Posters and prints in a wide diversity of colours and styles adorn the walls of the Arts Project. A rack filled with tantalizing comic merchandise stands boldly the centre of the gallery. The Ting Comics and Graphic Arts Festival, or Tingfest for short, has arrived in full force.
The annual comic festival features between 10-14 comic and/or graphic artists with a connection to the Southwestern Ontario region. Festival co-creator Diana Tamblyn sat down to chat about Tingfest’s past, present, and future, as it enters its fifth year.
The idea for the Tingfest far preceded the festival itself.
“I’d had this idea for a festival around Ting ever since I moved back to London ten years ago,” says Diana. “I thought, What can I do with this idea? I can’t do it by myself.”
Fortunately, the stars aligned right around Dundas and Clarence.
“The Arts Project was looking for a marquee event that they could call their own.They specifically wanted to reach people who were different from the regular crowd people who already go to art galleries,” Diana says. “How do they reach families, kids, and seniors? I was like, you won’t believe this, but I have an idea.”
The Real Ting
So, what is “Ting” exactly – or more accurately, whom?
Ting is the pen name of cartoonist Merle Tingley. He was best known for his 40 years of work as an editorial cartoonist with the London Free Press, though his work extended beyond the daily pages.
“He became very much part of the London culture. He would do ads for seemingly anybody who would come to him. If it was an Optimist Club or a Ski Club who would say, ‘Can you do a logo for me? Can you do a poster for me?’ he would. He also designed all of the original displays and the colouring book for Storybook Gardens. There’s something about that daily presence in people’s lives and also, just being very kind of physically out there in the community that people feel like they know him, and they feel warmly towards him.”
Certainly, that outpouring of warmth showed at the first Tingfest, attended by the namesake himself.
“He made it like 10 feet into the gallery before he had to stop. People chatted his ear off the whole time. You felt an incredible warmth and love from all different kinds of people,” Diana recalls. “People came from all over the place to see him. It was packed to the rafters.”
Behind the Panels
Tingfest was a success, reaching wide audiences with a variety of programming that continues to be a core part of the festival. However, Tingfest is still first and foremost about the appreciation of the craft in a gallery setting.
Comics are a medium that Diana describes as her first love. “There’s something that’s very compelling about a comic. It’s very intimate, right? You can feel what that cartoonist was trying to convey, in a way that is different from other mediums. There’s not a lot of genres that are similar in that visceral feel, you know? I think my favorite comics are usually ones done by one person or maybe by a couple people, because then you can really feel the person behind the panel, so to speak.”
Who are these people behind the panels? Every year, it seems the line-up for the Ting Festival is filled with delightful surprises as festival goers are given a window into the incredible talent sometimes hidden in the region.
“Cartoonists in particular tend to be quite shy,” explains Diana. “People don’t know, hey, there’s a guy who works down the street from me, and he just did the cover illustration on The Globe and Mail. He doesn’t live in Toronto. He doesn’t live in Montreal. He’s here. I think we need to know about those artists and celebrate them.”
Looking towards future Tingfests, and keeping in mind the festival’s “no repeats” policy, Diana remarks that she doesn’t see the well of unique graphic talent in southwestern Ontario drying up anytime soon.
Her hopes for the future include continuing to expand community collaborations.
“We’ve started to collaborate more with other places in London like the London Public Library, Western, and Brown and Dickson,” she explains.
“I would like try to grow that as much as possible. If someone has a comic-related thing that’s interesting, they can do it when the festival is happening. That’s what I would love.”
An Artistic Spirit
The fifth iteration of Tingfest is a milestone to be celebrated, though there is a shade of sadness. Merle Tingley, Ting, passed away last year at the age of 96. Diana shared some thoughts on how the cartoonist’s spirit is carried through the festival this year and beyond.
“He was a dedicated artist who did what he wanted to do,” she says. “He always listened to the radio in case there was some news that he needed to do a cartoon of. He continued to draw after he retired, doing the ads and the newsletters for his retirement home. He loved his wife and he loved his kids and he was the life of the party. He was a charming happy guy who knew that he was lucky in being able to do what he wanted to do. All of us should aspire to have that life. That sounds terrific to me.”
“If the spirit of the festival has that kind of light, fun, charming, gregarious feel to it, but a strong love of the craft without an ego, I think that would be a good guiding light.”
The opening reception for the Ting Festival is this Saturday, April 21st, from 6:00pm – 8:00pm at The Arts Project. Admission is free. The festival runs until May 5th with events programming running throughout. A full guide can be found on the Tingfest website.