The MoCCA Arts Fest 2024, an annual indie comics and graphic novels festival, was held this year on March 16-17, returning to the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street in Manhattan.

This was the first show officially under the oversight of Arabelle Liepold, who last summer was appointed executive director of the Society of Illustrators, which organizes the annual event.

“It’s the perfect crowd, a constant flow of people. The mix of exhibitors and sponsors had great variety,” said Liepold, “You see how [the tradition] gets passed generation to generation—it almost feels like a class reunion.”

With a recorded attendance of about 7,000, this year's festival was one of the best attended ever—even by pre-pandemic standards—though it fell just short of the high-water mark of 8,000 attendees set in 2023. The show floor was less jammed and better climate-controlled than last year as well.

The earlier date in March (MoCCA has typically been held early April) came as a surprise to longtime attendees, and was due to venue availability. But the nearby St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t keep fans away. “It’s just a completely different crowd,” said Liepold.

Liepold looks to bring that different, youthful energy uptown to the Society of Illustrators, eschewing any reputation that it’s a “more traditional, exclusive club,” she said. To that end, the society branding was made more prominent across festival marketing and materials (such as adding "SI" ahead of MoCCA on signage), a lively open invite after party was held at East 63rd and Lexington on Saturday evening, and any ticket holder at the festival was offered free attendance all week to its galleries.

“It’s MoCCA week,” said Liepold, pointing to Society of Illustrators exhibits designed to coincide with the festival, including one floor dedicated to Israeli cartoonist and illustrator Tomer Hanuka, also a festival featured artist.

One of the festival's highlights was its connection to the extensive “Made in New York” exhibit showing at the Society, featuring local DIY zinesters and cartoonists, curated by longtime MoCCA Fest programming coordinator Bill Kartalopoulos. Kartalopoulos also brought together the artists from “Made in New York” for a panel at the festival on Saturday. The panel, comprised of Josh Bayer, E. A. Bethea, Juliette Collet, Austin English, Angela Fanche and John Vasquez Mejias, discussed their offbeat works and the inspirations they took from the NYC scene.

“The history of comics is still forming,” said English, who also runs Domino Books.

“I love the preciousness of it.... It’s ephemeral,” said Bethea, on the handmade quality of zines and mini-comics, such as those found throughout the booths where longtime graphic novelists and newbie student artists sit beside established publishers such as Abrams ComicArts, Fantagraphics, Pantheon, and Top Shelf.

Programming and in-person panels were held nearby at the School of Visual Arts Gallery on 21st Street. Featured artists included Anita Kunz, Nate Powell, Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine, Edel Rodriguez, and Maurice Vellekoop. International artists included Ephameron from Belgium, Pam-Pam Liu from Taiwan, and Karina Shor from Israel.

Tomine and Tamaki each had their own “spotlight panel,” opening Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Both publish with Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, who not coincidently also returned as an exhibitor to MoCCA for the first time in a decade (though they’ve been continuously involved in programming), taking a spacious exhibit in a central location. “We wanted to bring our A game for our first year back [and] it’s been amazing to see how the Society of Illustrators and Bill Kartalopoulos have shepherded this show into a new era,” said marketing director Julia Pohl-Miranda, who added that it was fitting to have Roaming, Tamaki’s graphic-novel homage to NYC, featured at the show.

The D&Q booth also sold advance copies of Tomine’s annotated screenplay for Shortcomings, his graphic novel adapted as a feature film directed by Randall Park. In his spotlight panel with Atlantic books editor Gal Beckerman, Tomine discussed that after declining more lucrative offers from production companies to adapt his cult classic, who pressured him to “make it more castable—meaning whiter,” collaborating with a dominantly Asian-American team was “intuitive” and allowed him to “relinquish control.” The graphic novel was, he said, “very present on the set; there’s photos of the cast members reading it between takes.”

San Francisco’s Silver Sprocket was also back for the first time since the pandemic. Publisher Avi Ehrlich reported they sold out of two thirds of inventory on “the first day alone,” and sold out of Golden Record by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell by Saturday afternoon.

First-time exhibitor (though repeat attendee) Liz Frances, the Brooklyn-based publisher of Street Noise books, called MoCCA a must-visit “hometown show.” While their top sellers were primarily books by artists signing at the booth, including Silence, Full Stop by Karina Shor and Spellbound by Bishakh Som, they also sold out the first day of Mohammad Saba'aneh's Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine.

Sunday afternoon, the annual MoCCA Arts Fest Awards of Excellence winners were announced overhead, as Liepold passed out red balloons to the winner tables. It was the first time, according to Liepold, that the festival had employed the public address system—and the anticipation of hearing each announced winner drew onlookers to follow behind Liepold and her team as they weaved through the show floor. The 15 awards were granted to recently released works (only by humans—“No AI,” per Liepold) displayed at that year’s event.

A cheer went up when the groundbreaking queer cartoonist Maurice Vellekoop, whose newly released graphic memoir I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together was decades in the making, was announced as a winner. The biggest applause came for Rebecca Mock, an indie comics darling, for their comic Die Horny. The Fantagraphics table also boasted four winners, the most at any one table, including The N Word of God by Mark Doox, Love and Rockets Vol. IV #14 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Hypericum by Manuele Fior, and How War Begins: Dispatches from the Ukrainian Invasion by Igort. A full list of award winners can be found here.

Show dates are already set for next year’s MoCCA Arts fest: March 15-16th, 2025, at the Metropolitan Pavilion.