Toronto Artist MJ “Snartha” Alexander Is Making Magic Online With The Support Of Her Circle Of Friends
By David Bragdon
The first thing anyone notices about Martha Jane Alexander is her shaved head. You can’t miss it – it’s the only thing that can be seen when she’s sitting hunched over a drawing pad. The next thing you might notice is she dresses primarily in black, even in the middle of the summer. As intimidating as that might seem, it really doesn’t fit with her laid back personality or her sense of humour.
If anything, MJ’s more like one of the characters in her current web comic, The Stoop Gallants. In that fantasy world, characters achieve power and notoriety by means they didn’t plan and the great and mighty are secretly awkward or mundane. A wizard gets his power through a clerical error; someone becomes an accidental necromancer during a drunken stupor; a brave knight suffers from anxiety; and the quote-unquote-villain raises pet chinchillas.
Back here on Earth, the outwardly intimidating artist with the shaved head is just a fangirl at heart. When MJ started posting her drawings online, she was just doing it out of love and wasn’t expecting some of the overwhelming responses. If you click on a link about the best fan comics on some subject or another you might expect to see MJ’s comics. Some of MJ’s friends have similar stories.
“My sister found MJ through chance on Tumblr ‘cause she’s very big into Tolkien and the Silmarillion,” recounted MJ’s friend, Claire Elspeth Morris. “One afternoon she came to me and said, ‘have you seen this drawing of two of Silmarillion characters acting silly?’ I didn’t know what they were, [but] I saw it and I laughed because I recognized the signature!” Depending on what nerd fandom you follow, you might have stumbled onto one of MJ’s comics without realizing it with thousands of likes and reposts to it’s credit.
Jess Sheridan, another friend of MJ’s and web artist in her own right, has had similar experiences. “I’ll send (MJ) a message like, ‘Somebody who you could never know, and who I think lives on the other side of the world, just re-blogged your thing!” Jess laughs. “Oh, you poor thing! You have so many notes on that! Your in-box must be flooded!’”
Despite the appreciation of Tolkienists and Finn/Poe shippers all over the world, MJ’s friends take it all in stride as they sit around her, taking part in The Faulty Sharpener’s weekly drawing session. It’s the brainchild of MJ and Ally Rom Colthoff as their way to balance making art and having a social life. They realized scheduling sketching sessions with friends is a great way to do both.
The conversations about humus, cleaning up rabbit pee and fandoms all help to fuel the creativity. If someone says something especially silly MJ is sure to enthusiastically chime in, “that would make an awesome comic!” Joking around and riffing-off of each other is the sort of thing that helped fuel the creation of The Stoop Gallants.
When MJ decided she wanted to collaborate with another writer on a web comic, she needed someone who would appreciate speculating about what orc poetry would be like or how evil seductress sorcerers unwind at the end of the day. It was in W.W. Rose that she found the perfect co-conspirator.
“We built this world and this story very much as a team,” Rose explained from her home in the States. She discovered MJ’s art in the way most people do: by stumbling onto her work though fan comics. “MJ was one of my all-time favourite fandom artists, whom I watched from afar for a while,” she recounts. “Then one day she drew some art based on something I’d written. In that moment, I died.”
It’s simultaneously a compliment and a disservice to say that Stoop Gallants is like one big Tolkien fan comic. Where J.R.R. was obsessed with the minutia of thousand year histories, M.J. and W.W. obsess over the minutia of the inner-workings of character’s lives. The Gallants may be populated by humans, wizards, elves, orcs and dragons, but readers will be obsessed with the relationships between all of those mystical races.
Currently in the story, the stage has just been set. After getting to know all of the separate characters, they cast has finally come together to converge at the Hyperbolic Consortium of Wizards and it feels like something epic is around the corner.
The crackling of potential energy in the Gallants feels a lot like how it is being around MJ and her friends when they draw together. When surrounded by unique artists as they laugh with and support you it’s impossible not to feel inspired . We should all be so lucky to have such a magical collection of friends.
If you’re entranced here by the Stoop Gallants, you can follow their exploits at www.thestoopgallants.com and support it’s Patreon for exclusives.
David Bragdon is an Oakville based artist best known for his work with the Toronto Comic Jam. Along with helping organize the monthly event and publishing the monthly Jam Books, David has contributed numerous articles to the Toronto Comic Jam collections, profiling various Comic Jammers, but mostly as an excuse to sneak his own drawings in.