If last year’s show was any indication, when June 2009 is but a distant memory, this year’s MoCCA won’t be remember for the debuted books or the panels or the special guests, but rather for that perrenial piece of conversational fodder, the weather. The oppressive 100-degree heat and the unfortunately timed fire drill that resulted in a mob of sweaty and uncomfortable indie comics fans lining the Manhattan streets outside of Soho’s Puck Building has long since overshadowed any positive memory of last year’s event.
This year the Big Apple’s comically fluctuating weather patterns fared far better, with a sunny weekend in the mid-70s, perfect weather for Sunday’s Philippine Day Parade at Madison Square Park. A few blocks away on Lexington Ave, the interior of the 69th Regiment Armory was an entirely different story. Without such luxuries as ventilation and air conditioning, the inside of that cavernous airplane hanger of a building was the weekend home to an army of sweaty brows and fogged up wire rims. A fact that will not likely go unreferenced when the first round of attendee diary strips hit the blogosphere.
Air conditioner or no, this year’s setting for the festival felt decidedly odd, the cherub-like gargoyles of the Puck Building traded in for ancient machine guns and army recruitment posters on a Saturday that also happened to be the 65th anniversary of the bloodied beach landings of Normandy, a fact almost certainly not lost on the semi-uniformed service people wandering up and down the aisles of New York’s foremost indie comic gathering.
I wish I could say more with regards to Friday night’s pre-show gathering, but a delayed flight in from Los Angeles (where I had attended E3 the week prior), due to an unseasonal thunderstorm, made sure I didn’t arrive back home until after midnight. From the show attendence on Saturday morning, however, it seemed that I wasn’t the only comics fan intent on saving some energy for the marathon weekend ahead. Any attempts on the part of exhibitors to have booths set up in time for the 11:00 Saturday morning unveiling, were ultimately thwarted by some manner of scheduling mix up, which pushed the show’s events (panels and all) back an hour, much to the chagrin of those who would be holding their booths down until 7:00 PM that night.
I arrived on Saturday morning to an intimidating line snaking around the Armory’s city block bricked exterior, eager fans putting to rest any notion that this aspect of the industry might too be folding at the hands of overwhelming economic pressures. Last week’s tragic closing of that indie comics kids Mecca Nickelodeon Magazine was no doubt still fresh on the minds of any number of attendees (particularly employees Dave Roman and Chris Duffy and freelancers like Evan Dorkin), but emerging past the ticket counters, into the bustling hall inside, there was no doubt that, at least within the confines of these walls, the alternative comics scene continues to thrive.
In fact, if anything, the effect was a touch overwhelming at first glance. There were minimal costumed attendees, of course—and those who were dressed up for the occasion did so with a suitable sense of irony—but with regards to sheer magnitude of bodies and booths, for the first time, the festival looked a full-fledged comic book convention.
Inside, the area along the entrance wall was devoted to a rotating cast of signers, a mix of folks without booths like Bizarro’s Dan Piraro and those just looking for a chance to meet fans outside the oft cramped festival aisles. MoCCA itself was camped out in the prime real estate out front, looking to convince showgoers to sign up for museum membership in exchange for a collection of free books. Festival poster designer Molly Crabapple spent a good portion of the weekend at the MoCCA booth, signing copies of her design for new members. Jerry Robinson’s glass Klein Award was holding down posters on the other end of the table, which might have otherwise scattered in the current of the industrial sized fan out front.
Dan Nadel’s PictureBox also managed to snag some prime show floor territory upfront. The Brooklyn-based publisher was showcasing some of the more stunningly packaged books on the floor, like the massive two-volume self-titled Gary Panter collection—the legendary artist was on-hand at the booth for a number of signing engagements. Vertigo was also parked close to the front. Local’s Brian Wood was holding down fort most of Sunday for DC’s imprint, which seemed intent on recommending books based on fans interest in Watchmen.
Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics were stationed on opposite sides of the room, both boasting a healthy number of new releases and dynamic signing schedules. Adrian Tomine and Seth chose the festival as the lastest stop for their joint tour promoting D&Q’s recent release of the Shortcomings paperback and the epic George Sprott (1894-1975). Ron Rege and Gabrielle Bell also happily showed up to sign copies of their new books.
