by BK Munn
Finally! I’ve been back from TCAF for a week, but I’ve been basically sleeping and trying to make a living, with only moderate drinking (really!). And there was a long-weekend holiday in there somewhere. Excuses are the province of a slave mentality. Anyway, let’s get this fucker started.
Item! Every year, people ask me, “What was the first TCAF comic you read after you got home and could use your own toilet?” This year that honour went to Mere by C.F. I find C.F.’s comics scary sometimes, but mostly I take them in the spirit of dumb fun they seem to be intended. Perfect toilet reading, full of short comics about motorcycle-riding ghouls, it looks good right next to my Herman collections. I got C.F. himself to sign the book. At first I just thought he was some bearded guy sitting with Dan Nadel at the Picturebox table, maybe somehow helping out with the Gengorah Tagame signing, but then I figured since he had a pile of C.F. books in front of him, it must be the author himself (later I figured the loud annoying guy in the plaid jacket taking photos and blocking Tagame’s table was probably Chip Kidd). Anyway, it was kind of surreal to get both Tagame and C.F. to sign their new books, in utter silence, neither cartoonist speaking, with the swirl of the big comics fest all around.
Item! So, Sequential’s TCAF coverage was pretty nonexistent this year. In previous years, with better, more writer-ly contributors active on the blog, we had some good roundtables and interviews. This year I only managed to fart out a single C-List previewing some of the comics I thought would be interesting to check out at the show and then at the last minute I hacked out a trio of reviews of three graphic novels from Conundrum I feared might get lost in the chaos of the weekend. But that’s about it. Where is it written that a blog devoted to Canadian comics culture should thoroughly cover the biggest comics event in Canada’s biggest city in the entire year? What do you want from me? I’m just a man. I put my Alpha Flight Underoos on one leg at a time, just like anyone else. I’m not your work-for-hire bitch: this is a volunteer joint, all content copyright me (except when it’s by someone else). You want responsible, timely journalism? As the C-List’s governing spirit Stan Lee might say, go fuck yourself, true believer.
Item! On a personal note, I just want to say I love you, Sequential reader. I really do. And I think we have something special here. We have a lot in common. A lot. We both love comics. And. And. Um. We’re both pretty good looking. Sexy, even. We both probably drink too much and don’t call our mothers enough. And we can be stronger together. We just gotta work at it. Please don’t stop reading! Come back! I’m begging here!!!!!
Item! With that out of the way, I have to recommend Jamie Coville’s site. I saw Jamie at TCAF for a minute and he is the real deal. He has a nice camera and actually takes notes in a little notebook. It’s pretty fucking impressive to see, I want to tell you. He has an exhaustive collection of photos from the event and managed to record quite a few of the panels and interviews. Inkstuds Robin McConnell was in the thick of things as usual and has a great photo-laden TCAF diary that can be read as the yin to Coville’s yang (or maybe, to put it in terms you face-fronters and merry-marchers better comprehend, Jamie is the Giant-Sized “Man-” to Robin’s “Thing”). Robin is kind of like a beautiful braying butterfly; a true comics uniter.
