The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) is a celebration of comics, graphic novels, and their creators, that culminates in a two-day exhibition on 11 & 12 May and features a special vendor fair highlighting hundreds of comics creators from around the world.
Taking place at the Toronto Reference Library in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the festival events include readings, interviews, panels, workshops, gallery shows, art installations, and so much more. Past manga artists who have visited are Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shintaro Kago, Inio Asano, Natsume Ono, Gengoroh Tagame, Aya Kanno, Konami Kanata, Moyoco Anno, Usamaru Furuya, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Akira Himekawa.
2019 was an important year in the festival’s history as it had a particular focus on Japanese manga. Two very prominent manga artists, along with a small collective of Japanese amateur artists, joined the event to promote their works. One of them is acclaimed horror manga artist Junji Ito, who was featured in a special Q&A panel and live drawing. He also held autograph signing sessions to promote Smashed – a new collection of horror short stories in collaboration with Viz Media and Shogakukan.
Q&A Panel with Junji Ito
TCAF festivities officially kicked off on 10 May when Junji Ito was introduced by co-founder Christopher Butcher to a packed audience. He was joined by interviewer Ryan Sands and translator Jocelyne Allen. As he made his way onto the stage, a fan near the front row handed him a special souvenir resembling a scene from Ito’s manga The Enigma of Amigara Fault. People listened intently to their conversation, which ranged in topics from his career beginnings and artistic style to his personal fears and family life.
Ito went on to discuss his origins and his difficulty to balance his work as a dental technician and a manga artist, with the latter being done as a side hobby. One of the artists he most admires is Kazuo Umezu, whose horror and gag manga have a great influence on his works. With the encouragement of friends and family, he dedicated himself to producing manga full time. His advice to young creators, above all else, was to get some sleep. Ito also talked about the length of his manga stories, saying how he prefers making short stories over longer ones because he wouldn’t have felt more anxious doing the next project. To mix up his horror stories with comedic elements, he keeps a notebook of scary and funny ideas or gags so he can use them later.
The conversation eventually turned to a discussion of the failed Silent Hill video game. Ito remembered being introduced to Guillermo Del Toro by his mutual friend, Hideo Kojima, and the three had a meeting with other Konami staff about the project. Had he been given the opportunity to work on the game, Ito said he would have taken it to a weird place. Since the project fell apart, no sketches or material were ever created, but Ito still kept in touch with Kojima and Del Toro.
Before the interview wrapped up, Ito was asked about his family life and whether it has affected his manga style. He admits that having a family has changed him personally, but his work always stays constant. His kids also casually read some of his manga at home, but he makes sure to hide the ones with sex scenes in them. When asked if he himself was afraid of anything, he muttered in a very low voice: ‘my wife’.
The next day, Ito participated in a special live drawing to an eager crowd at a sold-out venue. As he appeared to draw a character from his manga Tomie, he answered more questions from the audience that were asked via Twitter. On whether he would like to meet a girl like Tomie in real life, Ito replied that he only likes meeting nice girls. He also felt responsible for inspiring people to tattoo art inspired by his works on their bodies.
When asked what is one of his more favorite works, he said he liked doing the spirals in Uzumaki, but Amigara Fault was definitely his favorite to work on. He didn’t consider his stories to be scary; strange tales mean to intrigue. After the event ended, Chris Butcher was handed Ito’s rough sketch and fans clamored towards the stage to get a picture of the masterpiece.
Hearing Junji Ito at TCAF was a great experience and to have him make his North American debut in Toronto was a great honor. Fans can catch him at Crunchyroll Expo later this year if you missed him at TCAF.