Tuesday, August 08, 2017

LIsbon: Day 1-2

I got out of the habit of doing these things when we're on vacation. Last year we stayed mostly in Canada on a quiet vacation. The year before was awesome, with a Viking River Cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. Unfortunately the Bluetooth keyboard I use to write on my iPad died, making writing difficult.

But this time I'm back on vacation and with a proper keyboard ready to go. This will probably be more general notes and observations as I save the stories for my long suffering editor who buys my travel pieces from me. But I've noticed that if I don't write the day's activities right away the little details, which are often the fun ones, will slip away.

So a few odds and ends from our first days in Lisbon.

1. The red eye flight from Toronto to Lisbon is pretty easy going and I don't have any complaints about TAP, the national Portuguese airlines. Easy boarding process, reasonable seats and most people slept through the flight.

2. Having said that, everyone has the right idea of taking red eyes, but it does mean that customs on the other end can be long. I think we spent about 40 minutes going through a massive line, as at least five flights arrived within 45 minutes of each other.

3. We bought new SIM cards at the airport just so we would be able to have access to our phones right away. The line is long, however, so patience is a must.

4. Lisbon card is a decent investment. Got us on trams and buses during the first two days. Also got us on the bus for free to downtown Lisbon within a block or two of our hotel. So that was nice.

5. We're downtown about a block away from the waterfront. So it's tourist central. But it's still nice to walk on cobblestone sidewalks, dodge tuktuks, look at giant statues of men on horses, and big open market squares. Could do without trying to walk past restaurants with waiting trying to drag you in to sit down, but that's Europe.

6. Jet lag knocked us out early Day 1, and we were late getting going on Day 2. But then we hopped on a massively crowded tram to Belem. The area is known for its monastery, tower and a particular custard pastry. It was crowded, especially in the morning, but the crowds did easy up a bit later in the day. The monastery was nice but I'm not sure it was worth the epic lines. We spent probably 45 minutes in line. Early in the morning it was probably closer to 90 minutes to get in.

7. The Tower of Belem also had lines to get in, but we didn't brave them, as they looked like it would have taken two hours to get in. There's some nice historical features to the place, but if you're going just for the view there's the padrao dos descobrimentos, which gives you a better view, with less price.

8. But honestly, I think the reason most people go to Belem is Pasteis de Belem. At it's most simple it a custard tart. But they are beloved in Lisbon. Upon checkin at our hotel the lady at the front desk listed things we might want to do. Getting a custard tart might not seem a big deal, but the line was long, the crowds slightly frantic and everyone was determined to get a custard tart

And they were pretty good, I have to say. An article I read says they make 20,000 of them a day. I can believe it.

9. Random bits:
- You play games sometimes as you wander a city. Cathy and I have decided that instead of playing "Punch Buggy" we're playing "Man Bun". Everytime we see one we punch the other person. I suspect we'll be black and blue by the end of the trip if the last two days. There have been a tragic amount of man buns walking the streets of Lisbon.
- How to tell you're Canadian. When crossing a street, Cathy was approached by a drug dealer offering pot. The conversation went something like this:
Dealer: Hey, would you like some pot?
Cathy: No, thank you.
Me: It's always nice when we can take the time to be polite to drug dealers.
At least Cathy got offered pot. I was offered hash and cocaine.
- I will say this much about Lisbon, the breeze is lovely. There's an almost constant breeze, which helps keep things from getting too hot.
- I might have loved the pastries in Belem, but I did managed to get punched by a Japanese tourist when I didn't move out of her way fast enough. Thus continuing my streak of having a bad experience with a Japanese tourist on nearly every vacation I've been on.
- English is understood almost everywhere but funny enough, it's not the language of conversation in the streets in the tourist areas. There simply doesn't seem to be many Canadian, American or British tourists around, which is interesting.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

What to get if you loved the Wonder Woman movie

I've been waiting for a long time to see the Wonder Woman movie, and it seems I'm going to have to wait a little while longer. While Astro Theatre's is not bad at bringing in big movies on their opening weekend, they obviously don't get them all in. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened here a solid three weeks after it opened everywhere else, for example.

And it seems the same thing will happen with Wonder Woman. Barring a miracle, I suspect it'll be close to the end of June before it shows here. Annoying, but I'm not about to drop $2600 to fly to Ottawa to see it.

However, I am relieved to that it's opened to critical acclaim and very solid box office. For a number of reasons, I consider it the most important movie of the year. If it had bombed it might have been years before a woman got the chance to direct another big budget movie. And plans for the next woman super hero movies probably would have quietly been pushed back. Is that fair? Not even remotely. Welcome to Hollywood.

Now? Expect to see more women getting the chance big budget movies. Along with Captain Marvel I suspect you'll see an increased push on movies like Batgirl, Gotham City Sirens (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy), Silver and Black (Silver Sable and Black Cat from the Spider-Man universe). Maybe Marvel even might wake up and give us the Black Widow movie we've been begging for for years.

I'm not the biggest Wonder Woman fan in the world, but I do have a love of the character. Here's a sample of my collection.

Yes, I own more than this.
However, with so much focus on the movie, it occurs to me that not everyone may know where to start with the comics. She's 75 years old. There's a few books been published over that time. Most of the links I'm going to put here go to Amazon (ironic), but whenever possible I recommend going to your local comic book store and supporting them.

1. If you want to read her early adventures, then the best place to start is Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1. These are her first stories written by William Marston (with uncredited help from his wife Elizabeth and their partner Olive Byrne. Read The Secret History of Wonder Woman for more on their relationships). Golden age comics can be...challenging if you're used to more modern books. The stories are simpler, the production values are cruder and the art can be rougher. The book is worth a look if for nothing else for just how blunt Diana was in her dealings with men. It would be unusual today, it's extraordinary for the 1940s. And yes, there is a lot of bondage going on.

After Marston left the character a lot of the comics are, to be kind, pretty unremarkable. She was treated pretty badly by DC for years, often turning her into another woman pining after a man, or stripping her of her powers. I'm sure there are good books in there, but for simplicity sake, let's skip ahead to 1987.

2. This is around the time that DC relaunched most of their major comics. After decades of convoluted continuity, they decided to blow the whole thing up and launch everything fresh. For Wonder Woman, that meant a brand new and desperately needed origin and launch. And for that they brought in George Perez (with big assists from Len Wein, Greg Potter and Karen Berger). Marston created Wonder Woman, but Perez saved her. Wonder Woman has been gifted with any number of great artists in the last 30 years, but Perez remains the best. There are few in the business better at detail, conveying action and drawing beautiful women without distorting their proportions. Even in a book that does not have modern production or colouring, that occasionally crams too much dialogue in, it's a beautiful book to look at. (the sketch on the right side of the picture above is something Perez did in about 5 minutes at a comic con. It's a treasured possession)

But along with the art it's the gold standard origin that every other one has tried to top. You can read it here with the second volume just coming out about now. Or you could get ambitious and buy the first omnibus

It's a remarkable bit of world building and crafting. The first issue has the history of the Amazons and the origin of Wonder Woman. In 40 pages. It's astonishing. But among its tricks is to make the Greek Gods more prominent - Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Hestia, and Hermes are her "patrons". Perez's Diana is younger, maybe 19, when she first enter's Patriarch's World and much of his early run centres on her adjusting to a radically new culture. He changed Paradise Island to Themyscira, the ancient name of the Amazon's city. It also features, to this day, the single best explanation for her costume looking so American.

