Art & Design

Montrealer Walter Scott on His Hilarious, Touching, and Very Real Wendiverse

Art & Design

Montrealer Walter Scott on His Hilarious, Touching, and Very Real Wendiverse

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Walter Scott’s Wendy is a comic book series following the trials and tribulations of a hungover gallerina “whose dreams of contemporary art stardom are perpetually derailed by the temptations of punk music, drugs, alcohol, parties, and boys.” She’s the Cathy (Ack!) of the hipster art world, charmingly self-deprecating and forever putting off writing yet another gallery proposal. Instead she’s doing MDMA or trying to run into Jeff, her unrequited love who smokes a lot of cigarettes and dates a girl with a terrible Etsy store selling vintage clothes. Wendy could live in Baltimore or Bushwick, but there are hints that it’s the sidewalks and toilets of Scott’s Montreal that she’s puking on and into, and particularly those of Montreal’s St. Henri neighborhood. Montreal is cheap. But St. Henri, where hipsters mingle with crust punks, is even cheaper. In Wendy, Scott satirizes its world of under-employed and under-the-influence 20-somethings well-versed in surculture, subculture, and sexting. Right now, Scott is drafting the third book in the series, to follow Wendy and Trendy Wendy. We talked socioeconomics of the Wendiverse and what to expect from the next installment.

What’s your relationship to Wendy? Is she somewhat autobiographical?
A lot of her adventures are based on my experiences. But we’re different. She’s a girl and I’m a guy. I needed a little bit of distance from myself in that way. I think you’re able to reflect on concepts and experiences when you can project them onto someone different than you. And I was inspired by the kind of girls I was seeing around me at the time in St. Henri. Girls who were really fashion-forward in this skiddy, divvy atmosphere. I really like that contrast and I thought it spoke of an aspirational attitude in a really dismal environment.

I like the word aspirational. I think she’s so relatable because she has these aspirations to not make the same mistakes, but then she does.
She’s almost like a Don Quixote character. Where she’s blindly going toward something and she keeps being knocked down.

If Wendy starred in a rom-com, she would have to maybe get married to Jeff or at least to the nice guy who he was distracting her from him. Because of the way comics are serialized, do you find it freeing that there doesn’t have to be formulaic conclusion or character growth in a particular act?
What’s funny is I actually find she is growing up a bit with each book that I do, because I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m really interested in dialogues about feminism more than I was before I was creating a female character. It’s actually a way to access these kinds of politics. I think being knocked down and getting up, that’s the core of her. But my social attitude, and social awareness is shifting and that’s reflected in the comic.

Are there things you are trying to critique with Wendy?
I think a lot of the political things come out through who the characters are. That’s something I didn’t realize at first. I was writing a female character and I got all this sort of backlash of, “Why do you think you have the privilege to write this character?” People were actually projecting their own political ideas onto these characters. I really wasn’t thinking of that when I started. And then I realized the responsibility. So I created Winona who is a native artist because I am native. I wanted to inject that part of my experience into this larger Wendiverse.

Have you gotten positive reaction from including characters like Winona?
Well that’s what’s interesting. When I got the criticism I don’t think they realized they were entering a dialogue about authorship that was one-sided. If they wanted a dialogue I would have to retort with the fact that I’m also gay and I come from a reservation. I have all these other facets of my identity.

Did these people even know you? Because you’re not like a privileged, straight, white male.
I got really you don’t even know me. But it actually made me think about authorship. And I thought if that’s what people are looking for, then they should have no problem if I inject other parts of my identity into the comic and I have the right to do that. It’s almost like speaking truth to power. Wendy accesses a demographic that doesn’t have a lot of power. There’s a responsibility there to write stories.

Are there are any queer characters?
Unfortunately the only queer character in Wendy is the hedonistic, kind of evil, Screamo character. He is sort of the gay, weird jester of the series. He’s like the spritely spirit trickster inhuman character that says what everyone’s thinking. But I’m giving him more of a story in book three. You kind of get a sense of why he’s so vile and it comes from a place of loneliness. I think he is going to have a crush on someone straight who he works with at the grocery store.

What was your relationship to comics as a kid?
I just kind of drew them compulsively. I read them in the Sunday paper. I think my biggest influence is Life in Hell by Matt Groening. And Cathy is a big influence. There’s this Tumblr called Kathy Acks [the Cathy comic meets experimental novelist Kathy Acker]. The Cathy character is going through her routine but with really deep, dark stuff in the speech bubbles, instead of just “I want chocolate.” It’s really fitting and darkly funny and hilarious.

I think my interest in making this comic comes from an interest in comics, but it’s more an interest in a kind of campiness. Wendy’s kind of like a drag performance. With this medium of satire, I can create a female character and project myself onto her in a campy way. She and all the characters, rather than becoming a parody, we become partners in crime in creating this satirical universe that reflects my environment.

Although in your description, Wendy inhabits a generic urban centre, she definitely seems like she’s somewhere in Canada where there are residencies and government grants for the arts.
Canada has this artist-run culture that sprang out of the ’60s and ’70s. Initially, these artist-run centres were created to generate collaboration between artists and institutions. Submission proposals and hungover gallerinas have become a part of this whole system. I’m proud that this Canadian art culture is embedded in Wendy and Wendy’s universe, because I think it presents an alternative to people who aren’t from Canada and don’t know about it.

Is Wendy taking over your life? What other projects have you been working on?
Wendy is not my only project. I just finished a residency in Banff where I created a body of sculptural work. It does have similar themes to Wendy in that it’s about mobility and transgression, and it’s about concealment and hidden meanings. The sculpture work is more informed by an Aboriginal perspective of borders and mobility because I grew up with this history of borders. But Wendy works in that way too because she’s kind of a way for me to transgress and cross borders by creating this female character.