Sometimes uses the pseudonym “William Bobo”
Taken at the Toronto Cartoon Arts Festival 2014.
Born 10 Sept. 1971, in Scarborough General Hospital raised in Newmarket.
This self-taught cartoonist, remembered that as a child he did a lot of drawing even before he was exposed to comic books. Fortunately, he was kept supplied with stacks of office paper his dad brought home. . His introduction to the genre came at about age nine when he had his tonsils removed. While in the hospital, his mother bought him Spider-man. It prompted him, to, begin recreating cover illustrations attempting to figure out how each style worked. At the same time he was influenced by the animated films of Warner Brothers Looney Tunes which were an important part of his life as a boy.
Steven entered high school and shortly after began working for The Comic Wizard, a retail outlet in Newmarket. It was during this time he began drawing graphic stories. Fortunately, he had an art teacher who was sympathetic to cartoons and encouraged him in his efforts. As a high school project, his brother wrote a thirty page sequel to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. Steven illustrated it, copying John Totleben’s (Swamp Thing) inking style. They printed about 25 copies. Sales are unknown. This project was followed by a graphic story about the Travis Bickle character in Taxi Driver. A Grendel story, was next. Steve has called it “a sort of remake of the movie Die Hard”.
Having graduated from high school and now working full time at the Comic Wizard, he continued to work at his craft creating a mini-comics whose audience he limited to his friends. One mini-comic called Luke Perry: Confidential was a fake biography of television star Luke Perry. He was working on the problems of creating graphic crime stories, when he came across a newspaper article about a shooting in a school yard in Keswick a community just a few kilometers north of Newmarket. He knew he wanted to build a story around this event, but it would be a few years and a major effort before he felt he had the skills to do it.
In the meantime, Steven was working on a tentative idea, for which he been sketching rough drafts covering a projected three issues. A chance encounter with a friend who was also attempting to be a cartoonist gave him a connection with a printer. He organized King Ink Empire, extensively redrew his early efforts and in June 1995 he published the first issue of i had a dream. The name came from the song “I had a Dream, Joe” from the album Henry’s Dream (1992) by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The series ran for six issues ending September 1996, when Steven felt he had said everything there was to say in that format.
Steven has suggested that the animated films of Looney Tunes, “ the absurd violence things crashing together, walls being knock down …”, were an important influence. He also credited the influence of early Chester Brown works. In the Di Fazio interview Steven commented that “I was a huge Chester Brown fan and I remember reading an interview where he talked about his process of doing comics and he said he drew panel after panel, without having a precise idea of the whole …” This is a practice that Steve continues to use. He does not write a script with panel descriptions, he simply creates the narrative as he goes.
With issue 4 of I had a dream, the style changed from surreal to following a more realistic approach to stories. Steve began a two part story centered on conspiracy theories involving Russians. Again to quote from the Di Fazio interview: “I was probably watching some X-Files episodes and reading about the Kennedy assassination…. I was obsessed by conspiracy theories … these thing took a lot of my attention at the time and comics in some way are what got me out of interest. After doing those comics I never got interested anymore That was the end of it for me.”
He followed the i had a dream series with another periodical Gardenback, March 1997 followed by Cult of Gardenback/Manga Gardenback, April 1998, which was the final issue of this annual. Again Steven lost interest in the project. In the meantime the Keswick event had been gestating in his mind. The skeleton of the story emerged. Steven visited Keswick, where a friend Jason Williams lived and toured the neighbourhoods of the town taking photos. Finally between the two issues of Gardenback, his first published attempt at the story appeared. The 64 page Colville, which appeared in September 1997 was originally conceived as a factual account but was now thoroughly fiction. Strangely enough Steven took the name from Alex Colville the famous realist painter, principally he said because of the”…mood and atmosphere …” of the story.
It apparently was to be begun as a serial which was to alternate with The Cult of Gardenback but both projects were discontinued as Steven became a store owner.
Steven had been working for the Comic Wizard for about twelve years when it went out of business. Taking the initiative, he opened Fourth Dimension Comics, on 27th February 1999, at 207 Main Street South, Newmarket, while Comic Wizard was liquidating inventory before it actually closed its doors. Fourth Dimension is now located at 237 Main Street South just down the street from the original site. The name of the new shop was a reference to a scene in Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, one of Steven’s favourite stories. Although Steven intended the hiatus from his creative work to last only a few months, the pressures of the retail business led to a hiatus of about five years.
He finally returned to creative work, drawing and writing an irregular series of fanzines/newsletters beginning in 2003. He did them primarily for his own amusement and distributed them to friends and customers. These saddle stitched publications began with 21 pages but with the 2010 effort they had reached 84. The print run was 100 to 150 issues and it was a non-profit operation. As soon as the costs of the print run were completed he gave the remaining copies away. Either from the beginning or at some point later, he began calling it the The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge.
