The MoCCA Festival at the Lexington Armory a few days ago was a fun weekend — the numerous photo galleries filled with smiling faces of dedicated artists and publishers show that. Look at Peggy Burns’ engaging set or Dan Nadel’s. Fun is fine, of course, but that’s not entirely why people go to indie shows like MoCCA, SPX, and TCAF. I’d argue that the social aspect of hanging out with fellow cartoonists is a major motivation for attending, but that’s not why D&Q or PictureBox or Fantagraphics sets up. The “indie” circuit — these shows and APE, Stumptown, Fluke and so on — has developed into a vital engine for for promoting authors and selling books.
But that’s not the goal of MoCCA Fest. As pointed out several times, its primary purpose is as a fundraiser for the MoCCA museum as an institution. And while these two goals aren’t mutually exclusive, they aren’t a dovetail joint, either.
One of the areas where this is most true is the cost of setting up and attending. It cost $12 for one day $20 for the weekend to get into MoCCA — a not insignificant sum. Table prices went for anywhere between $300 — the early bird, student discount — and $500 for a latecomer — making this a very expensive show — a full table in Artist Alley at NYCC at the Javits Center is $500, a half $300. I’ve posted the economics of tabling many times before — M.K. Reed breaks it down here–but just run the numbers. While crowd numbers for MoCCA 2011 haven’t been announced — attendance was 4000 in 2009— just doing the math for that means that making money selling 500 copies of a $1 mini comic is pretty unlikely. So people had to band together to afford a table. And get a student discount. The result was many SVA, SCAD or CCS students tabling together. And that’s a hard environment to stand out in.
This year’s MoCCA was dominated by what I refer to as “little pieces of paper.” You had two or three emerging cartoonists sitting together at one table, all with various stacks of mini comics and flyers on it. A lot of clutter — some of it good clutter but not really eye-catching or impressive.
I quizzed my intern Maggie Siegel-Berele on her MoCCA experience, and she said she had actually made back her table costs selling her $5 mini NOVICE — that was after going with the student discount/three people sharing model. She noted that her tablemates hadn’t done as well, but she attributed this to the fact that she had stayed at her table almost the whole show, and really worked on selling. “If you’re at a panel on the New Yorker cartoons, you aren’t selling you book,” she told me.
Which is a little rough, because at a show like MoCCCA, seeing a great panel is part of the appeal. But bidness is bidness.
I’ve been doing a bit of fretting and wondering of late over just what is going to happen to all the cartoonists graduating from all the cartooning schools. So many new faces from SCAD and MCAD and RISDe and CCS and SVA and other places without letters for names. It’s a boom time at cartoon schools when the greater reality is that even established cartoonists are trying to figure out how to stay busy and make a living. Tim Kreider and Julia Wertz — neither an underachiever in the talent category — have both written about the daunting horizon from an ESTABLISHED creator’s viewpoint. Kreider’s was called simply “What is to be done?” Wertz wrote:
I should preface this comic by noting that last January I was dropped by my publisher. Here’s how/why: A lot of cartoonists, myself included, were picked up by big publishing houses a few years ago when they were told comics were the hot new thing. Then when the books started coming out, they didn’t sell to their standards, the sales numbers of which are much higher than traditional comics publishers. Bottom line, people just don’t buy comics in the same amount they buy regular books, which makes complete sense since many olds still think all comics are Archie and Garfield and all the youngs do everything on the internet. I’m currently in negotiation with comics publishers, but my days of fancy New York publishing are most likely gone. I’m grateful I had the opportunity but am also really excited to return to my more appropriate, low-brow roots.
For young cartoonists just out of school, establishing a career in a giant sea of webcomics, Facebook and tweets is hard, especially when the general level of talent is as high as it is now. I surveyed a few of the newer cartoonists on what their goals for heir careers were and it was simply “To make money making comics” — you can’t get much more vague or unfocused than that.
I would say, from walking around and looking at things, that the general method now is putting out your mini-comic and putting it on a table. Which is kind of a brutal level of competition.
