Thursday, November 26, 2015

Plane trouble

I was poking around on Twitter the other night, as par for course, and noticed yet another Iqaluitmuit practically begging WestJet to start flying here.

This wasn’t the first person I’ve seen doing it. For that matter, I’ve done it.  Few companies in Canada do social media as well as WestJet. They’re playing it coy for right now…

So why the desperate need for WestJet to come to Iqaluit? After all, we’re serviced by two airlines. They allow two pieces of luggage weighing 70 pounds each on board. They feed you on the plane. Hell, you can ever get the famous First Air ‘special” coffee (special = booze).

Well, let’s do a little test. Let’s say I want to fly from Iqaluit to Ottawa in the middle of January. How about Tuesday, January 12 and return on Tuesday, January 19. Middle of January, middle of the week. Not exactly a peak travel period.

So with taxes and fees, that’ll set you back $2,418.15.

Yeah, let’s also now take a moment to stop hyper-ventilating. For some comparison, I flew from Ottawa to Colombo, Sri Lanka a couple of years ago for about $1,200. Colombo is half way around the world. Ottawa is three hours away. I'm having trouble reconciling the math.

Plane tickets to and from Iqaluit have never been cheap. But you could always find some ways to offset the damage. A seat sale every now and then. Or perhaps you had a discount code from being a government employee.

Even with those codes, in most cases you’re still looking at ticket prices north of $1,500. And neither airline has offered a seat sale worth a damn this year.

You could say, “well, maybe Canadian North will be different?” I’m honestly not going to check because it won’t be.  There was never much breathing space between the two of main Nunavut airlines, but ever since they signed a codesharing agreement there’s been less. I’m not going to go into all the technical details about it, but let’s just say there’s not a single person in Nunavut who likes it, unless you work for an airline.  It feels like the airlines are providing cheaper service while charging record high tickets prices. So, more for less. Always what you want in a service provider.

So yeah, it’s been a rough year for travel. Normally Iqaluit becomes a ghost town at Christmas with so many people flying out. This year, at least in our circle of acquaintances, a record number of them are staying in town. A lot of them simply can’t afford to fly out, especially if they have kids.

I mention all of this because I’ve chatted with some in the airline industry saying that no other airline will come to Iqaluit because the passenger volumes aren’t high enough. That both airlines depend heavily on cargo and medical travel to make their money, something presumably that Air Canada or WestJet wouldn’t get (The Government of Nunavut, as a rule, supports Inuit-owned businesses).

Plus, Air Canada had a truly spectacular failure flying into Iqaluit. They lasted maybe a year. Granted, they came here in the dumbest way possible. They used a plane that was ill-equipped to fly to Iqaluit (small cargo space, couldn’t fly if it was colder than -35C, etc.) Plus, everyone used their Aeroplan Points with them. Finally, people were still fairly loyal to Canadian North and First Air. Or at least their better luggage allowances.

Air Canada drove prices down for a year, and once they left, tickets went up almost immediately.

This is getting a little rambly, but my point is, I think WestJet is going to come here. There’s a new airport opening in Iqaluit in 2017 (itself a source of no small amount of controversy). Which would make it the perfect time for new airlines to fly in. They can actually have their own counter space and staff rather than having to share the current over-crowded airport.

WestJet wouldn’t get hammered with the points problem that Air Canada did. First Air/Canadian North have done a superb job of burning a lot of their customer loyalty at this point. All WestJet has to do is come and make it work for a year or so with cheaper tickets and I’m pretty sure they’ll break one of those airlines, or force a merger.

People are just getting deeply, deeply fed up with how much it costs to fly here. For years it was “eh, it’s the North.” I think it’s moved beyond that into genuine annoyance and a desire for something cheaper. You can only handle $2,400 for a three hour flight for so long.

This is going to cause a whole new kind of rackets, I’m sure. If people in Iqaluit are pissed, it’s probably nothing compared to people who live in the smaller communities, who are paying a lot and not getting top notch service. And what happens if one of the Northern airlines goes bankrupt? What will it mean for some of the smaller communities? Will they get few flights?

So yeah, a lot of unknowns. But I think it’s a matter of when, and not if, before WestJet starts flying here.  Then things get interesting. Cheaper, but interesting.

Last Five
1. Sleep - Garbage
2. My favorite song - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
3. Gypsy biker - Bruce Springsteen
4. You want history - Kaiser Chiefs
5. Fireside - Arctic Monkeys