Yes, it's a bit dated, but they're fun, fun books and let's be blunt, Wonder Woman as we know her today does not exist without this run. That's pretty much ever comic in the last 30 years and the movie. It's that important.

Perez stopped drawing the book around issue #24, but stayed on for several more years as writer, which you can read here if you have the money.

After that we have another dry spell. There are some stories there that are well received., but nothing that jumps out as a must read.

3. From there we can skip ahead to the early 2000s and Greg Rucka's run. If the Perez books are about a young Diana trying to find her way in the world and her naive beliefs in teaching peace, Rucka features a more mature, wise and focused Diana. Not a princess, but now an ambassador between Man's World and Themyscira. 

There are three things you have to get right if you're doing a long run on Wonder Woman. Diana, the Amazons, and her the Olympian Gods. It's a harder trick than you think. Rucka manages to nail all three. His Diana is much more interested in starting a debate with conservatives as she is fighting a bad guy. The Amazons are smart, fearless and as much in awe of Diana and frustrated by her convictions. And his take on the gods, especially Athena, are probably some of the best in the run. Also noteworthy was Drew Johnson's art early in the run which made the "controversial" decision to make Diana look more Greek.

I love Rucka's writing, so I'm always going to be biased, but this is a great, fun, thoughtful run. It also shows exactly how dangerous Diana is when she puts her mind to it, kicking the crap out of the Justice League, even when at a considerable disadvantage. It sadly goes off the rails a bit towards the end when the book gets looped into a DC crossover.  But until then go and get Volume 1 and Volume 2. Volume 1 also includes the standalone "The Hiketia" which is being mentioned on a lot of Best Of lists. I like it, and the art by J.G. Jones is great, but I think too many focus on Diana beating up Batman than the fact the story is a little light and the ending a touch too pat.

4. Next would be Gail Simone's run on the series. Unfortunately it's out of print (and judging by some of the prices on Amazon, my signed copies could get a decent price). You can buy it digitally through Comixology.

If it's difficult to buy, then why recommend it? The run is beloved in some circles and it's easily one of the most quoted runs of the series. It includes what many consider to be the most famous line, summarizing who Diana, and the Amazons, are supposed to be - "We have a saying: Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't subdue if you can pacify, and don't raise your hand at all until you've extended it first."

Simone's run is five books - The Circle, Ends of the Earth, Rise of the Olympian, Warkiller, and Contagion. It's not a perfect run....too much of it feels like cleaning up other people's messes rather than striking out on her own. But she's gifted with some amazing artists such as Terry and Rachel Dodson, Bernard Chang, Aaron Lopestri, and Nicola Scott. And while the overall arcs might be a bit wobbly, few are better at hitting individual scenes or understanding what makes Diana tick. And the first story arc, The Circle, is top notch if for no other reason than it has gorillas and they're awesome.

5. I mention this run not to encourage you to read it, but to warn against it. About six years ago DC did another relaunch called The New 52. I never liked it and the fact that they're in the process of wiping it out goes to show I'm not alone. They relaunched Wonder Woman with another new origin written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang. Unless you want to just look at the art, then by all means go ahead.  Diana has always been gifted by great artists, and Chiang is up there with Perez. His Diana is sharp and powerful and his visual take on the gods is unique. But Azzarello's story can be deeply unpleasant.

Remember what I said about Diana, Amazons and Gods? Well, he makes the gods interesting for the most part. Diana he does ok (although I loathe the change from her origin of being created from clay and her mother's prayers to more...conventional means). But his treatment of the Amazons is so horrific (please, let's make them into slavers, rapists and murders) that pretty much every female geek I read online disavowed the book.

It's beautiful to look at, but a frustrating slog to read. Buyer beware.

6. In the last year or so, there have been two Wonder Woman books of note. The most straight forward is The Legend of Wonder Woman (the paper back comes out later this year) by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillion. Bizarrely, given her appeal to young girls, Diana has never had an all-ages comic. This is as close as you get. It's another origin, but this one set in the 1940s. It's a slower reader, with more character study on Diana on Paradise Island and adapting to Man's World, but it's still entertaining. It also has one of the best uses of Etta Candy, Diana's friend and sidekick, that I've seen in years. And De Liz art is beautiful. A second volume was planned but sadly one of the creators mouthed off about DC on social media. DC has no patience for that sort of thing and the volume was cancelled, which is a tremendous pity. However, this certainly stands on its own.

7. The others book(s) are by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott. DC lured Rucka back by basically promising not to mess with his run like they did last time. It's an odd run, because the series ran bi-weekly with one issue set in the current time (art by Sharp) and Diana tries to determine who has been messing with her memories and history, and a Year One story (yes, again. With art by Scott). Vol. 1: The Lies and Vol. 2: Year One. Of them, the Year One story is the easiest to get into for a new reader. The Lies is a great read, and Sharp's art is fantastic, but again, a lot of this is continuity cleaning. Neither of these stories are complete right now, and additional books will be coming out later this year, concluding the stories.

Oh, it's also of note that this is the book that makes it fairly clear that Diana is queer. Obvious, really. But yes, she has a girlfriend in the Year One book on Paradise Island.

8. These are the major ones. There are others that may be of interest for different reasons. I also recommend:

Bombshells, which is not exclusively a Wonder Woman book, but is set at the start of World War 2. It's all of DC's major super heroines (my favourite remains Batwoman, who is a former woman's baseball player, turned super hero/secret agent), in pin-up style outfits, fighting the Nazis. With scarcely a male hero to be found. I love the costumes, it's fun, and writer Marguerite Bennett is making it as gay as she can. Not bad considering the idea started as a bunch of variant covers, then moved to statues, and is now a series of graphic novels.

If you want an assortment of Wonder Woman, including some of the stories I mentioned above, there this Best Of collection, featuring stories over her 75 years.

New Frontier is another team book, featuring DC heroes in the 1950s. Worth it just for how the amazing, gone way too soon Darwyn Cooke drew Diana, and for her scene chewing out Superman. But she only plays a small part in the book.

Earth One is another origin, by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette. I haven't read it, and like most of Morrison's writing, people either love it or deeply loathe it. Paquette's art is quite lovely, however.

The True Amazon is another one I haven't read, but it's written and illustrated by Jill Thompson. I might not be able to speak to the quality of writing, but Thompson's art is always fantastic, so it'll be at least pretty to look at.

And there you go. She may not have the volume of top notch material to choose from, like Batman, but there are still plenty of good Wonder Woman books out there.

Last Five
1. Strobelite - Gorillaz
2. Relative surplus value - The Weakerthans
3. Our time - Lily Allen
4. Lights - Interpol
5. Strike the band - Amelia Curran*

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Moving to Iqaluit FAQ, Ver. 6.0

Towards the end of 2008 I wrote a post called "Moving to Iqaluit FAQ". I did it because I thought I had a bit of knowledge to share having done this myself and having lived up here a few years.

Since then the different versions have become the most read posts on my blog by a mile. It's to the point that I know some locals give out the link to people considering moving here because they think it's the best resource available. I still get messages thanking me for the information and I've had several people email me to ask follow-up questions. I also get people in town who have moved here and, when they find out who I am, have thanked me for all the information. I was in a professional development class a few years ago and when I mentioned the blog and the FAQ, half the class went "That's you?!" Which is both very cool and quite gratifying to know it's helped people.

