Andy Stanleigh always knew he wanted to work in the arts.
“Drawing and painting have been my first loves,” said the 36-year-old Toronto-born artist.
But Art Spiegelman’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus – a story about the author’s father’s experiences in the Holocaust, told using mice as Jews and cats as Nazis – was one of the key texts that inspired him to delve into graphic novels.
Stanleigh now runs an independent publishing company called AH Comics with high school friend Michael Tymczyszyn. Together, they have released three graphic novels, including Titan: An Alternate History, their biggest release to date, available from major retailers such as Indigo Books.
That accomplishment was a result of Stanleigh’s chutzpah. He walked into the head office in Toronto and asked them to stock his book. Luckily for him, one of the directors in charge of buying new books happened to be there, and the company was interested in expanding its graphic novels section at the time.
“I just did the old school thing and decided to pound the pavement,” he said, adding that he often shares that advice with people. “It doesn’t matter if people say, ‘Send us an email.’ You’ve got to do the legwork.”
Titan tells the story of a “megalomaniac badass” who is reincarnated several times throughout history, and each time, he tries to take over the world. It’s told in four different time periods, each with its own distinct drawing style.
Stanleigh called the 96-page project a daunting task.
“It’s not something you can do in your spare time and get done in a reasonable amount of time. Life gets in the way,” he said.
So, although he had a steady job as a graphic designer, when a client offered to support him while he worked on the graphic novel, he jumped at the chance.
The risk was made scarier by the fact that it was the second time he had taken that route. The first time didn’t pay off – he ended up spending six months looking for work. But this time was different. He was working with Tymczyszyn, who wrote the script for Titan.
“We just seem to click. I seem to get exactly what he’s going for. His notes to me are always like, ‘Dude, this is better than what I had imagined when I was writing it,’” he said.
Not all of the projects are collaborations between Tymczyszyn and Stanleigh. One book, Delta, is a collection of drawings that are meant as a visual companion to local band The River Pilots’ most recent album of the same name. As listeners go through the album, they’re meant to open the page and experience the images.
AH Comics’ most recent release is a graphic novel called Hobson’s Gate, which is a story that Stanleigh both wrote and illustrated. It tells the story of detective Joseph Hobson, who is facing his own personal demons in the form of anxiety and panic attacks, while at the same time, facing what may be real demons out in the world.
Much of the story takes the form of journal entries, with Hobson sharing his thoughts about his anxiety. For example, near the beginning of the book, he writes, “You’re convinced that you can’t trust your spouse, your partner, your best friend. Other people, they don’t see what you see. What you see is dangerous, and they’re letting the danger in. Maybe it would be better if I was alone. I need to feel safe.”
This story is one that’s quite personal for Stanleigh. He took a lot of the journal entries right out of his own journals from a time when he was going through his own struggles with anxiety and panic attacks.
The novel is filled with dark drawings in very muted colours. Most pages are entirely black and white except for some muted tones, red blood, or as on one page, a bright police caution sign. Stanleigh said the idea was to convey the way he felt in those days, and the way the character is currently feeling.
“Life isn’t good, and it’s just muted colours,” he said. “You’re walking outside and it could be a beautiful fall day with beautiful leaves and you just don’t see it.”
Thankfully, he said he was lucky enough to have people to help him overcome the obstacles, but he described writing the comic as being very cathartic.
“It was a really good process to see what my mindset was during that time and see where I am now,” he said.
Stanleigh plans to continue the story with two sequels, the first of which he hopes will be ready for a December release. The second will be released at Toronto ComiCon, which will take place the weekend of March 7, 2014.
For more information about AH Comics, visit ahcomics.com.