Tagged: Mocca

Joe Corallo: Diversity, Big and Small

Saying a lot happened in the world of comics this past week is a gross understatement. Between MoCCA Fest in the east, WonderCon in the west, the poor performance of the Ghost In The Shell live action remake, and the reports coming out of the Marvel Retailer Summit, I could have column fodder well into May. I’ll try to touch on a few of the points that are important to me.

For starters, I wasn’t at WonderCon, but you should read about it here.

Let’s start with MoCCA then. I wrote about MoCCA last year as well. For those not in the know, MoCCA stands for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. It’s a festival that’s been going on here for the past fifteen years, celebrating the indie side of comics as well as illustration, fine art, and creative innovation. This year featured big name guests including David Lloyd, Becky Cloonan, and Gene Luen Yang.

I joined ComicMix’s own Molly Jackson at the diversity panel MoCCA Fest put on titled Reading Without Walls: Diversity in Comics with panelists Gene Luen Yang, Damian Duffy, Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and moderated by Jonathan W. Gray. This panel is named after Gene Yang’s The Reading Without Walls Challenge he set as The Fifth National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature. The challenge, as detailed in the previous link, is to read a book about someone who doesn’t look like you or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and/or a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun like a chapter book, graphic novel, and so forth. Diversity in format and topic is important too, and if you have a child this is a challenge you should consider giving them. Even if you don’t have a child, this is a challenge we should all give ourselves to make us more well-rounded people.

The panel was absolutely packed, with all the seats taken up and people standing all around the back and sides of the room. The discussion was engaging with all the panelists representing a different background and personal experiences informing their opinions on the importance of diversity. While not everyone saw exactly eye to eye on every aspect of the discussion, it was clear that everyone agreed that diversity is not only important in comics, but it’s crucial for future success of the medium. The room seemed to agree as well, with little challenge to the notion that diversity is important. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you the amount of people, young and old, that looked on at Gene Yang completely awe struck.

This moment at MoCCA was a sharp contrast to the discussion going on at the Marvel Retailer Summit. Again, for those of you who don’t know, ICv2 was given access to cover the Marvel Retailer Summit. The coverage revealed that in many cases, according to what was discussed at the summit, retailers were not able to move books that would be described as diverse. In order to remedy that, Marvel Comics would try a more “meat and potatoes” approach that helped DC Comics find success with DC Rebirth.

Part of this discussion has to deal with legacy characters and who should identify as whom. This is nothing new as well. Yes, it’s new in that Marvel seemed to quickly be replacing top tier characters that have counterparts in multi-billion dollar movie franchises, but DC did this decades ago swapping out Hal Jordan with Kyle Rayner, Barry Allen with Wally West, all the different Robins, and so forth. Hell, Steve Rogers had replacements before Sam Wilson. All of these changes had some degree of success.

The real problem that I heard come up in all the many conversations I had on this topic were not that Thor was a woman or Captain America was black now, but that the changes wouldn’t last, which discourages people from diving into those books. I know that there are readers who are genuinely racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and Islamophobic, but it is more complicated than just that. It’s hard to throw yourself into a character and a story that you know isn’t going to end well.

I understand the frustration with Marvel over what has been reported from that Retailers Summit, but it really is more complicated than that. Many of the problems that have persisted in comics have been problems for decades, well before Axel Alonso and David Gabriel were in the positions they currently hold. The course corrections they’re talking about making aren’t radically different from anything that DC Comics has tried in recent history.

There is no easy solution to the problem of representation in comics because it involves multiple entities. How much of this is on Marvel to recruit diverse talent and invest in promoting diverse books? As part of Disney, the money should be there somewhere. What would it have to take and who would have to embrace that investment? How many characters could they invest in? In order to procure and retain talent that could create characters that could be diverse and a big hit, will Marvel have to change how they handle creators and the rights they hold on their creations so they don’t just take those amazing characters elsewhere? Is some or all of this a responsibility Disney and other corporations have and if so to what extent is all this their responsibility?

Retailers play a big role too. How much of a diverse comic’s success is on retailers promoting certain books more? And how much of this is on readers? If more readers tried taking Gene Luen Yang’s The Reading Without Walls Challenge would some of these books be selling better?

