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Comic Relief - Sam Hester is Alberta's only contributor to a comic book anthology raising money for the Red Cross response to Sept. 11 - Edmonton Journal, March 2002

Gilbert Bouchard


Talk about starting at the top.

Calgary-based flight attendant, painter and budding cartoonist Sam Hester gets her first sequential artwork published in one of the most talked about graphic novel events of the season: Alternative Comics' 9-11: Emergency Relief anthology. Hester is the lone Alberta artist - and one of only half a dozen from across the country - to participate in the 85-artist-strong project.

Pretty heady stuff getting your first break alongside comic greats like Will Eisner (The Spirit), Harvey Pekar (American Splendour) and Ted Rall (2024: A Graphic Novel), especially when you're coming into the genre relatively late in life.

"We always had different comics lying around when I was growing up, but I didn't know this kind of stuff (independent and underground comic books) was being written when I started doing my own work," says the soft-spoken artist.

Hester's contribution to the star-studded collection was one of her first-person diary-style comic strips, graphically depicting immediate and highly personal thoughts and insights on and around Sept. 11.

"Of all the artists in the book, I was the only one who had no portfolio in the field," she adds, noting that she has had showings of her paintings and high-profile mural commissions.

Not that her relative innocence abou the field kept her from developing a strong graphic style similar to other autobiographically-inclined Canadian cartoonists like Chester Brown and Julie Doucet.

"It was a natural inclination for me to draw cartoons," says Hester, mentioning in passing that all artists ultimately write and visually depict what is going on in their lives. "I see it (my story) as a kind of historical account of what September 11th was, but a subjective not an objective account."

Hester is far from alone in that desire. One of the most refreshing aspects of this prestigious publishing project was the vivid first-person veracity of most of the contributors, many of whom live in or near Manhattan, the centre of the comic book universe.

"It was like a school assignment really, a non-collaboration collaboration where we had no idea what the other artists were doing," says Hester, who was invited into the project by editor Jeff Mason after presenting some work to him at the huge San Diego comic convention. "It was only when I had a copy of the book and was flipping through it that I was able to see what the others did."

While reading the final product and seeing her work in context with all the industry's greats was "both daunting and inspiring," Hester is endlessly pleased with how the project looks and reads in the end.

"I really hope this 9-11 project brings this work into the mainstream and means more people will notice it and take it seriously. You can do anything with this form."

Hester is also happy that she's not had any significant second thoughts about the work in the book, explaining that a core part of her project is to document her thoughts as accurately as possible during the period of time she's capturing.

"I have since imagined what it would have been like to be on one of those planes that were hijacked, but I was too close (to the events) at the time to be thinking that far. In the end it's funny to read what I was thinking about then, but that's what I wrote down and it's better work than anything I could contrive."

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