Monday, November 23, 2015


I’m a little late on this, but it’s been rattling around in my head…
I’m kinda frustrated with the latest James Bond movie. It’s been two weeks since I’ve seen it, and it’s still bothering me.
I like a good Bond movie. I’m not the biggest Bond fan in the world, but I look forward to the movies. And I quite like Daniel Craig as Bond. Once we all accept that Connery originated the part and is, by default, the first and best (I got in a discussion online with someone arguing that Timothy Dalton was the best Bond. Courageous. Deeply, deeply wrong, but courageous) then Craig is probably the best in the role.
Casino Royale remains my favourite and as Cathy will tell you with a roll of her eyes, it also contains my favourite scene. And no, it’s the pakour footrace or the chase at Miami airport…it’s Bond and Vesper’s first meeting on the train.  “How was your lamb?” “Skewered. One sympathizes.” It’s one of my absolute favourite exchanges in any movie, let alone a Bond.
Quantum of Solace was a mess, of course, and elements of Skyfall just don’t work for me, but I can’t deny that it’s a very good movie, beautifully shot and the best Bond theme since The World is Not Enough. So there’s all that…
I don’t even mind the first 2/3rds of Spectre. There’s a couple of nice action scenes, particularly the car chase in Rome (suspend your disbelief there’s no traffic in Rome, even in the middle of the night), a good, menacing henchman, a spectacular cold open in Mexico and once again it is absolutely beautifully filmed. It’s stunning to look at.
But man, does it ever go off the rails when Bond meets the big bad in his secret base in Africa. Literally nothing in the movie makes sense after that. It’s not even that it doesn’t make sense, it’s that it’s deeply stupid. It’s like they brought in a different screenwriter who doesn’t like Bond movies.
I’m not the only one perplexed by how off the rails the movie gets in the last 30 minutes or so. My favourite is the theory that the last part of the movie is a delusion by Bond. That he’s actually still being tortured, dying, and the last part of the movie – escaping, getting the girl, stopping the bad guy and saving the country (oh, like that’s a spoiler for a Bond movie) -  is all just a hallucination.
Now that would be dark. Imagine a 5th Craig Bond movie with him waking up in a security ward, brain damaged, broken from being tortured and that everything in the last 30 minutes was just a delusion. He failed and everyone he knew from MI6 is dead or gone. He’s now out of his mind, a danger to everyone, and needs to be put down. Put down, possibly, by the new 007…
It’ll never happen, of course. And it’s not like a badly written Bond movie is unusual. The franchise is 50 years old. There are lots of bad Bond movies. There are lots of villains that don’t work. When the henchman who says exactly one word in the movie is the best villain, then you’re in trouble. Both Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott look deeply bored. They were always going to struggle to match Javier Bardem, who was amazing, but they didn’t even try really hard. Talk about the banality of evil.
(The only use for Scott's 'C' is to be the punchline for the best line in the movie, delivered by Ralph Fiennes 'M'. Bond doesn't even get the best quip.)
And if this is Craig’s last one, well, he managed to land one of the best entries in the franchise, and another that’s pretty close to the top. One clunker and one meh is a small price to pay. Look at Roger Moore’s record as Bond.
Besides, if the ending is disappointing (but, I might add again, beautifully shot. London has rarely looked better) it’s nothing compared to the horror show that is the opening theme. Sam Smith’s song is just wretched. Easily the worst since Madonna’s Die Another Day. But at least that had Madonna’s mystique around it. It gives it a certain shield. This is just terrible. You’re actively wishing for the credits to be over so the song will stop and the misery will end.
The only thing more perplexing than the producers and director thinking the last 30 minutes of Spectre made any sense was them listening to this song and thinking it was any good. Gah.
Last Five
1.       A simple game of genius – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
2.       Lie to me – Tom Waits
3.       I’ll be alright – Passion Pit
4.       First place in a space race – The Kremlin
5.       Bay blues – The Stills

Friday, November 20, 2015

NYCC: Finale...

So, wrapping up NYCC with the last three things to cover: Panels, show floor, and cosplay…Oh, and I apologize for the mess that is the layout. I've spent an hour fiddling with it. Blogger really sucks these days....
I didn’t do many panels this year. I keep promising I will if, for no other reason, that sitting down on a chair for an hour is a really excellent idea after being on your feet all day. But the timing never seemed to work out. Plus, there wasn't that much that interested me. But I did manage to do three.

There were a lot of Harley Quinn's. Lots.
I went to a panel on journalism and geek culture. If nothing else, I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon as they all said, without fail, you better love it because the pay is terrible (or non-existent). It’s an interesting subject because it’s a very gray area. There are things that really do need covering – such as sexual harassment in the industry. But it can be hard to cover given how lots of people don’t want to go on the record for fearing of losing work opportunities or suffering online harassment, that many reporters are hoping to break into comics and don’t want to burn bridges, and that major publishers like DC and Marvel can quickly cut access to a website if they don’t like their coverage.
I mainly wanted to meet Jill Pantozzi, who is a great geek journalist, but also her writing about feminism in geek culture is top notch (her editorial on why the Mary Sue, a site she used to edit, was dropping all Game of Thrones coverage because they were tired of all the rapes is worth reading). I’ve always considered myself a feminist. You don’t spend four years at the Muse and not be one. But you can always learn more. Pantozzi and a handful of other feminist writers have educated me a lot in recent years. I just wanted to tell her that.
I went to the Firefly panel. I didn't say I got close to the stage.
I also went to the Firefly panel. The line for that was silly, just in case you thought interest in the show was waning or anything. 

