Random Musings: Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014

TCAF 2014 Poster

©Michael DeForge

Last year I attended the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) for the very first time. It was an event that I had wanted to go to for years and I had such a fabulous time that I immediately began planning to return. TCAF is the only comics festival that I have ever been to so I can’t really compare it to others, but it is fantastic and I can’t recommend it enough. I certainly plan on going every that I possibly can at this point.

Last year I was only there for the main festival on Saturday and Sunday, but this year I pulled into Toronto on Thursday evening which gave me plenty of time to explore the city itself. After figuring out how to use Toronto’s streetcar system (I’ve never ridden a streetcar before) my “early” arrival allowed me to attend the opening reception of Toshio Saeki’s art exhibition at Narwhal Projects. Saeki is described as the “Godfather of Japanese Eroticism.” The gallery was a showing of a selection of his original drawings and silkscreen prints. They were beautiful, disconcerting, erotic, and surreal works. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to see them in person.

Friday was my “free” day in Toronto. While I was wandering all over the city, I made sure to make my way down to The Beguiling Books & Arts. Last year I got there a few minutes before it closed, so I was looking forward to spending a more reasonable amount of time exploring the store this year. The Beguiling is one of the best comic stores I’ve ever been to. It has a fantastic selection of materials and a marvelous staff. I highly recommend anyone visiting Toronto to check it out. The event that I was looking forward to on Friday was the Manga Mixer Night hosted by Sparkler Monthly at the TRANZAC Club. I sadly missed out on the gathering last year, and one of my TCAF goals for this year was to overcome some of my anxieties and to try to be a little more social, so to the mixer I went! And I’m glad that I did. I had a good time and Kuriousity‘s Lissa Pattillo and I were beautiful wallflowers together. We had a very nice conversation about manga, blogging, and TCAF.

Over the course of the festival I had the opportunity to briefly meet several other of my online friends in person: manga translator and all around awesome person Jocelyne Allen, my fellow Manga Bookshelf cohort Sean Gaffney, and the great A-run Chey who somehow managed to pick me out of a crowd. I certainly made some progress this year in the socialization department, but I still didn’t have the nerve to introduce myself to Deb Aoki and Erica Friedman, who were both kept very busy moderating various panels, or to Vertical’s Ed Chavez even though I was standing next to each of them at some point during the festival. Next time I’ll make it happen! I know there were at least a few other manga and comics bloggers at TCAF—like Brigid Alverson and Alexander Hoffman, among others—but I missed them, too.


“Ureshidaruma” by Toshio Saeki

Saturday was when the main festival actually began. Last year I didn’t get to spend as much time in the exhibitor area as I would have liked, so I got up bright and early on Saturday in order to visit as many artists and publishers as I could first thing in the morning. This turned out to be a good decision, because the exhibitor area seemed to only get busier and busier throughout the day. I couldn’t see everything before the Saturday panels started, but by the end of the day I managed to visit most of the tables that I wanted. Sadly, there were a few things that I was hoping to get that were sold out by the time I was able to make my way to the artists’ respective tables. But at least that meant that the creators were doing well, and I was very glad to see their success. While I went into TCAF knowing there were certain things that I wanted to pick up, I also allowed myself the opportunity to splurge on a few random items that I hadn’t even heard of before and discovered some great comics in the process. And of course, I also managed to compile a rather lengthy list of things that I wanted to check out later, too. I continue to be very impressed by both the quality and variety of creators and art at TCAF.

I attended four panels on Saturday. “What Do Women Want? Writing Comics for a Female Audience,” was moderated by Chromatic Press’ Lianne Sentar and featured Laura Lee Gulledge, Kate Leth, Joan Reilly, and Noelle Stevenson. It was an excellent panel looking at men and women and masculinity and femininity in comics and the North American comics industry. Generally, comics readers are assumed by the industry to be both male and straight and so that audience is the one that has traditionally been catered to. There have always been female readers but recently there have been more demands for a wider variety in comics, perhaps due in part to what the panelists called the “Sailor Moon Generation.” These are the women, and men, who were exposed to female-friendly Sailor Moon when they were younger and who are now old enough to create the types of comics that they want to see or are in the position to support and encourage other upcoming creators who want something more than the industry’s default. The key to the discussion was the importance of variety in comics and that great stories will attract all sorts of readers regardless of their intended audience.

