This isn’t a con report. It’s more like a 13-year-old girl gushing madly in her secret diary about the bestest weekend of like her whole entire life? Picture all my i’s dotted with hearts that I’ve gone back and coloured with a red felt pen. TCAF was that good.

I know I sometimes get paid to write stuff but I never feel like a professional at conventions. This is probably no surprise to anyone because I never have anything to exhibit. I just tag along with my friends, who are, as someone (I think it was the lovely Jordyn Buchon) pointed out to me, LEGENDARY. I liked that.

So this isn’t a professional-type convention review where I talk (as everyone is doing elsewhere) about how well-run TCAF is. Really all I can contribute to this internet cuddle puddle is me talking about how dope it was to have so much fun with so many people, some of whom I never even met before. So, enjoy that.

Deeeeeear diary,

So I flew with Marian and Brandon to Toronto on Friday. What did I watch on the plane, you ask? I watched Wall Street 2 and found myself fascinated by the evenly-tanned dewiness of Shia LeBeouf’s talking head. I guess you could call me an anxious flyer, because sometimes I get this queasy adrenaline rush during take offs and landings, or say, heavy turbulence, but it’s weirdly unreliable. Sometimes I’m fine.

I was talking to Farel about this. See, my fear of flying is, for me, like flying with a baby. If I get lucky, the baby sleeps the whole time. If not, the baby wails continuously and all the comfort I try to give it, all my shushing and attempts to reason with it do nothing to quiet its rage and ultimate distrust. At times like that, I may be tempted to drug the baby, but  I know too well that the baby has a better chance to just fucking GET OVER IT if it isn’t drugged off its ass on benzos.

But it’s not so bad. I think I was more anxious about the con itself, actually. I’ve gotten used to the West Coast conventions but Toronto is like, Toronto. People in Vancouver are often weird about Toronto, and I’m a good example. It represents too many things for me, most of them intimidating and/or depressing. Or it did once. No longer. Here, check this out.

Good Things About Toronto I Never Realized, or Stubbornly Ignored:

– Strangers are usually friendlier than in Vancouver. This is a subtle thing and if you haven’t spent a lot of time here you might never pick up on it. It’s not that Vancouverites are unfriendly, but there’s a city-wide pact, entirely unspoken, that in Vancouver you do not intrude on somebody you don’t know. It’s like, impolite or something. You don’t just talk to people easily and casually like it’s no big deal. If somebody comes up and talks to you out of nowhere, they’re breaking a social code and are probably either crazy or they want something.

– Vancouver has less culture. I’m sorry. It’s a generalization, but it’s mostly true. We coast along on our scenic beauty and I’m sure the Volleyball scene is more rockin’, or something, but we’ve never had to fortify ourselves through grueling winters and psychotically humid summers by staying inside and developing our social scene. We’re probably out kayaking. Whales are jumping over us. It’s never that cold or hot. LIFE IS TOO EASY. (My apologies to  the Downtown East-Side but hey, Kitsilano, I’m looking in your direction).

– Toronto has more places to eat, drink, and stay out late. Vancouver is too busy getting stoned.

– Toronto has worked REALLY HARD to have an amazing creator-centric comic convention like TCAF. Not to mention a comic store like The Beguiling. Us? Still stoned.

My first night in Toronto was semi-awkward. Overwhelmed by insecurity and anxious to GET THIS THING OVER WITH I twitched and muttered through dinner with an old friend and hurried to The Pilot for a TCAF party where I knew my allies were waiting. Once there I immediately found James and Marley hanging out with Mickey and Jho.

I hadn’t seen Mickey or Jho since San Diego, um, five years ago? I like Jho so much. Marian met her for the first time this trip and they have already forged a lifetime bond over macaroons. She can draw, too.

As for Mickey, I have this weird reaction to Mickey where half the time I’m wide-eyed with hero worship and the rest of the time I want to push her in the mud and pull her hair and run away. It’s a schoolyard thing. If we were in elementary school together, she would own me.

So that was fun. But I was drinking to catch up with everyone else and relax, which is a dumb reason to drink. I kept pounding up and down the narrow stairs to the top floor bar, catching glimpses of Robin schmoozing it up. He was like an eel in a bucket of snot, that guy, making introductions and working the room. I trailed around after him for a while but I was starting to crash.

