A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #108 - WEEK OF OCTOBER 24-30, 2016

Bringing up bards and Briggs

International Festival of Authors 2016 Reviews

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Clockwise: The Toronto Public Library-sponsored Book Bash various activites held around the Bill Boyle Artport held on October 22.

Book Bash

Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Saturday, October 22; 12-4 p.m.

The Toronto Public Library’s annual one-day Canadian children’s literature festival Book Bash, being held at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) for the first time in a expanded venue was a qualified success by adding more to the line-up with Harbourfront Centre’s fine facilities to be able to accommodate, since their experience with having kids down there is top-rate and it went off without a hitch.

Among the free events like face paintings, demos with the Library’s musical instrument lending library section, a mini 3D printer and such, they also had kid-lit authors and illustrators on the bill that more than did their fare share in keeping their audiences entertained. Local storyteller and author Rukshana Khan did a write-your-own-adventure workshop up at the Main Loft – formerly the Architecture Gallery – as she told her true-life childhood memory about her younger sister and a prized lollypop she got at a birthday party goodie, and getting the kids to come up with their own conclusions how it ended (for those not familiar with her book, Big Red Lollypops.)

Left, onstage: Ruth Ohi

Author/illustrator Ruth Ohi of the popular Fox and Squirrel series in the Brigantine Room was just as animated as her artwork by drawing scribbles and getting the audience to use their imaginations to come up with what could be made from it, was fun to watch in discussing her creative processes and encouraging creativity.

The Applefun Puppetry company

Applefun Puppetry’s Halloween Show in the Studio Theatre, as performed by puppeteer Mike Harding; had his characters with main puppet Eddie and his friends ranging from slow-witted Frank the Frankenstein Monster, Juanita “Winnie” the Witch, Tiny Chef, Farmer MacDonald and a friendly vampire helping him get ready for Halloween while keeping ahead of the tricks of a mischievous monkey; was entertainingly amusing as one of the final events that seemed to make this segment replacing the YoungIFOA programme after so many years go all too fast.

Lunatics, Lovers & Poets

Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Saturday, October 22; 5 p.m.

Left-right: Hisram Matar, Marcos Giralt Torrente and C.C. Humphreys

2016 not only marks the year of Shakespeare’s death four hundred years ago, but also of Miguel de Cervantes, the author behind the epic Don Quixote and inventor of the modern-day novel. As part of the short story anthology about the two writers’ works Lunatics, Lovers & Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare (And Other Stories), IFOA had two writers that were part of the book, American writer Hisram Matar and Spain’s Marcos Giralt Torrente to discuss their contributions as well as the about the subject matter behind the project themselves.

After each author read a brief segment of their parts, panel moderator C.C. Humphreys asked them on the influence of Shakespeare, Torrente admitted – as did Humphries himself – that he didn’t discover Stratford-upon-Avon’s most famous son’s work until much later in life, despite that his work is a fundamental part of the Western world’s education curriculum, if not global.

“First, I’d have to say that you cannot discover Shakespeare; Shakespeare is everywhere in society,” Torrente explained. “I didn’t discover him in school because with the Spanish (educational) system we studied history and other numerous material. I don’t know when I came into [finding] Shakespeare. I must have seen them in films, newspapers, but Shakespeare is everywhere. But I remember, since I was young I was trying to read Shakespeare, but I found it a bit too truthful. It was quite difficult for me to go to the theatre [to observe it] and it was too difficult to read Shakespeare when I was trying to read him. I was embarrassed at first, but now I am able to because I realized that Shakespeare had written what he had wrote for another stage in a way of enjoying it.

“I was reading Shakespeare when I was not prepared to, as it was very, very difficult in the English language and I tried to do it a few times where I was living in the summer and I remember going to different places with my family around Spain to see different landscapes, but I always had that Shakespeare book. My friend tried to learn English through Shakespeare, so I decided to try it again and some years after I started to get into Shakespeare through the films mostly and also through Lawrence Olivier. He was my first contact with Shakespeare through the films, and after when I was like twenty-something at the time, I started to read him.”

