Monday, January 27, 2020

Comic Art Collection 2 - Acroyear

Acroyear of the Micronauts.


Well folks, let's take a walk back to when I was a kid. When I was really young, I was given Archie digests and some marvellous digests called "UFOs and Other Stories" where I learned all about planes disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle and that aliens have a fascination with doing terrible things to cattle.

But after that I started buying comics from Marvel. And the big five for me starting out were Godzilla, Shogun Warriors, Battlestar Galactica, Fantastic Four and....Micronauts.

If you're so interested, here's the link to the Wikipedia article giving some of the history. They started off as toys, but later debuted as a comic in 1979. If a team of galactic rebels (an explorer returning home to a world that has changed for the worse, a rebel princess, a deposed warrior king, a quippy arachnid, and two feisty robots)  fighting a power mad tyrant in cool black armour welding massive mystical/technological powers seems oddly familiar, well, there were a lot of people trying to make a buck copying Star Wars at the time.

Pretty sure this was the first issue
I bought. I though it was cool
because of the toys, plus I had
been to Daytona Beach.
Oddly, Marvel was printing the Star Wars comic at the same time as Micronauts, but I never had any time for it. I liked Micronauts. Writer Bill Mantlo (truly a tragic figure in the comic industry) put together a book that had action and some surprisingly mature themes for a series based on a toy. The villain, Baron Karza, was effectively immortal and controlled the population with his "Body Banks", where the poor could gamble their body parts and organs for a longshot chance at immortality. The rich merely bought what they need to remain ageless. As long as they remained loyal.

It's a hell of a dark think to put in a comic. If the dialogue was occasionally a bit much to swallow (Mantlo was known as the guy you went to at Marvel if you needed a story turned around quick because someone missed a deadline), the rest was fantastic stuff. I still maintain the first 12 issues are some of Marvel's best comics from that time. In particular #9-11. I read those issues to death and stalked my local corner store waiting for the next issues to come out.

But it was Michael Golden's artwork that captured me. Even now I can't exactly explain why I like the art so much. It was just dynamic, bursting with energy and style. When he eventually left the series interior art around issue #13 the series never really fully recovered.

Frustratingly, I mostly only have memories of the comics. My original issues are in storage and due to complicated copyright issues, Marvel has never collected the issues in paperback or hardcover. Nor are they available digitally through any legal means.

So getting to meet Michael Golden at a Comic Con would obviously be a big deal for me....if I knew he was there.

When I went to New York Comic Con in 2015 I was a "veteran" of these cons now. I had a plan of attack. For weeks leading up to it I carefully planned which artist tables I would hit first to get sketches before their lists filled up. I had my budget. I had my overflow budget. I was all set. And for the first two hours I was at the con I stuck to that plan. I hit all the tables I needed to, was disappointed that some weren't doing sketches (but I had planned for that too).

And then I discovered that Golden was there and I hadn't known.

I was horrified. Both because I figured his commission list was surely full by now, and that what he would ask would be beyond my budget.

I was forlornly looking at some prints at his table when he started talking to me. I tried very hard to not gush over how much I'd love Micronauts as a kid, something I'm sure he heard all the time. Then I explained I was quite sad I hadn't noticed his table sooner because I was sure his commission list was full by now.

"Actually, I haven't had a single request yet. What would you like?"

And we were off.....

I briefly considered getting Dr. Strange, which he also drew, until he told me he'd have to charge me more because he hated drawing the cape. Fair enough. That made Acroyear an easy choice. Noble warrior king from the planet Spartak, deposed from his throne by his evil brother. I might tease Mantlo's dialogue, but he always gave the best melodramatic lines to Acroyear ("Come. Betrayer of worlds." Corny. Don't care. Loved it when I was 9). Plus the armour and sword are spectacularly cool looking.

I commissioned him on Thursday afternoon and he had this ready for me by Saturday afternoon. I'm not saying he spent two straight days on it, but every time I walked past his table he was hunched over it. Golden was never the fastest artist, which is why he later switched to covers or very short runs.

So yeah, I love this piece. I love all the detail he put into it. And I love that when I look at it on my wall it's an easy reminder to when I was 9-years-old, getting obsessed with sci-fi and a comic about rebels from a microscopic universe who were, coincidentally, the size of action figures when they came to Earth made absolute sense.

