Canadian comic artists get their Parisian close-up at European expo

European comic book geeks get together in Paris to discuss the Canadian comic identity, as Calgary female comic artists find a growing spotlight on their work.

Calgary's Micaela Dawn and Fiona Staples are part of a rising generation of new comic stars

Calgary comic artist Micaela Dawn won a fellowship to showcase her work at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con, where she met thousands of comic book fans who knew her work but not her. (Julie Prejet, Radio-Canada)

Canadian comic book artists might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about Parisian culture, but they were very much on the mind of a select group of European comic geeks on the weekend.

That's because Canada's comic book community got its close-up at SoBD, a Parisian-style comic expo that took place in the Marais district of the City of Lights over the weekend.

That included an entire symposium dedicated to the style of an assortment of Canadian comic book and graphic comic artists, in a variety of seminars that explored topics such as the history of the Canadian comic strip, an exploration of the Canadian comic scene and a deep dive into Canadian academic research on comics.

Calgary comic book artists

And while Calgary comic book artists weren't part of the Paris panels, a few Calgary-based female comic artists are on the rise in the comic universe.

One, Micaela Dawn, is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). 

Dawn was selected by the Kevin Workman Foundation to have her work exhibited and sold at the San Diego Comic Con this past summer.

That meant four days of meet-and-greets with fans, most of whom Dawn says knew her work but not her.

"A name does not mean much in people's minds," Dawn said in an interview with CBC's Radio-Canada.

That made getting the opportunity to appear live in San Diego that much more meaningful.

"It was incredible," she said. "I was fortunate to be sponsored by a foundation that selects one artist per year to attend the event."

Dawn, who recently displayed her work at the Calgary Comic Expo Christmas Market, is currently working on a trio of projects, including a variant cover for Dark Horse Comics' Stranger Things series.

Making Archie an object of desire

Meanwhile, Calgary-based comic book artist Fiona Staples is the artist behind Saga, one of the top-selling American titles — as well as the person who was tasked with turning iconic redhead Archie Andrews into an object of desire when Riverdale was launched as a remake of the old Archie Comics.

"My only sort of direction from the company was to make Archie cute," said Staples, in a 2015 CBC article. "Make him good looking, make him look like someone that girls might actually fight over."

University of Calgary professor Bart Beaty says that more Canadian art schools are open to teaching comics than in the past. (Julie Prejet, CBC News)

They're the next generation of Calgary-based comic superstars to emerge following the first generation success of Todd MacFarlane (Spawn), a Calgary comic artist who created an internationally-recognized comic brand.

All of it registers not only on the pop culture radar, but also in the academy, where comic art is being taken more seriously than it used to be, according to University of Calgary professor Bart Beaty, who specializes in North American comics.

"I'm watching the new generation carefully to try to find the next superstar," Beaty said in an interview with Radio-Canada.

Calgary comic artist Micaela Dawn says our inclusivity and diversity is what gives Canadian comics their unique identity. (Micaela Dawn)

No stigma in Alberta

Part of the reason for the growing clout of Calgary's homegrown comic scene is that the top art school in town embraces comic book art rather than snubbing its nose at it, Beaty said.

"ACAD has a lot more comic strip in its programs than many art schools in the country," Beaty said. 

"The Alberta school does not close the door to this technique and lets its students work it if they wish," added the academic. "Today, even universities in the province are open to the idea of ​​teaching comics as [a] subject."

Canadian identity in comics?

In Paris, one of the Canadian comics experts on various panels, University of Alberta professor Chris Reyns-Chikuma, said the country's diversity is what prevents it from creating a readily identifiable, exportable brand, à la France's Asterix.

However, for Dawn, that diversity of voice is precisely what makes Canadian comic art distinctly, well, Canadian.

"The inclusivity and diversity found across Canada shows up in a lot of Canadian work," she said in an email. "Canadian comics are often more open and multicultural."

"Fiona's artwork is brilliant and filled with characters as diverse and interesting as Canada as a whole," she said.

"Many Canadian artists I know tend to focus on minorities and giving a voice to those who have traditionally been silenced. It is a fight to be heard, but many Canadian artists and creatives are using their storytelling medium to lead that fight.

"Calgary, too, is growing into an ever more diverse community — and it is reflective in the art and comics that come out of our city."

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

With files from Nelly Alberola and Julie Prejet of Radio-Canada

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