CBR's MoCCA Festival 2011 Report

One of the joys of the MoCCA Festival is its size. It's a smaller show than most comics events, which means that it's a manageable size to walk around, and not too expensive for exhibitors, which means that a lot of students and creators of etsy work or minicomics are able to get a table. It means it's possible to spend a day and wander around and attend a panel and not be overwhelmed by chaos.

Once upon a time, shows like MoCCA had a one standout offering, a "book of the show," but it's become clear that this is no longer the case. Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf all debut books at the convention along with smaller publishers and artists who debut minicomics and other projects. The sheer number of young and self-published creators is perhaps the aspect of the show which continues to excite so many of us, even if we find some aspects of the show to be lacking.

It felt like a much lower key event this year. The programming schedule wasn't released until the week before the show, and the rollout of the poster and information seemed subdued, almost as if there was much less online buzz in advance of the show than in the past. MoCCA isn't a show about big news, though. The only real news was the agreement between Zip Comics and Top Shelf to publish Harvey Pekar's "Cleveland" this Fall. Speaking with NBM's Terry Nantier, he mentioned that the company has signed with Independent Publishers Group after self-distributing since the company's founding, but that's more of a business story than the artistic or publishing news one expects to emerge from a festival. The Eisner nominations were announced on Thursday, though, which gave everyone plenty to talk about and celebrate.

What would have been the news of the festival -- Eric Reynolds' announcement that the upcoming issue of Fantagraphics' quarterly anthology "MOME" will end publication this summer with issue #22 -- was made the day after the festival ended. And I have to say, I think that's for the best. Cartoonists I spoke with about work and who were busy sketching and chatting with fans would have to field questions and Fantagraphics' Director of Publicity Jacq Cohen would have spent the show answering questions about "MOME" instead of promoting almost a dozen books and twice that many artists.

None of this is to say there wasn't a lot going on. Peter Bagge debuted "Hate Annual" #9 and Fantagraphics also had advance copies of "Yeah!," a collection of the short-lived monthly comic Bagge wrote and Gilbert Hernandez drew for DC in 1999-2000. The book isn't on sale yet, but this should be in demand by anyone who like all-ages comics and those who, when they read that it features a section penciled by Gilbert and inked by Jaime, know they need to own it.

Fantagraphics also had Leslie Stein's debut graphic novel, the charming and fabulous "Eye of the Majestic Creature" and Jim Woodring's "Congress of the Animals." D&Q had Shigeru Mizuki's "Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths," which I didn't hear enough about, perhaps because it was overwhelmed by another book from the publisher, Chester Brown's "Paying For It." Top Shelf debuted "Liar's Kiss" from writer/designer Eric Skillman, who was at the festival. Secret Acres had Joseph Lambert's "I Will Bite You and Other Stories" which was tagged by Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald as a must-read book. Last Gasp had "Pinocchio" by Winshluss, which was a hit at the Angouleme Festival a few years back.

Saturday was an incredibly busy day for the festival, busier than either day last year and a distinctly busier day than Sunday. Terry Nantier at NBM told me the show was slow, but most publishers reported a good weekend and on Sunday, speaking with individuals in a decidedly unscientific polling, I found all had made a profit on the weekend.

Perhaps what's become most exciting is what's grown around the festival. The two day event has become only part of the weekend. On Friday, one of my favorite bookstores, The Strand, held "Strandicon" which featured signings by a number of cartoonists including Ben Katchor, Brecht Evens, Joe Ollman, Jillian Tamaki, Pascal Girard, R. Sikoryak and Dash Shaw, a childrens event with Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler and their recent title from Toon Books "Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework," and a panel in the evening about "The Comics Journal" with Gary Groth, Dan Nadel, Tim Hodler and Kim Deitch.

The panel was a deeply entertaining event, which mostly consisted of Nadel and Hodler, who recently took over as editors of tcj.com, asking Groth about the magazine's origins and his experiences as editor. Groth made the audience laugh on a number of occasions, describing how in the eighties the magazine was championing the rights of people who worked in the comics mainstream while simultaneously hating all of their work, or explaining his naivete because he thought that cartoonists wouldn't mind honest criticism of their work.

That same night, there was the East Coast "Drink and Draw Like a Lady" (The West Coast event occurs the following weekend at the Stumptown Comics Festival in Portland) and Peter Bagge and Leslie Stein appeared at Desert Island Bookstore in Brooklyn in addition to the festival's official pre-party which featured a great poster from Sean Pryor. Saturday night, "The Comic Journal" hosted a party on the Lower East Side which included an open bar, at least temporarily. There was also a Peter Bagge art exhibition, an art opening at Tara McPherson's Cotton Candy Machine and a number of other parties.

These are just a few of the events which complement and really help MoCCA. Compared with ten years ago, there are a number of other big shows in New York. On the major side there's the New York Comic Con and on the indie side there are events like King Con. The MoCCA Festival is no longer as important or central as it once was, but it's managed to maintain a major role not just for New York City, but in comics.

One of the things about MoCCA that make it hard to really capture is that it is such a personal show. It's about the books bought, the conversations held, the people met. This small scale is what makes it so much fun. Whether chatting with Meredith Gran about her upcoming book or listening Lisa Hanawalt talk about the trippy children's book she's illustrating for McSweeneys, or giving Nathan Schreiber crap, these are the kind of interactions that make the show worthwhile. At a time when we spend more time working online, it's getting to meet Nick Bertozzi and Rina Piccolo and Sarah Glidden and other cartoonists I've interviewed and spoken with over the years, but never met in person. It's spending time with the crew from First Second Books, crossing paths with Jerry Robinson and Al Jaffee and talking shop with other journalists.

One joy of the MoCCA Festival is the sizable international presence. Brecht Evens hung out at D&Q and Top Shelf booths to promote the two books while spending the weekend celebrating his Eisner nomination and entertaining attendees with his antics (at least those of us who weren't members of the NYPD). The great Scandinavian contingent continues to come to the show. Johannes Klenell of the Swedish publisher Galago and one of the people behind Top Shelf's Swedish Invasion was there promoting a number of books along with artists Mat Jonsson, Joanna Hellgren and others. I got to meet and speak with a number of Danish artists including Rikke Bakman, whose graphic novel "Glimt" about a childhood summer, was stunningly beautiful to look at, though unable to read Danish, I'm admittedly a little fuzzy on some of the plot details, Martin Flink, whose comic "The Man of Glass" I picked up, Ina Korneliussen and Anders Bronserud. I spoke with Palle Schmidt about his crime book coming out from IDW in May, "The Devil's Concubine" and geeked out with Cav Bogelund at the TCJ party Saturday night.

Whatever criticisms or complaints one might have about the event (like how I would love for it to be in a space with windows and/or better ventilation), I spent too much money, didn't get as many books as I wanted, saw people I know, met new people, and had a great time.

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