Indie comics got their chance to shine April 28-29th as the MoCCA Festival threw open its doors for an annual celebration of literary and self-published comics. The festival—thrown as a fundraiser for Soho's Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art—drew several thousand fans to the Lexington Armory to peruse everything from mini-comics to thick tomes such as the first volume of Seven Stories massive The Graphic Canon.
Click here for Photo Mania for photographs from the weekend event.
While comics shows have generally weathered the economy's ups and downs quite well, there was some question among exhibitors whether raising the festival's ticket prices may have lowered attendance. Prices were $15 for the day and $24 for the weekend (up from $12 and $20 in 2011.) However online pre-sales—$12 for the day $18 for both— were the same as last year, according to the museum director Ellen Abramowitz, who noted that on Sunday "the fee for children and with their parents or care givers was discounted in order to make the festival affordable for a family to attend."
Despite what exhibitors may have thought, however, Abramowitz reported that this year's festival drew 1000 more than last year.
Despite the question over attendance, sales were generally strong for most of the larger publishers. "We sold out of almost everything," said NBM's Terry Nantier, who called it "a good, steady show. No great crowds but good sales overall." The big hit for NBM was a rare appearance of artist P. Craig Russell, who provided the belle époque poster for the festival. His new graphic novel on Oscar Wilde was one of the hits.
Elsewhere, fans lined up for the Norwegian artist Jason at the Fantagraphics booth, where stacks of his deadpan backlist of fanciful yet melancholy graphic novels flew off the table. The new book by Hans Rickheit also made an impression. MoCCA also hosted a contingent of about 12 Australian cartoonists--they call themselves the Caravan of Comics--traveling across the U.S. showing off their comics and doing signings. After MoCCA they head for CCS in Vermont, TCAF and Quimby's in Chicago.
At Drawn & Quarterly Guy Delisle's Jerusalem—his insightful take on a year spent living in Israel—was a hit, along with new books by Matt Forsythe and Tom Gauld. Abrams' ComicsArt imprint had its best MoCCA ever with The Art of Daniel Clowes and an appearance by Derf in support of My Friend Dahmer, a memoir that recounts his high school years growing up with the notorious serial Killer.
Two other buzz books had more unusual origins. New publisher Zip Comics made their debut with Cleveland, a posthumous novel by Harvey Pekar with art by Joseph Remnant, whose worked has been highly praised as one of Pekar's strongest interpreters ever. Pekar's wife Joyce Brabner, Remnant and Zip Comics publisher Josh Frankel were on hand to promote and sell the new book. Brabner is also raising money to have a statue of Pekar placed in front of the Cleveland Heights branch library he frequented. Brabner raised over $38,000 on Kickstarter to fund the project but the project is still a bit short of cash and she's putting out a call for more donations.
And legendary indie music eccentric Daniel Johnston arrived with Space Ducks: An Infinite Comic Book Of Musical Greatness, his first ever graphic novel (published by Boom!), a sui generis piece of absurdist outsider art as unusual as Johnston's music and life, which has seen him pen much-admired singles while incarcerated in a mental institution. Johnston performed at Saturday's packed after party, which also served as a release party for Cleveland, with a performance by fellow indie music/cartoonist crossover star Jeffrey Lewis.
On the very small press side, there was some buzz over The Cartoon Crier, a newspaper compiled by the Center for Cartoon Studies featuring only sorrowful comic strips (reading while in a blue mood isn't recommended.) And web cartoonist Evan Dahm debuted The Order of Tales, an 800 page compilation of his fantasy webcomic.
Despite any questions about this year's attendance, it was clear the indie comics scene is still vibrant and expanding. While past MoCCAs saw this trend or that buzz book dominate—there was the year of the book deal and the year of Kramers Ergot indie comics anthology for instance—this time, there was mostly a riot of varying comics scenes, from webcomics to intimate art comics to comics journalism and memoir. While the realities of digital sales and retailing were discussed on panels, the focus on the floor was mostly on where it should be: people making comics in a dizzying array of of styles and genres.