2009: The Year in Review
by Bryan Munn
Well, here we are a few weeks into 2010 and our annual look back at the past year in Canadian comics news as seen through the Sequential blog. This time around, a shorter review than 2008.
2009 was an eventful year for us at Sequential. Although Max and I both had lots going on with outside projects (little things like relationships, paying the bills, and staying sane), we did our best to keep our fingers on the passionate pulse of comics, as well as maybe contributing in a small way to the overall flow.
The year started with the news that long-running French-language Mensuhell was closing down; in February, we found out that Canadian artists make peanuts; in March, we learned that Guy Delisle was in Israel for his next book; and on and on. (You take a month-by-month tour of Sequential by checking out the links in the sidebar.)
May was the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and for this event we published the first print issue of Sequential, a landmark for this site that hopefully contributed to the discussion in this country and internationally about our favourite artform. Sequential was also on hand for the Toronto Word on the Street event in September, shining our brilliant spotlight on new work by Evan Munday, Willow Dawson, and Jeff Lemire. Hopefully, we’ve helped get the word out about some worthwhile comics over the past year, be they digital or print, free or not-so-free.
For all the talk of recession and economic hard times, the actual effect on the business of comics and comics sales has been hard to gauge in Canada. I’m sure individual retailers have a handle on the numbers, but for the most part, they aren’t talking. Besides a spate of store closings, the news has largely been balanced out with tales of new openings and generally rosy reports from the convention floors. In other retail news, we had comic shop owners as alleged voyeurs and eternally optimistic promoters. (label: comics retailers)
Despite lingering and urgent (I kid, I think) international economic questions such as the pricing controversy, overall, the major comics news of 2009 is that there are so many comics still being published. The predicted apocalypse of print hasn’t seemed to find the publishers of Canadian graphic novels. Conundrum Press and Mecanique Generale are still pumping out small runs of new books by interesting young talents, people still make minicomics, and hundreds of people still work as cartoonists, writers, and artists of some sort in the comics biz. Graphic novels are still a hot publishing story and many Canadians remain at the forefront of the artform. Which brings us to…
1. Newsmaker of the Year: The Cartoonist Seth
Rather than countdown a list of top stories, I’ve tried to choose one story that exemplifies the kind of year it was in comics and Seth fits the bill both because of the amount of coverage he received this past year and what that says about the current state of affairs. Now, as a friend of the artist (full disclosure) as well as fan, I’m tempted to discount the impact he continues to have on comics, but thinking and writing about the subject as I do on an almost daily basis for Sequential, I find it hard to deny that, far and away, 2009 was Seth’s year. A book of the year in George Sprott, combined with several important design and reprint projects, and a touring art show, made it hard to ignore the cartoonist and his work. To begin with, Seth had a monster critically-acclaimed graphic novel on his hands with George Sprott: 1894-1975. Originally serialized in the New York Times, the episodic story of the final hours in the life of an obscure 1970s Canadian television host was expanded into a much longer (and larger) book that had everyone singing its praises. My views on the book are already on record, but the book also made many best of year and best of decade lists, became a relative bestseller, and was well-reviewed in the mainstream press. The subtext of all this attention is that Seth is currently one of the more exciting cartoonists internationally and the attention given to this book really functions as a sort of barometer for the success of graphic novels in general and Canadian comics in particular. The triumph of George Sprott is also the triumph, for better or for worse, of the narrative of Seth as the ne plus ultra of Canadian cartooning: just as Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy became the dictionary definition of comic strip, so too has Seth come to stand for the entirety of the artform in this country. Is his prominence a bad thing for comics? As a spokesman for comic art and ambassador of the Canadian graphic novel, Seth is an articulate double-threat, but his cred often seems to eclipse younger artists and points of view, especially for mainstream journos and lazy bloggers (mea culpa). On the other hand, his position has made him an enthusiastic and effective champion of new comics he finds deserving and for causes, like last year’s Skim controversy, that require an outspoken (and Seth can be very outspoken) figurehead or ringleader. Furthermore, his dedication to all aspects of comic art, beyond his own output, has guaranteed that the disdained and neglected work of several generations of cartoonists has become part of our current cultural dialogue, in turn inspiring and educating modern readers and creators. And I’m not just talking about what something like the Wright Awards, co-founded by Seth, does to highlight the work of young cartoonists. Witness also the ongoing Peanuts repackaging and the new John Stanley Library from D+Q –if not for Seth, would we even be tempted to consider Thirteen Going on Eighteen as one of the greatest comic book series ever? And let’s not forget the ultimate example and vindication of Seth’s diligent advocacy over the past decade, the Collected Doug Wright, a project that neatly sums up of many of Seth’s characteristic strengths and preoccupations, including his cultural nationalism, his care in design and love of great cartooning.
