I’ma tell you about TCAF…but first I need to take a tangent right from the get-go so I can properly contextualize my enthusiasm here. For reasons beyond my own comprehension, I find myself being drawn to this event like stink gets drawn to a monkey; and that’s perhaps what I find so fascinating about all this, the fact even I am not entirely sure what’s going on here. And the idea that something beyond my own awareness is drawing towards this thing is intoxicating to me.
TCAF, otherwise known as the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is an annual event celebrating the art produced by a relatively new, burgeoning alternative culture. And it is exactly that, a celebration of ART, not just a convention. It places an excited focus on comics, graphic novels, and their creators. Ranging from the bright and colourful homages to geek culture, to the more subtle and artistic tales of culture many are afraid to approach in this medium. For two consecutive days in the month of May there will be a massive gathering of this community from across Canada and the U.S. and around the world. Not only will people be able to meet their favourite artists, there will be readings, panels, interviews, galleries, workshops, installations and the like. It’s not “Con” or “Convention” by any traditional means, but a communal appreciation and celebration of the artistic merits of those invited to be their for their fans. So, go there for the art, go there for the random and interesting sights I’m sure you’re bound to see.
It’s ironic what I’m trying to do here. For the first time in what’s felt like a good while I a am attempting to muster up more energy and effort than I typically conjure for a post. Rather than fart something out, rather than shooting from the hip with something I’ve just then recently found, I’m attempting to pull a Quigley Down Under here, a slow patient draw of the gun.
I cannot stress enough how much I really want to attend this year’s events. It’s not like I haven’t heard of the event before. It’s been going on here in Toronto for years. I think my whole fascination with this thing comes from my inclination towards the alternative. I mean…I wonder how often one considers why mainstream entertainment is what it is. I imagine a lot of is the result of these very omnipresent media outlines hawking their products upon a consuming public, pushing this content so hard that they’re practically telling people, “No, this is what you like”, and this is that audience thinks, whether they may realize this or not. Now, granted, not all media outlets are like this. There are easily companies out there that just happen to have access to a lot of distribution resources, and access to respectable content and entertainment. But me, I like the alternative. I find the idea that I choose something to entertain me that isn’t necessarily mainstream appealing, because it’s easier for me to reassure myself that I’m choosing this thing because that’s what I legitimately want, and less because someone/something is trying to push that upon me with media saturation. It’s important for me to be in touch with the motivations behind my choices, because I want them to be worth something, to know they’re being made for a reason.
There’s an aspect of this that I’m more immediately certain of, mainly, that I’ll actually be aware of exhibitors at this festival for once. In the past year, my interest in web comic arts has exploded. Not only have I rediscovered Dinosaur Comics, but I’ve also grown to be familiar with Three Word Phrase, Nedroid, Dr. McNinja, Hark a Vagrant, and the ever-so-creepy work of Michael DeForge. I’ll actually know of people at this thing, have people to see, artist to try and meet, get autographs from and the like. You see, for once, I won’t feel like a total outsider at this thing, and that’s reassuring.
So, that being said, let me take some time to show you whom I’m keen to met next week…
Kate Beaton – “Hark a Vagrant” (website) – One thing I often wonder about Kate Beaton is wether or not she gets a lot of people telling her how proud they are that an artist from Toronto that’s worked so hard for themselves has managed to become as successful as she has. She’s got a nifty book of hers published, has gotten great attention from the media – I mean, shit, she’s even gotten on the New York Times best-seller list for pete’s sake. Beaton is originally from the east coast of Canada, got her education in history there, and bandied about the west of Canada for a while before setting up camp in New York City before very recently moving back to Toronto.
I’ve always been enamored by Beaton’s humor. Mixed in with it is an her detailed knowledge and appreciation of history coupled with a dry humor and affinity for the absurd. Plus she has a way almost completely co-opting the original intents of the work she bases her strips on, and turning it into something deliciously hilarious while at the same time leaving the integrity of the original work intact.
