WERE you wondering if we’d take it easy on MoCCA because our names were on the steering committee? If so, wonder no more. We looked over our previous MoCCA wrap-up posts before settling it to write this one. From the first Armory year onward, they become increasingly vicious. It isn’t so much that our criticisms were unfounded, but the mounting frustration from the lack of response from any of the festival organizers was ammunition for some of the more zingy zingers. We could have been nice about it. We were not. We’re not apologizing now and we aren’t letting ourselves off any hooks, either.
Yes, we were on the steering committee (and we talked about why just last week). This was not the Secret Acres Show, however. The jokes we got all MoCCA from folks telling us we did a good job were funny at first. Okay, they’re still funny. Let’s get this straight: We are not festival organizers. Considering how wiped out were just thinking about the show, there’s no way we’re cut out to be actual show organizers. Maybe it would be different if were doing this from the ground up, but we were strictly advisors. In that capacity, we want to hear all of your complaints (though a little praise would be nice) because we’re in a position to relay them to the folks who really do run the show, the Society of Illustrators.
One supposedly fun thing we’ll never do again: moderate a panel. Many deep thanks to Heather Benjamin, Zach Hazard, Mickey Z and (again) Annie Koyama for bailing us out. It’s easy to be on a panel and be snarky and provocative, but we’re just too damn anxious to get up there and make it happen. Seriously, it fucked us, socially, all weekend. Lucky for us, we’re a trio at the moment, so we’ll let Casey Gonzalez give you the Party Report.
But first, let’s see how the new administration did in answering the questions we put to MoCCA on this blog over the years…
Q: Simply put, MoCCA is too fucking expensive, for the exhibitors and the fans.
A: This has not changed at all. MoCCA is still too fucking expensive. It’s difficult to go knives out on the Society for this since the show was locked in to the Armory and the Armory is too fucking expensive. Pardon the F-bombs, folks.
A: This is for sure still true. We’re not sold on the idea that MoCCA is some kind of media hub for anyone. The identity crisis of this show is not over by any means. There are some things that definitely do help, like the new prizes, which we loved, but more on that shortly. To the point, MoCCA does not need to be about hits in local papers and local news, though they don’t hurt. The valuable exposure that cartoonists find in any show is almost always community-based. Getting your peers (and publishers micro and macro) to notice your work is key, but this isn’t what the previous administration (and possibly the current one) were thinking about when using the word exposure. Secret Acres doesn’t give a shit if MoCCA gets a shout out on Comedy Central, but that’s us.
Q: If you’re going to limit the audience to the hardcore by the Armory move, then, for the love of Benji, expand the show. It shouldn’t be strictly about D&Q, Fanta, Secret Acres and the publishers above and in-between. Nor should it be for people with their character platform multi-media crap and huge banners in comic sans fonts and Photoshop gradients, hoping Disney’ll notice and not giving a shit how much money they lose.
A: MoCCA is about publishers and has been for a while. There were signs of change here, at least. Gregory Benton‘s B+F was the consensus Book of the Show. It’s a self-published comic. The first ever MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence were awarded to Mr. Benton, Kim Ku, Kenan Rubenstein, Andrea Tsurumi and our pal, Jane Mai, with honorable mentions going to Simon Arizpe and Nick Offerman. That kinda rocks. They got Wacom tablets and trophies. For all the bullshit we heard from other paranoid, bitter publishers about the jurors (though there seemed to be some confusion as to who was on the steering committee and who was on the prize jury) and the eligibility issues (yes, the youth and pluck part), you can’t mess with the winners here. Though we’re sure people will try. The prizes were a very good thing. Still, there is that problem of MoCCA being a publisher’s show, not an artist driven show, but this is progress.
Q: MoCCA ought to take a page from the new guy, BCGF. Let people in free, or cheap at least. Consider who gets table space. Have a sliding scale. Pantheon can pay $500 a table, no problem, but make a section for the little guys. And not the crappy little guys, either. Invite folks. Turn some others down. Make it an arts festival proper.
A: This raises the Big Question again, as to what the MoCCA festival is supposed to be. Yes, you need enormous houses like Pantheon and First Second, and the Drawn and Quarterlies and Fantagraphics of the world to show up, because they bring the Chris Wares, Paul Popes, Kate Beatons and all the Hernandezes you can find to the show. You still have to get people in the door and those guys get people in the door. The entry fee for MoCCA is a killer. The big boys are not coming to play unless they’re making money off your show. That means the aisles need to be filled, not just the tables. The sliding scale idea was in play for the new MoCCA, but until you let people in free (or real cheap), a show of this kind is fucked. Unless, of course, you want to steer MoCCA into San Diego Comic Con territory, in which case we’ll drop out and leave the floor to Drawn and Quarterly and Disney.
