Monday, 26 May 2014

Cartoon for the Day - Hon. Chris Alexander meets Wolverine

I'm no political analyst. I'm not even all that politically aware, though I'd like to change that and start doing stuff like this (but better) more regularly. So I can't speak much to party agendas or the long-term ramifications of the Conservatives' bill C-24 to amend citizenship rights and procedures here in Canada, but it seemed flawed to me the moment I encountered it. I had a friend post this article to Facebook, to which my response was, "Boy, they sure are eager to take massive steps backwards." I had just seen Days of Future Past, and with that on my mind there was really only one sort of cartoon I could formulate: a pun. That's about as informed as this one gets. Cheers.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Comics Review: Ink Brick - A Journal of Comics Poetix

Take a minute with me here to look at one of the most unique projects to debut at TCAF this year (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, for those of you not in the know). I don't use the word "unique" a whole lot, but in this case I will indulge my vocabulary and let it stand. I came across the Ink Brick project on Twitter a few months back, after having a call for papers for comics-poetry critical writing forwarded to me by a prof and realizing I had no idea what this was about. A little digging turned up Ink Brick and its small crew of editorial and artistic geniuses: Paul K. Tunis (really great guy to chat with), Alexander Rothman (equally cordial fellow), Gary Sullivan, and Bianca Stone.

Alexander Rothman (left) and Paul Tunis (right), looking about
as stoked on life as they were when I met them at TCAF
My Google search for "comics poetry" turned up a world that I'd been entirely ignorant of. Which was a lot of my TCAF experience this year, really. When it comes to the end of the comics spectrum that isn't superheroes, alternative and (dare I say) "art" comics, I am largely in the dark, which is ironic considering that's the direction my own work is headed. TCAF was an eye-opening experience directly resulting in the extensive reading list memo on my phone, and my search for comics poetry was no different. I began uncovering names I'd never heard before: David Morice, Warren Craghead, Joe Brainard, people in comics I'd never heard of who are doing amazingly innovative work. That in a nutshell is what sets poetry comics apart for me. They're going somewhere. I still enjoy a good superhero yarn, but a good superhero yarn is getting increasingly hard to find. The genre is stale. It's played-out, with little to no room for artists to grow. If I were to pull a mission statement from Ink Brick's website, I would choose this: "seek to foster work that explores those liminal spaces between the drawn image and the written word." It's concise and ambitious, and it recognizes a fertile ground between forms waiting to be sown with new ideas. I'm willing to drop the word "unique" on behalf of Ink Brick - A Journal of Comics Poetix because I don't know that there was another project at TCAF as actively pursuing innovation in the comics form.

The first issue of Ink Brick is a beautiful book. It's well-printed on sturdy paper, but it's not huge and it's not glamourous. That appeals to me. It's an object that doesn't get in the way of its content, which is important, because its content is wonderful. I found myself flipping back over pages, re-reading poems multiple times to try and unravel the threads binding word and image. I've read too few comics that build that desire for exploration in me. I'd like to see some critical work built into Ink Brick; the title, after all, is Journal. While I was in Toronto I took an afternoon to sit down in a pub and read Descant's recent comics issue, #164 - Cartooning Degree Zero, cover to cover. Sean Rogers was the guest editor for that issue, and he and I were presenting on the same panel at the CSSC conference. I had the opportunity to tell I thought he had hit the mark, struck a perfect balance of contemporary Canadian comics work and critical writing on the form. I would love to see Ink Brick find that same balance. If there's one thing I'm finding about the people involved in the small but passionate poetry comics community it's that they're respectful and well-informed. They understand the structures they're playing with, the existing traditions they can either build on or circumvent, and the work of other comics poets who have come before them. It's a strength that ought to be included in a journal of comics poetix.

It's a beautiful book
I've done some reading in this area, enough to set me straight about where poetry comics stand right now, and as is my wont I have compiled links for you. I suggest you start with what I'm calling Bianca Stone's comics poetix manifesto, followed by a post by Stone on containing an excerpt by Tamryn Bennett, the only poetry-comics-focused academic I've come across so far and (from what I've read) a pretty solid theorist. Read this interview with the crew responsible for Ink Brick, and this interview with Canadian cartoonist Seth as he discusses the connections he's always drawn between comics and poetry. Finally, take a look at Comics Alliance's overview of the shared history of poetry and cartooning. After that, you're on your own. Exploration is what this all seems to be about, so I'll leave you to it.

