Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

May 19, 2013

CR Sunday Feature: Several Notes On TCAF 2013


By Tom Spurgeon

* so: TCAF.

* I think that was a really good show. Really good. I think it's pretty clear that TCAF is one of the crown jewels of comics festivals right now, worldwide, and a contender for the overall crown. A really good TCAF means something.

* although, you know, a lot of the comics shows have been at least pretty good or admirable in some way lately. So I hope no one takes it the wrong way when I say I don't think TCAF 2013 was a transcendent show, by which I mean I didn't run into a mass of people who told me they had a sense of it being a special weekend for themselves, their peers or both. It didn't have the sense of being a happening. SPX 2012 did. TCAF 2012 did. Comics has a feel for that kind of thing.

* I did run into more than a few people for whom TCAF 2013 was deeply and personally meaningful, and may we all be damned straight to hell if we ever look at a lovely weekend in a fine city celebrating the comics art form in a jaded manner.

* there was a lot going on, a lot of interest to comics, its attendant culture, this show and shows more generally.

* I'll save you the goofy details of my Byzantine travel itinerary this time, but let's just say I was a chariot ride and something involving a rickshaw away from mode-of-travel yahtzee. It took me 34 hours to get home, which I'm pretty sure gets most people to the Arctic Circle and back.

* rather than my usual moaning about regional air travel and the lack of a solid travel infrastructure otherwise, here's the one thing I want to impress upon TCAF travelers these days and in the future: PORTER AIRLINES.

* Porter Airlines, Porter Airlines, Porter Airlines.

* the regional Porter Airlines offers travel to and from Toronto and the cities it serves (Chicago, New York via Jersey and others, including several in Canada) that kicks the ass out of the regular airlines about 85 percent of the time. Not all of the time -- so let's not get Internet indignant if it doesn't work for you -- but most of the time, and sometimes significantly. My round trip New Jersey to Toronto was $60 each way. $120! This made flying to New Jersey and then flying to Toronto about $400 cheaper than it was for me to fly straight into Canada, and much less of a hassle than any plane/car/bus combination I heard about from others.

* Porter flies to the little island south of downtown rather than Pearson, which means a ten-minute cab ride after a short, free ferry rather than a 60-minute or more odyssey from airport to hotel door. Customs was a three-minute wait. It maybe that the other airlines muscle into this space, but for now Porter has that airport all to itself by virtue of having been early to bid on its use.

* Porter also offers free drinks and food in their lounge, and their female flight attendants wear pillbox hats. Any airline that reminds one of Kurt Schaffenberger should receive all of our business. And no one was on my damn plane.

* I have no idea if the bargains continue next year -- I assume this is one of those heavily supported airlines where the service offerings may fluctuate greatly -- but just the chance they are around and offering these kinds of savings and decent service should put it into your bookmarks folder 355 days in advance.

* first comics person sighted: Warren Bernard. He says that SPX has many more guests to announce, and gave me his stint-in-current-position bucket list in terms of guests he'd like to have at the Expo. It's pretty awesome, and I bet most if not all of it happens.

* my friends and I stayed at the Marriott Bloor Yorkville, which I think was the main convention hotel. One of them, anyway. It was a massive, near-Soviet lump of a hotel engorged into every nook and cranny of a major city block.

* again, this should probably go without saying, but whereas I usually don't give a crap where I stay, it actually made a tremendous difference to be that close to this particular show. TCAF is a consumption-oriented show, where buying things is a main attraction, so the advantage of being able to dump books and other material back in your room was all by itself worth that particular hotel choice.

* the hotel itself was about 20 percent better than my best guess for it from reading TripAdvisor and scouting it out a couple of days beforehand. My room was huge and well-appointed, the television was huge even though the only sport ever show was hockey, the Internet was free (they charged and then removed the charges), and the bed was reasonably comfortable. The hotel bar was kind of not good -- too small, too expensive, grumpy service -- and a couple of times I received happy Canadian-style directions at the front desk that were the opposite of where I needed to end up, but that was about it in terms of negatives.

* it was even in the same block as a small grocery store with a salad bar (gasp), across a side street from a decent breakfast diner, right across the street from a serviceable pub, and ten feet away from the subway. That last one was important Sunday when the weather turned very Flash Gordon, featuring a lot of bizarre hail followed by flashes of sunshine. So I think that hotel worked. I have stayed in other hotels up there, all nice, though, like the Delta Chelsea.

* I got in on Friday noonish and crossed the street to sit with Robin McConnell while he finished lunch -- he was the only person to answer my tweet asking if anyone was around. I always wanted to do one of those tweets. Robin does the Inkstuds podcast/radio show out in Vancouver and is writing majorly detailed con reports here. Nobody likes that guy.

* I enjoyed being eased into TCAF that way… I sort of like those first few moments of a big comics show where you start to see the comics people -- who sans costumes all pretty much look the same at every show, sorry to burst any alt/indy self-perception bubbles out there -- and the people you recognize and there are museum shows to see or afternoons to spend preparing/writing material. It's nice.


* I met with Team D+Q at their end of their welcome to TCAF dinner, which also roped in Fantagraphics' PR folks Jen Vaughn and Jacq Cohen as well as festival special guest Jaime Hernandez. I sat at the Peggy Burns/Tom Devlin end of the table and they both looked happy and healthy. I didn't eat anything. I sometimes have a hard time eating when I travel, except for furtive snacking. I can't be the only one.

* it was my great honor to interview the Hernandez Brothers to kick off the festival. I think it went well despite my being reduced to best-of-1998 computer technology in support of the slides I had quickly scanned to replace the presentation I had originally purchased. It was at the library, so there were actual AV people there, so it went fine despite their might efforts not to openly guffaw over the computer equivalent of a pinhole camera made from a quaker oats container.


