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April 25, 2011

Feature Story: MoCCA’s Unique Blend


The annual MoCCA festival, a fund-raiser for the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art in New York, is not a comic convention; it's more like a craft show. Marvel and DC aren't there, and nobody is pushing a movie or a video game. It's simply table after table of small publishers and individual creators, all eager to show you their latest creations. At MoCCA, small is beautiful.

Past shows have been plagued with complaints about organization, locale, even temperature, but this year's show seemed to go smoothly. The location, the Lexington Avenue Armory, was shabby but spacious, the perfect venue for a show like this. Although the show did get crowded in the middle of the day, it was still possible to walk the aisles and see almost all of the art.
A number of graphic novels from small publishers debuted at the show, including Galit and Gilad Seliktar's Farm 54, three stories about growing up in rural Israel in the 1970s and 1980s; Liar's Kiss, a crime noir mystery by Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano from Top Shelf; and another Top Shelf book, Night Animals, by Brecht Evens. Drawn + Quarterly had advance copies of two much-anticipated May books, Chester Brown's Paying for It (an account of, and argument for, his life as a john), and Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, the story of a doomed Japanese regiment in World War II. Fantagraphics, Abrams, Pantheon, and NBM were all doing a booming business at their booths as well.
As for the comics no one else has, MoCCA is best known as a venue for independent and up-and-coming artists, and as such, it's a place to discover new and unusual handmade mini-comics. Rica Takashima, creator of the semiautobiographical yuri manga Rica 'tte Kanji!?, had a photocopied comic with new penciled pages telling the story of her girlfriend Miho-chan's childhood. Marguerite Dabaie had two slim volumes of Hookah Girl, her memoir of growing up as a Palestinian Christian in America. Sarah McIntyre had copies of her cheery children's graphic novel Vern and Lettuce, which is commercially published in the UK but not available in the U.S. (except at MoCCA). At the other end of the scale, in terms of both size and commercial potential, are Reid Psaltis's tiny, whimsical comics, each made from a standard sheet of paper folded into sixteenths, which present the reader with a series of sequences as they are unfolded. The one I picked up, Fish Market, showed the inner thoughts of seafood on the small pages and opened up to a full-page view of a fish stand.
Will the Next Big Thing lurk among these handmade comics? Absolutely. Many of the comics on view included work that will be published commercially within the next year or so. The mini-comic This Isn't Working: Comics About Ex-Boyfriends, edited by Robyn Chapman, included a short story by MariNaomi, whose Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22, was recently featured here at GraphicNovelReporter. Dave Roman had soon-to-be-collectible copies of his Teen Boat mini-comic, created with John Green, which has recently been signed for publication as a graphic novel by Houghton Mifflin. And Julia Wertz, the writer and artist behind The Fart Party and Drinking at the Movies, was offering a handmade comic with new strips from "longer, unpublished books to be released in the quite distant future.” 
One can only hope. But that's what MoCCA is all about.