The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
DIY Publishing, Toronto Style
By Mari Pack
This past weekend's Canzine was the type of D.I.Y. festival that really thrives in a place like Toronto, where everybody has a graduate degree, no job and some sort of creative side-project. Tickets cost a totally reasonable $5, and included a free copy of Broken Pencil Magazine as well as access to special events, art rooms and vendors. Plus, you could buy beer and veggie burgers in the back. If you can't have fun at a place like that, then I can't help you.
Canzine is like the shy, younger sister of Toronto arts festivals (the one who grows up to run her own badass publishing house). Canadians usually live up to their stereotype of being a warm, friendly group, and any event that combines fandom and comics with books and writing is probably going to be a pretty OK way to spend an afternoon. So while it doesn't have the star power of Comic Con or the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, it's a bit like hanging out in an adorable, high-energy coffee shop.
The festival hosts three rooms for vendors to sell their zines, comics, arts and crafts. I like to spread my money around at these events, so I usually don't spend more than $5 on one item. This proved especially difficult when I hit the fandom tables, where I was very tempted to purchase a $15 portrait of Mass Effect's Garrus Vakarian painted in tea (tea!). All told, I came away with nine 'zines and comics for just under $40.
Three of my favorites include a fairy tale of sorts, Everything all at Once and boys & girls & dykes & me.
Jennifer Barrett's a fairly tale of sorts is a comic based on her web series. It stars an unnamed female protagonist whose magical guide (a gnome named Gnome Chumsky) charges her with a quest to rescue a prince from a castle. Unfortunately, she has to travel through a labyrinth to get there. On her acknowledgements page, Barrett personally thanks podcasting and fantasy films from the '80's for inspiration.
I found the author of Everything all at Once in a back corner of the upstairs room. It's a shame that her table was so difficult to access, because her zine of poetry is really lovely. Identified only by her wordpress (laurrojas.wordpress.com), she writes about space, transience, and love.
You can probably guess the content of boys & girls & dykes & me. While the coming out narrative is a well worn zine genre, Erica Lenti channels the right amounts self-awareness and angst in her collection of prose poems. She creates a narrative arc that explores queerness, bullying, first love, relationships and mental health.
I also attended two special events: 1-2 Punch Book Pitch! and Everybody Moon Jump.
Now, I've been to a few live book pitches in my day. I usually find them sort of awkward and anxious. It's nobody's fault. First-time authors never know how to market themselves or their work, and you can usually pinpoint the exact moment when all hope drains out of the judges' faces. But I was impressed both with the quality of the pitches and with the judges themselves. Sandra Kasturi, Joey Comeau and Hal Niedzviecki were upfront, honest and sarcastic, but never sharp or mean.
The pitches ranged from graphic novels about murderous teddy bears and dystopian dogs in armor to Scandinavian folk-fantasy and medieval erotica. There was also a guy who described his project as "experimental," which is apparently code in the publishing business for unmarketable. Niedzviecki candidly advised him to "never use that word again in your life." Other tips for pitches included: always bring art if you're pitching a graphic novel; if you read an excerpt, include action; your synopsis is a plot summary, not a movie trailer.
Ultimately, the dystopian dog graphic novel went away with the prize: a bag of books and goodies. No book deal, but Kasturi said she might be interested in seeing the finished project.
Afterwards, we were shuffled out of the room to make space for Everybody Moon Jump, a Mental Health Comedy Zine Musical. When I returned 15 minutes later, the whole back wall had been covered with plastic trash bags and spiral notebook pages with drawings of suns, moons and stars. We learned later that the set was meant to resemble Dance Cave, a Toronto night-club that plays top 40 hits from five years ago. (Full disclosure: I un-ironically love the Dance Cave, so I was sold by Act One.)
In fact, Dance Cave turned out to be the perfect backdrop for a musical that chronicles the rise and fall of a "turbo slut." Based on a series of 'zines that Dave Cave wrote in his late teens and early '20's, the musical addresses mental health, small town living, hospitalization, going to the gym and promiscuity. The writing strikes the perfect balance between candid and facetious, and Cave is high energy and genuinely hilarious. In a Q & A following his one-man performance, an audience member asked Cave why he chose to transform his zine into a musical. "Well," he said "all of my friends were writing novels, and that's not really my thing." He went on to elaborate that 'zines have transformative power, and he wanted to illustrate how a 'zine could evolve into something else.
All told, I spent $45 dollars and four hours at Canzine, but you could easily spend $15 and have a really awesome time. If you're in Toronto this time next year, definitely check it out.