By Brendan Montgomery
On Canada Day July 1 2020 Christopher Butcher announced in a blog post that he had resigned from running TCAF on June 22, for both personal reasons and to acknowledge criticism of how the festival has internally handed issues around representation and lack of advancement for marginalized people.
The first Toronto Comic Arts Festival (“TCAF”) was held on the weekend of March 29th 2003. It was the natural progression of years of disparate book signings, author appearances and miscellaneous events put together by a group of volunteers interested in promoting the literary and artistic merits of comic books and graphic novels.
Approximately 600 members of the public attended the first festival, with 25 staff and approximately 70 creators in attendance. It has now grown into a large scale event with over 25000 attendees each year and is a significant new book launching point for many graphic novel publishers.
The announcement by Butcher was hastened by a recent Twitter thread by Victor Martins @cosmonautVico a cartoonist and illustrator of the Hello Boyfriend comics collective which regularly exhibits at TCAF.
Martins has been volunteering at TCAF for several years as well. They outline the continued promises by TCAF to support diversity in the organization which have not been met by real change. They raise that BIPOC, trans and differently abled people “have not been treated well, supported, or included”.
They also point out that there are no black or indigenous people on staff at TCAF, that they were only represented within volunteers. These volunteers were underappreciated Victor states and have come and gone through the years for various reasons including no room for advancement within the organization. Some of this criticism was specifically directed at Butcher and his management.
TCAF recently posted two statements about Conduct & Harassment in the Comics Industry and TCAF’s Commitment to Ending Anti-Black & Anti-Indigenous Racism.
It’s the latter of which drove Martins to post his thoughts on how TCAF should back up its talk with concrete improvements. These are both serious issues the comics industry as a whole faces and I hope that the departure of Butcher will provide an opportunity for TCAF to change and be an example for others in the industry to likewise improve their practices.