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A View From The Cheap Seats:
MoCCA Art Festival 2003 By Rich Watson
The second MoCCA Art Festival [website] arrived at the end of a wet and soggy week in New York, but that didn't keep away the hundreds and hundreds of visitors to SoHo's Puck Building, eager to sample the cornucopia of comics. This year saw lots of new faces as well as some significant changes. Guest of honor Art Spiegelman was honored with a MOCCA Art Festival Award recognizing his long and prestigious career in comics illustration, in a ceremony presented by Village Voice writer J. Hoberman. The Harvey Awards made their official debut at the show, moving from the Pittsburgh Comicon, with the traditional banquet to resume beginning next year. Among the other featured guests included Frank Miller, Jeff Smith, Eddie Campbell, Mike Mignola, Klaus Janson, and many more.
"This is one of my favorite shows," said cult animator Bill Plympton, on hand to promote his DVDs and graphic novels, including his latest, Hair High (soon to be a film). "I was here last year, and we really had a wonderful turnout. It's packed with people who love comics, and a lot of people who are not necessarily comics fans - a lot of regular, normal people who are curious. So I like the variety of people; it's not a geek-fest, like San Diego."
MOCCA - the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art - is in the process of finding a physical site to house what will one day be the actual museum itself. According to the official website, the organization is looking for a pre-existing building to move into, somewhere in the vicinity of what used to be the World Trade Center (at the city's request). Currently, they have a headquarters set up in Union Square, containing an exhibition space open part time to the public. Needless to say, the prospect of a permanent comics museum is an exciting one within the New York cartooning community.
"I would love to see the history of comics, y'know?" said Underground cartoonist Kaz on the subject. "[From Rodolphe] Topffer to what's happening right now. Also, animation is part of this. I'd love to see original drawings done by masters of animation. That would be fantastic to see too."
"A lot of my friends, what they know about comics is very limited to mainstream comics, so I think it would be great if there was a site that had different underground artists, different works of art, that people could go and see," said Teenagers From Mars writer Rick Spears. "And you could go and see original pages or paintings or whatever on display, and also be able to purchase those books, or read them or whatever and take them home and get people more involved in comics - get more people to see the diversity. I think it's something New York should have; I mean, there's Marvel here and DC here and the history here - it's something that would be really good for the city and for comics."
This year's show drew many exhibitors for the first time, from far and wide. "It's been busy since it opened, lots of people coming by, just people wanting to check out comics, so you can't ask for more than that," said editor Jamie Rich of Portland, Oregon's Oni Press, a regular at the West Coast's equivalent, California's Alternative Press Expo (APE). "It's a little smaller than APE, but I think there's at least as many people here looking to shop. It's got the same kind of vibe - people who want to check out different kinds of comics. That's the kind of show for us."
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Illustrator and colorist Jose Villarrubia compared it to conventions in Europe. "They don't have an indie scene in Europe, so it's completely different. In Europe they have much more fantasy kind of books, like hardbound fantasy graphic novels, stuff for kids - which there's very little here - more like a family event. In England they just have the small shows."
Publisher Larry Young of San Francisco's AIT/PlanetLar went to Book Expo America in Los Angeles earlier this month and noticed a significant change in how the audience perceived him. "It was fun for me because a show like this, or APE, or San Diego, Philadelphia - I'm trying to sell books. At the Book Expo, I got to be the creator of Astronauts in Trouble [and be] representative of all these other books: Brian Wood's Channel Zero, Mike Brennan's Electric Girl - all [of which] the book trade was familiar with already. So it was fun to go in and be like a mini-rock star, y'know? All the booksellers down there, independent bookstore owners, everybody [agreed] graphic novels was the new product that they wanted to add to their mix. It was like being the cute girl at the prom! Everybody wants to dance with the graphic novel guys now. It was really gratifying, because it sort of vindicates your view of comic books being entertainment for everybody. Our stuff is what they consider mainstream. It's not mainstream in comics because there's no superheroes, but we have stuff that's good for girls, action-adventure stuff for Bruce Willis movie fans - I couldn't have been happier with the Book Expo. That was fun!"
Seattle's Fantagraphics recently survived a financial crisis in which one of their primary distributors went bankrupt. Thanks to a mass sales drive, similar to the one that saved Top Shelf from extinction last year, the company remains active. "Our next step is just to be a little more cautious, a little more conservative in terms of printing, in terms of our staff, and just be careful," said co-publisher Kim Thompson on how they plan to regroup. "In our specific case we have two main distributors now, Diamond and Norton, and if either one of those goes out of business we're screwed, so there would be no future. [But] they're both real solid. I think the future is that we're gonna keep on getting more distribution and promotion from Norton, and we hope to keep our exposure in the comics market at least the same or better. Onward and upward."
Once again, MOCCA had a wide variety of books available, from handmade minis to full-sized comics to squarebound graphic novels and more, from neophyte creators, rising stars, long-time veterans, and genuine legends. Young, a staunch advocate of self-publishing, talked about his efforts to get people involved with it, including a book he wrote on the subject. "I probably see it more than most people because people get inspired to do it themselves - they're like 'Yeah, I always had this good idea' and people buy True Facts and go 'Wow, there's a blueprint of how to do it, and this guy's doing it himself, so I'll do that' - and so all those folks that are meeting some success are coming up to me and going thank you. So I see it a lot, like the Teenagers [From Mars] guys - I'm not taking credit for anybody else's hard work, but I see a lot of folks doing it themselves."
