The Cross Hatch Rehash: Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival 2009

Categories:  Events

I’ll confess to a certain degree of cynicism a few months back when Desert Island Comics owner Gabe Fowler first informed me of his vision for Brooklyn-based festival. Any initial doubts I’d had about the project were only compounded upon discovering that another was being planned for the borough, less than a month before his. The latter, of course, morphed into King Con, held at the Lyceum, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

King Con was, by most accounts (save, of course, for chilly temperatures in the cavernous attic space that housed the weekend’s panels), considered a success. Elemetns of that assessment could no doubt be attributed to the breadth from which the show drew, with exhibitors ranging from Superman artist Neal Adams to a woman who fashioned tiny dinosaur skeletons from balsa wood.

One assumed that the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival would prove decidedly more focused, much like Fowler’s Metropolitan Avenue storefront, which has eschewed superhero books almost entirely, in favor of smaller presses and homemade titles. If the show’s title was any indication, however, the festival would not be content to merely draw on the city’s comics community, instead exploring the sometimes nebulous lines between indie comics and fine art, a fact seemingly confirmed when Picturebox founder Dan Nadel was brought onto to project. At the very least, the show would prove effective as a counterpoint to the talent on display at King Con.

When Saturday finally rolled around, it broke what had previously been an unseasonably warm autumn. It was cold and rainy and gray. Weather forecast were broadcasting that deceptively happy phrase, “wintery mix.”

The show was held at the wistfully named Our Lady of Consolation, an old brick structure located on Williamsburg’s main drag, Bedford Avenue, a stop on the “L” from Desert Island storefront. I arrived around noon, dumping my umbrella in a pile by the door. An attendant was standing outside, directing visitors in and handing out copies of Fowler’s art comics newspaper, Smoke Signal. Like the publication, the show was free—a fact that no doubt played a role in drawing out a crowd in such miserable weather.

The inside setting was less dreary than one might except, despite the fact that a church basement no doubt brought back some memories amongst industry vets of the days before comics shows emerged into the light of day. All of the structural elements were presents, of course—the wood paneling, the stage, the discoball that hung down toward the back of the room for those holy spirit-filled church dances. There were Christmas lights and holiday tinsel hung throughout, in honor of the season.

Two employees from Asia Dog, the “hot dogs with Asian-inspired toppings” had set up shop along the wall. To their right, the stage was set up as a makeshift walkway for artist signing. The rest of the room was filled with tables, primarily rented out to self-publishing artists, though some larger houses were present, including, most notably, Drawn & Quarterly, which shuttled through an impressive line of guests, including Gabrielle Bell, R.O. Blechman, Charles Burns, Ron Rege, R. Sikoryak, and Adrian Tomine. Secret Acres, Bodega, and Sparkplug had secured tables. PictureBox, naturally, was present as well, and the company’s presence had clearly impacted other attendees, whose aesthetics clearly fell within the publisher’s confines.

A couple of hours in, the place was packed. Sales—at least toward the beginning of the show—were a touch less brisk, according to a number of artists I spoke with during my time on the floor. What was more than abundant, however, in that well lit and decidedly festive church basement, however, was a general warm feeling amongst exhibitors and attendees, alike.

While there are a number of occasions during the year for the area’s sequential art community to gather—most notably MoCCA—those events are, in some respects, hampered by their own ambitions when it comes to recognizing local talent. Shows like MoCCA and SPX operate on a much larger scope, drawing in talent from across the world. In some respects, one of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival’s strongest aspects was its size. For one day, that church basement was home to an incredibly strong concentration of local talent, including Kim Deitch, Michael Kupperman, Jillian Tamaki, Lauren Weinstein, Lisa Hanawalt, Julia Wertz, and Frank Santoro.

A number of children were even popped in for a few hours, parents in tow. While, for the most part, they made for the three or four back issue longboxes toward the front of the room, they happily walked through the rest of the rows, discovering a whole new universe of sequential art—one which, in certain respects, was perhaps more kid-friendly that the big breasted, rippling muscled superheroes on which they were growing up.

I ventured back out into the wintery mix, lesson learned. This is New York City, after all. There’s more than enough comic talent to go around.

–Brian Heater

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