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May
10
2011

TCAF 2011 Con Report

The Toronto Comics Art Festival—AKA “TCAF”–is now over. This was the first time I exhibited there and here’s my con report in short: there’s a heck of a lot to love about TCAF.

Getting There

Pre-show, I wasn’t really able to suss out the general consensus on whether TCAF was a show where original pages sold well, but I decided “better safe than sorry” and brought a selection of originals with me in a display portfolio. Since I work so big page-wise, the portfolio was far too big to take on-board the plane, so I wound up boxing it up and checking it through at the airport. I immediately regretted this decision, though, when I arrived in Canada and realized that the airline had lost the box somewhere between Greensboro and Toronto. I cannot describe in words how it feels to contemplate the possible loss of years’ worth of artwork… but getting worked up about it wasn’t going to fix anything, so I filled out some lost baggage forms and headed to the hotel.

After settling in, I decided to spend the Friday afternoon exploring Toronto. I spotted a convenient rack of rentable bikes right near the hotel and checked one out. Unbeknown to me, this self-serve bike rental/bike share thing had just been introduced to Tornoto a few days ago, and so everywhere I rode people stopped me to ask me how I liked the bike–as if I were some seasoned Torontoite checking out the latest urban accessory.

The terminus of my meandering was the legendary comics shop, The Beguiling. If you have any interest in comics, you don’t need me to tell you that this is one of–if not the–most amazing comics shops in the world. I could have spent a mint there, but I restrained myself and just got that new translated Last Gasp edition of Pinocchio by Winshluss.

Thankfully my box of originals showed up at the airport and was delivered to me here at the hotel. My near-heart attack aside, I guess the silver lining here is that I didn’t have to lug the thing on the bus and subway from the airport to the hotel. All’s well that ends well.

I ended the day at the TCAF kick-off party, but didn’t stay long because I really didn’t know a soul there. This was really the most striking aspect of going to TCAF for me: I’ve been in a convention “rut” for a while. I go to SPX. I go to Heroes. I know everyone there. They know me. But TCAF was uncharted ground and it was really an unusual experience for me convention-wise to find myself as such an “unknown quantity.” The positive side of this, though, is that I was really struck by the notion there’s this whole other group of amazing cartoonists out there doing great work, going to conventions, etc.–but just doing it in parallel with my own little clique of folks.

The Show

First off, imagine my surprise when I got to the Toronto Reference Library (the site of TCAF), opened up the Saturday morning National Post Toronto paper and saw this:

Boo ya! That’s one of my Oyster War pages front and center. They’d contacted me the week prior and asked for some artwork, but I imagined they’d done the same with a bunch of other attendees and would be printing various samples from different cartoonists. It was a total surprise to find my artwork there all by itself–and there so GIANT.

Saturday was really, really busy–busy to the point that people were having a hard time moving around the isles. I was having reasonably good sales throughout the day, although I think mentally I think I’ve still not wholly made the adjustment from the “selling a lot of cheap minis” mindset to being comfortable selling my now-more expensive books less often. I had volunteered for the TCAF Kids room in the afternoon and it was packed with kids. Dave Roman, though, was doing such a great cartooning talk/lesson that there wasn’t really much for me to do there. Having a dedicated kids area is such a great idea. I wish other conventions would do this and do it this well.

Sunday was (as is the case with a lot of conventions) somewhat slower–although things picked up in the afternoon. The day started out on a really high note, though, when right before the show opened a guy came by my table to buy a copy of Midnight Sun. He said he’d bought some of the single issues but wanted to read the whole thing. He also mentioned how much he liked my mini superhero pinups that I had on display and he bought my Red Tornado drawing. Well, it turns out this “guy” was none other than Jeff Lemire of Essex County fame (not to mention his other great stuff like Sweet Tooth, The Nobody. and a ton of other things for DC/Vertigo). Anyway, I’m a big fan of his work and it was really cool to find out that he knew of and was interested in my work.

