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Thank Heaven for Little Girls

IF YOU CAN’T say anything nice, et cetera, et cetera. Well, we can say plenty of nice things and though it isn’t in the true spirit of the internet, we’ll start with the niceties:

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.

Your Pals,

Barry and Leon



  • Sophia says:

    Thanks for this guys!

  • Dan Nadel says:

    Hey gents –

    I’m not exhibiting at MoCCA anymore (or at least until there’s a change of leadership) because because I, personally, didn’t feel good about supporting an organization that I don’t believe in. And I say that as someone who exhibited at the very first Festival. But MoCCA the fest and museum are very problematic. My own issues with it are well documented, and no one seems to care too much, so I won’t bother reiterating them. In 2010 and 2011, I sucked it up and went ahead with it because I felt like I had a responsibility to my company that outweighed my moral qualms.

    But this year I just couldn’t do it. I don’t like what MoCCA stands for and it’s not improving. It’s getting worse. I don’t like the Fest — I think it’s been mediocre for years now — and I really don’t like the museum. So why should I give money to it? Yes, I’m leaving earnings on the table, but I get peace of mind. But that’s just my personal decision. I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone for exhibiting. Small press publishing is brutal, and we all need every dollar we can get. And no, before anyone asks, this has nothing to do with my BCGF. I have no interest in being the only game in town. I’d much prefer if there were 2, 3, or even 4 fairs a year in NYC.

    But me, I’d rather pay twice the amount and support Printed Matter in the NY Art Book Fair. It’s a good fair and I’m supporting an organization that is essential to the art community in North America. That’s worth it. So… yeah, that’s why. And, frankly, I don’t feel the kind of love Thurber talks about. Never have. It’s a trade fair to me like all the other ones. Maybe that’s not charitable of me, but, y’know, I just want to sell books, pay my authors and pay myself.

    And here’s the thing no one talks about: We, as a community, could build a better non-profit. It’s hard, no doubt, but we could. There’s no reason we have to feel shitty supporting something we don’t like. It’s not necessary. If MoCCA went away tomorrow the medium would be none the worse. In fact, I don’t think anyone would notice, as the institution literally gives nothing to the medium itself. No collecting, no grants, no support. So… why do we perpetuate its existence? I dunno — probably something in the self-hating DNA — but I’ve reached a point where I don’t really care to.

    Ha ha, you guys asked!

    • Leon says:

      Of course! Grants! We need to add that to the list. As for us, it isn’t so much self-hatred (though clearly we are conflicted). It may be nostalgia, or gratitude for the ground the festival once broke. The fact that there are several solid art comics shows in New York every year is still a surprise for us. Maybe it’s time we got over it? Thinking about the NYABF or BCGF in relation to MoCCA doesn’t exactly speak well of the MoCCA festival, and comparing the museum to Printed Matter is rough. It would be great if MoCCA the museum and festival felt vital and necessary again. It may be unlikely, but it’s still possible. We hope.

      • Dan Nadel says:

        Sorry, my self-hatred sentence was garbled — I didn’t mean to cast aspersions — I have the same nostalgia and gratitude — I loved MoCCA the first few years as well. I meant that there’s a thing in comics where we let ourselves be convinced that shitty behavior is OK just because it’s the status quo. Tom Spurgeon has written about this really well. It runs from the underground right on up to Watchmen. It’s probably the only thing all the levels of the industry have in common.

        And, ok Printed Matter is a high standard. I’ll go smaller: Triple Canopy, Light Industry, the new Artist’s Space, White Columns in the last 10 years, Cabinet, etc. etc. That’s just in NYC, and only off the top of my head. There are so many great arts non-profits that work really hard to support the arts. Again, I’m not saying it’s even remotely easy — but it’s possible. Look what James Sturm did in Vermont!

        But the most important part of this conversation is: Who is the big publisher you’re referring to? Gossip-starved minds wanna know.

