Canadian comic creator festival returns today with new vigor

Canadian-made comics are celebrated at the Panel One Comic Creator Festival.

In an era of Hollywood-infested comic cons, the Panel One Comic Creator Festival in Calgary, Alberta offers a show that puts all the attention on comic creators in Canada. I spoke with Joey Gruszecki, President of Panel One.

What is Panel One?

Panel One is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and advancement of Canadian comic book creators and artists at all stages of professional development, from hobbyists to professionals. In addition to our various programming and community building activities throughout the year, our primary focus is on the annual Panel One Comic Creator Festival. 

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Smash Pages Q&A | Mike Dawson

The creator of ‘Troop 142,’ ‘Angie Bongiolatti’ and more discusses the second book in his ‘The Fifth Quarter’ series.

Mike Dawson is the Ignatz Award-winning cartoonist of books including Freddie & Me, Troop 142 and Angie Bongiolatti. He’s a comics essayist whose work has been in Slate, The Nib and many other publications, some of which were collected into his 2016 book Rules for Dating My Daughter. Dawson also contributed a comic to the Rutgers University Press anthology New Jersey Fan Club.

Recently he’s been making The Fifth Quarter, a series of middle grade graphic novels about basketball – something which he admits came as a shock to him, having hated sports when he was younger, but having come to appreciate the game when his daughter started playing. The second book in the series, Hard Court, is out now from First Second Books, and I spoke with Dawson about the series, what it has in common with his earlier books, and finding a way to make personal work.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Noah Van Sciver

The critically acclaimed cartoonist discusses his two latest projects, ‘Joseph Smith and the Mormons’ and ‘As a Cartoonist.’

Noah Van Sciver has always been a prolific cartoonist. This summer he released two new books, which represent the best work he’s done so far in his career.

Joseph Smith and the Mormons, which is out now from Abrams, is a project Van Sciver has been working on for more than a decade. To say that it’s Van Sciver’s best book, which I believe, is to sell it short, because the book is also the most ambitious project that Van Sciver has attempted. The book looks at the life of Smith and, without captions or word balloons, manages to convey so much information as it charts the early years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s an incredible work of cartooning and of history.

His other book is As a Cartoonist, a collection of short comics published by Fantagraphics, which were made in the same period, and share a number of concerns and approaches. Both books are deeply personal in different ways. I’ve talked with Van Sciver a few times over the years, and I was thrilled to be able to talk with him about these two books.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Stephen Graham Jones on ‘Earthdivers’

The award-winning horror writer and university professor talks about his new IDW Originals title, the differences between writing comics and prose, and teaching ‘Secret Wars.’

Stephen Graham Jones has written an extensive library of novels and prose stories, bringing home the Locus Award, four Bram Stoker Awards, two Shirley Jackson Awards, the LA Times Ray Bradbury Prize, the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction and a whole lot more. His novels, like The Only Good Indians and My Heart is a Chainsaw, tend to fall into what could be described as the literary horror genre, usually with a dose of sharp social commentary as well. When he’s not writing, he’s teaching creative writing, literature, pop culture and other subjects at the University of Colorado.

Or, he might be reading comics.

photo by Gary Isaacs

Jones is an old-school 1980s comics fan who discovered the medium in the time of Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars, and his love for them has only grown since. He not only teaches about them at the university level, but he’s also started writing them. His latest project is Earthdivers, a miniseries set to kick off Oct. 5 as part of IDW’s Originals line, beautifully drawn by the incomparable Davide Gianfelice. The time travel story focuses on four Indigenous survivors in a post-apocalyptic United States who embark on a mission to save the world: by sending one of them back in time to kill Christopher Columbus and prevent the creation of America.

Jones was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the new series, as well as talk about some of his favorite comics to teach.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Faith Erin Hicks

The creator of ‘Friends with Boys,’ ‘The Nameless City’ trilogy and more discusses her latest graphic novel from First Second, ‘Ride On.’

Faith Erin Hicks is the Eisner Award-winning writer and artist of a long string of comics and graphic novels. From books like Friends with Boys and The War at Ellsmere, to her webcomics like The Adventures of Superhero Girl, to her collaborations like Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong and Brain Camp, Hicks is masterful at telling stories that are about small moments, subtle changes in relationships, the ways that life often plays out in ways that are funny and relatable. She has a touch for dialogue, but it’s in depicting those small moments that become important that she’s masterful.

More recently, Hicks spent years writing and drawing the epic fantasy trilogy The Nameless City. In the years since, Hicks wrote a novel (Comics Will Break Your Heart), drew a graphic novel written by Rainbow Rowell (Pumpkinheads) and has written a series of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics. Her new book, which she wrote and drew, is Ride On. Out this week from First Second Books, it’s a book about horses and horse girls, but it’s also about growing up, about how we change, and how it can be a difficult and sometimes painful process. Funny and relatable, Ride On is one of Hicks’ best works, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Taki Soma on ‘Sleeping While Standing’

The artist of ‘Rapture,’ ‘The After Realm,’ ‘Sinergy’ and more discusses her deeply personal new graphic novel, her creative process and more.

Taki Soma is a writer, artist and colorist best known for comics like Rapture, The After Realm, Sinergy, Bitch Planet, The Old Guard: Tales Through Time and many others. But her new book Sleeping While Standing, which is out now from Avery Hill Publishing, is a departure from what she’s done previously.

A collection of stories four pages or less, it’s a deeply personal work, as Soma explores her father’s suicide, moving to Minnesota as a child and her complicated relationship with her mother, among other events in her life. It also looks at the horrifying way she learned that she has MS, features laugh-out-loud stories about pets and children, and shows her deep and complex storytelling skills.