Last Five
1. I will survive - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
2. Fireside - Arctic Monkeys
3. Marry Song - Band of Horses
4. Supersonic - Pearl Jam*
5. Please do not let me go (live) - Ryan Adams

Monday, January 20, 2020

Comic Art Collection 1 - Origins and Wonder Girl

Most of my friends know that I collect comic book art. It got started in 2008 when I went to my first comic con - NYCC - and immediately got hooked. If you go to a comic con and walk around Artists Alley with a sketchbook, it's a lot of fun and immediately addicting.

I've been doing this for almost 12 years now which means I'm accumulating quite a collection. To an extent I didn't even know how big it was getting. Over Christmas I got the bright idea that I should scan all of my artwork. There's a practical purpose to this. The website Comic Art Fans has a feature where you can upload your art and add details about it, including estimated value. So if nothing else, if something happens to me Cathy can sell the artwork for what it's worth and not what I told her I paid for it.

(These are the jokes, folks. Tip your waitress.)

This process ended up being a lot more complicated than I thought because:
a. I had to pull a lot of pieces from frames and I didn't keep track of what picture goes with what frame as carefully as I should have. Which resulted in a mess I'm still dealing with.
b. I have more art than I thought. Including commission, pages from actual comics, and drawings in my sketchbook, I'm pushing around 150 right now.

Geeks with money, man. It's dangerous.

But it also occurs to me that nobody really gets to see most of this artwork except for me and Cathy. And while Cathy is tolerant and supportive of this hobby she doesn't exactly understand and love it the way I do. Fair enough.

And if I do say so, I've managed to build a pretty decent collection. And perhaps it's egotistical and perhaps no one will really care, but I though it might be interesting to show people who still read this blog what I have.

So once a week I'm going to post up an image and tell a story about it. Sometimes it might be very brief. Not all of the pieces have awesome stories. There are a few "I bought this on eBay" (Not many. Buying art on eBay is risky.) Or "I bought this through the artist's dealer."

But sometimes there's a cool story involved. It also has the added benefit of getting me writing again.

So if this is going to be the first one of these I do, it's best to start at the beginning.

So if you want to know the official date of my addiction, it would be April 18, 2008. I was wandering around Artist Alley trying to figure who to get a commission from and how it even worked. Todd Nauck had a few people in his line and I liked his work on Young Justice with Peter David. Plus, if I recall, he was asking $25 a sketch which seemed pretty reasonable. So I decided to ask for a Wonder Girl sketch.

This is pretty much a perfect $25 sketch for its time. I forget exactly how long it took for him to draw it, but I suspect it was around 15 minutes and that was with him chatting with people. Some quick penciling to establish what he wanted to do, and then using ink or a marker to fill in the details. I was very happy with it at the time and I still am.

If you ever go to a con and he's there, find the time to swing by his table. He's absolutely one of the nicest guys in comics. I've stopped by his table at other cons and he always makes a few minutes to chat. Although it's a bit harder to get a sketch from him these days and it costs more.

Hilariously he looks almost exactly like Peter B. Parker from the "Into the Spiderverse" movie, and the internet is filled with pictures of him posing with cosplayers as a middle age Spider-Man. Like this one:

He has a blast with it too.

Anyway. My first sketch in my first sketchbook. Only three more years to go.....

Last Five
1. Arms aloft (live) - Pearl Jam
2. The infanta - The Decemberists
3. White boy blues - Mo berg
4. Stay free - The Clash
5. Saint Simon - The Shins

Friday, January 17, 2020

Proof of Life: 50

I went to the beach to get a selfie, but the
combination of cloud and snow washed
everything out.

Well, that happened fast.

Seriously. It was, what, six months ago I was put to work at the counter of my grandparents' store at the entrance of their campground out in Brookcove. I sold cigarettes to minors and conducted early morning raids on campers to steal their empty beer bottles and cash them in so I could buy comic books.

It was just a couple of months ago I was walking out of the used texts bookstore on the 2nd floor of the TSC and saw someone I used to work with at Shoppers Drug Mart (Murdo) hanging out at the Muse office. I decided to pop in and say hi.

