Holy crap that was an amazing show. I know I run the risk of helping to ruin future TCAFs by raving about how great it was, but I want to rave.
Like Comiket, there are panels and there are people selling comics. There is almost no cosplay (it is not encouraged, it is not that kind of event) and no one running through halls waving weapons. No Marvel, DC or other corporations selling branding. The largest publisher in attendance was probably Fantagraphics. The focus of the event is on the craft of comics; as art, as story-telling and as business. Mostly what TCAF has is people who love comics with all their heart behind and in front of the tables.
TCAF is held inside the Toronto Reference Library, which elevates the entire show to a whole new level . The staff are Librarians volunteering their time because they love comics too. This means the staff are not typical con staff, they know where everything is, and why and when and who, something I realized I’d never seen at a North American event before. The main sponsor of TCAF is Toronto’s legendary (and rightfully so) comic store, The Beguiling. Because the Beguiling has space for comics of every kind – literary, superhero, Bande dessinée, manga, mini-comics – the show reflected this diversity. There were American guests, Canadian guests, Japanese guests, Anglophone and Francophone comics. And to top it all off this was, hands down, the most LGBTQ-inclusive event I’ve ever attended.
My weekend began and ended with the company of two of the most entertaining people I know, my roommate, Brigid Alverson of Mangablog, who is *hilarious* and adorable and brilliant and my friend Alan Harnum, who is also hilarious and adorable and brilliant and who I met back when we both wrote fanfic obsessively. These two were largely responsible for me having the best weekend of my life.
As I put it to Alan on Sunday, this was not “my tribe” – TCAF was *all* of my tribes.
Friday night was when I knew something was different here. I went with Brigid to the Chromatic Press manga get-together. Chromatic Press is a brand new publisher, run by brilliant Tokyopop veterans Lillian Diaz-Przybyl and Lianne Sentar. Their first project is the resurrection of the popular Tokyopop OEL Off*Beat, which they launched as a successful Kickstarter. They are also embarking a new magazine with a strong feminine and feminist aesthetic, called Sparkler Monthly. SM will include comics, prose, light novels and audio dramas. Submissions are open and welcome and they are looking for diversity in creators and creations, so don’t hold back. Check out their submission guidelines and submit! The party was fantastic. I mean really. I looked around the table and thought, if Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wants to see women “Lean In.” then she should have been there. These women, who I count as my peers and friends, all have leaned in again and again as the industry crumbled and rebuilt and they, we, are still leaning in. The party broke up at 2AM, Brigid and I walked home with former Tokyopop Editor and Yuri Monogatari contributor Hope Donovan.
Saturday I cautiously began buying a few items, mindful of what I would eventually get and how small my suitcase was. Of course, once you let that monster out, the wallet doesn’t close back up easily. ^_^ Alan and I attended the Michel Rabagliati panel, coincidentally hosted by Brigid. Michel is a Quebecois artist who does incredibly powerful and sweet semi-autobiographical work. And he is simply adorable. It was a delight. Ultimately at that night’s Doug Wright Awards (which celebrates Canadian Comics), he won for Best Book for his Song of Roland, about the death of his father-in-law.
(Incidentally, you can watch this panel, along with eight other panels and see the Awards winners at Bleeding Cool’s TCAF report.)
Then back to buy more. I picked up a parody comic about young H.P. Lovecraft called “Young Howie Lovcraft.”
Saturday a bunch of us had an informal dinner at the hotel where I was able to enjoy the company of Brigid, Alan, Merc, Ysabet MacFarlane, Lissa Pattillo, Eva Violin, Robin Brenner, Deb Aoki and Heidi McDonald. Quick thanks here to Lissa who did the design work on Okazu and designed my awesome new business cards and to Deb who wins the gift-giving award of the universe. I’ll show you what I mean in a bit.) Lissa and I headed over to the Queer mixer with Alex Woolfson, saw Scott Robins, then kind of blew out of there and hung in Robin and Eva’s room listening to them and Brigid and Deb tell stories. ^_^
Sunday began with what I now refer to as my “magical transformation” from achy miserable migraine-suffering wretch to human. Like anime henshin there is a certain amount of undressing and dressing involved, but there is also considerably more coffee, as well. Also, it takes about an hour and a half.
