America’s a weird mix, and it was all on display on Saturday at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art‘s annual alternative Comic-Con. Held at New York’s Lexington Avenue Armory — an enormous turn-of-the century brick warehouse, buffeted by Hummers in military-only parking zones and stuffed with soldiers in desert-ready camo — the festival welcomed its own orange-haired, suspenders-wearing troops toting sketchbooks.
Inside the enormous celery-green painted half-dome, hundreds of America’s most creative illustrators and publishing houses sat at tables shored-up with their work. At their elbows sat artists from Mexico, Finland, and Germany who had come to meet interested collaborators, publishing houses, and sell their masterpieces.
This year, the fest held a panel on the new “Swedish Invasion” and featured a number of Nordic booths with the work of Danish, Finnish, and Swedish artists and writers. Ib Kjeldsmark, a blonde, bushy-haired Danish illustrator, was here to sell his own work for the second year. “Of course, the market is 80 times bigger here,” he said of why he and the other Nordic artist venture over. “But things have been exploding in the last ten years in Denmark.” Whereas in the ’80s, “things were totally dead,” he explained, now there’s “crazy freedom after the ’80s hell.” After a very long dryspell with no new comics in the Danish mainstream press, there have been four new strips in newspapers in the past six months. This Spring the country will host KomiksDK — a similar fest to Mocca’s cornucopia of awesome.
At the booth across the way, two Swedes were there to support their quarterly, “C’est Bon,” a Swedish-produced, English-written, French-titled comic anthology that’s now in its 26th issue. “This is all we have,” said illustrator Patrik Stigzelius. “UPS lost the rest.” Indeed, UPS had lost a box of all the wares they had hoped to sell and Stigzelius and crew had done the only thing they knew how to do to mourn — draw an illustration.
In the very same aisle, illustrator Vishavjit Singh had come to the fest for the first time to support his work, Sikhtoons, which he advertised with the sign, “Turbans and Beards Like You’ve Never Seen them Before.” He showcased political prints which anyone could buy, including a version of Edward Munch’s “The Scream” that features the screaming figure in a turban and is annotated: “The Scream / At the sight of ignorant Americans freaking out at his turban.” In another, a politician in a turban speaks into a microphone: “My fellow Americans, fear not what my turban can do to you. Fear what your ignorance about my turban can do to me.”
While the majority of artists were white, African American artist Joel C. Gill stood out. He was there to debut a line of “Black Conservative Trading Cards,” which featured Baseball-esque stats on the rise of Black Republican leaders, such as a grinning, fierce Condoleeza Rice. Plus, he had a gorgeously illustrated parody called “Lil Nino Brown in Slumland.”
And then there was the Mexican duo, Ines and Roi Estrada who work under the name Cafe Con Leche and produce fabulously psychedelic, neon works that are as intricate as they are overpowering. I loved the colors here — which were notably absent on the muted work that’s trending right now.
Then, how’s this for diversity — there was even a seven year old comic artist whose illustrator mom and dad took her along.
There was too much that I liked here to re-cap it all. I ended up with some Black Conservative Trading Cards and a book of nail art as imagined on the fingernails of Empress Dowager Cixi. All in all, a good day’s haul. Outside, the hummers were rumbling.