Sunday, July 1, 2007

MoCCA Part 1

Georgene and I have returned from an intense 4 day weekend in New York and at MoCCA, the independent friendly comic show at the Puck Building in SoHo. Delta Airlines made our traveling unpleasant, but I won’t waste time on the details. We did arrive in New York by Friday afternoon which allowed us time to have coffee with Joy Kolitsky (In the Sea) in Brooklyn and also to see our friend Abby's play that night. I have to admit that after 2 hours of sleep and a glass of wine, the folks who put on the play deserved a more attentive audience than what they got in me.

Saturday morning was the beginning of the show and my table was on the seventh floor. I was nervous that since most of the show was on the ground level that people would not make it up to my table. In the beginning of the show my fears seemed to be coming true and I began to talk to some show volunteers about ways to get more circulation up there. However, after a few hours, the crowds started to find us and we remained pretty busy for the rest of the weekend. In fact, not only was this my most successful show in terms of sales, but the seventh floor had a fantastic panoramic view of the city, lots of natural light, and excellent air flow. None of these were available to the same degree downstairs.

That night I joined the Indie Spinner Rack dinner at the Golden Unicorn in Chinatown. Georgene and I ate with Charlito, Mr. Phil, Monica Gallagher and Matt (sorry, forgot your last name, Matt), Fred Chao with girlfriend Dylan, and Disney Adventures’ Jesse Post. We then went to the Top Shelf party and then an Irish Pub after party where I drank too much and paid a heavy price the next morning.

Sunday it was back to the show and I think sales were actually better on Sunday than Saturday, which never happens. During the weekend I met a bunch of cartoonists, including Jamie Tanner, G.B. Tran, Marcos Perez, Will Dinski, Joseph Lambert, Corinne Mucha, Pat N. Lewis, Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, and more that I simply can’t remember (sorry).

Something worth mentioning is that it seemed like I was constantly running into students from The Center of Cartoon Studies and I was impressed by the work I saw. I was on a limited budget so I only got one of their books but, from what I saw, the school is nurturing each student’s unique drawing style and most books were inventively designed and printed. I can’t comment on the stories at this point (except for the one), but I think they are worth checking out if you get a chance.

It also seemed to me that the there was a lot of quality comics out there. I’m going to post a second part of this report that will focus on individual books that I picked up, but beyond that, I saw many books where a lot of attention was put into how the book was designed in relation to the story. The best comics bring together a great story with great art and good book design, while not as essential, only helps the reading experience.


Now I’ll take a moment to showcase some of the books I picked up last weekend. I was on a limited budget of only $70, so there was a lot of things I would have liked to get but will have to wait. Books by Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, and Top Shelf are pretty easy to find, so they lost out this time. Some of the books below I got on a trade, which usually results in getting comics that don’t thrill me, but at MoCCA I got some nice stuff.

3 from First Second

I’m finding that one of the best deals to be found at a comic convention is at the table of First Second. They reduce all of their graphic novels to $10 at shows and will throw in a free one if you buy two. My $20 got me A.L.I.E.E.E.N. by Lewis Trondheim, Klezmer by Joann Sfar, and The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell. The premise of A.L.I.E.E.E.N. is that Trondheim has found an actual alien comic left in the woods in the Catskills (I suppose in his native French edition, it’s the Alps). The comic reminded me a bit of Jim Woodring’s Frank in that it is told without words (at least not of any Earth language) and that it is both funny and disturbing. Trondheim is as masterful at storytelling as Woodring and is very skilled at creating a world with its own rules and relationships as well as communicating those rules to the reader without the need for words or exposition.

I think I’m going to start picking up everything Joann Sfar does, at least everything he both writes and draws; he has 100 books in print and doesn’t draw all of them. Klezmer is the first of a series about a Klezmer band in Eastern Europe at around the turn of the 20th century (I think). This book mostly focuses on how these musicians come together and their individual backgrounds. I know next to nothing about Yiddish culture so it was interesting to get some insight into how they lived and Sfar really stresses the constant vulnerability they felt. Sfar’s art never did much for me until I began to read his comics. His drawing tends to fade away and become a form of writing. The images are not meant to be lingered on, they are dashed off with some watercolor thrown over them and the reader takes the image in and moves on. Other cartoonists take a similar approach, but most don’t draw as well as Sfar. Although his drawings are loose and pared down, they still are very expressive and always communicate what is going on. I’ll be picking up the next volume when it comes out.

