Overcoming some administrative snafus and a lack of air conditioning, this year's MoCCA festival was another successful show for indie comics, with long-awaited major works—David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, Seth's George Sprott—vying with unexpected treats—Kazimir Strzepek's The Mourning Star #2—and a wealth of foreign gems—cartoonists from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, France and even Romania were showing their comics chops. In short, the passionate community of creators, fans and publishers that makes up the world of indie comics was out doing what it does best. MoCCA reported attendance for the event was over 4,000 for the weekend.
But sometimes they struggled against the elements. The big news at this year's show was the switch from the original venue, Soho's Puck Building to the 69th Regiment Armory in the Flatiron District. The new venue had its good spots: all the exhibitors were in one egalitarian room instead of the Puck's multi level rabbit warren that left people fretting about being in "the bad room." But it also had the bad: as a pre-WWI Beaux Arts landmark, the Armory has eccentric details and history in spades...but no air conditioning. With hundreds of people roaming the floor and balmy 80 degree temperatures outside, the show quickly heated up both days, reaching a critical mass Sunday afternoon despite the addition of two fans in the front of the room. Or as Jon Rosenberg of the webcomic Goats twittered “Good first day at #mocca, despite the unbearable heat. Must bring insulated icesuit tomorrow.”
While heat has been par for the course at MoCCA's past—GT Labs' Jim Ottaviani recalled being even hotter at the Puck Building—several organizational snafus were more serious. The show opened more than an hour late on Saturday, due to reasons that remain unclear. Many exhibitors arrived to find their books had not been delivered to their booths, and the show could not open because badges and cash registers had not yet been delivered. By 11:15 there was a huge line of fans waiting to get in, and many of them stood outside for an hour in the sun.
MoCCA Museum Director Karl Erickson was apologetic about the delays. "It was a very regrettable incident and was due to a variety of factors, including an unfortunate miscommunication with the movers; unexpected traffic congestion; and our load out process from the museum was a victim of too much success: many more exhibitors then we were expecting shipped in boxes of books on Friday (many of which debuted at the Festival), and this volume slowed down our load in plan."
| Spike. Photo by C.Reid |
He explained that the heat inside the venue was also unexpected. “We had visited the venue numerous times to test the temperature and had found it to be acceptable,” he told PWCW. “We had explored bringing in air conditioning for the Festival, but it was cost prohibitive, given that we had already reserved far more than half the tables to prior exhibitors at a low cost and couldn't justify the increase in costs for the remaining tables to cover the AC expense.”
He mentioned that the show is a fundraiser for the Museum, and as such, it must make a profit, which complicates matters. “At the same time, we are trying to keep table costs as low as possible to keep the egalitarian nature of the Festival in place. We are exploring more options for next year, including the possibility of having the Festival earlier in the spring and of having AC brought in.”
People who had to wait were let in for half price and the show floor was kept open an hour later to make up for the delay, but exhibitors grumbled that this disrupted long standing dinner and other plans and didn't really make up for the lost hour.
The good news is that indie comics are such a big draw that people stuck out the wait. Once inside, attendees were greeted by an overwhelming choice of riches, from the big publishing house offerings at Pantheon—Asterios Polyp blew out at two signings by Mazzucchelli—First Second and Abrams, to webcomics superstars Kate Beaton and Randall Munroe. The latter, author of the stick figure sensation XKCD, was mobbed for the entire weekend. He was sitting right next to Beaton and the duo were definitely the Homecoming King and Queen of the show.
Fantagraphics had arguably the most impressive line-up of debuts with new books by Peter Bagge, Carol Tyler, Jason and Michael Kupperman—the last two signed both days—as well as a new Fletcher Hanks book by Paul Karasik, who presented a panel on the oddball outsider cartoonist. According to Fantagraphics’s Janice Headley, despite the delays it was probably the publisher's biggest single day of sales ever at a MoCCA.
Drawn & Quarterly also fielded a strong line up with Seth signing the new George Sprott and the gorgeous Doug Wright and John Stanley collections he designed. Adrian Tomine, Gabrielle Bell and Ron Rege also signed. Other publishers reported solid, if not spectacular sales, although one publisher declared it their “worst MOCCA ever.”
