A look at alternative comics expos

A few weeks ago, the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) held its annual MoCCA Arts Festival in New York City, and while I was not able to make it there this year, I hope to attend in the future. MoCCA Fest is an alternative comics exhibition, similar to the Small Press Expo (SPX) held annually in Bethesda, which I enjoy and volunteered at in 2012. There hasn’t been much discussion here of alternative comics, so I’d like to talk about my own experience with the alternative comics “scene” through events like SPX.

As Wikipedia explains, the term “alternative comics” encompasses a variety of genres and forms. It usually designates that the comic in question is not the kind of superhero action story that most Americans imagine when they think of comics, but does not specify what kind of story it is instead; many alternative comics are quietly poignant novels and memoirs, but there is fantasy, comedy, and horror, and the art ranges from cartoony to realistic to abstract. The umbrella term “alternative comics” also includes comics that are published by small groups or individual creators. Even the larger publishing houses for alternative comics, like Fantagraphics and Top Shelf, are smaller corporations than DC or Marvel.

So what goes on at an alternative comics expo? There’s a post about SPX on this blog that describes it from the frame of reference of standard comic conventions, but I’ve actually found it to be very different from them. Most comic conventions are essentially gatherings of fans, with some professional comic creators attending as special guests; there’s a very clear division between the fans and the comics industry. At SPX, attendees browse an exhibit hall where creators and publishers sit behind tables displaying their comics. There’s much less hierarchical difference between artists and fans.

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed events like SPX for a number of reasons. They give me a chance to be around fellow comic lovers and creators, and in addition to being able to see printed versions of webcomics I’m familiar with, I often run across comics I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. The comics industry is large and intimidating, so I’m glad that there are ways for smaller-scale artists to put their work out there.

  1 comment for “A look at alternative comics expos

  1. Sam Partonen
    April 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Thinking about conventions regarding comic books, I am extremely grateful that you posted about this one, as my knowledge is artificially limited to a brief mention or two of Comic-Con and not much else. What I think is so fascinating about your post is that the idea of “alternative comics” seems to be extremely applicable to many of the novels we have encountered throughout the semester in ENG386. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the comics we engaged with certainly did not have a stereotypical “superhero” by any stretch of the imagination, and often times our protagonists were ridden with more fear and struggle than with capability to deal with them (such as in The Underwater Welder).

    Additionally, I found your post to be of particular interest to me because I am intrigued by the element of horror and realism in the graphic novel. I previously did a blog post about a murder mystery (true story) being brought to literature through the medium of the graphic novel, and it sounds right up the alley of this “alternative” style of which you speak.

    I am interested in knowing more about comics that follow this style, and if you have any titles for suggestion I would really appreciate them so I can look into this topic further!

    My blog post about the murder mystery is linked here: http://graphicnovel.umwblogs.org/2013/04/11/molly-murder-in-the-nonfictional-graphic-novel/

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