Walter Scott's ‘Wendy’ Comics Skewer Art World Politics

The artist on why the titular character of his cult graphic novel set in Canada is entering her ‘influencer era’

BY Esmé Hogeveen AND Walter Scott in Interviews | 10 JUL 24

The Wendy Award (2024) is the fourth installment in Walter Scott’s cult graphic novel series, which chronicles the exploits of his alter ego, the titular Wendy. In the three previous books, readers have followed Wendy coming up in the Montreal art scene, participating in national residencies and completing an MFA, while continuously careening between deep self-doubt and fleeting conviction. In The Wendy Award, Scott’s protagonist is longlisted for the National Food Hut Award, a close facsimile of Canada’s preeminent national art prize, the Sobey Art Award. Exposure to the other nominees – including Wendy’s friend Winona, an ‘Indigenous artist known best for her research-based performance art and costume design’ and Octavia, a ‘rural fishing village-based artist, who makes art about knitting, or butterflies? Or something?’– along with increased public visibility leads Wendy to question herself and her practice once more.

Known for her party girl benders and anxiety spirals, Wendy becomes more self-reflective in this chronicle. Raw emotions surface in response to grim pandemic flashbacks; an ill-planned jaunt to New York City; a visit to the Westside Addictions Hospital; and various encounters with exes and acquaintances who have cleaned up, at least superficially, and had babies. Scott’s signature wit and expressive characterization are on full display throughout The Wendy Award, in which he expertly skewers the politics and pretentions of the ‘art world’ while showing deep compassion for the characters who inhabit it.

Walter Scott, The Wendy Award, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: the artist, Drawn & Quarterly

Esmé Hogeveen I listened to you on Q with Tom Power [a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation national radio show] this morning and the interview focuses on you ‘quitting’ Wendy. Are you really leaving this character forever? 

Walter Scott That conversation focused on the ‘he's quitting’ angle, but it’s more that I’m taking a break from Wendy in book form. I’m calling it Wendy’s influencer era – she’s like a retired actress who’s focusing on brand building. She could be a mascot for a café or a Gen Z skincare product. I'm still taking Wendy commissions, and I want to pick her up properly again, but maybe a decade from now when I'm 48, which, God, is crazy to me.

I think Wendy needs to have a life outside the public eye and so do I in a way. There’s always a risk of the stories becoming too repetitive: Wendy gets drunk. She picks herself up. She self-sabotages but then manages to do the thing. I used to watch Nurse Jackie and every season, the protagonist ODs and then she’s okay, and then she ODs again. I started feeling like I was drawing an HBO show with a plot that could risk going nowhere. It’s important to pause so we can see how far Wendy’s come and observe her aging or growing process.

Walter Scott, The Wendy Award, 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist, Drawn & Quarterly

EH On the topic of letting Wendy – and yourself – accrue experiences, I’m curious whether you need to have your own primary experience of something in order to satirize it?

WS The new book both is and isn’t a satire about the Sobey Art Award. I was longlisted [in 2021] but I’ve never been shortlisted, so I didn’t know about that experience specifically. I did research by asking shortlisted artists about their experiences – the events and interviews and so on – but ultimately anyone who’s looking for a sharp satire of the award is going to realize that I don’t know much about it. The book is much more focused on Wendy running off to New York and avoiding certain aspects of her life, which are themes that feel truer to my own experiences.

Walter Scott, The Wendy Award, 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist, Drawn & Quarterly

EH You often take the tone of lightly roasting art institutions and archetypes, but you never veer into fully tearing something apart or dismissing it. How intentional are you about toeing that line?

WS If I was wholly dismissive of the art world, I wouldn’t have managed to write four books about it. I also don’t think people would want to read something totally negative. Clearly, I do have personal and emotional investments in communities inside of the art world, and I think it’s just better writing to approach the people in those spaces with grace and empathy, rather than produce an acrid takedown. The Wendy stories are more about people than they are about the art world, and I think that's what draws so many different readers.

Walter Scott, The Wendy Award, 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist, Drawn & Quarterly

EH Are there any artist self-portraits that inspired your development of the Wendy-verse, or that you’ve subsequently encountered and appreciate?

WS I think it’s hard to represent the art world in film, TV and books. In a fictionalized space, it's often this pretentious place where everyone is looking at a cardboard box and the joke is that it's just a cardboard box and that art is stupid. Lately, I’ve been finding more interesting representations of the lives of artists, such as the movie Showing Up [2022] by Kelly Reichardt. I think Reichardt wanted to tell a quiet story of a person yearning for something: the movie depicts the private desperation of a miserable artist who never smiles. With Wendy, I never set out for it to be a story about the art world. Wendy was a direct representation of my MO: shame, anxiety, knee-jerk self-destruction and pursuit of pleasure. To set out to make something about the art world would have been putting the cart before the horse, and I don't think it would have worked as well.

Walter Scott, The Wendy Award, 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist, Drawn & Quarterly

EH Your work occupies a very particular position in Canada because of its acerbic engagement with such specific real-world contexts.

WS I set out to tell a story about the messiest version of myself. I wasn’t thinking of it as a wider commentary on millennial culture or artists. All the art world stuff was secondary, but it ended up becoming an interesting setting for Wendy. Themes of Indigenous identity also come into the series with the Winona character — those are also topics that I wouldn’t have had the psychic freedom to write about if I’d set out to represent them as accurately as possible. I would have felt pressure to represent everything as accurately as possible – in a satirical way – and that would just kill the vibe.

Walter Scott, Gimley Bunning, 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist and frieze 

EH You’re currently contributing a monthly back-page story for frieze about the misadventures of Gimley Bunning, an incredibly, almost cringe-inducingly, eager art goer and admirer. Can you tell me more about where the idea for Gimley came from?

WS The impetus was Sean Burns [frieze assistant editor] asking me to pitch, but suggesting I create a different character than Wendy. Gimley is a kind of reporter on the loose, and sometimes on location. They’re completely delusional and they represent someone that a very self-involved, cool person would absolutely hate. I was thinking about going to New York and encountering an icy, standoffish attitude that makes me feel like a dorky, eager Canadian. Gimley disgusts everyone around them with their naiveté and overconfidence, so there’s a lot of derision towards them in the series, but you also kind of root for them and admire their confidence. Everyone should be that confident, especially if they’re not cool.

Walter Scott, Gimley Bunning, 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist and frieze 

EH In some ways, Gimley’s perhaps delusional confidence seems like the opposite of Wendy’s extreme anxiety.

WS It’s almost like they’re mirror images of one another. Gimley is ridiculed to their face all the time, and they just don't care or notice. While I'm writing, it feels dark but exciting, because it’s really rude. I'm a little afraid of what will come out.

Walter Scott's The Wendy Award is published by Drawn & Quarterly

Main image: Walter Scott, The Wendy Award (detail), 2024, comic strip. Courtesy: the artist, Drawn & Quarterly

Esmé Hogeveen is a writer based between Tkaronto/Toronto and Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. Her writing has appeared in Another Gaze: Feminist Film Journal, Artforum, Border Crossings, The Brooklyn Rail, Canadian Art and cléo.

Walter Scott is an interdisciplinary artist working with writing, illustration, performance and sculpture. His latest book, The Wendy Award, was published by Drawn & Quarterly in 2024.