Journey

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By Mia Carnevale

There are various ways of controlling anxiety or stress: sitting down with a good book, taking a walk outside, or even enjoying a cup of tea with one’s current activity. Video games tend to be overlooked in this area. They are better known for being loud or fast-paced—not what someone would turn to if they were searching for calm, or emotional investment.

This is the obstacle Jenova Chen set out to overcome in Journey, the final game of a three-part contract between Thatgamecompany and Sony that came out on PlayStation in March of 2012. It eliminates the goal-driven structure most video games follow, instead allowing one to get lost in the surroundings and music. The atmosphere makes it easy for a player to feel small.

The story is told without any verbal narrative and uses cut scenes that are, at times, ominous. It was only after finishing the game that I decided to go back and read about the storyline, picking up on details that enhance one’s understanding but don’t hinder the gameplay if missed. Journey is the story of a now-ruined civilization. The player travels through the remnants, past floating centipede-like mechanical automatons that are on the lookout for intruders.

The premise itself is fairly straightforward: the player assumes the role of a strange robed figure standing in an endless desert. A large mountain looms overhead, with a light shining upwards from its split peak. The goal is to slowly make one’s way through the game in order to reach the summit. But putting it that way eliminates all of the things that are important in Journey. Here, the focal point is in the things that people tend to overlook when playing a game.

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Image from kotaku.com

The music sets the tone from the very beginning. As the player guides the cloaked figure through the remnants of a destroyed civilization, there is already something meditative about the game. This is particularly evident when the figure’s scarf comes into play. Rune-decorated scarves and red ribbons are probably the central imagery of the game. The scarf lights up when fully charged by magical ribbons scattered throughout the environment. The charge is then slowly expended when you hold down the O button to fly. Later on, these ribbons form bridges, or make up huge floating jellyfish and serpent-like creatures. The player has to charge up at one creature before gliding on to the next one.

Large, white-cloaked figures reminiscent of Tibetan monks appear at occasional checkpoints to further elaborate on the story. The meditative quality of the gameplay is heightened by encounters with anonymous figures at various stages of the journey. These are controlled by other players somewhere in the world who happen to be at the same stage in the game. Players can communicate via a series of chiming tones, and can choose to work together by charging up each other’s scarves. These encounters build a sense of companionship that is strengthened by the anonymity and lack of competition between players.

Yet all of the above is still focused on the minute details of the game. The reality is that one must play the game in order to fully understand the effect Chen was going for. Despite how short it is—taking only a couple hours or so to complete—playing it feels like one has wandered into a tiny time loop. It’s a game that elicits melancholy and longing, as well as joy and relief, taking you from a vast desert into dark underground caverns guarded by Matrix-like automatons, then up the mountain and through a blizzard. There is one particular moment, at the end of the underground cavern before one has finally broken out, that I would gladly replay over and over again, flying from one ribbon jellyfish to another through a sea of golden mist as it rises higher and higher, until it finally bursts into a warm glow. It was a moment that sent a tingling sensation through me, making me understand what all the praise and near-perfect reviews were talking about.

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Image from picquery.com

At the end of the game, after reaching the summit, there is a beautiful cut scene of the player’s figure dissolving into an expanse of white light. A shooting star crosses the sky from the summit and follows the journey backwards, illuminating the other players who are on the same path. Once it fades beyond the sand dunes and the sun rises again, one has the option of starting the journey over again. Regardless of how cliché or predictable it may sound, Journey feels like an entire lifetime shrunken down into a few hours, at the end of which there is such an overwhelming spectrum of emotions that it is difficult to leave it behind. It’s a few hours of pure, unfiltered magic that has been skillfully woven into a narrative that doesn’t care about overloading the player with details or imposing criteria, instead it seeks to comfort and move, and does both in the most unique way possible.


-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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From Inspiration to Illustration: An Interview with Koyorin

Koyorin is a Toronto-based digital illustrator whose work has appeared in conventions like The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and Anime North. Currently, they are working as a freelance artist after having completed their bachelor’s degree in design from OCAD university. In their free time, Koyorin draws fan art or original art, plays video games, and simultaneously runs multiple social media accounts. You can find more of Koyorin’s art here: http://koyoriin.tumblr.com/

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

weight_of_the_world___web_by_koyorin-dbnp5f2.jpgWhat was it about drawing that captured your interest in the first place? And what inspired you to make the shift from drawing as a hobby to drawing as a career?

