized print of a casual warrior, an enamel pin, die cut stickers, hand cut stickers, an incredibly cute and mildly threatening possum plush, a comic book with Kate Bush as a private investigator in Orgonon, Maine. What you find at MICE reflects the lives of the creators. Comics, prints, and objets d’art from cartoonists, illustrators, and designers. Everything there, someone cared about it being made.
ShortBox UK brought its puissant and delicate catalog. Fanfare also had a table, with its line of manga as well as a number of odds and ends pulled from distribution purgatory. Beehive Books was there with their broadsheet-sized hardcover-and-slipcase comic strip reproductions, and actual broadsheets- two print issues of LAAB. AdHouse was there. Porter Square Books had a table, as did the oldest comic book shop in New England, Million Year Picnic.
MICE has a strong mix of workshops and demonstrations, from local creator Josh Cornillion’s all-ages participatory “Comics Parade” to the spectacle of a three-way face off “Iron Cartoonist” championship between Erica Henderson, Gale Galligan, and (victor) Shing Yin Khor. Diane Noomin had a panel with contributors to the Drawing Power anthology she edited.
I caught Sunday’s “Comics Visual Literacy” panel, moderated by editor and artist Alison Wilgus. Kurt Ankeny, Ashanti Fortson, Ellen Crenshaw, and Ronald Wimberly presented selected pages and spreads from Write Write Kill to Domu to illustrate the grand things thoughtful sequential art can accomplish. How to frame elements in a visual rhythm that you can build up and pay off. Layouts as a fundamental element of storytelling. Watching this diverse mix of stellar minds bounce ideas off of each other regarding Emily Carroll’s werewolf placement was a real niche kind of bliss.
There is no “best of” MICE as MICE has something for everybody. Here are some of the coolest comics I picked up, a healthy variety indicative of what a convention like this draws. There were some specifics I came for: Wimberly’s LAAB, Hartley Lin’s new issue of Pope Hats, a print from Sara Alfageeh, the aforementioned sublime possum plush from Abby Howard. But check the list, it is dominated by the unexpected.
- LAAB by Ron Wimberly and others, newspaper of comics criticism and critical comics. A stunning selection of articles on black culture and art, illustrations of icons, huge full-color high art action comics printed the size of a drafting table. The one issue has Wimberly interview Saul Williams, the other with John Carpenter. Paper dolls and original guest comics and pop culture like kaiju haiku and Alien abortion, myriad takes on the value of humanity.
- Red Red Rock and other stories 1967-1970 by Hayashi Seiichi and Ryan Holmberg, a psychedelic manga published by Breakdown Press, found on the Fanfare table. Stories from the late 60s magazine Garo, rare underground comix-style manga. This looks absurd and lush and it is a funny qualifier but the lettering is really satisfying.
- Boston Snack Attack and Boston App Attack by Sara Capello. These two minis are made on a single page (each) folded up in a crazy way. Pocket zines only a few pages long, but every leaf is packed with information on a local treat, cutely illustrated and personalized. I was buying a print and keychain and I spotted a pile of zine gold. A dollar, a single page, a few drawings, and yet I am going to get an unquantifiable amount of good time from them hunting down sweet buns.
- Big Night Part 1 by Emmanuel Guerrero is that printmaker passion put into overtime on a fun, snappy looking vigilante caper. There are real subtle depths to the coloring, a soft noise riso texture that’s really nice. Tactile printing for tactile reading.
- Hsthete and Sweet Rock by Melanie Gillman. Reframing fairy tale morals to center around love and relationships, not the patriarchy. Very pretty, dreamy books, full of airy blended layers of color, interesting framing, and interesting storytelling. Brief books with sustained resonance.
So if you need me, I’ll be at a place called Buttermilk and Bourbon testing the true mettle of MICE, eating beignets.
MICE 2019 Haul
Jaime Hernandez @xaimeh
Fanfare Presents @ponentmon_spain
Abby Howard @abbyhoward
Ron Wimberly @raynardfaux
Anna Christine @rhubarbative
Hartley Lin @hartley._.lin
Emmanuel Guerrero @perdido_blues
Jenna Miles @jennamilesart
Lynnette Mynoz @heyitslynnette
Sara Capello @sara_capello
Melanie Gillman @melgillman
Jess Howard @j_hillustration
2 more folks I bought stickers from (sorry!)
Sara Alfageeh @saraalfageeh
Josh Cornillion @joshcornillion
MICE is presented by Boston Comic Arts Foundation.