And there was a lot of it. I spoke to a few people who said that they thought the general level of craft has gone down a little — not as many hand silk-screened slipcased volumes and so on. It’s not only, as Wertz wrote, that the brief period where major book publishers were walking around signing up kids to book deals are GONE GONE GONE — it’s that the kids also flamed out. I’ve heard several horror stories about new cartoonists who got a deal and then just…weren’t ready for the level of focus and discipline it takes to sit in a room for a year and draw a goddam book. Ouch.
One way that new cartoonists traditionally get to the next level is to appear in anthologies — a curated place gives context and implied approval. And indeed, it seems that every generation of comics has had its signature anthology to forge a new movement– from RAW to WEIRDO to NON to KRAMERS ERGOT to MOME. The news that MOME is ending with issue 22 came at exactly the same time to mark a little end note for a certain period of comics.
Not that any of these were generally open to kids right out of school, but they were certainly where reputations were made. However modest Eric Reynolds was in talking about the end of MOME, it was a place where creators like Tim Hensley, Gabrielle Bell and Dash Shaw flexed their pen nibs with confidence and security.
Where will the next MOME be? I have a feeling that it isn’t going to be print at all…there are several iPad comics magazines that are starting up now, and while I can’t vouch for any of them, the format itself seems ripe for creating something different and possibly amazing.
Before we leave MoCCA 2011 in the rearview mirror, I wanted to note that it was nice getting to meet Matthias Wivel at the Comics Journal party. Matthias is one of the most exacting comics critics out there, and I’m happy to see he’s joined the NY comics scene for a bit. In his MoCCA post he shared the sense of no real breakouts:
All good times, but it really overshadowed what seemed to me a somewhat unremarkable festival. The programming was largely unremarkable, lacking in both marquee names or particularly worthwhile themes, so it came down to the offerings in the main hall. I like the democratic aspect of MoCCA, with tables being sufficiently cheap that a lot of DIY and underground stuff is on display, but at the same time I saw very little remarkable work outside the rosters of the show’s few “big” publishers. The impression it left of the American grass roots scene was one of slight stagnation after many years of redoubtable creative growth.
Darryl Ayo refutes this a bit in the comments, and maybe we are a bit jaded — jeez, I came to MoCCA and all I got was these new books by Jim Woodring, Chester Brown, Brecht Evens, Jason, and Joe Lambert? As I and others fret about the Next Thing, I don’t want to lose sight of the Thing Right Here being pretty darned cool.
I’ll leave the last word to Secret Acres because they are always good at it:
Organizationally, there was nothing wrong with the show, either, that we heard, anyway. MoCCA is very good at being MoCCA, but it’s not the MoCCA it was. Maybe it’s the location, or the rising costs of admission and table fees, but this is a show for fans. Sean Ford, who sat next to us selling Only Skin 7, had the thought that MoCCA has competition these days. It is no longer the one and only New York show and that may be changing things as well. In any case, it’s the best MoCCA it can be and it’s time for folks to evaluate the show in its current shape. MoCCA is dead. Long live MoCCA.
Okay, now on to the Stumptown analysis!
Interesting stuff as always, Heidi!
I actually find it pretty encouraging that young cartoonists have such a vague, “unfocused” goal to make money from their art. In spite of all the doom and gloom in comics discussions, a lot of people are still succeeding – they’re just doing it in scattered, inconsistent, sometimes baffling ways that are difficult to study or teach. Students don’t talk about syndication or book deals with the same naivete they used to. It’s understood the cartoonist is rarely handed a paycheck, but that nobody is restricting them either. Overwhelmingly endless options sound a lot better to me than a small handful of narrow channels.
It’s the independent cartoonist’s job to be aware of as many options as possible, and adjust when the climate and circumstances change. Paired with the amazing technical skill I’ve been seeing lately from the above-mentioned schools, I’m hopeful that the next wave of young cartoonists will be a scrappy, malleable bunch.
Some interesting points raised, and, as a first-time MoCCA exhibitor, here are some thoughts:
– What sort of experience was the 2011 MoCCA Fest attendee looking to have? Wasn’t stapled clutter part and parcel with the height of ‘zine culture?
– In this economy, how does one weigh the purchase of a $20 HC from one of the larger publishers against a hand-printed volume or $20 worth of cheaper pamphlets?
