After reading Keith’s article on TCAF, one statement really stuck with me. “Cons are personal in every way.” Indeed.
Toronto is a very special city to me. It’s my “big city” where, as a kid, the buildings loomed higher than my neck could crane. The streets smelled like sewage, pigeons crowded the sidewalk and everywhere I looked I saw more than I could absorb. Growing up in the suburbs, Toronto was a novelty reserved for baseball games, concerts and shopping trips with my girlfriend. I could never stray too far from the train station and only experienced the most “tourist” areas of the city, but a trip into the city was always a treat to savour.
As an “adult” I’d have thought the magic would be lost, but I still get giddy waking up at 7 in the morning to catch the bus to the train station, to get downtown, to hop on the subway and find myself amongst the skyscrapers. Until I become a regular, disillusioned, disgruntled commuter, I don’t imagine my fascination will fade. TCAF was like visiting a large, royal castle and finding yourself in the treasury.
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I arrived at TCAF excited, determined and completely broke. So many of my favourite creators were there—Los Bros Hernandez, Seth, Bryan Lee O’Malley, David B, Paul Pope (and so many, many others)—and yet I didn’t have anything for them to sign. Honestly, despite being completely mad over their work, I don’t particularly value signatures. I have nothing to say to these people, though I wish I did. Evidently Keith had some amazing experiences, but I wouldn’t know where to start. If I could sit down and chat with these creators I admire so much, I wouldn’t scoff at the chance, but being one in a line-up of many doesn’t appeal to me. I suppose I’m just not that type of fan.
I wasn’t at TCAF for signatures and being both cheap and poor, I wasn’t there to buy the latest, greatest books. I was there to capture the event on video. I was determined to interview everyone I could and get to the bottom of what makes TCAF so special. I met up with Keith early in the day to wrangle some of his master-interviewing skills, and together we got some really interesting footage. Then reality started to set in.
In the morning I’d noticed a healthy crowd brewing at the Toronto Reference Library, but by noon what was once a relatively accessible room became a line-up around the entire non-fiction section. The line grew, curling around several other sections until it took up half of the second floor. If this (and the levels of noise) bothered the brave souls that tackled the library to study that day, I couldn’t tell. It was clear I’d have to wait until things died down to embark upon that nearly inaccessible room. Things didn’t die down.
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Losing Keith to the Paul Pope line-up, I was left to my own devices. I walked around the library, marvelling at the strange study booths and picking out the rare fan in costume (this was a no-no at TCAF, apparently). My camera sat atop my homemade, pipe-constructed stabilization unit (essentially a fig-rig) which turned a few heads and started a few conversations.
“I like your camera!”
“Is that a DIY mount?”
“My brother made one of those out of a steering wheel!”
“Is that so people don’t bump into you?”
I’d never thought about it before, but yes, my rig prevented others from knocking my camera about. This was especially useful considering how things escalated. Eventually it became a chore just to walk around as fans continued to swarm the event. Looking for more creators to interview, I scanned the rooms that were still easily reached.
I had no idea Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt and Ray Fawkes were scheduled to be there, and as soon as I saw their booth I swooned. I saw another artist I thought I’d gone to college with, until I realized it was Dash Shaw. Kagan McLeod seemed oddly tucked away considering how popular I assumed his work was (or at least should be). Everyone seemed happily engaged with fans. I was determined to talk to these people, if not cripplingly shy.
Retreating to a reading area on the second floor, I began to adjust my camera. Fans were lying all about, fairly quiet and lost in their newly acquired books. A few more dropped by to inspect my camera’s rig. It was here that I spotted a rather short, familiar man. He had long hair, a huge smirk and the look of a six year old with an exclusive secret. I knew him, but I couldn’t place it. Jackie Earl Haley? Nope. My tenth grade guitar teacher? No way. Then it hit me like a tons of bricks. Chester Brown was walking about TCAF as a fan, without a booth, and nobody seemed to recognize him. I stood there and watched as he strolled about, clearly enjoying himself and eventually heading into the crowd. I’m sure he was recognized once amongst the masses, but for that brief little while he was just another comic fan checking out the celebration in Toronto’s massive library. If someone had spotted me watching him, they probably would have seen the same huge smirk plastered all over my happy mug.
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As the day died down I realized I hadn’t attended any of the conferences. I’d only shot three interviews. My b-roll was anything but captivating, the day was ending, Keith was still lost in a magical moment with Paul Pope and Sunday was Mother’s Day. Things hadn’t gone as planned, but I felt I’d still experienced what TCAF was all about.
From the small-press to the indie darlings to the biggest names in the book, the love of the comic book medium poured out. Whether they were superstars arriving oh-so fashionably late or tiny-operations who’d driven 19 hours from Minneapolis, each and every one of the guests, fans and volunteers was as “pure comics” (thank you Keith) as they come. This wasn’t about announcements regarding your favourite superheroes. This wasn’t about the next event-book. Heck, this wasn’t even about cos-play. It was all comics, and peopl
e packed themselves shoulder to shoulder to show their appreciation. It may have made for tougher shooting, but man was it a happy sight, right in the heart of my beloved Toronto.