A view from MoCCA Arts Fest

I walked into MoCCA Arts Fest a few minutes after it opened, with my friend Erica Friedman, and we noticed the difference right away: The last two shows have had an improvised, "Let's have a comics show! We can use my father's barn!" kind of feeling. They weren't disorganized, exactly, and the talent has always been top-notch, but the show floor felt crowded, cluttered, and confusing.

This was the first year that the Society of Illustrators was running the event. Organizers had a lot to prove, and they proved it. The show felt professional. The aisles were wider. A very simple addition — a bright red backdrop that ran behind the tables — made a huge difference, giving visitors more focus and eliminating the distraction of looking out across that cavernous space. The red curtains also set off a small gallery at the back of the armory that featured original comics art from the Society's collection, a gentle reminder that they have been welcoming comics creators for more than 100 years. Visitors could buy a slick, nicely produced catalog for $5, and there was a modest cafe downstairs, a pleasant addition that allowed friends who met at the show to sit down and have a bite and a chat without disrupting the experience too much.

The slicker feeling didn't make the show any less lively, though. Even with the (seemingly) wider aisles the show was packed by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and almost all the tables were filled as well. Heidi MacDonald declared that Gregory Benton's B+F "may be the book of the show," and sure enough, by the time I led Tom Spurgeon to see it, toward the end of Saturday afternoon, every copy was sold out. Incidentally, the moment captured above is the whole reason I go to comics conventions: Watching Dean tell Tom about the aftermath of his interview at The Comics Reporter. (Dean: "People were calling to see if I was OK. I was calling to see if I was OK.")

The exhibitors featured a robust showing of publishers — Abrams, Drawn and Quarterly, Top Shelf, Oni Press, First Second, NBM — and the full spectrum of creators, from the well known (Bill Griffith, James Romberger, Dash Shaw) to college students at their first show. People were talking about Lucy Knisley's Relish, which debuted at the show, and there was disappointment that the new Fantagraphics collection of Crockett Johnson's Barnaby, scheduled to debut at the festival, was delayed in production. James Kochalka's new children's book, Johnny Boo Does Something, was proudly displayed at the Top Shelf booth, however, and Glyn Dillon and Darryl Cunningham were kept busy signing The Nao of Brown and How to Fake a Moon Landing, respectively, at the Abrams table.

Here's a very subjective look at some of the creators at the show.

Lance Tooks, who usually lives in Madrid but has been back in the United States for the past few months, was at the NBM booth, where they were running a serious special on his Lucifer's Garden of Verses (all four volumes for $20). Also prominently featured at the booth was The Initiates, their new graphic novel about a winemaker and a comics artist who find common ground. I'm just sorry I missed Stan Mack, having been a fan of his "Real Life Funnies," which I used to read in the Village Voice, back when the Village Voice was cool.

I had a number of conversations with creators and other bloggers about Kickstarter and the roles of publishers and creators, a model that is obviously changing rather quickly. At the NBM booth, Terry Nantier was handing out ashcans of Dara Naraghi's Persia Blues, which was partly supported by a Kickstarter. I thought Nick Andors had an interesting approach: He wasn't selling anything, just handing out ashcans of his Kickstarter comic A Frozen World, and he had a portfolio of the art as well. It's an interesting inversion of the usual order of things to buy a table at a real-world event to promote an internet campaign, but for comics, MoCCA is the place to do it.

Boston invades New York in the form of the Boston Comics Roundtable, helmed by Dan Mazur, whose Ninth Art Press was debuting In a Single Bound, an anthology of Boston-based superhero stories.

What if Abraham Lincoln had lived? This couple has built a series of four comics around that premise, and they had all sorts of fun extras, including poster, buttons, and paper dolls. And they are working on a card game, which turns out to be more complicated than you might think. You can read the first issue of their comic at their website.

Ethan Young's Tails has been around for a while, but Hermes Press recently published it as a graphic novel, and he had some samples of the next story arc at his table.

The webcomic Strong Female Protagonist has been getting a bit of attention lately, so it was nice to see co-creator Molly Ostertag was there.

Joe England told me his webcomic Zebra Girl: A Story of Love, Hate, and Spontaneous Combustion has been running for 13 years, which must make it one of the more senior webcomics. I picked up the collected first volume to save myself some clicking through the archives.

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