All Hail the Su­perqueerdo

Erik Kostiuk Wil­liams' new comic condo Heart break Disco takes aim at a rapidly-chang­ing city

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Jonathan Valelly…

FROM

A HIDDEN look­out point at the top of a glassy, aus­tere tower de­vel­op­ment in the ever-ex­pand­ing down­town core of Toronto, a masked evil mas­ter­mind ex­plains why the city is the per­fect site for a sur­real, hy­per­speed condo boom. “It’s been al­most too easy set­ting up shop here,” she cack­les. “In a city thirsty for world-class status, with hardly any re­gard for its own his­tory…” It’s a dra­matic, ma­ni­a­cal con­fronta­tion; a clas­sic it­er­a­tion of the su­pervil­lain cli­max scene. Yet this cru­cial mo­ment in Condo Heart­break Disco, the up­com­ing full-length comic from artist Eric Kostiuk Wil­liams and the in­die comics pow­er­house Koyama Press, feels un­nerv­ingly close to re­al­ity.

Condo Heart­break Disco is larger than life, equal parts evic­tion drama, cos­mic “su­perqueerdo” ex­is­ten­tial­ism and buddy-cop com­edy (if cops didn’t suck!). It also takes pointed aim at Toronto’s oh-so-real overde­vel­op­ment, get­ting more sin­is­ter by the day. “I kept try­ing to make ex­ag­ger­ated condo cityscapes in a weird, de­mented way,” Wil­liams jokes. “But ev­ery time I drew one, I would look to­wards the wa­ter­front and be like — oh, it looks like that al­ready.”

Against this back­drop of see-through high­rises tow­er­ing men­ac­ingly over neigh­bour­hood blocks we meet our pro­tag­o­nists: Komio and Wil­len­dorf Braid. The two shapeshift­ing cos­mic femmes, whose trans-mil­len­nial tra­jec­to­ries have landed them in Toronto’s quickly-chang­ing Park­dale neigh­bour­hood, are find­ing them­selves ever down on their luck. Komio, a mostly eth­i­cal vengeance dealer, still finds some work sup­port­ing the vic­tims of ma­cho down­town club cul­ture. Braid’s of­fer­ings of holis­tic, emo­tional so­lace haven’t been pay­ing the bills.

When the pair’s room­mate breaks the news that they’re be­ing evicted to make room for a yet an­other condo de­vel­op­ment, they plug into a more sin­is­ter, oth­er­worldly plot behind the rapid era­sure of Toronto’s most cher­ished yet un­sung neigh­bour­hoods. Evil cor­po­rate en­ti­ties, ex­ploit­ing the in­roads made by a (some­what) un­wit­ting white cre­ative class, seem hell­bent on push­ing late cap­i­tal­ist de­vel­op­ment to a bizarre cli­max — and it’s not clear that the heroes have the power to stop it.“they’re two kind of queer su­per­hero char­ac­ters who can’t save the day in the end,” ex­plains Wil­liams.

The pro­tag­o­nists’ at­tempts to in­volve them­selves in hu­man­ity’s trou­bles acts as a stand-in for the po­lit­i­cal and eth­i­cal anx­i­eties fac­ing queers, peo­ple of colour, and artists in a chang­ing city. How does an anti-cap­i­tal­ist queerdo adapt and sur­vive in a time where greed is the win­ning mo­ti­va­tor?

Condo Heart­break Disco was a nec­es­sary project for Wil­liams, who has been a Park­dale res­i­dent for most of his seven years in Toronto. In part, it also con­fronts his own role as a white queer artist rel­a­tively new to the tight-knit, but quickly gen­tri­fy­ing neigh­bour­hood.

“There’s a bit of that sen­si­bil­ity in the two char­ac­ters them­selves,” he ex­plains. “They’re artists, queers, try­ing to do the right thing, but they’re still sort of vis­i­tors. And I wanted to ad­dress that with the young, hip artist char­ac­ter who is su­per drawn to the au­then­tic­ity of the neigh­bour­hood, but is like a to­tally obliv­i­ous, priv­i­lege-wield­ing jerk.”

Here he’s re­fer­ring to the comic’s un­named, toque-wear­ing char­ac­ter who takes voyeuris­tic shots of long-time Park­dale res­i­dents on his phone, ring­ing in In­sta­gram likes from peers and cor­po­rate trend-seek­ers alike. Through this char­ac­ter, the comic ad­dresses the ways in which the lines aren’t al­ways clear be­tween be­ing part of a com­mu­nity and ex­ploit­ing it.

The story is squarely Toron­to­nian, and feels achingly true, de­pict­ing a city quick to stamp out its vi­brant un­der­ground cul­tures to make way for a re­stric­tive vi­sion of ur­ban glory. As an ex­am­ple, Kostiuk Wil­liams cites the dis­place­ment of the artists liv­ing at a ware­house at Queen St and Dover­court St in the 2000s. The same artists who helped make Queen West “cool” were swiftly evicted and re­placed with steely, hideous “artist’s con­dos.” One of the artists af­fected was Wil­liams’ friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Michael Comeau, who also works within the in­ter­sec­tions of queer art and the comics world.

"It's such a messy un­com­fort­able thing to talk about... most artists don't want to see them­selves that way."

