This weekend, I was in Toronto, Canada for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2011. This was my third time visiting TCAF, but it was by far the biggest and busiest show in this event's history. The Toronto Reference Library was filled with over 300 comics creators and publishers from North America, Europe and Asia, including two very special guests from Japan, Natsume Ono (not simple, House of Five Leaves) and Usamaru Furuya (Lychee Light Club and Genkaku Picasso).
Compared to TCAFs of years past, the 2011 show was blessed with some sunny springtime weather (not a given in early May in Toronto), which may have contributed to the large crowds of fans and the comic book-curious denizens of this cosmopolitan Canadian city who came out to see what's new and cool in graphic novels, comics, and manga. But there's no denying that the TCAF crew also upped their game this year by packing their special guest line-up with an all-star cast of comics creators, including many who were debuting new titles this past weekend.
WANDERING SON SELLS OUT EARLY AND FURUYA MAKES A SURPRISE APPEARANCE
The buzz book of the weekend was clearly Paying For It by Chester Brown from Drawn and Quarterly, an autobiographical memoir of Brown's experiences with prostitutes. Another must-buy on many people's list was Vietnamerica from Del Rey, G.B. Tran's memoir of his family's immigration from Vietnam and assimilation to the U.S. Fantagraphics debuted Takako Shimura's tale of two transgender tweens, Wandering Son Vol. 1 ahead of its scheduled early July release date, and was sold out by midday Saturday. Almost every panel featuring Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library) was standing room only and Italian creator Lorenzo Mattotti got a very warm welcome as well.
But my main reason for coming to TCAF 2011 was to see and chat with the two very special guests from Japan: Furuya and Ono. I moderated the spotlight panel on Natsume Ono on Saturday, and TCAF director Christopher Butcher lead the Q & A with Furuya on Sunday. I was also a part of a panel on Indie and Alternative Manga in Japan with Vertical's marketing director Ed Chavez on Saturday, an event that Furuya attended and joined us on stage to share a few thoughts.
We got a nice crowd for the Indie manga panel, which was held at the Pilot Tavern, just a few steps away from the Toronto Reference Library. Chavez shared a lot of interesting facts about the past and present indie comics scene in Japan, including:
- Alternative Manga represents only 4% of sales in Japan
- There are now 10 or less print magazines for alternative manga, a drop from the 12-15 magazines that existed in the 1980s - 1990s, even as the amount of seinen manga magazines has grown in recent years
- We've only seen a very small portion of the indie manga that has been published in Japan, but that many don't make it here because there's a concern that their art style, humor and content relies on a deeper understanding of Japanese culture than most mainstream western readers have.
CAMERA SHY COMICS CREATOR NATSUME ONO MEETS HER AMERICAN FANS
After the indie manga panel, I dashed back to the library to lead the Q&A with Natsume Ono. At the request of this camera-shy creator, attendance at the panel / signing was limited to those who reserved seats ahead of time online, with a few extra spots open for attendees who lined up on the day of the show. As a result, we got a room full of fans who were definitely appreciative of Ono's work, and prepared to ask her some thoughtful questions.
Many of us were surprised to hear that Ono's appearance at TCAF 2011 was the first time that she was making an appearance like this at a comics event, anywhere (including Japan). So naturally, she was a little nervous at first, but she warmed up as the Q&A went on, as she shared insights about her work, including titles that have been published in English, some that are due for publication later in 2011, and a few that are on many fans' manga licensing wish lists. We also found out about her time in Italy, her creative process, and her love of American police TV dramas including Hill Street Blues.
While we weren't allowed to photograph her face, I can say that Ono is a petite, slim young woman with delicate features, long wavy hair and glasses. She's quick to smile, and once she got warmed up, she was clearly energized by her first exposure to her North American fans. She cheerfully (and quickly) drew sketches for every fan who came out for her signing events, often customizing her drawings to depict characters from that particular book.
I'll be posting a transcript of our panel, and a few additional questions I asked her on the last day of the show soon, so stick around for that.
LOTS OF NOTABLE INTERNATIONAL COMICS AND CREATORS AT TCAF 2011
With two top manga artists in attendance at this year's TCAF, the show attracted more than a few peeps from the North American manga community. I met Halifax's own Ysabeth MacFarlane, freelance manga editor (you can see her touch on Seiho Boys High School) for the first time, and caught up with manga blogger Lissa Patillo (Kuriosity, Anime News Network). Abby Denson, creator of Dolltopia and recent recipient of the International Manga Award was also on hand to show and sell her books. Reps from VIZ Media and Yen Press came to check out the TCAF fun, with several saying that this was their first trip to APE. Ryan Sands (Same Hat! Manga blogger and manga translator/editor) was there to show and sell Thickness #1, the latest anthology from the Electric Ant Zine crowd.
