Saving the best for last, the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival wrapped up a busy year in New York comics shows with a bustling day devoted to small press, indie and literary comics and illustrated books. A crowd estimated at some 3,200 jammed Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for a day stuffed with panels and comics.
The crowds were intense from the beginning of the show, partly due to the free admission policy, but also doubtless drawn by a world class list of guests, from Lynda Barry and Charles Burns – who teamed for a packed panel – to Jordan Crane and Johnny Ryan. Several satellite events held over the weekend, including art shows and a showing of rare vintage films of cartoonists, also drew good crowds, and added to the festival vibe.
Expanding from last year, the venue and exhibitor list were abouthalf again as big as the debut in 2009. The exihibitor list was strong on small press comics publishers like Secret Acres, AdHouse, Koyama Press, Sparkplug and Conundrum, but also included at least one illustrated book publisher and several individual cartoonists collectives. Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who attended college with both Burns and Barry, made a surprise appearance, much to the delight of the younger cartoonists, whose books he purchased. "I'm having a great time!" he said.
Organized by Gabe Fowler of Desert Island Comics, Dan Nadel, publisher of PictureBox, and comics critic/historian Bill Kartalopoulos, the festival, now in its second year, has already established itself as one of the busiest shows of the year on the indie comics circuit. Most of the hot books at the show had sold out by 4 pm, and according to Fowler, five exhibitors sold out of everything they bought.
D+Q, the biggest publisher on hand, sold out of over 30 titles including all of Adrian Tomine and Yoshihiro Tasumi's books, Seth's Palookaville, Vanessa Davis' Make Me A Woman, Acme Novelty Library #20 and Brecht Even's Wrong Place. Enchanted Lion, a Dumbo-based illustrated book publisher sold out of Season by Blexbolex, which had recently been named to the NY Times' Best Illustrated Books of the Year. On the self-publishing side, Kate Beaton blew through 40 copies of her webcomic collection. "I should have bought more!" she lamented.
The CBLDF set up and had Paul Pope signing and also reported strong sales. "Our signing with Paul Pope was terrific," says CBLDF Director Charles Brownstein. "I was heartened to see people coming to him with their favorite piece of his work, which they wanted to talk about while he signed.That's a rare and pleasant thing."
The panels were packed, starting out with the Barry/Burns talk, moderated by Kartalopoulos. Although it's easy to play straight man to Barry, whose talks about creativity are famously inspiring and lively, Burns held his own as the duo bantered about their early days together attending the same high school and college, and similar themes in their work, including collage and a focus on the drama of youth.
The next panel was held to a similarly large crowd, and featured Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker and co-editor of the legendary RAW anthology, and Sammy Harkham, editor of the more recent Kramer's Ergot, talking about their careers. "Work comes out of a need," said Harkham. "You want to see something that doesn't exists so you make it."
Attendees praised the free admission policy for allowing as wide an audience as possible to attend – people were still coming in and buying at 9 pm, when the show closed, according to Brownstein – and the good mood about good comics was universal. With the indie comics show circuit growing to include such events as the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, and new small shows in Philadelphia, Pittsburg and Minneapolis, the BCGF, in only its second year, has already established itself as a key event, drawing on a rich local scene and receptive audience.
"Dan, Gabe, and Bill have created an institution to be proud of," said Brownstein. "They created an environment with the attendee in mind, and delivered a first rate assortment of art and literary comics creators in an unpretentious, comfortable, and welcoming atmosphere."
Although unable to attend due to technical difficulties, D+Q's associate publisher Peggy Burns was thrilled by the feedback from the show. "The best thing about the festival was everyone's good spirits.This 'festival' was fun, not a drag as 'conventions' tend to be. The show has a mission, to showcase art and literary comics in a free festival, and it succeeds on all levels."