Maybe it was last month that Susy and Erin suggested going to see Monsters Inc. and that, oh yeah, they were bringing along a friend named Cathy. Both of us blindly oblivious that was a set-up. But, you know, it worked out pretty ok.

And it was just a couple of weeks ago that Cathy said she was tired of living in GN rented apartments, so why don't we go buy a house and stay in Iqaluit for a little bit longer.

Cathy and I, like all married couples, have developed our own language shorthand. And in situations like this we often just say "Fruit" when time is flying by fast. As in "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." (Shockingly, I only learned this week when getting ready to write this that the quote is not actually from Groucho Marx, but from this.)

So yes, Fruit.

I don't really know how 50 is supposed to feel. My mother is probably more traumatized today than I am. Fifty means you're a grown-up, which if you saw what I've done to one of the spare bedrooms in our house you would doubt that idea a lot. The seven year old me conducting beer bottle raids for comics money would be thrilled and nod approvingly at the toys, bookshelves filled with comics, and art on the walls. Pretty much anyone else who visits the house wonders if I've lost my mind and why on Earth Cathy tolerates it.

("It's better than you blowing it on booze" is normally her answer.)

So older, a bit wiser, but no closer to actually growing up.

I'll miss my 40s if for no other reason it finally felt, after decades of restlessness, flare ups of bitterness and questioning if I knew what the hell I was doing, I finally seem to figure things out a bit. It took awhile for me to realize that as a hetrosexual, white, male from a Christian background living in one of the most prosperous countries on the planet, I'd been given some pretty hefty cheat codes to the world that most people don't get. So maybe I should appreciate that a bit more and realize what a gift I've been (probably undeservingly) given.

It took me awhile to realize that healthy, happy, secure, and being in a love with an amazing woman is filled with victory anyway you cut it. It's better than any Lotto Max win.

I got to see the world. By our count we've now visited 32 countries, something I would never imagine when I was a kid and getting to go to Florida was like visiting another planet (actually, that's probably still the case).

But most importantly, most nights I come home after picking up Cathy, and we talk about our day. One of us makes supper. We'll talk, or watch a movie, read, or play a stupid iPhone game. I'll walk the dog. I'll tuck Cathy in after she goes to bed and then I'll read or putter on the computer for a few hours.

It's probably boring and it's an absolute gift that I hope I never take for granted. We celebrate 15 years of being married this July.

So what's the plan for the next decade? Not really sure. More of that healthy, happy, security and love sounds pretty good. I could easily handle another 50 years of that. More travel, although in our age of Climate Change I'm certainly trying to figure out how we can do that better. I need to read and write more, and starting next week you might see some changes to the blog to help spur that a bit.

Keep going to the gym, because along with keeping me in decent shape I've discovered its critical to my mental health.

And the rest? Well, we'll take it as it comes.

One last's interesting to note that on the occasion of my 50th birthday mother nature has apparently trying to destroy St. John's. I mean, I've thought about it on occasion....who hasn't? But an Amazon gift card would have done just fine.

Stay safe if you're in St. John's and hang in there.

Last Five
1. Oceans (live) - Coldplay
2. Achin' to be - The Replacements
3. Ruins - First Aid Kit
4. Relief next to me (live) - Tegan and Sara
5. What is love - Postmodern Jukebox featuring Cassey Abrams*

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Alpha Flight: True North review

If you were Canadian and a geek in the late 70s and early 80s odds are you were buying Alpha Flight. A team of Canadian heroes basically assembled to give the X-Men a solid fight, they proved to be so popular that co-creator John Byrne launched a series featuring the characters.

A lot of people now may not know the team, or only be passingly familiar, but back in their day Alpha Flight was one of the best selling monthly comics. A chunk of that had to do with how popular Byrne was. During the 1980s there were few comic book artists bigger than he was. So when he left Alpha Flight after 28 issues, the series began a slow decline. Some big name artists worked on the series, like Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Jim Lee (pretty much everything), but there's little after Byrne that is considered classic. Those issues have never been reprinted and aren't even available on Comixology or Marvel Unlimited. 

The series was cancelled after 130 issues, which is a decent run. Since then there have been attempts to bring the series back, but most didn't last long and were of....variable quality.

