On the chilly morning of November 19, ImaginAtlas’ staff writers boldly ventured out to Église Saint-Arsène in Rosemont to attend Expozine, Canada’s largest small press fair. Founded in 2002 by ARCMTL, a local nonprofit focused on “preserving independent culture” in Montreal through events and archival projects, Expozine hosts nearly 200 independent artists and small press publishers of comics, poetry, print arts, and more in both French and English. Free to attend and easily accessible, it was packed with attendees browsing the rows of tables spread throughout the hall. Smaller artists were two to a folding table, while larger publishers had full-shelf setups. Everyone was in good spirits, and the room was filled with lively chatter as vendors discussed their displays.

Strolling through the aisles revealed a wide variety of content. One booth displayed dozens of pay-what-you-can pamphlets on community building and philosophy produced by a local housing collective. At another, found objects littered a table in what was described as “performance art”—attendees could take any item for free as long as they told the artist why they wanted it. Plenty of vendors whose work focuses on Montreal—prints of locations around the city, zines detailing local history, and personal poetry about the lives of residents—were also present. But the diversity of the selection also highlights the city’s myriad international connections—creators hailed from South Korea to France to Southern California, with works showcasing an even wider range of cultural influences. Similarly, famed publishing houses like Conundrum Press shared space with self-published creators making their debut. 

The sheer multiplicity on display was exhilarating; it was enough to instill in anyone a love for comics and the people who make them—or rekindle it for once-fervent fans. Though the genres represented varied widely, much of the work displayed related to fantasy and science fiction. The people behind these works ranged from professional illustrators advertising their services to independent artists publishing short story anthologies. ImaginAtlas spoke with a few to learn more about their artistic backgrounds and current projects. 

Among the most prominent artists was Francois Vigneault, writer-illustrator of the acclaimed Titan and collaborator on Orcs from Space with Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland. Brimming with evident passion for the medium, the San Diego native told ImaginAtlas how he got started and detailed his long, arduous path from wannabe to acclaimed creator. Titan is a labour of love for him; equally inspired by classic SF and real-life labour history, he dreamed up this tale of a giant’s revolt on the eponymous Saturn moon and brought it to life on paper all on his own. A string of rejections followed until he finally found a willing publisher—in French. This required hiring a translator to fulfill the publisher’s dictate, but the release was successful enough to allow for an English version to follow soon after. Fittingly for the Brazilian heritage of protagonist João da Silva, Vigneault would be keen to also see a Portuguese edition published someday. When asked for advice to budding comics creators, he urged perseverance; eventually, you’ll get there.

Shawn Kuruneru, the Toronto-born artist behind graphic novels like Burn Man and Fool’s Wish, does not deny a notable visual influence from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, but his work is still very much his own. Kuruneru’s latest, a collaboration with lyricist Jennifer Castle, moves dynamically from exquisitely detailed nature imagery to cosmic fantasias that out-Kirby Kirby. Box of Rain, self-published at Marquee Press (a popular destination for local graphic artists), shows a creator fearlessly braving his own path—and combining mediums in doing so, thanks to the inclusion of Castle’s enigmatic lyrics.

@ Olivia Connor

The table of Windy & Wallflower, an independent company and queer collaborative between creators Tas Mukanik and Winter Jay Kiakas, displayed many fantasy works. On display in a bright rainbow of small format books was the Prism Knights series, an anthology of interrelated short stories written by Kiakas. Each story is loosely based on a classic fairytale and features knights of different queer identities, highlighting characters who are trans, nonbinary, asexual, lesbian, gay, pansexual, bisexual, and polyamorous. Kiakas wrote the series with the desire to “see more queer characters in settings in which their story is not a queer coming of age story but a story in which characters are already comfortably queer in fantastical settings.” The first book, Coquelicot (described at the booth with the tag “Evil Lesbian Knights!”), is a Rapunzel-inspired tale of two women who fall into a relationship filled with passion and murder. Kiakas was kind enough to sign a copy.

Vast as Expozine is, it does not contain the full breadth of the city’s graphic storytelling scene. The Festival BD de Montreal also hosts a plethora of Anglo and Francophone comics creators every year. Its next iteration will be held in May. But those interested in local comics need not wait till then to get their fix; these creators (and many others) are already out there, and they’re happy to share their work with anyone who takes an interest. So go ahead and reach out—you won’t be disappointed.