Lissa, Alan and I went to the “Is Comics Blogging Dead?” panel, with Andrew Wheeler from the recently departed Comics Alliance, Tom Spurgeon of Comics Reporter and Heidi MacDonald of Comics Beat, moderated by Brigid, which again was coincidental. The conversation was poignant, pitched and I had the most embarassing thing happen to me. I asked a question and just as I began to speak, my third cup of coffee hit me and I became totally hyper. I’m always a little hyper-seeming at events, because I lose my voice very quickly and have to push past the inability to speak. But this time, I must have looked off the wall. Sorry guys. Everyone was very interesting – the conclusion is that of course, comics blogging is not dead, but whether professional comics blogging can still be a sustainable career is yet to be determined.
I stayed for the Queer Comics panel, but found myself deeply annoyed with the panelist lineup and left before it began.
Alan and I took another spin around the library, inevitably buying more. Well duh. I didn’t buy the book by the Japanese guest, Gengoroh Tagame, the first Japanese Bara book ever officially translated to English. There has been Bara unofficially translated, of course, and some English-language original work published and a number of bilingual webcomics. Bara is gay comics by gay men for gay men, often about bears; big muscular hairy guys with enormous hard-ons. I like Bara generally, much better than I do BL. But Tagame’s book is exceedingly explicit and Canadian customs are not known for their positive view of comics (I also have limited need/desire for books of guys with enormous penises on my shelves.) If/when it becomes available on Kindle, I will gladly purchase it, because his art is great and he seems like a nice guy and I want to support him.
Then we left the event (as I often do on Sunday) and headed out to see Toronto. I had poutine, finally. I want to open a poutine booth at the Jersey Shore. I’m pretty sure I’ll be a millionaire. We visited The Beguiling, where I convinced Alan to buy Thermae Romae, because it is an amazing manga that deserves every award it has ever won.
Sunday night was the traditional “mass dinner in extremely loud restaurant with people you like but can’t hear over the noise” followed by the event after-party where I was able to meet a whole new bunch of folks who were exceedingly interesting and I’m very glad to have met them.
Thanks again to Brigid for getting me to the airport.
Here’s my swag picture, sans the “Young Howie” comic and a box of Asuka from Evangelion hard candies from Deb. Deb is also responsible for the 8-bit heroines shirt (from left to right: Sailor Moon, Creamy Mami, Lum, Utena) and the Rose of Versailles clearfile. Here’s the thing about Deb, she brings gifts for people she knows are going to be there and gifts for people she has no idea she’ll meet. You can’t win, (but of course, getting things is always a win.) Deb, you are the kindest, most generous person. Thank you.
My book purchases include Wet Moon which I bought entirely for the pull-quote, “It’s no Scott Pilgrim, but whatever.” ^_^
Artifice is by Alex Woolfson, a gay romance comic in a sci-fi setting. I highly recommend it – and his new online comic Young Protectors, which is a gay superhero series and has given us a new tagline. “Don’t be a dick.” (Read it and you’ll understand why. ^_^)
The other t-shirt is a stunning Baba Yaga print I could not live without. Various pins read various things, but the one I bought myself reads, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Two copies of Danse Macbre by Dylan Meconis for gifts. SO fabulous. And the “I /scribble/ Unparseable Symbols” sticker from Wondermark, which may be my favorite thing ever.
TCAF was so amazing, I’ve already committed to going next year and with luck, I’ll be able to help out. My very sincere thanks and congratulations to Christopher Butcher for running the gold standard of comic events. It was a genuine privilege to be able to attend.