What I Did On the Anniversary of My First Blog Post: The Toronto Comics Arts Festival

This is going to be a late entry as I have been recovering from the last three days of attending–and volunteering–at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. The first time I ever went to the Festival was when it was still at the University of Toronto: back in those days when I was still in Undergrad and working at York in 2007.

It’s an understatement to say that it has long expanded since. I came back to it in about 2011 while still in Grad School and then last year before my official Graduation. I mentioned in another post that it is about this time of year, specifically the month of May, where things have ended for me. Actually, this post is being made two days past the Anniversary of the online Mythic Bios: namely, this whole Writer’s Blog.

So let me celebrate this missed anniversary by telling you all a bit about my weekend at TCAF.

On Friday I reported to my set-up shift. I haven’t really lifted heavy boxes or tables in a while, so my arms are still all sore from that. But the company of my fellow volunteers was totally worth it. We all wanted to be there and, for me, it is a novelty to be able to talk with people with similar Geek knowledge and interests. Really, for that alone and working together with like-minded people on straightforward tasks it was totally worth it. I got my bright blue volunteer shirt along with everyone else, and then headed home to attempt an early night to wake up earlier the following day.

Well, after failing to go to bed early I woke up the next day and somehow found the Marriott Hotel without getting lost where Art Spiegelman was going to be doing some signings. So I naturally brought both of my volumes of Maus with me and waited in the line to meet him. It was only after a while that the volunteers on duty that day informed us that Spiegelman would only sign two books, and one of them had to be one of his new ones. I will admit, I was annoyed. Like I said, I had the old version of Maus that was divided into two volumes and I had been keen on having them both signed. I also didn’t see any of the new books that I was interested in.

At first.

I was tired and hungry and I almost left the line until I decided “What the hell, I’m getting to meet Art Spiegleman.” Then I found Breakdowns: essentially a large collection of his earlier work that I had either only seen excerpts of, or only saw references to in text books for my own researches. Some of these comics had led to the creation of Maus as well and also shed more light on his family life and his own experiences. In fact, some of the comics in there have that very 1960s to early 80s Underground Comix feel: specifically the pieces that really share Robert Crumb’s wobbly, sometimes vulgar but very iconic aesthetic.

By the time I got to see Art Spiegelman, he was sitting across from his wife–the stately Francoise Mouly–and the artist Frank Viva. He looked like someone’s elegant Viennese Jewish grandfather. I know he doesn’t come from Vienna or Germany, but that is about the only way I can physically describe him. I told him that it was a great honour to meet him. He seemed pleased to see that Breakdowns was one of the books I had and he described it to me as something along the lines of a building with which he keeps adding renovations. At one point he joked about whether not my name had changed by the second piece he was signing and I told him, “Not this time, but usually I change the number of Ts in my name just to mess with people.” He found that (very untrue joke) very amusing. Then I shook his hand and left with my prizes.

I just have to reiterate that Spiegelman’s work really influenced me. I originally encountered him in my Literature of Testimony course in my Grad Program at York. A lot of the literature made my own first-person narratives stronger: increasing my voice and its depth. But Spiegelman in particular not only taught me that symbols be used to represent literal things and ideas, but that this same order can be subverted to either destroy their meanings or through doubt on them. This is a very sophisticated technique and one that definitely will affect at least one work of mine. That is one major reason I really had to meet him: to meet one of the masters of what I’ve tried–and am trying to do–in my own writerly way. So yes, it was awesome to finally meet him.

By that time, I made it back to the Reference Library and got a few more books. It was there that I met Hope Larson for the first time and her sign her adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time for my Mom in honour of Mother’s Day and her birthday. She apparently found that cute. I chose that book because my Mom loves Madeleine L’Engle’s series and she used to read them to me when I was much younger. So it was kind of a bridge between our interests. Later, I remembered that I had read Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream and Gray Horses when I worked for the Clara Thomas Archives.

But I couldn’t make it upstairs as I had planned. I was tired and dehydrated and apparently there was a line to get into the suite with more of the vendors that I wanted to visit. I met a friend and we ended up going for a meal of some kind, or I did, and then went on our way to Bento Miso for its own Bit Bazaar. Bento Miso is a place where games–electronic and analog, as well as many start-up businesses–are made and they were opening for the Festival. It was a nice sunny day in downtown Toronto as my friend and I tried to circumvent the ridiculousness of the TTC shutdown from Bloor to Union Station and went to Ossington and walked with tons of stuff in my arms to Bento Miso for the first time.

