This past weekend in New York City, the annual MoCCA Comics Arts Festival got off to a slow start before rolling into what exhibitors and fans agreed was a hot and successful weekend full of indie and alternative comics of all kinds. Thrown annually by the volunteer staff of Manhattan's Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art, the festival supported a new venue this year in the form of the historic 69th Regiment Armory building and a guest list that included acclaimed comics creators from David Mazzucchelli to Seth. CBR News was on hand throughout the show to get the feel from the floor and talk to the attendees about how the new space went over.
"MoCCA's such a key part of the year for the indie press," Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros told CBR, noting some instantaneous advantages that the Armory held over the festival's previous site in the NoHo-adjascent Puck Building. "Everybody can come, and this year they've got it all under one roof so everybody's got an equal shot at getting seen. There are no nooks and crannies to get lost in, so to speak. I think the venue's really nice."
However, some exhibitors expressed nostalgia for the charm of the Puck Building that, for example, saw Top Shelf sell comics from over a large bar rather than a traditional table. "The bar was a big draw for us, and that was a little sad, but that's progress, right?" laughed Staros.
"I think this space is much more democratically laid out so everyone gets to be on the floor. Nobody gets hidden away, and it makes traffic flow much easier," explained MoCCA museum director Karl Erickson who said that while official attendance numbers weren't in as of Sunday afternoon, the show "did very, very well." Erickson also explained that the move to the more expansive location created the slight delay in the show's Saturday opening that moved MoCCA's start back from 11:00 to noon, creating a line that wrapped around a city block. In the past, publishers who had shipped books marked for show sales to the museum would have the boxes delivered easily, as the Puck Building sits just around the corner from MoCCA. That distance more than doubled this year, creating a delay that left some without books to sell at 11:00.
"It was one of those crisis of being much more successful than we anticipated," Erickson said. "A lot more exhibitors had shipped their books to us so it took a lot longer to load up the truck. And in a New York summer, there were all sorts of street festivals on our planned route here, so those two things combined [caused the delay]."
But despite that early hurdles, MoCCA proved a good show for attendees with indie comics readers of all stripes mingling amongst the Armory's military-themed memorabilia and murals and winding their way through the building's main hall, where wide aisle's made interacting with creators and buying comics feel slightly less crowded. Buzz books at the show included two recent, highly-touted offerings from Fantagraphics: the collected edition of Michael Kupperman's "Tales Designed To Thrizzle" and the second volume of Fletcher Hanks' Golden Age reprints "You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!" Other releases from the indie scene's biggest publishers included Kevin Cannon's "Far Arden" from Top Shelf and Tom Gauld's "The Gigantic Robot" from Buenaventura Press.
Of course, being MoCCA, there were many more small and self-published releases that caught fans happily by surprise including a new volume of Kazimir Strzepek's acclaimed fantasy series "The Mourning Star" and web comics creator Kate Beaton's "Never Learn Anything From History" collection.
"I think the big thrill has also been able to have the David Mazzucchelli show at the museum at the same time as the show, and to have David here to celebrate the release of 'Asterios Polyp.' I think that shows the height of what comics and cartooning can be," said Erickson of his personal book of the show. "To be able to have [The School of Visual Arts] have a table and the Parsons School of Illustration have a table and to have the Center for Cartoon Studies to have a table all right next to David Mazzucchelli and Gary Panter -Â that just shows the breadth of what we're able to accommodate here."
Dan Nadel from Picturebox, Inc. told CBR that despite his publisher's recent move to promote its often avant guarde comics releases by way of soliciting readers to "sponsor" new titles in advance of their printing, for an event like MoCCA, "The show's remain the same. It's hand-selling and meeting people in booths and business as usual." Picturebox released an oversized collected issue of Matt Brinkman's "Multiforce" at the show, although Nadel said that sales had been "okay." "I wouldn't go beyond that. It seems like Fantagraphics has done pretty well, but otherwise I think pretty much everybody has had a kind of average or below average weekend."
Programming at the show covered a wide array of comics content, from panels covering the history of the multiple husband-and-wife-ran collective Comics Bakery to discussions of sales and format changes in a time of recession. "One of the highlights was being able to be on a panel and present the Klein Award to Jerry Robinson. That was a great moment to stand up there, shake his hand and thank him for all his contributions to comics and cartooning," said Erickson of the honor bestowed upon the Joker creator. A team up between Drawn & Quarterly cartoonists Seth and Adrian Tomine also drew a standing room only crowd as each artist gave a presentation on their cartooning philosophies followed by a joint Q&A.
However, despite a wide variety of material and activity, one element of MoCCA did seem to drag down attendees: the heat. Much like last year's show, MoCCA 2009 was beset by indoor temperatures that left many sweaty and sweltering. "We're sorry about the heat as this happens in the city in the summer with thousands of people in one room," Erickson said, adding that MoCCA brought in fans on Sunday to help bring the temperature back down some.
"Obviously the heat has been a little bit of an issue this weekend," agreed Staros. "They need to figure a way to get the place vented a little better so people won't run away, but I like the venue. It's going to be a good home."