Fantagraphics’ signing lineup was likely the most impressive of the show, including Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth, Lilli Carre, Bob Fingerman, Dame Darcy, John Kerschbaum, Michael Kupperman, Dash Shaw, Miss Lasko-Gross, and Paul Karasik, among others. The publisher was also promoting the release of the Craig Yoe-edited Boody Rogers anthology. Yoe had secured his own booth near the front, where he was promoting another new release, Secrety Identity, a fascinating glimpse into the SM drawings of Superman co-creator, Joe Shuster. Fatagraphics’ true draw of the weekend, however, was almost certainly the soft-spoken Jason, who spent several sessions drawing his distinctive cast of animal characters on the inside cover of his most recent book, Low Moon.
It was a good weekend for Scandinavian comics in general. After creating a tremendous amount of buzz during last year’s MoCCA and SPX, representatives of the region returned in full forces, with several tables of their fantastically unique books lining the right wall of the Armory floor. The real surprise so far as international attendees go, however, was the presence of Romanian comics publishing house, Hard Comics, which was handing out copies of the free international comics newspaper Aooleu, a bright and fascinating glimpse into the bizarrely fascinating sensibilities of that country’s sequential arts community.
The back wall of the room was monopolized by some of indie comics’ brightest new publishers, like Sparkplug and Secret Acres—the latter of which was selling copies of a newly released anthology of Minty Lewis’s terrific P.S. Comics. Sarah Glidden and Julia Wertz were holding court along the back wall, as well. Wertz was promoting copies of Fart Party’s second volume and Glidden was burning through old copies of How to Understand Israel minis.
Joan Reilly was selling copies of Harvey Pekar’s new adaptation of Studs Terkel’s Working, and Phase 7’s Alec Longstreth made his triumphant return to the city at the show, after a year at White River Junction Vermont’s Center for Cartoon Studies—a year that involved no trimming of his mountain man facial hair. Longstreth has promised not to take clippers to his face until the completion of his latest book.
CCS set up shop in the same area, promoting an impressive array of titles from students and alumni. SVA, which has funneled a tremendous amount of talent into this scene had a strong presence at the show, as well. New to the scene was Manhattan’s New School, which still seems to be testing the waters, a touch.
Top Shelf had a rather imposing presence at the show, including Alex Robinson, Matt Kindt, Nate Powell, and surprise guest Renee French. Cross Hatch mascot designer Kevin Cannon was debuting copies of his terrific new book Far Arden and the Indie Spinner Rack guys were sending attendees on scavenger hunts to get autographs from the 30-odd exhibitors included in their most recent anthology, Awesomer.
Buenaventura press debuted two terrific looking new volumes at the show—the Tom Guald collection The Gigantic Robot and Jack Survives, an anthology Jerry Morirarty’s outsider-insider painting comics. Ad House too debuted a number of strong looking books, including Mike Dawson’s robo-mod book Ace Face and the collected Johnny Hiro by Fred Chao.
I’m still rifling through an awesome haul from the show, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Liz Baillie’s latest issue of Freewheel; Ben Rosen’s first issue of The Adventures of White Cat; the friendly guide to feminine hygiene Green Blooded, by Kathy Leamy; Ethan Rilly’s first issue of Pope Hats; a preview of Neil Klied’s The Big Kahn; a glimpse of Kevin Pyle’s latest, Katman; Morgan Pielly’s terrific looking Indestructible Universe; and Miriam Libicki’s picto-essay, Jewish Memoir Goes Pow! Zap! Oy! Desert Island’s Gabe Fowler also managed to leave his shop long enough on Sunday to drop off copies of his terrific new free paper Smoke Signal, featuring works by Lauren Weinstein, Johnny Ryan, and Theo Elsworth, among others. And speaking of newspapers, Box Brown was selling his bittersweet collection of unpublished newspaper strips, Unsyndicated Press, lovingly reprinted in newspaper form.
Maybe it was the oppressive heat, maybe it was the endless rows of indie comics gems, or maybe it was all of those late night karaoke romps on Saturday, supplementing the CBLDF live band-fest—whatever it was, there was nary a soul in the Armory who wasn’t ready to pass out from exhaustion by the 6:00 PM close of the show room floor. But hell, there are a lot worst places to do it than on a pile of brand new indie comics.