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May 18, 2014

CR Sunday Feature: A Few Notes About TCAF 2014


imageThe following are a few personal observations about the recently completed Toronto Comic Arts Festival, held every year in and around the Toronto Reference Library. I had a really good time.


* TCAF is a mighty, mighty show now. I'll have some criticisms below, but the positives far outweigh the negatives with this one, to an almost overwhelming degree.

* I'm not sure what the takeaway was for most people. I bet due to the number of enthusiastic audience members and excellent cartoonists on hand that were women, someone out there has tried to cast it as a year for women, but I think TCAF itself played that in a way to underline that in a sense every year is that year, and that's a bigger cause for celebration than actually planning for a one-year bump or call to attention. There were just a lot of good cartoonists period. Keynoters Kate Beaton, Lynn Johnston, Raina Telgemeier? These cartoonists aren't part of any trend. That is the face of comics, artists defined by their talent and their class. This is what comics looks like right now, and in places like TCAF it's what it's looked like for a while.

* to be honest, the show felt young to me more than it felt like a show defined by gender or orientation.

* the show also felt counter-standard-narrative more than it felt like a show defined by anything else. As much as I'm proud of the kinds of comics I've been able to champion over the years, one of the great things about going to TCAF is the presence of so many people whose conception of comics does not give two shits about standard narratives for comics -- what's good, why, where those comics have to come from. I must have heard the phrase, "I don't know who those people are [person indicates someone with a line] but they're very, very popular" a dozen times over the weekend. The world of comics engaged by TCAF is expanding, and the show expands with it.

* so: TCAF 2014.

* first personal note: this was my first show of the year. It was nice to see everyone. Except you, Harbin.

* second personal note, of even higher self-indulgence: Yes, I'm super-heavy right now. I think I was 95 pounds heavier this year -- yikes! I'll write about it at some point in the near-future but: there was a thing, I'm 100 percent fine, and I appreciate the concern, interest and/or polite circumspection from all of you that noticed. I think I may have heard every sweetly-intended variation of "Sooooo... how's your health?" the English language allows. As someone who has made that part of their life a bit public, I think that's fair game.

* to that end, I heard very little talk about other people's weight or how they looked, which I also think is a healthy trend. People don't go to comics shows for our benefit, they go because it's a part of their lives. We could all gossip less.

* anway, I'll be surprised if I do not look very different by Heroes, Comic-Con, SPX and ICAF. We'll see.

* my size did make travel more personally reminiscent of 2010 than 2012, but it was all very doable.

* I don't have a lot in the way of general travel notes. I do think the fundamental unreliability of travel in the 2010s is a sign of one way stateside culture has embraced higher profits over a better system. I live in a weird place, far from airports and four-lane highways, but it took me an astonishing 26 hours from driveway to Toronto hotel room. It took me 23 hours from Toronto hotel room to my friend's house in Muncie, Indiana. This is yet another thing in this report that is going to make me sound 10,000 years old, but all I could think of while traveling is the way my father as a kid used to hop trains from his home in Indiana to Cleveland to see an Indians game with friends and then head back again, fully confident that the trains would run on time and deposit him five blocks from his house. Can you imagine a 12-year-old traveling like this today? Can you imagine depending on the timeliness of regional travel to the point you'd never question your safe and punctual arrival?

* the first comics people I saw on my trip were Heidi MacDonald and John Green, sitting across way in Newark's Porter Air lobby, talking industry stuff. We later shared a cab. Heidi paid. Feud over.

* the Porter Air part of the trip was very smooth for me this year, although I heard that some of the Friday arrivals experienced ferry delays that made the end of the trip kind of tough. There was also some discombobulation at Newark with one of their runways that put some people on earlier or slightly delayed flights. Still, I'm surprised more people don't take advantage of this regional airline. There were maybe five other comics people on my flight. That specific flight, from Newark to Toronto, was $59. I think I might actually pay $359 to not do Pearson.

