So. We're getting prepped up for another round of beer-drinkin', ruckus-raisin', generously-apostrophie'd fun. And we know you're just dying to know who all is a-gonna be there. Don't fret, pussycat -- we're here to help.
ON THE READING SIDE O' THINGS:
Heavyweight Poetry Champion & Publisher ANDREW FAULKNER
Graphic Novelist & Award-Winning Creative Non-Fiction-er TERRI FAVRO
CBC Short Story Contest First-Placer BECKY BLAKE
The Dashing Short Story Thrill Ride that is NICHOLAS DANIEL MICHELIS
PLUS (hold onto yer hats!)
ON THE MUSIC SIDE O' THINGS:
The Incomparable Folk Experience of LISA HOFFMAN
LOTS OF BEER, Courtesy of THE ONLY CAFE.
We're all a-tremble! Be there.
Now, moving right along.....
Meet Terri Favro and Ron Edding.
It's been a hell of a summer for award-winning writer Terri Favro: first place in Red Line magazine's "End of the World" story contest, shortlisted for the CBC Literary Prize in Creative Non-Fiction, and the publication of her new graphic novel, Waiting for Mario Puzo - among other things. Not bad for someone whose single driving ambition has always been to become a famous writer. In fact, we'd say that all those things about puts you up there.
It ain't like this summer is a peak, neither. Terri's list of published works is only growing more and more impressive: you can find her in everything from GEIST to PRISM International, from Grain to Feathertale.com. Oh, and did we mention her book, The Proxy Bride?
It's not hard to tell why Terri is going nowhere but up. Her work is a careful balancing act of clear, emotionally evocative subject matter, and disarming humour. In fact, with many of her stories, it's all but impossible not to succumb to expertly crafted fist that grips your heart, despite the smiles that'll keep erupting on your face. She manages to capture familiar events and places from her childhood, to crystallize them into moments that you will practically remember as your own - except better. As much of her work deals with Southern Ontario (she is herself a product of the Niagara Peninsula), her stories may bring you back to landscapes you've left - or bring you to places you've never visited. Either way, she manages to brighten a little piece of this great province in the minds of her readers, providing her own valuable contribution to the artistic landscape of Canada.
And then - a graphic development.
No, we don't mean that her work suddenly became more explicit. Terri, along with her partner Ron Edding, decided to branch out into the colourful world of Graphic Novels with The Bella Stories, an ongoing collection of tales surrounding a young woman in a small Italian-Canadian community in Southern Ontario. Terri and Ron work together tirelessly to create the excellent synthesis of words and images, which have most recently resulted in the second installment of the series, Waiting for Mario Puzo.
We sent a few questions to Terri and Ron to ask them about the mechanics of working as a team on a graphic project, and to help us chart the course of Terri's career move into graphic fiction. Check out their answers below, and come out and see them for yourself on November 17th at The Only Cafe.
THE BIG QUESTIONS:
1) Just to get us warmed up, let’s start this interview off with a perennial Ruckus favourite: For someone who’s never experienced your work before, how would you describe it? (Bonus points if you can also describe your writing for us as a dish that would be found on the menu of a fancy bistro.)
“Bella” comics are story-driven, darkly humorous, visually dense, and set in an industrial Niagara border town in the sixties and seventies. Bella is a girl from an Italian immigrant family trying to fit in. She’d love to be anyone but who she is (including Laura Secord and a member of the Corleone crime family.) Inspirations include pulp comic books and movies (especially Fellini and the Godfather films).
If “Bella” was a menu item, she would be a fusion of Canadian diner grub and Italian comfort food: hot roast beef sandwiches with mushy peas and a side of baked polenta con funghi, and for a dessert, instant coffee and cannoli. Or maybe something gooey made with marshmallows and caramels from the Kraft Kitchens. (In her first comic, Bella desperately wants her mom to stop making all this Italian stuff and start cooking like a real Canadian mangiacake.)