Whether you view his own thoughtful, painstakingly beautiful comics and larger than life character as artistic genius, as carefully cultivated careerism, or a mixture of both, there’s no denying that Seth prismatically represents the current state of comics in Canada. If Seth didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him, if only so we could talk about the rise of the newest generation of Canadian comics superstars like Jeff Lemire and Bryan Lee O’Malley.
(search “Seth” or “Sprott” at Sequential)
Following last year’s debacle over the Skim graphic novel and the Governor General’s Awards, it was heartening to see the French-language GN Harvey, by Herve Bouchard and artist Janice Nadeau win a GG this year. Elsewhere, a wonderful group of books and creators were the recipients of some of Canadian comics’ highest honours. Looking back, it seems we somehow missed reporting on several awards.
First, the Prix Bedelys. They used to have a crappy website, but now they have a blog of sorts so maybe I can keep better track. The 10th annual edition of these prizes, awarding Quebec comics, were handed out in May. There are four categories. The Albert Chartier reprint collection, Une piquant petite brunette won the Bedelys Quebec prize. $1000 was given to Chartier’s daughter. France’s Etienne Davodeau won the Bedelys Gold for his Lulu Femme Nue, Volume 1. Zarli’s Dragon Blanc, volume 2 won the Bedelys youth prize. And the defunct anthology comic Mensuhell, edited by Francis Hervieux, won the Bedelys Fanzine prize.
Although we hyped the Wright Awards and had lots of TCAF links, we never did actually report on the winners. I feel extra guilty about this because I was one of the awards organizers and was on the nomination committee (full disclosure). I try to keep the reporting of Wright Awards news at an objective arms length but I guess this time I kept it too far out there. Anyway, for the record, the winners of this year’s trophies were Skim, by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki (Best Book); Kate Beaton (Best Emerging Talent); and Matthew Forsythe’s Ojingogo (Pigskin Peters Award). Full release at the website.
Ditto the Expozine Prize. At first I thought we missed it, but the prize for the books collected at the most recent Expozine won’t be decided until March. Last year’s prize (2008) was announced on March 3, 2009 in Montreal.
In editorial cartooning, the top policart of the year was the Ottawa Citizen’s Cam Cardow, who won the National Newspaper Award in that category. The other two finalists were Brian Gable and John Lartner.
Luckily, we did manage to report on the Shusters and Bedeis Causa.
Prix Bedeis Causa Winners
Shuster Awards Winners
The Sequential Bestseller List is a semi-weekly attempt at giving you a snapshot of what is popular in bookstores across the country. Using numbers from bookmanager.com, the list ranks Canadian comics in terms of sales through independent bookstores and some comics shops. Outside of Amazon and Chapters ranks or Diamond sales (which don’t separate Canadian from U.S. sales), these rankings are the only publicly accessible indicators of graphic novel and comics sales we have. This past year, lots of manga, Lynn Johnston, Watchmen, newspaper strip collections, and the occasional breakout Canadian book like the Scott Pilgrim series, Red, Skim, and the perennial fave Louis Riel all took turns at the top of the list. (label: bestsellers)
Sadly, several comics professionals left us during the past year. We end our overview of 2009 with a final look back at these passages.
Roy Carless, 1920-2009. Working class editorial cartoonist from Hamilton.
Bruno Laporte, 1964-2009. Montreal cartoonist and proponent of Quebec bande dessinee.
Bob Muirhead, 1943-2009. Editorial cartoonist for the BC Salmon Arm Observer.
Martin Vaughn-James, 1943-2009. Emigre artist created several avant garde graphic novels in Canada.