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Lit Mod and Comics in Japan

December 11, 2018

At the end of November, I embarked on my first trip to Japan. I travelled with the folks behind the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, Canada’s longest-running and largest independent comic arts festival, taking place each year at Toronto’s own Reference Library. This local event brings in people from around the world annually, but each year, TCAF itself takes off on its own to Tokyo, bringing with it that same level of festival excitement and excellence in Canadian comic art.

TCAF partners with international comics festivals each year in order to promote and discuss developments in the Canadian comic arts. This year was their biggest yet, as they partnered with the Quebec BD (an organization that started in 1988 with the intent to implement events related to the promotion of la bande dessinée, or French comics) and brought over seventeen Canadian comic artists to Tokyo for a series of events over the course of several weeks. Artists included Johnnie Christmas, artist for Margaret Atwood’s graphic novel series Angel Catbird; Brenden Fletcher, writer of Image Comics’ series Motor Crush and Isola; and Renee Nault, illustrator for the upcoming The Handmaid’s Tale graphic novel, among others.

Though my position was mostly behind the scenes, working alongside the staff of Toronto’s comic-focused bookstores The Beguiling and Page & Panel, I found myself reminded why I became interested in this industry in the first place: for the passion of the people involved. This was palpable at the first of my two big events, The Kaigai Manga Festival, taking place at the massive harbourside convention centre known as Tokyo Big Sight. A large portion of space was allotted for international comic artists, including, of course, Canada’s own. Being able to engage with avid fans of the comic arts in what little Japanese I had readily available was amazing; even these brief conversations reminded me of how far Canada’s talented reach can go.

TCAF also holds a day dedicated to the discussion of Canadian comic art at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. A beautiful and formal building, complete with works of contemporary Canadian art and a zen garden working in tandem, the embassy was an amazing space to be in. I had the pleasure of helping to frame and arrange original artwork from past TCAF contributors, like Darwyn Cooke, James Jean, Fiona Smyth, and Gengoroh Tagame. Knowing that the art I was holding and displaying was original and from such comic-art powerhouses was, frankly, a little overwhelming when combined with the energy of the building, and the experience was one I won’t soon forget.

- By Terrence Abrahams