2) Terri, your writing displays a remarkable range — Icarus, the piece you wrote which was shortlisted for the CBC LIterary Prize in Creative Non-Fiction, is a touching, intimate story, while a story like Stardust, for example, is a much more tongue-in-cheek work. That said, many of your pieces noticeably employ humour. What is your take on the importance of “funny” in a story? Is there an ideal ratio of funny to serious in your stories? If so, how do you go about feeling around for it?
I don’t consciously try to write humour. It just comes out that way. I don’t try to force it. A reader once told me that the humour in my writing seemed to mask something dark and threatening. That’s true in my fiction writing and also in the Bella comics – you’ll go from seeing a kid arguing with her Nonno at the dinner table to some guy crushed under a hoist. I like that play of light and dark and a general sense of absurdity.
3) Something else that seems to figure prominently into your fiction is the figure of the Italian immigrant. Especially given the subject matter of The Proxy Bride and your “Bella Stories” (notably Waiting for Mario Puzo), why does that particular experience resonate with you? Are there specific aspects of the Italian immigration experience that you find especially fascinating? Why?
The easy answer is that my stories are inspired by my life. I wasn’t an immigrant but my parents were. There is an element of escape and reinvention in immigration that I find interesting – also, a sense of dislocation. How does an immigrant, living in a mixed immigrant neighbourhood close to the U.S. border, know what a “Canadian” really is? Italian characters also allow me to mine stereotypical cultural archetypes and obsessions – epic tales, myths, opera, food, sex, and even organized crime.
4) With Waiting for Mario Puzo, and its predecessor, Bella and the Loyalist Heroine, you and your husband (illustrator Ron Edding), have begun an ongoing series of graphic novels. Why the switch? What inspired you to move toward a more visual format? Are there any advantages to working in the graphic medium that you’ve found? Any restrictions?
My writing is already very visual – my novel “The Proxy Bride” has been called cinematic – so jumping into graphic storytelling seemed natural. Specific streetscapes and interiors of homes could come to life and add a new dimension to the story. Graphic novels provide visual subtext without any text, especially through family photos on the walls of Bella’s house and the behaviour of their evil cat, Serafina. Bella would absolutely love being a comic book heroine (if she were real). She’s the kind of kid who would have grown up reading comics: she would probably like to be a superhero, given the chance.
“Bella” was immediately fun to do, too, because I collaborate with my husband Ron Edding, who knows my childhood home and neighbourhood very well. Ron and I have a history of collaboration, going back to the beginning of our relationship in the 1980s. When I first met Ron, he was part of the Toronto arts scene, painting and making experimental films. I started writing stories for him and we had a number of short films shown at a place called The Funnel on King Street East – it was an alternative, underground, cinema and production space. we saw a lot of amazing work there, including by Peter Greenaway who was involved in the alternative film scene although already famous as a major filmmaker.
The Funnel eventually closed and Ron went on to teaching, painting and collaborating with other visual artists. I focused on freelancing as a copywriter and writing my own fiction and articles. And we had kids to raise. It wasn’t until about seven or eight years ago that we decided to work together again.
The first Bella story started out as a short story about a little girl trying to finish a school project about the United Empire Loyalists over a Thanksgiving weekend. She’s left everything until the last minute, her facts are all wrong, and her sister, home for the long weekend from university, is too busy with her seminarian boyfriend to help Bella out. (Bella’s pretty disgusted that her sister is dating a wannabe priest – “it would be like kissing God,” she says) The family is trying to having a ‘traditional’ Canadian Thanksgiving but everything is going to hell.
Ron read it and suggested he reinterpret it as a graphic story. Ron knew the neighbourhood, family history, what the house looked like, what Bella’s family was like. So it was enormously gratifying because he was invested in the story and didn’t just illustrate it: he reinterpreted it and gave it a visual power that I loved – very dense, and dark, and visually rich. With two of us telling the same story in our own ways, it become more than the sum of its parts. We then went on to create “Waiting For Mario Puzo”, set a few years later when the novel version of “The Godfather” became a bestseller. This is when Bella is weirdly introduced to another aspect of her identity.