I look forward to seeing the work done in poetry comics these next few years, and I look forward to seeing it become something important to the field of Comics Studies. It's going to take a peculiar sort of comics scholar to tackle comics poetix (a term which, for the record, I think we should keep), someone who understands the intricacies and the basic tenets of language and image, someone who can get through a conference presentation without mentioning Scott McCloud. I've seen too much basic scholarship this last weekend, papers written from a perspective of literary review that do little more than recount the themes and structure of a narrative. We need to start building a focus on analysis, not regurgitation. This is not to say that there is no good scholarly work being done right now, but it is to say that we need to match pace with the innovations happening in comics creation if we are to maintain the relevance of our field.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Dinner with Cartoonists

So here I am at TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, utterly overwhelmed by this evening's experience. To be fair, I have myself to blame. I opened my big mouth on Twitter to promote the living heck out of the Doug Wright Awards kickstarter, which thankfully succeeded and will be holding it's 10th annual ceremony tomorrow evening. I went and picked the backer reward of dinner with Drawn & Quarterly and their cohort of cartoonist guests, because hell, you're only in this position once in maybe a lifetime; why not? Good food, good company, the chance to talk shop with industry greats... it's my own damn fault that I ended up having dinner tonight with Seth, Kate Beaton, and Chester Brown, all wonderful, down-to-earth, easy people to talk to, and that I have to dump my starstruckedness all over this screen before I explode. Seth revealed that he has never used a microwave, and Chester (rightfully) chided me for having not yet read Chris Ware. It was quite a conversation (also, exquisite beer).

I was also introduced to Tom Spurgeon, of as well, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for linking to my blog from his, on occasion. Again, thanks Tom. And a big thank you to Brad Mackay for being an excellent host, a good conversationalist, and an all-around gentleman. Cheers, Brad :)

It's been a helluva night. More news from TCAF to come, later.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sacred & Sequential at the Kelowna Art Gallery!

As a few of you are aware, I'm a part of a scholarly group called Sacred & Sequential, intent on exploring the intersection of religion and the comics art form. A. David Lewis brought me onto this project back in the winter with the group of gathering a scholarly community around the medium and its confluence with religious scholarship. At this point I'm pirating words from my LinkedIn profile (there are only so many ways to describe our mission), but our aim is to provide informed analysis and nuanced commentary on the topic of religion as it appears in or in relation to these graphic narratives. As both a cartoonist and academic I've got a unique toolset in this field of study; I can use the comics form as a pedagogical tool to present ideas visually. I see great value in creating a common ground in form between the subject and the critical discourse. Not to harp on a perhaps overused piece of comics theory, but Scott McCloud has used educational comics to great effect in the past. There's a lot of teaching potential in creating a visual accompaniment to textual material, and that's exactly what A. Dave and I are up to right now. He's dsitilled a portion of his dissertation into eight pages of tightly scripted goodness, and I get to put my pens to it and turn into panels and stuff. And now, for...

...some great news! I submitted this project a month back to the Kelowna Art Gallery's Superheroes and Supervillains show, and it's been accepted! So not only will the comic go up on Emory University's culture and religion blog Sacred Matters by summer's end, but come January 2015 you can go see the original page on display in Kelowna, BC among numerous other works of both superheroic and villainous disposition. It's going to be one heck of a show. Bring your capes.

If you'd like to see more of what Sacred & Sequential has done thus far, I suggest you check out Beth Davies-Stofka's article on comics and the Bible, which was recently picked up by the Huffington Post. We've got a variety of different projects in the works; you can follow us on Facebook at, and I shall do my utmost to keep you appraised here as those works come to fruition.

Sacred & Sequential on Twitter:
A. David Lewis
David McConeghy
Jeff Brackett
Elizabeth Coody
Michael J. Altman (Sacred Matters)
Jason Tondro
Christine Kraemer
James F. McGrath
Kori Pacyniak
Dan Clanton
Jeff Jackson
Andrew Tripp

...and others, but it's hard to keep track of all of us.


My First Encounter with the Popular Culture Association - PCA/ACA 2014, Chicago

April was a whirlwind. It's the only suitable way to describe it. The winds began on the 8th, in fact, my last post and the international Day of DH. That was the first day of setup for my BFA grad exhibition. The following week was a week of 18 hour work days as I emptied, cleaned, painted, and constructed my exhibition space. Most nights I slept at school, crashed on a couch in the studio or a corner of the floor or wherever I could find that security would let me get some shut-eye. T'was a long week.

Tuesday, April 15th: the day I was destined to fly to Chicago for the Popular Culture Association conference. Monday night at around 10pm my good friend TP walked into the studio and made me realize just how much I wasn't going to be finished hanging my show by the time the last bus left campus. So I packed up and headed home, showered, packed, and caught the 11:30 bus back to campus. By 7am the show was up and ready to go, and I had a flight to catch. I took the bus from campus to the airport, hopped on a plane, and 10 hours later touched down in The Windy City.
This is good, yeah? I'm in Chicago, at my hotel, settled in by 11pm-ish...and supposed to present at 9:45 the next morning. At which point it hit me just how ill-prepared I was for this whole endeavour. I sat down on the hotel sofa and started editing, and suddenly it was six. In the morning. How did that happen? Well, I thought, I'll just take an hour-long nap. And this is part that I haven't talked much about until now.