* I also had no problems with customs, although again I heard that some people were asked more directly after whether or not they were in Toronto to do business. I heard more stories than usual, anyway.

* come to think of it, people being mostly fine was a mini-theme of the weekend. A lot of folks had "yeah, but" stories, one glitch that was unexpected or one outcome that was slightly off-key -- not enough to ruin a weekend, but enough for a story. Some of these were practical and real-world, like Leon Avelino and Sean Ford of Secret Acres having to fill out some paperwork at the border. Some of these were existential. I talked to a lot of people that were "re-thinking convention strategies" in terms of, say, not attending shows unless they had some specific and new comic to represent, and I talked to several others that were trying a completely different table mix or convention strategy. One person flat-out told me they're at the stage of having a small list of demands they're able to make of shows, without which they won't consider attending. A bunch of folks talked about how there are so many shows now, with Toronto being major but also expensive, and some flat-out admitted they hadn't figured things out yet.

* a lot of positive talk about Barry Matthews.

* so I think the whole orientation towards shows might be changing -- that's probably always in flux, but we're reaching something of a saturation point with shows and that's bound to make people more selective moving forward.

* there's an arguable progression of events that puts us 12-18 months from now smack in the middle of the mainstreaming of appearance fees, which would change everything.

* before we get too far from travel: here's a Porter air tip for future years. Some people balk at the $20 cab ride from the ferry to the Marriott and other nearby hotels. While that's the most direct way to finish that particular trip, please note you can also take a shuttle bus to Union Station and jump on the $3 subway ride to the Yonge/Bloor stop.

* a bunch of people did airbnb for a place to stay, and it actually suits the show much better than it might other shows.

* I like the Marriott Bloor Yorkville where a lot of events take place and a lot of guests stay. I stayed there. It's feels big and old-fashioned, long hallways and a floor numbering that is disconnected from reality just enough to confuse the occasional young person that takes the stairs (the "1st Floor" is actually the building's sixth). It's not the hotel from Barton Fink, but it's reminiscent of some lost era in time -- maybe the 1970s. I can imagine my family during my single-digits childhood staying here on their way to our getting to see a department store Santa Claus.

* the first comics creator I saw once hitting Toronto was Lynn Johnston, who crossed the Marriott lobby in front of me. I thought of saying hi, but she looked lost in thought. I'd get the chance to see and talk to her a couple of times later, but that was not the case with everyone. That show is big enough now -- and fragmented except for the final afterparty as befits a festival -- that you just don't see everyone. At least I didn't. People I usually see that I didn't at all or for only a few seconds included Meredith Gran, Chip Zdarsky, Jillian Tamaki and Becky Cloonan. I wanted to meet Lacey Micallef and didn't. I saw Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips exactly one time in the street outside the Marriott.

* Sean Phillips still looks freakishly young, in case anyone was curious.

* that's a defining characteristic of TCAF, incidentally, not just a note on the size of the show. There's really no center to TCAF in the way that older con-goers kind of depend on there being even if they don't think they do this. The convention is like five overlapping doilies tossed on a table, with a scattering of felt pieces covering the rest of the surface. This is how other cons operate, but the difference here is that this is how the comics portion of the show operates, not the various nerd cultures. People spoke in terms of multiple possibilities: "Which thing are you doing tonight?" People were frequently hearing about events about which they hadn't known. I heard one person in the lobby tell another person, roughly, 'I'm glad you told me about that, because that sounds way better than what I had going on."

image* I roomed with the cartoonist and course educator Frank Santoro, who drove up from Pittsburgh. I don't usually have a roommate -- I'm a bad one, and not just because of my odor, casual bigotries and violent temper. I'm also given to getting up early enough to work on reports like this one and prone to wandering down the hall for ice and not coming back for two hours because I'm old and easily distracted. Still, I had fun with Frank! I was reminded how enjoyable it is to have someone around to make fun of TV shows with and kind of work out which strain of gossip to which we shared exposure seemed the most likely. There are a thousand different ways of looking at comics even when you have the same general view.

