Culture  Designed with a deadline

"48 heures" is one of the most interesting projects to appear at this years Expozine

This weekend’s Expozine provides an opportunity for Montreal’s hardworking artists and writers to show off the fruits of their long, grueling labour. For one group of dessinateurs (cartoonists) however, their zine is barely a week old and was actually created in a single day and printed the next. On the weekend of November 5 and 6, the Goethe Institute of Montreal brought together fifteen comic artists from Quebec with ten artists from Europe, the U.S., and Canada for the third annual “48 heures de la bande dessinée de Montréal.” The humble three-day summit consisted of a creative part on Friday and Saturday and a variety of public activities on Sunday.

Organized by Montreal artists Julie Delporte and Vincent Girard as well as Lise Rebout, “48 Heures” is perhaps the only comics festival based on the creative process itself, according to Rebout. Funded by a variety of sponsors, including Caisse Desjardins and Fonds Franco-Allemande, the weekend produces a full-colour tabloid-sized anthology that will be distributed at Expozine. “48 heures” aims to promote new comics (b.d.s in French) from Quebec as well as encourage collaboration with artists from other cultures. The public activities on Sunday included workshops for children and adults, screenings of animated films, and a vernissage.

On Friday the artists discussed possible uniting themes for the zine, the final decision being “distance” – a premise vague enough to allow an expanse of interpretations. Artists were placed in pairs and assigned to complete two pages collectively, either in collaboration or separately. It goes without saying that the more interesting pieces were collaborations, especially when contrasting style and even linguistic differences were evident. Well-known Quebec cartoonist Pascal Girard, whose dessin Nicholas was published by local publisher Drawn & Quarterly, worked with Sébastien Trahan on a piece that plays their styles off one another by grouping diverse characters together. Trahan found the time limit of the event inspiring. “Forty-eight hours is great for me,” he explained. “I’m someone who needs to be pushed a bit. . . . You don’t know what to expect and there’s a lot of pressure.”

Most delightful to watch in their craft were sisters Alix and Maya, ten and seven years of age respectively. “La Compagnie des dessins,” as they are known, have a website where they draw pictures on request. Diligently working alongside their colleagues with watercolours, the two exhibited a technique equally childish and reflective of a general, albeit very loose, Montreal style.

The Goethe Institute presented two Berlin artists, one of whom was Mawil, whose work was on display at the Institute’s library and who is considered one of Germany’s most important independent comic artists. The award-winning cartoonist, real name Markus Witzel, reveled in the spontaneity of the event. “I’ve been to many comics festivals before, but this is the first where it’s about really drawing comics,” he said. “Usually you sit behind your stand, try to sell your books, in the evening you get drunk with the other guys.” Mawil says he met most of the participants for the first time on Friday, “but when I see what kind of drawings they did I recognized I had already seen their books.”

A native of East Berlin before the fall of the wall, Mawil speaks English but not French, so he had to find a way around words with his partner, Quebecoise dessinatrice Ariane Denommé. “We tried to tell a story mostly without words,” Mawil explained. Though he couldn’t understand some of the comics that relied on French text, he noted, “Some of these guys, they tell stories mostly with pictures and sometimes you just see moving faces or hands, just typical traits of everyday life, and you see that people who speak a different language have the same experience or make the same funny discovery.” He and Denommé created a two-page vignette about a sad office drone who withdraws all of his money from the bank to enjoy a tropical vacation, where he encounters his unknowing CEO boss. Though they make a toast “Á l’amité,” the two return to their routine existence by the end. The minimal dialogue is not even necessary thanks to a dynamic coordination between the artists that emphasizes motion and expression.

In a country often divided by language, the utility of cartoons in communication is well known; a single political cartoon can carry the same resonance in the Montreal Mirror as Rue Frontenac. However, at this event the exchange between artists was as much about publishing as the craft itself. “In Quebec artists are very free,” said Lise Rebout, “In Europe publishers have more control, so here our artists can share that freedom.”

Mawil joked that he was raised under a regime that had only one copy machine. He was not exposed to many comics in East Germany, but he started producing fanzines after the Soviet era. Comics are still not very popular in Germany, so he was impressed with the community in Quebec, even though he was surprised it was not as popular as in France or America – the two Western hubs of comics. Trahan described Quebec’s b.d. scene as la marge, or the margin; “With the means that we have we reach a small amount of people, but the direction is doing well,” he said. “If you want to do commercial things you have to look overseas or south of the border,” Trahan elaborated, “because there are not many examples of commercial work here working well, so we have to look at the people doing the more experimental things here.” The “48 heures” zine will be available at Expozine as well as other locations throughout the province. Its existence, as well as that of Expozine itself, attests to a healthy, collaborative community of dessinateurs in Quebec with ties to artists elsewhere. Though drawing comics in Quebec rarely leads to financially lucrative careers, the artists who worked on “48 heures” were relieved to have their independence. “They make it look easy,” Mawil said of his Quebecoise comrades. “Yesterday I saw people drawing and talking and drinking all at the same time, it was really perfect.”