Home Conventions Events MoCCA ’09: How can something so cool be so hot?

MoCCA ’09: How can something so cool be so hot?


Hope Larson at the smashing party she organized.

Okay, this is our BIG Post-MoCCA post, and to break up the ranting we’ll intersperse it with a few of our less crappy pictures.

First, a few of my own notes. I think the Armory was actually not such a bad venue for the show — had it been a cooler day out, I suspect that more people would have been inclined to merely sit back and enjoy its eccentricities and unique architectural details. Like the Puck Building, it’s old and historic, but unlike the tenants of the Puck Building, apparently the National Guard doesn’t have the dough to install central AC for a space the size of an airplane hangar.

And, having everyone in one room on one floor was much better than the crazy quilt layout of the Puck. There was so much more room to stand around and talk and gather and read comics and drink water and just kick back. AND having the panels just a stone’s throw away was a HUGE improvement.

That said, while it was an okay venue in theory, several things made it not so good in practice.

High ceilings ascend into blackness.

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Okay, so a show made up of people sitting behind small wooden tables selling little pieces of paper does look kinda flea-marketish when plopped down into a dark airplane hangar. The Puck Building had classy floor length white curtains, diffused lighting and well maintained hardwood floors. This was not like that antique Gatling guns and copper-seating review stands aside.

I often maintained that it was impossible to take a bad picture of someone in the Puck because of the great lighting. That was not so in the Armory. Throw in hangovers, dehydration, and seven hours of sweat and you have a bunch of people who didn’t look so glowing. And they knew it. I think the Puck gave everyone’s self esteem a boost and the Armory kind of shot it down again.

Evan Dorkin expanded on his thoughts posted in a comment here and really buries the show. All of his complaints are legit, and the fact that he didn’t sign up again for last year is very telling.

Equally telling is Dave Roman’s equally negative report: Too hot to handle. Even allowing for Dave having had his magazine shut down the day before, he’s one of the most positive, level-headed people we know in this business, and he had some serious problems:

I’m a huge fan of the event and also a strong supporter of the MoCCA organization, who puts on the festival (as well as other great events in NYC throughout the year). It’s a thankless job run by hardworking volunteers. It’s easy to complain about what goes wrong, and not enough people stop to appreciate all the things that go right. Considering how many new people are running things this year, and since I generally like the people involved, I was ready to give the MoCCA crew a free pass. The show opening an hour late and all the panels getting shifted around certainly sucked. But there is a learning curve, and I assume the volunteers scrambled to right any wrongs.

But by mid Saturday, for the first in 15 years of exhibiting at cons, I seriously contemplated packing up my stuff and going home. Granted, having just found out that Nick Mag [the best job in the world] was coming to end, did not put me in a great mindset. But I seriously tried to embrace the changes and enjoy myself. As an SVA grad, I have fond memories of the neighborhood, and thought the historic significance of the Armory was cool. But once you are inside, you might as well be in any old warehouse. The inside of the Armory has none of the charm that made MoCCA feel unlike any other convention. I truly believe the Puck Building location helped people rethink comics! Is it a coincidence that the start of the MoCCA Art Fest coincided with the NY Publishing world suddenly becoming more interested in graphic novels and comics in general?

Much more in the link.

Luckily these guns were not loaded, or there might have been strife.

Someone I don’t know at all named Joshua Smeaton summed up the complaints regarding organization of the show that I heard over and over again:

There is no info on the website about Art Fest. I believe it’s the end of April before they get around to putting some very basic info up. Table assignment’s were not sent out until 4 days prior to the show. Most exhibitors like to share this kind of stuff and do self promotion. This show is the museums big fund raiser for the entire year. You’d think they would want as much info and promotion about it as possible.

Also this show is not cheap. For exhibitors or attendees. Part of that is because it’s New York and everything is expensive and part of it is because it’s about raising funds for the Museum. But for the amount of money they’re pulling in I don’t think it’s too much to expect such basic information in a timely manor. Yes this is a new venue and sure there are going to be some kinks. But they’ve been doing this for 7 years I think. It’s not like they’re starting from scratch.

