Earlier in the week we sat down with Marc Glassman, one of the most eclectic arts mavens in the city of Toronto to talk about this weekend’s upcoming Pages Festival + Conference. An extension of the kind of work Glassman has devoted his entire life to, the weekend long festival and conference (starting tomorrow and running through Thursday) seeks to look at the places where various forms of art and culture meet.
Glassman is the perfect person to do it, having been a film producer, programmer, and distributor, the founding editor of POV Magazine, a film critic for Classical 96.3, a founder of the Images Festival, the founder and curator of This Is Not a Reading Series, and perhaps most notably as the former owner of the dearly departed Toronto institution Pages Bookstore, from which this latest series gets its name. Again, I think I am forgetting at least half a dozen jobs here.
In this installment of our lengthy hour long sit down, we talk about events that will discuss graphic novels and the writing of Susanna Moodie in a look at the festival’s other main talks and appearances, and about what he believes a successful first year of the festival entails.
To read about how the festival came about, a look back at what Pages meant to the formation of this festival, and events featuring Bob Bossin, Atom Egoyan, and talks about the creation of modern urban narratives and the fine art of photography in the digital age, check out part one of our interview here.
For more information on the festival (and especially more about the conference section that will delve into the future of the book), a full list of programs, venues, and times, please visit the Pages Festival + Conference website.
Dork Shelf: Let’s move on to talking about Susanna Moodie, who really is kind of one of the unsung heroes of Canadian literature. This is someone who is continually talked about amongst writers as an influence on their writing, but often never gets talked about in the larger conversation at large about Canadian authors. Much like how comedians like certain comedians that languish somewhat in obscurity because they are a “comic’s comic,” Susanna Moody is a writer that appeals to other writers in a similar way.
Marc Glassman: That’s true! Absolutely. You’re right. Absolutely correct.
My experience with this goes back to a friend of mine who’s actually involved with the festival, Patrick Crowe, and he owns a company called Xenophile Media, and his co-founder was Thomas Wallner who has now become a documentary filmmaker in his own right. He did the film The Guantanamo Trap which he won an award for a couple of years ago. Patrick has continued without the company without Thomas since those days, but Patrick started with documentary before he went into new media, and one of his documentaries was The Enduring Enigma of Susanna Moodie, and I was one of the producers of it. We worked at the National Film Board together right after he graduated from York University. He’s quite a bit younger than I am, but we immediately hit it off and became pals. He was the programmer and I was the manager of the theatre back in the early 90s.
So Patrick when he told me about this project about Susanna Moodie, I got really excited, and he asked if I would help and come on and be one of his producers, and I said “Well, what can I really help you with?” There were a lot of things, but one of the things he wanted me to do was to introduce him to Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields. Atwood, of course, had done The Journals of Susanna Moodie early on in her career with illustrator Charlie Pachter, which was one of the things that really helped to resurrect Moodie’s name. And Shields had actually written her doctoral thesis on Susanna Moodie years before she wrote The Stone Diaries and before she became internationally recognized.
The other person, and he’s not in this presentation, is Timothy Findley, who was hugely influenced by Moodie and loved Moodie’s work, and I was working with him on a play that never got produced on Moodie. So those were the three.
Patrick and Shields really hit it off. He was this nice young man, and Shields and he started corresponding and phoning and all of that, and they came up with this idea that would be nice to do, which is a film adaptation of Roughing it in the Bush. So they were working on this when Shields died, so this was literally her last project. So it sat sitting in a drawer for the next ten years, and Patrick got the idea and said “Why don’t we make it an interactive graphic novel?” So he went to Sheild’s widower and he said okay.
So Willow Dawson, who’s a graphic novelist that’s most famous for a book on Nellie McClung, was hired to do the drawing with Shield’s words. That was the basis of what they began to do when creating a graphic novel that then became interactive because he has a guy who works at his company named Alex Mayhew, who goes back to the CD-ROM days. He worked on one of the greatest early CD-ROMs, which was Secret World by Peter Gabriel. Alex is British and has been living here for the past five years now because his wife got a job at OCAD. (laughs) And he’s great. He’s a genius. People are just blown away by what he knows and how innovative he is as an interactive graphic artist. They’ve got Willow doing the graphics designs, and then Alex makes it all functional.
Then there’s Connor Holler who is on our panel, who works with Alex and Patrick. As it happens, Patrick is going to be off in Brazil for his next project at this time. Ideally we would have Atwood there, but we do have audio of her reading three of Moodie’s poems that we used in the film. Some of it is from the film, and some of it are outtakes that we never used. We’re going to put in the audio so we can her read some of the poems. Connor will be on hand to talk about some of the origins of the graphic novel.
[NOW Magazine’s Susan G. Cole hosts The Many Tales of Susanna Moodie with pannelists and presenters Charles Pachter, Willow Dawson, Connor Holler, and Alex Mayhew on Saturday, at 7:00pm at Randolph Theatre]
DS: That leads nicely into talking about the other major Saturday night event about Seth and the Art of the Graphic Novel. One of the things that I always loved about Pages that I never got from any other bookstore that wasn’t a strictly high end comic book shop, was that graphic novels were always abundant and easy to find.