That Saturday morning there were lines for a half dozen panels in the main boardroom. The biggest was for Jessica Jones, then Firefly, then X-Files. And really, the cast are pros at this. They’ve done dozens, if not hundreds of these by now. There’s literally nothing new about their time on the show they can add. But they can tell stories and charm people like nobody’s business.
Plus, they seem to genuinely like each other. If there really is ever another Firefly show (and who knows what Joss Whedon is working on right now), you know they would all jump at the chance to be back at it. So that’s something.
Finally, I went to an art auction on Saturday evening. Not really a panel, but it’s fun to go to them…if you can keep your head. Which I did. Most of the pieces went for a few hundred dollars, although some went higher. The highlight was a beautiful painting of Jean Grey/Phoenix. This is the way the auction went.
He really did look like Chris Helmsworth.
Which helps when cosplaying.
Auctioneer: Oh, let’s start the bidding at….$400
Bidder #1: $6,000!
Gasps from the audience.
Auctioneer: Um, wow, ok. Do I hear…
Bidder #2: $7,000!
Gasps from the audience.
Auctioneer: Um, ok. $7,000 going once…going twice…sold.
Entire thing lasted about 30 seconds. Hilarious. I believe the auction raised about $40,000 for a local kids hospital.

Fezes are cool. I read that somewhere.
I’m always asked what you can buy at a comic con. It’s an exaggeration to say anything, but man, there’s a lot of stuff that can do damage to your wallet. Yes, you expect comics and toys to be for sale there. T-shirts…sure. Original comic artwork. Video games.
But fez? Yup.
How about lingerie? Sure.
I didn’t photograph it, but Swatch had a booth there. There was a booth selling knitting patterns for geek related apparel. Cosplay supplies. Armor. Fake weapons….there’s so, so, much stuff you can buy. (I still maintain a TARDIS flask was potentially very, very dangerous…if it’s actually bigger on the inside).
I did my resist resisting a lot of it. If I was going to buy a graphic novel, it had to meet one of three criteria: It had to be 50% off US cover, it had to be out of print, or the creative team had to be at the con for them to sign it. That saved my ass a lot. As for other stuff, I had the walk away rule. If I really wanted it, I’d find my way back. Again, saved my ass a lot.
Was not kidding about the lingerie. Did not buy any. I
value my life.
My Waterloo came wandering around and finding a big display selling the BB8 toy robots that are controlled by your phone. I’d already asked around a few places in New York that week and most were polite enough not to laugh. So I asked the guy playing with the BB8 if they had any for sale or if they were just taking orders.
Clerk: Oh no, we have lots. Do you want one?
Me: Fuck. Sigh Yes, give me one.
I’d been resisting buying anything from the new Star Wars because, hey, I’m not convinced the movie is going to be any good yet. As for BB8, what if the character is not adorable, but an asshole? What if he makes Jar Jar Binks look delightful and charming? Anyway, I’m currently using it to torment the dog.
I include these pair of Doctor Who cosplayers
because they are adorable and awesome.
But everyone is running around trying to find something cool, or lining up to get an exclusive. The craziest was the Funko Pop Vinyl booth. If you wanted to get any of their exclusives, this was what you had to do.
-          Get in line at the holding pen.
-          Once the doors opened 10am, you got in another line in the holding pen area to wait to get a wristband, which they gave out at 11 am.
-          Once you got the armband, you could go upstairs to their booth where you could, yes, get in line. They would then give you a list of what Funko products were available. Which then you got the privilege of buying.
Yes, that is crazy, but lots were doing it. I decided early on that as charming as I find the toys, I didn’t need their exclusives quite that bad.
I also didn’t need the Alien chestbuster Christmas ornament exclusive that Hallmark was selling, either. No, I’m not kidding. I was tempted by the plushy of Han Solo frozen in carbonite, though. So I have no high ground to occupy.
This Funko figure, alas, was too big to take
It’s possible to wander the show floor and just look stuff and pick up the many freebees, but you need to have some deeply serious will power. Or have no money. That works too.

Finally, we have cosplayers. Everybody should go to a comic con just for the cosplayers. These aren’t people who think they get an extra day to celebrate Halloween. They are into the character they are dressed as. They sometimes spend months working on a costume. They’ll pose, re-enact scenes. And they are normally very generous in their time by posing for photos. You just need to be polite and ask. Then thank them afterwards and compliment their costume.