Item! Festivals like TCAF are the new headshops, minus the incense, bongs and rolling papers. And instead of being open 7 days-a-week in the disreputable part of every major town, they happen in libraries and churches once a year. They are the major system of underground comix distribution in the world, and they are vital vital vital. I don’t live in Toronto and don’t attend any of the other North American small press shows, so TCAF is my only way to immerse myself in the world of the wider self-published and mini-comics world. A sort of one-stop shopping that is a pleasant, if harried, alternative to navigating individual online shops, mail-order, and tumblr. (Sure, some of this stuff ends up at the Beguiling after the show, but those are LEFTOVERS! Dirty, stinky, LEFTOVERS!! And not every town has or can support a Beguiling.) At TCAF you get to buy comics direct from the creators and get to actually hold the books in your hand before handing over your cash. I really appreciate the opportunity, since so much of the online hype about these comics amounts to clubby logrolling and backscratching from fellow cartoonists, with very few actual reviews or criticisms available about the vast majority of comics published, making it hard to come to any conclusions about work I haven’t seen big chunks of previewed online or in some other iteration. I think TCAF does a good job curating the show, making sure that only books of a certain level of quality are on hand (they can’t always account for uninvited tablemates and quickly dashed-off minicomics, and yet these are occasionally the best part of the show), but I still found it a tough job winding my way through the crowds, peering at book covers and sometimes artistically-decorated-to-the-point-of-illegibility nametags for things I’d heard of or previewed online. The map included in the program helped, but I still missed alot due to crowds and the tiny tablespace most exhibitors were allotted. (Needless to say, I didn’t plan out my visit ahead of time.)
Item! I’m a TCAF dilettante. A done-in-one, Sunday browser. TCAF is a two-day (plus!) show, but I wonder if most attendees who are not guests or otherwise invested in the show (including non-locals, volunteers, paid journalists, and friends or non-exhibiting artists who attend for social reasons) visit both Saturday and Sunday. Anyone? It’s hard to take in the whole show in one day, and impossible to really experience a full-cross-section of what the show has to offer (panels, art shows, the exhibitor sales floor, and parties) in a single afternoon. That being said, you could do worse than hit a few of the headline signings and then shop around for a few hours. That’s basically what I did during my visit on Sunday, and I ended up buying a ton of books and having a few serendipitous run-ins with friends, casual acquaintances, total strangers, and idols. That’s just the way the show is, a social swirl of comics people from near and far, endlessly circulating. I ran into (separately) Sean Rogers and Chris Randle, two of my fellow Wright Award organizers/nomination committee members, and received good reports about the show the previous night, including Chris’s tale of sharing a flask at the awards with a few editors from one of the big newspapers. (Sequential’s Salgood Sam captured the Wrights on video. Everybody’s still talking about Pigskin Peters-winner David Collier.) Later, while looking through Michael Kupperman’s original art (while he chatted with blogger Tom Spurgeon, I think), I noticed I was standing next to comics deity Gilbert Hernandez, temporary free from his signing duties to wander the floor, and was just able to summon the strength to shake Beto’s hand and mumble something about how I loved his comics and how the swinging dicks of Love and Rockets saved my life before he got the fuck away from what was obviously ground-zero of the fanboy apocalypse. The next moment, the charming pair of festival co-founder/Beguiling-owner Peter Birkemoe and award-winning journalist Nathalie Atkinson were jostling me from behind for their own chance to buy a piece of the Kupperman magic. The only reason I was at Kupperman’s table in the first place (besides my love for his comics) was because I got to chatting with a fellow art collector while waiting to have a book signed by Hong Kong artist Chihoi and the Conundrum table (it was nice to see Chris Butcher waiting in Chihoi’s line as well, and to briefly chat while waiting with Joe Ollmann who has another classic on his hands with his new GN Science Fiction), with said collector pointing me towards the Tales Designed to Thrizzle creator’s portfolio. That’s kind of the way things worked for me. Chance and recommendations.
Item! On the other hand, there were a lot of missed connections and regrets at the show, but even those were moderated by transformative new experiences. When someone (Robin McConnell?) showed me the elaborate cross-hatched sketch that Eric Lambé had decorated his book with, I rushed over to Bill Kartoupolis’ Rebus books table in the Beeton Auditorium (aka “The Sweaty Room”), only to find Lambé temporarily AWOL. But because I was there, I was able to pick up Rebus’ Barrel of Monkeys by Ruppert and Mulot, some books from Revival House Press (including something by a Toronto creator I’m totally blanking on and had never heard of before), acquire the long-coveted Shitbeams on the Loose #2, browse some Finnish comics, and meet Flu Hartberg from Dongery who was selling the massive anthology collecting the complete output of his Norwegian collective that I had read about on the Comics Journal.
