I’m new to the SpeakEasy community of showcasing artists & am appreciative that founder David Brown included me in the show. That I conducted brief interviews with each creator for this article helped pull me out of social nincompoop hell for the evening (in other words: thanks, Pete, for asking me to do this).
(Paraphrased from the SpeakEasy website because I neglected to speak to David any further than “Do you have any nails?” Doh.)
SpeakEasy is a monthly gathering of Toronto’s creative community. Since 1996 it has grown from a get-together of a few friends to an event that now draws regular crowds of up to 300. SpeakEasy takes place 6 times a year, on the first Thursday of the month, at The Gladstone Hotel. Each month a selected group of artists from a different creative discipline displays work for the crowd & the atmosphere is casual.
I cannot say enough good things about the friendly vibe of the entire event. Well, there was one artist (gender neutral – you’ll NEVER KNOW WHO!) who was maybe a bit antisocial, but I know what it’s like to have a night where you’ve gotta be ‘on’ & your heart just isn’t in it. So it’s forgivable. In that case, should I have not said anything? Ah, screw it.
(Digression – how weird is it that two of my interviewees gave me links to websites that don’t exist?)
Anyway, these are in the order interviewed, based on who was set-up when I walked by.
Ian Daffern was the first young man I met, I mean ‘officially’ for this article. He collaborates on a monster comic called Freelance Blues… whoops – for some reason the site is down, so I’ll link to Ian’s personal site. His partners on this ‘supernatural workplace comedy’ are co-writer Michael Leone (Ian’s writing partner since high school) & illustrator Vicky Tierney. His list of credits betrays an impressive geekosity, but his writing on gaming & music didn’t come up when we spoke.
Ken Turner, an animation grad from Sheridan, has skipped back & forth between steady work for animation studios & freelancing. Ken self-publishes under the umbrella of Freakshow Publishing Inc. His first comic, A Night at the Movies (2008), was a surreal take on the different kinds of filmgoers he has experienced. He followed that with two volumes of literal interpretations of common sayings – Eye Candy vols 1+2, The Village Idioms (2010) & Apples & Idioms (2010) respectively. Ken’s latest, a minicomic called The World of Snowboy & Crow (2010), is “reminiscent of the pen and ink illustrations of Edward Gorey with a bit of the buddy humor of Calvin & Hobbes.”
At first glance, it’s easy to think Turner sees Gorey through a Tim Burton filter, & that’s perhaps an unfair assumption – It’s difficult to draw significant influence from Gorey without seeing Burton. Or maybe I’m just ignorant that way. Still, Ken’s illustration has a cool vibe & looks like a lot of fun.
Lezley Davidson‘s eyes were open for our talk. She makes an autobio webcomic called Peeling Onions. She chooses to share experiences that have personal resonance within her & that she wants to share with the world. I can certainly relate.
Inspired in part by Marjane Satrapi & Erika Moen, Lezley launched Peeling Onions in 2008 after realizing her writing style was too adult for children’s books. Peeling Onions has thus far been collected in two dead trees volumes, pragmatically titled Peeling Onions (2009) & Peeling Onions Volume II (2010).
Hyein Lee is another Sheridan grad who currently teaches ‘animation kind of things’ at OCAD. While pursuing a master’s degree, Hyein (rhymes with ‘pain’) makes an ongoing autobio comic called Three Girls about her childhood in South Korea, & sad, whimsical love stories (hmmm – sad & whimsical together, or sad comics & whimsical comics? must read some).
She’s current working on a comic about the oil sands, informed by her disliked pre-arts career as a geological engineer. The piece of Lee’s that tangled itself up in my brain enough that I can recall it without thinking was UFO Tofu.
I wish I could travel back in time & experience the entire evening with a spectator’s eye, since, aside from conducting these interviews, I spent the bulk of my time at my own table & didn’t get a chance to really take anything in until now, as I peruse the creators’ websites.
Marvin Law is an artist/creator working on several indie comics. Marvin’s main work is the webcomic Slam, unfolding in a world where professional wrestling is as real as mixed martial arts is in ours. He posts a lot of his illustration on deviantart & it’s well worth checking out.
I feel a kinship to his working method in that he relies on the internet as much as I do for clip art (the old-school term for an illustrator’s photo reference collection).
Lubomir Arsov, aka Lubo, is a designer who works in animation (dude’s got Tales of the Black Freighter in his list of credits – of course I’m impressed, as any Alan Moore fan should be). Lubo’s self-published, comics-related book is Deviations – Explorations 2006-2009 (2010), collecting three years of his illustration work.
Sarah Ennals is blessed with what very soft-spoken artist needs – a strong spokesperson who believes in the artist, believes in the work & commands a clear voice that can cut through the most dense background noise. Sarah has Andrew, & Andrew believes.
