The fourth annual MoCCA Art Festival is coming up this weekend in New York City. Last year saw the festival truly mature into a well-organized event that still captured the quirkiness that its eclectic guest list embodied. Being New York City, the crowd was more diverse than at any other comics show I’ve attended. That was evidenced most plainly in its gender breakdown (close to 50-50), but also in terms of race and even age (lots of kids along with a number of senior citizens). MoCCA very quickly has arguably become the premier small press comics event in North America, and certainly has the broadest range of comics-related events and artists. From mainstream superhero artists like Neal Adams & Frank Miller to New Yorker cartoonists to animators to minicomics specialists to indy stalwarts like Dan Clowes & Adrian Tomine, the event literally has something for everyone.
With over 350 artists in attendance, it may be easy to overlook a few worthwhile creators. Here’s a list of ten interesting artists, most of whom are either up-and-coming or overlooked:
1. Tim Kreider (http://www.thepaincomics.com). With his second book, WHY DO THEY KILL ME? (Fantagraphics), nearing publication, this searing humorist will hopefully receive a bit more of well-deserved acclaim. Simply put, he is the most acerbic, nastiest (and most importantly) funniest political cartoonist alive. His earlier strips showed off his strong B.Kliban influence in terms of how unsparing he was in his search for a brilliant gag, but his more recent work is informed as much by Hunter S Thompson and HL Mencken. His attacks on the Bush administration are surgical strikes, and his venom for the culture that supports it iseven more vicious. This is scorched-earth humor at its best, jokes that make the reader laugh out loud while flinching. Make sure to check out his archives, especially the strip from 12/12/01 titled “It May Not Be A Perfect System…”. The artist’s statements are also well worth reading. Kreider will be at the Fantagraphics table on Saturday from noon til one and Sunday from 11 til noon.
2. Richard Hahn (http://www.lumakick.com). Hahn’s work is not unlike the new wave of neo-formalist comics creators, artists who are aggressively experimental with storytelling techniques. Artists like Chris Ware, Paul Hornschemeier, Anders Nilsen, Kevin Huizenga and others fall into this category, and Hahn experiments in some of the same ways. What sets him apart is the stark sense of isolation found in his stories, of characters walking alone in desolate cities. In some ways, his comics are reminiscient of the painter DeChirico, except that Hahn still sticks to a strong (though sometimes oblique) narrative structure. His panel composition and use of light are both flawless, and both contribute to the haunting feeling left with the reader after grappling with his strips. To lighten the mood, Hahn also includes brief interludes featuring two characters arguing at a bar that are absurd and nasty. To date, he has published two issues of his series LUMAKICK. While the first issue was very good, the second issue was one of the best comics of the year. Some discerning publisher needs to snap him up quickly, because I would be eager to see him work in a longer format, or in color. One senses that this is an artist at the height of his powers, who is capable of some truly lasting works.
3. Vanessa Davis (http://www.buenaventurapress.com). Another artist who got her start in the world of minicomcs, Davis has just had a book released, entitled SPANIEL RAGE. Davis specializes in autobiographical journal comics, but her approach and energy differ from standard autobio. Rather than try to talk about her life as a narrative, Davis instead provides brief snapshots of her life. Some of scenes are quite mundane, as she eats Chinese food in her underwear or goofs off at work, but many of them unflinchingly get at her hopes, dreams and fears. Simply by aligning her seeming disparate series of anecdotes, Davis manages to create a narrative of sorts, each strip an island of meaning in her life. Her observations range from hilariously funny to wistful to bored to longing. Her drawing style ranges from refined to very sketchy, depending on mood and circumstances, but it always has a fresh immediacy. The book also contains some more conventional stories which aren’t quite as successful but are still interesting. Overall, one senses that while this was a strong first effort, her major works are still ahead of her.
4. Eve Englezos & Josh Moutray (http://www.icecreamlandia.com). This duo is behind the delightfully weird minicomic Icecreamlandia. The format is simple: the comic either shows a series of images from TV or a series of one-page monologues from various people talking to the reader. It’s the details that make this such an unusual and entertaining read. The clear-line style art allows the reader to zero in on each speaker, while their monologues (and sometimes dialogues) are either absurd (a T-Rex yelling “Surf’s Up!”) or remarkably true to life. Going from page to page is much like flipping the channels on one’s TV set, with a set of out-of-context images and ideas somehow coalescing into a snapshot of the culture at that time. The creators’ sense of style and overall nerve combine to create an appealing package, one that is unique in the current comics scene.
5. Jack Turnbull (http://www.jackturnbull.com). Turnbull is one of the most exciting young talents in comics. Despite the fact that he’s still in college, he’s been a comics veteran for several years. The ninth issue of his minicomic APOLLO ASTRO will debut at MoCCA, and it will no doubt display his interest in formal experimentation, heartfelt narratives and quirky sense of humor. Turnbull is still clearly working through his influences, with Chris Ware and Dan Clowes being the two most obvious ones, but his own talent and point of view shine through all of his work. John Porcellino’s personal touch is another clear influence, as his comics have a touch of zine in them. As he continues to grow and evolve as an artist, he has the potential to produce some truly memorable work. As it is, his comics are well worth reading.
Five More Artists To Seek Out, One-Liner Department:
1. MK Reed. Though her art style is still developing, her ear for dialogue is uncannily sharp. CATFIGHT is her first truly mature work and a fantastic look at high school relationships.
2. John Kerschbaum. One of the funniest men in comics, every single mini he produces is pure gold. His comics are warped, surreal and often leave a lasting impression as the reader seeks to understand the real punchline.
3. Dasha Shishkin & Robbie Guertin (alias BB and PPINC). This duo produces hand-made, full-color comics that seem like a first cousin to Fort Thunder-style material. Absolutely delightful without being cloying.
4. Roger Langridge. Has some of the most beautiful art in comics today, along with a deadly deadpan sense of humor. Snap up FRED THE CLOWN while you still can.
5. Anders Nilsen. With a book (DOGS & WATER) out from Drawn & Quarterly, Anders is the Next Big Thing. He excels at depicting isolation as well as complex bizarre characater interactions.