Item! Other people I bought original art from were Keith Jones and Pat Aulisio. Jones was hawking the artwork from his latest magnum opus Morons. He is serializing the graphic novel over nine issues and, inspired by Patrick Kyle’s Distance Mover project, he is taking subscriptions. I think this is a big trend with self-publishers now, an old school form of crowdfunding that’s having a comeback, not least because they help inspire creators to pace themselves and finish projects that might otherwise languish without cash incentives and eager readers. The issues cost $10 each and a subscription for 9 issues is $80 including postage, so you save $10 on the deal and get to read this epic in the privacy of your own bathroom as soon as each issue is printed. Jones has quite the little merchandizing empire going on, with his own restaurant, bookbags, and even little plastic figurines of his characters. Mr. Entrepreneur! A room away, Pat Aulisio was selling art from his various Bowman comics (published by Retrofit and Hic & Hoc). Bowman is sort of an unauthorized psychedelic sequel to the movie 2001 and Aulisio seems to be having as much fun with the material as Jack Kirby did back in the 70s. The only drawback of browsing through Aulisio’s art was that I had to listen to horrible jokes and ideas for new Google products (Google Trucks?) from Aulisio and his tablemates, cartoonist Lauren Barnett and Hic & Hoc publisher Matt Moses. (Just kidding. It was pretty funny. And I bought Barnett’s Me Likes You Very Much, the Barnett-edited Journal of Humor, the Aulisio-edited Marvel Comics Presents #6 (Josh Bayer!!), and more.)
Item! Speaking of non-English-language comics (and I was a few items ago), let’s talk about some of TCAF’s strengths and weaknesses. I think the festival does a super job of showcasing work from foreign artists to a largely Anglophone Toronto audience. Every year they bring in an increasingly large group of cartoonists and publishers, many of whom are unknown in Canada, and through the simple effort of placing them alongside their North American peers, give them a chance at a wider readership. Most of these European and Asian guests are featured in a panel or two, sign books, etc. But for the most part, I can’t help but feel that the format of TCAF doesn’t really work in a way that sufficiently rewards their attendance (but then I read that Ulli Lust loved Canadian enthusiasm, in contrast to the Vulcan stoicism of her native land?). Foreign and Anglo-American cartoonists alike must struggle for attention in the same marketplace, sitting behind their tables and signing books, but it’s not really a level playing field, with the language barrier and relative novelty being a major hindrance. Authors with translated books and the support of local publishers of course do better and TCAF tends to focus on bringing in foreign exhibitors with at least one English entry point, but it still must be a tough slog if you are not a featured guest, especially one with a special exhibit or bestseller to help pave the way for you. Still, what TCAF brings to your table that many other literary festivals with a foreign component might not is the promise of tens of thousands of potential readers parading by, open-minded and eager for novelty. So, your choice, non-Anglo guests: wait for a solo Toronto signing/book tour during the regular year, or experience the orgasmic avalanche of TCAF.
Item! Once again, the Beeton Auditorium exhibitors were some of the most hidden-away vendors. (At least the folks in the Wowee Zonk pavillion have those great windows.) And I barely made it upstairs, as usual. Priorities, I guess. But to return to my point, how awesome would it be if, when walking into the festival, you saw a giant sign over a maybe 10 x 10 block saying “Finnish Comics” or “Comics from Quebec”? A featured show-within-the-show sort of thing with art and video. Again, one of the drawbacks of the library space and the 2-day show. Harder/impossible to set-up and integrate on-site art displays/museum-quality exhibits.
