Monday, March 30, 2020

Comic Art Collection 10: Supergirl and Batgirl

Supergirl and Batgirl by Mike Maihack. 9x12
Top: Original pencil and ink
Bottom: Digitally coloured print

Sometimes, publishers hate making money. Case in point - Mike Maihack.

I'm pretty sure I came across Mike's artwork via Tumblr. And it was probably one of his delightful  Supergirl and Batgirl strips. He does these strips infrequently, sometimes only once a year, but they're always fantastic when he does. The strips are basically an exasperated Batgirl trying to deal with her best friend, a very high energy Supergirl. Through good luck, he put one out this week dealing with our twin heroes being stuck in doors while "Joker Gas" is endangering Gotham City residents. It's showed up a lot in my social media feeds by friends of mine who like knitting.

There's a lot more examples on his website, where you can buy prints.

The most recent Supergirl/Batgirl
They're so much fun that it's genuinely baffling to me that DC never came to him and said "Hey, how would you like to do do a 100 page graphic novel based on their adventures?" I would buy it in a heartbeat and given the speed at which these comics spread online, so would a lot of others.

Part of the reason this might not have happened is that Mike's been busy the last seven or eight years with his Cleopatra in Space graphic novel series through Scholastic. It's the story of the Cleopatra who as a kid accidentally gets tossed across time and space and finds herself in the far future. She also discovers that she's a prophesied saviour of the galaxy. And if that's not bad enough she still has to go to school, and most of the professors are cats. It's a huge amount of fun.

 Cathy has a set of the books in her classroom and it's perfect for elementary school kids. Or, you know, big kids like me.

As for the piece above, I believe it came about when Mike put out a call that he was taking commissions and I quickly jumped at it. This was the first piece of art I bought from Mike, but not the last. I have at least three others which will make their debuts at some point in the coming months. 

And one day I hope to meet him at a con. I'd like to be able to thank him in person for how much enjoyment I get out of his work. And, you know, maybe get him to draw something in my sketchbook.

But what I like about this is he through in the digitally coloured print for free. I just thought I was getting pencil and ink sketch, so the print was nice. They're also framed side by side so when you look at them you can really see the difference colour makes to the art.
The last Cleo book (boooo) coming out
in late July/early August,
As for why I like Mike's art so much, it's just fun. It's been interesting watching him grow as a visual storyteller in Cleo. There's a huge difference between the first book and the fifth. He's much more confident, polished and willing to try bigger and more complex scenes and action pieces. I look forward to reading his stuff for some time to come.

And DC? The last Cleopatra in Space book is coming out this summer. It's not too late to throw some money at Mike to get him to do a Supergirl/Batgirl book. Just sayin'....

Last Five
1. Bones of ribbon - London Grammar
2. Desire - Ryan Adams*
3. Snow angel - Ron Sexsmith
4. Execution day - The New Pornographers
5. Hard to tell - Young Galaxy

Friday, March 27, 2020

Settling in

Proof of life, March 27, 2020
So, somehow, I now seem to live in one of the safest places on Earth.

That might be the scariest sentence I've typed in my life. I'm just superstitious enough to wonder if I haven't just jinxed things up here. If you think that's nuts, and things don't work like that, keep in mind that no one who uses Twitter in Iqaluit will say the name of the world's largest company for fear that they will stop shipping for free up here.

So no cases so far. There's still a bit of a backlog of tests, so we still might get something jumping out at us. But right now we're ok. And this week, the territorial government brought in some of the strictest travel rules in Canada about who is and isn't allowed into the territory. You want in? You have to:

- Be a Nunavut resident. If you want to come here, you need to have an address here.
- Be a critical care worker.
- Sit in quarantine for two weeks at  government monitor buildings in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Yellowknife.

And that's it. You can't drive here and, for at least another three months, you can't sail here. Those rules kicked in on the 24th, so theoretically by April 8 (give or take a few days) and if there are no cases, we might be in good shape.

