Page and Panel manager proud of comic book diversity

Miles Baker makes it his mission to represent at Reference Library shop

Blast_Radius_columnI’d been meaning to boot it down to Page and Panel, the Toronto Reference Library’s resident comic and gift shop, since its inception in March 2015.

It’s a happy midpoint between Yonge and Dundas’s Silver Snail, and Lawrence Park’s Paradise Comics, and it’s a bouillabaisse of pop culture — something I can always put my spoon into.

But there are some who feel the only way to make an arts medium relevant, or sophisticated, is by affixing Margaret Atwood’s name to it. In addition, they use turns of phrase like, “lowbrow”, “growing up”, as well as implying cosplayers are not “classy” to punctuate their thought bubbles.

Now, let’s break out of the panels à la Deadpool and talk about how store manager Miles Baker has made it his mission to represent the breadth and diversity of the comic book world in his little shop.

Inhabiting his shelves are Hellboy, Little Lulu, Tin Tin, The Watchmen, and plenty of graphic novels like American Splendor, Maus and Blacksad.

The 34-year-old sits in his office, sharing his youthful memories involving Spider-Man, Batman and the Uncanny X-Men. Baker is also managing director for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and divides his time between the TCAF and P&P.

Once he hit 16, he felt something was missing in his own library. So, his girlfriend at age 20 introduced him to Sleepwalk and Other Stories by Adrian Tomine as well as Ghost World by Daniel Clowes.

“I started to see this whole other side of comics and helped bring me back in, along with a more rejuvenated mainstream industry, things like the Ultimate series were pretty exciting to a 20-year-old Miles,” he says.

Now keep in mind, the comic book world has also been inundated with us Canadians. Some of the heavies at DC and Marvel include Marcus To, Francis Manapul, Jeff Lemire, Ramon Perez and Andy Belanger, and most can thank Toronto’s Raid Studios for the exposure.

Though Lemire may be known for his Canada Reads-winning Essex County, he’s currently writing Hawkeye for Marvel — one of those men-in-tights picture books.

“I think what’s nice to see is that superheroes are going in a lot of different directions,” Baker says. “You see a lot of men in tights, but you see a lot of things like the Batgirl reboot where she has a more practical costume or you have Ms. Marvel where it’s a coming-of-age immigrant story.”

People should get off their high horse and do their research on mainstream comics before suggesting them as fodder for Big Bang Theory types.

Really, that’s my beef, diminishing a cross section of culture because people dress up for conventions and debate who is worthy to lift Thor’s hammer.

Heck, even Archie, that saccharin teenage cheeseball, has tackled big issues like gay rights after Mr. Andrews took a bullet meant for friend, Kevin Keller. Since the death of Archie, Canadian Fiona Staples has taken up residence as the primary artist.

Still, the moral of my story is to never judge a book by its cover. Forgive the cliché, but comic books are like any other art, and don’t need the Atwood treatment just to be relevant to the humourless vanilla.