By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
This past weekend was the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival, an independent comics event produced yearly since 2002. Hyped as the largest independent comics, cartoon and animation festival by the Society of Illustrators, this year’s event housed over 400 exhibits. Said exhibits include panels, artist booths singing, Q&A’s, merchandise and other assorted opportunities. This year’s headlining guests included Nate Powell, who worked on the John Lewis autobiography “MARCH,” and Roz Chast, who made cartoons for “The New Yorker.”
The show itself was fantastic. The amount of diversity in the booths was impressive. I got to meet Carey Pietsch, who is working on the graphic novel adaptation of “The Adventure Zone.” There were a few networking opportunities as well as fun conversations to be had. I managed to buy $80s worth of signed comics and cute Dungeons and Dragons knick knacks. It was easily the most engaging and memorable comic show to which I’ve been.
It also gives me an opportunity to talk about a long over due topic: Comic Festivals. When I talk about these festivals to people, it often surprises me how many are completely unfamiliar with a concept that, in many ways, is the life blood of the comic artist industry.
The concept itself is incredibly simple: artists, writers, and comic affiliated celebrities from all around the greater area are invited to a select location for one to four days (said location typically being a hotel or gymnasium). The majority of those there will be given a small table and space to show off their work, while others will appear at specific times for Q&A’s or signings. Some times these are ticketed events, sometimes entry is free. Sometimes they are for-profit, some times they are charity events. All are sprawling events packed to the brim with people, content, and events.
For people who enjoy comics, they are a boon. If you’re into the local comic scene, there is a chance that you will see someone you know or have read before. We are blessed to live in New York, where not only is there a surplus of great artists, but plenty of opportunities and festivals for them to attend. If you are an aspiring artist, they can be a fun networking opportunity. Even beyond that, it is just fun to meet so many people who love comics. In the Age of the Internet, it’s easy to find other comic enthusiasts, but it’s another experience to meet them in person and in such huge numbers.
But Comic Festivals aren’t just fun and games—I mean, they are pretty fun—they are a financial necessity for some creators. There can be a real cognitive dissonance with the comic’s industry: despite comic book movies being the dominant genre in film, that success hasn’t translated to comic sales. There is a sprawling industry of independent creators and independent publishers, allowing small time artists to create and continue their work.
Countless creators are dependent on independent sales for their work, whether it be through commissions, patreon, or their own small scale publishing. So events like this are a boon: an opportunity to sell their work directly with a built in audience of guests and visitors. Is that a viable financial strategy for anyone? Not particularly, but festivals can be a huge opportunity for independent creators to see a well deserved payday.
Originally, I wanted to just talk about my experience at MoCCA, but I thought this was a great opportunity to talk about something important, because being a comic artist is a thankless job. The business is often financially unstable. You’ll have friends and associates constantly asking you for work without appreciating the time consuming nature of the work, not to mention the cost of materials and supplies. People are constantly demanding you get a ‘real job.’ The ever fraying social safety net is a constant existential threat looming over the horizon.
MoCCA might be one of the biggest examples, but there are hundreds of smaller festivals throughout the year, filled with enthusiastic creators and artists. If you have the opportunity, visit one, buy something you normally wouldn’t, talk to a new creator, meet some new people. The comics industry isn’t the most lavish and booming industry, but it is steady and spirited, and Festivals are the moments that not only help the industry survive, but thrive.