The Toronto Comic Arts Festival continues to grow. The 11th edition, held over the weekend of May 14-15 at the Toronto Reference Library and other sites around the city, drew 25,000 people, including more than 600 exhibitors and cartoonists in a literary festival that celebrated comics from around the world.
TCAF director Chris Butcher said attendance at this year's TCAF and at last year's show (now said to be 20,500 instead of 24,000) have been adjusted. Butcher said the final attendance figures represent the attendance at both the Toronto Reference Library, the show's main venue, as well as at off-site events.
Programming in 2016 expanded greatly with 11 tracks and over 150 events. The event, which previously occupied two floors of the Reference Library, added another floor of exhibit space at the library and a whole new venue, the Masonic Temple, about a block away.
A cozy concert hall (and local landmark) built in 1916, the Masonic Temple has a storied past as a music venue. But for TCAF, a festival known for indie and self-published works, the venue housed tables for exhibiting mainstream comics creators, including Jeff Lemire (Descender), Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) and Marguerite Bennett (Bombshells). The biggest draw was star writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga), who drew lines out the door for his signings. He also appeared on panels spotlighting his bestselling series Y The Last Man, and We Stand On Guard, a series drawn by Canadian artist Steve Skroce that depicts the adventures of a band of Canadian freedom fighters who repel an invasion by the U.S.
TCAF director Butcher, who also manages the Beguiling, the Toronto comics bookstore which is the co-organizer of TCAF along with the Toronto Public Library, said the expansion of TCAF “will continue slowly and steadily.” The show will continue to add venues (he hopes to use the Masonic Temple again) and more exhibitors. Butcher also said to look for the show to grow beyond the “flea-market” exhibition style that’s the norm for North American comic cons.
"We have a unique opportunity to look at the 'salon' style of European comics events, and blend those with the excitement of North American events for something new," Butcher said.
As always, international guests provided lots of highlights. TCAF is noted for hosting manga guests rarely seen in North America. This year it was Megumi Igarashi, better known by her pseudonym, Rokudenashiko, a manga artist and sculptor, who appeared despite long-running legal troubles in her native Japan over her use of vaginal imagery. Her new book from Koyama Press recounting her legal battles, What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy, was a sell-out.
A Thursday panel at the Alliance Francais featured Balak and Bastien Vivès from France (Last Man), Italian cartoonist Manuele Fior (5,000 KM Per Second), Francisco Sousa Lobo (The Cage of Birds) from Portugal and Germany’s Barbara Yelin (Irmina).
The panel also featured Swedish comics house Peow, and its publisher Patrick Crotty, who recently relocated to the U.S. to learn more about small press comics publishing in North America. Crotty said he brought 50 copies of all their most popular titles to TCAF but “they were gone four hours after the show opened.”
Crotty was also part of a Small Press panel held on Sunday along with NoBrow marketing director Tucker Stone, Retrofit founder Box Brown and 2D Cloud co-founder Raighne Hogan, moderated by PW’s graphic novel reviews editor Heidi MacDonald. The panel soon turned to the financial difficulties of small presses, with a focus on distribution (2D Cloud and NoBrow are distributed by Consortium; Retrofit, Box Brown made clear during the panel, would love to beb but Consortium put the house on hold after signing a bunch of new publishers) and the generally overwhelming personal and financial demands of launching and running a small house.
Nevertheless, Stone, who attended BEA in Chicago only a few days earlier, noted that other book trade distributors are focused on wooing comics/graphic novel publishers looking to make an upgrade in distribution into the trade. “They’re all looking for books that stand out in print,” Stone said.
Diversity is a hot topic everywhere in pop culture and TCAF was no different: panels devoted to women, black, and queer comics creators were packed; though some of the speakers cited a need to move beyond simplistic notions of diversity. On a panel called “Inclusion,” queer cartoonists Tillie Waldman and Spike Trotman (a 2015 PW Star Watch honoree) ruminated on some of the current aspects and inadequacies of efforts to broaden comics’s reach among different kinds of fans.
A sad note was struck at the show when the death of much loved cartoonist Darwyn Cooke was announced Saturday morning. Cooke, the Eisner award-winning creator of such superhero classics as DC’s The New Frontier, was a Toronto native who lived in the city for many years. Many of his friends learned of his death while on the floor, with tearful reminiscences taking place over the course of the weekend.
Both Cooke and equally highly-regarded art comics publisher Alvin Buenaventura, who passed away earlier this year, were memorialized during The Doug Wright Awards, which honor the best Canadian comics works, and are awarded each year at TCAF.
Correction: An earlier version of this story pegged TCAF attendance at 22,000, but TCAF officials said the earlier figure was a preliminary count and that the final tabulation of attendance at both the main venue and at offsite events resulted in the final, official 2016 attendance count of 25,000, which is an increase over attendance in 2015.