Eye on Comics hit the road Sunday and headed to the capital of the neighboring province for the debut of a new comics festival. Held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival — or DCAF for short — was the brainchild of comics retailer and 2012 Eisner Awards judge Calum Johnston.
“The opportunity was there,” Johnston said at the free show Sunday, noting his store, Strange Adventures, didn’t have any significant events in August. “We always wanted to put on something like this.”
Johnston, who’s no stranger to large comics conventions and smaller regional shows in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, said while he always enjoys comics conventions, many have opted to include media guests and other non-comics fare. Johnston said he wanted to see something staged locally that was dedicated solely to comics.
DCAF was held at Alderney Landing, a venue on the waterfront that’s normally a farmers’ market venue in the Dartmouth area of the Halifax Regional Municipality, and that fits in well with the atmosphere for which Johnston was striving.
“I do want us to be a craft fair for comics,” he said.
Johnston said DCAF came together quickly — in a matter of just three weeks — and one of the things that made it possible was the availability of talent in and around the Halifax region (and relatively short drives away). Among the artists in attendance Sunday were Steve (Nemesis, Civil War) McNiven, Faith Erin (Friends With Boys) Hicks, Nick (Wolverine & the X-Men) Bradshaw, Mike (Adventure Time) Holmes and Mark (Thieves & Kings) Oakley. Darwyn (The Score, Before Watchmen: Minutemen) Cooke was scheduled to attend but had to cancel the day of the event.
DCAF is the culmination of something Johnston has wanted to see in Halifax for a while, but as its name indicates, it was also inspired in part by the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). It’s specifically a celebration of comics — from those created by big super-hero comics publishers to graphic-novel publishers penetrating a more mainstream audience to mini-comics crafted by someone in his or her home.
One might think names such as McNiven and Bradshaw would be a big part of the draw for the small event, but Johnston said while they might be big names for fans of super-hero comics, he pointed to Hicks as probably the biggest star of the show. His feeling was borne out by the heavy traffic at her table throughout the day, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
“She hits the civilian audience,” he said, and he wanted DCAF to appeal to more than people who frequent comics shops. “I really want to appeal to both worlds.”
It appeared as though DCAF did exactly that. It was always busy, until about 4:30 p.m., and even a half hour before the event came to a close, there were still people milling about, checking out the many comics and illustrations on display at various vendors/artists’ tables.
“I would think it was a couple of thousand,” Johnston said of attendance. That was a conservative estimate, as far as Eye on Comics could see.
Hicks, who recently completed work on a new graphic novel due for release next spring, said she was excited to participate in DCAF.
“Cal had been talking about doing something for years … There was nothing that was comic-focused,” she said Sunday, noting she enjoyed the chance to see so many local cartoonists together under the same roof.
Hicks has done larger conventions as a professional — she’s headed to the Toronto Fan Expo this coming weekend — but she said something like DCAF appeals to her because of its smaller scale.
“Local cons are the best,” she said.
Halifax cartoonist (and full-time Strange Adventures employee) Kate Leth has had work published in Locke & Key and The Adventures of Luther Strode, and she was on hand selling prints and self-published, print collections of her online comic strips.
She said DCAF is the first local festival purely about comics and seems more like a small-press expo. She has work in upcoming Adventure Time comics from Boom! Studios. She landed the gig because she was friends with the editor on tumbler, and she’s hoping it’ll prove to be a launching pad for a career in comics.
DCAF was busy, she said, and she moved a lot of comics and prints.
“Yeah, I did really well… a lot of new people,” Leth said.
Johnston emphasized DCAF isn’t an event driven by or even specifically sponsored by his store. “It’s more my event than Strange Adventures’,” he said Sunday, noting he wanted to ensure other area retailers would want to be a part of DCAF as well.
He received a lot of positive feedback from the artists and vendors, and he’s pleased DCAF worked as an all-ages event. There were a lot of families passing by the tables, and Hicks in particular had a lot of visitors from pre-teen girls who are fans of her work.
He’s planning and hoping for growth for DCAF. It will be an annual event, probably in August again next year, and he’s hoping to be able to bring in comics talent from outside the region. While he absorbed the cost of the venue himself, he said, he intends to seek sponsors for DCAF next year. And his intent to maintain the free admission.
Another facet he’s considering is programming, he said, but he doesn’t want panels or other such aspects to detract from the comics-fair feel of the event. He wondered aloud what it might be like to hold some kind of a symposium following the comics market/expo next year instead of concurrently, as is often the case at most comics conventions.
“I really feel it’s got to be a free event,” he said. “We’re hoping this will be kind of a good gateway drug (for comics).”
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