Well, I have a great interest in visual storytelling and creating appealing characters to tell said stories, and I was also an avid consumer of different video games and anime. Around my teen years, I started paying a lot more attention to the concept art and illustrations that went into the creation of some of my favourite entertainment media, and it occurred to me that I could start turning my hobby into a viable career. After all, from an early age I decided that I wanted to work in a career path that went hand-in-hand with my passions, whatever the cost.

Could you name some of your all-time favourite video games and anime?

Some of my favourite games in the past few years include Bloodborne, the Gravity Rush games, NieR and NieR: Automata, Persona 3 Portable, Undertale, Transistor, and VA-11 Hall-A. My main draws to these games are their likeable characters, good music, and appealing art direction. In terms of anime, I think it’s harder to pick a favourite series, but there are several anime films that come to mind, such as most Studio Ghibli films, Akira, and Kimi no Na wa.

When did you make the decision to focus on creating digital art, and do you think it suits your personal style more than traditional approaches to illustration?

I got my first tablet—a Wacom Bamboo tablet—when I was around 15 years old, which is when I started to dabble in digital art. Ever since then, traditional art kind of got put on the back burner, and it’s been digital drawing and painting for me ever since. Digital art allows for a different workflow and for different visual elements that appeal to me more than those of traditional art, which is why I chose to stick with it I suppose!

You’ve become a very popular fan artist, so do you intend to keep up with your large output of fan art in the future or do you foresee a shift to a greater focus on original work?

Eventually I’d like to be better known for original work. Fan art is never a bad place for artists to start building a social media presence, but I also genuinely enjoy drawing fan art for games and anime that I like. It’s a good way to show that appreciation while also attracting an audience with similar interests.

What was building up your social media presence like? Were there any challenges you faced?

Personally, I think it was a pretty organic process. I started uploading my work to websites like DeviantArt when I was 14 or 15, and eventually started a Tumblr blog when I was nearing the end of high school. Since then, I made sure to keep sharing work on a regular basis, and to never disappear for too long. I think any challenges I faced were mostly on my own side, like being too busy to make my own work to share, which was an issue I faced while I was in university, and now while I have freelance work as well.

You’ve recently created a series of original pieces (collected in a zine) called “Weapon Girls” that combines a science-fiction aesthetic with traditional fantasy-style weaponry like greatswords and giant hammers. Would you say that you have a current interest in the hybridity of these genres?

Science fiction and fantasy are my two favourite genres in the games and anime that I engage with, so combining the two is only natural, I think. My drive for the series is to just have a personal project to work on that isn’t related to my freelance work. I think there are a lot of general inspirations but no direct, specific inspirations for it—really just whatever related art media has caught my eye recently.

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Hypothetically, if all your other responsibilities were wiped out of existence, and you could work on any possible project at this moment, what would that dream project be?

Ideally, I’d like to be a lead character designer on a Japanese role-playing game. I think the kind of work that I put out is more suited for that genre as opposed to most Western style games. And I also feel like I’d excel more on projects that had more female characters than male characters, or just only female characters, since I tend to prefer designing them.

Do you have a goal for yourself as an artist? As in, is there a certain standard that you want to achieve, and could you describe what you envision that to be?

There’s definitely a level I want to be at in terms of artistic skill and design sense, but it’s something I’m still working towards. Of course, I’d also say that reaching the level of my favourite artists is definitely a goal of mine, but I also believe that the learning process and interpretation of what it means to “improve” constantly shifts as an artist gets further into their artistic career. Eventually, when I do reach a level that I’m satisfied with, there will always be some other artistic endeavour I want to achieve; so it never really ends!

Are there are any active artists now who you admire? What makes their work stand out for you?

