Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Eddy Smet Award

Last fall at the 2nd Annual Forest City Comicon, I was thrilled to be awarded the inaugural "Eddy Smet Award", which recognizes an individual's contribution to the advancement of nerd culture in London, Ontario.

This was a real honour for me because it’s pretty safe to say that if it wasn’t for Eddy Smet, I wouldn’t be the person I am today much less a cartoonist.

That's because as a young girl (who had a penchant for comic books), my Mom would drop me off every Saturday at the local comic book store, The Comic Book Collector, while she did her grocery shopping at Valdi’s down the street on Dundas St. in London, Ontario.

Run by Eddy and his wife Zorka, the Comic Book Collector was a real family business and they always made me feel welcome when I walked through the door. Eddy was a full-time Math Professor at Western University who loved comic books and who opened the store in 1979 (making it one of the first comic book stores in Canada if not North America).

Eddy Smet, circa 1980
The odd time Zorka’s mother (who often worked the cash register), would question some of my choices, but that just me laugh. I distinctly remember her frowning when she rang up my purchase of Frank Miller’s Wolverine #1 – “What’s a nice girl like you doing with a comic like this?”, but the Smet’s knew me and my taste in comics. When family members would come in to buy me Birthday or Christmas presents, the Smets always knew what I had already, and what would be the right gift for me - like a Silver Age appearance of Adam Strange in Mystery in Space.

Eddy Smet and the Canadian Whites
The Smets ending up selling the Comic Book Collector in 1986, but Eddy remained a fixture on the comic book scene. I would see him at comic shows going through the back-issue bins looking to fill in gaps in his personal collection. Dells and Westerns were his favourites. In fact I saw him at the Forest City Comicon, he's still trying to fill in some gaps in his collection.

In 2009, he donated a substantial amount of his personal collection (about 8,000 comics) to Western University to their Archives. At the time, it was believed to be the largest and most valuable collection of comic books ever donated to a Canadian university.

Then just this year, Eddy decided to donate another chunk of his collection including 125 "Canadian Whites" comics, which included Triumph-Adventure Comics #2, featuring the first appearance of Nelvana of the Northern Lights (one of the earliest female superheroes, pre-dating even Wonder Woman).

Eddy Smet and a "Canadian White"
Photo courtesy of the London Free Press

I’ve avidly collected comics for over 35 years now and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve come across any “Canadian Whites” comic books. The white existed to fill a vacuum created because American comics were banned in Canada during WWII due to restricted trades of non-essential goods. So some enterprising companies opened up their own publishing houses and printed comics starring original Canadian characters like Johnny Canuck and drawn by Canadian creators - like Adrian Dingle, Gerald Lazare and Jon St. Ables.

When trade restrictions were lifted at the end of the war, Canadian publishers of the "whites" soon went out of business.

Thank You Eddy Smet
During my formative years, the Smets gave me a home away from home, where I could while away my time and never felt out of place. That’s a real gift to give to anyone.

Thank you Eddy for opening up your bright four-colour world to a 9-yr old girl many years ago.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Forest City Comicon 2015

 Is taking place tomorrow! I'm happy to be a special guest there this year.

It's so nice to have a comic show in my hometown and I have to say that the organizers of the show (Gord and Carol of L.A. Mood comic book store), have done it all for the love of the comic medium. This is NOT a show that just about having media guests you can take pictures with - although yes John Noble will be there, but that's cool, he's great.

There's also a lot of great Canadian comic guests who will be there too - like Bryan Lee O'Malley (who hails from the Forest City), Chip Zdarsky, Jay Torres, Scott Chantler, Andy Belanger and more. The Joe Shuster Awards will also be presented there this yea.

So come by and check it out. I'll have my minis, books, t-shirts, prints and more for sale!

Here's the info:
Forest City Comicon
London Convention Centre
Sunday, October 18th
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Camp 2015 - Jack "King" Kirby

This month I was invited to give a talk to 40 kids, aged 8 -12 at Book Camp London. I was asked to talk about a writer who inspired and influenced me. Pretty interesting topic really.

As a cartoonist, I felt I needed to think of another cartoonist who inspired me rather than a writer - I thought it would give the kids some variety and some insights into comics being a writing form as well as a visual form. After some considerable thought, I came up with the perfect subject - Jack Kirby.

The King.
The talk was one hour (including a Q&A and signing), but really it is no small feat to hold kids' attention for that long. I felt like I knew my subject pretty well, but I like to be prepared so I did quite a few hours of research to put my slides together. I ended up learning quite a few new things about the King (much of which got incorporated into my talk but not all), which I thought I'd share here as well as some of the reactions from the kids.

The Early Years

Jack and Roz Kirby
  • One thing I didn't know and should have is that the real name of Jack Kirby's wife, the infamous "Roz" - is Rosalind. Why is this noteworthy? Only because that's my daughter's name. My daughter is named after Rosalind from Shakespeare's "As You Like It", but the fact that this is Roz Kirby's full name is a delightful coincidence for me.
  • I also hadn't realized the extent of Roz's support of Kirby, and how vital her support was to him. Roz looked after the kids and the household so that all Jack had to do was draw. He would work all day, then eat dinner with Roz and the kids and go back to the drawing board.

    Fans starting visiting their house in the 1960s in California with some regularity and Roz would welcome them in, and give them sandwiches while they talked to Jack - sometimes for hours on end!

    She seemed to look after his physical health and his mental health, as well as being his biggest cheerleader and supporter. What a gift for an artist.