“Comics Design and History” focused on the physical design, production, and presentation of graphic novels. The panel was moderated by Chris Randle and included designers Tracy Hurren from Drawn & Quarterly, Fawn Lau from Viz Media, and Chip Kidd, who has designed books for Vertical and PictureBox among many other publishers. They each chose three book designs to discuss and talked about some of the decisions that go into the design process. For example, one of the first steps when a comic is being translated into another language is to determine whether the original cover is suited for the new demographic. Unflipped manga has the potential to be accidentally displayed with the back cover as the front, so Kidd very deliberately created a design for Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan that was interesting and informative regardless of which direction the book was facing. One of the series that Lau discussed was Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny, talking about the choices that went into its deluxe presentation. One of the biggest challenges in book design is achieving a balance between production values and the budget, and then finding a printer that can actually produce it.

Queer Mixer presented by MASSIVE

TCAF 2014 Queer Mixer presented by MASSIVE

Considering the fantastic lineup—Jess Fink, Michael DeForge, C. Spike Trotman, HamletMachine, Graham Kolbeins, Katie Skelly, Ryan Sands—I should have known that “Contemporary Erotic Comics” was going to be a popular panel. It was held in one of the smallest venues and was completely packed, but it was absolutely worth squeezing into the crowd. Chris Randle was the moderator for this panel as well. The panelists discussed their first experiences with erotic comics (manga and doujinshi were frequently cited), the challenges of working in and making a living off of pornography, and some of the current trends in sex comics as a genre. The panel’s emphasis on the need for variety and different perspectives dovetailed nicely with parts of the “What Do Women Want?” discussion. Kolbeins, who has been critical to the efforts to bring gay manga to English-reading audiences, was able to provide fascinating insights into some of the difference between Japanese and Western porn comics industries. In Japan, pornography is often meant to exclusively be pornography; adding any sort of message or social commentary can be seen as watering it down. On the other hand, in the West sex comics often allow creators to address issues other than sex; as long as certain plot requirements are met, they are more or less free to do whatever they want with their comics.

The last panel that I attended on Saturday, moderated by Deb Aoki, was “Women in Manga!” The panel included all of this year’s mangaka who were featured guests at TCAF: Moyoco Anno, est em, and Akira Himekawa (A. Honda and S. Nagano, a two-women team). All four of them admitted that they brought their work along with them on the trip; they may be traveling, but they still had deadlines to meet. Even though they are women, they said that they are largely treated the same as their male counterparts when working in seinen. (In many cases, readers don’t even realize that they are women!) However, working in shounen used to present more hurdles, though it’s not as difficult now as it once was. In the end, readers care more about the content than the mangaka’s gender. Regardless of the genre or demographic that they are working in, the panelists normally receive respect. The exception to this would be boys’ love which is somewhat looked down upon. est em felt this was because that instead of the more usual manga contests which award the creators with a series, boys’ love mangaka often become professionals through their doujinshi and this is seen as a sneaky, backdoor way of breaking into the manga industry.

One of the heartbreaking things about TCAF is that there is so much great programming that it’s impossible to attend it all and hard decisions must be made. Sadly, “Women in Manga!” conflicted with the “Queering Comics – LGBTQ identity in comics and graphic novels” panel which I really wanted to attend. Since I couldn’t make it to the queer comics panel, I decided to show up for the TCAF Queer Mixer at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre instead. Now, I don’t generally go to things like parties and mixers, but I was enticed by the promise of on-stage presentations and interviews. And I wasn’t disappointed. Anne Ishii of MASSIVE made a fabulously entertaining host and more than a dozen of the queer creators who were at TCAF this year were spotlighted as part of the event. I was already familiar with some of them and their work, but others were new to me. And I’ll admit, it was pretty awesome to just be in the same room with a bunch of other amazing queer folk. One of the best things about TCAF is how marvelously inclusive it is, and the annual Queer Mixer is representative of that.

TCAF 2014 Haul

My 2014 TCAF haul

Then came Sunday, the last day of the main festival. Also known as “Ash’s day of manga.” I made it to three events, each one focusing on the festival’s featured mangaka. First thing in the morning was Moyoco Anno’s Spotlight with Ed Chavez. Probably not too surprisingly, Vertical’s releases of Anno’s manga—Insufficient Direction, Sakuran, and the soon to be published In Clothes Called Fat—were used as a jumping off point for the discussion. Anno talked about her approach to writing seinen, choosing to focus on what she as a woman can bring to the demographic rather than trying to compete in the same areas where men could do just as well. As for shoujo, she doesn’t feel that it has changed much over the last twenty years; it still follows the same unrealistic tropes, especially in regards to love. She feels that the large gap between real relationships and how they are portrayed in manga can sometimes be problematic for readers. When asked, she sweetly replied that her favorite character to draw was Director-kun, her husband Hideaki Anno (who also happened to be in attendance).

