On October 29, I attended the 2016 edition of Canzine Toronto. Although I didn’t pick up many zines or comics this year, I still found some good ones. Ready? Let’s go.
Magical Beatdown Vol. 2
Magical Beatdown is the most disgusting hot pink comic that has ever been printed. And by that, I mean that it’s excellent. It’s about a mousy, not-so-mild-mannered girl named Fujiko who has a secret life as a gory avenger. She has a typical magical girl transformation—girls, hearts, wands—but with 100% more spikes and blades, which she puts to good use in systematically dismantling boys who are up to no good. Wait, dismantle, that’s a little too clean. What Fujiko does is more like outright slaughter, shredding limbs from bodies, tongues from mouths, using removed body parts to bludgeon yet more boys. It’s like a feminist, fuck you, Riki-Oh—or, like a really great fighting game where the heroine need not make any concessions to modesty, good taste or, mercy.
It’s a risk-printed comic that makes great use of that hot pink that’s so goddamn hot right now (everywhere, it’s everywhere!). When Fujiko is living her normal life, the comic is all in a sedate blue. When she’s geared up for a magical beatdown it flips over to hot pink. The transition page, her magical girl transformation sequence complete with ribbons, flower petals and background glitter, is the only page you’ll find purple in this comic, a neat gradient of colour as character, as mood, as transformation. Battle pages are so intensely pink it’s unforgiving, the feminine gone fatal. Her absolute destruction of a scummy street gang glows, the colour so hot the page burns combined with non-stop ultra-violence. The boss battle against a tentacled slime-monster is unsubtle and so satisfying. But everything about Magical Beatdown is satisfying. Fukjiko’s absolute lack of fucks, both in her regular and magical life, is glorious. Her absolute domination in a fight is gratifying. Magical Beatdown is all your mean fantasies about retaliation come to life—and it’s fantastic.
You can buy it here.
Jessica Bromley Bartram
The Collector is a short, silent comic about a bird exploring its environment in search of treasures. The bird is a collector of interesting things, flora, fauna, vegetable and mineral. The comic’s cover (picture right) gives you a good sense of the tone: the palette is comfortable pink and orange and green, not exactly muted, but not the typical riso-bright of Magical Beatdown, either. The pages are full of detail softly rendered, and star a curious bird who’s full of character. The bird is a determined, focused, and unmerciful collector. If it wants snail shells, well, a snail will be giving up their home. If it wants spider legs, then a spider is going to die for its whims. What it wants, it seeks, it takes, it protects—and it loves. The Collector is a rare animal comic that’s neither pastoral for children, nor dark parable; rather, it’s a pretty comic about a bird doing bird things.
The turning point of the comic is a Turkish map fold insert; that textural addition makes it perhaps the splashiest of splash pages I’ve ever seen. The accordion folds give a bit of a starburst shape, framing our triumphant collector, who stands with wings spread over its treasures of feathers, berries, shells and fibres. The back side of that folded paper is printed with more of the dreamy plantlife that populates the collector’s world. This makes the act of unfolding a double reading experience—as you open it up to see what the bird has been collecting all of this stuff for, you read the background, the surroundings, on those back pages. It’s a clever way to add texture to the comic, one that’s so well thought out and integrated that it doesn’t seem like a gimmick. It’s a foldout because that adds emphasis to a crucial point in the story, grounding a comic that’s so much about material objects and desires.
You can buy it here.
Jessica Bromley Bartram
Another wordless animal comic? Yup! I like animal comics a lot, if you hadn’t noticed. That’s what brought me over to Bromley Bertram’s table in the first place, and to me picking up The Collector and Otter Days.
Otter Days comic is heavy on fairy tale elements. It’s the first volume in an intended series of short, wordless comics on “nature witches” and it introduces the Ottter Witch, her bird familiars, and her otter charges. Her mission is simple: collecting sea urchins for her otters, ensuring they are eating and healthy and well. It opens with a frankly adorable spread of the witch sleeping on the sea, floating with two otters cuddled up beside her. She’s wearing a thick fur coat and has webbed feet. Her blue-green hair floats around her in the water like the seaweed around them. Picturesque, right? But though the comic is cute, it’s not quite sugary. She is, after all, collecting one kind of sea creature to feed to another—sure the otters are cute but they like fresh meat.
