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CR Holiday Interview: Sarah Morean
posted October 31, 2011
 

imageSarah Morean is the director of the Minneapolis Indie Xpo. MIX one of the up-and-coming, arts-focused comics festivals that have sprung up in recent years. It has the great advantage of taking root in a generally artistically fertile part of the country, one that intrigues in a comics sense because I imagine that many, like me, have only a vague sense of that area's comics scene relative to the general knowledge out there about comics in places like Portland and New York. Morean is also a sometimes-cartoonist herself. She may be best known to readers of this site for her various contributions to The Daily Cross Hatch, a gig she eventually reduced in frequency and has since terminated altogether. With MIX 2011 this weekend and learning she had news on the tip of her tongue, I thought it'd be a great time to learn more about Morean and Minneapolis-area comics. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: Sarah, you agreed to interview with me I think in part because you had some news you wanted to announce. Would you go ahead and do that, and talk about what that will mean and what led you to the decision? I don't want to be accused of burying the hard news.

SARAH MOREAN: The Minneapolis Indie Xpo will certainly not return in 2012 and after this year it might not happen again.

It's work I love and am proud of but it's very, very time-consuming. It's absolutely a full-time commitment for me and I've been working on this year's show for 12 months on top of my actual full-time job. I'm constantly promoting it, working on partnerships, finding sponsors, working out logistics, coordinating special projects that highlight our exhibitors, communicating with exhibitors and the press, making promotional videos, updating the website and Facebook page, working out advertising, coordinating design projects, making purchases, developing programming, attending events to promote the show and connect with artists and partners and it's just generally something that occupies a lot of my mind to the ruin of other my own projects or personal productivity. I can't travel anymore without a huge stack of flyers. We've probably had five versions of the flyer this year for different steps of the process -- first to attract exhibitors and later to save the date. This year especially I've just been consumed with the work, enough to where I can see this becoming an actual full-time job.

I've been able to test a lot of experimental stuff I'd been wanting to try at this year's show -- the curator program that reached out to non-local exhibitors and the buyer incentive program happening at the show to encourage book sales -- but I've got so many additional plans and ideas for the fest and those require even more time to develop and employ in what would be the lead-up to a third show. If I didn't take a year off I'd be running next year's show already on November 7th. I started to think about that fact a few months ago and the prospect of a never-ending cycle of over-work just terrified and shocked me to the point where I could finally make this decision. I met with the show's co-founder, who isn't involved in the work due to family commitments but has become a really important mentor for me (also mans our Twitter presence), and he was understanding and very supportive of my decision.

I'm not someone who likes to say no to these kind of projects at all but personally, for me, if I'm being honest with myself, I've got to admit I need a break. I'll have at least four planned months of nothing and see what it's like to settle back into my own creative pursuits. I want to go for what grabs me for a bit instead of just churning in a cycle to keep creating a new variety of the exact same thing. I need time to collect myself and then hopefully get to researching or working on my next big project, which might be MIX 2013 or it might be another thing. I'm going to allow myself some options.

People have asked if there's anyone to take over in the interim and there really isn't. The volunteer commitment has been spotty and there's no one else at this point who knows MIX even remotely as well as I do who could just operate on momentum. For it to go on existing it's important to me that it's carried out with the same vision and professionalism I've employed as its director. We have a good reputation at this point and I'm wholly committed to maintaining that in successive shows. Right now I'm the only person who can make that happen. If MIX continues I'd like to work with someone pretty closely before I'd accept a successor.

I'm weirdly self-less for the idea of building up comics in Minneapolis and while a lot of people share that sentiment they're often the same people who should really be at their drawing tables making new work or honing their skills for printing, publishing, storytelling, teaching or whatever. They've got their niche and what they do is important for what I do so the whole ecosystem works better when I don't distribute my work to them and vice versa. They should keep up the creative work and organize in short bursts for one-time projects, not something big like MIX. Taking on something like MIX will force you to become the organizer of a whole creative community -- suddenly you're a resource and a mouthpiece and a connector and being those things takes time and an even head. Seasoned organizers know this and find ways to accept the consequences of their commitments but I wouldn't put that responsibility on anyone I know here in Minneapolis right now. I know how much everyone works and none of them could take on how much I work without cutting loose something major. I don't want that for them and I don't think they really want that either.

