This past weekend was MoCCA Fest 2016, or for those of you unfamiliar, the Museum of Comic and Cartooning Art Festival. Since 2014 it has been put on by The Society of Illustrators. Once again it was held at a new venue, the Metropolitan West next to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museu. Highlighted guests included Sonny Liew (Doctor Fate, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) and Rebecca Sugar (Adventure Time, Steven Universe). As with the past few years, I attended both days.
I was fortunate enough to get into both Sonny Liew’s Spotlight discussion on Saturday and Rebecca Sugar’s on Sunday. Both of these discussions were eye opening not only in the words that were said, but in who was listening to them.
On Saturday, Sonny’s discussion was moderated by his Doctor Fate collaborator, Paul Levitz. And you know that it’s an important discussion when people like Columbia University’s Karen Green and legendary storyteller David Mazzucchelli are sitting front row center for it. Sonny Liew was introduced to me through his work on DC’s most recent efforts to reintroduce Doctor Fate. Being a fan of Paul’s and following his Legion run in the New 52 as well as part of his World’s Finest run, I was looking forward to checking out Doctor Fate when it premiered last year. What kept me going on Doctor Fate was more than just Paul’s ability to craft a story, but Sonny Liew really knocking the art out of the park.
Another important element of this all was the diversity in Doctor Fate. After some 75 years, Doctor Fate is Egyptian in the main DC continuity. Granted, James Robinson and Brett Booth beat Paul and Sonny (not by much, but still) in Earth 2 continuity, but that Doctor Fate didn’t have his own solo title. And Doctor Fate is a character that really should be represented by someone of either African or Middle Eastern heritage. It was a (too) long time coming, but I’m glad DC got there.
Even then, that might not even be most important element of the diversity in Doctor Fate. Sonny Liew is. On the Friday before MoCCA Fest, Sonny and Paul were signing at Midtown Comics Downtown. Sonny Liew is a Malaysian-born artist residing in Singapore that was in town for MoCCA Fest. He’s had worked published on and off for over a decade at both Marvel and DC. His latest works with Doctor Fate as well as new hit creator-owned graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye have increased his profile. It’s how I became aware of him, despite loving Marc Hempel’s work and not realizing he also worked on My Faith In Frankie with Marc.
The point I’m getting at is at both the signing at Midtown Comics and the discussion at MoCCA, many people in attendance were of Asian heritage. A young man sitting by me was furiously taking notes and anxiously awaited his turn to ask Sonny Liew a question about how to be a better artist. Non-white women and men were excited by Sonny Liew and engaged in the discussion. This is important. This is the only way comics (and any entertainment medium) can have a future. Different people with different backgrounds and different stories to tell need to feel not only welcomed, but encouraged to participate. Sonny Liew is not only putting out great work on his own, but he’s inspiring other people to as well.
Sunday was about all about Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar. If you were in attendance, you saw some people wearing their red t-shirts with a yellow star in the middle just like Steven Universe’s shirt. Sunday, however, such apparel was a phenomenon. Many people were decked out in Steven Universe merch or homemade creations. A line wrapped around the Ink 48 hotel where the panels were held. I was able to get into the discussion moderated by Ryan Sands, but by then it was standing room only. It was packed to the absolute limit. The excitement was contagious, and if you scanned the room, there was a smile on everyone’s face.
From the moment she began talking, the room hung on to every word she said. She talked candidly about her life and her creations in a way that’s rarely scene at these sort of conventions. She talked with an immense appreciation to all of her fans, and humbly about her roles at Adventure Time and Steven Universe at Cartoon Network. All of the points she made were encouraging ones. She pushed people to create. To always strive to be better. She talked about how Steven Universe is for her brother who is not only her best friend, but someone who helped her to strive and be a better artist. She took out her ukulele at one point and played the song “So This Is Love” from Disney’s Cinderella which meant a lot to her and she only played before in front of Ian, her boyfriend. You can watch that here. It was moving. You could barely hear a pin drop. She even mentioned she wrote some poems and wasn’t planning on reading them, but when everyone in the audience could be heard gasping in delight when talked about her poems, she read one anyway.
Once it came to the audience questions, people of all different ages, races, orientations and gender identities were given a chance to ask her everything from how to be a better artist to how can I geek out in front of you without being scary. It was honestly one of the most diverse groups of people I’ve ever seen at a convention discussion before, if not the most that wasn’t specifically about diversity.
You know why that is?
It’s because the audience Steven Universe has is that diverse. Rebecca Sugar unapologetically explores gender politics, alternative families, queer romance, and much more in a sci-fi cartoon that offers something for a wider audience than most television ever has before, if not offering the most for a wider audience. She also has the honor of being the first woman to solely create a show for Cartoon Network, proving once again that diversity works for everyone. It lifts us all up.
Rebecca Sugar also had advice on comics, the medium in which she started out. She suggested to any artist that wants to break into cartooning, that doing your own comics is the best way to start. No one can stop you from making them. She warned that doesn’t mean people read them, as she states from her personal experience, but it’s the only way you’ll get better. The same holds true for writing. No one can stop a writer from writing writing a script, a poem, a song. The only person stopping you is you. So stop it.
I left MoCCA Fest this year feeling inspired, and I don’t seem to be the only one. Which is good. I even felt less cynical. Having coffee with Molly Jackson after the show, the song “It’s All Been Done” by Barenaked Ladies came on. And you know what? I didn’t believe it this time. I’m never going to believe it again. It hasn’t all been done. So many voices have never been heard. More than we can even comprehend. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Just you wait.
We need more Rebecca Sugars in the world with a creative voice. A lot more. I wish I was more like her. A lot of people do. And that’s what we all need. This is only the beginning.