Exotic is Other People: Racial Representations in Mexican Mid-Century Comics

Identity, Racial Inequality, and Comics as Mass Communication // Carlos Carmonamedina

Carlos Carmonamedina
Carlos Carmonamedina is an illustrator and graphic designer

Editor’s note: Though neither Canadian nor American comics are known for their unbiased portrayal of non-white characters, this issue is certainly not exclusive to English-language works. Here, Mexican artist Carlos Carmonamedina takes us through racism in Mexican comics of the 20th century and beyond.

You will hardly find another country that debates its own identity as much as Mexico does. Trying to reconcile the idea that we descend both from colonized and colonizers, Mexican intellectuals have structured their arguments around questions of “who am I” and “what’s my role in this world.”

Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz writes in his 1950 book El Laberinto de la Soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) that Mexico’s enormous inferiority complex can be explained broadly by its historical dependence on other economies: “The whole history of Mexico, from the Conquest to the Revolution, can be regarded as a search for our own selves, which have been deformed or disguised by alien institution, and for a form that will express them.” Continue reading

Comics Criticism: A Reading List

An Annotated List for New Converts and Frustrated Ones // Laura Kenins

Comics criticism
Drawn and Quarterly, the northern branch of so-called American comics

Literature is a dialogue, albeit often an insular one. For comics to occupy a position as a mature literary form, they need to be a part of that dialogue.

I didn’t realize until this week that there’s a crisis in comics criticism. Evidently, I’m part of the problem since I rarely read any comics-specific websites, unless someone links to a review or I’m doing research. It’s partly a lack of interest in an insular dialogue, partly that Canada and Europe, where I’ve worked, always seem like an afterthought

American comics publications sometimes refer to a “North American comics scene,” which seems to be a term used exclusively by Americans, possibly patting themselves on the back for their international outlook because they talked about a Canadian just last week, and know that Drawn & Quarterly is located in Montreal. But I feel about as included under this term as I would when reading American children’s books, with their strange language like “neighbor” and “fifth grade.”

Possibly, the problem is that Canada is too small for publications only about comics; possibly it’s that I like reading about a variety of books, both with and without pictures in them; possibly it’s that comics, at present, need to be placed alongside poems about rural Manitoba and essays on Joseph Boyden to give an air of legitimacy to the general public and those who make decisions about publishing and arts funding in Canada. Continue reading

Social Justice through Autobio Comics: On the Legitimation of Graphic Memoirs and How They Might Change the World

Autography, Teaching, and Talking About Oppression // Sandra Cox

A panel from Craig Thompson’s Blankets

I read comics, but not in the “I have a pull-list of 60 at my local store” sort of way, and not in the “I’ve been buying Harvey issues since 1970” sort of way either. I’m not a collector, a creator, or a finger-on-the-pulse-of-the-industry kind of commentator. I read comics in the most pedantic of ways. I read comics so that I can write about them, in the hopes of publishing that writing.

Not in insightful and interesting blog posts (present work, hopefully, exempted), in trade journals read by retailers determining what to stock, or by pencillers, colourists, and conceptual designers looking for inspiration, but in peer-reviewed academic journals, and edited collections of literary scholarship.

I read comics so that I can talk to other people about them—not in that “you’ve got to read this awesome webcomics artist’s work way, or even in the “you won’t believe the direction Bendis and Pichelli are taking the Miles Morales arc” way either. I talk to people about comics in the “you should write this down, because it might be on the midterm” kind of way.

I teach literature at a public regional university in the United States, so I read comics as part of my ongoing attempt to contribute to professorial conversations about contemporary literature (and, perhaps even more importantly, to earn tenure and thus have, after decades of schooling and the relative poverty that comes with it, a stable enough income that I can drive a car that has none of its parts held on with duct tape or bungee cords). I read comics to write about them for my colleagues in higher education and to teach them to my college students. Continue reading

Outside the Trauma: An Interview with Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

Violence, Addiction, Rehabilitation, and Visual Metaphor // Julienne Isaacs

Outside Circle
The cover of The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

The Outside Circle (Anansi, 2015) tells the story of Pete, a young Aboriginal man who is incarcerated after a violent incident. Soon, he begins a process of rehabilitation at the In Search of Your Warrior program at the Stan Daniels Healing Centre near Edmonton, Alberta. The experience leads him to re-examine his choices in light of family trauma reaching back generations.

Patti LaBoucane-Benson is a Métis woman and the Director of Research, Training, and Communication at Native Counseling Services of Alberta. Her doctoral research focused on historical trauma healing programs for Aboriginal offenders. Kelly Mellings is an award winning art director and illustrator. He is co-owner of the Alberta-based illustration, animation, and design firm Pulp Studios.

