Profile: Sandy Carruthers
by Jane Ledwell
Retired for a year now after twenty-five years teaching graphic design at Holland College, Sandy Carruthers keeps nine-to-five hours in his studio, drawing comics and illustrations, “to keep up the habit,” he says. At the end of a full school year away from school, he laughs, “I’m still processing, but I’m excited—as long as I can keep self-motivated.”
Looking back, he says, “What strikes me is that 25 years ago, we had very few aggressively pursuing the field (of comic book creation).” And yet this summer, his work is on display alongside seven other comic creators in the “Behind the Panels” exhibition at Eptek Centre in Summerside. The artists work in web and print comics, with “different layers of talents and styles.” Three are former students of Sandy’s—and he is quick to remind that he is also an alumnus of the Holland College program.
“There are so many applications for graphic art now,” Sandy says, “illustration, animation, computer games, or, you can be foolish enough to do comic books.”
Comic books were Sandy’s “first passion.” Even as an experienced artist, who drew the original Men in Black comic, Sandy says, “Styles have changed, and it’s sometime daunting. When I worked on comics before I taught,” he notes, “you were kind of more isolated, in your own little bubble. You only saw what you looked at yourself, what you sought out or found for yourself. Now, seeing everybody’s stuff all the time is really daunting.”
The piece Sandy has in the Eptek show is a “personal piece,” he says. “I did it in 2000, breaking away from scifi and superheroes—what genre had I not tried?” He settled on Westerns. “I read a lot of Louis L’Amour—I think if I had read that as a kid, I would have been bullied less,” he jokes. Westerns led to The Magnificent Seven, which led to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, from which he decided to do a Samurai tale, The Ronin and the Lily. It’s a rare example of a comic he both wrote and did artwork for.
More often, he has worked with writers. He is working again with writer Mark Shainblum on reviving their creation Canadiana, a spirit-of-Canada superhero they created (with pencils by Charlottetown’s Jeff Alward) as a web comic that they created and that then “lay dormant for years,” Sandy says. He shares a mini-comic bursting with characters, Canadian comic iconography, and action. “It’s small because the only artwork that existed of the web comic was jpgs on a floppy disk, so we could only go to this (mini-comic) scale,” he explains, but issue three will be a full-size comic, a true “floppy.”
“Mark and I are equal partners in the art,” Sandy says. “It has to harmonize—the balance is really hard to work out. That’s why I love the medium so much.”
“Superheroes take the toehold,” Sandy says, “but it goes much beyond that. We’re very lucky —Canada has so much wonderful talent, stories told beyond superheroes battling.”
In addition to comics, Sandy also loves illustrations for magazines, “going beyond the sequential format and telling stories with one panel.” While he was known for editorial cartoons for The Guardian for many years and published a book of his cartoons, “I’m not doing editorial cartoons anymore because I don’t do caricatures—and I don't miss it at all,” he says.
“I just finished three illustrations for RED magazine and I’m really fascinated by historical illustration—especially PEI history. I’m interested in doing more of that,” Sandy says. The local intrigues him—the recent Canadiana even includes images of local artwork on bare walls—and he is working on an “Island-inspired opus”—an ambitious intergalactic story.
With two new comic creators, he is hatching plans that bring together numerous passions, for local and Canadian content with high-quality storytelling, words and pictures. “Remember kids going camping with a pile of comics?” he says. “I’d love to bring that back—with comics in multiple genres, from spooky to romance—and I would like to have the Island connected to every story.”
—Jane Ledwell has been writing for The Buzz for 20 years. She is a poet, author and editor. A recent book is Bird Calls: The Englishwoman on an Island (Nimbus).