Tag Archives: comic art

Exhibit of Chester Brown’s Louis Riel at Art Gallery of Ontario

Photo courtesy of the AGO Art Matters blog - http://artmatters.ca
Photo courtesy of the AGO Art Matters blog – http://artmatters.ca

By Sam Noir
December 18, 2013
Toronto

Something significant and radical has occurred in the Georgia Ridley Salon at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Original comics artwork has steadily gained acceptance within the hallowed institutions of mainstream galleries and museums, but never in as bold a curatorial manner as this.

A stark black and white, inked, portrait of Louis Riel sticks out like a sore thumb. Surrounded by stacks of period specific, painted, (colour) artwork, in a setting that recreates the viewing context of a period spanning Canadian Confederation and the First World War.

A portrait of Riel would never have found its way into any English Canada salon of that time.  A crusader for Métis rights, and charismatic leader of the 1869-1870 “Red River Rebellion”, Riel was branded a “traitor” by the federal government, and viewed as such in the province of Ontario, and particularly the city Toronto.  How fitting then, that he should end up here of all places, today.

This decidedly contemporary juxtaposition provokes conversation, and challenges our traditional narrative as Canadians.  The portrait incidentally, is the original cover art for the tenth anniversary edition of Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography.

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Riel remains controversial figure, and difficult to place within Canadian history.  He’s a powerful symbol of Native and French Canadian rebellion against centralized English-speaking government powers.  However, we now live in a society where Multiculturalism is espoused, and Bilingualism is national policy.  Chester Brown’s graphic biography is a reflection of this current cultural paradigm, particularly since Riel is now viewed as a “Father of Manitoba”, in spite of his defeats.  It is notable that the Canada Council, a government run funding agency for the arts, provided support to Brown in the creation of this work.

Tucked away in a small alcove in a corner of the salon, original artwork from Chester Brown’s Louis Riel graphic novel is displayed, revealing Brown’s process.  Each frame showcases what are essentially small individual panels of the same dimensions, on separate small pieces of paper, a half dozen of each which were eventually grouped together to form a “page” of artwork.  Imagine each of these panels to be a frame of film.  In film editing terms, this allowed Brown the ability to “non linear edit” as he crafts the story… adding or deleting panels and moments from any point in the chosen narrative as he goes along creating the work as a whole.

We also need to note that Brown calls his biography a comic strip.  Drawing from a more traditionally populist format, and defining itself away from the more literary pretentious term, graphic novel or even the more common place name of comic book.   Both terms which come with a degree of cultural baggage in the current landscape.

During the process of creating this work, Brown adapted a large stylistic influence from cartoonist Harold Gray, the creator of the comic strip Little Orphan Annie.  In fact, there are examples out there showing how Brown redrew panels he created earlier in the process to keep this aesthetic choice consistent.  The choice of Gray is interesting in that Gray is largely considered a political artist himself during a tumultuous period of American history.   Recall that the original Little Orphan Annie cartoon strip was a politically charged reaction to the changing times of the depression-era nineteen thirties – a fact largely forgotten in the shadow of the Broadway musical and cinematic adaptation that has taken popular root in its cultural stead.

Gray could originally be defined as a Republican during the pre-Depression years at the start of Little Orphan Annie (most historians cite the name of his character “Daddy” Warbucks as a suggestion about where the character’s initial fortunes came from), but many argue that the views expressed by his characters in later years were libertarian in nature.  Brown became politicized during the creation of Louis Riel, and has run as a candidate for the Libertarian Party of Canada in the riding of Trinity-Spadina since the 2008 federal election.

The spine of Brown’s Louis Riel rests on the side of democratic process, with the elected leadership of the largely mixed francophone/aboriginal Red River Settlement majority (Métis), battling against the tyranny of an oppressive English Canada asserting its agenda and the machinations of The Hudson’s Bay Company, hoping to profit from this transfer of power and land rights.  Though Riel’s methods and actions may not always be viewed sympathetically, you can understand his motivations of fairness.  Particularly as the elected leader of the provisional government, negotiating its place in the developing country of Canada – and as an member of Canadian Parliament, elected multiple times, but never having sat in the House of Commons for fear of arrest.

