As a librarian, I am lucky to be surrounded by comics. I grew up reading Archie and the weekend comics in the Winnipeg Free Press, spending many afternoons drawing the characters and making paper dolls of them.
In my late teens, reading the work of creators such as Julie Doucet, Adrian Tomine, Geneviève Castrée, Lynda Barry, and Gabrielle Bell helped me through difficult times. Until then, I had no idea that comics could be so varied and speak so frankly about topics like depression, identity, and sexuality. Comics have a unique intimacy that connects readers through their layered and often visceral communication of experiences, narratives, and ideas.
I founded the Canada Comics Open Library in 2018 to create the sort of collection I wish I had access to growing up and to remove some of the barriers that prevent people from accessing a diverse range of comics. The project, based in Toronto, grew into a community space with the support of volunteers. Although we have been closed during the pandemic, we are finding ways to stay connected online.
Comics creators, too, are fostering a sense of community and connection through mediums such as Instagram and zines. From personal experiences with grief to exploring our socio-economic climate, they are producing important and timely work.
What follows is a subjective selection of four emerging creators who are producing powerful and visually unique work. They are wholeheartedly recommended, selected from a vibrant and large community of creators and publishers. You can discover other talented Canadian creators and their comics, both online and in print, using the Canadian Cartoonists Database, a searchable resource hosted on CanadaComicsOL.org.
This Toronto illustrator, storyteller, comics creator, and prolific zine maker’s work focuses on themes of nature, healing, trauma, and community, through the lens of a Black queer experience. New Growth (Really Easy Press) is a short comic exploring identity and change through eco and body horror. Cleopatria Peterson’s illustrations are stunningly detailed, with immersive and intuitive linework that evokes the textures of nature. They also co-founded Old Growth Press, alongside editor and poet Terrence Abrahams, to publish hand-bound comic zines by BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ Canadian artists.
Kimiko Tobimatsu and Keet Geniza
In Kimiko Does Cancer (Arsenal Pulp Press), Toronto employment and human-rights lawyer Kimiko Tobimatsu writes about her experiences being diagnosed with and undergoing treatment for breast cancer, with beautiful and expressive illustrations by Keet Geniza, a Filipinx-Canadian illustrator, comic artist, and zine maker. This frank and moving example of graphic medicine navigates a disease as told through a queer lens. Geniza also self-publishes poignant zines about everyday life, identity, and body image.
With previous publications in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Room, and Everyday Feminism, Lee Lai is an Australian living in Montreal whose debut graphic novel, Stone Fruit (Fantagraphics), publishes this spring. It’s a beautifully illustrated and compassionate narrative about a queer relationship, complex family dynamics, mental illness, and monstrous feelings, good and bad, as the characters transform into creatures during scenes of heightened emotions. It’s a rhythmic and pulsing story that communicates playfulness, joy, and depression through surreal aesthetics and linework that comes alive and dances across the page. Characters move in and out of sync with each other and their environments, as they seek understanding and find belonging. Instagram: @_leelai
Shira Spector’s Red Rock Baby Candy (Fantagraphics) is a candid and explorative graphic autobiography of grief and parenthood that chronicles the decade Spector spent trying to become pregnant, which coincided with losing her father to cancer. Spector has created a deeply moving book set in Montreal and Toronto, with detailed drawings, distinctive collage work, and innovative uses of ink and colour woven throughout. The story and its characters burst out of formal comics conventions in a celebration of queerness, sexuality, and the fullness and unpredictability of life. Instagram: @shiraspec
Three Digital Comics to Follow
Artist, writer, and UBC creative writing instructor Sarah Leavitt expertly explored complicated emotions in her 2010 graphic novel Tangles. She continues to explore grief, loss, and creation on Instagram (@sarah_leav) through her compelling watercolour comics.
Artist and community organizer Paterson Hodgson’s clients range from Canadian Music Week to Holt Renfrew. During COVID-19, her comics about tenants’ rights and the housing crisis on Instagram (@patersinister) have served as an urgent rallying cry.
Cartoonist Eric Kostiuk Williams, a 2017 Eisner Award nominee, produces comics that vibrantly document queer histories and current pandemic realities. His Quarantine Comics strip is available in Now magazine online.