Autoptic flies a flag for independent art

After two years, the comics, art and music festival returns

Autoptic drew healthy crowds to Aria in 2013, its debut year. The festival returns for a second go-round Aug. 8–9. Credit: Photo courtesy Nia G

Two years have gone by since Autoptic festival’s debut in Minneapolis, so you’re forgiven for wondering: What exactly was that, again? And what’s the deal with the funny name?

The answers, in reverse order:

“Autoptic” is an obscure, Greek-derived term meaning “seen with one’s own eyes,” an adjective for something that is based on personal observation. The two-day Autoptic festival at Aria in the North Loop is a celebration of art — especially comics, but also music, books and prints — that is more concerned with the personal than the commercial, that doesn’t make compromises for mass appeal, that bears the unique imprint of its maker.

“It’s a farmers market for art,” is how Autoptic co-founder Zak Sally put it recently.

What Sally means, in one sense, is “you go there and buy stuff from the people who make it,” just like you’d hand over a five-dollar bill and get a sack of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer who grew them. But there’s also a conviction that the art cultivated in the fields of independent, DIY culture is the good stuff, the healthy stuff, packed with spirit-fortifying vitamins.

In that formulation, the pop-culture fanatics at a typical comics convention might as well be wandering the canned vegetable aisle at the local supermarket, where everything is safe, uniform and swimming in salt and preservatives.

Despite its origins with a brain trust of local cartoonists and comics publishers, the every-other-year Autoptic festival was never going to be a typical comics convention, and Sally is just the type of creative multi-hyphenate (cartoonist-musician-printmaker) who exemplifies its cross-pollinating spirit.

“I think it’s a more organic way to look at art,” he said. “Most people aren’t interested in their tiny little niche of things. Cartoonists are also designers, and they write. Printmakers are interested in all types of graphics. Everybody listens to music.

“I think the interplay between those things is more important than the separateness of them.”

The big-umbrella approach leads to strange and often wonderful juxtapositions: the guitar-makers of Minneapolis Instrument Company in the same room as European art-comics publisher Frémok rubbing elbows with Sonnenzimmer, the celebrated Chicago printmakers equally at home in the fine art and design worlds.

It also makes Autoptic something of an outlier on the international circuit of small-press and independent comics shows, a misfit among misfits. The entire scene exists in an overlooked territory, a borderland wedged between superhero-dominated mainstream comics, fine art and zine culture.

“These festivals … are becoming very important for that reason, because a lot of this stuff is not available in stores and there’s very few stores that will carry it, or (they) carry only a small portion,” Tom Kaczynski, a cartoonist who also publishes comics through his Minneapolis-based Uncivilized Books, said. Autoptic takes a lot of the footwork (or mouse-clicking, just as likely) out of exploring those more obscure corners of the comics world.

This year’s list of 10 special-guest cartoonists, half of them women (look for that kind of gender parity in the mainstream comics world — you won’t find it) is weighted with young artists, including Aidan Koch, whose ethereal drawings transform the language of comics into visual poetry, and the artist Edie Fake, who has used comics to explore his transgender identity. That guest list also includes cartoonist and illustrator Charles Burns, a member of comic’s post-underground generation who published early work in “Raw,” Art Speigelman and Francoise Mouly’s seminal comics anthology of the 1980s — perhaps the last time independent comics experienced a similar level of creative ferment.

Comics have long been a low-cost, low-risk venue for exploring new visual narratives, which is partly why they’ve become one of Hollywood’s favorite hunting grounds for exploitable intellectual properties. And while mainstream comics’ efforts to engage diverse audiences in their cape-and-tights fantasies often come off as half-hearted or ham-fisted — or, frequently, both — the low barrier to entry has opened independent comics to unprecedented levels of diversity, both among creators and readers.

It’s still a vanishingly small segment of the larger publishing industry, but the influx of young voices also means “it’s so full of potential and promise,” said Raighne Hogan, who, with Justin Skarhus, runs another up-and-coming comics publisher based in Minneapolis, 2D Cloud.

“It’s a salon-like approach where you’re getting people from a lot of different backgrounds who have lot of different life experiences and have a lot of different things to say,” Hogan said. “And it’s far more welcoming to a diverse and larger audience, and it’s getting a lot of young people, which is just so exciting.”



When: Aug. 8 (10 a.m.–6 p.m.) and Aug. 9 (11 a.m.–6 p.m.).

Where: Aria, 105 N. 1st St.



Autoptic events outside of Aria

— Aug. 7

Nothing Will Ever Be the Same: Comics 2015

The official Autoptic kick-off party and a comics art show curated by Minneapolis cartoonist Anders Nilsen

7 p.m.–10 p.m.

Light Grey Art Lab, 118 E. 26th St.


New Readings and Release Party

A night of performance, comics, storytelling and poetry

9 p.m.–midnight

Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.


— Aug. 8

Autoptic Festival: Audible

Music from The Hand, Low (special acoustic set) and David Bazan and stand-up comedian Rana May.

Doors at 8 p.m.

Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Ave.


Quixer: A Quicky Queer Mingle Mixer

Stop in for “Queerdo Bingo,” desk drawing, a glitter table and a lesson in hanky codes 101

7:30 p.m.–10 p.m.

Boneshaker Books, 2002 23rd Ave. S.


— Aug. 9

Autoptic closing party

Music from Blind Shake side project Shadow In The Cracks at 9 p.m

7 p.m.–midnight

Grumpy’s Bar and Grill, 1111 Washington Ave. S.

Autoptic co-founder Tom Kaczynski at the Uncivilized Books table in 2013. Photo courtesy Nia G.