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Calgary flight attendant asked to contribute to prestigious cartoon work

Calgary Herald, February 2002 - Jennifer Partridge


The rude shrill of the telephone set the tone for Sam Hester's life on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001.

The Calgary-based flight attendant was booked to work an afternoon shift that day. The early phone call from her mother, who found herself stranded at Calgary International Airport when the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington shut down the airlines, was an unexpected surprise.

"My mom is very sympathetic to my weird sleeping patterns and she knew I was supposed to work that day," remembers Hester. "That's how I knew it was something important - she wouldn't just call to say hello at eight in the morning."

Five months later, the day continues to impact Hester's life. Monday, she is the featured artist at the Calgary launch of the alternative comic book 9-11: Emergency Relief.

Following Sept. 11th's devastating attacks, cartoonists began responding to the events with work that expressed their personal grief and collective support for the victims.

9-11: Emergency Relief is one of the results, a collaborative effort featuring some of the comic world's leading talents.

Sales are expected to bring in as much as $100,000 US from comic book stores and mainstream bookstores across North America; all the proceeds will go directly to the American Red Cross.

Hester was the only Canadian woman included in the collection, which features 85 contributing artists, including such legendary icons as Will Eisner and Harvey Pekar.

The collection is an extremely personal record of how each artist related to the tragedy.

"Drawing comic strips about what's happening in my life is what I like to draw better than anything else," says the 28-year-old Calgarian, who is also known for her mural painting and portraiture.

"So when I was asked to write a story for this book - specifically relating to 'what were you doing on Sept. 11th and what was happening in your life at that moment,' that was what I liked to do already. This was a good project for me."

Hester, who has been drawing all her life, can't recall the defining moment when she first discovered her inner artist.

"I don't remember," she smiles. "I've been told by my parents that they taped papers up along the walls at my height so if I drew on the walls, it wouldn't wreck them."

But it was during a trip last summer to a comic book writers' convention in San Diego that she first met Jeff Mason, a criminal lawyer with a penchant for alternative comics (which are loosely defined as anything outside the mainstream).

"We talked about maybe publishing some of my stuff," recalls Hester. "But before we could do that, Sept. 11th happened. That's when he asked me if I could write something for this book."

"We wanted to do something very subjective, very personal, very non-fiction," says Mason, the book's editor and publisher, from his home in Gainesville, Florida.

"I also had an editorial vision of what we wanted. We didn't want it to be jingoistic, we didn't want it to be beating the drums of war, we didn't want it to be reactionary.

"We also didn't want it to be journalistic and objective. And since Sam is a flight attendant, I thought she would have a very unique insight to offer."

Telling her story through words and starkly drawn black-and-white images came easily to Hester, whose flexible lifestyle allows her to indulge her artistic tendencies at all times of the day and often late into the night.

The drawings she contributed to the new collection, contained within six carefully crafted pages, illustrate a revealing journey of self-discovery in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

But they were not accomplished without some initial doubts about responding to the tragedy in a genre generally perceived to be lightweight in tone.

"I had a sense that this was pretty frivolous stuff, that this wasn't really helping the world.

"But art is a mirror for life. It reflects what's going on - it's the ultimate social statement."

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