Review - Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2012

I spent this past weekend wearing out the soles of my newly-purchased shoes walking up and down the length of Yonge Street in Toronto and padding around the Toronto Reference Library just north of Bloor. The library has been playing host to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival since 2009, also the first year I attended. I’ve gone every May since then, adding more and more people to my little comic adoring posse and meeting several print and web artists I’m a big fan of, including comics theorist Scott McCloud, Ultimate Spider-Man penciller Stuart Immonen, Queen of the Webcomics Kate Beaton and my latest favourite writer, Jeff Lemire.

                                         Pictured L-R: Myself, Chris Mantil, Sam, Anjuli

So after spending a couple hours in a downtown diner, we walked over to the library and got our comics appreciation weekend underway.

I picked up Kate Beaton’s second book, Hark! A Vagrant, which collects more strips from her eponymous webcomic. Of all the artists attending TCAF, I doubt any have experienced as huge a surge in popularity as Beaton has over the last few years. In 2009 she was, along with other webcomic creators, relegated to a small room on the Reference Library’s first floor. During 2010 and 2011, she was signing and selling in a much larger chamber on the second, her lines for those years stretching across the room. This May she had her own special desk for signing in the basement, the line so long it wound its way around the stairwell twice, as well as an entire panel devoted to her on the second day.

However popular she’s become, though, her affable personality has not been dampened, and she was glad to chat with each of her fans as she signed and sketched in their books. For about three minutes, she and I talked about research, Men’s Rights Advocates and her next comic, all while she was drawing me a funny picture of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, based on one of my favourite comics of hers (second from the top). If you aren’t familiar with Kate Beaton’s work, please, check it out. She lightheartedly pokes fun at history and literature, and with a distinctly Canadian edge. A national damn treasure, she is.

I’ve sung Jeff Lemire’s praises in another entry. Animal Man, which he writes, is the single best ongoing series on comic store shelves at the moment and at nine issues its quality doesn’t seem to be waning. In perhaps the nerdiest mission I’ve ever undertaken, I brought my copy of Animal Man #1 to TCAF and, after a short wait, I was able to get Lemire to sign it. I never wanted to be one of those guys who bags and boards their single comics issues, but for the time being this is as close as I get to possessing anything resembling an heirloom.

But before he brought Buddy Baker back into the spotlight (and before he introduced us to the twisted world of Gus and Jeppard in Sweet Tooth), Lemire wrote and drew Essex County, a three part multigenerational family saga set in the southern Ontario community of the same name where he grew up. I was able to get my hands on an autographed hardcover copy after he left and read it on the bus ride back to Ottawa—read in spurts, for it’s a sad, strange, heavy story, punctuated by transgressions, missed opportunities and, at long last, a seed of hope for the characters’ futures. The volume was a finalist for CBC’s Canada Reads contest in 2011, and while it didn’t nab the top prize it’s indisputably one of the great works of Canadian fiction.

For the third year in the row I popped over to Danielle Corsetto’s booth. Corsetto writes and draws Girls with Slingshots, a charming relationship webcomic that features a talking Irish cactus and a ghost kitty. Yeah. There’s an inherent absurdity in purchasing a print collection of a comic whose archives I can access for free at any time, but I like contributing to a good creator. Not to mention, I’m obsessed with amassing a multimedia library. Volume Six is the third book of Corsetto’s I’ve bought, and the first to be printed in colour, and let me tell you it looks gorgeous.

Anthony Clark, better known to his Internet audience by the curious pseudonym of Nedroid, is the eccentric mind behind Nedroid Picture Diary, which depicts the cute, witty and occasionally subversive adventures of the cocky bird Reginald and his compact ursine counterpart, the aptly named Beartato. Clark is a member of Cracked.com’s Pointless Waste of Time Forums, which I frequent, and regularly converses in drawings, such as this amazing Monocle-Off. I only asked him for a sketch last year, so this year I bought his second book, Beartato and the Incredible Event, and asked him to draw Beartato and the shark-headed Harrison high-fiving. Clark went the extra mile and fully fleshed out the group dynamic.

*dances in joy*

Perhaps the strangest item in my haul, Tale of Sand is an abstract, darkly comedic graphic novel based on an unproduced screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, adapted for the comics medium by southern Ontario-born and Toronto-based artist Ramón K. Pérez. The screenplay was born out of Henson’s brief career in experimental filmmaking in the years before he created the Muppets, and was loosely based on his Academy Award-nominated short film Time Piece. It’s also undeniable proof that the father of Kermit, Big Bird and David Bowie’s codpiece dropped acid at some point in the ’60s.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Ramón K. Pérez

      It’s totally unlike anything Henson was famous for, largely devoid of dialogue and even traditional narrative, following gruff loner Mac as he’s chased across the American southwest by an eye patch-wearing rogue. I figure it’ll take a few more perusals before I can even start to understand Tale of Sand, but regardless Pérez’s art is absolutely stunning, incorporating a variety of palettes and even actual pages from Henson and Juhl’s script. The physical volume itself is also wonderfully designed. If you’re in the mood for something a little more surreal, check it out. It’ll give you an interesting glimpse into the mind of a man who brought joy to a lot of people’s childhoods.

Other highlights from the mini-con included a panel on cartoons and music featuring electronic musician and occasional comics artist Eric “Kid Koala” San, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and German artist Arne Bellstorf, the last of whom debuted his semi-biographical comic about the Beatles in their early days, Baby’s in Black, at TCAF this year. O’Malley also signed my copy of Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour after the panel was over. So wooooooooooo.

As well, I briefly chatted with Cameron Stewart, a Canadian comic book penciller who has contributed to several Grant Morrison-penned works, including Seven Soldiers of Victory, Batman and Robin and Batman Incorporated. To be perfectly honest, I was almost in awe of talking to an actual Batman artist. Definite geek out moment.

So yeah, an awesome weekend to be certain. I got to meet and chat with artists whose work I loved, added some interesting volumes to my comics collection, and hung out with good friends. All in all, I couldn’t ask for a better weekend.

                                                                          L-R: Myself, Chris, Sam, Alex, disdainful strangers

And then Chris got attacked by a pigeon.

                                                                                                                                                        Author's Rendition

No comments: