Jason Kieffer with the new condos of his Cabbagetown neighbourhood in the background
By Dalton Sharp
Jason Kieffer wants to make people angry all over again.
Kieffer’s first book, an illustrated field guide to Toronto’s homeless, stoked complaints he was exploiting street people. He hopes his latest will get detractors and fans alike angry enough to fight for the return of banned street performer Zanta.
Zanta was the persona of David Zancai, a loud, and to some, obnoxious street performer, who grunted out endless push-ups wearing only shorts, construction boots and a Santa hat. He would often shout, “Yes, yes, yes! Merry Christ-mess!” Zanta: The Living Legend is a comic book biography that follows Zanta in his own words from origin to exile.
“I wanted to learn more about his story,” says Kieffer, “and see what he was like one on one, and see beyond his character. But what triggered (my interest) was the fact that he was banned from the city and the subway. That made me rage out. I wanted a discussion to get going. What happened to him needs to be looked into and there needs to be an investigation.”
Zanta was well on his way to becoming a minor local celebrity when a series of bans were issued that would eventually see him barred from the entire downtown core of Toronto and its’ subway system.
And there was jail time – the notoriously overcrowded Don Jail, and the Toronto West Detention Centre, a maximum security prison. And there was solitary confinement. In one darkly humourous panel Zancai is asked what he did to earn jail time. “Doin’ push-ups man,” he says.
Taking three years to complete, the book is packed with thick pen strokes. Barred windows are everywhere in this claustrophobic cityscape. At first Kieffer was drawing them unconsciously, but when he realized what he was doing he put even more in. The city as a giant prison.
He has always been fascinated by street people, living all of his life in Cabbagetown. The gentrified neighbourhood of Victorian homes, sandwiched between two sprawling housing projects, has been home to more than a few wandering eccentrics. They seem much scarcer on the ground lately as new condos go up.
Kieffer wants the writers and advocates that got furious with him for his homeless guide to be equally outraged at those he believes took advantage of Zanta.
The question I’m asking is why aren’t people in the media talking about this as an issue? These so called activists…where were they? Anybody who worked to displace him from the city violated his rights. You can’t ban someone from public space, who is law abiding, nonviolent. To me it’s a freedom of movement, freedom of expression violation.
To people who found Zanta’s act overly aggressive, Kieffer is dismissive. “My stance on it is that if people in a city scare you, don’t live in a city. There’s a lot of craziness in the city. Just because Zanta is recognizable he gets banned? No.”
And David Zancai now…drugged, calm, under the watchful care of his mother. He takes pills daily for his schizophrenia. Kieffer believes the jail time broke him, particularly the solitary confinement.
“People would rather you sit around doing nothing…to a lot of people it’s better that he sits around watching TV. You’re being a good obedient citizen vegging out. It’s all about ‘get in line…get in line…’ I don’t think that’s better. ”
Zanta won’t be coming to town anytime soon.
15.Aug.2012 Integrals of Luc Giard
A presentation of Luc Giard’s Art,
the first in a series of youtube collections giving an overview of his work since 1987.
“Présentation de quelques unes de mes créations. Les intégrales sont le premier volume d’un recueil qui vise à donner une vue d’ensemble de mon travail artistique depuis 1987.” - Luc Giard
Luc Giard’s art was first directly inspired by the work of Hergé & Tintin.
Years ago, he published a comic featuring the adventures of an impressionistically drawn Tintin cast as a crass Quebecois character, eating donuts and throwing curses in the street. Luc thought his work a homage to Hervé but Casterman Editions did not have the same opinion. Sued, Luc was forced pulp existing books and changed his Tintin to Ti-Coune, giving hi a cape and a mask, making a point about censorship.
Recent books are Pont du Havre [The Jacques Cartier Bridge], and Konoshiko (Les Impressions Nouvelles/The Impressions News), a new book to be published in France Octobre 2012 & Canada in Novembre.
01.Aug.2012 Sequential Interview: John Martz
The Cartoonist Behind Gold Star Spills His Guts
by BK Munn
John Martz is a man of many talents. Cartoonist, illustrator, animator, blog pioneer, he does it all. As the creator of the Drawn! blog, he has spent the last decade as a tastemaker and curator of the best in classic and cutting-edge design and illustration work, all the while working on establishing his own career as an illustrator and cartoonist. A number of recent noteworthy self-published comics projects, including It’s Snowing Outside, Excelsior 1968, and Heaven All Day, for which he won a Shuster Award in 2011, have brought him into the first tier of critically-acclaimed younger cartoonists in North America. I had the pleasure of talking to Martz and his wife Lindsay over dinner at TCAF this past May and when the publication date for his new book drew nigh, I asked him to elaborate on a few of the things we chatted about in May for an email interview.
Gold Star is a smart-looking book, filled with the kind of smart, funny cartooning we’ve come to expect from Martz.
Sequential: In Gold Star, your character travels to a comic book awards ceremony, with hilarious results. Is this a true story? How much of the comic is based on your own experience of award shows? For instance, you’ve been nominated for several Wright Awards and also served on the Wright’s jury. Any connection?
John Martz: I should hope anyone who’s read the comic would not think it’s a true story! Also, it’s funny you assume it’s a comic book awards ceremony — I made a conscious effort not to offer any details in the story in regards to what the ceremony was, or what the award was for. That said, while the character isn’t supposed to be a cartoonist, and the story itself is entirely fictional, the setting of the story is indeed based on my experiences traveling to the U.S. for the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Awards weekends, particularly the first time I went in 2005 when the awards were held at a resort hotel in Arizona.
S: The title Gold Star seems like a comment on infantile nature of awards.Do you really see awards this way? How much of our adult awards are little more than the gold stars we may have received from a teacher for doing good work and colouring inside the lines as a child?
JM: No, I think you’re reading too much into the title. I’m not trying to make any commentary about awards, and certainly I’ve always been honoured and appreciative the few times I’ve been nominated for something. The setting of an awards ceremony came out of the writing process. It fit the structure I wanted to use of juxtaposing two different timelines and two different cartooning styles, and it allowed me to draw from my own experiences for details. I simply chose Gold Star as a title after looking up the word “award” in a thesaurus. It seemed like an appropriately funny title, considering the events of the story, and it suggested a simple, obvious design for the award statue itself.
S: When we spoke at TCAF, you mentioned how joining the National Cartoonists Society and becoming involved in their awards process was something of a watershed for you. Can you talk about that experience?
JM: It wasn’t so much being involved in the awards process as it was simply being welcomed into the fold of the NCS. I studied graphic design in school and was working at CHUM Television doing broadcast graphics for stations like MuchMusic and Space. It was a good job, and it allowed me to do the odd pieces of illustration and animation, but I still fantasized about being a capital-c Cartoonist. I didn’t know anything about the indie comics scene, webcomics were still pretty nascent, and newspapers weren’t yet dying, so it was still possible to hang on to that childhood dream of doing a newspaper comic strip. I frequented a message board called the Wisenheimer which, in the pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter days, was this remarkable mix of NCS members and amateurs.
One day the chair of the Canadian chapter posted an open invitation to their Christmas party, so I went. I met cartoonists like Jay Stephens, Sandra Bell-Lundy, and Lynn Johnston, who were all members of the Canadian chapter, but also Rick Stromoski who was the NCS president at the time, and Dave Coverly, who draws Speed Bump, whom I believe was the NCS membership chair. They both made the trip to Toronto for this party, along with a few other American cartoonists. It was a relatively small party of cartooning professionals, and I was this naive young kid in a Charlie Brown t-shirt who lacked just enough self awareness to show up to this thing. But everyone was welcoming, and encouraging when I embarrassingly showed off my little portfolio, and both Rick and Dave encouraged me to apply for membership. I grew up worshiping the comics page, so just the idea of joining the NCS was intoxicating and irresistible. Again, this was before the real boom of webcomics, and now the NCS is far more strict about who can join these days, so I really was just in the right place at the right time. That Christmas party really kickstarted my cartooning career because I had all these pros basically giving me permission to be a cartoonist, and I quit my job about a year or so later.
