Interview with Toronto Comics Anthology Vol 3 Editor: Allison O’Toole

In January, I wrote about the comics I finally I got to read after buying them from Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) years ago and the Toronto Comics: Volume 1 was among them. It was through this post that my friend, Allison O’Toole, notified me of her new role as one of the editors behind the upcoming third volume. She offered interview opportunities with the creators but I wanted to talk to the person who helped organize the book itself. So here it is in all of its glory! Enjoy.

We know each other from being contributors at Paper Droids and on Twitter where all the writers and pop culture devourers seem to be. I’m no longer writing for PD but you’re still putting out some great content for them which includes your gender issues series that I enjoyed reading. I want to know: What brought you to the wacky world of comics?

As a reader, it was the Marvel movies. I’d had a lifelong appreciation for movies about Spider-Man, and the X-Men, but the new films (and the fact that I finally had access to decent comic shops) got me to actually go, and buy some comics. I realized quickly that comics are a medium, not a genre, and that there are countless stories being told outside the narrow capes genre that we associate with “comic books.” Once I started to journey outside Marvel, I knew there was no turning back–I was hooked for life.

As an editor, it started largely from my work at Paper Droids and other pop culture sites. My buddy Jason Loo was about to Kickstart the first issue of The Pitiful Human-Lizard, and he just wanted someone to have a look at it to make sure he hadn’t made any grammatical errors, and said he trusted my judgment from the way I’d been writing about comics. After that first issue, our working relationship gradually became more collaborative, where he’d run story ideas, and scripts past me in the early stages. I soon realized that I really enjoyed editing, and wished I’d started sooner! And that’s what lead me to the Toronto Comics Anthology--they needed another editor, and I was looking for more work that would let me get my hands into the dirt on the production side.

The Pitiful Human-Lizard created by Jason Loo. CHAPTER HOUSE PUBLISHING, INC.

I remember picking up a few issues of The Pitiful Human-Lizard at last year’s Toronto Comics Arts Festival and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized you were its editor. It was very cool to see someone I know getting to do something so cool. Has working behind the scenes in comics changed how you viewed them?

That’s a good question. I definitely have a new appreciation for how complex things can get behind the scenes, particularly in terms of deadlines, and juggling different people’s schedules. Just getting everything in on time is complicated enough when I’m not working with a huge team of writer/penciler/inker/colour flatter/colourist/letterer.

I’ve also started, I think, to try to look at stories with more distance than I would as a reader, or even as a critic. When we write reviews, we have to use some degree of objectivity, and back up our opinions with experience, and education in the subject matter. But ultimately, when I was writing a review at least, I’m trying to articulate my personal response to the comic, and I can back up WHY I liked or didn’t like it, but I’m still evaluating my individual reaction. And of course, there are things that are objectively bad or objectively offensive, but most comics will have some celebrators, and some detractors. Editing has forced me to take a step back, and try to imagine the audience for a particular story or art style. It might not be to my personal taste, but can I imagine a potential audience? Do I think that the target audience would like this? Then I should consider it for publication while still trying to make it the best it can be (i.e. how it can best achieve its goals). But there’s also an understanding that a comic’s goals might not be to appeal to you as an individual reader.

But then if you start thinking that way every time you write a review, every comic you didn’t like is going to end up being “well someone probably likes it”, and I think there’s value in a more subjective value for a review as long as you can back up your criticism! There’s definitely a lot of transfer between the two roles/approaches, but they’re not exactly the same.

It’s funny because I just expected an answer that talked about the physical process of creating a comic which we don’t get to see as readers and critics but this was an element I didn’t actually think about! How we approach comics whether breaking them down or building them up in the case of this anthology. How did you get involved and what is Toronto Comics: Volume 3 all about?

Well, I can definitely talk about the physical process–that was one of the reasons I came onto Toronto Comics. I wanted to learn about the nitty-gritty behind the scenes that goes into putting together an anthology. It’s easy to think, “Okay I have to have writers, and artists, and then print it,” but I’m glad that the lead editor, Steven Andrews, is taking care of most of those practical questions. For example, I’d never have thought to provide templates in a lot of design programs to ensure that everyone was working with the correct specs! If you know an editor who’s put a book together on their own, you know someone who probably didn’t sleep for a week in the final stages of the book’s production.

