Drawn to comics: Alex Steacy writes a new chapter in the family business

This Victoria-based comic artist ‘grew up completely immersed’ in the industry, and will now be selling his own book at Capital City Comic Con

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Alex Steacy with his new book, Drainers

Comics are in Alex Steacy’s blood.

Surrounded by a huge variety of graphic novels and raised in a creative environment, it might seem obvious that Alex Steacy would go on to be the next generation in a comic book family. But while he can remember writing comics almost as early as he could hold a pencil, it’s only in the last few years that Steacy thought of entering the industry as a professional, rather than as a hobbyist.

The Victoria-based artist was born in Toronto to a pair of comics creators: Ken Steacy, an inductee to the Canadian Comics Hall of Fame who has worked on influential titles like Astro Boy and Johnny Questand Joan Steacy, who has illustrated Canadiana works like A Boy Named Tommy Douglas and Aurora Borealisher award-winning graphic memoir that features a young Alex bathing in the sink.

Steacy’s parents even co-founded the Comics & Graphic Novels program at Camosun College.

“Being the progeny of creative people, I grew up completely immersed in it,” Alex Steacy says. “It was about as ubiquitous as breathing. I used to read [Carl] Giles comics. I’d read lots of, like, manga; French stuff occasionally, although those were usually up on the higher shelves, because of their content.”

Steacy’s career path initially took him to Toronto to work as a technician for live performances, extending from his experience in community theater in high school in Victoria. As part of that work, Steacy took on small illustration gigs here and there, as well as graphic design for movies. When he returned to Vancouver Island, he joined up with some old friends who had formed an internet sketch comedy troupe, called Loading Ready Run, which has 150,000 subscribers on YouTube and has racked up millions of views.

“That became a sort of multidisciplinary Internet content factory,” Steacy says. “And I started being able to utilize my creative skills to earn a pretty modest living.”

He still works with Loading Ready Run on a part-time basis, but in 2016, Steacy made the decision to pursue an independent creative path. In the midst of a time that he describes as being full of “dreadful anxiety problems,” Steacy began work on the comic that has now become his first professionally published book: Drainers.

Drainers kind of became the project that pushed and pulled me through that time,” Steacy says. “I was also fed up with having all these false starts and things that never hit completion. That was the first project that I put my foot down and said, ‘I am going to finish this, no matter what.'”

Initially published online as Dregs, the comic centers around two maintenance workers who ply their trade in a vast sewer network servicing a city they never get to see. The two workers, Chub and Coney, have their grimy but otherwise peaceful lives upended when a mysterious, naked interloper arrives in their subterranean home.

The comic was renamed Drainers and published through a successful Kickstarter by Cloudscape Comics. The online fundraiser blew past its modest $3,000 goal, netting just shy of $20,000. Crowdfunding is one way in which Alex Steacy sees the comics industry rapidly evolving from the days of his parents.

“I grew up in the late 80s, early 90s, when comics were this sort of weird thing that people would buy in specialty stores,” Steacy says. “Now it’s digital distribution, and people are reading on their phones, and every comic has a movie tie-in. And yet also, it’s never been easier to become a webcomic author, because there’s services that exist to specifically cater to that.”

Steacy isn’t alone in parlaying webcomic success into the physical world: Kate Beaton, known for her webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, has gone on to publish several acclaimed books, including her recently published memoir, Ducks, about her time as a worker in the oilsands. A friend and colleague of Steacy’s, Sam Logan, got his start at UVic’s paper, The Martlet, and now writes his comic Sam & Fuzzy full-time.

“Even back in the 2000s, when people like my friend Sam launched their comic, none of that [online] infrastructure existed,” Steacy says. “Things have changed so much since then.”

Styles and tastes have evolved as well. Alex Steacy says that he was personally never a huge fan of “cape” comics—the more traditional superhero fare that his father, Ken, often worked on—and was more inspired by indie works like Aaron Alexovich’s Serenity Rose.

A sketch from Spaceshipping. Image: Submitted

In 2018, Steacy published a dark comic about a plague that ravages an alt-history London in 1937; the comic, Purifier, would in some ways predict his—and everyone’s—years to come. The real-life pandemic hindered Steacy’s publication of Drainerskeeping him from a planned event at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

Steacy is now back to work, writing a new comic, Spaceshippinga lighthearted and raunchy sci-fi comedy about an android embarking on her first work term and getting field experience on being human.

“Irrespective of what I think is on the horizon, or what may be on the horizon, my voice is definitely finding itself,” Steacy says. “I can’t really wait for things to be settled. I just have to continue in this ongoing kind of cycle, improvising and handling punches when they get thrown at you.”

Through this new comic, and through publishing Drainers and working on self-published zines and minibooks, Steacy says he’s determined to share the uniqueness of his vision. Now that in-person events are returning, he will finally be able to carry copies of Drainers to Capital City Comic Con, running Sept. 23-25, allowing him to sell the book in-person for the first time. In addition to having a booth at the convention each day, Steacy will also be joining his parents for a panel on visual storytelling, Sunday at 11 am.

Above his writing desk, Steacy has pasted a printed copy of a tweet from the late comic artist Jesse Hamm.

“Somewhere out there are people who need to hear a story you’re uniquely able to tell,” it reads. “Art by others, even better art, won’t do; only yours.”

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