A cosplay can be cheap to make (the cheapest at NYCC had to be Netflix Daredevil, which was black jeans, black turtleneck and a black cloth covering the top of your head) or ridiculously expensive (see this Hulkbuster Iron Man cosplay that reportedly cost $60,000 to make). They can be straight forward cosplay, gender-swapped, or mixtures of different characters. They can be amateurs putting together stuff from second hand stores (normally Dr. Who cosplayers) or professionals that actually do it for a living (one handed me her business card after I took her picture). The sky’s the limit.
So many Deadpools. So very, very, very many of them.
But they’re all having fun with it. It’s also much safer now. Up until recently some would get harassed, especially if they were dressed in a sexy way (Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Zatanna were frequently targeted). But cons like NYCC take a very harsh view on harassment. “Cosplay is Not Consent” signs were everywhere at NYCC. And I didn’t hear any horror stories about bad behavior. People know the consequences. Harass someone and you are gone.
I have a lot of good photos of cosplay, but here’s my favourite, even if the costume was pretty straightforward.
These two were the most creative that I saw.
Belle in front of the largest line for a
Starbuck's you've ever seen
She’s obviously Belle, from Beauty and the Beast. I watched her for about 10 minutes on a Sunday afternoon down near the food court. She was going flat out. There was always someone wanting to take her picture. Little girls were rushing over to get hugs and get their pictures taken. Little boys would shyly ask for a picture with her. I quickly snapped off a photo when no one was nearby. I then had a quick chat with her.
Me: Is there anyone happier at a Comic Con than a Disney princess?
Belle: (Out of breath, and glowing). No! I’ve been at this for hours and I’m having so much fun!
At that point a little girl rushed in and hugged her and she laughed.
She wasn’t charging anything. She probably never got to the show floor. I doubt she went to the panels and maybe Artist Alley wasn’t her thing. But for a day she was a Disney princess and people loved her. That was her con and she was having the time of her life.
It’s Comic Con. Go make you own fun….
Last Five
1.      Shoebox – Barenaked Ladies
2.      Mysterious Ways – U2
3.      Take your partner by the hand – Robbie Robertson
4.      White fire – Angel Olsen
5.      Daydreaming - Paramore

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ron Hynes

Ron Hynes died this evening and a power failure knocked the lights out in downtown St. John's at the same time. If that's not proof that the man was magic, I'm not sure what is.

There's going to be an awful lot written about Ron in the coming days by people who knew him a whole letter better than I did, who can better explain his cultural impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. But I have to get this down because I've been grieving most of the evening. It's not a surprise that he's passed away...he's been unwell for years, but that makes it no less shocking and saddening. A part of Newfoundland's heart and soul went away this evening.

Snapshots of Ron Hynes in my life...
A picture of Ron I took during a Songwriters
Circle while I was with The Express

1. Watching Ron and the rest of the Wonderful Grand Band on television with my parents. It was my first exposure to him, although he had been around for years. I still have Living in a Fog on my iPod (I have all his songs on my iPod). There was a lot going on in the show, but I do remember liking the songs from the show quite a bit...

2. Hearing "Atlantic Blue" on the radio after the Ocean Ranger disaster. I was a teenager and it wasn't a hit pop song or anything, but you have no heart if that song doesn't make you well up. I'm not sure there's ever been a better song written about a disaster. Maybe "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". Maybe. I have no idea how anyone with family or friends can listen to that song. Or perhaps it gives them comfort. I don't know.

3. Walking down Water Street and seeing a chalkboard outside the Rose and Thistle advertising Ron Hynes performing...for $5. It was ridiculous. It was insane. He was one of the great singer/songwriters in Canada, and you could pay $5 and watch him perform in a half empty bar. I think one of the sad truths was that for many, many years we just took Ron for granted. That he was always going to be there.

I paid the $5 and went in. But there are many, many nights I didn't. I think a lot of us are regretting passing by that sign at the Rose this evening.

Walking off stage after accepting an ECMA in
St. John's, circa 2003, I think.
4. Hearing Ron perform in Iqaluit last year. We were thrilled when we heard he was coming here and bought tickets as soon as they went on sale. I'd been saying for years that I didn't know why more Newfoundland acts don't come to Iqaluit because they would sell out instantly. This was after his surgery for throat cancer, so his voice wasn't what it once way. But he was still a performer and a professional. His sets were great, he told good stories and he was unfailingly polite and kind to everyone who came up to him. He made an impact in town. There's a lot of sad people in Iqaluit this evening as well, if my Facebook and Twitter streams are any indication...

I said on both that there needs to be a Day of Mourning and some kind of State Funeral for Ron. I wasn't kidding when I said it. In my lifetime, the only Newfoundlander I can think of whose passing will have had an equal or greater impact was Joey Smallwood. This needs to be a life celebrated and remembered.

He wasn't a saint. No one is going to say he was. Stories about his behaviour and his problems with drugs and alcohol were never in short supply in a town as small as St. John's. He was a complex man, and that came out in his songs. Sixty-four was too young. We've been cheated of years of songs, kindness, and wisdom from him.

Everybody is going to list their favourite Ron songs over the next few days. And there are lots. I also won't argue with anyone who picks "Sonny's Dream", "St. John's Waltz", "Change in me", "Godspeed" or any of the dozens of others you can choose. But along with "Atlantic Blue" my other favourite is "30 for 60". I spent many, many, many nights playing 120s - a particularly Newfoundland card game - with my friends during my 20s. I have a lot of fond memories of that time and that song, which is a master class in songwriting and storytelling, brings a smile to my face every time.

