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CBC talks to Canadian cartoonists, part 2: Peggy Burns, Kate Beaton and Nina Bunjevac

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(“Famous Alexanders” by Kate Beaton)

Here’s is the second collection of highlights from interviews with Canadian cartoonists under the CBC’s Canada Writers banner:

Canada Writes is talking to some of Canada’s best known cartoonists and graphic novelists on the different techniques, challenges, and advantages of working with both text and drawings.

Peggy Burn, Associate Publisher at Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, reflects on 13 years in the industry. Here, she offers a peek into the selection process.

What characteristics make a manuscript jump out of the slush pile?

We never, ever read scripts. We like to read fully formed comics. We mostly prefer to see mini-comics or pamphlets to truly read the cartoonist’s storytelling abilities. For us the art and the words are one, and reading a script gives us no idea if we will like a comic. Most of the submissions that come to the office aren’t in tune with our mission, it is more like the artist got out name off a website of comic publishers. We have published submissions, though, notably from Keith Jones of Toronto and Brecht Evens of Belgium. And reactions to their submissions were immediate. We received the package, opened it, were completely floored by their ability and immediately made plans to publish them. Otherwise, we rely on shows like TCAF in Toronto, Expozine in Montreal and SPX in Bethesda MD to look for new artists with new minicomics.  (Minicomics are self-published comics, similar to zines.)
D+Q publish out some really fine material, including Seth‘s Palookaville series and Kate Beaton‘s award-winning Hark! A Vagrant.  The rest of the interview with Burns is interesting, you should give it a read.

Speaking of Kate Beaton, here she offers a few words about making comics. The widespread attention to her work beyond comic circles has a lot to do with her subject matter: putting a humorous spin on historical and literary figures. But I have one good friend who considers Beaton’s cartoons to be chauvinistic, and I think she’s partly right.

Here Beaton describes her creative process:

My process, when I do the historical comics, is a lot of research. Read about a subject until you know it inside and out as best you can, then write the jokes about it. It’s like getting so close to your best friend that you feel like you can rib them about something, and really nail it, but not in a mean way. I think it’s easy to be crass and make a mean joke, and I’m guilty of that too sometimes, but I would rather be clever and make an insightful joke, if I can. I doodle as I research and use those drawings to inform the final drawings for the comics, but on the whole, my process for drawing the comics themselves is pretty loose and simple.

Check out the rest of the interview for her artists influences and advice for aspiring comic creators.

Finally, we have Nina Bunjevac, the 2013  winner of the Doug Wright Spotlight Award (aka ‘The Nipper’) for her graphic novel Heartless. She, like Beaton, also plays in satire and says cartooning offers an advantage:

What are some of the advantages of working with text and drawings vs. just text? What do you think that this genre can do that text-only genres can’t?
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There are certainly many advantages to working with text and drawings, especially in satire. I enjoy using the first-person soapy narrative, juxtaposed with the grim and ironic imagery to create the sense of naiveté or wishful thinking. In other words, my drawings do illustrate the narrative but not the sentiment or the yearning of the narrator. My characters are often ignorant of the true nature of their circumstance—this knowledge is reserved for the reader alone, who gets to experience the story through both the images and the narrative.This way the reader becomes an integral part of the story, a true witness, and their absence makes the story incomplete.

In the rest of the interview, she offers an impressive list of artistic influences.
BONUS LINK: I also just stumbled upon this CBC radio documentary about D+Q by David Gutnick.

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Filed under Aritsts and writers, Comic books and graphic novels