For over 100 pages, Sarah’s webcomic, Personal Information, has posted every Sunday as the only comics form on futurismic.com. And then my dictaphone died. I can hear you saying, ‘So what'; don’t think I can’t. It turns out that, when I returned after she requested some time to collect her thoughts, Ennals has a unique mindset, honest humility & clear idea of what she’s trying to accomplish. And my scribbled longhand (which I CAN read, I’ll have you know) fails miserably in conveying the substance of our talk. But I’m gonna try.
Sarah began this webcomic in February, 2010, describes it as Mary Worth-meets-Das Boot, & blames that description for its (in her words) unpopularity. As she admires deceptively simple artwork, her characters have realistically rendered bodies topped with basic geometric shapes for heads. The content is Ennal’s observations of social mores set in a futuristic, deep-sea environment, where her characters deal with isolation as well as each other. Her previous webcomic, also on futurismic.com, was Does Not Equal. DNE makes me CHOL (chuckle heartily out loud).
Christopher Yao calls himself an ‘aspiring comic book artist,’ which makes me want to punch him (just kidding!). Chris is a comics practitioner whose rendering abilities far outstrip my own (just like every talent in attendance), who is also imbued with a decent sense of humility. He had a rewarding experience learning with Ty Templeton at the Toronto Cartoonist Workshop.
Fauntkin is Yao’s current labour of love, about a cybernetic boy, with the first issue completed of the envisioned five-issue series. Chris gifted me with a copy; despite a couple of spelling errors, it’s a sort-of origin story & good launching point for this interesting-in-a-good-way mix of sci-fi, dystopia, innocence & sentiment. The dystopianism isn’t as bleak as would satisfy me, & the sentimentality a touch too strong for my taste, but I’m a grumpy 40yo; I can totally see tweens digging this, & they’re not an easy demographic to write for.
Kevin Boyd, director of the Joe Shuster Awards, brought some pieces of original Canadian comics art from his personal collection. Kevin is keen on supporting Canadian content in comics & showcasing not only the amount of Canadian talent out there, but the diversity of material our talent creates. The next Awards is scheduled for next June in Calgary; he’s currently fundraising for the event.
George Todorovski & Chris Hatzopoulos are the co-creators of The Bear Stories. They’ve got a pretty cool dynamic going where they write to humour themselves (uncensored, they say), informed by their previous collaborations on amateur sketch comedy. Even more cool is their teamwork on the art – recalling Sim & Gerhard, Chris draws the bear in a fun style & George draws ‘the rest’ with somewhat more realism.
William Brian MacLean, aka Brian, in a kicktushie piece of himself-in-the-3rd-person writing, inserts himself here because George & Chris asked what Brian did, comics-wise. Quoting from audio:
I do a webcomic right now called OpinioNation. It’s editorial. I take news items that piss me off; sometimes I try to intellectualize them, sometimes I skewer Harper or a civil rights violation or whatever I think needs to feel my wrath.
His dead trees comic is called Lynchpin, collecting stories, mostly biographical, about the human condition.
James Bade & Marvin S. Mariano is the team behind The Legend of Steel Breed, an anime-informed fantasy-adventure that follows a young man who believes he’s an Earthling, but isn’t, & actually has a prophesied destiny that impacts life on another planet. The guys said, if you’re into dragons, original mech & general fantasy, you should dig it. James writes; Marvin illustrates.
Marvin’s like a jack-of-all-arts, working in toy design & concept development (with an impressive client list) & co-founding Toronto Tattoo School.
Shaun Bolden & Dino Diaz (writer/creator & illustrator, respectively) work on a comic called Beanpie about a newly orphaned everyman who needed to drop out of school & quit his job because of circumstances. He now tries to provide for his family by using his love of chemistry to invent… something… and fails. And fails.
Issue #1 debuted in June; four more are currently in development. Shaun & Dino call Beanpie an all-ages-friendly comedic story about perseverance, integrity & richness of character.
Strange pic, though, eh? When they asked if they should hug or something, I suggested they make out, but only if their all-ages audience could handle it. They compromised with a pointing-at-each-others’-nipples (or is it their lungs?) thing. Also, their shared favourite colour is neon clear, because they knew I knew you’d want to know that.
Matthew Daley is the cartoonist of… HEY! I’ve actually heard of this (I don’t get out much) – the webcomic Mr. Monitor. I’ve been exposed to Matthew’s strip in its B+W incarnation as it appears in the pages of Broken Pencil.
I absolutely love the art style of Mr. Monitor, so I’m incredibly jazzed to have found the colour version of it. As much as I adore B+W, Daley’s work needs colour to do it justice. Er… IMO.
