Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guest Post: Joseph Coco, MoCCAfest 2013 Recap

Although Joseph Coco isn't a comic artist, he's spent a lot of time around them.  My best friend, significant other, and go-to convention monkey, Joseph's attended a variety of comic and cartoon conventions at my behest, helping both in front of and behind the table.  During this immersion into comics culture, he's become a big fan of mini and independently published comics, supporting a wide variety of artists at every convention he attends.

I went to the 10th annual MoCCA fest as both a convention helper for Nattosoup (and partially for Rascals, Rogues and Dames) and an attendee. Because of this, much of my convention costs were covered. Last year I went solely as an assistant, but I enjoyed talking with the artists so I made sure to make time this year and to buy their indie comics.

Attendee

Products

MoCCA festival being a mini comics festival, most of what I saw, what caught my attention, and what I purchased was naturally mini comics. I probably bought 5 perfect bound books, 2 hard cover, and 30 minis. Not for lack of selection. Indeed, the aisles were packed with independent mini / small press comics and even indie professional comics. I saw less t-shirts and toys this year, and commissions were not advertised as much, but roughly the same number of buttons, charms, bookmarks, prints, magnets, etc.

There was not a particular genre or theme this year, though last year there seemed to be an exorbitant number of hyperbolic comics with intentionally poor art, I enjoyed the variety. I haven't had a chance to look through everything I purchased, but what I like is that most of the topics considered taboo to traditional or mainstream comics such as religion, politics, sexual abuse, legitimate philosophy, feminism, slavery, or even everyday life find a place at MoCCA fest.

There were the typical tropes such as superhero, fantasy adventure, or comics about the creator's pets, but at the very least everyone had their own take on these stories and were not tied to particular art style enforced by an entrenched audience.


Convention Setup

Upon entering the convention I was inclined to walk forward, down aisle C. I quickly noticed all of the publishers were towards the front of the armory and just walked by stockpiles of hard cover comics. Not that I have anything against publishers, but I have many professional comics on the shelf which I have yet to find time to read. There was generally a crowd at publishers, but not so much that it clogged traffic, except during the busiest hours between 1PM and 3PM.

There was roughly an equal number of males and females at behind tables. I generally looked at the artist's table before them as I don't know many artists so it didn't matter either way. I tended to take a peek at crowded convention tables and walk by if something didn't catch my eye in a few seconds. The number of people at tables affected whether I just walked in the middle and looked at booth sides versus scoping out a large chunk of one side, then the other.

Even though I didn't use the cafe inside the convention center it was nice that one existed in stead of empty vending machine. This year there was only one 'swag station' which was easier to find which was nice. I picked up a comic off of it but grabbed cards from the comic artist's tables.

Even though there were many more open social areas (with seating) than last year to pull people who lingered off the floor, I didn't meet many non-exhibitors aside from friends of friends. Few people come to conventions alone. So if you're looking to make friends, engage an artist, latch onto to a friend to have him or her introduce you to people, or arrange something through Twitter or Facebook.


Table Setup

I found artists to be incredibly approachable in terms of answering my questions about prices, their process, what was new, what they'd recommend, etc. I was most comfortable with someone making eye contact with me for more than 2 seconds and engaging me in some way other than just saying hi, but I understand this can be taxing to both customers and exhibitors. I wouldn't mind if I saw an artist sketching or working on a commission, but I was slightly less inclined to purchase if I didn't know who the comic artist was or if they simply ignored me to speak with friends.

I don't believe it's necessary for exhibitors to encourage me to pick things up, ask questions, take a business card, or to tell me about the cheap items / deals on their tables which are readily available on signs. I can see the function for walk-ins (people who don't have badges) who have just stopped by because something was going on in a place they were passing, but I think most con goers know the drill, and that effort could be used to say something meaningful or more engaging.

I did however like it when an artist recommend one or more things to me if I was indecisive. Sometimes it's nice not to have to make a choice. So if I enjoyed the artist's work and could spare the money, I didn't let a broad selection dissuade me from making a purchase. An indie comic artist not being confident about their work, or making excuses for it, did not encourage me to pick up other things.

Back to signs, as long as signs were clear and informative, I didn't much care how professional they looked. This isn't to say a table's aesthetics are not important. If one is trying to maintain a particular image then I would encourage one to style their signs to add to the immersion.