Those who stayed for the entire Moyoco Anno Spotlight were at a slight disadvantage when it came to the signing that immediately followed. I was the first person put in the rush line for her signing, but sadly I still didn’t get the chance to personally meet Anno. However, this did mean that I had time to walk over to Toronto’s Japan Foundation in time for Akira Himekawa in Conversation. The two women, who are best known for their Zelda manga, are celebrating their thirtieth year of collaboration and were being interviewed by Deb Aoki. They were both incredibly engaging and enthusiastic about their work. I actually haven’t read very much of Himekawa’s manga, but I’ll certainly be making a point to now. And after seeing examples of some of their current series, I really hope that more of their manga will be licensed in English in the future. I love the Zelda franchise, but Himekawa’s recent work, much of it in full-color, simply looks gorgeous. While I was at the Japan Foundation, I was also able to see the Seiji Ozawa Photography Exhibition—a showcase of archival materials focusing on the young, Japanese music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1969—which was great.

The Japan Foundation also sponsored an interview with Yohei Sadoshima, whose literary agency represents Moyoco Anno among many other creators, about the future of the manga industry. Unfortunately this conflicted with the est em Spotlight. As a huge fan of est em, there was no way I was going to miss her panel. Erica Friedman was the moderator and it actually ended up being one of the best interviews that I attended at TCAF this year, making it a great way to end the festival. est em got her start as a professional mangaka through boys’ love after being approached by an editor who was intrigued by her doujinshi. Interestingly enough, she hadn’t actually read much mainstream boys’ love, which may partly explain why her manga tends to be somewhat unusual. Although est em is probably best know for her atypical boys love manga, her current series—Golondrina and Ippo—are both seinen manga. I think that Viz is probably my only hope, but someone please license Golondrina for a print release! est em explains that the reason her work is quirky is because it incorporates what she personally finds to be beautiful or interesting. She especially enjoys exploring and working with themes that address the spaces in between two opposing forces. (Over at Okazu, Erica recently posted an excellent and much more thorough write-up of the est em Panel at TCAF.)

So there you have it! And that’s just scratching the surface of this year’s festival experience. In short: TCAF 2014 was phenomenal. The guests were amazing. The programming was fantastic. I hope that I’ll be able to go again next year. That’s the plan, anyway!

My Week in Manga: May 5-May 11, 2014

My News and Reviews

Last week was a busy week for me, especially as I was travelling to and from Canada for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, but I still managed to post a few things. The Fullmetal Alchemist Giveaway Winner was announced, for one. The post also includes a select list of some shounen and seinen manga written and/or illustrated by women mangaka. I reviewed Hinoki Kino’s No. 6, Volume 6 which is a particularly important volume in the series as it starts to approach its climax. And I also reviewed The Battle Royale Slam Book: Essays on the Cult Classic Novel by Koushun Takami, the first nonfiction book to be released by Haikasoru. I thought it was pretty great.

No links this week as I have been completely preoccupied with TCAF and all its goings-on. I’ll have a lengthy write-up about it later this week, but I’ll just say now that I absolutely adore TCAF. Since est em was one of the featured guests, I spent quite a bit of time with her manga last week. The quick takes below feature most of her manga that are currently available or have been licensed in English. (Granted, some are out of print now.) I hope that there will someday be even more est em manga translated; I really love her work. Plus, having now met her, I can say that she’s a very cool and interesting person, too!

Quick Takes

Age Called BlueAge Called Blue by est em. Originally released online in English and then in print by NetComics, Age Called Blue is also now available digitally from Digital Manga. Most of the volume focuses on Billy and Nick who are bandmates, roomates, friends, as well as something a bit more. Age Called Blue further develops the story and characters introduced in the manga “Rockin’ In My Head” which is included in est em’s earlier collection Seduce Me After the Show. I love the music connection in Age Called Blue. Their band, The Idiots, is something that is incredibly important to Billy, but Nick is incredibly important to him as well. Unfortunately, Nick isn’t the most responsible person and is constantly disappearing or getting into some sort of trouble, which threatens to tear the band apart just as they have the opportunity to make something of themselves. With all of the chaos caused by Nick, Billy struggles with his feelings for the other young man which can be at odds with his passion for his music. Also included in Age Called Blue is the story of how the two of them first met, which is incredibly charming. Two unrelated stories are also collected in the volume, both exhibiting their own sorts of passion.

