Images of Margaret Atwood’s world on display at Winchester Galleries


What: Atwood Illustrated
Where: Winchester Galleries, 2260 Oak Bay Ave.
When: Sept. 26 through Oct. 8
Note: Margaret Atwood will join artists Ken Steacy, Renee Nault and Johnnie Christmas for a reception Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Winchester Galleries

Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood is renowned for The Handmaid’s Tale, her groundbreaking 1985 novel on which the Emmy Award-winning TV series is based.

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But a Victoria exhibition of original watercolours created in collaboration with the author will cast her work in an entirely new light.

Atwood Illustrated, which opens today at Oak Bay’s Winchester Galleries and runs through Oct. 8, showcases the illustrations that accompany the graphic novels created in tandem with Atwood by Ken Steacy and Renee Nault of Victoria and Johnnie Christmas of Vancouver. It’s the first exhibition of its kind in Canada to showcase work in the field of graphic novels as it pertains to Atwood, according to Linda Hensellek of Winchester Galleries.

“It is not the norm, for a fine-art gallery,” she said. “But it’s an opportunity to bridge the gap between graphic novels and comic art and fine art.

“Certainly, Margaret Atwood has endorsed that by supporting graphic novels, and has a love for it. There is a fine-art element to many of the works of all three artists, so we’re honoured and pleased to offer something different to our usual clientele.”

The celebrated bestselling author is in Victoria this week for an appearance at the University of Victoria Farquhar Auditorium. Tickets to attend her conversation Friday with the university’s chancellor, CBC host Shelagh Rogers — about her new novel, The Testaments, a long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale — have been sold out for weeks.

But fans unable to get a ticket might have another chance to see Atwood during a reception at Winchester Galleries from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The author is expected to be in attendance for the official opening of Atwood Illustrated, at which the narrative watercolour illustrations featured in Steacy’s War Bears, Christmas’s Angel Catbird and Nault’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale will be for sale to the public.

Hensellek said it’s unclear if the recent death of Atwood’s husband, Graeme Gibson, will affect the author’s appearance. “We haven’t heard, but we would certainly respect that decision. It will be up to her to see how she feels on that day.”

Nault’s 240-page graphic-novel adaptation of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was released to great acclaim in March, and will soon be translated into French, German and Chinese. “It really was more warmly received than I could have dreamed,” Nault said of the graphic novel, which came into being after she was approached by Atwood’s publisher, McClelland & Stewart.

Nault is an illustrator known for her editorial cartoons for the Los Angeles Times. Her artwork often accompanies book reviews in the newspaper, which is where Atwood likely would have seen work by the Victoria artist.

Nault began the graphic novel before the TV show aired, and said she was surprised by how down-to-Earth Atwood was in the face of international fame. “It’s been amazing working with Margaret,” she said. “I have idolized her like so many other people have.”

Atwood was involved with each project in Atwood Illustrated, to varying degrees. Steacy wrote and illustrated War Bears after seeing a 2017 short story (Oursonette) Atwood had written about a fictional comic-book company. Steacy pitched Atwood on the idea of expanding Oursonette into something larger, and she gave him the green light.

“I ran everything by her,” he said. “We had a number of long story sessions that made sure she was happy with where I was going with the characters.”

Steacy wanted to develop the story further with another series, but Atwood declined.

Christmas’s Angel Catbird series was a New York Times bestseller, and featured previously unpublished art by Atwood.

Steacy, who co-founded Camosun College’s comics and graphic novels program, wondered if Atwood is planning something of her own, having long been a supporter of the Canadian comic-book industry and an illustrator in her own right.

“She’s a very good cartoonist, and I keep hoping that someday she is going to do a book of her own cartoons. She grew up reading comic books. That was her point of reference. It wasn’t TV. She has always loved visual storytelling.”

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