As part of our crowdfunder for ‘Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back’, Ad Astra Comix agreed to do a workshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the attendees was Jay Aaron Roy, who runs Cape and Cowl, a comics shop in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. We visited C&C on our way back to Ontario and were so impressed that we decided we wanted to do an interview featuring Jay’s work there. The results are below.
Q: First off, let’s have the basics: How long has Cape and Cowl been open? Where is it located? What’s the neighbourhood like?
A: Cape & Cowl has been open since September 28th, 2014, and we are located at 536 Sackville Drive, in beautiful Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada! The neighborhood here is warm and welcoming. I am from this town (well, Fall River, which is about ten minutes away), so many community members here have known me, or who I am, for a long time.
Q: So when we visited, you told us about the role the shop plays as a community space. Could you tell us a little more about that?
A: When I was searching for a location to open, my goal was to specifically open in this rural area to offer the local youth something new to see and do. I have much youth work in my background, and there is hardly anything around here for youth do, so I knew a drop-in center would fit perfectly. I have big ambitions (which I will get to in question #9!), so having a space where I could host game days, movie nights, youth drop-in times, birthday parties, and the like was always an integral part of my business plan.
Q: So you’ve got signs up making it clear that Cape and Cowl is a safe community space. What does that mean in practice? What moved you to do it?
A: Safe spaces are so important, especially for the lgbtqi community. Youth desperately need spaces where they feel comfortable and respected. Making my shop a “safe space”, and then advertising that out there to the world, lets all local youth know, and really everyone else too, that this space is protected. Protected by me. Locally, people tend to know that I am an activist who is quite outspoken about the things that I believe in. So, in practice, I offer volunteering opportunities for youth to help me run parties and events, and in return they know that whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation, they will be respected here. And, not only that, but I will make sure that everyone else in the shop respects them as well, and act as a moderator when a person needs to be gently corrected. I basically like to take the stress off the youth and help validate their identity and worth. I have a no-nonsense, zero tolerance rule about bullying.
I think it is just a part of who I am, to make a space like this, because I was bullied a lot when I was young, and as I have come out in my adulthood as a transgender man, that bullying hadn’t totally stopped. I don’t know if safe spaces will always be needed, and in some part, I hope we don’t need them forever, but I do know we need them right now.
Q: This is an interesting time for nerd culture, with the ugly underbelly of toxic masculinity being dragged out into the light for all to see. Comic book shops are probably the primary physical gathering spaces for people interested in comics, gaming and this kind of stuff – Cape and Cowl is definitely set up like that. But there’s a tension for store owners who have to be careful not to alienate any part of their clientele, while also being pressed to pick sides in an increasingly polarized battle. How do you negotiate that tension at C&C?
A: That’s a great question, and certainly something I pay very careful attention to. Every single move I make with the shop is super-meticulously thought out. Where I am the 100% sole proprietor, I feel more free to “do what I want” when it comes to political stances. My shop would never have the chance to be any sort of “boys club”, that’s just not how I operate. I get Sailor Moon toys that have “for girls” printed right on the box…I take a black marker and cover that up right away before they go on the shelf. MY Sailor Moon toys are for EVERYONE. I also reflect my feelings for particular creative teams, in my orders. If I don’t like what a writer/comic is saying to my shoppers, I don’t order it, (unless someone orders it by special request). I really like to showcase representation though, so I’ll still order Superman and Iron Man, but I have way healthier stock of Jem and the Holograms, Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. In regards to gathering the local nerds, (and I use that term in a loving way), it is all about timing. I have many community events like craft fairs and bbqs, where the larger community comes out to an event, but also gaming days, where my local Magic: The Gathering players can gather and play tournaments in the drop-in, so I can run my business at the same time. I just make it known to the players that I have a business to run, and for the most part they respect that. I’ve only had to tell a few guys to watch their language, haha.
Q: So you used to work at Strange Adventures in Halifax, right? What kind of lessons did you learn there about running a comic shop? Has Callum (the owner of Strange Adventures) been supportive of Cape and Cowl?
A: I did used to work at Strange Adventures, and even a few other comic shops as well before that! I learned so much from my time at Strange Adventures, though, for sure. Calum Johnston runs an amazing business, at all three of his shops. I learned a lot about the comic industry from him and Dave Howlett, the manager of his Halifax location. Cal was an awesome boss, and has been super supportive of Cape & Cowl. I am always lead to quote him when he said many years ago to me, “a rising tide floats all boats”. In other words, more people reading comics is a good thing. Also, I’m way out in the rural area, so I don’t hurt his business too much, I imagine. 😉 I still talk to him all the time about lots of different aspects of the business, he has given me some great advice, and brought me gifts of shelving to the shop.