* during that morning room time, Frank and I would see chunks of multiple Stuart Erwin movies over the weekend. What an odd duck that guy was. Also, for some reason, multiple people engaged me in conversations about "Safety Dance." There was very little talk of Mayor McCracky or whatever his name is, and all of it was apologetic. Hockey dominated cable TV.

* Santoro was on hand in part to promote his correspondence course he facilitates through his Comics Workbook site. Frank also kept trying to interview me on "recent industry issues" for The Comics Journal and I kept locking myself in the bathroom until he left the room entirely.

* I went to the Christophe Blain, Abel Lanzac interview and reception at the Alliance Francaise de Toronto. This was one of a bunch of satellite events for the show, which I never really got a full handle on -- I'm sure it was possible to know all of these by heart, I just didn't do it.

* there were French-language elements to the evening and I impressed no one by having to close my eyes to be able to focus enough to make out the main words. College French, and I was a terrible student.

* the satellite events overlapped by necessity, too, just to fit them all in, so you couldn't do anywhere near all of them. Blain/Lanzac was close to the Marriott, though, and I'm a big fan of Christophe Blain. It was a fun interview. The artist said that he initially balked at doing the book because of the necessity of drawing so many people in suits, but that he eventually came around to the subtleties of how that clothing was worn for political ends. The audience was very respectful -- and very interested in the movie version.

* met Renaud Dillies and Reinhard Kleist that evening, if only in passing. Kleist I never saw again. There was an astonishing number of random, talented cartoonists at this show.

* stumbled into Bart Beaty, who writes for this site whenever he wants. Bart's Twelve-Cent Archie is out next year; he says it's his best book. I'm very excited for him to be the keynote speaker at this Fall's ICAF, in Columbus, Ohio. Long overdue. He's a very prolific writer about comics and I've had people tell me he's basically the face of modern North American comics scholarship.

* in a kind of reverse nerd switcheroo, Bart and I stood outside the reception part of the cartoonists' evening and talked about NFL football.

* spent the late night with Frank Santoro and Tucker Stone bending elbows across the street from the Marriott and saying things none of us probably should have (by virtue of their being mean, not unsavory), at least not out loud. It was good to see Tucker, who looks centered and happy. I barely saw him again.

* I came up Thursday because on Friday there was a professional development track at the Marriott and an academic/librarian track at the library. I didn't see the latter -- I suddenty had to work on a freelance gig -- but I saw a bit of the former as it was down the hall from my room. That whole suite of events seemed pretty well-attended.

* I'd never seen Santoro give his grids speech, which I thought was fascinating. Santoro may be the only person teaching structure and story in a holistic sense rather than traditional methods where those concepts are more understood than explicit. In other words, whereas in many places you might learn narrative structure through a scriipt, Santoro gives you a physical signpost for figuring that out on the page. I would imagine that would be a very helpful thing to which to expose yourself if you're a working cartoonist, particularly one casting about for ways to work.

* the one of those panels about which I heard the most positive buzz was Kriota Willberg's presentation on injury prevention.


* ran into Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman in the street, and was disappointed that Telgemeier wasn't carrying a giant loaf of bread.

* it seemed for a few hours there that every time I crossed the lobby Calista Brill of First Second was talking to someone new. That lobby trapped me later on, too. First Second actually exhibited, which meant that Brill was on hand to do that as Gina Gagliano has a role with the show.

* I'm a big fan of professional development, and hope that it will start being a part of every show that can fold such things into its mission. There are so many young professionals reinventing the wheel every three years, entirely to their detriment. I think if conventions are going to such a huge part of what comics is becoming, that maybe they can be the institutions where this knowledge is pooled. The industry increasingly lacks structure and form -- that means that cartoonists need to be even more attentive to things that their workplace won't provide them.

* I met Jesse Moynihan for the first time later that day. Again, never saw him after that.

