tl;dr - I got some sketches, and then bought a lot of DVDs down the street.
Let me tell you all about my day. There’s some build-up, so just bear with it.
As you might guess, I don’t love leaving my house all that much, despite being super handsome and crud (just go with it).
But, when I dropped by the Beguiling (a nice comic shop in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood) last weekend for Free Comic Book Day, the man at the cash asked “Have you heard about the Toronto Comic Arts Festival?” and I said, “No. Would you like to tell me?!” At which point he said, “10 bucks each!” to the person looking at maps behind me, and then gave me my receipt and said thank you. (It’s okay, we had a brief conversation about how cool Black Orchid is before that).
But then, I was reading Questionable Content, a webcomic that most 20-something indie-music type people read, probably, and its creator Jeph Jacques had posted that he’d be at TCAF this year - at which point, my brain realized that TCAF stands for Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and I realized it was actually a thing I might want to go to.
The reason I might want to go to it is that I had never been to a convention before, despite my love of comic books. See above, my dislike of leaving the house.
So, I looked it up, and it turned out that it isn’t QUITE a convention, in as much as nobody dresses up in costumes and nobody’s hocking their crap at you unless it’s directly from artist to consumer. And that’s cool, right? I thought, “this will be low pressure!”
And it turned out that Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Matt Kindt were all going to be there as well, so I thought “At last! a chance to rub elbows with the elite!”
Here is what happened instead:
As soon as I entered the Toronto Reference Library, where exhibitors were all set up, I realized that this was a place where there were going to be a lot of people brushing up against me, and that they were all far more interested in the independent graphic novel/cartoonist scene than I. This filled me with an overwhelming angst; a self awareness that made me feel as though the pleather jacket I was wearing was entirely inappropriate, despite the unseasonable FUCKING HAIL STORM that was happening in the middle of May.
In any case, I wandered around, trying to figure out just how exactly I was supposed to comport myself when it appeared as though everyone else there knew exactly what they had to do: stand in front of tables and look interested.
This filled me with further anxiety, as the thought of having some starving artist lay eyes on me, half-heartedly perusing their life’s work made me feel as though I had a responsibility to… peruse with more gusto?
Eventually, I found my way to the room in which Jeff, Matt, and Ray were supposed to be, and then I awkwardly kind of stood around at the table next to theirs until I got up the nerve to get in line behind the other people waiting to see them.
Ray was not there. Which was okay. I was mostly there for Jeff, who seemed to be bored out of his tree, on account of the fact that EVERYONE seemed to be there for Matt Kindt. I thought this was odd, considering that DC has essentially made Jeff Lemire the tent pole on which their entire universe hangs precariously. Then, I realized (as before) that the majority of people there were INDIE comic fans, not ridiculous DC loving sell-outs like me.
So, I slipped through Matt’s line and shoved my way in front of a chick who seemed to just be watching Matt sketch the same thing into the inside cover of every book he sold. From there, I checked out the TPBs of Sweet Tooth that Jeff had brought (he didn’t have much else there, other than original art - but I wasn’t inclined to get any of that). After making my selection, I called out, “Jeff, can I bug you?” as he was checking his phone. I wiggled my fingers emphatically, and he woke up, wordlessly taking the book from me, quickly sketching me Gus, the main character from Sweet Tooth, and signing it. I paid for the book, and we had a brief exchange about how the sticker on the table had indicated a much higher price, and I thanked him.
What I should have done was shouted confidently, “I AM AN ADMINISTRATOR ON THE DC DATABASE, AND I AM A GREAT ADMIRER OF YOUR WORK. I AM PARTICULARLY ENJOYING YOUR TAKE ON GREEN ARROW RIGHT NOW. PLEASE TAKE ME UNDER YOUR WING, AND MAKE ME SOAR LIKE AN EAGLE TO MY DESTINY!”
Maybe not so much the last bit. Still. I should have maybe not been a wuss.
Afterwards, I went back out front, and discovered that Chester Brown was there. He’s a Toronto based cartoonist, famous for having written a graphic novel depicting the life of the Métis (Native/French Canadian) equivalent of Che Guevera, Louis Riel. He also wrote an autobiographical one about how he decided to give up dating all together, and started hiring prostitutes. That’s called “Paying For It”.
While I was standing there, staring blankly at the back of his books, so that I wouldn’t have to do anything serious, a stranger came up to me, and started talking to me about Chester Brown’s work, as if I was some kind of expert, and as if he was trying to sell more of it to me. His name was Tim, and he was alright, but I was worried he would follow me home and slip me the shiv.
Finally, I remembered why I had come to TCAF in the first place, which was to see Jeph Jaques of Questionable Content.
He was sketching someone else a picture of the character Faye when I found him, and she gave him something like 7 bucks for it. I eyed his print-versions, and felt bad for the guy next to him, who was the creator of Sam and Fuzzy, which I don’t read enough to know much about. I felt bad BECAUSE I don’t read enough to know much about it.
When I met Jeph, I said I had been reading his comic for ## years, but forgot how many years, and had to ask what year it was, because I’m a fool and can’t do math. It was a lot of years, anyway. Since 2004. So, 9 years.
Then, I asked, “How much would you like for a sketchy-sketch?”
Turns out, people don’t expect normal people to say fucked up things like “sketchy-sketch” in public, so I had to repeat myself in English.
He said I could pay him whatever I wanted to, which I took to mean “I would do it for free, but since you offered…”
Despite having just seen someone pay 7 bucks, I offered 20, feeling bad that I had consumed literally THOUSANDS of pages of his work without paying a cent.
I asked for Hannelore, but I forgot her name, as I had also forgotten what year it was, and I had to point at her so that he’d know. This made me feel especially stupid.
Later, I felt bad that I had offered 13 bucks more than the previous visitor, and then felt bad about feeling bad.
In fact, apart from my decent conversation with a man I was afraid might stab me later, I was feeling pretty down in general about my lack of charisma and charm with total strangers.
So, I went to the Sunrise Records across the street and bought some crap, and chatted up the cashier, who was mightily impressed with my decision to buy season one of Adventure Time.
But when I left there, my depression had not been sufficiently bought away, and I was sucked into the nearby HMV, where I dropped mountains of cash on DVDs and Blu-Rays.
So, the moral of this story is - bring a friend to conventions and fake conventions that call themselves festivals, so that you can both feel like fools instead of just you.