Cheese Hasselberger of House of 12 joins in the pile-on:

So obviously, the lack of any AC is my biggest gripe (also maybe more then 1 garbage can for the entire hall would have been a good idea), but a close second is the announcement of next year’s table prices; $400 a table. And that’s the early bird price, making the regular price, what? $500? For many of MoCCA’s most ardent, core audience it’s the self-published comic, or mini or zine or hand crafted silk-screened one-off that makes the show special. How are those people supposed to make the table cost back? Or even close? For much of the room ‘making table’ is considered a success. At $300 it’s doable only if you huckster your ass off for 2 days, but $400-500? There’s no way. No one is ever going to make 400 beans selling a $.50 mini. They are cutting out the very people who made the show what it is. And that’s a shame. If I’m not mistaken, MoCCA 2010 is now the most expensive ‘small press’ show in the country… during the greatest economic nightmare in three generations… with print comics sales losing ground to web comics day by day… with no AC… and one garbage can…

OUCH. (Emphasis mine.)

Obviously there are some serious problems here. I heard, anecdotally, from several different people that air conditioning IS available for the Armory but it comes at a BIG cost. There were different figures, so let’s round them off and say the ballpark is $20K. (I often see giant AC truck pumping air in through an Andy Dufresne-sized pipe for the fashion and high end antique shows that are held regularly at the building, so it’s definitely doable.) That’s 50 of those $400 tables, so…a sizable amount.

I have no idea what other venues are available for what price, but that’s what event planning is all about. In their nostalgia for the Puck Building, a lot of people have forgotten that it is often hot. I’m not going to look at my old posts, but I must have used “Things Heat Up At Mocca!” as a post title every year — summer in NYC is hot and sweaty, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that heat must be taken into account.

I suspect that if MoCCA continues in June no matter where it is held, ladies will be fanning themselves, and gentlemen will be mopping their brows.

The general disorganization of the show — well documented by exhibitors and bloggers — is another matter and I won’t take time to point fingers or scold or whatever. Like Dave said, anything that’s volunteer is hard to do. It should be noted, though, that people kept going on about how great TCAF was, and not just because Toronto in May is perfect weather. They said that because Chris Butcher and Peter Birkamoe, the TCAF show runners, are PASSIONATE about the show, and PASSIONATE about comics. That kind of passion takes a lot out of you, and it takes a lot of time. I raved about the recent MeCAF show in Portland, ME, and so did everyone else. Many people said that for a first time show, the organization was flawless. Of course it was much smaller, but it was obvious that a lot of planning had gone into it.

It was obvious to everyone that MoCCA planning was not all it could have been. I did have one rather disturbing conversation with a MoCCA board member who, when I suggested that a lot of people were hot and cranky, said, incredible as it seems, that that was the first he’d heard of it. He did allow that perhaps people were telling me one thing and him another, but to suggest that the heat problem wasn’t obvious is risible. This kind of denial isn’t going to help anyone solve anything.

With Stumptown and TCAF winning so many plaudits, and APE and SPX running smoothly, MoCCA has a lot to live up to. And here my hometown pride steps in. Portland, OR and Toronto are great comics towns, but New York is second to none. The talent and diversity of the cartooning scene — and the designers, fine artists, illustrators and writers — is staggering. The programming at MoCCA was simple stuff, some of it seen days before at the Strand. And you know what? It still slayed. We NEED a MoCCA that reflects and enhances that. I love New York Comic-Con, but it’s not a show that makes economic sense for the indie and art comics publishers. I’m sad about that, but I always think “Well, we have MoCCA for that.” Now, most of the publishers I talked to are reconsidering their participation. And we can’t lose it.

Is it possible that these publishers will soften their heats when they see how much money they made at MoCCA? Possible, but given the rising costs, still a problem. To veer back into positive territory, despite all the heat and griping, MoCCA was still a VERY successful show for most of the publishers and artists who attended. But as it stands now, its future shape is very much something that needs to be hammered out.

For the negative comments I’ve spotlighted, there are dozens of posts that raved about the great, fun, beautiful, wonderful aspects of the show. Because you know, at night, it’s a different world, go out and find a girl. Some of MY highlights:

• Thanks to everyone who thanked me for my Dining Guide. It seems to have helped a lot of folks, and I’m pleased. Everyone liked the banh mi! Plus when you see Chris Staros and Gary Panter eating lunch at your usual workday hangout, it’s kinda cool.