This can be a long discussion with a lot of nuance that I could keep going on about, but I know you have other things you’d like to read today so I’ll start wrapping this up. Before I go, I’d like to bring this back to MoCCA Fest. This year, like all the years I’ve gone, was filled with incredible talent that made me wish I could have dropped so much more money. Two graphic novels I did pick up are Everything Is Flammable from Uncivilized Books by Gabrielle Bell, a powerful graphic memoir, and Trish Trash: Rollergirl Of Mars Volume 1 by Jessica Abel, from Papercutz’s Super Genius imprint. It’s a gorgeous science fiction sports with a diverse cast of characters. If diverse comics and graphic novels are important to you, you should really check these books out too.

I already can’t wait for the next MoCCA Fest. Oh wait! I didn’t even get to Ghost In The Shell!  Real quick, I’m not surprised it didn’t do well at the box office, but they’ll probably blame Scarlett Johansson as a woman lead in an action movie and/or the source material they adapted instead of acknowledging the problems with white washing.

Joe Corallo: A ComicCon Of Many Flavors

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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.

noelle.mocca_final2I 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.

Rebecca SugarSunday 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.

 

Martha Thomases: Vex & Comics & Rock & Roll

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Every Monday my Facebook feed is filled with people kvetching about Vinyl, the new HBO series created by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winters. Every criticism I see is valid (the pace is slow, the characters and the situations in which they find themselves are unbelievable), but I still kind of like it.

If you haven’t watched, you should know that Vinyl is about a record company struggling through the changes in music and culture in the early mid-1970s. I moved to New York full time a few years later, so perhaps some of the reason I like it is that it reminds me of my lost youth.

Bobby Cannavale plays Richie Finestra, the head of the company, a drug addict with no moral code (is that redundant?) who uses people in his pursuit of money and more drugs. We are supposed to believe that his love of rock’n’roll redeems him.

I love Cannavale. I love most of the actors in the series, with special shout-outs to Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano and Juno Temple. My problem with the series is that all of the characters are horrible human beings. I would not like any of them if I actually met them. Even Wilde’s character, Finestra’s wife who is struggling to break out of her housewife prison and be an artist like she was before her marriage (hanging out with Andy Warhol), just seems to me to be someone who has coasted on her beauty her entire life, now forced to adjust to middle age.

Richie is especially vile. If he wasn’t played by such a charismatic actor, I think we would all realize what a poser he is. He wants to go to the Mercer Arts Center and listen to the New York Dolls? He wants to sign a punk band? He’s an opportunist. I mean, that is almost his job description.

All of this was brought home to me when I saw CBGB, currently on Netflix. This movie covers the same era in the New York music scene, but from the perspective of Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman), the man who started CBGBs, the punk club on the Bowery. There is a fictional record company guy, Nicky Gant, played by Bradley Whitford, who may be similar to Richie but who is clearly seen as contemptible by everyone else.

CBGB isn’t perfect movie but, unlike Vinyl, it’s fun. And you know one of the things that makes it fun? Comics!

Comics were a huge part of the punk scene. For one thing, some people credit Punk Magazine with giving the scene its name. (Note: some people do not. This is a pointless argument. Who cares?) I’ve written before about how important I think Punk was (and still is). This movie agrees with me, giving John Holmstrom and Legs McNeil prominent roles. It’s clear that the creative people on the scene at CBGBs did not take themselves as seriously as the people on Vinyl. They love comics, too.

There is also a large, deep cast, with talented actors (Alan Rickman, Malin Ackerman, Donal Logue, Rupert Grint, Estelle Harris, Stana Katic, Freddie Rodriguez, just for starters) playing all sorts of people, some real, some fictional. Unlike in Vinyl, the female characters are defined by more than just their sexual availability (although most have sexual appetites because, like the male characters, they are humans). They are musicians and producers and journalists and business managers and fans. I’m not going to say that the punk scene was devoid of sexism (because it certainly was not), but this movie certainly sees it as an improvement over the rest of the world at the time. And, in some ways, it was.

In general, I’m happy to see my memories validated, because I won’t be truly satisfied until all entertainment acknowledges my importance.

•     •     •     •     •

And Another Thing: If you’re going to this year’s MoCCA Fest in New York this weekend, stroll down to the Medialia Gallery at 335 West 38th Street and check out the exhibit, “From Panel to Panel: Our Voices,” featuring comic art from women and their allies, including Regine Sawyer, Sara Wooley, Kenya Danino and lots, lots more.