There's any number of reasons to hope it never comes here. This Politico story touches on some of them. If/when it gets here, it could rip through some of the smaller communities and do severe harm. Or, for that matter, Iqaluit. We're around 8,500 people these days. Politicians and the health officer are begging people to go home and practicing social distancing. But with no cases here, I think compliance is half-hearted at best. One of our neighbours has a hockey rink built by the side of his house and we've walked past with 10 kids playing together in close quarters.

Today was my weekly trip out of the neighbourhood to do a mail run and pick up some groceries. Cases or not, we take it seriously. I get the mail, get groceries, come home and then toss everything I'm wearing in the washer and get a shower. And it's just a little weird out in town. It's quieter. The flashes of friendliness between residents seems rarer and when you do see them it makes you worry if they're being careful enough.

Weird days.

As for Cathy and I, we've settled into our routines in the house. This was always going to be easier for us than many others. The lack of kids, for one thing. Plus, we're used to spending a lot of time with each other anyway. Before all of this most of our days consisted of going to work, coming home, having supper and hanging out together (reading, watching tv, playing games, talking).  It's not that hard a shift for us. I tend to be busiest at work in the morning so Cathy gives me a little more space.

I find I'm writing more, which is nice. I read an actual, honest to god, book this week. You know, the kind without art in it. It was Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, in case you're wondering. A pretty solid Potter-noir story, where a Muggle PI investigates a murder at Hogwarts, er, Osthorne Academy. The mystery was a bit too easy to solve, but the characters are fun and the world building is pretty good.

So we're good. We're in a safe place, being careful, and still have our jobs. NorthMart was fully stocked when I went out today, so groceries are no problem at the moment. And honestly, the next 6 weeks are the best time of the year to live in Iqaluit. The temperatures warm up, so that's it's cold, but more than manageable. The daylight is normal - not too much or too little. The light on the bay when the sun is out is not easily described or captured by camera, but "magical" is about right. And at night you can still catch the Northern Lights.

And right now, that's all I need. It's more than enough.

Last Five
1. Ms. Behave - Rosie and the Riveters*
2. Paradise by the 'C' (Live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
3. We both go down together (Live) - The Decemberists
4. Little shadow - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
5. Throw your arms around me (Live) - Crowded House

Monday, March 23, 2020

Comic Art Collection 9: Hellboy and Mermaid

Hellboy and mermaid by Ben Templesmith, 8.5x11

Social media is eventually going to bankrupt me, I'm sure.

Once upon a time, if you wanted comic book art you had to go to conventions, or maybe find a store that sold a few pages. Or perhaps write to the artist and beg for a page. Comic book art, famously, for many decades, wasn't worth squat. There are terrifying stories about pages being thrown out, drawn over, or used for colour practice.

Now, it's really easy to find comic art if you want. Artist websites, eBay, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and more. (Comic Art Tracker is currently the most dangerous tab open on my browser). In fact, in our days of global pandemic, a lot of artists are hurting. In comics, many of them count on comic cons to make extra money, or look for more work. Major publishers haven't started scaling back....yet. But I wouldn't be surprised if that happens. If you like art...or comic art, poke around and see if there's something you can buy. A few prints or stickers can help sometimes.

Anyway, this lovely Hellboy came about because I was on Twitter at the right time.

A page from Fell, issue #2
Ben Templesmith got his big break illustrating a book with Steve Niles called 30 Days of Night. It's a vampire story set in the remote community of Barrows, Alaska which gets attacked by vampires during the 30 days of the year when there's no sun. It was later adapted into a movie. It's a concept so genius that I'm convinced half the comic book writers and artists in the world smacked their heads off desks in frustration for not thinking of the idea first.

I liked his artwork, but I'm not the biggest horror fan. But Templesmith did a book called Fell with Warren Ellis. It was a wonderfully creepy book about Detective Richard Fell, who is transferred to a failed city called Snowton. It's smartly written, atmospheric as hell, and frustratingly incomplete. Delays meant the story wasn't finished. The last issue came out in 2008, so barring a miracle, it will probably never be completed.