• Just to reiterate, the Armory is weird and funky as hell! If people hadn’t been so distracted by the heat, they might have had more fun with the fact that the building contains both an old school wooden phone booth and a crystal cross.

• There were so many people I didn’t even know were at the show, like Hellen Jo and Kean Soo and Renee French and a kabillion others. MoCCA is a wonderful stew of friends and colleagues, and I’m glad I got to spend time with at least a few of them. At the risk of being soppy, a show like this is a reminder of how many smart, talented and kindhearted people I know, and being around them is a real privilege.

• The partying was strong and hard. Every one was well attended and fun in their own way. At the CBLDF Karaoke Party, we got to say hi to a lot of peeps, including Blog@’s Lucas Siegel, with whom we’ve had spirited blogospheric back and forths, but in person it turns out we’re pals, so it’s all good!

• MoCCA’s foreign contingent continues to be one of its strongest elements. The Scandinavian — and now Danish — comics on display were stunning.

Jerry Moriarty and Alvin Buenaventura pose with the new THE COMPLETE JACK SURVIVES.

• At the end of the show, I had a fantastic conversation with Jerry Moriarty, the artist of JACK SURVIVES, which came out in a gorgeous collected edition from Buenaventura. At 71, Moriarty, best known as a painter and art teacher, is a veteran of the RAW era, but he had some fascinating, to me anyway, observations on the development of the comics scene in New York. He recalled going to early Phil Seuling cons of the ’70s as a fine artist, but being inspired by the fantastic mix of cartoonists, artists and filmmakers even then. “We were always being wonderfully surprised by the unexpected,” he told me. Most folks think that the “comic-con” as a multimedia meeting place is a recent development, but clearly it has always been there. He also mentioned the Armory as a plus in that showing his comics in the same building where Marcel Duchamp introduced America to Modern Art was very fitting.

A bittersweet moment as Tim Leong packs it up for the last time.

• I must extend my thanks to Tim Leong, who let me sit with him when I needed a break or to eat my breakfast. Tim had bought a table last year before he knew Comic Foundry was going to shut down, so it was very much a swansong for him.

And now random pics:

Friday night’s misty sidewalk party in BBurg.

Tucker Stone has the CBLDF Karaoke crowd totally rocking out! What a night! Thanks for coming out.

David Mazzucchelli signs his epic ASTERIOS POLYP. It was an immediate sellout both days.

The mystery of the crystal cross.

We saw several people actually making calls on the phone.

Michael Kupperman and Jason! Jesus, what if a bomb dropped?
How would we laugh or cry anymore?

Some of the Finnish crew.

Make mine a Danish! I had these guys’ names but lost them, of course.
IDs in comments welcome. Also, apparently they read The Beat in Denmark?
I’m honored.

Kate Beaton and Randall Munroe…side by side for the whole show. Yow!

Those WPA* murals in the panel rooms were FANTASTIC.

More surreal vistas.

Ah, New York, you will always have my heart. There is nothing better than leaving at the end of a busy, busy show and walking three blocks and being right in our own home. Until next year.

* I realize that some people may not know what the WPA is, or, like me, may have heard the phrase for years and not known what it is. Basically, during the Great Depression, with unemployment at historic levels (even worse than now) the Government set up the Works Progress Administration to hire people to build roads, fix bridges, and even create public art. Influenced by such contemporary artists as the great Mexican visionary Diego Rivera, the WPA artists created murals and sculptures all across the nation, many in this kind of epic institutional art-meets-Henry Darger-esque style. If for no other reason than getting to see these cool murals, I will always be grateful for the experience of MoCCA Fest ’09.

  1. Put me down as another person who, after exhibiting at Mocca (and loving it) every year since the year it opened, decided not to sign up for next year. For a variety of reasons, but two very big ones being the new venue and the tendency to not be listed as an exhibitor in the public info, despite talking to organizers about it many times over the years.

    Breaks my heart.

    brian w

  2. I really do hope MoCCA gets its act together next year. I actually think the Armory has potential as a venue, they just have to figure out a way to make it work better somehow (most likely by making the date slightly earlier, maybe late May). I loved all the old army stuff, not to mention the neighborhood! I am bummed that so many people are not going to exhibit next year, but hopefully it will be a wake-up call for the organizers.

