Friday 15 July 2016

In the Short Box: Quality and Stuff

The Theme is Quality

I will preface this post by saying that I was extremely saddened when I heard that Comics and Cola was shutting down. I’ve been lost ever since, erring on the internet trying to find good sources of review of alternative comics and have yet to find something as excellent as Zainab Akhtar’s thoughtful analysis and reviews of comics. I’m not going to lie; I even sent her a fan letter when I heard the end of Comics and Cola. I wished her all the best in her new endeavor and hoped it would still somehow be related to comic book. I couldn't have been happier to hear about her new initiative, Shortbox, a curated international comic box. I was suspicious at first upon hearing the concept. It sounded an awful lot like Loot Crate or Comic Blind Box, a concept I'm not fond of I've often described as an expensive landfill delivery system that never seems to provide any comic book of real interests. However, after reading her pitch for Shortbox, those fears were quickly whisked away. The focus is on comic book, good ones, with a side of tiny extras along the way. I had much faith in her ability to select interesting comics and dispense with the unnecessary fluff.

I was lucky enough to get one of those boxes and I thought I’d come out of blogging semi-retirement to talk about the content of Shortbox from front to back. Without further ado, let’s take a look.

Neebo, by Violaine Briat

The first thing the reader is greeted with is a magnificent cover featuring a yellow humanoid with a splendid red cloak sitting in a sunbeam in the middle of a dark forest. The colours are deep and vibrant, our first indication of Violaine Briat's extensive focus on colorus throughout the comic. Neebo is the tale of an anthropomorphic humanoid looking to keep a turtle (the titular Neebo) safe in a violent magical post-apocalyptic fantasy land. Our protagonist, named Jonas, appears at first to be a likeable character, as he rescues the turtle from a violent fight to the death between two other anthropomorphic beasts. But our opinion quickly changes as his intentions are revealed to be not as noble as they might have seemed initially and that he may be as bad as everyone else in this land. 

One of the most interesting aspects of Neebo appears to be it's use of contrasting colours. Mainly, each page uses two central colours with a dash of a third one every now and then. The colours are not uniformly applied. One panel for example shows a forest, the trunks of trees are red while the tree tops are purple, only to reverse that colour scheme in the very next page. It's jarring at first, but the reader quickly adapts. This reinforces the effect of the book where not all is quite what is seems. Our protagonist is a nice man, but he might not be. The tree tops are red, or purple, or green. Good & Evil changes depending on when the action occurs. It looks gorgeous. It sometimes removes depths to certain elements in the background, but it mostly enhances the panels. There's a panel where Jonas is in a pool and only the water is a dark green color, while everything else is lime green. It was hard to make out what was what and how far things were supposed to be. In another pane, he walks into the forest and the trunks are yellow and everything else is green. It really helps to showcase how lost he feels; how vast and dark that forest truly is. It's a great use of colours. 

While the sharp contrast between colours is the first thing you'll notice, the comic actually creates a fantastic mythology using nothing more than it's background imagery. The ruins of a hotel; cannons across a battlefield overrun by grass and moss; medieval soldiers lying dead in a staircase... It hints at a larger world. A world that has been overtaken by rot and the supernatural; by violent anthropomorphic animals and seers giving divine instructions. I'm reminded of Lando's Garden of Glass and the story about the "Olympic Games", where astronauts are trying to escape a sci-fi world surrounded by decay and where violence thrives. Briat's use of colours somehow renders this world even creepier.

I particularly liked the gallery in the back of the book. A great way to intrigue readers and show a different range of art. It whets the appetite for more work from this artist.


Phantom, by Aatmaja Pandya

This was perhaps the most interesting comic I've read in awhile and a top contender for the best comic of 2016. Phantom is the tale of an exploration of belonging; how memories affect our understanding of self and space; and how modern free movement and gentrification changes neighbourhoods.

Gentrification is an interesting concept I've seen explored in comics before, mostly in Tom Kazcinski's Beta Testing the Apocalypse and in Ben Katchor's Hand-drying in America, but never on such a personal level. How does the changing demographic of a neighbourhood affect your sense of self? How does it feel to realize that the place you identify as your home, where your fond memories of your childhood happened, has changed so drastically as to become unrecognizable? Phantom delves deep into the heart of the artist as she recalls her life in Queen's and how the changing population and composition of the area affects her. I have rarely seen an exploration of a concept like this on such a personal level. It comes from a place of distress and sadness at knowing the inevitability of change and the inability to prevent it in any way. Pandya challenges the notion that someone can truly belong anywhere and the foolishness of feeling attached to a neighbourhood. Here, I can feel my roots more strongly than I ever could anywhere else, even back in India. But the foundation around me is changing. I don't see history anymore. Pandya talks about the very real feelings of anger at the changes happening, while understanding that the rapidly evolving demographics means that there is no way that this can stop.

Phantom is about more than just gentrification. It is also about memories and the fickleness of our brains. Pandya recalls not only the neighbourhood, but also her childhood memories. What struck me as interesting was how hazy these recollections are. What remains aren't clear images, but feelings. She remembers stars stuck to the ceiling that she could touch from the top of her bunk bed. Or maybe it was from the bottom bunk. But whether it happened from the top or bottom bunk is inconsequential. It's the feelings these memories evoke that are connecting her to her roots. This is illustrated in various ways, mostly by deliberately making an image slightly blurry.

One of my favourite aspects of this comic might be the way Pandya is able to weave all of the themes together so effortlessly. You can read it HERE for free but you can also get a physical copy HERE. I have read it both digitally and in print form and I must say I felt the reading experience was more cohesive as a whole in print form. I felt that those themes of belonging resonated more strongly in the print version. Phantom on paper is an artifact that grounds the reading to a physical element. It is tangible and it's tactile aspects brings a weight to the comic the digital format cannot quite convey. A screen is too multipurpose to properly address those themes.


Light OCD, by Mathilde Van Gheluwe

Mathilde Van Gheluwe takes us through the various symptoms (habits and behaviours) that comes with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). We are made to see the world from the perspective of someone suffering from OCD, or at least would want to see. Whether it is extremely messy or hyper organized like in the above page, Van Gheluwe is able to convey the duality at the heart of OCD. It conveys the need to see the world in a specific way, and not being able to function if it isn't in that particular way at that particular moment.

Light OCD uses mostly full page drawings, but the space allows Van Gheluwe to spread her art over a full page. It's delightful to see. Her style reminds me of German expressionism and how it plays with shadow and composition of black and white. This sort of exaggeration of reality really helps the book to stand out. I was enamoured with it from the first page. The ink on the page is thick. It looks extravagant and really helps the style shine through.

I really liked this comic, yet I'm having a really hard time describing why. It's good, trust me!


Alcathoe & the Giant Girl, by Isaac Lenkiewicz

Alcathoe & the Giant Girl is the tale of a little girl who wanders through the woods too close to the house of Alcathoe, the grumpy/evil witch of the village. She annoys the witch and is transformed into a giant. It's up to her mother to confront the witch and reverse the spell. She has met Alcathoe before and this time, she'll take her head off.