There are many who do stand out to me, and more recently I’ve been interested in artists who have good style as well as design sense. This includes artists like ASK, Akihiko Yoshida, Yuya Nagai, Ilya Kuvshinov, Shigenori Soejima, pomodorosa, and Krenz. All of these artists have really good technical skills, but are also skilled designers and have styles that are easily recognizable in the immense field of illustration and concept work. I think the reason artists like them are standing out more to me now as compared to when I was more interested in semi-realism, is that I’ve begun to notice the importance of having a good style and good design sense. With enough practice, anyone can learn to render well and paint well, but it’s harder to learn to reinterpret reality in a way that’s memorable.

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What’s the difference in your creative process when you produce original art in comparison to fan art?

The benefit of working on fan art is that you don’t have to worry about design. All of the design work has already been done, and all you need to do is focus on the composition, light, and colour. When producing original work, there’s the additional steps of figuring out coherent design that fulfils the purpose you want to achieve with it, in addition to the compositional parts. A big part of designing is problem solving, and doing fan art removes a portion of that from the equation when creating artwork, so in some ways it’s more relaxing on the brain. My personal design approach (for my own work, not for my freelance/commercial work) tends to be very impulsive, since it’s just for me and only really needs to fulfil my needs for the design.

Is there any advice you can give to aspiring digital illustrators about finding their own approach to design?

It’s important to establish a strong foundation, regardless of style, and also to recognize that it’s good to have a wide variety of influences, art related or not. I find that it’s far too easy to pigeonhole yourself into creating work that looks like your favourite artists’ work, so it’s important to be open to all kinds of inspiration to contribute to your personal work. In addition, I know many other artists say this too, but don’t worry yourself too much about comparing yourself to others or what others are up to. It’s a source of stress for many, including myself, but ultimately it amounts to a poor use of time and energy that’s better put towards improving yourself. Everybody’s growth as an artist is different, and I think that’s a core aspect of being creative in the first place.

-Contributed by Lawrence Stewen

Not Your Usual Post-Apocalypse: The World of Stand Still Stay Silent

Ninety years later, everything is gone. Everything except Scandinavia, that is.

Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are all that remain of the Known world, and only Iceland is a completely safe area. As far as anybody knows, the rest of the Silent world is populated by the terrifying and dangerous victims of the Rash Illness, a pandemic that started innocuously and swept the globe, decimating almost all human and animal life. Those who succumb to the Illness either die or become the beasts, trolls, and giants that roam the Silent world in what appears to be perpetual agony. The remaining human life is concentrated in small, safe settlements, and they deal with their dangerous surroundings through a combination of fire, military prowess, magic, and cats.

Yes, that’s right, cats—somehow the only mammals immune to the Illness and invaluable allies to the surviving humans.

Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish woman and the writer and artist of Stand Still Stay Silent (draws upon Nordic mythology to tell her post-apocalyptic story in this ongoing webcomic, which began in 2013 and updates every weekday. A particular info sheet from the webcomic that depicts the Indo-European language tree has acquired a significant online presence outside of its original context, so all you language nerds out there may have seen her art before without realizing it. Readers may also know her from A Redtail’s Dream, a webcomic she completed as a sophomore about a young man and his shape-shifting dog who are tasked with saving their village from a meddling trickster fox. Both comics feature her beautiful artwork, which brings both the Nordic landscape and mystical dreamscapes to life in vivid colour. Sundberg creates a truly entrancing webcomic experience in her website design, which leaves no detail unattended to and draws the reader seamlessly into the pages of her story.

The ease with which the reader is brought into the world helps us follow the adventures of the motley crew embarking upon an expedition to explore the Silent world. Barely any of the six main characters have combat experience, so the two Finnish cousins and the young Swedish aristocrat follow the lead of a brash Norwegian captain and a chronically unemployable Dane. The Icelander who joins them later is a shepherd, who is even less experienced than the other three characters who are in their early twenties. The poorly funded crew is the first of its kind, in part because most of the remaining civilizations have little interest in rediscovering an old world that succumbed to so much death and decay. Described by Sundberg herself as “a story about friendship and exploring a forgotten world, with some horror, monsters, and magic on the side,” the crew find themselves working through language and personality barriers as they uncover old books and encounter strange creatures in the abandoned cityscapes. The characters are hilarious and compelling, and the world they inhabit is rich and intriguing. Sundberg often inserts worldbuilding pages near the end of chapters, offering insight into aspects of the post-apocalyptic society such as “The Blessed Felines” and their training process, the differences between Icelandic and Finnish mages, or “The Dagrenning program,” akin to in vitro fertilization and allowing Icelandic citizens to have children who are immune to the Illness.

