Advice from TCAF Co-Founder Christopher Butcher
Merch Tips from My Favourite 2019 Exhibitors
There were hundreds of creators with thousands of books, apparel and posters for sale. We’re gonna highlight a few booths and share lessons for attracting audiences and sales to your table at TCAF and other events.
1. Give your screen printed t-shirts personality
I found the more an artist embraces their style, the better their custom printed t-shirts look. Shirts that are uniquely your style is way more interesting than making a fancy logo. Below are some of my favourite unique tees from artists at TCAF 2019:
Edi Jiménez brings unique art style into his merch, making these beautiful gradient tee shirts. It’s cool to see an artist’s style on paper, fabric and now skin with Edi’s tattoo work.
Sid Drmay had some of my favourite tees at the festival. I love the thin line work and touches of colour.
I finished printing the designs for the totes I’m making and I’m EXCITED now I’ve just gotta get them sewn up!! pic.twitter.com/30kaymlVvA
— sid drmay (@webspookie) April 6, 2019
Ginette Lapalme has this incredibly colourful style! The tie-dye / hand drawn tees are one of a kind making them extra special on the merch table.
Adrienne Kammerer’s art is a cross between anime, airbrush art and Renaissance paintings. Makes sense that Adrienne’s screen printed tee shirts and tote bags are perfectly weird.
Adam Eastburn had one of the most unique booth designs. His tees have that colourful sporty vibe that makes me happy to look at!
I also want to take a second to admire this year’s event shirt for TCAF. It was designed by legendary Canadian cartoonist Seth.
Putting all this extra effort into your t-shirt designs pays off. At the end of the event, some booths are completely sold out while others are packing up their extra stock. Who do you wanna be??
2. Print a banner = get noticed
I noticed the most popular booths at TCAF 2019 had the best signs, not sure the cause and effect there. These signs are tasteful and attractive but bold! Check out these retractable banners and printed table cloths.
Conundrum Press had this great vertical banner which can retract down to a tiny size. I love their diving man logo!
Banners aren’t just for companies! Artist Max Bare looked professional with this vertical banner. These tall, thin banners fit at any trade show booth and they’re light to carry around. Artists with the booths were able to attract more passing traffic (the window shoppers.)
Seneca College had a big ol’ table right at the entrance of TCAF. The giant red table cloth told people right away that SENECA COLLEGE IS HERE! I like that Seneca brought a full table of student-made graphic novels. Showing up at a community event like this told the comics world that Seneca College is a place to go to pursue this career path. Good on them!
3. Metal lapel pins are wildly popular
After t-shirts and tote bags, I saw custom lapel pins all over the fair. Nice thing about selling enamel pins is their small and pretty affordable, making them easy and profitable to fit onto your table.
Alicia Nauta makes some cool stuff. I already showed off the June Records tote bags in last week’s post about Record Store Day and now Alicia is back at it with books, lapel pins and a deck of cards. These black and white pins are hard enamel (I think) which looks clean and crisp.
I can’t find the name of this artist! But their pins were based on tarot cards and can be combined into geometric shapes. This display caught a lot of attention, if you know the creator post a comment below, please!
Read More Comix is a group of artists making old-school inspired comic books together. I loved flipping through the pages and their lapel pins were clever tie-ins with characters and art from their books (like Brick!)
4. Tote bags are the best
Comic publishers were most likely to make custom tote bags. Next to tees, totes are my favourite piece of merch at TCAF and most events, I think company logos look really classy on a natural cotton tote.
Seattle publisher Fantagraphics made this awesome linework tote bag.
Comics artist Lucie Byron @heyluchie made these wholesome illustrated totes 🙂 Check out that Instagram!
I’m a fan of the Endless Edition tote bags by @africa_bytoto. It’s great to see indie publishers selling merch like this, I find smaller publishing houses have more freedom to get creative so they make weirder merch that more people love and less people like.
5. Embroidered patches look so good :’)
If you’re looking for simple merch to sell at your booth, custom embroidered patches are perfect. They’re small and look beautiful with hand drawn art and patches are perfect for backpacks and jackets.
@KunySack had these great patches at TCAF 2019, he even braided the lucky bald man ponytails live!
I love this peaceful pup patch by Grace Helmer. She said she saw the dog basking in sunlight at a park and had to make a patch of her and I couldn’t agree more. Check out the lovely animated art on Grace’s site.
6. More creative merch ideas for TCAF
A.T.Pratt had some of the most unique art at TCAF, makes sense that his merch was unique too. Pratt went with custom printed socks of his characters, I recommend checking out (and buying) his work online.
Custom printed stickers are one of the cheapest products you can buy to sell or give away at TCAF and other events. I actually bought this Live Slow Die Old sticker but can’t remember who made it!
Final tips for designing merch for TCAF
If you’re planning on selling your comics at TCAF 2020 (or any other festival,) throw some fun merch on the table. Making t-shirts, pins, tote bags and signs is just the beginning. You can make all kinds of things from mugs to hats.
Just make merch that matches your style and people will buy it! I know that because I left TCAF 2019 with a backpack full of art and merchandise.
Thanks to Christopher Butcher for the generous interview and The Beguiling for making Toronto a central hub for the world’s indie comics. Also the Toronto Library who have helped TCAF grow to swallow the whole Reference Library and surrounding buildings! In this article I didn’t even mention the indie game festival that happens at TCAF or all the artist talks, workshops and kids areas! It’s truly a world class event.
And thank you to all the artists who were featured in this post. Your work is an inspiration!
Find more information about joining TCAF or attending the festival at their FAQ page.