Hi, folks — this is Eric Kostiuk Williams, Creator in Residence for January! I’ve had a great couple weeks becoming more familiar with the library, and getting a chance to curate one of its shelves with some of my favourite comics, pictured below. I’d like to zero in on a couple of these, and get more into what they mean to me!
Gaylord Phoenix by Edie Fake: For many queers in my age bracket, the collected Gaylord Phoenix book was something really special and revelatory. Throughout each issue of the series, Edie took on the archetypal hero’s journey, but explored it through the lens of coming into queerness and exploring gender identity, marrying poetic, evocative narration with hallucinatory, mythological visuals. As the Gaylord Phoenix character came into their own, we could also see Edie’s craft becoming more refined with each issue. In a recent-ish group chat with fellow cartoonists Kevin Czap and Carta Monir, the three of us gushed about how formative this book was for each of us. The collected edition came out almost a decade ago, and in subsequent years, Edie turned his focus towards exhibiting fine art, making shorter comics (recently collected as Little Stranger), working on glorious, large-scale murals, and relocating to Joshua Tree. While I loved watching Edie’s career take these exciting turns, I had several moments of missing Gaylord Phoenix, and wondering if we’d ever see another instalment. And then Edie went and blessed us with two new issues, released in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The new instalments are printed beautifully in a rich combo of riso colours. They carry on the fantastical, exploratory spirit of the original issues, but with a new heaviness and post-2016 sense of urgency. Edie’s comics feel like queer magic, something we’re in dire need of during these strange, chaotic times.
Somnambulance by Fiona Smyth: A glorious (and, in my opinion, way overdue) book collecting thirty years of comics from local legend Fiona Smyth! Though her work initially drew favourable comparisons to Keith Haring, Fiona quickly developed a visual language unmistakably her own — cosmic, monstrous, sexual, and oozing pure energy and a deep love for drawing. In the 1990s, she’d leave her mark across Toronto, both through her experimental pamphlet comics and her large-scale murals, which adorned the walls of the Dance Cave, Sneaky Dee’s, and The Beguiling’s old Queen Street location. She eventually began teaching at OCAD, becoming a beloved mentor to countless young artists — including yours truly! Somnabulance is sequenced more or less chronologically, and it’s fascinating to see how her work grows, shifts, and mutates. In the years since its release, Fiona seems to be getting her due, finally! At the 2019 Doug Wright Awards, she was inducted into the Canadian cartooning hall of fame, with a beautiful speech given by her peer and close friend, the legendary queer illustrator Maurice Vellekoop. I’m thrilled that her work is readily available for a whole new crowd to get obsessed with, as I became so many years ago. And I’m still just as obsessed, and hungry for more!
The Full List (with quickie remarks):
- Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet: Gorgeous, gruesome, and unhinged! Potent, personal, and thoroughly badass. Like Fiona, Julie Doucet deserves to be a household name.
- Pinky & Pepper Forever by Ivy Atoms: A rumination on trauma, sexuality, and creativity, rendered gorgeously in mixed media. This book manages to be both irreverent and super tender — something really hard to pull off.
- The Collected Wimmen’s Comix by Various: Where to begin! This book has a whooole lot of history in it, and the work these women were doing laid the groundwork for so many of the other books on this shelf.
- Gaylord Phoenix #8 by Edie Fake
- Fluorescent Mud by Eli Howey: A gorgeous, heavy work exploring queerness and mental health. Eli and I were in OCAD at the same time, and it was a thrill to see him jump into screenprinting, and then comics, learning both so quickly and putting the work in to yield these amazing results. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
- Winters Cosmos by Michael Comeau: A gorgeous long-form sci-fi graphic novel exploring the slow dissolution of a relationship. Comeau’s wonderfully weird sense of humour and keen intellect shine through, and the way he deploys collage is totally unique.
- Watch Yourself #1 by Chaddy-Ann Newton: I’ve followed Chaddy-Ann’s charming duck-people over several years, and it’s great to see them come together in this impressive debut comic. More, please!
- Soft X-Ray Mindhunters by Alex Degen: Whew! This book is just wild — hundreds of pages long, pretty much word-less, and stacked with innovative, mind-bending sequences, and intriguing characters that come and go throughout the book. Degen is doing his thing expertly here, and it’s a sight to behold.
- Why Art? by Eleanor Davis: A powerfully existential work that originated as a slideshow presentation of sorts. Why Art? explores the significance (and the failings) of institutions (and is a vital resource for creative people living in these strange, chaotic times I was mentioning earlier).
- The Antifa Comic Book by Gord Hill: A thorough run-down of the fascist and anti-fascist movements that have sprouted up across the world throughout the twentieth century. It seems strange to say this book is comforting? It’s not, really, I guess. But it does give some much-needed context to our present moment, and makes it feel less like it came out of nowhere. Context, and a sense of history, is essential if we hope to fend off the rising fascist movements at home and abroad.
- Futchi Perf by Kevin Czap: A lyrical, totally dreamy graphic novella imagining a utopian version of Cleveland. I’ve known Kevin and followed their work for close to a decade, and this release saw them really come into their power as a cartoonist in a next-level way.
- The Pervert by Michelle Perez & Remy Boydell: A stunning, and harrowing graphic novel showing the coming of age story of a young trans woman making her way in Seattle as a sex worker. This was one of the best comics I’ve read in years, period.
- Somnambulance by Fiona Smyth
- What Is Obscenity? by Rokudenashiko: A fascinating look into censorship in Japan, and a great showcase of Rokudenashiko’s clever and hilarious body of work.
- Flocks by L. Nichols
- The Collected Four Years by Kevin Czap
- Secure Connect by Carta Monir
- But I Like It by Joe Sacco
- Shade, The Changing Man by Peter Milligan & Chris Bachalo
- Big Kids by Michael DeForge
- Vellevision by Maurice Vellekoop
- The Tar Pit by Jeremy Sorese