It will be said many times in the coming days. Godspeed, Ron....

Last Five
1. Hard days - Beth Moore
2. Honey for bees - Sherman Downey and the Ambiguous Case
3. Black wings (live) - Tom Waits
4. Sinnerman - Nina Simone
5. Sharp sounds - The Sheepdogs

Monday, November 16, 2015

NYCC: Artist Alley

So it turns out that despite my whining in the last post, I had a lot to write about. Enough that I decided to break this part into two. The first section is on Artist Alley, the second part on the show floor, panels, and cosplayers.

Here we go…

Artist Alley is always my favourite part of the con. Every table I stopped at has a good story. Here are a few of them.

1. I mention you go into these things with a plan of attack. Well, my plan is always to hit Artist Alley first, to try and grab artists I really want to get commissions from before they get booked up. It was a good plan, except a few of the artists I really wanted either cancelled at the last minute, weren’t at their table yet, or weren’t taking commissions at this con.

So I’m wandering around and I pass Michael Golden’s table. Funny thing about cons is that people who are utterly anonymous outside the Javits Center are rockstars within. Golden might not be one of the biggest names right now, but in the 70s and 80s he was huge. But he’s not the fastest artist, so monthly books have always been a challenge.
Michael Golden showing off his finished

But in the 70s he drew one of my favourite, and first, comics….Micronauts. It was based on a Japanese toy I loved as a kid. But the combination of Golden’s art and Bill Mantlo’s story added a lot of depth to some generic toys. I’ve been rereading some of the comics lately. It’s pretty dark stuff at points. I missed all of this as a kid, of course. I just thought it was cool.

So I’m poking around the table a bit and chatting. I didn’t think I would get a piece from him because I assumed he was already booked for the weekend or it was well out of my price range. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I asked.

“Oh, no. I don’t have anyone on my commission list yet. Would you like one?”

Uh oh. “Well, what are your prices?

I’m told prices for a head shot, bust or full body. They are, in fact, a lot less than what I thought he would charge. Not cheap, but reasonable given who he is. When you get in these situations you sometimes vapour lock on who you want drawn. I was torn between Acroyear from the Micronauts, which I know no one knows, and Dr. Strange. He settled it by saying he would have to charge more for the good Doctor because his cape is a pain in the ass to draw.

Fair enough. His cape does, in fact, look like it would be a pain in the ass to draw. I check back 24 hours later and I have this beauty. Worth every cent. Plus, I chatted with him about Micronauts. He still loves the book, and it sounds like he has something coming out when the series relaunches next year. Cool.

2. You walk around Artist Alley and you’ll inevitably find artist you’ve met at other cons. For example, I didn’t really need anymore Katie Cook art. I bought nine of her little pieces (they were $5 each in 2012) last time. But I walked by and, miraculously, there was no on in line. Next thing I know I have six more (WALL-E and EVA, the 11th Doctor, Hellboy, Spider-Woman, Death, and McGonagle.) Oh and a poster. Bollocks.

3. I also met Russ Braun at this con and in 2012. Russ has the piece of artwork that I most regret got away.  He drew a series a series about five years or so ago which was called The Night Witches. Fantastic war comic based on actual Russian women fighter pilots during World War II. The last page of the mini-series is just haunting. He had it for sale in 2012 and I didn’t buy it. I was tapped out at the end of the con. He later told me he freaked out because he thought it was one of his best pages and he almost sold it. So he pulled it from his portfolio and now won’t sell it. Damn it.

When I was at his table I asked him, jokingly, if he would now. Nope. But he did do a replica sketch for me. The price? The cost of buying one of his sketch books, which was $10. An absolute steal.

3. Sticking in the déjà vu circuit. I ran into Matthew Clark. I just wanted to thank him for the lovely Huntress he drew in my sketchbook in 2012. Pro tip. If you ever do a sketchbook, get a really good artist to do the first sketch. Every
artist after them will try and top it. I mentioned that to him and he laughed. Then he looked at some of the sketches I’ve gotten since his and said he was glad to have helped.

Have sketchbook, will travel. And three-part art process
piece by Matthew Clark on Spider-Gwen.
He’s a really nice guy and when we were chatting I was looking at some of the art on the table including a beautiful process piece for a trading card he did of Spider-Gwen (stupid character name. Basic premise – imagine Gwen Stacy got spider powers instead of Peter Parker. Great concept, stunning costume design). I was asking questions about it and then he told me how much it was. It was ridiculous. I have it on my desk next to me looking at it right now. It’s insane how little he asked. So yeah, bought those.

4. Here’s another pro tip. I think sketchbooks are an awesome way to get something nice form the con. Yes, you can drop a lot of money on sketches, but you can also get some quick ones reasonably priced. You can go to Staples and get a perfectly fine sketchbook.

