A guide to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

The 11th Toronto Comic Arts Festival takes place this weekend, with an eclectic array of guests, ranging from Marguerite Abouet to Chip Zdarsky, and an impressive roster of events.

Debuting books include The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks; What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing artist and Her Pussy, by the Japanese artist Rokudenashiko, who was just found guilty of obscenity for distributing 3D printer data of her genitals; 20x20, an anthology commemorating Conundrum Press's 20th anniversary, and Tract, a graphic novella created specially by manga-ka Shintaro Kago for TCAF.

The festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday at the Toronto Reference Library, and it's free. We checked in with co-founder and festival director Christopher Butcher about what to expect.

ROBOT 6: The day before TCAF you’re having a Word Balloon Academy, which seems to have some new elements. Can you explain what that’s about and what’s different this year?

Christopher Butcher: TCAF presents an interesting opportunity, in that we have all of these talented creative people coming into town, usually a day or two early, but the main festival days are only Saturday and Sunday. We wanted to give back to the artists that make TCAF possible, and so in 2014 we came up with the idea of a full day of comics professional development, free to attend for exhibitors and the public, called Word Balloon Academy. Now that WBA is being held for the third time, we're looking to grow that program a little, and offer different sorts of interaction with professionals who might be able to develop or expand a creator's artistic career. In addition to our programs, we'll have a marketplace set up through the day, where exhibitors will be there to provide one-on-one information on the Canadian artistic granting system, health and safety, copyright and more. Now that it's more of a known commodity, it's time to expand WBA's reach a little bit.

TCAF seems to have outgrown the festival weekend, with a lot of events beforehand. Anything new or especially exciting this year?

We're pretty determined to grow TCAF in an organic, and (at least in North America) in a unique way. We love the idea of adding different sorts of events to the lineup, because we think that there are other ways, and sometimes better ways, to reach new comics readers. This year is particularly strong in the gallery component, as we'll have three concurrent gallery shows going — one each for Italian artist Manuele Fior of the recently released graphic novel 5000 km Per Second, for Japanese manga formalist and ero-guro master Shintaro Kago, and the PHONO+GRAPHIC exhibition of vinyl album art by comic book artists, curated by Sean Phillips (The Fade Out). All three shows start before our fest dates, and end after, enabling the whole city to get out and see them if the fest weekend is too busy.

The other big new event is that we've added a new venue, the Masonic Temple, just north of Toronto Reference Library. This venue is going to be a "new-mainstream" dedicated space, with cartoonists traditionally publishing through Image, Oni, BOOM! and the superhero guys exhibiting there. It'll also feature all-day live drawing by top cartoonists, and all in a gorgeous refurbished concert venue. It should be a really unique addition to TCAF, and only five minutes' walk away!

Are there any other changes to the festival this year that people should be aware of?

Well, in addition to our new venue at the Masonic Temple, TCAF also takes place at buildings besides Toronto Reference Library. Our main programming space is Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville, and our KIDS DAY celebration takes place down the street at St. Paul's Church on Bloor, on Saturday. We also have a full day of programming in a fully licensed bar at The Pilot Tavern, if you want a beer or something to eat while the popular Canadian podcast CANADALAND does a live recording with Rokudenashiko, Ted Rall and Chester Brown!

Let’s throw this in just for fun: What’s your favorite part of TCAF, and what’s the biggest challenge?

My favorite part of TCAF is seeing the joy that it brings to other people, creators and fans alike. Knowing that creators come away from TCAF with a professional comics gig, or having made a ton of new friends, or with enough money in their pockets to pay a few month's rent? That's incredible, that's what we're working for. The biggest challe

nge is continuing to delver that experience year after year, with so many moving parts and the size of the fest gradually increasing. We're lucky to have a lot of smart, dedicated folks on staff who volunteer their time to making the Festival a success though, and we're looking at doing it for years to come.

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