The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most influential and important comic book event 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”. In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat is conducting a series of short reviews on some of the phenomenal comics available at this year’s festival. There is so much phenomenal comics at the festival, it would be impossible to talk about everything. We’ll be looking at three comics at a time from TCAF (hence the pun ThreeCAF).

Prison Girls Deterred, by Michael Comeau

Prison Girl Deterred is a short mini riso comic from Michael Comeau. It’s about a group of young delinquent girls who are forced to tour a sadistic prison in the hope that they will change their ways in the future. I’m not generally a fan of the sleazy genre of “women in prison”, but this comic uses the tropes to its advantage. By contrasting a group of mildly rebellious teen girls with the abuse women suffers in prison, Comeau is able to critize both the genre for reveling in its depiction of subjugated, vulnerable and beaten women, and the establishment responsible for the abuse as well. Is the punishment fit for the crime viewed from a sharper angle. As usual, this comic showcases Comeau’s distinct visual style; It blends photo, pen, ink and crosshatching. The riso printing of Colour Code is impeccable as well. Interesting comic for its blend of style and challenging theme.

Peripherea and Untitled Deer Comic, by Katie So

Not so much sleaze and grotesque, Katie So’s comics are closer to psychological horror, but I still felt it needed to be part of this list. I think Katie So is an incredibly talented artist and one capable of creating phenomenal, atmospheric and tense comics about all sorts of everyday horrifying things. She’s always capable of doing so with an impressive brevity. I like how her comics have this deep richness to them even as they’re short. There’s always a lot to unpack. It reminds me of the brevity needed to make a good tweet land, constrained by limited space, you have to convey a lot in limited space. Her comics have that same quality. Horror in a 140 characters, or Horror for the Tumblr Generation if you will. Her comics tends to be about the woes of modern day life, technology, isolation, depression and the underlying fear. The anthology Peripherea in particular is taking these ideas and merging them into a series of short comics. The glow of a cellphone at night reveals horrifying terror just lurking on the periphery. A darkness unseen by us as we sleep watches over us and whispers vitriol in our ears. There’s a case to be made for the strength of her comics and for a deeper analysis of her work, how she structures her panels, the words she uses, how she taps into a very real dread that we sometimes feels when we’re alone or facing the unknown.

Untitled Deer Comics is about that same fear of the unknown. A deer is startled by something in the woods and flee. Perhaps there was nothing, or perhaps there was. Perhaps it always is there and fleeing it leaves the nature of that fear to be remain mysterious. You can read Untitled Deer Comic online. The copy I got at TCAF was printed on pink paper which was a refreshing idea for such a dramatically dark comic.

Shit and Piss, by Tyler Landry

One of the latest Retrofit Comics by Tyler Landry is delightful. It’s gorgeously creepy, it uses a flexible 9 panel grid to great effect, the world that is built and the creatures that populates it are appropriately grotesque, almost a sort of mix between the work of Lando and a Dark Souls-like environment). It’s essentially about the evolution of the sewage processing plant of an advanced civilization. It’s about decay and regrowth, about how people behave when there’s no hope, about taking refuge in the darkness, about the darkest tendencies of mankind. It was one of the most aggressively bleak comic I’ve read in a long time. Shit and Piss contains 5 short stories about this violent world and each one is filled with flesh-rotting, unspeakable horrors. There’s a connecting tissue in the form of a narrator who describes almost casually the nihilistic nature of this environment. You can get this comic either via the Retrofit Comics store, or through Tyler Landry’s own store and either get the comic, or the comic and a sketch.