Although most of these publications have vanished, we can get an idea of their contents from volume 4, number 1 published in 2007 and the 84 page booklet with no volume or issue number published in 2010.
The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge, was very different from the previous magazines. It featured historical stories and sketches of urban landscapes centered on Main Street Newmarket in which Steven had developed an interest. Two characters Thomas Byrnes Chief of Police and Captain Woodrow F. Gilbert, who was inspired by the character “Captain Woodrow F. Call” in the TV series Lonesome Dove, emerged as central characters. Steven credited Captain Woodrow F. Gilbert with being the producer of these journals and eventually the character took precedence. However, Steven himself considers the real central character to be Newmarket. In these publications, the cartoon format was replaced by text with illustrations, portraits, streetscapes and in the 84 page issue an interesting series that mimic astrological illustrations in a Medieval period style.
The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge published June 2013 was a new start and another abrupt change. The printing was changed from photocopy to offset printing. The binding changed from Saddle Stitch to Perfect and the number of pages increased to 127. The changes in the content were as dramatic. The text stories were almost completely, replaced by graphic stories. Only “The Police Blotter” by “Thomas Byrnes Chief of Police” remained in its original format. Now all of the stories are the “Archival material from the personal files of Captain Woodrow F. Gilbert”. Architecture continues to play a prominent role. There are two folios, one supposedly a collection of The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge. covers; the second of girlie pictures. Volume two which was 287 pages followed the format began by the first volume but added material from previous volumes. Interestingly enough this volume was dedicated to “Alex Colville Honourary Member The Main Street Lodge.”
This June 2013 Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge won the 2014 Doug Wright Spotlight – Nipper Award. The journey to this honour was quite circuitous. Steven did not submit the book for consideration. Instead this route began in Winnipeg where a friend of Steven had a copy. It happened that Chester Brown came to Winnipeg to do signings of his own book. Steven, as pointed out earlier, was a big fan of Chester. He wanted to give Chester a copy of his periodical and so he asked his friend to give Chester the friend’s copy which Steven would replace. Chester was given the copy and later telephoned Steven at his store and told him that he, Chester was on the Doug Wright Awards nominating committee and would like to submit it for consideration. The award followed.
In the background Steve had been working on an expanded version of Colville. Now a graphic novel, it was published April 2015, by the publishing arm of Fourth Dimension. This new Colville, which is in three sections linked together by the school yard shooting is a difficult read, especially the section dealing with the Bernardo murders. Steven has said it was equally difficult to draw and that he didn’t want it to titillate but to express the full horror of the crime. He succeeded. The book begins with a front piece which is a folio of urban scenes. The first section is the complete story from the original Colville publication. Next a set of urban scenes is followed by events after the shooting. Back to the shooting, where we see the Bernardo character video tapping it. From there the final Bernardo section is launched. The book ends with a mailed package exposing the criminals sent to a comic book store owner which suggests that these individuals will be caught but then maybe not. It ends with a final close up sequence of the school shooting. Another linking devise, the architecture of Newmarket plays a central role in this novel, a characteristic that is increasingly pervasive in Steven’s work.
It is hard to define this book. It seems to be most closely aligned with film noir a classification French critics gave to a group of U.S. crime films from the 1920’s to the 1940’s and also a group of out of print Canadian novels produced in pocketbook format by now defunct Canadian publishers. Yet even by these standards Colville is dark. Stylistically, both film noir and this novel use black and white visuals to emphasize the gloominess of their stories.
Colville has been Steven’s most successful novel in international terms. It seems to have begun with a review by Sean Rogers in The Comics Journal which was read by Italian cartoonist and illustrator “Ratigher” aka Francesco D’Erminio who in turn ordered a copy of Colville from Steven. Ratigher apparently alerted his friend Gabriele Di Fazio who did an interview with Steven in September 2016 for his website “Just Indie Comics”. Gabriele imports English language graphic books for the Italian market. Whether or not as a result of Ratigher or Gabrielle, the Italian publishing company
Canicola showed interest in the book, but it was Coconino the largest graphic publisher in Italy who eventually became the publisher of an Italian edition of the book. Another interview by Valerio Stivé has appeared on the website Fumetto Logica. An agent connected to Coconino but based in New York was tasked with interesting other publishers in the book and has so far sold rights to the French publisher Revival who has produced a French language version of the book.
