This year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival offered some interesting moments.
Chief among them was a comment from Michael Comeau, the winner of this year’s Pigskin Peters Award for experimental or avant-garde comic. Following some very flattering words about his winning book Hellberta from presenter Jeet Heer, Comeau ended his acceptance speech more or less with: “Comics are trash. And when you’re into trash, you have a lot of friends.”
The words landed with a dull thud and a bit of the air left the auditorium packed with graphic novel types, a small handful of comic journalists, presumably some fans, and professional editorial cartoonists who had shown up to hear the respected and well-known Terry Mosher speak on the night of his hall of fame induction. I cringed a little thinking about the evening’s organizers Brad Mckay and Seth imagining how much effort they put into the affair and its attempts to elevate the work of comic artists beyond the 50 cent bins Comeau referenced in his speech.
There are any number of reasons why Comeau may have said that. (Perhaps he was being a bit of a punk in front of his friends? He has a difficult time taking praise and this is how he defuses it? It’s some sort of inside joke? Who knows?) Whatever the reason, his words handily illustrate the tension within the comic book community — a continuing struggle for recognition of artists who are producing honest, personal and transformational work, while super-soldiers and demi-gods dominate the box office and Wal-Mart aisles. There aren’t many cosplay fans dressing up as Wimbledon Green, that’s for certain.
Lesson #1: Art comic award shows are funky
The Doug Wright Awards were worth attending for the awards show program alone. This year, it was a cute little chapbook styled booklet running two dozen pages or so, reprinting a funny online strip by cartoonist Dustin Harbin about his first trip to the DW awards in 2011. First published on The Comics Journal website.
Also this year, 2011 winner Michael DeForge designed a beautiful limited edition poster. The physical awards handed out include a bowler’s hat sized to the winner’s head. And the organizers produce a rather slick video showcase of the best book category nominees. How often does a comic book get that level of treatment?
Lesson #2: Research!
I need to start taking my own advice. I didn’t realize Matt Kindt and Luke Pearson were attending. I would have loved take a few minutes to chat with those guys. Pearson’s work I discovered at last year’s TCAF where I picked up his debut book Hildafolk and a Solipsistic Pop anthology in which he contributed. I’ve since added Everything We Miss and the all-ages Hilda and the Midnight Giant to my collection. Kindt is a more recent find from his run on Sweet Tooth (Vertigo), and I’m looking forward to his upcoming MIND MGMT (Dark Horse) based on the preview pages floating around on the Internet.
Lesson #3: Budget more time
This one is difficult for me due to family commitments. But only having 2 hours at the show, one of which I spent listening to Aislin’s funny editorial cartoonist talk, meant missing some favourite artists. And who can blame them? They can’t sit at table all day. But I missed Jason (one of my all-time faves), the previously mentioned Luke Pearson and Gabriella Giandelli, to name a few. I did, however, get to talk to Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba who were super nice, seemed genuinely excited in Toronto and signed the gorgeous poster they designed for the show.
Lesson #4: Pay more attention to small press
Each year, the show helps me broaden my horizon and my taste becomes a little more indie. I’ve bookmarked Koyama Press and AdHouse Books on my web browser. And I’m now reading Lose by Michael DeForge (Koyama) and Pope Hats by Ethan Rilly (AdHouse).