MoCCA Fest 2012 in Review
This was my first time at the MoCCA Festival. Although excited, I decided to be very strategic in the decision of when and what to attend. I decided to go Sunday when it opened, hoping a lot of the initial hype of the festival would have died down on the second day. I was also most excited about a panel taking place shortly after The Lexington Ave. Armory opened its doors.
I can't really tell you how many booths were there for sure. With them all smushed together, I sometimes thought what looked like one booth really turned out to be three separate artists sitting all at one table. I can tell you there were several rows of booths like that: at least six or seven, and that the entire back wall and several areas up front were dedicated to artists and publishers. Right when you walked in, a large square exhibition featuring MoCCA volunteers and a mini-store greeted you, just in case you wanted a T-shirt or a poster. That was kind of interesting because they had stuff from all the years MoCCA has held the festival, so it also served as an almost mini-museum.
Panels and presentations were located in the basement area. There were two rooms reserved for panels that usually ran concurrently. There were dozens of educational panels aimed at graphic novel readers, as well as some geared specifically for teachers. These presentations ran through the entire open hours of the festival starting from 11:00 a.m. and then ending at 6:00 p.m. Panels typically lasted an hour and many included question-and-answer portions at the end.
I arrived early to attend a panel moderated by librarian Betsy Bird titled “Graphic Novel for Young Adults.” The panel featured Kevin C. Pyle (Take What You Can Carry), Raina Telgemeier (X-Men: Misfits, The Babysitters Club), Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference), and MK Reed (Americus). Betsy started by asking if any of the panelists envisioned themselves as young adult writers since all of them initially started out to write for adults. None really said they set out to write for teens, but it became a natural progression as they focused their interests and characters. Betsy followed up by asking if their comics were semi-autobiographical, with a mix among the panelists from those who had drawn from their experiences and those who created their stories as pure fiction.
The female panelists were then asked if it’s hard to write for male characters, and vice versa for the male creators. Reed and Kim both said no, especially because they based their characters from traits picked up from real people they knew. Since many of the panelists (with the exception of Kevin) had a presence online with some form of web comics or another, Betsy asked about their experience creating them and putting them up on the internet. Kevin noted that while it’s great to get early feedback from fans, it’s pretty much a given that people will start reading a web comic series right in the middle and get confused easily, which can be intensely frustrating.
“Do kids care if comics are in black-and-white?” Raina says that, among the middle grade and teens she’s talked to, they really do. Even though manga is in black-and-white and that doesn’t seem to matter to manga readers, it was pretty much a consensus among the panelists that color matters in comics and often in the comics they themselves create. Betsy next asked who influenced them and who they would recommend. Kevin is influenced a lot by contemporary fiction and books like Farewell to Manzanar because he puts his books in wartime settings and likes them to be historically accurate. He read Sgt. Rock growing up, which helped influence his work Blindspot. Raina said Lynda Berry was a particular influence to her growing up, and Derek quickly agreed. He also admitted to liking superhero comics early in his life like Spider-Man and X-Men while also citing Calvin & Hobbes and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as influences and recommendations. Reed agreed that Calvin & Hobbes comic strips were early influences on her work, while also saying she read a lot of Archie comics growing up.
Raina recommends Faith Erin Hicks’ Friends with Boys in particular, too. The panel agreed that for most of the ’90s there weren’t as many independent comics being produced as there are now. Betsy’s final question asked about swear words included in each of the creators’ comics. Do you use swears in young adult graphic novels or do you refrain? Raina said that in her case, she usually leaves the decision up to her editors. Derek emphasized that your audience really does matter; you do watch your language if you know that you’re writing for teens. Americus has some swears in it, but MK tried to swear as little as possible while writing it. She admitted she can be quite colorful in some of her other graphic works. Kevin did some in Katman for the villainous characters but only when he felt it was appropriate. They all agreed that it was pretty much a panel-by-panel decision.
After the panel ended, I went on to the exhibit floor. While dense, it was not overwhelming. It was very reminiscent of the Artists’ Alley area at New York Comic Con. The layout was spread out enough that you could stop at each area without being on top of the person next to you. Around noon, the floor was moderately crowded, but it was pretty easy to navigate. One of the first booths I visited was Seven Stories Press. There I got to see an advance preview of the upcoming title The Graphic Novel Canon: Volume One. With many different artists contributing to the work, it was a melting pot of graphic art that was quite impressive to behold. I also stopped by Jacob Chabot’s (X-Babies Stars Reborn) booth and discovered an appreciation for a new artist named Erin Gallagher (http://www.lotusandpearl.com/), whose work caught my eye.
All in all, I had a great time attending my first MoCCA Festival. The emphasis in the exhibit floor was on art as much as it was on comics, so I feel the event could appease fans across a wide spectrum of mediums. I look forward to checking out the festival again next year!