Von Allan

#CouncilSpotlight – Von Allan

Jennifer Clark

Von Allan: Story Telling

The Ottawa Arts Council supports artists and arts organizations through leadership, guidance and the provision of opportunities to advance our local creative potential.

Our series #CouncilSpotlight presents stories and experiences of Arts Council members and art award recipients.

Von received the Corel Endowment Fund for the Arts Award in 2014.

Von Allan's Wizards for Hire- Cheap

Where are you from? Are you from the Ottawa area?

I was born in Arnprior, but I don’t have a lot of memories of it. My parents split when I was young and, shortly after, I moved to Ottawa with my mother.

How did you get involved in the Ottawa arts community?

My initial connection to the arts community was through my work. I worked at the Ottawa Public Library and, later, at Perfect Books. At the bookstore, I got to know writers. I was always interested in producing art, but I had no confidence and I didn’t know how to start. Finally, I sat down with the book, Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain and then took some classes with the Ottawa School of Art.

There is a small comic book scene in Ottawa, but it can be a bit overwhelmed by its sister industry- animation. Animation is big in Ottawa and a lot of attention focuses on the Ottawa Animation Festival (annually in September). A lot of people do both comics and animation, and there are lots of interesting connections between comics and animation.

How would you describe your artistic practice/discipline?

I produce art, comics and graphic novels in manga style. My work is highly visual, but comic creation is a literary medium, as well. You don’t have many words and be restrictive, in terms of telling the story. The challenge is to combine the two to tell a compelling story. Comics are episodic, and tell a story in the way that TV now does. That continuity, that creation of comics as a storytelling medium, I find endlessly fascinating.

Even though superheroes are the dominant comic book trope, comics can really tell any type of story. WIth graphic novels, I can tell longer stories and I have more flexibility in terms of length, format and visual aspects. Some people may dismiss comics as juvenile or of lesser intellect, but the production process is challenging - you need to consider colour, shadow, coherent storytelling and technical aspects, as well as artistic considerations.

Von Allan's The Road to God Knows

Is there a specific moment/situation in your art career that you remember fondly?

There is no specific moment, but now that I have the confidence, I can look back on sketchbooks, look  back on my past work and really see how much I’ve grown. In my perspective and my figure drawing, I can see progress. I’ve grown as a visual storyteller and a writer. The creation process is an exciting, difficult, challenging conundrum of a puzzle to solve.

For a long time, I have been doing a lot of this on faith. There were days and months where it felt naive, where I felt like it’s not going to happen. Now, I may not be exactly where I want to be, but I’m improving. I am not as terrified as I used to be, I have gotten stronger and better at problem-solving.

Do you have any advice for artists in the Ottawa community or artists in general?

My advice is to do as many literary and author events as you can. Connect with independent bookstores. Ottawa has a lot of artistic spaces, a lot of gallery spaces, a lot of places to plug into. Anyone can do it. There’s also the Ottawa School of Art, lots of different shows and Fringe Festivals. Learn to tell stories, how stories work.

The internet is also the great equaliser. Back in the day, there were not many independent presses. You basically had to mail your work to Marvel or DC. But now, there’s so many different web comics, online and digital comics, there is much easier access to audiences. It’s tough to get noticed, though, and there’s a lot of competition. It’s a neat time to be doing comics and art in general, you can work anywhere in the world with an internet connection and there has been a revolution in desktop publishing, which is getting even better, in terms of quality.

At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself, the work you’re doing and does it have an audience. And remember, you can choose to believe who judges your work, not every reviewer bears weight. Don’t get stuck in “paralysis by analysis” mode, you can get crippled by it.

Von Allan's Wolf's Head

What are you currently working on?

My current comic book project, Wolf’s Head, deals with economic issues. The first edition is out and I am really excited about it. It’s the story of Lauren Greene, a young woman who quits her job as a police officer in Detroit and, consequently, struggles to pick up the pieces and find her place in society. After her mom makes an astounding discovery at a research facility, Lauren must fight for their lives against forces that will stop at nothing to stop them.

I also participated in the documentary film, I Am Still Your Child, which focuses on mental health, parents and children. My mom suffered from mental health concerns, she had schizophrenia, she was on heavy medication and hospitalized several times. She was very courageous and dealing with something that was not her fault. I will be going to Glashan Public School for a mental health symposium, as a guest speaker, as well. These type of events didn’t happen when I was a kid and they’re a good start, but we really need more financial support for people with mental health concerns. Awareness is great, but there are severe financial impacts of mental health.

What was it like to receive an award from the Ottawa Arts Council? How did it impact your career?

I received the Corel award which provided support for my sequential art project, Metal Gods. It’s a full colour periodical full of action and adventure, while tackling economic issues. The protagonist has to save his parents and, at the same time, save the world.

Being named for the award was an awesome and fantastic experience. It was wonderful for my self-confidence, an affirming moment. It’s something really neat that you can put on a resume. As recognition, it was great and it helped open doors, too.

Want to learn more about Von and his work? Visit www.vonallan.com.

The documentary I Am Still Your Child is set to air on CBC television on March 31st or can be streamed from anywhere in Canada.

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The Ottawa Arts Council's Corel Endowment Fund for the Arts Award is accepting applications until April 6, 2018.

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