Laura Ķeniņš edited a new anthology of comics about Canadian province Nova Scotia

In Nova Graphica, a comics anthology about the Canadian province Nova Scotia that released this week, Laura Ķeniņš both edited the anthology and contributed a comic for it. 

“I wouldn’t say that I’ve viewed myself as either thing first or over the other,” Ķeniņš said. “I would say with this book that’s coming out, I’d view myself first and foremost as editor on this project.”

Ķeniņš, based in Toronto, Canada, has led a career that has synergized cartooning, comics editorial work and journalism, and in her latest project, Nova Graphica, all of those passions have coalesced. 

Laura Ķeniņš self-portrait

Ķeniņš has put out three major comics: She Wants to Tell Me, from 2014, about two women who meet through finding an ear, Alien Beings, about “divorce, aliens and the 90s” and from 2015 and Steam Clean, her longest work, clocking in at 84 pages, in 2017. She has also worked as a journalist and editor for a slew of magazines and websites in Canada and Latvia like C Magazine and Studija

Nova Graphica’s origin starts with Ķeniņš’ 10 years spent living in Nova Scotia. She started working on the anthology just as she was moving from Nova Scotia to Toronto, “oddly enough,” she said. 

“It’s looking at changing the perception of this typically imagined history around the province that’s really heavy on this folksy, down-home, fishermen-type image, and white British military conquests and that kind of thing and looking into alternative histories and social history and folklore and different aspects of history,” Ķeniņš said. 

The anthology, provided to me early and at no cost by Conundrum, features an eclectic collection of stories that mixes zoomed-out, historical biography, weird, creepy ghost stories and more intimate stories. It collects work from creators who create comics or got their start making comics in Nova Scotia, Ķeniņš said. She knew most of them beforehand, but she ended up meeting the rest through the publisher Conundrum and lucky happenstance. 

“I had a friend of mine who was not a comic artist, but we’d been in a short-lived writers group that we started a few years, and she just mentioned off-hand she’d been working with an artist who I didn’t know, where she’d been writing the script and the artist had been illustrating it and that seemed like a perfect fit for the book,” Ķeniņš said. 

a page from Colleen MacIsaac’s “Five-Sided House,” one of the comics in Nova Graphica.

Ķeniņš’ contribution to the anthology, a research-heavy comic about the history of the province, features neat, black-and-white linework as opposed to the eclectic colored pencil artwork in previous comics of hers like Steam Clean. The black-and-white work in this anthology actually represents a return to form for Ķeniņš, who worked exclusively in black-and-white in her teenage years and early 20s because doing that with a photocopie was the most affordable route at the time, she said. It was in her comics released from 2014 to 2017 that she took advantage of a unique colored pencil art style. 

“I think part of it was that I was teaching little kids at the time, too, and just sort of ended up doing a lot of playing around with the materials they had around for that,” Ķeniņš said. “Stuff like colored pencils.” 

Steam Clean is an evocative, pretty and challenging book about womanhood that follows a group of people spending a day at a sauna. It features a lot of interesting, difficult conversations and really comes together nicely thanks to the lovely art. 

Steam Clean

“I was living in Latvia at the time and traveling somewhat regularly to Finland and Estonia, at one point, for artistic work and residencies and friendships and collaborations, and got really into saunas, essentially” she said, laughing. “I really wanted to work on a story that was set in the sauna and looking at it as a women’s space and the stories that come out of that space.” 

Nova Graphica is interesting on its own merits as a collection of comics that give the reader a different look at Nova Scotia, but it’s also interesting in how it combines so much of the work Ķeniņš has done throughout her career. 

“I’ve done a little bit of editorial work with comics aside from this project, but most of my editing work has been more in journalism and publishing and other things like book publishing and some other things like marketing, so it’s quite different for the most part,” Ķeniņš said. “But certainly informs stuff, especially this book, which I don’t think would have been something that came up without my years of working in journalism in Nova Scotia.” 


images courtesy of Laura Ķeniņš conundrum. you can buy nova graphica by clicking here.

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