The Wellspring of Minis Monday (which comes on Tuesday this week thanks to the long weekend)

Posted by on June 1st, 2010 at 2:23 PM

Many an installment of this column has opened with an acknowledgment of the Maine Comics Festival in exposing me to a mini, handmade, self-published or small-batch comic. In truth, more posts could have begun the same way. The convention in Portland remains the font of funnybooks that sustains and refreshes Minis Monday.

This year’s Festival, the second annual, was held on Sunday, May 23rd. To my eye and for my narrowed purposes, the show represented an even more successful gathering than the year before. This is in no small part due to the Festival’s realized commitment to being a “showcase for creators.” (To that effect, the convention’s website explicitly mentioned that there would be no “dealers in the traditional sense” with “long boxes of back issues.” Instead it emphasized that “all the books will be produced and sold by the guests we have on hand.” At this point, hosts Rick Lowell and Laura O’Meara of sponsoring Casablanca Comics pointedly neglect to mention that their store, with its own back-issue stock, would be just blocks away, choosing instead to direct folks to a competing, more conventional convention held on the same day in New Hampshire. That’s the successful showcase I’m talkin’ about …)

The Festival proper was once again held in the Ocean Gateway, a cruise ship and ferry terminal right on and, in fact, jutting out over the waters of Casco Bay. Architecturally, it’s an intriguing complex of two separate structures on split levels with unusual, nautically inspired angles, full of windows and natural light. This year, as if to accentuate shoreline ambiance, a bank of sea fog lingered into the afternoon, hovering over the Bay and shrouding city skyline and surrounding islands.

Last year, the lower hall hosted a number of talks and live programs during the Festival. This year it was given over entirely to artists and exhibitors with all presentations having been shifted to the main branch of the Portland Public Library the day before. Those events culminated in a discussion with featured guests Jeff Lemire and Brian Wood. (Skottie Young was a last-minute scratch.)

Opening up that lower building gave the hall more than 7,000 square feet of space, all the better to serve the approximately 100 exhibitors (up from last year) and their patrons (who also increased in number). Foot traffic flowed more smoothly and the most popular displays never seemed lined so deeply that it was impossible to approach or peruse tables.

And the perusing was better as well, amplified by the pleasure of renewing acquaintances with working artists and catching up with their most recent wares. Dave Naybor had the first collection of his series Walking Christendom out in time for the convention — and at convention prices! (Although you have to wonder what kind of an immediate reaction he might have gotten from devout attendees with that title, The End of Christendom.) Marek Bennett’s book of cross-cultural comics exchange and travel journal, Nicaragua, was also available, and although Michael Connor’s much anticipated compilation of his series Coelacanthus was not, a teaser copy was on display to further whet the appetite.

Colleen Frakes, adapting the literary experiment/exercise in which a prose novel is produced in a single month, featured her own 30-day graphic novel, The Trials of Sir Christopher. The “exquisite corpse” format was given a permutation workout in Tag Team, “a sweatshop-style comics anthology with an indie vibe” that was the result of pass-around cartooning by six creators affiliated with the Center for Cartoon Studies. Then, right alongside the Shelter and Play anthologies from the Trees & Hills Comic Group, there was Big Sexy, book of decidedly adult comics done by several of the same tribe (who knew?). Maris Wicks showcased Human Body Theater Presents: The Digestion of a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, a tome measuring 2 3/4 by 2 1/8 inches (with, I hasten to add, an accompanying illustrative poster at 4 x 5 inches). Not to be underdone, Joseph Lambert produced an eight-page Gag comic of four inches square.

Well, I can go on — and I will, come subsequent Mondays.

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