Q:We can whine, yes, but an even better MoCCA depends less on the museum folks and more on all of us behind the tables and walking the aisles.
Q: It is no longer the one and only New York show and that may be changing things as well.
A: With the rise of BCGF, MoCCA’s days seemed numbered. This is absurd. It’s New York. It can handle more than one show and it does (like New York Comic Con, which, please kill us if you ever see us on that floor). The Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Festival knows what it is. We were talking about that show with Annie Koyama, our MoCCA table neighbor and MoCCA panelmate. We agreed that BCGF was the show that got us best. If it ever goes away, we’re in trouble. Koyama Press had a good MoCCA, though, despite not having any big gun debut at the ready. MoCCA’s got a focus problem. The complaint was made that a good ten percent of the tables were devoted to a kind of advertising, people with iPads with nothing to sell. That has to stop. That’s NYCC marketing type hype and they have that covered. What does MoCCA cover?
Q: 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?
A: Attendance is still on the decline. We had our worst ever sales at MoCCA. We hedged our bets, though. Normally, we debut a big, fat book at the show, but with the diminishing returns of last year (the first year we’d ever made less money at MoCCA than the year before), we were cautious. Still, we were down a good third of last year’s take and a good half from two years ago. This is what happens when it’s too expensive to get in the door. Especially when there are free shows with their own audience. We’re looking at the Armory here. The Society did the absolute best with that space. The lighting was still harsh, but the division of the space (with the perplexingly controversial red curtains) made a big difference, the art show in back was fantastic, the lounge, the cafe, the panel audio and video, the volunteers were all top notch. That’s as far it goes in that building. Remember what happened to APE, with its crap location and novelty toy tablers? We don’t, either.
Q: The real problem is the disconnect between the museum and the festival.
A: Goodbye and good riddance to you, Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art.
We love the Society of Illustrators. They’re great people. Not good, great. We’re looking at getting some memberships even, and not just for the dining privileges. Convincing the Society to scale back and change the nature of the show might be tough, though there’s no question that they aren’t more responsive, and smarter, than the outgoing administration. They’re sending out a survey and they are looking for feedback. If you have ever had any reason to trust us or what we write on this blog, do this: LET THEM HAVE IT. They’ll listen. In any case, if the steering committee changes hands for next year, we’ll be happy not to hear it from other publishers next year. Criticism is fine, but we’re lost as to how to address a lot of what’s been said, some of which has been baffling in its hostility. Don’t worry; we’re tough, so lets us have it, too.
Now, the Party Report, brought to you by the newest of the Acres gang, Casey Gonzalez:
In years past I’ve stared at Barry and Leon longingly from across the table—just another plebeian in the crowd. I’ve flirted with them at BCGF and poured them champagne at many a Bergen Street release party, but at this year’s MoCCA I finally squeezed my way behind the Acre’s table, accidentally knocking Jane Mai’s Award of Excellence over on the way (sorry, Annie!).
My MoCCA weekend started on Friday night at the Hic and Hoc party, where cartoonists crowded children and Knicks fans away from the bar at Park Slope Ale House. My pal Joe Lambert was in town from White River Junction, and dashing Secret Acres mainstay Sean Ford bought us our first round. My favorite part of con season is catching up with comics buddies and meeting new ones. I met French phenom Boulet and was totally starstruck. He broke the ice with a little scatological humor and charmed me every time we crossed paths this weekend. I didn’t make it out from behind the table in time to grab his 24-hour comic the Darkness before it sold out. Ah well, there’s always TCAF.
Team Acres met outside the Armory at the crack of ten to get set up. Well, Leon did all the heavy lifting while I tried not to drip cream cheese on his borrowed Benz. This year’s festival promised a lot of big changes, and when the doors opened none of us knew what to expect. Fifteen dollars at the door is nothing to sneeze at. Had I not been working the con, I’m not sure that my broke ass could have attended. One of the bigger gaffs was that the only map of the show was in a five dollar ‘souvenir’ program.
The crowd early on was made up of familiar faces, and even at its thickest, it didn’t match or exceed years past. The high cost of tabling also meant fewer mini-comics and more…crap. All that being said, the Armory looked better than I’ve ever seen it, and I was eager for improvement over the stifling, poorly lit, nerd stank filled cesspit of years past.