I stopped making comics in the last few years, I left the Twin Cities Zinefest and gradually committed less to reviewing and writing for The Daily Cross Hatch before leaving in September just so I could bring this show together. I sacrificed things I was proud of and enjoyed to take on this role and make this show a success. I don't think everyone would be as satisfied as I have been with the work itself.

The way I came to be an organizer is totally integral to who I am. If I can summarize the impulse I'd say that when I see promise in something I'll work to make it better and when I see something amazing I have to tell everyone. I can't help being this way and sometimes it makes me feel annoying. Having a position where being finicky and hands-on and mouthy can actually benefit people I care about is like the best thing ever. More than anything I want to do work that supports the work of cartoonists. Comics is a community and an expression I really believe in.

I could see another show having nothing to do with me pop up in the interim that would have its own organization and identity, but asking the same people who would take on a project like that to conform to conventions currently in place at MIX is really asking too much. A new set of organizers would need to find their own way and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that project taking on the MIX monicker, even for a gap year. Plus, anyone will feel more connected to a project if it's their own fresh thing where they have the freedom to build it however they want. If I ever made a structure for MIX as a permanent annual thing, then wanted to leave the fest completely, I'd be more comfortable letting it adapt with whoever, but at this point I still want to figure out a way for me to be involved and make this my career. I don't want to return to something that was so personal to me but has become unrecognizable in the hands of well-intentioned people. The weird, possessive DIY streak that dominates the work of many self-published cartoonists I also have in regards to this festival. It is what it is.

I also know that after organizing five festivals over four years -- three Twin Cities Zinefests and two Minneapolis Indie Xpos -- my time is worth something. I'm experienced and good at this and I have the right attitude for the show I'm running but if I just keep attacking from my present position, where I'm totally reliant on my full-time job to feed me but over-extend myself in my free time for this festival, anyone has to see how that lifestyle is not sustainable. Living a life busied by demanding work without proper compensation has its own costs and I can't absorb it any more. I've got to draw the line here after the 2011 show unless I find a way to make this work fully or partially support me. Finding an arrangement that would fund a more permanent position for myself will take some time and in the interim I'd like to knit a sweater or have a clean apartment or something.

Sorry to everyone who didn't get a chance to exhibit. I'm sensitive to the fact that this news will be hard for some people. Don't despair! It'll come back if I can find a way, and I'm pretty scrappy, so we'll just have to see what I can do.

imageSPURGEON: Talk to me about this year's festival. I have to imagine that a lot of readers are like me and have only a dim awareness of what you having going on up there, so feel free to load us up with as much information as possible. Where do you think your festival sits in the constellation of small press, arts-focused comics festivals? I know Chris Pitzer is coming to town this year -- how much of your festival is representative of the local community, and how much of it involves bringing in outside people?

MOREAN: This year's festival is going to be amazing! It's bound to be a career highlight for sure. People are enthusiastic about the show and that means a lot. There's only so much I can do on my end, so I know and love that this spark vibrating through MIX comes from the community.

We have some of the best, most committed sponsors and partners I've ever worked with all throwing their full support behind MIX and I'm incredibly pleased with the exhibitor line-up. A bunch of my heroes are coming out for the show -- Julia Wertz, Anthony Clark, Brett Warnock, MariNaomi, Corinne Mucha -- and others are coming whom I'll be excited to meet for the first time like Chris Pitzer, Annie Koyama, Hannah Blumenreich, Jeff Zwirek and Kevin Huizenga.

The make-up of the show is 65% Minnesotan, so with 35% of our exhibitors coming from out-of-town we might boast the most diverse group of creators to ever show for a book festival in Minneapolis.

The identity for MIX is built on a few things. Considering the scale of it, MIX is a little odd for not being directly connected to a non-profit, comic shop, school, library or museum. It was founded by Andy and I because we love comics, had the chops to do it as veteran event organizers and saw there was a keen desire for an event like this to exist in the community. It was basically willed into existence.

The Minneapolis College of Art & Design and its comic art program, local comic shops, local literary publications, libraries, publishers, schools, art supply stores, arts organizations, creators and local comic book readers all stand to gain something from the existence of MIX and MIX exists to support their interests in turn. In year three I was hoping to engage more of the advertising and publishing community to attend and make contacts for future illustration and design projects. Made some headway in this area for 2011 but not as much as I would have liked.

