What is this TCAF of which we speak? Well, it is perhaps my favorite comics event I am lucky enough to attend every year, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. This year was the tenth anniversary of the festival, and so festival co-founders Christopher Butcher and Peter Birkemoe, who are also the gentlemen behind Toronto’s excellent comic shop The Beguiling, pulled out all of the stops.
Gina Gagliano coordinated an astounding array of panels, presentations, interviews, and creative demonstrations over the festivals Saturday and Sunday hours, forcing fans to choose between so many enticing options. The many creators present are too many to list, but highlights included Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Taiyo Matsumoto, Rutu Modan, Francoise Mouly, Paul Pope, Michel Rabagliati, Gengoroh Tagame, and Art Spiegelman. Scott Robins once again highlighted comics for young readers, from kids on up to tweens, with a delightful cycle of interactive talks, demonstrations, and title highlights from creators including Bill Amend, Faith Erin Hicks, Hope Larson, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, TOON books, and Eric Wight.
Andrew Woodrow Butcher, also the man behind North America’s only kids comics shop, Little Island Comics, gathered together a delightful company of creators, publishers, librarians, and comics experts for TCAF’s second Librarian & Educator Day on Friday, May 10th. I was lucky to be a part of three panels that day — comics librarians unite! — and you can check out audio recordings of some of my panels at the end of this post.
Hosted at the Toronto Reference Library (and I must send a shout out to Ab Velasco, Communications Officer for the Toronto Public Library and ninja librarian, to be sure), this festival is truly like no other, and I hope to attend for the next ten years. If you’re curious to see how the festival and library partnership came about, check out the article I wrote up after last year’s festival for American Libraries.
It’s difficult, with this embarrassment of riches, to whittle down the moments that were most exciting about attending TCAF in 2013. However, fellow NFNT reviewer Sheli, a first-time attendee, and myself have narrowed down our experiences to our top ten highlights. Hopefully our excitement might entice a few of our readers to attend TCAF in the future!
Robin’s Top Five
1. Taiyo Matsumoto: TCAF has developed an strong partnership with The Japan Foundation in Toronto, and through the tireless work of co-founder Christopher Butcher and the close partnerships the festival staff have maintained with publishers in Japan, every year TCAF hosts legendary manga creators. This year, one of the best moments for me was attending the evening reception at the Japan Foundation highlighting their exhibit of the art of Taiyo Matsumoto, best known here in the States for Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White. For the first time ever (not just in North American, but ever anywhere) Taiyo Matsumoto’s original pages were on display, and the curation and presentation of his original pages were extraordinary to see in person.
2. Books: So many books were debuting at TCAF, and I wanted them all! My haul was fairly small compared to many folks, but I loved just wandering the tables and looking at everyone’s work. I got to get my greedy hands on a copy of Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks’s Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, which I adored reading online. Cecil Castellucci, as you can see, was radiant displaying her charming new book, Odd Duck. On top of that, there is so much art! Sketches and original art are my weakness when I’m at TCAF, never mind that I have almost no wall space left at my apartment. This year I settled for a tiny but adorable painting by Dylan Meconis (Outfoxed) called, simply, “Tea?” How could I resist that smile?
3. Lines: No, I don’t mean waiting in lines to get in to a panel. I love seeing all of the TCAF creators interacting casually and cordially with their fans, and I particularly love seeing creators getting the lines and attention they deserve. Faith Erin Hicks’s (Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong) line never seemed to wane, and I was delighted to see creator Alex Woolfson (Artifice) not only sell out of his books but also always have a crowd of guys and girls chatting around his table. It’s never out of control — the staff is professional and attendees patient and polite — but the bustle is so exciting.
4. Meeting creators: TCAF is, I think, one of the gentler cons to table at for the first time. I’ve found that I’m finding more and more great talent on tumblr and via webcomics, and TCAF has become a great place for me to meet those creators (and buy merch! and ramble about how much I love their work!). This year I got to meet Blue Delliquanti (O Human Star) and Polly Guo (Strongman and Pianist) in person, and there’s nothing quite like seeing all the creators embraced by the diverse TCAF crowd. Not only can people gain new followers, but it makes it that much easier for me to point out my favorites to colleagues when I can send them directly to a creator’s table to check them out.
