This year’s Toronto Comics Art Festival was by all accounts the best TCAF yet. This was only my second ever time at the show (I exhibited last year too) but from everyone I spoke to, the excited attendees, the exhibitors who were shifting comics like hotcakes and the organisers who were thrilled with the special guests, line-up and pre-show hype (TCAF was trending on Twitter 2 days before the show!) it seems like the festival has really outdone itself this year.
Me at TCAF 2011 (photo by Jamie Coville)
Kayla and I landed in Toronto on the Thursday and just had time to change before heading to the Toronto Reference Library for Kayla’s part in the evening’s talks. After a Q&A session with featured guest Mawil, Kayla expertly introduced Canadian comic fans to Blank Slate Books. She took us through their German translations such as work by Mawil, their books from other European countries, their existing UK titles and the 4 new books debuting at the show. Then Kayla announced Nelson, a hugely ambitious project with over 50 UK artists telling the story of one woman’s life from 1968 to the present day. More info about Nelson can be found on the Blank Slate website.
I am very happy to say that I am one of the artists working on Nelson and will be tackling the chapter of Nel’s life set in 1994. That’s about all I can divulge right now but there will be more news about this very exciting project nearer it’s release date in November, just in time for Thought Bubble.
On Friday night we went to the Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Seth and Chester Brown talk which was, as you would expect from four giants of cartooning, an incredibly insightful and entertaining few hours. Apart from jokes about Chester’s new book, one stand out moment for me was in reply to the inevitable question about print vs digital. Ware said while describing his approach to designing his books that he thinks of a book as a person. To paraphrase Ware, he said they have a spine and a face, they’re bigger on the inside than on the outside, they can lie to you, they can keep secrets. In short the design of a book gives it a personality as much the content does, and as Seth noted, that design can contradict or undermine the content and change how readers approach it.
Saturday was easily the busiest I, or it seems anyone, had ever seen TCAF. It was bustling all day long and the show was laid out and organised so well that sales for everyone seemed to soar. Many books I wanted sold out before the end of the first day.
I was expecting Blood Blokes to sell well and my other work to sell a little less, but everything sold at an even pace. In truth I think a US comic sized, genre fiction comic like Blood Blokes isn’t what the TCAF audience usually comes for which may explain why The Everyday, my observational comic strip, sold just as well. Kayla’s Galavant for example, a 100 page travel diary for just $10, sold out easily. Paper Science 4 sold a nifty 20 copies too, introducing Canadian readers to some of the best UK talents working right now and my children’s story The King of Things & The Shrunken Giant Penny (which, by the way, received a good review from Forbidden Planet International).
After the show on Saturday we attended the Doug Wright Awards at the Art Gallery of Ontario. This really is a near perfect way to do a national comics awards. There’s only 4 categories: Best Emerging Talent, Best Book, Best Experimental Comic and the Hall of Fame. This gives the ceremony room to breath, have fun and really showcase all the nominees. The all-Canadian titles are picked by a panel and then judged by a committee. All the nominated books are on sale afterwards and the winning artists stay around to sign their books, complete with Doug Wright Award Winner stickers. In Britain we have the Eagle Awards, which I have to say, with it’s numerous and unnecessary categories, it’s skewed “public” voting system and it’s inclusion of international artists and books, is disappointingly extraneous. It doesn’t hold any esteem here in the UK and it doesn’t do any justice to the exciting work and thriving talents coming from the country right now. We could do much worse than to follow the example led by the organisers of the Doug Wrights. </rant>
After the traditional Saturday night Karaoke, I was surprisingly alert on Sunday morning which was fortunate because I had to appear on a panel about the UK comics scene called Her Majesty’s Comics moderated by Box Brown (a daring artist and an extremely friendly guy). I didn’t actually get to say much, there was quite a few of us behind the table, but you can watch the full discussion at the link above.
At some point on Sunday, Kayla and I were interviewed by Jimmy Aquino for the Comic News Insider podcast, along with many other talented folk. You can listen to that here and our interview is about two thirds in.
(Photo by our table neighbour Tom Scioli)
Sunday itself was a much slower day but sales remained steady and I got a chance to have a small look around. In fact I could only cover the ground floor, I simply didn’t have time to explore the immense talent stashed away upstairs in an equally large area. I picked up quite a few goodies for both myself and Marc (who had sent me a
list of demands shopping list) from the excellent Koyama Press table. And I even got to meet the often praised Annie Koyama herself.
One of my favourite things about comic shows is discovering new artists. I had heard of the name Dylan Meconis but couldn’t have conjured any images to attach to it. A flyer of hers for an upcoming book she’s appearing in called Bordertown caught my eye and we soon got chatting about Jaime Hernandez, vampires and the gothic reading room of the John Ryland’s Library in Manchester which she used as reference for a page in her book, Family Man Volume 1, which I quickly bought. It’s an attractively drawn, deeply researched and intriguing story set in 18th century Germany of young Luther Levy, a dismissed religious lecturer finding a new job in a distant and mysterious University. It’s surprisingly slow paced for a comic and largely conversational to the extent that this first volume feels like the first two chapters of a novel, but a witty and interesting novel that I look forward to reading more of. You can buy it or read it online at www.lutherlevy.com.
Once the show had wrapped up on Sunday I was happy with the amount I sold, even though I didn’t sell out of anything which happened more at TCAF this year than any show I’ve been too. Kayla and I then went to see Jeffrey Lewis play at the Dakota Tavern. Jeffrey was at the show too as a comic artist, his Fuff comics are skillfully drawn, well composed and sadly overlooked by most indie comic fans, but he also found time to play a solo show which was a lot of fun.
Then we made our way through the warm night to the official after party for guests, exhibitors, organisers and volunteers. This is another thing TCAF does that no other show does, a relaxed gathering after everyone’s packed up to publicly thank each and every person involved in putting the show together. And of course to drink, chat and end the weekend on a pleasant, friendly and exhausted high.
I come away from TCAF this year just as enthused about comics as I’ve ever been and somewhat impatient. I can’t wait to sell Blood Blokes in the UK and to get to work on issue 2. I can’t wait to write and draw more kids comics like The King of Things. I can’t wait to finish my pages for Nelson and see the book released. And mostly, I can’t wait to see the UK comics scene grow and develop even more this year and to be a part of that, and if we can create anything near the positive attitude towards comics that TCAF does, then we’ll all be better for it.
Oh, and I met Thor.