Minneapolis has a huge creative industry, both in the arts and advertising, and boasts one of the largest publishing industries in the nation, which is a secret that needs to get out. We're huge in publishing especially in terms of children's books. I'm so happy that Capstone/Stone Arch Books has joined us this year as a sponsor and exhibitor. They've made it clear that they're very excited to partner with MIX to meet as many artists as possible who can work with them on future picture books. Identifying and connecting with people in the area who find cartoonists valuable -- a general audience but also significant partners like these who can offer work -- is one of the most important things I can do as director and it's also the most labor-intensive.

My observation is that other major indie shows have transparent, concrete goals, like fundraising, while their reputation is born from some accident of location. Our choice of location was very specific so I guess the irony is that our goals seem weird and accidental. I got together with Andy to make a comic book festival we'd like to attend. Our location goals were very specific but our reputation is an odd byproduct of the wants and needs of the whole Twin Cities comics community.

For our location, we wanted something that would be near downtown and easy to access for out-of-town guests. The light rail goes straight from the airport into downtown and nobody will need to rent a car unless they want to. Minneapolis has great public transportation for anywhere you'd want to go and even the Nice Ride bicycles will be rentable through November 6th. Our venue also had to be affordable to rent so we could charge low table rates and nothing at the door. We were lucky in 2010 that The Soap Factory had an open date for us and we're lucky still that they've grown to care for us.

Locally The Soap Factory has a reputation for being one of the best art galleries around. They have a huge volunteer base and a lot of fans. It's also, for our purposes, one of the largest gallery spaces in the Twin Cities. They're famous for their haunted basement fund-raiser, which is too terrifying for me to try out, and for hosting the Ten Second Film Festival that starts after the St. Anthony Main fireworks each year on July 4th. Their mission is to support emerging artists and that falls in line with our mission: "MIX aspires to create new comics fans by reaching out to the local community and inviting them to learn to love comics again, or for the first time. MIX is devoted to the idea that creators deserve affordable exhibition space and increasing opportunities to make sales, fans and friends. By offering free admission and keeping table costs low, we hope to achieve these goals."

I've been an exhibitor, my friends are exhibitors, and it's important to me that they not go broke trying to attend my show. Comics are fun but they're also an industry. MIX exists to support cartoonists and connect them to ideas and opportunities that will help them develop and support their lives as artists. That means working practically and creatively to increase comic book sales at the show.

Anyway, my position as juggler for all these different interests affords MIX the flexibility to be pretty diverse in its partnerships. For our audience, I want a rotating group of talent, and for our exhibitors, I want to sustain them.

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SPURGEON: To back things up a bit, listening to you talk I'm not sure I'm aware of the local comics scene in Minneapolis beyond a few scattered individuals like yourself, the not-brothers Cannon and Will Dinski. How many cartoonists are working up there? Which ones are key people within that scene? Is there a Minneapolis aesthetic? Are there recurring events or locations that kind of bind certain parts of that community together? Is it a community at all? What would you tell me if I were a 25-year-old cartoonist and looking for a place to settle in for a few years and make comics as to what Minneapolis has to offer?

MOREAN: There's a term called do-it-togetherness that's circulating a lot around Minneapolis these days. Everyone's helping everyone with their projects and cross-promoting and cross-pollenating and building a really rich tapestry of authors who read comics and cartoonists who follow blogs and bloggers who care about fashion and fashionistas who build communities and do-gooders who obsess over food and foodies who love filmmaking and filmmakers who care about comedy and comedians who appreciate beer and brewmasters who play group sports and athletes who dabble in craftsmanship and makers who design costumes and there's just something for everyone and there's always more to do. It's this whole big pulsating creative scene that moves and circulates and everyone's becoming familiar with everyone else and people are talking to each other and connecting and making really incredible work because of it.

A huge part of why I got involved with MIX is because I truly believe Minneapolis is a great place to make comics and I've hoped for a long time that having a major festival here would help outside cartoonists come in, visit the place, and encourage them to move here and continue to make my community more vibrant.

