All stories by Ian Daffern

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Current Obsession: illustrator Michael Cho celebrates the unsung parts of Toronto, one back lane at time

Current Obsession
Michael Cho’s gloriously retro drawings of superheroes like Iron Man and the X-Men made him a star in Toronto’s fanatical comic book world. But like the crusaders he drew, the 40-year-old Cho had a weakness: he lacked the chops needed to render buildings and backgrounds with as much style as he did people. To remedy this, he started wandering the streets near his Little Portugal studio with his sketch pad, and for the past five years, he has kept it up—sometimes in the dead of night, occasionally with a friend who brings along a flask of something potent to ward off the chill. Cho’s delicately coloured, fastidiously detailed drawings and paintings of downtown alleys and depopulated streets are collected in his new book, Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. They aren’t scenes you’d find in a tourist brochure, but they’re immediately familiar to the millions of us who take shortcuts through these hidden mazes.

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The Informer

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Current Obsession: cartoonist Junko Mizuno twists Hello Kitty–style art into something seductively nightmarish

Junko MizunoIn Japanese culture, Kawaii is the blanket term for the alternately beguiling and disturbing brand of Hello Kitty cutesiness in which all creatures are big-eyed and roly-poly. The work of the Japanese cartoon artist and painter Junko Mizuno drags that sticky-sweet aesthetic into an R-rated world where hungry femmes can be unashamed monsters, in the Lady Gaga sense of the word. The 38-year-old Mizuno made her name writing and illustrating violently erotic versions of fairy tales, which garnered her a fan army of gothic Lolita types who buy all her books and line up to meet her at comic conventions. Her manga-inspired psychedelica is a perfect fit for Magic Pony, the Queen West designer toy boutique, which hosts a solo exhibition this month in its gallery space, Narwhal Art Projects. Narwhal’s curator, Steve Cober, describes the work as “delightfully dark sexual foodie art.” The paintings feature girls with voluminous tentacles of hair posing like erotic Hindu statuary, but instead of being passive objects of desire, they are nightmarish creatures, cheerfully vomiting up sushi and whipped cream. Mizuno’s fan base has grown to include international art collectors who eagerly shell out thousands of dollars for her work, so this may be one of the last times to catch her in such an intimate setting. Just as the surreal paintings and ceramics of Shary Boyle—another Magic Pony favourite—have graduated from boutique galleries to the AGO and the Gardiner, so too are Mizuno’s gluttonous mons­ters destined to raise eyebrows in more conservative art venues, without a comic book in sight.

ART
Junko Mizuno

Opening in March
Narwhal Art Projects