Some comic fans & creators in Toronto may have noticed a new presence on Spadina. Located above a watch shop near Kensington Market the “Comics Embassy” has some people perplexed as to what it is: school, shop or studio?
Whether you haven’t noticed it yet or have been wondering constantly about it over your red bean pastries at the bakery across the street, TdotComics is proud to bring you the Secret Origin of the Comics Embassy and its awesome mission in our Fair City!
After speaking with a number of people involved in the project I learned that the Comics Embassy was the brainchild of former “Holmes Inc” artist and Sheridan College graduate Megan Kearney. The Embassy Studio whose permanent occupants are comics creators Megan Kearney of the “Beauty and the Beast” web comic and Savannah Mackintosh and Brice Hall of “The Adventures of Adam Brochu”, as well as Sam Noir. There is also a desk available to be rented out on a monthly basis. The spare desk is currently occupied by “Steampunk Vixens” creators Rachael Wells and Jason Tocewicz. The third component is Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Boot Camp which occupies the school room at the front of the studio.
To learn more about the mission of the Comics Embassy I sat down with some of the ambassadors themselves, Ty Templeton and Brice Hall. Aside from being a noted teacher on the comics scene in Toronto for many years Ty Templeton has also served as the artist and writer of “All Ages Spider-man” for Marvel comics, “the Simpsons” for Bongo Comics and Batman Adventures for DC, for which he won an Eisner award.
TdotComics: Hi guys! Thanks for being here. So tell me, how did the Comics Embassy come into being?
TY: The Comics Embassy was started as a result of some friendships and professional associations among people who were working together in my Boot Camp courses. At the end of the year we do this self published comic called “Holmes Incorporated” and the end of the year about six or seven people decided they wanted to keep the energy going after the project was finished, so they wanted to get a studio space together so they could continue to work together. That’s what this was– a place for them to get together and retain that energy. The space they found to rent had a fairly sizable room in front. I needed a new location for running my boot camp and so it just worked out very nicely. I went in a week and half from wondering where I was going to go, if I was going to rent some rooms at OISE and about a week and a half later I had a permanent space and I didn’t even have to do anything!
BRICE: I was working full time and that job was ending around the time that all of us were involved in Ty’s Fit to Print course at the Cartoonist Workshop. A number of us were looking for a studio space and Megan Kearney came in. Meagan told us she found a great place which it turned out was this one. I was on board right away. I’d always wanted to get serious about making comics. I wanted to find a studio space. I was going to find another place, but this was a perfect opportunity, kind of like wish fulfillment. I think it was for all of us involved.
TdotComics: What interested you in comics? Was there one particular comic that got you into it?
BRICE: Not one in particular. I just always read and was always fascinated by the stories they told. I went to a French Immersion school where there were bandes desinees and there was “Tin Tin” and “Asterix” and there were the ones I don’t think the librarian knew were there. Some were pretty graphic. I ate them right up. And there were these `50s horror ones that my dad had. I remember reading those and they’ve always just been around in one form or another. I enjoy drawing so being able to tell stories with drawing is just a natural thing. And cartoons, cartoons were a strong influence.
TdotComics: Ty, as a teacher what makes your approach to teaching comics unique?
TY: The way I approach teaching is really about two things. First off I do not do anything from a theoretical point of view, I’m a person who does this for a living and I write and draw comics every day. When I’m teaching I don’t say “Here’s what I read in a book that other people made.” I literally go through my thought processes as I create and I try to teach it like a trade school even though it’s an artistic, creative thing to do. I’m treating it like this is how you make refrigerators, and this is how I make refrigerators and the lessons I teach are e things I do when I get up in the morning to work so they’re much more applicable than theoretical. Second, I believe that these are skills you learn how to do and once you learn to do them you learn they’re not innate things, they’re not something inborn. People tell you that because they don’t want you to realize you can do it, that you can learn to do it and it’s easy and fun. Nobody says you have a talent for tying shoes, because we realize that that’s something you have to learn how to do, but they don’t realize that you have to learn how to illustrate and you have to learn how to write a story and so I think it’s roughly the same thing. Once you learn how to tie your shoes, you can do it well.
