TCAF 2016 NEWS AND VIEWS FROM MES TO YOUS
---[after the after-party pizza-party, guest-starring Ryan Pequin]---
I think the last time I wrote an actual blog post, it was 3 years ago, and also was about TCAF, although from a different angle. TCAF is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which was held last weekend in a number of downtown Toronto venues centered around the Toronto Reference Library. Toronto Toronto Toronto! I've done an embarassing number of comics about going to cons, especially TCAF, and am wrestling with whether to do some more now that I'm doing diary comics again, but for the nonce I hope you'll forgive me if I talk about it a little bit while the weekend is fresh in my still beer-addled memory
TCAF is always good. And probably will always be good. At this point it's been good so long that you wonder how something could go institutionally wrong, unless I guess Chris and Miles and Peter stop running it for some reason, or sell it to one of these convention-factory companies. I had a pleasant moment on Sunday where I was chatting with someone who'd never been, who'd just wandered in on the arm of her daughter, and who seemed surprised that I had come all the way from North Carolina just for TCAF. Imagine her surprise then when I launched into a lengthy laundry list of all the various nationalities in the room. Just standing at my table (I never once had the time to browse at all except to hit up Mickey Z.'s table for some gifts for a friend) I met people from Germany, Spain, Denmark, Japan, etc. And that's not even getting into the guest list. Not to mention the number of queer punks I saw gallumphing around scowling, rubbing elbows with the mom who seemed so surprised that I'd travel so far. If there weren't any good comics at TCAF at all, just that level of diversity would be enough for me. It was enormously pleasant to be in a room filled with so many different shapes and flavors of person, not to mention the feeling of having my work exposed to all those people, as opposed to the regular sea of whiteness at most comics shows. I told the lady all this, and she looked at me, smiling, and said again: "but North Carolina! Wow!"
---[American introduces Doug Wright Award nominees]---
This year's TCAF was a little extra special because I hosted the Doug Wright Awards, the Canadian-only alt-comic awards that I've made a bunch of comics about over the years. I presented one back in 2011 or 12, but the Tuesday before the show, as I was feverishly trying to get my new book laid out so I could *gulp* print it that night before flying out the next morning, I got cc-ed on a email thread where the people running the Wrights said "hey what if we asked Dustin to host?" and it went from there. I was leery at first of course--how could I help but ruin an awards show I attended every year by trying to host it on a few days notice? But I decided to go for it, although it was Friday afternoon before I got the time to type up some jokes to tell, huddled over my tablet in John Martz's incredibly fantastic workspace. So I felt doubly sure I'd bomb, but lo and behold, everything seemed to go swimmingly.
---[American practicing American-style yoga]---
I can tell you what the secret was--would you like to know? The second half of the ceremony was filled with tears, with almost everyone getting on stage choking up at some point. For me it started with friends Patrick Kyle and Dakota McFadzean winning awards and giving emotional acceptance speeches. But then Jeet Heer read a remembrance of the late great Alvin Buenaventura and that was that. He was followed by Seth remembering Darwyn Cooke, who had died the night before in palliative care, surprising many. I spent the last half-hour on the edge of tears and barely able to choke out the ending. People seemed to eat it up, the ghouls! J/k, we were all emotional together.
I'll be honest, it felt good. I kind of get the public mourning thing, which I've never really done (not that this counts necessarily). Alvin's death hit me in a lot of weird places, both as a person who appreciated him professionally and personally, and as someone who struggles not only with depression but with that kind of soul-crushing "does any of this matter" sadness. Suicide is awful, both for the mental state the person must be in, the extreme depth and breadth of that feeling, and for the ripples it casts out from it, affecting every life that person touched, near and far. For me, it's far: so I can only imagine the pain and confusion that Alvin's death sparked in the people who were close to him, who worked with him, who loved him. It's hard to contemplate for long.
Anyway *exhales forever*
---[American devoured by Canadian savage]---
My very favorite part of TCAF, each year without fail, is staying with John Martz and his wife Lindsay Archibald, who surely are the two best people on the Earth or I don't know people very good. Getting to be friends with John over the years has been probably the pleasure of my short, up and down cartooning career. We were in his studio and he was showing me his new method of organizing minis--which was so perfect I moaned out loud when I saw it--and there under "Dustin Harbin" was my first minicomic, from way back in 2008, with a TERRIBLE drawing made out to John. Besides being mortified by the drawing, can I tell you how flattered I was that he still had that dumb old thing. John is one of the biggest influences I have, both as a cartoonist and as a human being, and I've benefited at every turn from his generosity and kindness. Ugh, that guy.
Lindsay is very very good too, for many reasons but mainly when she is giggling uncontrollably. But besides how good John and Lindsay are as people, it's just a treat to be in Toronto with Torontonians, bumping around wherever. I recommend it highly--knowing them is probably half the reason I love Toronto so much, because of course I'm seeing the city through the prism of two of its best citizens. Anyway. I'm on a train right now and I think all these beers are making me drunk.
---[Two Americans form alliance in sea of foreigners. Third American looks on from left, unfortunately flanked on all sides]---
What else is there to say? I debuted my new minicomic collection Diary Comics #5 at TCAF, and was very pleased with the reaction. Making those comics has shifted over the years from "these dumb old diary comics" to "maybe there's potential here." I always find myself being dismissive of them, because, well, I should be--it's not like I need another excuse to talk about myself. But over the years, and especially after the 3 years or so I took off from making them, between 2012 and late 2015, I've changed my thinking somewhat. I don't want to become the kind of autobio cartoonist who only talks about the gnarliest parts of their lives, but the process of figuring out how to talk about those things, how to abstract them into a cartoon form in such a way that a reader is forced to unpack it internally and "get" it without me spelling everything out, is enormously instructive. Not only in terms of... therapy? but in terms of making art, of communicating, of exploring a connection with another person, unseen, probably far away, reading my little comic and feeling something.
---[this American's new comic, available for sale here]---
Feels good man! At any rate: thanks to Chris Butcher and Miles Baker and Peter Birkemoe and Andrew Woodrow-Butcher for always being so kind and welcoming to me when I go to Toronto. As I said, tearfully, in closing the Wright Awards, TCAF and the Doug Wright Awards serve a dual purpose, both of commemorating and venerating the existing, and welcoming the new. I found my publisher at TCAF, made lifelong friends at TCAF, and have found a home at TCAF, and I'll always be grateful to all involved for being so welcoming to me and my little comics. And my big giant rickety table setup.
---[American, weak, cut off from the herd and beset by hyena]---
Thanks to Aaron Costain and Deb Aoki for taking these photos.