* I could not respect those Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez more in terms of their contributions to comics and their achievements in the alt-comics realm. They have been ridiculously good for a ludicrously long time, in a way that confounds logic, almost in the same way that two Rushmore-level living cartoonists are related by blood.

* one thing that's funny about the Hernandez Brothers is that despite the two of them being around long enough and frequently enough I think there's a bit of taking them for granted as convention and festival guests, there's also a major generational sweet spot starting with my generation and moving maybe 10 years younger where those guys loom so large as artists a bunch of us shut down around them. I came to work for Fantagraphics in 1994 and met Jaime and Gilbert in 1995… I don't think I said half a word past hello to either one of them before they accosted me at a BEA in 2003 and basically made fun of me for never talking to them. I have heard about people physically running away from them, people getting off of elevators early to avoid being alone with them for the last several floors, and people not being able to speak to them when they got up to their tables. I met several cartoonists at the show still way too intimidated to introduce themselves.

* in a way I think that's awesome, because I think we should treat excellent artists whose work holds meaning for us in a special way. It's a tremendous privilege to get to spend time in their company, or to attend their lectures and panel presentations, to meet them at a signing and say thank you.

* one thing I thought interesting about Los Bros in terms of their legacy when I was conceiving of questions for them: I think we may not give Gilbert Hernandez enough credit as a key figure in the development of the graphic novel. It strikes me that the years 1992-1995 are seen in a conventional wisdom sense -- I think they are, anyway -- as pretty key in terms of a burst of longer books. These were probably the books that were started when Maus became a success, or when enough of the 1980s discussion of longer-form, serious works began to bear fruit. It's not like there weren't longer works before the early to mid 1990s, it's more like the books that came out in that period seem to be part of a continuity with the efforts of today. In other words, books like Our Cancer Year and Stuck Rubber Baby feel like volumes that could come out this year from a major publishing house -- I don't think you can say that of, say, something like The Sacred And The Profane. Gilbert's serial-to-GN run of Human Diastrophism/Blood Of Palomar, Poison River and Love and Rockets X gives him three (three!) huge, formidable books during that time period, all of which hold up as compelling books today.

* I also think to a lesser extent Jaime and Gilbert were important to the kids comics movement by both doing them expressly (Measles, Whoa, Nellie!) and by championing kids comics art and storytelling during a period where most comics people through their terror of being mocked severely distrusted that kind of work, that whole approach to making comics.

* Chris Butcher gave a few comments about the show's 10th year to open up the interview; he's quite comfortable speaking in public, and you can't always say that about comics people.

* great crowd, nearly full, a 40-person line for the signing afterward. Gilbert pointed out Ken Steacy to me.

* so I had a blast talking to Jaime and Gilbert. I found a lot of their answers interesting. For example, Gilbert said that his short story "Frida" was a fill-in story for one that fell through, and that Kim Thompson was helpful in helping it take its final form. He also admitted to a bit of hubris involved when the first Love And Rockets series ended in terms of his confidence in readers following him to his subsequent projects. Jaime talked about not wanting to change his characters' hairstyles that frequently for fear that he'll run out of hairstyles for them. He also said that the sequence with Maggie in "Love Bunglers" where she's really overweight and visits Ray's family was a scene that was added quickly but after the wider story was conceived of because the story needed those pages.

* one set of answers from Los Bros that made me laugh is I got to ask them what they might give people as a first work -- something that seems to come up a lot. They gave total Hernandez Brothers answers: straightforward and funny. Gilbert basically said the question never comes up; Jaime said he gives them a newer book because he has copies of those on hand.

* for what it's worth, my suggestion for where to start with Los Bros is start with whatever is closest to you. Both Gilbert and Jaime engage themes and create works that kind of thwart traditional starting and ending points -- that's frustrating for some, but I think it gives you leeway to kind of enter into their wider works wherever you'd like. Jeet Heer pointed out a bit later in the weekend that Gilbert's new Marble Season and Julio's Day are both fine first books for an intimidating, prolific artist.

* anyway, I super-enjoyed talking to them about comics and hopefully that presentation or at least its audio will be available in a couple of different places moving forward. It was great to see TCAF fawning over Los Bros in their 31st anniversary year, which gives me hope that they'll be treated in more and more venues as the living legends they are as opposed to solely getting various anniversary bumps. It's a privilege to be reading comics when Los Bros are making them.

* I never made it to the packed and apparently sexually charged as only the first con after a long winter can be sexually charged opening night party. I stayed huddled with the older cartoonists in the hotel bar, accepting into our midst various folks spinning away from the loud, social gathering and either on their way back home or pivoting to another event. It was extremely nice. I love a good bar-con chat.

* sitting between Seth and Gilbert Hernandez, two great talkers, struck me as what going to dinner with Gil Kane and Burne Hogarth must have been like for the comics reporters that came before me, except maybe slightly less voluble and slightly less likely to use words like "voluble." The idea of meeting people at these shows was a recurring item of discussion, actually, how short the industry history is for comics and how as late as 15 years ago you could still meet scads and scads of creators who had been in key positions very early in the comic book form's development. I still think the work is primary, and that we probably privilege these personal encounters way more than we should, but for a certain kind of passionate reader and more importantly for young cartoonists kind of casting around for a connection and ways to conduct themselves, I think those encounters can be crucial.

* a correlative to those discussions was the idea by the cartoonists from about 40 to 55 years old that they were in a different position now than they used to be at these shows. I heard a story second-hand about a cartoonist who decided to go to bed early so they could be more present -- their choice of word -- with any young cartoonists or readers they might meet at the show later that morning. Comics isn't exactly known for its tradition of responsible, adult actions, so hearing a lot of cartoonists I know from their younger years talk about what they do in that way was fascinating to me.


