The Official Toronto Comic Arts Festival Wrap-Up

Hello everyone!

I’m Christopher Butcher, one of the co-founders and organizers of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I and my co-organizers, Peter Birkemoe and Matthew Seiden, decided that a letter might be a nicer way to address the public than a press release after TCAF 2007, our most successful and praised festival to date.

Gina Gagliano and Mark Siegel of First Second BooksIn the days following the TCAF, we’ve been inundated with calls and e-mails congratulating us on a show that was well-run, well-curated, and in such a beautiful, historic setting as the University of Toronto campus. Added to that are numerous Internet message board posts and blog entries proclaiming this the “best comics festival around” (Mark Siegel, Editor In Chief, First Second Books) and we’re very confident in announcing TCAF 2007 a huge success.

TCAF is different than any comics event I’ve ever attended… it was a conscious decision on our park to add something new and innovative to the comics landscape. Perhaps the one thing that surprises people about TCAF—attendees, press, and exhibitors alike—is that the show is completely FREE for the public to attend! The doors are open and people can walk in and out and return at their leisure (with staff and volunteers greeting them at the door with a smile and a program book). Because admission is free, it removes the psychological barriers associated with going to ‘a comic book show.’ Curious, tentative newcomers share in the energy of a crowd of enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans, and get caught up in attending panels, getting sketches and buying books as a result. TCAF is designed to show the interested public the best that the comics medium has to offer: a broad, accessible, varied view of comics instead the stereotypical collectibles and nostalgia image they might have. As an antidote to the frequent “news” items about outrageous prices being paid for rare and mint condition vintage comics, we kick open the doors and invite the public to witness firsthand that comics and graphic novels are a living, breathing, and most importantly, booming medium.

TCAF also has a fairly unique-to-comics approach of selecting exhibitors and creative guests from across different facets of the industry, including art-comix, independents, mainstream publishers, world manga, webcomics, superheroes, comics historians and especially mini-comics and self-published materials. Because the show is free, we try to pick exhibitors and guests who will appeal to the public, who will put on a great display in their exhibit space and who will engage attendees. We were really pleased to see how well all of these diverse talents worked within the TCAF space, with each section of the show’s eight rooms and two floors truly having something for everyone, including attendees who weren’t already comics fans, but were curious about the medium. All the TCAF exhibitors did a fantastic job of enhancing the stately Victoria College building, and we’d like to thank them for their efforts. In particular, we’d like to commend the folks responsible for the new Toronto-based webcomics collective Transmission-X for turning their room into a beautiful, multi-faceted exhibition space of comics art, illustration and video installation. That interactive experience was the perfect articulation of my specific vision for TCAF, and we hope that more exhibitors will follow their lead in future years (though not, perhaps, their 3am finish time!).

Our number one goal in putting on the festival every two years is to draw attention to the great comics being produced in Canada and around the world. Hearing from exhibitors that they had a great show, financially, personally, and promotionally, we know we’re achieving our goals.

Because of the vast amount of media coverage that TCAF received, before, during and even features and profiles afterwards, TCAF has a much larger reach both locally and internationally than we’ve ever had before, and than most typical comics festivals or conventions. That exposes new audiences to great comics, and this year specifically the works of TCAF exhibitors and special guests including Paul Pope, Seth, Hope Larson, Jillian Tamaki, Darwyn Cooke, Ryan North, Joe Ollman, Paul Gravett, and dozens more. Attendance for TCAF hovered at around 6,500 people over the course of the Festival, with demographics fairly evenly split between men and women, and with the primary age demographic solidly in the 18-35 area (though many both much older and much younger attended as well). This builds on our strong attendance of 2005, having our show remain approximately the same size – an intimate size and experience we and the exhibitors enjoy. Our observation though, is that our 2005 show was held adjacent to a main thoroughfare in the city and because of that there were a number of attendees who enjoyed the event as spectacle, whereas the majority of attendees this year were pre-informed about the event (and according to our exhibitors came with money to spend). We’re aware that most traditional cons and festivals like announce higher and higher attendance numbers with each successive show, but we don’t work that way.

I’m going to start thanking people now. First and foremost, a special mention of our volunteers. You’ve probably heard it before, that these events couldn’t happen without the help of the people behind the scenes, blah blah blah. Well, one of our volunteers GOT HIT BY A CAR on his bicycle ride home from the show Saturday and still showed up for his all-day shift on Sunday. Seriously. We were set-up for the show in under 3 hours on Saturday morning, and everything was torn down and clean an hour and a half after we closed un Sunday. Our volunteer staff were absolutely amazing: friendly, tireless, and extremely competent in every task. We’ve received tons of compliments, and I want to say for the record that the show would not have happened without them, period. My sincere thanks go to everyone who volunteered to help for TCAF 2007, including Adam, Ahrem, Amanda & Victoria, Anthony, Bryce, Carl, Carlos, Choon-sik, Corey, Dave, Denise, Diana, Diane, Ehab, Erin, Jacob, Jennifer, John, Linda, Myung-Jin, Ba Da, Paul, Rizie, Rob, Solly, Stacey, Steve, Tom, Victor, and everyone else whom I’ve inadvertently forgotten. You were all awesome. And you have the t-shirts to prove it.

