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Chris Butcher In Response To This Year’s TCAF Report
posted May 19, 2013

Thanks very much for covering the show, good and bad. I appreciate the thought that went into your article, and I know myself and the staff will be going over it more than a few times over the next few weeks as we plan and prepare for 2014. On a personal note, thank you again for moderating the talk with Gilbert and Jaime on Friday night--I received a lot of direct feedback about how well it went and I appreciate you lending your expertise to the Festival. I hope you're able to come in earlier than Friday afternoon next time, as our main programming is going to extend out to Thursday next year (fingers crossed).

As the person ultimately responsible for the entire Festival, none of the criticisms of what went on at the programming behind-the-scenes that you've outlined came as a surprise to me. Admittedly. I was initially surprised that you devoted 1200+ words to something that the vast majority of the public attending the festival would never have seen, but I do recognize that your site covers industry issues and this is an industry issue, so it makes sense. I appreciate that you took the time to note that the panels themselves were generally very strong, and I largely credit the skill and professionalism of our participants for that (though I am pretty personally proud of arranging the Comics Editing panel with Thomas Ragon of Dargaud, Mark Siegel of First Second, James Lucas Jones of Oni Press, and Hideki Egami of Shogakukan). But yes, the programming was very late this year, mostly down to my being sick for a week or two a few months ago back, and that throwing our schedule off badly. Ultimately, we had to make a decision whether to lean on our exhibitors, guests, and friends to make the full programming happen for our attendees, or to just skip large parts of it for this year and disappoint the public. We leaned on people, and I don't blame them for not appreciating the extra weight. Programming Coordinator Gina Gagliano and I have already drafted a letter to the folks who were actually a part of the programming (moderators, subjects, participants) that is part thank-you, part-explanation, and part apology, for how things went down behind the scenes this year. It'll be going out Monday. I screwed up, I take full responsibility. Next year will be different and better.

It's not that difficult for me to respond to this criticism: I acknowledge it, I agree with most of it, and we'll be doing our best to make amends. However, I'm having a harder time responding to the notion of "conspiracy" regarding a preponderance of First Second content in the programming. I don't like the way the idea has been presented, via off-the-record and unattributed comments, essentially just before your paragraph refusing any off-the-record responses. It gets my back up to see anonymous comments going after one of my staff members, who volunteers their time and energy for free, and who I think does a great job in their role with the Festival. Further, I find it problematic that you didn't seem to know Gina Gagliano was Programming Coordinator (4+ years), and that you didn't check before anonymously presenting other people's complaints of bias and conspiracy. I don't think that's fair to anyone. I don't want to seem defensive in responding to this, but the way in which I've been presented this information is making it tough.

So, if we're going to be on the record, lets be on the record; I apologize for anyone who feels they're being treated unfairly by the following: There is no conspiracy, there is no favouritism, and there never has been; the suggestion is shameful.

First and foremost, if you (or whomever) decides to go and do that count you mention of "First Second creators" at other panels and programs, I have a pretty good feeling about how that's going to shake out. I believe we've been as equitable as possible to all participants, and I stand behind the programming as presented, though our execution with regards to participants was very weak. As I mentioned, this year the programming was very late, and we were very aware that we were asking people to be a part of programs and develop materials for free on a tight schedule. When we needed to fill our penciled in Workshop Programming on Saturday and Sunday (and not the panels/programs at The Marriott and Pilot), Gina and I discussed who could whip up a time-intensive workshop on 12 days notice, and that we could confirm in 48 hours. The list we came up with was a list largely of creators that Gina had been sending across the country to do these same workshops. We had to decide between having those programs or not, and we did, and frankly that space was full of very happy people all weekend. I think we did the right job for the public on that one, I think we made a lot of people happy. I feel shitty that I had to have Gina lean on her creators to do this for TCAF; it was unprofessional. We called in a favour and we're not going to make a habit of it, and knowing what we've got planned for next year, I've made my peace with this, and I hope those creators aren't too sore about it. I don't believe it's favouritism to accept the help of someone who reaches out to you when you need it, and even with a lot of "First Second creators" giving workshops on their creative process, I still think the programming is fairly balanced overall.

