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A large number of independent and alternative comic creators gathered together this past Saturday for the first edition of a festival called Comic Arts Brooklyn. The festival was presented by the Brooklyn comic store Desert Island and organized by comics teacher and historian Paul Karasik. In many ways, Comic Arts Brooklyn takes over for the recently-defunct Brooklyn Comic & Graphics Festival, a show that ended earlier this year after the organizers, which included Desert Island, were unable to agree about the future of the show. Like the BCGF, Comic Arts Brooklyn had its headquarters at the Mt. Carmel Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
Comic Arts Brooklyn could be likened to other independent comics festivals like the MoCCA Fest and Small Press Expo (SPX), though CAB had a more informal feeling due to its newness. The "show floor," where tables of comic creators displayed and sold their books, took up two floors of the Mt. Carmel Church. There was a wide variety of work to be seen, and well-known indie creators like Adrian Tomine, Paul Pope and Gabriel Bell shared the same floor as new artists offering their self-printed works. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund had a large table where it was selling donated works, often autographed, to aid the organization, which helps comic book creators, retailers and buyers who come under legal threats, often due to censorship efforts.
In addition to the floors at Mt. Carmel, there were three panels for Comic Arts Brooklyn held nearby at the Knitting Factory Brooklyn space. The first panel commemorated the 20th anniversary of the graphic novel adaptation, City of Glass. The panelists were Paul Auster, Art Spiegelman, David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik. During the panel, they discussed the evolution of the project. After Auster had his prose novel City of Glass published, his friend Spiegelman began to plan to turn it into a graphic novel. This eventually involved artist David Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp, Batman: Year One). Karasik later became involved in helping to adapt the novel, which the panelists described as not visual at all, into a visual medium. Though it wasn't a best seller, City of Glass became critically acclaimed, eventually being hailed as one of the best graphic novels of the 1990s.
The next panel featured four young and celebrated indie comic creators: Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, Joe Lambert and Katie Skelly. DeForge and Lambert were included in the recently-published Best American Comics 2013 volume. The panel was hosted by Karen Green, a comic book expert and librarian at Columbia University. Each of the artists discussed their influences, both in comics and outside of them, and these ranged from Spider-Man to Bloom County to French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard.
The third panel was focused on Jeff Smith, the hugely popular creator of Bone and RASL. During the panel, Smith discussed the process he uses to create his comics, from outlines to roughly sketched thumbnails to pencils to inked artwork. He debuted some art from his newest project, a web-comic called Tuki Save the Humans, a story set in the early days of man about the first human to leave Africa. Although it does have historical elements, Tuki... also seems to have a great deal of mystery and adventure.
Smith then proceeded to demonstrate his inking process on a new piece of Bone art. As an overhead camera captured his movements, which were then displayed on a screen above, Smith slowly inked while describing the different brushes he uses and how he uses ink to show depth and shadow. This panel was fascinating whether you were a comic book artist or fan because it was a peak behind the curtain of how a creator applies his craft. After Smith was completed, the Bone page was auctioned off to benefit the CBLDF, eventually selling for over $1,000.
There were a few other events related to Comic Arts Brooklyn earlier, but the core of the show occurred on November 9th. It was great to see that the disputes about the future of the BCGF didn't spell the end of small comic festivals in Brooklyn. Although there are many comic book events in New York City, the success of Comic Arts Brooklyn shows that there's still room for a well-run show.