Q: What’s your favourite part of running a comic shop?
A: What a tough one! First of all, I love being the boss! Haha! I am a pretty creative fellow, so being able to concoct my own sales, events, ideas, etc. has pretty much been a dream come true. I love having the freedom to run my own business the exact way I want to. The most rewarding part of my work is seeing people enjoy the shop, and the space. I also just plain LOVE comics! So, it’s always fun being in the comic industry and seeing what is coming out, the day it comes out!
Q: (You can skip this one if you don’t wanna make trouble with your landlord) You mentioned something about the landlord jacking up the rent massively. I think the price you mentioned was comparable to commercial rents in Toronto, and you live in rural Nova Scotia! What the hell are they thinking?
A: I will answer anything! Haha! I have NO IDEA what they are thinking, other than probably “This lake-of-fire front property is too hot, let’s invest in new A/C and charge it to the small business owners in our rural buildings”?, because they are, collectively, Satan. Seriously though, with companies like the one that jacked up my rent, (through loopholes, two months after I moved in, with an increase of $600 a MONTH!), I’m sure all they care about is the bottom line. They are so disconnected from the communities they own in, and they could care less. The community at large, along with myself, emailed, sent letters, called, did everything we could, and the owners still did not care. They stood their ground on the increase, and as a result I have almost gone out of business four times. In fact, they only sent me back one email saying “I’m not sure why we got these emails…”. I offered them some reading lessons. They didn’t answer back, haha. My building has since been bought by another company, who have their heads in the sand just as deep. We need locally owned, reasonably priced business buildings desperately in rural Nova Scotia. Or at least ones not owned by the four horseman of the apocalypse.
For anyone who wants to get in touch with Jay’s landlord about his outrageous rent, he pays $3345.70 a month for 1610 sq. ft. You can reach them at
BANC Group 1 Craigmore Drive, Suite 201 Halifax, NS B3N 0C6 P (902) 832-8930
Q: What’s the hardest part of running Cape and Cowl?
A: The hardest part of running Cape & Cowl, is doing it all by myself. Although, it makes me quite proud to see all I have done. I certainly couldn’t have done it at all without the incredible amount of help I get from local community members, and volunteers for parties and events, but the daily grind can certainly wear on me from time to time. I am good at practicing self care, though, so I make sure to get the rest I need. When the shop closes up at 6:00, I go home. I don’t let anyone make me feel guilty for not being open past that. If they want to shop comics in the evening, they can do that in the city, or wait a few years until I have a staff to allow me to do so. The only other part that was difficult, was dealing with ALL the companies that call you to set up debit/credit payments with them. Boy, those companies are all headache-inducing, but only were so in my first year of business. I can tell them where to go pretty fast, these days, haha.
Q:Do you have any big plans for the future?
A: I have SO MANY big plans for the future, but I can’t tell anyone about them yet! Isn’t that awful?! haha All I can say is, stay tuned to the website, and you’ll see every big idea as I implement them!
Q: What advice do you have for folks around North America interested in starting their own comic shops?
A: Oh my gosh, I could write an hour’s worth of material here, but what I’ll say is this: do it. If you want to own a comic shop, go do it. Save as much money as you can, do your research about the comic industry, and how to order from your distributors. Go nuts on social media. Listen to everyone’s “advice”, but only use the advice you want. Comic shops work much better if you involve the community, so create events where the geek community can gather and cross promote with other local small businesses. Find small business meet-ups in your area, and get connected! And most importantly, remember that COMICS ARE FOR EVERYONE.
‘War in the Neighborhood’, first published in 1999, tells the story of New York City’s Lower East Side during the late 80s and early 90s, a period of rapid change.
Although gentrification is now unraveling communities from Atlanta to Seattle, what happened in the Lower East Side was one of the earliest modern examples. Artists, people of colour, migrants, radicals, squatters, the homeless and regular working class people all called this crowded area full of abandoned buildings home.
Though no one book could ever hope to tell the entire story, ‘War in the Neighborhood’ contains a full cast of artists, anarchists, dog-walkers and ex-prisoners as they fight to build a future for themselves before greedy developers literally burn it out from under them.
Modern readers familiar with the history of internet-age social movements like Occupy Wall Street will be surprised how much they recognize in these stories. Gendered violence, police brutality, factional fights and hostile news media all come together to paint a very familiar picture.
