It seemed like it was a regular old Memorial Day Weekend, but little did we know that Pink Cat was about to become a household name in indie comics circles…for all the wrong reasons.
It all started when TCAF – the Toronto Comic Arts Festival – started announcing guests for this year’s event, which is a little more than two weeks away.
The description of Pink Cat’s work did not go over well with Twitter:
Pink Cat is a Middle Eastern American viral artist born on web 2 and based in Richmond, CA. A classically trained designer from Parsons School of Design, she has amassed a quarter million followers on Instagram, 90% women ages 18-35, by posting her comics every day on social media since 2016. After publishing her first comic book Don’t Care Didn’t Ask Plus I’m Baby, she was featured in the LA Times twice. She is currently selling a generative NFT collection, merch, and self producing an animated series based on her character.
All it took was those three little letters NFT to ignite a hailstorm of criticism – but it got bigger and bigger when it was learned that Pink Cat – real name Saba Moeel – was also tracing art on her long running daily Instagram comic, Pink Cat Daily, which has nearly 250,000 followers. And people were finding examples all over the place.
TCAF has just absolutely shit the entire bed and the artist community is dumping all over them – they invited some astroturfing NFT loser half of whose art is traced and copied from better artists.
Industry plant levels of shit lmao https://t.co/8ZsehrjCJt
— TBSkyen (@TBSkyen) May 29, 2022
— Erika (@Raddishh) May 29, 2022
— Adam ElIis (@adamtotscomix) May 29, 2022
This was bad enough but Moeel responded with confrontational tweets that showed a lack of concern for swipes:
I dont care about tracing others art. I have 2500 posts, some are my own some are homages. I don’t share your idea of rules. And that’s ok, bc the art is for me, not you or others. And that’s ok too. No one needs to react passionately or negatively about it. That’s just diversity
Moeel also seemed to not understand that TCAF is a comics festival not…a trade show.
Jeez I got invited to a comic book trade show and people who love the central banking system exploded ! https://t.co/6verGZcs9I
— Pink Cat | #MINTING NOW (@PINKCATNFT) May 30, 2022
And this put down of indie artists while on a trip to an NFT art fest in Miami seemed particularly out of step with the TCAF ethos.
Wynwood in Miami is dope…lots of very pro looking murals (not community murals lmao i don’t enjoy amateur artists being given grand platforms) all over the buildings, the sidewalks, huge scale…breathing life into my eyes and brain
But even more was to come, as past racist and transphobic tweets were uncovered.
— Adam ElIis (@adamtotscomix) May 30, 2022
By Monday morning, all hell had broken loose for TCAF as they announced that a statement would be forthcoming. Previously announced guest Ngozi Ukasu tweeted that she would no longer be attending.
I will no longer be attending TCAF. Not only do I disagree with the platforming of NFTS, but I also will not be a featured guest alongside an influencer who traces art and explicitly commodifies Black culture. What was the thought process behind this, @TorontoComics? https://t.co/yyPiPHvDyJ pic.twitter.com/VDujf0wMEy
— ☆ Ngozi ☆ (@ngoziu) May 30, 2022
As the firestorm of criticism just gained intensity, some called for a boycott of TCAF, others suggested that someone on TCAF’s board must have invested in Pink Cat’s NFTs, many felt that it was no longer a safe space for artists – and so on and on. In general, it sounded like the much awaited return of one of the most beloved events on the indie comics circuit had been blasted into an Elon Musk-shaped crater of appropriative grifting.
This morning, the TCAF board finally made an announcement: Pink Cat was no longer invited.
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.
In reading your feedback there are a few things that the organization would like to address.
TCAF does not accept money to program featured guests, ever. Those artists are selected along a wide set of criteria. Most featured guests at TCAF are funded to attend our festival through cost sharing between the festival, publishers, or international cultural agencies. No one in the TCAF organization has financial ties to Moeel.
TCAF is an organization of largely part time staff who work in a collaborative framework. When an issue of this importance is raised, it takes time for us to come together and discuss the appropriate next steps. If you want to know who we are, you can see our names on the about page of our website, and we can be reached through our public-facing email accounts, which are also on that page.
TCAF does not tolerate bullying or threats against any creators, volunteers, or attendees participating in the festival. Any member of our community who is verbally abusive, violent, or otherwise overtly unwelcoming to any other TCAF participant will be removed from the event.
While this solved the biggest problem, it did not calm the fears of people who felt that merely inviting an artist was was in any way involved with NFTs was a problem, and that better vetting of guests should have taken place. (It should be noted that some of Moeel’s most controversial statements can be found on the Wayback machine or through Googling some of her other past businesses – so a quick Google search isn’t going to do it.)
Although it wasn’t mentioned in their statement, when asked directly if anyone on TCAF’s staff owned a Pink Cat NFT, a spokesperson told the Beat a flat “No.” Suspicions remain, however.
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.
While displaying a healthy ego, Moeel doesn’t seem to be very aware of the TCAF community or purpose, and might not have been such a great fit as a guest even without all the tracing and racism – and she’s already planning on dining out on the controversy.
As for TCAF, this will already be a very different year for the show with fewer and different venues, a different kind of schedule, and far fewer international guests. It’s also under new management from the last time it was held in 2019. Making an unforced error like this is a major embarrassment at the very least. Hopefully over the next two weeks the event can regain the trust of the indie comics community and the Toronto comics community and we can get back to getting back together.
DISCLOSURE: I am a regular moderator for TCAF panels, and sometimes receive compensation for this.