2400blockofMainStreetUncle Upton’s Neighbourhood

By Colin Upton

Last entry I profiled several shops and a restaurant important to the Vancouver Comics community on the 2400 block of Main Street, but it doesn’t stop there!

A nameplate on a nondescript door along the strip announces that up stairs can be found the offices of United Church, Golden Draperies & Blinds, co-curator Chris Brayshaw’s (of Pulp Fiction Books) CSA Gallery, Wrestling B.C. and Music on Main.

More discreetly the second floor also houses studios of painters, visual artists, a writer, a poet, animators and of course, cartoonists. The buildings second floor has the advantages of large and plentiful windows for natural light.

I first visited the studio shared by animators Jodi Kramer and Elisa Chee, cartoonist Lou Ford and the art & writing team of Johnnie Christmas & Ed Brisson of the “Sheltered” series from Image.

In the past Jodi Kramer was a contributor to Cloudscape Comics projects but is now concentrating on animation. She is currently working on a Canada Council sponsored experimental animation about rats, when not distracted by motherhood. Elisa Chee is an animator/painter/illustrator who does particularly nicely done ink wash paintings. Her current project is an animated short documentary on Lucy, a chimpanzee raised in America to think she was human. Lou Ford is another past contributor to Cloudscape Comics projects. His current web comic, Carte Blanche, can be found here.

Ed Brisson is the writer of the popular “pre-apocalyptic” Image Comic “Sheltered”. In fact it is under development as a motion picture. Ed has a background in small press comics, creating stories about small town lowlife, working as a freelance digital letterer and having a serious go as a graphic novel publisher (New Reliable Press) before discovering his true vocation as a writer. His Murder Books and other writing projects led to his current partnership with Johnnie Christmas on “Sheltered”. Ed is also the organizer of the Monthly Vancouver Comics Jam that happens downstairs at the Wallflower. Ed’s work space is incredibly stark, just a laptop sitting on a tabletop. He prefers to write without distractions, his perfect ideal of a writing studio would be a blank room. He continues to work as a digital letterer at home.

jcstudioNext to Ed Brisson’s minimalist workstation is Johnnie Christmas’s rather more “organic” drawing table surrounded by art materials, piles of comics and reference books. In this day and age of long distance collaborations the advantages of Johnnie and Ed sharing the same studio space are obvious, allowing stories and plot-lines to evolve more naturally. (In contrast the colourist for Sheltered, Shari Chankhamma, lives in Samutprakan, Thailand.) Johnnie himself is an American ex-pat from Miami by way of Harlem, which ironically doesn’t provide you much practice drawing snowy landscapes.

 Johnnie Christmas at workBefore Sheltered Johnnie has been working as a professional cartoonist since 2009, providing art for Ed Brisson’s Murder Book, The Pekar Project, working freelance for Image publishers Devils Due & Shadowline and “Barak the Barbarian”, a parody of the current U.S. president. He has also contributed to several Cloudscape Comics anthologies. He also created a web comic, Spectre of Sound, which Johnnie says was an experiment that reached its end and is no long available online. He became a full time comics pro with Sheltered. Johnnie`s fine art influences range from the Post-Impressionists to Expressionists such as Gauguin, Raushenberg, Klimt, Chagall, and Schiele. For comics he draws inspiration from Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets) and R.M. Guera (Scalped).

He pointed out to me how he admired the way Otomo drew cars with some life to them. On Johnnie Christmas has a bright pink post it note on his drawing table to remind himself “don’t stop moving the hands” to avoid the distraction of the internet on his laptop… although he admits to being obsessed with the Twitter feed of the nearby Kingsgate Mall.

034Down the hall is another shared studio space that has had a number of cartoonists come and go. Toren Atkinson of Caustic Soda fame had a studio there for a while as did Ed Brisson before moving down the hallway to share a studio with collaborator Johnnie Christmas. As I was visiting cartoonist and visual artist Robin Konstabaris was in the process of moving out.

James Lloyd let me in and showed me his work area although he was feeling self-conscious about the “clutter”. I told him it was the clutter I came to see. James is a talented, hardworking cartoonist best known for his penciling for Bongo Comics Simpsons & Futurama Comics, which is something of a pity as it overshadows his own, impressive small press comics like “The Trip” and “James Lloyds Other Stuff”. His own work reflects the influence of the EC greats Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis.

James Lloyd side tableHe is another veteran of the Vancouver comics and Lowbrow art scenes, contributing to Julian Lawrence’s “Drippytown” (comics section & comic book), illustration, scratch-board art and drawings in black & white and colour. He showed me his current work in progress, an adaption of a poem by Siegfried Sassoon for an anthology of World War One poetry. He currently shares his space with painter Julie Emerson who’s book “The Herons of Stanley Park” is coming out soon.James Lloyd's desk

Nearby is the “not ready for photography” Hellkitty Studios shared by the happily wedded couple Ian Boothby and Pia Guerra. Ian is another stalwart of the local comic’s scene who started drawing his own small press comics in the eighties while pursuing a career in comedy. For years he has been a writer for The Simpsons and Futurama comics for Bongo, and recently a Mars Attacks story for IDW. He`s also doing a web comic with local Bongo artist Nina Matsumoto, Dr. Sarcophagus!

The busy studio is also the rehearsal space for Ian`s sketch comedy groups Titmouse and Speed Chair. As well it is the headquarters of not one but two podcasts, the elusive yet entertaining The Sneaky Dragon and a Sneaky Dragon side project, Completely Beatles both with Ian`s long-time collaborator, David Dedrick. Ian is also a comedy writer/performer on CBC Radio. Pia was co-creator and penciller for the acclaimed series “Y The last man” for Vertigo and “Dr.Who”. She is currently drawing covers for Dynamite and Valiant and working on an as yet unnamed project for Image. To quote Ian on the subject of sharing a studio space:

“I share the studio with the person I love so that’s fine by me, we give each other the space we need and are fans of each other’s each other’s work. The reason we got the office space was because when you have your art table or computer at home you’re never away from work. It’s always there and there’s always more to be done. We got the Hellkitty Studios space to separate work from home and the walk to and from the office is a good warm up and cool down.”

 :: Colin Upton is a cartoonist, history buff, sometimes performance artist, member of Cloudscape, regular participant in theVancouver Comic Jam, and general gad about town in Vancouver BC. He posts comics and other curiosities on tumbler here and you can stalk him on Facebook here! ::

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