MoCCA Fest simulates the surreal experience of swimming in comics, even this year when things were more neatly arranged within their red curtained aisles, and perhaps it was more of a spa experience than it has been in the past. Being more orderly just meant that you were exposed to even more dizzyingly interesting indie books and had an even wider array of choices to make in what you took home. It was an environment in which it was hard to pass up the attractions, no matter how heavy your bags got with fresh and innovative works. Here’s a brief review of each of several new comics I had the good fortune to end up with when I dumped out my tote bag at home, and appended to that a few comics that debuted this year but didn’t make it into our previews list at the Beat since, as the artists have attested, they were up all night tweaking their projects and glad just to get them onto the tables in time for possibly the biggest year in MoCCA Fest history, certainly one of the most memorable.
From Secret Acres, we have ESCHEW #3, created by Robert Sergel. It opens with a hilarious vignette about “computer yoga” in an appealing boxy style and crisp grid layout. The influence of films, newspapers, music, and social scenes take a strong position in Sergel’s work giving a sense of life lived and the detached moments that stay with us as a kind of narrative memory of ourselves. Sergel’s clear lines and frequent use of solid, dark backgrounds make for a refreshing read and also have an unassuming quality that draws the reader in to participate in the storytelling. Thematically, he also leaves unusual moments of contemplation in the character’s life open to interpretation, leaving the door open for big concepts to creep in.
[from ESCHEW #3]
Melissa Ling’s self-published “24” is “about being 24”, as the book explains beyond its layered card cover. Inside you’ll find large, silent, single-panel images in frames that depict individual moments from life. Constructing narrative between the panels is up to the reader, but there’s a clear sense of gaze, usually from the visual narrator’s perspective. The heavy ink on solid, pale backgrounds suggests woodblock print tradition, and it wouldn’t be amiss to compare her single image focus, often in close-up to the haiku tradition in poetry. But there’s a distinct modernity at heart in these observations of life in motion and life captured in brief moments of stasis from a reverse silouette portrait, to a burned-out coffee mug, to the role and messages of ornamentation.
When I encountered Hunter Heckroth at the Fest, he was carrying a massive, sturdy full-color poster print from his table to a friend’s. When I got a complete view of the poster, it was clearly a comic. Though not in a traditional format, it’s one with a longstanding underground tradition of narratives that wrap around and spiral through an open space, guiding the reader and directing their experience. Heckroth’s A NIGHT ABROAD wraps through crowded party scenes in a chalky, bright, almost psychedelic style, following a perspective character through a single night until the sudden calm of a 7AM departure from the scene. It’s packed with energy, capturing snatches of conversation, and gives an almost tactile sense of perceptions in the upbeat chaos of a night on the town. As a whole, it’s both overwhelming and eye-catching, something well worth hanging on your wall to return to details and discover more nuance with each reading.
[ Hunter Heckroth's A NIGHT ABROAD]
[by Nick Sousanis]
Nick Sousanis, who you’ve probably heard of before for his unusual achievement of pursuing a Ph.D. via producing his thesis in the comics medium, came to MoCCA Fest with the completed third chapter of his dissertation and then some, and set up shop with friends to discuss his work and place himself in the arts rather than the academic context, where it also belongs, at least for one weekend. Delving into his neatly compiled large-format chapters will leave you with haunting imagery in a psychological space following the existence of “flatlanders”. Steeped in mythological reference, from winged sandals to a planet surface constructed of minotaurian mazes, his artistic style veers between the boundaries of a painterly style and the pen and ink accents of 19th century engravings. It’s a heady experiment, and even in transit, it’s clear that Sousanis is ambitious about what comics can accomplish in the 21st century.
[By Nick Sousanis]
Dre Grigoropol, always someone to look out for at indie shows, brought two new comics from her DEE’S DREAM series to the Fest, “The Patriot Parlor”, and “The Rose Bull”. The series follows the life of a rising rocker navigating friendships and romances, and capturing the sentimentally appealing and absurd aspects of an artistic lifestyle. Snarky dialogue and a large cast of personalities compliment “The Rose Bull’s” seaside Jersey Shore setting, but it’s Grigoropol’s signature DEE’S DREAM artstyle, wistful, edgy, and manga-emotive, that steals the show. “The Rose Bull” takes the series on the road, thematically and artistically, more fully, and proves that Grigoropol is as much at home with light-flooded panels as with the darkened clubs Dee increasingly frequents.