There are interesting concepts in the comics, such as the mother having to once again face her childhood bully as an adult. The lesson is seemingly that to face a bully, you also have to be aggressive and become a bully yourself, even if your intentions are noble. I'm not quite sure this was the intended message, but it felt this way. I'm sure other readers will have different reactions to it, perhaps I'm too cynical.

Alcathos is a gorgeous comic. I like riso-printed comics and this one was quite spectacular. It uses only 2 colours throughout (blue and white), to great effect. I felt as though the colorus benefited from the thin pencil strokes of Lenkiewicz. It allowed the smaller elements to really pop out of the page, such as gusts of wind or the lawn of a house. The hand-crafted panels, loosely drawn by hand, gives each page an eclectic charm. I don't often talk about paper stock, but I loved the one used here. It seems like it's recycled paper. It's imperfect and has minor discolouration in various places, but it really adds to the charm of the comic.

This was unfortunately, my least favorite comics of the box, mostly because I felt the other comics that came with it were so strong. It was bound to look weaker by comparison. While it is well-crafted and is a quirky take on a conventional fairy tale, I had a hard time enjoying it. I like the comedic aspect of the book. I even read it to my newborn son. I just don't don't think I'll read it again for myself.

Kupala, by Kaska Gazdowna and Kaska Klas

A forest is almost always shrouded in mystery. It's dark, dangerous and mysterious. Even more so now that most of us live in cities, far removed from the natural world. The sheer volume of sounds and animal activity roaming in the woods at night seems supernatural.

Kupala tells the tale of a young boy who falls in love with a mysterious girl in the woods during Kupala, a summer solstice event in which the supernatural interacts with the world of the living. While the boy receives fair warning from his grandmother, he doesn't heed those warnings and returns every year to this mysterious woman until tragedy strikes. 

What struck me about this comic was how light the tone was considering the horror and violence with which the book ends. There was a sort of casualness to it all. The world is cruel and violent. Things in the woods will attack you. They'll eat your kayak. It's just the way the world is. Life is miserably bleak. It isn't just the distant past, but our present is just as bad. We may lie to ourselves and pretend there's light in this world, but it's delusional. In Kupala, love is dangerous. It brings with it a false hope that things will get better; that someone cares for us and wants us to be happy. This comic is a stark reminder that happiness is a construct yielding few good outcomes. The protagonist of Kupala will not have a happy ending and neither will any of us. We're all doomed. 

I really liked the art. It's pacing and layout was extremely competent. I liked how the artist used primarily black and white and a layer of black dots on white to create a gray colour. This mesh layer is expertly woven throughout to create depth, light and textures. For such a dark comic, the use of white made it seem quite bright. It doesn't play with colour as much as Violaine Briat's Neebo, but it is a solid comic. It does share with other comics in the box a sort of bleak view of the world, a dark vision of the world. I really enjoyed this comic.


The REST, by Michael Deforge, Seo Kim, Ryan Cecil Smith & Zainab Akhtar

The latest batch of retrofit had a few extras, a print from Michael Deforge with his signature style. It reminded me of some stuff he’d done for his Ottawa art show exhibit “Dogs”. It looks great. There’s a sheet of bunnies and cats stickers from Seo Kim. I could care less about stickers, but I’m sure my son will make good use of it. Either in a few years when he can play with them, or maybe I’ll randomly use them to seal birthday card envelopes. Regardless, it’s always nice to see her art. I’ve been meaning to read Cat Person for a while, and this was a good reminder to look it up. My favorite concept of the box is possibly the contributors credit sheet. Designed by Ryan Cecil Smith, it’s a nice introduction to the artists showcased in the box. I thought it was a really neat idea. These comics are not made in a vacuum, they’re made by artists, people you may want to look into if you like their work. There’s also candies, which was sweet. I half expected some soft drink, the aforementioned cola, but I doubt a can of soft drink would travel well with paper. 

In conclusion

In conclusion, Shortbox was nothing short of phenomenal. I hope the trial run went well. It apparently sold out in an hour. I’m one of the lucky few who were able to get one out of pure luck given the time difference between the UK and Canada (my newborn son was awake and not falling asleep at the time and I just stumbled onto the open ordering time). I would encourage anyone who is even remotely interested in alternative comics to look into Shortbox. It probably was pricier than I expected, but I appreciated it nonetheless. I liked almost every single comic in the box, but it’s about more than the content, it’s also about the care and attention given to it. From the box itself to the colorful tape, to the candy in the box, and how the comics were wrapped. There’s all these little thing I didn’t focus on that really makes you understand the passion for comics that Zainab Akhtar has and she wants you to love the stuff in the box as much as she did. I’m looking forward to seeing what will be in the next box and, maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get one. Pre-ordering for box #2 starts Monday July 18th 2016.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Changing the Tune: Better Comics than DC Rebirth you can Buy for the Same Price!

The conversation surrounding DC Rebirth is irritating me to no end. This comic appears to address the failings of the DC Comics of the past decades by actively refusing to do any sort of introspection. It fixes problems by creating more and misunderstanding the core appeal of their own comics. It's done by the same people who did the wrecking in the first place. It seems wrong-headed, mean-spirited and just unwelcoming. I see it in the same way I see the Star Wars Prequels. Maybe Shazam will have midichlorians now, Alfred is Jar Jar...

I also saw this particularly grating comment by Tom Spurgeon on the Comics Reporter to the effect that a comic book store employee recommended he buy the comic because it was cheap: “Should you buy it? I guess. It's like 80 pages for three bucks. You might as well”. That just seems wrong to me, I understand that comic book shop benefits from selling this comic and getting it out there is good for their business, but if the quality of the product is lacking and the story being told is problematic, why would you as a consumer purchase it at all. Are we bound by the need to read a comic simply because of value or does quality has a higher value than simple cost? If as a reader, you've felt betrayed before, why trust that this will be any different?

So I thought to move the conversation towards actual good comics you can buy for three bucks RIGHT NOW that are of good and for which you’ll be supporting artists directly rather than a corporate publishers who, by any indications, seems to actively hate you. There are so much good comics, let's see what three bucks can get you.


Let's start with Uncivilized books and with Doomin by Derek Van Gieson. It appears to be a riff on Tove Janssen's Moomin, but with a music/drunken twist.

Over at Ray Ray Books, Club Queen Rat King by Emma Louthan, a small comic from the artist behind Three Fates, a comic I really enjoyed. This one is about Club Queen, finding "her rightful place as the object of worship for the denizens of a surreal frenzied night club". Next up is Consumption by Jensine Eckwall, Here's the description from the author: "This winter I got sick, sick in a way I’d ever been before.  In my desperate search for answers, I came across a group of people whose desires had shifted from self-preservation to quite the opposite". There's also the extremely talented Laura Knetzger's Flowering Vine (I reviewed her latest comic Sea Urchin here). Flowering Vine is a comic I have yet to read described as follow: "Wonders blossom in the inner-most thoughts of a young girl’s mind. I'm looking forward to reading this"

Speaking of the incredibly talented Laura Knetzger, her excellent comic Find me, Look for Me (Reviewed here) is available for three bucks over at Yeah Dude Comics.

