A trans woman embarks on a quest to find a safe bathroom; residents of the future must fight a robot to purchase a condominium; and clowns rampage in the historic Toronto Circus Riot of 1855 – all within a single, diverse new comics anthology.
“We wanted to reflect the best of Toronto and give creators free rein to tell stories that are personal to them,” says Steven Andrews, lead editor of Toronto Comics: Yonge at Heart, the fourth volume in an ongoing series, publishing this May. “There’s an enormous pool of creators here, and nobody knows it because they draw fictional cities. They don’t always have a chance to make art about where they live.”
Andrews and a team of colleagues began the Toronto Comics series in 2014 after meeting at the comic-book boot camp taught by Ty Templeton, the Eisner Award–winning artist best known for his work on DC’s Batman Adventures.
The first volume, clocking in at 90 pages, proved so popular the team decided to keep the project going. Volume 2 launched at the 2015 Toronto Comic Arts Festival following a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for production and pay creators. The third volume followed a similar path. Volume 4 boasts 210 pages, is the first to appear in full colour, and features a forward by Jeff Lemire, creator of the comic Essex County and the new graphic novel Roughneck (see review, p. 21).
Andrews and his team travel to 20 book fairs across Canada every year selling the anthology. They also generate Kickstarter sales around the world. “We ship a lot of boxes to Australia and the U.K.,” Andrews says. “People want to see what life is like in exotic Canada.”
Each volume of the anthology features work by both new and up-and-coming creators. In the new edition, “1,001 Torontonian Nights” – about two women who enlist a rookie genie to keep the Beit Zatoun cultural centre open – is the first published comic by Safiyya Hosein (in collaboration with artist Gina Basora). Hosein wrote the piece as a tribute to the eponymous centre, a celebration of the Mirvish Village neighbourhood, and a way to incorporate Muslim characters. “The experience of participating in the anthology was better than I could have imagined,” she says. “[It’s] an excellent way to involve new writers in the publishing world, which is important since there aren’t many opportunities to do so.”
Editor and contributor Allison O’Toole, a freelance comics editor who works on titles for Chapterhouse Publishing, sees the anthology as a way to share what she’s learned with newer writers and artists. “Working with an editorial team, especially early in your career, is invaluable as a learning tool,” she says. “As creators ourselves, we understand how important it is to have published work to show potential publishers down the line.”