But I was following Templesmith on Twitter back in 2011, at least partially to see what he would do next, and hoping that the next thing would be more Fell. Instead, one day in December he popped online and said he was taking a handful of commissions so he could buy some Christmas gifts. His commission list was open a grand total of 30 minutes before he closed it due to all the interest.

Guess who was on Twitter during that 30 minute window.

Hellboy: The Third Wish #2
I can't really recall where the idea of getting him to draw Hellboy came from, but it was a bloody genius one. He draws a near perfect Hellboy, so good I'm astonished he's never been asked to draw the book. The idea of a mermaid came from a Hellboy story I had read a few months earlier where he gets trapped in the ocean and has to deal with three mermaid sisters (It's Hellboy. It happens).

When I mentioned the idea to Templesmith via email he loved the idea, but was baffled by one of my conditions. I told him the mermaid couldn't be naked. Which meant explaining Cathy's "No nudity, no graphic violence" rule for art. He was amused, but had no problem with it.

What he sent to me has long been one of my favourite comic book pieces. The weary resignation of Hellboy, who appears to be utterly unsurprised to be underwater. Not sure what good the gun is going to do, but it's a fun touch. And I love the mermaid wrapped around him in that way is a clever way around the no nudity rule. It's also...nicer. I like the intimacy of it. I like it more than if he was fighting the mermaid. The angry fish swimming by are a little detail I love too.

This also has the rare privilege of being one of the pieces on my wall that Cathy really likes. She often doesn't get why I like something or occasionally shakes her head at a piece. But she loves this one. It makes her smile.

Last Five
1. Hi-Rise - The New Pornographers
2. The trip to Pirate's Cove - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
3. Happy pills - Norah Jones
4. Futurism - Deerhunter
5. Battery Kinzie - Fleet Foxes*

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Nunavut update

I've had a few people ask how we're doing in Iqaluit. The answer, like for most of us, is so far, so good.

The three territories remains - and I feel like I should knock on every piece of wooden furniture in the house and then go outside, turn around three times and spit - free of any reported cases of COVID-19. Nunavut ramped things up in a serious way today, which is good to see. I should also note that it may already be here. COVID-19 testing in the Nunavut has been slow so far.

Nunavut might get either very lucky, or very, very unlucky in all of this. It's winter so there are no boats coming in. Only four major airports service the territory - Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal (The mine sites are a whole other thing that I'm not knowledgable enough to get into). With some precautions and travel becoming more restricted, maybe the territory can dodge the worst of it.

Because if we get unlucky and it lands here in a big way, well, I'm trying to think positive thoughts these days. But it won't be good. You're already seeing some communities telling people not to visit or come back. Some are packing up and going out on the land to winter camps or cabins, rather than staying in town.

As for Cathy and I....the schools all closed as of Monday, so Cathy is rattling around the house. She's making lists of things to do, which is good. She needs to keep herself occupied. Sitting on the couch all day isn't her thing. And given her asthma we're trying very hard to be careful.

I'm working from home, so I've got things to keep me busy.

We also finally could take a breath because both our fathers finally got their asses out of Florida and back into Canada (Cathy's dad caught a flight. My dad is driving back and crossed the boarder this evening). They will now get to enjoy self-quarantine for the next couple of weeks. But as I suspect Florida is going to resemble a Mad Max movie in a month's time, I think the minor annoyance is better than the alternative.

Courtesy of the sealift and my recent trip to Ottawa in early February, we're about as well supplied as you can get. So there will be no mad dashes for Lysol wipes or toilet paper. The toilet paper thing is beyond bizarre. And no kidding, now is absolutely the time you should buy a bidet. They're more hygienic and better for the environment.

But yeah, we're pretty well set. Canned items we're good for months. What's in the freezer will probably keep us until mid-May. We figure that once a week, during a quiet time of the day, I'll either walk or cab downtown to get our mail and pick up any groceries. Supplies are still coming in fine, so that's good.

It's also nice that there is a culture of sharing in Nunavut, especially during difficult times. So hopefully means we won't see some of the binge shopping and hording that's happened elsewhere.

