Graphic novels and comics of all shapes and sizes continued to show artistic and popular growth at the 2015 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, an annual festival of indie, small press and self-published graphic novels and comics. With a book fair held May 9-10 at the Toronto Reference Library, and a week of satellite talks, screenings and art exhibits all over the city, events were better attended than ever, according to festival director Chris Butcher. About 24,000 people attended all festival events, up from 20,000 in 2014, and attendance at the library alone was up 2,400.
Exhibitor space was up about 20% from last year, with nearly 500 exhibitors. While many comics conventions and festivals struggle to find new space, TCAF’s increase in size was made possible by expanding the area for table space within the library, and moving some programming to a new auditorium on the third floor of the venue. The changes allowed for better traffic flow—unlike in past years, entrance to exhibitor rooms never had to be cut off.
“The expansion went really, really well this year,” Butcher told PW. “Even with a surprise heat wave the library just seemed to flow a lot better in general this year.”
Aside from co-founding TCAF in 2003, Butcher is also the manager of Toronto’s The Beguiling, arguably one of the most admired comic book shops in North America. TCAF is the product of a remarkable partnership between the Beguiling and the Toronto Reference Library. Indeed this year the library showed off Page & Panel, a newly opened year-round TCAF gift shop, a state of the art retail outlet in the library offering everything from graphic novels to branded merchandise. The shop will be operated by The Beguilling, which signed a five year lease on the space.
The large number of exhibitors led to a huge range of comics on display, from mainstream kids graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier and Noelle Stevenson, to X-rated Japanese erotica from visiting cartoonist Gengoroh Tagame. Throw in stacks of debuting graphic novels from major publishers and hand made comics from cartoonists all over the world, and the result was a kaleidoscope of styles and content that strained attendees' finances and backpacks. Fantagraphics marketing director Jacq Cohen reported that they made more sales in four hours on Saturday than they made for the entire show last year.
The biggest star of TCAF 2015, however, was Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly and its Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics and Graphic Novels, a massive 700-page anthology celebrating the publisher's 25th anniversary. Over the years D&Q has established itself as home to many of the most lauded cartoonists in the world, from early successes with Seth, Adrian Tomine and Chester Brown, to current stars Jillian Tamaki and Kate Beaton. While the gorgeous full-color book would have been the talk of any weekend, D&Q become the focus of even more attention when founding publisher Chris Oliveros announced on the eve of the show that he was stepping down to pursue his own cartooning career. Peggy Burns, formerly associate publisher, will take over as publisher and her husband Tom Devlin, will move to executive editor from creative director.
That the highly regarded Oliveros was opting to step down was the topic for endless chatter at the festival’s many social gatherings, but while his vision and genial nature will be missed, Burns and Devlin have been integral to the running of the company for a decade, and the trio did not expect too many changes to the already winning formula.
Oliveros was feted at a small 25th anniversary party held Saturday night, and the assembled talent in the room—from Lynda Barry to Michael DeForge—was testament to his vision in running the company. However, he hasn’t been idle with his cartooning: while he’s only been able to draw for an hour a day for years, his first book, The Envelope Manufacturer, is finished and will be published in January 2016.
D&Q authors were also in the spotlight for the event that Butcher says “stole the show” at TCAF, Friday’s panel discussion with Barry, Jason Lutes, Seth, Jillian Tamaki, and Adrian Tomine where they discussed their work and history with the publisher.
The world of cartooning was explored in many other panels and events—TCAF has become perhaps the premiere event for international cartoonists in North America, rivaling even the mighty Comic-Con International in San Diego. Besides Tagame, who was back for his second TCAF, Japanese creators—rarely seen outside Japan—included Aya Kanno (Requiem of the Rose King), fusion artist Ken Niimura (Henshin), Yuuko Koyama, creator of a series of comics about her pet cat, and the artistic duo who work professionally as Gurihiro, best known in the US for their work on the Avatar the Last Airbender graphic novel series.
Other international stars included France’s Etienne Davideau (Lulu Anew) and Pénélope Bagieu (Exquisite Corpse), England's Hunt Emerson (Calculus Cat) and Italy’s Lorenzo Mattotti (Hansel and Gretel). The range of artistic talent on hand was so mind boggling, it was a challenge to keep up with them all.
TCAF has become the premiere event for debuting graphic novels, with many publishers holding books just for the show. Even HarperTeen got into the act, moving up the pub date of Noelle Stevenson’s new YA graphic novel Nimona to make it available at TCAF—the book sold out early on Saturday.
Smaller publishers also took advantage of the timing. AdHouse sold out of a small supply of Russian Olive to Red King by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen; and the 4th issue of Ethan Rilly’s award-winning series Pope Hats was perhaps the most eagerly awaited periodical format comic of the show—a new issue hasn’t come out since 2012.
As in past years, the Friday prior to the show was used to hold several conferences, including one devoted to programming for librarians and educators who use comics. Scott McCloud (The Sculptor) delivered a presentation on the language of comics as the keynote speech, including a particularly amusing dissection of the pictograms used for safety signs. PW’s manga reporter Deb Aoki, librarian Robin Brenner and Viz Media v-p Leyla Aker delivered a talk on creating a female-friendly manga collection for libraries, with many examples, from the kid-friendly Chi’s Sweet Home to the adult Dogs. (The slideshow can be viewed here.) PW comics contributor Dr. Glen Downey of The York School in Toronto explained how he uses comics with his 11th and 12th grade students, teaching them the vocabulary of comics and encouraging them to use it for note taking and visual thinking.
While TCAF was all smiles almost all of the time, it did face one foe in unexpectedly warm weather, which heated up some of the exhibit rooms, forcing a few cartoonists to move to cooler spots. Though a challenge—especially in a small room which housed more experimental publishers like 2D Cloud and Space Face Books—even the chance to escape the especially harsh winter of ’15 with a sunny weekend didn’t deter local comics lovers from going indoors for a few hours to spend all their money.
The massive success and continued growth of the show raises the question of how big can it get? Asked about future expansion plans, Butcher said “We'll obviously have to debrief with Toronto Reference Library to see how they felt about the situation, but I'm hopeful that we'll continue to build each year.”[For more photos of TCAF see this week's Photo Mania.]