Carrying Old Baggage With Me
Updated: Apr 9
My weekend at the MoCCA Arts Festival, part one.
I was trying not to obsess about the missing package. I’m a big fan of the U.S. postal system and have relied on it to ship stuff for decades, even before I moved to California. But how I could have LOST the tracking receipt for what was probably the most important package that I’d mailed in years?! Specifically, a crate of 200 comic books that I was going to sell in New York City. Could I have been a little... preoccupied?
Dragging a 50-pound suitcase AND a shoulder bag from San Francisco, I couldn’t carry another ounce. I had to trust that the postman would make his appointed rounds. But even with the distractions of a cross-country flight, and seeing my 90-year old dad for the first time in a year (he’s as energetic as ever, thank you very much!), I couldn’t help wondering: Will this trip be successful?
I was headed to New York to attend the MoCCA Arts Festival, an annual event that attracts hundreds of artists and thousands of their fans. For the first time, I was going to be one of the hundreds who were selling their wares to the thousands. For the first time, I would be attending a convention as a working cartoonist.
I’ve been making comics all my life, but for the past six months it’s been my full-time occupation, writing and drawing five issues to date. Every six weeks or so, another couple of crates have been delivered from a printer in Salt Lake City to our little house. 2500 copies and counting. I’m happy to report that I had a mail order distributor from the start, and my books are on sale in 14 stores across the country. At the moment I’m creating books faster than I’m selling them, and I need to move units. So here I am, on my way to one of the biggest small press comic festivals in the country.
Let me adjust your expectations. Small press comics aren’t about superheroes or movie franchises or tv show tie-ins. These comics are mostly self-published publications, often personal stories created by artists to express themselves, not to cater to the public at large. Of course, we HOPE that folks will read our books and respond to them. We want to be liked and loved and collected. But without the corporate sponsorship necessary to get extensive book tours and national media attention, well, we’re on our own.
So here I am on the last leg of my journey, on a commuter train from NJ to NYC, wondering if I’ll have books to sell when I get there. And if so, how will they be received? It’s too difficult to schlep my bags up and down the narrow stairs to the regular seats, so I’m standing in the noisy vestibule between cars, watching the ground whoosh by through the small gaps in the floor, trying to ignore the whiff of diesel fumes in the air, and shut out the clatter of the metal wheels on the tracks. Ta-pocketa! Ta-pocketa! Ta-pocketa! as Walter Mitty might say. It’s hard to concentrate on anything else.
Idly scrolling through my Instagram feed. I have no plans for the night before the show—or do I? Brother R. Sikoryak, who’s been working in comics professionally since college, has posted something interesting. He’s presenting a history of Wonder Woman comics in a funky Brooklyn museum. Tonight. I text him immediately, and he responds enthusiastically. “Let’s meet at the Staples in Union Square.” He’s picking up his books for the show as well. Oh, yeah. Thanks for reminding me.
I clamber off the train at Penn Station and make my way through the warren of tunnels that link NJ Transit, the Long Island Railroad, PATH trains and several subway lines. Every step I take is accompanied by the constant rattle of my suitcase wheels. I dodge and weave through the crowds of people, most of whom are on a mission: get home for the weekend. And may God have mercy on your soul if you get in anyone’s way.
After a quick ride on the F Train, I get off at 16th street. Of course the elevator’s out. I adjust my shoulder bag, take a deep breath and lift my suitcase with both hands. Up, up, up we go—three flights of stairs to daylight. And another three blocks to the Metro Pavilion. I know this must be the place by the clutch of young people in their early twenties lingering by the entrance. More stairs, but the end is in sight. I wheel up to the check in table and am relieved to see several other suitcases pass me by. I don’t feel conspicuous, I fit right in.
Badge and program in hand, I enter the hall. It’s a familiar sight, a large room with high ceilings and exposed ventilation, carved into six aisles. Rows of black drapery and close-but-not-touching red tables as far as I can see. There are piles of boxes, bags, duffles and totes everywhere, with folks unpacking on every available surface. I’ve traveled 3000 miles and three days to get here. (That’s if you ignore the eighteen months of writing and drawing and pondering before that). I count down the numbers taped to each table: 155. 154. 153. Four more to go.
The old fears raise their ugly head. Is this meant to be? Am I good enough? Sure, I’ve sold a few copies, but what do people really think? Can I sustain interest in a story from my adolescence for 10 issues? Am I crazy to try? I hold my breath and take the last few steps.
There’s my box, peeping out from under table 148. The post office hasn’t let me down. I start breathing again.
With that, my perception shifts dramatically. I’m no longer in stasis, anticipating, waiting, wondering. My worries about the box were a distraction, to keep me from looking too closely at my own fears. Now my baggage is lighter, because I’m not carrying my doubts. I made it. You’d think a man in his sixties would be free of these youthful insecurities. But I’m a beginner all over again, and the doubts are inevitable. What’s different is that I know how to shut them down—with experience and self awareness. I’ve succeeded before, I can succeed again.
Unzipping my suitcase I throw both sides open and start unloading. Posters, hangers, standees, more comics, art supplies spill out onto the floor and onto the red table. I set to work hanging blowups of covers on the wall and assembling a display. In 30 minutes I’m unpacked and prepped and ready for the show. I’m in business! But there’s still 18 hours until the doors open…
I spend the evening with my brother at The City Reliquary, a tiny storefront with an almost indescribable agglomeration of, well, relics of pop culture and New York-specific artifacts—from seltzer bottles to souvenirs to stalactites. For the next week, one room remains dedicated to the Amazonian superhero also known as Diana Prince. Rob is giving an overview of the cartoon character’s canon alongside Karen Green, the comics archivist of Columbia University. I meet her, along with a few other comics fans and professionals. It’s a lovely little “coming out party” for this newbie and I feel welcome and at home. I’ve got a good feeling about this.
Next: Diving into the deep end and meeting my fans. If there are any.
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