Meredith Park believes in the impact of small-scale work. Best known for her four-panel visual journaling on Instagram, the Hamilton-based comic artist uses her work to make sense of sweeping issues.
Park’s early comics revolved around slapstick comedy featuring a recurring cast of characters, inspired by the Three Stooges and “Happy Tree Friends”.
“I only really started doing autobio [works] when I was about 20,” she said. “I stopped drawing comics during high school – I didn’t really do a lot of art then – and then when I started drawing again more in my early 20s I came back to comics almost immediately, and mostly as a tool for self-reflection.”
What sets Park’s work apart is, of course, her style.
“I think I saw my style get better and more defined the more I absorbed other people’s work,” she explained, later adding that she loves to discover autobiographical comic series made by other artists she meets.
Park uses her work to distill complicated emotions and organize the world around her.
“A lot of what I do with my art in general is I try to talk to myself and try to figure things out with myself,” she explained. “The combination of words and pictures… [lets] you have control over what you’re showing, so you can either be super direct and bold or you can be giving and taking between the words and the imagery and there can be more of a rhythm and a poetry to it… It’s the best way to tell a story, I think.”
In micro-comics usually no bigger than a few square inches, Park details the events of everyday life from the melancholy of long-distance relationships to the joy surrounding the arrival of Canadian summer.
But she also investigates personal, difficult subjects. She illustrates her own struggle with mental health issues, fears about growing up and living up to people’s expectations.
These entries too appear on Instagram, next to comics about her baby housemate’s first birthday, or a retelling of a perfect evening bike ride.
Though she admits it can be a difficult mentality to maintain at all times, Park tries to pretend there is no one viewing her work. Currently, she has close to 29,000 followers on Instagram alone.
“There are thousands of people out there and they’re just going to do what they’re going to do and all the power to them... if I try to make something with anyone else in mind, I can’t come up with something good… I can’t do this for anyone else.”
Not only have comics allowed Park to explore her own life in a creative manner, they have also helped her find a supportive, multi-national community.
Although she acknowledges the historical importance of large-scale publishers DC and Marvel, Park works in the smal press and largely self-published indie comic world, which she has found to be a more welcoming environment for women. Although both scenes revolve around using comics to tell stories, the small-scale scene has proven to be a more accessible community.
“It can be a really safe and creative space for non-binary folks, queer folks, people of colour,” Park said, but she admits that the indie comic scene could do more. “It’s always improving, but since it’s a DIY scene, anyone can try it and find other people in their corner.”
Park attends a variety of Canadian and American indie comic conventions and festivals throughout the year, and commented on the excitement of meeting online friends and finding new reading material.
Unlike some of her peers, Park does not aspire to fully dedicating her time to comics.
“I’ll always be making comics…[but] I actually have always enjoyed having a couple of plates spinning… I want to do other stuff,” she said, adding that she loves having a mix of a day job combined with making comics at home.
“I’ve always had this image in my head that… someday, 70 years in the future, my grandkid or my great-grandkid is going up to the attic… and they stumble across a cardboard box full of sketchbooks and they’re the person who finds my comics and they can do whatever they want with them,” she explained.
Published in a traditional sense? Perhaps not. Small scale? Yes. But there is no denying Meredith Park’s work is enduring.
You’d have to be a little crazy to open a record store in 2010. And to open that store on Friday the 13th? That’s like saying, “I hate this stuff called money.”
The store in question is Hammer City Records, which opened two years ago on (Friday) August 13th at 228 James Street North. The place is a dream for anyone who likes their record stores independent, small and punk.
Craig Caron is an owner of Hammer City Records and was involved in its opening. He said that he missed the kind of record stores that he used to spend all his time in when he was a kid, and so he decided to open his own.
“I remember going upstairs to Star Records, on King and James,” said Caron. “You’d open that door and just smell pot. And I though, ‘What the hell is up there?’ This is the early ‘80s, and I thought, ‘Punks - they’re mean, they’re crazy, they’re going to kill us. We have to go up there.’”
I’ll admit that I felt the same way when I first walked up to Hammer City Records. Standing out in front was a classic punk: black leather, chains and a Mohawk. The thought that he’d kill me didn’t cross my mind, but the thought that he might be crazy did. He turned out to be funny and nice.
My first experience with Hammer City Records was definitely less intense than Caron’s first time facing the killer punks of Star Records, but I could relate. It’s like Hammer City Records is the modern reincarnation of Star Records, bringing back the feeling of old record stores.
“I’d be in Star Records, and the guy from Teenage Head would walk in,” said Caron. Teenage Head are legendary local heroes, and in the 1980s they were among the most popular punk bands from Canada. “It was the greatest thing ever. We wanted a place like that, where young bands could come and hang out.”
I had my own mini version of the freak-out that Caron described when he saw Teenage Head as the singer of TV Freaks walked in to Hammer City Records. I’m only a recent fan of the band, but I think their shit-hot punk rock is just about the coolest thing ever.
It might seem like Hammer City Records is built on pure nostalgia, an isolated little basement where rockers can escape the changing outside world, but Caren said that he hopes the store can be part of something new – part of changing the music scene to be more like how it was in the past.
“Once some of the old record stores closed, pieces of the community closed,” said Caren. “I know after Reigning Sound closed, a lot of bands just stopped playing. Or if they were playing, you never heard that they were doing shows.”
For those us who grew up going to HMV, this might be hard to imagine, but record stores used to be a places that did so much more than sell music. They were places where people formed bands, artists and musicians collaborated, and concerts were promoted.
The decline of the music industry is often blamed on us, the people who download music, but maybe it has more to do with independent record stores being replaced by big commercial chains that people would never think about hanging out in.
When people say something is “community-based,” it seems like it’s mostly bullshit. “Community” is so overused that it’s really just a word that people use to describe something that might impact someone somewhere when they are too lazy to consider who those people are specifically. Hammer City Records has given an actual meaning to community.
“One of the biggest highlights for me since we had the store is that we released a local music compilation LP,” said Caren. “It’s all Hamilton bands. A girl that hangs out in the shop painted the front and back covers. For me, that’s the dream come true. It’s this community that creates this amazing product.”
That’s what a community is – real people coming together and interacting in a significant way.
Nolan Matthews, Senior ANDY Editor