Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Building Relationships at TCAF 2010

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Building Relationships at TCAF 2010

By Hilary Fair

“As long as you’re drawing... that’s the main thing.” So muses local artist and illustrator Chris Kuzma as the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2010 draws to its close.

Kuzma is a member of Wowee Zonk — the Toronto comic collective he founded with fellow artist-illustrators Patrick Kyle and Ginette Lapalme — and he is speaking in reference to the ever-expanding body of graphic work on display at this now-annual comic arts festival.

Kuzma’s reflection on TCAF’s growth is enthusiastic, warm, inclusive: this place is “assorted,” he says — increasingly “multidisciplinary” and, as a result, increasingly exciting.

He is right. Table tops covered in comic books, stickers, ‘zines, buttons, screen-printed t-shirts, chap books, postcards, original prints and more stretch across two floors of the Toronto Reference Library. And the panel programs that run all weekend reflect the same evolving definition of comic art (and artists) as the merch tables. Panelists engage in conversation about the role of new media and design technologies in a field deeply rooted in paper and pen. They talk about webzines. They discuss comics as limited circulation art objects — and fine art’s place in the graphic novel. And they celebrate together, like they did on Saturday night at the 2010 Doug Wright Awards.

Opinions and tastes may differ, but camaraderie is tangibly present (and plentiful) at TCAF. The festival “is a chance to get our artwork out” while connecting to “others we’re inspired by,” says Kuzma, gesturing to the spread of work by friends and folks he admires sharing space on Wowee Zonk’s table.

Wowee Zonk

Interaction between artists is an important perk of this weekend festival — one seemingly as important as exposure to, and engagement with, a new commercial audience. Wowee Zonk, who have just returned from New York City and the MOCCA festival, happily remark on the number of new “friends” they recognize. “More and more people are coming from outside of Canada,” says Lapalme — a fact that makes TCAF an ever-more valuable asset to the Toronto comic community. Comic artist and crafter Shannon Gerard, who most recently paired with Jim Munroe on 2010’s Sword of My Mouth: A Post-Rapture Graphic Novel, echoes Wowee Zonk’s appreciation of TCAF’s growing international scope. It’s a “major benefit” of participation in the festival, she says; TCAF offers Toronto artists a forum for introduction into a larger creative community.

As TCAF evolves in terms of the graphic material it features and the distance it draws showcasing artists from, its patronage changes, too. True, the library is filled with the graphic-savvy collective one would expect; but the artists graciously make themselves (and their work) equally accessible to first-time festival-goers. With the demographic growing on both sides of the table — thanks to free admission, expanding wares and an increasingly international presence — TCAF’s value only compounds itself. The festival attracts what Gerard celebrates as a “random selection of people” — the cross-section of die-hard comic fans and graphic novel novices that artists like Kuzma want to meet.

When asked about the festival’s power to expose new (and established) independent artists to a commercial audience, Kuzma’s face, like Gerard’s eyes, flash. Their parallel, enthusiastic response is this: TCAF connects artists to literally hundreds of people that would not otherwise see their work. It is a major (and majorly important) weekend for comic artists and widely recognized as one of the best comic art festivals on the continent.

Sword of My Mouth: A Post-Rapture Graphic Novel
by Shannon Gerard and Jim Munroe

TCAF’s high quality is something Gerard acknowledges, referring to the “curator’s sensibility” that defines the physical layout of the space as well as the structure of the festival’s programming. She recognizes that the juried submissions process makes TCAF “less democratic” than she might hope — the roster of artists and work inevitably reflect the tastes of the organizers — but she also emphasizes that, for those that get in, the benefits are vast. And though submissions are juried, the 2010 panel programming opened to suggestions, making it a truer reflection of the interests and concerns of participating artists than ever before.

What’s been good since 2003 seems to be getting better. In this respect, TCAF’s evolution from bi-annual to yearly event is a coup for Toronto’s comic arts community. As Gerard says, without the two-year lull, there is an “immediacy of exposure”: she can show admirers her latest body of work, and she can explain her future projects knowing that this work will be a still-fresh product by the time May 2011 rolls around. Like all of the artists participating in TCAF, she is here to build relationships; knowing that she doesn’t have to part ways for twenty-four months makes the maintenance of these new, important connections more plausible.

Hilary Fair is new to the city and is trying to find her footing in its literary community while curbing her nomadic tendencies. She’s a new grad from a Master of English program and thinks that she’s finally at the end of her “long road to Toronto.” The last eight years have taken her to various pockets of this province, through Europe a couple of times and to the west coast of Canada for a short stint as an islander. Hilary is pleased to be part of Open Book: Toronto and to have more opportunities to participate in the city’s literary events. She is working at various internships while she also works on getting brave and sharing her words.

Photos by Hilary Fair.

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