Welcome to Mina’s Creator Spotlight: John Ward and L Denvir

John Ward and L Denvir are two of the creators featured in our latest anthology, Welcome to Mina’s. John is a Vancouver-based writer, filmmaker, and podcaster. His recent comic book credits include Scratcher (Antarctic Press), Offbeats (Antarctic Press) and Death of the Horror Anthology (A Wave Blue World). He’s the creator and host of the 49 Degrees North Writers Podcast and has made several unique short films such as Linda, and Dollhouse. John was previously a theoretical physicist, holding a PhD in string theory from Queen Mary University of London, and was once almost run over by Stephen Hawking. He now lives in Vancouver where he enjoys hiking, kayaking, and drinking craft beer. Lawrence Denvir is a comic book artist living in Victoria, British Columbia. He is a part of the creative team for publisher 13 Flames Empire and has contributed to ongoing titles such as ‘Zombie Jesus’, ‘Champions of Hell’, and ‘Undead Inbreds’. He has produced sketch cards for Zenescope via 5Finity Productions. He has contributed to Hangman Comics ‘Monsterella’ anthology series.You can find his portfolio on Facebook, Instagram, and website: @tollbooth10. I sat down with them [virtually] to get some insight into comics, diners, and the creative process. 

Kathleen: What was the inspiration behind your story for this anthology?

John: Vancouver is a beautiful, but expensive city to live in and like many people I’m interested in the question of affordability and how that impacts the community. We’ve seen huge increases in the amount of development across the region, which tends to result in a negative impact on existing neighbourhoods and communities. This gentrification of Vancouver was tackled in a wonderful comic The Dregs by creators Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, Eric Zawadzki, and Dee Cunniffe, and I would encourage everyone to pick that up and read it.

While being inspired by their book, I wanted to look at gentrification from a different perspective – and given the year we are experiencing, I also wanted to tell a story that was full of hope and promise. The result was Leftovers, drawn by the illustrious Lawrence Denvir and lettered by Eric Grissom. It’s a story that begins in a dark place, where Mina’s – and places like it – have been abandoned in favour of high-rise development culture, leading ordinary people  and communities to fend for themselves. We meet our protagonist Charles, who was once a cook at Mina’s, who returns to the diner with scavenged food to make one last meal. While there, his cooking attracts the attention of other desperate, hungry, people, and he realizes his role in helping to re-build a community.

K: What is your favourite part of the creative process? 

Lawrence: Drawing obviously; but beyond that, the collaboration process –bouncing ideas back and forth.  One person will have an idea, and another will be like “what if this happens next or this happened instead?  Does it make sense or make the story more interesting?”  Then that’ll trigger another idea.  I’ve been lucky enough to work with writers who indulge me in making suggestions. 

J: I love the collaborative aspect of making comics and being able to work with people who each bring something unique to the story. It really is a team-effort which is fascinating to me as a writer. I often have a sense of what the story is – or should be – but this can change as you go through the collaborative process, and often in surprising and more interesting ways. When I start working on the story, I see it in a specific way in my mind , but it’s all hypothetical until the inked pages start coming in – and that’s my favourite part of the process. Seeing the inks is when the magic starts to happen. I get to see how someone else interpreted my words and ideas and put their own stamp on the look and feel of the story. Now I get the opportunity to re-think the story based on the artwork and make changes to the script before it goes off for lettering or colouring. Often (more often than not) the art elevates the script and hints at new opportunities for a richer story. My second favourite part is when the coloured and/or lettered pages come in – not just because it means we’re almost finished – but because I love seeing how the colour artists and letterer have interpreted the script and helped turn it into a story. I guess what I’m saying here is that I like it when people send me things 

K: How did the two of you come to collaborate? 

L: We’ve been convention neighbours a few times, so we became friends that way. It’s always good for having someone cover your table for bathroom breaks.  Ha!  But we always talked about working together because we admire each other’s work.  I definitely recommend checking out ‘Scratcher’ and ‘Offbeats’ by him. 

K: What’s your go-to diner order? (If you don’t really eat at diners let me know your go-to order at your favourite restaurant) 

L: Oh, a milkshake for sure. Hand-scooped with the extra bit in a metal container.  Butterscotch or chocolate are my go-to, but you always have to see if they have a unique specialty one. 

J: This is a tough question because it depends on the specific diner. I’m a sucker for chicken and waffles, so I love the fried chicken waffle benny from Nelly’s Grill, for example. But I also love poutine, especially if it’s dirtied up with additional protein like pulled pork or duck confit.

K: This anthology is set in Vancouver. What’s your connection to the city? How would you describe Vancouver? 

L: I grew up in the lower mainland — Langley.  I went to SFU and some of my courses were at Harbour Centre; some were at an art studio in Gastown.  I live in Victoria now, but I’m always coming over to visit friends and family or go to a concert or convention.  Vancouver really is a beautiful city. 

J: I’ve been living in Vancouver since 2014, and found it incredibly welcoming despite its “no fun city” epithet and reputation for being cold and cliquey. Are there things about the city that I’d like to see change? Sure, but I think that’s true of most places. But honestly, I love how close it is to the ocean and mountains and how green (literally and metaphorically) it is here. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.

In terms of describing Vancouver to someone who’s never visited or seen the city, I’d probably go with beautiful, modern, and complicated. There are so many great things I could say about the city that it would quickly become boring, but I think we have many challenges to address including affordability and gentrification, combating the opioid crisis, providing better supports for people who are marginalized by the system, and better support and treatment of Indigenous peoples on whose unceded territory the city was built. Big challenges to be sure, but I’m optimistic that the people of Vancouver will find ways to address these challenges.

* * *

If you haven’t already, check out the Welcome to Mina’s KICKSTARTER!