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.