Georgia Webber on Discovering Comics’ Potential

Emily M. Keeler is a writer and the editor of...

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Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Georgia Webber, the cartoonist behind the acclaimed series DumbHer shelves are, until the end of this month, on Toronto Island. Webber was just getting back from Expozine, a large art and zine fair in Montreal, when she met me at the Queen’s Quay ferry terminal. Once aboard the boat, her suitcase between us, she told me that the space she’s living in is a studio in her parent’s backyard while she waits to move into an apartment on the mainland. When we finally walk into her quiet, cozy coach house, I almost wonder how she could ever give it up.

I live with my parents, but I do love this space. It’s difficult to reconcile loving this exact room and not wanting to be with my family all the time. But the worst part about it is that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee, and that means going outside to get to the bathroom in the main house. I have to put on a jacket! I’m looking forward to being in a space where I can just walk to the bathroom from my bedroom and back without putting my outdoor clothes on.

This is my main bookshelf, as you can see. It’s separated, almost intentionally, by type of book. Over here, there’s fiction, and poetry on the second shelf, some nonfiction and theory, essays. I got rid of so, so much when I moved back here from Montreal. I just couldn’t justify bringing everything with me. I dumped a bunch of stuff I hadn’t read, and anything I had read that I didn’t love so deeply that I needed to keep it. I have comics happening over here, and a bunch of zines and stuff I picked up from many, many years of doing small-press work.

I keep most zines, because I don’t actually buy that many. These are all the zines I just got at Expozine. This suitcase has my haul. A few of these are things that people traded me, and I just wanted to trade with them to be nice. I think that’s an important element of the community, people seeing each other’s work and being open to it, whether or not you immediately connect to it. Some of this stuff I’ll probably throw out after I look at it. I just don’t have enough space.

I don’t know much about Deep Forest, but I’m looking forward to reading this. Laurel Lynn Leake came up from the Centre for Cartoon Studies for Expozine. She’s just incredibly talented as a visual artist, and I know she’s deeply invested in comics. So I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of story she tries to tell and exactly how she chooses to do it.

I basically keep everything until the point where I can look at it and feel no attachment to it. Sometimes the attachment is just, Oh, this person was really sweet. Sometimes people give me stuff just to give it to me, not because they want anything back. Like, Oh! I really like your work and I want you to have this because I made it. That’s the sweetest thing ever—for a year or two after I’ll be looking at it and going, that person was just so sweet. And then, five years later, I just have to let go.

I was running this thing—I don’t know if you know about this, it’s old history of mine, but I used to run this anthology zine called Gang Lion. That was a collective project, in that I was trying to foster a comics community with people who were maybe trying to find a way in; I was working with people who were interested in making comics as opposed to people who already made them. I had a peer editing process where we would have monthly meetings to give each other feedback and encouragement. I started a little library—you can see some of these books have crude stickers on them that I made, and some of them even have these proto-library things. I was trying to lend these to people who were part of the group, to give them access to these things and so I could talk to them about things I’d read.

This one, Red Colored Elegy, I got because I went into [Toronto comics shop] The Beguiling. I was just starting to hang out there, and I asked Peter Birkemoe [The Beguiling’s proprietor and partner of Shelf Esteem alum Nathalie Atkinson], What do you think I need to add to this library. I was trying to expand my own collection, and I wanted to know what’s really important for the group to read. He pulled this off the shelf and said, There’s a little rip here on the back cover, so I’ll give this to you at a discount. I thought he was the sweetest! And this was the first thing that I bought specifically for the library. He said it was really important, that it was a masterpiece, that it was just such a good book. I remember reading it at the time and being like, I don’t know if I get it. What’s going on? It’s a really abstract story, super simplistic at times. It’s a rhythmic mood thing that’s also telling a story—it’s actually pretty dark but also ethereal. I didn’t really get it. But I read it again not that long ago, and I was like, WHAT!? THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD!

It takes me a long time to read comics. I’ll read a comic and it’ll take me so much time after to just think about it, to work through the impact of thinking about the way that person draws or thinks. And I’ll see it in my work, almost unconsciously I’ll be trying to do something I’ve seen and liked in a book I just read. So I can’t read them very quickly because it just gets jumbled, and I forget the things I liked. But the wonderful thing is that you can just open a page and the find the detail you’re looking for.

This was the first comic I read that gave me an idea of what comics could do. I was taking a non-traditional art class in high school, and we had a comics unit. Before this, I was like, Oh my God, writing is so intimidating, I don’t know how to write a story, I don’t know what to write about, I can’t do this, blah blah. And then my boyfriend at the time showed me this. The first few pages are her showing her dreams. Dream stories! They don’t have purposes! And this is a totally different format than I’d ever seen from a comic before; I hadn’t understood, previously, that comics could look anything like this. That was enough to unlock their potential for me.

Shelf Esteem runs every Tuesday.