M@B: Wide Collar Crimes by Matthew Blackett (M@B), 197 pages, $20 paper. Rating: NNNN Shrimpy And Paul and friends by Marc Bell (Highwater), 176 pages, $20 paper. Rating: NNN
Enter Avariz: A Zak Meadow Adventure by Marc Ngui (Conundrum), 112 pages, $25 paper. Rating: NNNN Paul Has A Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati (Drawn and Quarterly), 152 pages, $25 paper. Rating: NNN
Toronto Comic Arts Festival runs Friday-Saturday (March 28-29).
It's about time Toronto gave credit to the talents who make up our insular but burgeoning community of cartoonists, inkers and animators. The marginalized genre is gaining recognition (Nick Hornby penned a special feature on the subject in the New York Times book review section recently), and local artists are at the movement's cutting edge.
This weekend's large-scale Toronto Comic Arts Festival feels like a shower of comicky goodness after a drought. It was conceived by alt-minded visionary Peter Birkemoe, owner of long-standing comic bookstore the Beguiling on Markham.
"The comics medium is one of the very few visual media that let you do it all yourself -- write, draw and produce the things," says Birkemoe. "It's very much like a film except that it's essentially a one-person show. The best comics are made by an individual creator."
All day Saturday you can check out artists' wares and listen to panel discussions with veteran Canadian artists like Chester Brown (creator of the infamous Louis Riel comic), Darwyn Cook, who recently redesigned Catwoman for DC Comics, and Seth (the mind behind Palookaville).
Also expect to see out-of-towners like David Mack from Kentucky, who straddles the indie and mainstream comic worlds with his own series, Kabuki, and recent artwork for Marvel's Daredevil, and Phoebe Gloeckner (A Child's Life, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl).
An exhibition at Trinity-St. Paul's includes work by over 50 artists, and the afternoon symposium at the Tranzac is filled with industry-specific panel discussions, including ones on the history of comics in Toronto, women and comics, self-publishing and how to break into the mainstream.
In the afternoon, the $20 Strip Show, a one-of-a-kind art show and festival fundraiser, features enlarged comic strips inked by this year's guests. Then the day's topped off with an evening of artists' presentations, followed by alt-country band the Jane Waynes.
Tomorrow night (Friday, March 28) there's a launch for Toronto's hardest-working cartoonist, Matthew Blackett. Eight issues of his cartoon M@B -- NOW critics' fave underground publication for 2002 -- have been collected into one odd little perfect-bound package.
"The book encompasses my time living in the area and captures the intricacies of the sidewalk ballet," says Blackett.
Anyone who frequents the College strip will agree that Wide Collar Crimes is perfect bathroom reading material -- you'll even recognize your friends. In fact, if you hang out long enough, you'll probably see Blackett himself postering the hood with M@B propaganda.
Hallucinatory Vancouver indie artist Marc Bell will be selling copies of his hot-off-the-press Highwater book, Shrimpy And Paul And Friends. His two penile characters frolic in a world of hypnotizing soccer balls and booze. Too bad Bell's book didn't arrive from the New York publisher in time for him to launch it last Sunday with local talent Marc Ngui, creator of Enter Avariz, half anti-corporate manifesto and half Super Mario Brothers game.
Bell's small-press stuff ably displays his skill and the creativity that goes into his weird mini-universes. My favourite is The Stacks, a graphic rant aimed at the Canada Council, who kept denying him funding. Bell's meticulous and detailed response was to send them a chapbook of brick snakes. That's right, brick snakes.
Comic press Drawn and Quarterly also launches Paul Has A Summer Job, by Michel Rabagliati, who, having grown up in Montreal on classic French graphic novels like Tintin and Asterix, has a style and content that are distinctively Quebecois.
Pedlar Press has also produced an offering by Toronto's Lorenz Peter. Chaos Mission is about two northern Albertan teens who escape suburbia and begin a harrowing journey to the big city full of poverty and drugs.
The fest offers a unique opportunity to experience all this work together in one place. The community is by nature a transient one, and the self-publishers who produce limited-edition one-offs are often the most interesting.
Catch them now, because today's indie rising star might be sucked up by Disney tomorrow. email@example.com
Why do great writers release bad books? Why don't their editors stop them? HarperCollins should have saved Findley from himself and spared us Spadework, his flaccid take on unfettered ambition at the Stratford Festival.
Rock and Roll Novels
In 2001 Canadian fiction lapsed back into its comfy relationship to period. With the exception of Timothy Taylor's Stanley Park, all the books shortlisted for the Giller Prize fell into the category of historical fiction, and every nominee had that all-Canadian obsession with landscape. Edgy urban fiction was painfully low-profile, and the rock 'n' roll novel was almost invisible. Yashin Blake's Titanium Punch had some energy -- Blake really kicks it in when he's writing about music -- but no craft or characters. We're still desperately seeking a book that reflects contemporary T.O.'s city slickness.
Rita Mae Brown
The once edgy role model for lesbian writers is coasting. She used to write about the clash between southern manners and Yankee values, but Alma Mater, her tale of wealthy college coeds' southern discomfort with coming out -- how 70s! -- marks her as a writer who's out of touch with anything that matters.
They're not dead yet, but the fact that most major publishing companies have discontinued their e-book-only releases doesn't bode well for the cyber-lit movement. E-book companions to paper publications are still being produced, but let's face it, tech editions aren't exactly taking over. People still love the feel of a real live book.
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