A Weekend at MoCCAFest

The last time I went to MoCCAFest, it was in the 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Ave between 25th and 26th. The building is old and solid, red brick and wood, unique and unmistakable, like the comics I found in it. I came across the show accidentally in 2012 and then returned on purpose in 2013. And then I missed a few years.

I keep trying to find this quote (perhaps it was a riff off Colson Whitehead’s post-9/11 essay, Lost and Found), but it goes something like this: “You haven’t really lived somewhere until you can remember what it used to be like.”

I’m leaving New York in less than two months, and now the show is at Metropolitan West, on 46th between 11th and 12th. It’s across the street from the Intrepid and essentially on the outskirts of nowhere. I took the Q down to Times Square and walked a thousand miles west, right past the venue, in fact. I don’t know what I was expecting, knowing that the show had moved on from the armory, but I was somehow sure the inside would reflect the outside.

It didn’t. Beyond the small crowd of people moving in and out, holding black plastic bags and a glossy show brochure, it was surprisingly easy to miss. I stood nearby the Intrepid, wondering how I could have missed it, and called my friend Ray. She came to collect me and waited as I paid the $5 admission fee.

I missed the armory immediately. The new venue was clean, spacious, seemingly freshly painted, and utterly unlived in. It is exactly that: a venue, a space that exists for temporary ends. I’ve heard the reason for the move was more space, that the show had become bigger than the armory could sustain. This is good news for small press comics, good news for all the exhibitors. But I wanted the heavy smell of age and the feel of a space that exists on its own terms, regardless of whether I’m looking at it. Change is hard. Maybe especially because I’m leaving this place soon.

It took only seconds to spot Darryl Ayo. Darryl was sharing a table with Czap Books and exhibiting his own comics, printed selections from Little Garden. The ground floor looked overwhelming, and he was a welcome port in a storm, just to get used to the environment. Darryl’s a critic and an indie cartoonist, and we hang out fairly often. We drink coffee or bubble tea or both. We talk about comics and craft and just general shit. It works for us. We chatted amiably–he’d brought some Japanese comics for me–and then it was off to the races.

The artist I kept coming back to was Kate Lacour. I didn’t really talk to her–I got as far as talking to her sister, since the artist herself was tending to her baby–but everything on her table was precisely my shit. Little known fact that makes a lot of sense when you think about all the things I do for a living: I am very into anatomical body horror. Kate was selling postcards, short comics, and prints, but the highlight was a set of three prints–available only as a set–for $15. Geometry, symmetry, snakes, bones, muscle, and genitalia. What more could you want?

A break, actually. Ray and I dropped back over the Czap and Darryl’s again and everyone was kind enough to let me leave my coat there. Kevin Czap is particularly kind and had very cute aquamarine nail polish. We all talked about a lot of nothing, as usual–did you know that goldfish can grow to up to 18 inches in length?–but I was also intrigued by Jessi Zabarsky’s Witchlight. The book design was compelling enough, but the interiors even more so–black and white, warm greys, and shoujo layouts. It was a $20 show debut and a book I’m looking forward to purchasing.

That’s the other thing: because I’m moving and, therefore, trying to avoid acquiring new things, this year’s MoCCA was more akin to a gallery experience than one for shopping. It did, to a point, make me feel as though I was interacting with the show behind a glass wall, but on the other freed me up to consider everything equally. I worried less about what I could afford and more about what visually pleased me. There were several excellent prints, for example, by Tin Can Forest and Peach Tao. There was an absolutely precious fashion furry zine by Binglin Hu called Furesh Taste. And a food sketch zine by Ashley Caswell. A hard-to-pass-up Lady Eboshi print from Alexandra Beguez. (And Peow! Studios was as crowded as ever.)

My other two favorites (aside from Kate Lacour) were Kraken, a silkscreen accordion piece by C. M. Butzer, and almost all of what Natalie Andrewson had on offer.

After looping the second floor twice and the ground floor once–stopping to say hi to Wendy Xu, Priya Huq, and Zachary Clemente–and then I vanished uptown. Day one done.

Day two was a lot briefer. I showed up on day one at around one o’clock, two hours after the start. Day two, I rolled up at four o’clock. I’ve been trying embrace stillness instead of doing everything all the time, so I slept in at my best friend’s house, had coffee, read some comics. By four, on the last day of the show, I thought things might be less crowded, but business was booming. For $5 I got a bright green dinosaur stamp on my hand and admission to the second half of the party.

I’d seen almost everything I wanted to on the first day, so the second day was a lot more about conversation. I had a nice talk with Matt Rockefeller, one of the creators of 5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior, about paper quality. The book was released in France with different paper quality and different binding than the English version, so we reflected pleasantly on paper weight, the sensation of matte and gloss against our fingers. He told me, off the record, which version was his favorite. I’ll tell you that mine is the French one. I like how hefty it is, how the matte alters the colors.

I talked to Wendy about paper quality too–she likes to work on archival quality stuff and has a guy in Pennsylvania who gives her strong recommendations for printing.

Aatmaja Pandaya was too busy on the first day for me to chat, but I caught up with her the next day. It was one of the best talks I’d had in a while. We discussed pricing one’s work and how that can limit access for some pieces that we’d rather be seen widely as possible. I shared my own feelings about my career, about the tension between compensation, and the importance of the message. I also told her that Emma Houxbois once told me that I should think about it as reparations.

The show ended where it mostly started–with Darryl Ayo. I stood there for a solid hour, maybe an hour and a half, talking nonstop nonsense. Some of it about comics (I don’t get the nine-panel grid; he doesn’t get Blacksad), but a lot of it was also just talking trash. At some point Zachary Clemente joined up and then we were all riffing off each other–me literally crying laughing at one point–about everything and anything. It was good.

The show was good. I didn’t buy anything. I showed up late. I missed a lot. I didn’t go to any parties. I didn’t hang. The show was different from what I remembered. I’m different from what I remember. In a few months, my life is going to be different from what I remember. But the show was good.

It was a good weekend. If you’d been there, you would’ve had a good time. I hope you did anyway.

J. A. Micheline

J. A. Micheline

JAM's been reading comics since she was 8. As a critic, she focuses on race and gender issues. She also writes prose fiction, comics, and the occasional angry tweet before bedtime. Find her on Twitter at @elevenafter.