Just over a month ago (wow time has flown by) I went to the Toronto Comics Art Festival (TCAF) for short. And yes I blew through a bit of savings to go to it, but well…take a look at this guest list. Seriously go and look at it. Where else are you going to find that much talent at one con and for free? Nowhere. The only other time I’ve seen that many big name artists (Bechdel, Beaton, Smith, Kibuishi, O’Malley, etc.) in one place was the guest list for San Diego Comic-con and frankly I can’t afford that one. But this one? Completely affordable. And even more than that this was a completely awesome festival. Well organized, professional staff/volunteers, and every single artist/writer was genuinely happy to talk to their fans. It was a fantastic two day weekend.
First thing to note is that this isn’t a traditional comic convention, it’s a festival. It’s a celebration of fans, artists, and writers getting together to celebrate the graphic medium. I know it sounds a lot like a convention, but for me one of the things that separated it is that the only exhibitors were really artists, writers, and a few of the graphic novel publishing houses (Top Shelf for example.) The other thing that separates it is that the festival was held in the Toronto Public Library while it was open. Which means that there were quite a few people who had no idea what was going on, but got to be introduced to comics and graphic novels world. Which is absolutely fantastic. I got a chance to talk to a woman and her young son who seemed to not really be familiar with a lot of the artists, but by the end of our five minute conversation (while waiting in line) I had sold them on a couple of works by Faith Erin Hicks and few of the other artists nearby. It was a great conversation that I don’t think would have happened at a traditional comic-con.
The second thing that I noticed is that the staff and volunteers were really well organized. They helped direct the flow of traffic, kept things moving, and were constantly talking to each other doing their best to make sure everyone had the right information. Even for the lines for the bigger guests (Jeff Smith, Bechdel, Beaton) were handled phenomenally well compared to other places I’ve been. It was on a first come first serve basis, they made sure they know how many people could be signed for in the given time, cut off the line so that people weren’t waiting around for hours only to find out later they couldn’t get an autograph, and they kept things flowing smoothly while communicating with folks in line about what was going on. And they did their best to make sure people weren’t getting umpteen million things signed. They were also easily visible and happy to direct and answer questions as best as they could.
But for me the best part about the festival is that the artists and writers were genuinely happy to talk to their fans. And there were so many different people there, even artists from Australia! And that’s the main reason I choose to come to this festival, the variety of different people, including my two all time favorite artists–Lucy Knisley and Kazu Kibuishi. All of these artists were within arm’s length and they all made time to talk to people, while still keeping the lines moving. Even the bigger names were willing to take a few minutes and talk to folks, to personalize books, even to draw a little sketch or two to make people’s day just a bit brighter.
My favorite takeaway from this event? This book. It’s a Nursery Rhyme Comics book by FirstSecond (it’s absolutely fantastic and everyone should go and read it) and I had taken it with me because a few of the 50 artists were going to be there. My original thought was that I’d just get them to sign the table of content page, but Dave Roman (author/creator of Teen Boat and Astronaut Academy) asked if he could sign on the front cover pages because there was more space and he created something fantastic. Instead of my boring idea of just having signatures I now have a work of art where 9 different creates drew a little sketch and signed the book for me.
So will I go back next year? It really depends on the artists that are coming, but most like yes. This is an absolutely amazing event and if you have a chance to go you should. I can’t wait to see who is coming next year.