Regarding Cervantes, Matar could recall his introduction to the man behind the Man of La Mancha was only after his Arabic-only education was completed shortly after entering adolescence and knew about the writer’s presence was heavy. “I knew he was Spanish, but he thought like an Arabic writer,” Matar said. “In other words, the character of Don Quixote in mentioned in the colloquial storytellings, too, so the story had entered my imagination.

“I didn’t read much as a child actually, but I had a lot of books read to me. Various experiences of books to which you’re being read to while I was laying my head on my uncle’s chest and listening to them. I had a lot of books read to me; I don’t know why that seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. But we didn’t have much books for children, I didn’t read much children’s books, so I had my uncle read them to me like Arabian Nights, Don Quixote, lots of fairytales and Shakespeare all read to me, including poetry,” he recalled on his Libyan childhood.

“Later on as I developed as a reader, where my conference with books is direct, especially in English. With Shakespeare, yes, I think I totally relate to what (Torrente) said about, that reading his plays are tricky, but I had the benefit of my ignorance in a sense that I didn’t think they were plays, I thought they were just words. So you can have [something like] King Lear and I thought, ‘Oh, I thought they were just words.’ I couldn’t imagine people acting to them, so I read them in that way when I was very little.”

It’s how Shakespeare and Cervantes observed and interpreted the complexities and misunderstandings of the world of their time that still holds resonance today, following and surviving into the digital age that continue their popularity among bibliophiles and writers throughout the ages.

“And these are writers that anticipate this incredible space and uses in such helpful ways,” Matar suggested. “For example, I was thinking about in Hamlet when he is in grieving and he’s distraught and his mother is saying ‘Come on, get over it, this is the way of the world. People die; this is the most common thing.” And he then he goes on with his (“To be or not to be” soliloquy) and all of these ways where grief shows itself…to me, this is one keys of the incredible achievements of Shakespeare. A king is killed by his brother, marries the queen, the son is inconsolable, go mad: that’s the whole synopsis.

“It’s about all of these distances from such a fascinating play when there’s so much plays written about fathers and sons, and one of the things that it’s about is the distances between fathers and sons and also the distance between…one’s grief and how it shows and the questions of fidelity and how we behave.”

“I think they were quite different (men),” opined Torrente, “and Spain, at that moment, was more complex country than Great Britain was [of their times]. Spain is closer to the Mediterranean Sea and we were affected by what was happening in the (region) of the Mediterranean Sea and their complexities. We had an Arabic population, we had Jewish...It’s true that we were a poor country and Great Britain was looking to be the next empire of course, but they even they had America and it was far away. So we were very isolated, in a sense.”

Five Artists, Five Ways: The Modern Graphic Novel

Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Saturday, October 22; 8 p.m.

Left-right: Jon McNaught, Nina Bunjavec, Seth, Chris Oliveros, Michael DeForge and Nick Drnaso.

A name coined by comics great Wil Eisner and loathed by diehards, Art Spiegelman, is one; who want to separate themselves from literary circles, the graphic novel still holds debate almost twenty-five years after its become part of the everyday lexicon of literary genres. And to what definition does it earn respect among its peers was the Five Artists, Five Ways: The Modern Graphic Novel forum as hosted by Canadian cartooning legend Seth and five of his fellow contemporaries engaged in it.

Attendees Nina Bunjavec, Michael DeForge, Nick Drnaso, Jon McNaught and Chris Oliveros – who also are part of the Seth-curated Five Ways fall exhibit in the Artsport Gallery (click here for review) – all regaled their influences of the medium ranging the usual from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts and Berke Breathed’s Bloom County to Euro-art staples Tintin and Asterix, but it was McNaught who mentioned a surprise influence: a well-known kid-lit illustrator and writer.

“The person who really sticks in my mind that’s British is Raymond Briggs” said the soft-spoken British cartoonist of the author behind classics The Snowman, Father Christmas and When the Wind Blows. “It was somebody that I grew up with…and he’s incredible with nuanced stories. They may be children’s books, but the funny thing is that they fit in with the latest art and that’s Raymond Briggs. His kind of vision of storytelling is packed with detail and he was a real favourite of mine as a kid.”