        • Leon says:

          Oh, no! Those big publishers can out themselves! And the self-hate is fascinating, yes. Was it Wertham? Hollywood got over the Red Scare, but comics publishers kept that stupid code around forever after like it was the mark of Cain. It sure did kill adult comics dead for decades. Just a thought. It’s weird. Someone please unpack that because the other arts are overflowing with self-love. Also, you are doing a wonderful job making MoCCA look ridiculous by comparison.

    • Jason Albright says:

      Are you kidding me ???
      Dan is nothing more than a money hungry independent who seems to think he can create his own events and run a for profit business that benefits no one more than himself.
      Speaking as someone who has worked with Dan in the past, I know his long term game plan. Frankly, he may be on to something as a so-called “renegade” in the community, but he doesnt have the business experience, acumen, or just enough general smarts to pull it off. His latching on to various media outlets gives him a bigger mouth than brain.
      If Dan doesnt like Mocca – then let him do his own thing and stop complaining about Mocca. What is the reason for all the complaining when he doesnt even come to the events !! The reason – he is blowing his own horn. Talk about fat ego’s !
      Hey Dan – give your blowhard comments a rest. Why not move to the west coast – you would be better suited with all the silicone there. You are a fake and blowhard.

      • Leon says:

        Hello, Jason. I admit there was some hesitation as to whether or not to post your comment. Just to be clear, we’re not happy about name calling and ad hominem objections to anything or anyone on this site. We did invite you to show up at our MoCCA panel, as we were curious to put a name, if not a face, to the Comic Guru aka Jonathan Lee von Strausberg III. That said, please refrain from personal attacks. We won’t continue to post them from you or anyone else, and that includes everyone associated with Secret Acres.

        I do wish you’d shown up sooner because the conversation’s over and everyone has moved on a bit. Sadly, that leaves me to respond and I am no Dan Nadel. Your call for Dan to move on from MoCCA and do his own thing is exactly what he’s done and continues to do. He does this quite well, and I’m sure anyone who has had the pleasure of participating in the events he plans would agree that their participation was certainly of great benefit to them and not solely, or even in large part, to Dan. I won’t speak for Dan as to his motivations, but I can confidently say that he is in no way lacking in general smarts. He’s certainly not dim enough to be an independent art and comics publisher because he’s money hungry. As independent publishers ourselves, we can safely advise everyone that it’s not the best path to fulfill one’s hunger for money.

        This brings me to a tactic of yours that I take personally, which is the use of the word independent as an insult. We do what we do because we love the comics and the artists that we publish. We’d like to do more to honor that love and the trust our artists have in us to serve them as their publisher. I have no idea what your experience has been working with Dan, but I would be surprised if most comics publishing companies owned by publicly traded, large, international conglomerates show the same kind of devotion to the artists they publish, and the same kind of respect for what those artists create, as Dan and most every independent comics publisher I’ve ever met. I suspect that most larger corporations may be more interested in profits, and less interested in art, as well. If we independents were in it for the money, we might actually be lacking the general smarts you that you claim Dan is missing.

  • Sean Ford says:

    Well said, Dan. I think there is a major disconnect between MoCCA and the artists/publishers who exhibit at their Festival. If the fest really is their biggest fundraiser of the year, as many have reported, then the disconnect is inexusable. MoCCA needs to support the artists who support it, whether by offering cheaper tables or representing them in the museum or a grant or something. MoCCA’s defense that they give artists a venue to sell and promote their work is deflated by the fact that there are fantastic free admission shows like TCAF and BCGF which also feature cheaper tables – meaning more customers and lower overhead for artists and small publishers.

    It’d also be nice if MoCCA put on an exhibition of anything remotely contemporary in their museum. The Mazzucchelli show was nice and is the only I can think of. How about a young artists show every year?

    • DerikB says:

      …and the Mazzuchelli show was curated by Dan.

      • Sean Ford says:

        Haha, didn’t know that. Is that true? Makes sense.

        I’d love to see a young cartoonists biennial of some sort, maybe it doesn’t have to be at MoCCA. But if I had means or time or whatever it’d be one of the first things I would organize.

