Reflecting on TCAF 2013

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A couple of weeks ago I went to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival.

I hoped to write a comprehensive post  but, silly little me, I hadn’t realized what a huge happening TCAF was. I knew there was a lot of things going on, but I hadn’t imagined how much goes on at once at the Festival.

While, I only have a few things to say about this years’ TCAF, the TCAF write ups of veteran convention go-ers,  Tom Spurgeon and Dustin Harbin, are choc-a-bloc with information on the festival.

Dustin Harbin’s post covers a lot of ground, but a point he touches upon, that I don’t happen to hear mentioned enough in the North American comics community is the payment models for these kinds of events:

The comics industry seems to run mainly on low or no pay. It can–and obviously does–lead to great and valuable work; but overall I think of it as an enormously unhealthy business model longterm, both in the macro sense, from publishers to event organizers to criticism, and the micro sense, in terms of the artistic work being done and the space for artists to be paid enough to create.

Comics is unique in that this volunteer spirit seems to be present both at the top and bottom of the spectrum, but I think it would be stronger if there were a visible model of payment and value at work. There will always be room for those of us with the passion and energy to donate spare time and skillsets to projects we believe in, whether paid or not. But for the health of the larger industry, I think volunteerism should be the exception, not the rule. – Harbin

I feel we’re at a really interesting point in time in terms of comics shows and zine-fairs. Young folks seem more engaged than ever in terms of exhibiting and there seem to be many more small, local shows with low barriers of entry for exhibitors. Besides that, it seems that veteran creators are getting their due on panels and as special guests to many of these shows *cough* Hernandez Brothers *cough*.

What with the unfortunate departure BCGF from the expo ecosystem, there’s a real absence that should be filled. Hopefully that absence is an impetus for folks to come out of the woodwork to try work out new models for the ways shows work. Above all, there is a real possibility, that with some real thinking, we’ll see models where volunteerism is the exception.

Careful long-term thought from the outset might just allow all the energy and excitement that has developed over the past 4 years in the American comics industry to transform into a reliable and sustainable network of shows and conferences.

I’m excited to see how the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo and Autoptic turn out this summer. Here’s hoping that in the next year or two folks come out of the woodwork and they break some new ground…

Back to TCAF!

Among the comics that I read during the festival, the most noteworthy for me were the works of Finnish cartoonist, Maria Björklund and Montrealaise cartoonist Antonin Buisson.

Maria Björklund is a cartoonist and animator who resides in Helsinki. I came across her work when I discovered Planeetta Z(Planet Z) at the Finnish Comics Society’s table. Her Planet Z comics are published in several papers, highlights of which have been gathered in her book. 

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Björklund’s comics explore the wild and wacky ecology of Planet Z through expertly crafted 4 panel gags. Björklund’s color choices show off juicy and vibrant characters.  The comics depict a cheery survival of the fittest. The comics are filled with many playful instances of recursion and of the cyclic nature of food chains.

A bit like a nature documentary in four panels the strip is a mix of cuteness, mystery and cruelty. The comic has no main characters, but some of the animals do have recurring roles in the strips.857756_540585139305200_570620661_o

The moment I picked up the book I knew it was something special.

Bjorklund was present as a representative of the Finnish Comics Society. It was great to experience such a wonderfully curated selection of new comics from Finland firsthand.

The Finnish Comics Society is an association of makers, readers, collectors and researchers that presents comics both to the wider public as well as to the cultural establishment in Finland.

They put on the annual Helsinki Comics Festival, the largest comics event in Northern Europe. The society also maintains Comics Center Helsinki, an open cultural center for comics and related art, publishes anthologies and albums featuring Finnish, Scandinavian and Baltic artists and organizes several international projects every year.

It was great to see a large Finnish contingent in Toronto.

sacapatatesThe moment I first read Antonin Buisson‘s comics was pure joy.

Overwhelmed by the hundreds of new books that weekend, his simple black and white comics caught my eye for their subtlety. They were soothing in their silent absurdity. I picked up a copy of his 44 page collection of silent, unedited absurd short stories, Garder le Rhythme (Stay on beat).

I’ve been reading it before bed every night.

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All in all, I had a wonderful time, floating from tables to panels to friends. I hope to do it again next year!

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