I'll share with you, and I guess everyone reading this, a sort-of secret, that I hope will illuminate this situation. Being a Canadian show and having a good professional relationship with Drawn & Quarterly, TCAF has been criticized directly and indirectly for favouritism regarding that publisher in literally every area of the show, including (but not limited to) programming. We've been called "A D&Q show" in a negative and critical way on multiple occasions. We were criticized again this year. I've refuted this to the people who make these criticisms, as I've refuted the First Second claim above, and I've explained it thusly: The reason Drawn & Quarterly is so well-represented at TCAF is because they show up in force. D&Q brings almost their entire staff to TCAF, every year. They launch new books (5 or 6 this year), they financially support their creators in attending, they volunteer programming ideas. D&Q as a company does everything they can to support TCAF every year, and consequently with their army of creators and books, they are very well represented at the show. TCAF is officially very happy about this.

This year, First Second's entire staff came to TCAF. First Second debuted 4+ graphic novels at the show, and had nearly more than a dozen of 'their' creators on hand as exhibitors. Further, every First Second creator we asked to participate in a program said "yes," whether they were terribly happy to do that or not. And Gina Gagliano, who works for First Second, volunteers a hundred-plus hours of her free time each year to help with the show. I don't play favourites, but I do make myself and the show available to work with people who want to work with us. We greatly appreciate the creators and publishers that want to work with us, and mistaking that sort of partnership for favouritism is a very poor mistake.

(I also think it's easy to read an implicit criticism of publishers-who-are-not-D&Q-or-First-Second in the above, and I should be very clear that no publisher is being criticized. We work with lots of publishers in lots of different ways, and I'll go on record as saying that our relationship with our publisher exhibitors is getting stronger every year and we greatly appreciate those relationships.)

So, there we are. We at TCAF, me personally, we're really aware of the back-of-house issues with the programming this year. I'm not happy about it, and I wish I hadn't dropped the ball so hard, but it was dropped. I really do hope that everyone involved understands that this was something of an isolated incident, and especially that they're ready for a much more tightly-run ship next year. We'll be contacting the people affected by it directly to make sure that they know that, too. Moreover, we're going to remain open to working with people who want to work with us, and we enjoy the opportunity.

I appreciate having the chance to respond, and as always, my inbox is open for anyone who wants to talk about these or any issues regarding the Festival.

Christopher Butcher, Director, TCAF
contact [ a t ]

Tom Spurgeon Responds:

Thanks for responding.

I didn't refuse off the record responses, or at least didn't intend to. I like all letters, I just don't have a lot of time to endlessly argue them via e-mail. I wanted to avoid someone wasting their time. A lot of people write these off-the-record letters of response and expect me to spend a lot of time arguing them and I just don't have that much time in the 18 hours a week I spend on CR. I do read them, though. I can't really refuse to publish them because they're not meant to be published.

While I'd prefer that people go on the record in making complaints, they don't, and I take seriously the responsibility in choosing which ones to communicate to the readership and stand behind as coming from legitimate sources. I stand behind these complaints and their presentation here.

Also, the word "conspiracy" as you use it isn't a quote from my article, and I don't think anything I wrote really implies a conspiracy. I think the complaints being made were of favoritism, straight up, in a variety of forms, not that there was a shadowy cabal behind them.

And what I'm hearing from you, Chris, is that there was a preponderance of First Second-related programming in one of the areas criticized as having a preponderance of such programming; you just say it was justified because of various reasons including how late programming was, First Second's institutional support of the show and because the end result was happy people. You also note that other companies are criticized in this way. Like I wrote, I did not see a preponderance of First Second creators in my reading of the programming by participant more generally, and you further believe that not to be true. We could count things out, but I don't see any reason -- I just don't think there's anything there. The other complaints you pretty much seem to think are straight-up legitimate, and are apologizing for them.

I spent 1200 words on that section because I have never received that many complaints about a single aspect of any show before, by about a factor of eight times. Similarly, you spend much of your letter in response to that section rather than extolling the virtues of the other 8700 words! For whatever it's worth, my first two reactions via off the record e-mails basically claimed that I was too soft and should have provided more detail. But as always, I'm happy for the second opinion on how to do things. I appreciate that you care enough to criticize, and will consider that criticism in terms of what I do in the future.

Congratulations on a successful show. Thank you for thinking of me with Los Bros. See you next year on Thursday if I can afford to come. I wish I could spend a full week there. I will see you down the road.