Instructive as it is for activists, ‘War in the Neighborhood’ is above all a feeling, human portrait of life in a troubled time. As neighborhood residents fight the police, the cold and each other to make space for themselves, our own hopes for affordable housing, community, and safe space are reflected on the page. In an era of market crashes and rigged elections, we recognize our own struggle to build something that lasts in a world intent on tearing us down.
As we’ve mentioned before, a number of the folks involved with ‘Extraction! Comix Reportage’ have gone on to do other important work. One of the most interesting and accomplished of the Extraction contributors (not that they aren’t all just fascinating) is journalist and activist Dawn Paley. We caught up with Dawn via phone call, since she’s currently living and working long term in Puebla, to find out what she’s been up to since the comic came out. Here’s how that went:
Ad Astra: Could you tell us a little bit about your history as an activist?
Dawn :I grew up in the lower mainland of British Columbia, on Coast Salish territory. I grew up in a pretty isolated area, this is pre-internet, so my first entry into activism was through environmentalism, eventually I started working as a journalist, doing media activism and grassroots journalism. Over the years, I’ve written about environmental and land issues ranging from the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement to the impacts of US foreign policy and the expansion of capitalism on communities in Mexico, Central and South America.
I’ve been working as a journalist now for a little over 12 years, largely focused on Mexico, Central and South America, but especially Mexico. The piece I did for ‘EXTRACTION!’ [Gold: Taking the Heart of the Land] was the result of one of my first trips to Central America, and over the last decades I’ve continued to cover the ongoing dispossession, violence and colonialism taking place in Mexico, Central and South America. In my work I strive to explore the nature of the violences of capital and states, part of the work is to expose the connections between the global north and the violence that so deeply impacts so many folks in the global south.
Ad Astra: How did you first get involved in ‘EXTRACTION!’? How did you settle on the Goldcorp mine in Guatemala as the subject of the comic?
Dawn: I became involved with Extraction! because I had previously collaborated with [editor] Frederic Dubois, and later became friends with [editor] David Widgington of Cumulus Press as well. They asked me to do a chapter. They initially asked me to write about Barrick’s Pascua Lama mine in the high Andes in Chile and Argentina. I countered with a proposal to write about Guatemala/Goldcorp, suggesting that it would be a stronger piece because I’d already done interviews and research in the area. Plus, comics being a more visual thing it made sense to be working on a project about a place I’d seen first hand.
I knew the comic was going to be good as soon as I found out Joe Ollmann was working on the project. I immediately liked Joe’s style and his approach. We didn’t get to see a whole lot with each other – it was a long distance working relationship, but it was a nice experience. Joe has a fabulous sense of humor, and the final experience of seeing my words through Joe’s illustrations was incredible. It’s just totally different than print reporting.
Ad Astra: What was your collaborative process with Joe Ollmann like?
Dawn: It might be a bit passé for someone my age, but I confess, I’m a dyed in the wool print journalist. Obviously all journalism is teamwork, and sometimes I’ll work with a collaborator, like a photographer. Sometimes with print, you’ll write the piece and the photographer will send a cutline or two to go with their images, or your editor will suggest some changes to a piece. But with comics, the artist does so much work. Drawing, inking, and lettering takes so much time and skill. I don’t want to diminish what editors or photographers do…there’s a lot to it. But with this comic, it felt really different. It was an even longer process. It was interesting to have the surprise of seeing how he drew the things I saw and talked about, how he represented them. Workflow wise, we went back and forth long-distance, I compiled a script that included all kinds of visual clues I would leave out of a regular, reported piece, and went from there.
Extraction!’ artist Joe Ollmann meeting with Dawn, along with publisher and co-editor David Widgington and co-editor Frédéric Dubois. Photo by co-editor Marc Tessier.”
Ad Astra: Have you stayed in touch with Héctor and other people you met on the trip? What’s going on around the mine more recently?
Hmm. They’re pseudonyms in the story, so I needed to think about which person “Héctor” was. Yes, I’m still in touch with him. We G-chat sometimes. I saw him a couple of years ago when a serious earthquake hit the department of San Marcos; he took me around and brought me up to speed about what was happening in the region at that time. Goldcorp’s Marlin mine is in the process of closing, and they are doing a lot of public relations to make it look like they did a great job. I was in Guatemala in April and I saw a full page ad in the national newspaper, showing employees planting a bunch of trees in the area, you know, showing us that everything’s hunky-dory! But there’s a lot of ongoing health and environmental issues with contamination from the mine, and people are still facing charges for their role in resistance from years ago. I remember maybe five years ago, folks who survived the internal conflict pointed out to me how there were no basically no political prisoners in Guatemala until after the peace accords were signed in 1996. That was because the state didn’t take prisoners, rather it killed dissidents, activists, organizers, and entire Indigenous communities.
