Covering the MoCCA Arts Festival 2017 is our guest blogger, Tom Motley, who is an SVACE faculty member, cartoonist, and illustrator. His publications include Tragic Strip (a monthly strip in The Brooklyn Rail), The Golden Ass, The One Marvelous Thing, and contributions to the indie anthology Cartozia Tales. For this guest blog post, Tom shares insights, photos, and original artwork.
Since 2002, the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art has hosted MoCCA Arts Festival, its annual festival of indie and art comics. This year’s edition, held April 1 – 2 at the Metropolitan West event space and Ink48 Hotel, was the fifth under the stewardship of the Society of Illustrators. I’d say the quality of the programming and the work on display was as good as it’s ever been, which is to say, excellent. What greets the public is a reliably eclectic mix of talented newcomers, stalwart old masters, reputable publishers, and promising students.
Longtime SVA Continuing Education student, Van Hong, emphasized to me that the real pleasure came from shopping for small handcrafted work one would never see at a comic store. She showed me marvelous silkscreened booklets by Kim Ku among other finds. For my part, I was enchanted by Alden Viguilla’s silkscreened Lucha Libre postcards and Ken Wong’s formally rigorous Origami Comics. But really, every table seemed to have breathtaking comics, prints, and other merchandise. I didn’t chance to see anything I disliked. How many ways can one make a comic? How many styles or subjects could there be? A walk through these aisles underscores how the answers are dizzyingly infinite.
The influence of SVA, which began in 1947 as the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, and has been the think tank that helped birth Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, Raw magazine, and much more, permeates everything there. “This is like an SVA reunion,” Yao Xiao, SVA BFA ’13, told me. Brendan Leach, SVA MFA ’10, wondered if the school might frown that he’s working for a rival school now. Brendan is acting chair of the Masters in Illustration program at FIT. I assured him that this is precisely the point of art school– to whip young talent into shape and send them out to succeed. I trust his teachers are beaming with pride. I lost count of all the instructors and current and former SVA students I ran into from our continuing ed, undergrad, and masters programs, attending, tabling, staffing, guest speaking… SVA had tables running from Cartoon Allies & the Visual Narrative MFA, including a very active Riso lab.
There were opportunities for academic interaction, too, with strong representation from other schools near and far: Parsons, Pratt, MICA, SAW, CCS, Kutztown, Syracuse, the High School of Art & Design, and many more.
But is this worth doing? At the panel “Teaching Comics Internationally,” the panelists Ben Katchor from Parsons The New School for Design, Jessica Abel from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (and formerly of SVA), and Merav Salomon from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel, expressed serious concerns about the high cost of education and the low to no pay that awaits most cartoonists. I’d offer that creative expression is a vital component of the pursuit of happiness. Many of those who work in commercial genre comics, giving life to ideas not their own, are likely no more fulfilled than workers at any other job. But those who pursue comics as literature and art enjoy the full benefit of this superior medium. Nobody at MoCCA Fest seemed to regret their hard won power of speech.
Which brings us to another panel, “Covering Trump.” It can be hard to see how a lone cartoonist might move the needle in contemporary politics. Steve Brodner, perhaps our greatest living American caricaturist (and a top SVA instructor, naturally), sees his function as “rallying the troops, showing that we’re fighting a monster in a weakened state.” I was humbled to learn how Edel Rodriguez, famous creator of viral conceptual illustrations, engages in street art, dropping posters at Trump Tower and posting prints around Times Square, often with the encouragement of our local police.
These are scary times, but life must go on. At MoCCA Fest, it goes on vividly, brilliantly. I look forward to next year’s.
Do you love comics, graphic novels, cartooning, and illustration? Check out our upcoming course offerings, including courses by Tom Motley! See more of Tom’s work on his website, on Twitter, and on Instagram!