Books·Magic 8 Q&A

What's the best response Doug Wright Award-nominated artist Connor Willumsen could get from a reader?

The creator of the graphic novel Anti-Gone answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Connor Willumsen is the author of the graphic novel Anti-Gone. (Fatine-Violette Sabir/Koyama Press)

Connor Willumsen is originally from Calgary and has drawn comics for DC, Dynamite and Marvel. His first book, the graphic novel Anti-Gone, explores how video games attempt to re-create reality, and offer us an alternative to and escape from the real world. 

Anti-Gone is currently shortlisted for the Doug Wright Award for best book. The winner will be announced on May 12, 2018, as part of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

Below, Willumsen takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Sigal Samuel asks, "What are the trashiest guilty pleasures you enjoy (books, movies, TV shows) and is there any way in which they inspire your writing?"

I'll have to set a slightly different stage for my answer because, for my own relationship with culture, it's important for me to avoid categorizing a genre, medium or specific artifact as trash or with any guilt, especially because it's been a historically common and acceptable practice to categorize the entire medium to which I have devoted myself in this very way. So to rephrase in a similar spirit, that which I enjoy but which also might be least likely to be valued as art or a worthy expense of time are recorded walk throughs of video games, the more pointless and innocuous the better, which I otherwise never play. It's a format that's appropriate for wandering contemplation and patient exploration, and can be a strange method of narrative that is expansive, perpetual and lacking the necessity to cut image or ramp time as is standard in film. I recommend the series Grand Theft Pacifist by the Youtuber Goldvision.

2. Eden Robinson asks, "Who was your most influential mentor?"

Because of the great variety of the people who have had an positive and essential impact on me, whether through my practice or in no relative relationship to it, I don't believe I can fully comprehend or am willing to quantify a hierarchy of influence without more time and distance, but the sole person who has deliberately devoted time and energy of a certain significance to a one-on-one, collaborative, and supportive discussion of my working life specifically, and how I can orient myself within the culture at large, is Frank Santoro.

3. Douglas Coupland asks, "Do you look at the modern world and the way it is changing, not just our outsides, but our insides, and wonder if your writing is trying to keep up with these big interior changes in our lives?"

I don't think I should or could speak with any authority on the historical significance of my own innards, let alone those of a stranger, but I can admit to a constant if sometimes muted attention I feel an obligation to pay to my immediate and planetary surroundings if only to prevent my work from feeling dated or completely oblivious. Otherwise, I don't think I apply a special consideration to specifically contemporary change, because I feel the idea of it is only unique in that it happens to be taking place right now and seems unresolved, which naturally has a different feel than the more resolved-seeming change that has occurred in the past and for all of history, season to season, to which anyone that has ever lived  has been subject.

4. Riel Nason asks, "Do you have pets? Do they keep you company while you write?"

No they don't because no I don't have any, though I would love for there to be an animal in my life to keep company with while working. It might be telling of the expectation of living standards in my field to say that I consider the possible situation where I can responsibly adopt a dog into my life to be an upper-tier signifier of success and security.

5. Taras Grescoe asks, "What's the biggest lie you've ever told (in life, or writing or both)?"

It would be my pleasure to tantalize readers with a dramatic item of personal gossip on a national media platform, but the truth is that nothing very specific and interesting is coming to mind. What feels like a collectively large lie are the mundane and sometimes barely imperceptible moments, as they accumulate, when a casual expression of unnecessary disrespect or humiliation is directed toward me, someone else, or is delivered by me to someone else, and I allow the moment to pass without comment.

6. George Elliott Clarke asks, "What is your favourite font or typeface? Why?"

Terminus is the font of the command-line interface on my computer and the one that I have been learning to write code in. My knowledge of open and user-directed computing is comparatively limited, so to me this font foreshadows an intimidating but satisfying process comprised largely of failure and frustration, and the most abstract and unspoken concept of accomplishment at it's distant conclusion.

7. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"

Worse than any dishwashing or temp office jobs I've had were my early attempts to derive income and educate myself in the field of mainstream assembly line comic books, in which there is always a division of labour between every minute aspect of creative production and an obscured editorial omnipotence. Those experiences, more often than not, have been a daisy chain of minor but enormously stressful fiascoes that seemed to orient me objectively as hopelessly incompatible and unemployable. What I took from this was a fascinating glimpse of the situation that occurs at the intersection of a totally open and well intentioned creative premise, and a knotted industrial network that wields collective images of popular mythology and an unbelievable amount of resources and focuses them on a narrow and isolated cultural point, and the bizarre incestuous feedback cycle that it generates of wasted energy, randomly generated goals, and broken hearts. I feel I possess a well-earned and honest morsel comprehension of how vibrant human culture is subject to the truly weird and un-piloted system of aimlessly expanding capitalism.

8. Alexi Zentner asks, "What's your favourite thing a reader has ever said to you?"

What has pleased me most to hear is when a reader recounts the utterly unremarkable and arbitrary moment that exists at the very end of an unfathomably long succession of unintelligible decisions and coincidences, in which a reader has happened to come across my work.


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