If APE is a Gorilla, what is MoCCA?

Not being any sort of artist myself, it is hard for me to know much about the cartooning/comics “scene” in any given area, except that New York is where seemingly 99% of the action is. I say ‘seemingly’ because the MoCCA show just happened, and just like every other year, reading recaps of the show makes me greenish-red with envious rage. I should just up and go to it, but I live on the opposite end of the country, and the cost of a trip all the way out there (plus some spending money, since I almost feel like it would be worse to go and not be able to buy anything than not to go at all) just isn’t something I can support right now. From the look of it, EVERYONE goes to this show. People’s flickr streams have photos with captions like, “Adrian Tomine randomly bumps into Ben Katchor and David Mazzuchelli while Gary Groth and Gahan Wilson look on.” Fantagraphics had SIXTEEN artists doing book signings at their booth. It’s nuts.

Lucky for me, I have a top-notch convention in my back yard every October (formerly every April) – the Alternative Press Expo. Having never been to MoCCA, I can’t compare them directly, and I have a feeling that APE has a richer crossover with the up-and-coming gallery artist crowd (people like Skinner, Robert Bowen, Dave Correia, Alex Pardee, etc). As far as a pure comics show, APE does a great job, but it doesn’t compare to MoCCA. I posted about this on Twitter – something about the 16 artists Fanta had at MoCCA vs. the two they had at APE (not that those two – Megan Kelso and Tony Millionaire – weren’t awesome to meet in person) – and they (“they” most likely meaning Mike, who I’ve met a few times and who is totally nice and who I’d never want to offend) tweeted back that if APE were anything like MoCCA, they’d have 16 artists there too.

Thinking about it, my original comment came across a little snide, since I know that they didn’t purposely give APE the short shrift – it just doesn’t draw the number of artists that MoCCA does. Last year, Fanta, D&Q, Top Shelf, and Picturebox (who, in their/his defense, did make the expensive trip from NYC) all had authors who were official guests of the convention, whereas it seemed like a lot of the people signing at MoCCA just happened to be there for kicks. I’ve written reverently about the magic APE 08 when Buenaventura Press debuted Kramers Ergot 7 and had cartoonists from all over California and beyond there to sign the book and appear on a star-studded KE7 panel. While that year seems like a unique experience to me now, it’s pretty much par for the course at MoCCA.

So I guess my point is that I wish there were a way to make APE the kind of central event that MoCCA has become. Part of it is that it is only a few months after Comic-Con, which is in relatively the same geographical location. And a lot probably has to do with the fact that the drive from somewhere like LA to SF is still a decent-sized trip. But, there are tons of amazing and legendary cartoonists living in the western US, and I would love to see APE become the kind of draw that would pull them all into the same place just because it was that great of a fest. I know I shouldn’t complain at all, since what I get living in the Bay Area is a hell of a lot more than I would get if I lived in Kansas – not to mention the fact that a lot of east coast cartoonists did attend APE last year, like Lisa Hanawalt and Julia Wertz and others who I’m likely leaving out… and Emilie Ostergren even popped in from Sweden to say hi. So that’s pretty good. But still – I can dream, right?

The final thing I’m curious RE: MoCCA vs. APE is how it treats young (or semi-pro) cartoonists who haven’t had book deals come through yet – since that is one area where APE really shines. There are a bunch of cartoonists around here that I see at pretty much every comics/art/zine fest, big and small, and their work is really strong. Some of them (*cough* Geoff Vasile *cough*) are so talented that I get as excited when they release a new mini as I am for a book like Chester Brown’s Paying for It.  It would be a real shame if these artists got swept away by the tidal wave of Big Names that everyone talks about at MoCCA. Reading the follow-up press, most journalists almost seemed to struggle to fit mention of all of the name brands into their column space, and “new” artists like Brecht Evans (who has books with Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf) took the place of the up-and-comers who are still self-publishing their own stuff. A good amount of press focused on Pizza Island (the ALL FEMALE collective – I know, right? Can you believe there’s a cartooning collective without even a single she-male?!?!), although again, you’re not exactly talking about unknowns, when one of the members has books published by Random House and another just came out with an extremely well-reviewed title from Vertigo.

So there you have it – I am both insanely jealous of MoCCA and curious about it, since my impression is just that – an outsider impression from someone who has read about it a bunch but never been. Maybe in between the comments telling me I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, readers might be so kind as to compare it to other fests around the country. And I’ll see everyone (all six of you) at APE this year from behind the Chance Press table –  I’m sure exhibiting for the first time will give me a whole new set of impressions that I can blather on about. Stay tuned!

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