Last weekend I was with my fellow ComicMixers Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash and Martha Thomases at the annual MoCCA independent comics convention. And by “independent,” I mean web comics, self-published comics, small press comics, and what Ms. Nash refers to as “I’d rather be hand-stapled” comics. It’s one of my favorite shows for one simple reason: the enthusiasm in the room is tremendous.
I’d say that the average age of the creators who weren’t paying for one of the few corporate booths (Fantagraphics, Yoe Books, Abrams, etc.) was about 25 years old. Which means there was a lot of dyed hair and hipster hats in Manhattan’s Beaux-Arts 69th Regiment Armory. These are folks who, by and large, couldn’t care less about capes and masks and thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a fun movie but not necessarily a justification for one’s choice of vocation. They probably aren’t making a living off of their comics work, and they might very well be losing money. They are in the medium for the love of the medium, and they are taking the medium down roads undreamt by the folks at Disney and Time Warner.
The Armory was built in 1904 and is a grand place. It was built to house and train the 69th Regiment, which traces its roots back to America’s Civil War. I’m sure the idea of filling the space with many thousand young inkwell divers underneath a gigantic helium-filled Charlie Brown balloon eluded architect Richard Howland Hunt (1862 – 1931). Then again, Hunt probably couldn’t conceive his masterwork would also house the first Roller Derby television broadcasts or the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
I truly love the contradiction.
The prestigious Society of Illustrators acquired MoCCA several years ago, and we-all were worried they’d try to make it all frou-frou. And maybe they did try to appeal to their artsy-fartsy crowd a bit. Nope. No way that was going to work. These kids have their own artsy-fartsy crowd, thank you, and they’re very, very comfortable doing the types of stories they want to tell, in the manner they want to tell them.
To my ancient and besotted brain, this is wonderful. It was wonderful back when it started, attracting the likes of then-newbies such as Jessica Abel, Alison Bechdel and Dean Haspiel. These days, Jessica, Alison and Dean are getting comparatively ancient, but they remain lot less ancienter than I am. I’m sure their work inspired many of the young folks at this weekend’s show. Being a mentor is fun, but becoming an icon can be painful.
MoCCA got its start in 2002 and I attended the second show at the urging of Ms. Thomases. That enthusiasm I talked about was there back in 2003, and it revitalized my desire to work in the medium once again. One quick walk through the room and it was clear to me that the American comics medium had a future, one that was far beyond the traditional publishers, the traditional comics shops, and the traditional ways of thinking.
I am glad to say this enthusiasm has grown in the ensuing 12 years. When the Society of Illustrators picked up the show, I was afraid it was going to go on the legit.
Silly, silly me. Comics will never be truly legitimate. There are way too many gifted weirdoes slaving away at their drawing boards and kitchen tables. Some might be trustafarians, some might be downright freaks, and some might not be able to communicate in any other manner. More power to them.
As long as the comics art medium has a large pool of industrious misfits, we will have a wonderful future.