Mike Gold’s Off To See The Wizard

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I haven’t done as many comics conventions this year as I usually do. By the end of 2015, I think I will have been to maybe five. That’s less than half of what I did a decade ago.

It’s not that I don’t like comics conventions; in fact, I love them. Most of the larger shows really aren’t about comics. They are pop culture shows, much like ComicMix is a pop culture website. We differ in that ComicMix is a pop culture website for comic book enthusiasts and the comics medium is our focus. ReedPop, to note but one, runs clusterfuck shows in New York, Chicago, Seattle, India (several; it’s a big place), Singapore, Sydney, Paris, Indonesia, Vienna, and probably Mongo. These shows have little to do with comics, the ReedPop staff acts like they wouldn’t know a comic book if it bit them on the ass and probably wouldn’t get my Mongo reference without Googling, and they seem as though they couldn’t care less. If you’re real nice to them and try to explain to them a different point of view, they might actually patronize you. And among comics pros, mine is not a minority opinion.

Yeah. I know. There goes my chance at scoring pro invites to Mumbai. I’ve been to their shows; I’ll live.

So it’s probably a bit surprising that this weekend (Thursday though Sunday) I’ll be at Wizard World Chicago, which is really in Rosemont but next to O’Hare International. Yes, Wizard World is a pop culture convention. I’m going for any number of reasons: Chicago is my home town so it’s an excuse to see my many buddies in the midwest comics field, it is an outgrowth of the old Chicago Comicon which I co-founded and worked on for ten years, it really has a massive comics focus and one of the best Artists Alleys around… and because my pal and Wizard World consultant Danny Fingeroth asked.

For the record, ComicMix is at table #1024 at the show, and I’ll be on two panels: the How To Get News Coverage panel on Saturday at 12:30 that ComicMix is running , and the Chicago Comics History panel on Sunday at 12:30. Check the con schedule; these things have a way of changing. I’ll be sharing the stage with a great number of close friends.

And the food. Damn, I need an Italian beef sammich.

This is not the only big show I enjoy. For example, I love the Baltimore Comic Con and I love Heroes Con in Charlotte North Carolina. I also really enjoy the smaller cons that are oriented to independent comics creators such as MoCCA in New York City. These shows are full of people who couldn’t care less who’s drawing next week’s Spider-Man but love the medium every bit as much as… well, as I do. By and large they’re young and full of enthusiasm and they put their money where their mouths are. Over the years we’ve hired a decent amount of talent at these shows.

If you happen to be at Wizard World Chicago, or you happen to be in or near Chicago this weekend, drop by and say hello. We look at portfolios when we can, we’re usually polite and we only bite when we’re hungry.

Or when the moon is full.

 

 

Martha Thomases: New York is Comics Country

There used to be a wonderful street fair on New York’s Fifth Avenue in the fall, usually on a Sunday, called “New York is Book Country.” Publishers would show their wares. A few bookstores would set up shop on the sidewalk in front of their shops (there were still bookstores on Fifth Avenue then), and one could stroll down the middle of the street, meeting authors, finding new treasures, and enjoying the city that was, then, the center of American publishing.

That was where I met Madeleine L’Engle, a true high point of my existence.

New York used to be Book Country and, even more, it was Comics Country. Comics were born here. The largest comic book companies were here (or, in the case of Archie, in our suburbs). The business was small enough so that one could no everyone in it. An outsider (like me) could become an insider by learning where people hung out and arranging to be in those places often enough to become friends.

Last week, DC Comics moved its offices to Burbank California, and many noted that this was the end of an era.

Yet just as I might have tumbled into a pit of nostalgic regret, the very next day saw the beginning of this year’s MoCCA Festival. In the heart of the hyper-hip Chelsea gallery district, MoCCA was a breath of fresh air. Literally, in that it was housed in a building with a lovely rooftop terrace.

MoCCA is unlike most of the other New York comic shows in that it doesn’t include retailers or dealers. There are a few booths from publishers (including Abrams, Pantheon, .01, Fantagraphics and others), but mostly it is individual creators, selling their own creations. And while sometimes this can make me feel like an old fart, it’s also exciting and energizing. Every year, there is so much eager new talent.