Item! I ran into cartoonist Jimmy Beaulieu and publisher Luc Bossé, the man behind Editions Pow Pow. Both were pretty down on the festival as a place to sell French-language comics from Quebec. Although Pow Pow wasn’t an exhibitor, Bossé was there as an observer, checking out the action at the tables of fellow publishers La Pasteque and Colosse, and those two were not exactly setting sales records, apparently? I think there were three French-language Quebec publishers at TCAF: Colosse, La Pasteque, and Editions TRIP. Luckily, some of their authors (Michel Rabagliati, Julie Delporte, Jimmy B) have English or bilingual books available, but for the most part, the average monolingual TCAF browser could only stare in ignorant wonder at the pretty pictures of the wares on display. That being said, I actually bought a very nice hardcover from the La Pasteque folks. It was Le Havre – New York by Cyril Doisneau, a Frenchman living in Montreal, and I couldn’t resist since its design reminded me a bit of Miroslav Sasek’s kids books (This Is New York, etc). While Doisneau is better known for his personal nonfiction comics, this is a sort of sexy, adults-only Marx Brothers-meets-Laurel and Hardy by-way-of Tintin romp.
Item! It was nice to actually meet Julie Delporte. I enjoyed her recent Journal and was able to see her coloured pencil artistry in action when she signed one of her new comics for me. She also tried to explain the play on words involved in the French title of her childrens book, Je suis un raton laveur. Ultimately, I think it’s one of those things I’m not meant to know. And as always the team from Delporte’s Journal publisher Koyama Press were very gracious and generous.
Item! Caught up with some other acquaintances at the show. Dropped by Salgood Sam’s table for our semi-annual meet-up. Salgood lives in Montreal and is the publisher of the Sequential blog and also the genius cartoonist behind the Revolver anthology and the upcoming Dream Life graphic novel. He had a good show, which I understand to mean his rent is paid up for a few months, with tons of print sales. The best-seller was the upcoming cover to the next Revolver, “Monster of Montreal.” Because I was waiting to talk to Salgood, I ended up buying a comic by Josh Neufield and copies of Annie Mok’s James Joyce comic for friends. So, the power of TCAF. Also dropped by Marc Bell’s table to trade him an NWA record for his latest, Cowabunga Schnauzer. Also bought some other comics and zines from him, including his Dongery tribute (featuring Tom Devlin) and the Amy Lockhart/Mark Connery joint, Castration Fantasies. Very late in the show (at the end!) I also finally met Wright Award winner and Facebook-friend Nina Bunjevac. So, good times!
Item! Signage is still a problem at TCAF, but what to do. Signs can be bigger but maybe hanging from the ceiling presents an impossible logistics problem. Volunteers were nice and helpful, with the exception of the poor youngster I asked about a line I was standing next to. Who was the cartoonist signing at the end of the line, I wondered? The volunteer drew a blank, but he had probably supervised a dozen such lines all day, so I forgive him. I didn’t even remember to bring a bottle of water, myself! (It was internet sensation Boulet!)
Item! Every year, I come away from TCAF feeling that I was just part of special event almost tailor-made for me: a comics festival with hundreds of cartoonists and like-minded readers who appreciate the exact same mix of wild, weird and wonderful cartooning. I feel this even though I never see the entire show and I know there are whole giant swaths of it that potentially would bore, repulse, embarrass, puzzle, or frighten me. I feel the same way at large book fairs, art shows, and film festivals while still managing to enjoy myself and experience great art, and that’s a sign that TCAF really has achieved something world-class. I don’t expect those larger events devoted to other art forms to please me in all their aspects but I do expect to have a fulfilling experience at them, to be challenged and entertained in equal measure. And events like the Toronto International Film Festival, Luminato, International Festival of Authors, and Word on the Street do that. TCAF does it too. But TCAF does it largely without outside funding and if it wants to grow it will have to do something about that. Right now, besides the small fees paid by exhibitors to table, Peter Birkemoe and the Beguiling bear the brunt of the costs of TCAF, with a few publishers and local media ((Owl, VIZ, Now), and various foreign governments and embassies contributing in very specific ways. Since moving to the Toronto Reference Library, the cost of the main festival space has been absorbed by the library (really, the city), and with the addition of a $10,000 grant this year from the Toronto Arts Council, the City of Toronto seems to be the major institutional funder. Now it’s time for other government funding agencies to step up and take some of the responsibility for this major event that brings so much to Toronto and to Canada. Both the province of Ontario and the Canada Council provide funding for events and festivals and should be pursued so that TCAF can move beyond a volunteer-run event managed by a handful of busy employees of a comic shop, however successful said shop may be. Smaller events like Montreal’s Expozine and the tiny Toronto storytelling happening FOOL receive money from the federal government, so TCAF should be getting some of that love as well.