S: Gold Star is published by Box Brown’s Kickstarter-financed Retrofit line. How did you learn about Retrofit and how did the book become part of the Retrofit “family”? How do you see yourself fitting in with the line? Any affinities with particular artists? Do you know any of your fellow Retrofit artists?
JM: Box e-mailed me (and all the artists) before launching the Kickstarter, describing the project, and asking if I’d be interested in contributing one of the titles. It was really as simple as that. I like Box’s comics and his enthusiasm, and he was going to do all the legwork of printing and distributing the books, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I think all the artists do work that is unique to their artistic vision, which makes for a diverse collection. None of the Retrofit books have been alike, which is great. James Kochalka was a big influence when I discovered American Elf, and I have several sketchbooks full of terrible diary comics which shamelessly stole from his style and voice, so it’s an honour to be part of project alongside him. At the time of Retrofit’s launch, I think I had only met Chuck Forsman before, but I’ve since met Brendan Leach and Joe Decie at TCAF. All three of these guys are about as nice as they get, and I’m a fan of their work as well, particularly Joe Decie whose autobiographical-slash-unreliable-narrator work is truly special.
S: Many of your characters seem hapless and disaster-prone. Is this how you see yourself or is it just funnier to write and draw about tragedy? Are you just a depressed pessimist?
JM: I’m definitely a klutz, and I do see myself as a bit of a hapless character sometimes. But I think that’s all part and parcel of having a good sense of humour about one’s self. My characters are autobiographical in that I’m magnifying my own weaknesses and foibles but removing any measure of self awareness. But I also am just trying to create the kinds of stories and characters I’m drawn to — the Charlie Browns, the Woody Allens, the Wile E. Coyotes.S: I really enjoy the short one and two-page robot strips that you serialize on your website and publish in print as the Machine Gum books. Can you talk abut this series? How much of the strip is formalist exercise and how much is free association. It seems sometimes like you are exploring the limits of your own taste and physical comfort zones. Or is that just my reaction?
JM: Thanks. They’re all drawn in a sketchbook, which I bought to force myself into creating comics that weren’t precious. So much of my work is done digitally with my left hand hovering over my Cintiq’s undo button that I felt it was important to re-learn how to embrace mistakes. They’re obviously a direct descendant of the robot character in Heaven All Day, whose pantomime strips I had such a fun and effortless time drawing.
It’s probably equal doses of formalist exercise and free association. It’s pure joy drawing them, because I can go through the motions of drawing comics without having to do much thinking or planning. Most times I start drawing the first panel without knowing where it will take me. And the world they take place in has a very broad internal logic, and a fairly non-existant set of rules, so I can do pretty much anything. It’s great exercise, and I’ve learned a lot about my own process, and gained a new sense of confidence in regards to the language and the rhythms of the comics page.
And yes, as abstract and improvised as these strips tend to be, there are definite themes that tend to repeat, which include anxiety and neuroses and body image and self awareness.
S: Speaking of taste and discomfort, your other ongoing comics project is the collaborative jam strip Team Society League, which you do with cartoonists Aaron Costain, Zach Worton, and Steve Wolfhard. How did you start working with these three and how did you evolve the cast of characters you use in the strip? Can you describe the TSL process?
JM: Aaron and I met at Canzine one year, and we became friends and started tabling at shows together. When sales were slow we’d pass our sketchbooks back and forth and draw jam comics, as I think a lot of cartoonists do. We began to have such fun, we each bought sketchbooks devoted just for our jams. I met Zach because he worked at the Beguiling, and I suggested he come over one night to draw with us. We named ourselves Team Society League because we were trying to come up with words to describe a collective, like the Chicago-based Trubble Club, and the words team, society, and league were on the list, and it seemed perfect to just use them as-is. Steve and I knew each other online only casually, but we became close friends when he moved to Toronto a few years ago, and he became a natural addition to the team.
The process is pretty standard for jam comics. They are entirely improvised panel by panel. I’ll draw a panel, and pass the page to Aaron. He’ll draw the next panel, and pass it to Zach, and so forth. 99% of the time the comics are all dialogue-free, and like most jam comics, the humour tends towards the blue. But as juvenile as they get, they are actually great cartooning practice because we’re all consciously trying to create a solid, wordless gag within the confines of the limitations of that process. I also like it because it exercises the parts of my brain that like puzzles and improv comedy (but without having to get on stage in front of a crowd).
There was never any real cast of characters starting out, but one night I drew this little round guy picking up a penny off the ground, and in the next panel Zach drew him sticking that penny up his butt. It’s just the kind of thing that a bunch of grown men who should know better find hilarious after a few beers. This little guy would eventually keep popping up now and then, and we’d draw him holding a plunger, or riding a unicycle, or in any number of suggestive poses, and it would be this ridiculous and childish battle of wills to prolong the inevitable insertion. It was Aaron who named him Georges when we were in Montreal one weekend for Expozine, and he suggested that he have a French name. I think it was Steve who came up with the idea that there was more than one Georges, that there could be an entire village of them like the Smurfs. So he truly is a collaborative creation, and he’s taken on a life of his own.
S: You’ve been putting out self-published TSL collections for years now but Koyama Press is publishing a large omnibus called The Big Team Society League Book of Answers this September. What can we look forward to with this collection and what can you say about working with Annie Koyama? Are you in any way ashamed to be publishing these comics in such a prestige package?
JM: Well first off, working with Annie Koyama is a joy. In addition to being enormously generous and encouraging, she has truly done something special here in Toronto with the small community of weirdos that she has brought together. Cartoonists tend to be solitary creatures — you don’t get good at this without a lot of time spent alone at the drawing table — but in addition to her publishing efforts, Annie has fostered a real sense of community and kinship not just for the artists she publishes, but for the Toronto indie comics scene at large.
For this Koyama TSL book, we wanted to up our game (as much as one can up their game drawing butt jokes). Annie’s only requirement for the book was that it be all new material. We tend to draw in our sketchbooks with whatever tools we have handy, and the results are always appropriately sloppy. But this time around we all used the same pens, and used measured panel guidelines, and really made an effort to draw these strips knowing they’d be published in a nicer-than-photocopied format.
As someone who is trying to foster an early career as a children’s illustrator, I am careful about associating my name with Team Society League on my own website, and on the TSL website, out of fear of the odd Googling parent. Because although it may be tame by jam comics standards, TSL is still not exactly kid-friendly.
But I am not the least bit ashamed of this book. Just the opposite. Jam comics have a bad reputation because most jam comics are bad, or are just exercises in gross-out oneupmanship (and we’re certainly guilty of that, too). But I am very proud of The Big Team Society League Book of Answers. I think it’s better by miles than anything you’ve seen from TSL yet, and I think it really shows that jam comics can be a valuable form and a honed skill when the cartoonists are truly collaborating, and learning how to time the perfect punchline, and be consistent, and not just trying to see who can draw the grossest penis. There’s no I in Team Society League. Except for the one.
S: I first became aware of you through your contributions to the extremely popular Drawn! blog. How did Drawn! come about and what’s new there lately that you are excited about? Does it still excite you? How do you work with the other contributors? Do you think of yourself more as an illustrator or cartoonist?
