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MoCCA Festival 2011

This post originally appeared at The Panelists on April 14, 2011.

I seem to get to the MoCCA Festival every other year. I made it up for one day (Saturday) of the festival this year. I wanted to see the first panel of the day, so I showed up despite knowing that there would be lines and that inevitably the doors wouldn’t really open at 11am. Surprisingly, the doors opened not too long after 11 and the line moved pretty fast. Also surprisingly, but in a less nice way, buying my ticket ahead of time didn’t provide any real advantage as far as getting through the line. They only split the line once you got in the door and then the “already have tickets” line seemed to move a lot slower than the “buy your tickets now” line. It didn’t help that MoCCA volunteers had printed-out lists of those with prepaid tickets and had to cross off your name when you showed them your ticket. Seems like they need some tech support to get things moving better. My ticket had a QR code on it, surely that would be code for something. Otherwise, things seemed to running pretty smoothly, and I didn’t hear anyone else complaining about things this year. The move to April they made last year has surely paid off at least from the climate perspective, as it was not overwhelmingly hot in the Armory this year.

I did make it to panel one, a panel about teaching comics with Tom Hart, Bill Kartalopoulos, and Jessica Abel, moderated by Karen Green, Columbia’s graphic novel librarian. I enjoyed hearing their various perspectives on teaching comics, especially with the mix of panelists since Karalopoulos, unlike Abel and Hart, teaches comics in literature/art history classes rather than studio classes. A few nice shout outs to the idea of using constraints as generators for comics. Hart does a comics form of “larding” (“tireur a la ligne” as the Oubapo call it) where you start with a single strip and then expand it out to dozens of panels.

After the panel I made my tour of the tables, I went as systematically as I could (snaking through the room), so I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss at least looking at each table. My first stop at one end of the room was the row of tables held by the Scandinavians (many of whom were, I think, at the last MoCCA I attended in 2009). I know there were Danes, Finns, and Swedes, not sure if there were any Norwegians. A lot of nice looking comics at their tables, much of it not really to my tastes stylistically, though. They did have the lastest split issue of Smoke Signal and the Finnish anthology Kuti, which was free (haven’t gotten a chance to read that yet).

Chatted a bit with Allan Haverholm, who I met in 09, and whose comics I enjoy quite a bit (see my review of some of his work). He sold me a bunch of volumes of the C’est Bon anthology he co-edits. It’s a decent anthology that usually features four or five artists. One highlight in volume 13 is a comic Allan made appropriating the imagery of Super Mario Brothers to visualize the long distance between he and his girlfriend (they live in different countries). I’m, of course, a fan of appropriation. I also discovered the work of the American Chad Verrill in two of the volumes I purchased. Verrill’s work is kind of woodcut, kind of stained glass/medieval illustration. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of him before, but I’ve already ordered one of his books.

I went back later and got a copy of the Finnish Comics Annual 2011, a huge, bright pink volume featuring 20 Finnish artists including some familiar artists like Jenni Rope, Tommi Musturi, and Amanda Vähämäki. It has a good mix of narrative and visual styles in it, though I came to regret it’s great size later in the day as I walked the streets of NYC on my way to other locations.

Overall, I have to say, I wasn’t thrilled by most of what I saw as I walked the floor. The quality of much of the work seemed pretty amateurish (I understand there were a lot of students with tables), and there was a real dearth of forward thinking and/or experimental type work. Of all the places I hoped to find something really new and exciting, I figured MoCCA might be it, but alas, that was not really the case.

I browsed quite a bit at the bigger publishers tables but didn’t buy from any of them, since I know I can get their books easily enough later. Drawn & Quarterly had the new Shigeru Mizuki book Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, their first manga to be published in unflipped format. Looks to be a good read. They had a few copies of Chester Brown’s new book, but I hear they sold them out extremely quickly and didn’t seem to keep one around for browsers to look at. Fantagraphics had a lot of new books, including the huge Comics Journal 301, which really looks like it was at least partially modeled on L’Association’s now defunct L’Eprouvette (it has very similar dimensions). They also had the new Trondheim autobio book (which looks great), the new Captain Easy, and the new Dave McKean book.