Beaton’s book, “Hark! A Vagrant” can be purchased, along with a swag-load of other merch over at TopatoCo’s website.
Anthony Clark, aka. “Nedroid” – (website) – Now there’s this fellow whose Twitter feed alone is worth any fandom fired off in his direction. I’d say his borderline absurdist work is his way of thinking outside of the box, but I’m not sure he’s ever been taught the definition of a box in the first place. It’s the only way I can explain his particular brand of humor.
What I get the sense with this fellow here is that we have the chronicles of a man staring up into the heavens as we bear witness to his existential angst. Fighting deep loneliness with an affinity for cats (probably), strange hybrid animals, and a solid funny bone that lays much deeper into the valley of the absurd than any of us have traveled.
Michael DeForge – Weirdo Cartoonist Extraordinaire – (website) – An Ottawa native with what I assume is a disdain for a number of things. Cute, humorous, and David Cronenberg-esque in it’s disturbing character. Those interested should almost certainly give one of his many other series’, “Rescue Pet“, a good hard look.
My friends, develop an appreciation for art, then take a hit of acid, feel some feelings, revel in the delight to be had. Revel in it my friends. In all seriousness, the man’s work is actually quite beautiful and surreal. Through some magical miracle, I stumbled upon Rescue Pet, dove head frist into the rabbit hole, and woke up a week later with a scepter in my hand, and I was ruler of a hamlet of Narnia. More of his work here.
Christopher Hastings, author of “The Adventures of Dr. McNinja” – (website) – I can’t for the life of me recall my first set of encounters with Dr. McNinja to be honest with you. I know it occurred online somewhere, and if it occurred for any reason, it’s because it’s a story of a ninja/doctor hybrid with an affinity for the caped crusader. ”Let’s just embrace all the silliness we can, toss maturity out the window, and embrace our weirdo story with piles of intelligence”.
The premise of the work is that the reader is audience to a ninja-trained man from a ninja-based family (that may or may not have Scottish origins), and instead of going into professional ninja-ing, he went into medicine instead. Yadda-yadda-yadda, he now has his own practice, a gorilla receptionist named “Judy” that of course speaks no English (or language) whatsoever. His exploits take him on journeys that include the battling of lumberjack viruses, a Burger King doppelgänger by the name of “King Radical”, space travel, time travel, and friendships with Benjamin Franklin. The work formally prefixed with “adventures” is aptly done, and has been worth every moment of my time. New panels to the characters story are published three times a week, come with a bunch of related merch, of which hard-copy books are included.
Bryan Lee O’Malley, author “Scott Pilgrim”, “Lost at Sea”, and “Seconds” – (website) – I almost feel embarrassed for having to explain this one to people, what with it being as ubiquitous as the fellow who starred in its movie adaptation. Published over several years, the adventures of Scott Pilgrim chronicles the life and romantic relationship of a young Toronto, Ontario native while he and his emotionally-bagged bandmates strive towards success in the face those that have stepped there before them.
This six volume graphic novel “epic” of personal introspection, overcoming one’s demons, and having the courage to level up to the next stage of maturity and being a man. The tale of a young man that hangs himself on heavy introspection, exploring his personal hangups and social history to seek an answer to the question of how to better himself and attain that happiness he seeks. I fondly like to look upon this series as a young individual attempting to transcend the condition of being a man-child to instead being a man that simply embraces his inner-child.
Mike Mitchell, artist – (website) - Before I do the lazy thing by copy-and-pasting TCAF’s prepared description for this fine gentleman from the U.S., I must take a moment to applaud him for at least one accomplishment in his artistic endeavor. He has a way of taking elements of pop culture, characters, materials and ideas that many of us hold close to our hearts, and turning it to something…something both vulnerable and whimsical at the same time.