At times, the tone of the comic becomes notably serious, even horrific. As the crew journeys farther and farther away from safe and inhabited lands, they witness the consequences of the Illness first-hand in old hospital wards and through fighting the creatures that attack them. In the Silent world, “the first rule for survival outside the safe areas” is to “stand still and stay silent” rather than running or calling for help when a beast, a troll, or a giant is encountered, because “it might go away.” For the inexperienced crew, the stakes are understandably high. One wrong turn could get them killed, and it seems they can’t help but make wrong turns everywhere they go. Sundberg makes the difficult shift from comedic banter to terrifying and tragic troll encounter seem effortless.

Beyond its excellent art and writing, Stand Still Stay Silent is a prime example of the new ways online publication can bring together fans of speculative work. The comic has an active readership that contributes to its comments section and participates in the fan forum, which has become a repository for the fan work that arises out of the comments. In particular, the fan community of this webcomic seems to favour writing poetry and filk songs (a genre of music related to fantasy and sci-fi, which often parodies of existing music) about scenes and ideas pertaining to the plot and characters. Though most of the works—particularly the filk songs—are written in English, some commenters even write poetry in traditional Scandinavian poetic forms and translate their fan work into English. The cultural exchange that occurs in the comments shows the power speculative fiction has to bring together people from all across the world over a shared interest. This celebration of friendship and adventure parallels the themes of Sundberg’s creation, with many more new fan works sure to come as the webcomic continues to develop.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao

Lilo & Stitch: it only gets better

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Illustration by Bethany Pile

Check out Part One of this two-part blog series here!

Before we delve back into the serious stuff, let’s take a moment to admire the unique and colourful animation style of Lilo & Stitch. For the first time in decades, the directors chose to return to watercolour backgrounds as opposed to the typical solid colour of most of Disney’s current filmography. Watercolours were used to create a more storybook look as well as to recall the aesthetics of Disney’s Dumbo.

The animation style also differed from the standard Disney fare, being more reminiscent of director Chris Sanders’ personal drawing style, which is often described by his fellow animators as seeming to melt, as if the images were dripping. This effect gives us the chunky and gorgeous curves we see on all the characters (I’m looking at you, Nani).

Reportedly, Lilo & Stitch was also influenced by another one of our Spec faves: Hayao Miyazaki, who, according to director Dean Deblois, “creates genuine relationships in the realm of fantasy”. This inspiration is apparent in the complexity of the characters’ relationships to one another. Fun fact: Kiki’s Coffee Hut is named in loving tribute to Miyazaki’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Nuanced Morality

The wonderful thing about this movie is the lack of “black and white” morality that is so predominant in films for kids. Too often, children’s media is excused for having poorly written, one-dimensional characters—something that is thoroughly criticized in most other genres. In mainstream film today, we demand well-written and complex female, queer, and ethnically diverse characters. Yet somehow we constantly excuse simplistic “good and evil” morality in films just because they are “made for kids”. Fiction is important because it allows us to see things that are not necessarily our personal reality, and to thereby gain empathy and understanding. The overwhelmingly reasonable characters and complex motivations and conflicts in Lilo & Stitch allow for a broader and more engaging experience.

Representation of Minorities

Although mainstream Hollywood seems to still be dragging its heels with good LGBTQ+ representation, films like The Danish Girl and About Ray, which premiered in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, signal hope for the future. Unfortunately, the casting of cisgender actors in these defining roles is a blatant indication that we must keep pushing forward. With luck, we can move toward a future where characters are not defined by their gender identity or sexual orientation—or are turned into a farce—but are seen as people first, their sexuality and gender a small part of who they are.

