Throughout his masters of fine arts degree at Ontario’s University of Guelph, Toronto-based Kanien’keha:ka artist Walter Kaheró:ton Scott saw his program as a potential narrative. “Guelph is really small, the program is 13 people,” he says. “I thought I would make friends in town but it ends up just being the same 13 people that you converse with all the time. It starts to feel like you’re on a movie set or TV show with 13 main characters.”
That intimate experience formed the basis for Scott’s new comics collection, Wendy, Master of Art (Drawn & Quarterly). Following the Koyama Press titles Wendy – which chronicled the title character’s post-art school existence in Montreal – and Wendy’s Revenge – in which the cartoon protagonist tries to make it in Toronto – this third book finds Wendy partying with artists in Berlin, then hightailing it to “Hell, Ontario,” after being accepted into the University of Hell’s master’s program. Graduate education brings its own set of challenges for Wendy as she realizes that coasting along on the coattails of youth won’t cut it anymore.
“It’s different from the Wendy that we knew before, [where] she’s just letting things happen to her and is actually very lucky,” Scott says. “In the new [book], I wanted to put her in a situation where her luck has run out and it’s about actually having to choose something. … She’s not just going through life anymore and letting things fall into place; she really sees for the first time that things won’t happen unless she chooses them.”
In the first two books, Wendy spent a lot of time moving from city to city, trying to get things off the ground in different places, but in Wendy, Master of Art, she begins to settle down. “It felt like it was time for her to have one room to rent for two years,” says Scott. “Just some stability.”
Yet Wendy’s personal life remains chaotic, hilarious, and relatable: her undergrad nemesis shows up in her MFA program, her old friends grow distant, and she finds herself sucked into a polyamorous relationship she never wanted. Scott’s simple black-and-white line drawings and amorphous, frequently empty-eyed characters set the scene for the absurdity of Wendy’s world. But with younger artists recognizing her at art openings and undergraduate students looking up to her, Wendy realizes that she’s become the grown-up.
“You realize suddenly you’re the mentor,” says Scott. “You see yourself in these younger people and realize, ‘I’m not there anymore. I’m somewhere else.’”
While studying at Guelph, Scott found himself at a new stage as well. Rather than comics, he focused on sculpture during his MFA but experienced pushback from both professors in his program and colleagues in publishing. “I went in knowing that I wanted to put comics aside for two years,” he says. “I feel like my world’s just split into two sometimes. I always get questions like, ‘Why do you sculpt? You’re a comic artist.’”
While Wendy, Master of Art marks Scott’s return to comics, one experience has informed the other. Scott notes there aren’t many good existing narratives about the art community or art school, and he hopes his series helps to fill that void. “I am interested in the human element of that world,” he says. “This world that seems shallow and disjointed and sociopathic is actually filled with people.”
Although Wendy may be finished with higher education, Scott says her art-world escapades will continue. In a 2015 interview with Canadian Art, Scott referred to Wendy as a shapeshifter, influenced in part by his Kanien’keha:ka culture. Today, he says her character is more clearly defined. “I think there are certain aspects of her life that she wishes she could shapeshift around, but she can’t,” he says. “That’s real. That’s something that happens to us as we get older.”