Toronto Comicon: Artists, writers from Oshawa to Burlington keep local talent pool rich and deep


Published March 18, 2024 at 4:32 pm

The fictional world of comics usually takes place in New York City or some made-up facsimile like Gotham City of Metropolis. But the super talented creators who turn super hero ideas into splash pages of action, adventure or fantasy come from all over, with one of the hot beds right here, from Oshawa all the way around the lake to St. Catharines.

Many of those many writers and artists were on the show floor of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on the weekend for Fan Expo’s Toronto Comicon and they were only too eager to sing the praises of their fellow talented creators.

Ken Lashley, a comics legend who has worked extensively for both Marvel and DC on everything from Superwomen to X-Men and Black Panther for more than three decades, has seen the growth of artists and writers over the years; especially in the past ten years or so.

Ken Lashley

Comic legend Ken Lashley of Burlington

“There are a lot of really talented people in the area. A lot of cool people doing cool things,” said the Burlington-based artist, who is currently working on Bloodsport: Rising Spirit for Valiant Comics. “It’s good to see some of these people doing good. And I love the community.”

Brampton-born, St. Catharines-raised and Oakville resident Mike Rooth (Swamp Thing, Hellboy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) also praised the comic art community that has sprung up in the Toronto area.

“We are swimming in so much great talent here,” said the freelance artist, who is also known as one of nicest guys in the industry. “It makes me very happy watching them as indie artists and now seeing them working for big companies like Marvel.”

One of the biggest incubators for that talent is RAID (Royal Academy of Illustration and Design), a creative collective in Parkdale that provides a workplace for aspiring talent. Currently comprised of 26 creators – with 11 in attendance at Toronto Comicon – RAID has been marketing the talents of the GTA for twenty years.

Oshawa-born RAID Studios Managing Director Ramon Perez

Oshawa-raised, Sheridan College-educated and Eisner-winning Ramon Perez (Hawkeye, Archie, Jim Henson’s Tales of Sand, Stillwater) is the managing director of the studio and takes pride in seeing the growth of the collective, which now has its own publishing line.

“Toronto has a really nice artists’ community and I love being part of it,” he said. “Like New York, Chicago or LA, Toronto is a big city with so many creative people.”

Katie Sawatsky is a relative newcomer to the medium, having spend a few years in the gaming industry, in character design and working on children’s books before joining RAID.

“I was into comics as a kid but that was kinda beaten out of me at school,” said the artist who didn’t take an art class until her final year of high school in Scarborough but still managed to earn a scholarship to the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD). “We had just one class of storyboarding at OCAD. Then I did children’s books for years and hated it. Comics brought me back in.”

Her time at RAID has helped her launch the gothic fantasy-mystery graphic novel Blackmouth.

“I think we’re really getting well known here,” she noted. “We are exporting a lot of talent but it’s studios like RAID that are important in nurturing and retaining talent as well.”

Burlington’s Dax Gordine joined RAID right at the onset of the pandemic and channeled Field of Dreams in describing the path to success for local talent. “The cream will rise to the top,” he said. “If you’re good people will notice you.”

“There are some very, very talented people out there,” added the 20-year veteran of the industry, who also works in video game design and animation and has his own comics project in Forest Folk. “And they’re a lot younger now too.”

Moon Knight

For ‘Fearless Fred’ Kennedy, Q107 radio star and now comic book writer with 2023’s Dead Romans, GTA the comics business is as much about the stories as it is about the creators here telling those tales.

“There’s so much talent and so many great stories being told here,” said the Ajax resident. “There’s something for everyone and I love it.”

About 35,000 fans of comics, gaming, anime, horror and cosplay visited the pop culture extravaganza (March 15-17), with guests taking advantage of meet-and-greets and celebrity panels with celebrities from Star Wars and The Last Airbender to Sailor Moon and The Flash in a three-day homage to fandom.


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