  • J.T. Dockery says:

    “Hey, with the sheer volume of what they produce, we’d be surprised if anyone up there even remembers what they publish.”

    ZOING! Good one, fellas.

  • Great post, great reasoning, great comment from Dan. I’ve attended MoCCA several times, most recently I think in 2007 or so, but I’ve never even considered exhibiting there. Besides the wildly expensive tables and the move to the Armory, MoCCA’s public response–and often, complete lack of–is incredibly offputting. For an organization that seems to depend on donations/charity, they seem uniquely, almost proudly uninterested in the growing sense of dissatisfaction with them, how they organize the festival, and why attendance and exhibitor interest continues to wane.

    Speaking as a former convention organizer, to my mind attracting the best guests and exhibitors and treating them well is the first order of business. Most attendees are coming specifically to meet those guests or patronize exhibitors–unhappy guests broadcast that out into the community. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that that’s the opposite of free advertising, unless you want to advertise your own failings. Especially with SO many high quality events being organized around North America, it doesn’t make sense that the “premiere” indie comics event, located in the cultural center of the country, is the most phoned-in event on the calendar.

  • Chris Pitzer says:

    AdHouse hasn’t exhibited since 2009.

    We had hoped that our abstaining from the festival might cause a few to question the festival.

    I pretty much agree with what Dan has said. In fact, it was his thoughts that he shared on the Sunday of the 2009 show that made me stop and not automatically sign up for the 2010 show (infamously sans-dates).

    Anywaze… Excelsior and all that.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      And to close the loop, it was talking to Chris on the phone last year that pushed me to finally put my money where my mouth is. I shoulda taken a stand earlier. He was braver than I was, earlier than I was.

  • Frank Santoro says:

    Don’t forget MoCCA was the same weekend as Stumptown. For most east coasters this isnt a big deal – but for the few of us who try and be at most shows across the country – the fact that MoCCA horned in on an established date that Stumptown already nabbed is, is, is uh, another nail in the coffin.

    • Leon says:

      Another good point. This seemed to be a real dilemma for at least one small press publisher, who tried and failed to get a refund on his pre-paid MoCCA table fees after MoCCA announced that the festival was falling on the same weekend as Stumptown, to which they’d already committed to going.

  • Eric Reynolds says:

    This was a great, thought-provoking post and comment thread.

    The comments in that TCJ article by Mike Dean were as revealing as the story itself; it’s very curious that the only folks willing to defend MoCCA felt they had to do so anonymously.

    Hey, our tables are at the front of the armory. Uh-oh…

  • Teri-Ann Carryl says:

    Focusing on the positive, here:
    The volunteers were wonderful, weren’t they? Glad you enjoyed it!

    I do understand your concerns, but I am going to pull the 99% volunteer-based line here. The fest isn’t so much phoned in as it is a struggle to get done in the first place. Everyone tries their best. Everyone. Talk to the festival coordinators! They were there at MoCCA Fest! In bright pink shirts, even. Hard to miss ’em. Look for the “I haven’t slept in days” expression on their face.

    But, this isn’t to say that MoCCA can’t do better or doesn’t need help, because it does. Any help. All help. If you have concrete plans, new location ideas, feasible budgets, or know kind, knowledgeable people willing to be guides for heading in a new direction, please step forward. Get involved. Volunteer.

    Both the museum and festival still have so much potential. For the festival, who wouldn’t want a nicer location, cheaper tables, and free admission? (I would personally love it to be outdoors.) For the museum, who wouldn’t love to see contemporary, under-the-radar exhibits, more classes, and maybe even a bookstore? If these things were easy to make happen, though, we wouldn’t be discussing it now. They would just be.

    There’s no malicious intent or ignorance of feedback here, just a constant struggle. MoCCA may be failing to live up to your expectations, but how much is that because it’s the only comics museum you’ve really heard of and because MoCCA Fest was, pretty much, New York’s only large comics fest in its heyday?

