Alexa Dickman of Ladies Making Comics went to MoCCA in New York this weekend. And she told Bleeding Cool all about it!
MoCCA Fest is a nice change of pace from the usual convention grind– no big media or movie presence, no rows upon rows of longboxes of back issues and discount trades, no press releases packaged as panels– just pure comics goodness all weekend. It's essentially one giant Artists' Alley, with a great mix of up-and-comers, recent stars, the old guard, and neophyte creators. In the span of an hour at one point, I saw Becky Dreisdadt, Jerry Robinson, Chris Giarusso, Spike, Paul Levitz, and Becky Cloonan either at their own tables or just walking around as attendees themselves. Representatives from the various Scandinavian countries took up nearly half of a wall, as did TopatoCo, home to David Maliki!, Dorothy Gambrell, Kate Beaton, Jeph Jacques, Chris Hastings, and KC Green.
My initial encounter with Kate Beaton was a bit of luck, as I happened to be perusing her prints before she arrived, and almost without my noticing, she materialized in front of me. Later on, it was nearly impossible to get near her (doubly so because she floated between the TopatoCo, Drawn and Quarterly, and her Pizza Island studio-mates' booths.)
I stopped by the Evil Twin booth at one point to pick up a new copy of Comic Book Comics #5: The All-Lawsuit Issue!, as I had given my first copy to my Copyright Law professor. While there, I chatted with Fred Van Lente's wife, Crystal Skillman, a playwright. She's working on a stage production of Action Philosophers, as well as something with female superheroes. We discussed how in both comics and theater, it can be an uphill battle for women creators (though at MoCCA, you could not imagine women being underrepresented in comics, as they easily made up half the exhibitors.)
In the course of another orbit around the floor, I got Lucy Knisley to sign my copy of French Milk, and told her how much I had enjoyed her work since she posted fan art to the Oscar Wilde LiveJournal community we once both belonged to. She told me she was trying to pitch an Oscar Wilde travelogue, where she would visit his birthplace and site of significatnt events in his life. I gave her the tip that a company in London offers an Oscar Wilde-themed walking tour that I had thoroughly enjoyed while I was over there. Fingers crossed!
Saturday night was the CBLDF Strange Tales fundraiser at the Mad Hatter Pub a block away from the armory, and I wound up at a table with Simon Fraser (of 2000AD) and Tim Hamilton (of Act-i-Vate). When I told Fraser I had read 2000AD every week when I lived in London, he congratulated me on putting up with the "boys' club" material that dominates the Galaxy's Greatest Comic and explained that part of their intent with Nikolai Dante was to have a story that accomodated good female characters, and that he was hoping to get Becky Cloonan to do a cover soon. Hamilton spent a portion of the night sketching Morbius for the fundraiser. I approached Kate Beaton again to get her to sign a Holmes and the Two Watsons shirts I had bought after our initial encounter.
Later, after discussing my blog with my tablemates, they said, "Oh, you have to talk to Heidi MacDonald," and promptly flagged her down. We exchanged pleasantries before she went to get a drink, but later on we managed to have a longer conversation. She thanked me and the rest of the Tumblr comics community for taking up the flag she had been waving for 30 years, promoting female creators and characters in comics. She also commented on the strange habit of the comics press to want to treat every woman who does anything in comics as a pioneer or a groundbreaker, which has the ironic effect of diminishing women creators as a whole, especially the ones that came before. Forgetting that I was in the City that Never Sleeps, I went back to my hotel around 10 and apparently missed out on an awesome night of karaoke at some Japanese restaurant.
On Sunday, I set up camp with my friends of the Boston Comics Roundtable, and asked what everyone got up to the night before. Shelli Paroline, who has worked on Boom Studios' Muppet comics, sheepishly shared that she and her boyfriend/colorist Braden Lamb had had dinner in the First Second offices. Hopefully some good news will follow. Across from the BCR table was Emma T. Capps, a 14-year-old whose "Jam Days" won the Gold Medal at the 2011 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Her foreshortening skills alone are enough to guarantee that she's got a future as an artist, and she self-promotes with the energy and verve only a young teenager can.
I attended a few panels throughout the weekend. The "Spotlight on the World" was largely the Scandinavians (represented by Mats Jonsson and Ville Hänninen) and a Flemish Belgian (Brecht Evens). The primary topics of conversation involved getting government grants to do comics, then apologizing to the Americans for making them jealous, and the importance of breaking into the American market. To that end, Hänninen had edited and the first Finnish Comics Annual 2011 to show off the best and the brightest of Finnish comics. Other topics of note involved the rise of female cartoonists in both Finland and Sweden, and did they mention the government grants?
