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Capybanarchy artist Nicole Marie Burton back with new graphic novel

Nicole Marie Burton is known for her posters that celebrated Toronto's famous Capybara escapees

Nicole Marie Burton


Nicole Marie Burton

Comic illustrator Nicole Marie Burton doesn't shy away from hot topics in the public eye. She's arguably best known for her “Capybanarchy” posters depicting Bonnie and Clyde, Toronto's beloved fugitive capybaras.

Her latest project, and first full-length graphic novel, touches on Alberta's oilsands, advertising ethics, environmentalism and millennials who want to make a living being creative.

The work of fiction is a collaboration among Burton, writer Hugh Goldring, Calgary-based Blackfoot artist and performer Terrance Houle and Patrick McCurdy, a communications professor at the University of Ottawa who studies how oilsands advertising has evolved since 1970.

The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet follows cash-strapped arts graduates from Nova Scotia, one photographer and one graphic designer, as they move west to Alberta to seek their fortunes.

The two friends find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter divide: One gets handsomely paid to make pro-pipeline ads for the energy sector and governments, while the other picks up poorly paid projects from environmental non-profits.

“It's a jab at the oil industry, but it's also a jab at the environmental movement,” Burton said — the former for its “warm and fuzzy” pro-oil ads that “don't really say anything,” and the latter for its one-note “shock and awe, grim apocalypse” imagery.

The story is book-ended with fictional “advertisements,” including one that re-imagines Toronto's High Park as a tailings-pond graveyard for thousands of ducks. Another features two women kissing on an oil rig, a parody of a widely mocked ad from a pro-oilsands group that used the slogan, “Why are we getting our oil from countries that don’t think lesbians are hot?”

Burton expects her biggest customers will be academics who want to learn and teach about how literature can intersect with the environmental movement – without having the conversation devolve into preachiness.

“It helps to be an artist who is often frustrated that we can't have more serious conversations with art,” she said. “But I'm also a frustrated activist. I'm frustrated that we as activists struggle to convey important messages that are accessible and clear to people who aren't activists. That really inspired the project.”

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