Elsewhere, the show went on despite the heat. Cartoonist/teacher Matt Madden, who was collecting comics for potential inclusion in the next America's Best Comics, liked the new layout of the show and was pleased at the two boxes of submissions he collected.
|Craig Yoe and daughter|
All of the panels—reunited under the same roof as the exhibition hall for the first time in a couple of years—were packed, colorful WPA murals of scenes from the history of American warfare giving the proceedings a “Golden Book Encyplopedia” feel. Legends Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee conversed, as did Adrian Tomine and Seth.
Initially billed as a discussion of how to sell good comics during bad economic times, Saturday afternoon's “Making Good Comics In A New Era” panel focused less on alt comics' response to the economic downturn and instead morphed into a discussion about which sales strategies had continued to support independent cartoonists and publishers. A wide variety of panelists including Top Shelf publisher Brett Warnock, “Fart Party” cartoonist Julia Wertz and Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams spoke on how strong self promotion, internet sales and alternative forms of distribution have kept indie comics strong while other areas of publishing have faltered over the past year.
Warnock said that “Four or five months ago, my partner Chris Staros and I had a sit down and decided we had to push some books back from 2009 to 2010. I had to make a bunch of tough calls to cartoonists with good news/bad news and say, 'The good news is that the book's not cancelled!'"
Visiting Swedish cartoonist and Gallago publisher Mats Jonsson offered a counterpoint in describing the state of alternative comics in his home. “I think the main problem for the publishing business in Sweden now is the expectations of share holders and investors. The big corporations are seeing effects on canceled titles,” he said. “I know the Swedish edition of Spider-Man is probably going to be killed off soon, but...we're not affected that way.”
The panelists generally agreed on the benefits of using the internet as a primary sales method. Cartoonist and self-publisher Tom Neely, who said he sold 70% of the copies of his graphic novel The Blot all by himself, explained “Blog reviews have been probably one of the main ways I've put my books out there. No matter how small the blog is, if I get a little blurb out there and it has a link to my site, I sell four books.” Panelists also extolled the use of independent book promoter Tony Shenton as someone who makes a difference to their bottom line.
At Sunday’s “Gary Panter and Frank Santoro in Conversation”, Panter, the long-time underground comics creator (Jimbo’s Inferno) and Santoro, comics scholar and PWCW writer, advocated for greater crossover between fine art and comics. The panel was inspired by their ongoing conversations about art while painting a giant mural together in Virginia. Panter presented a slideshow of 20th century artists he felt comic creators should know. The list was primarily made up of abstract, collage and pop art artists, and including Marcel Duchamp, best known for his work Fountain, a urinal he signed and declared art. Panter declared Duchamp the “Abraham Lincoln of art,” for freeing artists from social expectations.
Santoro shared Panter’s sentiment that comics would be better off with a stronger Duchamp influence. “So much of comics is about craft that it puts off a lot of fine art people and brings to the table a lot of people with problems. They can create all these nice little lines, but their ideas are out the window,” he said. During breaks in Panter’s presentation, Santoro put forward his thoughts on the need for formal composition in comics. “I find it fascinating that in comics, these things are at odds with each other, that they can make this great panel, but the panel next to it just…fights it.”
With good sales, great books and tremendous talent on hand, it was hard for MoCCA not to be the latest big success for indie comics. However, the heat remained topic no. 1—survival issues trumps comics most days. “By 3 on Saturday I was ready to pass out,” Comics Bakery's Dave Roman wrote on Live Journal. “I'd go to the bathroom just as an escape from the heat. It really was an endurance run like no other show I've been to.”
Despite these obstacles, Erickson, like most everyone, thought the Festival was a success. Erickson said, “Many exhibitors expressed that they did well and had a very good time. Attendees were raving about the quality of comics, books and art available. We at MoCCA are proud of the job our new Festival team did and we are looking forward to 2010.”
[Photos by Jody Culkin]