I was happy to stumble upon the Closed Caption Comics table, where, luckily enough, two of the artists whose work I liked best from their latest anthology (which I discussed briefly here), Chris Day and Connor Stechschulte, were manning the table. I got a pack of books from Day (which as it turns out are part of a loose series with the story in the anthology). Stechschulte didn’t have any books, but I was at least happy to tell both of them how much I enjoyed their work.

I found the Sundays anthology table, which was one of my goals going into the show, as their latest anthology, Sundays 4 (Forever Changes), includes work by Warren Craghead (and, as we know, if Warren’s in it, I’ll buy it). There’s also an interesting piece by Scott Longo in it. Despite my anthology bitching last week, I ended up buying more anthologies than not at MoCCA, it’s a deadly trap I guess. At the Sundays table I also picked up a copy of “Medusa” by Jessica Abston and Alex Kim (can’t find a link for it), which is a accordion folded comic that looks interesting (haven’t read it yet).

Sakura Maku seemed to have the original pages from her forthcoming Dark Tomato on display at her table (I’m pretty sure that’s what the pages were, I neglected to ask). They were really beautiful pages with a good bit of collaged images. I’m looking forward to her book.

Another one of my pre-planned goals, was finding the Sparkplug table. In my attempts to get a look at Austin English’s new book (don’t forget my interview with Austin from last week), I ran into fellow critic Marc Sobel and got to chat with him a bit. Sparkplug also had the new issue of Reich (8) by Elijah Brubaker, a series I’ve been enjoying for quite awhile.

I ended up walking around a bit with the esteemed Matthias Wivel, as we talked and looked at comics. He and Stephen of Fanfare tried to sell me on a few Taniguchi comics I haven’t read, but ended up selling me on Kazuichi Hanwa’s Doing Time, one of their earlier releases that I hadn’t ever read.

Kevin Mutch and Geoff Grogan at the Pood table were kind enough to give me a copy of their latest issue (#3). And Kevin lamented the lack of appropriative tactics in comics (though with Geoff and I there he was preaching to the choir).

Karl Stevens, whose weekly strip “Failure” you can read online, was at his table working on one of his comics, a lot of which is drawn from photo references. If you haven’t checked out his latest, The Lodger, you can order it direct from the artist.

Later in the afternoon Matthias took me back to the Scandinavians’ tables to make some recommendations, though he wasn’t very successful at it (no fault of his). One book that looked really nice, but was a bit expensive for me that late in the day (and will hopefully see if not an English at least a French version I can read in the near future) was Glimt by Rikke Bakman (Aben Maler).

I ran into Ian Harker, editor of Secret Prison a local (to me) free comics anthology from Philadelphia, and Pat Ausilio. Secret Prison 4 was making it’s debut at the show (didn’t get one as I’m expecting a subscriber copy). I also stopped by L Nichols (who’s already written about the show) and Darryl Ayo’s table as I’d promised them a copy of Badman’s Cave (I gave them out to a bunch of people throughout the day) which they kindly traded for their minis.

I only saw that one panel. I missed the Dash Shaw/Brecht Evens conversation as I was out having lunch, and none of the other panels on Saturday seemed all that interesting to my tastes. After the show I ended up walking down to the Strand, but in missing a turn ended up in the New School area, so I stopped in at the Cartoon Polymaths exhibit at Parsons. The highlight was the Steinberg work, though the Kevin Huizenga comic in the show brochure is worth reading too (you can find it in this pdf).

All in all, MoCCA was more successful to me for the conversations I had then the comics I bought or saw. I should expect as much since my tastes seem to be moving ever further away from the mainstream of comics (and here I mean “mainstream” in its normal sense, not as a code for “superheroes”), but I would love to see more people moving away from the new mainstream genres: autobiography, “literary” fiction, and all the non-superhero genres like action, horror, fantasy. If not moving away from them, at least finding non-traditional ways to handle those genres, either visually or narratively. For instance, Chris Day’s comics (mentioned above) are sci-fi/horror-esque but they are narratively elliptical and visually unusual (collaged/appropriated imagery that is eschewing most of conventional comic tropes). More ranting another time…

Maybe I missed something great at the show, so any recommendations are welcome in the comments.