We have never missed a MoCCA Fest. Ever. When we were fans and Secret Acres was not even a glimmer in our little eyes, we were there. When we were comics pros with a little something on the side with the Highwater Books gang, we were there. When we were stalking the artists who would make Secret Acres, we were there. We have never missed a MoCCA as Secret Acres and we have always had a debut, sometimes two, at MoCCA every year of our existence and we likely always will. Partly this is because we’re not stupid enough to leave money on the table, and largely this is because MoCCA is New York City’s premier art comics festival and we take pride in that, damn it. Please keep all this mind if you plan on reading any further.
For the last few years, the exhibitors and the audience have grown more and more uncomfortable with the MoCCA Festival. This isn’t up for debate. Since the move from the beloved Puck Building, things have changed and not for the better. There is no way to please all of the people all of the time, but never has the time come when anyone was heard to say they were thankful that MoCCA had moved to the Armory.
Everyone was thankful when MoCCA moved to April and away from New York’s more stifling and muggy warmer months. Beyond that obvious improvement, it would appear no one is listening, so let’s repeat ourselves. Here’s what we suggested a couple years back: Lower the table fees. Let people in free. Have a sliding scale for exhibitors. Consider a curated festival. Turn it into an arts festival proper.
That post was re-blogged and retweeted more than anything else we have written on here. Other ideas were thrown into the mix along the way, like giving every exhibitor a year’s membership to the museum to remind folks it exists. We’d thought with attendance visibly down last year, that maybe the museum and the festival organizers might start paying attention. This year’s response? Silence and higher admissions prices for members and non-members alike, to the tune of $15. Per day.
Once upon a time, people would talk about who was at MoCCA. Now we talk about who isn’t there. We, meaning tiny, little Secret Acres got some odd, competitive jabs from some of the big boys who sit at the front of the Armory, apologizing for what they saw as poaching our gang while proudly admitting that their rather large staff doesn’t edit the books they publish. Hey, with the sheer volume of what they produce, we’d be surprised if anyone up there even remembers what they publish. But why us? Maybe it was because there was no Koyama Press, no Sparkplug, no Adhouse, no Picturebox and they had to pick on somebody.
Thinking about Picturebox being absent from MoCCA was interesting in itself. We wondered why, exactly, the biggest art comics publisher in the city wouldn’t show up for MoCCA. Was it because of the dustup after the museum didn’t credit creators at its Archie exhibit? Was it because the Picturebox co-production, the Brooklyn Comic and Graphics Festival, does just about everything right and has slurped up what used to be the lifeblood of the MoCCA Fest? Was Dan Nadel, the Picturebox captain, fed up with the name calling and bullshit from folks angry over MoCCA being criticized by the Comics Journal, which he edits? Any of those would be reason enough.
Maybe Picturebox doesn’t want to play to an empty house. Attendance was down last year. One might argue that is was flat, but it was down. This year, attendance was down by at least a third, and that’s a conservative estimate. If we were told attendance was down by 1,000 people, that would be suspicious. The story that attendance was up by 1,000 people is laughable. No one who was there could believe that. Which is more depressing, that attendance is dropping like a stone or that this fact can’t even be acknowledged by the festival’s organizers?
The real problem is the disconnect between the museum and the festival. This was never more evident than in the absurd, defensive comments following that TCJ article on the museum. Some anonymous but ardent supporter of the museum took it upon himself to lay the responsibility at the feet of us “indies,” claiming that we complain about the festival and the museum, but don’t support it. By the museum’s own admission, the festival is the sole fundraiser that keeps the struggling Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art alive. Guess who all of the exhibitors are? They’re us indies. That includes the bigger houses at the front of the room, too. The publishers at the front of the Diamond Previews catalog aren’t showing up at all, but the museum’s programming caters mostly to their fans. We like Archie, too, but that’s not going to get the folks on the floor of the MoCCA fest to feel any kind of ownership of the museum, which should be supporting them as much as the festival exhibitors support the museum.