    BCGF and TCAF are great, but give them ten years, and you’ll find something to complain about. Circumstances will change, the organizers will have to adjust, people will be displeased, and the honeymoon will end. This happens.

    This is getting long and, perhaps, overly defensive, I apologize. I’ve just been volunteering at MoCCA for 5 years now. I love it and the people behind the museum dearly.
    I want exhibitors, attendees, and volunteers to be thrilled about and proud of MoCCA, nothing less. This is why I volunteer.

    I should be explicit, though, and say that I don’t speak for the museum. These are just my thoughts.

    • Inkstuds says:

      TCAF has been running for several years and has a huge volunteer component. They have been adjusting by growing constantly and there have been hiccups with boiling rooms in a venue, awkward placement of tables, but those are addressed and improved upon each year.

      • Teri-Ann Carryl says:

        It wasn’t my intention to diminish TCAF in the least, if you felt that way. TCAF is doing well and I’m not contesting that at all.

    • Chris Pitzer says:

      Teri-Ann –

      I completely agree with your comments about the volunteers. My previous post was succinct because I don’t consider myself a writer.

      Like most everyone has already said, I have VERY fond memories of what the MoCCA Fest use to be. And I know we can’t go back to that… and that wasn’t really the issue that changed my mind.

      Heck, both Dan and myself have helped the museum in various capacities. I helped design a lithograph in the beginning. Dan helped curate shows.

      For me the issue is the current leadership. When the fiasco of 2009 happened, I voiced concerns. It took FOREVER to get a reply, and when it came it was through a phone call. During the phone call, promises were made that were never kept. I then observed other decisions that I felt were not the best solutions.

      So, yeah, I understand mistakes can happen. I just choose not to support further mistakes. I only have so much money and time for festivals. That’s what America is about. Put your money where you want.

      I have no ill will towards the festival, museum, volunteers, exhibitors or attendees. I hope everyone has a great time for years to come.

    • Barry says:

      Leon and I are both really happy that our MoCCA post has generated so much discussion. It’s been enlightening, reading what everyone has to say. I think most of the folks chiming in on this conversation could provide (and perhaps have provided in the past) valuable input into ways that the festival and museum could change or evolve to better suit its exhibitors and its benefactors. I do think, however, that there’s a palpable disconnect between the museum and the exhibitors.

      Even though we’re a small publisher, we are able to afford multiple tables at most of the shows we attend. This is not the case with MoCCA. Table fees and attendance preclude us from being able to have more of a presence at MoCCA even though it’s a hometown show for us, which doesn’t really make any sense. Organizers at TCAF and SPX have developed personal relationships with us and talk to us about their festivals and our books. That kind of communication has not occurred at MoCCA. I’m not suggesting that it’s a requirement for a successful festival, but it certainly helps everyone feel like they’re involved in the process and generates a ton of good will.

      We’re eminently approachable for ideas and suggestions, of course, but it seems clear that finding a venue better suited to the museum has been suggested multiple times and that might be the obvious place to start. As long as the festival is economically viable for us, we’ll continue to happily support it, but this year’s attendance did seem substantially down from last year, despite reports to the contrary.

      We think the volunteers are terrific and are extremely grateful for their participation. It’s been fun watching volunteers turn into comics professionals over the years. We do know kind, knowledgeable people far more capable than us of guiding the museum in a new direction, some of whom are commenting here, but clearly they feel betrayed. With a sincere invitation from MoCCA, I’m sure these people and many others would participate in turning things around.

  • Damien Jay says:

    A non-MoCCA comment here. (Although the whole thread is very interesting.) Just wanted to chime in to say it’s amazing that you’re publishing Wayward Girls! I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I love that site. Weird weird weird, and beautifully drawn. I never would have thought that it would make it to print, but on hearing this news, it makes sense that you’d be the ones to do it.

    • Leon says:

      Surely, someone else would have picked it up if we had not. It’s too good. And strangely wonderful. Where’s the Natural World at?


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