Monday, April 18, 2011

MoCCA 2011

So, last weekend was the MoCCA Art Festival. It's an annual comics art festival here in NYC that's a showcase for independent and alternative comics artists and publishers and a fundraiser for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. It's about 80+% non-genre material, so the crowd is a lot more hipster than cosplay, though that didn't stop a few people from showing up in their homemade superhero costumes. It was unfortunate to see that one guy walking about in his Superman outfit. It was actually a pretty good one, but he looked like he'd come to a formal black tie event thinking it was an 80's theme night costume party.

I used to volunteer for the festival as an AV guy when Ken Wong (the guy on the right) was the president of MoCCA and Allan Dorrison (the bald guy in my lap) ran the panel room. Ken does these cool origami comics and Allan has an online comic strip, and last year I was invited to share a table with them at the festival.

I'd done the 24 hour comic book challenge a few times, so I had three comics complete and ready to print. I knocked out another - My Goddamn Upstairs Neighbor - and printed them D.I.Y.-style, in other words, on a photocopier and stapling them myself. I had no expectations of selling anything, but wound up doing pretty well. I got a couple of short reviews and mentions online, and in general people seemed to like the books, especially the reality-based Neighbor and Crazy Lady. The comics on the left side are mine.

In addition to the three of us, Lee French (the sleepy guy) did sketches, and Sharon Ma (not pictured anywhere here, but from whom I stole a couple of these photos) had a couple of mini-comics out.

The view from the table. The Mr. T piggy bank has kind of become our signature, for want of any other common identifier. I was psyched to be back at the festival. I had a new book - My First Mermaid Parade - which I was proud of and thought would do well. And there's a real satisfaction to just doing the work and having a completed comic in hand, regardless.

That said, sales were not great this year. I sold about a third of what I did last year. At the same time, I'd printed about twice as much as I had the previous year, so it felt like I'd sold nothing! I don't know what sales were like overall for the festival. I've read some reports that people had a great weekend, and some that said it was lukewarm. But then, one guy who reported great sales sold about the same number of mini-comics that I did. I'm still too new to this to be able to gauge what constitutes good, bad, or great. We did make our table costs back out of our collective profits, with some beer money left over. Since I produce my comics d.i.y. with very minimal outlay of cash, it's not like I have a huge financial investment at stake. I don't know how people who get their stuff professionally printed and travel from out of town do it. The Field of Dreams theory, I guess.

Just because I didn't sell a lot, that doesn't mean there was no interest in the stuff. Lots of people would come over to the table, pick up a comic, read the whole thing, tell us they liked it, and walk away. When I was a kid, the guy who ran the local comic shop would yell at us, "This isn't a library!" I guess that wouldn't be cool in this setting, though. One older couple stood there for about half an hour and each read every single one of the dozen or so comics we had to offer. They did buy a couple at the end. I wish I could do that with movies, just walk into a movie theater, watch a movie, and then decide if I liked it enough to pay for it.

I know, bitchy bitchy. The truth is, even if someone didn't fork over the two dollars for a copy, I still get a kick when someone just reads my work and likes it. Today I got a surprise: this guy Brian LeTendre gave me a rave review of two of the books on his podcast! (Skip ahead to the 51 minute mark to hear him talk about me.) I remember meeting him last year and at this festival. We had a discussion about Turbo Teen. Besides being extremely flattered by his complimentary review, I think it's really cool that he devoted a large chunk of his podcast - which generally covers mainstream, commercial comics - to indy stuff. I kind of don't get the people who come to a festival like MoCCA looking for the books you can now find in any bookstore or online. Myself, I look for all the stuff you're never going to see anywhere else.

We also offered a free sketch to anyone who bought a couple of our books. People really like to get sketches; it seems like they don't believe you're really going to draw them something, and when you produce it their eyes light up with glee like kids on Christmas morning or the last day of Hanukkah. Allan had an idea to do Mad Lib sketches, where people would give us a noun, a verb, and an adjective and we would base a sketch around them. What I learned from this exercise was, our educational system really sucks. It was pretty shocking the number of people who didn't know what sort of word a noun is. "Give me an adjective!" "Uh ... dog?" Other people would make requests, and they were fun because people come up with the most unexpected things to draw. This fetching young woman wanted a punk-rock angel. Another dude (and boy I wish I'd gotten a picture of this one) wanted a dragon and a unicorn, with the unicorn smoking a crack pipe and the dragon lighting it for him. That guy flipped when I showed him his dragon and unicorn with crack pipe drawing. But later I had an epiphany. I'd drawn the dragon lighting the crack pipe with a lighter. He's a dragon. I should have drawn him lighting it with fire breath!

The bunch of us have two other shows lined up; one in the Bronx and one in Connecticut. I'm curious to see how they go; I'm not sure they'll attract the best audience for my work. But at least I have a lot of inventory ready to go, so no late night folding and stapling for awhile!

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