Why you should care

Because it’s deeply satisfying to make something others can hold in their hands. 

With the emergence of graphic novels as a serious and viable art form in the late ’80s and early ’90s — most notably Art Spiegelman’s Maus, whose phenomenal success forced The New York Times and Publishers Weekly to create a whole new bestseller category — comics became very big business. The new indie-comics explosion broadened the spectrum, encompassing everything from crude one-panel jokes to complex stories and characters that were taken seriously as both art and literature. This newfound respect made celebrities out of artists like Spiegelman, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware and Tony Millionaire.

Despite the huge popularity of the new comics, a few years back, New York’s Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art (MoCCA) was forced to close its doors when the directors could no longer afford the skyrocketing rents. The museum’s massive collection of original artwork was saved from the landfill, however, thanks to the intervention of the Society of Illustrators. Founded in 1901 as an organization devoted to promoting and preserving the work of established and new illustrators alike, the Society folded MoCCA and its collection into its own headquarters and gallery space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

It seems millennials are also rediscovering the hands-on joys of the DIY approach, drawing, Xeroxing, stapling and handing out their own ’zines.

Now, the Society of Illustrators celebrates the spirit of the museum and the future of comic art with the annual MoCCA Arts Festival — to be held this weekend— which brings together new and established artists, indie publishers and comic book geeks of all ages to get a glimpse into what the next generation of comic art might look like. Unlike the massive comic-cons around the country, which have become showcases for major Hollywood studios and video game companies, MoCCA Fest remains very much a grassroots event, and in that reveals something much more interesting than a few clips from the next $200 million superhero blockbuster.

Although the special guest stars at this year’s MoCCA Arts Festival include Phoebe Gloeckner, who emerged from San Francisco’s underground comics scene in the 1970s to become one of the leading female comic artists in the country, and CeCe Bell, whose graphic novel El Deafo (about her own childhood growing up deaf) recently won a Newbery Award, the real story is at the small exhibitor tables. Along with reps from major indie publishers like Fantagraphics and a number of luminaries from the underground comics scene, participants also include a slew of youngsters who’ve been drawing and distributing their own homemade comics, titles dealing with everything from historical events to the antics of their cat to insane, surreal, taboo-busting fantasies.

Some of the artwork may be more refined than others, some of the stories more compelling and some of the jokes funnier, but that’s not the point. What matters is that they’re actually doing something and creating original work. Despite all the long-held apocalyptic rumors about the death of print, it seems, just as millennials have rediscovered the joys of analog vinyl albums, they’re also rediscovering the hands-on joys of the DIY approach, drawing, Xeroxing, stapling and handing out their own ‘zines instead of merely posting everything online. Just as was the case three decades ago, there are an awful lot of kids out there who find something deeply satisfying about producing something people can hold in their hands, no matter how scruffy, scrubby and crude it might be.

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