The first annual Comic Arts Brooklyn, a one-day festival of indie, small press and self-published comics, started slowly but by late Saturday morning fans began arriving in force. A successor to the popular but now defunct Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, CAB was held at Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg, the same venue as BCGF, and the show’s two levels of exhibition floors were jammed with fans throughout the day looking to buy a wide range of comics, graphic novels, books, prints and related merchandise.
For lots of pictures of CAB, check out Photo Mania: Comic Arts Brooklyn 2013.
Organized by Gabe Fowler, owner of Desert Island, the Williamsburg indie comics shop, and a coorganizer of the former BCGF show, CAB offered a seamless transition from the old to the new festival. Fowler was all smiles when PW encountered him at various points throughout the day. After it was announced last year that the popular BCGF would be discontinued—“internal struggles” among the original cofounders has been blamed for BCGF’s untimely demise—Fowler took on the task of taking over direction of the show, changing its name, and keeping a popular publishing event growing. From the looks of the crowded exhibition floors and panels, as well as healthy sales reports, he’s done a good job.
The fans took advantage of the show’s free admission and turned out in force. Fowler estimated that past BCGF shows at Mt. Carmel Church attracted roughly 3,000 to 4,000 fans and he estimated this year’s CAB was likely about the same. (He also said that this year they did not formally monitor the attendance at CAB). PW was in attendance through the day on Saturday and CAB attendance seemed to be equal to that of past BCGF shows, if not more. Held on two levels of the Mt. Carmel venue, both show floors were crowded throughout the day, right up to the closing time at 7pm on Saturday.
The fans weren’t there to window shop either. A variety of publishers on both levels of the venue said sales were very good—PW talked with publishers and artists from such presses as Uncivilized Books, PictureBox, Conundrum Press, First Second Books, Microcosm Publishing, Top Shelf, Koyama Press, Bergin Street Comics and others. Most publishers praised the new show and its organization under Fowler. While most of the show seemed unchanged from the past, aisles were widened this year on the main level, which eased some of the overcrowding experienced on that level in the past. This year there were about 78 exhibitors, six fewer exhibitor tables than in the past thanks to the reconfiguration of the main exhibition floor. Fowler said that he removed the six end-tables on the upper level in order to widen the aisles.
There were book debuts at the show including Hang Dai Editions, a new comics venture launched by cartoonists Dean Haspiel, Greg Benton and Seth Kushner. Also on hand signing were such artists as Box Brown (Retrofit Comics), Andrew Aydin (coauthor of Rep. John Lewis' March Book One from Top Shelf), Sammy Harkam (PictureBox), Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books), Joe Ollman and Dakota MacFadzean (Conundrum Press). Art Speigelman (Co-Mix) and Adrian Tomine were signing books at the D&Q table; while Paul Pope (Battling Boy) and Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy) signed at First Second. Michael Fiffe signed copies of COPRA, a series published by Bergen Street Comics, Karl Stevens showed off a print collection of his online comic Failure, Koyama Press had copies of Ryan Cevil Smith’s S.F., the elaborately oddball adventures of the Space Fleet Foundation Special Forces, and Little Tommy Lost: Book One, a retro-styled comics strip created in tribute to classic newspaper strips like Little Orphan Annie.
The show also held a day of programming at the Knitting Factory nearby on Metropolitan Ave. The programming highlight was “City of Glass: It was a Phone Call That Started it,” a reunion of sorts with the creative team that produced the acclaimed comics adaptation of City of Glass, Paul Auster’s much lauded “post-modern” novel—though Auster (and later Art Speigelman) scoffed at reviewers who described the work as post-modern or as “deconstructuralism,” and took pains to deny he had any interest in similar intellectual labels attached to the book. The City of Glass graphic novel has been hailed as one of the great graphic novels of our time and has become something of a cult classic. In front of a standing room audience, the panel marked the 20 year anniversary of the book’s publication in 1994 by Avon Books. The panel was composed of Auster, Art Speigelman, artist David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik, who teamed with Mazzucchelli to adapt the work, and panel moderator Bill Kartoloupolos.
Longtime friends, Auster and Speigelman outlined how the project began: Speigelman was editing a series of graphic adaptations of crime novels for Avon called Neon Lit , a series which also eventually included Barry Gifford’s Purdito Durango. The panelists discussed the general reaction to the book, which was mostly ignored at a time when graphic novels were still considered unusual—though a glowing PW review was among the four reviews it received at the time. Indeed Speigelman made it clear that in some ways the book was even ignored by its own publisher. Brought in by Speigelman to adapt the novel, both Mazzucchelli and Karasik described a series of random but fortuitous events around the production of the book that often seemed much like the plot of the novel itself.
Karasik, a middle school teacher at the time, was also a student in Speigelman’s comics history class at SVA and, coincidentally, was teaching Auster’s young son at the same time and read his novel when he was told that Auster was coming in for a teacher/parent conference—yet another in a string of coincidences around the creation of the book. Mazzucchelli noted the importance of Karasik’s contributions—including deciding on the book’s distinctive 3-panels-across grid and focusing their efforts on recreating the novel's conceptual structure rather than simply trying to retell the book’s plot. Speigelman echoed Mazzuchelli, hailing City of Glass: The Graphic Novel’s achievement in evoking “the anatomy of comics, rather than the anatomy of a superheroes’ muscles.”