Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the third outing of the Locust Moon Comics Festival in Philadelphia, my first time attending. It was a beautiful autumn day, and though traffic getting into the city bedevilled my arrival a little, I still managed to go on a photo-taking spree, attend and report on a panel, and have quite a few really inspiring conversations with indie creators tabling there. The Festival had an ideal location in the Rotunda, full of light and with the added grace of some old wood and fixtures from the turn of the century, as well as being located quite near to the hosting Locust Moon Comics shop, and this made for an overall very pleasant experience for attendees. Philly has a good thing going with their own indie comics fest and it's only set to do greater things as time goes on.
Since I was rushing around much of the time, especially taking photos, I didn't amass a massive haul of books at the show, but the ones that did "find me" and come home with me really command my respect and appreciation. Their unique qualities are very striking and they all come from a place of vision and commitment that stands as a really good measure of the rise of indie comics and art comics right now.
I realized when I met Annie Mok at the Festival that she had contributed to a Vertigo horror comics anthology, The Witching Hour, that I had reviewed some time ago, and was one of the creators who I was most interested by. She has a lot of great things on the horizon to judge from our conversation, and I came away with her self-published Shadow Manifesto. Shadow Manifesto consists of semi-autobio vignettes where what happens between the panels or is even crossed out in the speech bubbles in the panels seems to take on extra significance. There is indeed a shadowiness to the work, but it's a light haze, a white smoke that obscures and reveals. The artwork reminds me of pencilling on waxed paper with charcoal, then viewing it in obverse, though that's not an accurate account of Mok's process, just an impression it leaves with me.
We find reference to horror in pop culture, particularly the Vampire in folklore as tied into sexuality and violence, and also the suggestion that same-sex relationships inhabit a kind of endangered zone as well, in society. The book is definitely resonant, and leaves you thinking about what was not said as much as about what was said. In comics, creators often feel they have to force the panel into exposition, but Mok has a different instinct at work here, which lures the reader into interaction with the panel.
I found this book toward the end of the show when a friend had picked one up, and rather than steal his copy, I got my own. Common Curses/Common Blessings by Maritsa Patrinos really makes me laugh for a number of reasons. Firstly, I should say it's beautiful, small wood-block printed style book that reads in two directions, the first featuring curses and the second featuring blessings. They are all drawn from a tone we might deem as traditional, but are very modern in content.
It's the iconic, symbolic manner of the artwork that makes you feel that these ideas have been set in stone for centuries contrasted with the stupid minutiae of daily life that we struggle with that tickles my humor.
Or the maddening blessing that some seem to have (not me) that mosquitoes don't like them. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The book is both lovely and very witty.
I was delighted to catch up with the mighty Nathan Fox at the Festival, having seen him at New York Comic Con constantly so swamped with people that I hadn't been able to break through the crowd. Fox straddles an amazing number of angles in comic and commercial art with grace and also has a definitive impact on the future of visual art through piloting the new MFA program at SVA in Visual Narrative. But on a purely person level as a comic fan, his covers and interior artwork make me stop and stare, and stare again. They are mesmeric, and this cover is no exception. I pretty much want to hang it on my wall. Right now he's the lead artist on Captain Victory from Dynamite and doing covers and interiors, which also host guest artists, making it all rather a visual feast. In this issue, #2, he shares the stage with Michel Fiffe.
Something interesting about Fox's work is that, while I can tell that the covers he does and the interior comic narratives he draws are by the same person, they are quite different in many ways. His covers have such a strong linear component, and there's a sense of barely contained restraint that he then populates with a remarkable number of elements, as seen above, but in his comic art, he seems to allow himself more freedom and it's all about that energetic ink. But you can see the two approaches interacting on some of his more organic covers and you can see his unfailing instinct for using background space and edges in his comics, too.
This little book surprised me quite a bit. Space Box #1 by Bear Brains Comics is produced to such a high quality that it would be unsurprising to find them picked up to greater distribution. Not only is the cover quality and artwork excellent, but the cartooning is so sure of itself, so grounded in a well-defined sense of style, that it jumps out at you.
It's wacky, funny, and goofy in its subject matter, and that works well with the artwork, but the artwork is what leaves the biggest impression of personal hard work and indie comics aspirations for quality.
Jacob Mazer was a brand new tabler at the Festival, but he's been developing a network of his own and is exploring the benefits of group activities like the Fest. He's the mind behind Animal Kingdom Publishing in Philadelphia, which brings together prose, comics, and other art forms into an expansive dialogue. He's the editor of the Animal Kingdom Anthology as well.
Universe of Torment is both written and illustrated by Mazer, and shows a unique voice, the strong influence of place in the role of Philadelphia in the stories, and a focus in on the details of life through character experiences. It makes for a very interesting anthology, and Animal Kingdom will hopefully become an imprint you see popping up more on the indie circuit since they've got the elbow grease behind consistent publication of fresh new works and a clear sense of where they are headed.
You can see from these entries that even a few books picked up at an indie show can open new worlds of thought and experience and even pose the potential for setting new trends in comics. Sometimes attending an indie comics event can be a voyage into a kind of estuary of teeming, generative comics ideas just as they are breaking into wider readership, and that certainly was the experience I had at the Locust Moon Comics Festival. Thanks to everyone who took the time to chat with me and for being part of this wider celebration of independent comics.