200706270307
About 7600 blog posts, Flickr streams and actual news stories later, it’s kind of obvious that MoCCA 2007 was the Italian Renaissance of Indie comics or something. A Golden Era. Camelot. You name it. Memories are suffused in a silvery haze of comics, waffles and scones.

It was pretty wonderful, anchored by the Top Shelf 10th Anniversary Party, an everyone-was-there bash of good feeling that lasted even when the AC broke down, turning the sidewalk into yet another happy chatter land.

While the high isn’t likely to wear off soon–indeed, we’ve filed it away as one of our happiest weekends in recent memory–a few facts have to be faced even in the middle of this baskable afterglow. First is the questionnaire that was circulating among exhibitors on Sunday. The tenor of the questions seemed to be “Should MoCCA move out of the Puck Building?” To which almost everyone has said “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” We’ll get back to that, but Memo at the TCJ board has a dissenting view, claiming that table prices are squeezing out the little guys:

There is SO much to look at, and so many hungry, talented people selling worthwhile, home-made art, that MoCCA, for the attendees, is simply overwhelming. People are forced to put up their blinders as soon as they walk in, zeroing right in on the indy stars and big publisher tables, sticking to the tried-and-true… even though the tried-and-true can now be found on amazon or at any decent bookstore. I’m not bitchin’- that’s just the reality, but it makes the festival a more expensive waste of time for the rest of us. “Success” becomes “I made enough this weekend to pay for my table- never mind the costs of making the actual comics.” That’s too bad, because what I’ve loved about MoCCA since the beginning was the small press feel, the way big names (relative to our little world) were intersperced with nobodies, everyone peddling their work… being able to talk to attendees, even if they didn’t buy much (or anything), rather than watch them whiz by you, hoping to avoid eye contact. Fostering a community, getting your work seen, if not bought, and basically shooting the shit… this was MoCCA. I don’t make my comics because I think I’m going to be rich; for me, a spot at MoCCA was simply the best way I knew to advertise myself and connect with the audience directly- one of the only opportunities in the comics world to do so.


Memo feels that there’s now a haves and have nots gentrification of MoCCA is driving out the little guys with high table prices. And indeed, the Puck Building is not cheap, and it’s hard foer the show to expand. This year’s big change was adding exhibitors to the 7th floor — which worked out okay — and moving panels to the MoCCA space itself — which did not. From what we heard the space was too small and awkward and out of the way to really fit crowds.

But cost be damned, the white light and hardwood floors of the Puck Building are what MADE the show when Kristin Seibecker first founded it five years ago. It is classy and it makes the things in it classy. The TCJ thread is worth reading in its entirety because he sets out the differences between the “giants” of the Indies like FBI and D&Q and the lone cartoonists with their mini comics.

The perception of good rooms and bad rooms is also there, but as someone pointed out, SPX had now moved, at long last, to the “ONE BIG ROOM” model. This advance was much longed for by little people who thought that just being in the same room as the big guys would increase their sales and visibility.

Alas, even in a world as egalitarian as indie comics, where almost everyone wants the kids to do alright, the reality is that not everything is created equal. A few years ago Kevin Huizenga was just another mini comics guy, and now he’s a “star,” whatever that means. Heck, until a year ago no one knew who Alison Bechdel was. We have a giant stack of comics people gave us, but it includes few of the “buzz” books everyone was blogging about, and everyone time we open one we see a cute story by someone whose name we feel compelled to file away. But it takes a while to become a Paul Pope or Adrian Tomine, let alone a Kim Deitch. Maybe you have to pay your dues by sitting there behind a table wishing someone would stop by. Maybe being more selective and having to pay your dues is part of the process.

The “lower rungs” of the indie comics scene are increasingly crowded, and we don’t mean the term as a put down, just a way of saying people who haven’t established themselves yet. We’ve seen so many talented people come out of SVA and MCAD and Savannah in just the last few years — and now the CCS grads are making their own mark. Maybe an even MORE grassroots show is needed, the kind of thing someone puts on in their basement or rec room, like SVA’s Fresh Meat show only a bit larger. It’s a point to ponder.