I thought one point about charging for this. A couple of people suggested I should do it as a 99 cent Amazon Kindle download. But after some informal polling (mostly my wife, Cathy, who thought it was a terrible idea), I decided against it. I think this is a bit of a public service. Something to help people thinking of coming here. I don't think it's as desperately needed as it once was. Man, there was nothing online when we were researching coming here in 2005. Now there's tons of stuff. But I like to think rather than having to spend hours poking around online, you can get most of your questions answered in one convenient location.

This is the sixth version of this post. I keep updating because information keeps changing and people keep coming up with new questions. Once again, if you can think of anything I've missed, please add it in the comments section. And if I've missed something or get something wrong, then I beg you indulgence.

And, as always, if you speak to someone who has lived here for their entire life and what they're saying contradicts what I'm saying, I'd go with them. I've been here about 12 years and I know a fair bit, but I'm not infallible.

Iqaluit – What is it like?

Sunrise in Iqaluit on Winter Solstice. This is around 9:30 am
Should I move to Iqaluit?
Answer. Why not? There are certainly challenges to living here, but there are perks and advantages as well. It's a nice place to live, there's a good sense of community and the place is growing quickly. It's a lot different now than what it was even eight years ago (the big subdivision on the hill overlooking the airport? Didn't exist when I moved here in 2005). It's also becoming a lot more ethnically diverse, which is nice to see. It's not just Inuit and white people. The challenges, however, are a bit different than what you might find in other cities in Canada.

So what are the main challenges?
Answer. There are 5 things, right off the top, you need to know.

A. It's cold up here. No kidding, but people still fail to take it seriously sometimes. I've seen people walk off planes in February wearing a leather jacket, which is insane. The coldest I've experienced is -67C with windchill. Every day you get warmer than -30 from December 1 to March 30 is a gift. So make sure when you come up here you have the proper winter gear. More on that later.

B. The daylight up here can mess with your mind. It doesn't get completely dark in the winter, but during the darkest part of the year, you're only looking about six hours of daylight. During the summer, the sun does set, but it never gets truly dark. All that daylight can mess with people as much as all that darkness. So if you are sensitive to these things, take it into account. The darkness can make people tired, cranky and depressed. All the daylight can make people wired insomniacs. It's also why you'll often see garbage bags up in windows. People get desperate.

C. Things are expensive. A standard 24-case of soft drink is about $28 (Hell, I have a friend in Arctic Bay who can get $20 for a can of Pepsi once the community runs out and the sealift is still months away). A large bag of chips is over $6. A smallish honeydew is about $10. Gas is about $1.25 a litre (the only reason it's that cheap is a substantial subsidy by the Government of Nunavut). A mechanic will run about $125 an hour. A return plane ticket from Iqaluit to Ottawa costs about $2,500. There is that shock the first time you walk into Arctic Ventures or North Mart. It's practically a rite of passage.

D. The amenities you're used to in the south are likely not here. There is no Wal-Mart. There is no mall. There is no book store (but there is a library). There are no general practice physicians. So if you like those things, well, you're going to have to adjust or reconsider coming here. However, we have a Tim Hortons now. We even had a Starbucks...until it went bankrupt early in 2017.

E. You are isolated. There are only two ways out of town - boat and plane. You're not getting to another city by snowmobile (you can ski-doo to Kimmirut. It takes all day and the population is about 400 people). The bay is frozen from November to June. So airplane it is. Montreal and Ottawa are three hours away by plane and a normal ticket these days is $2,500. Seat sales are rare beasts these days. So unless you're rich or work with the airlines (who give huge discounts to employees), you're probably not popping down to Ottawa for the weekend.

And the good things are?
Answer. There's a nice sense of community. For a small city (Stats Canada estimated a population of 7,400 in 2016, but by the time you throw in the rotating transient population I'd put that number over 8,000) there's a decent arts scene. If you love the outdoors and can't stand cities anyway, then there's a lot to be said for Iqaluit. Hop on a snowmobile for 15 minutes and you're in the middle of nowhere. It's a growing community and there are lots of opportunity.

Northern Lights over the Middle School,
And as I've told many people, any evening where I can walk my dog and look at the Northern Lights at the same time....well, that's all right with me.

Do you like it up there?
Answer. We still wouldn't be here if we didn't. That's not a flippant answer either. The one thing about Iqaluit is that you will know within a couple of months if you're going to like it here. There are people who only came up for a few months and 20 years later are still here. And there are people who come up for one year contracts and don't last three months.

We like it here. We're comfortable and happy and we've bought a house and a car. We came up here with a five-year plan that would have taken us to 2010. We're now into our third five-year plan. We have friends, we like our jobs, we're paid well, and the cold doesn't bother us much (unless it gets silly cold, like -50C or so). We have more freedom to live and do things we want by living in Iqaluit than if we had stayed in Newfoundland.

Getting Here

What airlines fly here and what’s the difference between them, if any?
Answer. There are currently two airlines operating into Iqaluit from Ottawa - First Air and Canadian North have operated up here for years. They pretty jealously guard that route. Go Sarvaq, an upstart airline, tried to launch last year and were broken quickly when both airlines brought in seat sales with prices not seen in decades (Prices quickly went back to normal, with a little extra on top, about 5 seconds after Go Sarvaq folded). Even Air Canada lasted only a year.

There's a new and expensive airport (to the tune of $300 million) opening in Iqaluit in August. There's plenty of rumours that WestJet or Air Canada might start flying here, but nothing confirmed. So we'll have to wait and see.

For the last couple of years Canadian North and First Air engaged in code sharing. It was not exactly universally beloved because many felt it drove up the price of tickets. But it did have one advantage - the flights came in at different times. First Air arrived in Iqaluit at noon, Canadian North at 4 pm. That's ending as of May 2017 and we'll be back to the system of both planes arriving within minutes of each other.

You can use Aeroplan point to book tickets out on the airlines. However, be aware that they do heavily restrict the number of seats on each flight. I think it’s no more than four. So if you’re going to use Aeroplan, off-peak and in the middle of the week would be your best bet. On the upside, an Aeroplan ticket to Ottawa can be had for as low as 15,000 points, which is a steal considering how much a ticket can cost. It’s one of the reasons why Air Canada pulled out – no one was buying tickets, they were all using Aeroplan. Finally, you can't book Aeroplan tickets through their website; you have to call. It's a slow and cumbersome process, so be mentally prepared before you call.

The prices are obviously very expensive, but there used to be perks. You'd get a decent meal, the famous "special coffee" and two 70 pound bags. Trust me when I say the bags were a big deal. However, that's changed in recent years. I no longer eat the meals on the plane as I don't really consider them fit for human consumption. I'm not a foodie snob and you may have a different opinion. Also, both airlines have killed the 70 pound bag limit. It's 50 pounds. In fact, their luggage police is a little contrived and still causes some confusion depending on what kind of ticket you're flying on. You're best bet is to check their website or call to book your ticket and confirm how many bags you get. You might as well call the airlines directly. You're not finding deals on Travelocity.

Getting Around

Do I need a car?
Answer. It wouldn't hurt. Iqaluit is a bit of a sprawl and it's hilly. And it's only going to get worse. The Plateau Subdivision is a sprawl and there are plan for two or three new subdivisions to be built in the next decade.  You can certainly get around walking, but when it's -50C, ask yourself how much walking you really want to be doing. There are no buses, but there are taxis, which run at a flat rate of $7 per person ($8 if you go to Apex). Taxis will stop for multiple people, so don't be surprised if you're sharing a cab with three or four people. Uber/Lyft are not used here.

