Last weekend, the Toronto Reference Library played host to the sixth Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Featuring more than 200 exhibitors from home and abroad, this was the largest TCAF to date; its size and diversity was a testament to the feel-good optimism inspired by the comic-book form.
In American author Michael Chabon’s 600-page love letter to the so-called golden age of comic books, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, two young protagonists invent a superhero capable of battling the most serious threat to their known world, Nazism: “He doesn’t just fight it. He frees the world of it. He frees people, see? He comes in the darkest hour.” Though comics have long ceased to be superhero-centric, the same romantic idealism continues to define the medium.
Edward Kanerva, the Power Plant’s programs and publications coordinator, was present at TCAF as a representative for the Toronto publishing house Pop Sandbox, which specializes in original graphic novels. (Disclosure: I work part-time at the Power Plant as well.) When asked why he feels strongly about such projects, Kanerva replied, “I love comics for their potential. Their combination of text and image offers an incredible range of possibilities. We might not have seen the Gesamtkunstwerk yet, but comics get us pretty close.”
At the Pop Sandbox booth, Kanerva and his comrades were promoting their newest publication The Next Day, a “graphic novella” that delves into the depths of suicidal minds and begs us all to consider the power of tomorrow. Written by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore, and illustrated by John Porcellino, The Next Day conveys first-hand accounts of near-fatal suicide attempts and asks, “What if they had waited just one more day?” In its own way, this novella is an abstract version of the superhero imagined by Joe and Sammy in Chabon’s book, reaching out to people in their darkest hour.
True to the democratic spirit of comic arts, many of the TCAF booths were manned by self-publishing artists selling small batches of zines and other multiples. Wowee Zonk’s small-press exhibition on the library’s second floor was the hub for such exhibitors including Shannon Gerard, the celebrated local behind the hyper-hipster Plushtache. Gerard’s Unspent Love, or Things I Wish I Told You zine series is a touching example of the honest, poetic and personal voice that finds strong footing as printed ephemera. Reading “I am still scared when I get up in the night to pee” in Unspent Love # 6, for example, one feels rather as if they’re the peeking inside a limited edition of the artist’s own diary.
The importance of sharing and connecting was at the heart of TCAF. Hugh Frost of Landfill Editions, who travelled all the way from London, England, for the two-day event, said, “TCAF is a nice opportunity to meet people. It brings a social aspect to the generally introverted world of books, and it’s the perfect excuse to travel to new places, see old friends and make new ones.” Frost began Landfill Editions in 2009 with the aim of connecting like-minded graphic artists and developing a strong collective voice. To that end, he’s published the inaugural issue of Mould Map, which promises to be a regular comics and narrative art publication. Mould Map 1 is a beautiful large-scale zine in vibrant blue and fluorescent orange that features work by 15 international artists.
Brooklyn artist and TCAF exhibitor Caitlin McGurk describes the power and popularity of comic arts best in the introduction to her A Field Guide to Edible Roadside Plants: “It doesn’t take much to draw a speech bubble on a doodle and convey something. With that in mind, share your ideas. Spread your personal knowledge in any way you can. Study the things you’re interested in, and tell someone about them. Make something real.”