Over at Czap Book, Rising, comic superstar Cathy G. Johnson & Kevin Czapiewski's newsprint comic He Fought Like a Little Tiger in a Trap loosely based on a novel by Carson McCullers I've never heard of. It's a comic about identity and expression. They also have Rind by MJ Robinson, a comic poem about frustration.

Speaking of poetry, if you want to try something truly different, InkBrick has a bunch of experimental poetry comics for three bucks or less over at the InkBrick Store

Over at Radiator Comics, the sci-fi comedy comic by Miranda Harmon Intergalactic Dance Party will lighten your mood and make you want to dance. Any issues of the series Frankie by Rachel Dukes (about a bizarre cat adopted by a family) are available for two or three bucks. There's an interesting looking comic AND a guide on useful things you should know about by Isabella Rotman called Good to Know . All the issues of Madtown High by Whit Taylor are available as well. 

Moving on to Study Group Comics, a single sketchbook by artist Zack Soto called fukt' bros is available for just three bucks.

Over at 2Dcloud, an avant-garde publisher of quality materials from interesting authors, a few comics of note are available for under three bucks: A Rudy mini comic by Mark Connery, a poetry comic called Easter Island by Christopher Adams of which I know nothing about, Looking Good by Will Dinski on office gadgets; No Title by Ellen Redshaw, and the talented Anna Bongiovanni's mini comic Cavities & Crevices, same with MariNaomi's Great Heights, and a comic by Nicholas Breutzman called Harvest based on Jailhouse stories.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. You want a Universe of comics? At your local comic shop, all the issues of the phenomenal 8 House project and Mirror are $2.99. Lighten up the load of back issues of your local comic shop, they’ll be grateful.


Digital Retrofit comics: I’m cheating a bit here since I’m suggesting digital comics rather than print comics, but with such a good selection of solid titles, it would be a shame not to point them out. Retrofit Comics have been releasing extremely interesting comic from phenomenal talents for the last few years. Most of those are available as .PDF on their website for just $2.99. The 2014 Ignatz Award winner for Outstanding Comic Wicked Chicken Queen by Sam Alden, Debbie’s Inferno by Anne Emond, Number One by Box Brown, Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa, Bowman by Pat Aulisio, The Monkey in the Basement and Other Delusions by Corrine Mucha. And a personal favourite, the newly released The Experts by Sophie Franz (reviewed here). Take a serious look at their digital catalog, any of these $2.99 comics will be an impeccable read. That Sam Alden comic and the Sophie Franz comic will change how you think about comics.

Speaking of good digital comics, over at Youth in Decline, you can get the first issue of Lovers Only, an romance anthology by Cathy G. Jonhson, Sophia Foster-Dimino and Mickey Zacchilli for under two bucks.

You can also get any of Sarah Horrocks comics on digital for two or three bucks.


So there you have it, options of comics for three bucks. None of these comics are mean-spirited, confusing, unwelcoming, angry or filled with pointless decapitation (don't quote me on that last one though, but I'm pretty sure there is no decapitation in those). They don’t require you buy more comics to understand it, nor do they require you to have read 15 to 20 years of comics before it to understand it. It's importance will not be wiped away in 3 months. They will stand as artifacts, intemporal pieces of art, of comics well executed by caring artists, and hopefully will be well-liked by you as a reader. 

Comic book doesn't have to be a spiteful place. You don't have to buy something out of nostalgia alone, you don't have to buy a comic out of habit. You don't have to buy a comic you don't like. It's not fun to "anger-read" books and comics. You are your own person. You can make your own choices. Be the comic reader you want to be. If after looking at all of those suggestions, DC Rebirth still appeals to you, that's fine too. But do let me know, I'll send you the exact location of Alan Moore's grave and we can all go dancing on it while burning money and talking about how good the Batman V Superman 2: Electric Superman Blue is going to be. That scene where Mongul rips Lois Lane in half with her intestines splattered all over the floor. Just the gore movie I think of when I think of a Batman/Superman team-up movie. 

P.S. don't watch the Batman/Superman movie, maybe watch another comic book movie like Turbo Kid instead. It's a better movie in almost every conceivable way, and it's Canadian. Oh did you watch Diary of a Teenage Girl yet? It's amazing!

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Laura Knetzger's Sea Urchin: Facing Depression

I had the chance to catch the end of a panel presentation by Andrea Charise during the Canadian Conference on Medical Education on the importance of Medical Humanities in understanding illness from not just a clinical perspective, but also from a personal perspective. It reminded me of Laura Knetzger’s SeaUrchin, a comic published by Retrofit Comics that I’ve been meaning to talk about since last May. I barely know where to start, but wrapping my head around the idea of medical humanities and how art has values in understanding illness and those afflicted by it allowed me to get a better grip on the Sea Urchin.

Our protagonist in this book is Laura, presumably the same Laura as the artist. We follow her journey of living with crippling depression and eventually her bittersweet ride onto the sunset road to recovery. Laura talks at length about the ongoing issues caused by this depression. What am I good for? Why do the things I enjoyed no longer have any importance to me? Why am I mean to the people I love? Why can’t I get out of this funk? How can I live like this? Knetzger describes in painful detail the realities of dealing with such an illness. It permeates your life, your daily thoughts and affects both your behavior and your physical health.

I was glad to see Knetzger take what must have been a painful topic and expose it to a new light, to different angles. She wrote a mini-comic called Find me, Look for Me a few years ago (reviewed here) where these themes were, much like mental illness, hidden slightly below the surface. In this case, our protagonist is depressed because of the disappearance of her brother and the fallout of it and she finds solace in caring for a defenseless alien, or pet. But I believe that depression isn’t necessarily caused by a specific event, but rather a confluence of many factors, both social, psychological and physical. While her first work addresses those issues, it is Sea Urchin that approaches these themes in a much more head-on manner. Its a discussion on how depression affects emotions, causing a huge onset of hopelessness, irritability and invading dark thoughts. Touching on how this causes fatigue and how it affects concentration is key in relating this story. Suffering from depression is not a temporary weakness, it is a real medical condition. Sea Urchin doesn’t hide its theme, nor does it explain how it begins or even offer diagnostics on how to fix it. I felt a sort of courageous strength in the work. Laura describes all of this without doubt, fear or shame.  It is here and it is an issue to work through.

