In 2018, Annie Koyama announced that in 2021 she would be closing Koyama Press, a Toronto-based small publisher. Since its founding in 2007, this unique, beloved, and idiosyncratic Canadian publisher had become a staple in the North American and international comics scenes, and its disappearance was felt by creators, readers, and comics journalists. Upon hearing this news, my first reaction as a comics and library and information studies scholar was to consider what Canadian comics culture was losing and whether there was any way of preserving it. Publishers’ archives are a common historical and bibliographic tool for studying the literary field (Millar). Since this publisher was virtually a one-woman company, were there any archives? If they did exist, had any institution contacted Annie Koyama to negotiate their receipt? If not, how would future comics or Canadian literature scholars study this singular project and its influence on Canadian comics culture? Around the same time, I read Roal Daenen’s chapter in Comics and Memory, where he describes and reflects on the issues involved in preserving Belgian comics heritage. Daenen concludes “that Belgium, the ‘comic strip country,’ is very careless with its history” (264). When I considered this reading with the context of Koyama’s demise in mind, it sparked my curiosity about the state of Canadian comics heritage, past and present, and the need to formalize discussions and actions to preserve Canadian comics memory and culture. Historically, comics occupy a marginal position relative to other forms of Canadian media. Today, they grow more popular and steadily receive more mainstream scholarly acknowledgement. This increased recognition marks the present as a fertile moment to push GLAM institutions towards greater involvement in preserving and making comics cultural memory more accessible. As is evident, my first inclination is to look to GLAM institutions and universities as sites for centralizing these efforts. However, my own research on comics readers prompts me also to look outside of these institutions and envision potential collaborative projects. Such projects include other agents like readers, collectors, creators, and publishers. These agents are crucial to the development of comics cultures and should also be part of any initiative regarding Canadian comics memory.
The good news is that this process need not start from scratch. There are already people, publications, institutions, and events that work to document the rich landscape of Canadian comics in such a way as to distinguish the Canadian story from that of other larger and more dominant comics cultures. The following list is not comprehensive, but it attempts to be inclusive. My goal in composing this list is to signpost and give more visibility to the labour of different actors in the Canadian comics community. If I am missing you, I apologize in advance, and I would appreciate it if you were to reach out. So, here is a list of these actors and resources in no particular order:
- In 2015, Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly released Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels to celebrate the cartoonists who have worked with this press. One year later, Nova Scotia publisher Conundrum published 20×20: Twenty Years of Conundrum Press, a retrospective volume dedicated to the history of their press. These anthologies will become reference tools for the history and histories of these two publishing houses, both of which are integral to the cultural fabric of Canadian comics.
- There are more than twenty comics festivals and conventions held regularly in cities across Canada (“Canadian Comics”). Among them, the Toronto Comic Art Festival, often referred to by its acronym TCAF, is a North American trailblazer in creating a partnership between a comics store (The Beguiling) and a public library system (Toronto Public Library). Among others, the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (often referred to by its acronym VANCAF), the Prairie Comics Festival, and Canzine (with its several provincial events) are also sites where Canadian comics culture is continuously curated and produced.
- Curated by John Bell, the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) archived online exhibit Guardians of the North: The National Superhero in Canadian Comic-Book Art collects and expands on the 1992 archival exhibition of the same name (“Guardians of the North”). This project collects a wealth of knowledge and sources for those researching Canadian comics history. LAC also provides digital access to the collection for the Second World War-era publisher Bell Features (“Bell Features”).
- For those doing comics research, some Canadian academic libraries have been working on building collections that are currently accessible at different levels. The University of British Columbia is working on several special comics collections of “comic books written by Vancouver-based artists whose work is primarily Vancouver or British Columbia focused” (“Comic Book Collections”). In 2013, the University of Manitoba launched their Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novels Collection, which “was developed by the first Indigenous Library Services Librarian, Camille Callison,” to provide “students with an unconventional way to explore Indigenous stories” (“Mazinbiige”). The Archives and Special Collections department at Toronto Metropolitan University has also made their small but unique collection of Second World War Canadian comics locally available for research and teaching (“WECA”). Rotem Diamant is the founder of the grassroots non-profit Canada Comics Open Library (CCOL), an “inclusive, educational, and recreational” physical and digital space dedicated to “showcasing the work of Canadian creators” (Canada Comics). Among other projects, they have created and made available an online database of Canadian comics creators (“Canadian Cartoonists”). Zine and comics culture are closely connected, which is why the OCAD U Zine Library is also an important resource for anyone interested in studying Toronto and Canadian zine culture (“OCAD”). As I write, Western Libraries is working on recommendations for managing and making accessible the donations that it has received from collectors such as Eddy Smet and Dale Hoose. These donations amount to approximately seventy thousand volumes of mostly Canadian and American comics, making this collection one of the largest at a Canadian institution.