Also, a car might not be the best thing for you. Snowmobiles and ATVs operate freely within the city limits. You might want to consider one of those if you plan on travelling out on the land a lot.

How can I get one?
Answer. You can buy new and used cars up here. For example, Driving Force sells vehicles. They do the warranty work on those vehicles, which can be useful (on the downside, Driving Force once charged me $230 for an oil change. Once. I no longer deal with them just because of that). For example, we bought a Chevy Equinox in 2011. We paid more than we would have if we had bought it down south, but between the hassles of licensing and getting it shipped up north, I figure it was worth a few extra dollars.

There are also plenty of posters kicking around offering ones for sale. The best time for buying one tends to be around June, when people are most likely to move south (end of the school year). Or you can buy one down south and ship it up. This will cost at least $1,500 and probably more, depending on the size of the vehicle. Make sure you have a block heater, a battery blanket and remote starter installed. Vehicles are normally shipped up on the sealift out of Montreal.

I would opt for a 4x4 with a bit of ground clearance. A lot of the roads are now paved, but some of them are not handling the buckling permafrost well. There are also still plenty of dirt roads in town and during the muck months of May and June, some of those potholes have names.

Also remember this level of cold is hard on vehicles. Get used to being friends with your local mechanic and get used to the idea of large bills for simple things. For example, an oil change, which you can get done in Wal-Mart down south for about $25 will likely cost about $150 or more up here. You will likely rotate through garages as they take turns pissing you off.

Right now there is no insurance company operating in Iqaluit so you'll have to get quotes from one operating in the south. We've been using Aviva, but after an incident with them last year involving jacking up our home rates by 100%, that'll be changing this year if I have any say in it. Shop around and see.

Motor Vehicle registration is located in Inuksugait Plaza. Vehicle registration is some insanely low price of $55 a year. However, they do not send out reminders, so it's up to you to notice when your vehicle registration has expired. Local Bylaw lives to pull over people who have not updated their plates.

Our open sealift crate.
Food and Supplies

What's a sealift?
Answer. The sealift runs from approximately June until November each year, which is when there is no or little ice in the bay. Boats run up all kinds of supplies and if you wish you can ship things up this way. Furniture, cars, building supplies and food just to name a few. Many people in town take advantage of the sealift to ship up a year's supply of dried goods. It's a way to save some money by buying in bulk. There are a number of businesses that will help you with that. For example there is Northmart or I Shop 4 U. If you want to go and buy all your supplies yourself in Ottawa, TSC can help you ship it up.

Regardless, you do have to either do it yourself or get someone to do it for you relatively early. I would try and do your sealift between April-July. If you leave it later than that, there's the risk it won't make it up on the boat, leaving you only very expensive options for getting your stuff up here.

The sealift is also interesting to watch. There are currently no real port facilities in town (that will be changing by 2020) and the tides can vary by as much as 10 metres. That means the vessels anchors out in the bay and, at high tide, barges run back and forth between the vessel and the beach. It's a bit odd to watch.

For another take on sealift you can go here and read an article I did for the always excellent "Finding True North" blog. It's a little dated, but pretty close to spot on. I'd advise you not to try doing a sealift before moving up here. Sealift is at the very least an intermediate Northern skill. It's useful to watch how much you're going through of things before dropping a considerable amount of money on a year's supply. If you're not careful you'll end up with an eight year supply of toothpaste (as we did).

I'm a vegetarian. Can I still be one in Iqaluit?
Answer. Yes, but it will be a bit more expensive. North Mart, Arctic Ventures and Baffin Canners get fresh produce in on a regular basis and both cater a bit to vegetarians by offering some soy and veggie foods. Even Gluten Free is catching on up here. Fresh produce is expensive, but after awhile you'll learn to ignore it. There are options for ordering it down south and having it shipped up, but honestly I haven't done that in years and I don't know very many people who do. It can be a bit of a crapshoot in terms of quality. But here's a list of businesses that will ship using the Nutrition North program to subsidized food.

How much would I spend in groceries a month?
Answer. No idea. There are a whole host of factors that would play into that. How much food you need, how many are in your family, if you did a sealift….

Cathy and I spend around $200 a week. This is mostly for bread, fresh fruits, vegetables, and other perishables. We get most of our dried goods from the sealift, so we rarely buy cereal, pasta, sauces, soft drinks, etc. We normally take a cooler or two with us every time we go south and stock up on meat at Costco when we're there.

It's also worth mentioning that you can order some groceries and supplies through Amazon. As long as you don't need it right away. Even with Prime it takes a minimum of a week to get here, and that's optimistic. Someone people preferring going through Amazon rather than local stores or sealift. That's certainly an option. However, Amazon ceased free shipping to all parts of the North except for the three capitals a few years ago. There's lingering paranoia they'll hit us eventually as well.

Also, there does come a point when you’ve been up here long enough that you cease noticing the prices. There are only so many places in town you can buy groceries and you have to eat. So you buy what you need and try not to think about how much it costs.

You thought I was kidding?
Having said that, we're in a fortunate position. Hunger (other call it Food Security which is a phrase I've never cared for. It's too....clinical) is a big issue in Iqaluit and the rest of Nunavut. You might wince and laugh at $25/kg for asparagus (which is a thing that happens) but that is an unimaginable luxury for too many people.

Are there things I really need to bring with me before coming up?
Answer. You can actually get most things you need either in Iqaluit or by ordering online. There are also good yard sales, especially in the spring, from people selling things as they head south. Also, Iqaluit Sell/Swap on Facebook is huge.

However, I recommend buying your cold weather gear down south if possible. It is expensive up here. And buy proper warm weather gear. What will get you through a Newfoundland winter, for example, won't cut it up here. Get coats, boots and gloves that are rated for temperatures around -70C. And your coat's hood should be fur trimmed. It makes a huge difference in keeping your face warm. Also get the proper boots and gloves, although I recommend getting a nice pair of fur mittens once you get here. Canada Goose is the jacket of choice up here. North Face is popular as well, but not for super cold weather. It's good up until around -20C. After that, well...

Clothes selection is somewhat limited, but you can order online. People will quickly give you their recommended sites for order, but we've ordered from Icebreaker, MEC, Land's End, and l.l. bean with no problems. Furniture is also expensive, but you have to weigh that against the cost of shipping it up. Wayfair is offering free shipping, but we haven't tested it. Be careful shipping anything with glass in it up here, as glass tends to not travel well. The Source is here if you need electronics, although items are more expensive than if you bought it down south.

Oh, and do not even think of ordering IKEA online. Just don't. Their shipping is beyond insane. If you're desperate for it, buy it secondhand or make it arrangements to have it deliver to First Air Cargo or Canadian North Cargo. You will pay through the nose, but it will still be cheaper than what IKEA will charge. Don't believe me? Read this.

I would bring enough entertainment to keep you amused for a few months until you get settled in. So if you like video games, bring them along (beware games that need internet access). If you like books, bring some of your favourites. If you like movies, bring some of your favourite Blu-rays, although I know some people just burn all their movies onto terabyte drives and bring that up. Keep in mind that streaming them online is not advised. More on that later.

