We’ve a cracking creator’s-eye view of what many readers, creators and publishers generally consider to be one of the best comics festivals around, Canada’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival, or TCAF as it is generally known. I’m quite jealous of those who get to travel to this bash each spring, not just for the direct access to Maple Leaf Syrup it gives them, but because everyone in the comics biz I speak to about it doesn’t just tell me it was good, they positively gush about how wonderful it is. I reckon Angou and TCAF must be two of the comics bashes anyone with a real love of the medium has to try to get to at some point. One of the Brit comic contingent who was there this year was the excellent Joe Decie, with his own material and also flying the flag for Blank Slate Books, and Joe’s kindly decided to increase my jealousy by telling us about his latest TCAF experience:
Once upon a time, on returning from a convention, it was customary to write up a “con report” detailing all the fun you had, so that those who were unable to attend would become filled with the bile of bitter jealousy. These days the fashion is to post a picture of all the comics you picked up on your Tumblr and leave it at that. Well I’m going to write a few words anyway, like the old fashioned man that I am.
I arrived in Toronto, host city to the Toronto Comic Art Festival on a warm and balmy Friday afternoon. My first port of call was the lobby of the Bloor Marriott Hotel. I wasn’t staying at the hotel, it’s just the best place to meet cartoonist friends. I did meet some of the cool kids there but they were heading off to see the castle featured in both Scott Pilgrim and the X-Men films. I’ve seen the castle before, it’s made of fibreglass and concrete, or at least I like to pretend it is. It’s fun, but once is enough, so onwards!
Onwards to the Toronto Public Library. At least that’s where I was heading, when lo and behold who should I see coming towards me? None other than Toronto native and cartoonist John Martz. So, library was replaced by pub. We chewed the fat over a few beers, probably taking about French comics. Probably talking about how it’s a crying shame the NBM translations are so small compared to the French BD format. I probably mentioned that in France even the supermarkets have row upon row of amazing comic books.
Beers drunk, I decide to drop my bags off at the student halls of residence I am calling home on this trip. I am doubtful of a good nights sleep here as a party is already starting in the room next to mine and the walls are made of some sort of cardboard. Next stop, The Pilot for the official TCAF Welcome Party.
Cartoonists are funny things. Mostly working in solitude, they present as shy retiring types. Perhaps it’s just Dutch courage that causes them to drink so much, perhaps it’s a rare chance to let their hair down and catch up with distant friends. Who knows, but party they do. Who did I meet? Who did I chat with? Friends. Friends from the internet. But alas I was pretty jet lagged and my conversation was lacking its usual quick wit. Somebody then pointed out it was now six in the morning back home, so it was back to the student halls, where a freestyle rap battle was taking place in the next room. I’m quite a good rapper, but decide to try and sleep instead of challenging them to a transatlantic battle.
(the busy TCAF 2014 floor, photo borrowed from Ksenia Sapunkova’s Flickr)
Saturday. I rose early having had about half an hours sleep and set off for the Toronto Public Library. I had plenty of time to unpack the huge selection of Blank Slate titles it would be my responsibility to shift, before seeking out the Green Room. In the Green Room a festival volunteer gave me coffee and “Chinese buns”. A kind of bread roll stuffed with meat paste? I gave mine to Dan Berry and went on to do what I always do at conventions, forget to eat completely.
My table was next to that of Sophia Foster-Dimino and Roman Muradov. I am a big fan of the ebb and flow of Roman’s comics, and his illustrations are beautiful. Unfortunately he couldn’t afford the plane fare, so he wasn’t there. But his art was, so I bought a little lino cut. (You should check out his Retrofit comic Picnic Ruined). Sophia was there though, doing a roaring trade selling her Sex Fantasy mini comics. Sophia’s comics and illustration style is one I’m very envious of, she has such a confident line.
On my other side was the D&Q signing table, so over the course of the weekend I was sat next to a myriad of talent that D&Q was showcasing… Mimi Pond, Michael DeForge, Kate Beaton, Seth and Chester Brown.
So the show: they open the doors and the comic buying public come in and buy lots of comics. That’s the thing I love about TCAF, the audience doesn’t need any convincing to part with their cash. Also, they know comics, you don’t need to explain your stuff. My sales pitch was simply, “I drew that” or “that’s new”. The day passes quickly with my books selling well; other top sellers at the table were Pimo & Rex by Thomas Wellmann and Death and The Girls by Donya Todd.
As I was tabling by myself I sadly couldn’t get to see any of the panels. So I missed out on “Michael DeForge and Friends,” featuring Michael alongside Ryan Sands, Patrick Kyle, Jillian Tamaki and Anne Koyama. I bet that was good. Also “Coming of Age: The Internet Generation” with Kate Beaton, Meredith Gran, Tom McHenry, Phil McAndrew, Jess Fink, Ryan Pequin, and KC Green. I’d have loved to have heard that one. In fact the programming at TCAF is so strong, you could just spend the whole two days attending talks and workshops and not bother buying a single mini comic.
