Robot 6

Best. Show. EVER.: Thoughts on the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival

Sean's comically huge comics haul from BCGF 2010

Sean's comically huge comics haul from BCGF 2010

I tweeted it after I got back home the night of the show and I stand by it now: Book for book and creator for creator, the second annual Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival was the best comic convention I’ve ever attended. I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why — certainly not in a comprehensive fashion, as I was in and out of the day-long show within three hours and didn’t even attend any of the programming (though I could see it was pretty much standing room only from my vantage point by the hot dog stand that provided grub for the attendees). I’m sure people who stayed longer, participated more, and took advantage of all the show’s ancillary events could paint you a bigger and better picture. But from my admittedly narrow perspective, it came down to a sense of…well, of giddiness — that’s the best way I can put it. Pretty much everyone I saw or spoke with at the show seemed head-over-heels happy, not because of proximity to cool parties or big-money media extravaganzas, but because of proximity to comics — tons and tons of unusual, gutsy, great comics.

For that, credit must be given to the show’s organizers: Brooklyn retailer Gabe Fowler of Desert Island, PictureBox publisher and Comics Comics editor Dan Nadel, and veteran comics scholar/editor/programming director Bill Kartalopoulos. Running a curated con, where exhibitors are vetted before being awarded a table rather than getting them on a strictly first-come-first-served scenario, wasn’t exactly a no-brainer given the prevalence of the more traditional model even among other small-press shows. I don’t know how much actual curating was involved, in terms of creating an environment for a certain kind of comics on the front end versus turning people away on the back end — I recall hearing that the latter was minimal — but whatever the case, the end result was the most uniformly high-quality line-up of exhibitors I’ve ever seen. Wandering around the room, I don’t recall seeing a single table that didn’t house something I’d be interested in buying if I had the scratch. Seriously. And that’s basically unheard of — again, even compared to other small-press shows, where crude photocopies, middle-of-the-road niche-fillers, and mildly depressing attempts to create the next big action-adventure franchise often crowd out your eyespace. Everyone at BCGF, from upstart publishers like Gaze Books to institutions like The Jack Kirby Museum, was there because they actually give a damn about comics as art. It’s an infectious mentality.

Credit must also go to a disparate community of creators and publishers who seemed intent on deluging congoers with the strongest line-up of show debuts I can remember since the Blankets/Kramers Ergot 4/The Frank Book year at MoCCA. Drawn & Quarterly‘s debuts included a new book from Adrian Tomine and the final issue of Anders Nilsen’s decade-plus-in-the-making Big Questions. West Coasters Jordan Crane and Sammy Harkham were on hand to unveil the latest issues of their throwback one-man anthology comic-book series Uptight and Crickets, from Fantagraphics and PictureBox respectively (correction: Crickets #3 is self-published, but it was being sold at the PictureBox table) — two series that many fans weren’t counting on ever seeing again. Portland’s Studygroup12 and Baltimore’s Closed Caption Comics released their most ambitious anthologies to date. Benjamin Marra debuted The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd, which has been setting the mainstream and political media on fire, while Joshua W. Cotter debuted his limited-edition Barbra in the Sky with Neil Diamonds collection from AdHouse after surviving a literal fire himself. And that doesn’t even come close to the full list of recent and brand-new books that BCGF attendees had to choose from. Put it this way: This was the first time I’ve ever literally run out of cash at a comic convention. (Sorry, Ben Catmull!)

In what is probably a related point, I was struck by the number of long-distance attendees making it to the show this time: Crane, Harkham, and Johnny Ryan from Los Angeles; Gaze and Zack Soto from Portland; Koyama Press and InkstudsRobin McConnell (on behalf of Conundrum Press) from up North; AdHouse Books and Dustin Harbin from down South; even Landfill Editions from London; and that’s to say nothing of official guests of the show like Lynda Barry and Renée French. Meanwhile, AdHouse joined a list of key small-press publishers that already included Sparkplug, D&Q, and PictureBox. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the likes of Fantagraphics and Top Shelf join in with official presences next year, especially given how good word of mouth seems to be, and how the increased Hollywood presence at the San Diego Comic Con — not in an “eww, movies!” sense, but in a “hey, a lot of the tickets are being gobbled up by studio personnel who are perfectly nice people but who don’t have much interest in picking up the latest issue of Uptight” sense — is apparently causing even some close-by West Coasters to reevaluate how they spend their convention money, time, and energy.

Then there’s the logistics of the show itself. The gymnasium at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church turned out to be a much airier, brighter, and more high-ceilinged venue than last year’s church-basement setting, though to be fair, the weather cooperated this year as well, and sogginess was at a minimum. No matter how crowded the show floor got — and it got pretty damn crowded, especially up on that stage where showrunners PictureBox and Desert Island were ensconced — there was ample room in the lobby and basement to hang out, grab a vegetarian hot dog, check out Scott Eder‘s astonishing original art (my jaw dropped on three separate occasions (Kirby, Beto, and Jaime)), flip through their loot, take in the programming, and generally decompress. Most importantly, I think, exhibitor fees were cheap and admission was totally free, leaving no one feeling nickel-and-dimed and creating a zero-risk atmosphere for Williamsburg residents — perhaps the most natural constituency for alternative comics on God’s gray earth — to come on in and check things out. And hey, more money for comics!