[From DEE'S DREAM: "The Rose Bull"]
Brendan Duffey’s solidly constructed comic book looks like it might as well be beaming at you from the rack at your local shop, from its full-color cover to its evocative title, DREAMING OF ATHANOR. Surprisingly, MoCCA Fest was Duffey’s first experience selling his own work, and was something of an initiation for him, though you would hardly have been able to glean that from flipping through his remarkably professional debut with its glossy pages, colors, and confident eye toward layouts. It’s a psychological tale of world-jumping, confused perceptions, and questions the extent to which one controls one’s own fate. Detailed meta-data in the form of letters, snippets of information, and hand-written notes construct the comics own world history, and a dash of the steampunk doesn’t hurt either. If this is Duffey’s debut, I, for one, am interested in where he’s going from here.
[From DREAMING OF ATHANOR]
A drum roll would be appropriate to announce that you were one of the 50 people lucky enough to snag a copy of one of MoCCA Fest 2013’s “Award of Excellence” winners, and one that was a particular stand-out among extreme talent, “B+F” by Gregory Benton. In fact, I pre-ordered it by begging, having seen a page Benton was working on a couple of week’s beforehand. Even with that kind of build up, I didn’t expect to be disappointed, and it’s an understatement to say that I wasn’t. Seeing the narrative in its hand-painted and inked full-color spread, in large format no less that falls somewhere between an oversize chapbook and a super-sized magazine, did actually induce awe.
[Gregory Benton's B+F]
Spreading it out at home and actually reading it, though, was its own experience. B+F is a silent comic, heavy on spectacle as only a highly individualistic imagination can produce, following two characters through a strange Eden and introducing the reader to the unexpected, and visually fascinating, realities they encounter. It’s archetypal, primitive, and even magical, but it’s beautiful without being trite. It’ll probably be some time before I fully process just why “B+F” is so appealing, but it certainly conveys the sense of artistic stature and reader engagement that comes from a truly complete work of comic art. Congratulations Mr. Benton.
[Benton and his award]
Zachary Zezima and Kris Mukai also debuted a collaborative work this year as a mixture of ‘zine and comic entitled IL CAMMINO DELLE CAPRE, “The Goat Path”, a weird tale of paranormal experience told from two vantage points. If MoCCA Fest isn’t for this kind of idiosyncratic comic, what Fest is? In charming woodblock style, vivid colors, and foray into the strange have a lot to recommend it. If it seems hard to produce something that conveys a new voice in indie comics, Zezima and Mukai haven’t missed a beat. Their perspective as outsiders in an Italian landscape lets the readers in on an eerie world, further emphasized by the morphing art style of two interpretations of events.
Nick Sumida debuted SNACKIES, collecting short comics focusing on relationships and vignettes that question personal identity in red toned print with more than a little of the horror element infused into an unpredictable urban landscape. But Sumida’s take on comics tradition is apparent in his style, with hints of the strip forbearers of the comic book, as well as manga overtones in expression and reaction.
Maritsa Patrinos collaborated with a host of artists to compile tales of “firsts” in life, an entertaining swath of modern mishaps from which the book takes its title, “My First Time Buying Condoms (And Other Embarrassing Stories)”. The range of art styles is impressive, and calls attention to the virtues of chapter-based collaborations wherein artists can make the stories their own while working from a series of interrelated narratives. Artists on the book included Anthony Cudahy, Chris Carfolite, Logan Fitzpatrick, Melissa Ling, Rebecca Mock, Kris Mukai, and Hazel Santino.
Going to MoCCA Fest this year was something akin to embarking on a controlled tumble down the rabbit hole into a variety of strange lands, each with their own logic and territory to explore. The vitality of indie comics production, if ever in question, certainly shows no sign of waning, and readers have never had so much choice when on the prowl for new comics experiences. And these were just a tiny percentage of what was on show in 2013. But it’s the combined expression of thousands of hours of hard work and personal vision that make you grateful that all the stapling and folding carries on, telling new stories in new ways.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.