Sit-Down Comics
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Sit-Down Comics

This weekend, the Toronto Reference Library’s bespectacled old ladies of Saturday morning cartoon fame were replaced with another near-sighted crowd. Trading cat’s eye glasses for black horn rims, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival crowd, several thousand strong, dominated at least the first two floors of the behemoth library.
Over the two days, swells of people flooded in, some expecting the show and others just stumbling upon it during a weekend visit to the library. On Sunday evening, festival co-director and owner of the Beguiling Peter Birkemoe reflected on the weekend. “We have gotten some really great feedback. We can be really self-critical of ourselves and say, ‘Oh we should have thought of that before.’” he said. “But Toronto is a great city with a really comic-literate population. People are really diving in.” Dozens of artists and vendors set up shop to sell their work and greet fans. The range was vast, including rookie artists there for their first time and some for their fourth. After the jump, some of those talented folks.


Alexis Frederick-Frost is the author of a number of historical fiction graphic novels including La Primavera, about an early-twentieth-century Italian bike race. But he was here in Toronto from New Hampshire promoting his new book, Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics, a how-to book in the form of a graphic novel for kids interested in some day being his peers. On Sunday, he hosted a session as part of Owl Kids Day where he showed kids the basics of getting started in comics. Vermont native Joseph Lambert’s comics are short, self-contained coming-of-age stories about magical realism. His superhero pose says it all.


Patrick Kyle, Ginette LaPalme, and Chris Kuzma—three contributors to Toronto-published comic compilation Wowee Zonk, all OCAD grads—manned a mini comics supermarket of privately published and small press works called the Zine-eator. The colourful room was put together late at night on Friday and housed North American works that the group thought don’t usually get much exposure from artists who couldn’t make it to the event that weekend. Their book, Wowee Zonk 2, debuted on the Wednesday leading up to the big weekend, with stories that range from stream of consciousness, parodies of Archie comics, and art that plays with the use of the comic page.


With the female demographic well represented at the festival, Willow Dawson didn’t have to disguise her identity to fit in. But that wasn’t the case for the characters of her newest book, No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure. Written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Dawson, the book includes heroines such as Ellen Craft, a fair-skinned African American slave who disguised herself as a white man and travelled on the real railroad to freedom with her husband disguised as her servant. “It isn’t strictly for girls,” she said. “There is a battle scene in the Mu Lan story and someone is speared, because we wanted boys to be interested too.”


Nick Maandag and Jason Kieffer—both nominated the past two years for the Best Emerging Talent Doug Wright Award to no success—displayed their newest works, including Kieffer’s new pocket book, 20 Reasons Why You Should Eat Magic Mushrooms, based on his own experiences. Although they were sitting at the same booth, the two said their was no animosity between them on the day of the awards, which ended up being given to Kate Beaton for History Comics. Like a lot of the comics being sold at the festival, both men said their works were at least semi-autobiographical. “It is about self-loathing, self-love, and self-loving,” Kieffer said about his books Kieffer #1 and Kieffer #2. Maandag admits that he is hiding behind the character Jack in his Doug Wright–nominated work, Jack and Mandy. “I just changed my hair a bit.”


Big names like Seth, Adrian Tomine and Yoshihiro Tatsumi patiently and graciously set up shop on the second floor to sign the books of a never-ending stream of supporters. Tatsumi, who travelled from Japan for the festival, said via translator that he had been trained as a doctor in his youth but became so caught up in Manga that he committed his life to the art and has never even performed an operation.
Scott Pilgrim buzz writer Bryan Lee O’Malley also drew a substantial line of followers that led out the door of the back room he was sitting in and down the hall.
And here’s a family of superheroes who will kill you with adorableness.
All photos by Jessica Ford/Torontoist.

CORRECTION: MAY 12, 2009 Author Susan Hughes, who wrote No Girls Allowed, was originally incorrectly identified in this article as Sarah Hughes. There is a famous Sarah Hughes, but it’s for something a little different.