I mentioned walking or taking a taxi. About that....our car has been struggling all winter. At first I blamed a faulty block heater and an incompetent garage. But we took her to a new garage last Friday. On Saturday, when taking her out for a test run, they could barely get her back to the shop. So she's down for the count until they can get parts in.

The parts they need come from the United States. Yeah. So we'll see when she's up and running again. Might be in a couple of weeks. Might be a couple of months.

Over all, we're in good shape. Through a bit of geographic luck, we don't have any cases so far and we're well stocked for awhile. Our incomes are secure and there is no imminent financial worries (probably best not to think about our retirement plans). Our vacation plans for this summer are probably thermo nuked, but really, it's three months away. I'm not even thinking about it seriously for awhile yet. And even if they are toast....there are bigger worries in the world.

I'll probably do weekly updates. I suspect I'll be doing a lot more writing on the blog in the coming weeks. Nothing like a global pandemic to break some writer's block.

Take care, stay safe....and keep in touch. I think a lot of us are going to be very isolated in the coming weeks. A few minutes checking in with someone either by text, email or....gasp...a phone call, might make all the difference. Any of my friends or family who want to give me a shout, please do so. And I'll try and be a better friend and keep in touch.

Last Five
1. Our House - Madness
2. The reason why - Ron Sexsmith
3. Na na song - Colleen Power*
4. Los Ageless - St. Vincent
5. Rise up with fists! - Jenny Lewis

Monday, March 16, 2020

Comic Art Collection 8: Amelia Rules

Cover to Amelia Rules: True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know) by Jimmy Gownley, 11 x 14

(Yes, I know things are bad out there, but allow me the distraction to write about something that makes me happy.)

It's not an exact science, but there's a pecking order to how expensive a page of comic art will go for. Interior pages with no major characters and lots of panels tend to be the cheapest. Pages where major heroes appear and fight scenes are further up the pecking ladder. Dramatic splash pages can get big bucks.

At the top of that pecking order tends to be covers. It's not exact, but covers to even obscure indy comics can go for hundreds. Covers for a Marvel/DC comic go for over $1,000. Covers by a recognized name artist on one of those books can go for over $2,000. And the major artists, can get $5,000 or more. For example, this Supergirl cover by Amanda Conner, which I adore, is a little out of my budget range.

I own three covers. To reassure Cathy none of them come close to $1,000, let alone what the higher end ones go for.

(I showed Cathy an auction the other day for a Bill Sienkiewicz cover from his New Mutants issues, one of my all-time favourite comic runs. It was at $16,000 with two days left. I have no doubt it went for north of $20,000. I thought she was going to have a stroke when I jokingly asked if I could get it.)

I'm pretty sure this is the first cover I bought. Amelia Rules is one of those comics I bizarrely fell in love with even though I am clearly not the target demographic. I think I first found the comic in a Free Comic Book Day issue I picked up when I hit a comic book store during a trip to Edmonton in  2004.

I was blown away with just how great the book was. It had the rare ability to be funny to both kids and adults. But at the same time writer/artist Jimmy Gownley was also touching on some topics that would resonate with kids. The lead character is Amelia McBride, whose parents have recently divorced. She and her mom have moved from New York to rural Pennsylvania to live with her aunt, who used to be a semi-famous pop star (Gownley based "Aunt Tanner" on Liz Phair) before she quit the music business under mysterious circumstances.

The books deal with the fallout of the divorce, trying to make new friends, dealing with school, handling scary moments (one of her friend's dad serves overseas and gets injured), and being occasionally too smart or clever for her own good (she's quick, which means she sometimes says cutting things she regrets later. I can empathize). They're also hilarious.

For years I recommended the books to everyone. Cathy has a complete set in her classroom. This page is one of several pieces I have from the series, including a sketch from meeting Gownley at NYCC in 2008. This page was acquired simply by emailing him, gushing over how much I loved the book and asking if he had any pages for sale. This cover was one of the options, which I snapped up.

There's actually one last curious thing about the cover. Here's how it looks in colour when it was published.

