I’m not sure if it’s common policy among festival organizers of the world, but it’s something that I instated after last year’s MoCCA Fest: A two month moratorium on all discussions of next year’s show. You can talk amongst yourselves, of course, but I ask kindly (for the sake of my own well-being) to please refrain from any discussion of April 2012 until at least June 2012.
There’s a certain physical and mental toll, I think, that comes with helping run even the most successful convention. It certainly applied to the three shows I ran programming for last year—MoCCA Fest, MIX, and King Con in Brooklyn. Three shows that honestly didn’t have all that much in common, save for subject matter and the fact that, after each, I lamented the non-existence of human hibernation.
It’s worth pointing out, I think, that on a personal note, the timing of the show couldn’t have been worse—certainly through no fault of the museum’s. They, after all, had scheduled the event over a year ago. And it was only a little over two weeks go that I officially gave notice at PCMag, making for something of a critical mass of personal and professional stress, as I attempted to close things out at work and put the finishing touches on the weekend’s programming (no amount of pre-preparation on my part has ever made it possible to avoid that last minute crunch), cleaning out my office and sending off goodbye letters to colleagues and coworkers.
I left my office one final time and crossed the street to the 6 train station, heading down the to festival kickoff party, officially slotted to begin an hour later. I was fairly dazed, cursing the subway delays, when I heard my name cut through the rush hour crowd in the station. As far as omens go, one could certainly do worse than running into Drawn & Quarterly’s Peggy Burns on New York City transit the night before MoCCA Fest. She was heading back down to the Strand bookstore for the first “Strandicon,” a Friday event in which D&Q’s roster played heavily.
She was either heading to or coming from dinner, I can’t remember which, with Joe Ollman and Pascal Girard in tow. It was the first time I’d met the two humorists, though I’d slotted both on a panel, and proceed to run into both perhaps more than anyone else at the festival not wearing an official MoCCA Fest volunteer t-shirt.
We moved the official party to Friday this year, so as to not conflict with another MoCCA-sanctioned event on Saturday night. It was rather unfortunate that we were in direct competition with Desert Island’s Peter Bagge/Leslie Stein event and the long announced Drink and Draw Like a Lady, but given this year’s absurdly packed party schedule, Saturday night wasn’t all that more promising.
In all, I don’t think we could have asked for a better way to kick of the weekend. I DJed alongside Dean Haspiel, but not before cartoonist/anti-folk hero Jeffrey Lewis and 60s freak folk legend Peter Stampfel performed one of the most joyful sets of music I’ve ever witnessed, including a tribute to the departed Jeff Buckley, with Lewis singing as he turned the pages on a graphic interpretation of “Mojo Pin.” That was mere prelude to the performance that Lewis would put on at Carousel the next day. The last time I saw Stampfel, meanwhile, was on the festival floor as he leaned over and attempted to close a rolling suitcase jam-packed with all of the books he’d purchased at the show.
I lined myself up for four panels that weekend—which, before the show closed, had turned into five. The first was at 1:30pm—a conversation with legendary humor cartoonist Gahan Wilson. Running programming, however, requires showing up well before the convention opens, attempting to patch up mistakes and omissions and the inevitable but unforeseen glitches. There are a million things that can go wrong with a show this size, and if you’re lucky and things are run particularly well, you’ll only have to deal with 500,000 the morning of.
The most you can hope for, I think, is that any of those gaffs won’t ultimately overshadow the programming itself. The inaugural panel (a conversation between Jerry Robinson and Michael Uslan) began a bit later, but given the sheer number of things that could potentially go wrong from one panel to the next, the act of getting the thing off the ground at all makes a pretty compelling argument for the existence of a greater power. From there the best policy revolves around the questionable belief that traveling at the highest speeds is the best possible way to keep your own wheels from coming off at any one point.
Thanks to some truly terrific volunteers and our own Sarah Morean, who came all the way from Minneapolis for the show.
I’d be lying if I said that a technical glitch with a slide show on my first panel didn’t throw me off my game a bit, but one couldn’t ask for a better co-panelist than Wilson, who happily entertained my questions about fantasy conventions, the cross section of comedy and horror and what, precisely, set Nuts apart from other strips about kids. “Moderating” is perhaps not the proper word in this situation—when talking to Gahan Wilson, it’s more a matter of pointing him in a direction and watching him go.
Three hours later, it was a discussion about the admittedly broad “State of Editorial Cartooning” with Tim Kreider, Ruben Bolling and Ted Rall—three friends with ostensibly similar political leanings, who never really seemed to fully agree on anything. Rall railed against Obama, repeatedly describing him as “worse than Bush”—a wolf in donkey’s clothing, the theory goes. Kreider explained why he was so damned burned out with the whole thing, so much so that he’d largely thrown in the towl on his political cartooning career. And Bolling kept my attempts to make broad generalizations about the aforementioned state of things in check.
