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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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MY TRIP TO MoCCA
Reviews by Alex Bernstein

Click For The MOCCA Homepage

I had the pleasure of attending the Art Festival at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art this past Sunday at the Puck Building in Manhattan. Along with meeting PI Editor-in-Chief Ed Matthews for the first time ever - (as well as former EIC Chris Butcher and phenom PI artists Tim Fish and Monica Gallagher) I had the opportunity to meet literally dozens of creators whom I've corresponded with or just simply read works of, for the past few years.

This was my first "small press" con - and it's a completely different world than the mainstream conventions. First of all, there are no dealers. No boxes upon boxes of mid-80's and 90's mouldering Valiant and Image books for 50c apiece. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Second of all, unlike Wizard World or San Diego, there are no "big guns" (unless you count Dark Horse). There's no DC. No Marvel. Slave Labor, Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics are the giants here. Seth, Joe Sacco and Kyle Baker are celebrities - with Kaz, Howard Cruse and Rick Altergott coming in a close second. (And Roz Chast was the Guest of Honor.)

In this day and age of great films based on "American Splendor" and "Ghost World" - of a Seth-designed book (PEANUTS: VOL. 1) making the NYT best seller list - of Kaz and Sam Henderson creating comics and cartoons for Spongebob Squarepants and Nickelodean - MoCCA is a testament to the concept that anything - and everything - in comics is possible.

When looked at in this light, the (occasionally) crowded halls of the Puck Building looked no longer like a D&D refugee camp - but a place that's kinda - happenin'. Y'know? And these former freaks and geeks begin asking themselves the real question: who's next?

I saw quite a few exceptional books at MoCCA. Hopefully, I'll get to most of them over the Summer. For now, here's a few picks to look out for. All are recommended.

THE SWIMMER WITH A ROPE IN HIS TEETH
Original play written by Jeanne E. Shaffer
Adapted and illustrated by Howard Cruse
Prometheus Books
$14.00
www.prometheusbooks.com

Cruse has left his familiar, cartoony trappings (WENDEL, STUCK RUBBER BABY) behind to adapt this modern-day parable written 35 years earlier by a close friend in college. The departure was a risk for him - this isn't a comic book per se - and the art has the appearance of woodcuts - but SWIMMER is simply the starkest, strongest book to appear from a comics creator in the past few years. This is the experiment of a great comic creator at the peak of his form.

Reading elegantly like a piece of undiscovered, yet modern mythology SWIMMER tells of two lands - a Land of Good and Happiness - and a Land of Evil and Woe - divided by an immense river. The story tells of the brave Swimmer from the Land of Good who trains and trains to swim the river, dragging a rope to be tethered to the Land of Evil - in an attempt to unite the two lands. But the story isn't about the Swimmer or his swim - it's about Us - that is, the people of Land of Evil and Woe. Approaching the other side, the people of the Land of Evil immediately kill the Swimmer (they try to kill him with cannons but can't see him in the dark waters, fortunately a boy with a bow and arrow has better eyesight). The people then deify him and the effects of his journey without ever comprehending his simple purpose. The satire here on organized religion (particularly Christianity), the media, and America and Western Civilization in general is brutal, hard felt and evocative. And it is deceivingly simple. While there's some violence, this is a book that will not only satisfy general readers - but could have an impact on young students in grade school, high school and colleges.

Cruse, with Shaffer, has created a work that should stand next to MAUS, in it's use of comic sensibilities in conveying a vital, universal message.

THE GYPSY LOUNGE
by Jasen Lex
Aweful Books
$13.95
www.awefulbooks.com

Jasen Lex has created a book that stands completely apart from everything else on the shelves. As it says in the introduction, LOUNGE is a book that was developed over a long period of time - in a myriad of places - on buses, at home, in friend's houses, on the road. It has the look at times of someone who has obsessed over a work - over a certain style - over a certain feel - a certain thought - to the point of actually losing touch with whatever the original story was in the first place. And that lends GYPSY LOUNGE what can only be described as a deep, feverish, trancelike quality. And let me tell you: that's a good thing. You can't exactly tell whether the characters in LOUNGE are heroes, drug addicts or dream characters - but it doesn't much matter. Characters light other characters on fire, talk to super-giraffes, take drugs and have breakdown conversations with their parents. (Imagine Louis Bunuel trying to write X-MEN - and you might end up with the GYPSY LOUNGE.)

Lex' has a unique style, as well - blocky, angular, slouching characters - against a melange of manipulated black and white photographed settings. But Lex wrings great, brooding variety out of his palette. I met Jason at MoCCA and he's very much like his LOUNGE, energetic, fidgety, a little too caffeinated. But driven, interested. I'm told he's signed on for a new color series with Antarctica Press. It'll be interesting to see what he does next. To get a glimpse of something that truly breathes gut and originality, try the GYPSY LOUNGE. But get some sleep first.

LEAH AND THE OWL
by Cori Doerrfeld
Stylish Vittles
$3.00
www.stylishvittles.com

LEAH AND THE OWL is the size and shape of a mini-comic, but has the art and feel of a full-blown children's book. The story is delightful and - speaking as someone who's lived in the children's section of libraries (with my four-year-old son) for the past several years - her brilliant illustrations surpass most of what you'll find in any oversized children's book. At MoCCA, I literally stumbled across this little book on one of the tables and was enchanted.

The simple story is about a little girl who is visited by an owl late one night - who takes her on a magical adventure. That's all there is to it.

If Cori stays with children's illustration she will have a long, long career ahead of her.

SMUT PEDDLER #1 & 2
by Various
Saucy Goose Press
$5.00
www.saucygoosepress.com

I was very happy to see the new issue of SMUT PEDDLER making its debut at MoCCA. SP was originally assembled by talent from the Sequential Tart message boards with contributions by Trisha L. Sebastion, Carla Speed McNeil, David Stanley, Johanna Draper Carlson and Harris O'Malley, among many others. The covers of both #1 & #2 (you get four of them - two per issue) are brilliant, turn-of-the-century pieces. The kind of high quality smut you'd expect Gatsby would be showing off at one of his parties.

Inside the art varies from awkward to highly stylized and professional - but throughout there is a keen sense of humor, joy and non-stop eroticism. Both books exude the sheer fun and comradery these creators clearly had in assembling these books. And at the website they invite basically anyone who's interested to submit work for future issues. After reading these two issues, I wouldn't be surprised if everyone eventually became a SMUT PEDDLER.

WEAPON BROWN
by Jason Yungbluth
Death Ray Graphics
$4.95
www.whatisdeepfried.com

My favorite guilty pleasure from MoCCA had to be WEAPON BROWN - simply - a cross between THE PUNISHER (via Image Studios) and PEANUTS. Yeah, this is exceptionally ludicrous - but Jason Yungbluth wrings tremendous laffs from: a highly Lovecraftian Kite Eating Tree and Great Pumpkin; sides of Peppermint Patty and the Little Red-Headed Girl that, I promise you, you've never seen before (whether that's a good or a bad thing, I leave for you to decide); and great moments with Lucy, Linus and PigPen, among others. Of all the classic characters only Snoopy - relegated to regular "dog" status (sort of) - falls short. Otherwise, quite amusing. (And this coming from a huge PEANUTS fan.)

 


Alex Bernstein is Reviews Editor for PopImage and the author of the web comic "Prom on Mars." www.promonmars.com.


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