“The story takes place over the entire city. In my youth, instead of staying in one place all night and having a house party, we’d wander the entire city through alleys and city parks… generally meandering around. We’d eat together, share our meals and tell stories. It was like we were nomadic, within our own city.”
There’s a sense of nostalgia in artist Megan Speers’ voice as she describes her teenaged years — workdays as a seamstress separated by all-nighters of food, drink, friendship and impromptu forest parties. Her stories of friendship and urban wanderings feed into her art, particularly her newly published graphic autobiography, Wanderlust. It’s the story of an unlikely heroine who embraces a decidedly perilous but fiercely independent life among the punks of mid-1990s Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
A unique aspect of Speers’ book is the process by which it was created. The images are wood engravings, carved by the artist and her family. They depict the mostly happy lives the punks eke out for themselves in the Sault.
“I was really interested in wordless novels, because they tended to be really political and personal. The wordless book was originally a way to express dissent towards the state without using words, in order to get around censorship. There’s a strong anarchist and socialist history around the woodcut novel,” says Speers.
If there’s a trend in Speer’s work, it’s a rebellious defence of vulnerable and marginalized people. There’s a political edge, not a blatant statement of ideology so much as an expression of appreciation for that which is vulnerable and fringe.
“I do identify as an anarchist. For me it’s about self-determination and freedom and not being forced into systems that don’t benefit me. To be forced into capitalism, you have to work to have a home and buy food; to me that’s really offensive. It impedes my ability to do what I want with my life and spend my time how I choose. I won’t be forced into labour in order to survive.”
Acknowledging stereotypes of anarchy, Speers gently explains, “I’m not the type of anarchist that wants to convert or force people from other kinds of systems into a revolution. This is about freedom of choice and to not be spending 40 hours a week working. It definitely is anti-oppressive and anti-state obviously, but it’s not necessarily the violent and chaotic and disorganized teen anger that mainstream media deems it to be.”
Wanderlust is just one creation in a long line of work by Speers. Other work includes a zine called Being Gay is A-ok! that Speers wrote to explain queerness to kids.
“It’s about how it’s not cool to use the word ‘gay’ to describe things that suck, ’cause being gay is totally fine,” says Speers.
Other work includes an artsy-comicky zine/colouring book, created with fellow artist Amanda Bowles, called An Alphabetic Compendium of Demons and Evil Ghosts, and a political comic called WATCHING YOU, which looks at police surveillance in the poor neighbourhoods of Toronto.
Speers’ very first zine was called High School Sucks, a survival guide for students finding community while dealing with bullies.
“A lot of my work is autobiographical, yes,” notes Speers, “but outsider politics often is. It’s about knowing you’re not the only one to experience that. It’s about representation. I’m saying ‘I see you, I was there.’”