Sheli’s Top Five
1. Paul Pope inking demonstration: I spend a lot of time learning how to draw, and by far the most illusive task in comics is learning how to ink. There’s the least literature on it, and every professional has a different take on it. There are plenty of great panels at TCAF, but Paul Pope (a god of comics) talking about inking was crazy educational. Bravo to the coordinator that had that inspired thought.
2. Blind Buys: One of my favorite things about conventions is being exposed to new things. I love just walking around the floor and buying up books that look awesome. I Am a German Shepherd, Always Raining Here and Ellerbisms were some of my favorite scores from TCAF.
3. The Library: Is it too much the mark of a librarian to say that I loved the library? You don’t understand! The Toronto Reference Library has like, a river running through it’s ground floor?! And glass elevators. And plants everywhere! It’s so awesome to begin with, and then they stuffed it with magical comic creators.
4. Creators <3 TCAF: I saw so many great creator interactions throughout the convention. Faith Erin Hicks did amazing at making the girls in front of me feel prized. Like there wasn’t a line behind them. David Malki was such a showman for all of the minute details of Machine of Death. Yuko Ota didn’t mind when I asked her to draw a parasaurolophus. While a creator being awesome isn’t particular to TCAF, I feel like since it’s a well-regarded con, a lot of creators have more fun at TCAF. It’s not humongous, and they’re well taken care of by the staff. I’m not sure if I feel that way because I was having such a good time, but it was the impression I took away.
5. Being a librarian: Being a librarian has unanticipated benefits in a convention setting. If it comes up with creators, a lot of times their excitement goes up to the Nth degree. Sometimes it’s just because they love books, but a lot of times there’s a real appreciation for our profession. I guess because a lot of us tend to be on the front lines of literature, and ones that show up to comic conventions are obviously supporters of the art. Either way, it’s super flattering to be treated like royalty by people that you regard as royalty.
Jamie Coville, a dedicated TCAF attendee and journalist, recorded a wide selection of panels I participated on at TCAF. If you’re curious to hear the discussions, please check out the following links, and to hear all of his recordings (like Raina Telgemeier and Bill Amend in conversation! Michel Rabagliati’s spotlight! Tom Spurgeon interviewing the Hernandez brothers!), check out his archive of recordings here. All of the following summaries, photos, and links are his hard work — thanks Jamie!
Comics Defense 101 (1:10:03, 64.1mb)
Moderated by Robin Brenner and on the panel was Gene Ambaum, Charles Brownstein, Diana Maliszewski, Rebecca Scoble and Eva Volin. This panel was about challenges to graphic novels, which if successful can result in the book being removed them from the library or school. They started off talking about their more bizarre challenges, everything from Jeff Smith’s Bone to Phoebe Gloeckner’s A Child’s Life. They also talked about push back against comics both from the communities they are in and from staff within the library or school. The librarians and teachers in the audience asked questions on how to deal with situations they are currently facing. One librarian told a funny story about how a child in her middle school had The Walking Dead TPBs and was renting them out to his classmates to read at $2 a book, but wanted to house them in the library.
The State of YA (Young Adult) Comics (54:18, 49.7mb)
Moderated by Gina Gagliano, Eva Volin, Robin Brenner, Cecil Castellucci, Svetlana Chmakova, Faith Erin Hicks and John Green talks about problems with the YA comics market and what they thought the market needed. They talked about a trend of publishers doing adaptations instead of original work. They all mentioned they like to see more ethnic diversity in the lead characters in YA, and they are hoping for a watershed book that really hits it big that will convince publishers to invest more in doing original work and supporting it. Other topics discussed was how in YA prose they can do things like a sex scene that they can’t do in a YA comic. The topic of manga came up a lot in regards to it’s content and it’s limitations. They also took questions from the audience.
Writing Life (55:41, 50.9mb)
On this panel were creators that did autobiographical non-fiction graphic novels. They were Derf Backderf, Lucy Knisley, Ulli Lust and Raina Telgemeier. The group talked about their books. They felt there was a difference between non-fiction and memoir books and spoke about how different people remember events differently. Derf spoke about how he was able to go back and talk to his high school friends about events with Jeffery Dahmer and revealed that people usually remembered things pretty much the same way. They also talked about depicting other people they know (eg family members) and if their reaction to it changes the way they tell a story. The group talked about if they leave stuff out of their comics and if some personal stories are “not for sale.” This panel was moderated by Robin Brenner.