The Toronto Comic Arts Festival runs this weekend: here are five things to see and do
It’s 20 years since the first Toronto Comics Arts Festival brought the creative and bookish together to celebrate comics and graphic novels. Now packing in the crowds every year at the Toronto Reference Library, it’s a vibrant event for hundreds of independent creators and small publishers to reach passionate readers and generate buzz for their books. Alongside that, TCAF is important in encouraging diversity, as shown in the wide range of stories reaching audiences thanks to the festival. Here are five things to do this year:
1. Acquire something amazing
A good rule for any comic convention is to buy something directly from its creator, and it’ll never be put to better use than during the TCAF weekend. You’re not just supporting people with money — for many artists, TCAF is a key event in the year for their small business — you’re also encouraging them to create stories for readers like you. That’s why we can all delight in everybody’s creations filling three floors of the reference library, and all of us can take some of the magic home and support a creator at the same time. If you can’t make it, you can join in by visiting the TCAF Digital Marketplace, which is open until May. Featuring TCAF exhibitors, the online shop has books, apparel, stickers and more. You can even shop specifically for Toronto creators, as the festival continues a long tradition of encouraging grassroots talent from its own city.
2. Learn something new
There are panels, workshops and more across the TCAF programming, but this focuses on the opportunities to expand the mind, not to grab a selfie with a celebrity. As the thousands who attend TCAF every year know, the stars of the latest Marvel movie aren’t headlining this kind of show — it’s all about the books and the stories in them.
For example, the wonderfully subversive R. Sikoryak, the cartoonist who turned Trump quotes into comic book covers in hilarious and disturbing ways, is giving a visual presentation about how he makes his unique comics. There are panels on how to make books, how to get them funded and more. There’s even a workshop on how to make good health choices while working as a cartoonist. And, of course, this festival is an event for networking and collaboration, so there’s plenty to learn from each other, too.
3. Hear new voices
Just as the content of their books show, the creators of graphic novels come from every possible background, bringing their own stories. TCAF is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the diverse mix.
Where else are you going to hear a conversation with Jun Mayuziki, the multi-award-winning Japanese creator of manga “Kowloon Generic Romance”? Or listen to comics voices from Montreal, in conversation about what fosters a comics ecosystem? There’s also Italian artist and writer David Marchetti speaking about his new book “Uno,” at an event co-presented by the Consulate General of Italy. And Saturday includes an important panel, with Indigenous comic creators Cole Pauls and Chris Scriver sharing their perspectives on Indigenous Self-Publishing.
4. Load up with books — and get them signed
It’s difficult to think of a more cost-effective way to gather your summer reading. With hundreds of exhibitors filling all corners of the library, it’s hard to turn around without encountering a book available at a good price. Publishers will be ready with piles of books — look out for the more established players like Fantagraphics and Conundrum Press, alongside the cool new kids like Black Eye Book. There are always plenty to buy directly from the dozens of individual creators renting tables throughout the building, and many of them will be happy to add a signature or a sketch while you watch, making it a moment to remember. Just plan your shopping well, in budget and timing — impulse buys too early at a book festival can mean sore arms for days.
5. Celebrate real art made by real people
Last year, about 25,000 people came together to join the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, as participants, buyers or just interested onlookers. And all of them joined in the celebration of graphic novels, comic books and the people who make them, adding yet more proof that it’s an art form with real mass appeal. Taking part in this book festival — or any book festival — celebrates this creative culture in the best way: by showing up.
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is a free event and takes place April 29 and 30 at the Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street. For more information go to torontocomics.com
Mike Donachie is a writer in London, Ontario
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