There hasn't been an Alpha Flight series in over seven years. But given that Marvel reboots everything eventually, and that many of the characters have played supporting roles in recent years in books like Captain Marvel and the Immortal Hulk, there's a feeling in the air that the team is due for a comeback. Plus there's this intriguing rumour about a Hulk/Wolverine movie featuring Alpha Flight.

But what most people wanted was, well, a good Alpha series.

So a few months ago Marvel announced a one-shot - Alpha Flight: True North. Featuring three 10-page stories told by all-Canadian creative teams. This was accompanied by the thinly veiled suggestion that if it sold well, a new Alpha Flight series might result.

So how is the one-shot? Well, I'm going to do a rare comic review on the book.

1. Mired in the Past
W. Jim Zub
A. Max Dunbar
C. Jim Charalampidis

This marks the third story in the last two years or so that Jim Zub has set in Nunavut. Two in Champions were in Pangnirtung (he co-wrote one with Nyla Inuksuk) with this one in Kugaaruk. At this point we should just consider him an honourary Nunavummiut.

In this case, two members of Alpha Flight go the Kugaaruk after an old evil, with a tie to Snowbird's past, reemerges from the thawing permafrost.

It's a solid little action story with Talisman and Snowbird having to fight a monster. It might not sound like much, but in the space of 10-pages Zub manages to tie off a very old loose end from Alpha Flight, set-up some potential storylines in the future if the series gets picked up (what else might be thawing out in the North because of climate change?) and script a solid fight scene with an emotional payoff.

Of course, he's ably helped by Max Dunbar. I first ran into his art on Champions, although he draws a lot of D&D related comics. It shows, because Dunbar draws some pretty spectacular monsters. Not the "I will have nightmares about this for days" (see Ben Templesmith and Bill Sienkiewicz), but more of a "those are some pretty cool looking monsters."

My only nitpick is that Talisman was introduced as one of the most powerful mystics in the Marvel universe, and yet she always seems to get in over her head. Can't address everything in 10 pages, but it would be nice if it was taken care of in the future. Although kudos for using her new, less skin-revealing costume which is just spectacular.

Future Alpha Flight Creative Team Rating: 8.5/10

2. Monsters
W. Jed MacKay
A. Djibril Morrisette-Phan
C. Ian Herring

After defeating an off-page villain called The Beast in PEI, Aurora and Northstar work on their tan, while Puck and Marrina take a walk on the beach, with Puck telling an old story of his last time on the island and it's surprising connection to Marrina.

Oh, this one was a delight. I thought it was going to be a straightforward flashback Puck story, but the twist of how it connects to Marrina and her reaction made it a joy. Just in case you think you can't do a metric ton of character development in 10 pages this story proves otherwise. MacKay take full advantage of the fact that Puck has always been a natural storyteller. Plus he nicely reins in the "angry alien" character tic that was going on with Marrina the last time we saw her. She's no longer the naive girl we were introduced to years ago, or the victim she's been way too often. Instead she's a little playful, much more thoughtful and adult. It's a staggeringly welcome change.

The last page makes you wish MacKay had another 6 issues to play with. And seriously, someone now needs to write a story with Puck meeting Elsa Bloodstone.

Morrisette-Phan's artwork is perhaps a little less polished than what you saw with Dunbar, but then again he has a harder job. Dunbar got to draw heroes fighting monsters. Morrisette-Phan has to draw two characters walking on a beach talking, with occasional bits of flashback to monster fighting. It's more moody and atmospheric, but it's a story of monsters, regret and forgiveness. The art and colouring is subdued, but I think it works.

Btw, bonus points for Marrina referring to herself as a "Canadian, Newfoundlander and an Alphan." This is why you need Canadians on the book. That's a point of subtlety that I'm not sure most non-Canadian writers would get.

Future Alpha Creative Team Rating: 9.5/10

3. Illegal Guardians
W. Ed Brisson
A. Scott Hepburn
C. Jim Charalampidis

Heather Hudson (Vindicator) is on the run after the events of the last Alpha Flight series. After a mercenary team attacks her and her daughter, she has to decide whether or not to accept the help of her estranged husband, James MacDonald Hudson (Guardian).

