Four minicomics from MICE

I spent an enjoyable Saturday at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, a.k.a. MICE, last week, and I came away very impressed with the quality of the work on display. This was MICE's biggest year so far, with three rooms and some corridors of the Lesley College building in Porter Square filled with table after table of hand-crafted comics. For much of the day, the place was packed.

People don't think of Boston as a comics town, like Portland or Brooklyn, but there's a lot of talent here, much of it gathered under the aegis of the Boston Comics Roundtable; in addition, a number of the artists had come from New York, Rhode Island and Maine. Here's a sample of some of the minicomics I picked up.

By far the standout minicomic of the show was The Potter's Pet, by Braden D. Lamb and Shelli Paroline. The story feels like a traditional folk tale, although I don't think it is; it's about a potter in a Moroccan-style marketplace who makes a robot, then keeps re-customizing it to please his customers. The story is well told and the art is professional quality, which is not surprising as Paroline has been doing professional work for some time now, including the art for several of BOOM! Studios' Muppet Show comics. In The Potter's Pet, she carries the Moroccan theme through in the panels, which echo the shapes of Islamic architecture. I would say it's the best $5 I spent at the show, but the book sold out before I could get a copy and I had to borrow it from a friend. I hope they make more.

One of the delights of a show like this is talking with the artists about their work. Dave Kender had his elevator pitch ready when I reached his table, and quickly explained the concept of The Ragbox, his series of short stories about the inhabitants of an urban neighborhood. Each of the stories is independent and is illustrated by a different artist (including Braden Lamb). I picked up The Salon, the fifth story in the series, illustrated by Line Olsson. It's set in the neighborhood beauty salon and has a leisurely way to it — the two stylists talk about their lives, the customers come and go, and the landlord comes in for a tongue-lashing. There's even a twist at the end. In the space of a few pages, Kender creates an entire world and populates it with interesting, quirky, yet very believable characters. Now I want to read the rest of the stories; fortunately, the first three are posted at his site, and he has also gathered them into a graphic novel.

I picked up two minicomics by Heather Bryant. American, Eh? #4 (the title is a reference to her Canadian origins) is part of a series about her move from Canada to the U.S. to be with her boyfriend Michael. This particular issue has a very nice self-contained story about her college film class, which gives her the opportunity to bring in some film imagery alongside a more personal story. Sho Ga Nai is a travel comic about her trip to Osaka with her mother; it doesn't pack the same narrative punch as the first comic, but the art is nice. Bryant has a good eye for composition and detail, and Americah, Eh? in particular left me wanting more. Perhaps my next stop will be to read her webcomic, Cake Brat, although it is currently on hiatus.

I'm extremely fond of Jason Viola's minicomics. He has a pleasingly neurotic take on things that makes me feel kind of normal. Jay's Brain, in which his brain takes on a life of its own and becomes the world's most annoying roommate, is sort of the logical extreme of the indy comic, and it's also a great use of the mini-comic medium: Each page is a tiny drama in six panels, and Viola is very good at making each one a complete, satisfying, and often pointed little story.

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