* the one younger cartoonist that entered the room upon whose work the older cartoonists instantly remarked, in a positive way, was Michael DeForge.

* another thing that kept coming up all weekend was how culture is consumed now. The difference, most people in my proximity seemed to think, came down to a combination of availability and the opportunity to immediately contextualize what was just consumed -- if nothing else, these things allow artists to power through influences and other works of art in a terrifying propulsive rate, and maybe even gain greater domain over those things because they're being processed through your own sense of artistic worth rather than against some sort of institutional backdrop: you're the one that found this stuff, after all. The Hernandez Brothers are really interesting to hear talk about that stuff because part of their story was how strongly they fixated on the best of the comics available to them, how oriented towards the work they were even in their punk music days. Allowing something to have power over you because it's unfamiliar and strange may give us different art than allowing everything to have power over you because you're a consumer of peak experiences. It's a thought, anyway.

* lots of good talking at TCAF generally. That brisk Canadian air makes everyone 12 percent smarter. Not a lot of industry stuff, although people were quick to point out that a lot of opportunities from the last five years or so are rapidly drying up, or are becoming less lucrative even in terms of the basic, tiny advance a lot of folks get.

* Ivan Brunetti showed up and immediately started apologizing. Chip Kidd stopped by. Ivan immediately apologized to Chip. Mark Siegel and Paul Pope have very nice man hair. It was the only time I spoke to Siegel all weekend.

* there weren't a lot of complaints about set-up although some folks thought that the upstairs space being used for the Hernandez Brothers and a subsequent signing put a lot of pressure on those exhibitors to get their setting up done before being freed for the evening.

* I had breakfast the next day with Andy and JP from Biff Bam Pop! It's cool to meet peers and I was happy they reached out. The amount of personal satisfaction they get from doing that site but also doing it professionally made for a lot of interesting conversation, and Andy talked about it being a calling-card for day jobs he's had, the displayed ability to work on-line and do social media. We also complained about access issues at the big companies, because that is required by law. Anyway, thanks guys.


* Saturday started early (10 AM!) and the crowds were solid almost from the start and sort of ludicrous by mid-afternoon. I was told by a lot of people they thought it was a just a few percentage points slower than 2012, but then again, there was more off-site stuff so maybe that's a wash. I wasn't there to compare. It seemed a tiny bit heavier than my memory of 2011, but I remember very little of that show.

* the Reference Library space is everything you hear about in terms of it being a big and mostly pleasant series of rooms and areas in which to look at comics. My friend the photographer Amy Beadle Roth loves TCAF above all other comics shows in part, she told me, for being better able to function in a space like the library as opposed to a hotel ballroom or other public exhibition area. I get it.

* the volunteers are actually better than I remember, and everyone I talked to praised them all weekend -- a couple of folks wondered after some of the flow decisions and how the volunteers were asked to police certain doors and hallways in a way that seemed unnecessary, but there was no criticism of the volunteers themselves. If TCAF has a legacy in terms of comics shows -- if comics shows are a big enough thing to have a legacy -- that extra solicitousness towards exhibitors from the volunteers might be the thing.

* I attended the show without doing a whole lot of research first -- by which I mean a kind of basic game-planning -- in part because I'm lazy but also in part because I wanted to see how certain things hit me without scouting them out in advance. This was actually super-useful.


* one thing I noticed and liked was that PictureBox and Gengoroh Tagame were set up in the main first-floor, big-room aisle and nobody gave a shit. Tagame's book is potentially hardcore, like potentially long-talk-with-your-friend-who-picked-it-up-and-dropped-it extreme, but it's presented in a classy manner befitting the quality and historical importance of its content and Tagame seemed like a nice man that enjoyed meeting readers and potential readers. It seems kind of silly to mention this, I know, but we're not far removed -- or maybe not removed at all -- from a time where material that is ostensibly of direct interest to young people gets displayed in a way that seems super-skeevy and depresses you on behalf of those kids in attendance and the industry in general. In other words, I like how professional and matter-of-fact TCAF is about the material on display, and about trusting its exhibitors to present in a way that's above-board and keeps to the spirit of the show. It makes you wonder not how TCAF can be so friendly to more adult material, but why other shows aren't. Death to curtains.


* the upstairs area, featuring a lot of material aimed at young people and bubbling up from Internet culture, was busy all weekend. It was so packed by mid-afternoon Saturday people weren't allowed in, which is astonishing given the size of that space and the distance from the door -- Jaime Hernandez didn't even know there was an upstairs until Sunday. I met some happy exhibitors up there.

* I met less happy exhibitors in some of the other spaces. There was a room behind the main room in which some of the European comics-makers and their distributors were set up that I might not have learned about at all if I hadn't gone searching for a water for someone. I was that close to missing it. The sense of the room was that this was at best an "okay" location, and that maybe this should be been reserved for speaking or a special presentation or even more of a gallery show (there was a virtual show in there that I didn't understand and avoided). Granted, on the flip side, I'm not sure that a random art exhibition room always works, either. At this show, even, a bunch of Finnish art in a room at the Marriott left the impression of some sort of earth-ending disaster leaving a room of art without people more than it seemed like a vital display. As for the extra room at the library, someone said that that particular bit of real estate was used a a special signing room one year, which sounds like it would work. I'm pretty sure there were some deeply disappointed exhibitors in there, even if they didn't say so outright. No easy answers.

