Phillip Mendonça-Vieira

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TCAF 2024 and “The Chromatic Fantasy”

Due to childcare commitments, I had a tight window. As soon as my youngest snoozed, I hopped on the subway and found myself at the Toronto Reference Library for the 2024 edition of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

I had exactly 45 minutes, which was obviously not enough time.1

I made peace with this fact,2 and set out to try score a few cool books. I floated around the first floor, where the main indie publishers set up shop, and felt out the vibes.3 Right away I came across Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed, which I’d seen on a best-of 2023 list and had been meaning to purchase. Sitting right next to it was Mattie Lubchansky’s Boys Weekend, and those were both obvious and immediate gets.4

I buzzed around the Drawn and Quarterly table (Are You Willing To Die For The Cause?), and at Pow Pow’s table I picked up Vampire Cousins, why not, and I felt like I ought to read Toxic: A Tour of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and so I picked that up too. (Who knew that the University of Toronto Press also prints comics?)

By now I was running out of time, but I felt like I wanted one more book.

I toured the tables out along the windows, but none of their wares spoke to me, and I found myself back along the main drag. I wandered towards the exit, nervously looking around, when a book caught my eye.

The pages were gilded, and sparkled. I flipped through it, and the art seemed to want to leap out of every page. The description at the back read:

Jules is a trans man trapped in his life as a nun. The devil that the convent guards against offers him a deal to escape: an illicit tryst and lifelong possession. Jules takes the deal, and begins his new life as a criminal who’s impervious to harm. He soon meets Casper, another trans man and a poetic thief, and together they steal, lie, and cheat their way through bewildering adventures, and develop feelings for each other along the way. But as Jules and Casper’s relationship deepens, so does the devil’s jealous grasp…

and I thought: COOL, GOOD ENOUGH, LET’S DO IT.

I bought it and hurried home, arriving just before my two-and-a-half year old woke up, and we were due to go to grandma’s for mother’s day. Success!

That book is The Chromatic Fantasy, and I want to tell you about it. It’s the reason why I am writing this blog post.

The Chromatic Fantasy is so fucking good, you guys

I don’t know how to say this without overselling it.

I went into it with zero expectations, which imho is the best way to appreciate art, so from that perspective I have already ruined it. It’s also clear to me that a big part of its charm is precisely that it appeared serendipitously, right at the last moment, as if it was calling out to me, just like the devil in the story itself.

You, dear reader, will not be able to enjoy it like I have enjoyed it, and I am sad for you.

But what a story! Without any spoilers, the book deals with:

  • transitioning and navigating gender
  • abusive romantic relationships
  • abusive familial relationships
  • not fitting in, and suicidal ideation
  • being an aimless scumbag in your early-to-mid-twenties
  • and above all, falling in love and desperately wanting to live, and be loved and to be deserving of love.

And it wraps all of this up in a one-shot, swashbuckling sword and sorcery adventure in a anachronistically medieval setting. The whole book is luscious, both sensual and luxuriating in detail, hardly any of which escape the author’s attention.

Which makes sense, as I later found this interview with the H.A., the author, where he says:

H.A.: I was really stoked that it looked as good as I’d hoped it would. It was awesome to finally see it all come together. I really wanted the whole book, as an object, to feel like a complete maximalist work in itself. I didn’t want any page to feel underutilized. I’m really glad I was able to design the entire book cover and the title pages and everything. Silver Sprocket did a really good job with printing it and gave me a lot of freedom and I’m so glad they were able to help me make it as tacky and obnoxious as I wanted it to be.

How fun is that? I think he did a great job. It’s fun, it’s sexy, the costumes and fashion and settings are gorgeous, and the characters are so well designed. It makes me think about being in my own mid-twenties, and getting high and spending too much time in a tumblr and wikipedia hole circa 2012, but like, in a good way.

A note on being queer

From the get-go, H.A. makes it clear that his mission is to make a goofy and campy romp featuring trans-men having fun. Just two dudes, having a good time, and being unabashedly queer. Yet here he does a funny thing: his characters don’t look like what I thought that they were going to look like, especially in a fantasy setting where anything goes.

To quote from H.A.’s retrospring,

Anonymous: Ngl at first I thought Jules and Casper were lesbians and it was a surprise discovering they’re boys. Thank you for the way you convey their gender expression!

H.A.: my relationship w gender is complicated and I have a hard time naming it except to express it thru characters or by being myself and this is the best way I can do it

Like, I myself, I identify as trans-femme. I think women are pretty great. I’ve gone to great lengths to try to be more like women. Going in, I was ready to be like, this won’t neccessarily speak to me directly, and that’s fine.

But now that I’ve read the book, I’m like: if I had to detransition? and be, like, a guy again (gross)? I would want my whole vibe to be like Casper’s in the comic. What a beautiful and chill way to be.

Anyways, I’m going to buy three copies to give out as gifts.

  1. To do TCAF properly, without rushing, you need at least three hours to properly wander the festival and take in all the sights and scenes. I really enjoy going to TCAF. I’ve been, gosh, at least a half dozen times. I remember going in 2005, when it was held in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s.

  2. In 2005, I had all the time in the world but I had to count my pennies and agonize over each and every purchase. As I approach middle age, I might lack time but I am at least blessed with money.

  3. I’m not a comics… super-fan. I love the medium; I think comics have a special power to capture the reader’s attention and take them away to another time and place. They provide a unique and arresting combination of visuals and text.

    But any given comic book has to speak to me, I don’t know.

    The art has to “pop”. Half-tone manga leaves me cold. I like that photocopied zines exist more than I enjoy actually reading them. If I were an artist myself, I might enjoy leafing through sketchbooks – but I’m not, and so I don’t. In theory I feel like I should enjoy weird abstract experiments, but more often than not I just want to be charmed by a story and escape somewhere, or at least learn something new.5 Frankly, I have read one too many raw and overly honest autobiographical coming-of-age retellings.

  4. Here, a brief pause. A couple years ago, when I was figuring out my gender and coming out, Mattie was a rare source of inspiration for being trans-femme non-binary. I remember being fascinated with their transition. I’m happy to report that Boys Weekend is a fun romp, and I felt simultaneously like the protagonist, a trans-femme non-binary former-beardo, and that I was being roasted. I’ve always enjoyed TCAF, but gosh, now that I’m queer it’s taken on new depths. There were so many of us milling around.

  5. I grew up on brazillian translations of Spiderman and X-Men comics, several issues cropped and bound into little A5 booklets they sold in papelarias. Occasionally we would get Duck Tales, or Mafalda. In highschool, I read Sandman and was blown away. One of my best friends’ cool older brother lent me his copy of Joe Sacco’s Palestine, and every book Joe has made has felt like a revelation.

# 2024-05-16