As I walked down West 22nd Street from Tenth Avenue, I noticed that almost all the other pedestrians were women and girls. I think most of the people inside the facility were also women and girls. Klaus Janson tells me that more than half of the people who take his class at the School of Visual Arts are female.

Another sign that this is a new era for comics.

The very next evening after MoCCA ended, there was a panel discussion at Columbia University about the work of Denis Kitchen, who just donated his archives to the library’s collections. He spoke, along with a few academics and Howard Cruse about the early days of underground and independent comics. At one point during the Q & A part of the conversation, one of the academics said he looked forward to a time when comic book studies were considered to be just as important as film studies.

Still another sign.

In two weeks, the City University of New York will host a two day conference titled, “08,” which will feature keynote speakers Howard Cruse and Alison Bechdel. Alison’s keynote is already sold out.

Publishing comics might not rely on New York City anymore, but it’s still home to a lot of people who love to read them.

 

Mike Gold: The Magic Of Comics

At MoCCA this past weekend – that’s one of my favorite shows, by the way – a surprising number of people asked me about how I felt about DC Comics Entertainment Periodical Publications moving to the Left Coast.

It amuses me to note that only one of these people actually worked at DC, and he was being sarcastic.

In its 80 years DC Comics has moved more frequently than a family of vaudevillians. I worked at only three of their locations; I know many who worked at five or six. Every time DC moves, they relaunch Aquaman. They are now a fully integrated part of Warner Bros., so moving to LALALand is a no-brainer.

And I hope my friends at Marvel are paying attention.

Once Marvel joins Disney out in Hollywood, only one comic book leaflet publisher will be left in New York City proper, that being Valiant. (If I’m missing anybody, forgive me – you really can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and, besides, I haven’t seen Jim Shooter in about a year). If you consider the entire New York metropolitan area, that number grows to… what, two? Archie Comics is in Westchester County. If ComicMix returns to leaflet publishing, and, yeah, we’re considering it but then we collapse in a fit of giggles – then that’ll make three. The combined output of the New York comic book leaflet publishers wouldn’t amount to a fart.

For the record: I think it is absolutely great that we have comics publishers all over the nation. There’s no magic to publishing comic books in Manhattan, despite what lazy publishers told poor cartoonists between the middle of the Depression until the election of Ronald Reagan.  Actually, I think it is great that we have so many comics publishers that they can be all over the nation.

I admit: the first time I dropped my butt into my chair at 75 Rockefeller Plaza – that’s four locations and 40 years ago – I was in fanboy heaven. It was a great feeling. Jenette Kahn offered me the job at a moment when, as they say in the business, I was “between radio stations.” In 1976, stations were changing their pretty much after every third song and I saw the handwriting on the wall. It said “Work for Superman.”

The fact is, most of my best and most enduring friendships have been formed while in the comics racket. I’ve lunched with Steve Ditko, I’ve worked with Will Eisner and Peter O’Donnell, I intervened in a, ah, friendly discussion between Stan Lee and Joe Orlando. Great stuff. ComicMixers Glenn Hauman, Martha Thomases, Denny O’Neil, Mindy Newell, Bob Ingersoll, and Robert Greenberger? These folks have been my friends forever, and I met them all through comics. Yes, they have amazing intestinal fortitude.

John Ostrander is different. (I can’t tell you how much I wanted to end this paragraph right here.) I’ve known John even longer, through our common interest in both theater and comics. I brought him into this business – at his own request, so he can’t complain.

I have absolutely no doubt that there are a ton of people just out of school out on the Left Coast who will put in their time at DC Comics and come out of it exhausted but with plenty of great friendships.

And for me, that is the magic of the comic book racket.

 

Martha Thomases: Like A Virgin

I don’t like to brag, but over the weekend, I deflowered three virgins.

Oh, who am I kidding?  I love to brag.

Lest you think my sex life is more interesting than it actually is, I mean the above statement metaphorically.  As you know if your’e female, breaking in virgins isn’t really that entertaining.  Instead, what I will now describe is how I took three friends to their first comic book convention.

Lucky for them, it was MoCCA.

Going to your first anything can be intimidating, even something as simple as a county fair or a school dance.  Every event that has occurred more than once has a history.  Often, there are traditions and customs with which you are unfamiliar.   The way the media portrays comic book conventions, whether on Entourage or The Big Bang Theory or next year’s talk show wars, can be unnerving for newbies.  Does one need to dress as a Stormtrooper?  How do you know what you’re looking at?

