“This is your first TCAF?” I heard that a lot last weekend. I’ve been exhibiting at comic conventions for about 15 years, but I’d never made it out to TCAF before. I’d been meaning to, because I’ve heard nothing but good things about the show. But it’s curated and the tables sell out quick, so it seems every year I wait too long to register. 2014 was going to be different: I got my application in early, got a passport for this first time ever, and bought a cheap plane ticket well in advance.
I’ve got to say, TCAF lived up to the hype. It was packed both days, and sales were pretty good. The exhibitors were well-curated and their were plenty of good comics to buy. In terms of consistent quality, table to table, TCAF’s only rival is CAB (based on my experience, at least).
So here’s my handy-dandy recap, complete with praise, gripes, and some tips I picked up along the way. (PS: because I was tabling, I didn’t get to see any programing. This recap focuses on exhibiting only.)
- There was an amazing selection of comics to be purchased. Hardly a stinker in bunch!
- It was located in a library, a large and posh one. This attracted customers from outside the comics community. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
- The show was well-run (except for a few hiccups). TCAF offered exhibitors support and helpful advice for lodging, crossing the border, etc.
- Admission was free. We need more free shows.
- Tables were fairly cheap.
- Early table set-up was delayed for quite a while on Friday night. This was a blunder and exhibitors were annoyed.
- The exhibition area was housed in several different rooms. Like I’ve said before, this means there was a room that was the best, and one that was the worst. Some tables saw far fewer customers based on where they were located. I’m not vehemently against exhibiting in multiple rooms. Sometimes it is a fair trade-off for inhabiting a cool space. But this problem will always persist.
- The upstairs exhibition area was housed in a smaller room. To prevent overcrowding and fire code violations, volunteers kept a tally of visitors as they entered the room. When the room was full, attendees couldn’t enter till it emptied a little. The line to get in wasn’t long when I visited, but I’m told it it stretched far at times. I’ve never had to wait in line to enter the exhibition area of small press / indie-friendly comics festival. It was frustrating to attendees and exhibitors, and it was the number one gripe I heard last weekend. I’m told it’s not a new problem, and the same thing happened last year.
What’s to be done about this location? Nothing, maybe. This is a really awesome building in a prime neighbor. Being a public library, it welcomes a diverse audience, something comic conventions usually fail to do. That might be worth all the challenges the location brings.
If you’re an American like me, exhibiting at TCAF can be challenging. Here are some tips I learned along the way.
- If you’re coming from New York, do yourself a favor and get a plane ticket. If you do it far enough in advance you can get one for around $200. That’s twice as much as a round-trip bus ticket, but you’re on the plane for an hour and a half. A bus ride is at least 10 hours.
- When crossing the border, just tell them you’re on vacation and you’ll probably be fine. don’t freak out (I was freaking out a little). It was recommended that I ship my books ahead of me, but do you know how much international shipping costs?! So I decided to take a chance and, for a $25 bag fee, I brought my books in my luggage. I got through customs just fine.
- See if your bank has a Canadian partner that allows you to withdraw Canadian cash without extra fees (for example, Bank of America has this sort of relationship with Scotiabank).
- If you don’t have a better option, consider staying at the St. Mike’s dorm. To be honest, the place is kind of gross. It looks kind of like a derelict hospital ward from the 70s. BUT, it’s just a few blocks away from the show and for $50 a night you get a private room. I’m no princess. As long as I didn’t bring bedbugs home (fingers crossed!!!) I’ll consider it a bargain.
- Partner with your friends to get a large shared tablespace rather than doing a half table by yourself (I didn’t do this and I wish I had). Since the quality of table placement is hit or miss, you can mitigate it by having the right neighbors. And by taking up a larger amount of real estate, collectively, you command more of a presence.
- Bring plenty of books to this show, rather than minicomics. Everything on my table with a square binding (all priced $20 and up) sold out in the first day. This crowd prefers books to floppies and zines, it seems.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. I liked TCAF enough that I’ll probably go back next year, if I can. And next time I’ll work up the courage to talk to Chester Brown.
A crowd waits for early set-up on Friday night.
New discovery! This is a Toronto-based collective called Friendship Edition. their stuff looks good.