By: Hess Sahlollbey
Two anthropomorphic dog-women lay on a Grecian style bed in bliss while a cherub plays a horn amidst a mustard yellow background. The cover of J’aime les filles (I Like Girls) by Diane “Obom” Obomswin firmly establishes its surreal presentation.
A Montréal-based comics creator, Obomsawin originally lived abroad in France for 20 years before moving to Quebec permanently in the 80s.
Rent made Montréal more affordable than Paris, Obom found a home in the LGBTQ+ community.
Working as a graphic designer for magazines and advertisements, she was all the while studying animation in the late 1990s. A student at Concordia University, Obom was amongst one of the last groups of students to study traditional hand-drawn animation.
“It’s funny, I always seem to arrive at the end of things and beginnings of new ones,” said Obom.
The medium was shifting from colored plastic cells to hand-drawn sheets that computers and digital colours would then bring to life. As digital consumed the medium, Obom would use her newfound foundations and technology to shift her comics and storytelling to the screen.
“I got used to drawing on a graphic tablet… but I really miss that I have lost the opportunity to work with ink and paper,” said Obom.
While creating comics, Obom would soon fall in with the other creators in the arts scene of Montreal where the atmosphere was less cynical than France.
In Montreal, artists would openly discuss the poetry or their paintings without being looked down upon or facing pretention.
“It was a very collaborative time, but it was also the beginning of individualism, a time where collectively working on a project was on the decline,” said Obom.
This individualism would lend itself perfectly to comics and animation.
The mediums that call upon a tremendous amount of devotion, cartoonist and animators are often working in isolation for hours on end as they transition their characters through a story.
J’aime les filles, which is Obom’s latest collection published by Drawn and Quarterly, recounts short stories of lesbianism, first loves, affection and romantic expression. In 2016, Jaime les filles was adapted into a National Film Board of Canada short film.
“I was not aware of sexuality or of homosexuality as a child, but I knew I was attracted to girls and I would learn more about it later in life.”
With an equal distribution of weight distributed to each panel of a page, the heart and emotion of the stories that Obom conveys take precedence over flashy, superficial art.
“[I find comics] more difficult because you always have think panels and find the relationship between each panel whereas in animation I simply have to think about the scene and what I want to convey.”
Obom often finds herself working for hours on end when animating. Her passion for the medium makes it easy for her to lose track of time.
“With comics I have to think so much more… so when I make a comic I often look for excuses to get up and eat and maybe talk to my dog,” explained Obom.
While many coming-of-age tales in cinema or books may evoke a certain pathos where the viewer shares in the trials and tribulations of the characters uncertainties and anguishes; Obom flips the script with her unique style.
Characters are rendered as anthropomorphic funny animals with unique physical traits that amplify their personality.
Telling her own stories and those of her friends became a more straightforward process once it was divorced from artistic realism.
No longer a victim to the conventional artistic rules of proportion, anatomy and perspective, she is liberated to take more creative risks.
This subversive aspect also allows Obom to inject a distance into the characters that allows her friends to personify their favorite animals and share their personal experiences with first loves and feelings while still maintaining a certain level of anonymity.
Sharing her own stories alongside her friends, Obom creates a solidarity amongst all the tales as they recount a childhood full of revelations and new experiences.
Adapting her comics into animation and vice-versa, Obom’s use of gentle animal figures to tell stories has netted her multiple awards including the Nelvana Grand Prize for Independent Short Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
A member of the National Film Board of Canada, Obom’s films and comic collections are readily available online and will be on display in May at the Montreal Comic Arts Festival.