At MoCCA, my friends didn’t have to figure it out.  The tables were welcoming, with clear signage, lots of books on display, and friendly smiles by the creators (at least on Saturday, when I was there.  The closest thing to cosplay was aggressive hipster-ism, which I noted primarily through the prominent number of heads adorned with hats.

Best of all, my friends didn’t require an undergraduate degree in graphic story-telling to be drawn to the books.  Two of my friends are leftist political history junkies, and I soon lost track of them as they found book after book that intrigued them.  My other friend, who shares my love of the obscure laugh, joined me in celebrating a new book from Shannon Wheeler and various other booths.  There was one by a woman whom I think was named Stevie Wilson, who had a sign claiming her books were all about coffee, feminism and cats.

Everything I want in one place.  I wish I could find her again. Stevie (if that is your name), please tell me how to buy your books.

I hope that, when my friends go home, they continue to be curious about graphic story-telling, and start to explore the kinds of books that appeal to them.  I hope find more joy.

And next year, if they’re in New York at the right time, I hope they go to MoCCA with me again.  Perhaps, for the occasion, we will all dress up like John Lewis.

Photo by KLGreenNYC

Mike Gold: Hipsters, Inkwell Divers, and Misfits at MoCCA!

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.

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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.

Martha Thomases: MoCCA My Socks Off

mocca_logoAs a writer and a long-time nerd, I’m used to spending a lot of time alone.  Especially after the winter we’ve had, I can go for days not only not leaving my apartment, but not even wearing anything my mother would recognize as pants (sweatpants didn’t count).

And then, this weekend, just as the snow finally melts and the sun comes out, is the MoCCA Festival .  All of a sudden, instead of talking only to my cat (who doesn’t require much sophisticated banter), a lot of people I enjoy will be conveniently assembled in one place.

MoCCA is certainly a lot bigger than it was the first time I went, back in the days when the museum was separate from the Society of Illustrators.  Still, compared to the behemoths in San Diego, Chicago, and even across town at the Javitz Center.  Instead of Hollywood previews and video game demonstrations, MoCCA’s non-comics exhibitors tend to display hand-made crochet monsters or cal figurines.

I’ve seen people I admire on the floor of this show, just as I’ve seen people I admire on the subway and on the sidewalk. But celebrities?  In San Diego and New York, I’ve seen people like Robert Downey, Jr. and Whoopi Goldberg on the floor.  They are easy to spot because they are surrounded by bodyguards.  And they need to be.  Fans have to be kept away or the celebrity will be mobbed, even physically hurt.  This year’s MoCCA celebrity spotting?  Probably the most high-profile will be Macy’s Charlie Brown parade balloon.  Fans aren’t tall enough to maul him.

That’s cool.  At MoCCA, the books are the celebrities.  And this year’s assortment of new books looks especially wonderful.

MoCCA has books for kids and books for grown-ups without either feeling forced, because, for the most part, the people creating the books are creating what they want to read, not (necessarily) what they think the market wants.  MoCCA is fan-friendly in a way that doesn’t require special events for cos-players. Nor do they need security guards to protect women and/or children and/or queer people and/or other minorities from assault.

Sometimes the aisles get too crowded, and sometimes it’s too hot, but it’s a very friendly show, with plenty of good will.  I wish all comic book shows could be this pleasant.

In case that isn’t enough people for me, I’m also going to one of the two big benefits my family enjoys attending every year.  A cancer charity throws a big party that is attended by huge celebrities, like these from last year.

Come by, if you find yourself with nothing to do in the middle of MoCCA.

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Martha Thomases: Are Pro Women Con Women?

In last week’s column, I raised the issue of how many women are invited guests at comic book conventions.  As you can see, of the four shows I selected rather randomly (the criteria was that I wanted to go to them because I had heard good things), not a single show had a guest list that was more than ten percent female.

Was I being unfair?  Should I be more systematic?

The short answer is, “Yes.”  There are lots and lots of shows, and somewhere, there must be a few organized by people who want to celebrate the work of women as much as the work of men.  More commercially, there must be some shows that want to attract convention-goers interested in comics that represent multiple points of view, because there is money to be made.

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