June 8th, 2009


MOCCA Thoughts: Good, Bad and Ugly

Let me get a few things out of the way, first.

I love the MOCCA festival, I have been to every show, and I consider it my favorite event to do. Except for this latest one.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Because, honestly, we had a very good time. And we did well at the table, very well, in fact, for someone with no new books and the same old stuff. Twice what I was hoping for. So, I don't want to hear anyone accusing me of grumbling because of a lack of dough or attention. Because, yes, I came away from this year's event feeling deflated, disappointed, and exhausted, and yes, I'm going to vent a little. Not angrily, because this was by no means a bad show. It was a flawed show, an extremely uncomfortable show to sit through, and at times, endure, but not a disaster by any means. And not, well...MOCCA. Yeah, the books were there, in force, in fact, the publishers, the guests, the attendees. But it wasn't the same. It was a really good...kind of regular  show. With the worst heat I've sat through at any show, possibly including the Ramapo High School shows held in the gym, with a skylight baking everyone inside.

Here's the main thing -- at show's end, we wanted to get out of their like we were on fire. And we had a good show, and met great people. But at the end of MOCCA -- yes, even the 101 degree day -- we could have stayed another hour or two. And for the first time ever, we didn't pre-pay for a table for next year's show. Neither did our neighbors on one side. Neither did a few other folks we spoke to, neither did some folks I was told about second-hand. Who knows what the holdout numbers really were, it' still not. a good thing to hear.

Look, the Puck Building was problematic, we had a choice spot there, but everyone knew it was hot, awkwardly laid out, and the seventh floor was an oven. And the programming took a kick in the balls because of a lack of space. More people wanted in, more people wanted better air, more people wanted more. And from what I hear, the Puck Building was a no-go for 2009 even if they wished to remain, the reason being cost. So, it was moved to the Armory. The benefits are obvious -- more room for more exhibitors, more attendees, everyone in the same place on a more even playing field, programming in the same space, and, MOCCA could afford it. So, the Armory.

Bigger isn't always better, but it's also easy for me to say, because I'm not 22 with comic stars in my eyes and insatiable energy and excitement. But here's what bothers me about the Armory, take it with however much salt you'd like, because obviously some folks loved the new venue. Or liked it. Anyway: the show lost it's personality. No, seriously, that sounds stupid, but it's true, in my mind. It lost it's identity, and it's killer app, in a  similar way to the way SPX faltered, for me, when they monkeyed with the days and chopped the Sunday get-together. I didn't even love the get-together, it wasn't why I went, just like the parties were never a reason I went, but they helped define that show and make it special. MOCCA is still special for a lot of folks, I'm sure newbies and first-time exhibitors were in heaven. A hellish heaven, but later for that. I don't discount that opinion, I don't discount anyone thinking contrary to what I'm laying out here. My blog, my opinion, keep that in mind. Okay, so, instead of the lovely Puck Building with white walls and light and an intimate atmosphere, the Armory provided a darker, gymnasium style con floor that made the layout look exactly like a flea market. God-awful lighting that made everything look sallow (but helped mask my awful shaving mishap scar, som,e folks said, so, hey). And...no air conditioning. Even the most positive write ups of the show have to admit it was insanely, suffocatingly hot. Unbearable at times on Sunday. Many folks were taken to understand the A/C was broken. There is no A/C at the Armory, not on the main floor. The panels, apparently, had A/C. Good for them. No, seriously, the panels were packed, I saw as I went to the bizarre army bathroom, filled to the brim every time, a definite step up from the Puck Building. And last year the panels were held off-site, a real thumper for attendance and information about attending. So, yeah. the heat. Terrible. All I can remember now, in some ways. I know several people who left owing to the oppressive heat, one of whom left after being there a half an hour. She texted her husband that she had to get out of there, and as he put it, "she likes these things". Not good. My daughter was so cranky and hot on Sunday we considered leaving early. Wait, we were all so hot and cranky we almost ducked out. I know of someone who packed up and left early. It was simply awful. I literally wouldn't recommend it for small children or old folks with health problems. I'm not kidding. And remember, last year's MOCCA, on Sunday? 101 degrees. I cannot imagine what the Armory would be like in those conditions. I couldn't imagine if it was five degrees higher, I think it was 80 or something. That's sort of insane. It's 2009. In New York City. People shouldn't look like they're checking out comic books in the Sahara. So, now everyone gets to know what the seventh floor of the Puck Building was like. It sucked.

