Today at Broken Frontier we’re delighted to present a very distinctive report from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival by graphic novelist Joe Decie. Joe is a stalwart of UK self-publishing and his most recent longer-form work was Collecting Sticks from Jonathan Cape. Make sure to visit his online store for more Decie comics goodness! Over to Joe…
Hands up who likes con reports? I do, I do. And they’re a dying art. Secret Acres are the only folks I know who still do one on a regular.
So here’s mine. TCAF con report, twenty nineteen. It’s me, Joe Decie.
I’ve been attending TCAF since 2011. Sometimes as a guest, sometimes with a publisher or tabling on my tod. Last year I came as a punter, coz I bloody love it.
I always arrive early at the airport, gives me plenty of time to obsessively check and double check the pocket I keep my passport in. But only minutes into this routine I was interrupted by my old pal Lando (of Decadence) and Pete (of Otto Press) who informed me that my suitcase was definitely too big to go in hand luggage. So that was something new to worry about, took my mind off the passport.
Arrived in Canada just minutes before your pal and mine Dustin Harbin, and we travelled on together, getting completely the wrong bus into town. I try to avoid making any food choices, rather leave it up to a local to show me the best places. Luckily I know a local, cartoonist and picture book editor John Martz. We ate some curry. In the place we went to, the curry comes wrapped in roti rather than served alongside it. You couldn’t really eat it with your hands, but I did try. Very tasty, would recommend.
Traditionally I like to start the festival by arriving on the Thursday and staying up chatting and drinking some lovely local beers until two in morning, thus alleviating any jet-lag. Of course this never works, sure I manage to stay awake, but then I only manage about an hour’s sleep and are then wide awake at dawn on the Friday. My brain hates me.
Toronto smells like weed.
Photo credit: Lindsay Pereira (you can also read Lindsay’s overview of the show here at BF)
Friday at TCAF is a teaching and learning day. Word Balloon Academy is for creators, and it’s really great. With workshops and talks on all the kinds of things a cartoonist needs to know… from paying taxes and doing your accounting to walkthroughs in how to use manga studio or classes on how to learn to do longform comics, It’s the kind of things they don’t teach you at school. Opportunities like this are like gold dust. There’s also a whole day of programming for teachers and librarians. Actively encouraging teachers, scholars and librarians to engage in comics, now there’s a brilliant idea.
Anyway I missed all that because I had an important meeting scheduled with Mario Kart and some Tibetan dumplings. I’ve never eaten Tibetan food before. Very tasty, would recommend.
I missed out on tickets to the Junji Ito opening event. But did spend some time catching up with old pals at a live draw welcome event. Watched Kagan McLeod draw some Game Of Thrones. Brilliant brush skills. I’ve done live drawing before, it makes me too nervous and it always turns out awful. So this was a real pleasure to watch. I was able to introduce some of my North American comics friends to some of my European comics friends, which was nice. But by this point the jet-lag was really something, and my sentences were not quite coherent. Just random collections of words, some shouted some muttered. Friends went on to see some bands featuring cartoonists. Not me though, I was too sleepy and greasy, greasy Decie.
So anyway, festival time. Saturday. It got very busy very quickly. I’ve never seen it busier. I wanted to drop by the Short Box table to pick up the James Stokoe book, but it was like five people deep by them. I gave up trying to get anywhere and returned to the sanctuary of my table space. Sales were strong and I pretty much sold out of floppy comics Dogs Disco and Telepathy Practice, they were going like hot cakes. Both Matt Bors and Matt Lubchansky from The Nib pop by. Who else? Alex Norris, heading to his signing. I imagine those books sold out in ten minutes. I would have liked to have gone to his talk, he’s so clever.
Photo credit: Aaron Costain
What was the crowd like? Diverse, I’d say. It’s a free event so attracts all the good folk of Toronto, plus comics fans from far and wide. It seemed like a safe space (of course it’s not, it’s a public library) but it felt relaxed and welcoming. Pronoun stickers. Such a simple thing, everyone wears a sticker with their pronouns, everyone feels comfortable. I’m not shy about asking people what they’re preferred pronoun is, but I do forget. This makes life easier. It might have just been in my head but this year’s festival seemed less CIS-hetero-white-male than any comic show I’ve attended. Brilliant. People were there to spend serious money too, not just browse. I’ve known this from previous years, and talked at length about it, in interviews and podcasts (maybe with Dan Berry?) TCAF customers know what they want, and they buy it. But perhaps my enthusiasm for this crowd isn’t painting a full picture, because I know that not every table was making cash money. But I think that’s a chat for a different post maybe.
End of the day and there’s slim pickings left on my table, mostly just copies of graphic novel Collecting Sticks, which people keep coming over to tell me they love, but already own. If only I could draw these things quicker, or convince them to buy extra copies. At one point a guy talks to me at length about how he’d used my book to teach on a course he runs, but I eventually clock that he’s got me confused with Oliver East. Easy mistake to make, we’re both British. I don’t say anything, wouldn’t want to embarrass him.
After the show closes a group of us go for an early curry (just dhal and chapti for me, the chapti here are fried in ghee rather than dry fried. Lovely, would recommend)
Photo credit: Aaron Costain
Then it’s on to the Doug Wright Awards. Do you know about the Doug Wright Awards? They’re a Canadian comic awards, that, as far as I can tell, was set up as a good excuse for Seth and Brad Mackay to dress in smart red jackets with a crest designed by Seth and present awards designed by Seth. It’s like The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists come to life. And it’s really great. It’s a celebration of Canadian comics. The previous two years Dustin Harbin has hosted the event, and he was very good at it, very funny. But he was American, not Canadian. This year Steve Manale (above right), a Canadian, took over the role. And it was just as funny. Dressed in custom Doug Wright basketball shirt and shorts, completely at odds with the pomp and ceremony, Steve talked at length about parallels with cartooning and basketball. It was very funny and his sport talk probably went over the heads of 90% of people there. It was incongruous and brilliant.