Yanick Paquette's doing pencils on a Swamp
Thing sketch before adding watercolours.
But in 2008 when we were in Venice I bought this absolutely gorgeous leather covered sketchbook. I’ve never seen the like of it since. Clearly, we’re going to have to go back and find that tiny store in Venice so I can get more. But every artist I’ve ever handed it over to for a sketch has fallen in love with it and asked where I got it.

This occasionally comes in handy. I stopped by Yanick Paquette’s table. He has some beautiful posters of his work from Swamp Thing on the table. I asked him about sketches and prices, and he told me no problem, mentioned his wait list and I mentioned about being careful about leaving my sketchbook there. He took it, and then started asking all kinds of questions about it.

“Well, maybe I could do one for you now.” And he started painting away.  All because he loved the book. And I also got a lesson on how watercolour paints work on the type of paper that’s in the book, which was kind of interesting.

So yeah, get a fun sketchbook. Spend a few dollars on it. It’s a good investment.

5. If you’re lucky at a comic con you get to meet artists who are right on the edge of becoming huge. I met two this time around. Annie Wu is drawing attention after runs on Hawkeye and the criminally under read Black Canary. But I managed to walk by her table when there was only one person in line and got a great sketch from her. She doesn’t chat much and was very focused. But she’s going to be huge in a few years.

So is Babs Tarr. She had the inevitable task of taking over and redesigning Batgirl about a year ago. And she hit it out of the park. It’s one of the best redesigns around. I asked if she was doing sketches, figuring I’d get a no considering how mobbed her table was. She said sure, and knocked out a quick 10 minute sketch. Lovely stuff.

Annie Wu drawing Black Canary
Babs Tarr working on a Batgirl sketch
6. Two more Artist Alley stories. I bought a couple of books from Terry Moore as I didn’t have the last two of his fantastic Rachel Rising series (great little horror book). I was chatting with his wife and mentioned how warm I was because it was so hot (22C) in New York that week and I had just flown down from the Arctic. She laughed and said how cold it was for her and Terry who had just come from Houston where it was 88F.

Finally, I met Terry Dodson, who just put out Red One. Honestly, the book is kind of ok. The story is shaky, but Dodson’s art is great, if you like a little cheesecake. He’s signing the book, looks at me and says, “I’ve met you before.”

Which is true. He signed some books for me at NYCC….in 2012. I told him that and he nodded. “Yup, that’s where I remember you from.” Given how many people he meets at these things, that’s pretty remarkable. Just hope it wasn’t because I was an asshole last time…

Last Five
1. Poor in love - Destroyer
2. Listen to the radio – Sloan
3. Lucky you – The National
4. 38 years old – Tragically Hip
5. Beloved freak – Garbage*

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NYCC, Part 1

As a head’s up, this is going to be a two-parter on the New York Comic Con (NYCC). The second part will be some of my favourite parts of the con, along some pictures of cosplayers and art. This is more of an analysis of the con itself. I think as a reminder for if I start pining to go to NYCC again next year (which will not happen as Cathy will shoot me).

This year was the 10th anniversary of NYCC and it was my third time going. To say it has changed a lot in the last decade would be an understatement. When it started in 2005 San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) was the undisputed comic /geek event in North America.  New York had struggled for years to get a proper comic con going. That might seem weird, but Las Vegas, for example, is still struggling to get a popular comic con going.

The first time I went was in 2008. It was held at the Javits Center and didn’t event take up the entire building. The main show floor and Artist Alley were in the same space. I believe total attendance over 3.5 days was around 70,000 and people were complaining about how crowded it was. In retrospect, that complaint is now adorable.

I had a blast, by the way. For the curious, you can go here and read my thoughts about it.

The next time I went was 2012. The con now took up the entire building (except for a part of the show floor undergoing renovations). Artist Alley moved to a separate hall, which had some concerned about it being isolated and no one going there. Turns out to have been a great move. Artist Alley is a delightful oasis of sanity that’s slightly less batshit crazy than the main floor.

I was a seasoned pro in 2012. I went in with a plan of attack that went off the rails in short order. But I had a plan. Honest. Still, it was a great con. I was better organized, I kept running into people that I met at panels, or waiting in line for artist or writers. Total attendance was about 115,000 over 3.5 days.

I should also mention for those two cons I had a VIP pass. It gave me a special entrance to avoid the worst of the lines to get in. In 2012 there was a VIP room I could crash in when things got bad, and a coat room to store jackets and stuff I bought. It was a godsend.

Welcome to the holding pen, around 9 am
This year….this year was something else. For one thing, no VIP pass, which meant going into the holding pen with everyone else. This meant some truly biblical lines. Saturday was the longest line I have ever seen in my life. It’s a big bastard that stretches about 4-5 blocks (there are remarkable few good photos of the outside online. Trust me, it's huge). I arrived at 7:30 am on Saturday. The doors to get into the holding pen didn’t open until 8 am (thankfully the weather was spectacular that week. It rained for three hours. That’s it). The doors to the con didn’t open until 10 am.