– I found that browsers were much more interested in stuff (buttons and t-shirts) than at King Con although when we engaged them in conversation, we were able to often encourage a purchase of our books based on content and a con discount.
– This is highly subjective, but I also found there to be more focused browsing at King Con while MoCCA attendees wandered and chatted with friends. More than just the con tendency to avoid eye contact with sellers, there was a general crowd drift that wasn’t conducive to making connections.
– What I’d like to see… in addition to the pillars of zines and old guard comic lit I’d love to have an artist’s alley of practitioners who are defining this era of comics. For me, it’s artists like those of Comic Twart, cartoonists’ cartoonists, great craftspeople who are now being hired and recognized by the big two (not as an end game but simply because they are producing great work).
MoCCA is a great show. It took me two days to see everything, because I was talking so much with creators and publishers. $20 for the weekend? That’s not pricey for a comics convention. SPX charges $15.
I realized that I would never exhibit at MoCCA because I wouldn’t be able to leave the table/booth to see what’s cool and interesting.
MoCCA sold out of table space. That “gymnasium” space is maxed. Can it move to a bigger locale? Perhaps, but will attendance increase if the selection is better? Or is destined to stay at this size, just like SPX? What’s the Laffer Curve for alternative comics shows? Plus, there are now THREE alternative shows in NYC. Having established the beachhead of art and literary comics in NYC, MoCCA should consider moving to the middle ground of “comics for everyone”, becoming something like Baltimore, Charlotte, or Orlando: a comics-only show celebrating everything good about comics. That will broaden the exhibitor base, as well as the audience.
Comics students are now art students. Just as MFAs have difficulty making a living painting or sculpting, so too will cartoonists. Or the line for “professional” will blur as work is posted online instead of being printed at FedEx Kinkos, as creators work around a day job, making comics they enjoy.
P.S. Lot of technology on tables at this show… mostly iPads, but some laptops as well.
Also, to those with tables… you don’t have to stand behind them. It’s more effective to stand in front, and engage the lookie-loos directly. Switch with your tablemates if your feet get sore (unlikely), but only if they are as extroverted as you are. Also, if you share a table, this allows more space behind the table… six people could rent the table, three people can sit, one stands, and the other two go get food or take a break wandering the floor. Everyone sells everything on the table.
I really enjoyed this article, Heidi. And Meredith’s point about options resonated with me as well.
The thing that I have trouble resolving is what MoCCA’s role in the indie comics community actually is. We have propped it up as an independent comics show and it functions as such. But when conditions are incondusive to selling and promoting independent comics, it makes me question how much of their role can be attributed to tradition and community expectations. MoCCA doesn’t put on a festival so that I can sell my comics; MoCCA puts on a festival to raise money for the museum. When I participate it is immaterial whether or not my needs are being met. The beginning and end of the MoCCA festival is fundraising, that’s it.
A subtle distinction at first, but lately I have found that our goals (MoCCA’s and many of the cartoonists who exhibit) are at cross-purposes. It kills the exhibitor when the attendee is watching his/her wallet because they just paid a bundle to walk in the door. But it makes no difference to MoCCA’s goals, they’re just watching their own wallet. I’m not calling it “greed,” but I am calling it blindness to the needs of the customer (exhibitors who pay the institution) and an inability of Mocca to appreciate its own gravitational pull in the indie comics ecosystem.
Each year, more cartoonists are realizing that supporting the MoCCA festival and supporting their own careers are two completely different goals.
“I have a feeling that it isn’t going to be print at all…there are several iPad comics magazines that are starting up now”
I had a table at MoCCA this year specifically to show iPad comics. I personally believe digital is key to giving cartoonists the opportunity to connect directly with their audience. And I think when that happens, people are going to be surprised by the industry growth that comes out of that. I got to discuss the issue in depth with Tim Stout here:
It’s hard to compare SPX and MoCCA’s entry fees. SPX is at a suburban hotel with no foot traffic, it’s a destination event. People travel to the show, they stay in the hotel, etc.
Back during MoCCA’s Puck Building days, they have folks stopping in just because they were in the nabe and it was only $5. At $20 it gets a little shitty. That’s $20 they won’t spend on comics; at a show where the prices are so cheap that could equal 20 books from 20 creators, raising all of their exposure. Which let’s face it, is why anyone tables at MoCCA in the first place.