It’s an incredible work by a talented creator, and Soma was kind enough to talk about why she made the book, her creative process and why she makes comics.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Matthew Klein on ‘Crashing’

The writer of the new IDW series discusses creating the story of a doctor who specializes in treating super-powered patients.

Hospitals tend to be frequent settings for comic book scenes, whether they involve Batman questioning an injured henchman or Peter Parker receiving a page’s worth of treatment before jumping back into action. But it’s rare that they serve as the setting for an entire comic, or that readers see the implications of what it means to be a doctor in a world with super-powered beings.

Written by Matthew Klein, illustrated by Morgan Beem, colored by Triona Farrell, lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and edited by Heather Antos, the upcoming comic Crashing is about a doctor, Rose Osler, who specializes in “patients with powers” at a hospital in Boston. Rose is also a recovering addict, and a battle between the city’s greatest hero and its worst villain that sends both into her care could push her past her own limits.

Crashing #1 will arrive in September, and it’s the third title from IDW’s new Originals line, following the recent Dark Spaces: Wildfire and the upcoming Trve Kvlt in August. Klein was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Crashing.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Brian Doherty

The author of ‘Dirty Pictures’ talks about ‘how an underground network of nerds, feminists, misfits, geniuses, bikers, potheads, printers, intellectuals, and art school rebels revolutionized art and invented comix.’

Brian Doherty’s new book Dirty Pictures tells the story of – as the subtitle puts it – “How an underground network of nerds, feminists, misfits, geniuses, bikers, potheads, printers, intellectuals, and art school rebels revolutionized art and invented comix.” The book is simply the best and most comprehensive look at underground comics published to date.

In the book, Doherty tries to capture a wide range of what was happening in underground comix and with the people who were involved. Indeed it was the people, their lives and their stories that fascinated him more than the comics. But more than simply an account of a fascinating group of people and a notable body of work, Doherty wants to argue that comics as we know it today, which is studied in academia and widely read and respected, can be traced back to this deeply transgressive art movement.

To make the book, Doherty talked to, well, just about everyone. It is a fascinating, at times hilarious and sometimes moving account of a generation of artists, the work they made and the changes it wrought.

Doherty is an editor at Reason Magazine and the author of a number of books, including This is Burning Man. He took time out recently to talk about how the pandemic affected research, the people he wasn’t able to interview, and his relationship to underground comix.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith

The creators of the critical hit ‘Wash Day’ discuss expanding the story into ‘Wash Day Diaries,’ which is out this week from Chronicle Books.

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith teamed up for the comic Wash Day, which was funded through Kickstarter and was released in 2018. It was a critical success, but while the two thought that the story was over when they finished the comic, the story has grown and expanded into the new book Wash Day Diaries, which is out this week from Chronicle Books.

Smith was a recent graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies when she first drew Wash Day, and today is best known for working on Nubia: Real One for DC Comics. Rowser, besides writing, has been expanding Black Josei Press and is publishing new work. I spoke with the two recently about how Wash Day Diaries happened, working through the pandemic and collaborating again.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Beka Feathers and Ally Shwed

‘When you get right down to it, democracy is only possible if you have people with different experiences and perspectives who are willing to talk to each other and work together.’

Why The People, the new book from First Second Books’ acclaimed World Citizen Comics series, looks at democracy and other forms of government, but it manages to be less a textbook and more a conversation about what people need, how government can be responsive to people and what it can enable. At a time when the democratic consensus in the United States is fraying, books like this, which are aimed at younger readers, are more important than ever.

Beka Feathers and Ally Shwed have both previously made books for the series. Feathers is a legal advisor who has worked in more than a dozen countries helping to draft constitutions and design transitional governments in addition to writing the book Re:Constitutions. Shwed is a cartoonist and editor best known for her adaptation of the book Fault Lines in the Constitution

The book is in stores now, and the two were kind enough to answer a few questions about making an easily readable book about a very difficult and timely topic.

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Smash Pages Q&A | Marika McCoola and Aatmaja Pandya

The creators of the young-adult graphic novel ‘Slip’ discuss childhood trauma, teaching art, magical realism and more.

Slip is the story of Jade, a teenager at a summer art program dealing with her best friend’s attempted suicide. It’s a difficult story about mental health, and understanding our emotions and the ways that our relationships with people change over time. Like the book’s visual style, the narrative manages to fit in with a lot of other typical YA books while finding ways to transcend expectations. It’s a moving book that’s very honest about grief and addressing complications emotions, and about what it means to be an artist.

Marika McCoola is an artist and teacher who made a splash by writing the graphic novel Baba Yaga’s Assistant, which was nominated for an Eisner Award. Slip is Aatmaja Pandya’s debut graphic novel, but the artist has been making comics for years, contributing to anthologies including Chainmail Bikini, Power and Magic, and Elements: Fire, in addition to her comic Phantom, which was originally published by Shortbox, and the webcomic Travelogue. The two have been friends for many years and we spoke recently about how the book came together, working with clay, and fantasy.

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Smash Pages Q&A | ‘The Woman in the Woods’ interview

The editors of the latest ‘Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales’ book discuss how the project came together and how the stories were chosen for the anthology.

Iron Circus has been publishing the Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales series, which collects folk tales from around the world and retells them in comics form for younger readers, for the past few years. Under series editors Kel McDonald and Kate Ashwin, the series has managed the incredible feat of being that rare series which contains the work of so many different artists telling stories for younger readers that is visually and stylistically exciting and just fascinating to read. 

The fifth book in the series, The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories, takes on the continent of North America, or Turtle Island, as it’s known to many Native and Indigenous communities. To curate the book, they are joined by artist and editor Alina Pete, who drew the book’s cover and drew one of the stories. The three are incredibly busy, but they were kind enough to join me on Zoom recently to talk about the book.

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