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This was a tough year for Boston Comic Con: It was originally scheduled for the weekend after the Boston Marathon, and although organizers worked tirelessly not to cancel the event, the venue was within the lockdown zone following the bombings, and the load-in day coincided with the massive manhunt forsuspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In the end, they had no choice but to shut down the convention. As most of the talent was already in town, local retailers sponsored a number of mini-cons.
Despite the cheerful we-can-get-through-this attitude of that weekend, things were looking pretty bleak. And then Boston Comic Con came roaring back, in a new venue and with a new attitude. This year, it felt less like a local event and more like a big-city con, with a smattering of publisher booths and an array of top-tier talent. The convention has grown quickly, from 1,000 attendees at the first con in 2007 to 15,000 last year. This year, with a bigger venue and more guests, I’m guessing the final number will be even higher.
I walked into MoCCA Arts Fest a few minutes after it opened, with my friend Erica Friedman, and we noticed the difference right away: The last two shows have had an improvised, “Let’s have a comics show! We can use my father’s barn!” kind of feeling. They weren’t disorganized, exactly, and the talent has always been top-notch, but the show floor felt crowded, cluttered, and confusing.
This was the first year that the Society of Illustrators was running the event. Organizers had a lot to prove, and they proved it. The show felt professional. The aisles were wider. A very simple addition — a bright red backdrop that ran behind the tables — made a huge difference, giving visitors more focus and eliminating the distraction of looking out across that cavernous space. The red curtains also set off a small gallery at the back of the armory that featured original comics art from the Society’s collection, a gentle reminder that they have been welcoming comics creators for more than 100 years. Visitors could buy a slick, nicely produced catalog for $5, and there was a modest cafe downstairs, a pleasant addition that allowed friends who met at the show to sit down and have a bite and a chat without disrupting the experience too much.
San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Chicago may be better known as comics towns, but Boston has a thriving indie comics community, and now the city has a documentary about it as well. In this 11-minute film, The Amazing and Fantastical Boston Comics Creators, director Frank Duran talks to an array of local talent, including Jesse Lonergan, Jerel Dye, John Hilliard and Ming Doyle. It’s well worth a look both to see the amazing art some of these creators are producing and to hear them talk about their process as well as the importance of the Boston Comics Roundtable in bringing them together and nurturing their work.
MICE, the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, is like a mini-MoCCA for the Boston area. Sponsored by the Boston Comics Roundtable and the Art Institute of Boston, MICE is in its third year, and last year’s show was such a hit that tables for this year sold out within three hours. The headline guest is R. Sikoryak, and the roster includes Box Brown, Ming Doyle, Cathy Leamy, Kevin Church, Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue (who will be debuting their latest Pet Shop Private Eye book at the show), Adventure Time team Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline, and many more too numerous to mention (more than 150 in all). Besides Venable and Yue’s book, there are several other debuts at the show, including the Boston Comics Roundtable’s Hellbound III, Cathy Leamy’s Diabetes Is After Your Dick and Mike Lynch’s Don’t Let the Zombie Drive the Bus.
As much as I love the big shows, and I’ll move heaven and earth to get to New York Comic Con every year, I really enjoy smaller shows like this. Boston has a lot of native and nearby comics talent, and while the room does get crowded at times, it’s still more laid back than a big con. You get to see talent at all stages of its development and interact with creators while they are still making their comics by hand. Plus it’s in a great location, easy to get to and with a ton of good restaurants nearb y— no shriveled-up turkey sandwiches for $9 a pop or fake coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Admission is free, too. So if you’re in the area, hop on the T and check it out.