Still, the people were great, everyone was cool, although not cool enough to offset the oven. It was still MOCCA, the vibe was only dampened, imho, not changed to a Big Apple show (speaking of which, I was told the next Big Apple show will be held at the Armory. Weird, huh?)

And, okay, so what if the place looks gloomy and isn't lovely. And so what if that even changes the psychology of the event a little (I know, stupid of me to say environment can shape experience. Go to a show in Europe, then go to a "regular" USA show. A nice venue can make a nice show even nicer. Honest.). I'm fine with democracy, more exhibitors, okay, more attendees --it looked like they had more, it was packed Saturday -- great. But more isn't always better. We heard a lot of anecdotal talk about low sales. And disappointing sales from folks who did better these past years. Economy? Maybe. More competition, and a ton of big books from bigger names? Perhaps. Maybe a lot of new exhibitors aren't ready to lay out decent dough to sell mini-comics. That's not a slam, that's being realistic. But doing shows and trying to "get in" and be part of something you love, that's not always something that involves pragmaticism. Especially when you're talking the unreal world of comics. Next year will be interesting, this was a sort of turning point. And next year table prices go up, sort of a lot.

And there was the organizational problems - weak-ass website, exhibitors not listed on the website (myself included), exhibitors not included in the guide book (I know of at least three, "big" names all). Poor flow of information, late flow of information. I will say folks got back to us very quickly to remedy some errors regarding our space and things, but one of those things was not fixed even though we were assured it would be. Okay, that all happens, New team, new venue. Still, MOCCA's run smoothly since inception, as far as our dealing with it, and the general word on the street. Never had to chase anyone down, fix anything, send multiple e-mails, wonder aloud about who was going, what was happening, where was the show info.And one other semi-annoyance -- exhibitors were told to bring a print-out of their table confirmation or whatever the hell, bring photo ID (who doesn't?) and present both. No one asked for anything. We were given bracelets on Saturday so we could leave and re-enter (shouldn't a badge cover that?). Nobody asked to see them. And on Sunday we weren't given bracelets. It just added to the sense of confusion and what-the-huh? Not a big deal, but some weird new stuff, and they didn't even use any of it. Anyway -- I assume that will all be settled next time as people get used to what they're doing, and settle into their gigs. I think this is the third changeover, or second? Since launch. Things happen.

But I've never seen this happen:  the show opened late on Saturday. At least an hour late, it felt like more, someone on line would have to chime in on when they finally opened the doors. From what we heard, they didn't have the tickets for the show. I also heard they didn't have all the badges for the exhibitors. I just read that publisher's books hadn't arrived on time. I dunno. All I know is the show was backed up and extended, programming and signings were all over the map after being adjusted, and it was kind of messy. I've never been to a show that opened late like that, ever, good, bad, small press, big show with actors, whatever. Not the best foot forward on the first day of the new version of the old show.

Am I making too much of these things? We left, like at least a few others we know, feeling exhausted, like we survived something rather than experienced something. The other MOCCA events made me leave wanting to go home and make comics and come back next year. This year made us go home wanting to shower and collapse, and sleep for a week. We didn't write the check for next year's table. We're holding off and we're going to see how we feel about it in October. The tables are going up, but for us the value of the event went down, and we did quite well, but I dunno. It wasn't the same. It wasn't bad, by any means, except for the heat, and, I dunno...the old vibe. Maybe we're missing the new vibe, like I said, everyone was awesome, books sold, people looked happy as they dripped sweat onto their big hardcover books and little minis. But if the grumblings we heard were indicative of mos folks, we figure tables will be available in October if we want to attend. We're waiting, like I said, as are other folks who used to march right over and lay down the dough for the next year. That's troubling, to me. I love the MOCCA festival, I wish it no ill. I just don't know if I'll be there next year, and we kind of wish we had done TCAF instead.

Again, I mean no ill will to the show or the folks putting it on. Just my twenty -two cents, from where I was sitting, and how things stood for me and mine, and telling you some things we heard in the building. Don't let me stop you from going, or exhibiting, the show is still "the show".

Only different. And that might be fine for you.

I'm just not so sure for myself.