5) As a follow-up to that, what is your projected scope for the Bella Stories? is there a long term plan at this point, or are you experimenting and feeling it out as you go?
For the last year or so, we’ve been developing a full-length graphic novel called “Bella and the Boy with the Bedroom Eyes”. The writing is complete and Ron has finished the rough drawings – but he still has about a year of work ahead doing the finished pages. The scope of that story is much broader because it contrasts Bella’s grandfather’s love affair in World War One with teenage Bella’s semi-romantic involvement with a biker in the ‘Facer Street Gang’ (an actual gang in my childhood neighbourhood).
There may be up to two more “Bellas” after that – including one that riffs off “Anne of Green Gables” -- but we also have a couple of other graphic novels planned out that are completely different: one is a crime drama based on an actual unsolved murder in Toronto in the 1930s, the other is a speculative fiction/sexy ghost story set on the Leslie Street Spit.
6) For Ron: You’ve mentioned that your style is largely inspired by MAD magazine and Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater. In which elements of your style do you feel those influences are most evident? For Mario Puzo, are there any other graphic works which you look to for inspiration?
The Hockey Sweater doesn’t inspire my work but there are parallels between it and “Waiting For Mario Puzo”, particularly the way the two books end with a kid, in a church, praying.
MAD Magazine was an influence, though. As a kid, I started drawing what I saw in MAD. I’ve read many graphic novels but I’m not sure there is one particular one that’s influenced me…although I have to say the urban portrayal of “From Hell” is remarkable. The art is quite something. I also really enjoyed “Essex County”.
I also love the urban portrayals in Japanese comics. To some extent, I aspire to that. I try not to think about a particular style, though, but just draw and draw, and let the style evolve on its own.
The city of St. Catharines plays a bigger and bigger role. Setting the scene is important to me. I also use photographs of street scenes and buildings as reference, especially in “Mario Puzo” and the longer book we’re working on now, “The Boy with the Bedroom Eyes”.
And there are influences from the world of filmmaking too – you have to know how to edit. Half a page of dialogue can be six pages of drawings. It’s easy to imagine a camera cutting back and forth.
7) Ron, you’ve had work exhibited all over the world. When you’re not illustrating for the Bella Stories, what is your usual medium? Do you have other projects on the go at the moment?
Drawing is what I really want to do now. Graphic novels and comics are what I’m focusing on. Outside of “Bella”, I’m researching and doing preliminary drawings for a story based on an unsolved crime in Toronto from the thirties.
8) Following up on that as well: You’ve mentioned that you enjoy pursuing collaborative relationships with other artists in Toronto. Do you have any favourite artists active in the Toronto scene at the moment? Or any dream collaborators from the city?
I’ve collaborated with visual artist Amelia Jimenez who’s active right now in Toronto and with artist Adrienne Reynolds in New York. I’ve also collaborated on work with other visual artists, dancers, poets and other writers.
9) Between the two of you, how does the layout and panelling happen? Is the layout of each panel laid out in the initial scripting, or do the two of you discuss the panelling as you go?
Panelling is done in a rough format to begin with, working through text with small pieces of paper, quickly and roughly, laying things out as they could look. Once that’s done, Terri reads it and we talk about whether it’s working and what should change.
It’s very important to make changes early on and make sure both of us are happy with the way the story is paced. That’s the time when it’s useful to give it to someone else to look at, to see if they like the pacing, to see if they get it and understand the progress of the story. We give it in rough form to someone who has never read it before.
10) For that matter, I’ve noticed that you eschew the normal rectangular-panel-and-gutters style of page layout for a style that seems to bring all the individual images together. Are all of your images drawn at the same time, or are they done individually and assembled after the fact? Was this style of page layout chosen with a particular purpose in mind?
For the first Bella comic, I did the drawings separately and put them together on the computer. For “Puzo” and the newest book, the page layout and images are drawn in rough on one single page, all at once. We looked at a lot of graphic novels together in which the artwork completely broke out of the framework of the ‘window panes’ – for example, the “Sandman” books and a lot of Will Eisner’s work.