By Saturday afternoon, both floors of TCAF were buzzing with fans of all ages. While it never got San Diego Comic-Con level crazy, the crowds did get pretty dense at times. This definitely created a high-energy atmosphere, but also one where it was sometimes challenging to leisurely browse books and chat with creators.
This year, TCAF expanded its exhibit space, to allow for over 300 creators and publishers to show their stuff in two floors of the library, including a small press section and an area featuring comics just for kids. TCAF mainstays like Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics and Top Shelf came out to play, and spotlighted several of their creators from Canada and around the world. Top draws included Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library), Brown and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve). Smaller publishers like Picturebox, Koyama Press, Vertical, Fanfare Ponent Mon, Conundrum and Cloudscape were also on hand, as well as indie publisher/merch retailer TopatoCo, who did brisk business in books, tees and related items from some of the hottest webcomics creators.
Speaking of webcomics, many creators, both established and new, were on hand to meet, greet and draw for their online fans. Meredith Gran (Octopus Pie), Audra Furuichi (nemu-nemu), Dustin Harbin (Diary Comics) and the artists from the Bento Comics collective were there to sell comics, tees, prints and original artworks.
TCAF takes great pride in spotlighting Canadian comics talent. Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) attracted long lines of fans, and Faith Erin Hicks (Brain Camp and Zombies Calling) got a warm response to her Superhero Girl comics, which she has been publishing online. Creative couple Stuart and Kathryn Immonen (Moving Pictures) were also on hand to show the works they've created separately and collaboratively. Jim Zubkavitch (Skullkickers) reported that he sold out of the books he brought on Saturday that were originally planned to last him through the weekend (Fortunately, as a Toronto resident, it was no sweat for him to bring more from home to sell on Sunday). The Love Love Hill collective featured "shoujo-esque and Showa Retro inspired comics and zines," including an art zine called The End Days of Our Youth featuring "a Showa and Taisho roman aesthetic."
Of course, many American creators crossed the border to be a part of the TCAF festivities as well. Becky Cloonan debuted Wolves, an expanded version of the story she created for the Journeys anthology we showed and sold at Comitia in November 2009 as part of the Pop Japan Travel tour. Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy) and Raina Telgemeier (Smile) were there, as were Ryan Claytor (Elephant Eater Comics), who made it to his first TCAF by enduring a late-Friday night drive from Michigan to get to Toronto by Saturday morning.
There were many, many more comics and creators I wanted to see and books I wanted to buy, but there was too much to do, and almost too many people there to do this show justice in the free time I had between panels, interviews and other obligations. Maybe next year.
PARTY TIME AT TCAF: JAPAN FOUNDATION AND PAUPERS PUB
After the end of Day 1 of TCAF, Ono and Furuya were the special guests at a reception held on Saturday night at the Japan Foundation, which is just a few blocks away from the Toronto Reference Library on Bloor Street. (FYI, the Japan Foundation has a good-sized library that includes a collection of manga in English and Japanese). TCAF exhibitors, artists and special were invited to meet Ono and Furuya, and get their books signed away from the crowds at the show. Both artists expressed appreciation for the warm reception they received at TCAF, and a bit of amazement at the creative energy on display at the show.
I shot a short video of Furuya sensei drawing a character from Lychee Light Club at this reception.
TCAF is famous for its parties, and besides the reception at the Japan Foundation, there were lots of options for fun and festivities on Saturday night. The TCAFabulous panel and party at Crews/Tango featured queer comics creators, and provided a fun opportunity to mingle after hours. The TCAFete party at the Paupers Pub attracted a large crowd of creators and fans for a lively night of drinking, mingling and later, karaoke singing.
As for me, I opted to stick a little closer to home base that night. I caught up with the nice folks from VIZ Media, Yen Press and School Library Journal, and we talked shop and shared stories from manga-land and beyond over a few drinks.
We were all staying that the Marriott Yorkville hotel, which is only a few steps away from the Toronto Reference Library. Many TCAF attendees were also staying there, but as we found out, we weren't the only group looking for a good time that night.
In the ballroom of the Marriott was an event called "Burlesque" - a costume party complete with a booming soundtrack that asked its attendees to wear pajamas or sexy lingerie. As we got into the elevator, we were surrounded by guys in bathrobes and gals in bustiers and high heels. It felt like that Sesame Street song, "One of These Things Are Not Like the Other." As we got into the elevator, someone asked a guy who was waiting, "Going down?" He laughed, "Never!" As the door closed, everyone in the car (TCAF peeps included) had a good laugh at his rauchy one-liner.
I didn't stay out as late as many TCAF-ers, but after a long day that started at 7 am that morning, it was still plenty late for me. I still had to pack, and get ready for more fun on Day 2 of TCAF.