Beguiling 20th Anniversary Print, by James JeanThe Festival also looked bloody great out in the world this year, thanks to some phenomenal pieces of art by our talented attending artists. Thanks go to: Darwyn Cooke, who made TCAF look more festive than ever with his gorgeous cover art to Comics Festival 2007 and our official 2007 Poster; to Bryan Lee O’Malley for lending Scott Pilgrim to the cover of Comics Festival 2007 and to our promotional material ensuring a healthy dose of recognition from Torontonians; to Evan Dorkin for having his characters Milk & Cheese destroy Toronto in some lovely promotional art; to Zach Worton for turning around our excellent program book cover and badge art in no time flat; to James Jean for his beautiful and haunting image for TCAF sponsor The Beguiling’s 20th Anniversary Print (which debuted at the show); to Chip Zdarsky, whose talented fingerprints are all over everything we did; and last but not least to Paul Pope for lending his pretty face to the cover of Eye Magazine, one of Toronto’s two alt-weeklies, for our most visible and effective promotion of the year. Funny how that works out.

I’d like to thank the TCAF staff, including Nathalie, Andrew, Jason, Naseem, and Scott for taking excellent care of their respective responsibilities: we love you very much. I’d like to thank The Beguiling staff for giving up their weekend to be conscripted into service, including Parish, Becca, Kayla, James, Derek, Jerry, and Shane. Our panel moderators Ed, Jeet, Jon, Lianne, and Neil did a great job with their respective engagements, and really every one of our guests who held a workshop or created a presentation for the show, especially Darwyn Cooke, Paul Gravett, James Jean, Marc Siegel, Jason Thompson, and George A. Walker, added immeasurably to our success. Speaking of events, I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful folks who put on ‘satellite’ TCAF events around the city. Our appreciation goes out to: Jim Munroe, Salgood Sam, and Claudia Davila for the Drawn Out Apocalypses launch; The Doug Wright Awards committee and especially Matt Seiden for our Friday-night kick-off event; Brendan Fletcher, Willow Dawson, and Bryan Lee O’Malley for the Songs & Pictures party; Brian McLachlan for the Indiana Jones party and art show; and our venue CENTRAL for our ‘victory’ party Sunday night.

I need to thank our sponsors, too. Not just because we’re contractually obligated to do so (heh), but because they really came through for us on all fronts. OWLkids, Eye Magazine, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, Firefly Books, Drawn & Quarterly, and all of our publisher friends: your contributions were very much appreciated. We’ll be hitting you up again in 2009.

I know this is going to seem weird to all of you reading, but I really need to take a second and thank The Beguiling. I know I work for The Beguiling, and one of the other TCAF organizers Peter Birkemoe is the co-owner of The Beguiling, but nonetheless: props. The Beguiling is the main sponsor of the festival, putting a ton of money and an amazing amount of sweat-equity into ensuring that the show goes on. Basically, every hour that I invest into TCAF is one taken away from my job at The Beguiling, and the whole free festival does sort of distract from my employer’s job of selling comics. TCAF wouldn’t happen without the support of this fine store, and as an employee I’m always proud that we bring some of the finest comics creators from around the world to Toronto (and they in turn fall in love with our shop and brag about it elsewhere: I particularly love that).

Finally, to Matthew Seiden, this year’s Festival Director. You did a great job this year, especially in putting up with Peter and I—two less than organized people who live in our own heads more than the real world. Everything you contributed made the show better than it’s ever been, and we’re really sorry to see you go. Best of luck. 🙂

And with that, I think we’re done for this year. I’m exceptionally happy with how everything turned out, and despite some bumps in the road, I think we came through it all fantastically well. Thank you to everyone who came out, who spread the word, and who made this the best comics event I’ve ever been to.

Christopher Butcher, Festival Co-Founder
On behalf of Peter Birkemoe, Matthew Seiden, and himself.

(Photos by Flickr user “The Doodlers” except where noted. 1st: TCAF Main Floor Exhibition Space, photo by Karen Whaley. 2nd: Gina Gagliano and Mark Siegel of First Second Books. 3rd: Transmission-X installation space, featuring art by J. Bone. 4th: TCAF Second Floor Exhibition Space. 5th: Beguiling 20th Anniversary Print by James Jean. 6th: TCAF kick-off party.)