I'm not saying Brisson drew the short straw, but Zub gets to do monsters in the Arctic and MacKay gets to have Puck being charming and telling monster stories. Brisson has 10 pages to try and fix the mess the last creative team left Heather Hudson in. Long the heart of the team, the woman who took over leadership of Alpha Flight when her husband was murdered in front of her (he got better. Comics!), she got worked over pretty good in the last series, what with being brainwashed, betraying her country and team, murdering members of her family, kidnapping her daughter, and then going on the run.

Fix that in 10 pages.

Brisson makes a go of it. After a bit of a clunky start (which turns out was supposed to be deliberately a little clunky), you get some nice scenes of Heather and James trying to at least be friends again for the sake of their daughter. And then you get a deeply creepy twist and cliffhanger at the end. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more I think women readers are going to be genuinely horrified by it. You now really have to hope for a new Alpha series, because it needs to be addressed and there also needs to be, you would hope, some pretty serious consequences for Mac and his actions.

As well, I'm kind of meh on Hepburn's art. The one action sequences felt more like something I would have seen in a 90s Marvel book. Kind of clunky. Heather's costume appears by magic, which is weird. And I really don't enjoy how he draws faces, particularly Heather's, which gets bizarrely angular at one point. It's ok, but not great.

Future Alpha Creative Team Rating: 6.5/10

So do I think you should track it down? Absolutely. Not just because I want more Alpha Flight comics, but this is a solid one-shot. It's friendly for new readers, taps into parts of Alpha lore that most long-time fans are going to enjoy and has mostly solid art. It also lays some pretty solid groundwork for a future Alpha Flight series. Which, hopefully, won't be too far away.

Last Five
1. Everything is wrong - Interpol
2. Nova Heart - Spoons
3. Are you ten years ago - Tegan and Sara
4. Bullet in the brain - The Black Keys
5. Talkin' about revolution - Tracy Chapman

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Con aquistions

For the second time in in two years I'm just back from the Emerald City Comic Con. I had so much fun in 2017 that I immediately began making plans to go back. There are a lot of perks to that con....Seattle is a great city, it's a four-day con so it's worth the work to get to it, a break from Nunavut in March is always it's just a great con. It's big, but not insane like New York has become. And they work hard on their artist alley to make it diverse. So it's not just white guys selling art. There's lots of women, POC, GLBTQ and artists just getting started so this kind of con is a big break for them.

Some may go to ECCC for the cosplay, or the gaming section, the show floor and the endless supply of Funko toys (so, so much Funko at this show. Dear god....), but I live for a good artist alley. I don't normally post this kind of thing up. It feels like bragging, which I guess it is, but I have all this cool art and can't really show it to anyone. Cathy will certainly nod and make appreciative noises, but she doesn't love this stuff like I do. Which is fine. She has her things as well....

I might have gone a little overboard. But I always do. So here's the artwork I got, along with a bit of information about the artist. If you like the art, I really encourage you to go and track down the artists. They often have all kinds of things you can buy...original art, t-shirts, pins, prints, etc.

After a couple of false starts, my first commission was from Valentine Barker. Absolutely go and check out his site for some of the awesome "....Like a Girl" prints and t-shirts he has for sale. My niece may be getting a few things from him for her birthday. I often hem and haw about what I'm going to ask an artist to draw. It's why I've started carrying a list on my phone. However, Ms. Marvel was a pretty obvious choice for Valentine and he did a spectacular job.

Phillip Nguyen was a spur of the moment commission. I was walking past his table and saw the prints he had there and started chatting with him. He had a particularly nice Batgirl when she was Stephanie Brown and I asked if he could draw her. He turned this about in about two hours. 

One of the funnier interactions I had getting a commission from the con was with Brianna Garcia. I carry a list of characters on my phone that I would like to see get drawn and ask the artist if they have a preference. When Brianna saw Holtzmann from the last Ghostbusters movie (I loved that movie. Fuck fanboys who hated it because it had women as the leads) on the list she got super excited and really, really, really wanted to draw her. Always have a list, just for this reason.

Jim Zub is the co-creator of the Inuk super hero Snowguard and it was absolutely a priority for me to get a sketch of her when I was in Seattle. Jim mostly writes these days, but as you can see, he's still a damn good artist. He was deeply reluctant to draw her for me. As he flipped through my sketchbook he was horrified I wanted his art in my book because he didn't think he was good enough. Which is ridiculous because it's a fantastic sketch and I'm thrilled I got it.