JM: I launched Drawn in 2005. I wanted to see a collaborative link blog similar to Boing Boing but be focused on the things that interested me: comics, animation, and illustration. The animation-specific Cartoon Brew existed, but there wasn’t anything that was all-encompassing. So I decided to make it myself. I was still working as a designer, and not even a full-time illustrator myself yet, but I contacted a few people I knew online, including Matt Forsythe, Ward Jenkins, and Luc Latulippe, and basically asked if they wanted to be a part of something like that if I built it. I wouldn’t have the balls today to ask a bunch of professional artists if they wanted to blog for free, but I didn’t know any better back then. We were somehow linked by Boing Boing on the day we launched, and because there was nothing else like it at the time, that pretty much sealed our fate, and it became popular pretty quickly.
I launched the site partly because, like crashing that NCS Christmas party, it was a way of shoehorning myself into a world that I wanted to be a part of. I wasn’t a working illustrator or cartoonist at the time, just an eager amateur, but almost instantly I had a site that people saw as an authority. It certainly helped shape and launch my career as much as anything I’ve ever done, and today I’m busier doing actual illustration and comics, so I don’t have the time for it like I used to. Also now that I’m moderately successful, I don’t have the same impetus to keep it going the way I once did. I faked it til I made it, you could say.
But also, that site launched almost 8 years ago. Blogging was still the “new thing”, and there wasn’t Twitter or Facebook yet. Twitter has really ruined me for blogging. Sharing a link on Twitter in the blink of an eye simply is simply no comparison to the amount of effort it took back then to format a blog post, and think up a title, and resize images, and moderate spam comments, and the whole deal. A few years ago, I switched the blog from WordPress to Tumblr, which was the best thing because it dramatically decreased the amount of time it took to update and maintain. And Drawn was always sort of a Tumblelog before there even was a Tumblr, and I think if Tumblr didn’t exist and offer such an effortless way to update and share images, Drawn wouldn’t be around anymore. I just don’t have the time or energy to maintain a website the way I did when I was 25 and neither self-employed nor married, and I certainly couldn’t expect the other contributors to keep pace. Certainly the submissions pile is a slog to maintain. I don’t know how the folks at Boing Boing or someone like Tom Spurgeon does it. Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to just nuke the whole lot. I get the occasional e-mail that starts with some vague compliments like, “I love your work, especially
As for the other contributors, there isn’t much of any real collaboration or editing on my part, and there is certainly no expectation or quota. I give the contributors free reign to post what they want, when they want, and I don’t really need to babysit or play gatekeeper. The contributor list has evolved over time, but it’s always been a group of artists who are naturally keen to share links and promote other artists, and to connect with their community, so I give them the keys to the car and let them go nuts. I’m grateful for the time and energy they have put into the site, and continue to put into the site, and I hope being a part of it has been as valuable for them as it has been for me.
I hear from people all the time that they still love Drawn, or from artists who truly appreciated being linked to, and that means a great deal. I’m happy to still have the site as an outlet for sharing things, even if, in 2012, it is but one Tumblr among millions. If people are still getting something out of it 8 years later, even as it has morphed into something different than when it started, then that’s enough of a reason to keep going.
As for cartoonist vs. illustrator, I do an equal amount of both, so I can’t say I’m more of one than the other. That said, illustration pays better than comics, so if it’s a question of what do I write on my tax return, or what do I tell people I do for a living when I meet them at a party, then it’s illustrator.
S: Your latest gig is a regular weekly illustration series/comic strip for the Saturday Globe and Mail. It’s kind of a cross between political cartoon and pop culture parody graphic. How did that come about? Who comes up with the subject matter each week?
JM: It’s bi-weekly, with the great Graham Roumieu doing it every second week. Maybe two years ago Jeet Heer asked me if doing a regular feature for the Globe was something I’d be interested in. I guess he was asked by someone at the Globe for recommendations. I was flattered that Jeet would think of me, and I told him I’d be happy to, and had him send them a link to my website, knowing full well that there was nothing on my site at the time that would give an editor any indication I was capable of such a task. I didn’t hear back, and wasn’t all that surprised.
But last year I got the call to fill in for Graham last minute when he was on vacation, so someone must’ve remembered me. I filled in for Graham a few times, and I guess I did a good enough job that we now trade off on the feature every second week.
I come up with the subject matter myself. I usually give my editor a few suggestions based on news stories from the past week, and some rough ideas of how I plan to make a comic out of it. They’re mostly hands off, so I get a great deal of freedom. Usually they only correct me for spelling or style, but occasionally they’ll kill a joke that might be offensive, ill-timed, or — heaven forbid –just not funny. It’s been a great opportunity and a great challenge — I’m forced to keep up on current events far more than I ever have been, so it’s been a blessing just for that. It’s embarrassing to think how little I kept up with the news when it wasn’t a part of my job. And it’s quite tough to be topical and funny within the time constraints. It’s certainly the kind of work I would never have done on my own, so it’s been very rewarding.
S: I liked that animated robot video you did for Jim Guthrie. Do you have any other books in the pipeline? Current projects?
JM: I have two kids’ books coming out next year, one a Halloween-themed book with Kids Can Press, who published my first picture book, Dear Flyary, written by Dianne Young. The second is a comic/picture-book adaptation of Abbott and Costello’s routine Who’s on First? with Quirk Books. I’m also working on something with the UK publisher Nobrow, which should hopefully debut at TCAF next year.
13.Jul.2012 Conversing on Comics with Salgood Sam
Always feel a bit awkward posting about myself here, but missed the window on the C-list so what the heck. I did a little interview with Chris Arrant over on Robot 6 that went live today. Part of new serires of interviews he’s doing called “Conversing on comics“. Hopefully with SDCC this weekend, it’s not totally missed in the wash of cosplay photos, new Neil Gaiman book announcements and Hollywood news!
Catching up with Squidface & The Meddler.
They interviewed Jesse Jacobs & published a story by Britt Wilson leading up to TCAF,
who both presented new books at the show.
Noir and the Fantastic in Comics. TCAF 2012 KICK-OFF EVENT! Jeff Smith, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon in conversation moderated by Mark Askwith. In The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon
Sequential’s own David Hains moderated this panle with creators Kate Beaton & Bryan Lee O’Malley. Part of the Bodies/City: A Symposium conference the panel tied that event with the next days New Narrative V presentations [more exclusively comics related than the first days events]. Conversation ran the gambit from what got them hooked on comics to collaborative work with others.
21.Apr.2012 Scott Chantler on Fredcast!
Shuster Award-winning cartoonist of the graphic novels Two Generals, Northwest Passage, and the Three Thieves series Scott Chantler, talked about his work with Teletoon at Night’s Fred on the FREDCAST!.
Just listening to it myself, nice little talk about process and his working strategies and experience. Think he dropped the hint a film of some kind made from his work might be in the works! Good Luck Scott!
06.Mar.2012 SEVERIN IS CRACKED (and Vice Versa)!
by Mort Todd
Like many kids growing up in the 1970s, I first became familiar with John Severin through his art on The Incredible Hulk and Sgt. Fury (over the pencils of Herb Trimpe and Dick Ayers respectively), DC war comics and, of course, Cracked.
As a more obsessive collector I became aware of his full body of work, picking up old copies of his S.H.I.E.L.D. work in Strange Tales, Atlas Comics titles and EC-Mad reprints. Little did I realize, some ten years later, I would become his “boss” at Cracked and one of the best creative relationships I’ve ever enjoyed!
I first got hired at Cracked as a creative consultant, based a lot on my youth. New owners had bought the magazine from the original publisher, Bob Sproul, and they moved the editorial offices to New York from Florida. They were not particularly happy with the new editor hired to package the magazine and its many reprints. The material he gathered was bad, even by Cracked‘s lowest standards, and looked like reprints from Sick magazine (which they later were revealed to be!). The worst part of it, there was no John Severin in the magazine!
