More than 4,000 comics readers made Saturday the biggest day yet for the MoCCA Arts Festival, an annual gathering focused on independent and self-published comics and graphic novels. Held April 1-2 at the Metropolitan West event space on West 46th Street, the indie comics festival featured an international array of guests including acclaimed artists Blutch, Gene Luen Yang, Becky Cloonan, Cliff Chiang and Thi Bui.
Not only was the attendance on Saturday the biggest single day attendance yet for the show, the festival drew an additional 3,000 fans on Sunday.
MoCCA Art Fest’s attendance number speak to a familiar story for indie comics festivals (and for pop culture conventions at large), which continue to attract ever larger crowds of fans.
Anelle Miller, executive director of the Society of Illustrators, which organizes the MoCCA Arts Fest, suggested that a larger venue may be needed. (This is the second year the fest was held at Metropolitan West.)
Miller told PW: “We’d love a bigger venue, but I'm not sure I can really find one in Manhattan.” She also acknowledged the brutal costs of renting space in New York City. “[Finding new venues has] always been a challenge," she said, adding that the organizers and fans "do love this space."
For now the event has settled comfortably into Metropolitan West, a two story facility located within sight of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Panels were held around the corner at the nearby Ink48 hotel.
The show featured more than 400 exhibitors, as well as a large swath of the local and national comics community. Attendees included large traditional publishers, such as Abrams, and small literary presses, such as Uncivilized Books. The show also features a large number of self-publishers.
Despite the enthusiastic crowd, MoCCA isn’t as big a platform to debut new titles as the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), a larger independent comics show that is held in May. But, thanks to the diversity of its exhibitors, MoCCA remains a good place to sell books, and has developed as an equally important show for developing contacts and enhancing visibility.
Minneapolis-based Uncivilized Books sold out of Gabrielle Bell’s new graphic memoir Everything is Flammable, according to associate publisher Jordan Shively. Papercutz, a kids/YA graphic novel publisher, had signings for Jessica Abel's new YA graphic novel series, Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, and John Neilsen's new graphic novel Look. Abrams’ graphic novel imprint ComicArts had a large table presence and brought in newcomer Thi Bui to sign her bestselling graphic memoir The Best We Could Do.
Raine Hogan, co-publisher of experimental comics publisher 2D Cloud, said that even more than sales, MoCCA is about getting books in front of more readers. For MoCCA the publisher debuted Mirror Mirror II, an extremely dark anthology of sexual horror stories, co-edited by Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer.
Europe Comics, a joint marketing initiative by 13 European comics publishers, organized a visit by acclaimed French comics artist Blutch, his first appearance in the U.S. in 20 years. Blutch attracted a long line of admirers at the Europe Comics table. His graphic novel Peplum is published in the U.S. by New York Review Comics.
“He’s really very touched by the response,” said Europe Comics spokesperson Nazeli Kyuregyan.
Other big books at show included PRH’s Pantheon Graphic Novel line’s spring releases, My Brother’s Husband by Gengorah Tagame, the fictional story of a Japanese family’s first-time meeting with the widowed husband of their estranged gay twin brother; and Kirsten Radke’s much anticipated new graphic memoir, Imagine Wanting Only This.
Also taking in the scene was IDW Publishing CEO Ted Adams. Adams said he chose to attend MoCCA rather than WonderCon, a much larger pop culture convention held the same weekend in Los Angeles. “I love it here,” he told PW. “The energy is great.”
Also spotted in the aisles: Karen Berger, former executive editor of DC’s Vertigo Comics, who recently announced the launch of Berger Books, a new graphic novel imprint at Dark Horse Comics. Berger said she "loves" MoCCA. "Everyone’s on equal footing— from art students selling mini-comics to top indie talent. It’s a welcome respite from the mega-crowded, commercially-infused larger cons.”
One aspect of the show that has been expanded this year is sponsorship. In addition to the School of Visual Arts, WACOM (which produces digital drawing devices), and RISO (a printer company), new sponsors included the crowdfunding platform Patreon (which uses monthly payments from patrons to fund creators.) Patreon flew in two successful Web cartoonists who had gotten funding through the company, Christopher Grady of Lunarbaboon and Lucy Bellwood.
Bellwood, who self-publishes a variety of nautical-themed comics, said it was her first MoCCA. “I sold out of my new book, and MoCCA's as friendly as TCAF.”
Miller told PW that she has been focused on increasing sponsors at the show this year. “It’s not a hard sell,” she said, because a lot of companies want to get into the comics space.
Correction; An earlier version of this piece misstated the name of Mirror Mirror II co-editor Sean T. Collins.