* I also honestly didn't notice the small press people snaking around away from the main floor and over by some windows until late Sunday. I spent the last 40 minutes over there. There was basically an entire show's worth of exhibitors in this part of the library. I didn't talk to anyone else that didn't see this area, so it could just be me being old and forgetful, but I was really taken by surprise how many folks were in this area I thought was filled with actual library patrons. So my guess is that really explicit signage could be an item of discussion for TCAF moving forward.

* Jen Vaughn mentioned that a copy shop across the street from the library seemed to do a ton of business and that she herself printed up a second saleable run of her minis, of which she ran out by end of Sunday. I always thought there was an opportunity for someone to set up a booth this way at an event like this one, but across the street works, too.

* watching Vaughn sell her comics about menstruation to various men is pretty hilarious; you can tell she has a pitch that works. She was in a pretty good location; right on a traffic corner; it does seem that the truism that the corners get more play than the middle of rows held true at TCAF 2013 a bit. I know I missed some people entirely and when I checked my map after the show it seemed like they were smack in the middle of long rows.


* Peter Birkemoe was wearing a kind of jacket/shorts combination Friday upon which several people commented. Chip Kidd was also dressed in a way that people took notice. A lot more men dressed nicely than I remember from 2011 and certainly more that way from what I recall of this year's MoCCA. It's nice when people dress up at these shows, mostly because comics has such a long history of not taking itself seriously that it's good to capture the surface elements of that, anyway.

* the matching jeans vest from Team D+Q amused a lot of people, although I'm afraid to encourage this trend as I feel it all may end at a San Diego with everyone from Fantagraphics dressed in gas station overalls.

* there was a lot of discussion about health issues, some from the ongoing wave of concern people have been expressing about Kim Thompson, other conversation emanating from more direct personal experience. As I noted at MoCCA, 2009-2011 were brutal years for the funnybook industry in terms of the number of people getting seriously sick. I got teased a bit for talking about the fitness of comics people at MoCAA and a couple of other recent shows, but I'm sort of fixated on the idea of comics as a lifelong commitment for which there may be less of a driving financial motivation and more of a general approach to what you're doing and how this has an impact on your life, and how people feel that work in that world seems important.

* to look at it another way, whenever cartoonists talk about banding together they always construct that argument in terms of union-style negotiations over pay, but it seems to me that may be a dead issue -- if you couldn't start a union-type set-up back when those worked more regularly and when there were salaries and page rates of the kind worth fighting over, I don't know why you'd think one would work now. And yet it also seems to me the other traditional functions of guilding up -- a kind of repository of practices and examples in terms of supporting artists and maximizing opportunities and living conditions -- is right there for someone or several someones to make real over the next decade or so. In that light, health issues seem to me a major concern, as do other pretty basic ideas of how to best enable folks to continue to do the work they love to do.

* so let me say that everyone at the show looked like they were in fantastic shape except for Lisa Hanawalt.


* I guess Raina Telgemeier was sick in a way that eating bread helped -- that's a very Clifford Odets solution to stomach ailments, and I totally approve -- so everywhere I saw her she was chomping on a big loaf of bread. I sort of liked not knowing what was going on with her, so that I could entertain the possibility that Raina was just a weird lady with a strange bread fetish.

* there was some con crud going around, the fast-acting kind -- fast-acting con crud being superior to slow-acting con crud -- and a number of people were knocked out by later Sunday. Karl Stevens got so sick he couldn't make it to the show, which is too bad, as I think his book could have done well there.


* I thought there were a bunch of solid books on display this weekend, although nothing jumped out at me as a "book of the show," a construction I never liked and one that a wide-ranging show like TCAF tends to thwart. At a show where you could have four or five completely distinct experiences that never overlapped, thinking one book might break down the barriers seems unlikely. But comics goes deep these days. I directed a lot of people to the Tagame. More than a few people I knew discovered Nina Bunjevac's work at the show, and the Tin Can Forest comics. Matt Bors sold out of the Life Begins At Incorporation books he brought to the point that The Beguiling easily snapped up the smile pile of what was left -- that retailer does that with a lot of what's on display in the manner that Bud Plant and Last Gasp used to do this in San Diego. It's very helpful not to have to return home with material, and helpful to the shop to avoid the hassles of standard distribution avenues. Julio's Day didn't make it but Children Of Palomar did; D+Q had Marble Season and My Dirty, Dumb Eyes in terms of new work; SelfMadeHero and Blank Slate had a near avalanche of material.


* I mean there was a lot of stuff to see. Ryan Sands debuted his line and sold a bunch of that. Tom Kaczynski had the David B. he had once hoped to launch at Stumptown. Conundrum had new Joe Ollmann and some others. A lot of people charged over to buy the new issue of Lose when they heard about it. The Blutch books moved, as did work from CF. The new Spiegelman from D+Q was super-handsome, and I was surprised that wasn't a bigger deal at the show. The Eric Lambé was beautiful-looking.

* so it was a really solid publishing show, and I think one area the show can improve on is something that's actually up to me and people like me to make a bigger deal of these launches and recent releases and publishing news. I was only able to find a few items in terms of actual announcements tying into the focus of the show, like Chris Pitzer announcing a Farel Dalrymple book. I hope there will be more in future dates, the same way that San Diego Con gets used that way now.


* hey, let's talk about the elephant in the room. Let's talk about the programming.