Though my role was to inject some relevance to the magazine (the editor was still doing Nixon jokes in the Reagan era), my first mission was to get Severin back on board! I made it very clear to the publishers, that without Severin, there was no Cracked. It’s no stretch to say that the only reason Cracked survived for over 40 years, when other humor magazines fell to the wayside, was because of the professionalism and versatility of the artist John Severin.
There were dozens of issues of Cracked where John ended up drawing a third or even half of each issue. Mostly known as the star artist for TV and movie parodies, John drew supplemental stories in alternating styles, ranging from “big foot” cartoony stuff to mimicking other styles while working in a variety of mediums. Some may think black and white print a limiting medium compared to color, but John would stretch any limits by working in pen & ink, wash, gouache, zipatone, tone overlays, and famously, his use of duo shade paper. (Craftint Duoshade is paper used by editorial cartoonists and has invisible tones and cross-hatching that becomes visible with a chemical applied by brush or pen). John even painted almost every single cover, plus hundreds of other Cracked-related covers, despite being colorblind! Every now and then, a green flame would show up on a cover and he always made E.T. non-pink because of this condition.
So, when I started at Cracked, there had been 3 releases without any Severin contributions! Sacrilege! The editor hadn’t been able to get Severin, saying he demanded too much of a page rate. I explained to the publishers that with no Severin, there was no Cracked, so they authorized me to get Severin back … at almost any cost. I got Severin’s phone number from Larry Hama’s office at Marvel Comics (he was just about the only editor using Severin at the time) and I began an association with him that has positively altered my life.
As it turned out, the Cracked editor had contacted Severin, offered him a very lousy rate… and demanded a kickback on his pay! The editor was not only reprinting material from other publishers’ magazines, but when he did commission new work, he forced the artists to turn over some of their pay to him! John Severin would have none of this and turned the editor down. We settled on a page rate of $500 (at a time when most Marvel pages were around $125 for pencils & inks) and $1500 for covers, on his condition that he only work with me and not have to deal with the other editor. Within an issue or two, that editor was gone and I took the reins of Cracked as Editor-in-Chief for the next five years.
And what a damn fun ride it was! Sev and I would probably spend up to ten hours a week on the phone, and it wasn’t all just Cracked business. As a comic geek, I would always ask about his career, from Crestwood, EC and Atlas to Cracked, as well as all the legendary creators he worked with. Discussions would also range from films and history to religion and politics. John had some pretty strong convictions that I admired.
For Cracked articles, I would try to dig up as much reference for artists as possible, particularly for celebrity parodies. It was a little tough in those pre-digital 1980s! One of the many great things about Severin was his eye for detail, so if there were ever any historical elements in a story, John would have the reference … in his head! Weapons, clothing, cars, buildings, furniture; anything from the beginning of time until, as he told me, about 1947, he wouldn’t need any reference. Mark Evanier recently related that “Jack Kirby used to say that when he had to research some historical costume or weapon for a story, it was just as good to use a John Severin drawing as it was to find a photo of the real thing.”
I also enjoyed working with John on my Monsters Attack! magazine. He did some fantastic covers and stories that we collaborated on and I asked him why he hadn’t done more horror comics, especially at EC. John told me that his work was too anatomically correct for EC. He had done a sample for Bill Gaines of a severed limb that was so realistic it made Gaines ill. Imagine Gaines trying to rationalize that on the stand at the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency!
Not only was Severin an incredible good artist and prolific, he was fast! There were many times over the years that pages were lost in the mail, changes were needed, or missed deadlines (by other artists!), and Severin would come through and whip out some new artwork in the nick of time! Sometimes overnight! And he was no hack, in fact, quite the perfectionist. Many Severin originals would have a bit of correction he did with paste-ups or white-out and ink over it. Sometimes he even drew tone effects with his pen to match the duo shade on the rest of the page! If he had painted a full cover and didn’t like it, he would redo it. For one cover, he included the shredded up first version of it. My art director Cliff Mott repaired the torn cover and darn if we could see what was wrong with the first version!
Although I worked with him almost daily, I never met him personally until I was at Cracked for a few years. We were planning Cracked‘s 30th Anniversary party and wanted John and his wonderful wife Michelina to attend. The problem was the Severins lived in Denver, Colorado, we were in New York and Severin didn’t fly. We ended up booking them a first class suite on a train from Denver, which took a few days, and he arrived at Grand Central Station like a movie star in the golden age. He was a bear of a man and resembled a cross between John Wayne and Orson Welles (the beard, not the girth).
Over the course of the next few days, we had parties, dinners and a convention event for the anniversary and John, despite his shy nature, was quite the raconteur and spent a lot of time talking with fans. All of the legends of the comics industry, both old friends and newer talent, came out to greet John on this rare East Coast sojourn and pay homage to the master.
Personally, John made a great impact on me as an artist, writer, editor and by inspiring me to do my best in all things. There were a few times he inked my pencils and… wow! One illustration had a superhero throwing a car, and you could see underneath it. My pencils were pretty loose, but when the art came back, every nut and bolt, along with the transmission, axels and tire treads were there! Since it was in my nutty sense of perspective I thought, “Gee, if I need too, I can swipe this next time I gotta draw the underside of cars!” After Cracked, we continued to work on a few projects together, at Marvel and a newspaper comic strip called “Biografix.”
A lasting significant influence on me of John’s involves liquor. Trying to live the role of the hard-drinking New York City magazine editor, I had tried a variety of spirits but never one I was comfortable with. As a Christmas gift, Severin sent me a bottle of Bushmills whiskey and I discovered my elixir of choice! After that, we both knew what to send each other for gifts! Ironically, despite being a devout Catholic (the Severins had 12 kids!), Bushmills is from the world’s oldest Protestant distillery. When I heard of John’s passing, I ordered him a shot and poured it on the ground out of respect for my missing homie.
John Severin was a one-of-a-kind, dynamic personality with a full life and he left an amazing legacy that people will enjoy for generations to come. He has a wonderful family and a work ethic that kept him drawing to the end. He had recently drawn a fantastic cover for a periodical called Smoke Signals, that featured some Native Americans burning copies of Cracked.
The final proof that Severin is Cracked and Cracked is Severin is the fact that the magazine thrived for years, under Mad’s massive shadow … when Severin was contributing. In the early 2000s, when Cracked ownership changed hands, they couldn’t afford Severin and the magazine went out of business. When it was relaunched a few years later as a slick, color magazine, Severin (and I) decided not to contribute because of the questionable editorial direction, and it bombed. Now that it has been sold again, it has resurfaced as a humor website, and quite entertaining, but as a magazine, since there is no Severin, there is no Cracked.
Mort Todd is the former Editor-in-Chief of Cracked Magazine.
John Severin died February 12, 2012 at age 90, after a 60-year career in comics, 45 of them spent at Cracked.
For more about Severin’s career at Cracked, see Mark Arnold’s new two volume history of the magazine, If You’re Cracked, You’re Happy! featuring a recent cover by Severin.
28.Nov.2011 Kate Beaton in Studio Q
Kate Beaton, while in Toronto for the IFOA, dropped by Studio Q to talk about her new book “Hark! A Vagrant” and to offer some insight on how she mines Canada’s often obscure historical figures for nuggets of comedy.
29.Sep.2011 Rock N’ Write Over: The Partnership Behind the New Comic About Jerusalem, Street Messiahs and Madness
by Dalton Sharp
The early evening crowd at Toronto’s Cameron House pub is packed so deep it’s pushing out the front door. The usual torch and twang. Eugene Zhilinsky spots me immediately, the nerd in the middle of a music show reading a comic book. We’re meeting along with his collaborator Kimberley Whitchurch to talk about Rock Testament, the book I’m conspicuously holding.