You may notice that some characters were removed, and at least one was shifted. I'm guessing they wanted more of the focus on Amelia and for the background to be a little less busy. Either way, I have a pretty cool cover, to a great book. It's one of the centrepieces on my wall.

Last Five
1. Bleeding heart - Regina Spektor
2. Through the morning, through the night - Robert Plant and Allison Krauss*
3. Believe reprise - Sloan
4. New Scotland blues - Joel Plaskett
5. Keep your heart - TV on the Radio

Monday, March 09, 2020

Comic Art Collection 7: The Exhilarating Emeralda

The Exhilarating Emeralda by Ryan Fisher from the Monsters and Dames
book, 11 x 17
While I've been to five major comic cons, they've only been in two cities - New York and Seattle. New York Comic Con is a....thing. It's expanded massively since my first one in 2008. Back then, about 85,000 attended over three and a half days. In 2021, when renovations are finished at the Javtis Center I won't be surprised if that surges past 200,000. Its focus can be as much on celebrities, video games and tv/movies as it is on comics. But it's still one of the major events on the comic con calendar and artists desperately try to get a booth there because even with the expense of being in New York, you can make serious money there. It's also one of the best networking opportunities going.

But I have a huge soft spot for Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I first went in 2017 and returned in 2019. The con is in the middle of downtown Seattle which means you're surrounded by hotels and restaurants. The con is spread over six floors, with lots of family friendly programming. There's a huge number of artists on the west coast who never bother to go east. There are some celebrities, but the focus is on comics. The artist alley takes up the entire 6th floor and the show organizers are committed to bringing in diverse artists. So it's not just white dudes. Everybody is there. It's perhaps my favourite artist alley.

Funko's headquarters is also nearby, for good or ill. Depends on how you feel about those little figures.

So it broke my heart a bit to see ECCC have to be postponed on Friday. Seattle is in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak. And as that's gotten worse, there was increased pressure on the show organizers, ReedPop, to cancel or delay the event. Artists were cancelling and vendors were pulling out. The event was to start this Thursday, so they cut it close.

It was the right call. If I was going this year instead of last year, I would have cancelled. ECCC is one of the four largest cons in North America. Take 100,000+ geeks flying in from around the world, throw them in a convention centre and, I say this love, some of my fellow geeks do not have the best hygiene habits, and it was a disaster waiting to happen. The last thing I needed was to bring that flu back to Nunavut.

Still, there's an element of fandom outraged at the cancellation as it's "only a flu". Honestly, the American reaction to this flu is going to lead to a lot of people dying needlessly. Some already have.

It's the right call, but still a hard one. Even with show organizers rescheduling and offering refunds (they can handle the hit. ReedPop is the largest con organizer in the business), a lot of artist and vendors are out money. I hope the con and all the artists bounce back quickly.

All of which is a long lead in to the piece above. If you don't recognize the character, don't worry about it.....this is her only appearance.

Cover of 2019 Monsters and Dames
One of the absolutely fun things ECCC does every year is create a book called Monsters and Dames. It's a limited edition (my copy from 2019 is 306 of 750) and proceeds from the book's sale go to a local children's hospital. Competition to get into the book is fierce. What I've done, and many other do, is take the book and walk around Artist Alley and get each page signed. There was about 90 pieces in the book, so it can take awhile.

But it's fun. You get to talk to artists you might ordinarily walk by. Sometimes I picked up a little something, but it's not expected. And a kind word about how much you liked their art is appreciated, I think.

In this case, Ryan was one of the last tables I got to. It was Saturday morning and I was desperately trying to finish getting my book signed because trying to do that during Saturday madness is a bad idea.

When I got to his table he was a nice guy. I was chatting with him when I noticed that the original piece of art that was reprinted in the book was on his table. The conversation went something like this.

What the page looks like coloured. Likely
scanned and done digitally.
Me: Oh cool, it's the piece from the book.
Ryan: Yeah, it's for sale if you're interested.
Me: (Preparing the "It's really nice but out of my budget" line, because by Saturday I'm normally deep into my reserves). How much are you asking?
Ryan: $60.
Me: (blinks). No. Seriously.
Ryan: Seriously. It's $60 if you want it.
Me: Sold. How the hell did no one get this before me?
Ryan: It's been there since Thursday. I'm just glad someone wanted it.

