February 22, 2018


MOCCA Art Festival

By Rich Watson


Other creators at the show with firmer footholds are looking ahead. Jimmy Gownley of the children’s series AMELIA RULES! has a trade paperback of the first five issues due this summer and is looking to spread the word about the book in different ways. “What we’ve had some success with doing is library talks. I had to talk to libraries in Pennsylvania, and just last week I did a workshop with 25 kids on how to be a cartoonist, that kind of thing, with 12, 13 year olds. And then they come and they usually give them their first copy, and a percentage of them go to comic book stores after that and try to find it - not a big percentage, because a lot of people, even if you hand them a comic book today that they’ll enjoy and really like, they’re not gonna go out of their way to find their way to the direct market into some comic shop and hunt this thing down. It’s a slow process, but that’s the way we’re trying to approach it. Also Karen, who is our marketing director, has done a lot of work with outside magazines, things like KID PLANET, which is doing a feature on us for this month’s issue, and KID SCREEN, which is like an animation trade, they’re doing a feature on us. So it’s a slow process, but you know, one step at a time.”

Gownley set things in motion for his company, Renaissance Press, by attracting a small group of investors and laying out a business plan for them, which led to them providing the funding he needed to create the full-color book. “We try to overprint a lot at the beginning, so that we don’t have to go back to press again and again, and then when we go to shows like this we’re always just selling first printings as opposed to second or third printings. And [we] eat a lotta ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese!”

By contrast, Xeric Award winner Rachel Hartman of the all-ages fantasy series AMY UNBOUNDED has already released her trade paperback, BELONDWEG BLOSSOMING, after years of self-publishing it as an ashcan, and while she has recouped her costs, she is still looking to create inroads to the larger book-reading audience. “It’s difficult to penetrate the non-comics reading community, as it were, to get them into real bookstores. I’ve been working on Borders at home, which is like, just down the block from me, and I used to work there, and even that is hard to get into, and they’re all like, ‘Oh yeah, we love you, sure we’ll take it,’ but y’know they have to call me back... stuff like that. So it’s tough. Something that is a goal of mine right now is to try and find a book distributor who’ll distribute to regular bookstores. Bookstores do not like to deal with small publishers, and distributors a lot of the time don’t either. I’ve been talking to [FALLOUT writer] Jim Ottaviani recently [about] what progress he’s made on that because I know he’s found a lot of work towards finding somebody to be a distributor. So that’s sort of where I’m at as far as my ambition!”

And then there are those small pressers who self-publish for no other reason than the simple joy of creating. Few have done it longer - or better - than CYNICALMAN creator Matt Feazell, he of the deceptively simple stick figure drawings. Like Cruse, he compared the atmosphere at MOCCA to that of other major cons. “I remember back in the day, you used to go to a comic book convention and you’d only meet people there that were into comics, and were there for the comics, and you knew you had something in common with everybody there - and you don’t get that from comic book conventions anymore when they’re more pop culture conventions. There are so many, like STAR TREK, science fiction movie stars, and Playmate models, and all. The feeling at this show is more like the old days of comic book conventions; you feel like you have something in common with everybody here.”

In the end, MOCCA proved decisively that the audience for indy comics is alive and well in New York - an audience as diverse as the city itself. “I think you had some people that knew about small press, and some people that were just checking it out for the first time and wasn’t really sure what to do,” said Siebecker, after it was all over. “There’s some friendly faces, for sure, that you see at a lot of small press shows, but I think that you did have a bigger mix of people just checking it out for the first time. All ages, too - young, young kids, all the way up. I had an elderly school group, ten elderly ladies that were coming in to look at the Jules Feiffer panel. So it was pretty amazing, the range of people.” Can we hope for a second show next year? “Good question,” she said. “Ask me in about a week!”


A graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts, Rich Watson has been a self-published cartoonist since 1993, and whose output includes the superhero drama CELEBRITY and the romantic fable RAT: A LOVE STORY. He currently resides in New York and gets his comics weekly from Jim Hanley's Universe and Midtown Comics. Rich can be contacted on his board www.revampscripts.com/board/Rich_Watson.shtml and is is featured on the website www.smallpresscomics.com.

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