To find Mini-MICE you had to be a bit of a mouse yourself. The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo had returned to Cambridge, accessible through a series of liminal spaces: turn down the hyperlocal landmark graffiti alley, pass the barricades and the outer courtyard pop-up peddler’s faire to an opening in a fake wall, a third turn met with a greeter and a sticker and the cheese. Comics. Prints. Ephemera. The intersection of art and community. In the heart of Starlight Square, MICE.

Mini, as in…
Instead of the usual jam at a university hall, MICE held an open air market this year. Fewer exhibitors, shorter hours, masks, outside. Which, good, we’re all still right in the thick of an international health crisis, safe small and smart is exactly how sensible people want things right now. That’s the end of the mini, however, as I was one of over eleven hundred stickered in attendance Saturday, with another thousand plus going on Sunday. I waited in line a few times to check out artists’ booths! There were lines everywhere, every booth seemed to have at least one person looking at it with someone else looking over their shoulder from a few feet to the side.

MICE, as in…
That someone was me. What I saw was a lot of local. At the last MICE were Fantagraphics legends and LAAB and ShortBox and a nice mix of hometown nerds and (inter)national reach and frankly it was cool as hell, I had a great time. This year, Mini-MICE pivoted to tininess, their perennial air of intimacy over off-the-rack only amplified by the smaller setting and local focus. I was glad to be there, you know? Not just at a comics convention, but in Cambridge, checking out these folks’ art.

Mini MICE Erica Henderson

There were strong names and unknowns, with as broad an array of style as levels of recognition. Art prints and screen printed posters, zines and small press paperbacks and self-produced hardcover editions, charms pins stickers shirts. Summer easing off into the edge of autumn is in the very air, rippling the edges of tent awnings, every exhibitor putting little rocks and weighted miscellany on their pamphlets and paper goods to keep them from blowing away. Everywhere, the excited bubbling of someone who’d found their thing, someone’s spirit getting spoken to, finding that stuff that’s deeply their shit. That’s relatable. That’s part of the fun of going to a con in the first place, like the tiny sublime pleasure of hearing when the other patrons laugh or gasp in the movie theater. The people watching is sublime and the stuff being sold is that and then some. My thing is tactile treats where I can feel the process. Think printmaking. My eyes are going to artists whose work looks like they’re printing themselves, I’m geeking out over how each color is done with a different screen, or this one, how’d they get this texture? I saw sentient eggplants and I saw Captain Marvel (a print by the Erica Henderson, who also designed the scrumptious Mini-MICE poster), but what caught me from afar at first was the lavender print of Shirley Jackson’s sunglasses.

It turned out to be an anthology from the Boston Comics Roundtable table. It really felt like each creator at Mini-MICE made a bit of space in their booth for somebody else. A connection to the work of somebody else. I got another anthology going through books at Cathy G. Johnson’s booth. I bought minis from Bryce Davidson who did some himself and some with a publisher I’d never heard of out of Portland, Maine- Wing Club Press. Might be mini, but MICE is still mega when it comes to community.

2021 Mini-MICE discoveries

Mazur MICE Shirley Jackson Project

The Shirley Jackson Project
Edited by Robert Kirby
Published by Ninth Art Press
What makes the Shirley Jackson anthology of “comics inspired by her life and work” a Boston thing is Dan Mazur. A MICE guy, also a founder of the Boston Comics Roundtable, and of Ninth Art Press, who put out this collection. Mazur and sixteen other alternative comics artists look to have created a thoughtful collection of work that is more reaction than adaptation. Jackson is bleak and comic (funny not floppy) and these comics look dark, foreboding, occasionally cute, very homey. Mostly monochrome, intensely hand-crafted, mysterious. I love Jackson’s work and that old school Top Shelf and Highwater take on alternative comics- which this book definitely shares- is a thing I’ve been chasing since I was a teenager, so it gets me both ways.

Bad Boyfriends Laura Lannes

Bad Boyfriends
Edited by Laura Lannes
File this under I Can’t Believe It’s Staple Bound. I can’t believe I haven’t seen more work by these artists, either. Flipping though an anthology should be a little overwhelming, right? Wow, look at all these styles, swiftly followed by who are these people, the aforementioned feeling that if I was doing things better I would already know who these artists are. A quick glance at the names, Cathy G. Johnson, Julie Gfrörer, and another closer look at the substance as well as the style and it has all the makings of a must-read. The stories in Bad Boyfriends are dark and dense, sometimes faint and fading sometimes drowning in black, psychedelic and crushingly mundane, intimate, vulnerable, raw, real.

Atlas Michael Talbot

Atlas: Fall from Grace
Written & drawn by Michael Talbot
Open Atlas and instantly you’ll see understanding and defiance. I said I like process and that comes into effect here, too, beyond being impressed with the size, format, and quality of the book I had in my hands. Atlas abounds with visual storytelling, layouts where the panels follow behind the action of the scene instead of wall it in and define the beats. It feels to me like Talbot got to where comics are now, saw what they want to do, and went there ahead of the rest of us. The read moves, the art is sequential, but the form has cut away anything that doesn’t visually serve the content. The words part of words and art is also experimental, more than just bubbles, something I’ve really dug from Sloane Leong or Kyle Turner. Leong’s Prism Stalker and Talbot’s Atlas both hit me hard like when you get to glimpse that one quiet cool kid’s spiral bound ink pen god tier graffiti notebook.

Oro Bryce Davidson

Written & drawn by Bryce Davidson
Published by Wing Club Press
This one is something else. Oro is where colonialism and consumerism collide, a spirit quest through time and standing structures older than man, all to get to Best Buy. A book full of little twinkling stars, eyes watching from the sky, an occasional arrow to the head. Comics that can capture the taste of silver moonlight speak strongly to me, and though there is war in here, there is contemplation and quest and oracle. A twilight book of textured grey, a series of faces writ large across the badlands, sun and stillness capturing strange silhouettes. It looks like a trip.

Gorgeous Cathy Johnson

Written and drawn by Cathy G. Johnson
Published by Koyama Press
Would you believe this book is about two people meeting for the first time in a fortuitous and dramatic moment, only to immediately part ways instead of becoming a story of the meet, of coming together? Instead there’s a hand-off: open the book in one person’s life and close it on someone else. Life’s like that sometimes, sometimes once is enough. Cathy Johnson’s linework is delightfully minimal, spritely and warm, well complimented by the hazy brushed monochrome that fills her style’s space. The zine cute, or maybe the enthusiasm of a young punk, puts a strong positive spin on a story that is actually a series of mistakes. The grey at the edges of the smile come in in full once the kid vanishes, the underlying gravity of the situation is laid bare like a roll of thunder coming after the lightning has disappeared, dark clouds the wash of paint Johnson put to the page.

MICE is BCAF, too
The Boston Comic Arts Foundation puts on MICE (almost) every year, and here’s to it coming back in 2022. If you missed it, currently has easy access to all 64 exhibitors and their websites. You can still support them! Unfortunately you missed out on the sweet sticker.

MICE sticker