The thing that most surprised me sales-wise over the two days of the show, in fact, was those little superhero pinups. Even at busy cons I wind up with some dead time and what I usually do with that time is draw those little mini superhero pinups. I do those with the idea that I’ll sell them either online or at Heroes Con, where they tend to sell as fast as I can crank them out. My thoughts with drawing them at TCAF was just to build up a stock of them to take to Heroes, but I was totally surprised to find that I was selling a fair number of them at the very “indie” TCAF. I arrived with seven already done and I’m leaving with (a different) seven. I never managed to build up a stock of them because they were selling at about the rate at which I could draw them. Here’re the ones I managed to draw while sitting at my table:

The Blue Beetle (a commission)

Kraven the Hunter (also a commission)

Moleman

Stiltman

Arnim Zola

Galactus

I’ll post all of these (other than the commissions obviously) to my store when I get back home and can get decent scans of them.

Also on the original art front: once I’d sold out of Farewell, Georgia and had some available table space I put some of my Animal Alphabet originals out for sale. It was fairly late in the game when I did so, so I only wound up selling one painting, but I did wind up talking with a bunch of folks about the whole animal alphabet project. Several of them sounded interested in joining in. We’ll see…

Random Thoughts

1) TCAF was incredibly well-organized and executed. Even before the show got going, the flow of information to exhibitors was fantastic and the output to the general public about new guests, panel discussions, seating arrangements, etc. was really great. Why this doesn’t occur with every single small press show is beyond me. Hats off to the TCAF organizers.

2) Related to the above: the TCAF volunteers were really, really fantastic. Your guess is as good as mine as to how volunteers are enticed without the “prize” of free admittance (TCAF is free to attend), but all the volunteers I interacted with were really super-friendly and very very helpful. It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal if you’ve never exhibited at a convention, but little conveniences like having a volunteer mind your table for a few minutes so you can grab a snack, something to drink, and a bathroom break is so, SO nice. Pat yourselves on the back, TCAF volunteers; y’all rock!

3) I was surprised no one noticed/reacted to Chris Ware’s blanket statement America-bashing in the National Post Tornoto TCAF article, where he claims that “Canadians… have vastly better taste than Americans.” Broad generalizations like this are pretty silly just by their very nature, but it’s a particularly bizarre statement from someone whose cultural/artistic heroes–Charles Schulz, Frank King, etc.–are all American.

4) It was really great to meet in-person some folks I’ve interacted with via Twitter, email, blog comments, and the like. I’m sure I’m missing plenty of folks, it was really nice to meet (either for the first time, or the first time in real life): Annie Koyama, Ryan Claytor (whom I shared a table with), Faith Erin Hicks, Eric Orchard, Jeff Lemire, Marian Runk (my table-mate on the other side), Tom Spurgeon, Mike Holmes and many others I’m probably forgetting. And of course I loved meeting all the folks that stopped by my table to talk and/or pick up a book.

And in Closing…

I had an amazing time at TCAF. Sales-wise, I feel like I did pretty damn good for someone who’s never exhibited there before–and someone whose most recent book has been out for a while and available for purchase on Amazon and whatnot. If traveling to and from (and staying in) Toronto, weren’t so freakin’ expensive, I’d apply to exhibit there every year. Next time I’ve got a new book to hawk (or can afford a “comics vacation” to the amazing city of Toronto) I’ll for sure be back!

It’s hard to come up with anything bad to say about my whole TCAF experience. If pressed, though, I guess it’d be this: my (apparent) plan to hijack a plane with a can of shaving cream was foiled by the diligent TSA agents in Newark, New Jersey. Nice job, fellas! Maybe I’ll getcha next time…

4 comments

  1. Scott Coles says:

    Hey guy!
    I picked up your little Red Ghost and the Super Apes sketch on Sunday, and just wanted to thank you again for having it there. It’s a first for me, and it was the best purchase I made that day.
    You rock.

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks so much for coming by my table. Hope you’re still digging that Red Ghost drawing (sounds like you are). I’m glad it found a good home!

  3. Anii says:

    TCAF was seriously the coolest show I’ve been to all year! I had a blast and it was also super cool meeting you after being a blog reading lurker for so long. Ah and I have the perfect frame for the little Valkyrie Sketch I bought now. I should twitter you a pic of it.. if that’s cool…

    Cheers!

  4. Ben says:

    Great to meet you as well! And, yeah, I’d love to see the Valkyrie.

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