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At home with comics, comics and more comics

November 7th, 2017

Image courtesy of the AGO.

Anyone who has been inside Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, or has looked at the #GDTAGO hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, will remember the eye-popping colour and magnitude of the Movies, Comics and Pop Culture section – with two walls entirely covered in over 1,500 comic books.

All of the comics, from Eerie to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are on loan from Toronto’s local beloved comic shop, The Beguiling. We spoke with owner Peter Birkemoe on the match made in comic book heaven between The Beguiling and At Home with Monsters.

Image courtesy of Yelp.

AGO: How did the partnership between The Beguiling and the AGO come about? How many comics have you loaned the exhibition, and what types?
Peter: Guillermo del Toro has been a customer of The Beguiling for many years. I’d heard about Bleak House [GDT’s home in LA] from him, and when news of the exhibition came out we were thrilled to get the chance to experience it. When [AGO curator] Jim Shedden approached us about supplying materials, we were excited to participate. The preparation of the show happened at a time when we were relocating to our current storefront on College Street, but luckily the move didn’t stop us. Jim spent quite some time in our stacks, selecting approximately 1,600 books. They’re mostly from the 1960s to the present, mirroring a portion of Guillermo’s personal collection.

AGO: What was your knowledge of/relationship to del Toro’s films before becoming involved with At Home with Monsters?
Peter: While horror has never been my favourite genre, his films (particularly The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth) were favourites on a thematic and stylistic basis. His Hellboy films brought well-deserved attention to a creator-owned series that we’ve been proud to support since the character debuted in 1993.

AGO: How does it feel to see comics have such a presence in an art gallery?
Peter: As we’ve always seen comics as art, to us the presence of comics in the AGO is a natural fit. Over the course of our history, we’ve been proud to see and support a growing consensus around that opinion. Supplying comic art and materials for a number of other exhibitions internationally has been a small but important part of that. The scale of this exhibit represents a high point so far in our efforts to bring literary work to the forefront of the comic book industry. Seeing their acceptance in the broader art world is an essential part of that.

Image courtesy of the AGO.

Image courtesy of the AGO.

AGO: What was your impression of the Movies, Comics and Pop Culture section of the exhibition?
Peter: While our own tastes tend toward the literary side of the comics world, we have no delusions about comics’ origins in the margins of publishing. Keeping comics accessible, broad, disposable and embracing of genre fiction is an essential part of the medium’s history and our business as a whole. While we do push those within comics to reach for a status as high art, we do it with one foot planted firmly (and proudly) in the gutter. Even amongst all of the amazing pieces in the Gallery, it’s great to see that so many of the social media posts from within the exhibit chose to feature the wall of comics as the backdrop. Including Seth and Chester Brown alongside thousands of classic comics is precisely the combination of high art and pulp I like to see. Comics (and our store) have both their H.P. Lovecrafts and their Mary Shelleys.

AGO: What advice do you have for someone interested in learning about comic art and culture?
Peter: Immersing the visitor in a wide array of styles and genres helps to forward the idea that comics have something for everyone. Keeping comics in mind as a medium and not a genre is often the best way of preventing an impression that comics don’t have anything to offer them. Every day we get people coming into the store and saying, “I’m new to comics. Where do I start?” This is something we’re always happy to hear, but rather than maintaining a short list of go-to recommendations, we prefer to initiate a conversation about the customer’s preferences in film, novels, art, etc. Everyone already likes something, even if they don’t like comics. We try to fill that gap.

Get your tickets to Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters and see this epic comic wall for yourself! Then stop by The Beguiling – make sure you tell Peter we say ‘Hi!’

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