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'Expecting the Unexpected'

Arts Profile: Vancouver artist Johnnie Christmas collaborates with Margaret Atwood on Angel Catbird comic

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Vancouver’s setting is inspiring for local artist Johnnie Christmas.

A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, Christmas calls the B.C. urban sprawl his home—featuring it in some of his work.

The co-creator of the critically acclaimed series Sheltered, Pisces, and the creator of Firebug, he’s no stranger to the burgeoning group of local comic book creators. Having worked with some of the biggest comic book publishers in the business today, Christmas has managed to put out original stories in a world teeming with famous superheroes.

This may be why he was the perfect fit to work with Canadian author Margaret Atwood on her first graphic novel endeavour: Angel Catbird.

He took some time out of his busy schedule working on the three-part series to answer some of Megaphone’s questions.

Megaphone: What was the process for collaborating with Margaret Atwood on Angel Catbird? What was it like working with a novelist?

Johnnie Christmas: Margaret is different from a traditional novelist in that she’s worked in film and television. So she’s familiar with collaborating and leaving space for inspiration. Her scripts are detailed enough to outline her vision, but not so detailed that they prevent inspiration from happening on the page. Leaving that room open is fuel for a good collaboration.

M: You’ve said that you enjoy the collaborative aspect of the comic book creation process. How does it affect the narrative for you? How does it affect your art?

JC: I try to suit my art to each project’s needs as best I can. In that way my art is a little different from project to project. Also a story’s narrative is likely to shift a bit from the original idea germ when collaborating. When different sets of anything come together (in this case tastes and life experiences) the final product is its own thing.

M: I’ve heard there’s quite the community of comic book artists and writers in Vancouver. How would you describe this community?

JC: The city’s comics community is pretty varied. We’ve got web cartoonists, print cartoonists. People doing short-form gag cartoons to long-form graphic novelists. Everyone of them has a unique point of view. The thing that ties us together is a love of telling stories and a love of comics.

M: In one interview, you said that you engage with Vancouver through your comics. How has this city appeared in or shaped your work?

JC: The city has appeared in two short stories I’ve worked on. But mostly it’s been a source of inspiration. There’s enough going on here to top up the creative tank but also enough rain here to keep me inside and productive.

M: What do you love most about what you do?

JC: Being able to create stories all day is what I love most. Setting my own hours is also pretty deluxe: creative hours are usually late at night, but you can also find some gems in the early morning.

M: Which comic book artists inspire you? What do you like about their style?

JC: Too many to mention! But I’d say Jaime Hernandez (for timing and characterization), Otomo Katsuhiro (for pacing and action), Mike Mignola (for composition and mood), and Jillian Tamaki (for brushwork). They’re all peerless storytellers.

M: You’ve steered clear of drawing superheroes such as the famous ones out of Marvel and DC. Has that decision limited your options at all? Why did you make that choice?

JC: I don’t know if it’s limited my options. It’s hard to know. But I rather enjoy spending my days with characters of, and in, a world of my own creation. I don’t think I would enjoy, as much, working on already established characters in an already established world.

M: Which comics did you read growing up? Do you have any favourite characters?

JC: I grew up reading X-Men, Flash, and Image comics. Also Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts. My favourite characters (outside of the ones I’ve created, of course) are probably Maggie (from Love and Rockets) and Kaneda (of Akira).

M: What’s most interesting or exciting to you about the Angel Catbird trilogy?

JC: Being able to collaborate with Margaret was the top reason. I’m also interested to see what unconventional opportunities arise because of Angel Catbird. This project is an unconventional choice (for both Margaret and me) so expecting the unexpected is probably a wise move.

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