11) How has working on this project impacted the two of you, if at all? Do the two of you mesh well artistically, or have any problems arisen over the course of the project? How do you balance work and play at home?
Terri: We don’t do ‘down time’ well. We’re both pretty driven to create so working on “Bella” is something we enjoy doing. We try, a couple of times a year, to leave home for a few days and just focus on what talking about the graphic novels – those our ‘general business meetings.’
Ron: The character is a creation of both the writer and the artist. She has a life because of that. Plus for Terri, it’s not so much a switch as another project. She starts by writing the story and then moves on to other projects – hopefully writing the next Bella story – while I finish the drawings.
Terri: What is interesting for me is the process of doing it as a partnership because Ron sees stuff that I don’t – it’s two different sensibilities. That’s at the heart of it. The advantage is that we’re both interested in the character, and we’re both contributing. One small example is the invention of Serafina the cat – she didn’t exist in the source material (my short story). Ron invented her, as well as the subtextual commentary that goes on, on the walls of Bella’s house. The crucifixes and family photographs watch and react to the action.
Ron: Artists can and do get very specific directives from writers and they execute. But that’s not what we do.
Terri: It’s not a storyboarding process for us. It’s two people seeing the same thing and bringing their own sensibility to bear. I write the story, but I’m not married to everything that’s on the page. The strength of graphic novels is that you don’t need everything described in dialogue or narrative text – you can let the visual images tell the story. If you’re not going to do that, there’s no sense in doing a graphic novel. It’s not a story in words with a few illustrations…that’s boring…it needs a certain dynamism. I want the feeling of watching a movie.
12) To wrap up the longer questions: Give us a pairing of one of your favourite authors and one of your favourite beverages (alcoholic or not). Why do they go together?
Ron: Hergé (creator of the Tin Tin books) paired with a 2009 Merlot from Angel’s Gate Winery on the Beamsville Bench. “The Calculus Affair” is my favourite.
Terri: I’d like to pair Umberto Eco and his masterpiece, “The Name of the Rose witha Negroni cocktail: one part gin, one part Campari, one part red Vermouth, over ice in a double vodka glass with a slice of blood orange. Like heroin in a glass.
THE LIGHTNING ROUND:
1) Desert island graphic novel (not your own):
For Terri: 2010 “Best American Graphic Novels” anthology, edited by Harvey Pekar
For Ron: Hard to pick one to read again and again – possibly “From Hell” (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell).
2) Best restaurant in Toronto:
Best restaurant in Toronto (for us): Gerrard Pizza and Spaghetti House, Danforth and Coxwell – nowhere better to enjoy Four O’Clock in the Morning cappellini or a Vulcano pizza with a big jug of wine and the hockey game on over the bar. Vito likes to rib Ron for being a Canadiens fan. (Ron is a Montrealer originally.) We also enjoy holding up the bar at Allens. They pour a generous pinot noir and have an excellent beer selection.
3) Least favourite thing about your cell phone provider:
Every time we bike on trails on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, Bell switches us over to U.S. Roam (with ridiculously high roaming fees). Yes: Bell Canada thinks that Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie are actually in the United States. It’s like the other side won the War of 1812. Sub-complaint: the Bell network completely disappears north of Sault St-Marie. Even Wawa is no longer serviced by Bell Mobility. Which means when we were hiking we needed to find gas station pay phones to let our son know we were still alive
4) An animal you’ve always wished you could have as a pet:
Terri: A falcon. I’d like to do that thing with the little leather hood over the falcon and the big leather glove and the green miniskirt and the hunting and people saying, what ho!
Ron: A horse. A nice one.
5) A colour you would never paint your living room:
Ron: Orange. My least favourite colour.
Terri: Brown. Blecchhh. It would be like sitting inside a big turd.
Terri Favro lives in Toronto. Her personal website can be found here, and more information on the first installment of The Bella Stories, Bella and the Loyalist Heroine, can be found here.