The back room of the pub is empty save for a necking couple and a woman sleeping in a booth. In the front, a new band has taken the stage. A girl with the saddest voice in the world croons. It’s fitting to talk here – Rock Testament is a riff on the mystery of music and the people it attracts.
Set in Jerusalem circa 32 A.D., the story centres on David Ro, a street profit proselytizing the revolutionary power of a new sound – rock n’ roll. “Words don’t matter! Not even in music – you can even sing in tongues!” says a follower. “Awop-bop-a-loo-mop Alop-bam-boom!”
“All of my life I was listening to music”, says Zhilinsky, a Russian-born architect renderer who lived in Jerusalem for twelve years. He plays piano and bass, but chose a career in architecture over music. “I’ve always made friends with musicians.” Many of the characters in the book are taken from sketches he drew at parties with the DooLee Band. They call their sound Drunk-and-Brass. “I have no idea what that means. It’s some modern musical term. It sounds like Rock Steady and Ska, but a little bit different.”
Time is elastic in Rock Testament, and reality…in flux. Rock n’ roll exists alongside Roman soldiers. Bands jam with actual instruments, the ancient kithara, as well as invented ones, the kumkumahr, shaped like something from Dr. Suess. “You always have to have some mystery, because otherwise it’s going to be carnet des voyages, otherwise it’s going to be travel sketches at best.”
Jerusalem has had a profound influence on Zhilinsky. “It made me forget all about St. Petersburg! The first time I walked around there I thought, ‘wow! This is real ancient history. This is 1001 Nights, this is Lawrence of Arabia, and here I am in a white suit!” His friends can’t understand why he left the sun swathed city for Toronto, a work addicted city of naked branches and slush, but he credits the move for finally getting the comic out. “Only here did I make something with a completion to it.”
With Rock Testament finished he posted on Facebook: “Would anyone like to proof read my book?” “Sure”, thought Whitchurch. They had first met at a Dr. Sketchy’s gallery show opening. They both had drawings in it. Dr. Sketchy’s is a burlesque model sketching group. Whitchurch, an accomplished caricaturist and illustrator herself, admired his drawings of Frenchie Fatale and Paralee Pearl. “I thought ‘who did this? I have to meet this person!’ It turned out to not be proof reading. I rewrote everything,” says Whitchurch. (more…)
01.Sep.2011 Let’s Go Crazy: An Interview with Sarafin
Interview by Dalton Sharp
Hospitalized for over a year at Toronto’s notoriously dreary Queen Street Mental Hospital, cartoonist Sarafin coped by drawing. At first she filled notebooks with scribbles, but she began to get her creative groove back, creating a comic strip series based on characters she’d developed in high school.
The manga-styled heroines of Asylum Squad struggle with everything from flaming horse head demons to talking plants…and always their own sanity. Though fictional, much of the strip’s insight comes from first-hand experience.
Is it painful writing this strip?
It was actually very liberating when I was in the hospital writing it. It was my only way of really expressing myself without fear of being oppressed in any way by the staff.
Some of it is pretty raw.
I was at 1001 Queen for quite a while because I was so ill that I was completely detached from the world around me and I didn’t know how to relate and ended up on a schizophrenic unit.
My diagnosis was schizoaffective disorder…it’s like schizophrenia with a better prognosis for recovery.
I’m of the mind a label is just a label, its not like a diagnosis of cancer where you can actually see the illness. I treat it like I treat the fact that I’m a Taurus, it’s a way of classifying me, but it doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
But that’s why I was there. I was completely plagued with delusions, hallucinations and voices. And I kinda lost my ability to draw for a while, so it was also my way of getting back creatively.
What’s the feedback been?
I have fans who are doctors, who are psych survivors, and who are happily consuming pills. I have fans from all different areas in the mental health field.
Doctors have particularly liked the fact that it’s an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be psychotic. Most people hear the word psychotic and they assume it means Charles Manson or somebody who’s violent or bloodthirsty.
Psychosis means losing touch with reality, so it’s like you’re in your own little world. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to hurt anybody, but that’s the stereotype of it.
The mental hospital you were in is now being torn down and redesigned…
Because if you’ve ever seen the inside, especially the wards, it literally looks like a jail. It does. It’s cinder block everywhere, there are bars on the… (more…)
09.Aug.2011 Vancouver Comic Arts Festival: The Interview
VanCAF Organizer Shannon Campbell is New Kid on The Block
by BK Munn
The big news in Canadian comics last week was the surprise announcement of a new festival which will debut in May 2012. Sequential caught up with Event Coordinator Shannon Campbell for the lowdown on the Vancouver Comics Arts Festival.
The news of the this new comics fest seemed to come out of the blue. Can you tell me a bit about the organizers? Who is VanCAF and what led you to start something like this? Do you have a background in comics or comics shows? What sort of skills do you bring to the endeavour?
VanCAF has been about a year in the making up to this point–we just chose to keep it on the down-low until we had some definite guests, in order to get people more excited once the announcement was actually made. We knew that the now-defunct Anime Evolution was in its dying throes so we were eager to think up an event that could replace it, since the artist’s alley was always full of great local cartoonists. So we took the opportunity to fill the gap with a show that was more about comics.
My fiance is Sam Logan, the artist behind www.samandfuzzy.com. I’ve been traveling to shows with him for a couple of years now and I’ve become really invested in the business–especially with my friends over at Topatoco. It was frustrating to have to go abroad to get some really good shows (though I personally feel that the best ones are right here in Canada.) When you’re traveling a lot, too, you tend to start to brag a little about your home town. I wanted to bring the game back into my court so I could show everyone the fantastic art we have being produced in our own home–and the gorgeous city that inspired it.
I, personally, am a writer, only–but I feel that’s probably an advantage when it comes to the comic convention scene. To organize a proper show in Vancouver you have to be a local, and I feel that Vancouver tends to produce less of a commercial approach to comics and more of an indie thrive. The artists around here are so busy trying to tell their stories, it would be difficult for them to find the time to organize a show on this scale. I come to the scene with a passion for comics that’s tempered by obsessive organizational behaviour. Perhaps a potent mix?
I’m the main drive behind VanCAF, but I’ve already had a lot of encouragement from Christopher Butcher (TCAF’s founder) and from Cloudscape Comics, a local non-profit that helps cartoonists get published. They’ve all put me in the right direction to get the best guests for our event.
There are already regular comics events in Vancouver, including the Vancouver Comicon, Word on the Street/Under the Street, and the Vancouver Comic Jam. What kind of relationship do you have with these events and with the greater Vancouver comics scene of artists and retailers?
We have no direct affiliation with any of those events, although many of our guests and organizers have certainly participated in them. It was actually at the Vancouver Comic Jams that some of the early brainstorming for VanCAF was accomplished. We’ve already reached out to several local retailers and are getting great responses.
Our goal with VanCAF is to create something distinct and complimentary to Vancouver’s other events: an open festival that is free for the public to attend, entirely focused on comics, and that brings in a number of out-of-town artists while still featuring plenty of locals.
What kind of budget are you working with? Are you a charitable event/organization? How does that work?
VanCAF is a registered non-profit, so every cent we bring in will go directly into the show. This is our first year, so our budget is fairly modest. But we’ve received lots of great support from the community, including the Roundhouse, and we’ve had a few interested sponsorship inquiries which should make funding much easier. We wanted to our artist tables as inexpensive as possible, and we’re certainly going to be doing a lot of fundraisers throughout VanCAF in order to raise money for 2013 and beyond.
Can you talk a bit a bout your own experience of comics/favourite comics?