  3. I really would love to see the MoCCA art fest make a comeback. I think everyone WANTS it to be great. And I’m glad that attendance was still strong enough to make it a success for a lot of people (myself included).

    But I also agree with those saying $400+ makes it no longer a small press friendly show. A real shame because the festival started as NY’s answer to the cancelled 2001 Small Press Expo. You really need to have some graphic novels, t-shirts, toys etc to make back that kind of investment. –But personally, if the increase in table costs goes toward central air I’d probably say it’s worth it. Health over profits!

  4. Maybe if they pushed it closer to the colder months (not near NYCC though) it would be a better outlet, but then again, MOCCA loses it’s charm of being during the nicer weather, outside at least.

    And yeah, I’m one who thinks they should’ve stayed at the Puck.

  5. I agree with all the slams, and I don’t want to because before, MoCCA’s always been my favorite show, but the past few years the price hikes have been making me shake my head. No do-it-yourself’er could make that $ back. And now with the bad organization and terrible venue… We’re gonna try it next year because we will be having new books, but if it is anything like this year we’re dropping out. I almost feel like there needs to be an alternative small press show in NY now.

  6. While I’m not stoked about the $400+ tabling fee for next year, I do feel obligated to point out that most people who are selling $0.50 minicomics do not buy a whole table just for themselves. I would say that most minicomics creators are sharing the table with a friend (or two or three!) bringing the cost down to $100 – $200 a person, which is more manageable.

  7. I think everyone here has covered all of the important points, so I would just like to suggest that the Crystal Cross might be a colossal Sword in a Stone?

  8. I did not know how limited the funds were for creators who are showing their works at these shows. When I heard that a table at this convention in NYC goes for $400 for the weekend, I felt that it was inexpensive.

    Presumably they get a table that faces onto the main flow of convention traffic, and not down some abandoned hallway toward the loading dock or something.

    I am surprised that creators and self publishers are not in a position to have a promotional budget for this kind of excellent opportunity for exposure. But I do understand that some of the hand made comics and 50 cent mini comics are labours of love, and every cent that is spent creating and selling them is coming from someone’s own meager after-tax income, or subsidized by loans from loved ones.

    Thanks for making me more aware of the financial realities of this activity.

  9. Addendum: There were 257 tables at MoCCA, the early bird non-sharing price was $350 for 2009, making it $89,950. Now if you got a half table, which most folks do, they charged you $200 each ($250 ea. for 2010), bringing the total much closer to $100Gs. You would think for $100,000 they could pony up more then two floor fans and one garbage can.

    New York has many indie friendly comic shops who carry most of the NYC crowd’s stuff; if NYers want my stuff they get it at Hanley’s or FB or wherever, making the MoCCA Fest a wash for us. I do it because I’ve been a MoCCA exhibitor and supporter since its inception. Hell, two Team 12 members had their wedding at MoCCA! We consider the museum a treasure. That said, my loyalty has limits, and $400 a table is pushing it. If next years show is as badly managed as the last two, and still has the complete lack of resources (no AC, no advertising, terrible web presence and again, more then one trash can) I’m jumping ship and taking any exhibitors I can convince with me.

  10. Is pushing the show back to April or May not an option? At least then open doors and windows would cool the place down considerably.

    I did like that all the tables where in one large open space this year though, even if it did seem sort of flea-markety.