Studying linocut arts in art college, McNaught turned to comic making in wanting to make landscapes with his work and making a series of prints. “The first comics that I did grew from wanting to do repeats and create a quiet atmosphere with them…I enjoyed DC Comics as a kid, but they never did sink in. I still think I’m kind of still learning about storytelling.”

“I’m in it for the money!” Bunjavec joked on how she got into comic work. “I grew up reading Disney comics, Franco-Belgian comics in Yugoslavia. So we really had the best of all worlds, because on one side we had DC and Marvel superhero comics and on the other side we had Hergé. I read any comics except for the Italian editions of Zagor, they were these kinds of Western-themed comics and also there was this kind of superhero living in the woods of Canada who wore a raccoon hat or something like that. Only grownup men read those, so children really weren’t into them.

“We also had a really rich domestic production of comics in (prewar) Yugoslavia; we had a number of magazines that employed people full-time. It was a thriving industry and you walked to a newspaper stand and get all kinds of comics, which were just wonderful,” she remembered. “It doesn’t matter that even during the (1991-95 Yugoslav civil) war when there were economic sanctions that the underground comics thrived. It’s just really embedded in the culture.”

The Toronto-based Bunjavec got into comics production in 2005 after being thwarted from doing comics studies in art school and for several years working as a graphic designer, commercial illustration and teaching plus doing sculpture on the offside, discovering the artistic narrative behind both disciplines before going into it full-time. “I didn’t even know it was something I wanted to do until I started working into comics,” she admitted. “In the beginning I was totally clueless and was working with the right side of my brain – image, narrative or three images at a time – I can’t really work with a script. Fatherland, for example, was a completely different. It was a story that had to come to me, it was a story that had to be told and it was a completely different animal, for sure.”

Oliveros, who made a name in setting up the premier independent comic publishing house Drawn and Quarterly in Montréal and establishing national (Seth, Chester Brown, Guy Delisle) and international (Marguerite Abouet, Shigeru Mizuki, Lynda J. Barry) cartooning stars for 25 years before retiring from the editing desk and getting back to his first love of cartooning in publishing his debut book, The Envelope Manufacturer (Drawn & Quarterly).

“I think it was unusual [to start now] because cartooning was different back then, but I was influenced by the people who made these comics and this would be around 1989 or 1990. Back then people used to call them ‘alternative comics,’ now they’re called graphic novels. Most cartoonists were doing four-paged stories, six-paged stories and I was going to start doing that. And you were the guys that first started doing the longer pieces...and I was thinking ‘what kind of story could I tell in six pages?’.”

He recalled that comics in the 1970s were the bleakest period for the medium after the golden era of Marvel and the underground comics in the 1960s ended. “My father brought home these magazines, he bought Heavy Metal and Mad Magazine and if you liked Mad Magazine in the Fifties, it was their peak period. So I didn’t know what kept me going, kept me hanging on until comics got good [again].”

“I pretty focused on comics actually,” said DeForge on his early days with getting support from online cartoonists and supporters. “It wasn’t until I dropped out of college that I decided to, like, this is the one thing I wanted to pursue fully, I mean not just do this on the side. I didn’t want to get another job to support the comics…I was already making mini-comics and tending to give them away at shows, whatever.”

“My story is similar to Michael’s,” answered Drnaso. “I was eighteen, going to community college and I had a friend who used to draw in his notebook and sort of forced him to become part of a team to get into this job in comics, and I was just following his lead to get to self-publishing this stuff. And he eventually lost interest in that and I just picked it up. We really didn’t have really a plan to pursuit it and he quit…he was doing these crude humour comics and he wasn’t taking it that seriously and I would try to force him to draw with me. So it was a good thing to have someone sitting in the basement with me, to try and encourage each other.”

