In sequence

SooVAC highlights visual storytelling; plus, landscapes at Light Grey Art Lab

An excerpt from "Houses of the Holy," a short comic book by Cailtlin Skaalrud. Credit: Submitted image

THE WEDGE — When did the mayor declare this Minneapolis’ “Summer of Comics”?

He didn’t? Well, then, we must have Autoptic to thank for raising the profile of sequential art and its local practitioners, at least briefly, in the summer of 2013.

Anticipation of that Aug. 18 comics-as-art celebration at Aria has certainly galvanized the local comics community. It’s also spawned a variety of ancillary events, including one comics show at Soo Visual Arts Center’s SooLOCAL space on Nicollet Avenue, the site of this summer’s Paper Darts Pop-Up, and now “Sequence Now!” in the gallery proper.

Organized by the painter Andrea Carlson, “Sequence Now!” is the more successful of the two, although — if we’re being nit-picky — it’s not strictly a comics show.

There’s original art from several actual comic books on display, and there are other examples of visual art where multiple images combine to tell, or at least allude to, a story. There are also some pieces that don’t pass the comics sniff-test, that don’t really show change in time or space through a sequence of images. And that’s OK.

Stefani McDade’s illustrations of beasts and babes and various chimerical combinations of the two borrow from the visual languages of both comics and tattoo art, aiming for dynamism and graphic impact. They aren’t comics, but they recognize two elements of effective cartooning: simplification and exaggeration. And they’re viciously appealing.

Local cartoonist and illustrator Brett Von Schlosser contributes three silk-screen prints that function as a quasi-comic, depicting a tadpole that has just sprouted its legs moving through an overgrown, post-human Minneapolis landscape. (There’s a delicious kind of dark humor in frogs outlasting us, considering Minnesota was ground zero of that deformed frog scare of nearly 20 years ago.) Choosing black and green for the two-color prints obviously fits the theme, and Von Schlosser recreates some dot-tone shading for that genuine comic-book feel.

Caitlin Skaalrud, a Minneapolis College of Art and Design graduate who won one of the last-ever Xeric grants for emerging cartoonists in 2012, shows the entirety of the eerie, existentialist short comic, “Houses of the Holy.” A series of grotesque, nightmarish images are linked by a terse narration formed as a series of questions. It reads as a merciless self-interrogation, and you get the sense Skaalrud exorcized some demons with that comic.

A selection of Geoffrey Hammerlink’s prints, drawings and sketchbook scraps — all arranged on shelves in small groups — takes us back into quasi-comics territory, although you will spot a few word balloons. It may also be the most exciting work in “Sequence Now!”

The figures in Hammerlink’s drawings all fit a type: male, roughly middle-aged with a marshmallow-like build, sometimes balding but invariably mustachioed and covered in coarse, curly hair. They share a gluttonous obsession with food, and there’s an undisguised homoeroticism in their sidelong glances. It’s silly, unsettling and totally riveting.

“Sequence Now!” runs through Aug. 24 at Soo Visual Arts Center, 2638 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-2263.


Postcards from places real and imagined

WHITTIER — There must be a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, but the rate at which Light Grey Art Lab puts up new gallery shows of design and illustration art — often stunning, always imaginative — makes the process seem effortless.

That those shows are usually accompanied by slickly designed books, posters and even, in once case, a tarot deck is even more impressive. “In Place,” the workshop and gallery’s latest exhibition, follows what now has become a winning formula: art from concept artists and illustrators working in print, television and film on the walls, an 80-page book for sale in the shop.

What’s a little different this time around is focus on landscapes — real, historical and mythical — and Creative Director Lindsay Nohl said that meant their latest call for submissions provoked an atypical response. Some illustrators, especially in the animation world, make a career out of drawing backgrounds and only backgrounds, but those artists more comfortable depicting characters and action might have felt out of their element.

Silver Saaremäel obviously was not intimidated by the assignment, turning in an atmospheric rendering of Montana’s Chief Mountain, a massive rock formation that rises, suddenly, more than 1,800 feet from the surrounding plains of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Saaremäel uses scale and lighting to give the illustration a vivid sense of depth and volume.

Another standout piece is by Sam Bosma, who depicts a lively Lisbon, Portugal street scene with a clear-line drawing style. It’s packed with pedestrians, cars and one trolley chugging up an incline, and the two-dozen-plus individual figures drawn by Bosma all seem to be frozen in their own vignettes.

“In Place” runs Aug. 23–Sept. 13 at Light Grey Art Lab, 118 E. 26th St., no. 101. 239-2047.