October is closing out and, standing by the Charles River on the Boston University campus, this perfect autumn weekend is New England at maximum power. MICE is in the Fuller Building on Comm Ave; where a hundred years ago you’d go to buy a luxury Cadillac in 2022 we’re buying zines and art and ephemera. The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo was in Cambridge for ten years. Conventions in 2020 were placed on hiatus, but the growth of the small press comics industry wasn’t. Now that comic cons have returned indoors, MICE needed the space a flagship vintage automobile showroom provides (and then some).
Have you ever been to MICE? It is the nation’s premier unconventional comic convention. Call it micro press, MICE specializes in books too small for a spinner rack or a long box, and comics that are books, the graphic novels you find at the cool shops. There is still speculative fiction, horror, fantasy, capes and masks, but it comes from the exhibitors. Or, you know, the shows and comics and stuff we all enjoy are there too, just present in frequently raunchy, always surprising fan art form. The Boston comics scene is still rebelliously punk and witchy magic, in touch with the way of the world.
The front row in the larger of the two rooms is featured exhibitors, whose work is suitable for all ages. These are the celebrities of MICE, Maia Kobabe and Gale Galligan are who kids are losing their shit over. The face of contemporary comics is surely Sara Alfageeh, the artist for this year’s poster, and co-creator with Nadia Shammas of the magnificent and celebrated graphic novel Squire. Right here! And over there! Steenz & Ivy Noelle Weir, co-creators of Archival Quality, reunited! These creators are making what inspires the next generation of comics creators! Am I shouting? And Million Year Picnic, New England’s oldest comic shop (also one of the few Black owned comic shops in the US), has a massive corner table spread of gourmet comics suitable for young readers.
Beyond the front row you have a Venn diagram of blessed comics: micro press, YA, and in the intersection of the two sets is a genre called “the future of the medium.” I went bananas on copies of Ley Lines at Karen Charm’s table, but yesterday’s Czap Books title that Charm edited and published is today’s RH Graphic paperback. There’s Radiator Comics, Plum Press, Zach Clemente’s Bulgilhan Press, the Wrong Brain collective from New Hampshire, there were definitely tables of book stacked like the Million Year Picnic one. But these books? Die Horny is not strictly speaking for little kids. Fieldmouse Press was there, with stuff I would be hyping below if I hadn’t already got it in the mail before the show. Seriously, go find and read Good People Trouble.
MICE is as always about just that. One specific book. The universal appeal of individual interests. Nobody is more themselves than the exhibitors at MICE. And for every publisher, there are twenty more self-publishing individual creators helming a table by themself, or sharing with a friend. It is inspiring, it is a buzz, it is energy that most everyone at the show seems to be basking in, maybe a little in awe of. I found out Demi Naito’s comics at MICE were her first, and I think she’s the same age as me. But then Nile Hennick, this tween as old as my nephew has a rack of his own comics, this was his fourth or fifth convention, I lost count. I met Rosaura Rodríguez, an editor and co-founder of the Días Cómic Puerto Rican artist collective, and Debbie Fong, who used to peddle prints on Newbury Street. Riso art prints were everywhere, screen prints, Nick Tofani’s lenticular photos of horror art. Keepsakes, accessories, apparel. Kate Bush keychain (in Dreaming bat costume) by Jaime Mosquera. So many stickers. So many.
And the programming was on a mission. Workshops on comics creation and on publishing. Draw-offs that go into technique. Lots of digital investment, Crowdfundr was a big voice in funding this year and present in the panels, and there were a few digital panels in the weeks leading up to MICE- as well as physical workshops and a pre-show party. The panels were all answering questions rather than making announcements. How do you do this? Why did you make that? What can visual storytelling teach us? Purpose, intention, and dreams.
