When Patrick Kyle was attending high school in his hometown of Whitby, Ontario, he says comics were his “main interest.” But it wasn’t until he began studying illustration at Toronto’s OCAD University in 2005 that he discovered how enduring that interest would be.
At art school, Kyle became involved in a tight-knit community of comics artists, and today, he jokes, “I only fraternize with cartoonists.” His girlfriend, Ginette Lapalme, is a cartoonist. His bandmate (and Q&Q’s cover author), Michael DeForge, is a cartoonist. He is also friends with Keith Jones, Ryan Dodgson, and Chris Kuzma, each of whom falls somewhere on the cartoonist/artist spectrum. Even Distance Mover, his forthcoming science-fiction book from Koyama Press, is made up of characters preoccupied with exhibitions and artists’ grants – despite the fact that the story takes place in Toh Ruylth, a world that otherwise bears almost no resemblance to Earth.
“It’s kind of a weird bubble that I live in,” Kyle says. “Sometimes when I visit my parents or friends from high school, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a real world.’”
Given his immersion in the world of comics and art, it’s not surprising how much the 26-year-old has accomplished since graduating five years ago. In 2010, he founded the small press Mother Books, through which he published his first full-length graphic novel, Black Mass, about a “curmudgeonly weirdo” with magical powers. He’s also exhibited his drawings (done on rough, handmade paper) in galleries around the world, including solo shows in Brooklyn and Stockholm. As a professional illustrator (his “day job,” Kyle says), he has worked for high-profile clients such as The New York Times, Esquire, VICE, and The Walrus. And along with Lapalme and Kuzma, he founded the comics anthology Wowee Zonk (the most recent editions of which were published by Koyama) – but that was in 2007, when the trio were still in school.
Kyle’s brush-and-ink drawings are at once minimalist and deeply surreal, with ambiguous shapes that resemble optical illusions. Faces seem to be hidden in unexplained vase-like objects, and phallic imagery pops up more often than in a Disney movie. There’s a randomness to his narratives, too, which Kyle says is inspired by the pseudoscience and “fly by the seat of your pants” plots of 1970s-era Dr. Who.
Kyle’s understanding of both the historical and contemporary comics scene is perhaps what pushes him to create work that is so actively, almost aggressively, different. “I think it’s really important to always try to make things that are new,” he says. “I feel like, if someone has already done something or explored something, then there’s not much point in going down that path.”
Some audiences inevitably won’t get it, but from Kyle’s perspective, that’s perfectly alright. When I tell him that I listened online to a few songs by his noise-punk band, Creep Highway, he says, “I’m sorry you did that.” The music, he admits, is frankly “unlistenable,” but he likes making it anyway.