Comics and the Big City!

Well, I’m here, revelling in my urban vacation, rubbing elbows with other folks who create and are passionate about comics! Yesterday I was up much too early, and on a plane without even a cup of tea or breakfast, on my way to Toronto, to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

A selfie on the plane!

A selfie on the plane!

Today was the teachers and educators’ day at TCAF, and what a packed day it was for me! I don’t usually do personal blog posts, but since this is a travel post, it’ll have to have a bit more about me in it. I’m also going to add a bunch of links in case, like me, you are an extra-info nut — and because you aren’t here at the conference, I’d like you to meet some of these people, at least virtually! Alas, I haven’t taken very many pictures yet, but I’ll try to do more of that in the next couple of days.

I’m staying at a hostel, right downtown, called the All Days Hostel. It’s a very cute, skinny brick house in a row of such buildings (there’s probably a name for this kind of architecture, but I don’t know it). I like staying in hostels because 1. they’re very inexpensive, and 2. you can sometimes meet really interesting people. It’s not as posh as a hotel, but at less than half the price I’ve heard for where other people are staying, it’s a great deal. I have a (tiny) private room, sharing bathrooms and showers with the other guests — very old-European style. I have access to a fully equipped kitchen (hostel-staying people are very good about sharing such spaces), and it’s only a kilometre from the Toronto Reference Library, where most of the programming is taking place. This library is HUGE, and full of people researching… well, whatever they are researching. I have it in mind to check out if they have a British Columbia section, to see if I can glean anything for my West Coast Tales series that I’d like to do.

Last night I went with Ken and Joan Steacy, my comic mentors, for a talk by Trina Robbins (her website is here — I can’t wait to check out her blog!). She gave a talk about Nell Brinkley, an artist of whom I had never heard, though I’m sure I’ve seen her art before. Trina has a vast amount of knowledge about women comic artists and illustrators, and is an engaging speaker as well as writer. Although I was about half zombifyied from jet lag and lack of sleep, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And an extra treat — after the talk, Ken, Joan, Trina and Renee Nault (another one of my very favourite comic artists — check out her exquisitely beautiful comic Witchling) and I went out for a late snack at a great little Japanese restaurant. The food was good, the company was excellent, and after a bit more walking around we all hopped in a cab (an unusual experience for me!) and I was dropped off back at the hostel.

Jet lag had me turning into a pumpkin very early, but it woke me up again at about midnight, with the help of some Germanic-sounding fellows having a conversation in the sitting room, which is right outside my door.  They didn’t stay up long, but then I became aware of mysterious sounds in the almost subsonic range, causing me to think that one of those people who turns their car into a boom-box was circling the block. I finally realized that, being about a block from the subway, and the noises being at the interval of about 4 minutes, that I could stop being mad at the imagined sonic miscreant and get back to sleep.

Jet lag! Pretty clever of those West Jet people to put their web address on the wing so people taking pictures out the window would advertise for them!

Jet lag! Pretty clever of those West Jet people to put their web address on the wing so people taking pictures out the window would advertise for them!

After a bit of a slow start this morning (my jets were lagging) I summoned up the gumption to walk to the venue, just in time for the first talk of the day by none other than the aforementioned Ken Steacy, who was giving a presentation on “edutainment” comics. This is a fascinating field of comics with a long history — comics can be used to show how to do all kinds of things from cooking to playing piano to how to maintain a jeep engine, or to teach such history, science, or math, and much more. Ken even used my “Horse Sense” comic (see the sidebar) as an example of conveying some information about how to ride a horse (although I didn’t write it with that in mind).

The next presenter was Steven McCabe, on “Wordless Comics and Creative Literacy”. The Porcupine Quill has just published his “wordless poem” book called Never More Together; the story is told in elegantly simple black-and-white linocuts. His presentation included a handout full of ideas for educators for using wordless books in teaching creative subjects, both visual arts and literary. During the talk, he demonstrated one technique he uses of developing a story when working with kids, using an endless, wandering line. I took a picture of the results, and asked him it it was OK to post it here (he said yes!):

Steven McCabe's endless line drawing (that's him in the background)

Steven McCabe’s endless line drawing (that’s him in the background)

That brought us up to lunchtime, and as I wasn’t a presenter or a paid registered guest, I had to go seek my fare elsewhere than the conference rooms. Fortunately, there is a nice little cafe downstairs called Balzac’s, and I settled in with one of the books I bought earlier in the day from the The Beguiling table. One thing I don’t do enough these days is sit in cozy cafes with a bite to eat and a good book!

