Vancouvering: Growing Vancouver comic art scene draws enthusiasts
From monthly meet-ups to public classes and an annual tradeshow and exhibition, Vancouver's independent comic scene is bursting with creativity
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From a graphic novel that explores Vancouver’s dystopian future to a series of oversized comics that expose transit users to the complexities of life as a refugee to Canada, more and more Vancouver artists are drawn to comics.
Many see the art form as a way to explore social truths — and to build community.
“Vancouver definitely has a growing comic scene,” said Oliver McTavish-Wisden, executive director of the Cloudscape Comic Society.
He pointed to several well-known comic artists in the Vancouver area, including Nina Matsumoto, an Eisner-award winning artist for Bongo comics, and Johnnie Christmas, who recently did the art for Margaret Atwood’s Angel Catbird.
Signs of the growing comic scene include the Vancouver Comic Jam, typically held the third Saturday of each month at 12 Kings Pub on Kingsway, offering comic artists a chance to get together in a casual environment to draw and have a drink or two.
Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, held this year May 19-20 at Roundhouse Community Centre, has free readings, panels, workshops, kids arts lessons and an exhibition. Last year saw over 10,000 attendees.
Comic artist Miriam Libicki, who focuses on identity constructs and shifting cultural identities, was named as Vancouver Public Library’s writer in residence for 2017, mentoring emerging writers and artists. And Michael Kluckner’s ambitious 2050 is a graphic novel set in a future Vancouver dystopia dealing with overpopulation and climate change.
The Cloudscape Comics Society continues to have an important influence on Vancouver’s emerging scene. A charity organization of independent comic book artists based in Metro Vancouver, they publish local BC comics and “foster a community where BC comic creators can network with each other while developing their craft and continuing to push the boundaries of the comic book medium.”
Cloudscape Comics was born when comic artists Jonathon Dalton, Jeff Ellis and Angela Melick came together to publish their first anthology, "Robots, Pine Trees and Broken Hearts." They realized that the BC comic book community could be “brought together to achieve new heights.”
In the past, McTavish-Wisden explained, the Society’s annual comic anthologies were “focused around a theme voted on by the organization's membership. However, with new increased knowledge and opportunities, Cloudscape is now publishing full graphic novels by BC artists, as well as comic anthologies, often more than once per year.”
Comics in Transit is a project Cloudscape started in 2015 with financial assistance from municipal and provincial governments. As Oliver explained, the first series was 20 comics about life in cities around the world, drawn by BC artists, enlarged, and installed in bus shelters around the city.
In 2016, they received funding to do the project again, but with a stronger social impact. “We worked hard to find refugees from around the world who now call BC home, and we paired them with 10 talented artists. Together, they told the refugees stories in a way that has never been done.”
The project used comics to educate the average transit user about the hardships that refugees undergo in order to make a new life in Canada.
“It forces us all to read about their lives,” said McTavish-Wisden, and to see them as people, not just newspaper statistics. The project “takes comics to a realm they're rarely seen: the public art realm.
“So many new things can be explored if you remove comics from the pages of a book, and place them where people can see them. Comics in Transit uplifts the comic book medium, and accomplishes something unique and important.”