Comic Arts Brooklyn is an alternative comics festival that happens annually at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It's carefully curated by the curmudgeonly Gabe Fowler, owner of Desert Island. He is the puppet master, and he pulls the strings.
Although comics are in the name of the event, CAB is, like all mass gatherings dedicated to the medium, essentially a craft fair. The New York Art Book Fair is a craft fair; New York Comic Con is a craft fair; everything where exhibitors rent a table and sell shit is a craft fair these days. What makes something a craft fair? Tote bags. If there are tote bags for sale, then ignore whatever the sign says, you are at a craft fair.
Don't get me wrong—I don't mean to malign mass gatherings. I like them and attend a lot of them. A good craft fair is a thing of beauty. It's just that there's so many, and more just keep popping up. People will be trying to lure me to some zine event while the things I acquired from the last art book, print, zine, comic, craft fair, or design convention still sit unlooked at it inside the tote bag I carried them home in.
The inside of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel gymnasium is lit in a way that makes all people photographed inside of it look like they're sickly and piss-stained. Don't worry—most of the people photographed weren't jaundiced, it was just the light.
I think I went off on a little digression there for a second. I interviewed Gabe Fowler about his beautiful comic convention. At the con, Gabe was wearing a denim jacket and tinted aviators. His hair looked impeccable, and I thought he looked as cool as he could possibly look, like the Adrian Grenier of comic-book conventions.
I asked Gabe a few questions about CAB, and he answered them.
VICE: What made you want to start your own comic convention?
Gabe Fowler: I wanted to create a free-admission show that celebrates underrepresented comics and artists. When we started there weren't any comic shows in the US that were free to get in, and lots of them [were] saddled with marketing and horseshit.
What do you think of MoCCA?
The Mocca festival has gotten better since it was taken over by the Society of Illustrators, but for a while there, people were pretty bummed about it. Everyone remembers the 2008 show, when it was literally 115 degrees inside the building, cost $15 to get in, and was filled with middling content. That low point at their show is what inspired me to want to start a curated free Brooklyn show the following year.
Which other comic conventions do you regularly attend?
In the years since starting the show in 2009, I've seen a bunch of similar shows spring in different towns all over the US. I'm super happy to see this DIY spirit kicking ass all over the country, and I'm happy to have some part in that community. But I also have a small, modestly successful business, so I really can't travel. I go to the New York-area shows, and that's about it.
What do you like about comic conventions, and what do you not like?
It's awesome to get all the creative energy together in physical reality and get artists talking and hanging out. Modern life is really isolating and artists need that social friction to generate new ideas. So that part is really crucial. But the problem with living in the most capitalist place on Earth is the pressure for artists to make money, and the commerce aspect can be a bit draining. But it's still awesome to support an artist directly by buying a comic right out of their hands.
What do you think makes CAB unique from the other cons?
It has a homemade feeling from the beginning to the end, and every aspect is done with love. In that sense, it is closer to an old-school comic con than most things happening today, but it also has carefully selected new-school content. That balance just works. It feels more like a bunch of creative people exploring and celebrating each other's work.
How many people apply to have a table at your fest, and how many do you allow to be a part of it?
I want this show to stay small so it can make an artistic statement rather than becoming a miasma of advertising. This year we had 386 applications for 72 tables, which forced us to omit many worthwhile artists, and it's difficult, both emotionally and financially.
How much money do you lose doing this?
If every exhibitor had been accepted and our costs had stayed the same (an impossible scenario), we would have made an additional $94,800. It is meaningful to me to say no to this money and keep the original vision intact.
How mad do some people get?
People may get annoyed if they apply to exhibit and are not accepted, but it's not personal. We want each show to have a special combination of artwork, and those decisions are not judgmental, they're curatorial. There's a difference.
This is Anne Ishii, who I like very much holding up a copy of Frontier, a comic published by the very famous Ryan Sands. Why am I not as beloved as Ryan Sands? That is fucking bullshit. I'm a cool comics lord like him.
Famed painter, animator, and cartoonist John Pham had a new issue of SCUZZI for sale. SCUZZI is his risograph printed zine where he just grabs pages from old computer and video-game magazines. Three years ago I had never heard of risographs, and now every motherfucker you meet is in love with a risograph. I can see why, they make everything look like a beautiful blurry dream. John Pham is so great. He is underrated by everybody except for me. I named his comic as the number-one best comic of 2014.