Back up to the conference area, and a panel on “Comics and Undergrads”, very much geared toward librarians and teachers, and the use of comics in colleges and universities as course material. I found it very interesting, even not being an academic, for the insights on the kinds of things libraries are collecting in the way of graphic novels and comic collections.

At this point, the aforementioned Joan Steacy (check out her blog! — pictures of her upcoming second graphic novel and some of her character illustrations) and I walked down Yonge St. to Curry’s — an art supply store of which I had heard but not been to. She was seeking paper and paint for the sketches she’ll be doing on Sunday as a benefit for a comic artists’ legal relief fund. Curry’s had some very good prices, as rumoured, and of course I couldn’t escape without buying something — I got a pad of Terraskin, a “paper” made out of stone dust! I’ve been wanting to try it out with a technique shown to me by a fellow comics artist.

Then, it was adventure time! Uh, in the sense of the old hobbit saying, “all adventures are uncomfortable”. We decided to take the subway back, to save my aching knees — but we had to walk several blocks further south to catch it, then climb down a bunch of stairs (there must be an elevator for wheelchairs, but I didn’t see it) and then the train was stuffed so full that we couldn’t get on — rush hour had begun, and we knew it would only get worse, so we trudged back up, getting slightly lost in the process of getting out of the subway station, then retraced our weary steps all the way back up to Bloor Street. I wasn’t quite too tired to appreciate the diversity of the crowds of people on the street — so different from sedate Victoria — and an excellent Dixieland-type jazz band of kids who held up a sign saying they were working for their tuition!

The second to last presentation of the day, at the Marriott hotel a couple of blocks from the Library, was Trina Robbins again, giving a wider ranging talk on women cartoonists. She has been chronicling the many women’s careers who have been left out of the pages of comics history by the mainstream, male dominated industry. There were many, many women, who even became very well-known in their day, that you seldom find mention of now, and she is working to rectify that. Her talk was attended by many young women (as well as men), who were very interested in what she had to say, and asked a lot of very articulate questions. Trina is an inspiring speaker, in a quiet and warm way, and her use of humour makes the sometimes touchy subject of gender parity in comics very accessible.  I’m planning to buy her book tomorrow.

At last, back to the library for the big kick-off for the weekend — a panel conversation between Lynn Johnston and Kate Beaton, moderated by Raina Telgemeier! Wow! Wow! Wow! I had bought Raina’s graphic novel for kids Drama earlier in the day, and I’ve been a fan of Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse since I was a kid. Kate Beaton’s Hark a Vagrant webcomic (and book) is a funny, smart, and wacky take on history by a historian, and you owe it to yourself to go take a look.

The crowd at the kick-off event! I was in the back row, but the sound was great, and they had the panel up on video screens at the side so those in the back could see the panelists.

The crowd at the kick-off event! I was in the back row, but the sound was great, and they had the panel up on video screens at the side so those in the back could see the panelists.

Then, a walk back to my cosy digs at the hostel, and here I am typing this. I hope this has given you the flavour of the event so far — and do check out those links and take a look at the people and their art.

4 responses to “Comics and the Big City!

    • Yes, I remember Etch-a-Sketch! I loved mine.
      Hostels are generally about half to two-thirds as much as a B&B, and self-catering. More like a hotel in that you can come and go when you please — a lot of B&Bs prefer that you be out of the house during the day. Here there are lots of young folks with humongous back-packs (I don’t know how they can carry them!). I just made tea downstairs while a young couple from Down Under, by their accents, was cooking a full meal for dinner.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Laurie! Yes, you should go next year — you’ll love it. In the meantime, VanCAF is happening a couple of weekends from now — it’s a smaller version much closer by, in Vancouver. Google it for info!

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