Illustration by Roxanne Ignatius/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Bif! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore! For the many Torontonians who love comics and cartooning, headlines like that are like a bad houseguest: they show up to your place uninvited, get old real fast, and embarrass you in front of your friends. In 2003, though, a forward-thinking group of proud Torontoian comic fans, creators, and sellers decided to throw one hell of a party anyway—TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.
In addition to demonstrating for the umpteenth time that comics were more than kiddie fare, the group was hoping that TCAF would help shed some deserved light on the already vibrant and thriving Toronto comic scene. They wrote, at the time, that: “Often in Toronto, ‘comic books’ are regarded mainly as the mainstream super-hero material typified by SPIDER-MAN and SUPERMAN. This is despite the fact that some of the world’s greatest alternative comics writers and artists live in the area, and the city is rich with alternative and underground publishing. The goal of the festival and the TCAF organization is to present the quality and prestige of the local and international artists in a package that’s respected and recognized.”
Ambitious words for a small festival in its first year. But TCAF not only survived its first days—it thrived. It highlighted local creators, featuring established talent like Chester Brown and Seth, as well as emerging talent such as one Bryan Lee O’Malley, who had recently written a little book about a guy named Scott Pilgrim. (Maybe you’ve heard of him?)
In the years that followed, TCAF built on its success and continued to grow, expanding its scope to feature cartoonists who publish online—including, of course, Toronto’s own remarkable webcomic scene. What’s more, the festival managed to attract and feature major international artists year after year, the likes of Daniel Clowes and Paul Pope, helping to establish Toronto and TCAF as a (dare we say it?) world-class attraction. TCAF has been so successful that in 2009 it went from being a biennial event to a festival we can look forward to every friggin’ year.
As if all this wasn’t heroic enough, TCAF did all this while remaining absolutely free to attend—something rather rare, special, and precious in the comic-convention world.
Events, of course, don’t come into being on their own. Chris Butcher, one of TCAF’s original founders, its current festival director, and its greatest champion, has worked heroically to nurture, grow, and mature TCAF into what is today. Toronto’s comics community owes him, and everyone else who made TCAF what it is today, a great debt. Excelsior!