Maybe it’s precisely because my parents wouldn’t let me have comic books as a kid that I became such a lover of book arts. For some reason, a well-worn Wonder Woman comic remained the sole literary presence in a rarely used bunkie on our property; it was my contraband. In my romantic youth I discovered the Book of Kells, a merging of illustration and letterform. In the 80s, cult classic Casual Casual by Peter Dako was one of my favourites. In the 90s I had the fortune to meet poet Richard Outram and artist Barbara Howard who as a team created the Gauntlet Press, producing letterpress printed books and broadsides long before letterpress was hip. Their marriage of classic and erotic persists as a fine testament to literature, visual art and true love. Grimsby’s annual Wayzgoose is in its 38th year and OCAD U’s Book Arts Fair has been running for over 30 years. All that before Art Spiegelman and Neil Gaiman became a cultural icons. Today book arts and zines qualify as both counter-culture and mainstream. Quirky and original, they lovingly hold fast the value of the book as object, while inventing novel forms of literacy.
When Artspace put out the call for exhibitors to participate in a book arts fair, they weren’t too sure what to expect, but its first foray into presenting this genre was a resounding success. The event showcased artists from across Ontario, including that of many locals, with work that ranged from traditional or contemporary letterpress and bookbinding, like Thee Hellbox Press, Greyweathers Press, and Everlovin’ Press to rough and ready stickers, screen prints and photocopied zines by high school students. With veteran organizations such as the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild and Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, an international, decentralized network of 30 artists committed to social, environmental, and political engagement, represented, as well as TASS students, the event felt just right – comprehensive, inclusive, fun and empowering.
What is so special about book arts? It’s the intersection between text and visuals; the contrast between, and the inclusion of, fine art, one of a kind craftsmanship, and low tech multiples. Through it all, runs a healthy vein of grassroots political activism. No topic is taboo – gender politics, mental health, social injustice, sex, the Holocaust, poetry … it’s just so dang democratic.
Are zines and self-published books worthy of academic study? You bet. My heart soared to discover Ryerson student Markus / Star Harwood-Jones‘ tiny rough-edged photocopied zine called Classroom
Doodles Lessons 2016, that spoke of gender politics. On the back page is a footnote citing several texts, one of which is Islands of Decolonial Love by local author and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. When an urban photocopied alternative queer zine cites a book of Indigenous poetry as a reference, there is no doubt that this lively cross-pollination is not merely a theoretical embrace and evolution of cultures.
Participating artists from the Peterborough area:
- Carlyle Baker – hand made books and poetry
- Electric City Magazine – Peterborough’s new print/digital magazine covering local culture and politics
- Graphic History Collective – based in Peterborough and B.C., GHC produces historical accounts of working class struggles in Canada in the form of comics and colouring books
- Jackson Creek Press – Peterborough’s local design and letterpress guru
- Kingdom of Dog (Christopher Lawson) – a dystopian comic book written and lettered by local writer Lawson and illustrated by New York City artist Soo Lee
- Patick Moore (workshop Reimagining the Book) – painter, educator and sculptural book artist
- Avery Morris & Skylar Ough – TASS students producing zines, drawings, buttons, stickers, prints, and badges
- Peterborough Drawing Club (Alex Bell and Germ Sperman) – zines, buttons and collaborative art
- Peterborough Poetry Slam Collective – books by members of a collective that performs regularly at the Spill
- Wallddizzy (William Joel Davenport) – digital and screen prints, zines, games and textiles