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Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald is not painted in a flattering light, and his decisions shown here have far reaching implications.  A political creature, choosing the expediency of arms over the complications of keeping his promises to Riel and the provisional government of Manitoba; a far cry from the Father of Canadian Confederation we learned about in our history books.  More devious still were his manipulations around the negotiations with the Métis in Saskatchewan to incite rebellion, and justify the mounting expenses in construction of the Canadian Pacific railroad across Canada, by sending in troops.

Whereas his sympathies undoubtedly lie with Riel and the Métis, in the story he’s chosen to tell, Brown has selected moments that highlight a certain degree of ironic, even dark, humour to Riel’s story. Reminding us that this book is designed to entertain as much as it is to inform. Far from being a comprehensive volume on the life of Riel, Brown’s selection of vignettes within the allotted pages is equally fascinating.

Brown’s exploration of Riel’s years following Red River, institutionalized and gripped by “Divine Madness” is not surprising to those familiar with his earlier autobiographical work.  Where his mother’s schizophrenia was not overtly stated, but often a strong subtext in the depiction Brown’s developing years.  These visions and religious fervour haunt Riel, and follow him through the Métis uprising in Saskatchewan, leading up to his surrender to the Canadian authorities, and to the end of his life.  The closing chapter, leading us to the final moments of Riel’s execution, depicts the courtroom where the question of his sanity is laid before those who knew and encountered him.

In some parts of the chronology, the narrative jumps years at a time, quickly through different characters and settings between panels on the same page.  However, when Brown chooses to slow down the pace, utilizing what has commonly become known as “decompressed storytelling”, the quiet results are compelling and moving.  Individual “moments” paced out in panels of the same size, six to a page stretching across multiple pages.  Similar to Watchmen, which functioned similarly using a nine panel per page grid structure.  With no variation in size and placement of panels, the panels become a singular viewing portal… a “window” into the world of Louis Riel.

The final sequence in Part One of the story, depicting Louis Riel alone in Fort Garry, and then leaving the Red River Settlement, stretches across a luxurious four pages.  Dwelling on mundane, yet affecting moments of Riel rising from bed and eating a solitary meal, before being warned of the English troops descending upon him.  Unlike the end of a traditional American cowboy movie, in this Canadian “Western”, Riel does not head triumphantly into the horizon and the sunset, but towards the reader, who is looking down above him as he walks in the rain.

You can view these particular pages of original art for yourself, showcased in the salon’s alcove at the Art Gallery of Ontario until September 2014.

Honours bestowed on Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography include 2 Harvey Awards, and its placement as a semifinalist in CBC’s prestigious Canada Reads program.  It was the first Canadian Graphic Novel to become a best-seller, and on its heels has spawned a renaissance in the genre of graphic novel/comic book biography and similar non fiction illustrated work.

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During an earlier regeneration, the author of this article found himself living as an academic. He held three degrees from Queen’s University in Fine Art, Art History and Film Studies in a death-like vice grip, describing himself at the time as an Installation Artist, Pop Culture Junkie and Film Maker. 

Sam Noir is currently a rabble rouser, and maker of comix and toys.  He claims Toronto, Canada–the most culturally diverse city on the whole damn planet–as his home.

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Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

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Understanding Comics – The Invisible Art is quintessential reading for those who appreciate comic books as a legitimate art form. It explores, with great authority, the method underlying the form of combining words and pictures in sequential art storytelling.

So what does all that mean to folks who don’t fall under the Art Nerd category?

Well, the ideas covered in this book can tackle some of the following subjects:

– Why comics, cartoons, and “sequential” art has been used for thousands of years
– Why the medium is accessible as a popular art form, as well as being capable of great sophistication
– Why film isn’t just “like comics, but better” – a favorite point raised by many comics afficionados including Alan Moore

Scott McCloud, who is creator of the both the book’s works and graphics, actually illustrates his theory and methodology as you’re reading about it–which is great for visual learners, and definitely drives home the points he is trying to make. What is more, the research is intensely thorough. Check out the chart on page 52-53 where he maps out the geography of the comic art universe, in which comics are located based on their varying gravity towards Reality, Meaning, and the Picture Plane.

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symbolsDrawn images, McCloud points out, are all symbols, including the visual depictions of our languages. Yet written language is received, and is the process of training and education… whereas a drawing of a woman or a boat is perceived–that is, instantaneously understood as a representation of that thing. Comic arts, among other things, is a practice of reconciliation between these two distance cousins–an attempt to harmonize them in a way that only uses one sense–sight–to take it in, and yet professes all of our senses, and all perceived dimensions–including time.

