Christa (Hooked on Books) had mentioned it to me a while back, and I forgot about the Toronto Comic Arts Festival till she reminded me about it again on Thursday. Like a much more mellow & chill “Fan Expo”, this was like a comic-con celebrating the independent artists. No booths of Marvel, DC or any other big name companies, this allowed the very talented – often local – illustrators and creators to shine.
Out of the list on the website, there were definitely two people I wanted to see and get my books signed: Arne Bellstorf (creator of the Beatles’ graphic novel Baby’s in Black – which I’m actually currently reading/reviewing) and the creator of the Scott Pilgrim series, Bryan Lee O’Malley! Coincidentally, Christa had wanted to attend the Comics and Art panel in the morning, and 2 out of the 3 speakers were Arne and Bryan, the 3rd being Eric San/Kid Koala – artist/scratch DJ.
While enjoying a coffee pre-panel, Christa & I sat outside as someone who looked familiar walked by. I mentioned that I thought it was Bryan, because he looked like the comic character he’s drawn of himself! Sure enough, when we entered The Pilot on Cumberland to attend the panel, he was the very guy sitting up at the front. All three were very soft spoken and reserved, often hard to hear what they were saying. The discussed how they blended the two mediums (music and visual arts), which can be loosely connected. Bryan spoke about something he read long ago, where it involved music. Once they turned that story into an actual cartoon, the music was horrible and basically ruined it for him. He’s very thankful that the music for the Scott Pilgrim movie didn’t completely suck, although his one regret is that he felt he might have “glorified the life of a sh*tty band”. Interesting fact: Eric’s DJ scratching is in the Scott Pilgrim movie in the skateboarding scene at Casa Loma!
During the Q&A session, I asked Arne whether or not the 1994 movie Backbeat inspired Baby’s in Black at all, as they’re both revolving around the story of Astrid, Stuart Sutcliffe and The Beatles. Little did I know how much this 6-word question of mine would come up several times throughout the rest of the day! (More on that later!) While Arne had been fairly quiet throughout the whole panel, Christa noted how his answer to this question was probably the most he spoke during the whole time. He said that, if anything, the movie influenced him negatively as it isn’t a true portrayal of what the story was like. Since he had the opportunity to actually speak with Astrid Kirchherr for his book, he got the true story. The movie dramatizes many things for the sake of making a compelling movie.
Once the panel was over, we made our way to the Toronto Reference Library where we were met with a huge crowd of both comic lovers and exhibitors. The first table we walked up to was extremely appropriate to have caught my interest as it would have been perfect for my Paris Month! I recognized one cartoon as being similar to one that my friend from France has shown me, and as I’m told by the woman at the table, it’s newly translated to English. At the same table, the author & illustrator for Kiki de Montparnasse was there signing books. Being that Montparnasse was pretty much the area that I stayed in last month, I knew I had to purchase this book. Unbelievably, they took the time to chat & joke with us, show us their other work and drew us a beautiful (extremely fast!) sketch. I love that he signed the book mentioning our conversation that I stayed in Montparnasse.
We wandered around the expansive festival, turning corners and discovering even more tables of exhibitors. At about 1:15, we decided to head downstairs to start lining up for the Bryan Lee O’Malley signing at 2pm. Luckily the line wasn’t too long at that moment, and he started signing earlier, so we were actually done and back upstairs by 2:05. When we go to the front, I introduced myself to Bryan and he completely recognized me from that morning’s panel! “I recognize you… you asked a question this morning, right?” So awesome. Must be the red leather jacket that stood out. 😛 We chatted about how he lives in L.A. now as he signed my 6 books and Christa’s 3.
Our next stop was to find Arne’s signing at 3pm, and after some misinformation that a TCAF volunteer told us (that his signing was off-site at the comic book store 5 subway stops away!), we were told to just find his book debut panel instead to get the book signed before he leaves for the other location (false info, but nonetheless glad to have made it to the panel). During the panel, a girl in the audience asked a question and he said “Actually, a question that came up in this morning’s music & comics panel was about the movie Backbeat..” (!!! Me again!!!) After the panel, we headed back upstairs to where he was going to be signing and – hurray! – we were first in line!!!!! …until that same question girl from the panel completely bypassed the 6 people already in line and marched right up to Arne as he was just getting settled at the table to monopolize his time talking to him and asking for an elaborate sketch. We noticed he kept glancing at the growing crowd behind her, who had been there first, and eventually finished drawing her a simpler one, nicely saying that there was a line-up behind her. We chatted with him about his trip to NYC before arriving in Toronto, both first time visits, and his surprise that it Toronto has such nice weather. 😎
My only “gripes” would probably be with the moderators of both panels we attended, and perhaps some of the volunteers (who would’ve sent fans over to The Beguiling halfway across the city for a book signing that was upstairs! Get informed!!) . The moderator of the morning panel had her cell phone go off in the middle of the session(>_<) and the afternoon panel with Arne, the moderator seemed more like she was flirting with him than moderating a panel, like we were intruding on their date or something. Playing with her hair & earrings, shy flirtatious looks and constantly going on and on about how romantic a story he’s written and how he’s written one of her favourite romantic stories. And that’s not counting the fact that she COMPLETELY spoils the ending of the book! She brings up a discussion point, and asks Arne a question which he has a hard time answering as he says “well, ‘how’ is part of the book….. I don’t want to spoil it…….” *facepalm*
Overall, a fantastic and enjoyable day! Discovered a lot of new artists and very talented people, some of which are mentioned below!
From left to right, top to bottom: Overhead shot of the festival; fantastic “Neville would have done it in four books” shirt; art piece at the exit to the library; Joe Bluhm doing Victorian portraits; the TCAF newspaper guide; artwork by Alana McCarthy, feat. beautiful pieces as well as adorable cats-in-comics/pop culture!