Archive for October, 2011

Seth interview (2011)

October 21, 2011 | Interviews

Collecting a $10,000 prize cheque is always sweet. Being publicly acknowledged for having “substantially contributed to the state of literature and books in Canada” may be even sweeter — especially considering the winner of the 2011 Harbourfront Festival Prize is the first cartoonist to ever claim the honour. Seth, whose award-winning and critically acclaimed work includes the classic graphic novels, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken and George Sprott, said the prize, which he’ll be awarded on the closing night of the International Festival of Authors, offers a measure of validation to his chosen medium. “It’s a pretty clear sign that graphic novels or comic books have actually reached a point where they can be judged on their content rather than on their media,” the 49-year-old told the Toronto Star from New York City. He’ll be back in Toronto for his onstage appearance on opening night of the IFOA Friday, in conversation with fellow cartoonist Daniel Clowes on the opening night of the IFOA. “I think it’s another stepping stone in seeing the graphic novel accepted as just another form of writing.” The shift in perception that culminated in being awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize certainly didn’t happen overnight, Seth noted. “(Art Spiegelman’s) Maus came along in the late 80s and it was a book that got a lot of attention, a great book, won the Pulitzer Prize, etc., etc., but really anyone who decided ‘Alright, I’m going to read graphic novels,’ there probably wasn’t a lot of work they could turn to,” he said. “Back in the 80s, you had to sell your work in the comic shops and it was palpable, the disinterest that people had for the kind of work we were doing.” But alongside cartooning stalwarts like Clowes, Chester Brown, Joe Matt, Charles Burns, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson and countless others, Seth continued to chip away at the preconceptions of graphic storytelling. “I think the real change is that over a 20-year period, there’s been kind of a slow building of a beachhead of cartoonists that are working toward the same goal, which is to use the comic book medium just as a form of writing like any other kind of literature — to break away from the usual genre concerns of fantasy and the typical subject matter that comic books have always had,” he said. “As each year passes, another cartoonist comes along who produces a significant work and we’ve finally reached a point where there’s probably a whole bookshelf or two of actually good graphic novels that an adult reader could (enjoy).” The subject of camaraderie in cartooning hits close to home for Seth, whose new graphic novel, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, revolves around a club for the likes of him — though he admits it’s not the kind of association he’d like to be part of. “The truth is, you get together a whole bunch of cartoonists and it’s kind of like having a perpetual comic book convention — which is not something I want be part of,” said the former Toronto resident and OCAD grad, who now resides in Guelph, Ont. Like Seth’s previous homage to comics and collecting, Wimbledon Green, his latest book began as a sketchbook exercise. “You start on page one with a quickly thought up idea and then just start going and I think that’s the kind of stuff that comes right out of the information that floats around the front of your brain,” he said. “For me, probably the first topics I would turn to for anything would be collectors or comic books. The history of cartooning, other cartoonists — it’s like right there on the edge of my consciousness.” Next up, Seth said, is finishing his long-running story Clyde Fans, along with his ongoing design work on The Complete Peanuts and on a second volume of The Collected Doug Wright, highlighting the life and work of the Canadian cartooning icon. Seth also extended his design repertoire to include creating logos for Guelph’s roller derby club, the Royal City Rollergirls, crafting distinctive looks for squads like Our Ladies of Pain, Violet Uprising and the Killer Queens. “Basically I got involved because my wife joined the team,” he said. “She thought it would be fun to try out and they needed a crest. “At first, it was just something I was doing to make my wife happy, but after I went to a few games, I really liked it so I’m quite pleased to be involved.” (This article was first published in the Toronto Star)

DC: The New 52 is here

October 9, 2011 | News

It’s the end of an era for DC Comics. Or, more importantly, it’s a new beginning. After more than 70 years of bringing the world the adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and dozens of other well-known characters, the historic company has hit the reset button. It has re-launched its entire line of comics with an event dubbed “the New 52” (after the number of rebooted titles they’ve released) in a massive effort to de-clutter complicated continuity and make its books more accessible to new readers. On the forefront of this initiative are three local comic creators — Francis Manapul, Jeff Lemire and Ken Lashley — all of whom agreed it was probably high time for a fresh take on the DC universe. “I’ve always thought that DC kind of needed to do something like this because their history was so complicated,” said Lemire, who is writing Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. amid “the New 52”. “I always felt like doing something like this would be a great way to get new people into comics and into (DC) comics and so I was really happy when they announced this initiative and pretty excited about it.” Manapul, pictured above, who is now co-writing and illustrating the fast-paced DC standard, The Flash, said the decision caught him off guard. “I was absolutely shocked because DC is usually perceived as the slow-and-steady company,” he said. “It was such a bold move for DC to be making that I thought ‘you really can’t help but be excited.’” Lashley, co-artist of issue No. 1 of the military-themed Blackhawks and cover artist for that series along with new titles Bat-Wing and Suicide Squad, admitted he initially had mixed emotions about the re-launch. “Part of me is saying ‘wow, this is great you want to start fresh’ and (another part) says ‘what’s going by the wayside is part of history,’” he said. Getting involved with “the New 52” came as a bit of a surprise, Lashley said. “I was asked by (DC editor) Mike Marts to do a book, sort of a cool military book, not even figuring it was part of this new re-launch,” he said. When he quickly learned working on the book was going to require a commitment he couldn’t manage alongside his day job at Toronto’s TransGaming Inc., he opted to contribute to the re-launch exclusively as a cover artist. Best-known for his dynamic illustration work on books like Witchblade and Legion of Super-Heroes, Manapul adds writing to his repertoire as part of “the New 52” — something he didn’t take on lightly. “It’s the perfect storm of potentially choking,” he said with a laugh. “(Co-writer Brian Buccellato and I) getting our first big shot at writing this book, this re-launch, everyone’s expecting big sales, everyone’s expecting the book to, at the very least, look good — it was very daunting. “It really boils down to me thinking about it when I was 14-, 15-years-old, reading The Flash comic and thinking ‘one day I would love to write and draw this thing.’ “Once I started thinking about that, it really took everything else away.” The decision to take on both Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. stemmed from their diversity, Lemire said. “I think the books are different, which is something I was looking for,” he said. “Animal Man is a very furious, very dark, emotional story, while Frankenstein is a really big, fun action-adventure, kind of over-the-top sort of thing.” Animal Man has already been singled out by many critics as a highlight of the re-launched DC lineup and Lemire said part of its success no doubt stems from how personal the book has gotten for him. “Of all the stuff I’ve written for DC so far, (Animal Man’s Buddy Baker) seems to be the character I can relate to the most,” he said. “Like me, he’s a father and a husband and so it’s very easy to put myself in his shoes and take that family aspect and build out from that.” The opportunity to get on the ground floor of this updated DC universe was very appealing, Manapul said, because of its historic potential. “The more you think about this initiative and the books that are spawning out of it, potentially what you’re seeing right now — how the Flash is portrayed, how Superman is portrayed — this could be how these characters are perceived for the next century,” he noted. And as for long-time readers who aren’t too impressed with losing those 70-plus years of history and investment they’ve made in DC’s characters, Lemire says it’s time to accept change. “This is not just something they’re trying out,” he said. “This is going to stick, for better or for worse. “There are a lot of detractors out there, but the fact of the matter is: the books are selling really, really well and it seems to be a success on pretty much every level, so I can’t see it going back to the old way. I think it’s here to stay.” Lashley, on the other hand, thinks there’s always potential for a new “New 52” down the road. “Let’s be real: this is comic books, right? There’s always a reset button somewhere,” he said. “That’s the fluid nature of comics.” (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)