“We’re All Living In The Gutter…” : The Toronto Comic Jam

by Koom Kankesan

I love going to the Toronto Comic Jam. It’s been around since the nineties and I used to be too intimidated to go back then but in recent years, I’ve forced myself to attend as a way to push myself and make time to draw. Our comic jam is held in the back of the Cameron House which is an old Toronto mainstay. It’s on Queen West. Queen Street used to be a hip trendy art magnet but it’s become gentrified and the Cameron is a reminder of the old days.
(don’t you love the gold paint and mirror shards behind Phil, on the walls?)
A little rundown, the Cameron used to have giant papier mache ants crawling up its brick exterior. Now, you’ll see an old fashioned marquee announcing whatever band is playing in the front of house. It looks like a divey bar (and I suppose that’s what it is) made of equal parts red velvet, chipped wood, and gold paint in the darkness. The tangy aroma of beer emanates from the walls and you can’t help but think (at least momentarily) of your college days.
(that’s Dave, Rob, and James showing their stuff)
The back is where the comic jam takes place on the last Tuesday of every month. It starts late and ends late and you sort of have to have at least a bit of hardcore in you to stick it out. You go in and see a loving medley of misfits sitting at tables, clipboards in hands, working on pages in semi-gestation as they figure out what the next panel should be. Usually, a vast array of pencils, markers, brush pens, and rapidographs is sprawled out on the circular tables. Socialization happens in between the drawing, as does drinking, in the same way that meaning is created between comic panels, as in ‘in the gutter.’
In fact, the ‘gutter’ is as good a label as any for the spirit of the comic jam, both literally and figuratively. It’s definitely got a DIY, underground, low rent kind of feel and I don’t think the people here would want it any other way. You hear animation students talking about their latest assignments, employed animators complaining about their latest projects, people circulating their latest self-published comics, and jaded comic fans grousing about the recent Marvel debacles and the state of the industry in general. It’s a nice, chill space where time dilates pleasantly and arch conversation is laced with odd moments of wistful ambition and indignant idealism. Oscar Wilde was talking about another kind of gutter when he said that we’re all in ‘it’ but that some of us are looking up at the stars; however, the witticism applies equally to the comics gutter of the Comic Jam.
(Anthony, Max, Alex, and Paul are jammin’ away)
I come to try and catch up with people I’ve gotten to know. I’ve been a bit lazy lately and not drawn as much as I should have. I cite ever mounting piles of work and having to get up early the next day as my excuses but I am moving back downtown so I can no longer rely on those old justifications.
(That’s Cameron and Dalton, under some very poor lighting. Dalton’s page exhibits a quandary – he says: “Should I do cats in labyrinths or my long-awaited autobiographical comic? I want to let the internet decide.”)
Pardon me – I forgot to say exactly what it is we do here! You come in, wander over to the stage in the back which is populated with clipboards holding partly finished panel sequences of comic art (as any decent stage should be!) and pick up the one that you fancy. You add a panel to the sequence, try to fit it in with the flow, or perhaps throw in a curve or a surprise, and then place the clipboard back on the stage for someone else. You do this a bunch of times throughout the evening, drinking and talking all the while, but you never lose that veneer of concentration that comes with drawing steadily as the night wends on. When pages are completed (jam sequences are limited to a page), the organizers collect and collate them, making a booklet for that month’s jam. That’s the idea anyway.
(that’s Zann, one of the organizers of the Comic Jam)
It’s a lot of fun and it’s a unique way to bond over comics, make and show some of your own without feeling the atmosphere of pressure that school or a comic con might engender, and get to know other people in the city that love this bastard medium. There might be a comic jam in your town that you can attend. If there isn’t, perhaps you’d like to start one? It’s an instant recipe for socialization and pleasantry and it doesn’t require a lot of preparation or special ingredients. A place to get together, a way of getting the word out, and clipboards & paper. That’s it. Perhaps access to a photocopy/print shop if you want to publish what you do.
Try it out! I’m only sorry it took me this long to start attending.

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