- John Bell’s 2006 publication Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe was a pioneering text in Canadian comics scholarship. Two more recent publications that follow in its footsteps are 2016’s Canadian Graphic: Picturing Life Narratives, edited by Candida Rifkind and Linda Warley, and The Canadian Alternative: Cartoonists, Comics, and Graphic Novels, edited by Dominick Grace and Eric Hoffman. These publications signify a moment when Canadian scholars are both documenting the history of Canadian comics and are turning their attention to the kaleidoscopic production of the current comics landscape. The publications reflect English-language and Francophone creators and publishers, the increasing role of Indigenous creators and narratives, and the prominent space that female and queer creators have historically occupied. Similarly, the exhibit This Is Serious: Canadian Indie Comics, co-curated by Alana Traficante and cartoonist Joe Ollmann at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, represents an effort to give visibility to cartoonists who are influential not only in the Canadian comics field but also worldwide. One of the cartoonists featured in the exhibit was Julie Doucet, who has recently received the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the highest award in European cartooning awarded at one of the most prestigious comics festivals in the world.
The Canadian comics scene is small in comparison with the dominant US, Japan, and France-Belgium markets. Nevertheless, Canadian comics and creators are recognized internationally, and Canadian publishers are praised abroad for their diverse editorial agendas, which balance support for local
and national talent with hosting international creators and trends. Despite the Canadian scene’s small size, its high level of activity and international stature have resulted in the creation of a rich media landscape that is currently under-documented. Developing the sustainable, equitable, and accessible infrastructure that is needed to preserve this landscape will not be an easy task. At 80 Years and Beyond: A Virtual Symposium on Canadian Comics, many presenters and audience members spoke of the need for a unified approach to the preservation of comics and related collections that are representative of various readers or local comics communities. Given the size of the country, this approach must place digital access at its foreground. Making this a reality would require an extraordinary commitment of resources: not just financial but also logistical (time, the development of physical and digital spaces) and human (staff, advocacy, education). It would require the involvement of multiple institutions, organizations, and individuals, across different scholarly and professional fields (comics creation and publishing as well as libraries, archives, and museums). The conversations that started at the 80 Years and Beyond symposium represent a hopeful beginning, and we need to have high hopes.
Thank you to all the panelists and audience members at the 80 Years and Beyond symposium for your presentations, comments, and inspiration and especially to those at the GLAM panel (Meaghan, Deborah, Joe, Mark, and Rick).
“Bell Features.” Library and Archives Canada, www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/art/bell-features/Pages/bell-features.aspx. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
Canada Comics Open Library, www.canadacomicsol.org/mission/. Accessed 6 Apr. 2022.
“Canadian Cartoonists Database.” Canadian Comics Open Library, www.canadacomicsol.org/comic-book-resources/canadian-cartoonists-database/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
“Canadian Comics and Zine Festivals.” Canadian Comics Open Library, www.canadacomicsol.org/comic-book-resources/canadian-comics-and-zine-festivals/. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
“Comic Book Collections.” University of British Columbia Library, guides.library.ubc.ca/ c.php?g=700237&p=4973488. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
Daenen, Roel. “The Tremendous Treasure: The Curious Problem of Preserving Belgian Comics Heritage.” Comics Memory: Archives and Styles, edited by Maaheen Ahmed and Benoît Crucifix, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, pp. 259-65.
“Guardians of the North.” Library and Archives Canada, epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/lac-bac/guardians_north-ef/2009/www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/superheroes/index-e.html. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
“Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novel Collection.” University of Manitoba Libraries, libguides.lib.umanitoba.ca/mazinbiige. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
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Millar, Laura. The Story Behind the Book: Preserving Authors’ and Publishers’ Archives. Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, 2009.
“OCAD U Zine Library.” OCAD University Library, ocadu.libguides.com/zinelibrary/home. Accessed 23 Mar. 2022.
“WECA Comic Book Collection.” Ryerson University Archives and Special Collections, archives.library.ryerson.ca/index.php/weca-comic-book-collection. Accessed 1 Sep. 2022.
Lucia Cedeira Serantes is a part-time Instructor of Information Studies at Western University.
Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.