Tech & Media

When Kids and Comic Conventions Mix

May 17, 2013

As I've oh-so-subtly mentioned, I love comics, and have been sharing them with my three-year-old daughter, L.

One of my favourite weekends of the year is when the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) comes into town in early May. TCAF isn't like most conventions or expos; there are virtually no people in superhero costumes or former TV stars offering autographs. Instead, it's a gathering bringing together established international superstars (France! Japan! Argentina! Australia!) and burgeoning local talent, showcasing all genres and styles. A mash-up of the Toronto International Film Festival and the TED Talks, it's a glorious - and completely free - weekend of lectures, workshops and awards, anchored by a bazaar where fans come to buy comics and art directly from the creators. (I bring a set amount of excessive cash, leaving my cards at home to avoid temptation.)

L has been to TCAF before, but this was going to be the first time she'd actually have some sense of what was happening around her. Even more exciting, her mom was working at the show, helping helm the Owl/Chickadee booth.

Held in the Toronto Reference Library, TCAF's very family-friendly, with a slate of events geared strictly toward kids. Our plan was to walk around, buy some stuff, compliment some of my comic book author/illustrator heroes and attend some readings.

L patiently held my hand and said hello to everyone as I bought books on my wishlist. Some, like Scott Chantler's latest Three Thieves, I had signed in her name in anticipation of her literacy levels one day catching up.TCAF also had quite a few picture-book illustrators in attendance. Greg Pizzoli sketched a croc in the opening pages of his brand-new (and great) The Watermelon Seed, while Maris Wicks drew a turtle in Yes, Let's - a book about the awesomeness of family hikes. (Maris also allowed us to "win" a copy of her not-yet-released Primates, which is all about the women who dedicated their lives to studying orangutans, gorillas and chimps - three of L's favourites.)

At this point, we'd been trekking back and forth and up and down between two floors for hours. L, to her infinite credit, wasn't even remotely cranky or tired. (A small, shameful part of me was worried she'd ruin "my" day by behaving like a perfectly normal three-year-old.) After a quick visit to say hi to Mommy, L met cartoonist Steve Manale who promised to draw whatever she wanted. The resulting "kangaroo mommy that is smiling and has a baby kangaroo in her pouch that is smiling, too" is now awaiting a frame.Toward the end of our TCAF adventure, we sat in on a few Toon Books readings. Pulitzer-winning Art Spiegelman, considered one of the most important figures in grown-up comics, was fantastic. He's warm and kind and knows how to speak to kids, but also has this slightly manic energy about him. After showing slides of his old Garbage Pail Kids to gasps of gleeful shock and awe, he launched into a reading of Jack and the Box. We'd libraried the book, and L wasn't a huge fan. With Art reading it to her, though, it was a different story. His pacing and delivery had L giggling and beaming.

Next was Rutu Modan - an Israeli cartoonist known to most for decidedly mature books like Exit Wounds, but to my daughter for her beloved Maya Makes a Mess. My wife and I brought L over to meet her, and Rutu honoured L's shyly whispered request for a monkey in the pages of her Maya.

Still, I think my favourite memory of this year's TCAF was earlier in the day. Toronto's Frank Viva was to read along with screen projections from his A Trip to the Bottom of the World, but the computer wasn't working. The kids had lost interest and were over by the windows, looking at pigeons, or complaining to their parents. Frank finally just grabbed a copy of his book and sat in a chair, asking us to join him. We formed a semi-circle, and he told a rapt audience the story of a mouse and a boy who went to Antarctica - the power of simple storytelling in effect. L and I had to excuse ourselves before the next cartoonist could do the same. (She told me she needed the bathroom "right away," and I've learned she means it.) As we walked out, we passed tables of preschoolers and older kids quietly working on their own comics. Some were colouring drawings of famous superheroes, others were inventing new ones.

"Daddy," L said, "When we go home, we'll read some comics. And then we'll make comics, too."

As I wondered how to gently break the news to her that I was quite possibly the world's worst artist, it struck me just how great comics-making can be for preschoolers. You don't need equipment or fancy toys to pull it off - all that's required is paper, markers or crayons or pencils, and folding ability (and, if you want to be posh, staples).

So yes, TCAF has inspired our next arts-and-crafts project. Maybe by the time the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2023, L will be on the other side of the table, selling her awesome stories and sketching animals for toddlers. 



Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock 'n' roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are collaborating on a three-year-old girl who may already be smarter than both of them. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario. 

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