I headed to dinner with Oily Comics’ Chuck Forsman, and the inimitable Matt Seneca. We glommed on to an expedition into Korea Town led by MoCCA Guest of Honor Jillian Tamaki. My bibimbap was off the chain, but the real treat was breaking bread with so many folks whose comics I’ve loved for a long time. I went back to the Armory for what I knew would be a high school dance style after party. It didn’t disappoint. Paul Pope warned my boyfriend not to cross me, and MoCCA volunteers handed out sweaty bottles of Brooklyn Lager. I glimpsed Jen Vaughn’s bright mane across the room and followed her to a bar nearby. The Bat Signal must have been blazing because the entire post-MoCCA flock ended up there. I knocked a few (too many) back with Nate Bulmer et al, and listened fascinated as two sorority girls—the bar’s normal denizens—did blow in the bathroom stall next to mine and wondered aloud, “But do you think the Wolverines will REALLY win?”
I slunk in an hour late on day two, and hoped that Daddy didn’t notice. Once behind the Acres table I had the special pleasure of spending time with Robert Sergel, author of our MoCCA debut comic, Eschew 3. He’s the strong silent type, as his comics let on, and he was a great tablemate for day two. Eschew 3 was our number one seller this weekend. The crowd was bustling in the afternoon, and some old dude who was charmed by Leon’s panel bought every single Acres title – though that may have been our sales peak for the whole weekend. The show ended with an abrasive blast from an air horn. MoCCA 2.0 was over.
Though Leon gallantly led the charge, I didn’t have the energy to make it to the Beat/Comixology party. Sunday night found me in Brooklyn, shoving falafel into my face with a table of bleary-eyed cartoonists. This year’s MoCCA wasn’t exactly a brave new world, but it was the first in what I hope will be a new era of greater transparency and better ‘tudes.
Thanks, Casey! If you’re still here, and we bet you are, stalkers, there’s some big things happening right now. If you missed Eamon Espey‘s performance of “Ishi’s Brain,” the beautiful and moving puppet show/concert/dramatic art piece based on the story of the same name from his Secret Acres collection, Songs of the Abyss, well, you can rectify that issue right now. Eamon and Lisa Krause, of Bread and Puppet fame among other things, are on a national tour and likely making stops near you. More details here.
In other news, Joe Lambert got nominated for a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society for his brilliant graphic novel, Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller. He’s up against some guy called Chris Ware, who did a book about buildings or something. Our man Edie Fake took over the Art:21 blog, which is real treat for us because we loved that PBS series almost as much as we love Edie himself. Last, and not least at all, Theo Ellsworth’s the Understanding Monster Book One was chosen as a book of honor by the Penn Center for the Book’s Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novel of the Year. This is a real treat for us and for Theo. The Understanding Monster is a beautiful book, yet it’s so personal and so idiosyncratic that this kind of recognition and resonance makes us all a little more hopeful than we were before. And who won the Lynd Award? That Ware guy! Again! Who the hell does he think he is?!?
Speaking of Theo, he’ll have a new book out for the Toronto Comics Art Festival. It’s called Capacity 8. Sound familiar? We’ll back in a few to remind you.
Barry and Leon and Casey
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We're back on our Scuttlebutt blog with our Comic Arts Brooklyn report, and our Brooklyn Ale House party report and our Grumpy Bert show report and our year-end report and a tiny, little look ahead to next year. CAB is, for us and lots of other comics people, the start of the holiday season, so we're a little Auld Lang Syne-ish about the show. There were hiccups this time around, and no Cartoon House (see the post for an explanation of that) but CAB still has the best exhibitors at any show, making Brooklyn proud. Speaking of heart-warming, many thanks to the folks at Grumpy Bert. Someone came all the way from Philadelphia just to see Theo and the brand new second book of his Understanding Monster trilogy. That's the kind of amazing that made 2014 our best year ever. We owe everyone a big thank you for reading our books and, really, for reading. You guys are the best. Normally, in our last post of the year, we babble about all the new stuff coming your way. We can't do that anymore. We're joining the likes of Koyama Press and Uncivilized Books and Nobrow at the good distributorship, Consortium. Sure, that's business stuff, but it's a big deal for Secret Acres. Still, we did manage to sneak at least one 2015 comic into this final blathering. Read on...
Comic Arts Brooklyn is today! I'll be signing at the Secret Secret Acres table!
Join us and Theo Ellsworth and everybody else tonight for a gallery show and some Comic Arts Brookyln pre-gaming at Brooklyn’s own Grumpy Bert! You can beat the CAB crowd to the punch and get your very own signed and sketched copy of Theo’s latest, the Understanding Monster Book Two. Book Two picks up where Book One left off, following Pharoah Tellitome, Inspector Gimble, Turtletree, Master Sponko and Minnow on their collective quest to awaken Izadore and re-establish his identity and memory. Get to Grump Bert early enough and you can really lord it over folks: the first ten to arrive get a limited edition Theo print made just for tonight’s show. Of course, there will be free beer and bubbly, too. What more is there to life?