When Words Collide: No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn (Comics & Graphics Festival)

Mon, December 5th, 2011 at 2:58pm PST | Updated: December 5th, 2011 at 3:26pm

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

BROOKLYN COMICS AND GRAPHICS FESTIVAL 2011

I don't know anything specific about the demographics of the CBR readership -- I'm sure Jonah Weiland's secret underground war room has huge displays full of blinking lights and graphs and dioramas showing exactly what kind of readers click on which articles and what those readers tend to eat for breakfast on Tuesdays -- but I do know this: when I write about anything outside of Marvel or DC, I don't tend to get many message board comments.

It's not like my corner of the CBR message boards is hammered with posts anyway, but since that's my only reliable metric for how much interest there is in a particular column, I'm left with a picture that shows readers who prefer when I write something involving a list, and really prefer when that list ranks current superhero comics. Or maybe those are just the posts that people feel they can respond to, because they have lists in their own minds, and, hey, they read superhero comics too!

As we wind down 2011, I have plenty of lists brewing -- a dilemma I face every December is the decision about whether I should spend three columns on my "Best of" rankings, or just two -- but this week I bring to you something more important: capsule reviews on some of the books and comics I picked up at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival over the weekend. I will number them, just to make you more comfortable.

I warn you, some of these comics do not feature Deadpool and/or Cable.

Interestingly, one of them does feature Deadpool and Cable. Another features Andre the Giant. Another features Charlie Brown and Bart Simpson. Sex, too. These art comics pander to your every need.

Capsule Review #1: The State of Art Comics Shows in New York City

First, let me address a point: the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival is better than the MoCCA Festival, and it has been for a couple of years. That seems to be the consensus among everyone I talked to at the show, whether it was fellow pundits or artists or small press publishers. The BCGF is curated, first of all, by Desert Island and PictureBox. MoCCA Festival is organized by a museum that has had a rotating leadership for the past few years. The former is a group of invited artists and publishers. The latter is a booth-for-a-fee. If I print up 50 copies of my amazing minicomic, "Darth Maul's Adventures in Candy Town," I could apply to the folks who run the BCGF, and they might offer me a spot at next year's show, but the competition would be extremely high-level. If I pay $270, I can just get a half-table at MoCCA Fest and that's that. A half-table at the BCGF this year was $75, but only for those invited to attend.

Basically, in my imaginary scenario above, I would have to sell a whole lot of "Darth Maul's Adventures in Candy Town" minicomic to even come close to covering costs at the MoCCA Fest. I'd have to price my 50 copies at $5 each, which means they'd be too expensive for anyone to take a chance on. I might sell eight copies, if it's good. Knowing this, I'd have some cheap t-shirts and a couple or prints made up, so I'd have a shot at making a few bucks, or not losing a couple of hundred.

Meanwhile, at the BCGF, I'd only have to price my mini at $2 and sell 80% of them before I started seeing a profit. Plus, the overall quality of the tables around me is higher, which might make it seem like, "Oh, attendees are less likely to buy my stuff, because I have more quality to compete with," but, actually, what I've found as an attendee of both shows is that I'm much more likely to skip over stuff at MoCCA because I'll hit a stretch of six or seven uninteresting tables in a row, like a sad flea market. At the BCGF, every table had something worth checking out, so I was more likely to buy something, even though I might end up buying a whole lot more comics overall (which I did, this year, by a factor of about five).

I know few artists or publishers make any substantial money at any of these small press comic book shows, but the difference in table costs helps keep the desperate hucksterism of t-shirt sales and extraneous merchandise to a minimum at the BCGF, and even if every single one of the artists and publishers at BCGF set up tables at MoCCA (and many of them did -- you would find plenty of overlap), they get drowned out amidst all the less-than-interesting product, in the warehouse that is the Armory.

Plus, and I don't know if it's the end-of-the-calendar-year placement or what, but the BCGF had many more interesting debut books than we saw at MoCCA. The MoCCA fest, as far as debuts were concerned, was mostly, "here's a hardcover reprint of these comics, and you'll get to buy it two weeks earlier than you can get it on Amazon," while the BCGF debuted half a dozen brand new comics that are worthy of attention, and another dozen comics that might strike your unique fancy.

In the end, MoCCA and the BCGF don't really compete. One's in the Spring, and the other in late Fall. Based on the crowds at both shows, there's enough interest in these kinds of comics to go around. But if I could only go to one next year, it would be the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. An easy choice.

Capsule Review #2: "Study Group Magazine" #1

Zack Soto is one of my favorite comic book Twitter pals, with his fondness for 1980s superhero role-playing games and pink-and-teal-drenched illustration. If you've seen any of his "Studygroup12" anthologies, you'd know that he has a keen editorial eye for visual flair, and a sharp sense of humor. We're all still waiting for future issues of "Secret Voice."

But until then, we have this new project, "Study Group Magazine," which is part comics, part feature articles and interviews. The first issue is more than impressive.

Printed at Ignatz-size, on thick paper this two-color production (with 2011 being the year in which yellow-and-purple replace pink-and-teal, art comics fans please take note), this first issue features young art comics superstars like Aidan Koch, Chris Cilla, and Michael DeForge, along with spot illustrations by Daria Tessler and Soto himself. The DeForge comic is the outstanding contribution -- the guys an indie/alt/art comics superstar for a reason -- but the whole package is excellent, with a nice Eleanor Davis interview and a massive text piece culled from a Craig Thompson interview which really gets to the heart of Thompson's aesthetic in "Habibi."