I arrived at 7:30 and the line was close to wrapping around the building. It took 20 minutes to walk to the end of the line. It took 45 minutes to get into the holding pen once the line started to move. It was insane.

The attendance at the con was 167,000 over four days.

The thing about comic conventions like this is that they eventually hit a wall. SDCC has been at the wall for about a decade. Their attendance is around 130,000 and there is no more room for them to grow unless they expand the Convention Centre. That’s been tied up in legal and municipal battles for years, so don’t expect a sudden growth there.

The main hallway that leads from the show floor to Artist Alley.
Also a prime spot for cosplayers to show off.
NYCC hit the wall this year. There’s no more room to grow at the Center. In 2014 their numbers were around 150,000. The reason they were able to get more this year was selling more one day passes and fewer 3-day and 4-day passes. The theory being if you have a budget of, say, $500, you are going to stretch that over 4 days. If you only have one day, you’ll spend it all in one day.  Then they can bring in a new person the next day, and get them to spend all their money.

And make no mistake, they’re cramming people in there. In previous cons, Thursday was almost a leisurely day. Friday things started to ramp up, Saturday was a mad house. Sunday things would be like recovering from a hangover.

Not this year. NYCC was flat out from the moment they opened the doors. I spoke to shell-shocked artists at noon on Thursday, a couple of hours after the doors had opened and they didn’t know what hit them. “Are you sure today isn’t Saturday?” one asked me. “Because this looks like a Saturday.”

Artist Alley at a quiet moment. Seriously.
I left the con on Sunday around 2:45 to head back to my room and get to the airport. Not only was it still packed, I had scalpers outside offering to buy my pass. The doors closed at 5 pm, so people weren't going to see much. But yeah, could have sold it (no way that I did). When I went to the recently opened subway line next to the center (an absolute godsend), people were still streaming up to go to the event. Madness.

There’s already speculation about what the con will be like in future years. The last couple of years they’ve had “Super Week” in New York. It’s meant events you could go to in the evening, both before and during the con. So there were book signings, podcast tapings, trivia events, fan meet-up and even a burlesque show. On Saturday they had several tv show panels held at a hotel a couple of blocks away from the Javits Center.

I think that might be the way they end up going. That the Javits Center is the heart of things, but there will be events all over the place in area hotels and buildings to try and take some of the pressure off things. I read an article saying it may more closely resemble New York Music Week.

Which is fine, I’m just not sure that’s what I’m interested in doing. I’ve been saying a lot of sort of negative things here, and I should clarify that I did have a very good time at the con. It was fun, I got to see and meet cool people, bought fun stuff, got lots of great artwork. But man, it was overwhelming at time. It’s a lot of people in that space and everyone is amped up and excited. It’s a lot of positive energy, but it be a bit much. I can only remember one bad experience and that was on Friday when they closed Artist Alley for 30 minutes because of fire code worries. There was lot of grumbling and yelling security guards, but that was it.

One of the entrances to the main show floor.
I didn’t even see the usual swarm of sexual harassment complaints that often come out of cons like this. It really was a remarkably well run con. Some things could have been handled better, and the registration process is still a nightmare, but it’s evolved nicely.

But if it gets bigger and spreads out over the city, I’m not sure I’m interested. I love the con. I’m always going to have a huge soft spot for it because it was my first one. I love the city. But I think the next time I’m back to New York it will be just to see the city. It might be time to spread my wings and try another comic con.

Which ones are on the shortlist? Well, if the Canadian dollar continues to be in the tank, then the three best options in Canada are probably Toronto Fan Expo, Calgary Comic Con or Montreal Comic Con.

If I can go back to the US…Emerald City and Rose City Comic Cons in Seattle and Portland would be nice, albeit far away. On the east coast, Boston Comic Con has come along nicely and Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina, has always been widely respected.

But the one on the top of the list right now would be Baltimore Comic Con. It’s a three day con, which is a bit short, but it always gets a good guest list because the Harvey Awards (one of the two big comic awards) is held there. The timing is right because it’s late September. I could go a few days early and catch a ball game, or go to Washington for a few days and then head down to the con since the two cities are a hop, skip and a jump away.

We’ll see. I’m only just back from this one and I can only afford to do these every few years.  But hey, it never hurts to start planning early….

Last Five
1. Walk like an Egyptian - Caro Emerald
2. On the table - A.C. Newman
3. Boulevard of broken dreams - Green Day
4. In California (live) - Neko Case*
5. Please Mister Postman - The Beatles

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New York and AirBnB

I was in New York last month for, of course, New York Comic Con.  I'll get to that in another blog post. This one is about AirBnB.

This was my fourth trip to New York. The first involved staying with someone. The second time was in 2008 and I stayed in a Super 8 in North Bergen, New Jersey. The pros of that was it was cheap – about $90 a night – surprisingly clean and quiet. The downside involved having to take a shuttle that ran from the hotel to the Port Authority. It could take as little as 10 minutes, or as long as 30 depending on traffic. Not bad, but it stopped running at midnight, making it a pain in the ass if you wanted to stay out late. I had to leave a truly biblical baseball game between the Red Sox and the Yankees in order to catch the shuttle home. And, you know, an awful lot of interesting things happen in Manhattan after midnight.

