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Words & Curds: Ed Piskor & Tom Scioli, Pittsburgh cartoonists extraordinaire

On May 6, Toronto's streets were already alive with cartoonists and comic book artists. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival was just days away and a number of acclaimed comic-makers were roaming the city's laneways. So I invited two of Pittsburgh's finest cartoonists, Ed Piskor and Tom Scioli, out for a poutine. Piskor is the creator of, most recently, Hip Hop Family Tree. Scioli is creator or such projects at Godland and American Barbarian who is now working on G.I. Joe vs. Transformers. We met at The Beguiling and walked over to the Annex location of Smoke's Poutinerie. Ed Piskor had the 'Hogtown' (topped with mushrooms, sautéed onions, bacon, and pork sausage). Tom Scioli had the 'Veggie' (using vegetable gravy), and I had the 'Veggie Deluxe' (topped with mushrooms, sautéed onions and peas). We talked about comics (naturally), the pop culture mecca of Pittsburgh, graffiti influences, and pierogies. The interview wound up being a nerd's paradise. (You've been warned.) In an unexpected turn of events, all three of us finished our poutines.

Words & Curds: Ondjaki, author of Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret

It was Wednesday, April 30. Poutine time once again! I met with one of Angola's most acclaimed authors, Ondjaki, who has brand-new English translation, Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret (translated by Stephen Henighan), published this spring by Biblioasis. Ondjaki was visiting Canada on a tour that involved Blue Metropolis, the Ottawa Writers Festival and the IFOA Weekly Series at Harbourfront Centre. We visited The Watermark Pub, on Queen's Quay, where we both ordered the Daily Poutine Special, which just happened to be peameal bacon. He was so close to finishing his, too. We talked about growing up in the '80s under Soviet influence, the importance of spaghetti westerns, beat cops (?), and suitcases full of potatoes.

About Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret: (adapted from the Biblioasis site) By the beaches of Luanda, the Russians are building a grand mausoleum to honour the remains of the Comrade President. Granmas are whispering: houses, they say, will be dexploded, and everyone will have to leave. Can the children of Luanda steal the Russians' dynamite, decipher Comrade Gudafterov's letter, and save their homes? With the help of his friends Charlita and Pi (whom everyone calls 3.14), as well as assistance from Dr. Rafael KnockKnock, the Comrade Gas Jockey, the rather gruff and smelly Gudafterov, and Crazy Sea Foam's pet alligator, our young hero must decide exactly how much trouble he's willing to face to keep his Granma safe in Bishop's Beach.

Acknowledgements: Athmika Punja, Operations

Book publishing, as an industry, is not unlike a Jenga tower held together by sheer force of will. If the industry works at all, it's only because many dedicated and diligent people work or little reward like that horse, Boxer, from Animal Farm. (Though it's not all gloom-and-doom; it can certainly have its moments.) Many publishing workers remain invisible to readers and even authors, toiling away on initiatives and tasks unfamiliar to all but those already deeply enmeshed in the publishing world. 'Acknowledgements' is an interview series that aims to change that in some small way.

The title 'Operations Coordinator' may be one of the most mystifying of all publishing. What are these operations? Isn't everything that happens in publishing an 'operation' of some sort? Athmika Punja, who has been at ECW Press, one of Canada's largest independent publishers, for about a year and a half, is listed on the site under 'general office inquiries,' but as our interview reveals, she's responsible for a lot more than that. If she doesn't show up to work, books don't get to stores, events, and authors on time, bills might not get paid, cheques might not get deposited, and credit card statements might not get reconciled. If you work with ECW – either as an author, bookstore, event organizer, or vendor – you've probably contacted Punja. In the world of printed books, shipping is key. Which makes Punja the keymaster. She jokes that she could be replaced by a 'Linux-based robot,' but she also notes that 'better planning comes from better humans.' The Canadian publishing industry would probably agree that, by that measure, she must be a truly outstanding planner.

Words & Curds: Alena Graedon, author of The Word Exchange

On April 23, I met with debut American author Alena Gradeon, who just released her first novel, a language-based dystopian thriller called The Word Exchange, published by Random House Canada. Graedon, originally from Durham, North Carolina, currently lives in Brooklyn and was in Toronto to read at the IFOA Weekly Series at Harbourfront Centre. We visited Smoke's Poutinerie, where Graedon ordered the 'Veggie Deluxe' (topped with mushrooms, sautéed onions and peas) and I ordered the 'Butter Chicken' (kind of self-explanatory). We talked about Hegel, the rock stars of the dictionary, and empanadas. Usual stuff.