We brought plants with us up here, which was silly because stores sell plants. We brought lots of books, which was silly because there's a perfectly good library here. Not to mention Amazon (but not Chapters) offers free shipping over $25. Whatever you don't take with you, odds are you can get it here or get it sent to you.

Bring an open mind. It helps. Iqaluit is about 60% Inuit, 40% non-Inuit. It's a different culture and way of life.

Finally, bring your patience. No kidding, things operate at a different speed up here. This is still a growing, developing territory and government. Things work at a slower pace. If you want things done right now a lot, you will lose your mind because it's not happening.

Employment

How easy is it to get a job in Iqaluit?
Answer. Depends. Crappy answer, but it depends on your skills. If you're a nurse or doctor, you'll do just fine. If you're curious about the jobs available go to the Government of Nunavut site, Government of CanadaNunatsiaq News or News North.

It's also worth remembering that some places, and I'm thinking specifically of the Government of Nunavut (everyone calls it the GN), but others follow it as well, having hiring priority procedures in place. For example, with the GN, Inuit get first crack at all jobs. If no one is qualified in that "first tier" then the next tier is long-term northerner (ie. people who have lived in Nunavut for at least one year) and then it's pretty much everyone else. So just because you see a job that you think you're really qualified for it, don't believe you're a lock for it and don't get discouraged.

Some jobs will come with perks, such as relocation costs being covered, air fare, housing, etc. It never hurts to ask, but don't go in expecting all of these things.


Seeing a polar bear pelt or seal skins being stretched and dried outside
a house is a common sight in town.
Housing and Utilities

How hard is it to find housing?
Answer. Again, depends. If you get a job with the federal government, then they provide it for you. If you get one with the GN then some jobs come with housing. Remember it's easier to get housing if it's just you or your spouse. When you start involving kids, pets, etc, it gets that much harder to find housing. Still, these position will give you a house/apartment and rent will be deducted from your check, but the GN does pay for a portion of it.

Also, the GN is increasingly getting into offering a housing subsidy. What does this mean? It means they won't find you a place to live, but they will give you $400 per family towards rent or a mortgage. Please make sure which they are offering you, as I've had some emails express confusion.

If you're coming up here to work on construction sites or with a local business, odds are they're not giving you housing. Which means you have to find it on your own. Renting a room in someone's house is about $1,200. A small, one-bedroom apartment will set you back roughly $2,000 a month. A 2-bedroom apartment cannot be found for under $2,500. Check Northern Properties and Nunastar for some of the rental proprieties available. Other places include Facebook and, if you're in town, check the bulletin boards at the post office and Arctic Ventures.

Could I just buy a house?
Answer. Sure. In fact, we bought ours in December of 2009. Average house price is around $550,000 for a three bedroom house. The price of real estate has shot up a lot in the last seven years. Try Atiilu if you're interested. A lot of houses are private sales, which means either finding them on Facebook PSA page or, just as often, wandering around town and reading the bulletin boards.

Housing in Iqaluit also has some issues you may not encounter elsewhere. All houses are built on stilts due to shifting permafrost. Some may find the idea of a house with about 10 feet of open space between it and the ground...disconcerting. Not all houses are on water and sewer, which means trucked water. There are land leases to deal with. I wouldn't recommend buying a house when first moving up here. It's really a move after you've been here a few years first.

Are there banks in town?
Answer. CIBC, Royal Bank and First Nations all have branches with ATMs in town. There are also independent ATMs. The usual warnings about ridiculous fees go with those independent ATMs.

Is there high speed internet service in town?
Nothing in Iqaluit will make you curse quite like our internet. Not taxi drivers. Not grocery prices. Not taxi drivers trying to drive up Joamie Hill in the middle of winter without snow tires. Nothing.

We've been here for almost 12 years and Iqaluit's internet has changed very little. If you're moving to Iqaluit from a rural part of southern Canada then the transition will not be as jarring. If you're from a major centre then get ready to hop in the time machine to late 90s. Internet speeds on a really good day tap out around 4 Mb/s and gig caps are normally around 30 gigs. All internet is via satellite. There is no fibre optic cable connecting the territory and there is no announced timetable for one.

That means gaming is pretty much right out. Netflix is doable, but it will destroy your cap in pretty short order. And do not mess with data caps. The amount all ISPs charge for going over your cap would make loan sharks blush.

So these are your options:
1. NorthwesTel
Pros: Relatively stable in terms of signal. You can stream Netflix using their Moderate Use package.

Cons: Bloody expensive for what you get. A suspicious amount of our cap seems to vanish each month. I would recommend turning off the modem when not in use. Strength of signal may vary widely depending what part of town you live in.

2. Xplornet
Pros: Highest cap and best speeds for the price. When it's working properly.

Cons: Frequently not working properly due to either weather or Xplornet's massively frustrating habit of oversubscribing their amount of bandwidth. So it starts off great, then others get wind of it and get an account. Speeds drop to a crawl. Xplornet upgrades. Repeat. Also, Apple is suspiciously unreliable on Xplornet. So if you love iTunes or download lots of apps, you may be in for a frustrating experience. Netflix may work assuming you give it enough lead time. Oh, it also requires a satellite dish attached to the outside of your building. If you're renting an apartment, your landlord may not allow this.

Xplornet also frequently has wait lists. So you may not even be able to get an account right away.

3. Qiniq
Honestly I've never used Qiniq and know few people who do, so I can't speak to their reliability. Although glancing at their price structure it certainly seems a touch....odd.

For what it's worth, we use Xplornet as our primary internet, with NWTel as a backup for when Xplornet goes on one of its useless junk jags, and so I can update my Apple products.

4. Meshnet
I confess to not knowing much about it. It seems like a decent deal, but I can't speak to it's reliability.

4. If you don't want to get a home internet service, the two cell providers in town are Bell and Ice Wireless. Bell is located at The Source, which is located upstairs at Arctic Ventures/The Marketplace. Ice Wireless is in the same building as the Baffin gas bar. We currently use Bell after switching from Ice. Take that for what it's worth.

What are the utilities like up there?
Your main utilities will be Nunavut Power, Northwest Tel, Uqsuq (if you need heating oil), along with water and sewer. Is it going to be more expensive than what you pay for down south? Yes. However, it won’t be as much as you might think as things like power and oil are subsidized to reduce some of the sting. They’re all fairly reliable. Most of the city is on water and sewer, although some of it is not, which means trucks. Basically, once the red light on the front of our house goes off, the water truck will swing by and fill up the 750 gallon tank in our house. Another truck comes by and empties the sewage tank located under the house.

We’re on truck supply, which isn’t bad at all. Some people hate it, but it’s just as easy to have pipes freeze underground as it is for a water truck to flood your house or a sewage truck to hit blow instead of suck (the later has happened to someone I know).

How do I get my mail?
There is no home delivery in Iqaluit, perhaps not a surprise with the temperatures. The post office is located downtown near the Four Corners intersection. The post office normally has P.O. Boxes you can use for no charge. However, you will have to give proof of residency (lease agreement, mortgage) before they will give you one. In the event they don't have any available, you'll be put on a wait list and your mail will be sent via General Delivery. It means you have to get in line to check your mail.

Iqaluit's post office is quite busy and much like the internet, a frequent source of complaints about the speed of packages arriving from down south. For example, at some point you will become deeply convinced that someone in Montreal just plain hates you because your packages spend so much time there (10 day or more is not unheard of). Also, front counter speed and reliability (packages delivered to the wrong people, for example) have been criticized heavily over the years. But I will give them their due, they've been much better the last six months. Here's hoping it continues.

