- The first thing I did when I got home late Sunday night was enjoy a long bowel movement. This was aided immeasurably by the presence of Aaron Costain’s and John Martz’s Team Society League minicomic, “Free Puppies!”
- So the Sequential team is recovering from the Toronto Comics Art Festival. For a brief moment at the Wright Awards Saturday night, Dave, Max and myself were together in the same room for the first time, so that was pretty exciting (although of the three of us I think only Max was there the whole time, manning his table and passing out the free print edition of Sequential). This is the lasting value of TCAF for many of us, I’m sure. The opportunity to meet with fellow comics readers and creators in a wonderland of great books and creative people. Although Dustin Harbin brings a nice foreigner’s perspective to what makes the show great (big regret: everytime I got near Harbin’s table to buy his comics newspaper, there was a crowd, so I missed out).
- The venue: The Toronto Reference Library is a wonderful low-key space in which to celebrate comic art and books. The entirety of the main floor with its expansive atrium was taken up with guest artists and exhibitors, with the webcomics crowd on the second floor in the same Salon where the Wright Awards were held, and separate rooms on both floors devoted to panel discussions, publishers’ tables, and sundry other stuff. As cartoonist Rina Piccolo notes here, the Reference Library has a great history and the great thing was it was operating as a library all weekend, with people using the computers and checking out displays of graphic novels and stuff. As I came in Sunday afternoon, a family with young children also came in and were pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a comics event going on!
While the place never seemed too crowded, it was sometimes chaotic, and alot of the official show signage had an improvised ad hoc quality to it. Nobody got lost, I’m sure, and they were handing out maps in the program at the door, but there was still an overwhelming feeling of the crowd and busy-ness that verged on panic. Maybe this was just confined to my own experience since I only spent about 3 frantic hours walking the floor and buying things, and I’m sure I missed tons of books and people. It was easy to get distracted but since this often led to enriching chance encounters such as meeting Robert Haines from the Shusters in Seth’s signing line or repeatedly bumping into my writer friend Robert Pincombe or discovering the extremely bizarre and funny collection of rejected comic strips on offer from Jay Stephens, I wouldn’t have traded my experience for anything.
- Overall feel and guests. Was it a good show? I think so. The excitement and enthusiasm was palpable throughout the space and often even the least well-known artists were swarmed and had people lining up, to say nothing of the giant crowds on hand for Kate Beaton, Dan Clowes, etc. Most exhibitors I talked to reported a huge crowd on Saturday and brisk sales, with a slower Mother’s Day vibe on Sunday. The only sell-out I am aware of was the new Jim Woodring book, Weathercraft, at the Fantagraphics table. And the only reason I know it sold out was because I didn’t get one myself and was extremely jealous of the signed Woodring sketch Portland, Oregon cartoonist Angie Wang showed me in her copy.Luckily, I was able to chat with one of my all-time favourite artists period ‘Gentleman’ Jim Woodring briefly Saturday night and again at the end of the show Sunday (note: it is very likely he considers me a cynical, anti-Buddhist wanker, but I insist I retain an open mind and a sense of wonder, despite my general asshole-ish demeanor), which brings up another point about the accessibility of artists at the show. Everyone seemed more-or-less laid back and it was a very social environment. Both the older generation of established ‘stars’ and the super-popular tyros gamely engaged with the festival on its own terms. Cartoonists are notoriously polite and the TCAF attendees proved no exception in that regard –everyone offered to inscribe their books and patiently answered questions and talked about their work and the work of others. It was one big love-in, really, and the handful of U.S. arts comics darlings (Woodring, Clowes, Sturm, Shaw, Pope, etc), Larry Marder, Charles Vess, and others, added a very specific type of star power that I can’t really find anything negative to say about, since they were so tastefully selected and I love aspects of all their work (well, I’m not a big Charles Vess fan, but maybe I’m not trying hard enough?).
- The Wright Awards were great. Since I am involved as an organizer of the Awards and serve on the nomination committee, I won’t venture too much into blogger conflict of interest territory except to share with you a single anecdote. Simon Bossé, whose Bébête book was nominated for the Pigskin Peters Award, wrote to us to let us know that, although he enjoyed TCAF, he had figured out that he didn’t win when he sat down in the front row and saw that the prize hat would never fit his larger-than-average head.
