Saturday, March 14, 2009

FYC #3: MoCCA goodness

Originally published 06/25/07

My Saturday @ MoCCA: a personal reminiscence
by Chris Beckett

My buddy Dan and I finally decided to check out the MoCCA Arts Festival this year. We’d heard a lot of good things about the festival and after talking with the writers and artists at last year’s SPX, we wondered why we hadn’t done this before. Disappointingly, we only had one day planned in the city due to our job responsibilities back home here in Maine. So, we had to make the most out of our Saturday at MoCCA. And I’d say we did a pretty good job of it.

Arriving at the Puck Building shortly after 11:00 am, we could see a line had already formed, but once in line it only took a few minutes for us to make our way inside. Exhibitors were scattered among four rooms – three connected rooms on the lower level and a fourth on the 7th floor. An older building, the interior of the Puck Building had a lot of character – hardwood floors and brick walls on the first floor, while upstairs the hardwood was illuminated by wide open windows spanning three of the four walls – and the layout was pretty easy to maneuver, even with the seventh floor being a bit out of the way. This was apparently the first year exhibitors were on the seventh floor and many were curious as to how those upstairs would fare. With the elevator providing the only visible access to those exhibitors, it did make for a smaller crowd on the upper level, which obviously meant less foot traffic, but it also allowed fans more time to look and to talk with the artists present. Able to make that closer connection with readers, this more personal atmosphere could certainly pay off in the marathon that is creating comics.

Exhibitors, particularly those larger publishing houses in attendance, were spread out nicely – each room having its anchors such as Top Shelf, AdHouse, and Picturebox as the three points of a triangle in the main ballroom, while Vertigo/Minx and the Fundraising Sketch Table with artists such as Alison Bechdel and Dean Haspiel could be found upstairs. Having these and other publishers like Fantagraphics, NBM, Drawn & Quarterly, spread across the four rooms made each one a “destination” spot and gave the other individual creators a chance for some face time with those attending the show. And there were plenty of these creators deserving of such attention.

But first, after an initial walk-through, we needed to catch up with the Top Shelf crew at the bar. Publishers of quality books for ten years, it is always a pleasure to get a chance to speak with Chris Staros, Rob Venditti, Alex Robinson, and the other creators. I was also anxious to finally get a chance to meet the other half of Top Shelf’s publishing duo, Brett Warnock. Everyone involved with Top Shelf is filled with an excitement about the medium that is infectious, and this year was no different. One of their major offerings for 2007 is Super Spy by Matt Kindt. Although not available in stores until September, Top Shelf had an initial batch of the softcover and limited hardcover editions flown in from the printers in Hong Kong just for the show. This book, especially the limited hardcover, is a beautiful book and if there is any justice this will be a big hit for them. Not only does the story look great – and judging by the way Kindt pulled me right in with his previous book, 2 Sisters, I expect it to deliver – but the design work on Super Spy, particularly the cover for the limited edition, is magnificent. This is a book that would look great on anybody’s bookshelf.

By noon, the exhibitor rooms were filling up nicely and traversing the three main rooms became more of a chore. Just off the entrance, the first room – situated between the main ballroom and the third, smaller exhibitor room – Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly were set up together, happy to talk about their Oni Press book, Local, of which there are only two issues left to draw. Ryan was also very excited about a personal project he was developing. Though he could not say much more as it hasn’t landed with a publisher yet, he expected it to be arriving in comic shops sometime next year.