In an urban setting, lowering the bar for entry is key, I’m sure BCGF wouldn’t do as well if they charged a cover.
Again with that line about the “sufficiently cheap” table prices. What, did Bloomberg go to Mocca this year?
This was the first year since 2007 that my group, Trees & Hills comics, did not table at MoCCA. I regret not attending the show this year; I don’t regret not getting a table.
T&H usually covered our table costs at the end of each MoCCA weekend (we would always split a table with a friend), but we wouldn’t get anywhere near our publishing costs. And I wouldn’t even dream of covering the costs of traveling and staying in NYC.
This past weekend T&H tabled at the new Paint and Pixel festival in Northampton, Mass. and had a great time. Great guests, good vibe and a wonderful, sunny location. In that one day we made just as much in sales as we would during the Saturday portion of MoCCA. And the best part? The table at Paint and Pixel cost us a fraction of a MoCCA table.
MoCCA – and I say this as someone who loves the show – faces some real competition in the indie comics show scene as more and more great regional indie comic shows pop up. There is pretty much no reason now for me, as a comic creator, to leave New England.
No comments/observations on the apparent
lack of exhibitor and attendee Diversity at this year’s MOCCA?
In a time of declining Comics sales (and readership?), it seems odd to think that the Alt/Art Comix crowd would seem to willingly cultivate a scene that’s less diversified than that of “Mainstream Comics”‘, as shown in such mega-ComicCons of SDCC, NYCC, C2E2, WC. Were such ‘diversity’ prohibitively priced out of attending MOCCA as discussed above?
(And were there ANY attendees at all from the
varied ethnic and socio-economic neighborhoods MOCCA finds itself surrounded by– or were the attendees ALL from other Manhattan neighboroods that walked through the doors?)
The retreat to the ‘White Tower’ of officially-sanctioned High Culture and Academia seems to me a dangerous tact for the Alt/Art Comix if it wants to remain open and vibrant a scene, I think… But fortunately, there’s also BCAF, SPACE and other Indie Cons less ‘sanctioned’ to provide an East Coast alternative to MOCCA (if not flying across the country for APE and STUMPTOWN, say)?
/fun with analysing Cons
Geeeeezzz……. so much whining in this blog by Heidi, and all her whining followers. What gets me so distressed about this industry is that everyone seems to feel they are entitled to services for nothing. This is manhattan. It is not some rural locale in New England. Everything costs money here – BUT – this event pulls in a huge crowd and the vibe is always great. Too many people seem to think this event is about making money at their tables, and then they go on to criticize MOCCA about trying to make some money as a fundraiser.
Has it occurred to anyone in these posts above that a FULL DAY at MOCCAfest costs less than a 2 hour movie (without popcorn)??? How many people here are writing blogs that they think it is crazy that a movie costs more than $10 and they werent getting their money’s worth.
Give it a rest all of you whiners. if the show is too expensive, take your admission fee and go to the movies instead. That will provide you with a full day of entertainment.
And for all of you table renters … same thing. If two days of showing off your wares, and attending great forums, and meeting hundred of other comics fans, including some superstars, is not worth your $150 for a half table, then save your money and set up a table on the street outside.
Did you know there is no cost to do that, and it is legal. Police cannot remove you or move your table if you are selling printed materials. Stop your whining and take your table to the street. Or maybe – think about the fact that for $150 you can share a table, have structured event and guests in front of you for 2 days, forums to attend, and a roof over your head in case it rains ! if you dont think thats worth $150, then bring your own table and set up on Lexington Avenue and feel good about what you are doing and the $150 you saved — And STOP WHINING. You all sound like babies who count pennies – but you all shell out $40+ to go to Comicon. Wake up. This event is cheap. You dont like it – dont return.
PS —– Why do people seem to have a problem with the fact that MOCCA is trying to raise money to keep the museum going as a non-profit —- but then everyone complains that they cant make enough money at their tables? Is it ok to be profit minded as an independent comics producer – but it is not ok for a not-for-profit to try once a year to raise money to keep its operation going.
You’re all cry babies.
Supercomicsman do you have a point or just steady trollin?