The irony here is that we had a blast at MoCCA. The volunteers were their usual wonderful selves, and even included our pals from [insertgeekhere] who wound up interviewing our own Sean Ford about Only Skin on Sunday. Saturday started off so dead that we had plenty of time to meet and greet the cartoonists behind the tables, pick up new books to carry in our distro (coming soon) from Anuj Shrestha and Sean K, and we even discovered a brand new and very promising indie publisher in Hic and Hoc. Our sales did not stink and it was not our Worst MoCCA Ever, though it was our first step back at MoCCA.
Our big debut, Only Skin, got off to a nice start. We had Eamon Espey with us and we talked about his new book (coming later this year). We got to hang out with Charles Forsman (the guy behind the best ongoing series out there, The End of the Fucking World) and Melissa Mendes (she of Freddy Stories fame) all day and night. We got to eat dinner with the Dongery guys (an easy pick for Stars of the Show). We have one hell of a haul from MoCCA, thanks to folks like Domino Books, Closed Caption Comics and the Secret Prison/Suspect Device/Retrofit unholy trinity.
To quote Matt Thurber, who wasn’t at the nonexistent Picturebox tables, “It’s a room full of people I love, so I’m going to be there.” We agree and we will be back at MoCCA. They may not let us back in after reading this, but that would assume that they’re reading anything on this site. We hope they are, because the problems with the museum and festival are real and need fixing before there’s no MoCCA to come back to.
The real good time for us was at Bergen Street Comics, which is kind of our home away from home these days. We have to admit that we were worried about folks showing up on MoCCA’s Saturday night, but those thoughts went right out the window from the get. The Only Skin release party was practically an all-nighter. We wound up having to say good night to Darryl Ayo twice, who left us once to go to another party, but stopped in again since were still rockin’. Bergen Street are the people who aren’t carrying the Before Watchmen comics – and good for them. Tucker Stone is the guy who made it fun for us to have a pull list again. They totally made our weekend. We can’t thank them enough and many, many thanks to all the folks who came by to pick up Only Skin and get their ghost balloons.
Next up for us is TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Everyone loves this show. It’s pretty much perfect. You may have heard that we’ve got another new comic to drop at TCAF called Wayward Girls. The smart move would be to keep quiet about it until we get across the border. This is convenient because it’s a little hard to describe. It is the English language print edition of the Dutch webcomic, Slechte Meisjes by Michiel Budel. It’s beautiful, it’s a little nasty and it’s a lot of fun. We keep using the phrase “barely legal” when we talk about it, which we will stop doing after we tell you that you can get some at TCAF this weekend and pre-order some from the Emporium right now.
Michiel is in Holland, but Joseph Lambert, Mike Dawson and Sean Ford will be at the Secret Acres table with their books. Neither Sean’s Only Skin nor Mike’s Troop 142 have made it across the border before, and Joe probably doesn’t remember much from last year’s TCAF, so this ought to be interesting.
On a more pressing note, Secret Acres will be representing the United States of America on a TCAF panel on comics of the Commonwealth of Nations (that would include Canada, England and Australia, apparently, which we didn’t know because we’re Americans). If you are a real American cartoonist, send us pictures of yourselves and your work. The Aussies have gone and escalated things a bit by bringing their own slideshow. It’s strange that we are debuting our first international comic and doing it Canada, but USA gotta represent. We need you!
See you on the other side if we don’t get jailed by mounties on the way.
Barry and Leon
What happens when Bigfoot meets the Breeders? Why, our Scuttlebutt TCAF wrap-up, of course! You'd think we were kidding, but we're not. If it weren't for Bigfoot, we'd never had gotten to meet the Breeders and see them play Last Splash front to back way up in Toronto. This has nothing to do with comics, but then most of what happens at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival has nothing to do with comics. It's really about the dancing. And the singing. And the topless singing. Worry not, we did get Capacity 8 unboxed and there were no border issues for anyone (except for Casey). We even made it to our panel, first thing Saturday morning. That may have been perfect timing, because it was something like Between Two Ferns meets group therapy. We're lucky bastards, for sure, but we missed the Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon, singing Bette Midler's the Rose (and, no, he was not topless). If any of you have video of this, or pictures of Drawn and Quarterly's jean vests, please, oh, please get back to us. Read on...
