Friday, 6 May 2016

An Introduction to the Popular Culture Movement in Thunder Bay

     Back in the 1990s, quietly thinking she was the only big fan of a superhero called Tick, a young woman suddenly discovered online that there were dozens just like her living in Thunder Bay and thousands like her across the country.
     Our North American popular culture wave began when Internet chat rooms begat organized “nerd” culture. Groups of wannabe cartoonists, artists and fans surged in number and they formed ever more markets and festivals. Hollywood moguls earned mega-millions investing in comic culture. Improved computer generated imagery produced mind bending special effects drawing larger crowds into movie theatres along with attracting A list actors who took roles away from B list actors playing super heroes and super villains.
     Meanwhile, the Internet begets YouTube and online television. Netflix just this year produced fifty new televisions series and specials while hosting programs like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad with long plot arches testing audience’s dedication and intelligence. We are all enjoying a new Golden Age of television, a pop-culture explosion, much of it based on cartoons, comic books, children’s books, graphic novels – even experimental videos where the quality is surprisingly good, more socially progressive and resulting in critics lauding the results.
     In Thunder Bay, young writers and visual artists are contributing to the popular culture scene emboldened by fans who organize craft shows such as the Christmas Bizarre Bazaar and events such as last years’ ThunderCon.  
     These writers and visual artists, “imagineers,” have their works for sale at Hill City Comics, Comix Plus Music Exchange Gallery 33, the Baggage Building, the Country Market, Indigo Bookstore and other locations.
     These popular culture imagineers are not High Artists of the Renaissance painting murals in prominent public institutions, nor are they Fine Artists selling abstruse works through public and commercial galleries. They are generally younger and part of our living culture, mercantile for sure as their works are infinitely reproducible in various forms as cartoons, comic books, graphic novels, posters, films, television, social media, etc, but they are celebrated across generations. They delve into our messy human world of angst and thrills using realism, allegorical stories of fantasy, science fiction, and any sub-genre or device to express themselves, get their messages across or simply to have fun.
      Many of them flirt with Fine Art, ditching story telling for a while in order to experiment with aesthetics and obtain some fine art bona fides within the gallery system. A few artists did this recently at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery with a show of five emerging comic artists called Unconstrained. A few of these artists also work with the Definitely Superior Art Gallery,which also has at its wing the Die-Active Collective offering talented young people a supportive community in which they can freely experiment and involve themselves in projects like mural painting and graffiti art which can be seen all over town, most notably on the Waverly Library entranceway and on Cooke St. a block over from Red River Road in the north core.
     The listing below represents only a few of our local artists contributing to our popular culture scene.
     Callen Banning is a young and talented artist working on her dark and beautifully illustrated webcomic called Exkost, . Callen is also working on a project for Kyle Lees called Elevate. Callen is in demand and you can see more of her work 
        From Long Lake # 58 First Nation, O.J. Ogemah, currently working for Mosaika in Montreal, is going to explore his morbid curiosity in human nature with realistic and detailed paintings in a style he adopted when studying in Italy. The paintings will be shown at the Ahnisnabae Art Gallery  in the fall of 2016.
     After his success with the graphic novel, Nowadays,  illustrating Kurt Martell’s text, Christopher Merkley is writing and illustrating Season of the Dead Hours, which he hopes to have completed for Spring or Summer of 2016.
     Andrew Dorland, who has worked in the comic book field in Toronto recently put out a comic book called Scarabs, based on his experiences as a stockbroker.
     After an experimental take with an online graphic novel, Martin King is producing a short film called “Wake Up” You can see some of his work at Gallery 33.
     Filmmakers Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver scored national attention with their uniquely esoteric animated film, a road trip called, Asphalt Watches success has given them the impetus to go forward with another animated feature film, currently in production.
     Originally from Six Nations in Southern Ontario, Elliot Doxtater-Wynn  hosts the CBC Superior Morning Radio Show. He is creating an elaborately plotted graphic novel involving the growing pains of a young man named Daniel Stronger who has to deal with a few superhero abilities while searching for his parents.

     The disparate nature of popular culture makes pinning down its creators for a concise account of their creations, their history and their influence difficult, but more and more popular culture is taken as seriously worthy of study at a university level because no history can be accurate without taking the Low Arts, popular culture, into account. And Thunder Bay, like so many other cities, is most definitely producing its own popular culture history.

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