Whazamo! Celebrate Graphic Literature Series with Aaron Costain

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Aaron Costain

May is Graphic Literature Month at Open Book, also known as Whazamo! We're talking about (and looking at) everything graphic, comic, cartoon — if you can put it in a cell on a page, we want to check it out. And don't forget to add TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) to your calendars on May 11, 2013.

Aaron Costain is a member of Toronto jam comics collective Team Society League and a contributor to The Big Team Society League Book of Answers (Koyama Press), which promises "adorable characters doing abominable things". Called "ridiculously violent and unabashedly immature", The Big Team Society League Book of Answers is the perfect way to kick off your own personal Graphic Literature Month.

Today we talk to Aaron about the role of beer in a collective comic project, an office of many desks and his old-fashioned, favourite mediums in which to work.

Open Book:

What is your most recent publication, and what one sentence you would use to describe it?

Aaron Costain:

The Big Team Society League Book of Answers, by Team Society League (myself, John Martz, Zach Worton, and Steve Wolfhard). Immature scatological pantomime about cute characters doing terrible things to one another.

OB:

When you're working on a project, which comes first — the words or the images?

AC:

With regards to my ongoing solo work (the ongoing Entropy series, in particular) it’s usually a long gestation period — I tend to think for weeks or months before anything goes on paper. It’s usually a jumble of ideas and images in my head, and I start by jotting down plot points or sketches that I want to use. There’s really no hierarchy to what comes first, but I generally move to a script once I have an idea of where the plot’s going. As soon as I have a rough script, I switch to thumbnail sketches and tweak the words as I go. The script can change right up until the page is inked. The Team Society League comics, on the other hand, get passed back and forth over a few beers; there is no premeditation and no dialogue, so the images always come first.

OB:

What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

AC:

Usually I find that reading a comic with great art — be it a new comic, a mid-century kids book or an 80-year old newspaper strip — is enough to get me inspired. If that’s just not enough, I find that the greatest inspiration is always meeting up with like-minded artists; whether it’s local folks (Toronto’s got quite a deep talent pool), artists passing through town for a book tour, or a major festival like TCAF, there is no substitute to talking shop with other cartoonists.

OB:

What does your work space look like?

AC:

I have an office with two desks on opposite sides of the room. My drawing board is between the windows on one side, and my computer and scanner are on the other. The walls are barely visible behind my huge collection of books and art. It’s a bit ridiculous, really. I push back and forth across the room in my chair depending on whether I’m drawing or working on the computer.

OB:

What medium do you most often work with?

AC:

Pen and ink. Mostly a mix of dip pens, brushes, technical pens and India ink on Strathmore smooth Bristol paper. I pencil with non-copy blue coloured pencils so I don’t have to erase. I am probably old-fashioned in my love of this imprecise medium. I use a computer to touch up the completed drawings and to assemble books.

OB:

Graphic novels seem to be steadily gaining in popularity these past few years. Why do you think that is?

AC:

Until relatively recently, comics was seen as a children’s medium. The 1980s saw a new generation of “serious” literary-minded cartoonists reacting against this stigma, pushing the limits of comics conceptually and formally. In the last decade or so, cartoonists have felt less pressure to react against comics’ lowbrow roots, and they feel open to exploring genre again. Today there is something for everyone — bookstore friendly literary comics, art comics, superheroes, kids books, food comics, sports comics and everything else under the sun.

OB:

Who are some of your favourite graphic novelists?

AC:

David B — author of Epileptic, amongst other books — has achieved a perfect synthesis of words and symbolic images working together at such a level that you couldn’t possibly extract one from the other without destroying the meaning of the whole. The Hernandez Brothers (mainly Gilbert and Jaime) have each been writing the Great American Novel, in comics form, for the last thirty years. I also love Lorenzo Mattoti, Seth, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Lilli Carré, Anders Nilsen and many more. I’m also an old comic strip buff — in particular Milton Caniff, Frank King, Roy Crane and EC Segar, among others.

OB:

Where can we find more of your work?

AC:

Most of my work is available on my website, http://www.aaroncostain.com. You can find physical copies of my comics (the Entropy series, Calamity Coach, Good Neighbours, Catnap and more) at The Beguiling in Mervish Village. I have also have a short comic in the latest issue of Canadian Notes and Queries (No. 84), which you should be able to get at any good bookstore. You can get The Big Team Society League Book of Answers through http://www.koyamapress.com, or at bookstores.


Aaron Costain is a cartoonist and architect in based in Toronto. He is the author of numerous minicomics, including the ongoing long-format series Entropy, and the Expozine Award-nominated comics Good Neighbours and Calamity Coach. He is also a member of the disreputable jam comics collective Team Society League; their latest book, The Big Team Society League Book of Answers, is published by Koyama Press. Aaron was nominated for a 2011 Doug Wright Award (Best Emerging Talent) for Entropy - Part 5. His next comic, Entropy - Parts 8 & 9, will debut at TCAF in May.

For more information about The Big Team Society League Book of Answers please visit the Koyama Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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