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An Inside Look at TCAF 2012

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TCAF 2012 poster by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

If you are a comic arts creator or aficionado, you likely already have the first weekend in May circled on your calendar. But if you have no idea why that first weekend is so exciting, grab the nearest pen and write TCAF under May 5th and 6th! Here’s why: The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), a festival celebrating comics, graphic novels and their creators, is once again filling the Toronto Reference Library with a massive exhibitor and vendor fair. And this year’s festival is going to be bigger and better than ever!

According to legend, the idea for the festival originated as a result of a 20-hour road trip to a comic show in 2002. Christopher Butcher and Peter Birkemoe, TCAF’s co-founders, figured why drive 20 hours when Toronto is already home to so much comic talent. And so, TCAF was born. The first festival was held in 2003 with approximately 600 attendees and continued to be held every two years until 2010 when the festival became an annual event. Last year’s event saw a record 15,000 visitors.

The founders stress that this is not a comics convention. “We decided from the get go that this was going to be a literary festival and not a con,” says the TCAF website. “We wanted to do something that dealt more specifically with the art form of comics itself, with an emphasis on genre appreciation and open interaction between creators and their community.”

Miles Baker, the Assistant Festival Director, joined the TCAF team when the festival became an annual event. “Before that I was a regular customer of The Beguiling and ran my own online arts magazine, MONDOmagazine,” said Miles. TCAF sponsored a party at The Beguiling and his relationship with the festival grew from there.

“I was initially just going to do some design work and help with some advertising but I kept offering suggestions and saying, 'What can I do next?' I found out I was the Assistant Director of the festival when I read it in the 2010 festival guide.”

As Assistant Director, Miles curates the festival, negotiates sponsorships and books venues, among other things. “I’ve never been more involved in the festival and I’ve never been more excited to see it all come together,” he said.

This year, TCAF had 60 percent more exhibitor applications than it did in 2011. “Selecting exhibitors for TCAF is one of the hardest things we do,” said Miles, who reviews every application, as does Chris. “Judging a creator’s work is really hard because you don’t need to be an amazing artist to be a great cartoonist.”

Due to the large increase in applications, “there were a lot of people that would have qualified for TCAF in 2011 who we couldn’t offer space to,” said the Assistant Director. “It sucked but it’s amazing to see so much quality work out there.”

“If it’s your first time coming to TCAF,” said Miles, “we have an incredibly diverse and talented group of exhibitors and unprecedented levels of programming. If you’re a returning visitor, expect a new library! The Reference Library has been undergoing some pretty extensive renovations and we’re able to use some new spaces this year. Make sure to explore.”

One of the programs Miles is most excited about this year is OwlKids Day, a full day of kids-oriented programming on May 5th.

“We’ve had kids programming in the past that’s been successful, but this is the biggest event we’ve ever thrown just for kids,” he said. “It’s some of the world’s best-selling children’s authors one after another—it’s just an incredible line up.”

Also featured at the festival this year are the talents of Aislin, the political cartoonist for The Gazette, Alison Bechdel, who will be presenting her newest graphic novel Are You My Mother?, Topatoco, who is bringing a huge number of cartoonists including Kate Beaton, author of Hark! A Vagrant... The list goes on and on.

A full list of TCAF’s amazing line-up can be found here.

TCAF is a free festival that is open to the public. “The bulk of our revenue comes from table fees that exhibitors pay,” said Miles when asked how the festival continues to be free. “That said, our presenting sponsors the Toronto Public Library and The Beguiling Books and Art are extremely generous with their time and resources. Without either of them it would be difficult to put on TCAF. Going forward, we’re going to be looking at some more grants and things like that. We will do everything in our power to make sure TCAF stays free to attend.”

With such a large event, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. Miles suggests making a visit to the TCAF website,

“We have a really good website with profiles of every exhibitor and guest of TCAF, as well as information on our satellite events,” he said. “If you’re someone who is ‘not into comics’ start clicking around our site [...] and check out what our exhibitors are doing. You will find a reason to come to TCAF.”

Danielle Webster is the editorial intern for Open Book: Toronto, with a degree in English literature and a certificate in publishing. She works in a bookstore. When Danielle is not reading kids and teen books, she is blogging about them at Bookish Notions.

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