MG: Probably because I love them so much. (laughs)
DS: But in other bookstores, these were books that to this day are always off in some niche section of the store that you have to hunt for. And I know they are making money from these books but they seem almost afraid to showcase them. In most mainstream bookstores you never see a graphic novelist to give a talk or do a book signing. I think it’s almost inarguably in mainstream literature one of the most fascinating and viable things there is. It has the most fervent audience, too.
MG: Absolutely, and in terms of new media this is definitely where we are headed. Children’s books, too. Next year I really hope to do something at the festival about children’s books.
But that’s totally true about graphic novels. I mean, I was a nerdy kid! I was a Marvel Comics guy. I was totally into it when I was young and I continued to love it as I grew older. One of the crazier little moments that ever happened at pages was when Ron Mann put out the film Comic Book Confidential and we decided to do the press conference at Pages. So Zippy the Pinhead was there, and Harvey Pekar was there, Lynda Barry was there. It was great.
Of course I was a huge man of Maus. We sold zillions of copies of that. I was also totally into who Eisner was. I was into all of that. I knew it. And Seth has said so. He even said that even before a store like The Beguiling, Pages was into it. And Chester Brown used to come to the store all the time. And all of those people who were really into what would become the graphic novel today stopped in.
Whenever Harvey came to down he would come over and chat. He liked to be nerdy, and we were both really into jazz. I don’t know if you ever would have had the chance to talk to him, but man he was a great guy to talk to. He has a reputation for being grumpy, but he really wasn’t. He knew he was liked a lot, and he got along really well with filmmaker Alan Zweig.
The last time Harvey came to town, and this was… it had to be a couple of years before Harvey died, Alan emailed me and said he wanted to come and hang out. The two of them were just hanging out and they were perfectly curmudgeonly together. (laughs) That would have been a perfect movie.
And I’ve known our host for the evening, Jeet Heer, for quite a while, and I’ve served on the jury for the Doug Wright Award, so for me this is really one of my things that’s closest to my heart. I can imagine this kind of being a bulwark thing. I’m thinking next year we’ll do another one. I almost can’t imagine doing a festival without a graphic novel component.
Frankly, to me it is really there and in the moment. As much as I think cultural theory and art books were important things to have at Pages, I already have ideas for who I can invite next year to talk about the graphic novel.
DS: And the people that you have selected to talk this year can really speak to the diversity and different styles of what a graphic novel can be. They can be a wordless ten pages or 1,500 page epics. There are even fewer requirements on what a graphic novel can be. It has really moved beyond people really sneering at them and saying they are glorified comic books. There’s some really groundbreaking piece of literature that have come out of this art form.
MG: Exactly. Maus gets taught in university literature classes now. And you can look at something like panellist Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony, which is a great piece of literature. I love the idea that we have him and Seth there. And Fiona Smyth is actually a stalwart for me. As I mentioned earlier, she was actually one of the people who designed the signs at Pages back when she was at OCAD. It’s actually that connection to what’s now a university and not just a college that got me back into film, too.
I remember so many OCAD students and professors. I had studied film at McGill, and then I went away from it for a while when I came back to do Pages after travelling for a bit. How I actually got back to film was because there were a lot of people from OCAD hanging around the store, and they were in their junior or senior year and they were in The Funnel and working on experimental films, and I would chat with them and they saw that I really knew a lot about film. They asked me if I could start programming for them, and they got money from the university so that we could actually put together film screenings. So we got enough to do two years of film screenings all supported by the college. That was my entry into becoming a film programmer in Toronto, actually.
And a lot of people on Queen Street saw what I was doing there, and that led to me programming at The Rivoli on Sunday nights for about five years. That’s why some people who are involved in an arts organization known as the Toronto Arts Group for Human Rights asked me to program a big festival that they did on filmmaking and censorship called The Forbidden Films. So after that, I guess I was hooked into it or something.
But it all came out of OCA and these kids who were visual artists who wanted to know everything, not just about experimental film, but also about cinema. That’s my background there. I got to know Fiona through that crowd in the mid-to-late 80s around the time that she had graduated, which is about 7-9 years after I opened the store. And I go back with some of the teachers there from the time I opened.
But my love of graphic novels, painting, cinema, and art all sort of came together to become a big part of my life all around the same time. As much as I love text and literature – Yes, I read Tolstoy. Yes, I’ve read Flaubert. Yes, I’ve read Doctorow, and Mailer, and Canadian literature, and all of that stuff that I know very, very well – but my interest in visual art and design is very much a part of who I am and a part of the audience that came out around Pages. There was a real sense of cultural community.
This is sort of a grand talk when you don’t know who’s going to show up in the first year, but I hope that’s what happens here. Maybe that’s something that we should talk about in about four or five years. (laughs) But if it were to work, the idea would be once a year for three or four days or a week or however long it becomes, we could have that sense of cultural community where literature, art, and film audiences can get together with creators and once again be that sense that we used to get every day. When people say they miss Pages, I think that’s what they miss. I don’t think they necessarily miss that new, great book. I think they miss that sense of community. And if we can recreate that sense of community with this, that would be a success to me.
[Jeet Heer hosts Seth, Fiona Smyth, and Michael DeForge for Seth and Friends: The Art of the Graphic Novel on Saturday at 9:00pm at Randolph Theatre]