Julienne Isaacs: Patti, The Outside Circle deals with some heavy themes: gang violence, addiction and incarceration, and ultimately healing. Why did you choose the graphic novel medium to tell the story of Pete’s journey at the “In Search of Your Warrior” correctional program? In what ways does the graphic novel format serve the story better than more “traditional” media?

Patti LaBoucane-Benson: The graphic novel allowed us to use visual metaphors for concepts in the story that are difficult to relay, yet profoundly important in the character’s transformation. The format also allows the reader, in about an hour and a half, to experience the entire healing journey, to feel the full impact of the story in one sitting.    Continue reading

WATER’S VISUAL POTENCY: A Graphic Novel in Poetry, perpetual is a Call to Action

The Unison of Combined Images and Text, Water, and Poetry's Role in Comics // Ray McClaughlin

Ray McClaughlin
Ray McClaughlin is a poet from Etobicoke, Ontario.

Comics encompass larger narratives, dealing with anything from abuse, addiction, family, love, war, history, and nature. Yet comics can be taken for granted as trivial anecdotal afterthoughts, as can the depletion of our natural resources. As creative types, wouldn’t it seem wise and timely to use aesthetic prowess to explore and draw attention to issues that threaten our natural habitat?

I have fond memories of that light blue colour that always represented water in comic books. The icy light blue would be splashed across a character’s face, sit motionless in a glass, or run through rapids, as some hapless adventurer would travel through its lucid contents.

The addition of water to a simple comic strip took me far enough away from the predictable elements of storytelling that I became excited. Coupled with my personal passion for water itself—I spend entire days at the beach in the warmer months—made perpetual, this unique collection of illustrated poems, all the more appealing.

In perpetual, Vancouver-based poet Rita Wong and artist Cindy Mochizuki collaborate on the topic of water and humanity’s relationship with it. The resulting book, published by Nightwood Editions, is a graphic novel, but written in poetry. The book was nearly five years in the making—it was back in 2011 when poet Wong first asked Mochizuki to respond visually to her poetry. Continue reading

BC Publishers Spotlight: Talonbooks

Mock-Epics, “Wrecklogues,” and Historical Influences // Nathaniel G. Moore

Garry Thomas Morse is the author of four books of fiction and five poetry collections.

Over the next couple of months, The Town Crier will be featuring short interviews with Canadian authors published by B.C. publishers, conducted by B.C. publishing professionals. The first in the series is an interview with Talon Books poet Garry Thomas Morse by Harbour Publishing’s Nathaniel G. Moore. Here, Moore speaks to Morse about his latest collection, Prairie Harbour.

Nathaniel G Moore: The speaker of these poems is engaged in an all-encompassing sense of history, presence, and direction. I was startled at first by the length of the book, and then realized, like in a recent review in Eclectic Ruckus, the breadth isn’t simply in the book’s length but in the guts too. An entire civilization of voices seems to be teeming from the pages. For how long had you been toiling on this project prior to publication?

Garry Thomas Morse: Prairie Harbour is not that long vis-à-vis the American poetic epics it apes. I think of it as a mock-epic—my prairie Dunciad. I was actually toiling over another poetry manuscript for quite a few years that kept changing, based on inspiration from stellar work I got to edit for Talonbooks before I left Vancouver. Soon after, I lived for a year in Regina, Saskatchewan, in which time the long poem arrived and seemed to write itself. I must respond with immediacy to place. Continue reading

Picking Sides in Comics: If Comics Are Literature, Why Don’t I Feel like a Writer?

Artistic Identities, Elitism, and Blurring Genre Borders // Laura Kenins

Laura Kenins
Laura Kenins is this month’s guest editor for The Town Crier

Holiday and birthday money never came with the stipulation not to spend it on comics in our house (although it did come with a ban on video games, which I always found strange, as we never owned a video game console). My dad was often an enthusiastic reader of our Archie comics after (or before) we’d finished with them. I got in trouble no matter what my choice of after-bedtime reading material was. So—perhaps taking into account that this father spent my entire childhood reading the same book—I may have missed the memo that comics weren’t literature.

I started picking up zines and self-published comics off of battered racks at the backs of book and music stores in high school. I’d been making fun of my classmates and people with bad music taste (the two admittedly indistinguishable by high school) in my sketchbook since junior high, but the first time I made something that could be shared in all its photocopied glory was when my English teacher gave the open-ended assignment to “make something about Hamlet” and I knew right away: I’d draw an issue of teenage Hamlet’s comic zine about his life. Continue reading

Small Town Asshole III: I Hurt in Loud and Annoying Ways

Pain, Closure, and Conversation With a Past Self // Julie Mannell

I Hurt
Julie Mannell writes her final post as guest editor of The Town Crier

This is the third instalment of Julie’s Small Town Asshole series, and her final post as guest editor for The Town Crier. Find the first two parts here and here.