In the end we’d give this advice to MoCCA: Keep the 7th floor exhibits, but use the back room on the 1st floor, or part of it, for panels. The room can be divided, and no exhibitors really like being back there anyway. The net effect would be fewer tables, but many more could be fit in the spacious upstairs. We seem to recall that panels were once held in that very room but crowd noise was too loud and it was too light for slideshows. We’d guess that crowd noise could be kept down, and A/V presentations could be moved to another site for even a nighttime presentation. MoCCA needs to branch out and become even more of a cultural event. For a certain segment of the population, it already is, but things like the recent Tintin multi media night, and slideshows by Bechdel, Gabrielle Bell and others could anchor a very entertaining evening event.

A couple of posts sum it up. Baboon Books was thrilled just to have one person say they were looking for their comics. While the new kids over at Sundays Anthology are beaming themselves to death over the success of their handsome anthology. Not everyone in all these anthologies are going to have long, significant careers, but they are contributing to the moment, and the moment is good.

UPDATE: here’s another Sunday’s contributor link. So. Cute.

ANOTHER UPDATE: IN the TCJ thread, Bill Roundy posts costs for the Big Three Indie Shows:

Just as a data point:
MoCCA half-table: $200 full table: $325
SPX half-table: $175 full table: $350
APE half-table: $140 full table: $240

[Photo above taken from Raina Telgemeier’s blog.]

1 COMMENT

  1. Whats the chance that MoCCA could make some kind of arrangement with the Housing Works Cafe, the used bookstore, cafe and meeting place right through the little alley across from the Puck building. MoCCA has done events and talks there before. It would be much better for panels and its a very short distance away.

  2. What’s on the second through sixth floors of the Puck Building? Is there not a conference room or classroom that MoCCA could sublet for the weekend for panels?

  3. I have to agree with a key point that memo brings up. Lately at conventions there’s a lot more people developing a trend of walking past tables, refusing to make eye contact as they head over to that which they know and is in their comfort zone.
    If you’re at a convention for, say, 40 minutes and know exactly where your favorite artist ever is, this tactic is OK with me. But you’re probably spending way too much money to be there.
    Going with sweeping generalizations, most people are usually at a convention for 5-8 hours. It’s not a race to get through it and out. Get your money’s worth, try to find the next trend-setter in those lower rungs, be more Indie.
    I’m not insulted by the term “lower rungs.” I know that I don’t have a book deal. I know that my sales are going to be on the lower end compared to the heavy-hitters. But I’ve long since started treating conventions as promotional tools, not money-making events. I try to sell enough to cover eating for the weekend. If I sell well, I buy my neighbors donuts, then I buy my neighbor’s comics. Success ultimately comes down to the traffic on my website after the convention. So I don’t even need to sell you something, I’d just like to chat with you and find out if you’re interested in a webcomic. That’s right, free entertainment that you might enjoy. But I can’t even offer that if you refuse to look in my general direction.
    (For the record, the you voice that I felt like dropping into just now isn’t directed at Heidi personally. She actually does tend to meander better through the isles).

  4. Darren’s comment is interesting because I heard some of the “stars” say things similiar. That MoCCA isn’t really for making money but for promotion and getting their books in front of the public and possible publishers, collaborators or whatever. Just what are the expectations of artists and publishers for an indie show like MoCCA?

  5. The organizers of the Art Festival spent several weeks trying to identify suitable space for programming inside the Puck Building, on floors 2-6. Most of the space has been converted into NYU office space, and we were unable to find anything suitable at any price. We turned to the MoCCA gallery space because (a) it is near the Puck – only two blocks in NYC terms, not four, and (b) it is already set up to handle audiences of 30-50 people, with excellent image reproduction and sound. By way of comparison, setting up the seventh floor of Puck for programming was always a nightmare, given the room’s natural light and acoustics.