Considering the state of modern media today, it seems amazing that Disney included such an ambiguous and gender-fluid character as Pleakley over a decade ago and in a children’s film. Clearly identified with masculine pronouns and voiced by a male actor, Pleakley resists gender constrictions by dressing in traditionally feminine attire when on Earth. While his choice of disguises could be chalked up to a misguided understanding of Earth (which Pleakley clearly has), he is further shown to enjoy his wigs and make-up, and remains in them throughout the film. It’s not even a point of contention in the movie; no one at any point has a problem with the way Pleakley chooses to dress and behave. While I’m not saying that Lilo & Stitch is the best portrayal of casual LGBTQ+ visibility that I have ever seen (the only gender-fluid character is not from our planet, after all), Pleakley is nonetheless a positive presence in the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that one’s decisions about one’s body don’t have to involve everyone around them.

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The respectful and beautiful way that the film portrays Hawaii also deserves a mention here. While Lilo & Stitch is set on the island of Kauai, it doesn’t exploit stereotypes in order to tell its story. There are examples of beautiful Hawaiian language songs, although they are not the only music that we encounter (Elvis makes numerous welcome and hilarious appearances throughout the film). The traditional-sounding songs serve to set the stage, but do not dominate the story as a whole.

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Similar is the treatment of traditional Hawaiian activities such as hula dancing and surfing, which are present but do not detract from the point of the story. What I mean to say is: Lilo does not have to win a hula competition to earn enough money for the surfing team; these activities are used to build on the characters, not the other way around.

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Furthermore, for the most part, the Hawaiian characters are played by Hawaiian actors. Tia Carrere (Nani) and Jason Scott Lee (David) are Hawaiian-born and Hawaiian-raised, respectively. For a film that doesn’t visibly show its actors, it is impressive that the casting directors took the care to cast actors with a relationship to the islands. The actors even helped to rewrite some of their dialogue using correct Hawaiian colloquialisms. The natural traces of an accent in their voices lend a realistic feel to the atmosphere of the film that is subtle but extremely effective.

Positive Romantic Relationships

On the subject of David Kawena, everyone take a good long look, because he demonstrates what you should be looking for in a partner. First and foremost a good friend to Nani and Lilo, David doesn’t try to hide his romantic interest in Nani, but neither does he resent her for being too busy to date him. Instead, he finds productive ways to be a positive force in her life, such as by cheering up the sisters when they are feeling down, or by helping Nani to find a job when she is at her most desperate. He seems to truly care about Nani, as a person and as a friend first. Theirs is a truly good example of a mature and sincere relationship, and anyone waffling about in the murky swamps of romance should take note.

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What my gushing boils down to is: don’t waste your time indecisively flipping through Netflix. Do yourself a favour—watch this film and drown in a torrent of happy-sad tears with extreme satisfaction.

-Contributed by Amy Wang

Such a Terrible Room: Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung at the Canadian Opera Company

0102 – John Relyea as Duke Bluebeard and Ekaterina Gubanova as Judith in the Canadian Opera Company production of Bluebeard’s Castle, 2015. Conductor Johannes Debus, director Robert Lepage, revival director François Racine, set and costume designer Michael Levine, and lighting designer Robert Thomson.  Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5
Image from http://www.coc.ca

There is without a doubt something about opera that lends itself to otherworldliness. The magic of music and stage has, since opera’s inception in the late sixteenth century, often drawn on mythology and folklore for subject matter. The Greek myth of Orpheus and his descent to the underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, has been retold countless times in operas by Monteverdi, Gluck, Offenbach, and others. The four operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle involve characters from Norse and Germanic myth, including gods like Odin and Thor and mythical creatures like valkyries, giants, and dwarves. And these are only the best-known examples of fantasy in opera.

The Canadian Opera Company’s 2014-2015 season ends with a speculative work: a double-bill of Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung, a remount of a COC original that first premiered in the early nineties. Both are early twentieth century operas with similar psychological themes. They complement each other well: Bluebeard, through the discoveries made by Judith, can easily be classified as horror, and the plight of the woman in Erwartung is one of pure terror.