Item! A focus on funding is especially important in light of the post-TCAF debate over the festival’s programming this year. Heidi MacDonald, Tom Spurgeon, Dustin Harbin, and Chris Butcher have already covered this ground, of course. I have nothing to add, especially since I hardly ever get to attend off-site events, panels, or special signings at TCAF. Priorities, I guess. I will just note that, despite being on several TCAF-related mailing lists, Twitter feeds, and Facebook groups, and constantly looking for content for Sequential, my awareness of the programming this year was really low. It did seem fairly last minute. I’d love to hype all the events and panels here but the lead time just wasn’t there. I think I finally saw a tweet about the programming on the Wednesday or Thursday before the show, not really enough notice for busy show-goers or pseudo-journos like me to respond in any way. The full programming slate is printed in the TCAF Guide newspaper everybody gets when they walk through the front doors of the library, but by that time it’s kind of late to plan your weekend when the temptation is there to dive right in to the main site.
Item! After the show, Salgood Sam and I took a cab ride in a hail storm/tornado back to his place and went for a bite at the Lakeview Diner (where the sun was shining!). We went to Lakeview because it was close to where he was staying and because it is the official home of Captain Canuck (bizarre-ly, the Canadian superhero is featured prominently on the restaurant’s menu and kids dishes). We talked about plans for this website, how I have to get my shit together, diabetes, how gardening is good for depression, our relationships, New Mutants, the animation industry, ADD and the autism spectrum. Salgood went off to the TCAF afterparty and I went to see some non-comics friends and then a very late-night dinner date at another diner (sentimental favourite Fran’s!).
Item! Spent the rest of the week in Toronto, combining business with pleasure. Ate and drank at greasy diners and swanky bars. Bought more comics and tons of records. Hit the BMV. Discovered a new contender for world’s smallest/weirdest comic shop at Kensington Comics aka Mr. Comics, located in Kensignton Market. New owners have just taken over this second-floor shop with a door located down an alleyway, hoping to transform it from a weird “a million comics at a dollar each” hole in the wall into an actual store with a Diamond account. In the meantime, I bought Destroyer #3 by Steve Ditko for $1. A bizarre insular artifact and my prize from the week, with maybe the first volume of Fantagraphics’ new Barnaby being a close competitor (I bought a huge pile of new comics from the Fanta table at TCAF, including the new Dash Shaw books, but I’ve been waiting for that Barnaby book for 30 years, ever since I bought the old paperbacks in a used bookstore in Guelph as a teenager.)
Item! The show had Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly (Jeet Heer debuted his book about Francoise!) and the Hernandez Brothers and David B. and Lisa Hanawalt (I think I frightened her at the end of the show before I could tell her how much I enjoy her Baby Geniuses podcast (the first half at least, before Expert Hour) and Boulet and Tayio Matsumoto and Ivan Brunetti and Chester Brown and Frederick Peeters and and and and AND! You guys that is an awesome list right there! A list for the ages.
Item! So, TCAF. I hope they do another one and I hope I go. Still sorting through my piles of comics. Lots of beautiful people. Lots of comics enthusiasm. One of the best weeks of the year so far, followed by one of the best bowel movements,followed by one of the best C-Lists (you just read it, effendi!).