MoCCA 2008: Cool Comics, Hot Times

A MoCCA 2008 Report

All told there are a few primary types of folks who attend comic conventions. Some will go from dealer’s booth to dealer’s booth looking for that particular back issue, or a deal on action figures, or just anxious to find some new stuff to spend money on. Others will hit panel after panel, eager to pick up new tidbits about their favorite characters, and share their opinions with the publishers (usually with extreme prejudice). And some will spend the whole weekend trolling Artists’ Alley, collecting sketches and meeting the creators of their favorite books as well as those almost no one has heard of…yet.

If you’re that last type of con-goer, then the annual MoCCA Art Festival is for you. Save for a single (albeit very interesting) programming track, it’s a huge Artists’ Alley. Even more cool, since the show is aimed more at small press and independent comics, it’s like an con made up of just that last two aisles of Artists’ Alley with all the weird stuff that you’ll never find in your local comics shop.

Located at New York’s historic Puck Building (Originally home to the eponymous humor magazine, more recently the humor and satire magazine Spy, and for me personally, a particularly interesting They Might Be Giants concert where John Flansburgh was asked by the management to announce “Would the person whose car is on fire outside please go and put it out?”), the show is hosted by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, and features the some of the more creative and insane comics creators the industry has to offer.

To give you an idea of the different audience this show caters to, the largest publishers’ booths belonged to Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf Comics. Of all companies, Disney Books was one of the major sponsors of the show this year, showing off a wide array of comics and fantasy-related titles, including the Artemis Fowl graphic novel. The lion’s share of the remaining tables were populated by self-publishers, eager to share their creative vision with the world. There were zombies, Konjoined Kitties, wrestling comics, web comics, comic blogs, creations in clay, plastic and yarn, and generally a far more diverse cross-section of the industry than you’ll see at your average show.

There were more than a few guests at the show as well. Fantagraphics brought in guests like legendary caricaturist Drew Friedman (More Old Jewish Comedians), Norwegian bachelor farmer artist Jason (Pocket Full of Rain) and Miss Lasko-Gross (Escape from “Special”). Top Shelf was touting the release of Alex Robinson’s Too Cool to be Forgotten, and also brought along Owly’s dad Andy Runton. Drawn and Quarterly had a brand new book by Lynda Barry (What It Is) and she gleefully met her fans on Saturday.

For those who insist on seeking out such things, biographical comics seemed to be the “hot trend” at the show. In addition to Miss Lasko-Gross’ book, Hope Larson was pushing her book Chiggers, and a lot of the self-published books tended towards the autobiographical as well. Prism Comics was out in force, pushing their stable of GLBT creators and their often very personal (but always entertaining) creations.

Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey were happily hawking their recently completed Action Philosophers! series, as well as their new title, a look at the history of comics called Comic Book Comics. The workload is pretty impressive, considering Marvel keeps throwing Fred new titles to write every couple of months. “My goal is about twelve Marvel titles a month,” he quipped, agreeing that it would be presumptuous to try to write more than Stan used to.

At the Friends of Lulu table, friends of ‘Rama Jamal Igle and Dan Slott were making appearances. Jamal was most proud of his latest work – not Tangent: Superman’s Reign, but his new daughter Catherine. Dan Slott, with no children to tout, instead gushed about the fact that they’re keeping artist Marcos Martin in the rotation for Spider-Man. “I’m not working with him next time, and I can’t tell you who is” he said jealously. When it was suggested they use him like a reward for good work, he nodded, “They give out the assignments, and I’ll be all, ‘Aw, but I wanted Martin’, and the editor’s all ‘NO! You’re getting Romita!’”

Francoise Mouly was running the Toon Books table, an offshoot of the Little Lit Library line of children’s comics in high-quality hardcover form. The Toon Books line is a series of delightful comic books in children’s storybook format, taking the art form to the youngster just learning how to read. Three of their books are out now, with wave two (including a book by creator of Maus and Francoise’s husband Art Spiegelman) due out any time now.

It’s a larger show than it first appears, taking up the whole of the first floor of the Puck Building as well as its seventh-floor glass-enclosed ballroom. That was where they had their fundraising sketch tables, where creators like Dean Haspiel (American Splendor), Chris Giarusso (Mini Marvels) and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts) were volunteering their time, doing sketches for donations to MoCCA.

Save for the oppressive heat of the day (which made the top-floor ballroom a bit uncomfortable) this show was as about as fun and old-school a convention as you can get. No videogame booths, no movie companies, just comics, comic fans and a real sense of camaraderie.

MoCCA is located at 594 Broadway, Suite 401, New York, NY 10012. It’s under renovations right now, but check their website at http://www.moccany.org for news of its imminent reopening.

Click here for Chris Mautner's report from the Festival

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