Monday, June 13, 2005

Random Thoughts on MOCCA's Comics Festival

I had a pretty good time at the MOCCA Comics Festival yesterday. Here are some of my random thoughts/observations:

1) A lot of the exhibitors I talked to said something along the lines of: "This is so much better than a normal comic book convention." MOCCA definitely has a different atmosphere than the big Super Multi-Media Event Comic Cons like San Diego or the Old School Low Rent Back Issue Bonanza Cons like NYC's own Big Apple Con (by "different atmosphere" I mean almost everyone at the festival seemed to have showered and put on clean clothes before showing up). No doubt the MOCCA people refer to their event as an "Art Festival" partly in order to distinguish it from run-of-the-mill comic conventions. (I can't quite bring myself to call it an "Art Festival", so I am going to compromise by referring to it as a "Comics Festival", which seems to be accurate and distinctive enough).

But what struck me as semi-interesting was that I got the "This ain't your father's comic con" line from people whose work has nothing whatsoever to do with the kind of super-hero stuff featured at Wizard World and San Diego. I suppose this is kind of normal--a lot of people who make art house movies are explicit about not making multiplex movies--but I couldn't help feeling that the whole thing was still a little bit too much like a normal convention.

Don't get me wrong: MOCCA had hardly any of the "Not Comics" crap that fills up cons like Wizard World--there were no pro wrestlers making personal appearances, no fantasy art babes, no toy dealers. And there were probably more women (and couples) at MOCCA than there were at the last 5 Big Apple Cons combined. But I got the sense that the desperate-geeky-super-hero-fan vibe had been replaced by a desperate-geeky-art-student vibe.

Which brings me to...

2) Some of the exhibitors annoyed me with their "hard sell" shtick. I understand they want to move books and promote themselves, but the whole set-up of a cartoonist sitting behind a table watching you while you decide whether or not to spend money on this comic that they've (presumably) put a lot of time and effort into is awkward enough without the sales-pitch. On the other hand, I didn't feel at all guilty passing up on mediocre work by the guys who took the aggressive approach. I felt a little but guilty ever time I passed up mediocre work by nice, pleasant folks. I left the Festival wondering how many book had been bought out of pity or to avoid slight social embarrassment.

3) There were a number of cartoonists whose work looked interesting from a distance, but which turned out to be pretty bad when I actually flipped through their books. Quite frankly, I thought there were too many cartoonists there who had put much more thought and effort into their promotion and packaging than into making their comics, or, perhaps more importantly, learning to make their comics. I kept thinking of all of those essays Don Simpson has been posting on his blog which make the controversial argument that cartoonists should learn to write and to draw before they start charging strangers for their comics.

I was also reminded of Tim O'Neil's essay about how American cartoonists have a bias against collaboration, which he removed from his blog because Tom Spurgeon made a good argument against it. I wish Tim hadn't done that, partly because I really do think he was onto something. Now, it's true that no one criticizes Harvey Pekar because he doesn't draw his own comics and no one criticizes Peter Bagge for getting inking and coloring art assists. It's also true that there's an economic factor in play: collaborators have to split the pay-off. However, I still think it's kind of strange that out of all the weird, experimental comics on display at MOCCA, none of the artsy-literary cartoonists had decided to experiment with collaborating with a writer. I picked up a number of well-drawn/visually interesting books that turned out feature really lousy, sub-undergraduate-writing-worskshop writing. These books would be greatly improved if their creators would either learn to write or get someone to write it with them.

I realize that an absence doesn't make the best evidence, but it seems to me that if the bias towards One Creator Comics didn't exist (as Tom Spurgeon suggested) then we'd actually see a few collaborative comics at an event like the MOCCA Festival.

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