Martha Thomases: Finding The Big Apple

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Except I did it backwards.

Last week, as you no doubt recall, I wrote about New York Comic-Con, one of the biggest pop culture shows in the country. This week, I’d like to write about one of the smallest.

But first, some background and some sociological theory.

New Yorkers are obsessed with real estate, and New York City has only a limited supply. Living in the right neighborhood, working in the right neighborhood, partying in the right neighborhood – for a certain class of people who live in this city, these are vital pieces of their identity.

Nothing stays the right neighborhood forever.

When I moved to New York in the late 1970s, rich people lived on the Upper East Side. Today, you can rent or buy an apartment in some of those buildings for less than it costs to buy the same space in certain parts of Brooklyn. President Bill Clinton bases his foundation in Harlem. Places where my mother wouldn’t let me walk by myself because they were too disgusting are now so expensive I couldn’t afford them.

Over the years, people in the real estate business have tried to figure out what makes a neighborhood happen. To over-simplify, you need artists and gay people. Artists seek out inexpensive space for their studios, and then rich people who buy art want to hang out with artists. Gay people (according to the stereotype) value their homes and invest, bringing with them cute shops and restaurants. In the time since I’ve moved here, I’ve seen this happen in SoHo, the East Village, the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Park Slope and the western part of Bleecker Street. At least.

There was a time when Eighth Street was the coolest address in the world. It saw the birth of the Beats, the folk music scene, the hippie flower-power leather sandal set. Because it was so cool, everyone wanted to be there. Landlords jacked up the rents, and the hippies couldn’t afford it anymore. Soon, it was nothing buy tacky shoe stores. There were so many that real estate developers referred to a phenomenon known as the Eight Street Effect, in which once there is a certain saturation of shoe stores, a crash will occur.

Landlords don’t like this.

Sometimes, they take their money and go play in another sandbox, in another part of town. Sometimes, they take the long view and invest in the properties they have.

What does this have to do with comics?

This: The Crazy 8 Cartoon Festival, which was held last Saturday, October 18, on Eighth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue.

Go ahead. Look at the link. You’ll see that stores all across the street were hosting events of interest to pop culture fans, from tattoos (for $8!) to vintage animation to comic book artists.

I got there kind of late, around four, because I had been to a art studio crawl in Gowanus, Brooklyn, earlier that day (see how-to-gentrify, above). There were a bunch of people dressed as zombies on the street, looking less like The Walking Dead than Shaun of the Dead.

In the back of the Marlton Hotel, there were a few comic book creators showing their wares. Among them was Amy Chu, whom I had tried to see at NYCC but wasn’t able to get close enough to her table, and Sean Von Gorman, whose work amuses me greatly. Not only could one actually have a conversation with these fine folks and others, but there was a bar in the hotel, and free snacks and free punch provided by WhistlePig, a whiskey company.

Unlike a normal comic book convention, this one attracted people who knew nothing whatsoever about comic books. Hotel guests would mosey back to see what was going on, and, at least while I was there, often bought something.

I’ve read about other really small shows, in libraries or in college dorms. I don’t know how this compared to them. Like them, I suppose, it was quiet and friendly. No one was harassed about what she was wearing. No one got into a loud argument about anything. It was incredibly friendly and pleasant.

Yeah, I’d pay extra for that.