2022 MICE Discoveries
1. Ley Lines, anthology co-published by Grindstone Comics and Czap Books
Kind of cheating. I had a subscription to Ley Lines, and when that lapsed, I got most of this year’s run at TCAF. MICE for me is mostly about discovering new things, but it was also an opportunity to pick up older issues, which is what I did. Ley Lines is an anthology series where each issue allows a cartoonist to critique a subject through the medium of comics. Patti Smith and the music OOBE by Diana Chu. Naturalism and John Muir by Gloria Rivera. Belkis Ayón and forbidden mythology by Jia Sung. As wildly varying in form and approach to storytelling as they are in the subject matter they cover, but overall Ley Lines is human before it is academic. Not the only place at MICE where this kind of introspection is to be found, I picked up Game Over: A comic about death and games by Mac Maclean and I could easily see it being a part of this series, or something in an issue of (2019 MICE guest) LAAB.
2. Sensitive Man, self-published by Annabel Driussi
So, what’s a fumetti? It’s a comic that got made without drawings, where the pictures in the panels are photographs. Sensitive Man begins as a drawn comic, a twee and sincere gag strip. But chasing his dreams leads Sensitive Man into a world made of clay. Now we have fumetti, Now we have Sensitive Man shedding clay tears on the drawing board, the page he just stepped out of, after meeting the man of his dreams. It’s claymation but it’s static? A true A-Ha moment where drawing and photographed clay figures collide. This comic is too cool.
3. Mourning Doves Are People, Too, self-published by Demi Naito
So, what would make someone write comics about pigeons? That’s this. Mourning Doves is Naito’s second book about pigeons (and her second book). The Pigeons of Los Angeles let the birds tell their story, but her new book is a diary comic, a documentary of how Naito entered the world of doves. It’s a whimsical way to do it, making uneasy eye contact with a dove while drinking boba that looks like dove-in-a-cup, but ultimately the concern is the process of making yourself a better person in turn makes the world around you a better place, of love and peace.
4. Otro Duelo, by Alexandra Pagán Vélez and Omar Banuchi, published by Días Cómic
This is a fascinating work of preservation and interpretation. Días Cómic plunges through the archives of Puerto Rican comics and political cartoons to cut, paste, and re-order the past into a new story about where history has lead us. Suspect Device, the indie anthology massacre of Sluggo and Nancy, where each artist had a classic start and end panel and told the story between. That and Max Ernst, whose Dada collage work combined anything and everything, destroying context and reconstructing it for Ernst’s own endeavors. This comic takes the modern poetry of loss and historic imagery depicting strife and combines them, exposing new ideas latent in the concepts when separate from each other. Like Inés Estrada’s anthropology zine Cartoon Spirituality, or Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s cyberpunk musical Neptune Frost, this is art advocating a new way, turning to a fresh page where the story has yet to be written.
5. Those That Inherit the Earth, by Matt Emmons, published by Second at Best Press
Now this is what I’m talking about. A ghost monster preserves animal life in a secret cave while war and worse scorches the face of our planet, as told from the perspective of a chill little possum. A riso print comic, so it has that rarified air of special colors and lots of dots. Like if Richard Adams was a member of the Ft. Thunder art collective. Not dreamy but surreal. Emmons’ fantasy anthology Dagger Dagger was another one of those must-grip books at MICE.
The Whole Haul, AMA:
Creators, you need to charge more.
Good show. The best show? I say yes. Good for the exhibitors, too, I think. I went on Sunday and a lot of people were already sold out of books. The cat loves this little handmade mushroom (it is not for you, Daniel) purchased at the Witchlight table, because Jessi Zabarsky was sold out of Witchlight: everyone there makes other stuff, too. And at MICE, the little surprise mystery stuff is just as valid and welcome as the big comforting familiar stuff. An incredible vibe. There was a cheese sponsorship and raffle. Cheese raffle at MICE, a real thing. Masks required and worn by attendees. This is my second MICE and fourth BCAF event and I say they’re just getting better, keep ‘em coming.