A con grows in Brooklyn: Thoughts on Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival
* Organized by Desert Island‘s Gabe Fowler and PictureBox‘s Dan Nadel, the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival made its debut on Saturday, and I’m awfully glad I was able to make it. (I didn’t think I’d be able to, but my wife and mother-in-law gave me a reprieve from going to see New Moon for the third time. Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!) I live on Long Island, so having an artcomix convention on my very own land mass is a cause for celebration. And provided you’re willing to brave a dreadful mile or so on the BQE and the Kosciuszko Bridge, it’s not even that much of a hassle to get there — parking in Brooklyn is a snap.
* Less easy was dealing with the weather, which was awful. Freezing rain and, eventually, snow. I figured this would do a real number on attendance levels …
* … but when I entered the tiny church basement where the show was held, it was so packed I could barely move. Maybe the weather drove people inside? Admittance was free, so it was the perfect place for soggy Brooklynites to pop in and soak up some art risk-free. I talked to a couple of publishers who were glad the weather was so rotten, since a balmy day might have driven the crowd to unsustainable, NYCC/Big Apple-style shut-down levels. Most of the publishers and exhibitors I spoke with seemed ecstatic with their sales, too.
* The crowd itself was … ugh, I hate the H-word, but it was a young, stylishly disheveled, Brooklyn-based crowd, I’m sure I don’t need to draw you a picture. The smell of vegan hot dogs and wet neckbeard, my own included, was all-enveloping. But this also means that it’s not a celeb-seeking crowd or a collector crowd, it’s a reader crowd, an art-appreciation crowd, and a heavily co-ed crowd to boot. It’s the kind of crowd that I imagine comics veterans can hardly believe finally exists.
* The talent-to-square-footage ratio was as lopsided as you’ll ever see in North America. As I made my first circuit of the room, Ben Katchor and Gary Panter were cheerfully signing books helpfully provided for sale by the con. Jessica Campbell of “Big Two” altcomix publisher Drawn & Quarterly told me of the chaotic scene at D&Q’s table when Charles Burns and Adrian Tomine’s signing ended as Gabrielle Bell and R. Sikoryak’s began. I myself was lured to the show in large part by an ultra-rare con appearance by Fort Thunder alumnus Mat Brinkman, over whom I gushed like a Browncoat on Nathan Fillion’s autograph line at San Diego.
* Yet as packed as it was with talent and attendees alike, it was, as Heidi MacDonald and Rickey Purdin both report, a show with a really personal, intimate feel. It was the kind of show where I could have a quiet chat with Katchor about how depicting space is his primary interest in comics, and where Tunde Adebimpe — lead singer of big-deal alt-rock outfit TV on the Radio — could spend 40 minutes or so contributing to Ben Herman’s Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook. The one-day-only set-up and festive holiday decorations — it was held in a church basement, after all — helped contribute to a sense that this was a fun day out rather than a weekend-long expedition. (This went double for me as I really was there instead of going to the movies and the mall; for that reason I skipped out on the panels and the post-show festivities, both held at nearby venues.)
* Falling as it did at the ass-end of the year, and announced as it was after the small-press show circuit had drawn to a close, this wasn’t really a con for major book-of-the-show-type debuts. It was more of an opportunity to pick up new minicomics by folks you like — PictureBox was offering a Jimbo mini by Gary Panter, for example — or snag books you’d missed elsewhere.
* My own haul was small but felt substantial: Tunde Adebimpe’s glossy, painted fight comic Plague Hero, his table-neighbor Domitille Collardey‘s sinuously drawn one-woman anthology comic What Had Happened Was…, C.F.’s new minicomic/fetish-pinup showcase City-Hunter Magazine #1 courtesy of PictureBox, Lane Milburn & Noel Freibert’s flipbook My Best Pet/Feeble-Minded Funnies from Closed Caption Comics and Drawn & Quarterly’s last copy of Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions #13.
* The emphasis was at least as much on the “graphics” end of the equation as it was on “comics,” so provided you had the scratch and the rainproofing abilities required, you really could have cleaned up on gorgeous silkscreened prints, handcrafted fold-out art books, and a killer selection of prints from Desert Island, including a gorgeous $30 poster for the show itself. With an eye on my holiday budget I couldn’t dip into this arena very much, but I left with many a business card and a lust in my heart for Panyiotis Terzis’s Jack Kirby-meets-House of Style photocollage and L. Nichols’s He-Man and She-Ra block prints.
* Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a big West Coast contingent, so you had the strange-for-an-indie-show spectacle of D&Q without Fantagraphics, and PictureBox and Bodega without Buenaventura. AdHouse didn’t trip up from the Dirty South and bicoastal Top Shelf were missing as well, but Secret Acres and Sparkplug represented, as did collectives like Closed Caption Comics, Partyka, and the House of Twelve. Indeed, as a curated show rather than a first-come-first-serve free-for-all, the quality level was uniformly high. And (here comes the Con Wars angle) the enthusiasm I saw from publishers, exhibitors, and attendees alike could easily be seen as a shot across the bow of MoCCA following their disorganized and divisive showing this summer. To be sure, the approach of BCGF is different even from MoCCA’s best years, and I assume publishers will have their preferences. But if there’s any city in America with room enough for two major alternative-comics conventions, it’s gotta be New York. I’ll certainly be back to both.