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OGNs Shine at the 2005 MoCCA Art Festival
Article by David E. Miller
Posted June 15, 2005

MoCCA logoFour years ago, a fledgling museum with no physical location started a small annual festival in the historic Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. The festival’s purpose was to give small publishers and creators a chance to find a larger audience. The room was filled with people whose hobby was making mini-comics and for emerging writers and artists who were just trying to get noticed. A few of the better known publishing houses showed up, but the focus remained small.

The inspiration that permeated the room that weekend was that if you had an idea, access to a photocopier, some paper, a marginal drawing talent, and the ability to fold, then you could exhibit at the show.

This year, however, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) Art Festival boasted three expansive rooms of exhibitors and auxiliary programming on a separate floor. Most of the major publishing houses attended the event, held June 10-12, including Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and Kitchen Sink Press. Other up-and-coming publishers like Soft Skull, Buenaventura, Royal Flush, and Bries (who came all the way from Belgium), AdHouse Books, AiT/Planet Lar, and NBM were also in attendance.

The spirit of the event has not been lost, though, as there is still plenty of room for the little guy with a quirky little book trying to build a fan base. While mini-comics and independent comics were available, original and collected graphic novels were bountiful as most of the tables showcased the publishers’ wares in this form.

Whatever genre tickled your collected or independent fancy was available to be discussed, purchased, and read. Gay Press was selling the Cavalcade of Boys trade collection. For the science minded, G.T. Labs had Suspended in Language: Niels Bohr’s Life, Discoveries, and the Century He Shaped. If you like “adult” books, House of Twelve Comics had what you needed. Perhaps you have developed a fascination for original graphic novels about Jewish gangsters, then you would have two upcoming choices, Brownsville by NBM and Jew Gangster by iBooks.

The growing audience of the graphic novel was apparent. Byron Preiss of iBooks told me about an anthology he is doing in conjunction with St. Martin’s Press that will give an overview of the small and large publishing house’s works from the previous year. So in October, look for "‘The Year’s Best Graphic Novels, Comics, Manga.” Any other convention I have attended had a scattered focus, but this was the only show dedicated solely to this market.

The icing on this already delicious cake came in the form of events taking place on the seventh floor throughout the weekend. Adriane Tomine of Optic Nerve fame gave an excellent presentation on his creative influences. Frank Miller traded barbs with his mentor and Festival Guest of Honor, Neal Adams, in a sparsely attended but highly informative discussion. Indicative of the weekend, however, was the standing room only panel discussion with Jonathan Lethem and Daniel Clowes. The author of The Fortress of Solitude interviewed the rock-star of the medium and multiple Harvey Award winner Daniel Clowes for his recent work on Eightball and recently published hardcover, Ice Haven.

Tom BelandHowever, I believe the event was best personified by Tom Beland. A few years ago Beland began writing, drawing, and self-publishing a comic about his chance meeting with his future wife, Lily. Beland bared his soul on the page, and his True Story, Swear to God started gathering a groundswell of support. Here was an independent publisher who figured it out on his own and has now developed one of the best comics on the shelves, recently putting out the second trade of the series.

Beland’s is an amazing tale, replete with stories of random phone calls from his heroes such as John Romita, calling just to tell him that they are a fan. It really brought home the potential of this event, that here was this person who has actually made a living and a reputation out of doing exactly what he loves to do, with the love of his life, Lily, by his side.

So for all those who feel that their graphic novels preferences are being underrepresented by the mega-bookstores, and for those who feel there are no places to showcase your graphic novel ideals, fear not, because the MoCCA Art Festival will return next year. The power of the graphic novel is not to be tampered with and it is only growing stronger.

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