By Jamen Willis, Department of English Intern
Growing up, Jasmine Redford loved comic books. However, she eventually set this interest aside, believing that it was a “passion project” that could not be given priority. It was not until she started pursuing English literature as a university student that she realized the value of combining her major with her youthful interest. Now, she both studies Canadian comics and illustrates comic books.
“Why are there so many American superheroes but not many celebrated Canadian superheroes?” Redford asks. The focus for the MA in English she completed at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in 2020 was on nationalism in comic books, specifically the role of Canadian and Indigenous superheroes. Her scholarly research has led her to look at historical and sociopolitical factors related to “Canadian identity,” confirming the intersectionality of her research as a student of literature.
She is currently working on a PhD in English that she plans to complete in 2024. As well as taking classes and working on her dissertation, Redford works as a teaching assistant. Although she is still deeply interested in comic books, her research has shifted, focusing not just on the “superhero entity” but also “how violence presents itself in Canadian comics.”
Much like her connection to comic books, her academic journey has not been linear. Before attending USask to study for an undergraduate and then graduate degree, Redford, who is as much an artist as she is a scholar, studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where she obtained BFA with a major in visual arts. While she found the classes on animation and design rewarding, she describes herself as someone who does best designing physical products, ones that she can touch and pour her time into. She finds the process of creating art “meditative” and loves getting “swept away with the details.”
Redford’s skills and talent have not gone unnoticed. Her work has been published several times, and this winter she presented a Literature Matters: Literature in the Community talk about her artistic process as the illustrator of Siegfried: Dragon Slayer. The 2022 graphic novel is based on the Norse mythological Völsunga Saga and follows the adventures of a young prince. Redford explained during the event that she worked alongside author Mark Allard-Will to bring this action-filled story to life by creating page upon page of illustrations using a unique technique: coffee wash.
Her use of coffee as a way to create monochromatic illustrations started when she was at a concert featuring her father, who plays trumpet for several Saskatoon jazz bands. She had been sitting in the crowd, itching to create art, when she noticed all the half-empty cups sitting on the tables around her. She first tried dipping her brushes in leftover pop but did not get the results she wanted until she tested coffee.
Applying what she had learned in art class about diluting and saturation, she continued using coffee in her art, figuring out what works… and what does not. Coffee with cream, she humorously points out, is not good for art because it clogs up the tools.
Jasmine’s trial and error with coffee worked in her favour as the illustrations in the graphic novel are stunningly detailed, a testament to the hours of the collaborative work she put in as illustrator.
Asked about the role of comic books and graphic novels in the classroom, Redford says, “They deserve a place in the classroom to give readers alternative versions of texts.”