(Leon Avelino behind the Secret Acres table at TCAF, photo courtesy Mike Dawson)
TCAF was excellent. My second trip to the show was even better than the first. It's quickly moving into a tie with SPX as my favorite comics show for a variety of reasons. The diversity of people showing there, the diversity of the people shopping there, the beautiful venue, the organization of the show, the responsiveness and general awesomeness of the volunteers, the easy vibe of Toronto in Spring, and of course it's the homeland of the generous and wonderful publisher Annie Koyama. The show has tons going for it. The stark contrast between everything TCAF is and everything MoCCA isn't probably added to that feeling. I could get into that in more detail, but I'm sure others will carry that flag and trying to help MoCCA pay attention to what other shows do better seems pretty futile at this point. They're doing great if you ask them. Okay.
What Leon (one of the publishers of Secret Acres) and I came back to a few times was that variety of both exhibitors and visitors at TCAF. We could not pin down any kind of demographic of people buying things - there was a mix of seeming first-timers, comic show vets, artists and all sorts of in-betweens. This of course happens at some other shows, but it seemed especially pronounced at TCAF. I mentioned this and it led Leon to bring up Nintendo's strategy behind the Wii - they said they weren't going to get into the whole video game battlefield with PS3 and XBox because the water was too bloodied and they'd head for blue ocean. The Wii was meant to be a gaming system for a new kind of customer. Don't tread the same water that's been tread and bloodied before, don't fight for the same dollar, etc - look for new water, aka open blue ocean, and new fans/customers. (This is apparently a whole big thing.) I don't think Leon meant to imply any intention of leaving current comics fans behind or anything, but the idea was to do different stuff and present it in a way that can stretch the expectations of current fans and, importantly, attract new fans. TCAF is the kind of show that perfectly sets up publishers and artists to do that - it supports that experience and experimentation by the customer in every way possible. There's no cover charge - you can wander in and browse! It's in a beautiful library - not some dank and/or scary outpost! Etc... I could go on and on, but everyone who knows TCAF knows it is great.
But I've been thinking about this whole Blue Ocean idea ever since our car ride back and I think that while it's a great publishing model, it's also something I love about comics in general. The potential to head for blue ocean in this medium is so big. The potential to do stories that have never been done before in ways that have never been seen or done is massive. There are so many cartoonists already doing this - already heading out to blue ocean at breakneck speed. And it's inspiring as shit. I could name names, but I don't want to miss anyone. So many of my friends and the cartoonists I admire do this on a regular basis.
While it's impossible not to feel run down by the Jack Kirby story, the Gary Friedrich story, Before Watchmen and all the bloody crap from the shitty history (and present!) of the superhero comics industry, it's hard to stay down on the potential of the medium of comics to head for uncharted territory. And it's hard not to get excited about stretching the expectations of people who already read comics and reaching new people who don't normally read comics. Blue Ocean.
Of course, this all felt like a major epiphany for the past few days and then I realized it's essentially the message of Hicksville (one of my favorite comics of all-time) all over again. But that's okay, Mr. Horrocks knew what he was talking about. It takes something like visiting TCAF to crystalize these things sometimes.
And, yes, I'm still high from last weekend. Sorry. Thank you to everyone who made it great.