The YA and Comics panel was moderated by USA Today Pop Candy's Whitney Matheson with panelists M.K. Reed, Lucy Knisley, and Tracy White. Much of the discussion was about how to reach teenage readers. While web presence was discussed and seen as important, the panelists all agreed that due to the anonymity of the internet, it was hard to tell how many of their readers were actually teens, and thus the importance of librarians and teachers was stressed. They acknowledged the double-edged sword of print publishing: on the one hand they get exposure and legitimacy, but on the other hand, editors and publishers are quick to make changes to fit a certain demographic and are cagey about the more explicit material prose YA gets away with.
The Pizza Island panel was probably the most fun. Pizza Island, for those who don't know, is the name of the shared studio space in Brooklyn where Kate Beaton, Domitille Collardey, Sarah Glidden, Meredith Gran, Lisa Hanawalt, and Julia Wertz all work. They've been written about plenty in other press, and they want to make it clear that it's a little tiring for everyone to point out they're all women– it just worked out that way. They talked about the perks of working in a studio, namely not being isolated all the time, as well as learning new skills from each other (Beaton is starting to try coloring, and Glidden asks Hanawalt for help with patterns). They also discussed how it was easier to promote each other's work than their own (though Wertz has been known to hijack the studio Twitter account to do just that). But while they share a space and help promote each other, their work is decidedly seperate; there are no plans for any anthology or collaboration of any kind, and both Glidden and Wertz say they may be leaving soon (Wertz needs a new publisher and may soon lose her status as a self-sufficient cartoonist–woe!) However, the studio is having an Open House on April 30 for all who want to drop by and see where the magic is made.
Though I have just barely begun to make a dent in my stack of purchases, discoveries I made that I have enjoyed thus far:
A Home for Mr. Easter by Brooke A. Allen, published by NBM Publishing. An awkward, outcast, overweight teenage girl discovers a bunny that lays colorful eggs that grant wishes. Declaring him to be the Easter Bunny, she races against greedy pet shop owners, mad magicians, and cosmetic testing scientists to try to find his home. On the NBM blog, Allen describes the audience for this book: "If you love unicorns, bunnies, deer, fruit roll-ups, riding horses and you're not a 7 year old girl then this book was made with care just for you," which about sums it up as far as I'm concerned. It's got all the charm, humor, and adventure of a Pixar film, and if you've got a 12+ year old girl who you still need an Easter present for, you really couldn't top this.
Breathers by Justin Madson, self-published Just Mad Books. I'm only about 80 pages into the 420 but I'm savoring every page. The story opens in a world where (we're told) a deadly airborne virus has been unleashed, and everyone has to wear respiratory masks, or "breathers", when they go outside. Much of life has remained the same– little girls go to school, guys still hestitate over asking for girls' numbers– but the threat of imminent death hangs over the intertwining stories, as cracks begin to show in everyone's calm veneer, as well as in the story of the virus itself. What does the little girl's mother intend to do with the handgun in her purse? How much longer can a detective keep his "Filter K" habit quiet? And why can a suicidal teenage girl breathe the air without a breather without dying? I'm still finding out, and I'm loving watching the stories unfold.
Houdini and Holmes (#1 of 2) by Polly Guo takes the old "Conan Doyle the Editor" theory of the Sherlock Holmes stories and sets a Holmes case against the backdrop of Houdini and Conan Doyle's famous falling out. Houdini is accused of murdering a medium whose career he had just ruined and Watson agrees to help him after Holmes refuses. It's the first half of the story so it is hard to make a complete judgment on it, but I do intend to seek out the second issue, which is perhaps one of the better indications of quality.
The Muse of Richard Long, Part 1, written by Gennady Ulman and Michael Blank, art by Michael Blank, is a futuristic take on the Pygmalion and Galatea myth. A sculptor buys an alien cat named Gu'lee, only to wake up the next morning to find a gorgeous woman chiseled from stone. The cat shapeshifts into a living version of the woman, and after telling him a few tantalizing clues about who she really is and where she comes from, she disappears, leaving him desperate to track her down and harness her inspirational powers. I'm a sucker for re-imaginings of old myths, and sci-fi takes on them are always welcome. Blank's art is suitably weirdly beautiful for the subject matter. I'll be keeping an eye out for the next issue of this one as well.
Honorable Mention: Laurel Leake's A Helpful Guide to Understanding Gaga minicomic; a collection of strips she has up on her DeviantArt that hilariously commentate on and satirize Lady Gaga's music videos. They speak for themselves, I think.
Alexa Dickman writes for Ladies Making Comics