I attended my fifth consecutive MoCCA Festival this weekend, but my first as an exhibitor. Erik and I spun up Amphibimen Comics this summer as a “let’s see what happens” venture, hoping that we’d have enough content and ideas to exhibit at MoCCA nine months later. It came down to the last twelve hours, but we managed to fill our half-table with shirts, comics, original watercolor artwork, and (gasp) business cards. Over the course of 14 exhibit hours, 2 long days, 3 hours of set up, 6 coffees, 3 subs, lots of help from our friend Kristin, and the support of friends and family, we probably spoke to about 200 people one on one.
Lots of observations:
Being sandwiched between two famous people isn’t good for you. My first thought was “Wow, we’re in between the Topatoco tables and Rica Takashima” and that the overflow traffic would browse our wares. The overflow traffic obscured our line of sight. But it was equally amazing to be next to Kate Beaton and Rica all weekend – they are gracious, humble, and completely tolerant of our crap spilling all over the place.
Rica writes yuri (“forbidden girl love”, as a loose Japanese translation, “sexual identity” as a stronger English version). Not sure that everyone who was browsing her half of the table quite grasped that at first, but I’m hoping that anyone who bought her comics went from uncomfortable to understanding. As my friend Jim says “Art should make you uncomfortable” – but that’s just the first step in developing an appreciation for it. Rica also donated all of her proceeds to support Japanese tsunami disaster relief. She and her crew were really outstanding table-mates.
I’m surprised, but not really, how many artists are shy. Erik sometimes says to me that I’m the “people person” in our little operation, and if I think about the artists I’ve gotten to know, they are (mostly) a more introverted bunch. Talking to a few thousand people, doing inscriptions and drawings on the fly, even having to sneak out for food and coffee without a breadcrumb trail of fan boys and girls therefore is much harder than for someone like me who is used to sales, shaking hands, and drawing in traffic. I have a significantly deeper appreciation for show exhibitors who cross outside their own comfort zones to help promote their work (and I’ve added to the list of retirement projects – promotion of independent artists).
I didn’t get to walk around and shop as much as I did as an attendee, and I’ll have to make up the spending deficit in post production. I did, however, get one of Christiann MacAuley’s Steampunk Mr. Peanut t-shirts. Third year in a row I’ve bought something from her. She’s funny.
There’s a collegial spirit at the show that is completely different from technology trade shows. Effectively, everyone is competing for the same eyeballs, the same dollars, the same table traffic. I heard several parents say “Pick one thing” (another side note/rant – when it comes to books, art, or music, why would you ever limit your kids’ consumption? Exposure to variety is good, within budget and reason). Other exhibitors traded books and prints with us, and were happy to talk “shop.” It’s not unexpected, but it’s also a strong statement about the overall feel of MoCCA – it’s independent artists building brands and gaining visibility, not pure commercial interests.
I had the pleasure of meeting SP Burke, the creator of “Oh, Goodie” and a fellow Rush fan. Saw one of his prints of the other Holy Trinity and laughed out loud, we did the instant bonding-over-Lerxst thing, and I offered him a spare ticket for the Rush show last night at the Garden. Yes, he didn’t know Rush was in town, and yes, we had a great time at the show. If only he knew how prophetic his “Working Man” comic (day before MoCCA started) would be [ed note for the uninitiated: Rush finished the show with “Working Man”]
For me the hardest part was changing my mindset between Saturday and Sunday. My expectation on Saturday was that we’d sell a lot of shirts and comics, and I’ve had to worry about walking through New York with a carnie roll of bills. We didn’t even cover our pro-rated costs on Saturday. But another artist told me “I’m happy if I make cab fare from the airport home” I felt better, and once again remembered the goal is to build readership. So we started giving away the black and white comics (total cost to print being a fraction of our outlay) and suddenly we had traffic. Best part of the day was someone leafing through Issue #1 and asking how Erik achieved one of the stippling effects. Close second – Bill Plympton himself picked up a copy, and then he stopped to talk comics with Erik on the show floor.
Final random thought: For years I’ve wondered if the way we teach history and literature (English) is outdated. When we were stuck with a hierarchy of writing forms – letters, diaries, memoirs, journals and books – it made perfect sense to use prose as a way to analyze and convey meaning. But face it – (almost) everyone likes “West Side Story” more than “Romeo and Juliet”. It’s funnier, it has better music and it’s a more contemporary treatment of star crossed lovers. I’ve seen my own kids get to use alternative media to explore the language arts: blogs written from the perspective of Holden Caufield, or a mockup of a character’s Facebook page. Why not? The goal is to teach analysis, critical thinking and to discover thematic elements, and you can do that through any number of expressive vehicles. Put another way: Kate Beaton should teach history through comics, because more people would grok Santayana’s quotes about remembering the past.