Eddie Campbell’s Black Diamond Detective Agency was based on an unproduced movie script by C. Gaby Mitchell. The book starts in 1899 with a bombed train and something mysterious taken from it. It reads a bit like a Hollywood movie, with a Harrison Ford type unlikely hero on the lam and climaxing in a literally explosive ending. That’s not to say it’s bad, though. If Hollywood made movies executed as well as this, I might watch more of them, but at the same time, it doesn’t transcend the formula too much. It’s good to see Campbell drawing the 19th century again, but it doesn’t have the inventiveness or rich characterization as something like Klezmer.

Are You Often Impulsive in Your Behavior by Will Dinski

This was the first time I have seen Will’s work. He had a table of different books including a hard cover made by hand (God bless him). I settled on Behavior for a few reasons. One is that it is about a subject near to my heart and apartment: Scientology. Living in Los Angeles, Scientologists are everywhere, and I live next to one of their larger complexes on L. Ron Hubbard Dr. (I can only imagine how much they paid the city for that honor). Will’s comic is about taking a Scientology personality test in Minnesota. The comic is on one large sheet of cardstock, folded over twice to the size of a .45 record sleeve. The resulting book adds up to 4 pages and folds out to a large scale reproduction of Will’s test printed on the back of the sheet. The comic uses a combination of pleasing panel design, using mostly small squares filled with either drawings or dialogue as well as a strong use of 2 colors. Basically, the comic is well designed, drawn, and written, using the questions of the test against the testers in an effective way. Definitely seek Mr. Dinski out. He’d be a great candidate for an anthology.

Recent Work: A Menagerie of Short Tales by Corinne Mucha

I first saw Corinne’s comics at SPX a couple of years ago. Her boyfriend Sam gave me a copy of her mini I Lived in Alaska, which was about working there over a summer. Recent Works is made up of short strips of her daily live (much like I Lived in Alaska, but without the Alaska). I’m not usually into slice-of-life autobio comics, but instead of going for finding deep meaning or poignancy in mundane things, Corinne goes for humor, and wins me over. She has a somewhat na├»ve style similar to the drawings of illustrator Keri Smith, with the whimsy and charm of Souther Salazar. Probably my favorite part of the comic is about how boyfriend Sam picked a big booger out of his nose and stuck it in hers, which she had to pick out. I thought I terrorized my wife - something like that never occurred to me.

I Will Bite You by Joseph Lambert

I saw a lot of work by Center of Cartoon Studies students at MoCCA and Joseph is one of them. I Will Bite You is a mini comic about a kid who bites everything around him. In both theme and drawing style, it reminded me of children’s books circa 1910. It’s not drawn quite as well (but those guys were masters, and Joseph is a student), but that’s not to say it isn’t very capable work. The wordless storytelling is strong and clear, his pages are well designed and the book has that creepy, dangerous quality those old cautionary children’s books could have. I’d love to see a version with some lithographic coloring. The school probably isn’t set up for something like that, however.

wewedodo and Lobo Caliente by Molly Colleen O’Connell

Next to my table was one with 3 printmaking students from Maryland Institute College of Art. This table had a swarm around it all weekend and with good reason. They had a bunch of hand printed books and prints that were just gorgeous. I settled on 2 books by Molly Colleen O’Connell that are entirely screenprinted with 4 colors. There is a bit of a story to wewedodo, but frankly, I bought it for its appearance. It’s beautifully drawn, designed, and printed. Both books are remarkable and I would urge you to check out her website.

There were other books I wanted to discuss that stood out like Monica Gallagher’s Boobage (this was the only comic my non-comic reading wife read), G.B. Tran’s Mobile, the work of Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, and more, but I’ve already written close to 2000 words and have comics of my own to draw. Forgive me if you gave me something and I left it out. The general feeling I got from what I saw is that the bar is being raised in mini comics and artists are taking advantage of what can be done with a book in terms of printing and design when only printing a few hundred copies. It also looks like the drawing and craft of storytelling is getting stronger than what I’ve seen in the past. This would be a good time to be an anthology editor with so many talented, underexposed artists out there.