Saturday, July 28, 2012

Toronto Photo Blog (Phlog?)

Karen and I made it home from Toronto last night, capping our visit with a four-hour-delayed flight we were lucky to get on at all. Oh, Air Canada. The trip, and the Third International Comics & Medicine Conference that was my excuse for the trip, were otherwise spectacular.

If I start writing about it, I'll never stop. Nobody wants that. Instead, I'll post and annotate some photos that capture my time in Ontario. Many of the pictures below were taken by Karen. Huge thanks to all who attended and participated. Everyone I've heard from agrees it was a very successful event!

The conference was held in the Health Sciences Building of the University of Toronto (beautiful campus). We had several rooms on the first and sixth floors at our disposal, including a large auditorium and lobby on the sixth.

At our opening reception Sunday night with one of our keynote speakers, Joyce Brabner, co-author of Our Cancer Year and widow of writer Harvey Pekar. Behind Joyce is our other keynote speaker, Joyce Farmer, creator of the graphic novel Special Exits. This was the Year of the Joyces.

Still at the opening night reception. Against the back wall, we displayed copies of a couple dozen pages of comic art done by our conference participants. Turnout exceeded our expectations. The London 2010 conference drew about 75 people, Chicago 2011 drew about 90, and before the Toronto conference we expected maybe 110, optimistically. So I was happy and a bit dismayed to learn that late registrations boosted us to somewhere around 140. Sounds like Momentum.

Conference t-shirts for sale at the registration desk, featuring this year's logo by Thom Ferrier, the nom de comics of conference co-organizer Ian Williams. Ian is the physician-cartoonist who spearheaded the first event in London. I packed light because I knew this shirt would be waiting, and counted on wearing it the next two days. I did.

Conference registration at the reception. Co-organizer Shelley Wall, who was on the ground in Toronto and did all the legwork pulling the conference together, assembled the best team of volunteers I've ever seen. They were all (I think) grad students who'd actually studied the subject--I had a couple of them talk to me about Mom's Cancer--and staffed every room for every talk, making sure speakers had water, the AV worked, and anything that needed distributing got distributed. They were great. In the background it looks like I just introduced Joyce Brabner to co-organizer Michael Green.

 I don't think we'd ever throw a conference without Paul Gravett, the British dean of comics criticism and scholarship. Paul gave opening talks in both London and Chicago, and did the same for us again in Toronto. Remarkably, it's always a different talk. Paul has written and edited many books, the latest of which is 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die. When I demanded to know why I didn't make the cut, Paul assured me I was #1002. I believe him.

The Toronto comic book store The Beguiling set up a table at the conference to sell books by conferees as well as others related to the topic. Owner Peter Birkemoe also hosted a special public event on Monday night after the first day of the conference. More on that later!

Two excellent books for sale at the Beguiling table. I'm not necessarily referring to mine. However, both my books did sell out at both the conference table and the Beguiling shop itself, so I was very pleased.

Monday morning. We provided conferees with a little breakfast snack on the sixth floor at 8 a.m., with panels and such beginning at 8:30. Security for the Health Sciences Building was computerized so that the elevators didn't operate before 8:00 unless you had the proper card, which none of us did. So I very much enjoyed watching my co-organizers MK Czerwiec and Ian Williams step into a lift at 7:58 a.m. knowing it would take them all the way to the top of the building and then straight back down again without stopping, and I had the camera ready when they stepped out. MK knew what I was up to; I think Ian was just befuddled.

After a full Monday of panels and such, we retired to the Beguiling and The Central restaurant/bar next door, which Beguiling owner Peter Birkemoe had arranged for us to take over for a special open-to-the-public interview of Joyce and Joyce by Paul.

Unfortunately, as the time for the interview neared, Paul was nowhere to be found. This photo shows me, Peter, Ian, and Joyce Farmer desperately formulating a back-up plan in which I would interview the Joyces, or Ian would interview me plus the Joyces, or goodness knows what else. Luckily, disaster was averted (truly!) because Paul swept into the room and set the world aright again. I treated Ms. Farmer to the carrot cake and coffee she's enjoying, and she and I had quite a while to chat before the event. She is absolutely terrific.

Paul doing his usual elegant job interviewing Joyce and Joyce, plucking obscure publications and references from his encyclopedic brain. No notes. Amazing. It was a good conversation, with one of the most powerful moments coming when Ms. Farmer said that she'd had a mastectomy and opened her jacket (not her blouse) to reveal her contours and punctuate the point. A lighter moment came when Ms. Farmer mentioned visiting Oxford, Mississippi. Paul interrupted in his velvet, plummy, Alistair Cooke accent: "There's an Oxford in Mississippi?!"

