Jon Gorga and Palle Schmidt dipping underground at Bergen Street

So, still reeling a bit from the move and all the new stuff that’s happening elsewhere, but I did get the time to drop in for the MoCCA Arts Festival at the Armory last Saturday.

I particularly enjoyed it as an opportunity immediately to get acquainted with the New York comics scene and meet in person a number of people whose work I’ve been appreciating, and some of whom I’ve been corresponding with, over the last half decade or more. I enjoyed attending the Strandicon event and meeting for the first time the whole Comics Journal crew, old and new (videos of panel here); it was great to drop in for a reception at the fine Bergen Street Comics, where I’d never been before, and chat to Tucker Stone. I was great finally to meet comics critics and scholars such as Bill Kartalopoulos, Joe McCulloch, Marc Sobel, Chris Mautner, Alex Dueben, Heidi McDonald and others, and it was cool to sit down and chat with my good internet spirit Derik Badman (read his MoCCA report here). I also got to catch up with a bunch of my Danish friends and colleagues, who were over here in force, as well as some of our Nordic brethren, plus several New York cartoonists I haven’t talked to much since I last lived here.

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.

Søren Mosdal, Cav Bøgelund and Rikke Bakman at the Danish table

Yes, a new book by Lisa Hanawalt is not to be scoffed at, Austin English is always interesting, and that Warren Craghead piece in the Sundays antho is gorgeous, but these are still slim pickings. Joseph Lambert’s hyped I Will Bite You is a pretty book, but seems to me slight… I dunno, maybe I’m just grouching or I possibly missed a lot of good work.

Of course, a lot of the high-profile books released or teased at the show seems remarkable — I cannot wait to get my hands on Chester Brown’s Paying for It (D&Q, in a smart marketing move, only brought 25 copies selling out almost instantly); Jim Woodring’s Congress of the Animals predictably looks great, if also perhaps plain predictable (the new Dave McKean porn book is the opposite: unpredictably kitschy, even for him…); it is fantastic to see Lewis Trondheim’s Approximate Continuum Comics finally out in English (after all these years); Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is a fascinating if flawed work that I’m glad to see released in English; and the collection of Bagge/Hernandez’ Yeah! and the latest Hate! Annual are welcome distractions; Winshluss’ Pinocchio is an impressive if somewhat shallow book, but worth a read; and that fat-ass 301st issue of The Comics Journal (the Éprouvette version) packs a great critical punch.

Perhaps it was just the historical surroundings (noblesse oblige!) or the awareness that across the ocean, in Luzern, another awesome-sounding installment of Fumetto is taking place right now. Anyway, it was great meeting everyone!


  1. Excuse me, brother.

    I find it highly offensive that you can make sweeping pronouncements about whether there was fresh or exciting work at a show when you also admit that you didn’t see everything.

    A comic journalist should have different concerns from a casual show attendee. Did you look at each table? Not just glance as you walked down the middle of the show aisles; did you actually go table to table and consider each attendee, regardless of initial impression? Because realistically, it’s not hard to do. Yes, it’s time consuming and yes, it would take the whole weekend and yes, you will have a lot of awkward conversations with socially inept cartoonists. But that is the job.

    I hate to come down on you alone because a whole lot of other comic journalists have been doing this for years. But basically, if you don’t walk table to table and handle all of the comics, it’s wrong to dismiss the exhibitors as a whole.

    In your article, you talk about mostly established cartoonists, some with decades-long careers. At one point, you reference the comics culture’s interest in someone’s project. Come on! YOU ARE THE COMIC CULTURE! Ironically, I have a hard time at shows seeing established cartoonists because I am so busy checking out new work. See the work for yourself, discover new work in addition to old favorites. Discover things you’re not immediately familiar with before you call yourself writing a convention report. Otherwise, you’re just a casual attendee, not a serious journalist. Ask the questions. Do the work. Talk to the people.

    Again, I’m sorry to come down on you alone, because you’re far from the only culprit. I’m saying that comics deserves better.

  2. Hi Darryl,
    Thank you for commenting! Your points are well taken, but I think you’re working under a misimpression: this is not a piece of journalism, merely some overall, very subjective thoughts. It should be obvious that I haven’t run a survey of all the work debuting at the festival, grading each according to some set of acceptable aesthetic criteria.

    However: I did walk all the aisles, several times, and I did look closely at books at many of the tables. I talked to people. Plus I have a certain amount of experience in the field, and have been to many festivals. This is the impression I came away with.

    But as I say, I may have missed some great work somewhere. I couldn’t buy or read more than a fraction of what was on offer, so I apologize in advance to anyone whose work I may have slighted inadvertently.

  3. I thought you were taking a picture of the store window, it was full of cows! And sheep! You caught me looking like a smartass… Nice hanging out with you, though.

    As for the stagnation or not, I really wouldn’t know. I felt the odd man out at MoCCA, my tastes way too mainstream for most of the stuff on display. I brought home a lot of good stuff, though. The whole trip was really inspirational, great meeting other artist. And it seems my work has finally found it’s real audience, Can’t wait ’till my book hits the stores..!

  4. Man, you look like a million $ in that picture, especially with the bovine background. And yeah, it was a real good time. Looking forward to seeing the US version of the Concubine too.

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