* we'll go positives first. There were some good panels at the show. In fact, there were several. For instance, I liked the Lisa Hanawalt/Kate Beaton conversation quite a bit. Just to see two no-nonsense younger, prolific, devoted cartoonists laughing with one another makes for a super-positive experience. They're both smart and funny and unapologetic about their creative choices. What's laudable about a lot of the younger cartoonists is how no-nonsense they are: the list of things about which most cartoonists under 35 don't give a shit, traditional comics backwaters, is heartening. I very much liked the Gilbert Hernandez panel I saw, a version of the talk he's been giving on tour about the kids comics that inspired him, and the how and why of the ways they've worked on him. You can actually see poses straight out of Love and Rockets in figures drawn by Owen Fitzgerald, say. I liked the two Chip Kidd panels I saw: the Maurice Vellekoop discussion and the Gengoroh Tagame spotlight. The Tagame was very well attended with a diverse-seeming crowd, and Anne Ishii and Kidd are both very funny and charming. It's good to see that Vellekoop will be doing a comic with Pantheon.


* what else...? I caught some of Dash Shaw's presentation and Shaw is a much better public presenter than I might have thought as I see him as kind of a soft-spoken guy: it's clear he's really worked at it. Shaw has some interesting ideas about comics, stuff he admits to getting at from obsessing over ideas in ways that maybe weren't originally intended, such as using a "dead line" to avoid adding creative emphasis to a visual depiction in a way that takes away from the reader's ability to interpret what they're seeing. I'd love to watch 90 minutes from Shaw on his comics work, and I'm not even the natural audience for his animation.

* so yeah, if you attended panels, you probably found some good ones.

* oh and love love love that there was a fifteen-minute buffer between panels. You could get to different panels, and the panels themselves weren't squeezed off of the stage.

* and... let's talk about the negatives.

* hoo boy.

* straight up: a significant number of people were aggressively not pleased with the execution of the panel slate. Let me just talk about what I heard directly from exhibitors and professionals, and then add a few comments of my own.
+ many of the panels were announced and communicated to moderators and professionals significantly late in the process. Lateness was a bit of a general trend for TCAF 2013 I'm told, particularly stuff that rolled out near the show itself. One industry pro that didn't attend told me they were bored enough and curious enough in the office to compare the PR from 2012 to this year's and it seemed like everything was a bit later this year, or at least that was their impression. It's understandable -- the show has grown. Still, a lot of the panels-related lateness moved past the annoying stage right into the aggravating, and, some folks believed, was downright detrimental to that aspect of the show.

+ for instance, one industry professional did not know they were moderating a panel until they saw their name in the program listing a few days before the show. They hadn't been asked, had little to no familiarity with the artist involved, had no time to prepare anything, and had to withdraw at some significant personal embarrassment and modest since of dismay.

+ two other people told me their first reaction upon seeing something similar was to cancel, but they didn't have the guts.

+ one set of panelists were told five minutes before the panel they were supposed to be on the panel, and when snapped back with a WTF? were told that someone else at their company had been e-mailed about their involvement a couple of days earlier. Not them, someone else. Not a couple of weeks earlier, a couple of days.

+ I know I was never contacted or confirmed in terms of my arrival in town or told where to go for the Los Bros panel event. When I got there the AV guys -- super-nice -- told me they had been waiting for me, but I had no idea this was the case and certainly would have given up sitting around at dinner making jokes about Reg Smythe to head over to the library ten minutes earlier. Similarly, on Sunday morning I had to track down where my panel was, which is of course fine but isn't exactly the kind of solicitousness the show displays in other ways. I was told there was one panel where only a single announced panelist arrived.

+ one person found out about their panel involvement getting off of the red eye flight Friday morning, which I imagine was personally annoying in that the flight time could have been used for preparation.

+ several people found out about their panel involvement too close to the show to prepare basic materials of the kind that people generally like to prepare for such a thing. For example, there was a design panel with Chip Kidd, Tom Devlin and Jim Rugg -- a weirdly disparate selection of designers to begin with -- with no visual material to go along with their discussion. At least that's what I was told.

+ a few professionals expressed me to resentment about preparation they had to do very close to the show itself. In other words, there was stuff they could put together, but they now had to do so the Saturday morning before the show, or for an hour after lunch. The stress of this was also mentioned.

+ I was told of one moderator that didn't know how to pronounce the panelists' names, and didn't seem knowledgeable of their work at all. Most of the moderators seemed really capable to me, though.

+ several comics industry folk expressed to me for the purpose of hoping I would say so here that they thought there was an over-involvement of creators with a First Second connection, and that these panels were at times given pride of place over other panels. I honestly haven't checked who did what at TCAF past Chris Butcher and Peter Birkemoe in an administrative sense, hoping that it keeps me from being swayed by running across the name of someone I liked in providing impressions for this article. I assume, though, a First Second-related complaint means someone at First Second -- probably Gina Gagliano -- was involved in some significant way with programming.

+ I don't know how to parse such complaints all the way out, although I guess if someone wants to say these are beyond the pale wrong I'll go back and count creators across the entire panel slate; that might be one entry point. My first look shows that there isn't a high preponderance of those creators in panels overall.

* as a criticism, favoritism on panels is very much a feel thing. I'm not sure it's something you can prove in Internet court. I tend to ignore it at other shows, when someone will randomly say something along those lines. What I can tell you is that these complaints were rampant at this show -- in my circle, anyway -- which seems to me its own problem. One specific thing that was cited at me by two different people was a series of workshops where the hosts seemed to be primarily aligned with First Second, including three in one location right in a row. I guess that would also put on the table whether those moderators -- as was the case with me and Los Bros -- benefited from more advance word.

+ I stopped counting between 25 and 30 the number of people that sought me out to complain to me about the way programming was executed, which is an astonishing number to me. I probably got about 40 such complaints, and maybe got three more about other things the entire show. Seventy-five percent of the people saying something said so in an apologetic way. No one seemed to be axe grinding. A couple of people thought that programming was executed so poorly in a way they felt like TCAF itself and its good name was being used as a way to indulge some poor practices (a good-looking date that's 45 minutes late because they can be), that people would be more likely not to flip the fuck out at being listed in a program without being directly consulted because they love TCAF. Others expressed the idea that they were so many good people on hand, so many competent comics folks, that this saved a lot of what could have been disastrous about these kinds of hassles.

