The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) is a celebration of comics and graphic novels and their creators, which culminates in a two-day exhibition on 11 to 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 include Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Shintaro Kago, Inio Asano, Natsume Ono, Gengoroh Tagame, Aya Kanno, Konami Kanata, Moyoco Anno, Usamaru Furuya, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Akira Himekawa.
Small Press Publications: Indie & Alternative Manga
Besides the fabulous appearances by Junji Ito and Hiromi Takashima, TCAF also welcomed Japanese bookstores Taco Ché and Books & Gallery Popotame who specialize in alternative, independent comics, illustrations, and graphic novels. Popotame promoted the first volume of their English translated edition of Popocomi – a manga and art anthology collecting the works of various creators. Their work is representative of amateur and professional manga artists with an artistic and experimental merit.
Cover of the English edition of Popocomi drawn by Maiko Dake
Five artists from the collection made the trip to TCAF to promote the new volume, sell various materials, and meet with new readers. Among them was Maiko Dake (the cover artist of the first English edition of Popocomi) who made her professional debut in 2015 with On Ordinary Nights, published by Shodensha.
Independent Japanese Comics Discussion
Ayumi Nakayama (Taco Ché) and Eriko Obayashi (Books & Gallery Popotame) spoke to interviewer Deb Aoki about the state of independent and alternative manga in Japan and the role their stores play in that respect. Nakayama said that indie artists come to her store to sell their comics directly, which often feature experimental and artistic themes. However, she worried that such works have lost their uniqueness because of mainstream manga borrowing similar styles and blurring categories. She also noted that the difference between manga and Western comics is that the former depends on strong readership and sales as opposed to Western comics which are open to experiment and weirdness. Nevertheless, she was impressed by the diversity of manga and how competitive and innovative it can be.
Obayashi added her own perspective on the matter. Her store started out as a gathering of people who made mini comics and they based the likeness of their mascot off of some children’s characters. Aside from selling books with artistic merit, they also showcased handcrafted goods and crafts made by their artists. Obayashi later took the initiative to translate parts of the fifth volume of the Japanese Popocomi into English, even though she had no editorial experience. She felt it was important for the works of designers and amateur artists she knew to have their works reach a new audience. Thus, this led eventually to the creation of the first English volume of Popocomi.
Five volumes of the Japanese editions of Popocomi
It was intriguing to hear about the alternative manga scene from Nakayama and Obayashi. They work so hard to promote the many amazing, talented artists working outside the fringes of mainstream manga. If you want to pay any of these stores a visit, you can find Taco Ché tucked away in Tokyo’s Nakano Broadway and Books & Gallery Popotame in the Ikebukuro district of Toshima ward. You can also follow the contributors for Popocomi below:
Special thanks to TCAF and The Japan Foundation for organizing this event.