Those that need proof of this need only check out images from his “Just Like Us” series, on top of my favorites such as his work from 2010. And fun trivia, he was also the gentleman responsible for the “I’m With Coco” poster design (which is in that 2010 series. These things, and the rest of his portfolio can be found here. While his Tumblr/Blog, Mike Mitchell’s Blog of Amazing Things, also makes for an astounding time as well. I awoke days later after throwing myself down the rabbit hole that is that blog. If you’re there at TCAF to see what he and his work are like, a Twitter exchange I had with him recently revealed that he’ll probably be bringing a bunch of prints from his “Just Like Us” series with him for sale.
“While he himself is just a regular dude who enjoys beer and sushi, Mike Mitchell’s art is anything but. Unicorns shitting rainbows, gumball-headed bigwigs and wizards with a penchant for pin-striped beaters — yeah, that’s what he paints. And makes into t-shirts. And showcases in galleries around the universe.” -TCAF
Ryan North, creator of “Dinosaur Comics” – (website) - I have this wild, completely unfounded, purely circumstantial theory that Ryan North might live across the street from Kurvball’s apartment. I’m not sure I want to get into the details here, but I swear it’s a feeling based on actual ideas I had, which were based on actual details he revealed on his Twitter feed at one point or another in the past. One thing I am relatively certain however is that they they do live in the same neighborhood here in Toronto. And yet, I’ve never met the man in the two years I’ve been dating Kurball.
Anyways, yes, the man is Canadian. An Ontario native in fact, and fancies himself a Torontonian. And is apparently, a rad expert in computing and many other manner of intelligentsia, while I graduated with an ”English Specialist Degree” from the University of Toronto, that’s why I get to use rad words like “intelligentsia”.
Anyways, all kidding aside, I have immense amounts of respect for the man. I fist encountered his work as it was published in a UofT newspaper known as The Varsity. As you read through each Dinosaur Comic, you’ll notice the panels/characters/etc are all designed exactly the same way each time they are published. A novel idea that I’m curiously enamored with, as it’s a characteristic that strikes me as a tool to constantly call a need for unique creativity. Themes of the strip include science, philosophy, art, metaphysics, and downright silliness (the latter of which is an ever-present ingredient in North’s work). The man’s also publicizing the release of his latest collection of comics as well, which I may try to pick up, if I can. Still not sure if I’m going to wear my tee based on one of his other designs.
Ryan Pequin, author of “Three Word Phrase” – (website) – Let me tell you a quick story. Kurvball and I fancy ourselves consumers of the absurd. One day, I stumble upon this one comic strip (the first one listed in the collection below) and show it to Kurvball as is often my want with the contents of the intertubes. She bursts into laughter. I burst into laughter. The metaphorical construct of laughter has been violated by us bursting into it so hard. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time either Kurvball or I had so laughed so hard in the presence of one another that our worlds were frozen in place as we were brought to tears. Yea, like the gaggle of youths the age of teens that opt to hotbox their room for entertainment that come down with a case of the giggles, did we nearly do damage to our internal organs in a fit of activity that literally included no words; we found ourselves consumed by pure activity. Ryan Pequin has become the source of one of the strongest ever in-jokes in my relationship with Kurvball ever. It might easily be one of those things that helped cement the relationship between us as borders in our inhibition were brought down to release that much laughter, tears, and vulnerability. In simple words, I hope to be able to thank him, should I find myself with the opportunity at TCAF this weekend.
I’m not exactly sure how to go about describing the impetus of his work. It’s like if you were to take a comic strip that would probably have gone to a really strong punch line that you would have legitimately enjoyed, but Pequin just goes on ahead and says, “NOPE, we’re going in this direction instead”. I’m not sure I can put it any better than that. Maybe I’ll know better when I buy a copy of his very first book, debuting at TCAF.
“Three Word Phrase is a book full of comics that Ryan Pequin drew. Some of them he drew with a pencil but most of them he drew on the computer. If you enjoy jokes about birds that are the president, bears who have extremely low self esteem, or how nobody likes you, then you should probably just go ahead and buy this thing. It is 176 pages long and the last comic in the book is about a dog.” -Comics Alliance