When everyday people think about comic books, images of Batman, Captain America or Spider-Man saving the day may come to mind thanks to these heroes’ recent big screen outings. Maybe they think back to Jughead, Betty, Veronica and the other residents of Riverdale they read about in those Archie stories they loved growing up. No matter what four-color images pop into their heads, it’s likely they don’t know the names of all the diverse characters that populate independent comics around the world.
And just so we’re clear – neither do I, and I breathe comic books!
But, I got one step closer to knowing the fictional universes beyond those offered by Marvel and DC, as I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s MICE – or the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo.
Poster Illustration by Jon Chad
Held at Lesley University’s University Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 17 and 18, MICE celebrated its sixth year of connecting regional indie talent with readers hungry for something new. As the winding halls of University Hall’s second floor were packed with people of all ages, the appeal of the comic art form was more than apparent.
Surely, many of those in attendance were also excited to meet and hear from the event’s special guests Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Superman), Ryan North (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Dinosaur Comics), Jennifer Hayden (The Story of My Tits) and Dustin Harbin (Diary Comics).
Like with any comic convention, the unsung heroes of the expo were the writers and artists who manned the tables throughout the venue. This year, there were more than 100 creators ready to meet their future fans.
Graphic novels, anthologies, hand-made mini-comics, zines and more were available for sale. Many illustrators were also ready to whip up sketches upon request.
In all seriousness, my words will never be able to give a proper sense of the talent on display at MICE. Instead, I recommend you visit the event website’s Exhibitors page, where you can see the creators’ work for yourself. If they’re anything like Jack Turnbull, an illustrator and graphic novelist I spoke to at the event, they’re likely eager to speak about their creations.
Jack Turnbull at his MICE table.
Turnbull, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, was promoting his latest series, Roger Otto: Dinosaur Skateboarder (more on that series in an upcoming AiPT! article). Aside from his work, Turnbull and I got to chat about everything from making a living while doing what you love to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics for DC. Turnbull also spoke about just how special MICE is in the world of comic events.
“MICE is the most supportive and courteous convention I have attended in my 7-plus years of exhibiting,” Turnbull said. “The event staff walk around with snacks and water, give out mini grants and overall go far above the call of duty. They even had a home-brewed comic book-themed beer at the after party! It is representative of the Boston art scene’s emphasis on community, which is hyper unique in the grand scheme of the art world.”
Back to School
It’s fitting that MICE took place in an academic setting, as I felt like I was back in school – in a good way. There were several panels spread out over the weekend, covering topics such as “Black Independent Comics and Cartoonists” and “Parenthood and Comics.”
I found the “What’s My Style” panel, focused on various approaches to storytelling, to be entertaining and informative. Moderated by R. Sikoryak, of Masterpiece Comics fame, this session brought together five creators with signature voices.
Typically, when you attend a panel at an event like MICE, you probably look to the people seated behind the microphones to be the experts in the room. What I found so refreshing about this panel, and creator Luke Howard in particular, was the candor. Howard, who admitted he’s still relatively new to comics, was curious to hear his fellow panelists discuss the importance of style.
Based on the slides shown during the panel, Howard’s art style tends to change from one project to the next. In a time when so many artists, whether in comics or music, feel the pressure to pick a style and stick to it for marketing reasons, I found Howard’s uncertainty about his ever-evolving style to be refreshing. No artist likes to feel shackled, so it’s nice to see someone like Howard, whose style is constantly fluid, achieving success.
Original artwork adorned the venue’s walls.
Be on the Lookout for More MICE
In addition to panels, MICE attendees had a chance to take part in workshops focused on storyboarding, lettering and figure drawing. The event also catered to tomorrow’s talent by offering workshops for kids.
While Boston Comic Con tends to get the most attention in the Beantown comic scene, events like MICE are just as deserving of the public’s time. Of course, you’re not going to find MICE events outside of the Bay State, but with a little research, you could be able to find indie comic showcases within driving distance of wherever you’re living.
If not, channel your inner creator, organize your own event and give your region’s undiscovered comic book talent the spotlight they deserve.