First Ever Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Festival Comes to Williamsburg
This Saturday, hundreds of comic book artists, publishers and enthusiasts will descend upon three venues along Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, as part of the first ever Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Festival. The festival’s many participants and visitors—some coming from a few blocks away, others traversing across state lines, time zones, even country codes—will be part of a free event which will include appearances from prominent cartoonists, panels, lectures and a marketplace featuring internationally-recognized comic and graphic art publishers, including leading graphic book publisher Drawn & Quarterly of Montreal, famed French screenprint publisher Le Dernier Cri, artist’s book publisher Nieves of Zurich, Switzerland, Italian art book publisher Corraini, as well as many local publishers and artists from Brooklyn. Occupying the cozy basement of the Our Lady of Consolation Church as well as the neighboring venue Secret Project Robot, the all-day festival promises an additional array of visual arts, punk rock and unexpected intersections—including live comic drawings, a panel on comics and animation, a special animation reel curated by Tunde Adebimpe, of TV on the Radio, which will be shown on loop at the church, and an after-party down the street at DIY music venue Death by Audio, featuring a variety of local punk groups and bands with tables at the festival.
Gathering a distinguished roster of artists, including Kim Deitch, Gabrielle Bell, Adrian Tomine, R.O. Blechman, Charles Burns and Dash Shaw, the festival is being put on out of a desire to “introduce the citizens of Brooklyn to the weirdo cartoonists living in our midst,” explained Desert Island owner and publisher Gabriel Fowler, one of the primary architects of the festival. Fowler’s store, along with Carroll Gardens-based publisher and visual culture studio, PictureBox, are the festival’s sponsors.
Although Desert Island has only been open a year a half, the Williamsburg-based comic shop has quickly become a vital hub for local and visiting comic artists and enthusiasts, consistently bringing exciting new comics and event programming to the neighborhood. Thanks to the store’s comfortably whimsical and engaging vibe (of which Fowler’s friendly and knowledgeable demeanor is certainly a part), Desert Island is a thoroughfare of constant traffic and chat, from local artists and zinemakers to braces-wearing pre-teens replete with older siblings asking questions like, “Do you have anything that might be age-appropriate for a fourteen year-old?” Spending a little time in the store, one gets the sense of a vibrant, enthusiastic, if not at times socially awkward arts community.
The festival is an excellent example of what is becoming a new age in comics. In the recent years, comics (and graphic novels, in particular) have witnessed tremendous growth in both sales and artistic recognition. In 2001, US sales of graphic novels were estimated by the New York Comic-Con at $75 million. In 2008, this figure had risen to $395 million. In a time where many publishers are tightening their belts, comics have been one of the few book-related marketplaces seeing a sales increase.
The gains have not been strictly commercial—comics have achieved newfound literary recognition as well. “There is a wider acceptance of comics as actual art and as real literature,” explained veteran cartoonist Kim Deitch, who’s been publishing comics since the 1960’s.
“The audience certainly has expanded,” remarked Cinders Gallery co-founder Sto. “Along with the expansion of the idea of ‘comics’ and what that means to people making/reading them.”
While this emergence is often greeted with typical cartoonist modesty—“Not that all of them should or are even intended to be [regarded as actual art or real literature] cautioned Deitch, “after all, they are called comics”—it’s a fact that exciting things are happening in the burgeoning comics scene, particularly the one taking place in North Brooklyn.
“When I first got here they held the first MoCCa festival,” said cartoonist Gabrielle Bell, whose work is published by Drawn & Quarterly and was, last year, adapted for the screen by Michel Gondry. Bell has been a New Yorker since 2001 and a Greenpoint resident since 2004. “Every year it’s gotten bigger, and now it’s huge…There were also a lot of great cartoonists around (still are) who were very welcoming and helpful, like Tom Hart, Megan Kelso, Matt Madden, Jessica Abel, Dean Haspiel…Now there are lots of new and younger cartoonists, doing new and great stuff, like Austin English, Julia Wertz, Sarah Glidden, Lisa Hanawalt, Nate Doyle, Molly Goldstrom…Since I’ve moved here, there have been great comic book shops opening here in Brooklyn, too, Rocketship comics and Desert Island comics, for example, who host a lot of events and are generally supportive of the local cartoonists…It’s really grown a lot.”
Although some artists, including the aforementioned Julia Wertz might disagree. “It’s more scattered than that,” said Wertz, who is also (coincidentally, or not) a Greenpoint resident, as well as a festival participant who will have a table for her web comic The Fart Party. “There are a lot of cartoonists who live further south in Brooklyn and many live in Queens. Making comics is a very private activity so cartoonists don’t really pick their neighborhoods based on any kind of ‘art scene.’”
Yet the argument for an active comic arts community in North Brooklyn remains. And at the heart of this is Fowler. In addition to his work with the festival and at his store, Fowler is a publisher as well, printing the free all-comics newspaper Smoke Signal, whose third issue will be unveiled at the festival. The issue will feature many of the festival’s featured artists including Bell and Shaw, among other local, national and international talents. The convergences don’t end there, however. Smoke Signal is printed by the local printing company Linco—the same printer which prints free local show rag Showpaper—which (coincidentally, or not) is featuring this week the work of none other than Sto.
Puking Eyeballs at Cinders
The festival isn’t the only interesting comic-related exhibition currently going on in what is a bustling time for comics in the neighborhood. Cinders Gallery is currently hosting a group show of the aforementioned underground screenprinter Le Dernier Cri. Translated as “The Last Cry,” LDC is a Marseille-based international art collective that has largely been under the radar of art and comic communities. While Le Dernier Cri has been publishing intense graphic art for 16 years now, this marks founder Pakito Bolino’s first trip to New York and the first American group show of the collective. The group show, titled “Vomir Des Yeux” (which approximately translates to “Puking Eyeballs”), is an intense combination of loud colors, grotesque sexual imagery, and line work that ranges from the highly intricate to the scruffy—coupled to a staunchly non-commercial attitude and tone. In addition, LDC’s intense 4-hour stop animation film The Religious Savages is being shown on loop in the gallery on a small CRT television. While certainly not to everyone’s taste, the works show there can beauty in the extreme. The show will be up until December 19th.
Comics-related Events in North Brooklyn This Week and Beyond:
12/4/09 Friday 8pm-until
Crooked Teeth Fundraiser Party for Nate Doyle and Mollie Goldstrom
@ 538 Johnson Ave, Apt. #210
At the Jefferson stop on the L train.
$5 suggested donation. “Libations and live performances TBA”
12/5/09 Saturday 11am-7pm
Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival
@ Our Lady of Consolation Church
184 Metropolitan Avenue (between Bedford Avenue and Berry Avenue)
Featuring local, national and international artists and publishers including
Drawn & Quarterly (Canada)
Le Dernier Cri (France)
And many more
12/5/09 Saturday 1pm-7pm
Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival Panels and Programming
Organized and moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos. (For full schedule of events check: http://www.comicsandgraphicsfest.com.)
@ Secret Project Robot
128 River Street (at Metropolitan Avenue)
12/5/09 Saturday 8pm
Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival Afterparty
Paper Route: A Night of Comic and Zine Artists
@ Death By Audio
94 South 2nd Street (between Wythe Ave and Kent Ave)
Featuring performances by Kites, Ambergris, Sam Gas Can, Boogie Boarder, Nick Gazin, Graffiti Monsters and Dubbknowdubb — a variety of local punk acts and bands with tables at the festival
Ongoing until 12/19/09
Le Dernier Cri: “Vomir Des Yeux”
@ Cinders Gallery
103 Havemeyer Street, Store #2 (at Grand Street)