So what does the typical comic reader get from reading Understanding Comics?

Aside from getting your mind blown about the abilities of the medium, Understanding Comics will truly help you to further appreciate decent comic art. It will help you to recognizing quality; it will help you to differentiate style, including cultural influences that you may not have previously noticed (Japanese comics, for example, are notably different in method than American or European comics, and this can be linked quite conclusively to a difference in values, philosophies, and methods of thinking.)

You may wish to pick it up as a map of what kinds of styles are out there, in terms of culture, style, time period. Or you may find it empowering to more deeply understand the comics you already know and love. Whatever the case may be, the book is a must-read for comics aficionados… and, arguably, those looking to understand why comics are once again on the rise.

For those who read and like Understanding Comics – you will probably want to check out McCloud’s next installment – Reinventing Comics, which takes the theory and method to the next level, and explores some of the new realms comics are tackling.

Scott McCloud also has a wonderful Ted Talk that combines the fundamentals of both of these books. Click on the image below to check it out in a new window.

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Matt Bors Event Press Release

AA leaflet image

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Political Cartoonist Matt Bors in Toronto to Talk Up New Book,  Afghanistan Trip,
Comics Journalism & Activism

Event Spokesperson: Nicole M. Guiniling (Ad Astra Comix)
Phone(647) 863-4994
E-mailnicolemarieguiniling@gmail.com
URLwww.AdAstraComix.com

Between May 9 – 11, political cartoonist Matt Bors will be in Toronto showcasing his new book, Life Begins At Incorporation: Cartoons and Essays. In addition to exhibiting his work at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) May 10 – 11 at the Toronto Reference Library, Bors will be presenting his work on Friday evening, May 10 at 7:30PM at the Toronto Comic Book Lounge.

Matt Bors is a nationally-syndicated political cartoonist, editor, and writer based in Portland, Oregon. In 2007 at the age of 23, he was the youngest nationally-syndicated cartoonist in the United States. Since then his work has graced the pages of WIRED Magazine, The Los Angeles TimesVillage Voice, and The Nation.

Life Begins at Incorporation is Matt Bors’ second book. It received 170% funding on the website Kickstarter in 2012, and was released to funding backers and pre-orders in April 2013. It features cartoons and essays on a variety of topics, from gun control, women’s rights, and the environment to the Global War on Terror (a segment of Bors’ talk is devoted to his trip as a comics journalist to Afghanistan in 2010).

In 2012, Bors was both a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Editorial Cartooning and the first alternative-weekly cartoonist to win the Herblock Prize for Excellence in Cartooning. At a time when political cartooning is widely considered to be a ‘dying art’ by the journalism industry, Bors’ cartoons have received significant mainstream political traction. In 2012, one of his works was presented by U.S. Congressman John Larson during a house floor debate on the Affordable Care Act, while another piece about Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamden, was smuggled to him while he served as a detainee of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.

Bors is available to interview in-person during his stay in Toronto May 9-11, or by phone at the interviewer’s convenience.

Interested parties can find examples of his work and more information on his website, www.MattBors.com. A .PDF copy of Life Begins At Incorporation is available for review upon request.

“The Political Comics of Matt Bors,” is organized by the website Ad Astra Comix, which reviews, researches, promotes and distributes political and historical comic art.

What People Have Said of Bors’ Work
(Quotes From the Back Cover of Life Begins):

Life Begins at Incorporation is equal parts maddening and hilarious. Matt Bors reminds us that in an unjust world, laughter is an absolute necessity. The only disappointment in this book is that despite my wishes to the contrary, ‘The Avenging Uterus’ is not in fact real.” – Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing.com & author of The Purity Myth

Bors embodies the highest virtues of political cartoonists: fearless, provocative satire and cutting, acerbic insights. He’s also unfailingly funny.” – Glenn Greenwald, columnist for The Guardian

Able to eviscerate a target with a single panel. You never want to end up on the wrong side of his pen 
and ink!” – Markos Moulitsas, Publisher, Daily Kos

Bors has the right stuff and then some.” – Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great

A bunch of cunty liberal garbage.” – Person on the Internet