Bartok was a prominent Hungarian composer, musician, and collector of folksongs in the early twentieth century. His contributions to the field of ethnomusicology, particularly in Eastern Europe, were particularly significant, and his love of folk music and tales comes across in many of his compositions. Bluebeard’s Castle comes from a French folktale in which Bluebeard’s young wife finds the bodies of her husband’s former wives locked in his castle.

The COC’s production begins on a dark stage surrounded by a golden frame. Bluebeard enters at the front of the stage, solemn and foreboding, followed by Judith, his new wife. He doesn’t seem like he really wants her there, suggesting she leave and return to the life she had before, but she insists.

The music moves them into the set and the story as Judith enters the dark castle. Its walls weep, but if she’s second-guessing herself it doesn’t show. She asks why it is so cold and sad; she wants to heal Bluebeard, to  fix him. He may want the same. They come to seven doors lining a hallway and she requests they be opened to let in the light and the truth. The castle groans in pain at her suggestion; it is almost a character in itself, a part of Bluebeard that needs to be cared for by Judith as much as he does. “Are you afraid?” asks Bluebeard. “No,” Judith replies. Her white dress billows and trails around her like a ghost as she moves across the stage. It becomes steadily more bloodstained with every door she opens.

Bluebeard gradually opens the first three doors. The first burns like a furnace or like hell and the castle bleeds as she looks upon his torture chamber. The second, blaring white light and brass, reveals  his armoury, and the third, his treasury, burning like pale fire. But there are bloodstains through these doors and darker secrets still. Perhaps he sees her as a saviour: someone who will bring light into the castle and onto his dark past.

Bartok’s score moves between complex, all-out motion to a single bassoon line throughout; a reflection of the edge the characters stand on as well as the mood of the weeping castle. The fourth door reveals a garden and some of the softest, loveliest music in the opera. Judith has some hope that perhaps it’s not all bloodshed and violence, and picks a flower. The set at this point is really incredible, using a projection on the stage to show the trees and setting a moment of peace. But the illusion is shattered when she picks a flower and finds it covered in blood. “Who has bled to water your garden?” she demands, but he knows she won’t like the answer and keeps quiet.

The fifth door shows his vast kingdom before them, clouds, lakes, and land that will all be for Judith. The music at this point is an amazingly loud brass choir so glorious it made my hair stand on end. In gazing proudly at his realm, Bluebeard seems, for a moment, truly happy. But Judith cannot share his emotion, as she sees only rivers of blood and stained earth before them.

As the sixth door is opened, downstage slowly fills with water; a lake of tears. He avoids her initial questions about his former loves, but when she confronts him about their bodies, which she believes she will find behind the last door, he gives her the final key. At the seventh door, his three former wives come up silently out of the bloody lake. They look like ghosts, but Judith says they are still alive. They are his queens of morning, noon, and evening, and Judith will join them in night. They dress her in robes and jewels and lead her back into the seventh door. Darkness falls on the bloodstained stage, and Bluebeard sings of eternal night while the castle shines behind him.

The opera is light and dark and covered in blood, endlessly creepy but also very emotional. Bluebeard is not exactly sympathetic but he is hardly depicted as just a murderous tyrant; the characters, both of them, have more depth to them than first appears. Written in an age when it was first really taking hold, there are strong psychological themes at work in both this and Erwartung, the second act.

Erwartung, by Schoenberg, similarly works with themes of women, weird relationships, and psychology. The opera only lasts half an hour and the plot is simple: the woman, the only real character, wanders through the forest seeking her lover, whom she eventually finds dead. The COC’s production shows everything through a white screen upon which handwriting is projected; the woman is in a psychiatric hospital relating her story to a psychiatrist, whose notes are what we see on the screen.

As she recounts her story she removes her straight jacket like an angelic escape artist to reveal a white gown similar to Judith’s. A bright moon shines above like an operating light. At one point, shadows carry off her hospital bed like pallbearers.

At one point she thinks she’s found her lover in the dark forest, and her singing and the effects at this point genuinely instilled fear into the audience. We felt her terror and her anger as she accuses her missing lover of infidelity, and we felt her hopelessness when she finds him dead and wanders off into the night of the hospital. Branches and blood move across the stage as in Bluebeard, and it’s no wonder these operas are often performed together.

