Although it’s impossible for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival to sell out—it’s free to attend—if it could have, it probably would have this weekend as thousands of eager readers flooded the Toronto Reference Library to meet cartoonists from around the world. Now in its 10th year, the show focused on literary comics publishers and creators from Canada to Japan to Belgium to Israel and even the U.S.
TCAF, as it is called, has rapidly become known as a marquee event on the indie comics circuit, launching a near-flood of books from acclaimed cartoonists. Among the notables, Rutu Modan’s The Property (D&Q), the follow-up to her much-lauded Exit Wounds; Michael DeForge’s Very Casual (Koyama Press), the first collection of his fantastic comics focusing on body horror; and Sunny (Viz Media) by Taiyo Matsumoto creator of Tekkon Kinkreet. That’s only a small taste of the books available—the biggest problems for readers was finding enough money to buy all the books and a bag sturdy enough to carry them.
Both Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly called it their second most successful show after Comic-Con itself, and sales were brisk for kids comics, mini-comics and the webcomics creators on hand.
Perhaps the most talked about guests were two manga creators from Japan who couldn’t be more different: Matsumoto, whose Moebius and Miyazaki influenced work explores alienated youth in setting both real and fantastic, and Gengoroh Tagame, a pioneer of “bara,” erotic manga aimed at gay men. Although the slight Matsumoto and the burly Tagame presented a visual contrast—and the Japanese manga industry had not allowed the two to meet before— the trip even affording a chance for the two manga-ka to get to know each other. At TCAF they discovered they were from the same town and talked about local politics, said Tagame’s translator Anne Ishii.
Matsumoto was the subject of an art show at the Japan Foundation of Toronto—his first ever any where—and a reception was held Friday night for the show of 60 pieces of his original art. Tagame appeared on a panel to discuss the difficulties of being a gay creator in Japan with Random House designer Chip Kidd, who has championed his work in the U.S. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga has just been published un the U.S. by PictureBox, and Ishii, Kidd and editor Graham Kolbeins plan a future anthology of even more work in the genre.
While TCAF was a smashing success for attendees and exhibitors, it’s almost becoming too popular, says director Chris Butcher, who says the show regularly turns down promotional opportunities to keep it from overflowing too much. Even with the cautious approach, the show was jammed on Saturday—there was 20-minute wait to get into the upstairs exhibits for much of the afternoon. After events were similarly crowded with the official after party on Saturday also having a 20 minute line to get in and both floors of the party closed off due to overcrowding. Still it was jolly time to share a beer and talk comics, and few complained.
The floor was lighter on Sunday, perhaps due to a crucial Stanley Cup Playoffs game by the Toronto Maple Leafs, an event that was even bigger than comics for Canadians.
There were some other glitches: programming and signings were set very late necessitating some shuffling and confusion. Butcher acknowledged that this area had not gone smoothly, but said that steps would be taken to make sure that the programming was set earlier next year. “I like to keep some spontaneity, but that can create problems,” he told PW.
Saturday night saw the presentation of the Doug Wright Awards to honor the best in Canadian comics. Conundrum Press, which operates out of Nova Scotia, took home two prizes with Michel Rabagliati’s heartbreaking The Song of Roland taking Best Book, and Nina Bunjevac winning Best Emerging Talent for Heartless, a collection of stories about women facing grim realities in love and life. David Collier’s bucolic Hamilton Illustrated won the “Pigskin Peters” award for best experimental work. The late Quebecois cartoonist Albert Chartier was inducted into the “Giants of the North” hall of fame.
TCAF proper was preceded by a day of programming for librarians and educators on Friday (look for a full report later) which saw more than 100 attendees. According to coordinator Andrew Woodrow-Butcher, “Last year we had about 75 preregistered, this year it was over 100.” He noted that the attendees were from a wider area as well.
With TCAF becoming a North American comic event approaching the great festivals of Europe and an event of huge importance for publishers—key book releases are basically planned around it now—Butcher acknowledged that there would probably be some structural changes in the festival going forward. The event is sponsored by The Beguiling, the famed Toronto comics shop run by TCAF co-founder Peter Birkemoe and receives help from foreign and Canadian arts councils but its still run by a very small key staff, including Butcher, Birkemoe, programming director Gina Gagliano and assistant director Miles Baker.
Like the immense and perpetually sold-out San Diego Comic-Con, the limits of the venue—in this case a large but public library that remains open to regular patrons during the event—are leading to more events being held off site. In this case panels and singings—such as a massive one for cult webcomic creators Andrew Hussie (Homestuck)—were held at a nearby hotel, and other events at a bar around the corner. Bit Bazaar, a day of programming about indie video games—was held at a venue even further away but still drew around 1800 people. According to Butcher, they’ll keep looking at ways to expand to more outside venues in the future.
Whatever the logistics of putting on this carnival of comics, love of the art form, and excitement about its future was everywhere. Asked on a panel where comics would be in five years, Modan gave a clear answer. “They are going to keep getting bigger and bigger and better and better.”