Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the anti-ComiCon, draws diverse crowd

There's no cosplay, famous actors or corporate schemes. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is all about showcasing local and international talent that might otherwise go overlooked in a world of big money movies and fan expos.

The festival is now thought to be the largest of its kind in North America

Miles Baker, one of the organizers of TCAF, said the event has surged in popularity in recent years and offers an alternative experience to the commercial expos that have become so popular. (CBC)

In recent years, comic books and art have re-emerged into the cultural zeitgeist, with the explosion of multi-billion dollar super hero film franchises, enormously profitable merchandizing deals and commercialized events like Comic-Con.

But for the past 14 years in Toronto, lovers of comics and comic art have been putting on a sort of guerilla comic festival, minus all the bluster of the big-money Comic-Con experience. 

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) took over three floors of the reference library this weekend, with creators, artists and writers from 13 different countries exhibiting their own work. The event, free to the public, has slowly become one of North America's largest alternatives to the cosplay chaos of the commercialized conventions. 

"In Canada and America a lot of comic conventions are very much focused on big intellectual properties, like the big summer blockbusters," said Miles Baker, managing director, while TCAF "is really focused on the creatives, the people who make new properties and stories, the kind of comics that we love."

The festival offers a mix of local and international talent, with artists signing copies for fans. (CBC)

Baker added that it's the festival's mix of local and international up-and-coming comic artists that has attracted so many people in recent years. It means that people who attend may be surprised about what they find.

"People come here to see comics they've never seen before," said Steven Andrews, an artist who contributes to the Toronto Comics Anthology.

"When you go to a fan expo or another pop culture show, generally you're looking for things you already like. But here people have come to discover new things, and that's incredible."

The organizers also go out of their way to encourage new artists and creators to exhibit their work by offering discounted prices for display tables. 

Steven Andrews, a member of the Toronto Comics Anthology, said TCAF is accessible for local comics creators because it offers discounted prices on display tables for vendors. (CBC)

The festival has also earned a reputation as a progressive and open event that hopes to attract audiences from any community.

"It has a really good feeling about it, it's a really safe space for queer people and people of all kinds who just like comics together," said Christie Coulthard, adding that it's an entirely different experience from typical fan expos. 

"I get to support all of the artists that I love, and I get to meet them."

Christie Coulthard told CBC News that the festival is a safe space for everyone who loves comics, and it's a great place to meet up with online friends. (CBC)