Kine InKine In! by est em. The first est em release by Digital Manga Guild, the main story in Kine In! is about Ken and Mari, who are twins, and their neighbor and close friend Joe. The three of them share an interest in films and film-making and so frequently go to the movies together. However, things become a little awkward for them after a couple of love confessions are made—Mari admits to her brother that she likes Joe, Joe tells Ken that he likes him, and Ken isn’t sure how to respond to either of them. And so he chooses to figure out his feelings and express himself by making his own film with Joe and Mari’s help. Three shorter one-shot manga are also included in Kine In! One of the themes that is prominent throughout the volume has to do with familial love and the importance of those family bonds. Many of the families shown in Kine In! are unusual in some way. “The Salvia and the Barber” features another trio of friends whose relationship goe beyond friendship while “The Scenery of that Summer” follows a young man meeting his step-brother for the first time after his father dies. “Mixed Juice,” which focuses on the relationship between a college student and his professor, is the only story that breaks from this thematic pattern.

Red Blinds the FoolishRed Blinds the Foolish by est em. Although I have always enjoyed est em’s manga tremendously, it’s Red Blinds the Foolish that made me absolutely fall in love with her work. The main story in this volume is about Rafita, a brilliant young bullfighter, and Mauro, a butcher who processes the bulls killed in the arena. The two of them become intimately and passionately involved which has dramatic repercussions. Bullfighting is a crucial part of the manga and of their relationship; it is used to explore the paradoxes, complexities, and nuances of the connection between the two men. est em’s artwork is exquisite and the details she puts into the matador’s costumes are especially gorgeous. Even when dealing with heavier subjects like death and violence, Red Blinds the Foolish is beautiful and sensual. The afterword of Red Blinds the Foolish is a short travelogue of est em’s research trip to Spain to see the bullfights. Two of the other stories collected in the volume, “Baby, Stamp Your Foot” (about a novelist and his lover who makes shoes by hand) and “Tiempos extra” (about a violent soccer fan and a security guard), were actually first released in a gay men’s manga magazine as opposed to a boys’ love magazine. I particularly appreciate est em’s manga because of this crossover appeal.

Seduce Me After the ShowSeduce Me After the Show by est em. Seduce Me After the Show was est em’s professional debut in Japan and was likewise the first of her manga to be licensed in English. The volume was my introduction to her work, and I’ve been collecting her manga ever since. Even so early in her career est em’s storytelling was already very sophisticated and mature. Her artwork is beautifully expressive, elegant, and sensuous. It suits the main story, which features a dancer, particularly well. Backgrounds are either simple or nonexistent which makes the characters and their relationships the focus of the short manga collected in the volume. There’s no overarching plot connecting the stories found in Seduce Me After the Show but atmosphere-wise many of the manga share a sense of melancholy and loss. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are sad or depressing, though they are thoughtful and contemplative. Another similarity is that most of the characters in Seduce Me After the Show are artists of one sort or another—dancers, actors, painters, musicians, and so on. Also of note: “I Saw the Blue”, the prequel to the story “Café et Cigarette” in Seduce Me After the Show, is collected in Age Called Blue.

Tableau Numéro 20Tableau Numéro 20 by est em. The most recent est em manga to be released in English is her collection Tableau Numéro 20, which includes five unrelated boys’ love, or boys’ love-esque, stories. Like many of her other manga, the stories in Tableau Numéro 20 frequently feature music, art, and dance. The titular manga and its related story “Le Visiteur” include a beautiful man who literally emerges from a painting, making them the most fantastical manga by est em that I’ve read. So much of her work and all of the other stories in Tableau Numéro 20 are based in reality, so it was interesting to see another side of est em’s creativity. Perhaps because both est em and I share an interest in Spanish culture, my favorite manga in Tableau Numéro 20 was “Rasgueado” which is about a flamenco dancer and guitarist. I’m always impressed by est em’s artwork and how expressive it is. The passion and energy on the page is almost palpable. Even when there is no dialogue there is a narrative being told through the characters’ body language and facial expressions. In “Rasgueado” in particular there are sequences of music and dance that are completely wordless that are brilliantly effective.

UltrasUltras by est em. Along with Red Blinds the Foolish, as a whole Ultras is one of my favorite manga collections by est em. Currently it’s only available digitally, but I really do hope that it gets a print release sometime in the future. (As unlikely as that may be.) The titular “Ultras” is a story about Alfonso and Leon, two soccer fans who, after a drunken night of celebration when Spain wins the European Championship, end up in bed together. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue except that it turns out that they are hardcore supporters of rival local teams. It’s refreshing to have a story where the plot’s anxiety isn’t about the characters being gay;  in this case it’s the problem is that they’re fans of the “wrong” team. I also appreciate that the characters are well-developed and have lives outside of their relationship and soccer (though those are indeed both very important things in the manga). Al, for example, is actually an elementary school teacher and it’s adorable. And when Leon’s grandfather finds out about the two of them it’s simply one of the best scenes ever. “Ultras” and the related “Tiempos Extra” are my favorite manga in Ultras, but I enjoyed the other four stories as well. They all have a contemporary, modern sort of feel to them.