|Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under Zak Sally, Tom Kaczynski, Nate Neal, Mome||12 Mar 2009 10:39 AM|
Above: Me with my trusty MOMEntum tour guide. "And here we have the work of French master, David B."
So this past weekend I had the extreme good fortune of visiting the great city of Minneapolis for the opening of MOMEntum, a retrospective exhibition of the first 15 issues of MOME at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. The exhibition was the brainchild of MOME contributor and MCAD faculty member Zak Sally and his colleague, Barbara Schulz, who invited me to curate an exhibition of what I considered to be the cream of MOME's crop. Here's some scenes from the show:
The show was a raging success and I spent all of Friday at MCAD engaged in a variety of activities. We started the day with lunch and a quick tour of the facilities, including a look at both the MOME show and a student show that was also opening that night. I was immediately struck by the high level of craft that permeated all of the student work - clearly the students were learning something at MCAD. None of the most common (and easiest to avoid) mistakes that young cartoonists make in comics - poor lettering, unclear panel-to-panel transitions, lazy panel bordering, etc. - were on display. There was a fundamental clarity to all of the work that you rarely see in the work of 20-year-olds. I was impressed from the get-go, and only moreso as the day went on.
In the afternoon, I gave a powerpoint lecture to the students. This was the most challenging part of the trip for me; I'd never spoken to such a large captive audience of young cartoonists and wasn't sure what to expect. I talked about how much the landscape has changed for aspiring cartoonists entering the professional world from when I began working in comics professionally about 15 years ago, for better and for worse, and how I saw MOME fitting into that landscape. It was a potentially unseemly blend of art and commerce that seemed to go over fairly well, or so everyone told me. I have no doubt that even if I had dropped my drawers and did my business on stage, these kind-hearted Midwesterners would have still complimented me and thanked me for my time.
After the lecture, I sat in on one of Barbara Schulz's afternoon comics classes and did an impromptu portfolio review... for three hours. To be honest, this could have been the most grueling, painful thing I've ever done in my life if not for the fact that, hey, these kids aren't bad at all. Giving a face-to-face portfolio review is incredibly awkward if you have nothing sincerely constructive to say. So it was not without some apprehension that I waded into the first review. But by the end, I was cruising, these kids made my job easy. None were perfect, but all had something uniquely going for them that was easy to sink my teeth into and use as a springboard for a larger conversation about strengths and weaknesses. I think I got as much out of it as they did.
I've always been a bit cynical about the ability to teach comics. But in the wake of schools like CCS, SCAD, and MCAD, and coming out of last weekend, I am fully prepared to admit that this might be my own cross to bear having come from a time when there were virtually no accredited academic institutions that acknowledged comics as an artform or anything other than a strange bastard child of the illustration field. Yet here at MCAD, I had fine art professors coming up to me and thanking me for putting the show together and telling me how excited they were to talk about the work with their students. I'm not sure anyone under the age of 30 can appreciate how unusual it would have been throughout much of the last century for a Fine Art department at a serious art school to treat comics as a legitimate form of expression, what with all of that nasty representational imagery getting in the way of pure-hearted, abstract expressionism. Yet here I was, in Minneapolis, a guest of the school and being asked to do just that.
The MOME show opening that night was a blast. MOME contributors Tom Kaczynski (pictured above with his mother!), Zak Sally (pictured above with his son and father -- it was a family affair!) and Nathan Neal were all in attendance, as was most of the Minneapolis comics scene, including Will Dinski, Sarah Morean, Brett Von Schlosser, and the notorious Mr. Mike, Mayor of Mt. Holly, MN. After the event, a bunch of us (including our old pal Eric Lorberer, proprietor of the excellent book review, Rain Taxi) headed over to the great Big Brain Comics to get our geek on and rendezvous with proprietor Michael Drivas. Big Brain is, hands-down, one of the finest comic shops I've ever been to, and my only regret is that I visited it after spending 11 exhausting hours at MCAD. I was literally too tired to shop, coveting beer and food more than comics by that point, although I still managed to almost unconsciously bring a small pile of goods to the counter, including the latest issue of Found magazine, which I literally had gone to about six different locations in Seattle to search out, only to find in about 30 seconds within Big Brain. Every city in America needs a Michael Drivas.
After Big Brain, we headed next door to Grumpy's, the Minneapolis institution owned by longtime friend of Fanta Tom Hazelmeyer, also the founder of Amphetamine Reptile records and perhaps better known to old school comic fans as the guy that made all of those cartoonist Zippo lighters back in the 1990s. The beer flowed and by the end of the night, even this urbane, sophisticated group of serious ah-teests were reduced to talking about -- what else? -- the Watchmen movie, of course, even though none of us had seen it. But this was not before Tom K and I made our case to Zak Sally and (I think) persuaded him to go rent the one, true great genre film classic of the last decade-plus: Starship Troopers.
And with thoughts of art comics and Paul Verhoeven still racing through my brain, I called it a day.
Saturday was our day to sightsee, and we spent the first half of the day at the Walker Art Center. We lucked out and happened to hit the museum on Free First Saturday, where this Sara Varon display greeted us right inside the front door:
I'll leave my critique of the Walker for another time. I liked some of it, disliked a lot of it. There's something wrong when the Lichtenstein starts looking better and better as the day wears on (and if you didn't think that was possible, try again after looking at one serious portrait of Kurt Cobain after another for an hour), while other installations made me think I'd inadvertently taken a left turn into an Ikea. I know, I am a sad dilettante who believes comics should be respected. That said, I found the Joseph Beuys exhibition surprisingly affecting and beautiful, totally contrary to what I expected going in, and would have loved to have absorbed more of it if not for the fact that my eight-month-old daughter really liked the acoustics in that room, necessitating a hasty exit. While waiting for an elevator, I noticed this peculiar typo in a stairwell:
Is the modern art world turning into the Modern Arf world? Speaking of which, one of my favorite parts of the Walker was actually the gift/book shop, where I was pleased to see Fantagraphics well-represented. It was particularly cool to see Jacob Covey and Adam Grano's designs alongside so many great art books:
Adam attended MCAD for a little less than two years and I'm guessing that young MCAD Adam would have been pretty thrilled to know that in a few short years he'd be able to find his work in the Walker.
The highlight of the trip, however, came after MCAD, and after the Walker, and that was our tour of the grim and gritty La Mano offices, courtesy La Mano El Jefe, Zak Sally (after an absolute kick-ass lunch at Brasa, which singlehandedly made me consider moving to MN). Zak gave us the V.I.P. tour, showing us the La Mano printing press, as well as his art studio, where much of the forthcoming Sammy the Mouse #3 hangs on the wall. There are few things in life more enjoyable to me than seeing where an artist I admire does what he does, and La Mano was no disappointment. Here's a few pics:
And that's about all I got. Aside from the fact that Minneapolis was clearly settled centuries ago on a gorgeous spring or fall day with little regard for how the rest of the seasons might pan out, I could live there and look forward to returning. Oh, and to bring things full-circle, this was one of the last things we saw in Minneapolis before boarding our plane back to Seattle:
Thank you, MCAD!