stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Panel discussion
Hamilton gallery stuffs too much into This is Serious, but that may be evidence of just how rarely Canada's comic artists get their due

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, August 3, 2019 – Page R3

HAMILTON -- Cartoonists and comic artists can be a self-referential bunch - all those deeply personal graphic novels or strips that show the illustrator at the drawing board awaiting inspiration.

There's a particularly fanciful example in This is Serious: Canadian Indie Comics, an ambitious survey now showing at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. In a page from 2015 titled Comics and Commerce in Canada, artist Jesse Jacobs jokes that comics are this country's primary export and fastest growing economic sector, thanks to plentiful colour pigments sourced from the Assiniboine Volcano Range and the underwater cultivation of presoftened maple trees that can be readily sliced into paper. With a classic look of black-and-palegreen panels enlivened with spots of psychedelic colour, the comic's witty combination of science fiction, wishful thinking and business-speak satire is irresistible.

But seriously, why is Canada such fertile territory for indie comics?

This show begins with some history, explaining how, in the 1950s through 70s, Canadian readers (and future indie cartoonists) were introduced to comics by mainstream newspaper artists. Curators Alana Traficante and Joe Ollmann (himself a graphic novelist) take a regional approach here, using examples from the Hamilton Spectator such as Doug Wright's gently humorous long-running strip Doug Wright's Family (1949-80), and political cartoons right up to Graeme MacKay's current skewering of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

The point, however, is much larger than the crowd-pleasing local references: The curators use the burgeoning Hamilton as an example of the intense urbanization that seems to inspire the humour and angst of so many illustrators. In a sculptural assemblage of cardboard cut-outs, Sylvia Nickerson creates a Dream City in which the belching smokestacks and rising condo towers are topped with clouds evoking more rural and suburban spaces. There is both joyful energy in the piece and a sense of chaos and loss.

On the other hand, Meredith Park shows no such ambivalence in her sketchbook page stuffed with quick yet detailed illustrations of passersby that reveal her as a sympathetic and highly observant urban portraitist.

From these promising beginnings, the curators spread out to offer a national survey that introduces the viewer to an almost overwhelming number of current artists. They begin by anchoring the project with "The Big Four" - Julie Doucet, Fiona Smyth, Chester Brown and Seth.

They argue that the rise of this quartet in the late eighties established the comic - or graphic novel - as a legitimate art form.

Any one of them would be entitled to a full retrospective, or perhaps a telling juxtaposition with one of the others in a twoperson show, but you only get a glimpse here of their styles.

Both Doucet in Montreal and Brown in Toronto developed an autobiographical character to explore delicate personal material, but what a difference there is between the intensely scribbled woman of Dirty Plotte, raging against menstruation, and the cool, uncluttered panels of Paying For It, Brown's controversial examination of his decision to abandon romantic relationships for encounters with sex-trade workers.

Those who know Smyth as the artist behind the colourful murals at Toronto bars Sneaky Dee's and Lee's Palace will recognize her riotous cartoons in a first-person account of her teenage move from a Montreal convent school to more liberated Toronto, but may be surprised by the less humorous tone of Pavor Nocturnus, the story of a woman tortured by night terrors.

Only Seth (shown conversing with Brown in Paying for It) seems to leave himself out of his deliberately retro comics - unless you know that the Guelph, Ont., artist also dresses as though it were the 1930s and has toyed with fictional versions of himself in It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken. Intriguingly, Seth is also represented by some ceramic models of furniture, as though pushing his desire to observe the past into the third dimension. In a show in which the viewer has to read a lot anyway, Ollmann and Traficante have wisely kept their text panels to a minimum. Still, it would be useful to know a lot more about the artistic backgrounds and careers of all four.

And to what did their so differently inventive styles give rise?

The next corridor and room are a cacophony of recent work, offering such a large selection you begin to feel the curators love their comics too much to discriminate.

There's lots of standout art here, especially from the women working in what used to be a male-dominated field. At one delicate little station, you can discover the lyrical work of Geneviève Castrée, much closer to book illustration than anything else here, while listening to her similarly dark and gentle music: What a tragedy that her career was cut short by her death from cancer in 2016, at only 35 years old.

Nearby, Marta Chudolinska provides an equally distinctive approach as she assembles paper cutouts to create the flat image of a figure in Eastern-European ethnic dress. Part doll, part corpse, the figure is surrounded by labels explaining the ambivalence of the immigrant child, as the artist deftly juxtaposes a pretty style with a tough message.

Similarly, Nina Bunjevac examines her family's Serbian ancestry in the brooding and hugely detailed illustrations for Fatherland. In a different neck of the woods, Kate Beaton is represented by her witty satire of famous novels, from The Great Gatsby to Jane Eyre.

Meanwhile, everything from Michel Rabagliati's poignant reminisces of his fictional alter ego's Quebec childhood to Hartley Lin's Young Frances, set in a Toronto law firm, point to the vivacity of the graphic novel as a storytelling form.

And, with a simple black line on a white ground, Sami Alwani's fantastical The Idiot returns us to the theme of comic-making itself with its satire of a mystery machine that produces plots for the artist.

Another section devoted to animation tracks illustrators' moves into hand-drawn films.

A multiplicity of themes emerge, suggesting focused exhibitions could be mounted about comics and satire, or autobiography, or urban life, while a more detailed look at a smaller number of newcomers might better establish the power of the current movement. It's probably evidence of how seldom public art galleries give graphic artists and illustrators their due that This is Serious has tried to do too much, as though this were the only reverential exhibition many of these artists would ever receive. Of course, if you want to know more about the individual creators, some of their books are available in the gift shop while many others can be found online. Perhaps the portable and potentially disposable comic will always triumph over the gallery-bound enshrinement of the illustrator's art.

This is Serious: Canadian Indie Comics continues to Jan. 5, 2020, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

Associated Graphic

Top: Marta Chudolinska deftly juxtaposes a pretty style with a tough message about immigration in this assemblage of paper cutouts. Middle: Doug Wright's long-lasting strip Doug Wright's Family, which ran in the Hamilton Spectator from 1949 to 1980, provides the show with historical - and local - context. Above: Sneaky Dee's and Lee's Palace muralist Fiona Smyth's Pavor Nocturnus tells the story of a woman tortured by night terrors.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Heather_Mallick Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page