Just in case you ever doubt your skills, realize that some of the very best in the business still don't think they're good enough. I also can't say enough nice things about Jim. Had a great chat with him about how important Snowguard is and to keep fighting for appearances for her. He also signed a ton of comics for me, which was kind of him.

Michael Cho is one of the hottest and best artists in the business. He was the first table I went to at the con. By the time I got to it there was already three people in front of me. He draws everything well, but since he was only doing headshots I wanted something unique. Batwoman was, I think you'll agree, a pretty good choice.

Steve Lieber is one of those artists that everyone in the comic industry admires not just because he's good, but because he's also pretty smart about the industry and what it takes to put together a good comic. He's drawn just about everyone at some point. I first remember discovering him reading the excellent Whiteout which he drew and Greg Rucka wrote (ignore the awful movie). Recently he was drawing the pretty damn funny The Fix. He also drew Hawkworld many moons ago, so I asked for this Hawkgirl. I think he drew this in an hour. 

Artists are freaky, man.

Terry Dodson is one of my absolute favourite artists. Two years ago at ECCC in Seattle he drew a beautiful Princess Leia. This time I hit him up for a Bombshell Batgirl (DC's Bombshells are a significant weakness of mine. I love the costume design). If you look closely you can see a page torn out of the book (this was a new book I was starting). He started drawing, hated it, tore the page out and started over. 

"It was technically fine, but there was no fun in it. So it had to go." I'm pretty damn happy with results.

Lynne Yoshii is one of those artists I really didn't know too much about until I walked past her table, did a double take and asked if she was taking on any commissions. It was late Saturday, so I was pretty lucky she was. She scrolled down my list and settled on Bombshell Harley Quinn. This was the sketch that made me decide I was finished at ECCC. I picked this up Sunday morning, decided it wasn't going to be topped and stopped asking artists for commissions. Because I'm evil, when I go to the next con and an artist is flipping through my sketchbook, this is the last piece I want them to see before they start drawing. Because artists are competitive. Go ahead. Top this.

I tried very hard to focus on sketches at ECCC simply because I have no wall space left. However, my will power is for shit. I also bought several other pages of art. Now I have to find homes for them.

Some of you may recall the Bruce Willis movie Red that came out in 2010. It was originally based on a comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. The movie and comic have very little to do with one another. I believe Ellis once said the movie would have been 20 minutes long if based only on the comic. I love the movie, but it's its own thing. The comic is one of those things that looks effortless and slight until you dig into it and see everything that's going on. Hamner is a large part of the reason why it's great.

I actually bought this before the con and picked it up there. Hamner was apparently cleaning up and found a bunch of pages from the series. Which is hilarious. I took this page out at another table when putting something away and other artists wanted to look at it and were in awe I managed to get a page. It is a masterclass in graphic story telling.

I am, I admit, slightly obsessed with Snowguard. I desperately wanted a page of original art with her in it. The problem is that most of the artists that have drawn her so far work digitally. This was especially frustrating when Marcus To did the recent Champions annual that focussed on her. Fortunately Max Dunbar did a recent story arc where the team visited Weirdworld and became fantasy character versions of themselves. This was an easy page to pick. Snowguard, Ms. Marvel, Brawn, Wasp and Man-Things. All good stuff.

Aside from being a great artist, Max is one of the nicest, most chill guys you'll meet.

This page was a bit of an ooops. I was waiting to get Aaron Lopestri to sign a copy of the Wonder Woman/Conan book he did with Gail Simone, but he talking to someone. So I started flipping through his portfolio. sigh....Not a splashy action page, but a nice quiet character moment between Conan and Wonder Woman. I also got Simone to sign it and she spent a few moments appreciating the page and singing Aaron's praises. Justifiably.

One of the cool things ECCC does each year is put together an art book called "Monsters and Dames" with all proceeds going towards a children's hospital in Seattle. It's a good cause and there's normally huge demand to get into the book even though artists aren't paid for it. One thing many people, including myself, then do is walk around Artist Alley and get the book signed by everyone. It's fun, you get to chat to the artists and sometimes pick up something from someone whose table you might have ordinarily walked past. But everyone understands you can't buy something from every table. There are 80 pieces of art in the book.