In terms of readers, publishers, retailers, co-ops and education, Minneapolis is just great for cartoonists. MCAD often hires adjunct professors from the community to teach classes. We have a huge network of beautiful libraries (among the top public library systems in the nation) that are well-stocked with comics and have the budget to pay for short-term cartooning classes or book club supervision like with the national Guys Read program that has a place here. We have oodles of design firms, plus Target and General Mills, who regularly work with local illustrators. We have the Highpoint Center for Printmaking where you could screen-print if you don't have space at home, or the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, where you could letterpress or learn to marble paper or hand-bind. MCBA also has an annual book arts fellowship that Will Dinski just won. We have several indie comics-friendly book festivals each year, including two shows from the Midwest Comic Book Association, the Rain Taxi Book Festival, the Twin Cities Zinefest and the Book Arts Festival at MCBA. There are many affordable artist markets and street fairs and craft shows to table at, too. Zines can be consigned at Boneshaker Books, Big Brain Comics, Yeti Records, The Source Comics & Games and Mayday Books, among others.

As for creators, we have a great community with a bunch of different cliques that get along surprisingly well and it's always easy to find comics-related lectures or readings or signings to enjoy. We also have a few noteworthy art supply stores that cater to cartoonists -- literally find us where we work to talk shop and distribute discounts or help sponsor events like MIX and 24-Hour Comics Day -- and that's Wet Paint Art Materials, Penco and the MCAD Art Cellar.

The Twin Cities are rich with resources and potential and I really think a person devoted to making comic books could be a full-time cartoonist here (many already are) and make friends who share their interests. Minneapolis is a really friendly and diverse city. And speaking as someone without a car, I can vouch for its walk-, bike- and bus-ability.

I actually have a blog where I talk about how great Minneapolis is all the time, according to national surveys and data, if you're really getting into this.

I'm led to believe we have over 500 cartoonists currently living in the Twin Cities metro area. I also met a surprising number of people while out posting flyers for MIX who admitted to being cartoonists that I'd never met before. Most notably a 56-year-old lady with an autobio webcomic who works in a pasta shop and has never been to a local comic book convention before. Didn't even know they were a thing. As for people I know of or know well in the local scene, I'd guess 300 active with the rest toiling in obscurity. I bet Nick Post from the Midwest Comic Book Association and The Source Comics & Games would have a clearer idea of the real number. I look forward to asking him.

As for a local aesthetic, that's tough to say. There's a lot of variety in the style but I'd say we're pretty aligned when it comes to the tools we like.

A lot of our cartoonists have gone through the comics program at MCAD, then stuck around, so I'd say I see a lot of local artists inking confidently with traditional brushes which I think is really beautiful. Brittney Sabo, Tim Sievert, Evan Palmer -- I think of them when I think of brushwork in Minneapolis. Cross-hatching is more rare but of course Kevin Cannon and Andy Singer both do a lot of that. Lots of black and white work. The tools we use for coloring are all over the place and everyone's got their own style there.

We're also big fans of the Pentel Pocket brush pen. I think the legend goes that Zander Cannon taught in Japan and came back with this pen, convinced Wet Paint to carry it, then got everyone else hooked and now pretty much all of us have one -- or feel pressured to have one at the very least. That's something Athena Currier said when she moved here. She felt like she had to have one even though she wasn't sure she liked it. I thought that was so funny because the same thing totally happened to me. For someone with no formal training or patience to learn with a real brush though, or just if you're on the go, the Pentel Pocket brush pen is real nice to use. Hey, maybe you should try it.

imageSPURGEON: Let's talk about you. I have no idea where you came from, how you started to read comics for example, before you started showing up at Daily Cross Hatch. Were comics always a part of your arts consumption? Are there particular comics that were important in developing a passion for the medium?

MOREAN: I grew up in the largest city in the state of South Dakota, Sioux Falls, then moved to Minneapolis for college. I boomeranged home for a year then returned to Minneapolis to stay in 2007 and I love it here so much but I totally dream about living the life of Charles Kuralt, exploring the strangeness of the United States from my camper van that I don't own (yet), so while I'm open to roaming around I must say that Minneapolis just feels like home to me. I'm very happy here.

