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The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the highlights of the North American
comics year, but there is always a little anxiety about border crossings. These anxieties predate the current US government administration, although things like the Gisele Lagace incident have ratcheted up anxiety. (She was denied at the border coming to America because she declared work she was doing in the US)

This year’s event was not without incident, as Brigid Alverson reports at Smash Pages. Massive Goods founder Anne Ishii was detained for two hours, her luggage and devices searched:

While en route to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), translator and agent Anne Ishii was detained at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto for over two hours yesterday as Canadian customs officers questioned her and went through every book in her luggage to determine whether she was bringing comics illegally into the country.


Ishii was traveling to TCAF to accompany manga-ka Gengoroh Tagame, whose manga My Brother’s Husband is debuting at the show. While My Brother’s Husband, a story about a Japanese man learning to accept his late brother’s life as an openly gay man in Canada, is a gentle, slice-of-life story that is well suited to teen readers, Tagame is also a well known creator of sexually explicit gay BDSM manga. The Canadian customs service has a history of viewing comics in general and manga in particular with suspicion.

Just go to Alverson’s report for all the details. Although Ishii and her books were eventually allowed to come into Canada, it was an unpleasant experience and backs up that Canadian officials are very gun shy about manga, especially explicit manga.

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Complicating matters a bit is that Tagame’s best known work is DEFINITELY erotica, dealing with extreme gay BDSM material. (His new book, published here by Random House, is non explicit, though.) Canadian border officials were most worried that the material contained sex with animals or children, which it most certainly DOES NOT. But, it’s also easy to see how they could have become suspicious.

Although the outcome seems to have been generally alright, this was clearly not a great experience for Ishii. TCAF gives attendees and exhibitors a lot of advice about border crossing, and there are best practices that should be followed.

In other words, this stuff isn’t always easy. I’m thankful Ishii and her books made it to Canada, but it’s also a cautionary tale. Given the huge number of queer cartoonists and comics ealing with LGBTQ+ issues at TCAF it’s also one that may come up again and again. It’s good to learn from Ishii’s overall professionalism here.

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