How to sell your art and merchandise at TCAF | From Comic Books to T-Shirts and Lapel Pins

Toronto Comic Arts Festival TCAF 2019
The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) has become an incredible event drawing artists and crowds from across North America. Every May artists, publishers and writers come to Toronto to show off their latest work, take workshops and sell merchandise. Many thousands of visitors come to the free event to buy some sweet new comics, prints, t-shirts and lapel pins. In this article we’ll explore how to sell your art and merch at TCAF 2020!
Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2019

TCAF Co-Founder Christopher ButcherAdvice from TCAF Co-Founder Christopher Butcher

In 2002, Christopher noticed that Toronto didn’t have an independent comic festival. He nagged his friend Peter Birkemoe (owner of The Beguiling comic shop) and together they co-founded the TCAF. The goal is to make the festival open to independent creators. Read the TCAF story in this article.
We spoke to Christopher seeking advice for future exhibitors.

&ndsp

Artik: This year I met artists from around the world who came to Toronto to table at TCAF. What is unique about this festival that draws a crowd?
Christopher Butcher: I think the reason we get lots of folks from around the world is twofold: We try to make it as easy as possible for international creators by offering shipping options, currency conversion, and a few other perks that make the stress of travelling a little easier, and also we actively pursue participants from across Canada and the world, letting people know they’re welcome.
Nice! Where can people go to register for a table in 2020?
Registration for TCAF 2020, taking Place May 9 and 10 2020, will open on August 1, 2019, at torontocomics.com.
What advice do you have for an exhibitor looking to make sales and get recognition?
I think if you want to ‘guarantee’ a strong turnout for your work at a show, building an audience and mobilizing them for your appearances in different cities is key. But ultimately, I think recognition begins with the quality of your work–don’t put the cart (audience) before the horse (the comics) in that regard, y’know? Practice, hone your craft, make great comics.
What are the limitations for participants decorating their tables?
We don’t have hard rules, but we ask our exhibitors to be courteous and even caring to their neighbours, and to the public. Anything taller than 6 feet tall is so imposing, and even potentially dangerous. Keep your displays eye-catching, tasteful, and respectful of your fellow exhibitors.
I saw a lot of tees, pins and mugs for sale. What role does merchandise have in TCAF?
We’re almost exclusively focused on generating sales for our exhibitors at TCAF and we should probably have a lot more merch each year, but really, merch needs to flow from art for us. We put out a cool mug, or pin, or shirt, because we’re working with a cool artist who made a cool piece of comics or design. I’d like to make more, just because I like making stuff, but from my perspective it has to come from the art–like Angela Pan’s amazing Toronto Postcards this year. We commissioned those after seeing her Vancouver postcards, and jealously wanted something for our hometown. 🙂

(Scroll to see one of the beautiful Toronto postcards by Angela Pan, One of the official TCAF t-shirts and mugs by Hartley Lin.)

The TCAF 2019 Official T-Shirt merchandiseToronto postcard by Angela Pan

This custom mug pays homage to TCAF’s origins on Bloor Street

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:

Foot-To-Face had these great minimal totes

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.

Check out the long sleeve custom t-shirts made for TCAF 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.

Bats design on a t-shirt at TCAFIn the foreground we’ve got John F. Malta with a batty design. In the background is a “Leave Me Alone but also pay attention to me” t-shirt by Siobhan Gallagher.

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!

A photo of the TCAF shirt being worn by an event volunteer

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 retractable banner

Conundrum Press had this great vertical banner which can retract down to a tiny size. I love their diving man logo!

Max Bare had this great vertical banner for their booth

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 printed table cloth at their trade show booth located at the entrance of TCAF

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.

Custom hard enamel lapel pin for Toronto Comic Arts Festival

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 sells lapel pins to promote their collections

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!)

Doug Wright Awards lapel pins

The Doug Wright Awards highlight the top Canadian comics every year. They just started producing a line of annual lapel pins to promote the awards, check out this years winners on their site.

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.Coin-Op NYC had these great tote bags

Coin-Op Books came from New York with a ton of books and these great tote bags. I like the Ben-Day dots on the dog on the right.

Showing a lovely totebag by Fantagraphics in Seattle

Seattle publisher Fantagraphics made this awesome linework tote bag.

Custom book tote bag printed by @HeyLuchie on Instagram

Comics artist Lucie Byron @heyluchie made these wholesome illustrated totes 🙂 Check out that Instagram!

Books Tote Bag by @Africa_ByToto on Instagram and Endless Editions

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.

Lucky Bald Man Ponytail patch at TCAF 2019

@KunySack had these great patches at TCAF 2019, he even braided the lucky bald man ponytails live!

These patches by The Lost Attic are super grim and incredible. Check out their beautiful witchy stuff on their store.

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.

Live Slow Die Old sticker

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!

Custom Printed Playing Cards

Customized playing cards by Alicia Nauta look beautiful. I love the dense art style and the stylized design. I’m now realizing should have bought these cards while I was at TCAF.

Showing custom embroidered toques at Toronto Comic Arts Fair

Matt Emmons has a style of his own – it’s dark but a little playful. That’s why I like his embroidered toques so much, they’re embroidered in his unique style.

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.

TCAF 2019 event photo

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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *