Last weekend, most of us probably slept in, drank some beer, hit the market or watched a little TV. Last weekend, Montreal artist Matthew Forsythe toured the Pixar studios in San Francisco and contributed artwork to a high-profile tribute show for Japanese artist Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away). Oh yeah---and on the way home, his plane got struck by lightning.
"It was scary, man," says Forsythe, on the phone from his home in Montreal. "It felt like we were hit by a rocket or something. There were about 30 seconds where you could tell everyone was fearing the worst. This flight attendant told me she hadn't seen anything like it in 27 years."
The plane quickly righted itself and Forsythe was returned in one piece. Still, it's another crazy moment in the career of an artist who's known for rendering everyday life with a combination of childish awe and exaggerated intensity. This undercurrent runs through his debut graphic novel Ojingogo, published by Drawn & Quarterly, and getting the Halifax launch treatment this weekend at Strange Adventures. The book is a collection of strips taken from Forsythe's online webcomic of the same name. Its main characters are a little girl, a squid (the book's title is a variation on ojingo, the Korean word for squid), and a host of colourful beasts ranging from cutesy mini-mummies to giant box-shaped creatures with black, gaping maws. It's a strange and startlingly original little book that at the same time recalls cultural references that may or may not be deliberate---at one point, the squid leaps onto the girl's face and hugs her in a way that's reminiscent of those creepy face-suckers from the Alienmovies, but cuddlier.
Forsythe says the biggest inspiration was Korean cartoon culture, which he soaked up in mass quantities while teaching English to kids in Seoul a few years ago.
"There's a lot of stylistic things in Korea that we just don't do in the west," he says. "Once you're there, you have to re-learn how they do comics. They jump from hyper-realism to super-cute stuff, sometimes in the same panel. I've tried to emulate that. Some of the characters are literally from dreams I've had."
In addition to a growing obsession with Korean comics and manga, Forsythe also experienced the jumble of sensations that accompany the ex-pat experience: Confusion, alienation and awe. That, along with bits and pieces of the storytelling sessions he shared with his students, form the bulk of Ojingogo's spine.
"As someone living in a country where I didn't speak the language and didn't know anyone---it really took me back to a second childhood," he says. "And the kids really effected my sense of logic. They made me deconstruct the way I approach things---just total stream of consciousness. I tried to capture that feeling in the comic. A lot of the things in there are just nonsense."
Ojingogo has already made a splash in the comic world---the web version garnered two Eisener Comic Industry Award nominations and won Best English Comic during Montreal's Expozine Awards this summer. His Montreal book launch in August packed a downtown bookstore to the gills. Forsythe says he's a little bamboozled by it all.
"It's such a light comic. I couldn't believe it resonated with people so profoundly," he says. "I mean, I think it's accessible. It doesn't demand anything of you---it's non-threatening. It's just saying 'I'm here. Have fun if you want.'"
Matthew Forsythe's book signing and presentation on Korean art, Saturday, September 20 at Strange Adventures, 5262 Sackville, 7pm, free.
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