Finally, we are hitting the asphalt for our first road trip of the year. It's a long drive to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and we are carrying some precious cargo as usual. Theo Ellsworth is being delivered via airmail, with fellow Acres Brendan Leach, Joe Lambert and Edie Fake meeting us there. Sean Ford has called shotgun, and Capacity 8 is in the boot. Capacity 8 is one of those surprise births with which we are regularly blessed here at Secret Acres. It's also the first time anyone in our gang has dropped a new story for a series that we've collected. Capacity, Theo's big, fat book, is a complete thing, for sure. The eighth issue is all new territory, but it's still all true. In a way. In that Capacity way. Oh, and we'll be kicking off first thing Saturday with a small press panel featuring pals and heroes, Koyama Press, Rebus Books and Grimalkin Press, too. This year's Acresmobile comic mule is the legendary Dash Shaw. Alas, last year's hitcher, MK Reed, is too lazy to make it to TCAF. Everyone else better be heading up - or catching Eamon Espey's Ishi's Brain show in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yeah, we're looking at you. We're standing right behind you. No, the other way. Anyhow, there's explicit instructions up on Scuttlebutt.
PEOPLE OF THE SEATTLE: Tonight's the night! Go watch Eamon Espey and Lisa Krause as they bring their show, Ishi's Brain, to Hugo House. Which is in Seattle. Ishi's Brain is based on Eamon's story of the same name from his Secret Acres collection, Songs of the Abyss. Lisa Krause is an artist and puppeteer of Bread and Puppet fame, among other things. It's quite a unique experience and pretty much beats the hell of out any old, regular reading. They are on tour all over the country, but there's something fitting about performing Ishi in Seattle. You know, because Seattle is strange and dark and there are scary woodlands and coffee. The Richard Hugo House is also something to see in itself. They have a writers' residence for zinesters (currently held by ZAPP), classes on seemingly everything, a focus on a local writing community and, of course, performances. Go. Have fun. Report back to us. Even the Stranger says to check it out. See...
Stranger things have certainly happened, but it would appear our man, Theo Ellsworth, will have not one, but two debuts at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Yes, we will have the eighth issue of his ongoing Capacity (the first since our enormous collection of that title), but we'll tell you more about that later. Meanwhile, we knew Theo was working on a comic for an anthology, but we didn't realize it was the fourth Alternative Comics anthology. You may or may not be aware, but Alternative Comics published some truly amazing things, like Jeff Lewis' True Swamp and Steven Weissman's Yikes (yes, this was before Fantagraphics took over). Then they took some time off. Now they're back. Also included in this anthology are Alternative Comics graduate James Kochalka, this guy named Craig Thompson, the adorable Noah Van Sciver and #cybergang leader, Alex Schubert, to name a few. Get up to TCAF because it's amazing, and Theo and most of the Alternative Comics crew will be there to sign the thing. Collect them all!
On a more important note than usual: 282 Broadway is where the party has been for, well, seems like forever now. What the hell is that, you ask? It's the home address for Domino Books and Revival House and Rebus. It's known sometimes as Bill K's Place, as in Bill Kartalopoulos. Just about everyone who has ever attended or exhibited at a comics event in New York City or, hell, ever drawn a comic while in city limits, has been exhausted, high, drunk or lost in that apartment while rubbing elbows with their heroes. We've written plenty on our blog, about their comics and their parties, too. Now they're moving out. We're telling you this because these guys need a new home. Go buy some comics from them. Forget the good cause, their books are amazing and we've been seethingly jealous of their good work, so if you like us, help them and get some great stuff for yourself. Everybody wins!