I will mention that this work is in Black & White. It looks gorgeous that way; the lines are clean and expressive. It has an energy to it that I find charming. Her pages don’t follow any sort of standard grid which lends it that energy, but it never gets confusing and never strays into incomprehensible mess. I did enjoy the use of color in Find me, Look for me. The blue tones added a sort of coldness, a sadness that is difficult to replicate without colour. The strength of the material allows it to not lose any of its impact. A true strength of the work. The size of it was jarring at times, varying from perfect on the page to blown up just too much, as if you had zoomed in on an iPad version of it and the size had gone on to 125% of the original size of the art. It only happens a handful of times, but it was certainly unexpected and took me out of the book. I kept wondering if this was done intentionally, or if certain pages had been blown-up because they were drawn on different sizes of paper. Regardless, Knetzger's style is consistent throughout and just delightful to see.

While Knetzger talks about depression openly, Sea Urchin never feels like a laundry list of ailments or a plea to commiserate with her. Sea Urchin approaches its themes seriously but is not simply about the pain. Moments of levity are also plentiful in this work. The protagonist walks in the street, trying to conjure up the courage to pat a dog she thinks looks cute. These moments remind us that, while illness is serious, moments of happiness do arise, however fleeting they may be. It also helps create a more rounded protagonist. We aren’t simply observers of her pain, but also of her small victories. This lands the work a charm that other works of its kind don’t necessarily have. There is no answer in this book, simply scribbled maps leading to some better ways. It is a work of great depth and attention to detail that is key in understanding the quirks afflicting those suffering from depression.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Sophie Franz's The Experts: Creepy Feelings & Riveting Read

Sophie Franz's The Experts is a riveting comic. An exercise in atmospheric horror ambiance. It is frightening, spectacular and haunting. I've always thought (and said before) that Horror was a combination of moods and moderation, menacing yet restrained. Horror is a balancing act between the untold and the known. Few can do it well. The Experts is not specifically a horror comic, nor is it fully a science fiction comic, it is a bit of both and it combines elements of both genres to tell it's story effortlessly.

The Experts tells the dreadful story of three scientific experts sent to a remote station in a massive body of water studying strange water humanoids. What becomes apparent is that something is not right with the set-up. They are mis-remembering things and losing touch with their superiors. But the set-up is only a part of the larger story. The puzzle is there for the reader to unravel, but almost as if we are provided with pieces from three different puzzles with the same image, the pieces never really fit together.

Franz's mastery of colour is impressive. She uses white space in a number of areas to enhance the story in different ways. Obviously to let the reader focus on the characters and be unencumbered by background details but also and to perhaps an even greater degree, to amplify the feeling of unease inherent to the story. Are there no background details because the characters simply have stopped noticing their existence? The gradients are also superb, setting the tone of unease at the beginning of the comic. Our experts are here to observe, but who's observing whom, and for what purpose. Most impressive is perhaps Franz's ability to capture facial expression. All of her characters are unique and convey different emotions and subtle changes within very well. A striking achievement, especially considering that her characters have no eyes, one of whom is a humanoid fish.

This story would feel like the perfect set-up for a Doctor Who episode. A few scientists are holed up in a distant and remote locale and haunted by bizarre creatures. They're doomed until the Doctor fixes the issue. But there is no saviour in this story, just characters spiraling ever further into oblivion and helplessness. So far one of my favorite reads of 2016. I'll make a point of following Sophie Franz's Tumblr page moving forward. You should too.

Friday 6 May 2016

Zak Sally's Recidivist IV: Engaging on Form, Content, Ways of Seeing in Multiple Ways

I bought a copy of Recidivist vol. IV by Zak Sally at Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal in January 2015. I meant to write about the form, the content and the various ways of seeing art in a post that I never finished, knowing I would revisit it at some point. It has been incredibly difficult for me to separate the book itself and the explanation of the book. Zak Sally wrote a passionate piece on the book upon it’s release explaining what the book might be, and what it wasn’t. Over time, I even came to believe the justification for Recidivist became an art piece in itself. It’s raw, it’s reactionary, it’s pre-emptively striking it’s naysayers and warning those approaching it to arrive with an open mind. It is asking the reader to engage in the piece. Sally says the book “is about failure and obsolescence and fear and hope and why anyone in this day and age would spend time and energy making and disseminating obscure printed sheets of paper with stuff on it”. And this is what I will do. I’ll engage with the pieces until I’ve observed it raw.

I think it’s relevant to engage with it now, months after it’s release. Most books aren’t tied to a specific time period. Some are, and while they are not created in a vacuum, they certainly do not become irrelevant because of the passage of time. I’m not doing this to influence the sales of a product; I don’t even know if you can buy this thing anymore anyway. What I’m hoping to accomplish is to evaluate this comic at the intersection of its terms and my own. How can we look at this in a way that goes beyond the simple reading. If this book was meant to simply be read, it wouldn't be made the way it is. Sally’s book is an experiment in dissonance and effort. It requires an effort on the part of the reader to read it, and I’ll try to do the same as a reviewer.

This will be the first of a series of posts on Recidivist vol.IV. I have no idea how they’ll turn out. Since the book is asking us to engage with the piece, I will engage with it and the environment. I’ll read it eight times in eight different locations and write about it. Here are the locations I've flagged so far to do this.
  • In a plane;
  • On the top floor of a skyscraper;
  • By the Ottawa River;
  • On a busy street in the downtown core;
  • In an industrial park at night;
  • On a bridge;
  • At a Casino;
  • in a moving vehicle (probably a car though I won't be foolish enough to drive and read);
  • And finally at home, at night
I’ll listen to the album while reading it sometimes, but not every time. I`ll listen to it digitally or from a CD player, with headphones or not. How will reading this differ from one place to the next? Well, I’m not quite sure. I’m hoping that the dissonance between the locations, the sounds and visual stimuli will create entirely different reading experiences. I’ve done a similar exercise for a university class before. A poetry creation class where we would travel to different places and be inspired by that location. I’m hoping to achieve similar results but instead of creating, I'd be interpreting the art. A reading experience can often differ depending on the time of day, your mood and who you are on any given day and the location can also affect your comprehension and reception of a piece. 

We'll see how the experiment goes. I should have the first post up in a few days.

Thursday 28 April 2016

Hellberta: Exit Interview with Michael Comeau

Michael Comeau is a Canadian cartoonist and artist living in Toronto. If you've ever been to Toronto's comic shop by excellence The Beguilling, you're familiar with his work as he's done the window art for as long as I can recall. Over the course of the past 8 years, Michael Comeau has worked on a comics called Hellberta, a political exploration of Canada's troubled relationship with the Oil industry, but also with culture and the dreaded "Canadian Identity" (whatever that means). I've had the chance to meet Michael at TCAF in 2014 and 2015 and we've been able to chat about his comics and his work. His latest comic Leather Vest has been nominated for a Doug Wright Award

Michael has agreed to discuss with me about the release of the collected edition his comic Hellberta published by Colour Code Printing. While normally, a collection of comics simply contain the same material, this collection contain additional material and re-orders the content. The first issue published in 2008 has been included as the final element of the collection while the third issue is now placed second. This changes slightly the way the text is read. It is much more focused in its approach as it splits the two main elements (meandering drawings of Canadian landscape and a reflection of what  Wolverine would mean in Canada) and separates them. I've edited things for flow.


