Last weekend, New York City hosted the annual MoCCA Comics Arts Festival, and though Saturday started out slowly and there was some delay in getting into the show, overall it felt like a success for exhibitors and fans alike. For 2010, The Festival returned to last year’s venue, the historic 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue. For art history geeks, the building was the site of one of this country’s most significant and influential art shows, the 1913 Armory Show, but for people who attended last year, their memory of the building was the heat. This year, partially by virtue of a change of date, was a great improvement over last, and CBR News was on hand to check out the new books being debuted at the show and get a feel from the floor.
Saturday got off to a slow start, which is to say that the Armory didn’t open exactly at 11 AM and the people who reserved tickets or had a press pass waited in a long line, while those who were paying cash that day walked into the show without waiting. If that weren’t annoying enough, the first panel of the festival was a conversation between Arnold Roth, Gahan Wilson and Al Jaffee, and those stuck in line may have arrived a little late. On Sunday, when the first panel started at 10:30 but the floor didn’t open until 11, even with a press pass, I was stopped four times by four different volunteers before I was allowed into the building to hear Neal Adams and Rafael Medoff speak. This likely accounts for these panels being not as well attended as others.
On the floor of the show, Fantagraphics was selling a number of books that they’re rolling out over the next two months, including “Blazing Combat” and “Captain Easy” archival volumes and new books by Kim Deitch, Tony Millionaire, Jim Woodring and Megan Kelso. They were doing steady business all weekend long, helped in no small part by artists like Jaime Hernandez, Charles Burns and Dash Shaw being on hand. Eric Reynolds reported that, while the company brought fifty boxes of books with them to the festival, they were only shipping two boxes of books home.
Other publishers also reported excellent sales boosted by the presence of creators, including Pantheon who had Dave Mazzuchelli and Josh Neufeld on hand to celebrate their Eisner nominations. Abrams had Jaime Hernandez and Todd Hignite available to support the recently released “Art of Jaime Hernandez,” while NBM had a new volume of “Dungeon: Twilight” and Eric Liberge’s “On the Odd Hours,” the latest in the Louvre collection, in addition to a really great debut graphic novel from a young cartoonist named Brooke A. Allen, “A Home for Mr. Easter.”
Top Shelf also had a stellar show, as Publisher Chris Staros reported via twitter that of the five books in this month’s Swedish invasion, which included one anthology (“From the Shadow of the Northern Lights Vol. 2”) and the book “Comics Swedish History,” the three very different graphic novels from cartoonists making their U.S. debuts all sold out.
The Scandinavian presence at the show was keenly felt in one particular corner of the room where the artists were largely concentrated near the Top Shelf booth. The panel, moderated by Sparkplug Comics’ Shannon O’Leary, was well attended and, in a move that made everyone in attendance appreciate our Scandinavian brothers even more, the Nordic consulates teamed up to bring a couple table’s worth of food to the panel – because the only thing better than talking about comics, is talking about comics over many kinds of free cookies and melon.
The creators behind the Swedish Invasion were in attendance along with a dozen other creators from across Scandinavia selling minicomics and comic sincluding a new volume of the Norweigian Comics Anthology “Angst.”
The Festival was busier on Saturday than Sunday, but for many of the exhibitors in the far end of the room, there were disadvantages to the attendance levels. Many people cited logjams created by locating the Abrams and Pantheon booths next to one another when lines formed at both booths. In addition, a number of tables were placed in the back for flyers and for public use, but those with tables behind them reported a noticeable lack of foot traffic and sales compared with people on the other end of the row where they handled a steady stream of people walking down the aisles.
The festival’s programming this year was run by Brian Heater of The Daily Crosshatch and comics editor and publicist Jeff Newelt, and while the program featured fairly standard comics festival programming, like the living legends panel with Wilson, Jaffee and Roth, and the comics and technology panel, there were also panels on activism and comics, Young adult graphic novels, Neal Adams and Rafael Medoff discussing their new series of motion comics about the Holocaust and a live comics reading where strips were acted out by actors and comedians.
The biggest panel of the show featured what Newelt called “a dream team of Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Kyle Baker, Jaime Hernandez and Dean Haspiel.” The Art of Superheroes panel was a wide ranging conversation where Newelt said “we jammed on Kirby and Ditko, Superheroes and Sex, Superheroes and Fashion, Superheroes and Philosophy and Humor and Setting, and if I do say so myself, I think we killed it in one take and rocked a dynamic session.” The transcript and audio of the panel is online for people who couldn’t get in or attend the festival.
Chip Kidd presented the Klein Award to Dave Mazzuchelli, and the two spoke in front of an audience, which, for those lucky enough to hear Mazzuchelli, who doesn’t like to give interviews, was a fascinating conversation. This despite Mazzuchelli’s tendency to deflect, avoid or sometimes just not answer questions about his own work and process and reading habits, though he was always personable and entertaining while doing so.
There was a lot of talk about the identity of MoCCA, with people noting that there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a successful small press show in a city filled with cartoonists, but unlike when the show began, it’s no longer the only one. There’s plenty of space and opportunity to distinguish the show from other New York shows, and there is certainly a large number of both creators and fans who view the show as essential.
What keeps people coming back to MoCCA is the same thing as every year. It’s the big name artists worth lining up for, even while schools like the Center for Cartoon Studies and the Pratt Institute have tables and a major presence. It’s where talented young cartoonists like Megan Baehr and Ursula Murray Husted, Lucy Knisley and Tory Woollcott, Mike Dawson and Liz Baillie, Jason Week and Monica Gallagher, Nathan Schreiber and Marguerite Dabaie, Jen Vaughn and Sam Carbaugh aren’t shoved off to one side of a convention as an interesting aspect of comics. It’s where webcartoonists and minicomics are the focus of the show. It’s a place where someone can leave on Sunday with more than a dozen Scandinavian comics after knowing nothing about them upon arriving on Saturday.
The show managed to sidestep the major problem from last year (the temperature), but a other problems became clear, from the layout of the armory which could have benefited from some fine tuning, and more space for panels, which doesn’t seem possible given the physical space, but if they’re going to have Frank Miller, Paul Pope, Jaime Hernandez and Dean Haspiel on stage at the same time, it’s something they need to think about. There were some private grumblings about the cost of the show for exhibitors, closer to the cost of a table at New York Comic Con than at shows like SPX, which is less of an issue for the publishers than for individuals and may hurt the festival in years to come. The Festival is a benefit for the museum, but it’s more than that, and the general feeling seems to be that the museum needs to take a look at the role of the festival and how it relates to the museum’s mission.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a few dozen books to read….