Drawn together 

Cartooning can be a lonely business, one that requires hours and hours of slaving over a drawing board with nothing but pen nibs, bottles of ink and a vivid imagination to keep you company. And being a fan of cartoonists — especially those artists whose bodies of work rest far outside the shiny walls of the mainstream — can be a lonely experience too. That’s the impetus behind Snap! The Comics Art Festival, a gathering of small press and “alternative” comic artists and the fans who love them. They’ll convene for their inaugural run this weekend in Dearborn.

While chances are you won’t see the elaborate and whacked-out costumes worn by fan boys at traditional comic book conventions, Snap! will still bring in plenty of passionate people in need of an outlet for their love, so kindly excuse them if they want to party.

All this merrymaking will no doubt delight festival organizers Katie and Dan Merritt, longtime fans and owners of Green Brain Comics. A self-described maven, Katie grew up loving TV cartoons and the Sunday funnies, but never ventured into the weird and colorful world of stapled art until she happened into a job at a comic book store. She quickly fell in love with the medium, and not surprisingly married fellow comic book lover, Dan, before fulfilling “the fan boy’s dream come true” by buying their own store in 1999.

Seven years later, the couple continues to nurture artists who reflect a sense of personal style. The Green Brain is the area’s most concentrated home for independent or alternative products — they pick up the slack when other stores go under.

The kind of material on display at Snap! will be widely varied and light-years away from the typical cape-wearing musclemen and drooling monsters most closely associated with the term “comic book.”

“We get all the talent together and we show the public that all this talent exists. And it exists in your own backyard without having to be this wacky, wonky Marvel superhero stuff,” Katie says.

The work of small press creators tends to be more personal, often revealing the minor biographical details and headaches of mundane existence, or lashing out with a satirical bite. It’s the kind of stuff made famous by such big-name talents as Harvey Pekar or Dan Clowes, whose respective works American Splendor and Ghost World became motion pictures, and who serve as inspiration for the hordes of aspiring artists. The financial rewards aren’t great. As Katie puts it, “These are the true starving artists. They are doing it because they love the art form, they love creating and writing comics. It’s all just for the pure love of it.”

A perfect example of this sort of tireless devotion is Hamtramck’s own Matt Feazell, who’s been turning out his own brand of cartoon foolishness since the early 1980s, when he doodled on the back of flyers to kill time behind the counter of a record store. Working in a simple but amusing stick figure vernacular, he developed his ongoing stable of off-kilter characters like the Amazing Cynicalman, Antisocialman, Nerdygirl and Stupidboy.

Over the decades, Feazell has seen the comic book industry boom and bust and then boom again, having his own brush with near-fame by appearing in the back pages of Scott McCloud’s much loved series Zot! back in the late ’80s. He’s still cranking out mini-comics today, self-publishing under his own Not Available Comics logo and selling them for the low, low price of 50 cents. At Snap!, Feazell will be sporting a professor’s cap for his “How to Draw Mini Comics” workshop, where he’ll teach attendees the finer details of panel layout, story structure and proper paper folding.

Besides the meeting and greeting, there will be plenty of fun stuff to do, including a silk-screening exhibition, panels, discussions and the “cartoon carnival,” a jazzed-up slide show narrated by the creators themselves.

Further distinguishing Snap! from the indie comics world at large will be the stronger presence of female voices, shattering the stereotype that girls don’t like comics or can’t make them, as demonstrated by notable festivalgoers Phoebe Glockner and Jane Irwin. One thing all the artists share is a dedication to the medium.

Katie says, “You get a circle of cartoonists together and they will literally draw on anything. It just pours out of them. They’ll be drawing on cocktail napkins.”

 

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Al Matta Hall, 5121 Oakman Blvd., Dearborn. For more information, call Green Brain Comics, 313-582-9444, or visit greenbrain.biz/SNAP!.htm.

Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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