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TCAF ’21: Virtually back

While the 2020 event was cancelled, this year the show is going all-out with its planned and curated online offerings.

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In 2020, the physical Toronto Comic Arts Festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, replaced with an ad hoc social media blitz to help support creators and publishers. The 2021 event is still no longer a physical affair but TCAF has seemingly gone the extra mile with its online edition, taking place until May 15.

The most intriguing element of this year’s TCAF is the virtual exhibition hall – you can wander around a nifty website to check out a whole bunch of artists and publishers. The only downside is that there is no digital category for us internationals to more easily buy work without dealing with eye-watering postage and customs fees. Still, it is lovely going through the plethora of great projects.

There is a program of talks and workshops taking place between May 8 and May 15 which will be available to watch at your convenience on YouTube – or you can sign up to join in live.

The TCAF ’21 official poster and front end art on the website are by Vancouver-based Tahltan First Nation comic artist, printmaker and illustrator Cole Pauls.

TCAF isn’t pulling this off as a solo affair either – as it is joined by two other festivals: Broken Pencil‘s Canzine and the Hand Eye Society‘s Comics x Games. According to the website:

“This year we partnered with Broken Pencil Magazine and the Hand Eye Society to present Spring Canzine and Comics x Games as part of the TCAF 2021!

Canzine is a festival of zines and underground printed matter that’s been running since 1995. The largest zine festival in North America, Canzine is run by Broken Pencil Magazine, and helps 600+ zinesters each year meet audiences at events across Canada, including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Brampton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Halifax.

Comics x Games (CxG) from the Hand Eye Society fosters collaboration between the independent game and comic communities through a variety of projects, partnerships and events. CxG presents unique, game-focused content — from original games and gallery shows, to panels and talks.”

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival has taken place annually since 2003. A sprawling affair, it brings cartoonists, publishers, creators and zinesters from near and far to fill several floors of the Toronto Public Library. In March 2020, two months before last year’s festival was due to take place, the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic. On March 13 2020 public buildings were forced to shutter for an indefinite period and on March 18 the festival announced it would cancel. A replacement ‘event’ was announced via the festival blog and social media on May 4 2020 – “the #TCAF2020 digital initiative” to “help draw attention to the great comics being made by our exhibitors year round, and hopefully send interest and sales their way”, taking place on the weekend the 2020 festival would have been – May 9 and 10.

TCAF also teamed up with Montreal Comic Arts Festival, Québec BD and Vancouver Comic Arts Festival to form the #CanCAF initiative. “A month of digital comics events spotlighting top creators from Canada and around the world”, whose programming entailed “a variety of comics related events, from workshops to interviews, live drawing to panel discussions, podcasts to videocasts” online and across social media in May 2020. Through #CanCAF, festivals, exhibitors and guests who would have attended the COVID-cancelled comics festivals across Canada could get showcased and supported online during the difficult period when for many the festivals would have provided valuable income.

The festival also had to deal with intense controversy and scrutiny in June and July last year, particularly over the inclusion and treatment of black, indigenous and other people of colour, particularly of volunteers. TCAF co-founder Chris Butcher stepped down, the festival issued a series of statements, and an exploratory sub-committee was formed. This year is the beginnings of attempts to course-correct, though the festival admitted that “We do not see this as a one-time project, but a life-long one that will inform the organization we aspire to be going forward”.

Last year was a daunting effort to make best use of troubling and hard circumstances, this year TCAF’s organisers had time to plan, change, and prepare for this year and the future.

It is welcome to see TCAF come back in some form, even if it is online-only this year.

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