The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2011
People crowded through the aisles of the Toronto Reference Library (TRL) this weekend, engulfed by the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). An international group of graphic novel creators and fans gathered in first two floors of the library, which showcased some of the more obscure graphic novels.
TCAF is held every year in the downtown library and, as their pamphlets assert, is not a comic book convention. What makes it different is that it is as much about the creators as it is about their fans. According to their official literature, TCAF is meant to celebrate diversity and creativity, with a leaning towards independent and atypical projects. Unlike most gatherings for graphic novels, superhero comics were in the margins while quirkier stories got the limelight.
Tom Humberstone, a comic writer and illustrator based in London, England, came to display his work from the British anthology, Solipsistic Pop. Despite the distance from home, he said it was worth the trouble of flying across the Atlantic.
“Because it’s free and in the downtown core, I get to meet a lot of people not usually into comics and more willing to opened up to an alternative style,” he said at a panel on UK comics. “Back in 2007, I was looking at the communities (for independent comics) in North America. When I saw TCAF, I felt really jealous because we don’t have this kind of infrastructure and support back in the UK.”
TCAF also gives the opportunity to show local independent creators, like Benjamin Rivers, a professor from the Ontario College of Art and Design. A Torontonian, Rivers was there to promote his graphic novel, Snow. Rivers explained that while he liked the atmosphere, TCAF was his opportunity to sell his comics.
“I’m here to make money. I just got (Snow) printed this weekend, so this is kind of a launch party for me,” he said. Snow is about a girl who lives on Queen Street West. Rivers talked to everyone who approached his booth with a smile and described his story.
Another Canadian at the festival was Stuart Immonen, an artist better known for his work for Marvel and DC Comics. He was there to release his collection of his sketches and short comics, Centifolia II. He could be found on the second floor with his wife, as they casually talked to fans about their independent and mainstream titles.
“We’re locals in Ontario and we’ve come almost every year. (TCAF) lets me meet old friends and we get to see new fans,” Immonen said. “It’s good for our lesser known works too. Last year we debuted Moving Pictures at TCAF and now I have Centifolia.”
Though it does seem to provide satisfaction to many creators, TCAF wouldn’t be much of a festival without its fans. Visitors poured in from all over the city, and by Saturday afternoon, the reference library was so packed it was difficult to move. Some of the fans have been waiting for this for weeks, while others simply came in to see what all the commotion was about.
Melanie Sue is a psychology student at the University of Toronto who went to TCAF on a whim.
“I was at the Beguiling (a book store), and they told this festival was going on at the TRL. It’s free, so I came by,” she said, as she was making a curious glance through the aisle of T-shirts and trinkets. “The art here is really crazy and I was impressed by all the people. I didn’t expect to see this many artists and fans.”
TCAF has panels on comic book design and culture, a large list of exhibitors and workshops for kids. It is run by Christopher Butcher and Peter Birkemoe every year around the first weekend of May.