The TCAF Experience: Volunteer’s Perspective

This May 8th, 2011 I volunteered with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival at the Toronto Reference Library. Some basic details about the event:

It was a great experience and I’ll go about why shortly, but I think first I need to discuss the ‘Why’.

Since my first internship at Random House of Canada I’ve been in love with publishing. I’ve always loved books and I’m an aspiring writer. But what I quickly found was a love and appreciation for graphic fiction. Comics, graphic novels, etc. You’ve probably read the spiel on a earlier post.

While at Random House I noticed the disinterest with taking on a comic. They had the chance to represent Watchmen by Alan Moore. An epic and very popular title that was given to a junior or new publicist at the company. I guess it’s understandable, the movie was coming out and there wasn’t much that the publisher had to do to drum up some attention. But I was a little disappointed that it was thrown on someone’s desk, thankfully the wonderful Publicist, Catherine Whiteside, who told me she enjoyed the project immensely and changed her view on comics for the better. This made me happy and angry and from there I knew what I wanted to do with my publicity career. Comics, graphic novels, you name it.

However, the market is dwindling for more popular reading material and thankfully the digital world has not made it affordably easy to read comics online or on the go so there is still a need to print, publish and market comics to an audience (there is hope for my career yet!) Though it’s not dying, the market for this is small and I’ll be honest I don’t have a great deal of experience in comics and can’t say I’m an expert in the field.

This is where the ‘Why’ comes in. To know more about the industry and to help in any way I can I volunteer. First it was with Owlkids last summer, nothing huge but I had fun. Now I’m going to be starting a long standing tradition of volunteering within the comics industry as much as I can.

It’s partly selfish, I’d like to meet people and make a name for myself in the community but mostly I want to help writers and artists make their way. And the comic industry has never had a glowing cash crop hiding in their basements to fund their adventures.


I went last year on a whim with my brothers girlfriend Skye. She’s an artist of manga style comics. Check out her stuff here: Blood Slave (NOTE 18+ Warning) and here Guerriero Virtuoso. She has lots more, but I’ll leave that for another day. Anyhoo, last year we went because there were a few artists she wanted to gawk at from a distance and blush in front of close up. I heard Joe Ollman (his blog is here ) was going and thought it’d be nice to meet an artist I’d studied in university. Joe Ollman, author of: This Will All End In Tears and newly published Mid-Life. Sad story: I didn’t get to me Joe last year. He wasn’t at his table, I think a pee or change break was in order but Skye got to meet, at least very briefly, the apple of her artistic eye and then we left for a seminar on manga and sex. It was… interesting but I had fun.

Then I started Vanair Publicity and this attempt to start working in the comic industry.

I’m on The Beguiling newsletter list and follow their blogs so when they started advertising a need for volunteers I jumped at the chance. With tons of customer service experience, 4 years of being an usher behind me along with a passion for art and word I was obviously the right candidate.

Andrew Woodrow Butcher (Volunteer Coordinator, Director of Library Services at The Beguiling) and Christopher Butcher (Co-Founder of TCAF, Festival Director, Manager of The Beguiling, and freelance writer at and @Comics212 on twitter), the organizers that I dealt with through email and in person were absolutely fantastic. They are dedicated to this festival and offered all the support in the world. A bit busy and tired, as one can assume, but at every chance that I saw them they offered support to those helping out and a friendly smile the whole way through.

May 8th

After coming the previous weekend for a walk through of what was going down on the May 6-8th festival I was prepared. Showed up, got my T-Shirt: Very nice, I might add that matched beautifully with the Jillian Tamaki posters(below) that were all over the place.

Toronto Comic Arts Festival Poster, 2011. Designed by Jillian Tamaki (I am SOO sorry for incorrectly citing someone else!!)

Grabbed a map, met my group and off we went!

Working back of the house I was supervised by Greg, last name unknown but that’s cool. He was drinking quite a bit of coffee but seemed pretty relaxed all the same. Of course, the only two Lisa’s in the volunteer roster were scheduled the same time on the same group shift. We were then coaxed into what the rest of our group (Courtney and Abbey) called a Battle Royal of the Lisa’s. Well not really, but it was never decided who was Lisa 1 and Lisa 2.

While on duty our group covered the Beaton Theatre, the Learning Centre and the Green Room where snacks were bountiful, for at least a short while.

Instead of giving you a minute by minute play I’ll say that I had a great time. I met a ton of the volunteer staff who seemed to be having a good time, or at least felt good for what they were doing for TCAF. We talked about all sorts of things from comics to homework. Some of panels were more full than others and of course I was asked where the bathroom was about a million times.

The Venue

The staff at the Toronto Reference Library, especially Ab. Velasco @ab81 on twitter, were wonderful, supportive, helpful and always available to answer questions. I didn’t have a need to get them but I know if I had it would be easy to find. The Toronto Reference Library itself had more floors available this year than last (from what I remember) and I’m hoping even more floor next year. There were a lot of people and I can only see this Festival growing with more attendance in the years to come.

Someone asked me if they would move to a different venue, but I don’t think that would be wise for TCAF. There is such a lovely dynamic between the organizers of the festival and the staff at the library. They’ve been doing this for a few years now and the report they’ve developed is worth more than the extra space another venue might offer.

Would I go again?

If they had the list to sign up available now I would. The volunteer’s were awesome. I would have liked to have gone around a bit and viewed some authors but without the cash to spend and without knowing who many people were I stayed behind and answered silly questions from every Tom Dick and Stacey that was there. I’ve always liked dealing with people in this way, and I’m good at it.

Next year the plan is to be more ready and volunteer more hours. Also, it’s to be in the city so I’m not driving in from Pickering and paying ridiculous weekend parking rates.

If you’re interested and would like to see some pictures, video’s and other goodies check out the TCAF website and of course keep your eye on The Beguiling. Additionally I found this one site fantastic, Squidface & the Meddler, @SquidfaceMddler on twitter, that have a photographed guide to the Festival.


 Some TCAF related online Goodies from your local blogosphere:

 Sequential’s TCAF Postmortem

 Kuriosity on TCAF:

Inkstuds has a ton of TCAF related posts. One I liked was TCAF 2011 Report – Part One – A Gronch in Paradise


About UpsetAppleCart

A young, inexperienced yet dedicated Freelance Publicist. Branching out into the world with little knowledge of what will happen, how, where, why and when! But ready nonetheless.

Posted on May 24, 2011, in On Life, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Greg *Baker was the over-caffeinated BOH supervisor. ;P

  2. Benjamin Merry

    Fantastic article although (and I’m sure someone has already pointed this out) the poster was designed by Jillian Tamaki, not Adrian Tomine.

    • THANK YOU SO MUCH! I really appreciate the heads up. I had a feeling I’d missed something in this post, and of course I’m such a tool and put in the wrong name. It’s all corrected, with many apolagies to Jillian Tamaki for the mix-up.

      And, aside from the mistake entirely on my part, I’m very glad you liked the article!

  3. Hey, firstly thank you so much for making it the best convention Grimalkin Press has ever exhibited at. All the other artists did was gush about the volunteers.

    also I’m pretty sure that poster is jillian tamaki? Am I crazy? 🙂

    • It IS Jillian Tamaki! I’ve corrected it, feeling like a goof of course. I always seem to make one mistake, no matter how much editing I seem to muster. Thank you though, I do appreciate the extra set of eyes. Always helps!

      I’m glad you had a wonderful time at TCAF and can’t wait to check out Grimalkin Press next year. I’m pleased the artists had a wonderfil time too, they need all the support we can give. Here’s to hoping next year will be even bigger and better!


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