The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is just six years old, but the event has proven incredibly successful. It is held every two years at
Toronto's Central Library, which I visited last November when Lynn Johnston was awarded the Doug Wright Award for cartooning.
This Sunday was Mother's Day, and one of my Sheridan students was at the comic fair with her mom (I like the idea!) and one former student was selling a book she wrote. (Yes, I bought it.)
The photograph is of Patricia Storms, independent cartoonist/illustrator and member of the Canadian Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society and, if rumour holds true, our future President. She's drawing a Pirate for "Owlkids", a group that gets kids interested in cartooning. The children came up with some excellent stories in a pitch session, too. Good on ya, Owlkids. Good on ya, Patricia.
I was particularly interested in the panels on Newspapers, Comics and the Internet and Comics and Animation. It was not difficult to attend both events though the rooms were crowded. The newspaper panel featured editors from comic syndicates, comic artists, and writers on the comic book culture. Here are the panelists as described in the event schedule:
On the panel is R. Stevens, the creator of the webcomic Diesel Sweeties. He
entered into a deal with United Features Syndicate to distribute his comic in
newspapers, and ultimately left that deal to concentrate on his web efforts.
Joining him will be: Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and the
controversial futurist text Reinventing Comics; Stuart Immonen, an accomplished
“mainstream” comics artist on Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man, and also a
self-publisher who prints his own books and comics, and serializes work online;
Brendan Buford, Comics Editor for King Features Syndicate, and a cartoonist,
publisher, and someone who works with mainstream book publishers; and John
Martz, co-creator of Drawn.ca and Chair of the Canadian Chapter of The National
Cartoonist Society. The panel will be moderated by Steven Murray, writer,
illustrator, self-publisher, webcomics artist, and cartoonist and journalist for
Canada’s National Post newspaper.
Brendan Buford and Scott McCloud did most of the talking, but all the panelists were of the opinion that newspapers weren't going completely away. Nor was syndication dead. What was going to disappear was the mass-market audience; the future of cartooning was more in niche markets. "It's not a train wreck. It's more like a steamroller. We are all going to be flattened for a while", said Mr. Buford. King Features was doing very well--ironically enough, through licensing for Betty Boop and Popeye.
"Local markets will be critical, it's a 'wild West' environment."
He confirmed that comics syndicates 'trolled the Web' looking for suitable comics to syndicate but that 'personality' mattered as well; some past 'young sensations' were temperamentally unsuited to the rigours of creating a daily strip.
Scott McCloud mentioned Microsoft's new Infinite Canvas which allows you to put camera moves and animation levels into comic strips. (I feel that technology will never replace good storytelling, a sentiment I and most of the panelists share with the late Will Eisner, --no relation to Michael--who said that "Content (story) drives the art form." Thank you, Mr. Eisner, for not calling it a 'business'!)
"Paper is technology too," Stuart Immonen said. "It's portable and can be infinitely formatted!"
I asked what would become of the gorgeously produced books at this comic fair (one of which was the size of a small table) if everyone read comics digitally.
No problem. It appears that a book purchased at a fair like this is 'a handshake (with the creator) that you can take home' and that the indies were making a living selling books and merchandise. Books were MORE special in the digital age since they were 'hand crafted'.
Mass-marketed comics were going to lose a guaranteed distribution channel--the daily paper--but comics would survive on a smaller scale. "Comics were never that popular."
A woman in the audience disagreed at once. "Comics are everywhere! They are more popular than ever!" I certainly agreed with her. I could only wish that 'hand crafted' animation would make a similar comeback.
The next panel wasn't about animation. Most of the strip cartoonists I've known were trying desperately to get into animation as more and more newspapers folded. But this group consisted of former or present animation people who were going into comics to get out of being what they described as a 'cog in the machine'.
The panelists for COMIC ARTISTS WHO ANIMATE were Graham Annable, Faith Erin Hicks, Brian Envinou, Paul Rivoche and one additional artist whose name I have missed. The panel was moderated by Jim Zubkavich, who works in animation and teaches animation at Seneca College. Four of the panelists were Sheridan Animation graduates. Faith Erin Hicks was the most recent alumnus (2004.) She was approached about working in comics after she'd been in animation for a while. "Comics paid almost a living wage if I gave up eating," she said.
It quickly became apparent that these artists craved more control than is commonly provided to the bulk of animation artists. "Even if I designed a nuclear reactor (for an animated film) it had to fit the script. I couldn't go crazy with it," one artist said. Animation artists were frequently likened to 'cogs in a machine'.
After the panel ended I suggested to some of the speakers that 'cog' was not necessarily an accurate description of an animation crew. "Animators are more like members of an orchestra, or ensemble musicians," I said. "It takes several animators (and in the case of a feature, sometimes a hundred or more) to create the work. Comic strip artists who do everything themselves are soloists." Like syndicated cartooning, studio work is not for anyone, and these artists enjoyed their independence.
"I have absolute control over everything! Awesome!" Ms. Hicks crowed.
The comic art/animation panel agreed that animation training was the best preparation they could have had for their new careers. An animation background provides a comic strip artist with timing, the ability to create strong poses in silhouette, good body language and staging (layout). "Going to school helped me" was the general consensus.
One artist also mentioned that working in animation for 'a boss that will kill you if you get it wrong," was also excellent training. The independent 'soloists' need only please themselves and their audience...while the ensemble players must please the conductor, director, --AND the audience.
The day ended with my purchase of a few more books and lunch out with Mark Mayerson, who will also be writing the event up on his blog.
Comics never really appealed to me as a profession, but I respect people who can do a daily story for years on end or publish their own books successfully. It really is a great and pleasant way of making a living. Maybe I'll try a small comic entry for an anthology after the new book is finished.