The ‘Golden Age’ of comic creators is here, with talent from Welland to Oshawa on display at FAN EXPO

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Published October 25, 2021 at 4:51 pm

'Superstar' comic artist Ken Lashley, who lives in Mississauga by way of Burlington

Are we entering a golden age of comic book creators in Canada? And do they all live in the GTA?

A quick study of the talented artists, writers and comic creators on Artist Alley at this past weekend’s Fan Expo exhibition in Toronto would certainly lead you to believe that, with more than 50 of the 60 or so artists at the show hailing from the great white north.

To be fair, those number are going to be skewed by the ongoing pandemic and border restrictions still in place, but still, when nearly 90 per cent of the talent on display at one of North American’s biggest pop culture and comics conventions is this top-heavy with Canucks it has to tell you something.

Ramon Perez, an Oshawa-raised and Sheridan College-trained artist (Hawkeye, Stillwater) who now calls Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood home, says the wealth of comic art talent here didn’t happen overnight.

“There’s always been a great Canadian art scene here, especially in Toronto. That’s one of the things I noticed when I left the Shwa,” he said, adding he hadn’t considered a career in comics until graduating from Sheridan College and discovering so many comic artists that were living in the GTA.

“There’s a great comic art community here.”

Perez has since helped cultivate that community at the Royal Academy of Illustration and Design – better known as the RAID studio, which was founded by his collaborator on their creator-owned Stillwater comic, Chip Zdarsky, in 2002.

RAID acts as an incubator for new talent, as well as a scalable creative agency and plenty of local talent have partnered with the studio to help market their projects, including Andy Belanger (Montreal), Scott Hepburn (Toronto) and Dax Gordine (Welland), who markets his all-ages Forest Folk webcomic through the collective.

Jason Loo of Toronto (GI Joe, Fantastic Four and Toronto’s newest superhero, The Pitiful Human Lizard) agrees with Perez on both the sense of community and in the fact the ‘golden age’ of comic creators has been with us for more than a few years.

“I think we hit that ‘golden age’ a while back and it has just been thriving since,” he said. “I have seen more and more talent every year. And we’re all so supportive of each other.”

Hamilton’s Greg Hyland, meanwhile, hasn’t noticed any great new infusion of comic art talent in GTA because “it’s always been here.”

“I started in 1990 and it seems like the same. There’s a lot of talent here.”

Rossi Gifford, a Scottish illustrator who moved to Toronto to be part of the art scene here, was busy in a sketch duel on stage with fellow Toronto artist Megan Huang when asked the question. She said the talent – not to mention the proximity to the major comic companies like Marvel and DC – is what drew her here, and it’s that oft-mentioned sense of community that keeps her here.

“Everybody here seems to know each other.”

The global reputation of the GTA and the multiculturalism of Canada’s biggest city are big reasons why the area has become such a hot-bed of artistic talent well-known in the industry, noted Ken Lashley, billed as a “superstar” artist on the Fan Expo program.

Lashley, who grew up in Burlington and now lives in Mississauga, has worked as a colourer, penciller and cover artist on such major titles as Suicide Squad, Superwoman, X-Men Gold and Moon Knight. He believes it is Toronto’s diversity that makes it so attractive in finding talent.

“We are very international here and our location close to the U.S. makes it easy for companies to find us,” he said. “And I think the melting pot of cultures we have helps too. We have a very diverse pool of talent in the GTA and that means a diverse group of voices and styles.”

“But there has always been strong comic artists here,” he added, citing legendary X-Men artist John Byrne. “If you’re good they will find you.”

Anthony Ruttgaizer (or Anthony Kingdom James when he dons the tights on the local professional wrestling circuit – and still does on occasion at 50) is a Toronto-based comic book writer and illustrator (Heroes of Homeroom C), a podcaster (The Handsome Genius Club) and an event promoter and host.

In fact, he was hard to track down for an interview Sunday because he was emceeing the sketch duels that were taking place most of the day, but he found the time to talk about that ‘golden age’ of comic artists.

“You can tell just by looking at Artist Alley just how good the talent is, and most of it is here in the GTA,” he said, gesturing to the booths in front of him to prove his point. “It’s only a matter of time before some of these artists develop into the next Darwyn Cooke or Ken Lashley, and there’s the RAID studio as well.”

“There is so much good talent here. It’s just a matter of getting known and developing your properties.”

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