The Toronto Reference Library played host to sequential art stars foreign and domestic this weekend, with the fourth installment of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Aiming to promote “the literary and artistic merits of comic books and graphic novels,” the previously annual festival is now held every two years. Organizers expected this year to at least match the numbers of the 250 artists and 6,000 visitors who attended 2007’s TCAF, held at Victoria College.

As a prelude to the following weekend’s events, May 2 was Free Comic Book Day. Comic shops across the city, including The Beguiling, co-presenter of many TCAF events, offered select comics—including a compilation by TCAF artists featuring local talents Kate Beaton, Kean Soo, Ryan North, and Willow Dawson—for free.

Comic artist and turntablist Kid Koala kicked off the festival with a dance party at Lee’s Palace on Thursday. The following day, Harbourfront saw an exhibit of comic arts tools and installations, as well as a discussion with artists Seth, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Adrian Tomine, all of Montreal comics mag Drawn & Quarterly fame, on how each artist goes about creating cartoons.

The main event, however, was the weekend’s happenings at the Toronto Reference Library–among them, Jason Thompson, author of Manga: The Complete Guide, presenting on the history of Japanese comics in North America. The roster also featured Emmanuel Guibert, TCAF’sA French guest of honour, discussing his graphic novel The Photographer. Guibert’s harrowing story centres on the work of photojournalist Didier Lefevre, who covered a Doctors Without Borders mission to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

An off-site event called “Comic Books Are Totally Gay!” featured conversations with queer comic artists on everything from Batman and Robin to Alison Bechdel’s classic strip Dykes To Watch Out For. Rounding out the festival were seminars on how to get involved in the industry, from a panel discussion on going to school for comic arts to a DIY comics workshop by Willow Dawson.

Overall, the event proved that the wide world of comics isn’t just about saving the world in tight spandex. Then again, that stuff’s pretty important, too.

The Varsity caught up with guest of the fest and local funnyman Ryan North, creator of Dinosaur Comics and author of Dinosaur Comics: Your Whole Family Is Made Out Of Meat.

The Varsity: How did you get started creating comics?

Ryan North: My comic started in my last year of undergrad, where we got this class assignment to do something interesting with the Internet…I’d recently wanted to do this comic, but I can’t really draw at all. I had this idea for a comic where it was always the same story and was told with different pictures all the time. Then, [I realized] that’s the exact wrong comic for me to be doing, so I sort of flipped it around:“What if it was the same pictures and I just change the words?” That’s where the comic comes from.

TV: What was it about dinosaurs?

RN: [laughs] I wish I had a better answer for that. When I started the comic I had no art [computer] programs at all, except for this very old program called Warbird that had all this clip art of WWII planes, and also some dinosaur clip art. It had dinosaur parts like a dinosaur lower jaw, a T-Rex upper jaw, arms, legs, bodies…and the dinosaurs had facial expressions, so I went with them. Yeah, I always feel bad because people are like, “Wow, so you don’t draw it, and you use clip art.” But it shows that you don’t need to draw to do a comic!

TV: Were you inspired by other comics that use repeated imagery, such as David Lynch’s Angriest Dog in the World?

RN: No, I didn’t know about any of that, I thought I was being super original. [laughs] But then a year in, I found the comic, and it was funny because I’d seen only one Angriest Dog In The World comic before—and they’re all kind of the same structure, right? There’s a very angry dog and there’s a one liner in the last panel…I actually worked it into the comic when I discovered it. There’s an early comic where T-Rex adopted the Angriest Dog in the World as his pet, so I sort of capture all of his continuity and folded it all in to my own comic, without even talking to David Lynch. I just assumed it was fine.

TV: Had you done humour projects before Dinosaur Comics?

RN: In university, in undergraduate, I used to have this website where I just posted robot erotica. [laughs] I found [a picture] of these guys in robot suits holding hands, [and] I made this page saying, “This is robot porn. Here, you can come look at it and it’s very erotic.” I was making it up thinking that there wasn’t, there could be no such thing as a robot fetish,which shows how naïve I was at the time. I remember the day I [found] there was an actual robot fetish.

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