Five ways to get the most out of this weekend’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Five ways to get the most out of this weekend's Toronto Comic Arts Festival
(Image: courtesy of TCAF)

This weekend marks the ninth edition of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the annual two-day exhibition that takes over the Toronto Reference Library—and some surrounding sites—for the purpose of celebrating comics and cartoonists. The festival differs from nerd conventions like Comicon or Fan Expo, where cosplay is commonplace and many of the products are pushed by major media companies. Instead, TCAF focuses on smaller publishers and self-publishers. Since it was launched in 2003, the event has become one of the most popular and successful of its kind in North America. And it’s free to attend.

Here, a handy guide to getting the most out of the festival.

1. Know who you want to see There are hundreds of cartoonists from around the world at TCAF, and you can’t see them all. So check out the list of exhibitors beforehand. Maybe you’re a lifelong For Better or For Worse fan, and would like to tell Lynn Johnston how you felt when Farley died. Or maybe you want to tell Kate Beaton that you love her comics about bumbling historical figures. Or maybe Jeff Smith’s super popular Bone series is more your speed, and you want him to sign your book. That’s great, and you can do all that. But they’ll have long lines, so pick and choose who you most want to meet so you don’t leave disappointed.

2. Check out the talks and panels At peak hours, the floor of the festival can get pretty packed. A good alternative is to go to one of the panels, where cartoonists, critics, publishers and others chat about their work or the industry. It’s a good way to appreciate the personalities of cartoonists you might admire or be interested in.

3. Check out the Doug Wright Awards With artists like Seth, Michel Rabagliati and Michael DeForge, Canada is well represented as a cartooning nation. So naturally, we have our own award ceremony. The 10th-annual Doug Wright Awards will be hosted on Saturday night at the Mariott Bloor Yorkville Hotel by Kids in the Hall alumnus Scott Thompson. Attending would be a good way of quickly getting the pulse of Canadian comics.

4. Don’t restrict yourself to the big names Sure, everyone is familiar with super-famous (well, relatively famous) comic celebrities like Ed Brubaker, but make sure to check out some of the less familiar names, too. Part of the fun of TCAF comes from buying comics that you can’t get elsewhere, and the quality tends to be pretty good. Don’t be afraid to drop $5 on a mini-comic that someone Risographed the night before. Among the young cartoonists worth checking out at this year’s festival are Emily Carroll, Luke Pearson and Ethan Rilly. Other tips: Make sure to have lots of toonies and five-dollar bills if you can. Cartoonists will need them to make change for those high rollers with their twenties.

5. There’s an app for that You know how at every festival they hand out a guide that you briefly look at and then awkwardly carry around for the rest of the day? Well, this year TCAF has an app to prevent your fingers from getting newsprint-ink smudges. It has programming details and information on where exhibitors are located to make navigation less stressful.

Toronto Comic Arts Festival. FREE. May 10–11, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St.,


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