* Friday evening I had dinner at the nearby member of the Terroni chain of restaurants with the Drawn and Quarterly crew and a few of their kickstarter incentive winners from the Doug Wright Awards crowd-funder. I sat at a table that included Tracy Hurren and Julie Delporte, among a ton of others. It was a fine meal. You can always tell when a convention works well because you value the meals as a rare opportunity at beneficial, unstructured time.

* it was fun to walk back and shoot the shit with Chris Oliveros. I never get to talk to Chris Oliveros.

* the keynote was very well attended, I'd say just over 90 percent full. Chris Butcher gave a measured, enthusiastic opening address, before turning it over to Raina Telgemeier asking questions of Lynn Johnston and Kate Beaton. They were all very funny, very relaxed and forthcoming. Johnston told a fascinating story about not being able to fully appreciate her Reuben win because she felt like a Jim Davis protest candidate. Both of the younger cartoonists deferred to Johnston without calling attention to that fact. The audience questions highlights were a pair from two tiny girls -- I don't remember what they asked, but I remember they were better questions than I've heard from 80 percent of convention-goers at an open mike. Anyway, that was a really good event.

* an impromptu signing afterwards had a line of 85 people by my count, split pretty evently between the three cartoonists.

* saw Alvin Buenaventura quietly sitting by himself inside the library's front entrance. He was exhibiting with Pigeon Press, and more than one person came up to me to tell me to be sure to write it was really good to have Buenaventura publishing again.

* ran into Jeff Smith, Charles Brownstein and Gil Roth in the entranceway of the library. We walked Smith back to the Marriott and exchanged a few stories over a nightcap, just general state-of-being things. It's funny how tired I already was. It's remarkable if you think about it that the CBLDF was tabling at a show in a different country, but as I saw it that was a testament to TCAF's central role for a lot of stateside creators and the importance of the US market for comics generally.

* Gil Roth is a close friend of mine that I made while managing editor of The Comics Journal; we bonded over our mutual amusement concerning Moses Magnum. He wrote briefly for the magazine. He now does the Virtual Memories podcast. He's been attending TCAF for years. He fired through about a half-dozen interviews over the weekend, including Nina Bunjevac, Seth and Mimi Pond. I think his show is really good, enough to appear on it (although never listen to the end result). I recommend it a lot. This is something I want to talk about later on from a different perspective, but it's great to engage with comics through access points other than hardcore comics itself -- as part of a literary podcast, in this case.

* spoke to Johnston in the company of several others when Peter Birkemoe walked her back to the Marriott. She seemed genuinely touched by the respect shown to her by her young peers.

* I never saw her again after that, either.

image* Birkemoe, on the other hand, I saw all the freaking time.

* all these disappearances makes TCAF sounds like a cheap horror movie, or a touching metaphor for the impermanence of life. Take your pick.

* the late set-up at the library scotched a lot of vaguely intended plans. I'm sure a ton of mostly younger folks ended up at the opening party at the Pilot -- I did not step into that place all weekend except for a couple of panels. This is going to sound dumb, but it took me about two hours to cross the lobby -- I mentioned earlier I got stuck here. I saw a ton of folks, including the bulk of Team AdHouse. Scott Dunbier showed up confused over where the bar con might be -- it was everywhere and nowhere, Scott, welcome to TCAF -- and received some praise for his beloved Artist's Edition format.

* watching Scott interact with TCAF was fascinating. I think he was genuinely taken with the whole thing, particularly the diversity of the crowd and their enthusiasm. Dunbier was there in support of IDW's new Parker prose series and Darwyn Cooke more generally.

* had breakfast with Jeff Smith, who spoke openly of his line anxiety. Would he have one? Would it be a long one? At one point he said he blamed the Image Comics rise in the early 1990s for his generation's fixation on having a long signing line. Entirely befitting this conversation, both of us had link sausage with our eggs.

* the feel on the floor of the show was not a whole lot different than in previous years, or at least not that much different than last year. People seemed to do generally well throughout, the crazy times began mid-afternoon on Saturday and continued for a few hours, and many folks sold out.

