Comic creators from as far away as Mexico, Singapore and New Zealand are descending on Vancouver this weekend for the seventh annual Comic Arts Festival―better known as VanCAF.
The two-day event features artists both local and international, with a strong emphasis on supporting Vancouver talent and independent creators. Of over 300 artists exhibiting, about half live in the Lower Mainland.
Some artists are heading over fresh from TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival), which ran last weekend. VanCAF and TCAF became officially affiliated in 2016.
“I think this year’s really unique,” says Robin McConnell, president of the Vancouver Comic Arts Association that runs the fest, speaking to the Straight by phone.
He was most excited by some of the big-name artists appearing this year, including horror comics author Emily Carroll (His Face All Red, Through the Woods), French comics writer Lewis Trondheim (The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), and Eisner award-winning graphic novelist Craig Thompson (Blankets, Space Dumplins).
“Thompson is one of those names that people know, and this is his first time visiting Vancouver for a comics festival or any kind of signing, so that’s going to be quite a big deal,” McConnell says.
Two big events at the Vancouver Public Library (350 West Georgia Street) kick off the programming on Friday evening. French comic writers Lewis Trondheim and Brigette Findakly (co-creators of Poppies of Iraq) and Yvan Alagbé (Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures) are presenting a francophone event discussing their art at 6 p.m. in the Alma VanDusen room. That’s followed by a conversation between Emily Carroll and comics creator Johnnie Christmas (Firebug, co-creator of Angel Catbird with Margaret Atwood) at 7 p.m. in the Alice MacKay room.
That second event―along with all the panels and performances over the weekend―will have ASL interpretation. The interpreters are a first for VanCAF.
“There’s always different ways to find space to be accessible to folks and there’s always ways to improve,” McConnell says.
Other new features this year include partnerships with different organizations around the city. The VPL is hosting events, Pulpfiction Books is providing a signing space for more high-profile creators like Katherine Collins (Neil the Horse) and Tony Cliff (Delilah Dirk series), and Lucky’s Comics (2972 Main Street) is curating Lucky’s Lounge, a hall to showcase artists experimenting with multidisciplinary approaches to comics. Among them are local artists like Hayley Dawn Muir and Reb Erlik and small-press publishers like Perro Verlag and Cold Cube Press.
“There are so many different types of folks making different types of comics, [we want] to provide different spaces and different avenues for folks to be able to pursue their personal work and have space to share that,” McConnell said.
Besides exhibitors, the festival has panels and workshops focussing on such diverse topics as non-binary representation in comics, 21st-century horror, and balancing art with your day job.
The weekend will also include comics readings and performances, as well as moderated conversations with some of the event’s more famous faces.
For younger guests, the Kids’ Comics Lessons aim to inspire children and teens to create their own comics, with help from a rotating cast of artists.
“We have a really robust kids’ room, with a lot of activities each day for kids to drop in and take part in, without any strict kind of regimented thing,” said McConnell.
More than 10,000 guests attended VanCAF last year, and McConnell hopes even more people will come this year. However for him, growth means more than just bigger audiences.
“It is a pretty great thing that we have already,” he said. “Part of it’s also capacity…. It's finding the way to work with those community partners through the [whole] year.”
VanCAF runs Friday and Saturday (May 19 and 20) at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.