December 17, 2017


MOCCA Art Festival

By Rich Watson


The independent comics scene has historically had few shows of comparable caliber to the major comics conventions. Most fans are familiar with the two stalwart ones: Maryland’s Small Press Expo (SPX) and the California Bay Area’s Alternative Press Expo. Recent years, however, have seen the rise of fledgling cons also capable of supporting and encouraging the growth of the indy market, such as Columbus’ Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo and the Denver Comic Arts Festival. This past June 23, in the heart of America’s biggest city, the Museum Of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival (MOCCA) opened wide the door of the alternative press to what was by all accounts an appreciative and enthusiastic market.

The genesis of New York’s MOCCA Art Festival can be traced back to the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. SPX was to be held a mere three days afterward, and amidst the chaos of the hours immediately following the attacks, exhibitors speculated as to whether or not the show would go on. The next day, the SPX organizers announced the show’s cancellation, to perhaps no one’s surprise. However, several grassroots movements to arrange impromptu gatherings sprung up that same day across the country - including in New York, where ARTBABE creator Jessica Abel spearheaded a drive to arrange an indy comics show that weekend. The one-day, Brooklyn-based show, dubbed “SP-Xiles,” attracted a number of the New York area’s finest comics artists and turned out to be a success - not to mention a very therapeutic means to come together and cope with the horror of the attacks.

Such a gathering raised the possibility of being able to hold a similar event on a bigger scale in the Big Apple. All it needed was someone to get the ball rolling. In October, this reporter first revealed who that would be: Kristen Siebecker, best known within the comics community as the longtime girlfriend of BOX OFFICE POISON creator Alex Robinson. She had already begun scouting locations at that point, and talking to creators, and by January of this year she had officially announced the show as a go, in cooperation with MOCCA, an organization dedicated to creating a physical museum for cartoon art. It would be held in Manhattan’s Puck Building on Houston Street. 

Over the subsequent months, the names on the guest list grew and grew and grew, attracting both self-publishers and big-name creators alike. Among the attendees: Frank Miller, Jules Feiffer, Jeff Smith, Bill Plympton, Phoebe Gloeckner, Hilda Terry, Top Shelf, Alternative Press, Drawn & Quarterly, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Friends of Lulu, and many more.

The exhibition space took up one floor, with two large, well-lit, comfortable rooms for the artists and publishers, connected by a thin corridor, and a third room adjacent to the entrance for the panel discussions. As you entered the first room, the exhibitors were arranged in a ring around the room, with an outer ring against the wall and an inner one. To the far end was the corridor connecting to the second room, where the exhibitors were arranged by rows and aisles. The show was consistently busy nearly the entire afternoon. Everywhere you looked, fans, young and old, longtime readers and fresh newbies, swarmed the aisles of both rooms, chatting it up with the artists and purchasing their wares. The following is but a sampling of the type of creators present and their thoughts on this day.

“[It’s] just about the best comic show I’ve ever been around, actually. I’ve been amazed and pleased that’s it’s run so beautifully,” said STUCK RUBBER BABY and WENDEL creator Howard Cruse, a veteran of the indy scene for many years and a trailblazer of gay-themed comics. “Most of them are not like this. Most of them are about STAR TREK and toys and everything but comics. This is all about the art of cartoons - a chance for people to meet cartoonists whose work they enjoy. That’s what they should be for. If they were more like this, I would go to more!”

Some creators approached MOCCA differently than others. Newcomers Myatt Murphy and Scott Dalrymple of Second 2 Some Studios gave away copies of their new series FADE FROM BLUE, which in a relatively short time has garnered much praise for its portrayal of the lives of four women. “I wanted to do something that’s gender-neutral, that you can hand to your girlfriend, that you can hand to your mom, that you can hand to some guy that’s not into comics, and they’d still appreciate it,” said Murphy in describing the book. 

From attending a predominately-female college to writing for women’s magazines, Murphy has plenty of real-life influences to draw from, and indeed, he said he lets his women friends read everything he writes. He’s also aware of how some may perceive a man writing about women. “When I’m asked, ‘Do you think a man can write a comic book about women,’ because the book reaches both men and women, I think it’s no different than a television series or a movie where no one questions can a woman write a sitcom, or an episode of LAW AND ORDER. The head writer for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE is a woman. So it’s like vice versa; you take that and think it’s more adolescent guy stuff, yet it’s predominately written by women. The entertainment industry already falls by the standards where men write women stuff and women write men stuff. I think it’s a natural progression.”

The characters look very distinctive from not only each other, but from the usual archetype of women comics characters. “We’re trying to keep this true to life,” adds Dalrymple, the artist. “[We’re] tired of the image of big-breasted, drop-dead gorgeous women everywhere. The girls - each one looks a little different. Myatt and I, we came up with the characters; he gave me a pretty good general idea of what he wanted, so I just went off on what he did. Some of my female friends are obviously some of the female characters, same with Myatt’s friends. I’m pretty much basing it on people that I know.”

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