+ TCAF aspires to be the best show, and we have a high standard for programming now. A show like that shouldn't have to count on comics people rallying to the festival's aid to do something free and excellent last-minute and without a decent chance to prepare. The programming slate was executed in sub-par fashion.
* so there was that. I'm happy to run whatever response anyone would like to send, particularly about perceptions that anyone might think super-unfair or running counter to fact. Please note that this article has mentioned a lot of the programming was good, and that I have very little time to argue things with you off the record.

* my own panel experience was reasonably positive. I did a much better than average blogging panel on Sunday morning -- "Is Comics Blogging Dead?" in the bar space up the street, which was nice because they had coffee. It had been a long night, so I might have been grumpier than usual. Brigid Alverson asked solid questions, which isn't easy with that kind of wonky subject matter. She couldn't have known about the panel for much more than a week or two, at best -- I didn't -- so good on her. Alverson's a pro, and she was also not covering the show for anyone, so I think she was a great choice. Erica Friedman showed up in the audience with a passionate mini-speech about the need for writers-about-comics to support the efforts of those younger or perhaps more traditionally disenfranchised from the mainstream of discussion than they themselves are. I think there are some things we can do there.

* I don't think comics blogging is dead, incidentally, or at least it's not a question in which I'm interested. It's more like I wonder if comics blogging was ever really alive. You tell me if it's more startling AOL canceled a comics blog or that they ever had one that facilitated the majority at least four writers' livings. I know my answer.

* to my mind, blogging is just a technology/strategy for delivering content, and only briefly was also a mini-phenomenon in and of itself with its own culture and its own distinct adherents for those unique qualities. If blogging is dead, it passed on in a room of the hospital far, far away from the important things in comics.

* media usually doesn't get interesting until a version of it keels over, anyway. Heck, comics itself is an older medium that sort of died in its mass-media formation a long time ago; it's still around, still useful, still viable, or at least will retain a semblance of those things moving forward. I figure blogging will function the same way. I also appreciated that on the panel there wasn't a rigorous defense of playing to the PR needs of these super-corporations as if those capitulations were an actual live-or-die thing as opposed to a choice one makes in terms of how they want to have one of those sites operate. That's different from a few years ago.

* I think there's a dialogue to be had in general over how much consideration we should give to people simply wanting to make a living at doing something like writing about comics, and what that should entail. I remain sort of baffled and horrified that the ComicsAlliance people were signing over content to AOL for anything more than a six-month period and don't own any of that work. I'm always confused by why people work for $5 or $10 article payments or for free when the rewards don't seem much greater and perhaps even less great than publishing yourself, especially for people that don't seem like they're in an interning phase of their careers any longer. People getting paid somehow and who should and why is another broad, particularly unpleasant topic. We need to have that discussion, though.

* the panel made me realize I'm very lucky to be able to do CR, and I'm thankful to you in helping me along.

* I'm ahead of myself. Saturday night. There was a lot to do in terms of satellite events this weekend, which I think is wholly healthy. The way that certain on-line comics creators created line fever in a way that some of their print counterparts didn't, the fact that you could go through this entire show latched onto, say, Taiyo Matsumoto and not give a shit about any alternative-comics anybody seems to me hugely healthy. The thought that for a lot of people this is a kids' comics show I find delightful. It's another thing TCAF does very well, make the various comics camps seem like unique tentpoles all their own.

* so with a lot of stuff to do and go see on Saturday night I chose to attend the Doug Wright Awards.

* The DWAs started a bit late in part because of a fire alarm.

* I thought this year's version was a good little awards show, although several people I spoke to felt it went on for a very long time. Scott Thompson was a fine host. In particular he was very funny with the extemporaneous insult portion of those duties, shifting away from traditional DWA target Chester Brown and onto administrator Brad Mackay. The thing they do with animations of the best books nominees bringing the host into the visual world of those comics was pretty great. Dave Collier, Nina Bunjevac and Michel Rabagliati won awards. Those are three vastly under-appreciated comics veterans, and seem to be nice people on top of that. It was fun to see the Chartier material. Good show.

* the anecdote-emergent highlight was a major David Collier acceptance speech that involved one of Collier's notoriously loopy stories and comedic, physical-comedy asides. This was followed by Thompson doing the disapproving host thing with all of that behavior, including telling Collier that his behavior was probably what kept him from ever getting an award in the past. It was a very memorable scene, one of the comics awards-show moments for the ages. Mackay told me just the other day he wasn't sure Thompson was kidding at all about getting Collier the hell off the stage, and wanted the show to move along. This strikes me as even more amusing.

* I hadn't noticed until I arrived, but D+Q didn't have a nominated book/artist. I don't think they were on hand.


* went out after the DWAs with a group of people to the primary hosting bar space. Sent Michael Kupperman ahead of me to do an older-man intelligence report; he came back waving his hands and muttering "Abort." The olds moved down the street to a restaurant where Joe Ollmann's daughter was working. Someone bought me a beer. At one point I had Kupperman on my right, Seth and Spiegelman in front of me and Ivan Brunetti to my direct left. That was a fun conversation. Art Spiegelman told a Sol Brodsky story. Seth opined about how young cartoonists form influences. Ivan laughed a lot.

* so of course I left.