Because I woke up at two in the afternoon.
Needless to say, I was devastated. As far as I was concerned I'd just blown it at my first big academic conference, my academic debut if you will. I dragged myself out of the hotel and down the street to the conference centre to beg forgiveness from our area chair. Dr. Wandtke was incredibly gracious about the whole thing, understanding of the negative effects that a string of all-nighters and a cross-continental flight will have on punctuality. He had, he told me, a Friday afternoon panel with only two presenters on it that he could fit me into. Long story short, I moved some flights around and made that happen; a little pricey, sure, but damned if I was going to leave Chicago without giving that presentation.

This was all followed up immediately by a moment that made me realize just how important community is in the world of comics scholarship. I walked out of the conference room with what felt distinctly like a new lease on life, and nearly bumped into John Lent, EIC of the International Journal of Comic ArtTwitter fiend that I am, I knew that IJOCA was up for an Eisner; the nominations had been announced the day before, and I'd seen Dr. Lent's name on the list during my layover at Pearson. Without missing a beat I introduced myself and congratulated him on the nomination, which was enough to get him to stop and talk. We were promptly joined by Chris Couch (University of Massachusetts), and I suddenly found myself in conversation with two men who were referring to Scott McCloud and Denis Kitchen by first names as old friends and colleagues. Mind. Blown. I cleared the awe from my head in time to answer a series of questions from Lent about my topic, which prompted Couch to ask if I had a background in Judaic Studies. "No, art history", I said, all the while thinking, "I'm an undergrad surrounded by giants. I don't have a background in anything; I'm stilling working on finishing the thing that will get me into what will be my background...". And then John Lent asked me to send him my paper, and I don't remember the rest of what happened.

Well, alright. That's not entirely true. With a light heart and a head full of dreams (as one ought to have when encountering success in The Windy City), I made my way to Lou Malnati's, the city's top-rated deep-dish pizza joint. It was there I discovered that Chicago deep-dish is a beast to be reckoned with; that you cannot be a foodie in that town and avoid sausage; and that the locally brewed Pale Ales there are to die for. Seriously. Amazing local beer scene. Even the hotel lobby had a dozen or so local brews on tap, each deliciously different from the next. My culinary experience there was wonderful, but frankly I blame the people. Food is always better with fellowship, and I had that a-plenty. I met up with my Twitter acquaintance Heather Urbanski, also a presenter at PCA/ACA, and found a whole new group of people to hang out with. We went out for sushi one evening, and I realized that I am, in fact, a terrible British Columbian. My province is up to its eyeballs in sushimania, and I can barely tell sashimi from a California roll (okay, that's a lie; I can very easily tell sashimi from a California roll, but I have to make my point somehow). To sum up my experience with Chicago's food scene:

  • Discovered Chicago's famous deep-dish pie (the sausage, man...)
  • Reveled in the local beer scene
  • Had an awkward sushi experience (made better by excellent conversation)
  • Ate a cheeseburger at a literal hole-in-the-wall (Billy Goat Tavern; seriously, it's in a wall under a bridge)
  • Consumed a lot, we'll say "too much", Dunkin' Donuts
Did I mention comics?

Yeah, there were also comics. I made a point of walking down to Graham Cracker Comics, which is an excellent shop if you're ever in Chicago, and picking up...well, a bunch of stuff. I was able to track down Astonishing X-Men #2, the second-to-last Joss Whedon issue I need before I own the complete run. I snagged the new Serenity title (because it's shiny, why else?), the much lauded Sex Criminals by Hickman, and Lumberjanes, a title I've been longing to get my hands on since Noelle Stevenson first mentioned it on Twitter. It's all proved to be excellent reading. And Gotham Central...that series, never ceases to amaze me, never will. Read it, you crime comics people reading this post, if you haven't already. It will rock your world.

Anyway, that's about it. I did successfully present my paper, in a panel on Comics and Education. You don't get a lot of questions in question period when you're the only guy talking about Jewish narrative tradition in a room full of people interested in pedagogy, but them's the breaks when you've slept through your alarm and had to reschedule. I flew back Saturday instead of Friday, having shuffled my flights to make the panel a possibility. I landed at 7:30pm, and went straight back to school to attend the opening of my BFA grad show. I was a bit out of it; I wandered around the gallery for some time, going "I've been in three different international airports today, where am I now?". This, ladies and gentlemen, is my life.