Tuesday 14 May 2013

TCAF 2013: Tenth Year Anniversary Show

Checked out TCAF, the Toronto Comics and Arts Festival, on the weekend. Held at the Metro Toronto Reference Library, it brought together hundreds of graphic novelists, zine creators, caricaturists, artists, illustrators, and writers. Fellow dreamers with their inner thoughts laid out on table tops, realized in ink and line. It was a remarkable gathering of talent, and I'll be making a number of posts in coming days with highlights.

As always, the festival was well organized, the volunteers delightful, the parties fun, and the panels (mostly) intriguing. An inspirational experience. Fabulous and free.

State of Small Press Panel

Featuring Matt Moses, (Hic & Hoc) Bill Kartalopolous, (Rebus Books) Austin English, (Domino Books) Leon Avelino (Secret Acres) Jordan Shiveley (Grimalkin Press) and Anne Koyama (Koyama Press). A great panel of enthusiastic pessimists who live and breathe sequential art. They're in it for the work, make no mistake about it, and they'll stand firm against all odds 'so long as no one loses their apartment.' As another panelist said, 'If you know going into it is a bad business decision, which in a way it is, just make it sustainable and about the art.' The Dream cradled in pragmatism. Wise words.

And they do. Economic uncertainty means a short horizon, so their publishing schedules are guided by the success or failure of each work they lovingly present. One book at a time. 'How did this one do? Not so good? Okay. That's how many books we're doing this year.' They have to be careful not to overstretch. Some are pragmatic enough to have kept their day job.

Tom Devlin's defunct Highwater Books came up a couple times.

Still looked to for its quality, quirkiness, and innovation, it went under in 2004. Devlin was incredibly ambitious in terms of the quality he sought to deliver considering the companies' small size, publishing notables such as Marc Bell, James Kochalka, and Megan Kelso. He's at Drawn and Quarterly as CD now. I have Highwater's Free Comic Book Day Reggie 12, which is tons of fun.

None can tell what book will be a hit, nor could Devlin. 'If I tried to pick out books I thought would be huge hits, it would be a disaster.' Books that look like sure hits fail, and long shots wind up succeeding beyond all expectation. As they say in Hollywood, nobody knows anything.

All have a very clear vision of what they want to publish; each a distinct identity and feel. They're conductors, putting together a symphony of artists, a collective that becomes greater than the sum of its parts and emerges, in the end, as a distinct brand. All the pieces have to fit with the others. Its one of the reasons why you must always look at what a publisher is putting out before submitting. Cellos won't fit in a rock band. Death metal guitarists aren't going to get a spot on the London Philharmonic, and superhero books aren't going to fly at Koyama Press. Look at the material publishers print before you submit to see if there's a fit. Be honest. It'll save you cash, and them time. Win win.

Each puts out six to eight books per year. Since they already have a stable of artists, that means only one or two spots are likely open for new artists. One of the self-described smaller small publisher said they received an unsolicited submission every other day. That's roughly 175 per year, for one or two spots. Roughly a one per cent chance. Great compared to the lottery, okay for a click through rate, but not so good for dreams. Which is why being printed by a publisher is more the cherry on top than the ice cream these days. Getting your work up on the net is the new first step.

Not coincidentally, publishers are finding new talent by surfing. All follow Tumblr. Anne Koyama is blessed with no need for sleep, so she prowls the internets at night, hunting talent. That woman has an eye for it. People who are doing notable work eventually will weed into their consciousness and, if the stars are right, prompt them into offering the artist a publication deal.

So there you go. If you want to get noticed, do the work, and put it online.

Everybody loves the net. It's great for marketing, and helps expand the audience base, rather than cannibalize sales. Don't worry about that. Tumblr just builds audience for the print version. It is hard on distributors, however, and makes things incredibly competitive. Hard to hold attention.

If I were so inclined, I could buy every published comic every week from the local shop, and conceivably read them all without quitting my day job. That's not true of web comics. I'd have to spend all day at it, every day. Top Web Comics alone lists over 2,600 of them. All vying for eye balls. So it can take time and perseverance to get noticed. That's key for publishers: they want to see not just that you have talent, but that you're sticking around, too.

And none of them want to hear artists complain about how difficult things are. It's hard for everyone. 'Save your complaining for your significant other or your cat.' If you don't celebrate yourself, no one will. So plug. Promote. Show enthusiasm for your work.

One of the publishers who was originally from Europe commented that in France, if you grow to a certain size and are sustainable, stable, you're considered a success. In North America, you aren't a success unless you're growing. Constantly. Stasis is death. A very interesting observation, reflective of Europe's age and the wild expansion the United States experienced as it flooded West across the North American continent. That mindset still echoes.

While they aspire to get into the big bookstores, the accomplishment is a double edged sword, as it opens them up to book returns. They also need to work farther in advance, to a more set, stable schedule.

Some general notes: All look to the quality of Drawn and Quarterly books now (Tom Devlin again, who popped up at another panel). There are no government grants for pamphlets (hey, this is Canada), and most stores won't stock them; they're good for cons and that's about that. And never scan your black and white linework in greyscale.

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