“The comics medium is a interesting medium because it’s a long history primarily as a ‘junk’ medium,” opined Seth, who kept the whole talk entertaining and light but was grounded in the seriousness of the genre and respectability it has earned after many years. “But I think in the last twenty or thirty years it has moved into recognition that there’s a wide variety of approaches on how to tell a story with pictures and surprisingly be more sophisticated than people thought. One of the key elements that regular people will attest when they look at comic books, is (the) drawing style. And drawing style is a funny point – I find a lot of cartoonists are very hesitant to talk about drawing style. It’s like it’s something shameful; you spend time thinking about what the art looks like and I’ve always been very anxious about (discussing) drawing style.

“The funny thing about cartooning is that, all of us here were visual artists. But there’s comes to some point where you want to tell something and that’s why…drawing an image is powerful, but there’s something about telling a story. I think that’s a nice thing about the comics medium and that it has opened up a door to a wider variety of people to tell a story.”

Koffler@IFOA: Olive Senior and Ravi Jain

Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Sunday, October 23; 12 p.m.

Left-right: Ravi Jain and Olive Senior

Two of Canada’s noted Indo-Caribbean artisans, author/poet Olive Senior and playwright Ravi Jain took to the stage to discuss about heritage, family and identity and how it shapes the art and their personal lives at the Koffler Centre-sponsored talk as the award-winning Senior (The Pain Tree) sat down with critically-acclaimed Jain (A Brimful of Asha) in talking about each others’ work.

“I write through character, my fiction anyway,” started Senior, whose latest novel The Pain Tree (Comorant Books) is set in her native Jamaica, “and I like the elements included in the characters are invested with emotions that are universal. We all have, as human beings, have the same desires…we deal in love, hate, revenge, whatever.

“And so, I write in such a way that I hope that my readers can put themselves into the story because everybody has had similar experiences, although the setting is different and the characters are different because we’re talking about a lot these days about making literature more diverse. We talk a lot about diversity, but my whole approach to that is not to talk about people as separate but to recognize that they’re all the same at heart. And to me, this is what literature can do, can convince us all or should that we are connected in a way through our consciousness or our emotional life, through our human experience. And that’s the whole basis of where I’m coming from in terms of my work.”

“I’m not even a playwright in a traditional sense,” explained Jain, “I’m a theatre-maker. So I make plays and we end up publishing them, so in a similar way I feel that so much of what I do resonates for me and my perspective is diverse, so I am too. I am Canadian and I am Indian, even though I was born here I grew up in a house that really valued Indian traditions. And so, no matter what the work I do, be it Hamlet or a very specific story about arranged marriages, that perspective is going to be informed, too.

“So, it’s similar in looking for that universal connective tissue or experience that doesn’t rely on a specify of a race in a story. It’s really there to make it more universal, so the specify of my story of my mother trying to arrange my marriage (in A Brimful of Asha); all those dynamics are and the fact that we were in India and the things that really happened are there to open up a world into how all mothers and sons have this same relationship or what parents want the best for their kids. They have a way how things should be done and kids have a way on how that should be done, so yeah, looking at universal things are super-important.”

The two also discussed the dynamics of writing for the stage and that not all writing is the same, although Senior’s attempt at it ended in failure mainly over the fact that she writes for the page, not the ear and that she has a controlling nature over her work. “I see everything, everything that I am writing. So I was writing this play giving instructions, I had the entire setting in my head, the cast and everything. But then I realized that, ‘no, this isn’t how it works.’ It’s collaboration, which I’m not accustomed to as a writer of poetry and fiction and so on.”

Jain had recalled in working on the script with his mother for A Brimful of Asha that became a hit at the local Soulpepper Theatre for the last two engagements with both him and her performing mainly through improvisation. “My mother is not an actor and we tell the story how that in 2007 how my parents tried to arrange my marriage. And it’s very funny because, it’s a terrible story,” he chuckled humorously. “My mother and I talked together so much of the process of that was being in front of an audience. Because she’s not actor, so we didn’t sit in front of a computer, it was thus improvising in front of an audience and eventually it became a text that was published and I was saying to Olive earlier, like plays I don’t often read plays because I find them quite boring. I like to see plays, I like to see them. I need that immediate moment of a relationship of two people in a problem and I find that challenging and I find that interesting when you write, when someone reads your writing they are imagining the world that they’re in. It’s a very individual experience.”

