Awesome Dispatches from the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art Fest

This year's MoCCA Fest was a spectacle of alternative comics from a horde of world-class independent and DIY artists.

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Apr 21 2018, 2:29pm

Lead image by Becca Tobin. All photos by the author

Since its 2002 debut, I have gone to the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art festival every year. It started at the historic Puck Building, once home to Puck Magazine, which ceased publication exactly 100 years ago. After Jared Kushner turned the Puck Building into retail space, MoCCA moved to the 69th Regiment Armory, which was the site of the historic 1913 Armory Show. After a few years, the festival was moved to some non-historic location before moving into its current non-historic location. Maybe in a hundred years people will reverently refer to the Metropolitan West event space as the home of the historic MoCCA Fest.

MoCCA is one of about five yearly North American alternative comic conventions, but one of two in New York. A few years ago, Desert Island Comics owner Gabe Fowler started promoting his own alternative comics fest, currently called Comic Arts Brooklyn, which has raised the question: Which is the better alternative comic con, and how long can New York support two alternative comic cons? I might be the only one imagining a Highlander-like war for survival between the two alternative comic festivals.

The sense of vitality and importance at MoCCA has waxed and waned over the years. It’s possible that I was simply projecting my own internal feelings onto the things going on around me, but I think that’s how things work for everyone. It’s impossible to be objective, but I felt like this was a positive MoCCA Fest. There was a lot of pretty work on display. Despite Rome crumblIng around us, everyone seemed fairly open and optimistic.

I arrived at MoCCA just in time to bear witness to Anna Haifisch and Max de Radigues being interviewed about being European by Bill Kartopolous, MoCCA’s programming director. Max is a publisher and cartoonist from Belgium, a place which has a higher concentration of cartoonists than anywhere else in the world.

Anna Haifisch is from Germany and draws a comic called The Artist which appears periodically on this website. At one point, the VICE site was projected onto a screen and I thought, Hey, I made it! Now you’re looking at a photo of the VICE site while looking at the VICE site. The internet is an eternal feedback loop. It’s like the snake from that graphing calculator game is eating its own tail.

Anna and I cantered back to the building that contained all the people and tables and comics at MoCCA. Here’s some questions I asked Anna about her MoCCA time.

VICE: What was the best thing you saw at MoCCA?
Anna Haifisch: Meeting E.A. Bethea and Alyssa Berg the first time and getting their smash new books.

How was being interviewed by Bill Kartopolous?
I thought it was very very nice. I met Bill before and I like him a ton. He is always up to date with European comics. I think we like the same comics and both of us travel to lots of festivals around the globe.

When's The Artist season three going to be ready?
Tough question! I hope I‘ll be done in the fall. I can’t really rush it since season three has to be a total smasher! This time I have to draw the whole book first before I can release it on VICE. The order of the chapters is quite important unlike the other two seasons.

There was a little display of original Roz Chast cartoons. I like how she makes life seem like a meaningless treading of water and getting upset about nonsense until we die. There are solid laughs and veiled hostility and darkness in her work. I see her as the Jerry Seinfeld of the comics medium.

Mike Mignola, most famous as the creator of Hellboy, also had a small showing of some of his original work on display. Mignola’s one of the best modern American cartoonists to do comics about muscular men beating each other up. The proof of this may be that everyone, including Disney, has taken from his drawing style. Although a lot of his covers have somewhat similar compositions, it feels like he’s discovering new things with each drawing. He is one of the great master-cartoonists who draws comics with a ton of shadows in them. It’s fun to see his originals and how the black areas seem hastily daubed in.

SVA’s Riso Lab was setup in the corner where Panayiotis Terzis was helping people make risograph prints. A risograph machine looks like a copy machine and sort of simulates what silkscreening achieves, but very fast and cheaper than xeroxing. The effect is the ability to mass-produce special objects that often have an organic, VHS-hazy quality that things which were digitally colored lack. Maybe you already know what risographing is. I apologize for wasting your time with information you already had if that’s the case.

This lady is from Montclair State’s illustration and animation program. I like her Massive shirt.

I liked this booth. This is stuff that Olivia Fields made.

Here’s a closer view of a print by Olivia Fields. I dig the weirdly parallel arms, the angular shape of that leg, and the hair that turns into a puddle. Also, that bubblegum ink with those three blues.

This is Paul Lau from Pie Club. I enjoyed this overbuilt tuk-tuk print he had made. Can you imagine that thing getting ridden from place to place, with all the lanterns blowing around? Man!

Rebecca Kirby drew this spaghetti-headed monster. I stared at it for a long time, as I was super high on edibles. The colors, the feeling of levitation, the parallel lines... this is some beautiful and sophisticated stuff. I want to sleep in a tent printed with this image all over it. I want to curl up in the lines.

This is the only real New York Comic Guy in the world, the eternally beautiful and sweet natured Dean “Dino” Haspiel. He might be the only person I’ve seen at every MoCCA since 2002. I feel like he’s the thing that keeps MoCCA going. If you removed him, the whole structure would fall apart like Laputa.

He’s got a show that just played last week called The Last Bar at the End of the World. It sounds kinda like The Restaurant at the End of the Universe to me, but maybe that’s the point.

This is Jon Allen who draws some funny comics. I thought his stuff wasn’t the right fit for VICE, but I still like his stuff and think people should read his stuff.