Okay. You have no personal stake in the affair. Why does it hurt your feelings that those of us who ARE invested in the proceedings wish to debate matters?
You’re the only person “whining.” rest of us are talking about issues pertinent to us. Nobody forced you to read this did they?
AS FOR ED’S CONCERN: I talked to so many black kids at MoCCA (that’s only my experience) I actually thought minority attendance was UP this year.
I’m just makin a point – just like you.
Nobody forced anyone to buy a table, and nobody forced anyone to pay $10 for admission. So if it was too pricey – dont come. Thats all I’m sayin. I hate reading complaints about what I thought was a great event, by people who are complaining about things that they did out of their choice. IF THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH – then get out of the kitchen !
Thats all I’m sayin.
And by the way Darryl ….. Your comment above ” lately I have found that our goals (MoCCA’s and many of the cartoonists who exhibit) are at cross-purposes. It kills the exhibitor when the attendee is watching his/her wallet because they just paid a bundle to walk in the door. But it makes no difference to MoCCA’s goals, ” is an exercise in absurdity.
Like I was sayin….. It costs more to go to the movies !!!!! So are you sayin that a movie is worth more than MOCCAfest???
When you go to the movies and plunk down your $12-14, does it kill you to open your wallet further to buy a $5 popcorn? Do you sit there throughout the movie sayin to yourself ….. “I hate these movie theater owners because they are trying to make a profit !!!!! And I hate these movie producers because they are makin too much money.
And do you think that you hate Spielberg because the average cost of his movies are so high that the movie industry is always tryin to push up Prices —- and if thats the case — THEN WHY DO YOU GO !!! ???
DONT RESPOND AND TELL ME YOU DONT GO TO THE MOVIES.
bY THE WAY —– DID YOU BUY LUNCH AT moccaFEST, or did you bring your own. Was the price too high for a sandwich? Did you ever stop to think that the cost of your lunch and soda was probably the same as the cost of admission. Are you whining about the price of a Subway sandwich?
ComicSuperMan, your illogical argument is ridiculous. Just becuase I buy a ticket for something doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it — otherwise there would BE no movie reviews.
Your attitude does reflect a certain kind of defensiveness that’s becoming more and more common though. Very few things in life are above any analysis or criticism — MoCCA included. The idea that every dissenting opinion must be ridiculed or dismissed is onerous.
Most of the comments here are of the constructive criticism variety. There are some people who feel MoCCa isn’t cost effective FOR THEM anymore and aren’t coming back…and plenty more who look forward to it every year.
Dear Beat Man,
Your comments are at least logical and balanced. You are right – some will come back and others wont. I’m just sayin that its absurd to criticize pricing for an event that costs $10 for a full day. I mean … c’mon – what can you do anywhere that costs less than $10??? Like I said – you cant go to the movies for $10 – so to me it seems that anyone whining about a $10 admission fee is just whining. Its like complaining about the fact that Comics beat loads too slowly – and lets all get on the bandwagon about why you guys dont have more bandwidth….. like I’m sayin – its just whinin.
And frankly – I think it is ridiculous to say that my argument is ridiculous. What is ridiculous about defending a $10 price, or sayin the show is good value, or simply sayin – the show is just plain fun and where else can ya get 8 hours of entertainment for $10? I know the rent is too damn high – but this show is a bargain – despite all the whiners !
I did bring my own sandwich for lunch at MoCCA and no I don’t go to the movies. I’m sorry Heidi, I’m sorry. Had to be said.
Not sure I understood your comment – what had to be said – that you brought your own sandwich? Anyway – nothing wrong with that. By the way – did you see the Iron Man movies?, or Fantastic Four, or the Hulk, or how about some of the Batman greats!?
I agree most movies are trash – but I dont believe a comics fan didnt go to see Watchman??? Was that 2 hour bit of entertainment worth the same amount as a whole day at MOCCAfest? I dont think so.
The MOCCAfest event is one of the comics industry great bargains. Even at $20 admission it would be a bargain. Of course, if the daily admission was $40 like ComicCon I would agree with you that the price was getting high.
What are you guys talking about? I had to weigh in on this thread and say that everyone is spending too much time discussing trivial points.