As with The Collector, a lot of the appeal of Otter Days is in the dreamy details of Bromley Bertram’s pages. They’re packed with things to look at—texture, subtle shifts of colour, confident lines—and are very emotionally affective. The internet has primed us to find otters endearing, of course, but scenes of seabirds delivering gift-wrapped urchins to happy otters will make you think the birds are just as cute as everyone’s favourite hand-holding, carnivorous, aquatic mammals. The witch’s coat, flippers, basket of sea urchins, rosy cheeks, and slight smile are a nice change too—a witch that looks more earthy than creepy. Busy caring for otters and seabirds and keeping warm while doing it, there’s nothing mermaid-ish about her. She’s more busy working seal woman than magical girl under the sea. The comic ends with the Otter Witch sleeping again with her closest otters beside her again, a hard day’s work done—it’s simple, this story, and very cute.
You can buy it here.
Gillian Blekkenhorst, Laura Harte, Trevor Henderson, Jenn Woodall, JJ Tebrake, Erin Rei, Mary and Kat Verhoeven
This is the second comic anthology by Friendship Editions, an arts collective that includes Gillian Blekkenhorst, Laura Harte, Trevor Henderson, Erin Rei, JJ Tebrake, Mary Verhoeven, Kat Verhoeven, and Jenn Woodall. They’re all Toronto-based artists familiar to the Canzine and TCAF crowds.
Iron Friendship contains a lot of untitled comics heavy on theme and imagery, light on plot. The volume gives biographical info up front, with the artists listed in order of comic appearance, then it’s all comics, with no design techniques employed to give context or breathing room. Figuring out who made which comic took me longer than it probably should have—they’re in order, you’d think it’d be nothing—but between the thick stock it’s printed on and shortness of the comics, I actually managed to miss one or two on my first pass through the zine. And perhaps it’s a printing error, but the lighter-toned comics in this zine were so faint that it was hard to read both dialogue and action. In “Somatic Secrrets” by Erin Rei, for example, the dialogue took some effort to puzzle out, and the action in the wordless “Sleep Sapling” by JJ Tebrake was difficult to track. It’s beautiful work, but it suffers from a lack of contrast. “Secret TV” by Trevor Henderson and Laura Harte’s untitled circus comic, on the other hand, have rich colours that saturate the page.
Death, renewal, and haunting are themes that many of the comics have in common. There’s no sense that the volume was intended to hit a singular thematic note, but common motifs and ideas tie it together: the body made alien, the alien made common, the supernatural/divine in the ordinary. “Speak Softly” by Mary Verhoeven has a group of cheerful explorers descending into an urban underworld that opens up into a cave of crystals that would, says one character, be “a good place to say goodbye”. Henderson’s “Secret TV” is about a secret, scrounged TV that’s haunted by some vaguely human-formed thing; a haunting that somehow echoes a real body curled up in phantom pain in Rei’s “Somatic Secrets.” The “divine consuming” mushrooms of “ravenous for reverence” by Gillian Blekkenhorst later reappear in Jenn Woodall’s untitled fox comic. It’s, you know, some circle of life shit—the eater being eaten—but put together, the consumption of the divine and the consumption of all life by other forms of life, and the comics are different angles on the same thing. Mushrooms, lichen et al are great at stripping mean, breaking down the things, objects and bodies we think are immutable (divine), and then adding meaning anew. Kat Verhoeven’s untitled cat people comic picks up on some of the motifs found in “Ravenous” and “Speak Softly,” the mysteries you might find underground, for example, but not the general feel of them. It’s a short comic, involving a chase and a search for a thing—the thing and its importance, the chased and the chasers, are stuff I can’t seem to get a handle on. It’s internal logic doesn’t hold together as well as some of the other pieces. What’s up with the cat people, is my question, I guess.
Iron Friendship is an interesting but uneven anthology; yet worth checking out, I think, if you’re just meeting these artists and looking to see what kind of work they do.
You can buy it here.