* it was nice to spend some time later that evening at one of the karaoke places with some of the emerging generation of comics-makers, people like Ryan Sands, Michael DeForge and Sarah Glidden, albeit if comforted by the proximity of same-age or almost same-age peers like Peggy Burns and Paul Pope. I don't know those younger people very well, and, hell, maybe I shouldn't. I don't know. Maybe I should hole up somewhere and start assaulting the whole bunch of them outside-in in order to maintain a more distinct critical voice. I honestly couldn't tell you if I'm better off with my current strategy. But I did have more fun, and you learn things about comics by hanging out with cartoonists.

image* the cartoonist and artist Paul Pope gave me a hat, which was very nice of him. It was cold out and I was desert-dressed. I always love seeing Paul Pope. Pope is in an interesting place in that aspects of his public personality might play differently twenty years ago than they do now. I don't know Paul all that well, but as hinted at earlier I suspect he's beginning to feel the eyes of younger cartoonists on him a bit, and what he does with that should be intriguing.

* people were still having amazing shows. It was nice to talk to one cartoonist in their forties for whom TCAF 2013 was a transformative show in terms of the amount of time spent interacting with a peer group from whom he felt disconnected. I do think there's a good "vibe" at these shows, now, maybe even one that's realistic about the potential rewards and responsibilities of making this art form a part of your life.

* then again, maybe not. We could all be fooling ourselves.


* so Sunday was nice enough after the blogging panel. I tried to see as much of the show and as many of the people there as possible. Ran into Art Baxter of all people at a random table upstairs. We talked about Philadelphia cartooning, and the emerging scene there. Talked to a number of cartoonists I either barely know or just don't know that well, like Kevin Cannon.

* as Sunday wore on, a lot of people described strong although not extraordinary sales. Some people talked of more modest results. My hunch is that there was a lot of spread-out activity -- any number of books from which to choose -- and that buying crowds might have been down a bit from the previous year. My friend Gil Roth said that his perception was that the show was a bit less crowded, whether or not this was true or not. Gil's knowledgeable about comics but in no way an insider so I trust his perspective on things like that.

* another thing that Gil said I sort of found fascinating is that he thought that this year was good in a way because there weren't a lot of alt-comics stars on hand. He said this while admitting he knew there were plenty of alt-comics start on hand. But I get what he meant in terms of not feeling this. I wonder if there isn't some work to be done in terms of focusing how certain top guests are presented to the crowed. Someone like Gengoroh Tagame, with the benefit of Anne Ishii and Dan Nadel both working up ways to present him, seemed to have a pretty clear sense of what the show could do for him and was therefore to execute with that in mind. I'm not sure there was a similarly sophisticated idea of how Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly were to be presented, if that makes any sense. Should that be up to the show or to the publishers or to the creators or all of them? Two different people suggested to me late night that a guests liaison might be something TCAF could employ -- or better employ -- in future years just so there's a direct way for creators, particularly the special guests, to construct a better weekend for themselves... with TCAF's help.

* Koyama Press sold a lot of the new Michael Deforge. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to work with them. Everyone still loves Annie Koyama.

* AdHouse sold out of their Boulet books. It's been great to see Boulet at all of these shows. I heard a rumor he went out to buy a suitcase to carry home books. He told me directly that when he found himself on the road with a bunch of convention-sized dollar bills, he went and bought an iPad rather than try to convert the money. He seemed super-happy by this, and it occurred to me that for someone used to working in the French comics industry, convention cash might just seem like found money rather than an alternative means of making any bit of money at all.

* Sam Hiti gave me a lovely movie-related poster, and said he's think of a self-publishing sequel to his beautiful looking children's book, Waga's Big Scare.

* one of the publishers -- maybe a Hic and Hoc person? -- told me they were in publishing "trying to find something to do that they loved." That one stuck in my head a bit. Sometimes you really don't know what that might be.


* TCAF s the kind of show where David B. attends and he's just another world-class cartoonist. My goodness. Here he is not remembering having met me. That's Glyn Dillon confusing him.

* there was a lot of chatter in my direction about current cancer patient and Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson, wishing him the best, talking about the array of things he does very well.


* I had a nice conversation with Dave Lapp, who reminds me of a slightly dotty neighbor on a British sitcom.


* also spoke to David Collier and his family. Very glad that guy won an award. He was wearing his trophy derby -- or one like it -- all day.

* I ran into Oliver East quite a bit off and on, right next to Fantagraphics and selling the lovely-looking new book Swear Down. He frightened a couple of my friends with how quickly he was able to work up a signing image to go in the front of a purchased book. It was great to meet him. It was his birthday Sunday. One thing he mentioned is that unlike other shows his work sold the entire weekend, and by Sunday's end that meant either a near sell-out or an actual one, depending on how you want to count The Beguiling swooping in to snap up a few extra copies. East was not the only one to note how folks were continuing to buy even at 15 minutes before close.

* East did some walks while in town, so hopefully there will be comics to come from that.

* speaking of people drawing in books like we just were with East, one cartoonist made a funny comment that they wanted to start demand couplets from poets when they get something of theirs signed. I never thought of it that way before. That is kind of odd. Matt Bors used a stamp, which makes up in satisfying sound what it lacks as a personal touch.

* spoke to Ulli Lust and Justin Hall briefly, not at the same time although in pretty much the same place on the floor. Was happy to see Josh Neufeld, another mid-'90s guy. Saw Theo Ellsworth for 15 seconds. Stood next to Chris Oliveros talking about Peter Bagge.

* it was a good show.

* ate at the astonishing Lai Wah Heen several blocks away on the second floor of the Metropolitan Sunday evening and hope that everyone visiting Toronto got to take advantage of the city in some way. I talked to a couple of industry friends that were just attending rather than working this show -- a flattering sign for any comics show when someone in comics just goes -- and I was amused by how relatively lost each one seemed in terms of filling the days.