Simon and Kirby

Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
  • I also hadn't realized what a good businessman Joe Simon was. It seems that the best financial deal Jack Kirby had in comics were negotiated by Joe Simon.
  • Specifically when they were doing Captain America comics for Timely, the duo were supposed to be receiving a percentage of the profits. Simon felt they were getting stiffed though, so he negotiated a deal and moved to National Comics (DC), where they would received a $500/week (they were making about $80/week at Timely). This is in the Boy Commandos days.
  • As we know, the duo both came back to comics after WWII and created the new genre of Romance Comics together. Their romance titles sold millions of copies and Simon negotiated taking no money up front, but instead a share of the profits. This is apparently what allowed Kirby to purchase his family home in California.

Numbers and Process

Fantastic Four page - look at all the direction from Kirby to Stan.
  • We all know how prolific Kirby was, but I tried to find some numbers for the kids. The best estimate is that Kirby drew approximately 25,000 comic pages in his life. Incredible.
  • Kirby drew Captain America #112 in a weekend - 20 pages!
  • Kirby had no formal art training and was self-taught.
  • When he penciled a page, Kirby would start in the upper left-hand panel and just continued in sequential order until he was finished in the bottom right.
  • Kirby didn't do thumbnails, he went right to the page and apparently didn't erase! I found this pretty mind-blowing. He did see to be channeling some inner rich imagination that just flowed out on to the page. Who knows if we'll ever see another one like him.

Reaction from the Kids

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
  • I started with a place of familiarity asking the kids how many of them had seen a Marvel movie. Just about everyone's hand went up. Then I showed a slide of all the Marvel comics movie characters and pointed out all of the characters created by Kirby - they were duly impressed.
  • I asked them what they knew about Stan Lee - I was surprised that he didn't register with most of them. The ones who knew him, just knew him as the older guy who had cameos in the Marvel movies.
  • I spent some time on the Marvel Process and the Lee vs. Kirby story and asked them what they thought. I was surprised they weren't too engaged with the argument. When pressed, they thought it "wasn't fair" to Kirby. Maybe it's not surprising really that they don't care too much about copyright, IP payments and the Kirby estate - it's just what keeps us hard-core nerds up at night.
  • They didn't really care that I had met both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but they did think it was neat that I worked for Marvel (briefly when Marvel had offices in Canada during their Heroes World days - it was an awesome job).
  • No matter what the audience, everyone is interested in the comics process and how long it takes. The kids were pretty surprised that comics-making is more than a full-time job where you work weekends and don't take a lot of time off.

Q &A Time

  • The kids (who were about 60% girls, 40% boys I'd say), seemed to be really taken with Kirby's imagination and the number of characters he'd created.
  • "Who's your favourite character?" - I have a weird love for Fin Fang Foom (which of course I had an image of). They weren't too impressed.
  • "Who's your least favourite character?" Probably Moon Boy from Devil Dinosaur - that they thought was funny.
  • "Did Jack Kirby create Deadpool?" Sigh no, not that one. What is up with Deadpool anyway? I don't understand the love for him.
When the kids figured out that I'm a bit of a comic encyclopedia - the questions really started coming,
  • "Can you explain the differences between Marvel and DC?" This was from a young girl who said she thought she should be reading more comics and was trying to understand them more.

    Marvel tends be set in the "real world" with characters who have real problems and issues - like Peter Parker. DC takes place in imaginary cities and places with more fantastic adventures and characters not like us - like Green Lantern as a space cop or Bruce Wayne, the multi-millionaire playboy. We can't be like these people.
  • "What do you like better - Marvel or DC" - DC.
  • "Who's your favourite charater?" - Superman always and forever.
  • "What did you think of Man of Steel?" - Had to explain that I didn't see it because I knew it would break my heart. That Superman is not my Superman. My Superman does not kill bad guys or injure innocent people.
  • "Whats your favourite super-hero movie?" - Superman I and Superman II. I also thought Iron Man was really good, especially since the comics are pretty bad - that drew an intake of breath and hushed silence.
  • "What's your second favourite super-hero? - Spider-Man.
  • "What's the best DC villain?" - the Joker, no question.
  • "What's the best Marvel villain?" - Green Goblin. Also Galactus is pretty great.
  • And finally - "What do you think of the new 52?" - I didn't sugar coat it - it blows.
Afterwards I signed my comics for them, signed their t-shirts and they chatted with me. I was surprised that tons of the girls wanted to talk about Black Widow and were big fans of hers. I agreed with them that she is totally cool. I had to draw the Black Widow logo for them on a bunch of their Book Camp t-shirts. For the boys, I drew the Superman "S"

Black Widow movie Marvel - make it, put her back on the Avengers marketing materials. Stop screwing this up. The youngsters LOVE her. 

The Book Camp organizer was nice enough to email me some feedback afterwards from the kids - this is what they had to say:

I LOVED the comic book presentation. Its so cool that she used to work for Marvel! That’s what I want to do; I liked learning about Jack Kirby’s life.
I never knew how much work went into developing comics. It was really neat to learn. 

So all in all, I had a lot of fun. Talking about comics and Jack Kirby with kids is an a-ok way to spend some time.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

WordsFest Presentation

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on my comic work and process this past fall at a wonderful new literary festival in London, Ontario - WordsFest.

They taped the event and now it's live on YouTube. I wasn't even too freaked out to have Joe Sacco in the audience! Honestly, I was pretty pleased with how it went. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Metro News Interview and Video

When I got the Joe Shuster Award nomination back in the summer for the "Gene Day Self-Publishing" Award, I was interviewed by Metro News. It was a nice piece and they even video-taped me while I explained my cartooning process, which was a bit nerve-wracking but fun too.

I was pretty happy with how it came out. Here's the video and a link to the article. Thanks to Mike Donachie for the interview!

Also, I didn't win the Award, Steven Gilbert did for his "The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge" - which was a wonderful book.