* one thing that was more openly discussed by people to whom I spoke was the real difference between general areas of table placement in terms of how they felt they did. Upstairs generally was very well-trafficked to the point of being regulated in terms of who got in and got out, but this also meant that a couple of folks I talked to bailed on returning upstairs to make a specific, missed purchase. I know I didn't go back up to pick up some free books waiting for me for review -- sorry, nice cartoonist who told me this, it wasn't personal. Some of the downstairs areas were deemed less suitable, particularly that line of tables around the corner across from the bathroom in back (a long-time spot of not-much enthusiasm) and a new area, the former computer-lab type room where they used to have some programming. There was a popular exhibitor or two in there to drive traffic, but when there was a line out the door, this effectively blocked people from wanting to enter the room to see who else might be in there. Diana Tamblyn was very careful to write me to say she did quite well in there, particuarly Sunday, but that was not the sense of the room when I was in there. A couple of people suggested those tables be discounted or perhaps made available for exhibitors not dependent on the show as a money-making venture.


* this is what Fantagraphics looks like now. Yeah, hell if I know, either.

* on the other hand, while a couple of folks had complained to me last year that the Wowee Zonk area stretching out to the left as you enter the library was not exactly the hottest traffic area, this year there were no such complaints and several compliments.

* oh, I mentioned that glassed-in area -- except for one small room all of the programming was held off site this year, in part to reduce the extreme crowds.

* Box Brown had one of the first floor's hot corners, and seemed generally happy with the first part of the rollout for his André The Giant book.

* I only heard "they will be closing soon" rumors about one name-you'd-recognize publisher. That had to be a record.

image* there were too many overlapping groups of comics people and the show was too big and there wasn't a jaw-dropping debut, so there was really no book of the show. The books I heard about from more than one person were Cum Lung #1-2 (that's the Cum Lung cartoonist Aaron Manczyk at right), Weapons Of Mass Diplomacy, Facility Integrity and Photobooth: A Biography. While no one mentioned it when I brought up books to go see, about five different people at different times and without prompting assured me that This One Summer was the real deal. I could mention a bunch more to be political, but those were really the only ones with multiple adherents. It could be I don't talk to enough people. I heard more people declaring there was no book of the show far more than I heard any one declaring for a specific book. I do think this was a lot about what was there and released, I do think it's possible to have books that appeal in that bolt-of-the-blue way, I just don't think there was one on the floor this year.

* I directed people to Safari Honeymoon, to the Latvians -- love the Latvians -- and to Kevin Huizenga's cascading manila folder pile of original art ranging from $10 to $40 in price. I even got one of those myself after Bart Beaty released the one I liked back into the wild.

* I did not see a bunch of the programming that was not my own. I saw the dirty comics panel, whatever that one was called (maybe something with the word "erotic" in it). It was pretty packed, and there was a weird amount of tittering at every sex-positive mention -- maybe not repressed prudery nervously bubbling to the surface as much as celebratory giggling, although it was hard to tell.

* I had a great time talking to Darwyn Cooke on his panel, which was extremely well-attended. Darwyn's really good on his feet in settings like that -- we talked about that a bit, even -- and he has been going to TCAF since the first one, which was about the size of the room we were in. The answers I remember at this remove were how hard he found revisiting the Parker material to do paintings for the prose book re-releases, how very real a presence Donald Westlake remains in the doing of the graphic novel adaptations, and how completely lost he confessed to being in terms of what he might do with his career after these books cycle out. That last was particuarly interesting to me because the Parker series came out of this time in Cooke's life when it seemed like he had an abundance of ideas in terms of how he might spend some of the creative capital he built up with his successful superhero comics, and this sounded like the opposite of that.

