City MICE: An Interview With Dave Kender

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So Dave, what is your exact position regarding MICE?

I am the founder of the Boston Comics Roundtable (BCR), which is the co-sponsor of MICE, along with the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. The BCR is about seven years old. It’s a collective of comics artists and writers in the greater Boston area who work in the comics medium.

How did the idea of MICE come about?

For several years there was an event called the Zine Fair, which was produced by the Zine Library. We were friendly with those folks because there’s a lot of cross-over between zines and independent comics. For several reasons, the Zine Fair did not happen four years ago and we in the comics community really felt its absence. So we created our own show to fill a need. MICE was born. That was in 2010, so we’re prepping for our third annual show now.

MiCE of course has local small press conventions for years. What would you say makes MICE different from small cons in the past?

The business of conventions, all types of conventions, seems to be on the rise. There are more of them, and as they grow we’re find that the audience tends to get very narrow. Although the circles of audiences overlap – comics, self-publishers, zines, sci-fi fans, video games, etc. – the conventions that service them don’t have much overlap, or at least they don’t serve “our people” well. We’ve had small time comics self-publishers do a show at Boston sci-fi conventions and utterly fail, while they’ll have huge success with those very same attendees in a different venue, like a comic book shop, a book store, or MICE. Our show is servicing a gap that we saw in the market: local self-publishers of comic books and the people that love them. Actually, now that I think of it, that’s a great title for a book.

What can the average non-academic look forward to if they come early for “Comics In The Classroom?”

Enraptured discussions of comics as a teaching tool.

Good locations have always been tough to score when it comes to local conventions. What’s been your secret to having the convention at such a good location in Cambridge?

We were very lucky to find a partner in the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. They’ve been hugely supportive of the show.

R. Sikoryak is quite a coup for a small press affair. Is this the first time MICE has had a guest of honor?

Yes, this is our first official guest of honor and we’ve excited to have him. The guy is just ridiculously talented. We had talked about a guest of honor in previous years, but you have to have a few shows under your belt before people will consider accepting. We imagined a scenario a few years ago where we would call someone up and say, “Hi, you’ve never heard of us but we’re having this show. Would you be the guest of honor? By the way, we have no idea if anyone will show up.” Fortunately, now we know that people are showing up in droves, so we’re comfortable asking someone.

The Boston area has had some great moments in history regarding alternative and local comics. Jordan Crane worked on the Non anthology here for a time, Highwater Books was started by Tom Devlin (now at Drawn and Quarterly) and of course Fort Thunder was not far away. Do you think comic artists today have that sense of history?

This topic comes up a lot in our weekly BCR meetings. Every artist is aware to some extent of their historical context. Some people really dig into that history and can draw from the well to help their own work. But when they do so, they’re typically thinking of a wide and global past. A little American from here, a little Japanese from there, some South American, and so on. They pick and choose as they see fit, because they feel like it’s a shared, unified history. The local aspect is really only pertinent in the here and now. Highwater Books was great, but they’re not here in Boston in 2012, so they’re no more or less useful to a Boston-based artist than a manga comic from Tezuka published in the 1960s. However, we are here now. The MICE show, the Boston Comics Roundtable, and other resources. We can help get you started and point you towards some of that rich history.

The Boston Comics Roundtable is a pretty amazing force, putting out a number of anthologies is such a short amount of time. Is such a group unprecedented in the Boston area? Sure, Tom Devlin and Jordan Crane published several cartoonists in the area, but they weren’t organizing a collective.

There was no such group in Boston in 2006, when I needed it. That’s how the whole thing started. I would wander from comic ship to comic shop asking if there was a group of artists and writers anywhere. I would be cheerfully regaled with stories about Highwater and Jordan Crane, but those guys had already moved on. The Boston Comics Roundtable was formed out of the necessity of a couple people, but it has flourished out of an entire city’s necessity. The talent was there, lying in wait, and they flooded in when the doors opened. All these anthologies, all these individual books, and the MICE show are all born out of the need for artists to create comics. We’re just channeling that energy in a certain direction at a certain time, hopefully to the benefit of all.

You wrote a post recently about Newbury Comics and their inability/unwillingness to promote local work. Does anyone in the Boston area do that? What do you wish local shops would do more of?

I don’t fault Newbury Comics that much. It’s an entertainment store that happens to have roots in comics, but comics are pretty low on the priority list. Independent comics are essentially absent from the business model. Happily, though, the actual local comic shops and locally owned bookstores have been an outstanding partner for us. MIllion Year Picnic, Hub Comics, Comicopia, Comicazi, Hard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, and a lot of others have been happy to stock our books. The comic shops have a more liberal policy – they’ll take mini comics, floppies, whatever we have as long as it will appeal to their customers. The traditional bookstores want a more polished looking product, but that makes sense for their clientele. All the stores love the local angle and are willing to support us. In fact, Harvard Book Store was our number one retailer for the Inbound #4 anthology. Apparently it was selling on par with some of their most popular books for a while.

Name six creators/works and their works that you would want people walking out of MICE wanting to know more about. By that I mean name five creators and plug your own stuff.

There’s something close to 150 comics creators tabling at MICE. It would be unfair, and probably undiplomatic, to only single out a few. Even though I know a lot of them personally, I absolutely love to walk the floor like everyone else and shop. Sometimes it’s a good story that draws you in, and sometimes it’s a beautiful object. The latter is crucial to the future of comics because it’s something that e-books can’t replicate. I’m certainly no luddite. In fact, the Boston Comics Roundtable is busy working on a new platform for digital comics publishing. But when you come across some gem of a book, a book-as-object, at a show you just have to snatch it up because there’s no digital purchasing recourse down the road. Oh, also my own books. They’re good too.

MICE takes place tomorrow starting at 10:00 AM at Lesley’s University Hall on 1815 Mass Ave in Cambridge. “Comics In The Classroom starts at 9:00 a.m.

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About Chad Parenteau

I'm a poet. I run the Stone Soup Poetry series in Cambridge that runs every Monday night. I review comics in my spare time.
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