This page, by Ryan Fisher, was one of the ones in the book. I hit his table early Saturday morning and while he was signing the book I noticed he had the original piece of art on the table. I'm always going to have a weakness for cute magicians in fishnets, but this was a cool piece and he had priced, in my opinion, a bit too low. I'm surprised it was still there on Saturday, but I'm glad it was.

Charity comic art auctions are always dangerous for me. Fun, but there's almost 100% certainty I will accidentally buy something. This Captain Marvel by Chrystal Fae was it. It was the second piece auctioned off and Captain Marvel had just opened. I liked it but thought the bidding would keep going after I raised my paddle. Nope. It's a very lovely ooops, though.

This last one I actually did gun for. I got outbid on a few pieces (always set a price in your head and stick to it, no matter how much it hurts to let it go), but this one by Chris Uminga came in less than I was ready to go, so that was nice surprise. I like Uminga's style and own a Wonder Woman figure based of his art. Also, I'm always a sucker for Ben Grimm/The Thing.

So there we go. A lot of art, but it's all lovely to look at and I got some good stories to go along with it. It's another reason I like going to cons. I buy from the artist, talk to them, get a good story or help out a good cause.

Last Five
1. Politik - Coldplay
2. Time of your life - Green Day
3. Candy - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
4. Sweet fire of love - Robbie Robertson*
5. Guest room - The National

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

A cautious return

With the mid-term elections over I'm apparently supposed to come back to social media. I have one friend on Twitter who has been eager for me to come back for my geek knowledge if nothing else (dude, seriously, we can just meet for coffee at the Black Heart or something). And I probably will dip my toes back into it.


The mid-term elections in the US fundamentally changed very little in social media. It was a convenient date on a map, but I see no end in sight to the level of online toxicity. It'll be Canada's turn next year. It won't get to the horrific heights seen in the US the last few months, but it's not going to be pretty.

And today essentially kicks off the start of the 2020 US presidential campaign. Yeah. Seriously. Feel free to start weeping now.

But I do miss elements of social media, I just need to do it smarter than the last time, just for the sake of my sanity. So what's the plan?

1. Do a significant purge on Facebook and anyone who annoys me in the slightest gets blocked/muted. That's a hint at trying to be civil and respectful in the upcoming federal election. The amount of Hitler references I saw in the lead-up to the last election was disgraceful.

2. Go though my Twitter and start purging accounts that I don't need to follow anymore.

3. Set up key word blockers on Twitter, particularly for "Trump" and anything else I find along the way.

4. I'm not reinstalling either Facebook or Twitter on my phone to limit my time using it.

5. No more than 1 hour a day, combined, looking at them. That's still probably too much, but it's a place to start and we'll take it from there.

I'm kind of sorry it's had to come to this. I like interacting with friends online simply because I get to see them so rarely in person. I like getting access to random, cool information from more knowledgeable people that I might have otherwise missed. But the problem with opening the flood gates is that everything comes through and a lot of it is really not good for you.

Cathy and I resolved awhile back to cut unnecessary drama from our lives. We've done a reasonably good job of it. A friend of mine asked recently how do you do that. Well, there's a way, and it's doable, but like all things there's a cost. You eliminate the sources of the drama. Sometimes that's people, sometimes it's social media.

(For friends who haven't spoke to me in awhile, it's more likely that I suck at being a friend and reaching out when I should. My hatred of talking to most people on the phone stretches back decades.)

It's not for everybody and not everybody would want to do it or even understand why we'd want to live like that. But we like it, and we like the relative stress-free aspect of our lives. So I'll give Facebook and Twitter another go, but much more cautiously this time.

Last Five
1. Parking lots - Josh Pyke
2. She's electric - Oasis
3. The needle and the damage done (live) - Neil Young*
4. The herring song - The Flash Girls
5. Ain't it fun - Paramore

Friday, September 14, 2018

8 years, 281 days

It was about nine years ago that Cathy decided we needed a house. She was very certain on this matter.

View from the living room window.
On the other hand, I thought this was madness. I had many solid reasons for thinking so. We'd just come back from a pricey vacation in Australia for almost four weeks. I was also unemployed, with my contract with the Government of Nunavut having expired earlier the summer. And while I was sure I would get something, I didn't have anything at the moment Cathy was hatching this scheme.

