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MoCCA 2007 Offers Singular Reading Experiences

Day one of the sixth annual Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival (MoCCA) in NYC was great fun, with a significantly increased amount of exhibitor space than I recall from past years — including a swank “skylight” room on the 7th floor of the Puck building. Programming this year took place two blocks from the festival site at the museum itself, which is currently showcasing a Stan Lee retrospective and which is well worth your time.

And what a fine set of programming day one included. My day began with the Drawn & Quarterly Cartoonists’ Showcase featuring Gabrielle Bell and Anders Nilsen. Kevin Huizenga was also on the bill but couldn’t make it. The three creators had done a west coast author tour together, and this was to be an exclusive east coast performance of their traveling comics roadshow.

I’d heard of the relatively recent trend of comics creators performing public readings from their work, accompanied by a slideshow of the panels/pages projected for the audience to follow along, but this was the first opportunity I’d had to attend such a reading. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was certainly intrigued. By the end of the day’s programming, I was to have seen four such readings, and I was very much a believer in the “comics live” experience.

Lucky, volume 2, #1 coverGabrielle Bell was first up, reading “My Affliction” from her new comic, Lucky, vol. 2, #1. The story, a delightfully whimsical, dreamlike narrative involving but not limited to: “Gabrielle” being kidnapped by a “behemoth,” floating in air, psychoanalysis, love and longing, a foulmouthed mynah bird and a great escape. It’s an absolute gem of a story, and the “live” performance by Bell (playing “herself”), assisted by a multitalented friend (playing the rest of the cast, and all sound effects – human, animal and otherwise) was a joy to witness. Even if you never get a chance to see the story performed, I heartily encourage you to seek out a copy of the comic and read it yourself. Reading it aloud is optional.

Anders Nilsen was next up, with a reading from his 2006 autobiographical travel narrative, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow. Anders Nilsen reading from The passage that he read from was the second section of the book, “The Camping Trip,” involving an ill-fated beach camping vacation Nilsen and his girlfriend had taken. By turns amusing and haunting, the epistolic piece, from which Nilsen read only a portion, had me eagerly picking up a copy of the book at the D&Q table shortly after the reading. Nilsen also read an additional, related but thus far unpublished piece, which Clayton perfectly captured in his post.

The next panel I took in was the Alison Bechdel spotlight which Wayne previewed on Friday. Following a fine introduction by James Sturm, Bechdel provided a fascinating overview of the creative process on her award-winning memoir, Fun Home, culminating in a reading from the book. She didn’t read any dialogue, however, focusing solely on descriptive captions as she feels that reading comics aloud is “really stupid.” I suspect that had Bechdel been in attendance at the earlier D&Q panel, her mind may well have been changed on this score.

Alison Bechdel at MoCCA Bechdel’s seven-years in the making Fun Home was an incredibly labor intensive project, and in her slideshow she showed photos and video depicting her process, from pencil roughs to tight pencils, to an overlay for the (hand-painted) color, and yet another layer for the lettering, all of which was then jiggered in Photoshop to create the camera-ready artwork. She also used many photo references, both family photos and staged reference photos of herself in posed positions for accuracy in her drawing. About all of which, she noted at one point, “I shouldn’t be talking about this in public. I should be embarrassed. I wish I could trust my drawing better.”

The Q&A following Bechdel’s reading led off with a question asking if the HBO series Six Feet Under, which went into production while Bechdel was working on Fun Home, had influenced the book in any way. Sighing, Bechdel replied, “man, that show is the bane of my existence.” Which feeling is certainly understandable given the remarkable similarities between the two works: a family growing up in a funeral home, a father’s violent vehicular-related death, and a sibling who drives a hearse. Bechdel was two years into working on the book when the show premiered, and not having HBO, she studiously avoided exposure to the program, and remained unsullied until the book was near-complete and, at her agent’s urging (“people are gonna ask you about this”), she watched the first two episodes on DVD. Having done so, her final word on the matter was, “I’m aware of the parallels, and distressed by them.”

Bechdel had mentioned early in her presentation that she came to believe that the real story of the book is about her becoming an artist, and someone asked her to expound on that in the Q&A. In response, she said, “I think I came to know my father better working on this book, not only because it was his story but because it taught me something about committing to a work of art.” And a grateful comics readership thanks her for having done so.

Panel from Jeffrey Brown's 'Wolverine: Dying Time' Clayton’s overview of the Jeffrey Brown spotlight is already a perfect encapsulation so I needn’t rehash that event, but I’ll provide a bit more shading to the hilarious reading of his infamous Wolverine vs. zombies tale, “Dying Time,” with which he kicked off the panel. While searching for an illustration from the story to share with you, I discovered a terrific interview Silver Bullet Comic Books had done with Brown on the matter (and which features and 11-page excerpt of the 20-page story, so by all means, check it out).
By the way, regarding the panel presented here, it is worth noting that Brown remains embarrassed to this day by his erroneous use of the word, “punk,” rather than “bub.”

In the course of discussing “Dying Time” in the Q&A which followed, Brown made mention in passing of a Marvel indie anthology that’s in the works — news that I’m not sure how I managed to miss. It seems that Marvel’s in the market for their own version of DC’s super-cool Bizarro Comix indie anthologies, which allow superstar indie creators to gleefully play in the corporate sandbox. As it turns out, Dash Shaw, of the mighty Meathaus collective broke the news of the upcoming book on the Meathaus blog last month, posting the first two pages of his Dr. Strange story, and it looks mighty sweet. The book is due either late this year or early next, and I, for one, already can’t wait. The bad news? Brown shared with the crowd that, somewhat inexplicably, “no, I’m not in the new Marvel indie anthology that’s coming out.”

Speaking of having to wait for books, I was expecting Top Shelf to be premiering Brown’s latest, The Incredible Change-Bots, at MoCCA. As it turns out, thanks to delays in both printing and shipping the books, they only had two copies available for sale … and I arrived at the booth just in time to see the second copy sold. Sigh. There went a perfect birthday present for Ian. Top Shelf’s Chris Staros assures me that they’ll have copies of the book next month in San Diego for Comic Con International, and I can tell you this, having flipped through the remaining display copy at the booth: it’s a VERY pretty book, with absolutely sick production values. The color saturations are gorgeous, and it’s printed on great quality glossy paper. Translation: it’ll be worth the extra wait.

Top Shelf 10th Anniversary cake Speaking of Top Shelf, Clayton and I ended our day by spending a couple hours unwinding at the swank party they threw at Gstadd to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Living up to their company name, the open bar was just that, and it was indeed top shelf all the way. Chris Staros made a brief speech, thanking everyone for coming and for their support over the years, which he called “the best ten years of my life.” Staros concluded his remarks saying, “because I’m still a little kid, it’s not a party without a cake, so we’ve got one and we’re going to be cutting it now.”

As you can see, the cake was a truly a spectacularly inventive work of art, which was of course only fitting. And yes, it tasted every bit as good as it looked. Staros isn’t the only one who’s still just little kid at heart, and there was no way I was missing out on a slice of that cake. Congrats, Top Shelf — here’s to the next 10 years!

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