- The major drawback of many convention-style events remains at the same time their strongest feature –the artist alley-style layout of tables, which you can see in Jamie Coville’s photo here, as well as in his larger photo set which gives you the impression of what is was like walking the floor. Confronting the serially laid-out mass of artists is a great way to interact with them and discover new work, and the system is in place in all aspects of market culture, from trade shows, art and book fairs to flea markets, but is still an awkward marketing device, especially as you inevitably encounter art and artists that you have very little or no interest in, but there they are, politely staring at you, seemingly daring you to reject them. (This is sometimes harder on the consumer than the artists, I feel! Of course, artists, like shopkeepers, have to develop thick skins, and not only for the purpose of weathering criticism.) Very few exhibitors experimented with surmounting this format. Some had props and puppets and freebies, some were lucky enough to have a wall behind them to tape up art and signage, and one or two were like Miriam Libicki, who brought a tubular t-shirt rack and easels from BC and actually spent most of the show on her feet, engaging browsers on their own level, and a few dispensed with the table idea altogether, but most stuck to the format. Of the comics publishers at the show, Martin Brault‘s La Pasteque had the best, or at least the most professional seeming and classically tasteful, set-up, with gorgeous books laid out on a montage-covered table, signage, and beautiful Michel Rabagliati silk-screened paper bags (I bought several books from them and even got a copy of Jimmy et le Bigfoot signed by Pascal Girard). The Trio Magnus art collective and the Transmission X gang both put on impressive corporate fronts, with the giant Magnus wall art being the visual highlight of the show for many.
- One of the amazing things about TCAF that I haven’t really experienced at other cons is the amount of free stuff cartoonists and publishers laboured over only to offer for free (or sometimes “free with purchase”) . And I’m not talking about the one or two books passed along to Sequential as review copies. Not only did I get to talk to Joe Ollmann and Michael DeForge in person for the first time after email interviewing them, but I also copped Ollman’s tiny perfect “Don’t Touch That” junk alphabet and DeForge’s Spider-Man minicomic, “Peter’s Muscle”. Jason Kieffer was passing along his “Why You Should Eat Magic Mushrooms” mini, and Dave Lapp was either selling very cheaply or giving away with purchase the team-up mini he did with Chester Brown, the only new Brown comic you will see until next TCAF when his long-awaited new graphic memoir comes out. Marc Bell wrapped a print I bought from him inside a poster for one of his shows. Etc, etc. To say nothing of the very inexpensive original art, prints, and limited edition objects like the glow-in-the-dark resin “Stump” figurine by Jon Vermilyea, that I felt I was stealing, they were priced so low.
- The T in TCAF is for Twitter. This was the first larger event I’ve attended where I was aware of the density of social networking and electronic reporting going on. I followed the #TCAF twitter feed for several hours on Saturday, where it seemed like someone was using the TCAF tag at least once every 30 seconds or so, and organizer and twitter fiend Chris Butcher reported that TCAF was the number 3 trending subject in Canada for a brief period over the weekend. Several guests, library staff, and reporters like the National Post’s Mark Medley, tweeted play-by-plays of panels and other show events as well, and the experience
continued through the various after parties well into Monday morning. The relative utility and actual interest of this type of information exchange might be lost on some but for me it added an extra layer to my understanding of TCAF and enabled me to vicariously experience conversations and events that I would otherwise have been completely ignorant of. And I’m not just talking about weird things like Deb Aoki punching a guy in the jaw but rather little shiny pearls of wisdom from Jeet Heer, which I treasure more than oxygen or water, like the Heer quote ironically tweeted by illustrator Eric Orchard that “(computers) seem to set up a barrier between artists and the work.” Thankfully the Scott Pilgrim cosplay that I read about on twitter failed to materialize but now that I think about it, an event like TCAF, partially filled with cute Toronto hipsters, is really already one giant Scott Pilgrim cosplay. Or maybe the really ironic thing is, the flipside is also true: if anything, Scott Pilgrim can be read as a TCAF fanfic.
- TCAF is not a trade show and there are not really big announcements about book deals, etc., though I can foresee a future where that is something that happens. The show is artist focused, set up so that fans and casual readers can connect and buy books and art. It has enabled many people to start creative collaborations and the quick recognition a talent someone like Michael Deforge has received is in large part due to the event. As he notes in the interview I did with him for the print edition, he met his publisher Anne Koyama at TCAF last year, she published his comic, and this year he won Best Emerging Talent at the Wright Awards, also held at TCAF. Quid pro quo.
- Regrets. My main regret is that I wasn’t able to take the whole week off and have the whole TCAF “experience.” As well, I regret that I wasn’t able to meet my idol Tom Spurgeon, the genius behind the Comics Reporter blog who was kept away from TCAF by family health issues. Also, I regret that when I ended up across the table from Dan Clowes when friends invited me out to eat Saturday night, I didn’t ask him any of the smarty-pants questions I had prepared when the gang was talking about interviewing him for Sequential Pulp. And I regret that I was in such a hurry TCAF that maybe I didn’t stop to check out your stuff? I’m sure that I would like it or at least appreciate it or be able to recommend it to someone because I’m probably one of the biggest comics nerds you will ever meet and just love the medium. Maybe you can tell me about the comics that I missed in an email or in the comments here? Most of all I regret not buying more comics!