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Reviews / December 10, 2020

Wendy, Master of Art

In the third instalment of Walter Scott's graphic novel series, Wendy goes to grad school where she has new responsibilities to her students, friends and lovers—but is she ready?

Wendy, Master of Art is the third book in artist and cartoonist Walter Scott’s series of graphic novels that follows the beloved fictional artist Wendy through her messy escapades in life, love and the rise to contemporary art stardom. Born from a placemat drawing in 2011, Scott’s Wendy series takes place in a slightly alternative universe, where our protagonist encounters recognizable art-world types, some of whom are depicted as shape-shifters, aliens and other altogether nonhuman beings. In Wendy, Master of Art, Scott takes aim at the MFA program experience with a semiautobiographical tale set in the fictional town of Hell, Ontario.

Scott’s “Wendyverse” is a playful and pointed satire of the North American, mostly Canadian, art scene. With black-and-white line drawings of exaggerated or distilled facial expressions, his comics style is immediately understandable in a way that recalls the manga tradition. Wendy (2014) and Wendy’s Revenge (2016) documented our heroine’s early post-undergraduate days of partying, booze and drugs, as well as her attempts at professional development with artist residencies in “Flojo Island” and Yokohama, Japan. Scott’s third book begins the morning after a wild night of clubbing in Berlin, where Wendy wakes up to an acceptance email from the University of Hell’s MFA program. Several new characters are introduced to the series, including the stereotypical fibres fanatic, the international jet-setter, the self-identified “token dyke” and other angry and insecure individuals. There are also appearances by key members of the Wendyverse, such as Tina, Jeff, Screamo and Sandy, “the girl who has it *all…*consistent mental stability.” Across her time in the program, Wendy grapples with assigned readings of unintelligible academic theory, studiomate drama and teaching her first undergraduate class. For the first time, Wendy has responsibilities as an adult, not only to her students, but also to Xav, a polyamorous artist she becomes involved with, and to her best friend, Winona, an Indigenous multimedia performance artist.

At 276 pages, Wendy, Master of Art is the largest book in Scott’s series, but it strategically resists bringing us any closer to knowing the specifics of Wendy’s art practice. She describes her thesis project as, “teasing out the conundrum of autobiography through some kind of writing AND drawing essay.” This mystery and opacity allows readers to project themselves onto Wendy, and it is, arguably, precisely this that explains the popularity of Scott’s comics. Whether you see yourself or your friends in the Wendyverse or not, and no matter your proximity to the art world, Wendy comics are painfully relatable and incontrovertibly hilarious in their honest account of life as a young person.

While from the outside grad school seems to be the next logical step toward financial security and a career in the arts, Wendy’s situation appears to be no less precarious on the other end of her MFA. Scott conveys the stress and anxiety of this condition through Wendy’s interactions at her thesis defense show, where a barrage of questions—“Are you gonna look for teaching jobs?… What kinda art are you gonna make after this?… Are you happy?”— leads her eyes to disappear into two dark, empty circles. Wendy, Master of Art doesn’t end with the same cliffhanger we’ve come to expect from previous books, but instead with a sense of stability. “You live HERE now,” says Xav to Wendy in the last scene, an impromptu date at the aquarium. “…I do,” she answers, a somewhat ironic affirmation of Xav’s statement, their relationship and her potentially new outlook on life.

Walter Scott's <em>Wendy, Master of Art</em>. Courtesy Drawn & Quarterly. Walter Scott's Wendy, Master of Art. Courtesy Drawn & Quarterly.

This is an article from our Winter 2021 issue, “Tangents.”

Amelia Wong-Mersereau

Amelia Wong-Mersereau is an emerging art writer and cultural critic based in Montreal. Her research is often concerned with questions of representation, performance and feminism. She is a member of the Editorial Board for esse arts + opinions and the Winter 2021 editorial resident at Canadian Art.