Gia-Bao Tran, Xeric recipient for his self-published comic Content, was also anxious to talk about upcoming work. He has been researching his next big project, which is still in the early stages and involved a trip to Vietnam earlier this year, while also contributing some short stories to anthologies such as the forthcoming Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened and a future issue of Negative Burn in order to keep drawing. Other self-publishers of note that had new works at MoCCA included The New Radio with the first of four 104-page issues of Poison the Cure written by Jad Ziade and art by Alex Cahill, Justin Fox’s latest issue of Earth Minds Are Weak: “Kaiju Jugoruma” which includes the first four chapters of his new science fiction serial (which, as he notes in the introduction, is something new for him having told only self-contained stories in previous issues), the first in a series of short graphic novels aimed at nine to twelve-year-olds entitled Super Bill and Buster from William Binderup and John Schuler, Abby Denson’s Passing Notes, Nothing Better #1 by Eisner-nominee Tyler Page, a preview of Mike LaRiccia’s sequel to his well-received and Xeric-awarded Black Mane, as well as Becky Cloonan’s new trade paperback Minis collecting a lot of her early mini-comics, which helped land her the art chores on Brian Wood’s Channel Zero: Jennie One and subsequent work on DEMO, East Coast Rising, and American Virgin. These, along with works offered by many other artists such as Nick Bertozzi, Rick Veitch, Kevin Colden, Evan Dorkin, Matthew Loux, Rick Spears and Rob G. made for a wealth of choices to be had for all attending.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the MoCCA museum where Keith Knight, creator of The K Chronicles and (th)ink comic strips, was speaking. He has been doing The K Chronicles for fourteen years now and I wish I had discovered his work before. Knight is an incredibly funny man and the strips he displayed for the audience were brilliant and topical and controversial. With The K Chronicles, Knight sheds light on important issues and utilizes humor to communicate a message of how ridiculous the world can be and how we can better our lives and the lives of those around us. Keith Knight is a cartoonist you need to know.

However, despite how impressed I was with Knight, the big draw for me at the museum was the current Stan Lee retrospective now on display. The walls were covered with pages and pages of original art from the beginning of the “Marvel Age” of comics during the 1960s. The majority of these pieces were of course birthed from the gigantic imagination of Jack Kirby. Everywhere you turned his powerful artwork greeted you. The highlight for me had to be the original black and white cover image from Fantastic Four #1. Amazing. Anybody that has a chance to get down to MoCCA for this or any other exhibits they offer, you need to do yourself a favor and do it. You will not regret it.

Back in the main building for our final pass, we had a brush with fame that was completely unexpected.

But first, I got in line at the AdHouse table where Paul Pope was signing his new art book Pulphope, which was selling briskly for AdHouse and may hopefully do for this publisher what Lost Girls did for Top Shelf last year. And if sales on Saturday are any indication, this is a distinct possibility. Chris Pitzer, head honcho of AdHouse, and Pope were both great to talk to. They, like most everyone attending, were excited about the possibilities of the comics medium and enjoy discussing this with like-minded individuals. AdHouse seems to be at a point where Top Shelf was a few years ago, a small publisher providing quality books by cutting-edge creators, slowly growing its catalogue and keeping books in print for the new fans discovering them at shows like this. With any luck, people will be talking about the AdHouse tenth anniversary celebration in a few years as they were talking about the Top Shelf anniversary this past weekend.

Departing the AdHouse table, Dan and I were making our way out of the Puck Building when we stopped suddenly and looked to our right. A fan that I had seen around the hall all day was talking with a gentleman who seemed very familiar. The gentleman in question was standing with his wife and their young baby. Then he spoke and it was obvious. It was Morgan Spurlock, the independent documentarian who came to prominence with his film Supersize Me. He was walking around like everyone else (except for being accosted by strangers with comics and handshakes offered his way), checking things out, interested in the creators and the comics. Spurlock was very accommodating and seemed genuinely interested in speaking with us and any other fans that came over upon recognizing him. He said his next documentary, What Would Jesus Buy?, which examines the commercialization of Christmas should be out later this year.

And so, after a long day at the Arts Festival, it was time to head over to GSTAAD on 26th Street and help celebrate the tenth anniversary of Top Shelf. All the usual suspects were there from the publisher – Chris Staros, Brett Warnock, Rob Venditti, Alex Robinson, Andy Runton – along with a large number of fans and creators including Leland Purvis, Ivan Brandon, Keith Knight, Kevin Colden, Miss Lasko-Gross, Jose Villarubia, and many more I can’t remember right now. It was a fun time with great food, good drinks, and cake! An excellent party put on by some fun-loving, classy people that seemed a perfect way to end the day in New York.

This was a great day and I am already making plans to spend both days at MoCCA next year. And if you love comics, and especially indy books, then you should too.

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