Con Diaries: Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF)

TCAF 2015 Poster, Charles Burns
TCAF 2015 Poster, Charles Burns

I attended the 2015 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, also known as TCAF, this past weekend and man, it was a whirlwind. It was my third year attending and I like to think of it as my San Diego Comic Con minus the television, film and essentially anything that isn’t comics. Then take out major companies like DC, Marvel, Image, Valiant, etc. and you’re left with the rest of the definition of comics that’s often overshadowed by the superhero genre. The event is free, it’s set in a library with part of its panel programming taking place in the hotel right around the corner and there are comic creators from all over the world (as well as attendees!). That’s what TCAF is all about and it was glorious.

While for most people the festival lasted for two days (Saturday and Sunday), I got a jump on things early by attending panels offered by The Canadian Society for the Study of Comics‘ Academic Conference on Thursday and Friday. There’s quite a few pre-TCAF programming along with programming concurrent with the festival that are fun to attend depending on who you are:

On Thursday, I attended The Superhero as Discursive Formation panel which featured presentations on Thor, Black Panther and Andre The Giant as well as a Roundtable Event on Charlie Hebdo Attacks. On Friday, I was all about the Reconstructing Realities in the Comics Medium panel — blindness and comics, the photographer as a witness, and the depiction of psychiatry in comics — and Sex, Romance & Metafiction — metapornographical comics, historiographic metafiction via Kate Beaton and Islamic art and architecture in manga — before heading over to the TCAF 2015 Kick-Off Event: D&Q 25!

The panel was about celebrating 25 years of Drawn and Quarterly by featuring a sample of its creators currently being published – Lynda Barry (Syllabus), Jason Lutes (Berlin), Seth (Palookaville), Jillian Tamaki (SuperMutant Magic Academy), and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve) — and it was moderated by comics critic and journalist Sean Rogers. It was a fun panel and Lynda Barry was hilarious beyond words. I was, of course, distracted part way through because Megan Purdy and I were sitting next to Scott McCloud the whole time and she had just noticed.

Afterwards, I went home to collapse in an exhausted heap but awoke ready to take on the festival. Just before my first panel at 10am, I grabbed two comics: The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings (House of Anansi Press) and The New Ghost by Robert Hunter (Nobrow). Then I did back-to-back panels starting with How, Where and Why Should I Start Reading Comics? with Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, The Sculptor), Raina Telgemeier (Sisters, Drama), Professor Glen Downey and George O’Conner (Olympians). The panel talked about how the panelists got into comics, what they would say to people who claimed they weren’t into comics, and the role of libraries in getting a new generation into comics.

Right after in the same room was The New Mainstream? housing a packed panel: Ryan North, Karl Kerschl, Brendan Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Ray Fawkes, Cameron Stewart, Chip Zdarsky and festival director, Chris Butcher, as the moderator. The panel discussed the influx of indie comics creators making their way to the big two, Marvel and DC, and slowly changing the styles and storytelling approaches of those two companies. Of course, working for corporations versus on your own stuff has its ups (editors!) and downs (continuity and decades of history!).

After the panels, I went for lunch and walked the floor. I got four gorgeous prints by Mike Maihack (happy Batman! Batman with a balloon!), as well as Annie Wu’s Black Canary poster from Brenden Fletcher, who is the writer of that upcoming series; he was lovely to talk to (as was the rest of the Gotham Academy/Batgirl crew). When the clock struck 4PM, I was at my final panel of the day, called What Do Women Want? Writing Comics For A Female Audience. It featured Brendan Fletcher, Sam Maggs, Sydney Padua, Sandra Bell-Lundy, and Svetlana Chmakova as they discussed male vs female gaze, their experiences writing women and internalized sexism within women (I personally found this one to be interesting).

The end of the panel marked the end of the day but that didn’t mean the end of comics fun. The Doug Wright Awards were happening as they announced their winners and there were countless parties happening around the area but sadly, I was too tired to attempt the Quiet Party (boo) and dragged myself home to sleep before the final day of the fesitval.

My last day was the most exhilirating and tiresome. I did the bulk of my comics buying and it was…crazy to say the least. I think I spent my life’s savings on comics but it was a diverse selection that I think deserves a pat on the back. I got a comic from a UK publisher, a comic from a Puerto Rico small press, an anthology and a comics series by and set in Toronto…so many goodies! I do have to bring up a heartbreak which involved not being able to grab myself a copy of Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Russian Olive to Red King aka my most anticipated TCAF comic. Disappointed? No, more like devastated. But I’ll live. I ended up attending a panel last minute with my fellow WWAC buddies — Megan Purdy, Wendy Browne and Maddy Beaupre — called Sex, Sluts and Stigma with panelists Jess Fink, Gisele Lagace, Erik Kostiuk-Willaims and Steve MacIsaac. They talked about writing/drawing explicit sex in their comics, what it’s like being in a niche part of an already niche medium and if their loved ones read their stuff (most of them do!). It was a great panel but it was time to bid adieu to TCAF. I’ve never had so much of a great time at a comics event and TCAF has been consistently great over the last three years that I’ve been going.

You can catch the rest of the TCAF pics and my ultimate comics haul over at our instagram account or you can check out the tag #wwacTCAF on the instagram as well.

Ardo Omer

Ardo Omer

Former WWAC editor. Current curmudgeon and Batman's personal assistant. Icon art by Diana Sim.

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