By: Hess Sahlollbey
Hamilton is in the midst of a continuous evolution, and with that comes a growing arts and culture community in the city’s centre. While local art galleries, recording studios and independent film production are well established, the comic scene has been growing as well.
Sylvia Nickerson is one such comic artist and with her book, Creation, she looks to chronicle the city’s physical changes as well as her own perspective towards it.
“I was living in Toronto, but I fell in love and moved here when my partner moved to Hamilton. I was really encouraged by the art community downtown and connected with that.”
Nickerson is a graphic designer and illustrator, whose clientele has included the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Washington Post and the city of Hamilton.
She is an active part of the Casino Gallery Artspace, has helped design a variety of local murals and even helped create the local boutique White Elephant’s Supercrawl 2016 window display.
Creation tells a story of love and loss, dreams and death and of the contrasting aspects of the city. Nickerson was inspired by interactions with locals as she came to know her new home city.
“People are really down to earth,” she said. “They’re real and I appreciate that [and] I found inspiration in all aspects of the city from the industrial to the architecture.”
Nickerson’s shift to comics required a complete transition to a new medium with new rules and structure.
Nickerson explained that the transition from newspaper illustration to comics meant that she eventually moved away from using still-life references for her illustrations, and instead learned to draw mostly from memories of the city.
“When I need a specific building or sign I do reference it and creating comics has really disciplined me and how I see the world,” said Nickerson.
Venturing into a new medium has allowed her to more easily explore complex local and social issues. Even so, she was surprised to find how much closer she felt to issues of urban decay and gentrification through illustration.
“Entering into this medium, I was maybe not entirely prepared for how intense my engagement would become,” Nickerson explained. “I was not just telling a story but also making illustrations which all felt really powerful.”
Creation presents a unique take while still maintaining a dissonance between the rendition and the subject matter. Nickerson was roused by her own home city as well as inspired by the works of Maus author Art Spiegelman and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.
Creation is an experimental analysis of human psychology in a small city. No events in the story come off as larger-than-life and the story’s own narrator questions their own dreams and ideals and doubting whether they can truly fulfill them.
“Having become a parent is what really changed how I interacted with the city. I was no longer going from point A to point B. I was becoming a different person at the same time that the city was becoming different… the first three chapters of Creation really explore the darker parts of the city.”
While Nickerson was initially going to shy away from stories of struggle, the birth of her child helped her confront how everyone else in the city were striving to create a brighter future for their children.
The comic book scene in Hamilton is still young but Nickerson believes it possesses untapped potential through the various art communities in the city.
“I’m not sure I would have started on this project if not for some other young artists who moved to the city and started this Casino Artspace that I am a part of now who brought tons of positive energy to the community that supports the creation of art.”
For anyone aspiring to create comics of their own, Nickerson imparted some final advice.
“Don’t try to make money,” she said with a laugh.
“There is still lot of gratification in telling stories and that is a reward in itself.”