As a kid I was very into Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes and would draw all the time and figured I would be an artist and loved Disney. Stepping into Middle and High School, we were only allowed so many arts credits and I was already pretty involved in music at that point, mostly choir but some band and orchestra, so I didn't make time for art. I still drew sometimes, but not much, and in retrospect what I drew for fun then was a lot like what I'd draw later in my comics, mostly autobio stuff. I made a literary magazine in high school that was basically a zine. I wouldn't make another until 2005 when I made my first mini-comic.

I was an English major in college and thought I'd be a teacher and oral interp coach or a librarian. I worked in a public library after graduation and applied to library school, but then I dropped out in the first weeks of my first class. I tried to do the program online but it turns out I really hate distance education. I figured eventually I'd move to Milwaukee to finish up my program in-person, but nope, I never did.

I hadn't read a comic in years before discovering indie comics while working at that public library -- Goodbye, Chunky Rice was the book that grabbed me. Comics had clearly come a long way since Garfield and I was blown away. I followed it up with more Craig Thompson books then everything else published by Top Shelf. Inspired by Jeffrey Brown's girlfriend trilogy, I thought it would be fun and easy to start making my own comics, so I did. I made a lot of them and I made them all the time.

I moved to Sioux Falls while I was still fervently making comics. For awhile I had a subscription service where I'd send 1+ handmade books per month to my subscribers. I offered two 6-month subscriptions and don't remember being very late with any of the shipments. In Sioux Falls especially, I had a lot of time to work. I really only wanted to be around people who made comics at that point in my life, I was totally obsessive, and people in Sioux Falls weren't really into comics the way I was so that was discouraging. I had one friend there who made comics, Tony Fleecs, but he moved to L.A. shortly after I arrived so I was stuck with no one to talk shop with or show pages to. I tried to get a drawing group started, and that was mildly successful, but it was still a lot of hand-holding. People didn't really get jam comics or independent comics at all. The group still lives on in a way, but their focus is mainly on newspaper strips and political cartoons. It's a big deal to all of them that Chris Browne lives in town.

If finding comics friends in Sioux Falls was hard, finding cartooning supplies was nearly impossible. There wasn't one art store in town that carried decent drawing tools and I learned to make do with the unfortunate selection at Hobby Lobby. I was incredibly frustrated there, but I did my best. I was very happy and relieved to spend frequent weekends in Minneapolis visiting friends, then a boy I liked. I got as involved as I could from afar with the Twin Cities cell of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy, which is where I met a lot of nice people I like to drink with now. During the work week, I spent a lot of time talking about comics on a thread of the Brian Michael Bendis board that focused pretty narrowly on indie comics. I wrote my first review somewhere on that board, covering one of the Runaways digests, and met a lot of really nice, supportive people who encouraged me to keep making comics, probably because I was nice and not because I was good. I also posted a lot of work to LiveJournal and made cartoonist friends that way.

I exhibited at my first convention FallCon in St. Paul shortly after slinking back to my hometown because the college bills were too much, and that show instantly made me regret leaving the Twin Cities. The table was free and I had like six weird disparate titles including one about Abraham Lincoln, some autobio comics and one in a defunct kids series about a journey through space. It was weird and exhilarating and at the end of the first day we all got steak dinner served by the festival volunteers.

I didn't know anyone then in comics save for a few people I was vaguely familiar with on the Bendis board and some folks I met while attending my first convention a month earlier called Narbonicon which was a funny little con wherein Shaenon Garrity's webcomic Narbonic had become so popular with fans in St. Paul they would fly her out annually for a celebration -- in her honor -- at their home. It was pretty spectacular. Andrew Farago was there too with his wife and nicely answered questions for me about famous-to-me-on-paper cartoonists he actually knew in-person. OMG.

I hadn't read Narbonic at this point -- but have now and love it, obviously, totally worth its own con -- and was so lucky and grateful to be invited by an ex-coworker from the library who knew I loved comics because I wouldn't shut up about them. When we got brunch as a crew on Sunday at Hell's Kitchen Al Franken was there dining with his mother. He wasn't our Senator yet but we all knew he would run. Sioux Falls had nothing on the Twin Cities, clearly. I never even got to meet Chris Browne.

