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Wendy’s world

An interview with Walter Kaheró:ton Scott

Wendy is the very human and very funny tale of a young art school graduate involved in the Montreal art scene and its various excesses. Wendy’s author, 27-year-old Walter Kaheró:ton Scott, grew up in Kahnawake. He is currently doing a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The Daily interviewed Scott via email. 

The McGill Daily (MD): How did Wendy begin her life, and what is her relationship to your own life and career? To my understanding, her exploits are to some degree informed by your own experiences.

Walter Kaheró:ton Scott (WS): Wendy was born on a diner placemat in the bad part of town on a hungover afternoon. I was living in St. Henri at the time (2011), and had spent all hours of the night before partying. The next day, my friend and I were sitting at the diner and I drew an avatar of myself, but female, barfing into a toilet. I made a few more doodles and immediately went home and photoshopped it into a loose little five-panel comic jpeg. My friends really liked it on Facebook so I decided to make a few more. Eventually Audrey Cantwell, a fashion designer based in St.  Henri, asked me to put together a several-page Wendy adventure for her zine, Tarantula Sisters. I made one, and then another, and pretty soon, Wendy went from a one-liner to a complex character, living a narrative in her own Wendyverse. Her adventures at the time were a direct reflection of my Montreal lifestyle experiences; the trials and tribulations at loft parties, art shows, and more private locales, like in the throes of displaced passion in the arms of someone who doesn’t even really like you that much, or is too stoned to function.

MD: Readers at McGill are perhaps not familiar with what the Montreal art scene is like, or what life as an art school graduate is like. How would you describe the lifestyle?

WS: My experience as an art school post-grad was (and is) similar to living like a raccoon standing on two feet. After being entrenched in an institution that vaguely perpetuated my own blissful amnesia about a future of art-stardom and success, it hit hard to find myself a year after graduating, designing funky slogans for chihuaha-sized hoodies. Furthermore, Montreal’s underground arts scene is heavily music/performance infused, and these immersive experiences are where I found myself getting into a lot of trouble. Lack of steady employment and a party happening every weekend is a pretty standard experience for a lot of artists in Montreal.

MD: Wendy seems like a reaction to the Montreal art scene. How would you describe the response? (Has anyone been offended, or made a big deal of not getting the joke?)

WS: I heard a criticism that I was abusing my privilege as a male in writing a vulnerable female character, but I think that might be a kind of political correctness that attempts to squelch any dialogue about a shared human experience. It’s also a coercion into a strict one-sided dialogue about authorship (not taking into consideration, for instance, my gay and Aboriginal identity), and in that way is another form of dogma. Wendy’s problems have been described to me as “everyone’s problems,” and I take great joy in weaving in the experiences of the different people in my life into a story with characters who act as avatars of these real people in my life, sometimes several people at once.

MD: Despite not representing the most admirable qualities that you might hope a young aspiring artist might have, I think it is clear that you like Wendy, and the reader certainly grows to like her too. Does Wendy represent a hope of redemption for struggling young artists?

WS: In retrospect, Wendy was created as a type of coping mechanism for me during a very dark time in my life. There is catharsis there, for me personally, and from the positive feedback I’ve received from others. It would seem she serves as a reflection for others too. I actually admire Wendy’s bad qualities too, because in naivete and confusion, there is a vulnerability; a desire to explore and learn.

MD: Wendy is now online, or at least some Wendy comics are now online. How do you feel about using the internet as a way of distributing art, or more specifically comics, now that web-comics seem to have become an established thing?

WS: I like selling the Wendy books as art objects. I sign my name in each of them, so the edition is based on my mark-making rather than a number. I have an Etsy store for these books, and I am currently interested in the notion of an art object as a commodity, and the conceptual confusion between an ‘art practice’ and ‘running a small business.’ I also enjoy making Wendy comics for online and printed magazines, because there is an opportunity there to reflect on the medium the comic is being presented in. In that way, it works as a comic but also as a project that is self-reflective of its shape-shifting manifestations as a commodity, an object, a feature, or whatever else. I’m thinking of making tote-bags in the future.

MD: How do you feel Wendy fits into your wider body of work as an artist?

WS: I like to work with concepts and materials about shape-shifting, camouflage, disguises, passageways, access, and transformation, and so I’m pretty sure that Wendy is a personality I have created to access my environment in a way that is not immediately informed by my own obvious identity. So I guess she is another personality of mine, a kind of drag performance.

MD: Did you ever plan to be a cartoonist? Is Wendy your first comic?

WS: I was drawing cartoons my whole life up until about twenty, when I decided to take a break to drink beer and be popular. I guess my innate desire to communicate in this way came right back when I needed it most. The Wendy project has been a way to learn that language again.

MD: According to you, what is an example of exciting art being done in Montreal right now?

WS: Julien Ceccaldi’s comics.

MD: Given the success of  Wendy, do you think your future as an artist looks more Wendy-shaped or comics oriented?

WS: I have a few different things on the go right now. I’m working on some sculptural installation for a group show in Vancouver this year, and I’m curious to see how my comic-based practice will inform my other work. I like working in several different mediums at once, including comics, so it’ll be interesting to see how they will inform and enrich each other in the future. I guess I just have to keep making work to find out.

­—Compiled by Daniel Woodhouse