The year’s strong slate of independent comics arts festivals ended with Saturday’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphic festival, held at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg and at satellite events around Brooklyn.
While the show is free to attend and doesn’t keep any kind of attendance numbers, it was clear that from the opening at 11 a.m. the show was packed, with tables thronged by people eager to buy limited edition comics and prints. “We did in one day about what we do at the Small Press Expo,” said Secret Acres co-publisher Leon Avelino. Festival co-organizer Dan Nadel reported a similar metric for his PictureBox Press.
[For photographs from the weekend's event see Photo Mania.]
The show kicked off on Saturday morning with a panel featuring Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman and Richard McGuire that drew a line that went around the block; even Simpsons creator Matt Groening couldn’t get into the room, although sound was piped into the front room of the Knitting Factory, where panels were held. Those who got in were not disappointed, as moderator and festival co-organizer Bill Kartalopoulos ran the three through a series of questions based on the idea of “The Architecture of Comics”—a theme most fitting to Ware’s groundbreaking Building Stories but also McGuire’s signature comic “Here,” which shows how a single space is the scene of changing drama throughout the history of the world—it’s a story Ware says “changed the way I thought about comics.” Spiegelman also spoke about storytelling space and the evolution of his work from his early Breakdowns to his most recent project: a stained glass window at his alma mater, the High School of Art and Design which shows students in the past, present and future.
McGuire, best known as an illustrator but also for working in music and film, mentioned that he’s working on a book length version of “Here” which would have an iPad version. Although cartoonists like Ware and Spiegelman are generally cool to electronic comics, preferring print, a few short clips of McGuire’s app looked like an impressive expansion of his storytelling method.
But it was Ware, riding high on the strong reception for Building Stories who demonstrated how he has reached a new level of storytelling. Asked by Kartalopoulos why he favored a flattened perspective in his work, Ware replied, “Because comics are about memory. I don’t draw the way things were but the way people remember them.”
A later panel spotlighted featured guest Roz Chast, where she revealed she’s working on a full-length graphic novel memoir, the first of her career. She said that moving from the short humorous comics she’s been known for to a longer format hadn’t come without some hiccups. “It’s a process of learning what to put in and what to leave out,” she said.
BCGF reflected a world of comics with publishers from France, Mexico, England, Norway and Finland in the room, and a panel on emerging comics networks spotlighted several of the local scenes. Carmela Chergui of the Franco Belgian Frémok, Mexican artist Inés Estrada, editor of the anthology Gang Bang Bong, Dunja Jankovic, founder of the Croatian Skver! art festival and co-founder of Portland’s The Projects, and Tommi Musturi, who edits the Finnish anthology Kuti Kuti.
The emphasis for all was on being able to publish experimental comics to grow the local scene; Chergui spoke about developing form the better known French comics collective L’Association. “We try to do things that have mystery and are sacred and beautiful. You can never explain why you are in love with someone and we want to do the same thing with books.”
Mustari mentioned that the Finnish comics scene had really emerged in the 90s, inspired by the American indie comics and L’Association in France. As in many foreign countries, the indie scene wasn’t very well developed initially. “One year no one published a book I wanted to read, and I wanted to change the situation.”
Jankovic spoke about a number of festivals in her native Croatia that combine performance with making comics, a vibe she tried to bring to the recent festival The Projects which was held in Portland, OR., and featured a weekend of collaborative comics making. One of the festivals in Croatia takes place in a jail that’s been taken over by squatters. “It's a squat so people go crazy but creatively,” she said.
Estrada finds Mexico comics-making still emerging. “There’s no environment for comics in Mexico,” she said. “It’s not very open, but thankfully I grew up with the Internet and met people who helped me.” Estrada is now published in Vice magazine and is trying to establish more of a Mexican scene with Gang Bang Bong.
Some of the books from all these publishers have been published in the U.S. but it isn’t always easy finding an audience, says Chergui. “Whenever we meet with a U.S. publisher the first things they ask is how much did it sell. You can’t risk going to them with something small.”
Luckily, the worldwide comics scene seems to be in no danger of lacking in new material, as several new, smaller publishers had very successful shows. Tom Kaczynski‘s Uncivilized Books has grown from putting out mini comics to publishing hardcovers—one, The Voyeurs, made PW’s Best Books list—and a distribution deal with Consortium has been very successful for the line, he said. He’s also begun reaching out to the library market.
With BCGF’s success, there’s been continued talk about adding a second day or moving to a bigger venue. Organizers have considered such ideas, said Kartalopoulos, but “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” seems to be the operative model for now. Based on the enthusiastic response from readers at the festival, it seems to be the right philosophy.
For more photos from the Festival, go here.