Anyway, at FallCon I sat across the aisle from the Cannons and a bunch of people who have worked at Big Time Attic or PUNY including Tim Sievert, Brittney Sabo and Maxeem. I spent a lot of time pretending I wasn't staring at them all day since there was nothing else to look at and I tried to decide which Cannon was cuter and I said weird nervous things to all of them because I wanted those people to be my friends pretty badly because I bet they had great conversations about comics and I totally wanted in on that. I traded the earliest, worst version of my graphic novel Human to some of them and I hope that those copies were burned. Anyway, I made some really important connections for me at that show and was encouraged to move back to Minneapolis a year later. First thing I did back in the cities was to enroll at a community college to study design. I hoped that the education would improve my mini-comics. I think it did.

I inherited the Twin Cities Zinefest from a weary organizer during that first year I was back, and slowly had less time for making comics, then slowly had less time for reviewing comics, and then I co-founded the Minneapolis Indie Xpo with Andy Krueger and directed it for two years, and now I don't make or review comics anymore and the story gets real short here because the past few years have just been filled with more work, which is boring, and less disappointment and discovery, which is the fun stuff to talk about.

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SPURGEON: How did you end up working with Brian at Daily Cross Hatch? How would you describe your specific impulse to write about comics?

MOREAN: I thought I'd enjoy reviewing comics a lot after that Runaways stab and had a chance to write for The Daily Cross Hatch all of a sudden because they opened up a call for writers. The site was fairly new at the time and I learned about it through Box Brown who I believe had created a LiveJournal feed for the site. I responded to one of the site's earliest open calls for writers, then just stuck around for five years.

I didn't have the PO Box then and didn't have any connections to publishers so the first book I reviewed for the site was found and read at Barnes & Noble. The local comic shops didn't offer much in the way of indie comics so I was short on options but I was determined to make this happen for myself. I just really wanted to write about this medium. It sparked me.

When I first started making comics, I'd send everything I made to Jeffrey Brown since he was such an inspiration to me. He always sent back a nice postcard with a little sketch on it. That meant everything to me and he was always really nice about my crude books.

Especially when I was in Sioux Falls and had no one to talk comics with, that feedback really meant a lot to me so I brought the postcard idea with me to the Cross Hatch. For a few years I'd send a postcard to everyone who sent me a book for review, just to let them know it was received and briefly what I thought about it. I'd only sit to write for the site about books that spoke clearly to me and I was picky with those too because I spent a lot of time on each review. No kidding. To clock 3-5 hours writing a single review is common for me. But I wasn't getting paid, there was no rush, so I just wanted to invest in the work when I was happy and excited and could make time to do it.

I knew, working this way, I couldn't review every hopeful mini for the site but I also understood the feeling of just starting out and the significance of feedback. It's what kept me going often enough and I wanted to give that back to people who looked to me or the site for a little acknowledgement.

During my last year with the site, I got so busy with the festival and life in general, I didn't have time to send postcards. I kept thinking I would but I haven't yet. And honestly, I think I'm out of postcards! I can't find any more. Did I lose them in a move? It's a bad feeling. Wish I could write thank yous to everyone who's submitted a book for review. Seems a little silly to now though. A lot of time has passed. Consider this a thank you, if you were missed.

SPURGEON: I think you're maybe the first person I get to ask this, but why did you stop writing about comics? I had assumed you just don't do that anymore rather than you're writing somewhere I don't know about, but I think I might be wrong. Was it just the time commitment of the Xpo? Is that something in your life to which you'd like to return? If that's a chapter or even a closed book, are you happy with the work you did?

MOREAN: I loved reviewing mini-comics. Self-publishing is where my heart is at in terms of writing and reviewing for a site like that.

Like I said, I'm very picky with my reviews though. I give them a lot of time and consideration because I'm very aware that the person whose book I'm reviewing will pick over every phrase looking for something that hurts or hits home. I work to be careful but useful. So, unless I'm able to post a review that holds up fairly well to that kind of scrutiny, knowing the way I'd process my own reviews, and is mostly objective and truthful and helpful, I don't post a review.

I only reviewed two books for the site in 2011. That's pitiful and ridiculous. It just seemed honest to take my name off the site at that point.

In 2010, when I ran the Twin Cities Zinefest and MIX within a month of each other, that's when it all started to fall apart. I couldn't keep up a review schedule anymore. Throughout all this we'd also launched the Cross Hatch Podcast, which cut into my time considerably. When I would have been writing I was now editing audio levels. My attention was really divided at that time too. I was moving, applying for new jobs, going through a pretty major break-up and preparing for a second year of MIX. I've had a pretty rough year honestly and I wasn't able to make time for the site that would allow me to do my best work. I was clearly doing the best I could but with the least amount of effort and I was very unhappy with that. It weighed on me to think I was contributing, but nothing that held value for me.