“I think ev­ery­one is stunned and ex­hausted by all the good­byes we’ve said in the last few months to the spa­ces we shared,” re­flects Comeau. “It is the shar­ing that is missed. (Condo Heart­break Disco) is a timely and worth­while thing to fic­tion­al­ize what is af­fect­ing so many in this city.”

The cy­cle of dis­place­ment con­tin­ues in Toronto, most re­cently with the loss of DIY spa­ces like Soy­bomb and long-run­ning show venues like The Sil­ver Dol­lar and Holy Oak. “It’s part of our city’s weird cul­tural iden­tity cri­sis. Like, Toronto wasn’t really in­tended to be that ex­cit­ing of a place,” Wil­liams pon­ders. “The in­ter­est­ing cul­tural things that did creep up dur­ing the ‘80s did so in spite of that. Peo­ple weren’t think­ing of the city in the ‘world class’ way they sud­denly want to now.”

Wil­liams’ artis­tic ap­proach re­flects a long-stand­ing moral con­fu­sion of mak­ing art in and about a gen­tri­fy­ing world. A few years ago, he turned the dizzy­ing land­scape of gay clubs and the delir­ium of self-doubt into the spirac­u­lar page lay­outs and di­vadriven dance­floor of Hun­gry Bot­tom Comics. With these re­leases, he splashed onto the in­die comics scene with a re­mark­able ca­pac­ity for sur­real de­sign and mu­si­cal ty­pog­ra­phy.

With Condo Heart­break Disco,wil­liams’ sig­na­ture style adapts and ex­pands for new pur­poses — the pages are dense, and Wil­liams’ fig­ures, shapes and bod­ies bust across pan­els with un­both­ered piz­zaz. At 50 pages, the il­lus­tra­tions are nec­es­sar­ily thick and evoca­tive, find­ing cre­ative ways to por­tray such slip­pery con­cepts as af­fec­tive labour and cap­i­tal­ist ac­cel­er­a­tionism (se­ri­ously)!

Condo Heart­break Disco isn’t the only project where Wil­liams is ex­pand­ing his palate. In De­cem­ber, he launched Baby­bel Wax Body­suit with Retro­fit Comics. It’s a sci-fi trib­ute to the inim­itable Brit­ney Spears (equally in­spired by the tit­u­lar red wax-cov­ered tiny cheese wheels) and it’s his first full-colour comic. The re­sult is pretty bananas. “It adds whole new di­men­sion to sto­ry­telling, creat­ing mood and giv­ing a sense of form,” says Wil­liams, adding with a purr, ”Es­pe­cially with some­thing about soft cheese. I wanted it to feel like, ‘Mmm I want to take a bite out of that!’”

The third comic Wil­liams launches this sea­son builds on his grow­ing body of work pay­ing trib­ute to fe­male pop ti­tans like Bey­oncé and Brit­ney, this time as a trib­ute to the Australian pop star and gay icon Kylie Minogue. How Does it Feel in My Arms will be re­leased as a part of Ley­lines, a minis­eries that chal­lenges car­toon­ists to make work about the the artis­tic forces that in­spire them. While other artists have cho­sen more canon­i­cal fig­ures such as Egon Schiele and Gertrude Stein, Wil­liams’ con­tri­bu­tion will look to Minogue’s song “In My Arms” for in­spi­ra­tion, an­a­lyz­ing the lyrics in con­ver­sa­tion with the an­ar­cho-utopian pol­i­tics of turn-of-the-cen­tury Rus­sian thinker Py­otr Kropotkin. When asked about his com­mit­ment to diva fig­ures, Wil­liams’ an­swer is as po­lit­i­cal as it is per­sonal.

“As a sissy gay boy who was made fun of pretty mer­ci­lessly, I had to learn to con­ceal my ap­pre­ci­a­tion and affin­ity for fem­i­nin­ity,” he ex­plains. “Over the past few years, I’ve been ex­ca­vat­ing that love for women. It feels ther­a­peu­tic to ex­plore the sen­si­bil­ity I was ashamed of… and I think fem­i­nine en­ergy is so needed in the world, and it might be the thing that saves us as a species. Women get shit done — and men have held so much power for so long, and look where that’s got­ten us.”

As Toronto con­tin­ues to morph and trans­form, it is in­cum­bent upon artists like Eric Kostiuk Wil­liams to tell that story, to reimag­ine it, and to chal­lenge the forces that ex­ploit and push out artists, di­vas, and plea­sure-seek­ers the world over to make room for bor­ing peo­ple — es­pe­cially when the blame some­times falls on the artists them­selves.

“It’s such a messy un­com­fort­able thing to talk about. Most artists don’t want to see them­selves that way,” ad­mits Wil­liams. “But that’s all the more rea­son to talk about it.”

Buy Wil­liams’ books at the Toronto Comic Arts Fes­ti­val (May 13–14) and at The Be­guil­ing Books & Art and in other fine comics re­tail­ers world­wide.

Baby­bel Wax Body­suit, Big Planet/retro­fit Comics, 20pgs, $6,

big­plan­et­comics.com

Condo Heart­break Disco, Koyama Press, $10, koyama­press.com

How Does It Feel In My Arms, Czap Books/ Ley­lines, $6, czap­books.com

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