When I left with Brandon and got back to the hotel I was like, guys, did you realize that I actually in reality SUCK AT LIFE? And they were both very nice about it and talked me down and I fell asleep with Marian in the big fluffy bed while Brandon slept semi-upright in an armchair footstool combination that looked like hell. He was very chivalrous about it, too.

I didn’t sleep the night before the con. Kate mentioned to me later that Emily spent that night lying awake in a state of “cat-like readiness.” I enjoyed that, and I think I said “cat-like readiness” about a dozen times that day in different contexts. I never say anything with more satisfaction and confidence than when I’ve overheard someone else say it first. This often happens with current-affairs “factoids” that turn out to be completely false. I think it makes me look smart.

For some reason I was expecting the Toronto Reference Library to be made entirely of glass. It’s not. Brandon set up (or rather I set up for him, because I like to feel a part of things) next to James and Marley, and Marian showed up a bit later, and the convention began.

I bought some stuff right away, which is weird for me. I bought some Micheal DeForge books and he gave me some other stuff to top it off. “You know all my friends,” he said.

“So do you,” I said, “you know all mine.”

We both looked paranoid.

I think Mickey pressed her comics on me FREE GRATIS, and I was like “score”, because people have been warning me about her creepily rape-centric comics for ages. The night before, at The Pilot, I told her how I used to read her teenage blog. She used to draw all these really stacked dudes. Then she went to art school and got perverted or something. She promised to draw some more stacked dudes. [YOU PROMISED MICKEY. YOU SWORE IT.] Anyway, I look forward to reading her latest work.

Then I went other to the Drawn & Quarterly tables and got the last book of Tove Jannson-penned Moomin strips. I used it as a folder for everything else I got after that, and people kept giving me stuff. Everyone was giving everyone comics and stickers and pins and other colourful objects. I had nothing to give anyone but dirty Canadian money and looks of feverish love. They didn’t seem to mind. People gave each other so much stuff that some people got doubles of stuff and gave me the doubles. I was wallowing in swag. One of my most-anticipated scores was Emily’s mini-comic collection, That Night in June, and I barely got to peek at it because it required a quiet room and I was never in one.

I found a great spot to sit next to Kate, on the wooden stage behind Emily’s table, and watched her enviously as she helped Emily slip prints into plastic sleeves. I like the idea of helping my friends sell stuff but I don’t end up doing it much because people obviously want to buy the art from the artist, and get it signed, and anyway Marian and Brandon’s table didn’t have a sweet stage behind it and lacked for extra chairs. But Kate had a whole system. I told her we should definitely seriously for-real-this-time bring our own stuff to the next convention we end up at. I mean, she obviously should, because she’s an incredibly capable, talented artist. And I just figure it will be good for me. Like a kid going to camp, or something. A camp for creatively stunted and procrastinating children.

Brandon had a panel with Paul Pope and Sam Hiti that Robin hosted. I was impressed by Robin’s ease behind the microphone and Brandon was really engaging. He said some funny stuff. People laughed. At some point after that, however, my exhaustion caught up with me and I ended up napping under James and Marley’s table while they signed and drew stuff. It was comfortable there. I felt like a pet. At one point I heard Marley say “don’t we have a thicker Micron?” and I found an 05 Micron under her chair and handed it up to her. So helpful!

Then it was over for the day. I left my swag under the table (thereby sealing my fate, but more on this later) and a bunch of us, Robin, Brandon, Marian, Farel, Jho, James and Marley, tried to go out for Indian food. But James was nominated for a Doug Wright award and Robin had to drag him and Marley off before they could eat. Our food took forever.

Then to Paupers, which I thought for a long time was called Poppers, like pills*. It’s not really a good name either way.

Paupers was packed and loud and the cider was gross. They played some MC Hammer at one point, which was the musical highlight, and people were live-drawing. I watched the Canucks lose to Nashville on the shitty television. Mickey flew across the room at one point and straddled me: another triumph! We all ended up on the rooftop patio, squeezed in with way too many TCAFers. I smoked one of Jho’s candy-tasting clove ciggarettes from Indonesia, which made my mouth taste gross the rest of the night, and tried to pickpocket from Mickey, but her cat-like readiness stopped me, even me, from figuring out what she carries in her ninja-style bag of tricks. Now I will never know. And that haunts me.