I had some trouble delineating which tables were being split by artists, shared by a studio, or were a single artist's work with an assistant. I think distinct table clothes would have helped with this but far fewer people had table clothes this year because the Society of Illustrators supplied them. I try not to leave an artist's table without engaging them in some manner, but when my eyes are traveling across a table and someone else requests my attention it can be hard.

Tablets to aid a table display were few and far between. I wasn't inclined to use them much when they were available but I could see how they aided when a comic was available digitally. I was more inclined to look at banners though I didn't like any larger than a few feet.


New York City

Aside from food and friends, I didn't get to experience NYC as much as I would have liked. My hotel was comfortably shared with 3 other people and was a few blocks from the convention center and a reasonable walking distance from many interesting things. Alas, the MoCCA museum was not open the days I was there and my group could not find time to go to a broadway play or other such tourist activities. We did make it to a book off though to purchase some cheap English and Japanese manga.

The trip itself was expensive. There was a lot of cash being passed around for taxis, snacks, food, comics, MoCCA stuff, etc. Much like last year, I wished I had stayed longer than a few days as attending a convention can wear you out.

Convention Helper

As a convention helper, I did most everything I could to help Nattosoup, Becca Hillburn, have a successful convention. Frankly, much of what I did was to relieve stress and make things run smoothly.


Basic Duties

A lot of what I did was food / coffee / snack runs. When you're tied to a booth simple things like bathroom breaks or getting / eating lunch can be burdensome. Minimizing the amount of time an artist has to spend away from a table reduces the chances a fan will return for a comic or charm only to walk away because he or she doesn't want to wait. It also saves a friend having to awkwardly explain they are not the artist or possibly confusing one artist for another because they are minding a table.

I also assisted with bags, including providing extra bag space for convention setup and goodies. Helped pack, unpack, and setup. Helped organize arrangements after the convention. Could speak on behalf of the artist when she was away from the table. I also delivered messages to people, hunted down staff members for various reasons, and generally tried to promote Nattosoup's brand and table when I was engaging with others. I also traded a few of Becca's comics with other artists she knew, which I would not necessarily recommend as engaging with the artists should be part of the trade. The same goes for purchasing other artist's independent comicbooks.


Stalking Editors

I'll admit I should have done a bit more research on this, as I only knew what some of the editors look like. But part of my job was to find a good moment for Becca to speak with editors or popular comic artists. For a smaller convention which doesn't schedule portfolio reviews, finding an opportune moment to show off or gift some of your works can be difficult as crowds vary, people eat at strange hours at conventions, and editors / artists aren't always at their tables. This was actually fairly easy since it was just something I had to keep in the back of my mind as I was passing by tables.


Table Setup Photos for Blog

I try to encourage good convention behavior. So I always inquire before I take a photo of a booth (photos available in Becca's MoCCA recap). I don't give a spiel about what it's for or play up its importance. Most exhibitors are fine or even flattered with me photographing their table, though almost everyone asks if they should be in the picture. I generally tell them if they believe their person represents their brand that they should stay in the picture. The important part here is to catch the exhibitors before convention traffic picks up, but after their entire art table is set up. Some artists or illustrators will request I take a picture with their camera, while others will just ask where they can find it--a business card suffices.


Artist Interviews for Blog

Since MoCCA fest is a small two-day indie comic show, Becca likes to talk with the up-and-coming artists to get their perspective on the convention and to promote their work. Much like the table photographs, timing is key for this task. I don't engage artists who are bombarded with customers and will return if need be. I generally try to interview a variety of people, though I try to pick people I personally find interesting so I won't feel guilty taking up the artist's time, possibly loosing them sales, and not even purchasing anything. The videos are on Nattosoup's YouTube channel if you'd like to get a taste of them.

I don't follow a particular format and the interviews are not rehearsed. In fact, there's virtually no preparation. Usually a 30 second to one minute introduction followed by impromptu comic artist questions as I dig deeper into the work and history of the interviewee. I shoot for a minimum of 4 minutes and a maximum of 11. I always take their business card so I contact them afterwards and encourage them to check out Nattosoup's table when they get the chance.


The artists are surprisingly open and honest and generally not flustered. I wouldn't say they aren't treating the interview seriously as much as they are passionate about their work and can't help but let some of that show through when I dive into their work, process, triumphs and tribulations.

I try to give a roughly equal amount of face time to comic time with the camcorder, and generally lead the interviews down paths of the artist's unique experiences or expertise. No one has turned me down for an interview and everyone seems happy with the result. Honestly, it's a great way to get to know an artist as there is a bit of pressure to condense a story in an interview to maintain interest as opposed to casual conversation.

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