But today in Guatemala there is a HUGE amount of criminalization of community organizers. This criminalization specifically targets Indigenous communities and land defenders. People are thrown in jail, accused of huge list of charges, serving months and sometimes years for resisting dams, mines, highways, cement plants, palm oil, and so on. There are a lot of incredibly brave lawyers and activists fighting against the criminalization of land defenders and political prisoners in Guatemala, fighting for their release. I think this is really crucial context today that we need to keep in mind in looking at this comic from almost 10 years ago.
Ad Astra: Would you work on another comics journalism project, given the appropriate resources and journalistic freedom?
Dawn: I’d love to do another comics journalism project, connected to the research I’m doing with families of people who have been disappeared in Mexico. I’m doing a multi-year investigation into this issue as part of a dissertation, and what I hope will be my next book. When I can, I have been walking with family members on weekends, when they convene to look for bodies. It is a very intense experience–people using little more than sticks and shovels to search for missing daughters, sons, brothers, sisters… This is an entrenched reality in Mexico today and yet I think for many it is something that is still difficult to imagine. I think comics could be an important avenue to communicate this experience.
Ad Astra: How have things changed for mining activists since ‘EXTRACTION!’ was first released?
Dawn: Well, Indigenous land defenders across so called Canada have come out strong using a whole range of strategies to fight against destructive extractive industry projects throughout the entire last century and into this one. I think it is important to start by acknowledging the importance and the continuity of those struggles.
Specifically, EXTRACTION! first came out almost 10 years ago, and I think it’s still really relevant. As for differences between 2006 and 2016? There’s a lot more solidarity and visibility for these struggles, actually, including some really amazing organizing in Toronto and Vancouver. And urban activists are not just connecting the actions of Canadian companies in Guatemala or elsewhere with their headquarters in Toronto or Vancouver, but also looking at the activities of mining companies, sometimes even the same mining companies, on stolen Indigenous land in Canada. In my opinion, activism against destructive mining has gotten smarter, more intersectional.
We’ve seen huge amounts of community organization against mining happening, from the community level to the international level. In 2006-2007, I was reporting on a fairly nascent struggle in Guatemala… Now Goldcorp and gold mining has become a landmark issue in Guatemala. Folks all over the country know about it, they are prepared to fight against it and are pre-emptively declaring their communities free of mining… In general more and more folks and communities in Mexico, Central and South America are weary of Canadian or other mega-mining projects. People are mobilized against the damage that these companies are doing/can do to their water supply, their communities, and increasingly that organization is taking the form of international coalitions, groups that can represent hundreds of struggles. Over the past 10 years, many people resisting mining have been threatened, murdered, and displaced, but there have been huge strides around these issues in terms of awareness and preventative action, and it’s important we take note of the gains.
Ad Astra: What have you been up to since ‘EXTRACTION!’? What are you working on now?
Dawn: Well, I’ve continued to work as a journalist, in 2009 I helped found the Vancouer Media Co-op and was involved in various media projects in Canada for a few years. 2010 was a big year, we helped cover resistance to the Olympics in Vancouver and later to the G8-G20 in Toronto. At the year’s end I left Vancouver and started researching for my first book, Drug War Capitalism, which came out with AK Press in late 2014. Since the book came out I’ve been doing lots of speaking events in the US mostly, and we’re working to try and get a Spanish version of the book out soon. I also started a doctorate at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Central Mexico, where I am based.
At this very moment, I’m working on an investigative piece about families of the disappeared in Mexico, about the folks I mentioned who have started searching every every weekend for clandestine graves that may contain their family members. I’m writing about what it is like to walk alongside them as they search for their loved ones. I think that the movement of searchers is one of the most significant social movements in Mexico today, and one that urgently merits our attention.
The events depicted in this comic are as recent as last Friday (January 15, 2016). We wrote, drew, inked, and did layout within 48 hours, in time for Savannah’s Martin Luther King parade, in which the Poor People’s Campaign participated.
This comic and others are viewable on our Patreon Page, where we are collecting pledges to continue doing this work.