Ten minutes later, I was introducing Carousel, describing to the audience how R. Sikoryak and I might possibly be able to out-Carousel last year’s show, which was considered by many to be the most successful event of the festival. By the end, I genuinely think we succeeded—after it was over, Sikoryak smiled and laughed, “Well, I guess we’ve got to outdo ourselves next year.” Michael Kupperman, Lisa Hanawalt, Kate Beaton, Jeffrey Lewis, Ted Stearn, Sikoryak and voices Julie Klausner, Adam Conover and last-minute super special guest, Jackson Publick.
Sarah and I decompressed over dinner then headed to a small party hosted by The Comics Journal/Fantagraphics. There are two kinds of parties at a show like MoCCA Fest: The big blowout variety with cartoonist signing work and shaking hands, and then there’s the sort where one can have a quiet, casual conversation with, say, a Charles Burns. The Comics Journal’s event fell firmly into the latter—a friendly mix of cartoonists and other industry folks assessing the day’s events and reminiscing about shows we survived together like veterans of some foreign war.
But while I’d like to consider myself above the fray of rampant fanboyism, such conversations are a gentle reminder of precisely why I’ve put myself in this position in the first place. And really, there was no better reminder than my first Sunday panel. Somehow, after years of communicating with Peter Bagge through phone calls and e-mails, we’d never actually crossed paths at a convention. And when Fantagraphics publicist Jacq Cohen introduced us 15 minutes before our spotlight discussion was scheduled to begin, I told the cartoonist that I was trying hard not to gush. “That’s all right,” Bagge told me. “You’ve already said enough nice things about me in print.”
We prepped for the panel in a strange makeshift green room underneath a stuffed deer’s head, Bagge standing behind a bar, pretending to pour a drink for CBLDF head Charles Brownstein as he prepped for his Eisner tribute panel with Jules Feiffer, Denis Kitchen and Paul Levitz. The discussion with Bagge was almost certainly the highlight of my weekend, though the next panel, featuring Pizza Island artists Julia Wertz, Kate Beaton, Sarah Glidden, Lisa Hanawalt, Meredith Gran and Domitille Collardey. It was my own fault for attempting to format the discussion too strictly, so I wasn’t all that surprised when the artists suggested that we take a much more freewheeling approach to the panel, opening up the entire thing to audience questions—anything else just wouldn’t have suited the nature of the collective.
At 4pm I finally hit the floor for the first time after spending the vast majority of the show in the basement—a windowless subterranean reminder of the comics shows of my youth. And for the first time, when show-goers asked how I was doing, I could genuinely answer in the affirmative, with the sense that finally, 80 percent of the way through the show, I felt as though I were out of the wood, the stress behind me, ready to actually enjoy the damned thing. I finally shook hands and had conversations with non-panelists and flipped through and bought books.
I picked up a small pile of minis: Pranas T. Naujokaitis’s brilliantly packaged Beard, Kanji for Daily Use by Teylor Smirl, Nomi Kane’s ribbon-bound Sugar Baby, Heaven All Day by John Martz, Fable Funnies by Dakota McFadzean, a stack of Jason Viola comics, and Souful Sunday, a collection of strips based on soul songs—a mini-comic after my own heart. Chris Miskiewicz and Seth Kushner handed off colorful previews of their Act-I-Vate projects, as well. Not as large a haul as I might have hoped, but hell, mostly I was just happy to spend half an hour above ground.
As with last year, we closed the show out with an animation showcase and conversation. This year we featured short films from Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane and animation dabbler R. Sikoryak. The shorts themselves were a treat, but the real highlight, I think, was Baumane’s rather frank admissions about precisely how hard it is to carve out a living as an independent animator—not a particularly cheery note to end a show on, but hopefully the panel helped her move some copies of the DVDs she brought to the show.
After breaking down the show, Sarah and I partook in celebratory Banh Mi (which has become something of a post-MoCCA Fest tradition for me in the past few years), before making our way to the volunteer celebration/work party. There’s no rest for the MoCCA Fest volunteer, but there are certainly arguments to be made for free comics and pizza.
For Sarah and I, the real celebration happened a half hour later, a few blocks away, counting comics and attempting to gauge the success of the previous two-and-a-half days over glasses of whisky. On a personal level, it certainly felt like a successful weekend, a sentiment a number of friends and colleagues have echoed. There’s been plenty said about the fact that, with shows like The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival and King Con, MoCCA Fest is no longer the only game in town—but the growth of other shows only seems to have helped MoCCA Fest establish its identity.
And hey, I’m more than glad to discuss next year’s show—just give me a couple of months.