Young Julie and Grown Julie are sitting in Fonthill together at the peak, the highest point of the village which is, I think, the only vantage point in the whole wide world where a person can see Niagara Falls and the Toronto skyline at exactly the same time. We are mostly looking at Fonthill, though—a single tiny block of a whole big planet framed by beaming metropolitan lights.

Young Julie: Why did you bring me here?

Grown Julie: You followed me here. You follow me everywhere. You’re like a ghost.

YJ: Well, I don’t think that’s fair. I think about you all the time. I hope that you’re ok. I try to make sure that you’re okay.

GJ: I’m always trying to live up to these big weird standards you set for me. You want me to be a writer. You want me to be a good person. Yet, you still want me to be us and us isn’t always good. Sometimes we feel badly about ourselves and rightfully so, because sometimes we behave very badly. Continue reading

Several Fires

Small Towns, Cultural Estrangement, and Unspoken Truths // JM Francheteau

JM Francheteau
JM Francheteau co-authored the Worst Case Ontario chapbook with the WCO collective

We’re sitting on a soft bed, a girl and I, cross-legged with our knees touching, late at night, after drinks and Casablanca and I, of course, am nervous. “Comber,” I am saying. “And Ruthven. Chatham.” We’ve been talking about the small towns of Essex County as we paddle the moat of my shyness, inch by inch. I’m saying “Blenheim” as she scoots into my lap, and since “Blenheim” shouldn’t be the last thing on your lips before you kiss someone beautiful, I say, “Wheatley.”

“I don’t really care about this stuff,” she says, her eyes grey by this light, soft-focused. “I know,” I say, and do.


“Say the Names,” suggested Al Purdy, although he recommended skirting “the flat borrowed names of the settlers.” Nonetheless: Leamington, Anderdon, Amherstburg, Oxley, Tilbury, Malden, McGregor. The place names Purdy loved, serpentine, many-ribbed things like Spillimacheen and Illecillewaet, he associated with nature and solitary contemplation: “listen to yourself / an echo in the mountains.” It’s the classic narrative about the Native peoples who “lent” their words to these settlements: the legend of a communion with nature so deep it lingers in their very language, and the reality that they were driven en masse from their lands or exterminated. For Purdy, the names, permanent yet fading from meaning, are an emptiness so profound that the undisturbed mind can recollect its true self. Written near the end of his days, his incantation binds him to numberless ghosts and trees. But that isn’t the nature of towns. Continue reading

Never Give Up the Ghost: Why We Shouldn’t Forget Our Origins

Young Love, Poetry, and Worst Case Ontario // JC Bouchard

Worst Case Ontario
JC Bouchard’s chapbook, WOOL WATER was published by words(on)pages in 2015.

The first time I thought I was going to die was at a landfill near my duplex house in a subdivision of Elliot Lake, my hometown. We called the suburb The New Sub. Lured there by my mother’s boyfriend, Ben, I unloaded wood scraps from his truck and threw the fractured pieces over a cliff and into a pit of broken televisions, tattered clothes and broken toys. Ben took my waist and lifted me over his head, took hold of my ankles and held me upside down over the precipice. He waited. He asked me if I wanted to die, as if I had a choice, but I don’t remember answering. Like contrived cinema, I only remember the wind, the squawk of crows and a feeling of absolute calm before he would drop me to my death. Fortunately, Ben was sick, and all of that was a little game he played, like trapping a spider in a jar just to see how it will react. He didn’t drop me. But for months after that (and months before) he tortured me in new, creative ways: beatings, suffocation, and threats toward my family. I was seven years old.

The first time I got drunk was at The Bat Cave, a small clearing in the woods behind Hillside Shopping Plaza, Elliot Lake’s most popular locale for loiterers and wannabe smokers. This was while shamelessly making out with my girlfriend, Kathy, who was about two years older than me. Our tongues tasted like cigarettes and cheap St. Des beer, and I didn’t care that it was cold and that everybody could see what I rationalized as young, passionate love. That night, I puked outside a bedroom window at Anthony’s—a high school senior—in an area downtown we called Welfare Square, a community of shoddy townhouses, poverty-stricken families, and drug dealers. The moon was hidden by dusty overcast as I writhed on the concrete after I was booted out. Continue reading