* anyway, I always like talking to that guy.

image* here's how strong TCAF is. Kevin Huizenga was just there. This is one of the great cartoonists of his generation, perhaps the best North American talent under the age of 40. I ran into a bunch of cartoonists like that, just there tabling, the kind that if announced might be at a convention four or five hours away: Keiler Roberts, Ethan Rilly, Blain, Michael Jordan, David Malki. That's not even counting all the people from several graphs ago that I didn't even see.

* it was good to see Blake Bell tabling with his kid and right next to Trina Robbins, who was one of the fun talk-tos all weekend. At one point Trina was angry about something written on-line but couldn't get on herself so she dictated her response to Bell. For some reason, I found this super-amusing and very comics.

* ran into Nick Bertozzi, who was tabling with Benjamin Marra. This was Bertozzi's first time there, and he was fairly stunned by the size and diversity of crowds and exhibitors.

* Jeff Smith had his line.

image* that night was the Doug Wright Awards. Sat with Peter Birkemoe and, briefly and not at the same time, Gil Roth and Nina Bunjevac. It was a fine ceremony, distinguished by its smooth and nearly glitch-free roll-out. Scott Thompson was funny. One of the Canadian Whites was also very funny. I talked to Brad Mackay earlier that weekend and he admitted that they did not think the crowd-funder was going to come through. I think they are ready a decade in to find new ways to approach the awards, ways that might require some corporate sponsorship.

* I was rooting for the Castrée, which I think is a really good book, but Michel Rabagliati was very charming in his acceptance speech for the latest Paul book. It was nice to see Steven Gilbert win an award, too. That guy came back late last year after not doing comics for more than 15 years. We spoke briefly after the awards. He was just another dude that was around making good comics and attending SPX back then, which confused some folks for whom Gilbert was some rare beast that lumbered out of the deep woods. As for the other award, Emily Carroll deserves everything she can win and was charming in accepting this one.

* spent the bulk of the rest of the evening at the "chill" party across the street, and texted some people dismayed by the youthful vibe of the Pilot party. I like that Peter Birkemoe is still adjusting TCAF to suit his needs -- the anecdote is that TCAF is the con that exists so the Beguiling owner doesn't have to travel to other cons -- and that this includes parties where people can talk to one another as opposed to dance. Dustin Harbin's dancing forced others from the room. Got to hear a 8.5 level (on the scale of ludicrous) Joe Matt story from Jeet Heer. It was nice.

* Frank Santoro was sick on Sunday. That's actually him sick in the picture near the top of this article.

* it seemed like most of the event Sunday I spent saying goodbyes so that I could spend the bulk of the afternoons (1:30 PM-on) in panels. I did get to walk the room, take some photos, check in with people I only see there like Joe Ollmann, and talk to folks like Ed Luce and the Telegraph Gallery folks (Simon Hanselmann and Zack Soto were big sellers). Dragged once-gone-now-returned manga fixture Anne Ishii to lunch, and talked about her work with Massive and the forthcoming Fantagraphics release of the anthology book of the same name, with Chip Kidd. She's one of the best comics people, and it's always great to see her.

image* a bunch of folks where rounding in on sell-outs, including folks without con debuts, which is impressive. That number included Katie Skelly, whose book from AdHouse Operation Margarine actually debuted at MoCCA. Skelly celebrated selling out by getting a manicure in the area.

* Skelly was on my non-traditional design inspirations panel, with Ed Piskor, Darwyn Cooke and Mimi Pond. This was really just my way to talk about visual style in a variety of ways, and how cartoonists build them when they're not beholden to a commercial tradition. Everyone was really good, and it was fun that, for instance, Darwyn Cooke was intrigued enough by his younger peers' work to have sought them out and read them, which made him able to comment specifically on elements of their work. We had some technical problems, and a slight hiccup with the volunteer on hand, and the panel suffered for my inability to overcome that gracefully. Still, I'd like to find some way to do recurring panels where we talk about comics as grandly complex pieces of visual art, and this was a first step. I've been casting about for something like this since I heard someone describe the value of the comic book in terms of the high concept single-sentence into which it could be boiled down, and I know that's not the case.