This is Jordan Crane, who I always think of as boyish even as his face gets wrinkled and his hair becomes grayer. He is a massive drawing genius and silkscreen-maker. His love of line and color is almost without comparison in this zine and comics world of ours. He puts comics out infrequently, but when they come out you had better grab it because you will never see that shit again. Here is Jordan holding up the latest issue of Keeping Two, a mini-comic series he makes with hand-silkscreened covers. I can't remember what the comics are about from issue to issue, but it seems to be about a couple who hate each other and lost their child.
This is Sammy Harkham's wad. America adores a dirtbag with money, and when you see the flannel and Misfits T-shirt and big unorganized sheets of cash like this you just think, "Good for you for accomplishing the American dream. You did it." Let's all congratulate Sammy Harkham on his wealth!
How did Sammy get that massive money stash, which he was brazenly counting like an Italian stereotype? He got it by selling his beautiful comics and the original art for those beautiful comics. Here is a beautiful panel from the original art for Cricket #5. If you see Sammy, make sure to congratulate him on his wealth, it will make him feel good.
Husband of famed VICE cartoonist Esther Pearl Watson, Mark Todd was present and showing off his wares. One of the coolest things he makes are these Garbage Zines. They are just a ton of magazine clippings, photos, pieces of fabric, random doodles, and postcards all stapled together into one zine.
Mark Todd also had these two fine silkscreened booklets for sale. One is about comics, and the other is a comic that tells the story of Star Wars in an abbreviated and highly enjoyable form.
Ginette Lapalme's table is always a beautiful spread of arts and crafts. You want a thing-a-mabob? She's got 20.
The concept behind this patch she was selling is that the purchaser can cut it into many smaller patches and sew them onto their clothing. This is the first time I saw someone do this.
At one point I heard, "Hey Nick!" and these two guys, Dan Clowes and Rick Altergott, were behind me. Dan did the poster for CAB this year and was supposed to be premiering and signing his new book. Sadly, it was not finished in time. At one point, he was tantalizingly carrying around the book's proofs from the printer in a clear plastic folder. How many people considered knocking him over and grabbing the as-yet-unseen comic from Dan Clowes? Was I the only one driven mad with comics lust at the sight of what is probably an incredible work?
Here's me jumping in to take a photo with my heroes. Dan Clowes said so many nice things to me that it caught me off-guard. He said I was the "lone voice of sanity in comics journalism," which is strange because I feel like I've spent this past year slipping into mental illness. He also described me as kind and said that he agreed with all of my comics reviews and said that my bad reviews were always funny.
We also discussed how attracted we are to women with interesting teeth and how King of Comedy is Scorsese's best movie. Another topic of chatting was how both Rick and Dan came up with a lot of their concepts while riffing together, which I found interesting. A lot of people think that writing and ideas are things that you come up with in a vacuum by yourself. I've fielded Facebook for suggestions only to have friends admonish me for "trying to get others to do my work for me." It's neat to see that the best guys in comics workshop their ideas through casual conversations. We also talked about how more adults are reading comics, but everyone has terrible taste these days and is reading comics that seem geared towards a middle-school or early high-school readership. We discussed how modern cartoonists aren't storytellers or writers anymore. Also he said he liked my art, too. It's overwhelming to know that Dan Clowes knows who are you and likes your creative product.
Actor and cartoonist Owen Kline asked Rick Altergott to sign a copy of Rick and Dan Clowes's college anthology, Psycho Comics. Rick took the opportunity to fix a mistake he had made in the original book. He'd forgotten to draw a head on the man in the middle panel so he repaired the drawing on this one issue.
This is Ben Marra, who frequently contributes art and comics to VICE and is a nice man. Here he is holding up his new book, Blades and Lazers.
Simon Hanselmann was barred from coming to America since he was at circus camp, but the original art for this comic he drew was for sale for $700 and in the middle of it is a funny insult about what a shithead I am.
The comics were good and the tote bags were nice, but the highlight of CAB was definitely all the bossy signs that festooned the walls.
If you missed Comic Arts Brooklyn, then go check out Desert Island and look for my reviews of all the neat stuff I got in an upcoming comic column on this site.
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