Hey Broheim under Steven’s pen name William Bobo is a particularly interesting book because of its background. Steven was so impressed with David Cronenburg’s film A History Of Violence that he decided to make a graphic novel of it. In a case of what goes around comes around, David’s film is based on a 1997 graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke.
The graphic booklet Riverdale came about as a result of a fund raiser organized in 2016 by the Toronto Cartoon Arts Festival in which they auctioned off works done by artists. As Dave Darrigo told it, TCAF usually, let the artists choose what they wanted to draw, but as this year was the 75th anniversary of the “Archie” character, the artists were asked to do something with that character. Steve cleverly incorporated the “Archie characters into a satire of his own creation “Colville” and printed a couple dozen booklets which he sold at Fourth Dimension.
Steven’s latest effort is another booklet called Port Stanley was published in 2017. Here he returns to the same amorphous character and walking narrative that appeared in i had a dream, issue 2, but this time he put the walking figure in a setting not only realistic but specific: the town of Port Stanley. When going to elementary or high school I remember a teacher saying that stories were composed of four elements: plot, character, setting and theme. Any of these elements could be the dominant feature of the story. In “Snow” by Fredrick Philip Grove the dominant feature is a blizzard. In Steven’s Port Stanley the dominant feature is the community. In some ways, Port Stanley reminds me of walking through a gallery looking at a series of Lawren Harris paintings of “The Ward” in Toronto. Perhaps Steven is giving yet another meaning to the term sequential art.
CARTOONIST & ILLUSTRATOR:
Content novel & Cover book front & back:
Colville. King Ink Empire. Sept. 1997. (64 pages)
Colville. Fourth Dimension. April 2015. (A expanded version 189 pages)
Colville. Trans. Stefano Sacchitella. Coronino Press-Fandango, 2017. (Italy)
Colville. Trans. Nicolas Bertrand pour l’edition français. Revival. septembre 2018. (France)
Hey, Broheim. Zero Dark Marvel. Fourth Dimension, 2017.
Content story & Cover book front:
Riverdale. Fourth Dimension, 2016. (Doug Wright Awards),
Content story & Cover book front & back:
Port Stanley. Steven Gilbert. 2017.
PERIODICAL GRAPHIC: Published by King Ink Empire. Interiors black & white.
Content story & illustration & Cover front & back:
Gardenback, March1997. “Gardenback”: 7-40. “Stuntman Profile: Dar Robinson”: 42. “Chaos in Dealy Plaza”: 43. “From The Testimony of NBC Operator Gene Barnes”: 46.
Content story & illustration & Cover front & back :
Cult of Gardenback/Manga Gardenback April 1998: Folio: 1-4. “Cult of Gardenback”: 5-25. Folio:“ The Palace of Gardenback”: 27-38. “Manga Gardenback”: 47-39. Content story:
I had a dream 3, Nov. 1995. “Adolescent Male Power Fantasy no. 401397 … a love story.”
I had a dream 5, 1996. “Slipstream, pt. 2.”
Content story & Cover front & back:
I had a dream 1, June 1995: “The abyss”.
I had a dream 2, Sept. 1995. “Stairway To Heaven.”
I had a dream no. 4, 1996. “Slipstream, pt. 1.”
Content story & Cover back:
I had a dream 6, Sept. 1996. “Implosion.”
CARTOONIST, WRITER & ILLUSTRATOR:
Content serial, illustration & misc & Cover book front & back:
|The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge…. no publisher identified.|
|4-1. Autumn 2007. Copy 112 of 150||2010. Copy 17.|
|The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge…. Fourth Dimension. Black & white.|
|June 2013. Fourth Dimension.||v. 2 March 2017..|
Steven is a self publisher who has presented his work under several publisher names.
King Ink Empire, 262 Patterson Street, Newmarket, Ontario
Fourth Dimension Comics, 237 Main Street South, Newmarket., Ontario.
Zero Dark Marvel, 234 Main Street South, Colville, Ontario. A fictional publisher and address.)
Each title above has the publisher name included.
“Reviews: Colville and Black River.” 20 May 2015. Writ., Sean Rogers. The Comics Journal, www.tcj.com .
“An Afternoon with Steven Gilbert.” Writ., Gabriele Di Fazio. “Just Indie Comics” Gabriele emailed a copy of his interview to Robert MacMillan.
A series of emails between Steven Gilbert & Robert MacMillan.
From front cover of i-had-a-dream, 2, Sept. 1995.
The Cult of Gardenback/Manga Gardenback, Apr. 1998. Front cover.
The Cult of Gardenback/Manga Gardenback, Apr. 1998: 1.
The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge, 17, 2010: Back cover.
The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge, June 2013: Front cover.
The original edition published by Fourth Dimension.
The Italian language edition.
The French language edition