Philippe Leblanc: I believe that the original comics had quite a limited run and that the collected edition has been published recently.

Michael Comeau: We had a few hundred or so of printed copies per issue. The collected edition was ready for CAB in November and we launched it here in Toronto in December. So it's been out for a little while and it's starting to make it's way out. I don't know how quickly, but, it's out!

PL: Do you like the end product you came up with? Is that final edition satisfactory?

MC: Yeah, in general I guess, but that's a weird question. I never know how to answer it. It's mixed feelings really. I don't have feelings of self-satisfaction. I'm already wanting to move on to the next thing you know. I'm glad to have gotten it done, I'm glad to get it out, but there's still and always will be something you could have done differently, or better, or faster, or...or anything you know. Whatever. I'm onto the next project. We launched it in Toronto and a few weeks later my band (New Horizzzons) launched a new record and already these songs feel old. I'm also in the midst of new comics, so it's mixed feelings. I'm as happy as I need to be, how's that?

PL: That's all you need to be. Before I go into questions about the comics, I wanted to ask, was there a demand for a collected edition of Hellberta? I guess I discovered it through Koyama Press's website and found it at the Beguiling and I've only ever seen one write-up about it by Tucker Stone. I know I was interested in it, but at large?

MC: A little bit, but I mean demand seems like too strong a word. It was more like "inquiries". But you know comics are weird. There's not a big demand for most of them. There was somewhat of an interest if I could quantify it. It's one of those things where I want to have it out to those who'd want it. My readership I suppose, but I don't want to overstate what that means. It's there for those that would seek it, but I don't want to assume much more. And working with small publishers also means that a big questions is "Can we get rid of the small print run we have in a timely manner"? And for the most part, this seemed feasible.

PLCan you tell us about Hellberta? What was your initial motivation in creating it? What were you trying to accomplish with Hellberta?

MC: I have a background in screenprinting and I used to do a lot of zines. I edited an anthology called Regal Beasts of which there are three issues. I always worked in the language of comics, but never released comics proper, or enough to fill a book. Around 2006, my marriage had broken up and I moved into a punk house filled with anarchist activists that were younger than me. That started a lot of things. I started playing music in my thirties and stuff like that. I lived with Calgarian ex-pats. Talking with them, I discovered that there was a real distinct Calgary activist culture that can be traced around the country. And living with queer & trans folks from this place that was experiencing a major economic boom, but also had a palpable sense of intolerance, was interesting. We ended up travelling to the West Coast to meet friends and I was going to do an art show in Vancouver. So Hunter, Nagata and a dog named Felony did a road-trip across the country and we were going to drive back afterwards. This prompted me to keep a "Cahier de voyage" as we were driving across. We were talking about Alberta and what it was like there. I mean there was a lot of money going around, but it was coming from environmentally-unfriendly business and that radicalized a lot of people where they were either for the oil companies or they opposed it. 

I was involved with Punch Clock, an anarchist print shop and we threw these events and parties informed by this queer activist spirit these people brought. It was interesting to hear folks tell us about all these interesting concepts and ideas like "the Calgary return", for example, a certain generation of activists returning to Calgary to change things. It was fascinating to be in that space and hanging out with these people and hearing about the Albertan hospitality, which is warm and welcoming for a short period, but if you overstay your welcome (however long it is), then that same hospitality makes way for intolerance quickly. There was a lot of different dynamics and traumas unfolding and the sketchbook was a way to parse through all of this stuff. The idea of going across Canada, what that's like and our Canadian identity which is stretching across Canada. At the same time, I was thinking about the Tar Sands and thinking about how you can quantify what it means to Canada, how can you quantify this draw of people from across Canada trying to go there, at Fort Mac, work in the Tar sands and make money there. And while there are statistics and schools of thought that talk about that, I didn't feel qualified. How do you speak about a road trip and those ideas and concepts we discussed the whole way without being didactic or anything? So as an afterthought, I wanted to finish the book with a Wolverine comic. We were talking a lot about land rights and native rights, and people being cut off from it and what it all means. I thought a good way to talk about this was to take a popular archetype from that area, reappropriate Wolverine and say "What would Wolverine do?" 

It allowed me to deal in more broad strokes so I don't need to be so specific. The band "One Hundred Dollars" had a song called Black Gold and in the verses it went "The ring on my finger is made with Black Gold" and that was very inspirational in how to go about being broad and addressing topics at the same time. So instead of doing the 88 page carnet de voyage first and the Wolverine comic afterward, I thought to invert them and put out the Wolverine comic out first and the second issue of Hellberta is the material that technically was done before that. For the collection, I've reordered it. The first issue comes last, the second issue comes first and the third issue is kind of in between. 

Hellberta was really an excuse to learn how to do comics. I grew up reading X-Men so I knew Wolverine. I wasn't really active in my reading of superhero comics, but I found it really annoying that his story was retconned to the point where it wasn't clear that he and his family were originally from Canada. When I grew up, his main origin was "Logan was found wandering the woods in the Rockies, his past is shrouded in mystery". He's a character who's torn between the present and the mystery of his past. But when his name is James Howlett and his family comes from England, it's like, no, no that's not Wolverine. But, much like there's different denomination of Christianity, there is with fandom attachment to cultural elements, especially in comics, I thought I'd reclaim a version, my version of the Wolverine as a way to easily to talk about Canada through a mythological figure.

PL: Reclaiming the Chris Claremont/ Len Wein original archetype to talk about Canada in a way.

MC: I find it interesting how the Wolverine character has evolved over the years. It gets you thinking about Canadian stoicism, and what that really means. I think of someone like Neil Young, when he released Le Noise, he was doing interviews and you saw him and thought "what a crotchety old hoser." It's hilarious, and he's got that heavy Canadian accent; he takes no shit. He's still doing what he wants and he's vicious. I found that interesting. I was also never a big Rush fan, but I remember Neil Peart leaving a big impression in that Rush documentary. He has that very aggressive humility of Canadians. He's very proper and tight lipped and is seen as one of the greatest drummers out there, but won't let anyone tell that to him. The way he is, is a very Canadian thing but is rarely displayed in media. You see it displayed all around you in Canada, that sort of aggressive meekness is really interesting. Perhaps, if he was more gregarious and able to say "well I guess I am the best drummer". His mannerism seems so Canadian to me. I know talking with Americans, when you say aggressive meekness, it sounds contradictory, but I'm so used to undermining the idea of Canadian "nice". We're not nice, politeness is not nice. As we were driving across Canada, we met all sorts of people, in big and small places. It was weird how people would treat us in different places, like those tight-knit proper places in the mountains. Close to the natural beauty there are a lot of white people, but away from that, it's more diverse. When we were in Vancouver, I had an art show in East Hastings and it was such a sketchy area, with people falling asleep standing up and just squalor everywhere. But then you walk a few blocks to West Hastings and Boom! Money! No one sleeping on the streets here. It's a different thing, if you want to be close to the water, that's money. If you want to be close to the mountains, also money, but in between, poverty and misery. As you're experiencing beauty, you also see that divide. In Toronto, of course there's racism, but it's so diverse, you don't really see the more definite Red/White divide that is in Canada. There's a lot of that identity of being nice that people project to the world, but when you dig ever so slightly under the surface, we're not nice. Just with the environment, we weren't fulfilling our Kyoto accords, slowing down progress in environmental causes, but we like to think we're nice and doing the right thing, merely because we're meek. And that's not necessarily so. It's just variations on the imperialism and colonialism.

