Comics Takeover!

Funny pictures! Biting commentary! Talking worms! Three St. Louis artists together in one mighty magazine!

If you were to name a thriving St. Louis art form, one in which a few of our citizens are stars and are putting the city on the cultural map, you'd name minicomics, right? Well, maybe not yet. But in the twenty-first century, the Lou is a big dot on one specific (little) canvas. A few amazing artists are creating small, handcrafted comic books -- minicomics -- that are receiving accolades within the thriving American comics community. St. Louis artists have won back-to-back "Best Minicomics Artist" awards from the preeminent highbrow/lowbrow comics magazine, The Comics Journal, in 2001 and 2002, and Our Fair City is the home port of usscatastrophe.com, one of the largest online distributors of minicomics in the United States. The site also serves as the digital headquarters for St. Louis comic artists Kevin Huizenga, Ted May and Dan Zettwoch.

The trio, close friends, have little in common stylistically. Huizenga, The Comics Journal's 2001 minicomics winner, favors realistic human stories and experimental forms: In his Super Monster comics, a story about watching a sunset stretches into pages of abstract shapes and scientific diagrams. May, the 2002 minicomics champ, uses his book IT Lives to ferry readers to a world where zombies, rock & roll and humor meet. And Zettwoch's frantic illustration style fits equally well whether he's offering the Civil War narrative Ironclad or sweet tea recipes.

The minicomic is the punk arm of the comics revolution, indebted as much to the Sex Pistols as to Stan Lee. Artists working in the medium harness the thrift and freedom of photocopiers to mass-produce their literature. "Comics just seem like the best way to express myself," says Zettwoch. "And it keeps me from writing bad poetry or playing bass in a shitty punk band."

Usscatastrophe.com, which was founded in 1998, sells work produced by the St. Louis-based artists, along with a handpicked assortment of other American self-publishers. The site, says Zettwoch, "runs on the DIY model that inspired us to put out our own books in the first place." Taken as a whole, the range of styles and voices within is as varied as in a traditional bookstore.

To celebrate the dozens of local artists who opted to create comics rather than play in shitty bands, the usscatastrophe crew, along with Comic Art (a St. Louis-based, full-color art quarterly that celebrates the medium, www.comicartmagazine.com) and local comics shop Star Clipper (www.starclipper.com), have organized the first St. Louis Comic Art Show (www.starclipper.com/show/), which arrives on Saturday, September 27 at the City Museum.

On that day, the national minicomics community will descend on the Museum to showcase their work. In conjunction, Washington University is bringing in two of comic art's most respected names, Charles Burns (known, most recently, as the cover illustrator for Dave Eggers' The Believer magazine) and Gary Panter (best known for his work as art director on the '80s children's show Pee Wee's Playhouse). The two will hang some of their output at the City Museum and lecture at the university.

In honor of the contributions the three St. Louis artists are making to the community, we decided to showcase their scribbles. But rather than tell their story, we asked May, Zettwoch and Huizenga to do the heavy lifting, and what we got in return was a time-travel tale featuring firsthand documentation of the invention of the ice cream cone, along with talking spiders, worms and bats. -- Jordan Harper


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