Benjamin Rivers is another multi-talented individual. His current comic, the 2010 Gene Day Award-nominated Snow, is available in three dead tree volumes or as donation-suggested PDF downloads, with the fourth coming in 2011. And it’s a video game, described by destructoid.com as “an American Splendor comic delivered by way of Money Island.” Criminy!
Ben’s previous graphic novel was Empty Words, collected from the webcomic. Ben also does web design & consulting, & game design.
Walter Dickinson has a voice eerily like mine; I had to rewind a couple of times to catch where I stopped speaking & he began (like you care or something). Walter is involved with Toronto Cartoonists Workshop, helping to corral Marvel & DC artists (many of whom reside in the T-dot) into teaching comic book techniques – storytelling, scriptwriting, page layout, etc – to aspiring Toronto-area creators.
Lamin Martin had on display a collection of digital paintings from his sixth self-published art book Solstice. The theme is dragons in female near-human form. He’s one of the most talented fantasy artists I’ve seen; these works were displayed as water-based print on canvas & at least… well, look at the photo – they’re BIG. I never would have guessed these were digital works.
Chad Solomon is the artist & co-writer of the First Nations-themed graphic novel series, Adventures of Rabbit & Bear Paws. The 18th Century brothers Rabbit & Bear Paws are two mischievous Ojibwa children who shape shift into animals to pull pranks on their family.
Using the Seven Fires Prophesies & the Seven Grandfathers (Love, Truth, Respect, Humility, Courage, Wisdom & Honesty), Chad’s focus is on educating kids & educators alike with comics & puppetry based on stories from the oral tradition that his grandfather told throughout his childhood. The lesson planning is based on guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Education.
Jenn Haines, owner of Guelph-based comics/games/anime shop The Dragon, had a selection of her store’s wares on display. Jenn is indie-friendly, with many self-published Canadian (& some American) works on hand – now including my Lynchpin! W00t! She’s a comics fan of taste, hey! Go buy it, yo! Sorry – I digressed for a moment.
The Dragon is particularly women-friendly, with a well-read, mostly female staff & an extensive & varied stock of books. Jenn & The Dragon also maintain comicsintheclassroom.ca, a website featuring public-accessible write-ups of kid-friendly comics, with schools-&-libraries-exclusive discounts on graphic literature with Elementary, Intermediate & Secondary appeal.
Dale Camus is a painter & mural artist who also works in comics. Heavily influenced by graffiti, Dale uses bright colours & mature themes, with humour that gets, as he says, ‘heady.’ His online comic strip is rather informal in that doesn’t have a name, despite a regular cast of characters including a butterfly, a crocodile & a white demon.
Our tables were next to each other, so we spoke at length about writing versus making art, compared his admiration for Lovecraft & mine for Barker, & ended up playing a round of Six Degrees. We hadn’t personally crossed paths, but our musical pasts did; Dale’s old band, Mundane, & my old band, Makeshift Sanity, once played a gig together in early 1993… after we’d each left them. What a small, amusing world.
Gibson Quarter‘s comics work has, until recently, been released exclusively in the UK, to an extent that a lot of people think he’s a British ‘mostly penciller.’ Let’s blow the lid off that misconception – Gibson’s a Canuck, brothers & sisters.
His work has been published in the European publications Wasted & Northern Lightz for around four years, so he’s particularly excited about the upcoming Arizona Comic Con where an ashcan of… oh, dear… during the interview he pointed to it & said “this one.” Heh. And that’s the Achilles’ heel of an amateur audio interview. Hmmm… I wonder if he meant that a Murky Depths #14 ashcan is set to debut in the land of racial profiling? Okay, so I didn’t really blow the lid off this part. *sigh*
Tyrone McCarthy owns & operates Guerilla Printing, aka Printing for the People! We didn’t really ‘interview’ so much as just catch up. Guerilla is getting a good rep around town & it’s well-deserved. Tyrone’s incredibly friendly & their quality vs. price point beats the heck out of anything I’ve found in Barrie.
His clientele may not know it, but Tyrone’s a kicktushie artist in his own right. If you’re an indie creator looking to print, I can recommend Guerilla from personal experience.
Eshwin Dhir is our final stop on the tour. He’s a concept, poster & comic book artist, showing his trilogy of paintings from the film Death & Cremation as well as a large piece from Aquarian 7, a superhero team webcomic Eshwin has been collaborating on with co-creator Vito Delsante. With his encouragement, I’m going to try something new for my upcoming artwork in Lynchpin.
And that was that. This was a wonderfully diverse showing of art styles, techniques, genres & media. David Brown, if you felt the sin of pride as the night unfolded, it would be justified, & that isn’t spoken from any personal investment as a creator, but as a lifetime fan of comics. Reflecting on this show & the probability of more like it, makes my heart swell (my heart? ugh – did that make you gag? cuz it made me gag typing it). As you saw above, I forgot to shoot an image of my own display. Forgive me?