* the afterparty was extremely pleasant. I showed up super-early because I'm old. Everyone was tired. People danced. I went there on that one subway car that is just one long, creepy-ass car instead of a bunch of cars in segments.

* so apparently CF wasn't allowed into the event after he was caught carrying a large bottle of booze on his person. If nothing else, this allowed Dan Nadel to make that strange laugh he has when someone does something odd. I told one cartoonist who replied that "I guess "C.F." stands for 'Cool Fucker'," which made me laugh. His book sold well that weekend. CF actually reminds me more of 1990s cartoonists, when there was a greater connection to a kind of art-making and culture that was more clearly at odds with the mainstream thrust of things rather than a subversion or even endorsement of same. I'm not sure how to articulate that idea, but it strikes me that CF would have fit perfectly into a lot of the underground-conscious first alt-comics generation even though his work has largely different concerns.

* the space in which the party took place was a pretty typical performance style bar -- stage up front, bar in the back, soundboard in-between. The ladies bathrooms were lauded; the men's bathrooms caused shudders.

* even Canadian bouncers are nice.

* there was an odd, tall, TCAF volunteer with blonde hair that kept walking around with a weird, beatific smile. Gil and Amy Roth noted he looked like Jim Gaffigan on acid. It was generally cool to see the volunteers standing around.

* Joseph Lambert's dancing impresses everyone but Joseph Lambert. "I'm not that good," he told me. "He's the best dancer I know, in or out of comics," a former CCS classmate told me.

* next shows that people are excited about are CAKE -- which I think has a chance to really establish itself in its second year -- and Autoptic, the one in Minnesota this August. One person mentioned already looking forward to SPX. A couple of folks spoke wistfully about the yearly trip to HeroesCon in Charlotte.

* almost no one spoke about San Diego -- the Bros and I did, and one of the D+Q artists I know is attending talked to me a bit about it. That's interesting to me, but not surprising given that it doesn't seem like it registers as a big deal for the younger generation the way it still did for mine. I don't think that's a bad thing. I don't really believe in judging comics shows based on whether or not they serve a specific conception of comics, let alone whether or not they serve specific artists. Different comics shows work for different people and different realms of comics in different ways, and that includes San Diego. I think if anything what we're seeing now is that people are trying to figure out ways to best utilize each show, to maximize what they get out of it. San Diego is high risk/high reward and I think people are figuring it out as the context for it has changed with all of these other shows out there right now. It's still the one I need to do. One reason why news of BCGF's demise -- a possibility talked about openly at TCAF -- was distressing is that a lot of people had figured out how to use that one.

* another thing no one has really talked about yet is what the swell of shows is going to do via our expectations for them as attendees and working professionals. I already get the sense it's getting way more difficult to convince people to attend, let alone do something for the show, just with a promise of an airplane ticket and a hotel room. I wouldn't be surprised at all if this gets super-competitive down the line.

* back at the afterparty bar, I caught up with some people I barely saw during the show proper, like Charles Brownstein and Caitlin McGurk. Brownstein made a funny comment about how we latch onto weird cultural signifiers at shows as if it's a big thing: "Look! The cartoonists are dancing! Cartoonists dance now! We live in a time where cartoonists dance!" I used Jim Rugg's encyclopedic knowledge of comics to pull him into a conversation or two with a cartoonist I knew he'd at least know who they are. Talked New York of the last 25 years with Michael Kupperman and Paul Pope. Felt older at this party but not in a bad way, which is good, because I'll be even older at the next one.

* Ed Piskor mentioned he signed a contract with a Japanese publisher for his forthcoming book on hip-hop.

* speaking of which, it was nice to see the Japanese language-speakers catching a big, extended hang at the party.

* I actually walked the mile back to the hotel that evening. Freezing, but I needed the walk and it's a nice city in which to hike around, even in the middle of the night. Plus: I am super-cheap.

* ended up in nearby lounge/restaurant Burgundy's for last call, the only place open in the general neighborhood. It was a perfect setting for a last drink or two. I will always give my last dollar to any person with an accent that needs to buy a drink, although I remain baffled to this day that anyone cutting it close to the bone money-wise would want to spend that time at a funnybook show. I probably thought differently 20 years ago.

* the day after a comics show always feels like the last day of summer camp, albeit without a bunch of counselors standing around with that "hooray, all you shits are leaving" looks on their face. I found myself wondering how most cheaply to go from hotel to airport and then remembered I'm middle-aged now and I can certainly just afford to jump in a cab -- or at least I should be able to, which is the next best thing. So I did. Maybe I'm not so super-cheap.

* that was a really good show, just strong and sturdy and with an excellent audience that wants to buy things. It's a pleasure to interact with those people. The organizers are great, the volunteers are great, the space is lovely and the talent on display is kind of awesome. The satellite events and the ability to mainstream gay and lesbian expression in a way that baffles a lot of shows seem to me special strengths, too. Toronto is a lovely city to visit for a few days.

* I'd like to see better signage and perhaps more creativity applied in terms of where people are set up, I'd like for there to be well-executed programming that doesn't burden as many people as seemed to find it a hassle this year, I'd like for more of the guests feel they are there with a distinct purpose in mind, I'd like to see it treated as a publishing news spotlight on the best creator-driven comics has to offer in the second half of each calendar year. I would like a pony, too.

* I hope TCAF settles in for the long run, and I hope I'm attending them for as long as it makes sense for me to do so. I had a lovely time.


TCAF Director Chris Butcher responds here.



posted 12:00 am PST | Permalink

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