The Comicon’s back in town, a pilgrimage comicdom’s most devoted undertake each year to the steaming barrens of the Exhibition grounds, to kvetch and cavort with the rabble and ogle the overpriced relics. Last year’s event shivered gamely in the middle of November, which makes the inevitable lineup, snaking around the Queen Elizabeth Building before the doors swing open, more tolerable this time. Of course, there’ll be lineups inside the QEB too; hordes waiting rigidly for the tag-team attraction of Dave Sim — mercurial creator of the lately completed aardvark opus Cerebus (see Books page 52) — and proto-cartoonist (and yarn spinner) 87-year-old Will Eisner.
WE is a relic himself, a cartoonist of towering importance, whose cursive brushwork helped define the medium from the cramped 1940s till today. He’s widely praised (with lingering debate) for inventing the graphic novel with his 1978 book, A Contract With God. (So profound is his influence, some suggest Walt Disney even copped his iconic signature from Eisner’s spiralling Hancock.)
As per standard, the titans are pulling a few notables in their wake. The sideshow this year includes Stray Toaster‘s Bill Sienkiewicz (he of the fleshy watercolours and combustible oils),¸ humourist Ty Templeton, Cary Nord and others. Expect the usual crowds, the foam costumes, the Asperger’s syndrome. For veterans of this sort of thing, the whole affair can seem a touch redundant, just another troop through the typical wares; granted, the collection is about two hundred times bigger than your nearest funnybook peddler.
It’s the Artist’s Alley — a section slightly removed from the bins and bulletproof glass, where many of Toronto’s best independent cartoonists will be nursing their work — that the keen attendant should beeline toward. Its tenants are misfits in the kindest sense, whose talent and bald optimism can make the same old show an interesting, even enlightening, event.
One such entrant is a rarely mentioned collective of middle-aged cartoonists called the Frecklebean group — so named for their monthly gatherings at the Frecklebean Café on McCaul. The seven-deep clan is led, at least artistically, by R.G. Taylor, a former teacher and one-time artist for DC’s Sandman Mystery Theatre. Taylor’s penwork is suspiciously precise (note: tracing is no crime) and anchors the group’s fancies, like the casual accounts of letterer supreme Ron Kasman and the grim shadows of illustrator Dominic Bugatto. Fresh off their appearance in the Sick Kids Hospital benefit compilation, Drawing the Line— a crucial purchase that collects original work from nearly every relevant local cartoonist, including such heavyweights as Chester Brown and Comicon co-star Dave Sim — the crew should be in high spirits, peddling copies of the book and a comic they published together last March, Frecklebean Comics and Stories.
The always ebullient Willow Dawson is also not to be missed, glowing from her own appearance in Drawing the Line and in Emily Pohl-Weary’sGirls Who Bite Back. She’ll have some of her sweetly jagged minis to peruse, and (if asked nicely) sketches and samples from her countless upcoming projects.
Another mainstay is the incorrigible Matthew Mohammed, who dons a baby-scaring afro and thick faux-gold chain to strut down the aisles at comic shows across the continent, keeping his pimp hand strong and his drawing hand stronger. For those with a taste for recycled sub-genres — in this case, the blaxploitation-sploitation — the latest issue of his self-published comic Black Bastard is a fat spliff better than any previous installment, with gorgeous layouts and colouring that suggests animation cels.
Sitting somewhere nearby will be chop-socky nut Kagan McLeod He was one of 2001’s top five “buzz creators” according to Wizard magazine (the bible of the Direct Market, a.k.a. the mainstream comic shop), and his comic Infinite Kung Fu — a spastic serial that jams Shaw Bros. movies to hip-hop pop art — is ripe for the picking these Bruce Lee-loving days. Equally inspired by phat urban beats is Tyrone McCarthy’sCorduroy High #3, just issued by the artist’s own Kilrush imprint. If the stories coast a little lightly over their petty high school politics, at least they’re fun to plow through, McCarthy squashing limbs and inflating proportions with graffiti-mad glee. Tyrone and a handful of Kilrush staffers, including illustrator Alana Machnicki and designer Darwin Santos, should be along for the ride.
As will many, many others. Bring your shekels and goodwill, and keep your presumptions in their plastic sleeve.
The Toronto Comicon runs June 18-20 in the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place. Visit www.torontocomicon.com for more.