At one point I was climbing on a railing like a goof and Brandon said “you know Emily and Kate are here, right?” And I sort of fell off the railing because I really like Emily and Kate. I know they live in Vancouver and I’d talked to Kate all day but I was still excited to see them. Big parties do that to me. People I’m already friends with suddenly glow with special privilege among the strangers and anyway, some people are just awesome.

Kate came over and we both acknowledged that the crowding was kind of insane and that our lives were in peril. Emily was talking to Brandon and Ken Dahl/Gabby Schulz – whose book MONSTERS is so good, oh man! – so Kate and I fought our way through the crowd to an exit I’d found that was actually its own little part of the roof, next to the washrooms, and we did some breathing and looked around. It was peaceful. I think I compared a puddle on an adjoining roof to a reflective pool, or something. There was talk of a gazing ball. Kate said “it’s really good” in response to something and suddenly one of these two drunk guys who’d popped up from nowhere beside us cut in with “I’m really good… AT SEX.”

Now, I already mentioned this on twitter, even after Kate mentioned this on twitter, and there’s only so much mileage something like this has, but I don’t feel bad about telling the story again. I said something like, “And now we’re leaving! Have fun at sex!” And we re-joined the mass of the party, refreshed in our renewed faith that other people are actually just total dorks, you know?

From Paupers I followed Emily and Kate and their friends (who are cool) to a Karaoke bar with a middling song selection, and I sang my first karaoke song, which was 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton. A banner evening all around, really.

I got back to the Holiday Inn alone. In the elevator I found two drunk men. One of them was bent over, trying to pick up a his dropped Visa card, moving in slow motion. I nodded hello to them and the elevator doors closed. Card in had, the very drunk one stood up. The other man said to him, “Are you ready to face Frank?”

The very drunk man sighed. “Oh man,” he said, “Frank is the least of my worries now.”

We arrived at my floor and the doors opened. The less drunk of the two nodded to me. “Have a good night,” he said.

“You too,” I said. “Good luck with Frank.”

He smiled grimly. “We’ll need it.”

I arrived at the hotel room in such a state of goodwill and triumphant high-kicks that Brandon and Marian were amazed and a little frightened.

That night I slept.

Then back to the con on Sunday. It all begins to blend together. I know at some point I ran around with Mickey and insisted that we ride the glass elevator to the second floor. This security guard beside the elevator didn’t really want us to do so, even though other people had been doing it all day. The third floor was off limits to anyone who wasn’t staff.

Wait, I should explain something. Mickey doesn’t like rules. I had to win over the security guy and talk her down just to get her in the elevator. Then she flipped the bird with rapid-fire machine gun action at everyone on the convention floor as we rode upward.

Now, the volunteers at TCAF were great and always cheerful and helpful, but there was this one point, the main door leading to the salon where half the convention took place, that was guarded by a volunteer who would only allow you to walk IN the door, not out. He wasn’t a jerk about it and I’m sure it had something to do with fire code or traffic flow, but it involved taking a fairly round-about route to enter or exit the salon. Not only was this counter-intuitive, but made walking from point A to point B a matter of Rules.

Mickey would not stand for this.

We attempted to enter the exit route, and were stopped by a polite guy in a yellow shirt. Mickey tried side-stepping him, but he stayed in front of her, determined that she wouldn’t pass. Mickey explained, quite calmly, I thought, that she was going to do it anyway.

“Please don’t,” he said.

“What if I run?” she demanded. Then she ran. He ran after her.

She was only testing him. She could have outrun the dude, obviously, because she is basically a parkour ninja who happens to be in two fight clubs, neither of which I’m supposed to talk about, so never mind. She tested the volunteer, and the volunteer did not waver. He could have just let her go, but he ran after and gently (so gently) tackled her and walked her back over to me, holding on to her shoulders.

“I’m only doing this because you’re doing this!” she screeched.

I should mention that at this point, she had almost completely lost her voice from screaming at people (?) and she sounded horrible.

“Are you alright?” the volunteer asked, looking concerned, and Mickey croaked “My fucking voice!” and grabbed her throat.

“She’s very upset about this whole entrance and exit thing,” I explained to him.