Lets all agree to agree that the MOCCAFEST event is in everyone’s best interest – and it is our collective job to make sure that it works and that MOCCA has the money to continue. It is in the best interest of the community. Can we all agree on that ?
For the holy love of comix what is going on here ? So many rants about nothing. Lets please all stop.
MOCCA is a jewel. They support our business. We should support them. Enuf said.
I had a great time at this event, and everyone I spoke with made money at their tables. So – I think the prices are fair, given all the content and especially the panels. Would I spend more for a table??? Of course who’s to say – but I do think the table prices are fair….. and the admission price. C’mon. Its cheap cheap cheap. I feel somewhat sorry for anyone who feels this admission price is too high. How much to you pay the man for your cellphone? How much is a piece of pizza with sausage?, or truffles?
Did you ever buy a costume ? Makes this look cheap
Darrylayo, re: people of color at MoCCA, that was my observation, too. The crowd as definately a high majority white, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many non-white attendees there were. I can think of a couple of shows where I was literally the only non-white person in the building.
ComicsSuperMan — I would be more impressed with your argument if you hadn’t created several very transparent sock puppets. Was that supposed to be a joke? Is your name really Scott Adams?
Before there was MoCCA Fest, all we had in NYC was those miserable Big Apple cons run by Mike Carbonaro. Those who never had to deal with Carbonara, or the depressingly dark church basement those cons were held in, have no idea how lucky they are to have a MoCCA Fest. And I believe it was $10 admission back in the 90’s for Big Apple Con.
In a perfect world, MoCCA Fest would have free or $5 admission. Tables would be $100 each. But MoCCA, the museum has to support itself, and throwing a con is a great way for it to raise that money. That money goes for a museum that honors our art form.
Everyone and anyone is welcome to participate in MoCCA. Those who would like to make changes or make suggestions are encouraged to volunteer, to get involved. Unlike most other conventions, MoCCA Fest is our event, it’s not owned by some corporation that looks to squeeze every nickel out of exhibitors and fans. The whole organization is run almost entirely by volunteers. Even the Chairman/President is a volunteer.
MoCCA does not support our businesses. Cartoonists are telling you this. Take your fingers out of your ears and listen to someone who is actually a part of the scene you’re observing.
MoCCA has so little value to the individual independent cartoonist.
Thanks for the clarification! It is good to hear that there were the occasional breaks from the er, ethno-normative homogeneity of the attending Alt/Art Comix MOCCA crowd… even if not at the levels I’ve seen at APE, nor at this year’s STUMPTOWN fest, apparently.
(So how is it at BCGF? SPX? Never been to any East Coast Indie Con, so wondering if the Alt/Art Comix crowd there ARE all men-who-could-be-playing-bass-for-a-Nu-Emo-band
and women-rocking-the-updated-“Luisa-Anselmi”-look? Curious in Cali wants to know.)
I stand with my mistaken assumption corrected. If nothing else, I guess this shows the pitfalls of making polemical commentary upon a Con I haven’t attended personally… right?
/more fun with Con analyses
hey! I used to love those Big Apple Cons in the church basement! the entry fee was between $4-$6.00. They didn’t change it till they moved to Chelsea and then the Penn Pavilion. It wasn’t a great place to sell indy comics-but for a minimal table fee(like $25-30. bucks–and sometimes they forgot to collect the fee) I might sell enough to cover the table AND buy a few Silver Age books to boot! While most of the indy stuff was Image wannabe type material, there were any number of terrific creators on hand. I remember meeting Frank Cho when he was just starting out–talking to Mark Wheatley-as well as Roy Thomas and Jim Steranko. When I think about it, I can’t say I do much better at MoCCA or other indy cons, where the table fees are a lot more–and where you don’t have the mix between mainstream and indy, nor the dealers so you can pick up a deal on the way out. & while it certainly didn’t have the cache of MoCCA or SPX( in fact it always felt a bit seedy in that basement)it was alotta fun. Maybe there’s something to be said for mixing up the audiences a bit. or for the small scale. I don’t know–but I do wish they’d go back to that church basement! Penn is nowhere near as fun and a lot more expensive!
Was there ever a hard count of the attendance for Mocca 2011?