* I went from that panel at the Pilot to a criticism panel at the Marriott. It was strangely packed -- and, unlike the case the last two years in San Diego, this wasn't kids waiting around for a videogame panel appearing next hour. I hope folks got what they needed out of that panel. There was a nice mix of different kinds of writing about comics, what with Jeet Heer and Trina Robbins there. The majority of the panelists first discovered rigorous comics criticism through Gary Groth and friends. I whined about the lack of critical engagement and all sorts of other hypocritical constructs. I say that, but I do think we're at this point where fewer people engage with work in a negative fashion, particularly if that work is well-liked by a more general sense of the room. Mostly this comes out in a refusal to get at the question which works are good and which ones are great.


* lots of general praise for the comedy stylings of American manzai Ed Piskor and Tom Scioli.

* my last panel was Renaud Dillies in that same room, attended by four people. That's a shame; he's a very talented cartoonist, and a thoughtful, articulate one. I also felt bad for our translator trying to put my rambling into another language at that late point in the con weekend. My questions frequently don't make sense in English first thing in the morning. Dillies was charming. I think a lot of what carries his work is how strongly he feels about the initial impression or idea. He's also very good at balancing stand-alone imagery with sequences that count on rapid eye movement and narrative rhythms, and his frequent use of close-ups on specific characters is an interesting choice a lot of the times it's used. I was glad to have a chance to revisit his work for this show, and am grateful to Terry Nantier for getting me digital copies of the comics.

* by the end of the weekend I had it down that the time when people gather in the lobby to meet up and head off to dinner is the time I hang out in that same general space and apologize to all the people I upset during the day.

* Sunday night I went to dinner with friends, and it was excellent. I always recommend trying in some way to take advantage of Toronto as a city while you're up there, and one way to do that is to be picky about at least one place you eat out.

* I didn't make it to the standard TCAF afterparty, which I'm told was a solid capper to a fun weekend. I felt... I don't know, I guess I felt old, in a way, disconnected a bit from what's going on. It is a feeling that has since passed. I might have also been lazy, and I might have also balked because I had to get up at 4 AM to write something.

image* I remembered to call Mom. If you didn't remember to call your mother -- if she's still with us -- then I hope you at least wished Dan Goldman a happy birthday.

* I took the megabus to Buffalo to access their much cheaper-to-the-US-Midwest airport -- in case anyone was wondering, that worked really well. While in Muncie, I stopped at the Jason Pierce/Mark Waid/Christina Blanch comics shop Alter-Ego, and was happy to buy about $25 or Marvel comics from Pierce. He said that his recent signining for Scott Snyder and a bunch of other on Free Comic Book Day and a stand-alone with Terry Moore went extremely well. I'm grateful for there to be a business like that one in my father's beloved downtown Muncie.

* then I was off to Columbus, and got home a couple of days later.

* been thinking about Toronto a lot, though.

* I think this year's show was key in a few ways. One that comes immediately to mind is that this is a show that functions as its own headlining aspect now; there was no major guest, there were several, but people seem to go to TCAF for the general experience first, an experience within that general experience second, and an experience distinct to that year third. This is a feel thing on my part, so I could be wrong, but I don't get any sense that TCAF will ever run out of combinations of artists that work for them, and I can't say that about every show.

* another thing: I suspect the extra day of formal programming made official this year is important to the show in terms of broadening its mission statement and even sneakily settling into a grander place on the arts calendar without requiring that some of its target audience spend the extra money necessary were the core festival more than two days.

* yet another: in a way, having Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips there, I think that's also a potential big deal, although maybe a quiet one. Because of their creator focus, TCAF will be able to bring in a lot of comics pros that have self-directed work to promote. That would have been a lot more difficult 15 years ago. I could see them eventually having a half-dozen big comics names of that type in the future.