TdotComics: What projects are you currently working on in the comics field?
BRICE: I’ve currently just launched the “Adventures of Adam Brochu.” It’s been around in one form or another since grade five and it is based on a friend of mine. There is a real Adam Brochu!
TdotComics: Is he aware that there’s a comic based on his life?
BRICE: It’s not his real life. He’s just been turned into a kind of vigilante in the comic.
TdotComics: So he doesn’t fight ninjas in real life?
BRICE: He may, he’s a pilot. I’m now sketching up the outlines for issue two and Ed (Ed Leung aka Sam Noir) is writing. I’ve also got various things planned. Just drawing here and there and kicking some other ideas around.
TdotComics: I’ve always been curious about this. What’s your theory, why do you think Toronto has so many comic shops and local comics creators?
TY: Toronto is a uniquely entertainment hungry city. It’s not just that they have a lot of comic shops, but we are also the highest per capita consumers of films and the highest per capita consumers of novels and I believe the highest per capita consumers of television in Toronto in the world. In the world! So we’re actually the highest film-going city on the planet.
TdotComics:: So we’re just starved for entertainment?
TY: I think it’s just a combination of things. We have a sophisticated international city and up until global warming it was cold all the time! So we didn’t do a lot of outdoor activities because it’s snowing, so I think as Toronto grew up we always went indoors for entertainment. We go in for films. We like to watch movies and sports, we like to do things that don’t require us to be outdoors for long periods of time. We like indoor entertainment. In Buffalo, I think they seem to be hardier, they seem to go outdoors more. Also, I think a reason we have a lot of cartoonists here is that we’ve had a proud tradition of famous cartoonists coming from Toronto and it’s inspired a lot of people from here. The reason why I do this is that when I was a kid I knew that the most famous cartoonist in the business, Joe Shuster who created “Superman,” came from Toronto. I knew the guy who was drawing “the X-men” at the time, John Byrne lived in Oshawa which is just outside Toronto.
TdotComics: No way! Does he still live there?
TY: No, he lives in California now I think, but he was a Canadian. John Byrne. That’s where Wolverine comes from.
TdotComics: That’s why Wolverine comes from Canada?
TY: And then the whole “Alpha Flight” team which was John Byrne as well. They were a well-known Canadian superhero team. You didn’t know he was Canadian? Holy cow! That was a big deal to me when I was a kid. The guy who was inking “Batman” comics, a guy called Bob Smith, he used to live about two miles from my house when I was a little kid. I grew up in Mississauga and so a part of me would just say, wow, you can be from here and you can make comics. You don’t have to live in New York City, other Torontonians are doing it. It just didn’t start when I came around, it’s been around since the forties or fifties.
TdotComics: Do you think those avenues are still open to Canadian comics creators today?
TY: I believe every avenue is open to creators today and even more so because the internet allows you to get in touch with anybody instantly. You can put up your work and then bang! It’s being seen by somebody in Botswana and Japan and that’s all you ever need—an opportunity to be seen. Now the meritocracy of ANYONE can be seen means that all you have to do is be good. You can’t win being mediocre anymore. That’s the one difference– that second rate people get thrown away because we have so much more access to the first rate people so opportunities are for people who are good.
TdotComics: What do you think is the mission of the Comics Embassy?
TY: The Comics Embassy is the building that houses the studio and the school and I don’t really have a say in what the people in the studio do, they could be trying to overthrow the world for all I know! I hope their mission is to create great comic books and promote their work, that’s their mission. The mission of the school, the only part I really have control over the, the mission of the school is to introduce everybody to the opportunity to be good. That the skills that you need to be a better writer, a better illustrator or better inker, better layout artist or anything to do with comics we can teach you here so that you have the opportunity to become that person you aspire to be. The thing that I think frustrates most people is that the idea in their head won’t go onto the paper the way they want it to. That’s what I teach– that I can take it from your head or that you can take it from your head and put it on the paper and you will have very little signal to noise loss because you’re able to now use that skill.
For those looking to hire artists or writers through the Comic Embassy contact the facebook page. For people interested in the Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Boot Camp check out the website at: http://comicbookbootcamp.com/tag/comic-book-embassy/