About The Word Exchange: (adapted from the Random House Canada site) In the not so distant future, the forecasted 'death of print' has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are a thing of the past, as people spend their time glued to handheld devices called Memes that have become so intuitive as to hail cabs before people leave their offices, order take-out at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called The Word Exchange. Anana Johnson works with her father Doug at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, where Doug is hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed. When Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, Anana uncovers the clues he's left behind and begins a journey down the proverbial rabbit hole in search of something called 'The Diachronic Society.' But before long, Anana's problems compound when a vicious word flu strikes the populace, causing speakers to rapidly lose language.

Acknowledgements: John DeJesus, Production

Book publishing, as an industry, is not unlike a Jenga tower held together by sheer force of will. If the industry works at all, it's only because many dedicated and diligent people work or little reward like that horse, Boxer, from Animal Farm. (Though it's not all gloom-and-doom; it can certainly have its moments.) Many publishing workers remain invisible to readers and even authors, toiling away on initiatives and tasks unfamiliar to all but those already deeply enmeshed in the publishing world. 'Acknowledgements' is an interview series that aims to change that in some small way.

If you've ever visited Toronto's Coach House, home of both Coach House Books and Coach House Printing, or called the company for a print estimate, you've probably encountered John DeJesus. A few months ago, publishers Wolsak & Wynn posted a photo of DeJesus on their Facebook page with the caption: 'A rare photo of John at Coach House Printing. He's been shepherding our books through their presses as long as I've been publishing and always does the impossible. I can't count the number of times he's pulled books out of nearly thin air for us. And he's saved us from one or two nasty mistakes over the years.' The same statement could be made by a number of Canada's independent presses. Though they tend to shun the limelight, DeJesus and the entire crew at Coach House are responsible for the production of hundreds of Canadian titles of poetry, fiction, drama, and nonfiction every year. And as production manager, DeJesus oversees the entire printing process. In an interview with Open Book, the secret hero of indie presses talks a bit about what the production manager does at Coach House. If you ever need an estimate on a book, he'd be happy to help.

Guttersnipes: Matthew Daley and Cory McCallum

TCAF is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It is an annual week-long celebration of comics and graphic novels and their creators, featuring readings, interviews, panels, workshops, gallery shows, art installations, and culminating in a two-day exhibition and vendor fair featuring hundreds of comics creators from around the world. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014 will take place Saturday, May 10 and Sunday May 11, at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street). Admission is free. Leading up to the Festival, I'll be interviewing some of the dazzling comic writers and illustrators – particularly the Canadian ones – who have brand-new books out for TCAF.

Guttersnipes: Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

TCAF is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It is an annual week-long celebration of comics and graphic novels and their creators, featuring readings, interviews, panels, workshops, gallery shows, art installations, and culminating in a two-day exhibition and vendor fair featuring hundreds of comics creators from around the world. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014 will take place Saturday, May 10 and Sunday May 11, at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street). Admission is free. Leading up to the Festival, I'll be interviewing some of the dazzling comic writers and illustrators – particularly the Canadian ones – who have brand-new books out for TCAF.

Words & Curds: Matthew Zapruder, author of Sun Bear

On April 22, I met with American poet Matthew Zapruder, the poet behind such books as the acclaimed The Pajamaist (Copper Canyon, 2006) and Come On All You Ghosts (Copper Canyon, 2010). In addition to his poetry, he was also the co-founder and is an editor at Wave Books, a publisher of beautiful books of poetry. Though originally from the Washington D.C. area, he now lives in Oakland, California. The collection Sun Bear was recently published by House of Anansi, and he visited to Toronto for their annual Poetry Bash. We visited Smoke's Poutinerie, and both ordered a 'Veggie Deluxe'(topped with mushrooms, sautéed onions and peas). We talked about the San Francisco Giants, reading poetry at the Twitter offices, and the many varieties of burrito. I finished my poutine. Zapruder failed to. This interview has been edited (somewhat) for length.

Guttersnipes: Meags Fitzgerald

TCAF is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It is an annual week-long celebration of comics and graphic novels and their creators, featuring readings, interviews, panels, workshops, gallery shows, art installations, and culminating in a two-day exhibition and vendor fair featuring hundreds of comics creators from around the world. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014 will take place Saturday, May 10 and Sunday May 11, at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street). Admission is free. Leading up to the Festival, I'll be interviewing some of the dazzling comic writers and illustrators – particularly the Canadian ones – who have brand-new books out for TCAF.

Guttersnipes: Emily and Karen McGratten

TCAF is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It is an annual week-long celebration of comics and graphic novels and their creators, featuring readings, interviews, panels, workshops, gallery shows, art installations, and culminating in a two-day exhibition and vendor fair featuring hundreds of comics creators from around the world. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014 will take place Saturday, May 10 and Sunday May 11, at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street). Admission is free. Leading up to the Festival, I'll be interviewing some of the dazzling comic writers and illustrators – particularly the Canadian ones – who have brand-new books out for TCAF.

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