I feel good generally about my time with the Cross Hatch though. I ushered it through a few positive design changes, including what's current, posted some pretty great features like Lars Martinson's guide to self-publishing, made some nice contacts and had a chance to do some things I love, which is think about comics and contribute to the evolution a cartoonists' work.

SPURGEON: As someone who has likely seen a lot of work from young cartoonists, could you characterize in any way the kinds of things that might connect some of the comics you're seeing? I think some folks are kind of lost about what might be a common thread in comics from cartoonists younger than 35 or so. Are there similarities in approach at all?

MOREAN: I see a lot of clean lines. Learning to spot blacks is pretty evolved I think. I don't know if self-publishers don't experiment with inking much because it's challenging or seems too mainstream or what but I really respect people who can ink now, after seeing so much art from new cartoonists.

For awhile I was seeing way too many "future" stories that were mostly depressing tales about how we as people are selfish and awful and would be just as bad with more technology. I agree with that I guess but I saw such a glut of it that I was getting bored with the idea. It's not revelatory and I can't get excited about a work that refuses to show me anything I don't already know. You can still make the same statement by starting at one place and arriving in a new place, if that makes sense. Take a step back and entertain the idea people aren't the worst, then show me they are the worst. I think young cartoonists belabor these simple, universal ideas because they need an excuse to practice the art form before developing their storytelling. I mean, even if you're a writer to start with, it takes a certain understanding of the medium I think to write in comics form, if that makes sense. To have an intrinsic sense for how much should go inside a panel or what looks pleasing and natural on a page. Maybe that leap is just too confusing or intimidating for people just starting out.

That said, I still really liked a lot of those comics set in the future! It was just a trend I observed. Before that everything seemed to have a bear in it.

I've got to acknowledge that Jonas Madden-Connor's Ochre Ellipse #3 was one of my favorite books in 2009. It's a useful conceit, the future, but as a reader I appreciate having more than a flat story with nothing to chew on. I'd think we've seen the best we'll see with bears though. Those could probably pass into the collective memory of 2008.

I haven't seen nearly enough minis that work on character development and inter-personal relationships, which is a pity. Disquietville by Daniel Spottswood is a rare exception. Many, though, show these static characters experiencing quaint or normal things that are totally dull encountering the same flat people regularly and seem to go out of their way to prove that nothing ever changes and people are the worst. It's just so easy to spot a stand-out mini-comic because you're eating stale bread most of the time and then all of a sudden you reach for a new slice and ooh la la there's a smack of jam or honey and you're like, 'Is this thing toasted? Was the last one toasted? This is the best thing I ever ate. I think it's how they sliced the bread. There are new ways to slice bread?'

I don't know. Too much? Too much in the way of food metaphors? They are my favorite metaphors.

SPURGEON: I saw something in passing from your site, where you talked about being glad that you were able to get in a specific cartoonist from your waiting list and into the show. Can you talk about the kind of specific something that excites about a cartoonist you run across? Are there specific qualities you feel like the festival and your run at the festival might be particularly valuable in curating or promoting?

MOREAN: Autobio's my jam. My heart is always with funny women and autobiographers. Those were my people, when I made comics.

I don't like many "silent journey" comics even if they are beautiful. I'm interested in being engaged and often that comes from the writing or sequence for me -- how and where things are revealed. Setting and texture kind of bore me in the absence of good beats. I like a good beat.

I like honesty a lot and get frustrated with comics that are too willfully obscure. I'm like, 'I know what you're trying to say here! You're not any less removed from the idea because you didn't have the guts to be direct about it!' People get embarrassed by their own feelings or ideas. I get it. But sometimes a work can be so self-conscious that it's boring.

The variety of work coming from cartoonists at MIX is such that the only common thread is how it's made: on the artist's dime. We have a lot of programming this year to support future self-publishers. I hope it is useful to some.

imageSPURGEON: I read a longish mini-comic from you once that googling tells me was Human. I liked it quite a bit. I have to admit, though, I'm not certain how productive a cartoonist you are. Are you making comics? My memory is that your comics were very straight-forward and direct, both in terms of their narrative and how they were drawn. What value has making comics as an expressive outlet? What makes it different than some of the other art you've pursued?