Social Activities

Are there bars in town or is it a dry community?
Answer. There are several bars in town - The Storehouse, the Kicking Caribou and the Legion (which is supposedly the most financially successful one in Canada). There are also a couple of private clubs, like the Racketball Club and the Elks. Several restaurants also serve alcohol. Neither myself nor Cathy are big drinkers, but $6 for a can of beer (no bottles nor any kegs. Which means no Guinness) is around par for the course. There is no liquor store, so if you want to order beer, wine, hard liquor, you need to order it and it will arrive several days later from Rankin Inlet. You can also order it from Montreal. You can also order beer from the Sea Lift. Here's some information about liquor in the territory.

A Beer and Wine Store was voted on by Iqaluit residents in 2015 referendum and it passed easily. The GN has dragged its feet on opening it, but it looks like something might happen in 2017.

What about entertainment and sports?
Answer. It's not Toronto with its options, but there are things to do. The biggest change has been the opening as of January 2017 of the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre. At a cost of $40 million to build, it's still a controversial building. We love it and supported it. Along with a 50 metre lap pool, there's a splash pool for kids, a sauna, jacuzzi, and a fitness centre. There are drop-in, day, monthly, and annual passes available.

There are two hockey arenas, a curling rink, and a racquetball club. The first Saturday after Labour Day in September there is something called Mass Registration where you can sign up for everything from ball room dancing, to speed skating, judo, the greenhouse society, etc. If you're in town I highly recommend going to this. The City of Iqaluit lists most of the recreational activities on their website.

There is also Astro Theatre - two screens normally showing four movies a week. There's a video rental stores. Cable (Iqaluit Cable) and satellite (Bell and Shaw) is available here, although remember they are pricey. There are things to do; it's just a matter of going out and doing them. If you want to be kept busy, there's plenty of people willing to help you do just that.

Safety

How safe is it in Iqaluit?
Answer. I tend to be a touch anti-social, but other than some petty vandalism, neither of us have had any problems. I think Iqaluit is reasonably safe as long as you're not stupid. If you get drunk and belligerent at the local bar, well, yes, you're going to have trouble. Single women should follow the same precautions they take if they were going out in a major city like Toronto or Montreal.

A lot of the violence you hear about, and I hate saying this, the victim and the attacker tend to know each other. And yes, there are also drug problems in the city. However, we don't feel any less safe than when we lived in St. John's.

Having said that, obviously there are plenty of stories about the troubles in Iqaluit and Nunavut as a whole. There is a high crime rate here. Personally, I’ve found it’s more mentally hard reading about it and hearing what people are going through. It can be more depressing than scary.

Icebreaker doing its best...
Living here

Are there any non-Inuit, non-white people in Iqaluit?
Answer. It's not Toronto or Vancouver, but yes, there are. I'm very careful to use the word "Southerner" to describe non-Inuit in Iqaluit because there are lots of people here who are not white. One of the more pleasant changes in Iqaluit since we moved here, is seeing people from different cultures coming here. There's a mosque in town. Black History Month is not just celebrated, but a fairly big deal. There are decent-sized Filipino and Lebanese populations in town.

What about medical issues?
There are no private medical clinics, so odds are you're going to Public Health or the hospital to see doctors. If you're sick and can wait until first thing in the morning, they've set up "Rapid Access", where you can see a doctor for 10-15 minutes. There are a couple of dentists. There are several pharmacists. And there is a relatively new hospital in town. Serious medical cases are normally sent to Ottawa. We've both been fortunate to not need any real medical attention, so I can't speak a lot about it. However, this one of these things where, unless its an emergency, a bit of patience goes a long way.

Your provincial medical card is, I think, still good for three months after you move up here. If you're staying longer than that, you'll need to get a Nunavut medical card, which can be a bit of a slow process. This is the link for getting your card.

What are the schools like?
Answer. That's a touchy one and at least partially because my wife is a teacher. There's no doubt that some parents do not like the school system and move down south because they believe their children can get a better education there. On other other hand, I've met a lot of hard working teachers doing their best. There are opportunities for travel and programs that might not be easily accessible in other parts of Canada. The high school has been making strides in improving its graduation rate and offers some unique programs. And the government pays for one year tuition at any Canadian university for every four years your child attends school in Nunavut.

But yeah, there are problems. There's stuff that can break your heart. Does that make it any better or worse than some places in southern Canada? I can't really say.

There's also l'ecole des Trois-Soleils if you want your kids taught in French. There are rules about attending the school and it has one of the smaller school populations in town. If you're interested, you should contact them for more details.

I have young kids who need daycare. How hard is it going to be?
Answer. Pretty hard. The bad joke in town is that you should call a day care to get put on the wait list as soon as the pregnancy test gives you a positive result. Here's a list of the ones in town (all numbers from Google, so if there's a mistake, blame them):
- Aakuluk Day Care: 867-979-7766
- Pairivik Day Care:867-979-6460
- First Steps Day Care: 867-979-0505
- Inukshuk Infant Development Centre: 867-979-3007
- Tumikuluit Saipaaqivik Daycare:867-979-2483
- Garderie Les Petits Nanooks: 867-975-2400

And yes, you can get sitters, but they go at a premium ($10.75/hr is the minimum wage, and you won't get one of that) and they can be....unreliable, according to some parents I've overheard. The names of the reliable ones are guarded the same way the army guards gold at Fort Knox.

Some people sponsor nannies to take care of their children. I'm afraid I know very little about that, but there are a couple of dozen operating in Iqaluit. You'll have to do your own research on that.

Are there places of worship?
Answer: Yes. There are a few churches in town. For example:
St. Jude's (Anglican) - 979-5595 (they rebuilt their church after a fire several years ago. It's one of the more impressive buildings in town.
Pentecostal Church - 979-5779
Our Lady of the Assumption (Roman Catholic)
Iqaluit Masjid
If you're Buddhist, apparently there is a local Facebook group that can provide more information. As for other faiths, I'd advise you to ask around once you hit town.

What are taxes like up there?
Answer. Well, there's no territorial sales tax, which is nice. The only sales tax is the GST, which is currently 5%. There is a 2% payroll tax.

There are also other tax benefits to living in the north. Some (governments) give a northern allowance or isolated post benefits, the amount depending on how isolated you are. In Iqaluit it's about $15,000 if you're a GN employee. The Feds and others have different rates. There's also a northern tax benefit you can claim ($22 per person per day, I believe), which went up this year, which is nice.

For that matter, at least in your first year, it might be worth hiring a tax specialist to help make sure you don't miss anything. We use a family friend down south, although there are people here in town who can help with your taxes.

Is there much interaction between Inuit and non-Inuit?
Answer. As for how much interaction between the Inuit and southerners, well, it depends.

In smaller communities, where there is only a couple of hundred people, I think there's a lot more interaction. But in places like Iqaluit it's certainly pretty easy to keep to yourself and other people from down south if you choose.

Then again, some Inuit prefer to keep to themselves and not deal much with southerners. It works both ways.

We both work with Inuit. Cathy's staff is about half Inuit and I've worked in offices where I was the minority. Which is awesome. We both grew up in Newfoundland in the 70s and 80s, which couldn't be much more white, so it's nice to get thrown into the deep end of a different, and pretty awesome, culture.