Plus I didn't see the need for the place. We had a perfectly nice apartment downtown. Cathy could walk to work in minutes. All the grocery stores were nearby and it had a perfectly nice view. And it was a quiet building. No kids. So why rock the boat?

But Cathy wanted a house and went about persuading me. She was convinced we were fine on finances (indeed, the bank pre-approved us for a staggering and insane amount) and she set about keeping an eye for new places. I distinctly remember having a conversation when driving where she said "Look, if you think this is a bad idea and feel that strongly about it, we don't have to do this."

I might have only been married for four years at that point, but a little klaxon was going off in the back of my head telling me that, at all costs, do not accept this offer. This was a trap and I would be punished in ways that would not be enjoyable.

Compromises were made. At some point I think Cathy dangled letting me having a spare bedroom and converting into a den/geek space/Room of Requirement. That and the promise that we weren't going to beyond our means on a house. I thought the later point secured us from having to worry about it for quite some time. Iqaluit real estate was insane in 2009; it's only gotten worse since.

View of the house at Christmas. Cathy loves to light the
place up.
After one failed attempt and several deeply meh houses, we stumbled on one. I should emphasize the amount of dumb luck karma that went into getting this house. First, there were no building inspectors in Iqaluit at that time. So we had to do the best we could to figure out what kind of shape it was in with our deeply limited experience. The people wanted to move quickly, so the process was expedited. We first looked at the house in mid-October; we moved in on December 1.

Where did the dumb luck come in? Turns out the neighbourhood we live in - Tundra Ridge - is one of the nicer ones in town. My neighbours include a former premier, the CEO of Nunavut Tourism and the President of QIA. The house itself was built by a mad Dane back at the turn of the century and all the ones he build are known for quality and sturdiness of the construction. And other than a contractor related disaster last fall on some renovations, we haven't had any problems. Plus the views are spectacular.

So yeah, we've used some good luck on this house. Having said that, I remember in November 2009 signing my name committing to paying back what seemed like an ungodly amount of money over the next 25 years.

Except it wasn't 25 years. It was exactly 8 years and 281 days. As of September 7 we made our last mortgage payment. The house is now ours.

All ours.
(Yes, I know. I'm burying the lede. I prefer to think of as setting the scene for the payoff).

Cathy and I are phenomenally proud of this achievement. We both try not to brag much, but we've been bursting the last few weeks as we knew this day was approaching. Every two weeks we'd get a letter from RBC updating us on how much was left on our mortgage. You've never seen two people happier to be getting mail from a bank about a mortgage update.

We had help, of course. Cathy's parents kicked in a few thousand dollars when we first bought the house. Both sets of our parents installed in us an ethic to not get in over our heads financially. Bills got paid on time. We love our vacations, but they only happen after everything else is taken care of. Same with my geekery (Cathy's only bad habits, I swear, are Swatch watches and Fluevog shoes).

We've had a couple of people ask how we did it. Well, not having kids, not smoking, drinking little and not owning a ski-doo, boat, ATV or multiple cars helped too. You prioritize where you want to spend the money. Getting out from under the bank and our trips around the world were our priorities. Yours may vary.

As for what's next, we have a few things to catch up on. Cathy's laptop is about 8 years old. My desktop is 7 years old. I might get another year out of my computer, but Cathy's laptop is on death's door. We may even splurge on a new TV set. And in two years, when I turn...sigh....50, I'm taking a couple of months off work and we're going to travel to Australia (head's up, Sarah). So some reserves to pull that off will be a good idea.

And then back to saving money. It's not like we're suddenly going to be eating out every night and buying new cars or boats. It's not us. Plus, we have ambitious retirement plans. Cathy's insisting we retire to a place with palm trees. So that will take some doing.

But mainly we'll just enjoy not owing any money. I can't overstate enough how much we hate owing banks money.

Oh, and we'll be burning our mortgage at some point soon. Safely away from the house, of course. I like a little irony as much as the next person, but that would be a bit too much.

Last Five
1. Lazy bones - Joel Plaskett
2. Heart vs. doubt - Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case
3. Believe in me - Sloan
4. Old Dan Tucker - Bruce Springsteen*
5. Feud - Band of Horses