As I said earlier, my coming on to the project was mostly just a matter of good timing, and matching my hope for work with Steven’s need for someone to do that work. The Toronto setting of the anthology, for me at least, is just a basic guiding framework. It’s something to loosely tie together stories with a variety of genres, and styles, from a mix of veteran creators, and first-timers. One of the goals of the project, from the beginning, has been to act as a stepping-stone for creators who are early in their careers. We hope that this can be a learning experience as well as a point on the resume, which is great for me, since I’m still learning myself!

For folks who live in the city, it’s basically a love letter to Toronto in 30 different guises, but it’s a neat grab-bag of stories in a variety of genres even for people who won’t recognize anything beyond the CN Tower!

Toronto Comics Volume 3 cover by Adam Gorham. 2016.

It’s an anthology that makes you go, “Hey! I know that place!” as a Torontonian and I felt that way reading the first volume. The cover to volume 3 looks awesome and is that Union Station?

It is Union Station! This cover, like the previous two, is done by Toronto-based (more specifically, Mississauga-based) artist, Adam Gorham, who’s currently drawing The Violent for Image Comics. The editors all agree that this is his best cover yet (and the original art will be available through our Kickstarter).

Let’s talk about this Kickstarter! It’s officially out there in the world and you’re using it primarily to pay your creators, right? What’s the line up look like? While I was reading volume 1, I noticed that it could use a little more diversity where the talent is concerned and I wondered if that’s addressed in this volume especially because of Toronto’s multiculturalism.

Diversity was definitely something we were conscious of throughout the process: both of creators and stories. As the book gets bigger, we’re able to reach more creators, and include a wider range of voices in the collection. So we’re conscious of whose stories we’re choosing to tell, but we’re also striving to depict Toronto as it is–and ensure that our protagonists aren’t just white by default. So this volume is more multicultural than previous volumes, but we’ve also got more diverse sexualities, and gender identities. We’ve got a few stories involving same-sex romance, and one story I’m really excited about is Gwen Howarth’s auto-bio comic, charting the history of the Trans Pride March at Toronto Pride alongside her own transition to her authentic self. It’s a very touching personal story, and I’m really excited that Gwen wanted to share it with us.

There’s always room for projects to be more diverse, but we’re taking definite steps forward with this volume.

That sounds great! So this is your final chance to win the hearts and minds of potential backers: Why should they invest in Toronto Comics Volume 3?

The main reason to buy it is because it’s a great book! And you know it’s a great book because it features a foreword by Ryan North–yes that Ryan North, who writes The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and once got stuck in a hole. He wouldn’t lie to you!

We’ve got a wide variety of stories from simple slice of life to high-concept stuff like talking buildings, and a sword, and sorcery version of the city. I’m blown away by the talent in this book, especially from the up-and-comers (who knows, these folks could be huge names soon), and you’d be getting in on the ground floor! You’re also supporting local independent creators, and your support will help them continue to make cool, unique comics content. As you can see on the Kickstarter page, paying them is our primary financial concern.

You’re essentially pre-ordering a copy of a completed book, and you can also pick up original art, prints, t-shirts, and help us unlock ADORABLE buttons (including one of the characters from the story I wrote: Ghosts Over Garlic Mashed Potatoes). This book was brought together by [a] passion for our city and for comics, and we hope to be able to share that passion with you.

Thank you so much for speaking with me, Allison. I hope the Kickstarter is successful! Will we see the Toronto Comics crew at TCAF this May?

Thank you, Ardo! We’ve got our table booked at TCAF, and we’ll be using the Festival essentially as our launch. Many of our contributors will be at TCAF either at our table or at their own. So not only could you have a cool new book of comics, you could get it signed. I’ll see you in May!

Check out the Toronto Comics Volume 3 kickstarter out now until the end of March!

Ardo Omer

Ardo Omer

Former WWAC editor. Current curmudgeon and Batman's personal assistant. Icon art by Diana Sim.