I first got into comics probably about ten or eleven years ago (betraying my advanced years, I’m sure) thanks to the web; I remember reading Sinfest, Exploitation Now, and Megatokyo with some passion. From there I got into anime, then manga, and finally turned to traditional super hero comics about four years ago. As it stands, I’ll read pretty much anything and everything. I’ve been writing my own comics for the same amount of time, though I also made the mistake of drawing a lot of them. Fortunately I’m not cruel enough to ever make those attempts public.
The comics most dear to my heart: Calvin & Hobbes, Bone, Ex Machina, Yotsuba&!, Hellboy, Family Man, Lackadaisy, and anything by Lynda Barry. Oh, and Korgi. Because seriously: corgis.
Can you tell me a bit about your plans for the event? Is it just a two-day thing or are you looking to have more event bracketing the weekend?
VanCAF is actually going to take place between the May 22-27, 2012, though the exhibition hall will only be open the 26th and 27th. We’re looking into booking a wide array of events in the downtown area, including readings, workshops, and panels. We’re still ironing out the details on where everything will be; the Vancouver Public Library is one confirmed venue, and more will be announced as time goes on. What we do know for sure is that every event will be 100% free to attend.
The website mentions Canadian and West-Coast American guests. Any plans to broaden that focus? International guests? How are you planning on recruiting talent –strictly through online applications or are you going to approach people one-by-one? Do you have some cartoonists that are on your wishlist?
Since VanCAF is free to the public, attendance-wise, it would be nice if passers-by could drop in out of curiosity and see this thriving culture of modern cartoons happening right in their own backyard. That said, cartooning can’t possibly be accurately represented in one geographical location. Pretty much anyone who expresses an interest in coming will definitely be considered–though we don’t expect to be a big draw to overseas guests until future years.
We’ve received a lot of interesting applications so far, but we have been approaching individual cartoonists as well to see if they’d be interested. For example, the current guests who are announced are all people that I have approached directly–and the listed exhibitors are the Cloudscape members who kindly allowed me to make use of their non-profit status when searching for funding. Because our event is new, and we want to make sure it’ll be a success, tables will be curated. We want to ensure that the cartoonists who are coming will benefit from our show just as much as the show will benefit from them. For that reason, a cartoonist who has just started may not receive an invitation this year–but will have better luck the next.
My cartoonist wishlist is huge. But David Malki is on it. Chester Brown, Brandon Graham, and the White Ninja boys are on it, too. If I give anything else away it might spoil the surprise!
What can you tell me about the venue, the Roundhouse Mews?
The Roundhouse is a dream come true. We were originally hoping to have the event in the Vancouver Public Library–but for various reasons it turned out to be impractical. It’s rather fortunate, though, because the Roundhouse has been amazing. They host a wide array of arts events all throughout the year and they’re extremely supportive of VanCAF. Their exhibition hall is by far the loveliest I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been in a lot of exhibition halls), and the Yaletown location, I suspect, will be what gives VanCAF some of its edge. I don’t think there’s anything cartoonists love more than bars. Bars that let you draw all night, maybe?
If I can, I’d like to take this opportunity to plug the Roundhouse’s upcoming fundraiser on August 19th (). All the cool kids will be there. You’re a cool kid, aren’t you?
You mention being inspired by both TCAF and the Calgary Expo. What do you like about those shows and what do you think you might do differently or better?
Probably the chief thing I like about them both is that they’re Canadian–and the food is better in Canada. But they each have their individual perks, too. TCAF is run by an extremely passionate group of people who are just out to celebrate their love of comics; they’re not driven so much by a thirst for profit as just making sure everyone has a good time and learns about comics. I was obviously drawn to the idea that the event was free, which from a romantic point of view means that more people are drawn in to look at something they may have never otherwise considered–and from a commercial point of view, it means attendees have more money to spend on the cartoonists, who, quite frankly, could use the cash.
Calgary, on the other hand, is an excellent example of a more traditional convention. They’ve grown to staggering numbers in the past couple of years (I think their attendees actually DOUBLED in 2011) but they continue to run like clockwork, bringing people a well-organized, star-studded convention which is much better than a lot of shows south of the border. From that perspective, what we hope to do is bring the best of both of them together–and honestly I think our biggest strength is location. Toronto is massive, its downtown area practically a city all unto itself. Vancouver is smaller, more tightly-packed; and West Coast mentality makes it more likely that people will take the time to stop by and check things out.
But more importantly, we just want to represent. Vancouver-pride!
28.Jul.2011 COMICANUCK: Remembering Elwy
By Robert Pincombe
Last week, Sequential joined the ranks of sites mourning the passing of the ultimate movie lover and television host extraordinaire, Elwy Yost. I wanted to take a moment to add my personal reminiscence of the man and offer up a rarely-seen comic nugget.
I first met Elwy Yost in high school when a buddy and I skipped our afternoon classes to see him speak to a ladies luncheon group in London, Ontario. The audience held onto his every word as Elwy shared anecdotes and of his moviegoing experiences and the challenges in interviewing Hollywood icons. Afterwards he did a more personal Q&A session. He was surprised to find two gangly, teenage boys in amongst the women and graciously allowed us to walk him to his car for a more personal chat.
Elwy treated our youthful enthusiasm with respect. He loved to hear we were discovering older films through Saturday Night at the Movies and Magic Shadows. But he also pointed out that the modern films we were enjoying at the time would stay with us and become classics in our hearts and minds as we grew older.
Fast forward to 1997 or so. I was a young comedian who had pitched a regular comic page to Venue Magazine, a fledgling Canadian publication that lasted just under two years. The comic page was called “Framed” and was my first taste of national exposure … or lack thereof. The magazine didn’t sell so well.
The concept was simple. I interviewed various personalities and then drew a comic juxtaposing images of their public personas with their words.
Elwy Yost was a perfect choice.
As you will see, I had yet to learn how to pare down dialogue to make room for the images and typos in my hand-lettering that were the bane of my existence.
Sadly, only one print of Elwy’s 1949 movie “In Between” survived. Apparently Elwy turned it over to the CBC to take some footage from it to use in the “Life and Times” epsisode about him. He told me they never returned it.
That is one film I am dying to see!
In the mean time, Comicanuck presents “ELWY YOST – FRAMED”!
13.Jun.2011 POD Sequential Pulp III
The School library journal posted a lengthy report on TCAF here, and even better, blogger Eva Volin conducted a bunch of interviews with creators and organizers at the show, all posted to youtube. Here’s a playlist player of them, 12 in all!
09.May.2011 Post TCAF 2011 recordings video and photos.
The first of what will probably be a few posts wrapping up last weeks Toronto Comic Arts Festival.
David Boswell Spotlight (38:51, 35.5mb) - 11-05-07-TCAF-David-Boswell-Spotlight.mp3
David Boswell talks about his career and a lot about his most famous creation Reid Fleming: The Worlds Toughest Milkman. Moderated by Tom Spurgeon
Telling True Stories (45:55, 42.0mb) – 11-05-07-TCAF-Telling-True-Stories-Panel.mp3
This panel includes a number of non-fiction writers spanning from autobiographical, history to biographies on other people. On it are David Collier, Tory Woolcott, Jim Ottaviani, GB Tran and Zach Worton. The panel was moderated by Greg Means.
The Doug Wright Awards (1:25:50, 78.5mb) - 11-05-07-Doug-Wright-Awards.mp3
The awards were hosted by Don McKellar, Among the presenters are: Erin Karpluk, Mark Medley & Michael Redhill
The ceremony was as follows: Introduction of nominee’s and sponsor appreciation by Brad Mackay, Pigskin Peters Hat/Award: Spotting Deer by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press), Best Emerging Talent: Alex Fellows, Spain and Morocco, Seth interviews Giants of the North Hall of Fame inductee David Boswell, who is then inducted by Chester Brown, Best Book: Bigfoot by Pascal Girard (Drawn and Quarterly), Closing by Brad Mackay.