    The Housing Works cafe idea is a good one. It was not available during this year’s Festival but perhaps something can be worked out next year. It will not be free (unlike the gallery) and would therefore add to the total cost of the Festival. But it is a larger space and it is certainly easier to convert into programming friendly space than the seventh floor of Puck.

    I spent two days in the MoCCA gallery during the Festival, overseeing the programming. There were some technical difficulties on Saturday morning, but otherwise the AV worked smoothly. Most people who checked out the programming were able to find a seat, and when there was overflow, people could watch the event via a couple of 42″ monitors that we set up in the gallery.

    The gallery space was not ideal but I think we did a good job of putting together fifteen panels and special events on an all-volunteer basis. We featured a lot of interesting cartoonists and the audience asked intelligent questions. I am sure we can improve things next year, but I would be disappointed if the main thing that folks remembered about the programming in 2007 was that it was “too small and awkward and out of the way.”

  6. “Maybe you have to pay your dues by sitting there behind a table wishing someone would stop by.”

    –also I wanted to say that I think this was a really good point. I personally had the best show of my life both financially and in terms of fun and chaos. But that was not always the case. My first MoCCA I think I just broke even. The 2nd one was better but still not GREAT. If I had to pay for a hotel and airfare it would have been a huge loss. But I’ve kept chugging away on my books, and teaming up with other great artists (having a variety of good works that appeal to different people has raised our profile ). getting to the point where I can actually call conventioning a financially good idea! But even if I hadn’t done as well this year I’d still have to admit that the vibe at this years MoCCA was extremely positive and inspiring.

  7. Breaking even is always a sliding scale. For some, they just want the gross to equal the cost of the table. It’s still a loss, unless the net is greater than the cost of the table, the hotel and the travel. Food is something I consider more of a given, as you would have eaten anyway (though the tendency is to buy more expensive food, either through living it up or being forced to buy over-priced convention hall grub). Drinks and other entertainment is more of a personal financial, and doesn’t necessarily need to be factored in as a cost.
    But on promotion vs. making a sale, it’s infinitely more valuable to get readers and (hopefully) fans than it is to get a couple bucks from someone.

  8. Kent–

    Just as an aside, Lauren Weinstein had some minor technical A/V issues during her lecture, and the AWP group had MAJOR A/V issues–they couldn’t get the A/V portion of their presentation to work at all.

    I agree with Heidi on a number of points–especially in expanding the “art festival” portion of the event. As much as I enjoy MOCCA now, I still get the sense that the show has yet to tap its true potential.

    Here’s my take on the show:

    http://www.sequart.com/columns/index.php?col=9&column=1974

  9. Rob –

    Fair enough, but on the whole the tech side of things ran smoothly, and anyone who thinks these things would have been easier at Housing Works, or on the 7th floor of Puck, or in the smaller room on the first floor is kidding themselves. In a world of multiple formats, from PCs and Macs to slides and incompatible ports and cables, I’m not sure that it is possible to pack 15 events into 2 days in one space and not have the occasional tech-related headache. I also don’t think that the Festival will find a more capable tech go-to person than Allan Dorrison. He’s not only highly competent, but he doesn’t panic easily (unlike me). Kent

  10. I in to MoCCA to find interesting things. While I like the big guys, I had already seen most of it at BookExpo. I did rush to get the Paul Pope book, but spent the show wandering around. There were times I thought I had seen everything, but I forced myself to at least stop and look at every table. I spent roughly $200 this weekend, and would have spent more if so much wasn’t available via my bookstore.
    The Museum space was crowded, but not a long walk. Waiting on line on Saturday, I noticed a lot of exhibitors who did not know their entrance was on the other side of the building. Could they have been new to the fest?
    Perhaps multiple tables should carry a luxury tax, to discourage large displays and encourage multiplicity. First time exhibitors could get a discount, encouraging fresh talent. And, MoCCA should team with SVA to host a student festival for high school and college students in April or October.
    A premium could also be charged for the seventh floor! WOW!

