The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most influential and important comic book events in North America. It’s mission is to “promote the creators of comic books in their broad and diverse voices, for the betterment of the medium of comics”. TCAF is a fantastic festival. I’m always amazed at how many fabulous artists I get to meet. I get to witness an incredibly broad spectrum of work that artists come up with. I’ve left once again with a pile of beautiful comics I can’t wait to read.
The festival started quite well that Friday with the amazing events happening at the Library & Educators Day. I missed the morning, but managed to catch the second panel of the afternoon where two librarians described their experience creating programs for fandom groups. This was followed by a fantastic round of “Publishers speed dating” to allow for librarians and educators to meet with a wider array of publishers, discover their work and determine if it’s appropriate for their context. I followed a group around and found the experience to be quite fascinating. It was neat to hear publishers like Bedside Press, Top Shelf, Pow Pow or Conundrum Press providing elevator pitch about their entire line of books, their philosophy and determine the needs of each person attending to recommend books in just under 5 minutes. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about publishers and I learned a lot.
Saturday was quite busy as with all TCAF weekend, more so for me this since I was leading a panel called “How to Launch a Book Club”. Much like the title implies, I was discussing my experiences co-organizing the Ottawa Comic Book Club, a library program at the Ottawa Public Library with a group of folks. I had the chance to meet with Johanna Draper Carlson, who also runs a book club in her hometown. I’ll have a longer post about general recommendations on how to lead a book club in the coming weeks. TCAF has a “Champagne problem”, there’s a lot of extremely interesting content it’s almost impossible to see everything. It’s a really good problem to have mind you, but it also means that attendees have to make hard choices as to what they want to see. I didn’t manage to attend as many panels as I had hoped. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem.
I also covered the Doug Wright Awards elsewhere, which is another delightful event during the festival.
One of the fascinating thing about TCAF to me is that while there is a ton of programming at the event, there’s also a lot of things happening on the periphery. I went for lunch with my father and had the chance to meet with Janie Wigglesworth and Laurie Harvey. These two amazing artists were just having drinks at the Jack Astor’s next to the Toronto Reference Library. They come to TCAF every year and each time, they stop for lunch at that restaurant, bring art supplies and draw on the cardboard paper covering the tables. Their work looked beautiful and it was one of the nicest encounters I’ve had in a festival full of them. Janie was also French, which was an additionally surprising and nice touch.
I find TCAF to be an absolutely fantastic festival. It showcases the wide range of work within the comics world, the variety of content, themes, style, colour and creators. Comics is a wonderful medium because of this. It brings people together. There were children walking around discovering new comics, people interacting and learning more about their favourite artists, smiles from adults and kids alike as far as the eyes can see from the joy of experiencing a good comic book.
There’s a mercantile aspect to the show, people sell books, sure, but the people there are genuinely interested in talking about their work, whether it’s their first mini-comics, or their latest graphic novel, there’s this connection between readers and creators that establishes itself from the first few seconds of the festival. It’s a show where you can attend panels on topics as niche and specific as queer comics in Finland or as broad as how comics lettering is done. That’s the true power of comics, there’s something for everyone. I met a comic artist who’s been working with a psychiatrist on a comic about veterans with PTSD and I met the creator of a popular children’s comics series. I met creators doing experimental works and I’ve seen some doing so fun manga.
Seeing all this fills me with hope for the future of comics. Comics is an inclusive business, there’s something for everyone and enough space to discover new, and old work. There’s a lot of issues about the industry, but it can be resolved and made even better. I’ll leave you with the wise words of Heidi about TCAF and the comics industry: “The promise and inclusivity of TCAF last week is the real comics industry, the one that we all love and are working to make better. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think we’re up to it”