Usamaru Furuya Spotlight (1:03:41, 58.3mb) – 11-05-08-TCAF-Usamaru-Furuya-Spotlight.mp3
Manga creator Usamaru Furuya is interviewed by Chris Butcher on this spotlight. Chris starts off by explaining how Furuya’s work was translated to English 10 years ago and it was among the only book that dealt with the Japanese youth culture of the time. Through an interpreter, Furuya answers questions about why he has changed his style from project to project, his breaking the 4th wall in earlier works and letting the readers know what is going on with him as he’s drawing the story, his work on a Japanese Earthquake and how it relates to the catastrophe that had recently occurred in Japan. He also answers questions from the audience about his work and the Internet.
And the Guys With Pencils Podcast guys posted this youtube clip.
05.May.2011 TCAF Interview Series: Rebecca Kraatz
Nova Scotian cartoonist Rebecca Kraatz debuts her new graphic novel Snaps (Conundrum Press) at TCAF this weekend, marking the first major work from the cartoonist since her Doug Wright win for Best Emerging Cartoonist in 2007.
As we discuss in this interview, Snaps has taken almost the entire length of time since then to complete and it found a publisher in Conundrum relatively recently.
Kraatz’s book dovetails with her interests neatly. Her passion for the 1940s, the era in which Snaps is set, is evident and in the interview she tells of how the genesis for the work starts at a flea market in British Columbia.
Kraatz spoke by phone for the interview and you can visit her at the Conundrum Press table at TCAF, table 140.
So you’ve been working on Snaps for a while now. You must feel pretty excited that it’s coming out.
I’m very excited, yeah. It was a long time.
Yeah, how long have you been working on it?
About 3 or 4 years.
So how did it develop that you’re publishing with Conundrum Press?
Well, in the fall he (Conundrum publisher Andy Brown) contacted me. I guess he heard somehow that I was working on a book and he wanted to see it. So I photocopied it and sent it to him.
Nice. Did you find that it helped to have a publisher that lives closeby to you and could be in frequent touch?
It’s been pretty good because then I could meet him in person a couple of times as well, so that was advantageous, yeah.
For Snaps, it gets back to a lot of themes you’ve touched in throughout your comics. In particular your passion for history and the 1940s.
Yeah, I always wanted to do something about the 1940s. I always feel as though I am doing something about the 1940s but I really wanted to concentrate on something. I had this old photo album that I got at a flea market in Victoria and I looked through it a lot and it was black and white pictures pasted in very carefully and I didn’t know anyone in there and I used to study the pictures with a magnifying glass and everything. I had it for a really long time and I really felt close to it. So I was thinking about doing something about the 1940s and I was sitting at my typewriter and I said, “oh, I think I’ll start writing about what I think is going on in the photographs” and it kind of developed from there.
So that way the photo album almost acts as a storyboard for you to spring off of?
So what is it particularly about the 1940s that you find so compelling? What is it about the aesthetic, the people or the sensibilities that evokes a strong reaction in you?
It’s really hard for me to say because I’ve liked it for so long. I can’t really remember. I guess it started when I was a teenager. I was home a lot because I was sick, so I watched a lot of movies… because my Dad bought a satellite dish. And, I didn’t know there was this time before the one I had lived. When you’re young, you think the world has just started now, so it made me really think about that. It made me think about my relatives, I looked at their old photographs and got really involved with vintage clothing, sewing clothes and fabrics, history. I read lots of war books. I found it really fascinating, I don’t know why. But it really started when I was a teenager and spent a lot of time alone. And it was like , “oh, there’s my friend Lana Turner on the TV again”.
You have a very particular look to your art as well. What kind of influences, contemporary or from the 1940s and that era have you brought to your art?
Sometimes I can’t see it, it’s hard to identify what I’m using. I think it’s old movies, old black and white images, that kind of thing, and Lynda Barry but I wasn’t aware of too many cartoonists. Pulp book covers too, old movie posters. Those were probably my first influences. When I was working a job doing layouts for a newspaper, I had a friend who made a comic- this was in 1997- and he was telling me about it and I was, “oh, I didn’t realize people could do that” and that’s when I started, because my friend did it. So that’s when I first started making them.
You are also very interested in woodcuts too, is that right?
Would Lynd Ward be someone you look at too?
I got the sense that you tell a similar kind of story as Ward, focusing on the everyday person, the working class and how they go about their daily business.
Yeah, yeah, I really like his work.
How about more contemporary cartoonists then, do you keep in touch with people, bounce ideas off each other?
There’s no one that I bounce ideas off of except for my husband (musician Joel Plaskett). I’m aware that there’s people out there, but sometimes I don’t want to let other ideas into my brain because I just want to have my own idea because I think I could easily feel influenced or bad about what I was doing. When I’m working on something I feel like I can’t look too much at other people’s stuff or I have to look at something else. If I’m doing comics, I hardly look at comics at all. I look at other things.
So you want to keep it close to your original vision.
Stepping back a bit, in 2007 you won the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent. What did that mean to you?
Well, I was really shocked. I don’t think I said anything when I went up to get that award. I was really shocked, haha. I met a lot of really great people. I knew Hope (Larson) and Bryan (Lee O’Malley) and from them met some other people, which really opened my eyes to what was out there.
At TCAF that’s coming up, you’ll be going through that process again.
I know! I heard it’s even bigger.
Yeah, much bigger. Anything in particular that you’re looking forward to?
Well it’s going to be bigger, so that will be amazing. I like seeing those books that are hand-made, where there’s only one of each one. I like seeing all the stuff that people do. If I was working on something that would be hard because my brain would get all overwhelmed, but I feel kind of relaxed right now- it’ll be really good.
Your House of Sugar book had that look and feel to it too, that it was a special object. What is it about that feeling in comics, the DIY handmade nature that interests you?
I was thinking about that the other day. I think what interests me is that I always liked to create worlds. I used to like to draw maps with all of the fake towns and everything. I think making a book is like making a map, like a fake town or a fake world. That’s something that I really like.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Rebecca.
03.May.2011 TCAF Interview Series: Jesse Jacobs
In the third of our TCAF interview series (see Ben Rivers and John Martz), Jesse Jacobs was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions by e-mail.
The London, Ontario based cartoonist will have his first work from a publisher debut at the festival. Even the Giants (Adhouse, 80 pp., $10) is typical of Jacobs recognizable aesthetic. With bright blue colours, Jacobs creates an atmospheric Arctic full of fantasy, mystery and misunderstanding.
The art is the highlight. Unbounded by logic and expectations, it’s something to be absorbed rather than digested. As Jacobs mentions in this interview, his art is an extension of feelings and sensibilities and the more that is given into letting go and appreciating the ride, the more one gets from the book.
Jacobs’ comics (Blue Winter Shapes in the Snow, Small Victories, One Million Mouths) have earned him praise, from two Doug Wright nominations in 2008 (Best Emerging Talent, Pigskin Peters Award) to the Gene Day Award for Self-Publishing at the Joe Shusters. He’ll be seated next to the Adhouse table at TCAF and he would like you to say hello.
Even the Giants is your first comics from a publisher and longest work to date. It must be pretty exciting for you to unleash this comic into the wild.
Receiving an advanced copy of the book was a pretty big deal for me. With self-publishing everything is so immediate. The comics would get drawn, photocopied, and stapled and I’d be done. With a publisher the process is so much longer; there are many more steps and production factors that don’t directly involve me, so the book wasn’t really on my mind. But when I finally got to look at the finished product and revisit the comics I was quite happy. It’s an interesting experience to see my comics in this format and I’m excited for people to read them.