  11. And yeah, it was a great weekend. Monday, I go to work and find two Neil Gaiman books waiting, plus How To Read Comics! So now I have my BookExpo pile, my MoCCA pile… yeah, we’re in a Renaissance, Heidi, have been for the past seven years, ever since that magical weekend of Free Comic Book Day, Spider-Man, and BookExpo with the graphic novel pavillion. Old classics are being rediscovered, fresh talent is expirementing, and wonderful suprises come from distant lands!

  12. Great Job MoCCA!!!! This was my first time at the Art Fest and I loved it. Everyone was really nice and the vibe was pretty chill. Unlike most cons that feels dingy and exGreat Job MoCCA!!!! This was my first time at the Art Fest and I loved it. Everyone was really nice and the vibe was pretty chill. Unlike most cons that feels dingy and exploitive of the fans (big apple). I also liked the fact that there was no strippers or playmates from 1975. I was hesitant bringing my younger son to the con for this very fact. He had a great time. Some of the artists drew him pictures and he got to meet Andy Runton( I hope I spelled his name right).

    The best part of the can was the fact that the whole thing was put together by a group of hard working volunteers. Most cons it seems ,
    are there to make cash. This one feels like it’s there for the love of the art form. I can’t wait to start volunteering.

    PS. Also got a big kick out of the Stan Lee Exhibit at MoCCA.

    David

  13. After a week of reading posts about the show, I hope this will be the last (post, not show.)

    As we will soon be announcing, this year’s Art Festival broke our attendance records (over 4500) and according to most bloggers and reviewers set the Gold Standard as far as “conventions” go. For the record, our Art Festival is not a “convention” (conventional, “Indie,” or otherwise) and we disapprove of being categorized as one.

    MoCCA’s Art Festival is first and foremost a fundraiser for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art which is located at 594 Broadway, in Manhattan’s fashionable and increasingly expensive SoHo district. We were happy to host our panels inthe MoCCA gallery this year, as it raised the visibility of our actual mission and purpose which is to display comic and cartoon art and educate the public about the art form’s presence and importance in both the capital “C” Culture of America and the capital “A” Art world.

    While it’s disappointing to hear that some people were dissatisfied with the placement of the panels and the cost of exhibiting at our prestigious event, all I can say is that MoCCA’s volunteer community excelled at creating an all inclusive, well attended, event and as a number of bloggers and reviwers have noted, in doing so they created an environment that was beneficial not only to the industry, but the reading community of comics.

    Considering that we were up against great weather, the Mermaid Parade, the Pride Parade, and had another comics show going on in the city our attendance level is no small feat, and on behalf of the Board of Trustees, the Board of Advisors and the Officers of the Museum I would personally like to thank all of the attendees and exhibitors who made the show the resounding success that it was.

    While we are reading and listening to all of the positive and negative criticisms of our festival, comics creators and readers can rest assured that very little will change next year in terms of its presentation. Exhibitor costs will remain about the same (although that means after two years we will have to raise the admission fees slightly,) our panels will continue to be informative entertaining and inciteful and our standards will not waiver in the face of presenting this fundraiser in NY’s less than pretty monetary and cost of living environments.

    Again a great round of “kudos” goes out to all that volunteered, exhibited and attended this year and we look forward to building on this success to make next year’s Art Festival THE place to exhibit, talk about, premiere and sell important works, be they self-published, “indie,’ or “mainstream.”

    We hope that the MoCCA Art Festival will continue to be THE place to come to in the future and we look forward to working with everyone in making it the most accessible, enjoyable and artistically important show on America’s increasing comics “convention” circuit.

    Thanks again for the attendance and all of the feedback, be it positive or otherwise.

    Yours Truly,
    Matthew C. Murray
    President and Executive director of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art