In a different world, we might see newsstands in which "Study Group Magazine" stood next to "Clint Magazine" on the racks. Like "The Paris Review" next to "FHM."

Capsule Review #3: "Roussimoff"

This minicomic is labeled as "a very small preview of a forthcoming graphic novel" about Andre the Giant. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it's by Box Brown, and he's pretty great, as a comic book maker, and as a guy who is just trying to promote and distribute the works of a whole range of fascinating young artists. His table at the BCGF, with all his RetroFit wares and his own personal comics, was in the center area, upstairs at the show. There's some symbolism there.

Capsule Review #4: "Rub the Blood"

I was one of the 56 backers of this self-proclaimed "Art Comix" tabloid tribute to the early Image-era artists, and I picked up my copy at the BCGF. It ended up more Rob-Liefeld-centric than it was intended to be, from what I've heard, but that's probably because his work still stands as the epitome of the guns-and-pouches excess that characterized that era, and this new breed of art comics creators clearly grew up on that stuff and make no bones about celebrating their enjoyment of it.

I'm sure I've mentioned the Liefeld Renaissance before, and this is yet another example of it.

In blood-drenched red (and pink and black and white), this twenty page oversized floppy edition amplifies the grotesquerie of iconic 90s characters like Bloodwulf and Chapel and Prophet, Cable and Deadpool, and even recalls the sad fable of Herb Trimpe and one young reader's reaction to his brief foray into Image-style rendering.

There's not very much narrative inside this package (cue your favorite joke about the writing in those early Image comics), but it's clearly designed as an artistic celebration above all else. You do get Ben Marra's one-page encapsulation of the best of Prophet, Pat Aulisio's depiction of what Cable really keeps hidden in his pouches, and plenty of splash pages filled with dismemberment.

"Rub the Blood" is for that crossover audience with a fondness for the drawings in "Youngblood" and "X-Force" and the new punk, post-Panter aesthetic of your current crop of art comics illustrators. In other words, this comic is for me and Matt Seneca and, apparently, 54 other dudes.

Capsule Review #5: "The End of the Fucking World" #1-2

I didn't meet Chuck Forsman until this year's BCGF, but it turns out that he lives and works out here in Western Massachusetts, one town over from me. And, his girlfriend, Melissa Mendes, went to my high school. She recently published the Xeric-award winning "Freddy Stories," which has received all kinds of acclaim from reputable sources.

Anyway, Forsman had the first two issues of his "TEotFW" minicomic, and I'll say this about them: they packed the biggest, most concentrated, punch of anything I picked up at the show. At a mere eight pages each, the first two issues of this (long-form?) story establish a clear setting and memorable characters, opening with the line, "When I was 9, I realized I had no sense of humor," before descending into a bleak hopefulness. It's like Eric Bogosian's interpretation of "Badlands" as adapted for comics by Kevin Huizenga. But more compressed and darkly lyrical.

Yes. Sometimes comics don't have to be about wrestlers or cyborgs from the future to be worth reading. That is a fact I continue to learn.

Capsule Review #6: "Kramer's Ergot" #8

The big debut of the show, in everyone's mind, I'm sure, had to be the new "Kramers Ergot." It's been three full years since we last saw an installment of this ne plus ultra anthology of comics and art. The last time a volume came out, I contrasted it to an issue of "The Rann-Thanagar Holy War," because that is what I do.

So, in tribute to the relaunch of "Kramers" (boldly continuing the numbering of the long-dormant series, just like all the new Extreme books will do in early 2012), I will contrast this new installment to the other major relaunch of 2011. The New DCU.

Like the New DCU, the new "Kramers Ergot" avoids shaking up the creative teams too much. It's mostly the same group of guys that you might expect on a book from PictureBox, or a book with the words "Kramers" and "Ergot" on the cover. And, yes, it is mostly guys, just like DC. Where's Rich Johnston with his percentages and graphs and his legion of costumed minions to challenge Sammy Harkham about his lack of female creators the next time he rocks the mic at a panel?

Of the 19 creators listed as contributors to this book, Gabrielle Belle and Anya Davidson are the only women. 90.5% male creators on this project, released in a country that is 50.8% women. But that's not all.

Because, just like the DC relaunch, Sammy Harkham has sexed up his reconceptualized "Kramers Ergot" universe. Not only do both C.F. and Chris Cilla write and draw stories explicitly about sex, but Dash Shaw and Frank Santoro's contribution is about pedophilia while the book ends with over three dozen pages of glossy "Wicked Wanda" reprints from vintage "Penthouse" magazine issues.

I can only imagine Sammy Harkham, observing the DC relaunch from his plaid La-Z-Boy recliner, watching CNN coverage of Starfire's bikini and shouting to the heavens, "DiDio beat me to it! My new ‘Kramers' will appear as a minor afterthought in the landscape of sexist-but-oversexed comics of 2011! My only recourse is to fill the endpages with airbrushed computerized abstractions from Robert Beatty. Then no one will notice my tears of shame."

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

TAGS:  when words collide, kramers ergot, brooklyn comics and graphics festival

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