Any bird flying over Williamsburg on Saturday would have spotted a curious sight: on the corner of Havemeyer and North 8th, legions of people were pouring out of a church. Crowds were gathered for a yearly holy conference, The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. In just its third year at this location, the one-day event packed comic, zine, and graphic novel enthusiasts into two floors full of booths by small and large publishers alike.
From hand-drawn, inky doodles of sci-fi creatures, to graphic novels with doe-eyed females, the full gamut of contemporary illustration was on view. With comics, you’re often bound to find an image, turn of phrase, or a certain pacing, that seems like it’s been invented by plumbing the subconscious. Many comics revel in the weird, but the subculture’s numbers are anything but tiny. From the looks of it at The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, cartoonist culture is alive in Brooklyn, and abroad.
“Big Mother 3 sold out already,” Joe Kessler, a cartoonist with London publisher Nobrow, told me. Like all the artists manning booths, he wore a name tag to let you know who he was. “It’s a shame it’s sold out. New it’s 15 dollars, and now you can find it on eBay for thousands.” Kessler, like many of the artists I spoke with, were duly manning the booth and basking in the limelight, autographing their wares and talking shop with comics aficionados. These artists were working hard.
While Nobrow, alongside other international publishers like KUTI KUTI out of Helsinki, had flown out to the event, there was still room for plenty of Brooklyn-based cartoonists and small-scale presses. Katie Skelly, a former art history major who turned to making comics about nurses in space, had her own booth. She was selling more than just comics; throughout the day, she was making rapid-fire watercolor portraits of visitors at 50 cents for a 30-second-long portrait, and one dollar for a minute-long portrait. Willing portrait-takers, including myself, waited patiently in line for such a personalized tchotchke.
There was room for smaller publishers, too. The Gold County Paper Mill, a collective with members located in places like New York, Texas, and Kentucky, participated for the first time this year. They were lucky to get in. “We were on the waiting list,” cartoonist William Cardini told me. “It’s juried, and just $100 for a booth.”
Cardini flew out from Austin, but hadn’t expected to make what he spent on the flight back from sales. He and the rest of the Gold County Paper Mill sold dozens of comics, but when the wares, like Cardini’s VORTEX series lists at 6 dollars a piece, that doesn’t cover expenses. Still, he prefers The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics festival’s atmosphere to MoCCA Fest, New York’s larger comics festival. Hosted by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, that costs $300 a booth. He added that it’s just friendlier.
As any small flying creature could see that afternoon, there were flocks of friendly visitors spilling out onto the streets. They were there for the quirky artistry and whimsical storytelling that cartoonists do best, and for a little bit of hanging out with them, too. Based on this year’s success, the festival might need a bigger space—or at the very least, more tote bags. Those sold out within just two hours.