Canzine, a festival of zine and indie comics culture started by Broken Pencil magazine, takes place every year in Vancouver and Toronto. This year’s Toronto edition of Canzine, on October 29, was hosted by the Art Gallery of Ontario and admission the low low price of no dollars. That’s thanks in part to the festival’s growing profile and the support of sponsors and local art colleges, and it’s made a difference. No longer stuck in the dank basement of a community centre, Canzine spread over the two lower floors of the gallery devoted to workshops and classes. I visited right at the start of the one day festival and swung back again near its end, after spending some time upstairs in the gallery proper.
Exhibitors included standby local artists, lit and art mags like Tattlecreek, local art schools like Sheridan, small presses like ECW, student groups, and lots and lots of recent grads. The AGO is just steps away from the Ontario College of Art and Design and a short streetcar ride from Univeristy of Toronto and Ryerson University’s art schools. It’s no surprise then, that the festival floor was packed with students learning about, buying and selling zines. Some were first time attendees who’d heard about the festival from their school’s art departments; others wandered down from the gallery space, where they’d intended to get some drawing done. Of course many people were there to support friends or were longtime zine scenesters, but many people I spoke to were first time attendees, all of whom were excited by the vibrancy of the festival and the city’s local art scene.
In addition to the festival floor, Canzine hosted a full afternoon of programming, from zine making workshops, to a comics jam, to a live book pitch, live interviews and readings. Tickets for Broken Pencil Live, were free; issued only to assure that the Art Gallery’s Jackman Hall didn’t go over capacity. Programming focused on local zinesters, artists and writers including Jen Woodall and Trevor Henderson.
Closer to the gallery space, Canzine set up a kids zone, where gallery and festival attendees could bring their kids to learn about comics and even make their own. This was held in the AGO’s Community Gallery, where pieces from children, teens and adults who have participated in community events are regularly displayed. It’s a space I’ve used smartly for events in the past, and for Canzine it worked as a kind of gateway into the festival, drawing in families who were at the AGO that day for the classics but left with comics.
The downside to Canzine, I guess, is that much of the work on display and for sale is so readily available elsewhere in the city, at Page and Panel, Beguiling, the OCAD student gallery, local shops and at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, earlier this year. My haul suffered for it, but it’s not exactly fair to complain that the local arts and literary community so readily embraces zines and self-published comics and poetry. And I found myself picking up books from longtime favs like Kat Verhoeven and Jenn Woodall, and less from new and unfamiliar artists. One I was happy to connect with this year was Jessica Bromley Bertram whose comics and poetry explored themes of nature, life and decay. Her foldout comics though, are what caught my attention — they were the subject of her thesis and something she still experiments. She wasn’t the only artist with foldout and highly tactile comics this year though; fabric comics, foldouts and 3D comics were all over the festival.
To no one’s surprise, pink pink riso printed zines and comics were everywhere, as were punk magical girls, witches, 90s nostalgia, art school stories, and cats. If you’re into those things, and I guess it’s enough of a spread to encompass many of you, then Canzine would have been a knockout festival. But other themes and memes were a bit thinner on the ground.
Too, the venue, though nice, was less than accessible, with the festival split between three rooms separated by plenty of stairs and few ramps or elevators. I’m just getting over a badly sprained ankle and I found myself tiring easily, especially after trips up and down to the lower floor of the festival, to which I couldn’t even find an elevator. (Was there one? Where where where…)
But those quibbles aside, Canzine was, as usual, a welcoming and exciting festival full of good zines and cool people.