Monday, June 09, 2008

MoCCA Art Fest 2008: Introduction

Note: This is the first of several posts on MoCCA Art Fest and the Lulu Awards that I will be writing over the next few days.

MoCCA Art Fest 2008 began with an ambulance and ended with fire trucks; I don't position that as a criticism of the event, but as symptomatic of the intense energy an unique convention like this generates. And the f**king heat in NYC that weekend, let's not forget that.

The sheer number of wildly talented people at this function -- most unstamped by the Machine that can be mainstream comics production -- was absolutely staggering. At a regular comic book convention, you figure that a number of the tables are going to be comic book dealers, toy companies, movie promotions, etc. At MoCCA Art Fest, it's wall-to-wall talent.

My question: how do we sufficiently get the works from these talents into the hands of people who will appreciate them? In many cases this is not the audience who frequents mainstream comic book stores. Should these ultra-small press books -- many created by hand, stitched, block prints, etc -- even be distributed by Diamond? Is that the wrong model for this sort of work, anyway?

A lot of the DIY comics on display at MoCCA Art Fest should really be sold in gallery-type settings. We're talking one-of-a-kind and/or low print run. These are, for lack of a better term, "boutique" comics. Now, some artists might balk at that description because they think of their work as far more universal than that; I understand that. But, it's like saying oranges and bananas are both fruits. Yeah, they are. But they are not the same. Shifting gears from the mainstream event-of-the-week to a hand-stitched and -printed comic using an actual subway map as paper is quite a shift.

That said, there really needs to be mechanisms in place to focus on just these small-press books -- getting them properly distributed, helping some of these artists to promote and sell their work. But, that system also has to be set up so these artists get to keep as much as those profits as possible. These artists have to make a comfortable(ish) at least part-time living off their work so they can focus on producing more. We can't let these artists fall through the cracks and give up after putting out an issue or two because it's just too damn difficult to make ends meet, and that administrative 9-to-5 job behind the desk in Midtown Manhattan looks so alluring.

There has to be a bridge put in place for these people before they make it to Fantagraphics or Top Shelf or Vertigo or wherever -- so they can actually get there. And I know some of those bridges are already put in place, but there needs to be more.

I mean, my God -- it wasn't like there were a few diamonds-in-the-rough in a sea of self-published comics at this convention. Any talent-hunter, editor, etc would have their pick of at least 25-50 solid new talents minimum at MoCCA Art Fest.

Towards the end of the convention, a fire broke out in the basement of the building (something about the boiler). I of course found out about it on the seventh floor, as I was waiting in line to talk to Greg Pak, watching him sketch the Hulk. The MoCCA staff handled it really well, but it was still a bit worrisome. We picked up our bags, and the bags of friends we knew who weren't there at the moment, and evacuated the building.

A thought kept running through my head: a fire at a comic book convention would be most unfortunate and unlucky. Packed rooms full of paper.

Also -- here is our talent, a good portion of the future of comics, all in a building that's on fire.


I have to create something to help these artists market and promote their stuff.


  1. That sounds like such an awesome event and a great way for these creators to get their work seen.

  2. As a publisher of mini-comics, I completely agree with you here. There are a few distribution outlets, such as Tony Shenton (the only small press agent) and various distros( plus MySpace, ComicSpace, Etsy, etc help of course), but it seems like there should be something more.

    I really wish I could have made it to MoCCA this year, but I'm definitely planning on making it next year.

  3. My wife and I rode up to 7 on the elevator with you! That part was kind of star-strucky.

    Then your friend elbowed my wife in the breast and didn't say excuse me over at the Sundays table. That part was kind of uncool.

    But all in all, this show was better than last years, and last years was the best show ever.

  4. I was there on Saturday, so I guess I missed the fun with the fire trucks. It was indeed a great event, lots of fun and lots of interesting panels and talent. I also noticed the proliferation of indie zine-style comics this year. It was heartening to see so many independant talents there, not only on paper but also from online getting the same crowds as the more well-known names.

    -costa k

  5. I was lucky enough to meet a handful of local, self-publishing talent when my store was open. Never had a bad conversation with any of them. In fact, two of them (one of which eventually signed with "the man") were my a couple of my favorite customers.

    At first I tried putting their books on the same shelves with the mainstream publishers, then I started a "local creators" section on the wall. In either case, it was an extremely tough job to convince customers to take a chance on them.

    Since I had already paid for the books, I even gave some away as promotional items to our better customers who I felt might be adventurous enough to try something new. There were mixed results to say the least.

    I think the biggest disadvantage regarding self-published books is the cost. For most retailers, it's not worth the time and space to devote a section of their store to those books because they won't make enough money on them. It's sad, but true. The retailer would need to make his shop known for selling the smaller books in order to get enough traffic into his store. It's totally a chicken and egg argument.

  6. If only there were some form of digital medium where artists could build up a fanbase. There, I suppose people could log their opinions on this web-like thing, a web-log, if you will. And the bigger web-loggers could push people to the comics of digitalness that they like the most.

  7. I should've gone to this. Instead, I spent the entire weekend at the Big Apple in a spot some considered prime, most considered crap, sweltering thanks to the lack of AC. Next year, I'm doing MoCCA!