I met a few people there and got to play some games: including one game called Bijouxred: which is essentially a game that combines the strategy war game mechanics of Fire Emblem with the rough brawling moments of Streetfighter II. And that is just a simplification because the fights themselves have some elements reminiscent of Final Fantasy–with its Combat Options, and even Mario RPG with regards to having to press a button to simulate blocking, charging your energy, or even chaining attacks together. It was really cool. I met Rene Shible–Director of Development–and Lead Animator Michal Szczepanski: who were quite friendly and directed me through their game.

The Bit Bazaar itself was awesome. There is a very Underground feel to it: a combination of grit, digitization and nostalgia along with a lot of geeking, friendliness and adventure. A few of the games from the second Comics Vs. Games collaboration were being shown and played there as well. It is still something I want to do with an artist programmer one day. 🙂 I got a Steamkey to Spooky Squid Games They Bleed Pixels: which I ranted about a really long time ago as also being awesome. It came with its own small black envelope and a simulated red wax seal. That was a very lovely touch. I also got to meet a few people and a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. I think I will visit there more often soon. So by the time I finally got home that night, I was bloody exhausted.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The next morning I woke up even earlier. I gave my Mom her present before leaving and made it again to the Marriott just in time to observe the Art Spiegelman Spotlight panel: with Seth as its moderator. It was a very eye-opening exchange between the two cartoonists and it was this interaction, combined with reading some of Breakdowns that gave me a little idea as to why Spiegelman wanted people to read his new work and not focus as much on Maus. I mean, first of all there is the creator perspective of it: in which an artist doesn’t want to be solely determined by one creation–no matter how great–that they did in the past. But another, more personal reason, is when you consider the content of Maus and just how much Spiegelman had to delve into some dark and personal spaces: some of which were not even personally his own, but affected him just the same. This article from the Toronto Star might explain it a little better and might have made more sense had I read it before meeting him. Having that long shadow cast over you can be brutal. I also learned that Breakdowns has been reprinted twice with new work or “renovations” added.

Then I went to the Library, got some Hope Larson comics for myself, met some cool new creators, and made it to the upper level where I met Maurice Vellekoop with his elegant, airy lined and water-coloured comics: often portraying erotic and adventurous content. I got something and had him sign it. Then I went around that level and left to eventually get to the Bryan Lee O’Malley Spotlight panel: where in a strange game of “Guessing the Answer Before Asking the Question,” I answered, “No,” and asked if he had ever intended the character of Mobile in Scott Pilgrim to actually turn to be Gideon. Suffice to say, I was right and I don’t think I was the first one to ask this question.

Eventually the Festival was closing down and I went to my next volunteer shift: the tear-down phase. This was the shift I covered last year and it had been my only one at the time. I got to say hello and goodbye to some people I met and then I wandered home in the suddenly cold with hail balls coming down.

And that was my TCAF.

So, there is one thing I want to mention before I wrap this long post up. Some of the artists I was talking to were commenting about how awesome TCAF is and how people from all over Canada and the world come here. They were talking about what makes TCAF different from other conventions. Well, I have my basic two cents on that matter.

The first thing to consider is that TCAF is free. It has no entry fee and all you have to do is come in and bring money to buy work, or simply come to the panels. It is also a festival and it is spread around a few locations. But I think the second element of TCAF that I like is that the barrier between artists and readers is somehow thinner here: or at least far more permeable? You can interact with many artists as you would any other person or vendor. It also helps that many artists are in fact fans of other artists. There is just this positive enthusiastic energy around all of that just makes me happy. What really makes me happy is that so many younger people come to this Festival and are so enthusiastic about the comics medium and what they like.

It’s some of the few times that I am proud to have lived in Toronto and still do some business in it. And this event was what I needed lately. I feel more inspired to just do things and get things done. It’s like I got recharged, if that makes sense. I also finally decided to make a basic business card that I can give to people that is linked to this Mythic Bios site. And I made more connections. It was a truly rewarding experience and I would like to thank the Festival Staff, the artists, the vendors, the fans and my fellow volunteers for making this time exist every year.

Also, thank you all for continuing to read and Follow me. I know that this particular post was a very long one and I feel in some ways that I did this event more justice in my own personal written journal, but I did what I could and I underestimated just how much happened in three days. These three days made this part of May a good beginning and I have plans now. And I can’t wait to begin the process of implementing them.

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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