PL: I find it interesting that this road trip is what pushed you toward making comics and Hellberta in particular. I was able to travel across Canada a lot more than ever before as part of my work. And being in Calgary, or Vancouver, you do see those sharp contrasts of going from the seedier parts of town and into the lush, expensive areas and these happen within a few blocks.

MC: I had an art show there and it was really funny, I was hanging out with friends, and I had the show, and I was going to DF at the afterparty afterwards. There was a mix of meetings with these Vancouver stoners who were freaking out I was going to DJ. They would say things like "what, you're doing what? you can do that?" Well yeah, I can do that, I called ahead, you can plan things. A couple bands played the art opening and then across the street was a practice space/venue for concerts, which I don't think is there anymore, the Regency Room. People came over and it was amazing; great bands played, we were having fun and I was DJ-ing. A friend brought some of his local native friends there and Hunter was getting weird vibes from someone and couldn't tell if it was racism, or just a drunk jerk in general. Eventually they left, and towards the end of the night, I started playing slower stuff to bring the energy level down. At some point, the owner in a panic asked me to turn off the music. So I did and I heard these screams outside. They locked the gates to prevent people from barging in and also locking us in and we saw these flashing lights outside.  I thought it was a raid, so I gathered my stuff nervously. When I caught up with my friends, I asked them what was going on.What began as a punk and art show devolved into a weird fight outside with a weirdo white woman screaming "this ain't your land you savages, this is our land!" It was just a conflict between a bunch of people who couldn't get along. I could hardly imagine this in Toronto, but in BC, that conflict seems so ripe because of the treaties signed for land with the natives were more blatantly violated and so there's this tension and conflict that's palpable there. Days before we got there, there was a protest and a 3-year old girl got pepper sprayed. So some of the people we were with told that woman that what she was saying was wrong and eventually, someone got punched in the face and a race fight broke out. Everyone's fighting outside until someone's head got smashed on the ground. The ambulance showed up and I'm shocked from having such a good time in "cool" Vancouver. The native woman we were with told us "What did you expect? Welcome to Vancouver". And the very next day, I had a very different attitude about Canada. You really see how attitudes collides. I didn't quite know how to express these types of anecdotes, but I allude to it in the book but it's seems vague. And it seems so long ago now. At the time I didn't know how to specifically address that, so I just thought I'd bring Wolverine into it.

The James Howlett Affair
PL: I find it interesting in the way you're talking about it. In part a political awakening, but a sense that things aren't as rosy as Canadians like to pretend that they are. I saw Hellberta as a political text from the beginning that borrowed these elements of pop culture to articulate your points. I find it hard to divorce the political nature of the comic in spite of the pop culture elements. Maybe it's because I'm in Ottawa and I see everything as political. Why did you want to bring Wolverine as a strong cultural element of comics to parse through all of your ideas.

MC: I found that the drawings coming out of the sketchbook being collaged together didn't mesh well enough. That anecdote I just said, I didn't know how to write that out. It didn't sit well with me: "Here's this story about a street fight I missed because I was DJ-ing". It was hard to start talking about a conflict that's been going on for a long time. In a nutshell, you can kind of know about this, I mean you have an idea of what it looks like, but to feel and to see it is different. My shock and upset about the proximity of someone saying "What did you expect?" was hard to articulate. In wanting to learn more how to do proper comics, I felt back on the language I knew, which were those of Wolverine comics. At the time, I didn't want to reference the Frank Miller or Chris Claremont comics, that's their thing. But then you realize that those are the languages everyone else references from Barry Windsor-Smith to whoever else. And then you realize that there is this classic archetype and I can string that along to experiment in narrative. That was a little bit more involved than a sketchbook with some drawings and a little bit of drawing to go with it. It was allowing me to plot a comic strip, or a comic book.

It was also about the ease of form as much as it happened to bridge the gap between what my understanding and power of expression in comics is.

PL: Was there anything you held back when you wrote Hellberta? Anything you wanted to tell and didn't or felt you couldn't include?

MC: Yes and no. There always is, but that doesn't really matter. I don't feel it hampered anything. If I go to The Beguiling and look at comic covers, there's this whole Wolverine and Sabretooth conflict and sort of "Violence as Sex" as a big element for me. If you derive violence for how people interact with each other, their violent feud is their love affair. I thought of what their love affair would look like and I mean, gosh, just get a room already. Them stab-fucking each other is something I left out. I definitely had some drawings of them stabbing each other as eroticism in my sketchbook, which I didn't include.

PL: Did Hellberta help you made sense of the world, or at least more of it than you did before?

MC: Sense of the world is hard to say. I do subscribe to the idea of creating work to understand something. Put the cart before the horse to feel like you can understand something. I think that the answer is yes in the way that it helped me understand the nature of narrative and how everything is a narrative. In the course of a day, we construct narratives for ourselves. We have about 3 hours of blind spots. You're blinking, you're unfocused, stuff like that. But if I ask you how your day was, you'd be able to string together what you thought the events of your day were. For so long, I'd do a poster, or a single image, but it's different to draw for something that's going to be pasted to a wall, as opposed to something that's going to be in a book. There is that universal thing of being able to create a collage of images on a page in the same way you can with words and sentences on the page of a book. They're both narratives. I don't have to be a great writer, I'm not, but I can string together images to create a narrative and that's less of a daunting thing now, but it's still a discipline that I struggle with. It's a different dimension in creating meaning in what you already do. I can do drawings, but if I order them in a narrative way, that creates a different dimension of value for whatever effort of drawing there is.

PL: That's interesting. One of the reasons I read your text as political was obviously the inclusion of Stephen Harper as the main antagonist, the defender of Big Oil businesses and pipelines.

MC: Yeah, every time an election would come, I'd think about it. It's like 1984 punk rocker. I remember Ian McKay saying he never wanted to put Ronald Reagan in the lyrics because it wouldn't be universal anymore. And that was in my mind when I included him, because that's the way people around me saw him, as such a villain and so sinister. It was a little bit hack and it's going against the grain of universality, but it was a funny way to tether that into a real world. And I'd always wondered if I should vote for him to make my book still relevant.

