A booming year for independent comics and graphic art books winds up on Saturday with the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, to be held at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg, NY. Chris Ware headlines as a guest, but the New Yorker’s Roz Chast and a sizable foreign contingent led by Blexbolex are also exhibiting with books, prints and other hand crafted items. Publishers include Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Secret Acres and Uncivilized Books.
Joining the mix is a new publisher, Rebus Books, a small imprint run by Bill Kartalopoulos, one of the three show runners for BCGF. He’s launching with Barrel of Monkeys by the French duo of Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot. A highly regarded experimental work that encompasses many genres with a cinematic feeling, it won the “Revelation Prize” at Angouleme in 2007. Ruppert will be at BCGF and a selection of their duo’s multi media works—including turntable sculptures and experimental films—will be shown on Friday, November 9th at the Wayfarers Gallery in Brooklyn.
Kartalopoulos discovered Florent and Mulot’s work as part of his general interest in European comics, and by luck a translation of the work had already been undertaken for an aborted publishing deal with the now defunct Buenaventura Press, which aided in getting it published.
While Barrel of Monkeys is one of a number of experimental, challenging comics out this year, Kartalopoulos thinks that the time has never been better for such works. “I think there are different audiences for comics, and that the bookstore audience isn't exactly the same as the audience at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. And I think that it's fair to say that mainstream publishers, the book trade, and certainly the comic book stores haven't always served that audience well.”
BCGF—which Kartalopoulos co-founded with PictureBox publisher Dan Nadel and retailer Gabe Fowler, who runs Desert Island Books in Williamsburg—has evolved into a showcase for this kind of work, says Kartalopoulos. “A lot of work at BCGF can be hard to find in person outside of a festival environment, and I think that's another factor that's increasingly driving robust attendance at shows like this. The major distribution channels simply do not always serve work that's aesthetically challenging or that doesn't conform to standard formats, and clearly there is an audience and an appetite for uncompromising work.”
This year’s BCGF has evolved from merely a comics showcase to a full week arts festival with comics-related multi media presentations all over Brooklyn. The complete schedule can be seen here, but it includes a presentation of Jules Feiffer’s play People, a film festival, several art openings and a reception at the French Embassy.
Inspired by such shows as the Angouleme festival in France—although on a much smaller level—Kartalopoulos worked much more closely with other cultural entities this year. “We don’t have enormous resources on our own but if we partner up we can put something really strong.” In addition to the French embassy, the show worked with the Flemish Cultural Fund to bring over artist Olivier Schrauwen whose The Man Who Grew His Beard was a critical favorite earlier this year.
Although enthusiasm for this year’s BCGF and its satellite events is running high, Hurricane Sandy has put a crimp in some of the pre-planning, with the L and G lines to Williamsburg still not running as of this writing. Kartalopoulos isn’t overly concerned, under the circumstances. “The J & M are still running to Brooklyn, as are bus lines and the East River Ferry. Even if some people have a harder time getting in, I feel like everyone in Brooklyn is going to come out. We’ve gone through a terrible week, a lot of stuff was cancelled, and I think people will be looking for something fun to do.”
It’s that hands on experience that Kartalopoulos thinks has been driving some of the enthusiasm for shows like TCAF in Toronto, the Small Press Expo in Bethesda and the NY Art Book Fair. “It’s a reaction to the fact that so much of our life—from communication to shopping—happens through a computer screen,” Kartalopoulos points out. “It’s really nice to go to a space that’s been curated where you can pick stuff up and touch it and meet the people who made it.”
One of BCGF’s ongoing problems is that even though the venue has expanded to two full floors this year, the demand for tables is far higher then the available space—the curated nature of the show has caused some controversy in past years, but Kartalopoulos says it’s inevitable. “We had more than three times as many applications as we had space for.” Although plans to expand have been discussed there is no suitable larger venue in that section of Brooklyn. “But there’s another reason,” says Kartalopoulos, “Keep it tight.” Staying at a smaller size means a person can see it all in one day and adds a cohesive feeling. “Keeping it tight allows us to keep it high quality, and allows someone encouraged by the level of quality to check out everything in the room.
“I think that one of the reasons a relatively small show like the BCGF can attract well known guests like Chris Ware (and well known attendees like Matt Groening) is precisely because they feel a strong kinship with work that isn't as well known as theirs, maybe moreso than their neighbors on a bestseller list,” he continues. “I would hope that the larger publishing industry would take some cues from its more remarkable artists.”