* for me, the big story of TCAF and surging shows like it remains the audience. What's refreshing about the audience at TCAF is that it's essentially one that focuses on reading rather than a specific fandom linked to a bunch of different properties any way they can be linked, or a fandom that engages with an experience that is not reading. I'm not against shows where people come to buy toys or to secure drawing or to show up in costume, but I prefer the comics-focused ones because I think they're more efficient in growing the readership for the art form I care about and whose works I value.

* that's still an expensive show to get to, and I can see cartoonists and even publishers making some hard decisions in the future as to when to attend. I think we're headed in that direction now. I'm not sure what can be done about that, or, really, if anything should be done about that.

* all that said, there will never be a lack of alt-comics publishers at this show; I think it's too important.

* the nature of that importance, though, that's a tricky issue, and one I think in development. Are shows an end in and of themselves, or do we still think they provided a boost into a wider marketplace? It's been a long time since I've heard anyone argue the latter. I would have to imagine that no one is just selling things at shows, or at least that's a minority number still. That doesn't mean I'd prefer us not to be hemorraghing an infrastructure so that someone having a hit book at a show could be counted on to have a chance at a hit book in other marketplaces. I also worry that some people prefer the ego boost that comes from a hand sale to any three anonymous sales through traditional commercial avenues. That's a dangerous thing, because I think artists will sometimes convince themselves an unsatisfying experience is okay if there's some sort of ameliorative circumstance. Do retailers attend TCAF? Do they come to buy things? Do bookstore owners take note of what sells at these things? I can remember a point at which 20 years ago where market research was a very important part of conventions.

* I encourage the Festival to directly engage with the issue of the less valuable areas of booth placement, or at least the more obvious examples of same. This could be argued away, sure, with adamant proclamations that there is no difference and that some people do very well on these locations. I can't disprove the first and I'm certain the second is true. Still, the last few years I've gone I've seen some miserable veteran attendees that aren't just reacting to a poor showing by blaming where they are. They're reluctant to say anything at all they love the show so much. On exhibitor abandoned his back of the first floor table and just hung out with friends.


* I also call on the Festival to do something about the European cartoonists and their ridiculous art dedications in the front of books. I could see a World War Of Cartooning here. Look at that needlessly provocative Dillies piece.

* another complaint I heard is that programming was late in being announced this year and that there were difficulties in planning on and then executing solid programming because of this. This area of the show didn't feature some of the dramatic failures of 2013 -- which in traditional comics culture terms are now being seen in the rearview mirror as minor glitches -- but I had two name publishers say to me outright they were frustrated by how late in the ramp-up that came together. I did not like aspects the way my own progamming slate came together. I talked to a couple of people that were asked to step in to help that felt pressure to do so even though they knew they weren't going to be as fully prepared as they'd like. Everything was mostly fine, of course, but a lot of this still seems avoidable given the maturation of the show.

* I also had a few exhibitors and guests complain to me about it being tougher than they thought to secure basic information about the show, like traveling to and from the neighborhood in which the show is in and what something other than staying at the Marriott might entail. That's something I had not heard before. TCAF has a slight reputation as a cold show, as a show that is a bit harder to negotiate and perhaps this is part of that.

* and yes, it also continues to be ridiculous that people won't make these complaints matter-of-fact and direct to the organizers. I did make my own feelings known to Festival Director and programming liaison Chris Butcher, for instance, on my things, but I know other people were just counting on me to do so for them here in this article -- and it's been that way for a few years now. I'm happy to do so, and I think that's a function of the press. But the most direct way to change things is, well, directly.

* to take this full circle, TCAF is a great show, and one of a handful of absolutely necessary ones out there. Any shortcomings are minor given their ambition and the way that community and customers support the enterprise. Also, you know what? Some things about a show that some folks may not like or may not enjoy fully are on people other than the festival organizers to solve. The happiest people at TCAF 2014 are those that have figured out how the show works for them, and simply go about executing it. I don't know how it works best for me, not yet. We'll all get there eventually.


* all photos by me; they should be contextually explainable except for the top array, which is just a bunch of people and tables I saw around the show



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