Heike Steinweg: Writing in Berlin

Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Through October 30

Clockwise from top left: Janne Teller; Ilija Trojanow; Katja Petroskaja; Gail Jones and Nathan Englander.

Across from the Stories We Tell exhibit in the Artsport Gallery is the Writing in Berlin series, an ongoing project by German photographer Heike Steinweg and her photos of international authors working and living in her native Berlin, for reasons of cultural creativity and/or political exile.

Along with the portraits of black and white and colour capturing the mood, tone, time of date, location and personality of said subjects, she includes the writers’ final line of their recent (or favourite) works and their words to describe the feeling they got in wrapping up a story.

Habila Helon (top) and Marie NDiaye.

Some express relief, sadness or inconclusiveness of the work itself and how it makes them wonder what could be said or even guessing their next project at hand. It’s a humbling mini-exhibit to view – perhaps the first from IFOA in ages – that the feeling, personal or artistic, never wanders away from their minds and in probably wanting the viewer to go pick up the copy of that book in order to immerse themselves into that world or worlds that they themselves can find meaning to.

Photo Essay: IFOA 2016 Happenings

Clockwise: A sample of veteran Globe and Mail editorial cartoonist Anthony Mars Jenkins’ caricature slideshow of Canadian novelists past and present have a Al Hirschfeld-like influence and quaintness in the Bill Boyle Artport (through to October 30).

Taken at the Studio Theatre stage, PEN Canada’s IFOA annual Empty Chair spotlight on persecuted authors focuses on Azimjon Askarov, an Uzbeki investigative journalist from Kyrgystan initially jailed in 2010 for ethnic incitement and a life imprisonment sentance that led to the death of a police officer, but charges were politically motivated due to his stance against government corruption and being the founder of the human rights group Vozduh. The murder sentance was overturned by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court earlier this year, however Askarov still remains in prison for unexplained reasons.

***

NEXT: Part 2 – Slave to Mortal Rage, Graphic Sonnet Exchange, Weaving Canada’s Story and more. IFOA 2016 continues through to Sunday (October 30); For tickets and information, call 426-973-4000 or visit ifoa.org

The civilized side(s) of Syria

Left-right: Tomb reliefs from the Syrian ruins of Palmyra that survived the destructive clutches of ISIS and an illuminated qu’ran from the mid-14th-century are part of the Syria: A Living Exhibit, an initiative of the Aga Khan Museum to show the cultural treasures of Syria than what current headlines will tell you about the Middle Eastern country.

Syria: A Living Exhibit

Venue: Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive

Dates/Times: Through February 26; Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. (Wednesdays 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.)

Admission/Information: Adults $20, Seniors (65+) $15, Students $12, Children/Youth (6-13) $10, Wednesday evenings 4-8 p.m. FREE; call 416-646-4677 or agakhanmuseum.org

Gallery Review

Revolutions can often create many inconveniences that spill over borders in human and political costs, such as the one currently running in Syria, which has brought into our timeframe. And yet, it has been at the crossroads before in a cultural sense with five millennia of Mesopotamian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Ottoman and Arab influences that it used to reflect that the Aga Khan Museum wants to convey in Syria: A Living Exhibit, to show the world that there’s another side to the country before the Arab Spring offshoot turned it into a far-reaching and seemingly endless bloodbath.

Several works from partnering museums worldwide have greatly contributed to this exhibit from Dubai, France, Germany, the United States and Canada about the confederacy created by the Semitic tribe known as the Aramaeans, previously known as Aram; with ancient and modern pieces abound. The Mesopotamian era has carved works ranging from eye idols made from gypsum that used to protect temples made around 3200 BCE to a “Stele of Teshub” made in the 9th-century BCE in honour of their storm god.