Like anything, it depends on how much effort you want to put into it. You can have as much, or as little, interaction as you want. But I think it's a shame to come here and then have no interaction with the Inuit.

Any other tips?
Answer. Avoid being a racist is a nice start. Sadly, you still get some of that up here. Avoid giving the impression that you're just up here to make a few bucks to pay off your student loan or mortgage and then getting out of town. Go figure, people who live and work here, trying to build the territory, take it kind of personally. Avoid the attitude that you know better on how things should be done. Just because things are done differently up here than you're used to doesn't means they're wrong. Oh, and if you have issues with fur products - like sealskin gloves or fur coats - I'd lose them or keep it to yourself. Many people wear fur because it's warm and comfortable. You can get some very nice things up here at a reasonable price.

And get out there and try things. It's a different world and culture in Nunavut, in all likelihood completely different than anything you've experienced before. So try some seal or caribou. Get out on the land if given a chance. Talk to an elder. Do stuff.

Finally, we both think it's important to treat yourself. It can be hard for some people to live here and living an austere life doesn't help. I'm not saying going out and blow your paycheck every week, but do make sure you take care of yourself and do things for your mental health. Cathy and I like to travel and we try to go on at least one large trip a year. It does wonders for your mental health. Travel might not be your thing, but whatever it is, do it. It helps.

All houses are built on pylons, with metal beams driving into either rock or
the permafrost. It helps keep the houses stable.
Pets
We're thinking of bringing our pets. Any suggestions?
Answer. First, please be sure they travel well. I speak from experience on this. When we came up in 2005 we brought my cat. He hated travelling, but I thought sedating him with the help of a vet would help. It didn't. He collapsed once I took him out of the crate and died two days later. I would spare you that kind of pain if at all possible.

There is now a full-time vet in town, but I admit I've heard a lot of grumbling about her, mainly that she can be difficult to reach. It's not that she's a bad vet; we've used her a couple of times and found her to be good. This is her website.

Also, if you're staying in an apartment, realize that many do not allow dogs. They may allow other pets like cats, fish or birds. But dogs are touchy.

I'm not saying don't bring pets or get one when you're up here, but realize they are going to be more challenging to care for up here than down south. For example, does your pet need to go outside and can it handle the cold? -50C with windchill is going to be hard on little critters trying to do their business.

If you're thinking of getting a pet up here, then give the Humane Society a shot, although they’ve been having problems lately with money and volunteers. Sadly, there are many dogs who are not properly taken care of. Many are sent to Ottawa for adoption. Although remember that the huskies, while beautiful, are high maintenance and not used to being kept inside. And the sled dogs are not pets, so don't even go there.

As for kennels, I believe Nunavet can, but again, there's that reliability question. You might need a house sitter/pet sitter. There are people who do the "House-sitting circuit." Ask around and you might be able to find someone.

Also remember that fish are tricky. There's no pet store in town so you'll have to buy the fish in Ottawa, transport it in a container with no more than 100 ML of water through security, and then keep it on your lap for a three hour flight. Oh, and possibly walk from the plane to the terminal in Iqaluit in freezing temperatures. So think hard on how badly you need a fish.

Links
What are the list of useful links you'd recommend?
Answer. There are a lot. Here they are broken down by category.

Basic
1. Government of Nunavut
2. City of Iqaluit
3. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated
4. Iqaluit on Wikipedia
5. Nunavut Blogs - The community has taken a hit in recent years as people move onto other social media platforms. But there's still good ones out there. I recommend in particular Finding True North.
6. Nunavut Tourism
7. Nunavummuit are very active on Twitter. Start with the media and expand from there. Also, Iqaluit's current mayor can be found @MayorMadeleine. She's very active and quite helpful.

Media
1. Nunatsiaq News
2. News North
3. CBC North
4. APTN News

Jobs
1. Government of Nunavut
2. Government of Canada
3. Listings in Nunatsiaq News
4. Listings in News North
5. Teaching positions

Shopping
(Check the Free Shipping to Iqaluit group on Facebook. It's not that active now, but there's a decent list of sites with free or reasonable shipping, plus people will post updates on companies offering special deals. The list below is some of the standbys.)
1. Amazon takes care of your books, DVDs and video games. Free shipping over $25 and only 5% tax makes this one of the best deals in Canada, especially when you take into account their online discounts.
2. Canada Goose (you can't buy them online, but it does list retailers who will) and Woods Canada for arctic apparel.
3. Apple and Dell both have free shipping to Nunavut. They are probably the two most popular computer brands in Nunavut.
4. MEC has good shipping and the quality is good, but be aware their cold weather is often not the best match for the environment up here.
5. The North Face has taken off in popularity the last year or so. I think they have free shipping if you spend a minimum amount.
6. Sealift if you want to try and order a year's worth of soup or toilet paper.
7. There are numerous clothing stores online. We've used LL Bean and Lands End, but please check carefully how much shipping will be, as it can vary from time to time and on the size of the order. Plus, remember than ordering from the US means you can get dinged with duty or customs, so be extra careful of that.


And that's all I have for now. If you have any further questions or can think of something I miss, please feel free to add it to the comments section.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Batgirl

For years when the knowledge of my geekery and love of comic books come up I will inevitably be asked who my favourite super hero is. And for years I downplayed it because I thought I really didn't have one. I follow creators these days. So if Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka or Ed Brubaker is writing it, odds are I'm going to buy it.

And yet a quick glance at my bookshelf shows I seem to have an awful lot of Batgirl graphic novels (14) by a lot of different creators. Also, as I seem to currently own 9 Batgirl toys/figurines and several pieces of original art. So yeah, if I had to pick one, I think I'd pick Batgirl.
A painting of Batgirl by Mike Maihack
that I bought.


Why her over, say, Batman? Because he's been such an unrelenting grim character for so long. Batgirl at least has moments of joy. I just like the compassion in the character. Batman can occasionally feel like a very masochistic read. I haven't felt that way very often reading Batgirl.

So that why when news broke over geek sites that there was going to be a Batgirl movie being written, directed and produced by Joss freakin' Whedon I was pretty damn happy about that. One of my favourite creators on one of my favourite characters. Sign me up.

It's always interesting to watch the reaction to this kind of news as it shakes out. With all the Buffy 20th anniversary stories in the media lately, Joss has certainly seen a bump in his profile and there's huge swaths of affection for him. Honestly, after the first Avengers movie I'll forgive him a wide variety of cinematic sins. I like Avengers: Age of Ultron a lot more than others. It's not perfect, but it's still pretty good.

On the other side are some that take exception to Joss's feminism (they really don't like the Black Widow story in Age of Ultron, which I can understand) and their wish that a woman either direct or write the movie.

And I can understand that, although I'm getting to the point where I'd just like to see more not white guys directing any super hero/sci fi/fantasy movie they want. Sure it'd be nice to have a woman direct Batgirl, but if it means that Kathryn Bigelow directs the next Captain America movie (we should be so lucky) or Rachel Talalay wants to do Justice League Dark, bring it on. We slowly have to start moving beyond women only being able to direct female lead super hero movies and just having more of them direct, period.

If that starts to happen, then I think you can forgive Whedon for moving all the levers on a Batgirl movie.

