The worst part of the Toronto Comics and Arts Festival (TCAF)—if you can call it that—wasn’t keeping the impulse purchases in check (tough). Nor was it reconciling the sinking realization that we, unlike all the exhibitors within the Toronto Reference Library, lacked any artistic talent whatsoever.
No, the real trouble was that, in what’s become something of a yearly ritual, we had to explain to our mothers why we would be late for Mother’s Day. Again. Because as soon as we thought we were ready to leave, there was simply another booth, print, sketch, or exhibitor that managed to draw us back in.
There was Jonathan Rosenberg, for example. The creator of the much-acclaimed webcomic Goats, active since 1997, is quite easily one of the longest-running comic artists and illustrators online. Or, on the opposite end of that spectrum, Caitlin Cass, a grad student from Buffalo whose work we had never heard of (a mail-only comic series, titled Great Moments in Western Civilization), but which featured just the sort of historical humour and storytelling that Victorian buffs and nerds could appreciate.
If you’re feeling slightly intimidated, however, a confession: though we tend to have our toes dipped in various realms of geekery, we are hardly the biggest of comic book nerds. We can barely tell Green Lantern from Green Arrow, and Edgar Wright was our introduction to the Scott Pilgrim universe. But therein lies the magic of TCAF. These sorts of slights are forgiven; you don’t need to be a hardcore comics nerd to have a good time. In fact, you don’t even have to come for the comics.
Founded by The Beguiling‘s Chris Butcher and Peter Birkemoe in 2003, the feztival is now in its sixth iteration, and the second in a row since going annual in 2010. Appropriately timed to coincide with Free Comic Book Day, Saturday and Sunday hours mean you can probably avoid any Mother’s Day shaming if you’re lucky—but that’s a mighty big if. After all, there are more panels, signings, speakers, and sales spread across both days to keep you occupied, and it’s wishful thinking to try to experience everything in just one day.
Top: the booth of cartoonist Chris Hastings, author of the online comic The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. Bottom: Local artist Michael Cho leafs through his table of super hero pin-ups and Toronto back alley drawings up for sale.
Indeed, it’s fascinating is to see how TCAF has grown in recent years. From its humble beginnings in Trinity-St. Paul’s to the old digs in the University of Toronto’s Victoria College building, it seems that even the Reference Library may soon be too small for the weekend’s festivities—but for good reason.
The library’s main atrium featured a range of artists, both big and small—just a fraction of the over-300 artists promised ahead of the event. Vicki Nerino, featured in the festival’s beautiful promotional video “Pencil It In,” sold us one of her raunchy, animal-themed stories, while Dustin Harbin of Koyama Press travelled from North Carolina with some of his autobiographical comics and black-and-white prints in tow. Having foolishly passed on Michael Cho‘s Toronto Back Alley drawings at last month’s Artists Help Japan fundraiser, we made sure not to make the same mistake again.
Torontoist contributor and The Princess Planet cartoonist Brian McLachlan was also on hand, doing another round of ugly caricatures, with a number of prints available for purchase as well. He was just one of many exhibitors featuring kid-friendly fare, including a big showing by Owl magazine in the second-floor Salon (to which McLachlan is also a contributor).
Upstairs in the Salon, it was a similar situation—but this time, as if the entire internet webcomics community had been packed into one room. Goats, Questionable Content, Dinosaur Comics, Wondermark, Octopus Pie, Nedroid, Hark! A Vagrant—there were simply too many to name from memory. And quite frankly, it was easy to be overwhelmed; many of the attendees and friends we spoke to on Saturday seemed to agree, as we struggled to squeeze through the packed and far-flung crowd of festivalgoers. But if you approached all that creative excess with the right frame of mind, it could also mean meeting new artists you might not have otherwise encountered.
Caitlin Cass, for example, the aforementioned graduate student from Buffalo, told us she can only afford to go to one festival per year, and though the annual Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival in New York was tempting, TCAF won out. “A lot of the other festivals aren’t free,” Cass explained, “so you tend to get more foot traffic here.”
That seemed to benefit the Hand Eye Society, taking up prime real estate at the Salon’s second floor entrance. The group of Toronto game developers had their latest indie arcade cabinet, The High Roller, on display, in addition to Spooky Squid Games‘ “They Bleed Pixels,” available for attendees to play.
Anthony Del Col (co-creator), Conor McCreery (co-creator) and Andy B (artist), three of the men behind local comic Kill Shakespeare.
At the opposite end of the table, Mathew Kumar, a Toronto-based freelance writer (and former Torontoist contributor), had his experimental video game ‘zine Exp. available for purchase—and by Sunday afternoon, had managed to sell out of his latest Legend of Zelda–themed limited-edition issue, “Minus Two.”
Impressive, considering that in Kumar’s own words, he sells a product that “doesn’t have a comic in it.” However, he says it shouldn’t be surprising that the festival’s scope has expanded beyond its comics-themed name.
“People rely on genre-fication to understand things,” explained Kumar. “It can’t just be the ‘Toronto Stuff Festival.’ That doesn’t make any sense.” Instead, he feels the event should be viewed as more of an umbrella under which the city’s diverse creative communities can help one another out—of which comics are just one aspect.
However, exhibitors were only part of the TCAF weekend draw, and a great deal of fun came from the the panels, speakers, and talks that were scheduled throughout. Some—including Saturday’s Machine of Death: Draw and Guess panel, featuring Toronto-local Ryan North amongst others, and special guest Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time panel earlier in the day—were standing-room only, and attracted long, snaking lines an hour before their scheduled start times.
And that is perhaps one of TCAF’s greatest qualities—accessibility. Mere steps from Bloor Station, the festival is in an ideal location to attract; there were kids, families, and a good selection of seniors. A few attendees came dressed up as their favourite fictional characters. Others seemed to walk in off the street, not entirely sure what to expect. But if their smiles were any indication, all seemed pleased with the results.
Photos by Matthew Braga.
[ : When originally published, we failed to include artist Brian McLachlan in our recap. The omission has now been remedied.]