Stand Out Standalones

Debuting on the NYT Graphic Books best seller list at #3, is the latest title from indie-comic favorite Daniel Clowes, Wilson. In the deluge of more mainstream superhero and manga titles, single volumes from independent creators can be lost in the shuffle, so it’s a pleasure to see one of them shoot to the top ranks of the list.

Over this past weekend, I had a chance to attend the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (fondly known as TCAF), considered by many to be the top convention devoted to independent and innovative creators and publishers in the comics world. Since TCAF was first held in 2003, the event has been curated and promoted by the indefatigable Christopher Butcher, owner of one of the best comics stores in North America, The Beguiling, a no-holds-barred comics blogger, and an advocate for the diversity and literary quality of the medium.

TCAF is not a comics convention in the usual sense: there were very few folks in costume (and those that were were sporting richly detailed steampunk outfits, not superhero spandex), and the attendees were clearly more from the hipster set than the stereotypical fanboy horde you see at the larger, mainstream cons.

In 2003, TCAF’s attracted over 70 artists and a crowd of 600 attendees. Last year those numbers grew to over 300 exhibitors and 10,500 attendees. This year’s numbers are sure to come in even higher.

Daniel Clowes himself was front and center debuting Wilson in a special program Friday evening. The trumpeting of both Clowes’s talent and independent publisher Drawn and Quarterly‘s street cred shows clearly where TCAF’s heart is: with the innovative, literary creators who are both entertaining and challenging readers. Throughout the weekend, programs highlighted such creators (Charles Vess, Paul Pope, Dash Shaw, James Sturm, Seth, and Chester Brown are but a few headliners) as well as topics of interest to the eclectic crowd: manga outside the mainstream, comics history, the dangers of creating autobiographical comics, and the impact of webcomics and social media on creators.

TCAF also features a whole raft of kids programming. I poked my head in to see the happy crowd of children drawing their own comics and mercilessly interrogating creators Mike Deas (Soccer Sabotage), Eric Wight (Frankie Pickle) and Matt Loux (Salt Water Taffy) about their work.

At the show, treasures of comic art and beautifully crafted prints and books were waiting to be discovered. The most artful finds included a gorgeous hardcover of the webcomic The Abominable Charles Christopher, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Wolrd War II drama Moving Pictures, and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft. Fanfare/Ponent-Mon’s anticipated Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators (a follow up to their excellent anthology Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators) was newly available. TCAF is also the place to find the small, crafted editions of mini-comics and show specials including Jim Zubkavich’s A Slightly Fictional History of Popcorn, Colleen Frakes’s Tragic Relief, and an amusing fanzine for Lady Gaga Prison for Bitches. (Thanks to fellow TCAF-goers Deb Aoki and Eva Volin for their input on the most memorable finds!)

Even more exciting to this librarian?  TCAF takes place at the Toronto Reference Library. The main floor’s study tables are replaced with row after row of artists and writers while another room upstairs was devoted to webcomics creators. Among the stacks are the lines for creator signings, artists sketching and signing prints, and a number of critical conversations to be overheard among fans, publishers, and creators. The library takes full advantage of hosting the festival, pulling out titles for display to show off their own graphic novel and comics collections. Open during the festival and welcoming to all comers, from their usual crowd to the more unusual comics afficcianados, the library has truly embraced all that this event brings them, from new visitors to visibility on the grander city-wide stage.

This is the kind of event that I could imagine organized at other city libraries, like Boston or New York. Of course,  you’d need a show organizer with the expertise and zeal of Butcher to pull it off. What a wonderful melding of comics and libraries such a movable feast could be.

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