No, my concern comes from reports that the movie will draw inspiration from Gail Simone's "New 52" version of the character. Understand, I love her writing. I got to meet her in Seattle, get a bunch of books signed and babbled for several minutes how much I not only enjoy her writing, but what I learn from her online presence, where she's one of the most open and positive people you could hope for, but also has a zero tolerance for assholes.

Having said that, it's not some of her best writing. I think she was pretty hamstrung at the time. She had an editor that wanted to keep the darker, more trouble Barbara Gordon, who was suffering PTSD after being crippled/sexually assaulted by the Joker (the controversial and, in my opinion, the badly aging The Killing Joke book) when Simone was ready to move on to more positive and upbeat stories.

Also, I think she struggled a bit with people who simply didn't want Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl. They wanted her Oracle, another popular character who was an inspiration to a lot of disabled people. She was essentially wiped away when DC did their disastrous "New 52" reboot.

So we'll see. The news is about 12 hours old. It could all still fall apart. DC/Warner is throwing everything and the kitchen sink out there with super heroes, hoping some movie will hit (God help us all, but Zach Snyder's Justice League trailer looked dreary and it's apparently three hours long). And I can't see Whedon going for Zach Snyder's vision of things. But dare to dream.

In case you were wondering what some Batgirl books are good for catching up on, try these:

Gail Simone's run
Vol. 1 - The Darkest Reflection
Vol. 2 - Knightfall Descends
Vol. 3 - Death of the Family
Vol. 4 - Wanted
Vol. 5 - Deadline

After Simone left, began the Batgirl of Burnside run, featuring a slightly more fun loving Barbara Gordon. It also featured a costume redesign that is beloved by cosplayers everywhere. By Cameron Steward, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr
Vol. 1 -  Batgirl of Burnside
Vol. 2 - Family Business
Vol. 3 - Mindfields

Before Barbara Gordon came back, Batgirl was a character called Stephanie Brown. The run, written by Brian Q. Miller, is one of my favourites of any super hero series this century. It is staggeringly good fun and died well before its time. The original trades are hard to find, but they're reprinting the series this summer. No kidding, the issue where she teams up with Supergirl to fight holographic Draculas (yes, plural) is why you make super hero comics.

Batgirl: Stephanie Brown - Vol. 1

And prior to Stephanie Brown, there was another Batgirl called Cassandra Cain. Former assassin turned good. They've also recently started reprinting the series with three trades out so far. I have the first two and I'm quite enjoying them.

Vol. 1 - Silent Knight
Vol. 2 - To the Death
Vol. 3 - Point Blank

And barring all that you could also pick-up Batgirl/Robin: Year One, a fun retelling of both character's origins. Probably most noteworthy for Marcos Martin's stunning artwork.

Last Five
1. The diner/the slant (live) - Ani DiFranco
2. Windowsill - Arcard Fire
3. Hard time - Seinabo Sey*
4. It's only me - Barenaked Ladies
5. Walk on - Corinne Bailey Rae

Monday, March 13, 2017

Emerald City Comic Con

When I walked out of the New York Comic Con in October 2015, I was sad. It went beyond the usual "Awwww, the Con is over", because I also knew I wouldn't be going back to NYCC anytime in the near future. When I went to my first NYCC in 2008 the attendance was around 70,000. In 2015 it was 168,000. In 2016, when I didn't go, it was 180,000.

It should be noted that the Javits Center has not expanded to keep pace. So while it is a con I have great memories of, it's simply too crowded. They're talking about expanding the Center, but that's not likely to be completed to the early 2020s.

So yes, a touch depressed.

But that's when Cathy stepped in with one of her ideas that she later has cause to regret. There's been a series of these. They include such highlights as:
-    If you give up single issues of comic books you can buy all the trade paperbacks you want.
-    Hey, let's wander into this toy store.
-    I bought you Lego for Christmas. You do like Lego, right?

To that list we now add "you should just find a Con in the middle of winter. It'll give you a nice break."

Which took as permission to go to another Con. Which I just did.

The Emerald City Comic Con hit every note I want for a con. First, it's in a new city, which is always a good chance to explore. Seattle is pretty awesome and a lot of comic creators are now located in the Pacific Northwest, which means you get some pretty cool writers and artists in attendance. It also has a reputation of focusing more on creators than celebrity guests. It's over four days and last year the attendance was just shy of 100,000. So perfect all the way around.

So while Cathy goes to Florida for a week to sit on a beach and read in April (which I would suck at. It takes me a week of moving before I can settle into doing nothing), I spent the first week of March in Seattle and at the con.

Alas, I didn't see as much of Seattle as I would have liked. I underestimated distance and was desperately trying to save my feet. I nearly amputated my feet after the last NYCC and you do a lot of walking at cons. I did walk around Pike's Market. I also had some truly excellent pizza, thank god.

As for the con, it may be the best organized one I've ever been to. I can nitpick at stuff. Cell service was shit, but that might have just been T-Mobile sucking. Also, the escalators kept breaking, which I actually found slightly amusing, recalling this article from a few weeks ago.

But the organizers did a phenomenal job of utilizing space. For one thing, they moved all celebrity autographs and photo ops to the hotel next door, clearing out a ton of space. There was a floor dedicated for gaming. A floor for cosplayers, especially if you needed to repair your outfit. Most of the 6th floor was dedicated to Artist Alley. It's the nicest one I've ever seen. Huge number of artists there, lots of space for getting around, carpet on the floor so your feet aren't being murdered....

They had family rooms and quiet spaces in case you need some privacy to chill because you're overwhelmed. Cosplay is not consent signs were all over the place and I didn't see any bad behaviour to speak of.

In fact everyone I spoke to was friendly and I had a lot of great conversations just waiting in line for something to be signed. An Australian and I bonded over the fact that we could finally talk the metric system when describing temperatures instead of having to mentally convert to Imperial. Discussions about cosplay. Bantering with a Darth Vader.

One of the other cool things ECCC does is a limited edition book. Each year they do an art book called Monsters and Dames. I'm normally leery of these kinds of books because they can be hit and miss. But it was overwhelmingly hit. And then you go on a treasure hunt - walking around the alley trying to get each page signed by the artist.

It's time consuming, but it is fun and you talk to artists you might ordinarily walk past. And you pick up some information on their projects.

Everybody has their own thing at these events. I didn't spend five minutes on the gaming floors, but I prowled artist alley and the main show floor. I bought a bunch of books (rules: the creative team must be there to sign it, or it's on sale). I hit the Funko booth, god help me. I sat in on a few panels as well.

So yes, just a blast. Tons of space to move around, places to sit, friendly atmosphere. It's in the middle of downtown so there are lots of places to eat after the con (for that matter, there were lots of places to eat on site and the mark-up was only annoying as opposed to horrific and the lines were reasonable.) I caught a late show of Logan a couple of blocks away. Hell, I even managed to find a hotel a few blocks from the convention center and it was clean, reasonably priced and gave away free craft beer every 5:30.

So yeah, I quite liked this con. I'd go back in a heartbeat. And rather than try to mix pics in with the text, here are a few favourites from the show...

Pickachus. Lots of them

Ursula. She was terrifying and futhermore,
she knew it.


Captain and Ms. Marvel

Barry Kitson drawing Delirium in my
sketchbook at the Hero Initiative booth

A young Predator

I love Yip Yips.

R2D2 has been hitting the juice

My main goal was to get a sketch from
Terry Dodson. And I did. He's showing
the spectacular Princess Leia he drew
for me.

Oh yeah, and I got my picture taken with this guy.