Marking one of the last comics festivals of the year, Comic Arts Brooklyn dashed through Brooklyn, beginning with an array of exhibitions and animation screenings, and culminating in the day long celebration of today’s current indie comics as well as those of generations past. Mirroring the now defunct BCGF, this years CAB remained on trend with the bustling crowds of attendees at both Mt. Carmel Church and The Knitting Factory, further attesting to the undeniable growing robustness of these comic events. This year’s programming was limited to three presentations, and although each were insightfully well curated in trying to capture the same spirit of BCGF, they lacked the gusto and articulated assay of graphic narrative that was so captivating in last year’s panels. CAB seemed more representative of American comics and creators alike, whereas 2012′s BCGF was a noticeable blend of New York-based figures and international artists, both young and old. This isn’t to say that this was a weak point for CAB, yet after I let the initial feel-good post-con high subside, I couldn’t help but feel like the show didn’t hold up in terms of the erudite impact that similar indie festivals like TCAF and SPX have nurtured in the past year. Granted, as much as I try to liken CAB to its predecessor, what I keep reminding myself is that the show is an entirely new manifestation, harkening more to the curatorial mindset of its organizer, Gabe Fowler, and his incredible shop Desert Island—and thusly CAB characterizes a festival richly rooted in the New York (perhaps more specifically Brooklyn) comics community.
As much as I do enjoy the thrill of discovering new comics and the rush of my bag of loot at the end of the day, my favorite part of any comics festival is hands-down the programming. It’s usually with indie shows that I can immerse myself in the most intelligent dialogue surrounding the form and history of comics, and this year’s panels were filled with rare gatherings of literary greats and assemblages of emerging cartoonists, all shedding insightful remarks on the process and development of their own works. Kicking off the start of CAB was a welcome familiar face, Bill Kartalopoulos, who moderated the most packed panel of the day, “City of Glass: It was a Phone Call That Started It.” The panel’s popularity made it so that the room was at max occupancy, and many of the attendees (me included) unfortunately only had the option of listening to the audio from an outside room. Much like last year’s packed programming, this left a certain desire for an expansion of the space, and hopefully next year we can expect a venue that can accommodate CAB’s growing fans.
This panel acted as a sort of commemoration to the book’s publishing 20 years ago, reuniting Paul Auster, Art Spiegelman, David Mazzucchelli, and Paul Karasik on stage in a discussion on the development of the City of Glass as a successful graphic adaptation and on how it has evolved through its numerous editions. The exchange between longtime friends Auster and Spiegelman was very relaxed and at times humorous, as both shared their own similar career trajectories leading up to their collaboration, notably their empathy in political activism—Spiegelman’s participation in the artistic and psychedelic communes and Auster’s role in 1960s student protests. The conversation then led to a linking between the first volume of Maus and City of Glass and how both shared a liminal/boundary breaking role in publishing, and similarly how each work was oppressively labeled as postmodern or deconstructionalism. Bill provided a wealth of slides documenting the many covers of City of Glass and how each was manipulated depending on how the press wanted to sell the book, be it a form of experimental literature, noir, and even as detective fiction (garnering a nomination for the ‘Mystery Writers of America’ award in 1985). All of the panelists shared insight into the complexity in the art of adaptation from literature to graphic novel, and how the kind of imagination attributed to comics was a spot-on platform for City of Glass. The novel’s visual inventiveness allowed for many of its motifs and sequences to shine via the graphic adaptation, creating a complementary relationship between the two works, each compelling the reader to go back and forth between its two forms. I thought this was an ingenuous conversation concerning the state of comics in education today, as Bill noted that both the novel and its adaptation serve as effective teaching tools, as both works are nuanced in such a way that students can see how comics “don’t exist in a state of nature” and are the result of intelligent choices, much in the way that we regard great works of prose as a form of rarified language.
The following panel examined the ethos of a selection of accomplished cartoonists whose work we can expect to distinctly flourish in the forthcoming years. Titled “The New Generation: What We Like,” moderator Karen Green interviewed Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, Joe Lambert, and Katie Skelly about what has shaped their creative sensibility and consequently the form of their comics. I thought the choice of Karen Green as moderator was key in creating a stimulating and thought provoking conversation about the new generation of cartoonist’s influence. A low point of last year’s programming to me was the “Art, Comics, Sexuality and Pornography” panel facilitated by Slutever blogger Karley Sciortino—mostly due to the fact I expected a more unconventional exchange from a talented sex writer and was met with a discussion that not only fell flat but also was sadly very superficial. Karen has the kind of wit and background in comics history to carry a discussion that chronicles staples in older cartoonist’s influence and relating that to what rouses the current scene of artists today, many of whom were not alive to witness the heyday of MAD or RAW magazine.
CCS alumni Joe Lambert tracked his comic development to his childhood love of Calvin & Hobbes, recognizing that work as his first instance of noticing the artist’s hand and the means in which Bill Watterson experimented with differing styles, themes, and variations of ideas. Lambert was the only panelist to mention superhero comics playing a substantial role in his youth, yet surprisingly he was never taken with the culture and fandom, only having knowledge of bits and pieces of the Marvel history. What proved most instrumental in his artistic progress was his college exposure to alternative comix, notably the narrative and layout choices of Chris Ware and Jim Woodring.
The disturbing and whimsical nature of Lisa Hanawalt’s work are a direct result of her many odd, animal-centric childhood influences. The first slide she chooses to display is a hilarious array of her personal horse and pony book collection, commenting that even as a child her cartoonist sensibility was cognizant and made her obsessively fixate on certain things. Pairing this with the absurdist caricatures of Gary Larson, Hanawalt discussed how Larson’s humor and silly wordplay appealed to her own comedic mentality and also was the point at which she understood the dynamics of his art—where the mind of the reader makes the narrative leap and develops a sense of story. What was most exciting to take away from this particular panel was the acknowledgement that there is this almost endless stream of influence that developing cartoonists can take from, and from that an equally infinite number of possibilities in storytelling and styles that can emerge.
The final panel of the day was also the only to entirely focus on a singular cartoonist, “Jeff Smith: Pulled Apart.” The heart of this interview, conducted by CAB’s head of programming Paul Karasik, was an in-depth look into the process of Smith’s work, from BONE and RASL to his brand new webcomic: Tuki Save the Humans! Smith in a way pioneered the art of self-publishing with BONE prior to the means of blogs and social media as a form of output, yet himself attested to the vastness of opportunity available with today’s technology.
Smith deconstructed his own process by projecting a large display image, including a look at his personal tool kit and numerous pages in differing stages of development. Explaining the three ways he used blacks in BONE, Smith demonstrated examples of his brushwork to show how background, foreground, and shadow can be depicted to suggest a level of cohesion and a certain setting or place. Watching Smith at work was a revealing account of the inevitable trial and error condition of creating comics, a seldom seen glance to watch detailed handiwork of a underground comic master.