Toronto Comics Art Festival – Grass is greener on the north side of the border

A few impressions of the circumstance of comics at TCAF festival and in Toronto

Finland often looks west, to Sweden, with a bit of envy. Everything seems to be a little bit better there, the standard of living is higher, the Swedes seem to have higher self-esteem etc. Relations between US and Canadian comics resemble those circumstances – at least compared between New York and Toronto.

New York has the Mocca Fest which is not bad at all. However, it pales in comparison with TCAF, Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The fair has pretty much all the quality publishers form south of the border, but also some really good small Canadians that don’t usually exhibit at Mocca.

More important is that the sidebar program is much more interesting than at Mocca. In Toronto the panels and other talk programs actually don’t feel like a sidebar at all, something that needs to be done by the left hand. In Toronto they feel like an integral part of the show, curated with care.

Any event thinks of inviting Christophe Blain to talk about his book Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, but TCAF had also the writer Abel Lanzac who brought insight of French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to both the book and the discussion in Toronto.

TCAF does not shy away from political comics, Seth Tobocman’s presentation of 35 years of World War 3 Illustrated was also interesting. It would have deserved a bigger crowd. Even the smart Canadians don’t know to appreciate everything.

It was delightful to see how popular the local artists are. Seth (It’s A Good Life if You Don’t Weaken, Palookaville) participated in a panel discussion only, but the queue was almost a block long. Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s debuting (very fine) book This One Summer sold out.

At quite a few tables selling out seemed to be the main worry already on the first day. Didn’t publishers and sellers expect as big an audience as they got? It was very crowded but seems the fest has been equally busy previous years.

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Apart from the festival, comics seem to thrive in Toronto overall. There is the deservedly world famous shop, Beguiling. The staff knows their stuff. If you ask them to Google if the issue of Jordan Crane’s Uptight you found there is the latest one, they don’t need to. They know.

 Also, if you happen to wear a shirt with a drawing by the Swiss artist Thomas Ott, the guy behind the counter recognizes it.

There are several other comics shops, but most of them are more or less superhero oriented. A bit of a surprise is that the two shops in Kensington Market are strictly superheroes only. One would think that in the Toronto’s paradise for hippies and hipsters more contemporary approach to comics would do better.

Outside the comics ghetto comics seem to be doing quite well too, actually enough so that maybe there is no ghetto for comics like down south in the US. In most second hand book stores comics are not hidden in a corner but are paraded quite visibly.

Maybe the cherry on top of the Toronto comics cake might be the excellent Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The museum had an exhibition of Chester Brown’s Louis Riel comics. It was tiny but it was there, in the best museum in town.

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David Collier

Even more impressive is that AGO hag commissioned a comic book by David Collier to promote an upcoming exhibition of the painter Alex Colville. Maybe some other prestigious museum somewhere has commissioned a comic book to promote an exhibition. If so, I’d like to know. Meanwhile, well done AGO. 

Text: Harri Römpötti

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Harri Römpötti

Harri Römpötti is a cultural journalist and comics critic from Helsinki.
fili suomen sarjakuvaseura © Finnish Comics Society 2014