MOREAN: I'm not making comics anymore. I did an illustrated round-up of Craigslist missed connections for MPLS.TV after the Zombie Pub crawl and realized that was the first thing I've drawn in a full year. I stopped identifying as a cartoonist a few years ago and when I pick up a pencil now to draw I'm usually overwhelmed by anxiety.

I'm not sure I have anything much to say through comics anymore but I have thought a lot about returning to that Human book and re-writing and re-drawing it. It's a huge part of my history and I think it's actually an interesting and useful story. When I finished that book back in 2006 I didn't realize how much of the story I still had to live yet. If I worked on the book now it would be more meaningful and complete.

I stopped making comics for a few reasons but one is that I wasn't satisfied with the tools I was using. I relied pretty heavily on a Faber-Castell brush pen and just grew to hate it. I tried something from Pentel awhile back that I liked, not the brush pen I mentioned before that's the "toast of the Twin Cities" or whatevs, but I grew anxious just thinking about buying more pens.

When I was proudest of my own work I was writing autobio comics or gag strips. I think straight-forward and direct is a fair description of my work for sure. I have no reason to be obscure with that type of writing. Plus I'm just a really open, gabby, TMI kind of person. If I'm ever too quiet it's probably because I know once the pin is out you're just going to get earfuls. Things that are funny or happened to me I'm pretty much always excited to tell people. I don't think it ever hurts to make a clear point when the other option is to make, well, a muddy surface I guess. Especially when you've got something to say and I usually do.

Finding comics was really important for me. I'm a creative, self-directed person (workaholic) and before I made comics I participated in all kinds of creative groups that were an off fit, mostly performance stuff like choir and theater where I loved the act of doing it but had trouble connecting with the other people involved. I still think I'd like to go back to those things, especially choir, but sometimes the lack of professionalism from other people irks me. I'm too square for choir. Way too square for theater. Just square enough for comics, I guess.

I graduated from college thinking I'd maybe write children's books and started to research that industry. I volunteered at the Kerlan Collection at the U of MN and learned that hardly anybody new ever gets picked up by children's book publishers for writing. Bummer. Then I attended some events through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and got totally discouraged there! The major discussion was how to get into Highlights For Children. I was like, "How clueless. Is this all someone in this field can ever hope to achieve? A Rebus story in Highlights?"

My interest in comics did come by way of researching children's book illustration, which re-ignited my interest in comics which led me to Goodbye, Chunky Rice which brought me to the present I guess. I was just so relieved and surprised to know there was this whole other industry featuring art and stories where it was cool and normal to do everything yourself and have fun and be proactive and smart and meticulous. I think everyone should find comics for that reason. It's been very much my community for a long time and I think about what if I never found it before moving back to Sioux Falls, with its sad little public library comics section that's basically limited to Pedro and Me, and never encountered the one book that changed the way I viewed comics forever and pushed me to discover more.

That's why I'm so particular about MIX! May it serve as a gateway to comic books for some future Sarah Morean. Who knows? I just think creative people deserve some options.

Other fun communities include: college and community radio stations, zines, knitting groups, public lectures, dance parties and community television. Tell me about the others that you find because I want to meet them!

SPURGEON: What takes up the time that you were spending on the festival? Is there anything you have comics-related planned that will fill some of that time?

MOREAN: I'm resisting the urge to take on another regular long-standing commitment that would involve writing about comics. I can't say that I won't eventually, I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to that kind of thing because I like saying yes and I like to be helpful and I like writing about comics, but I would benefit a lot from doing nothing at all for awhile.

I like to knit and write songs and sew and make funny cards and make zines and blog and I got a letterpress a few years ago that I haven't had time to use yet so I'd like to enjoy some of those things for awhile.

If I get back into comics after MIX, I'll let you know. Thanks for asking this and all the other stuff.

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* Sarah Morean
* Minneapolis Indie Xpo (MIX)

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* photo provided by Morean
* flyer image for this year's MIX
* design element from MIX web site
* another photo provided by Morean as this is running on Halloween
* from Morean's zombie walk/missed connections article
* from Human (below)

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