PL: I think you wrote Hellberta before 2011 right?

MC: Well it's a bit all over the map in terms of timeline, but I started it in 2007 and ended in 2014, so around that.

PL: As far as I can remember, Harper wasn't as hated or vilified across the board until the start of his third term in 2011. I certainly saw a shift around me of people who disliked him before, but really hated him afterward.

MC: It's interesting you see the work as so political, because I never saw it as all that. It's weird being around the activist culture I was with and never self-identifying as an activist because there's an attitude with it. I want more artistic freedom than that, but at the same time, that's the kind of what I know, the people I hang out with. It also makes me realize I'm not responsible for the gut reaction I had when I saw Harper. I heard terrible things about him and I didn't care to investigate more. Canadian politics, well all politics really, just seem appalling to me. It's Hollywood for ugly people, just uncharismatic people with naked ambition and that's just not attractive to me. I don't have the discipline to stay involved and that's why I think there's that broad kind of archetypal thinking in Hellberta. I can't give you an articulate argument about Canadian environmental policy or the real impact on Calgary and Alberta. But I can make broader points about the culture around this. It's easier to talk about it in broad terms because to me, Harper always was a villain.

PL: Do you feel that, now that it's a few years later and the Canadian political landscape has changed - we have a new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, the price of oil has crashed, the NDP is the Alberta provincial government - do you feel you could tell the same story today?

MC: I don't know, I don't really care. I don't invest too much hope in politicians. Maybe I should. I think at the time, I was reading about the Christian right in Canadian politics and it was mirroring what was happening in the US. Like if you think of George W. Bush coming from Texas, though I'm not sure he particularly was, culturally, he was representing Texas and this kind of Christian right. It spoke to an idea of spirituality and abusing ideas of spirituality, like promoting the concepts of Heaven and Hell, while at the same time, preaching denial of self to attain Heaven and undermining what it is that supports us here in this world. That irony is always very present in politics regardless of the spectrum. These fake hopes and morals being flaunted about and then desecrating what we have here on earth.

I heard someone talk about my art as a way to feed my soul. I just shrugged. When people talk to me about soul, it sounds like trying to sell real estate in a place that doesn't exist. You hear a lot of this fakeness like "your eternal soul is important" meanwhile those same people are totally trying to exploit your actual body, your work, what you need to survive, but hey, thanks for thinking about my soul. These things are always very present, although the language surrounding them tends to change every now and then. At the time, that was some of what was coming out more and more in Alberta, that Tar Sands are a bust and hyper polluting. There's all kinds of things that go with this. I mean when the United States, our closest neighbor and a kind of immoral drunk uncle, isn't interested in our gross Canadian dirty oil, you go "Oh no, our oil is so dirty you're right!" The players change, but Justin Trudeau isn't going to solve all our problems. Not that I even have the awareness to properly articulate what those problems might be.

PL: Switching gears from politics, let's talk about the character of Wolverine. There is a certain analysis of the character of Wolverine in your work that positions him as a sort of arrogant, tortured soul and a downright bizarre and aggressive individual. I liked the way you portrayed him as someone who would be really frustrating and weird to meet in real life. Why do you think there’s such an appeal for a character like Wolverine?

MC: I don't know. I think he's always had those contradictions. In the first issue I cast him as a sort of Christ figure. He's always crucified in an X and I find that really interesting. He's constantly sacrificing himself and being born again through his healing factor. He is a sort of sacrificial lamb. When I got to the second issue, I was done with the Tar Sands metaphor and I wanted to explore Canadian identity. Both my parents come from New Brunswick, from really small towns. We moved to Ontario, where I grew up. Whenever I go to New Brunswick, it seems like people knew that's where I was from. The idea of Canada and a certain Canadian trajectory is interesting to me. I really liked the Donald Shabib movie Goin' down the Road. It's kind of like a Canadian new wave film from the 70's. SCTV did a sketch of it and, obviously I saw that first, but it's about these hosers going down the road. They're gonna go from Cape Breton to Toronto and get jobs, but it turns out Toronto isn't that different and it's not that easy. It's got this beautiful shot of them walking down on Yonge Street in the mid sixties. I saw Wolverine and Puck as part of those guys. I remember in Alpha Flight, they would always allude to Puck and Wolverine being buddies. Almost like Wolverine as Popeye and Puck as Wimpy. So I put them both in a small town setting and I chose Sackville. That served a double purpose. There was a residency program I wanted to apply to there, you could say I captured the culture of the place, but mostly, it was near where my father grew up. 

I wanted to have them play out a small time maritime stereotype bullshit. A lot of it was thinking about what it would be like for them in a small time place. What would having a world-class assassin in a down low community; he kind of fits in, but he doesn't fit in. What does it mean to have those kinds of skills and power there in a banal way. In superhero comics, there's a lot of ratcheting up of conflict: the world is at stake, all of mutantkind is at stake, the universe is at stake. It's more about these bigger scale conflict, but what would the day to day be like? What would the dumb jokes people tell be? I thought, well what if these guys were like grown up Linus and Charlie Brown sitting at the bar shooting the shit. They're not smart, they're not insightful; limiting their understanding was important. Based on what we know of the world, in that place in the 70's, what would their understanding of the world be? They're just shooting the shit like ordinary people would, but they're extraordinary human beings in a very ordinary space. I wanted to have that conflict. 

The climax of the third issue: he's on fire and goes through berserker rage and there's no escaping the conflict for him. It's internal and he'd always be having this conflict within himself, but how does that man coexists with his environment? I found growing up in rural Ontario, walking late at night can sometimes be more sketchy than it would be to do so in downtown Toronto. Small places can be violent and sketchy in a weird way and that whole idea of going to a bar, drinking, fighting and fucking is a real thing. But what would that be like for Wolverine and how would he do it? How would the locals react? Would they taunt him? I think he's got all this violence and rage and I think that people would get a thrill out of egging him on and seeing the chaos that would ensue. That's a condition of his acceptance. He's not saving the world all the time. I can see that he would externalize his own internal Hell and that would be other people's amusement.

I watch World Star Hip Hop. Initially, it was covering current and new Hip hop and rap releases. It was kind of like an aggregator of news. People would debut a new video and it would be on there. It also became an aggregate of content that was interesting to their viewer. So it wasn't necessarily music or Black America, there's a lot of that, but there's also a lot of twerking, a lot of funny dumb shit, and a lot of fights. There are a lot of fights and the name World Star became a call name. Someone shooting a video of a bar fight with his phone and screaming "World Star", cause that's where it's going. This shit is really disturbing. Real fights are gross. They're messy and the dull thud of a fist hitting a face is horrifying, but it's riveting and you can't stop watching it. A lot of people fuck themselves up in that kind of state, and why not Wolverine? 

PL: So you're addicted to World Star fight compilation?