Pricing art, when you're starting out, is hard. You want people to buy your stuff, but you should also get value for the amount of work you put into it. Getting your art in the Monsters and Dames book is a big deal for ECCC. It's 11x17 so it's not small. He put a lot of hours into that piece, especially when you consider he probably coloured it as well. Later that evening, at the charity art auction, I saw other pieces from the book, not as nice as his if I'm being honest, go for north of $200.

So yeah, I got a great deal, which is hanging on my wall. I hope he did well the rest of the con...and I notice from his website he's supposed to have a new book coming out, which I'll have to give a look.

As for why I like it, well, I always have a soft spot for magicians in fishnets (see Zatanna). And I really do like the concept of the piece. Finally, Ryan's a solid artist. I think the monster is a touch murky and could have been better done, but I might be nitpicking.

Last Five
1. Killer Queen - Queen
2. 24 Frames (live) - Jason Isbell and the 40 Unit*
3. New York State of Mind - Billy Joel
4. Doing it- Charli XCX
5. Porchlight - Neko Case

Monday, March 02, 2020

Comic Art Collection 6: Red Sonja

Red Sonja by Stephanie Buscema, 9 x 12

A few things about this piece....

1. Cathy has only two rules about the art hanging on my wall. Nothing sexually explicit and nothing graphically violent. Those are pretty understandable and easy to follow rules and I abide by them. I mention them because this piece is about as close as I come to breaking that rule. I think I get away with it in this case (and Cathy has never mentioned having a problem with this piece) because it's cartoon-ish enough to not be a problem.

2. For years I never really cared for Red Sonja. Sword and sorcery was never really my thing. And Red Sonja was always too far into the T&A side of things. Plus, there is some truly horrific elements to her origin which just made her unpalatable for me to read.

Which goes to show that the right writer working on a character can do wonders. Gail Simone took over the book in 2013 (with artist Walter Geovani on interiors) and transformed the character, purging the really troubling elements of her origin, giving her much more agency. And for a woman who runs around in a chainmail bikini Simone did a reasonable enough job of explaining why. She also introduced a real delightful sense of humour to the series. Sonja's growing frustration in one story arc about not being able to get laid because she simply doesn't understand the fuss about needing a bath first is maybe crude, but it's hilarious crude. The entire run can be found in one collected hardcover.

By the way, if you're not following Simone on Twitter you are depriving yourself of one the most genuine sources of joy on social media. She is a remarkable presence.

3. So why did I get this piece? During Simone's run her publisher, Dynamite Comics did a lot of variant covers for each issue, often featuring some of the best women artists in the business. Covers like this.

Like most art, I don't know why I like it, I just do. So I tracked down the artist, Stephanie Buscema. She's not doing a lot of comic book work at the moment as far as I can tell, focusing on her own designs, many of them Hallowe'en themed. But at the time she was putting a few pieces up her site. The piece above wasn't one my first choice, but that got snapped up before I could ask about it. But I'm really happy with this one.

I also faced another challenge....Buscema was reluctant to ship to Canada. Which sounds silly, but shipping art from the United States to Canada can be a nuisance. The shipping and insurance costs can add an extra heft to the cost. And it can be a nuisance for artists to deal with FedEx or UPS. I know a couple that won't do it. However, she agreed to try this one time, mostly as an experiment to see how big a nuisance it would be.

It's been a few years since I bought this, but she said she wouldn't be doing it again after the above piece. I don't know if she's changed her mind recently, but I'm glad she made the exception for me.

Also, I notice the price of her original artwork has gone up significantly in recent years. Good for her. I'm glad I was able to get one beforehand, where it hangs on my wall.

Last Five
1. Just breathe - Pearl Jam*
2. Slow down Jo - Monsters of Folk
3. You let me down - Joel Plaskett
4. Human wheels - John Mellencamp
5. Don't forget me - Neil Diamond