Celebrating Milestones in Comics: Eisner Night at MoCCA/Soc. Ill. and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival

In the last days of Hurricane Sandy recovery on the East Coast, I set off from my motel room in exile for a celebratory night at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art/Society of Illustrators in NYC. The subject was the life and work of the comics phenomenon Will Eisner, complete with a screening of the excellent documentary Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist, directed by Andrew B. Cooke, including a delicious fall-flavored catered dinner.

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It was a lovely evening, despite the howling Nor’easter setting in. In fact, the weather gave the city a feel reminiscent of the noir atmosphere of THE SPIRIT comics for which Eisner is best known. Hearing from comics veterans and educators Danny Fingeroth and Paul Levitz about one of their own personal heroes was also very enlightening, particularly since Levitz was responsible for bringing Eisner’s SPIRIT into DC collected editions for the first time. I reviewed both the documentary, and the evening’s event here for The Beat.

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By the time the weekend rolled around, I was finally back into my house following 13 days of evacuation and power outages from the hurricane, and the 8 inches of snow dumped on New Jersey had melted too. I didn’t want to miss the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, since I hadn’t yet attended, but took a more circumspect attitude as a face in the crowd that day, just trying to get a feel for the event’s goals and aims compared to other indie comics events I’d witnessed and enjoyed in 2012. There was, however, one big draw that got me out of bed early: hearing Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, and Richard McGuire talk about “The Architecture of Comics” in a panel moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos.

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I waited in a crowd of fans and enthusiasts to see all these comics greats in conversation, and it was well worth the effort. Spiegelman was in top form, dealing out off-beat wit and wisdom, and praising the self-effacing Chris Ware about his new work BUILDING STORIES while talking about his own development as a sequential narrative storyteller. You can find my extensive coverage of the panel for The Beat, here.

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The Festival itself was energetic, powerful, crowded, and ,to me, brought out a unique vein of comics production for the public to sift through. More than Small Press Expo, there was a distinct feeling of locality and underground production in the work. It was more edgy, more punk, if you will, and had its own unique vibe. I caught up with Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch at the Toons table, and had some nice chats with Jim Salicrup of Papercutz who was there as a fan himself.

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That evening, I had a welcome comixy focused meal with Dean Haspiel, Heidi MacDonald of PW and The Beat, Jim Salicrup, and a hearty group of Dean Haspiel’s students from his recent teaching gig at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. Not only were they a lot of fun to get to know, but I was treated to insights into the character and comic SHIFTYGOTH, a new multi-contributor project taking wings online, and particularly through Facebook.

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[Shiftygoth being Shiftygoth]

My venture to Brooklyn provided yet another piece of the indie comics puzzle, helping me create my first year’s impressions of where creator owned work in comics has come from and what’s on the way given the veritable explosion of indie shows in recent years. I’d highly recommend attending BCGF if you want to see diversity in comics, hand-made work, and just want to hang out with comics people devoted to their craft.

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And I Survived…SPX!

This year I attended my first Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, in what seemed like only a couple of days after the phenomenal Boston Comic Con. I drove down a little ahead of the Expo in order to attend Dean Haspiel’s talk at the Library of Congress, celebrating the donation of over 600 minicomics from his personal collection to the Library, but also the ongoing collection that will house Ignatz Award nominated comics and other worthies drawn from SPX each year. It was a proud day for comics, and plenty of other comics folks turned up for a tour of the impressive comics holdings the Library already had on offer. If you’d like to see my coverage of that event for The Beat, you can find it here.

After returning to the hotel for a spell, some of us headed back into DC for the Literary Death Match event featuring Dean Haspiel and the Beat’s Heidi MacDonald as judges. It was a hilarious event hosted in pro fashion with a whole cast of talented cartoonists competing through wits and art.

When SPX finally opened the next morning, the crowds were impressive and I realized right away how special the Expo was. I’m new to indie comics, and this was a premier festival for creators and fans of the self-published, off-the-beaten path and even hand-made in comics. I was overwhelmed by the well of creativity I saw there, and tried to pick up a wide selection of minis produced in different ways. I talked to lots of creators, hearing their stories and motivations in the creative process, but I also saw the way in which everyone enjoyed seeing and talking to each other in an environment in which their efforts were understood. Add to that the all-star cast of famous names attending SPX this year from Daniel Clowes to the Hernandez Brothers and Chris Ware. It made for an ebullient atmosphere. It wouldn’t be far fetched to call the event one big comics party, but a party where people made record sales from interested attendees. This really signals a rise in popularity and recognition for indie comics.

I spent a lot of my time attending fabulous panels, hearing straight from veteran comics people about their careers and the future of the form, and covered lots of them for The Beat. You can see my day one coverage and day two coverage with pictures if you’re interested.

I also covered the entertaining Ignatz Awards which was one of the most up-beat ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed, not to mention the sprawling late into the night parties that followed. It left me broken down by Sunday morning, but ready for more knowledge. A full day of panels (reinforced by a great cooked breakfast) kept me on the move.

[These fine fellows are Jim Dougan, Dean Haspiel, and Joe Infurnari, all of whom create comics]

Driving back, my mind was literally still spinning with all the wit and wisdom I’d been a party too. As Warren Bernard said to me, it would be very very hard to top SPX this year, and as people started responding to the event online, it was clear that everyone had just as good a time as me. It was a crowded, lively, welcoming Expo, bringing in new readership and talent. I’d highly recommend people interested in comics attend in future years, whatever genre you’re into. It’s increasingly evident to me that comics is actually a fairly small world and if you want to hang out with like minded people, SPX is a premier place to do just that. Two thumbs up!