MC: Totally. I will watch that stuff for hours.

PL: I find it interesting the idea that the character, when you dig deeper into him, is only a guy with a knife in his hands and he heals quickly. He is not a grandiose person in any way. He would fit more into a rural town than anywhere else.

MC: In a way yes. He's astounding because he has these metal bones, he has a healing power, but he also has a heightened senses. He experiences the world differently than us, almost like a dog would. Whatever antisocialism you read in that book, I feel that he just communicates on a different level. He doesn't need conversation, he doesn't care about being intellectually smart when he's nose smart. He can tell when people are lying. I assumed in the book that he can tell when a woman is in heat or not. That whole idea of relating to people on a biochemical kinda way, you can't hide much from him and it's a more base existence, but perhaps also more natural and honest. In using him against the tar sands and thinking about what he would do, it's a different level of morality. If it's destroying his environment, he'd fight against it, a sort of nature-based morality. I was asked a few times "Wolverine wouldn't kill mounties would he?" Yeah, he totally would. He was abused by the Canadian government. I don't think he would care or think twice about it. That natural morality would, I think, allow him to see past what this industry really means, and what it really does. 

Do you remember in old Claremont X-Men comics, he would always go hunting and Ororo would say "Logan, you're gonna kill that innocent deer?" and he'd go "There ain't no skill in killin'. I get close enough to a deer to touch him". I always thought that idea was hilarious, that he would constantly be out in the woods trying to touch deers like it was the thing to do. I've seen that riffed on in different ways, but that stuck with me. If there was an oil spill and that deer got covered in oil, it would really mess his hunt. He'd be pissed!

PL: I find that there is an interesting aspect to his character. His inherent sadness coming from his lost identity. He doesn't know where he's from or who is. Do you feel the same way about the so-called "Canadian identity"? That it's lost, unknown and nonexistent?

MC: My smug answer when anyone asks me what my book is about is always "Well, you know, Canadian identity", because no one really knows what that is. That's always a Canadian anxiety that we don't know ourselves. I guess I feel this way, but it's also reductive. We're in the shadow of the United States and they're so well defined and we're not as much defined by comparison, but it's not that valid. Canadian identity is really fluid. A lot of people can lay claim to it. It's such a weird thing that those arbitrary borders are supposed to define our identity. There's what we think it is and what passively it is, but we don't know what it really is. There's what it means to others who meet us. If I talk to an American, I'll get asked about hockey, but I'm not interested in hockey. I grew up near it, I know people who love hockey, but me not liking it or playing it is just as valid a Canadian trait as someone who does. I'm Canadian not to have an attitude about it. I know how much I never played it, bu other people around me do play it. 

PL: The Canadian Identity is very elastic in many ways. I'm from Quebec City, a central hub of French Canada if you will and my understanding of the Canadian identity was it's bilingualism. But when I moved to Ontario, this view changed since French is not as prevalent as in Quebec City. French Canada is different in Alberta than it is in Quebec. There are about 225,000 French speakers there, and while those Francophones tend to be invisible, they are very much present. This doesn't invalidate the fact that Canada is bilingual; it's just more fluid.

MC: In art school you learn about modernism, post modernism and now we're in the post postmodernism era. It makes you think of culture in a more pluralistic quantum sense. Like there's idea and space around the word, it's not mono-meaning. We can kind of outline these things and stalk around what it means in different ways. That initial trip going across the country from Toronto was interesting in that everyone has an idea of Toronto and what it means to them. Some people hate Toronto and I got a lot of shit just from being from there. But it didn't matter to me. Toronto doesn't seem to care much for other cities in Canada and I think that irritates people. They don't realize Toronto is the pinnacle of the Canadian inferiority complex. No matter how bad some other places may feel about themselves, Toronto feels just as bad about itself. It's a moot point and an amusing contrast when someone from Vancouver says I'm from "Ontarrible". It doesn't matter; we're all in the same boat. 

My background is French Canadian. I have lots of Francophone family. I'm from New Brunswick and, though my parents don't speak French at all, French is the closest other language that I know, though I have that shame of not knowing it. I'm not bilingual, but it's familiar. I like that familiarity, but it can also be frustrating because I don't know it enough. I remember being frustrated in French class. There's an interesting conflict in Montreal because of the language. Do you speak English? Do you speak French? That keeps this place really cloistered because you can't live there properly unless you're bilingual. Everyone wants to live there because it's so hip, but it's only hip because you can't live there. It's an interesting push and pull that I find attractive, but I've learned to negotiate those differences faster by realizing that I'm not going to be apologetic for not speaking French. They can speak English better than I can speak French, but even if they don't, we can still achieve to understand each other. Being apologetic all the time means we can't break that awkwardness to get to a point where two individuals are understanding each other. I think Francophones appreciate that a bit more even though it's a bizarre way to deal with the perceived "conflict of our nation". I've gotten a bit more ruthless at getting there and letting people know I don't speak French, but cutting quickly to trying to reach out and understand the other person and getting on with our stuff. It's interesting how things that I wouldn't claim as my identity in Toronto surface depending on where I end up in Canada. It's interesting that there are broad categories and all of these subtle differences.

It's still an ongoing shame I'm not bilingual. I have small victories when I'm in Montreal when I can understand what someone just said. But then it's gone and I get frustrated. I could get more to a cruising altitude instead of just going up and down if I was in Montreal more. 

PL: If it's any consolation, most of my friends back in Quebec are not bilingual either. Some can't say a word of English to save their lives.  They'll understand very basic stuff like maybe "yes", "no" and possibly "toaster". My wife is from the GTA and when we got married, both our families and friends were together in one room. People still managed to converse. Bilingual people would translate stuff, but the Francophones and Anglophones were able to chat and hack their way through a conversation with each other just fine.

MC: I love that kind of stuff. When I was young, I went to Quebec for a summer to learn French. I was in Lennoxville. At 11 years old, I was the most proficient I ever was in French because of that immersion. You can read people and understand them for sure. I hang out with francophone artists and even though there is a sense of what English and French means, the divide is a nice contrast. I like it. It may breed an idea of conflict, but I'm not so sure, we can all get along. I'd be happy if there were even more prominent languages in this country.

PL: Now that Hellberta is complete and you can turn the page, what will you be working on now?

MC: Well my band New Horizzzons put out a record. We have a 36 page booklet that has a download in it for the record. I'm working on a series of flyers for a hotel and a sci-fi comic for Koyama Press. That last one is a pretty long project and it's my first time making something over 100 pages. I have a couple of other small projects on the go, but I don't know when those'll be ready. I work in a storm of various activity and I end up reining it in. I'll try to have something ready for TCAF, possibly a sketchbook, or impose narrative on top of existing drawings. The Sci-fi stuff should be ready next year hopefully. Annie wanted to do another book so this has been getting traction. I'll try to use various styles in that comic and play with the idea of the media the people are consuming in that universe.


All images from Hellberta and Michael Comeau