By Darryl Ayo
Eric Colossal, Jess Fink, L. Nichols. Photo by Me.
So like okay, whatever, right? Here’s the deal with MoCCA: I’m a cartoonist, my friends are cartoonists. At shows like MoCCA, I always see a bunch of peers who I enjoy talking with and spending time with. Oh, we laughed and we laughed. There was trading and there was sushi and there was coffee and there was drinking and there was closed-room industry talk. This is pretty much a given for comic shows, at least from a cartoonist’s perspective. So my answer to the same question phrased differently is opposite: “Did you enjoy MoCCA?,” or “How was MoCCA?”
Answers: “Yes,” and “not good,” respectively.
Yes, I did enjoy MoCCA. I always enjoy seeing and talking with the loose cartoon family assembled from years of doing these shows and events. The show itself was “not good,” because these sorts of shows are generally kind of crud. It’s hard to sell minicomics when the buying audience has already been fleeced at the door.
MoCCA and the comics community are operating at cross-purposes. MoCCA wishes to raise money for itself. The art festival that has become synonymous with the institution (I believe the festival pre-dates the museum itself) exists as a fundraiser. On the other hand, the comics community is looking to strengthen the community as a whole, while individual cartoonists are looking to meet people and widen their audiences. This could be a symbiotic relationship, but instead, it’s parasitic.
MoCCA takes money from the exhibitors who pay exorbitant fees to rent tables for the weekend. MoCCA also takes money from the attendees who, in 2011, paid twenty dollars for a weekend pass. Twenty dollars for two days at a glorified craft fair. When you set aside your love for comics for a moment and think about it, that instantly seems insane.
So when it comes to the festival, the MoCCA organization is pulling in two streams of revenue, from the vendors AND the buyers who both pay for the privilege of basically hanging out together in a large gymnasium and meanwhile, the vendors aren’t making back their money.
Why don’t vendors (exhibitors) make back their money?
1) The show attendees are already wounded in the pocket when they walk in the door. Once first blood (twelve dollars for the day, twenty dollars for the weekend) has been drawn, out goes the likelihood of impulse buys and the attendees focus on the more established exhibitors who they presumably prioritize higher. And that’s understandable. I’d be the same way if I were in their shoes.
2) Vendors are selling low-cost products. The vast majority of vendors (exhibitors) at MoCCA are selling their own homemade minicomics. These are inexpensive to make, but the cost of production tends to be proportionally high compared to the price that the market is willing to accept for retail. In other words, it’s possible that a three-dollar minicomic cost one dollar and fifty cents to manufacture. That leaves a fairly small profit margin per-unit compared to other low-cost products that are often created for pennies per-unit. Also importantly, minicomics don’t sell too well. Even at vending shows like MoCCA that are built on the model of providing a marketplace for minicomics. The cartoonist often would need to sell every copy of his or her minicomic in order to make back production costs alone. To say nothing of the cost of the table…
3) The tables cost a lot. More than a cartoonist can generally hope to pull in from minicomic sales over two days. We’re talking hundreds of dollars. To shield against these prices, many cartoonists band together and split a table. However, nothing is right in the world and everything turns out back in the end: these tables are often cramped and intimidating to the casual browser. The split tables are sometimes overflowing with comics and books and prints and other visual information which can overwhelm someone who is walking by. In practice, most attendees keep their gazes fixed forward and push through the crowds as quickly as they can without being dragged in.
While MoCCA appears to be sitting on stacks and counting the dollah dollah billz, one hand is biting the other. Cartoonists are finding, more and more, that MoCCA isn’t worth it for them to exhibit at. Don’t get me wrong: the larger publishers seem to be doing fine, and some of the bigger guns of the cartooning world do a great job for themselves at MoCCA. It’s not all doom and gloom. However, I wonder if the bottom would fall out if the cartoonists who find the show a burden opted out from now on.
Or you know. I could be full of it.
Come back next time for more happy posts. I’m going to start talking about comics. I have a whole bag of beautiful minis that I acquired at MoCCA that deserve more words than this.