On an inexplicably snowy may weekend, a week after Free Comic Book Day, TCAF becomes an event which, in the crowded world of comic conventions, remains exceptional. Once a show highlighting the local community, TCAF has grown to a national experience with artists who defy the medium’s reliance mainstream comic industry. TCAF 2016 was held May 14-15 at the Toronto Reference Library, an off-beat venue for a festival with another exceptional attribute: It’s completely free to the public.
There’s a small bit of Marvel, a few pieces of DC, but the typical table has an artist selling their self-published comic memoirs, their web-comic collected into print form, tiny five page sketchbooks hand-photocopied. Before being granted table space, exhibitors have their works evaluated by a discriminating council to keep the content interesting instead of pandering anime fan-artists. They also try to cycle the regular exhibitors on alternating years to keep things fresh. And almost every book is being sold directly from the writer or artists – no vendors just liquidating back issue bins.
The “Comics vs Games” pavillion on second floor hosted independent developers showing off their cool stuff. Despite the area’s title, indie comics and indie games are allies in analogs combat against the mainstream. This year the show spread to the library’s third floor where the creative team from the awesome “Atomic Robo” were hidden. The rest of the “Big names” were actually secreted away down the street to the swanky Masonic Temple where in the cooler atmosphere lurked local figures like Jason Loo, and also luminescent industry supernova, Brian K Vaughan. And Marguerite Bennett was as bright and friendly as you would ever hope your favorite writer is. Around the corner from the Library, the Marriott hotel hosted a few compelling panels like an involved discussion regarding the role of diversity in comics.
Aside from a couple people who didn’t get the memo, this wasn’t an event for cosplayers. No Avengers, no homestucks, no zombies. This was an experience for genuine appreciation of comics. Not to say there wasn’t a lot of color in the crowd – the number of girls with blue or pink or green hair formed an electrical force field spread over the convention that kept out anyone who might object to females in the comic community. Zanta was removed by security because nobody wants him.
But it would be wrong not to mention that for many attendees the joy of the weekend was diminished by the passing of Darwyn Cooke, a hero of the industry – one of the few near-universally praised artists and writers. A master of vintage class and textured storytelling. When DC commenced their controversial “Before Watchmen” project, one of the smartest moves they made was opening it up with an issue by Darwyn. The world of comics is better for having had him a part of it, his absence will be felt, he will be missed. Being a Toronto resident, he was no stranger to TCAF, and the hundreds of creatives at TCAF will strive to help fill the void he leaves.
When I’m at TCAF, I’m a fan of indie comics, and when the show is done I gradually revert to my normal diet of Superheroes and Action Figures. But I know that in a better world, I would be TCAF-me at least half the year.
Michael Ryan, May 18 2016
I remember 2007 when it was held in the Old Victoria College building at U of T. I was into TCAF before it was cool.