A falcon-headed sphinx panel created in an Egyptian style is quite striking in its features in carved ivory found in Nimrud that used to be the centre of the Assyrian Empire in the 8th-century BCE. As the exhibit starts moving into the Islamic era, another panel depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s sandals and two burning candlesticks under a lamp in reference to the Qu’ranic Chapter of Light (Qu’ran 24:35) made in the 17th- or 18th-century CE on underglazed-painted fritware that was once part of a mihrab (a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque, at the point nearest to Mecca’s Kaaba) in Damascus.

Left-right: A 13th-century copper alloy incense burner with silver and gold inlays; fragment of a Roman-era floor mosaic from 64 BCE depicting parrots and a 19th-century backgammon or chess box from the Syria: A Living Exhibit show the prosperity that came from the fortunate position of global and cultural trade routes that crisscrossed Syria.

Proof of the multicultural makeup of the country lies with a gilded silver repouseé plaque of St. Paul from 550-600 CE showed that Christianity flourished and was readily accessible prior to the Syrian Revolution. Other impressive works go to a carved ivory lion head from its Archaic period in the 9th to 8th century BCE as a rare intact example when its symbolism stretched from Syria to Anatolia of the many trade roads that crisscrossed the region like the Incense Road, Persian Royal Road and Silk Route.

As further examples involved, there’s this 13th-century CE copper alloy incense burner made of two hemispherical halves with a gimbal cap regaling excellent detail of regal life of equestrian and hunting scenes with gold and silver inlays surrounding it; a intricate Italian millefiori (meaning “a thousand flowers”) method on tiny mosaic glass bowl dated 25 BCE to 25 CE and the geometric panelling so connected with Islamic design can been seen on a 19th-century backgammon box made out of wood, bone and mother-of-pearl inlays.

Contemporary art also plays a part of Syria: A Living Exhibit, with pioneers of modern Syrian artists like Fateh al-Moudarres’ surreal minimalist representation of one stage of the Passion of Christ in “The Last Supper” using abstract expression in a loosely geometric fashion and Mahmoud Hammad’s “Bsmallah al-Rahman al-Rahim,” a oil on canvas swathed in serene blues and greys to make out in Arabic writing “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” and a couple of amazing wooden sculptures from Lotfi Romhein and Aktham Abdul Hamid.

Clockwise from upper left: Contemporary art from Syria: A Living Exhibit features Tamman Azzam’s “Gustav Klimt The Kiss (Freedom Graffiti)” that became a internet viral sensation worldwide; a untitled Aktham Abdul Hamid wooden sculpture; “Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra” by Elias Zayat and the cool abstract subtleness from Mahmoud Hammad, “Bismallah al-Rahman al-Rahim.”

Then there are the ones who are making a statement about the Revolution against Bashir al-Assad – and brave enough to stay within the frontlines to do so – such as the grandiose multi-canvas acrylic “Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra” by Elias Zayat mixing tales of the Old Testament story of The Great Flood and the Epic of Gilgamesh that greets the viewer to the exhibit with roughen brushstrokes and swirls and the signs of resistance to destruction.

And while the works of Tamman Azzam may show the bleak and battle-scarred buildings common with the experience of war, they represent hope from the digital reproduction of his well-known piece “Gustav Klimt The Kiss (Freedom Graffiti)” of the Klimt masterpiece brazenly painted on a half-destroyed apartment wall to cover its ugliness with beauty (while allowing visitors to clip on words or art about home and/or survival) to the photo-realistic acrylic “Storeys Series” of a seemingly silent street could either mean a lull in hostilities or awaiting the future reconstruction of a post-revolutionary Syria at peace.

See these all these past and present works while you can in the museum’s noblest exhibition to date, which includes a virtual-reality interactive from Johannes Kramer, “Aleppo Room 17th Century (Google’s Tango Tablet)” of a Syrian Christian merchant’s home of that time with “paintings” representing the Old and New Testament; to remind what sense of humanity and civilization is left and can return to this land again.