 -contributed by Risa Ian de Rege

From Panel to Festival: The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is Coming Super Soon!

Frequent readers of this blog are no doubt aware that we at The Spectatorial love comics. And while not all comics are speculative—just as not all comics are about super heroes—some of the finest spec fic out there does indeed exist in the panels of comic books and graphic novels. And many of the best comic books and graphic novels can be found at TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

TCAF is an annual public literary festival that takes place in the Toronto Reference Library. The atrium of the library, a massive space, is transformed into an exhibiting space for comics: big publishers, small presses, and comic book stores. There are also readings, presentations, gallery shows, and much, much more.

Many artists are launching their books at this year’s festival, including Dakota McFadzean, who is releasing a collection of his Dailies helpfully entitled Don’t Get Eaten by Anything. Chip Zdarszy, co-creator of the sci-fi comic Sex Criminals, will also be there, and if you haven’t picked up a copy of that comic yet, now’s an excellent time.

Then there is SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki who c0-created the graphic novel Skim with Mariko Tamaki. Personally, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book! We all know that teenage angst is best portrayed in a school for the mutated and magical. And we all agree that high school would’ve been much more fun if we had had paranormal powers while we were there.

Both traditional print and webcomics are exhibited at TCAF, existing peacefully side-by-side. Webcomic artists bring glorious print editions of the stories that so many people read online. Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a favourite of mine (super heroes combined with swords and sorcery charm me every time). I have had the pleasure to meet the creators of many webcomics that I adore—and I have been embarrassingly star-struck every time. Go say hello to Aaron Diaz, of Dresden Codak fame; I promise you will not be half as awkward as I am every year!

But you don’t have to dash off to join the signing lines of famous artists or only talk to the creators whose work you know. Browse around to discover something new! One of the greatest joys of TCAF is the chance to discover a new comic series or graphic novel by simply going over to a display that catches your eye. Artists are generally perfectly happy to tell you anything you want to know about their work, and there’s nothing quite like the spark that lights up in their eyes when you ask: “What’s your comic about?” This moment is unique. Even the most magical bookstore in town (and we have a few) can’t show you the author’s joy at your interest in their book.

Then there’s the people-watching. Comic book nerds tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves—and T-shirts and hats and letter bags and hoodies. You will see a beautiful variety of people: parents with toddlers on their back and comics in hand, art students, bookish types who look like librarians, actual librarians, folks giving a nod to cosplay with a pair of fake ears (usually cat ears), and older folks who probably read the first Sandman comic when it came out in 1989. Everybody you can imagine reads comics. Gaze around you, take in the crowd—and the next time somebody tries to tell you that comics are for kids, you tell them what you saw in that library atrium.

So now that your pulse is racing at the thought of attending TCAF, get thee to the Toronto Reference Library! TCAF is a free public event and only happens once a year. No matter if you can only make it out for one day or both (May 9 and 10), you will find that the wide world of comics will welcome you with open arms.

For more info about TCAF, and the events leading up to the festival weekend, check out their beautiful website.

-contributed by Miranda Whittaker

CRINGEFEST Will be Bringing the (Literary) Pain!

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CALLING ALL WRITERS AND CREATIVE MINDED PEOPLE! Ever felt excluded from the high brow poetry slam crowd in your hip local coffee shops? The Spectatorial presents a FUN-draising event with entertainment for all, as we celebrate the trials and tribulations to becoming the artists you are today.

We invite you to dredge up your most embarrassing past writing: your angsty break-up poetry, your deep teenage thoughts, your fan-fiction starring you and Harry Potter, and share it in front of a bunch of people who have definitely also been there. Don’t worry, there will be booze.

We will also be having baked goods and other cool stuff for sale as part of fundraising for our next issue. The madness takes place Thursday March 19th in the Cat’s Eye (downstairs inside the Goldring Student Centre) starting at 8pm. Suggested donation $2-5.

Please send us a message on our Facebook page or find Brenda in the comment section and message her in order to get a spot on the list of readers for the night.

Hosted and presented by The Spectatorial. Sponsored by The Victoriad.