The First Ever Museum Exhibit of Canadian Indie Comic Art

by Koom Kankesan

Hamilton is about an hour’s drive west of Toronto. The art gallery there has put on an impressive exhibition of original art by a plethora of indie Canadian cartoonists that could take you hours to look at properly. Curated by cartoonist Joe Ollmann and Alana Traficante, the exhibit boasts work by over 45 artists (winnowed down from a list of about 200) and is a treat for comics enthusiasts and the general public alike. There seems to be a trend towards museums and traditional galleries adopting more pop cultural approaches to exhibits in order to draw people in. Is this a sign of this trend or has comics hit another marker in terms of its struggle towards legitimacy as one of the core visual arts? It seems surprising that this is the first Canadian exhibit of its kind. The US and Europe seem to be ahead of us in that regard. I visited a nice show at the art museum in Erie, Pennsylvania years ago that featured original comic art by John Totleben, Klaus Janson, and a handful of other classic comics pages it owned as part of its permanent collection. However, that exhibit didn’t differentiate between indie art and mainstream comics pages.
This show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton seems to draw a pretty strong dividing line between the superhero fare and the indie stuff and seems hell bent on emphasizing the indie side. When it comes to original comic art, I like looking at it regardless of its vintage or genre or place of origin. There just seems to be something so fascinating when you look at the hand produced work, a peek behind an Oz like curtain, a relic of the artist’s effort and skill and changes and thought processes. Though I am more choosy about what I read, if I see comic book art in the wild, I can’t help but stop and look at it, stare at it for longer than I might another work of art, and of course, READ it. Therefore, it took me a while to get through this exhibit as I tried to read as much as I could – even then I couldn’t really read everything and felt like I glanced over some pieces instead of fully taking them in. There were some artists whose work I knew, others I’d heard of but hadn’t read, and many whose work I didn’t know at all. Here is a random sampling but I highly recommend visiting for yourself if you can because it’s a great exhibit. It’s on until January 5, 2020.
Old stalwarts include the work of David Collier and Katherine Collins’ Neil The Horse:

The following are by Sylvia Nickerson, Maurice Vellekoop, Marta Chudolinska, and Rebecca Rosen:

The first of the following is by Julie Delporte, the sketchbook comics are by Meredith Park, the more conceptual comics are by Jesse Jacobs, while the last page is by Gord Pullar:

There is one room devoted to the ‘Big Four’ – Julie Doucet, Fiona Smyth, Chester Brown, and Seth :

All in all, it was a really great show. Hopefully, more Canadian cities will mount comics art exhibits of their own or perhaps this one will travel around. Canadians have an irrepressible, quirky spirit I guess and nowhere is this more evident than in the comics they produce. It would be nice to see more of a blending between these and the more mainstream work produced as I think the cross pollination is there, as it is in American comics and those from other parts of the world.

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