Comics artists reflect on home in new anthology

· The Pulse

A post-apocalyptic city where hockey matters more than ever and a dreamscape where every dead nightclub is alive again are among the imaginary Edmontons to be enjoyed in the upcoming Alberta Comics Anthology.

"Home" is the theme of the anthology, to be released on Sept. 14 and launched at the Edmonton Expo, which has early-bird tickets available until May 31.

"It's such a loaded word – home," said Alexander Finbow of Renegade Arts Entertainment, the Canmore-based publisher of comics, graphic novels, and audiobooks that is behind the collection. "People run away from the place that they grew up as fast as possible, they never want to go back to that place. Or people that have run to somewhere and discovered their home and made their home somewhere new and unexpected. It's a very fertile jumping-off point for storytelling, and it ties in nicely with this being our home province."

Finbow said Renegade Arts received diverse responses to the call for submissions, spanning "kitchen sink dramas," comedy, fantasy, and horror. For some writers, the anthology marks their professional entry into the world of graphic storytelling. Others are well-established in the industry, and in cartoonist Jeff Martin's case, have already spent considerable time reflecting on the theme in their art.

"I've grown up here in Edmonton. I have a connection with the place. And I think it is just as interesting as any of the over-represented American cities. People are just as interesting here as they are everywhere else," Martin said of his fondness for local settings in his stories. His long-running Hockeypocalypse series follows the Edmonton Atomics hockey team through a post-apocalyptic Canada where conflicts and resource disputes are settled on the ice.

Graphic designer and writer Sylvia Moon said her experience of living in downtown Edmonton was a source of aggravation that had to be overcome before it could be any inspiration for a story.

"The hardest part was thinking of an idea that wasn't ending with, 'Just burn it down,'" Moon joked about brainstorming ideas in the months leading up to the submission deadline, which coincided with Alberta's bungled "Best Summer Ever" strategy and the depressingly well-attended anti-mask rallies.

"I used to live right by the (legislature). They were so loud I couldn't do anything quiet in my apartment Saturday afternoon," Moon said. "The concept was to think of a story of home, and I was like, 'I can't! I'm so mad about it!'"

A comic-book panel depicting a group of young adults eating pizza on the sidewalk outside the Steel Wheels restaurant

Beloved clubs of Edmonton's past and present mix for a fantasy night out in Sylvia Moon's story, The Last Night, featured in the upcoming Alberta Comics Anthology. (Sylvia Moon/Renegade Arts Entertainment)

While Moon resisted an end-of-the-world scenario in her story, Martin has made a name for himself illustrating Alberta in an ongoing nuclear winter. He said he uses his familiarity with Edmonton to ground his comedic-dystopian worlds in a place that is lived in and authentic. Years of working in those imagined landscapes have in turn changed the way he sees and experiences his home city.

"When I'm driving around the city, and I go through an area that appears in the book, I can almost overlay what I've drawn onto it," he said. "It's this odd sense of being able to see this alternate reality that I have created in these books layered over the normal city."

The version of Edmonton that Moon turned to for her story was one populated by the iconic nightclubs that have since closed or changed hands. Whether it was New City, Devlin's, or Buddy's, every generation has a club that stands out in their memories of city nightlife, Moon said.

"I was thinking about all these places and all these dead nightclubs. I was like, what if I just made a story that started out with people going out, where all the clubs are they're going to are old places that everyone used to go to. And it was this fantasy night where you got to go to all those clubs.

"At the end, it's a big warning sign: you're going to have to enjoy it while it's there. Because by the time you want to go back, it's gone."