Age of Bronze creator Eric Shanower has seen the first trade paperback in his series about the Trojan War take off outside the industry, to great success. "Libraries are buying it, very, very rabidly. I sell the hardback myself and we get orders from libraries all the time; we sell them through my website. I don't know what the breakdown is between people who read comics regularly versus people who don't read comics but do read mine, but I know there is a significant amount of people who read Age of Bronze just because of the subject matter, who don't read comics normally." He talked about the ongoing process of gathering research for the series, which includes looking at books, movies, paintings, sculptures, and even operas. "There's sort of two prongs to my research: the story and what [the time period] looked like. And there's not a whole lot of overlap. But the story's important to me because it's accumulated so many different permutations and so many different versions over the past 2800 years, and I'd like to get as much of that in and make it all one coherent storyline; all the conflicting versions of what happened… The story concept is so engaging; following all these intertwining characters through all their various adventures, all their various episodes… that's the most interesting aspect of the project to me."
Grrl Scouts creator Jim Mahfood has worked on several Marvel titles over the past few years, and though some traditionalist Marvel fans have not received his graffiti-like cartoon style warmly, he remains unfazed. "I think the hardcore, just-Marvel fans, don't really care for my type of style on a traditional Marvel book. What's cool is that my fans will follow me to whatever product I do, so my black-and-white Grrl Scouts fans will also buy my Spider-Man stuff because they follow me to various gigs. So I do have people appreciating the Marvel stuff because it's my style… The editors I worked with at Marvel were great because they hired me to do those books in my style. They knew what they were getting into when they hired me to do the book, so it's their decision; it's their call. I'm just going along for the ride, doing this gig; it's not my fault or my concern if hardcore Peter Parker fans are pissed off about it or whatever. Doesn't really bother me. They don't e-mail me directly about it anyway; Marvel gets those e-mails and hate mail, and the editors, like Axel Alonso, would send me some of the hate mail, and I would just laugh at it! I don't take that kind of stuff seriously because I know I do have people who do appreciate my work."
Artist Jamal Igle said that his Image superhero title Venture (with writer Jay Faerber) was being cancelled with issue 4, but he already has a new project underway, courtesy of Humanoids Publishing. "It's a fantasy series. It's about a New Orleans police detective who gets caught in a shadow war between two factions of angels. It's by a screenwriter named Tom Fenton - a screenwriter, and he directs music videos. It's really sharp stuff. It's a lot different than anything else I've worked on in terms of subject and storytelling." Coming to a show like MOCCA was a new experience for him. "I'm loving the show, actually; it's great! The turnout's amazing. I do a lot of small conventions, but this is one of the only small press shows I've been to. I haven't been to SPX. This is the first one I got invited to."
Rich talked about Oni's expanding line of original graphic novels, already underway with titles like Dumped, Cheat, and Days Like This and will include new ones from Steve Rolston, J. Torres & Mike Norton, Bryan O'Malley, and Ande Parks & Eduardo Barreto. "They're doing very, very well. We're finding it as a place to launch new talent, and it's working better than single issues, so we're judging projects now on the basis of which format will work better. We're not phasing out the single issues completely, but the graphic novels are definitely starting to take a stronger foothold. Most of the books we have coming out for the rest of the year are 120 pages, somewhere around there - closer to the four issue equivalent."
Towards the latter part of the day, Festival organizer Kristen Siebecker was highly optimistic about the day's turnout. "I think it's rivaling numbers from last year. I think we're probably at about the same level, even with the weather. It was miserable this morning, when the exhibitors came in, all wet like ground rats, then it cleared up and lots of people came in. I think we're probably gonna go over last year's numbers." She gave credit, in part, to a larger support staff that helped spread the word about the show to the media, which led to increased listings in local event guidebooks like Time Out New York, and even the Puck Building itself. "I think people really like the Puck Building. I think there's something about this venue that is so much different from other comic book shows. It would be hard to find a space that rivaled it, even though it might be bigger. What we may do is move some of the programming to a different venue and open up that space for more exhibitors."
"It's awesome! It's a great show," said Young in summing the day up. "It's the first time I've been to MOCCA; I wasn't here last year. I didn't do any promotions or anything, to tell people I was gonna be here, and our sales are awesome. There's lots of good traffic, it's really busy. I couldn't be happier."
A brief word on the Hulk movie: I didn't like the split-screen stuff, but overall it was quite good but not great. I was surprised at how much they went into the father-son relationship; there was quite a bit of emotional depth to Nick Nolte and Eric Bana's relationship which I liked (though Nolte really was over-the-top in their final scene together). The CGI Hulk looked fine. I loved seeing him leap! Even the audience I saw it with audibly gasped the first time we saw him leap. The more I think about it, the ending kinda fell apart - too much emphasis on special effects. The pace of the movie didn't bother me; there should be some build-up to seeing the Hulk for the first time.