Pinky Weber made this.

This is Forge Magazine editor and sometimes VICE contributor, Matt James-Wilson. Every photo you take of this guy is like the photo you take after you tell someone they’re beautiful. Here he is holding up a beautiful print by Juli Majer.

Here is what Matt James-Wilson’s table looked like. We talked about how he doesn’t delve into the racket of enamel pins. He also doesn’t have tote bags. I respect that a lot. Tote bags and enamel pins are fun and a good way for artists to make some money, but they’re also sort of corny. I think it’s because they turn art into a tool people use to project a desired image of themselves into the minds of others. The most common tote bag I see in New York is the New Yorker tote bag, which lets people around you know that you’re sophisticated. Enamel pins attempt to tell the world that you’re fun and interesting. Strangely, I don’t see a lot of people wearing enamel pins, but I see people buying and selling them like gangbusters.

After about a half hour of discussing buttons, Matt reached into his bag and pulled this old button I made 14 years ago, when I was a young doofus.

Plum was the best thing at MoCCA this year. It’s a collective of these three illustrators. On the left is Haejin Park. She’s the candy-colored psychedelic one. In the middle is Sophie Page. She's the dimensional artist. On the right is Paige Mehrer, whose stuff is psychedelic too, but less decorative and more minimal. She did some comics for this site.

I did a little interview with Paige Mehrer, since I know her the best of the group.

Why are you guys named Plum? How'd you meet and form this group?
Paige Mehrer: We were friends at RISD and wanted to be able to work on bigger projects and table at events together, like MoCCA. It kind of snowballed from there. The name Plum—there’s no real serious reason behind it. We made a really long list of names and that was the one we all agreed on liking. It feels fun and colorful that represent all of our works.

Is there a unifying belief or mission statement behind Plum?
With Plum, we want to support and inspire each other creatively and be adventurous. We’ve just been working together loosely and self-publishing collaborative zines, but we recently decided to change our name to Plum Press and start focusing more seriously on publishing. We’ve only been publishing work by ourselves up until this point, but we want to start working with other artists. There are so many artists we love inside and outside the comics community, we want to push the boundaries of comics while also supporting marginalized voices.

Did you get the idea to make a collective based on any previous collectives?
Yeah, there were a lot of groups we looked at when we were starting out—Hato Press, Nous Vous—but we could never really find a perfect model because we weren’t really sure what we wanted to be.

As we traveled around to participate in fairs, we found a lot more publishers that push boundaries, like 2dcloud, Perfectly Acceptable, and TXTbooks. We are also encouraged and excited by Women Who Draw, a female illustrator directory.

How much are you trying to push the comics medium, and how much are you just trying to make things that you enjoy personally?
I think both forces equally influence us. The work we make is really pure in that it is exactly what we want it to be. But pushing the comics medium really excites us, as it’s essentially just a sequential narrative on paper and there are so many things that it can be. We are interested in supporting artists who are working in new ways and making bold choices. There are a lot of more “experimental” comics artists that are really inspiring, like Alexis Beauclair, Aidan Koch, and Tara Booth.

What were your favorite books or artists at MoCCA this year?
We really love the work of our table neighbor Andy Pratt. He has very complex pop-up and paper-cut comics that we’re always so amazed and shocked by! His tablemates, Vinnie Neuberg and Ben Nadler always have great work too. JooHee Yoon was there, and we’re huge fans of her work! And Anna Haifisch was there, which was so cool. We love all of her books, but one that was recently reprinted, Don’t Worry, was there, which we really, really love. Rotopolpress is also an inspiring female publisher to us. Their table was beautiful this year, as usual.

...And that’s my interview with Paige Mehrer. I encourage everyone to check out what Plum is doing.

Outside of MoCCA, I ran into Mark Newgarden, who created the Garbage Pail Kids amongst other things, and Paul Karasik. The two of them were signing and chatting about their new-ish book, How to Read Nancy. Gary Panter, the important comics pioneer and fine artist, and designer of Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the Screamers' logo, is the one in the middle. Gary and I walked through Times Square and we talked about his life and his students.

I came back on Sunday to watch Nathan Fox interview Mike Mignola about his career. That’s Mike Mignola in the picture. He talked about childhood influences and how he had gone into the arts because he thought he was otherwise useless. This really spoke to me, as I also went into the arts because I have no other abilities to positively add to society.

It’s so fun to look at Mike Mignola’s drawings. They’re sort of like Nordic wood cuts, kinda like German expressionism, kinda like the other inky shadow guys Alex Toth and Hugo Pratt.

This is John F. Malta and Siobhan Gallagher showing off their crazy cage display of beauty. Check out John's comics on the site.

This is Matt Rota who does a lot of illustrations for VICE. I love his drawings. Here he is holding up things he made.

Here’s Julia Gfrörer holding a comic she made about Frasier Crane after a bomb hits Seattle.

This is Ben Passmore holding up a good comic of his that you can get now.

Here’s Gabe Fowler, who runs Desert Island Comics and the Comic Arts Brooklyn Festival. He gave me a Cliff Bar and showed me his favorite book of the fair, which was Plus Si Etente by Dominique Goblet and Kai Pfeiffer.

Here’s my haul from this year’s MoCCA Fest. Thanks to everyone who gave me a free comic or thing. I’ll see you all next year unless I die or move away!

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