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Graphica’s next wave: Walter Scott

 Walter ScottAfter graduating from Concordia University in 2009 with a bachelor of fine arts, Walter Scott spent a lot of time loafing around Montreal, underemployed, frequenting punk shows in dingy lofts, and living what he calls “a dirt-bag lifestyle.” He had aspirations of becoming a gallery artist, but felt his art “wasn’t really resonating.”

“I was trying to situate my screenprinting interests in a contemporary-art-slash-gallery setting, but I didn’t really feel like they were meant to be there,” says Scott, who admits he was trying to make “artwork that I thought I was supposed to make to be a successful artist.”

Hung over at a St. Henri diner in 2011, Scott began doodling on the back on a placemat and came up with Wendy, his trendy, blonde twentysomething “drag avatar.” Scott dubbed the doodle “Wendy on a Bendy” and posted it on Facebook. Eventually, he began turning his Wendy stories into handmade zines sold on Etsy. “From then on it’s just been snowballing,” he says. In January 2013, Hazlitt (Random House of Canada’s literary website and magazine) brought the comic to a wider audience with a Wendy series called the Scene Report, and, in November, Koyama Press will publish a new anthology called, simply, Wendy.

Walter Scott-Wendy

In the comics, Wendy dreams of art stardom while struggling her way through parties, ill-­advised trysts, and a steady stream of hangovers. “Most of her misadventures,” Scott says, “are lifted directly from me and my friends.” The early strips feature “a lot of puking and crying,” he jokes, satirizing the hedonistic yet aspirational arts scene Scott was part of
in Montreal.

Wendy is a classic archetype for the burgeoning genre of comedies about flawed, urban twentysomething feminists, such as Girls, Broad City, and The Mindy Project – despite the fact that Scott’s character came first, as he points out. Scott says he feels “a responsibility with Wendy” to be aware of contemporary feminism and is sensitive to his role as a male representing female experiences. The comic strip is informed by the work of experimental novelist Kathy Acker, whose shape-shifting characters often have slippery identities. “Her protagonists will change genders, become a [different] fictional character,” he says. For Scott, the characters in Wendy feel like a “drag performance” of his own various identities as queer, male, and native.

What started as a diversion from his work as a Serious Artist ultimately helped Scott find his creative voice. “A lot of really interesting projects kind of sprung up naturally out of Wendy, because I feel like I’m listening to my spirit or something finally,” he says.

Scott recently wrapped up a group show at Macaulay & Co. Fine Art in Vancouver, where he has spent the past eight months. His sculptures, made of diverse materials including fabric, wood, found objects, and, in some cases, human hair, are deeply informed by “the Wendiverse,” as he puts it.

“I realized that I could make sculpture about these kinds of fictional narratives,” he says. “1990 Angst,” for example, is inspired by a backstory about Wendy’s native artist friend Winona, who, like Scott, was a child during the 1990 Oka Crisis, when he lived on the neighbouring Kahnawake Mohawk Nation reserve.

“So the sculpture is based on Winona, who exists in the Wendy universe. But it also, in another direction, is an autobiographical sculpture based on me,” he says. “I’m interested in what the connections are between sculpture and comics. For me, I think there’s a lot of potential in that.”