  11. I’m scratching my head as to why Al thinks that every artist has a promotional budget for their work? Or how MoCCA should be a promo show?
    Honestly, while the foot-traffic was OK, it wasn’t big enough to count as a promotional effort. Maybe 2000, maybe 3000 people? Was there attendance numbers released for it?
    Anyhow, the costs weren’t just $400. It’s that much for the table. Then throw in transportation to New York. Add in lodging. And then you’ve got to eat. New York isn’t cheap.
    And while you can scrimp and cut costs, crash at a friends place and find cheap transportation, you’re looking at a total cost to a table at a minimum of $600. Made worse when you account for every piece of merch on the table costing production money. Realistically, a creator would need to pull in ~$1000 in revenue to cover the cost of doing MoCCA, and the crowd did not have that kind of money.
    Meanwhile, some of the bigger shows out there, including anime shows and such, cost drastically less in tables, lodging, food, ect. Anime Expo, if you do your paperwork correctly, costs $100 for a table, plus $50 or so per badge. Even with my full roster of helpers, I’m only paying $300 for an artist alley spot. When factored against the massive flow of foot traffic, I’d gladly pay for that.
    San Diego Comic Con is also around the $300 a table rate, and again, a far better chunk of foot-traffic.
    Really, if MoCCA wants to charge $400 for a table, they need to provide WAY more foot-traffic. I saw no outside advertisement of there being a show on. I don’t know if there was any advertisement locally, as I’m not in the area. And the heat really, really killed things. People aren’t going to walk around and casually shop when it’s 90 degrees. They’re going to go outside, where it was about 80 degrees, and go shop at the Pinoy festival two blocks over (which had lots of tents, signs and things going on to scream “there’s something going on here.”

  12. I came from New Zealand to exhibit at MoCCA. I made a decent amount of money, met a bunch of fans, hopefully created a bunch of new ones and had a nice time.

    But it was hot and next year is too expensive for me. Also I almost was unable to attend this year as I couldn’t find out the day soon enough to book an international flight at a reasonable rate. If MoCCA wants to have more international attendees this is a problem.

    San Diego and HeroesCon bent over backwards to help me but half the time with MoCCA I didn’t receive an e-mail response to my questions. In the more immediate lead-up, information was more forthcoming.

    I had a GREAT time, I would hate to miss out on next year, but financially it may become just too much of a stretch for me. Hopefully they read this and take it to heart.

  13. I’m so sick of all the whining about MoCCA all over the internet. It’s New York in the summer, it’s gonna be hot. How that is relevant to any of the work actually premiering at MoCCA is beyond me. All this complaining about the elements really undermines the whole concept of people getting together to celebrate this industry. Now we all just look like a bunch of whiney bitches.

  14. But the “whining”, as you put it, isn’t just about the heat. (altho it’s convenient to try and boil all the gripes down to that…)

    it is a shoddily run, overpriced show in a bad facility.

  15. “The programming at MoCCA was simple stuff…” strikes me as a little patronizing. A lot of work went into putting the program together. I’m glad that the programming “slayed” but organizing two days of solid programming is never “simple stuff.” As for the main concerns…well…the critics have a point.

  16. “It’s New York in the summer, get over it,” may have been an excuse in the 1930’s, but to have a festival with thousands of attendees and exhibitors that paid six figures to be there in the 21st century with no air conditioning is unprofessional and irresponsible.

    The price of the show is what’s more relevant to what’s being shown there. If you can’t afford the table, you can’t exhibit.

  17. Time for action. There’s a list of contact names and emails at the bottom of the sidebar on the Festival page. May I suggest that we all send a message to Barrie Addleberg at moccafest@moccany.org listing all the things that we liked about this year’s festival, all the things that we didn’t, and politely, calmly, and firmly tell them exactly what needs to be fixed and how.

    And may I further suggest that, if you’ve got the time and energy, please volunteer your services in the organization and operation of next year’s festival? I know I’m considering it. The person to talk to for that apparently is Liz Gorinksky at volunteers@moccany.org

  18. Hi Heidi

    Of course we read the Beat in Denmark – is there anywhere else you can get news :-)

    The names of the two Danes are Thomas Thorhauge (on the left), who just had his latest GN “Kom Hjem” (Come Home) published here in Denmark. The other guy I’m not quite sure of, but I believe it should be Steffen P. Maarup.

    See you in San Diego!

  19. I think you guys misunderstood what I was saying. I was frustrated about all the whining about the heat instead of reporting on comics. A bunch of blogs (not all of them and not this one) spent way too much time talking about the heat. All the complaints were valid, but it really took away from actual reporting on what MoCCA is about. The heat should have been an after thought, not the main part of the report.

  20. Julie, FWIW, I think you have a valid point. I think the reason why many were frustrated by MoCCA is that it was SUCH AN INCREDIBLE SHOW with so many amazing talented people there, and you are right, it is reall important NOT to lose sight of that aspect as well.

