It’s been a busy year for the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop. A school launched by professionals in the comic book industry with the intention of training tomorrow’s artists and authors, TCW has expanded its course offerings and continues to cultivate new talent. The second volume of their flagship product, Holmes Incorporated, launched earlier this month – a comic book written, drawn, inked and lettered by students of the workshop. In the near future, the descendants of legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and Watson, have established an agency dedicated to solving the world’s most puzzling and dangerous mysteries.
Holmes Inc. wasn’t the only comic on display this time, as the spacious new location in the heart of Little Italy allows the Workshop to double as an art gallery. Andy Belanger is showcasing his work on Kill Shakespeare #12, the final issue of the current volume created by Anthony Del Conte and Conor McCrery that’s turned expectations of classical adaptations on their heads for the past year. Prints of pages from the issue line one wall of the space, along with a gigantic cover illustration. On the other side sit sketches by J. Bone, who drew Wonder Woman Retroactive: The 70s, a DC story written by Dennis O’Neil.
While the original space was an apartment-style home adapted into a school, the new TCW is a large area suitable for gallery showings and much larger classes, including room for live models for drawing and anatomy classes. “Before we used to have classes of 22 students and eventually we’d have to start turning people away,” explains Templeton, “and now, honestly, 200 students and the football squad and the towel boy can come in.”
Holmes Inc #2 itself is a monster of a comic volume: 13 stories, over 75 pages and 22 contributors instead of last year’s 14. Templeton wasn’t modest in the praise of his students. “I was astounded that Holmes Issue 2 was a little bit better than Issue 1,” he explains. “Every one of them produced tremendous work. About six or seven of them were previously involved with the first issue, and when they came back, they did better work than the first issue. And the new people were stunningly good.”
The creative process even gave birth to totally new characters in addition to Templeton’s main cast of Holmes descendants, including a hulking bodyguard and transvestite called Equi-T. Templeton gave his blessings to his students to use their own characters however they like in future spin-offs, even though they first appeared in a book of his creation. “I’m very conscious of the fact that creativity should not be outright stolen from you. If you take something you love, go do it. My only stipulation is you can’t take my characters along with you, because they belong to me!”
Templeton owes much of the success of the Holmes project to the creative classroom setting. All students, whether writers or artists, present their work to all other members of the team and give and receive feedback – with no one allowed to sit in the corner and simply give a polite nod.
“Artists and writers work at home usually, and usually in a basement. It’s a very solitary job. By forcing the creators, especially in our project, to come in once a week, you get to see not only the finished page but you get to see the page in its layout form, when it’s in sketchy pencils, and you get to see the job get inked and coloured. Even if you didn’t do anything, you still get to say ‘Hey, I liked, that’, or ‘Maybe it would be better if that tree was more gnarly’, or ‘If that car had cooler looking jet packs on it’ or something. And so you feel, in a small way, responsible for every page of it.”
Besides the new location, the classes at the Workshop are operating mostly the same as before. Instructors include respected professionals in the comics industry like Ramon Perez and Leonard Kirk, as well as Templeton. The faculty isn’t restricted to those with ties to Marvel and DC, though: Holmes Inc‘s assistant editor Rob Pincombe came from a television background.
Perhaps the biggest change is that Holmes, Inc. is also available digitally on several digital distribution websites such as Comixology and Drive-Thru Comics. It was a student’s idea, one that eventually convinced the self-professed old-timer in Templeton. “My problem with the digital versions are, in general, that you can’t have two-page spreads, and that the story flows differently because of the constraints of the medium. But the new new e-readers are exactly the same size as a comic book, and have a screen that reads as beautifully as a comic book.” Although Templeton sounds reluctant to make the change, online distributors were kind enough to offer Holmes Inc. #2 for free, in the interest of promising, emerging talent.
Templeton and the rest of the Workshop will keep cultivating new, local talent, including taking their classes to Fan Expo Canada. TCW will hold a “Make your own darn comic!” workshop on Thursday, the Comic Book Bootcamp on Saturday, and Templeton teams up with Amazing Spider-Man‘s Dan Slott for Superhero Stew: Create a Character. Check out Fan Expo’s comic book schedule, because TCW has their hands all over the workshops and panels.
“We want to be one of the places that you think of when you think of Toronto comics. Whatever is comics in the city, we want to be part of that.”