In 2012 I “splurged” and stayed at a place a friend of my recommended on the Upper West Side, near 106th Street.  I put “splurged” in quotes because it was a dive and it still cost about $130 a night. The pros involved it being on Manhattan, a block away from a subway line, in a pretty cool neighbourhood near Columbia University and that it was relatively clean and safe. The downside was that it was pretty severely run down and there was a smelling in the elevator….how to describe it….imagine you brought a bag of buttered popcorn back to the hotel and, in the elevator, decided it would be a clever idea to take a piss on it, and then leave it there. And then imagine the staff thought it was so hilarious they left it there for a week. It smelled something like that.

Believe it or not, I probably would have stayed there again this year, just because it was cheap and near the subway. Plus, I love being in Manhattan. But I couldn’t get it for the full six nights I was in New York. So, instead, I decided to try my hand at AirBnB (I did spend one night at the dive. My flights changed and I needed some place for the extra night. The AirBnB was booked).

There’s no shortage of stories about the good and bad things about AirBnB. I’m not about to get into all the arguments. I know New York has a deep love/hate relationship with it. If you’re a New Yorker and you’re using it to help offset some of the costs of your truly insane rent, then it’s a godsend. If you’re not using it and your neighbour is, then you probably hate it. Because odds are some visitor is going to be deeply stupid. Like leave the gas on after cooking. Or smoke. Or bring back prostitutes. Or any other of a dozen things.

I just wanted to try it because I was curious and, hey, it was cheap.

I’m all about cheap accommodations when going to New York. It really is one of the greatest cities in the world. I don’t go to New York to hang out in a nice hotel and watch TV. I go to New York to see New York. I’m in that hotel to sleep, shower and have a place to store my stuff. That’s about it. I figured an AirBnB would be perfect for my needs.

This place was on the Upper East Side, on 83rd Street. It was a nice neighbourhood, decent restaurants and one spectacular bagel place (no kidding, it’s ruined me for bagels). The downside, and this is on me because I misjudged it when booking, was that it was about a 15 minute walk from a subway.

I understand what you’re thinking…suck it up, it’s not that far. At midnight, when you’ve already walked 25,000 steps (over 10 miles) and your feet feel like they’ve been hit with sledgehammers, trust me when I say that 15 minutes feels like an awfully long time. I never broke down and got a taxi from the subway to the apartment (fuck Uber, but that's another story), but I was tempted.

The place itself…it was fine for me, but I suspect Cathy would have nothing to do with it. Here’s the set-up. The apartment is owned by a Russian lady. I only met her briefly, but she was really nice. She let me drop off my bags really early (as in check-in is 3 pm and she was fine with me dropping my bags off at 9 am) and let me keep my bags there until 4 pm on checkout day. The only time I really chatted with her was discussing cold winters. Oddly, being from Russia, she could empathize when I talked about the weather in Iqaluit.

My bedroom was spacious, the bed was comfortable, there was a tv in the room, plenty of space to store my stuff. The bathroom was a little crowded, but clean and the shower was fine. I rarely saw the other occupants of the apartment. And I suspect I was a pretty good guest. Most mornings I was out the door by no later than 7:30 am. I think the earliest I came back was 10 pm, only to go back out again and get supper, and come back around midnight. So I was barely there.

So what was weird? Well, she was a single mom. To three daughters. And I think, can’t be sure, but I think they were all sleeping in the living room.


I can’t be sure about it. The door to the living room was always closed and I respected their privacy. And they were very quick to open and close it. So maybe there was another bedroom on the other side. But the apartments didn’t look that big from the outside, so no, I think it was four people living in one room.

I did feel a little uncomfortable having that large bedroom to myself, but it’s her choice and I’m guessing as a single mom living in New York, you take the extra money where you can. I figure she was getting an extra $3,000 a month from renting out that room.

Would I do an AirBnB again? If it’s just me travelling, I think so. I don’t think Cathy would be comfortable with it, especially if the person was living in the apartment, which is not always the case. But for me, it was fine. Look, for five nights at her apartment, I spent about $630 Canadian. Trust me, you don’t get hotel rooms that nice for that amount of money in New York. Hotels that charge that much won’t give you your own bathroom and shower and have a door that might charitably be called cardboard.

A nice hotel near the Javtis Center, where the con was being held, was going to cost at least $300 Canadian a night. If I was lucky. So, $1,500 vs around $630. Yeah, it would have been a little more convenient, but not $850 worth of convenient. There were a lot of fun things I did at the con with that savings.

So there you go, my AirBnB experience. Next up, New York Comic Con 2015….

Last Five
1. Wake up, she said - Drive*
2. White ladder - David Grey
3. Bite hard - Franz Ferdinand
4. Toxic - Yael Naim
5. Let me live - Queen