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Toronto comics festival boots NFT artist after intense backlash: ‘We made a mistake’

Accusations of plagiarism, cultural appropriation and more came up after TCAF made Pink Cat a featured guest

Image: An illustrated young knight bears a banner that reads TCAF. She wears gold and green armor and is surrounded by tigers. Image: TCAF / Jenn Woodall
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is one of the most prestigious events for artists in Canada, and it’s also one of the largest festivals in the world dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of comics — and only comics. But TCAF is at the center of a firestorm of controversy after announcing that NFT artist Pink Cat, also known as Saba Moeel, would be one of the festival’s featured guests. On Tuesday, TCAF announced that they are uninviting Moeel, and clarified the original intentions behind her invitation.

Pink Cat’s featured guest status immediately raised eyebrows in the artist community. A comics festival highlighting an artist who primarily deals with NFTs is unusual to start. Many members of the arts community considered NFTs an assault on their profession when they initially took off as a trend. As time has passed and expensive apes have been snagged from their owners’ accounts, the technical and ethical issues with these tokens have become increasingly clear.

The controversy around Moeel intensified when social media users went through her online history to find a history of tracing artwork, tweets disparaging community artists, appropriating Black culture for profit, and transphobic remarks. Polygon contacted Moeel for comment via Twitter; she replied with the following message.

Yeah these guys invited me to disinvite me. They payed flight hotel etc, i didnt even know who they were. Very weird

This isn’t my world, I’m a real life artist I don’t care about organizations or trade shows, I have my own following it’s not a cult following it’s mainstream. The LA times called me the Gen Z Garfield, we aren’t in the same league.

The backlask against Moeel’s TCAF invitation continued through Memorial Day. On Monday, the festival’s official account tweeted, “The TCAF executive and organizers have heard your valid concerns and we are working on a statement. Thank you for your patience while we prepare a response.” On Tuesday, that statement was released. It reads in part:

TCAF initially extended a programming invitation to Moeel on the basis of their daily digital comics work on Instagram, and the personal importance that work had to one of our team members. At the time of this invitation, the organization was unaware of Moeel’s online conduct, plagiarism, or allegations of tracing. We apologize for programming and promoting this artist.

We made a mistake. As a promise to our community, we will use this as a learning moment as we move forward as an organization, and will re-examine the checks and balances we currently use to process our programming decisions.

The statement further clarifies that no one on the board has financial ties to Moeel, such as the purchase of one of her NFTs. The statement concludes, “We are very proud of the line-up of artists and exhibitors we have gathered for this year’s festival, and it is our sincere hope that this error on our part does not overshadow the hard work of our team, our other guests, and our exhibitors.”