A Wander Through TCAF 2018 In Panels And Personalities

by Koom Kankesan

The Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) is a multi-day comics festival put on by the Toronto Public Library, The Beguiling, and other fine Toronto institutions in concert with the city. The main festival ran during the past Saturday and Sunday (May 12th and 13th, 2018) but there is a week of events leading up to and surrounding TCAF. The majority of the events and panel discussions are centred in the area around the Toronto Reference Library which is smack in the centre of Toronto’s downtown core.

I’ve been an attendee for many years and there never seems to be enough space. People travel here from all over the world now, although the majority of attendees come from North America. It was so packed that moving through the crowd in the Reference Library was difficult and lines for signings could be very long. The festival is free and the kinds of books favoured here are on the indie/literary side of the spectrum. I saw a couple of people in costume today but most people were walking around, meeting favourite creators (famous, beginning, and everything in between) and buying tonnes of books. Needless to say, an absence of cosplay also means an absence of toys and related merchandise and the other kinds of spectacle advertising you get at a mainstream con. TCAF is in alignment with festivals like SPX or CAKE.

I like to attend as many panels as I can but this year, it was a little harder to do that given the crowds. One panel I did get to was called Personal Boundaries: Changing Shape of Memoir. Panel members discussed their projects, the kinds of love story arcs and elements they fashioned, and how to go against the tried conventions of queer romance stories. They also discussed the language around non-hetero desire and how their personal lives had intertwined in the subject matter of their comics.

I always try to attend Rob Sikoryak’s Carousel panels if I can. Rob usually does this event in New York where he lives but he also takes the event on the road. At TCAF, he’ll invite other comics artists who are appearing at the festival to participate. I’m guessing it’s called a carousel because different creators take turns reading their work aloud. At the same time, slides are projected of individual panels of their work, synched to what they’re reading, so that there’s an audiovisual component to the performance. Of course, old Kodak slide projectors called their wheel a ‘carousel’ so perhaps there’s a double meaning to the event.

My favourite event that I went to on the Saturday was a session organized by Toon Books. Toon Books is spearheaded by Francoise Mouly and gets notable comics creators to do books for children employing the cartoon medium. Saturday’s event had artists working with kids who came up and collaborated on sketches. It was a treat to walk into this small event and see creators and kids jamming together. There were not many people there and the event seemed to fly under the radar of the attendees.

At the Fantagraphics table, I bought the new issue of Love and Rockets and got Jaime Hernandez to sign it. He was selling sketches he’d brought with him and I bought a couple!
Being near the Fantagraphics table, I got to meet Ho Che Anderson for the first time and loved talking to this warm, personable, friendly artist. I’d known of Ho’s work from the nineties (King, Young Hoods in Love) but had no idea what he’d been up to lately. It turns out he’s working on a project called Godhead for Fantagraphics. It’s amazing – both Ho and I have lived in Toronto for much of our lives, we’ve both gone to high school in Scarborough and been into a lot of the same 80’s comics – I felt an instant warmth and affection for him and yet it took something like TCAF for us to actually meet. Ho was one of the artists featured in a spotlight panel this weekend.

Finally, perhaps the highlight for me was meeting Eddie Campbell and his wife Audrey Niffenegger. Eddie and Audrey were promoting Bizarre Romance, a collection of stories written by Audrey and illustrated by Eddie. I really love Eddie’s semi-autobiographical Alec and of course, he is known for illustrating From Hell (written by Alan Moore and my favourite graphic novel of all time). Eddie mentioned that he and Top Shelf are releasing a new edition of From Hell with some of the continuity cleaned up, and with pages coloured by Eddie. At first, I thought he was pulling my leg because Eddie’s a bit of a joker, but he did eventually show me some coloured pages on his laptop. Eddie’s got a great facility for colour (check out some of his painted work in The Fate of the Artist) but one of the things I’ve always liked about From Hell was its black and white quality – its sooty, gritty, grimy Victorian England atmosphere. Still, I’m curious to see it when it’s out and I’ll certainly buy it for a lover of comics and his money are soon parted!

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