Tuesday morning at my workshop, titled "Cartooning Fundamentals: Mastery of Time and Space." Although I moderated some panels and kept busy, this was my big responsibility for the conference. It seemed to me that an academic event devoted to high-falutin' analysis and discussion of comics should actually dedicate some time to making them. The idea was that in 90 minutes I'd give participants some insights into how comics work and the confidence to create their own comics and help others create theirs. The workshop culminated in participants drawing a comic, which they shared with the group (via the camera in my laptop hooked up to the video projector) and I gently critiqued. I'd made up 30 packets and distributed them all, so a full house. I'd judge it a complete success, not because I think I'm such a great teacher, but because the participants--many of whom didn't consider themselves artists--came up with some really great, funny, touching comic stories. They were good sports and I couldn't have been happier with how the workshop went.

We ended the conference Tuesday with a post-mortem where conferees were invited to share what they thought worked, didn't work, and might work better in the future. This is at the start; we were soon joined by Joyce and Joyce, who offered advice of their own. We got some good ideas. The main criticism, as it had been in Chicago: too much good stuff going on at the same time to see it all. From left to right are organizers Michael Green, Susan Squier, Shelley Wall, Ian Williams, me, and MK Czerwiec.
First thing Wednesday morning, the organizers met at Toronto's Centre for Social Innovation to participate in a group interview by journalist Desmond Cole, who attended the entire conference and really seemed excited by the subject. I'll let you know what comes of it; meanwhile, here's an article Desmond wrote about one of our conference speakers. He also loaned us a room where we did some more post-conference analysis and began making plans for the next one (if you're affiliated with a university or similar community institution and want to do a ton of work for no pay, let me know!).

Also, after seeing this photo from Michael on Facebook, it occurred to me that we came this close to accidentally arranging ourselves in order of height. This is the only black mark on Shelley's otherwise exemplary performance during the conference.

After that, Karen and I played tourist. Toronto is a thoroughly walkable city, and we logged many miles/km seeing the sights. This was a good one. The building at right is the Ontario College of Art and Design, held aloft by angled columns painted and tapered to look like colored pencils. The building at left with the orange awning is the Underground, one of the best art supply stores I've ever been in.

Wednesday night was Laydeez Do Comics, which requires some explanation. Laydeez began in 2009 when Nicola Streeten and Sarah Lightman gathered a group of women in the UK to talk about the comics they made. Laydeez quickly grew as a creative forum, social group, and salon that welcomed comics creators (both women and men) to take part and tell their stories. Laydeez have also expanded geographically, from London to Brighton to San Francisco to Toronto, and their meeting Wednesday night was set to coincide with the Comics & Medicine Conference, at which both Nicola and Sarah spoke. And that's where I got together with cartoonist Mike Cope, cartoonist Sandra Bell-Lundy (creator of the syndicated comic strip "Between Friends" and one of the speakers that night), cartoonist/illustrator/author Patricia Storms, and cartoonist Jonathan Mahood (whose comic strip "Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog" is a charmer). All were Internet pals I'd never met in person before arriving in Toronto. Mike Cope had to introduce himself because I had no idea what he looked like. Patricia and I go way back; she was one of the first pros to reach out to me at the start of Mom's Cancer and was thanked for it in the book's acknowledgments. This was a special treat.

And now for something completely different: a selected gallery (this isn't all of them!) of pictures I took of Karen and me by holding the camera at arm's length with my left hand:

On the campus of the University of Toronto.

On the Observation Deck of the CN Tower 346 m (1136 feet, approximately 113 stories) above Toronto. A friend from Toronto rolled her eyes when I said we'd been to the tower. "But it's so touristy!" she complained. I long ago got over any embarrassment about being a tourist. That's what I am, why pretend I'm too cool not to be? The tower was worth the visit.

Thursday, getting ready to board the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls, which is behind us. We rode the train down from Toronto, which took about two hours and we hoped might be scenic. It wasn't. That's all right; the falls more than compensated.

And later, from an overlook above Niagara's American Falls (left) and Horseshoe Falls (right). Niagara Falls was also very touristy and very, very worth the visit. It's been impossible to visit it in a pristine natural state for more than a century. I say embrace the kitsch for what it is and let the power of the falls speak for itself. It's pretty loud.

Thanks again to the conference participants, the organizers, the volunteers, the Laydeez, and the kind people of Ontario (excepting a few at Air Canada). Nice country you've got there.

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