Unable to leave my table for more than a few minutes, I missed out on seeing huge amounts of the show, but I still saw A LOT. What can I tell you about? Kevin Huizenga selling original pages for $20 (got one for Douglas Noble), Dustin Harbin showcasing some truly beautiful dinosaur prints with a sales patter that is unmatched. Sam Alden, his new comics hadn’t arrived, maybe he’d left them somewhere? But people were still buying his older stuff, he’s a right talent. Koyama Press continue to put out nothing but first class books, I had to get my pointy elbows out to get close to their table. I didn’t even find the Space Face table, but I saw so many people clutching their books I image they were selling like hot cakes. Christophe Blain signing new book Weapons of Mass Diplomacy at SelfMadeHero was charming the pants of everyone in sight. Chris was the artist I was most excited to meet, and judging by the queues at his table, I was not the only one. I tried to play it cool and not gush “everything you do is amazing” I tried not to say that, didn’t do a very good job of it. You’ve read his books right?
And so to dinner in an Irish pub, where I chose Shepherd’s Pie. This particular shepherd made a very sorry excuse for a pie. Best described as an island of mashed potato floating in a puddle of hospital mince, with frozen mixed veg. Yum. Anyway, Dustin Harbin delighted one and all with a plethora of English accents (it seems mostly based on The Beatles). After dinner we went on to The Doug Wright Awards at The Marriott but Dan Berry and I became sidetracked and ended up having a beer with INJ Culbard and British export Nick Abadzis. An English Pub came next, I don’t remember much about this place, except it had no windows and judging by the rank damp smell, had suffered recent flood damage. Home Sweet Home. Where next? A karaoke bar with noisecore show in the basement? I have vague recollections of this place. I think I had a nice time.
Sunday rolls round after maybe three hours sleep. Gotta love this jet lag. The selling of comics is more relaxed, then when I sell my last comic, even more so. That’s not to say that people aren’t buying stuff, they very much are. In fact I have a theory that the last three hours of a show is when you’ll sell the most, as that’s when all your fellow artists are doing the rounds, sharing the wealth. Redistributing like a comics commune. So, eager to keep the community afloat, I make a few purchases. Pascal Girard’s new book Petty Theft looks well good. Every year I’ve attended TCAF I’ve bought one of his books, because they are excellent. Also, he’s a lovely guy. Did a trade with Corinne Mucha for her excellent Get Over It book. Quick dash upstairs to AdHouse for Operation Margarine by Katie Skelly and Delusional by Farel Dalrymple. I pretty much stocked up on everything D&Q had to sell, being next to them it would have been rude not to. Had to make Tom McHenry unpack his bags so I could get my hands on his existential modern classic NONCANON (plus Horse Master badges) but then I ran out of suitcase space. Missed out on so much, for instance Secret Acres has some smashing titles I didn’t buy. Same goes for Uncivilized Books, First Second, One Percent, Hic & Hoc, Grimalkin and Top Shelf. Next year I’ll bring a bigger suitcase.
(Katie Skelly at TCAF 2014, photo borrowed from Nate Powell’s Flickr)
The show ends and everyone claps and cheers. It might just be my sleep deprivation but I love this bit. A group acknowledgement that TCAF is a success and we are a success. You’d never get that at a UK show. (But both The Lakes Festival and Thought Bubble organisers were here, soaking it all up, building bridges).
After that there is more drinking. I think we start at a Scottish pub and then on to a New Zealand bar. So, a tour of the commonwealth. I tried to explain to everyone at the Scottish pub that Scotch eggs and sausage rolls are more the kind of food you’d eat at a bus stop rather than get served as a starter in a restaurant, but those Canadian Scots served up something way above bus stop food. Sorry I judged you, sausage roll. Later there was an interesting anecdote about a pizza place with Aaron Caribou and David Huyck but Dan Berry wants to make a graphic novel about it, so I’ve had to sign a non-disclosure clause.
What a weekend. I didn’t get to check out quite as much small press / zine stuff as I’d have liked, and I missed out on chats with a lot of friends, but I did spend excellent time with some quality people.
Monday in Toronto is traditionally spent hungover, lurking around near to The Beguiling (I stopped by to pick up Life Zone by Simon Hanselman and Get a Life by Dupuy & Berberian) and then to spend several hours moping around the airport suddenly homesick yet occasionally laughing to myself like a crazy. My bag was overweight, but the lady waved me through anyway. Cheers, Canada (and cheers Chris and the TCAF team. You done good).