  21. I also think you have a valid point, Julia. I enjoyed the show and picked up some great comics, as I always do. I’m glad I went, as I always am. I support MoCCA, as I always will. I’d like table prices to be lower — who wouldn’t? — but I don’t have a problem with them. (Two reasons there: First, for me, exhibiting at a show is more about meeting people and seeing new things than making a profit. Second, I’m lucky to not have to try to recoup my costs by selling minicomics…that would be rough!)

    But even though I have a high tolerance for heat, I was actively uncomfortable throughout both days this year. Had my wife attended, she would have stepped inside and immediately said “Too hot. I’m leaving.” And then she would have left, and not looked at a single comic or bought a single t-shirt or admired a single print. Nothing. She likes comics and shirts and prints, but she’s not crazy — there are other things to do in NYC on a pleasant day. Pleasant on the outside, anyway.

    I’ll make an imperfect comparison, all of the particulars of which touch on problems this year: You can serve the best food in the world at your restaurant, but if someone can’t get a table or reservation easily and can’t be sure of the opening hours or find their table once they get there or a waiter to help, and if it’s so hot that they want to get out even before the appetizer is served, they will almost certainly not linger today and will find another place to eat tomorrow. Again, no matter how good the food is. To take the restaurant comparison a bit further, many will decide to order carry-out (i.e. dash in to pick up Asterios Polyp or listen to Seth talk or see what Bries brought or…) but will leave as soon as possible. And will they come back?

    So, organization and planning and atmosphere (in all senses of the word) matter, and they affect both attendees and exhibitors. In fact, I worry more about the former than I do about the latter. I know I will be back — the good outweighed the bad by a large margin. Always does. But I didn’t pre-pay for 2010: Given the problems this year, there was too harsh a suite of cancellation penalties for not even knowing the dates of next year’s show. Again, planning. I have to do it too.

    I had a great time this past weekend, I love exhibiting at MoCCA, and I look forward to doing so again. The problems are real, and shouldn’t be downplayed, but they’re fixable, and I’m optimistic that they will be fixed.

  22. “How that is relevant to any of the work actually premiering at MoCCA is beyond me. All this complaining about the elements really undermines the whole concept of people getting together to celebrate this industry.”

    You’re focusing too much on the “industry” part of “people getting together to celebrate this industry,” and ignoring the “people” part of it…

    “I’ll make an imperfect comparison, all of the particulars of which touch on problems this year: You can serve the best food in the world at your restaurant, but if someone can’t get a table or reservation easily and can’t be sure of the opening hours or find their table once they get there or a waiter to help, and if it’s so hot that they want to get out even before the appetizer is served, they will almost certainly not linger today and will find another place to eat tomorrow. Again, no matter how good the food is. To take the restaurant comparison a bit further, many will decide to order carry-out (i.e. dash in to pick up Asterios Polyp or listen to Seth talk or see what Bries brought or…) but will leave as soon as possible. And will they come back?”


    No matter how much the “mainstream” may stereotype us, comic fans are still human beings. That means we have human bodies and human feelings, and since we can’t attend events like MoCCA without bringing our bodies in with us we’ll feel physical things like “ugh, it’s too hot!” as well as intellectual things like “wow, this comic is awesome!”

    Hey, if you don’t want people to notice the physical comfort or lack thereof at an event, make it an online event instead of expecting people to physically show up to the thing.

  23. I passed on MoCCA this year although I have found it in the past to be one of the best shows on the east coast. I go as an attendee and not an exhibitor though.

    One of the things that had struck me in the past was how much more gender balanced the MoCCA show was (is) than any other comic related event I have ever attended. Also, the material does more to promote comics as an art form than any other show too.

    The armory is certainly a more convenient location than the Puck Building. The last time I went to the show at the Puck Building it was obvious that MoCCA had already outgrown it’s space and was in need of a larger venue.

    It seems to me what everyone seems to be talking about comes down to the organizers being overwhelmed – surely insuring the surroundings are conducive to leisurely browsing is part and parcel of hosting such an event. I think maybe next year the organizers should contact someone in the NYC government and ask for assistance in securing the proper venue because the city has as much of a stake in MoCCA growing as the organizers do.

    Isn’t there a place over on 18th by 6th that might be a better spot?

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