As I stated yesterday, I very much enjoyed this past weekend’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. I touched a bit upon the concerns over show curation, stating that, while I do understand the sense of exclusion felt amongst artists who were not asked to take part in the proceedings, I also had no problems with the existence of such a show in a city like New York City, where there are a plethora of festivals whose tabling system is based solely on a first come, first serve basis.
Earlier this morning, I received an e-mail from a local artist I respect stating that I was, perhaps, missing something. There may be something in that assessment. After all, I approached this particular show largely from the perspective of an attendee and largely liked what I saw—and all of those I surveyed who were exhibiting had, it seems, equally positive experiences. Gabe, Dan, and Bill really pulled together a wonderful and vital show.
Given the show’s attendance, it seems unlikely that anyone will write off the concept of a curated show as a failed experiment, and as more and more shows begin to spring up around metropolitan areas already served by a number of comics festivals, it’s likely that more and more organizers will opt for a similar model.
So with that in mind, I present a rebuttal from a cartoonist who, while not asked to participate in the show, did attend the event as a member of the public.
I would love to hear some thoughts in the comments section below. I realize how often these things tend to devolve into shouting matches when argued in the confines of a Web forum, but I do think that, if we take the show as a model of sorts for the future of comics shows, we can certainly have a serious conversation without any of the name calling.
I think that the cartoonists who were shut out of the proceedings of Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival were upset because this IS their niche. It’s not the guy who draws Green Lantern who’s saying “HEY, NO FAIR!” It’s people who are peers wondering why they were forgotten or ignored.
This is the fundamental problem in Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. The show was well-run and a good deal of fun, but it doesn’t represent the art comics scene. What the show organizers originally said is that they were going to have an application process from which they would choose the final exhibitors. Many cartoonists were actively courted by the festival organizers and asked to apply once the exhibitor information became public.
Those cartoonists were surprised and angered when it turned out that the organizers decided to simply pick a number of cartoonists and fold their arms across their chests and say “don’t you know what ‘curated’ means?” The organizers said they would do one thing and ended up doing another. Lots of people felt burned and anecdotally, several stayed home. Some have sworn off anything to do with the festival or its organizers.
The most problematic aspect is that the festival (or any festival or convention) is in a position to lead the general discussion of the art form. People who attend the festival receive the implication that what is seen at the show is “relevant” and important. There are a lot of working, contemporary cartoonists in this specific niche of comics who are therefore, by omission, implied to be irrelevant. Now, cartoonists and indie comics junkies will know that isn’t the case, but how about the casual attendee or the occasional alternative comics reader? The show sends a message that certain people are important in 2010 and other people are not as good or not as relevant.
Unfortunately, the comics scene–especially the indie comics scene–gives off the impression of being led by groups of people who see it as a social arena more than an artistic arena. Privately, I’ve spoken to plenty of cartoonists who were furious about the way the show has been handled, but didn’t say anything because they cannot afford to get involved in some intra-comics fighting that could damage their reputation or ability to advance.
Arguments in comics seem to get ugly fast and seem to damage careers in ways that aren’t worth it. So it becomes another lost opportunity to connect with readers, another path closed off, another symbol of the internally-focused comics scene. Another neon sign that says “we don’t want you, you’re not cool.” It’s one thing to run a festival with a narrow focus. It’s a different thing entirely to run a festival with that narrow focus and only invite one’s friends, or persons of relative celebrity, excluding the possibility of actually reviewing and curating work.
Anyway, that’s what people who were frozen out were saying about the festival.
The festival itself was very enjoyable.