Update: I’ve been officially informed that MoCCA crew 8000 people overall, with 5000 on Saturday ALONE. Explains why it was co crowded! 

The MoCCA comics arts festival returned to New York this weekend, and I was tempted to do a “MoCCA Heats up!” headline, because it got hot and sweaty again. But the main thing is that comics publishers, creators and readers were gathered and despite all the worries about recessions and economic woes, it seems people were eager to buy indie comics again.

I’m told attendance was 5000, definitely one of the bigger MoCCAs ever, and more than last year’s (which I missed.) This was the second outing at the Metropolitan Pavilion, a well used facility for small exhibitions, and it seemed to be just the right size, with all exhibitors on one floor, unlike the pre-pandemic location, Metropolitan West.

Unlike previous years, there weren’t any outside events at the Society of Illustrators, the organization which runs MoCCA fest, although the Colleen Doran Illustrates Neil Gaiman exhibit is up there through July 29th. My understanding is that capacity and health issues are still preventing that but one of these days!

Live sketch of the Doran/Gaiman panel by Ellen Stedfeld @ellosaurarts



Doran and Gaiman appeared on a panel together which was standing room only, surprise surprise. Moderated by the exhibit curator, Kim Munson, the two old pals ran through the creation of their various collaborations – mostly short story adaptations published by Dark Horse – showcasing Doran’s mastery of a variety of art styles.

This panel, like the rest, were held at SVA facilities a few blocks away, another MoCCA trademark. The rooms were compact (<100 people), and most of them were at capacity from what I heard. It was a small slate, curated by Bill Kartalopoulos, but they hit all the right notes, including a censorship panel with Maia Kobabe, women in animation, a Carousel cartoon reading, AI art, and a publishing panel. Pretty much all of the sessions generated some buzz, a sign that post pandemic everyone wants to know what everyone else is saying.

Publishers exhibiting included Fantagraphics, Uncivilized Books, Secret Acres, NBM, Living the Line, Abrams Comics Arts, Pantheon, and several smaller outfits. I’m sorry for anyone I left out, but it was very crowded, as mentioned, and leisurely strolling wasn’t really an option.

Most of the major cartooning schools were also represented, including CCS, CVA, MCAD, SCAD and the High School of Art and Design. I feel like having these schools exhibit is not only the right mix for the vibe MoCCA is going for, but also a great way for students to learn the important skills of tabling.

Speaking of the exhibitor mix, I’m sure there will be complaints, but given the Society of Illustrators pedigree, it was a balanced blend of indie comics upstarts – there was a large area just to fool around with a Risograph machine – and illustrator types. There isn’t much work in illustrations these days – and AI is going to wipe all that out, right? – but the different traditions have all ended up at the same place.

My main goal in attending MoCCA, and that of many, was just to catch up with friends, though. So many faces I hadn’t seen through the dark pandemic years! So much to talk about. The main “crossroads” area was always full of merry meetings, Chip Kidd and Charlie Kochman there, Janna Morashima and Leigh Walton there. People would say they were thinking of Kickstarting something, and there would be Oriana Leckert from Kickstarter to start the conversation.

Suffice to say my lunch calendar through April is booked and I couldn’t be happier!

On Saturday afternoon, the venue hit peak capacity and yes it got very very hot. If you were wearing a mask (like I was most of the time) it got very suffocating fast, and I thought I was gonna pass out and had to flee to get a cold drink. It happened to be the first warm (70º) day in NYC and, like many older buildings, the AC wasn’t quite ready to come roaring back to life. Sunday was quite comfortable though.

This was kind of a callback to MoCCAs past though. It used to be held in June, until the 2009 show was held in the un-air conditioned Armory, a very sweaty day old timers (me) still talk about. And for whatever reason, even in April MoCCA always seems to fall on the first warm day or something. Anyway too many people is a good problem to have, overall.

The publishing panel created a lot of buzz via a tweet that criticized an unnamed “old white man editor” who said something about agents. Setting aside the unabashed ageism of the statement, this seemed to be like the elephant – everyone had a different idea of what was said and by whom. At any rate the people on the panel were Robyn Chapman (Editor, First Second Books), Tom Devlin (Executive Editor, Drawn and Quarterly), Charlotte Greenbaum (Senior Editor, Abrams ComicArts) and Gary Groth (Publisher and co-founder, Fantagraphics Books) moderated by Kartalopoulos, so you can pick the villain of your choice.  This evolved into a discourse on Twitter, so little was accomplished.

At any rate, the panel was at capacity and at least one reporter was turned away, so I’m going to wait for the YouTube version.

The subject of ageism did come up in many private conversations, as us old timers wondered just what the kids were into and whether they had any interest in our old fart pursuits. There was a very long line outside the venue on Saturday…but it wasn’t to get in, but rather to get a drawing from the Drawfee gang, who were tabling. The Drawfee Show is a YouTube channel with 1.83 million subscribers, described as a “Comedy sketch show” consists of some charming, funny folks making drawings on screen  based on outlandish suggestions from viewers.

For comics olds who are cast into despair by their kids watching other people play video games on Twitch this seems like a solid middle ground, anyway.  That folks would stand in the sun for HOURS to get a sketch from the Drawfee crew in person seems outlandish, but think back to what you would have stood in line for for hours when YOU were young.

Peter Pan © Sheya Chen

Drawfee aside, there were a lot of young stars unknown to me, but known through social media. While I was charging my phone (thank you for the charging station, MoCCA! Much needed and appreciated.) there was a table in the corner that had such a consistent line that I thought they were giving something away. But nope, it was selling prints by a bunch of young illustrators, the best known being Sheya Chen, whose work is very beautiful. People lining up to buy art they like, imagine that.

Publishers generally told me they had one of their best MoCCAs ever, and returning to a previous point, to judge by this show, book sales are not cratering just yet, recession or no. Maybe it was just post-pandemic glee at being at an actual show, but the attendees were eager to buy, and books by most of the guests sold out. I realize this is a vague report, but there was so much to catch up on. There are good shows and shitty shows, and this was a very good show.

I have many more thoughts on shows, and buying patterns inspired by doing three shows in five weeks (ECCC, WonderCon, MoCCA) and if events aren’t quite where they were pre-pandemic, they are back, baby. And here are the photos to prove it:

Some of the Drawfee gang
Bill Griffith has done a comics biography of Ernie Bushmiller!
Charlie Kochman, Johnnie Christmas and Chip Kidd
Joe Sikoryak, right, with friend, is doing a comic about his days as an early Trekkie
Award of Excellence winner ANDI SANTAGATA
Someone whose name I didn’t write down and Joe Bortner (R)
Colleen Doran makes a point
Alex Segura and David Ezra Stein
Fantagraphics founder Gary Groth
The crew from CCS