MoCCA jokah

15 Apr
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.

So.

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.

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10 Responses to “MoCCA jokah”

  1. aaron April 19, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    this is pretty much exactly what i thought after stumptown this weekend.

    • Evan Dahm April 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      Main differences being tables at Stumptown are incredibly cheap for a show of its sort, admission for attendees is cheaper as well, and Stumptown is much better-run than mocca.

      • aaron April 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

        the tables are cheaper and admission is a bit cheaper, but everyone i talked to who did both shows this year made twice as much at mocca than stumptown. stumptown is pretty clumsily run, too.

  2. MC Nedelsky April 20, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    Interesting. Either you or Aaron attend TCAF? That’s the only one I’ve ever been to, and I only went last year, but I loved it. It’s free to the public and I’ve heard artists rave.

  3. MC Nedelsky April 20, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    No idea what the costs are for artists. I know you have to apply to exhibit though, and that not all applications are accepted.

    • darrylayo April 20, 2011 at 8:20 am #

      TCAF failed to accept my application and thus I fail to see what’s so damned special about them.

      Step your game up, TCAF; your application page claimed that priority would be given to cartoonists who hadn’t exhibited there before.

      • MC Nedelsky April 20, 2011 at 11:24 am #

        “TCAF failed to accept my application and thus I fail to see what’s so damned special about them.”

        Well, if how good a con is is entirely related on how it is for YOU, personally, I can see how you’d have frustrations. But I’d hardly say your personal opinion is determinant of overall quality (though of course, warping your grammar a bit, it does PRECLUDE you from experiencing what’s so special).

  4. darrylayo April 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Well…I am deeply conflicted about this issue. But the point of this post as well as the issue in general is how some shows are failing to meet the needs of its participants.

    TCAF has failed to meet my needs. I need to exhibit at a healthy, robust, independent comics show. TCAF said “no you cannot exhibit here this year. Try again next time.” Not in so many words.

    I understand the point you are making, I really do. But look: I’m arrogant enough to stand behind (physically) the comics that I make and ask people to pay money for them; so I’m arrogant enough to believe that my opinion DOES matter in evaluating the overall quality of a comic show. Particularly when we’re talking about exclusion. Of course many of my friends and peers are exhibiting at this show and naturally I wish the best possible returns for them.

    • MC Nedelsky April 20, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

      That’s a very fair and measured response. Better luck next year I guess?

  5. Tea April 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    The *only* show where I get a table is MoCCA. I don’t go to other shows, largely because I know that factoring in expenses would make it a loss for me. But I’ve had a table at MoCCA for two years now. The first year, I split a table with two other people. I made back my table cost, plus $75 to pay the girl who made pies for me to sell at the table, plus $163 to donate to charity (I sold raffle tickets for this purpose), plus a small amount of cash that probably paid for my drinks for the weekend. This year, I split a table with one person, and made enough that if I broke it down by the hour I sat at the table, I made well over minimum wage. So that part is good. On the other hand, I feel like at MoCCA, I have a lot of friends who are in the city only for that weekend and I barely get to see them, and that part sucks. So I feel like my experience is opposite to yours: I feel like I do pretty well sitting at the table selling, but the event is often a social letdown– largely because I just plain miss seeing everyone I want to see, and that sucks!

    My biggest irritation, a problem that I don’t think is MoCCA’s fault, for me, is that I sit there with little $1 comics and people come to the table, read the comics *in their entirety* and put them back. They’ve pretty much gotten their $1 worth of enjoyment from it, but they won’t pay for it. And that kind of pisses me off. I get thumbing through someone’s larger book to try to get a sense of whether you’d like it, but if you read someone’s freaking 20-panel minicomic, pay for the freaking thing, dangit! Argh.

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