After a couple of hours, I’ve made my way back to the front of the room. It’s not so much the number of tables as the sheer density of talent present. I stand and wait to say hello to Josh Cotter, who is doodling something on the inside of one of those limited edition hardcover copies of Barbra in the Sky with Neil Diamonds. He finally looks up, says my name, and asks how I’ve been.
“Fine,” I say, but then, you know, there wasn’t a fire in my apartment since the last time I’d seen him. I return the question, and he answers gratefully that things could have been worse. No one was hurt, thankfully, and the fire was extinguished before anything too valuable was consumed—a true blessing when you pour your heart and soul onto something so flammable as sheets of drawing paper.
I flip through a binder full of Afrodisiac prints and begin discussing the possibility of a future podcast appearance with Jim Rugg—the proximity of the two artists is a not-so-subtle reminder of the consistency of Ad House’s output over the past few years.
As I try to set the scene for the recent live version of the Cross Hatch Podcast (“Is it just me, or does the entire block smell every time they open up a Subway sandwich shop?”), a man shuffles up next to me and begins flipping through copies of Skyscrapers of the Midwest. I turn my head slightly and turn back to Rugg.
“That’s Matt Groening,” I mouth, and we both freeze, unable to pick back up on the conversation for a moment.
Groening closes the book and tells Cotter, “well, I have to buy this.” The Skyscrapers artist smiles and asks, “would you like me to draw something inside?”
“Wow,” answers Groening, “that would be great.” Drawing and transaction complete, Cotter is on his phone, clearly texting everyone he has ever met. A few fans flank the Simpsons creator, and he patiently talks comics with them for a moment. Lynda Barry, just finished with her last Drawn & Quarterly signing of the day, taps him on the shoulder. “Oh,” Groening answers, “can you wait a few minutes? I’m with some fans.” Barry obliges and walks over to a crowd of people she recognizes in the corner.
Groening turns away, post-fan conversation, and I inject quickly, “oh, you have to check this book out, too,” motioning toward Afrodisiac.
He flips through the book, discussing the inside false covers with Rugg. “I have to get this one, too.” Rugg offers to simply give him a copy, but Groening insists on paying. A woman snaps a few camera phone shots of Groening as Rugg draws something on the inside cover.
“How many people do you think have taken picture of you since you’ve been in this room?” I ask Groening.
“Oh,” the cartoonist smiles, “I don’t even look up anymore.” I wonder for a second if he recognizes me as the guy who made him take a photo with Gary Panter on the other side of the room about an hour before. I apologized for the inconvenience and he simply shook it off, telling an amusing anecdote about parents who guilty had him do Bart drawings for his kids after leaving them at home to attend comic conventions.
Groening has moved down the row a bit, to Evan Dorkin’s table—the Milk and Cheese artist had left for about ten minutes. Spotting a pile of Dorkin’s Treehouse of Horror, Groening asks for a pen, and proceeds unprompted to sign each one, to the amazement of those behind the table.
Five minutes later, I run into Heidi MacDonald. As I begin relating the story, Charles Burns walks by, casually. It’s that kind of show, I suppose. The place is utterly crawling with talent. Behind nearly every table, there’s an Adrian Tomine or a Renee French or a Kim Deitch. MacDonald makes the requisite joke about how doomed the industry would be, were someone to drop a bomb on the place.
At moments it’s really almost absurd, all of these folks casually interacting on an indoor basketball church in Brooklyn church, the giant scoreboard unlit at the far side, and the two backboards on either end titled up, out of harm’s way. Some rickety stairs have been constructed out of unfinished wood, to help people up onto the auditorium stage, where show organizers Dan Nadel of Picturebox and Gabe Fowler of Desert Island have set up shop in a somewhat grandiose fashion.
It’s unintentionally symbolic, perhaps, of the nature of the show, which drew a bit of fire in the lead up for the organizers’ decision to curate content. The criticism is understandable, of course, with artists feeling generally shut out of the proceedings. Given the past output of Nadel and Fowler (as well as panel organizer, Bill Kartalopolous), the decision to keep the show’s content on such a short leash shouldn’t have come as a major surprise.
Take Desert Island—I’ve discussed with Fowler a number of times the fairly regular (particularly early in the shop’s existence) occurrence of baffled customers demanding to know where he keeps all of his superhero comics. They’re nowhere to be found, of course. Desert Island a well-curated machine, due at least in part to the limited square footage of his Metropolitan Avenue storefront. The result is a mecca of sorts for a percentage of the overall comics buying public.
And the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival really ought be seen as a manifestation of that shop’s guiding principles—as well as those of Picturebox, which, I’m sure Nadel would be the first to admit, isn’t for everyone. The show is devoid entirely of a mainstream presence, with Drawn & Quarterly being far and away the largest publisher to have set up shop alongside the basketball court. For a segment of the comics buying public, it’s a show where every table demands their full attention.
It’s a new manner of show—at least so far as New York City is concerned. While shows like New York Comic Con and the MoCCA Festival do tend to draw very different exhibitors and audiences, it’s not due to any manner of exclusionary policy. But in the same way that a store like Desert Island can exist to serve a particular niche, given, in part, the existence of so many other terrific comics shops in the city, The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival can thrive in a place with countless other shows like NYCC, MoCCA, Big Apple, and King Con all serving portions of New York’s broad and diverse comics buying audience.
And judging from the packed aisles, there is still a significantly large audience for this new manner of show—though let’s be honest, the free admission certainly didn’t hurt.
That’s yet another mark of the Brooklyn show’s new take on the world of comics festivals—one that writers like myself too often take for granted in our rush for press passes. NYCC and its spiritual big brother San Diego are, let’s face it, money making machines (the same holds true, of course, for anything bearing a Wizard logo). That people can and sometimes do genuinely enjoy themselves within their confines seems like something of a fortunate side effect.
The MoCCA Festival, meanwhile, it’s too often forgotten, is a fundraiser for the museum. It’s also a terrific bit of outreach for an organization genuinely dedicated to promoting comics and cartooning as a viable art form.
The Brooklyn show, on the other hand, seems less a money making proposition than other New York shows (no matter how well-intentioned their money making might be). After all, between the free door price and the low-cost tables (both no doubt helped along by the relatively low rental price of a Brooklyn church and the fact that show only runs a single day), it seems to genuinely be less focused on profit—at least on the back end.
What Picturebox and Desert Island do get out of the event, however, is both promotion for their ventures and an opportunity to hawk their goods in an environment they’ve curated (not to mention the best seats in the house, atop the aforementioned stage).
What we the attendees get are tables jam-packed with amazing books and beautiful prints and appearances by folks like Bill Griffith and Jordan Crane and Vanessa Davis and Doug Allen. And despite the fact that we’ve had one major show a month for three months running (NYCC, King Con, and now BCaGF), one never feels a show fatigue walking laps around that basketball court. There’s plenty of room in this town, it seems, for all comers.