His eyes widened. “I’m so sorry.”

The point of this anecdote being that Mickey is an authority defying hero, yes, but also that TCAF volunteers, though empathetic, have balls of solid rock.

The con came to an end and we went our different ways for dinner. I ended up with Robin, Farel and Brandon at a cozy little restaurant that was classy and tasty AND open 24-hours (this would never happen in Vancouver), next to a table full of people Brandon and Robin knew, who I would get to know later. They were friendly. Everyone was so friendly.

We showed up at Clinton’s for the after-party and who should be sitting in the front of the bar but Emily and Kate. The party was supposedly taking place in the back room, but I sat down next to Kate and ordered a cider (a good one, this time) and somehow or another we never got to the back room. Well, we ducked in once to reconnoiter but found it displeasing and returned to our table, which became the set of our late night chat show. We had a rotation of guests. In between guests, we nerded the fuck out.

You know when you talk to people you like, and you mention stuff you like, and they know what you’re talking about? And like, they like it too? And I’m not talking about puppies or anything general but the truest nerdiest parts of your innermost soul? Yes, we nerded out, and our guests kept coming and going and coming back, (we got really good ratings), and people kept abandoning the back room for the front, and I was like “I’ll go when you guys go” and Emily was all “we’ll go soon” and Kate said “we’re never going, are we?” and I was totally like “no we are not.”

It was awesome.

I ended up calling Robin in the middle of the night and waking him when he had to be up anyway in about two hours, and then I sat in the lobby of the Marriot for ages and read Johnny Wander volume one. Strangers – I think they were strangers? – kept talking to me about comics and despite being from Vancouver I talked back until Brandon and Farel finally showed up and Brandon and I cabbed back to the Holiday Inn and I passed out. Despite everything, I’d managed to remember to transfer my swag from the convention to the Marriot and back to the Holiday Inn in spare suitcase of Brandon’s. THEREBY SEALING MY FATE.

I only woke up when Brandon and Farel showed up with coffee the next morning. We had to check out and Marian was already out having breakfast. Her and Brandon are staying a few extra days in Toronto with friends, so they’d already moved their stuff to their new digs, including the suitcase full of swag. If I’d been awake I could have prevented this and be rolling in comics and mini-comics this very second, but I was dead on my feet. We headed to the Beguiling, the famous comic store I’ve been hearing about for literally a decade, (it lived up to the hype) and I scrambled to ensure the suitcase would reach me before I had to leave for the airport, yet it was not to be. My swag is still in Toronto, and won’t be back for two more days at least, and I am sad. But not that sad.

It was fun to take the subway to the airport with Farel and Greg, who publishes Papercutter, a damn fine comics anthology. I had no e-ticket or confirmation number, but I got on my flight anyway (it’s so weird to fly without a passport, since I almost never travel within Canada) and watched The King’s Speech. The anxious baby inside me was sleeping. The four or five actual babies on the plane were not. But no matter.

As the cab pulled up in front of my parents’ house, where I’d left my dog, I heard the Canucks beating Nashville on the radio. Did I care? I did. In any case, it felt right. Another triumph.

*Robin just informed me that “poppers” aren’t pills. They’re little bottles you break open and huff. My apologies to poppers.

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5 Responses to TCAFETERIA

  1. louis says:

    I was going to comment about the poppers thing.
    Now I don’t have anything left to say.

    That was a great tale. Is it just me, or did you actually not say much about the convention?

    • Claire says:

      Thanks. Yeah, I wrote this after reading a ton of stuff online about the actual convention, and most of the people who read my blog are already over-familiar with the wonders of TCAF (I hope?), so I went the gushy social diary route.

  2. Emily says:

    I was in this gigantic museum today, looking at the most amazing stuff, and got distracted thinking about how much I am looking forward to True Grit night. 😐 The snacks we will buy for it, Claire! THE SNACKS

  3. Mark B says:

    “A camp for creatively stunted and procrastinating children.” — I like this. Where would one sign up for this?

    Frank sounds like a badass M*fker

    Sounds like TCAF is quite the blast of comic-goodness, although its always the parties and people that make cons even greater. I’ve always heard so much about it, and I’ve always wanted to go, but work and money always prevents me from making it out east.

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