The description for Ben O’Neil’s debut graphic novel, Apologetica, details the book as ‘a sign of the times, a letter of regret, a feeble attempt, a collection of comics dealing with guilt, shame, martyrdom, jaguars, burning garbage, bad meat and fashion.’

An illustration from Ben O’Neil’s Apologetica.

With all of that in mind, LondonFuse had a chat with Ben about the themes and aesthetic of Apologetica, which is celebrating its London launch at Brown & Dickson Bookshop this week.

About the Artist

Illustrator, artist, and screenwriter Ben O’Neil is currently based in Toronto, but was born and raised in London. He counts Matt Groening (The Simpsons) and Greg Capullo (Spawn) among his influences, along with Ralph Bakshi, Kaz and Mark Newgarden. Though he drew in his early years, Ben turned to abstract painting when he was a student at Bealart.

It wasn’t until Ben attended OCAD for Curatorial Practice and Art Criticism that he rediscovered comic illustration. From there, Ben began self-publishing comics and zines. He also works as a freelance illustrator, having done work for brands such as Rise Kombucha and Sweet Jesus.

ben o'neil apologetica graphic novel
The cover for Ben O’Neil’s Apologetica.

Ultimately Ben’s rebooted passion for illustration led to the creation of Apologetica. He worked with a frequent collaborator, southwestern Ontario artist Mark Laliberte, to see the project through. Apologetica is published by Mark’s Toronto-based comic press Popnoir Editions.

Guilt, Shame, and the Rest in Apologetica

Returning to the novel’s intriguing initial description, how is Apologetica ‘a sign of the times?’ Ben explained that the book covers themes he has been mulling over for the past few years.

“I wanted to examine the idea of armchair activism, and the social currency that comes from keeping up appearances of “wokeness” while ignoring one’s own privilege and complacency,” Ben explained. “I wanted to take the idea of martyrdom and explore its aesthetic dimension, and how it might relate to fashion and athletics.”

“Lastly, I was interested in the rituals and manifestos that people resort to in order to moralize themselves in the face of a failing planet, the destruction of which is very much our collective fault,” he added. Perhaps this is where the jaguars and bad meat come in.

ben o'neil graphic novel apologetica
The Jaguar Channel. A sample from Ben O’Neil’s Apologetica.

“The book is very tongue in cheek, but I’m hoping it will leave people with some pretty nagging doubts and critical thoughts.”

Certainly, the captivating visuals in Apologetica leave a lasting impression. The images in Apologetica are striking, combining clean, bold lines with a bright, minimalistic colour scheme. “I wanted to use a limited palette as a way to connect the different stories in the book,” Ben explained. “I found it to be a good challenge to only include about six solid colours, and figure out how to get the most out of those.”

A Welcome Return

Ben’s unique colour scheme features in other recent work, including the poster for the 2019 Ting Festival. The poster features one of the more surreal imaginings of Merle Tingley’s Luke Worm character.

Ben O’Neil’s poster for the 2019 Ting Festival.

London may influence some of Ben’s future projects. “Lately I’ve been interested in combining the surreal worlds of Northern Renaissance artists like Bosch and Brueghel with the contemporary landscape of Southwestern Ontario,” he explained. “William Kurelek did exactly that with his paintings, so he’s been a huge influence on me.”

If you’re looking for a pop of colour and surrealist jaguars in your life, check out the London launch of Ben O’Neil’s debut graphic novel, Apologetica, this Thursday night at Brown & Dickson Bookshop. Ben will be there to read excerpts and sign copies.


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