Photo credit: Aaron Costain
The award show is relatively short and sweet, with three awards (best book, spotlight award, best avant-garde work) and two hall of fame inductees (one living, one dead) Anyway, I’m sure actual journalists covered the awards so you can read about them there. I’m just hoping that Lando of Decadence is nominated in future years, seeing as he’s a Canadian citizen. I’d like to see him win the Pigskin Peters Award and don the ceremonial bowler hat. On top of being a “real fun time” the award show also gives you a pretty good overview of this years crop of comics, I try to pick up as many of the titles as I can. This year was dominated by nominations for Koyama Press books, and deservedly so. Big up also to Peow, Conundrum, Retrofit, Adhouse and D&Q for their books. Oh one other thing, at the end Joe Ollmann mentioned a big exhibition of Canadian comic art he was curating at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Looks pretty great.
What next? Some socialising in the Bloor Marriott bar. For some reason they’re never prepared for our arrival, despite the awards being held in their conference suite. Still, I don’t mind a queue or a grumpy barman, reminds me of home.
Ben Sears and Joe Decie. Photo credit: Aaron Costain
Sunday starts at a fairly civilized hour, and it’s not too busy. I usually use this time for a chance to nip around and buy a few books. Except there was a marathon running right through town and our taxi was very late. No time to shop for me. The whole day is a far more relaxed pace than yesterday, with cartoonists having more time to leave their tables to chat. I saw Luchie, her book is brilliant, don’t bother clicking that link though, it’s sold out. Who else? MK Reed all too briefly. Talked fake beards with Meags Fitzgerald. She probably has some of the best fake beards I know. Yannick Pelegrin is a Belgian artist that’s new to me, he’s got a lovely style.
Made a quick dash to pick up Jesse Jacobs new mini. I’m a Jacobs completist. I umm’d and ahh’d about whether I’d have room in my suitcase for one of his prints. But I umm’d and ahh’d too long because he sold out. All the good stuff sold out before I got it. Emily Carroll’s new horror book, didn’t get that. Didn’t get Lucy Knisley‘s Kid Gloves, that was gone too. (but she’s signing at Gosh next month, so I’ll get it then) Wanted Ben Passmore’s BTTM FDRS. But maybe that’s not even out yet? Didn’t realise Tara Booth was there, her comics are my favourite. I should have read the program. Almost didn’t get a copy of Ben Sears new book House of the Black Spot but my boy is a big fan so pulled as many strings as I could to secure a copy. Anyway, I shouldn’t be buying comics, I’ve still got a tonne left from last years festival I’ve yet to read.
Went for a wander. Saw L. Nichols and Aaron Costain who BOTH tried to get me to eat some disgusting Norwegian sweets. Perhaps if you hadn’t told me they were disgusting. Ian Williams had sold out of both his Bad Doctor graphic medicine titles. Timothy Winchester had his handsome new series Littlest Friends, he says it’s F.R.I.E.N.D.S meets Animal Crossing, so what’s not to like?
Photo credit: Aaron Costain
It’s Mother’s Day in North America, big up to the comics creators missing out on special treatment from their children… Britt Wilson (selling some amazing mothers day ceramics), Boum (who I didn’t even talk to but I think she’d lost her voice anyway) Lucy Knisley (who got not one, but three new tattoos over the weekend) I don’t get homesick, but I do miss my family. Lot’s of people ask me about my boy. Picked him up a copy of Caveboy Dave by Phil McAndrew. There was a lot of people I didn’t meet, I knew them and I should have said hello, but I’d forgotten how to talk. Didn’t even get to look at the Fanta or Uncivilized Press tables. It’s a funny thing, you see all these people you know but only get round to talking to a few of them. It’s only when I get home that I realise all the people I missed. And I guess some people might be the life and soul of the party when online but at the show they’re more reserved. I’m not shy, but the jetlag and lack of sleep make it hard for me to make small talk coherently. Anyway, I try my best. A British accent goes a long way, people laugh even when I’m not telling a joke. Hmm. Hope they were laughing with me not at me.
The convention ends to whoops and cheers and happy sleepy faces. Most people seem to have little to pack up so my guess is: sales were good. It’s a really good show you know. If you like indie comics, kids comics, comics and games crossovers, YA comics, LGBTQ comics, sex positive comics, art comics, European comics, manga or zines you should check it out. It’s right up your street.
Monday morning I head to The Beguiling, one of the best comic shops you could visit, it’s got treats and rarities hidden everywhere, a well curated BD selection, original art and all the coolest books. But come on, we just spent a whole weekend buying comics and talking comics, who needs more comics at this point? Turns out, I do. I buy a selection of Koyama titles that I’d missed and a very early rare Joe Decie comic that was missing from my collection. Annie Koyama is there, making sure everybody is happy and looked after. The Toronto comics folk are wonderful, you know? so welcoming and friendly.
Some people are getting ready to travel to the west coast for VanCAF but not me, I’m needed at home to do the school pick up. I get a bus, then a subway, then a bus, then a plane, then a cup of tea, then a train, then a train and I’m home. Brilliant.