Were you initially planning on self-publishing this? I understand that Adhouse publisher Chris Pitzer got a heads-up to check out your work.
Ethan Rilly was kind enough to show Chris my work. I contacted Ethan for some information regarding the Xeric grant he received to produce his book Pope Hats. I figured I’d try to get some funding to put the comic out myself. At that point I was planning to self-publish it but I wanted to do a real nice job so I required more money than I could sensibly invest. Ethan sent the book to Chris Pitzer who offered to publish it. I love making little hand made books but having a real publisher with distribution is a huge asset in so many different ways.
Your works have had some nice design, such as the silkscreened different-coloured covers for Small Victories. What role do you think nice production design has in how people read and perceive comics?
I believe it’s important. I think that interesting production design could save the printed comic book from obsolescence. It’s very possible that with the increasing popularity of web comics the future role of the analogue comic book will be somewhat that of an art object. Personally, I’d just as soon read a comic online if the printed version is simply folded pages with staples. If a book is put together in a creative way it typically encourages an in-depth exploration. You can’t mimic really nice book production design in a digital form. Tangible things like printing techniques, paper choices, cover materials; those things disappear in the digital realm. That’s probably why there is such an interest in books from Drawn and Quarterly and Nobrow; because they’re beautiful. Though I should say that great production design obviously does not compensate for a poor comic.
You seem to focus on atmosphere, not just in the production of your comics, but in your content. To me, Even the Giants is as much about evoking feelings and sensibilities through aesthetic expression as it is about stories and characters. Can you talk about that?
That was definitely the intention of Even the Giants. The book is primarily an exploration of solitude through drawing, writing, and colour. I didn’t approach this book in the way I normally make comics. I knew how I wanted it to feel and to look, and out of that emerged a loose narrative. Numerous voices and viewpoints appear throughout the pages, but they are typically isolated from one another. The stark and desolate arctic landscape is a visual extension of this theme of isolation. I was really attempting to create a book that, like you said, evoked a particular feeling; one in which the ambiance is an integral component of the story.
Two themes that stand out in Even the Giants are nature and the surreal. The impact of nature in the Arctic is straightforward, but does its largely unknown and unexplored setting promote surreal or mythical stories?
I chose to set the story in the arctic for a few reasons. Primarily it was an aesthetic choice; drawing these vast and expansive, empty landscapes was another way I explored these themes of loneliness and isolation. The arctic landscape appears so alien and otherworldly, but also clean and sterile. Some of the scenes I drew look almost like moonscapes. I think that the surreal aspects of the book do work better in such an unexplored environment as the Arctic. The setting itself, like the characters, is mysterious and unknowable. It seems like an accommodating background to feature a story with giants.
Giants have had lots of different kinds of representations, from Goliath to Andre. Was there any version of giants that had a particular influence on you? What got you interested in giants?
I don’t think it was an interest in any particular giant as much as it was an exercise in playing with proportions and spatial context that created these characters. You wouldn’t know that the creatures are giants until you’re given some sort of frame of reference, like a polar bear or a cargo ship. There are a few scenes where they might as well be average size; if you read them as an excerpt you wouldn’t realize the characters are so big. Well, the title of the book would probably tip you off. The arctic backdrop worked really well for this; without buildings, or trees, or something to give the viewer some sort of context, the giants could really be any size. I always liked the book Gulliver’s Travels for exploring that idea. Being a giant is relative to your environment.
Just as you play with ideas of spatiality it also seems to be an exercise for the reader to re-imagine what that context could be. Do you hope to engage readers to actively think about how they read comics in this way?
Maybe a little. When I was drawing the comics my main priority was to keep myself interested and to have fun. Otherwise the thing just wouldn’t get finished. Of course, I want people to like the book, but I don’t remember thinking too much about an audience when I was drawing this. After completion, especially after AdHouse picked it up, I definitely thought more about how the book would be received. It’s a weird comic, and it’s not for everyone, but I had a lot of fun drawing it and I hope that at least a few people (other than me) get some enjoyment out of it.
I got the same sense from your Root Rot contribution, that in a particular setting you wanted to explore your imagination as an extension of your art. Can you tell us about that?
The Root Rot pages were a lot of fun to draw. I find a lot of anthologies can seem kind of scattered and sometimes the work doesn’t flow together as a whole so I really liked the idea of having a visual theme to pull all the different styles together. Most of my stories begin with drawings, so it was a natural process for me to begin with a visual theme. Even the Giants was like that as well, it started with the drawings of the mountains and the giants and the loose story grew around those initial drawings. I get a lot of ideas for stories but simultaneously realize that my drawing ability/style wouldn’t gel with them. The drawings very much inform the story in my comics.
Do you have a particular process to think about and make those drawings?
My process is pretty loose. I try to bring my sketchbook everywhere I go and a lot of my comic drawings begin in there. I find that interesting imagery comes to me when I’m not really thinking about it but rather just doodling and exploring different shapes and patterns while drinking a beer and listening to music. Later when I’m working out a comic scene I tend to look through my sketchbook for potential objects and characters I could use. I don’t work as well if I approach a drawing with particular restrictions, which is sometimes difficult to balance with creating comics.
Yeah, I can see how that would be difficult to balance an almost stream of consciousness style with a sequential medium. Do you ever do things like comics jams, to just improv with other people and see where that goes?
I used to draw with other people, but now it’s pretty much a solo activity. I lived in Halifax and Moncton and both of those places had comic jams that I would regularly attend. I don’t think London has that kind of event, though I think there’s some talk to start one up. There are a lot of good artists around here. I like the social aspect of comic jams but I prefer to draw by myself. I can’t remember drawing anything very good at a comic jam but I always had fun.
And you do a fair amount of illustration for other things like album covers, t-shirts and skateboard graphics. Do you approach those differently? Or is it just a matter of seeing what fits and riffing on it until it works?
That depends on the project. I’m slowly moving away from illustration, though that’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome the work if it was an interesting project. The ideal situation is a client who likes my style and really enjoys what I’ve done in the past and gives me enough freedom to make some crucial aesthetic decisions. There have been a few instances in the past where a client has pushed me in a direction that I normally wouldn’t have gone and something good did come from that, but I typically don’t do my best work when an illustration job comes with a lot of restrictions. Working with Homegrown Skateboards has been enjoyable because the only real guidelines I had to follow were the board dimensions. Those kind of loose projects are approached in a similar way as I do with drawing comics and I have as much fun doing them. As much as I like getting paid for art, I’m presently focusing my energy on making comics and large drawings.
You’ve mentioned comics being a pretty solitary process for yourself, but do you or have you had sources for advice or mentorship?
I have a few people that I run work by, before I do anything with it. My illustrator friend Peter Diamond, who currently works out of Vienna, is always a big help when I’m trying to work out images. He’s got a great eye for composition and colour, and although our work isn’t really similar I trust his opinion. My brother Danny is another person who I get to preview my comics. He’s a writer/poet himself, and a generally critical guy, so he’s great at sussing out bad writing. My girlfriend Jinette, pretty much witnesses my entire process and often adds helpful suggestions. Diana Tamblyn, another comic artist (who lives down the road from me), has previewed some of my comics and given helpful feedback. I’ve also been going for beers with Marc Bell, whose crazy artwork I’ve enjoyed for many years. It’s been helpful to talk with him about production and process.
Last question. In a previous interview in this series John Martz said the Star Trek character he is most like is McCoy. Since we’re talking about mentors and I understand you’re a big Trek fan, which character would you want to be your mentor?
I’m going with the Klingon. I’d get all dizzy on bloodwine and convince Worf to finally knock Riker on his ass.
Thanks for your time and for showing Riker who is boss.