VANCAF showcases local comic creator community

Photo courtesy of Vancouver Comic Arts Festival

VANCAF, the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, is a free two-day celebration of comic and graphic arts held at the Roundhouse Community Centre May 19–20. With a line-up full of Vancouver artists, as well as international artists, the festival shines a light on the growing comic book community here in Vancouver.

This year’s festival features local comic creator Johnnie Christmas, creator of several acclaimed comic book series and recent New York Times bestseller with Margaret Atwood on their new series Angel Catbird, as well as Alexis Sugden and others.

Johnnie Christmas

I didn’t even know there was a comic scene when I first moved here,” says Christmas, speaking about Vancouver.

Christmas was raised in Miami, Florida, where he attended an art high school.

“I got bit by the comic bug, realizing I could tell any story I wanted, without the need of a million dollar budget,” he says.

Moving to New York to attend the Pratt Institute of Art, Christmas left behind comics to work as a graphic designer, and then eventually moved to Vancouver.

“I moved here, just living life, and I went to this local comic book meeting that I found through Google. I thought there would only be like four folks, but no, there were loads of people having a couple of comic jams every month,” says Christmas.

This was the turning point.

“It wasn’t just people making comics on their own time, there were tons of people doing it professionally,” he says.

Realizing the opportunity, Christmas published his first comic Sheltered in 2013, and has been making comics professionally ever since. Coming off the success of this award-winning collaboration with Margaret Atwood, Christmas has recently released a new project titled Firebug. This story follows a seemingly normal girl named Keegan, who finds out she is a volcanic demigod.

Christmas states that most of the inspiration for this project was taken from real life, including places like Venice, ancient Mali and ship-breaking yards.

“Some of the visual aesthetic of punk rock got thrown into the mix too,” he says.

An independent community

Johnnie Christmas, New York Times bestselling comic book creator. | Photo courtesy of Vancouver Comic Arts Festival

Because of the video game and animation industries in town, there are all these artists that have gathered in Vancouver. Here there are people doing video games for their day job, and writing comics at night,” says Christmas.

Though Vancouver is a city that has been known as a notoriously difficult one for artists to make a living in, Christmas says it’s promising and one can earn a living as an artist in some areas.

Alexis Sugden is the perfect example of the kind of comic creator talent Vancouver draws due to its commercial industries.

“I work full-time in animation, which is such a fun collaboration and I really enjoy the teamwork that is a part of my job. But comics is my chance to go rogue and just tell any story I want, without compromise and without needing the funding or a studio,” she says.

Through this unique opportunity, Sugden has been able to release several comics over the years.

“My last two big projects were very moody works of fiction, with my more recent comics being lighter, funny, autobio comics,” says Sugden.

Her most recent release, It’s all for the Breast, is an autobiographical tale of Sugden’s experience with breast reduction surgery when she was eighteen.

“Family, love, self – I’m very interested in how people relate to each other and the dynamics of different relationships,” she explains.

Christmas says that even after attending the VANCAF festival every year since its beginnings, he still finds something new and exciting and recommends Vancouverites go check it out.

“[Everytime] I go, without fail, I find something totally unexpected, in the most wonderful way, that reaffirms my love for the medium,” he says. “… go on out to Roundhouse, grab some ice cream, take a walk by the water and walk on in to find something totally unique.”

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