The thing that made me happiest about having attended BCGF as I drove home was that I’d just spent three hours in the company of a room full of people — organizers, publishers, artists, readers, curious passers-by — who value comics as comics, and who aren’t afraid to articulate, through their work as creators and consumers of comics, exactly what it is they find so valuable about them. I left feeling better about the medium than I have in a very long time. And that’s a bargain at any cost, let alone for free.

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Comments

19 Comments

Huh, guess I should have gone after all. Wonder if I could get a table next year . . .?

Could of quick questions about your haul.

1. Is that a new Mat Brinkman in the upper right corner? If so, please tell us a little about it.
2. What’s the issue number on that copy of Crickets?
3. See that book “Weird Jokes”? Go to the left, this comic with what appears to be a skeleton leaving a rainbow trail, what is it called? I’m quite taken by this cover.

The Mat Brinkman book is caled “Heads, 44″ and is available at the picturebox website.

Picturebox is putting out Crickets 3?

Can’t wait to get my hands on that, the new Uptight, and those two Deforge books.

Regarding Uptight: Fantagraphics I putting out 4? I was unsure.

Sean T. Collins

December 6, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Ooh, questions I can answer!

Mike:

1) As the other Sean (not me) said, that’s a book called Heads, 44, and it is indeed a new Mat Brinkman. Click the link for more info.

2) That’s Crickets #3! Click the link for the announcement.

2.5) Graham: Turns out I’m wrong and Crickets #3 is self-published; it was being sold at the PictureBox table, hence my confusion. I will correct the post to reflect this.

3) That’s Closed Caption Comics #9, the latest volume of the titular collective’s anthology. I’d guess you can keep your eyes peeled here to find out when it will be available for sale online.

And Graham: Yes, Uptight #4 is coming out through Fantagraphics. Jordan also promised #5 within six months!

Could you list the titles, their creators, and their publisher from left to right, top to bottom? Pweeze? Id like to save the list for occasional reference when I think about looking them up for order from time to time. They all look fantastic.

Hey Sean, it was a blast to meet you. Just to add to your list of publishers, I was there for my publisher Conundrum books with a healthy stack of releases both new and old.

Definitely the best show I have been to. Small enough to not miss anybody, and filled with so much incredible talent that I still left wishing I could have afforded more. The panels were all awesome too, and all those pages of original art! It was heaven. Mark Newgarden’s cartoon screening on Sunday was a blast as well.

I agree — it was the best show I’ve been to, too. And yeah I also spent everything in my wallet. I heard someone say that exhibitor fees were pretty high actually, but it didn’t really matter for most people because they sold out of almost everything.

mr. pants –
I’ll get it started for ya…

bottom row, from the right:
big questions #15 by anders nilsen, D+Q
i married a man-child by kate beaton, self-published
new character parade by johnny ryan, pigeon press
diary by gabrielle bell, self-published (?)
la diary by gabrielle bell, self-published (?)
barbra in the sky with neil diamonds by joshua cotter, adhouse
sm by michael deforge, self-published (i got this, it’s terrific)

next row up, working backwards:
spotting deer by michael deforge, koyama press (also got this, AMAZING, possibly my favorite comic of the year)
crickets #3 by sammy harkham, self-published (got this, terrific)
uptight #4 by jordan crane, fantagraphics
the incredibly fantastic adventures of maureen dowd by ben marra, traditional comics (got this, also great)

things get spottier for me after that.
top right corner is smoke signal #7 from desert island (got this, again, great)
next to that is study group 12 edited by zack soto
the big black one is heads, 44 by matt brinkman, picturebox

if nobody fills in the rest i’ll do it for ya tomorrow, i’m still catching up on sleep from the whole trip. it was WORTH IT X 1,000.

I bought a lot of great stuff at the show, I wish I had another $1000 that I could’ve spent.

The highlight of the show for me was looking through Johnny Ryan’s book of original art and evesdropping on the conversation between Johnny and Matt Groening. What a crazy comic/cartoon connection that was!

ffffuck new crickets

if any of yall dudes/dudettes be thinkin bout 44 heads git 44 heads
I reviewed it a month or so back but you shouldn’t read my review because it is not particularly well written instead buy 44 heads

Sean T. Collins

December 7, 2010 at 7:29 am

Mr. Pants, I just updated the post with a full listing. Have at it!

Robin, I added Conundrum to the post. thanks!

Ok so it was my first comic con but I agree that I was totally blissed out just being in the presence of sammy, anders, lynda, jordan. It was all so laid back. I got to chat with a bunch of artists and meet so many new local folks.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wendyrobotika/sets/72157625417731873/

Sean T. Collins

December 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Wow, I can’t imagine what it’d be like for this to have been my first comic con. I think you’ve been spoiled, Wendy!

Yup, it was my first show too. I worry it may ruined all the others.

* may have ruined

Hey thanks for the answers, That’s great about Uptight 4 and the potential number 5.

Sorry for the double post:

Did Jordan Crane say when the “general” release of Uptight 4 is, the Fantagraphics site doesn’t mention anything.

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