U.K.-based comic-book publisher Renegade Arts Entertainment relocated to Canmore, Alberta, in 2009, and remained relatively under the radar – until its Canadian history title, The Loxleys and the War of 1812, won the 2014 Alberta Children’s/YA book of the Year and the Illustrated Book Award, was optioned as a cartoon with the support of Heritage Canada, adapted as a novelization, and made into an app by the National Film Board.
Q&Q spoke with publisher and editor Alexander Finbow about the press’s move to Alberta, the type of books it’s looking to publish, and attending the Toronto Comic Arts Festival for the first time this weekend.
Why did you decide to relocate to Canada? And why Canmore, specifically? The move was due to personal reasons, really. I wanted to find somewhere for my family that had a more positive, collaborative, and exciting temperament. England is a wonderful country, but I’ve been worn down by the negativity that we were encountering almost all the time. My parents had retired to Canada, so we went to Calgary to see them, and it was a good combination of a small growing city of lots of people being very supportive. We settled on Calgary, but during the immigration process we discovered Canmore and loved the mountains, its unique mix of people, and the spiritual side of things. I’ve never been anywhere with this population size with such a large arts community of writers and artists.
What inspired the subject matter for The Loxleys and the War of 1812? I saw the Altitude Press book The War of 1812 and the Burning of the White House on a rack of books during a souvenir shopping trip. It piqued my curiosity. I thought I was dealing with fiction at first, but the back of the book said that America invaded Canada, lost, and the White House was burned down. I was completely blown away that there was a huge chapter in history that us in Europe had been told nothing about. So, I learned more about Canadian history.
I was shocked by how few Canadians really knew about their history. I guess just being an outsider, an immigrant, everything’s new and interesting and exciting. It sparked me off on a journey to do the kind of book that somebody who’s never really going to read a dense history book would be tempted to pick up, no matter what age they were, and fall in love with Canadian history and want to find out more.
You work with contributors worldwide – how much of Renegade is based in Canada? The office is run here in Canmore, and we work with freelancers all over the world. It seems to be growing all the time for us. There’s kind of a family feeling to the way we do things, so people tend to stick around as long as possible.
We have quite a few [members in Canada]. Lovern Kindzierski and Claude St. Aubin are probably the ones who have been working with us for the longest, nearly six years. I got to know the owner of Red Skull Comics in Calgary, and was talking to him about doing this book about the War of 1812, and trying to find the right Canadian artist to work with. He suggested Claude. I looked at his work; it’s fantastic, and he’s such a nice man. He signed up for the book straight away after finishing up on the DC Comics R.E.B.E.L.S. series. Claude suggested I talk to Lovern, who invented digital colour for comics, and he came on board to do the colour. They’ve worked with us ever since. A weird thing in publishing is that no matter what someone’s official job is, they’ve got a book that they want to write. So the second day into his contract, Lovern was pitching the Shame trilogy, working with John Bolton.
What kinds of books are you looking to produce in the future? We don’t have a set plan. It’s really that the stories have to be of a high enough quality, and the genre isn’t really that important. We’re looking to do more Canadian-centred stories, particularly with indigenous angles. Canadian subject matter definitely, and then Canadian authors as much as possible. It’s also our first time at TCAF this weekend, so that’s exciting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.