Christmas Music – Why it doesn’t work for everyone and why Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas is Still Terrible

I like Christmas music.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, or read the blog for any length of time (hello!) you’ll know I’ve talked about Christmas music before. Heck, I was even immortalized in a comic, sort of, as being really into Christmas music. And you know, a disclaimer, I shit on something pretty hard in this blog post (spoiler: it’s in the title) and I realize it’s a difficult time of year, people take comfort and solace where they can, and going knives-out on something people love isn’t like, delightful of me, but I was literally moved to rush to the computer and write this down, so consider it, at the very least, from the heart, and not just random meanness.

So yeah, Christmas music.

As the world has gotten darker over the past few years (was going to comment on this but I think it’s just a given at this point) it’s taken me longer to get into the Christmas spirit, it’s been harder to enjoy the Christmas music that I used to enjoy playing at the stroke of November 1st every year.

(I mean, Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October–there’s no bullwark between the onslaught of Adult-Christmas, aka Halloween, and Actual Christmas, in Canada.  Though that’s all but disappeared in America too, despite some staunch opposition.)

I happened to be out in a mall yesterday and I heard my first Christmas music in the wild–a cover of the Paul McCartney Wonderful Christmastime–and I realized I rather enjoyed it. So tonight as we were cooking dinner, cleaning our apartment, and just generally living, Andrew and I put on the Spotify Christmas mix “Christmas is Coming.” Not quite digging-out and setting up the more than 5000 Christmas mp3s I have stashed away, but, a nice way to ease into the season.

And that’s where I heard it, Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas, my most hated Christmas song. And readers, it has not improved with age.

Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas is a bad song. It is every single thing wrong with Christmas music, that people who hate Christmas music complain about when they complain about it. The melody is awful, short, repetitive. There’s nothing in the music that places it at Christmas specifically, it doesn’t really fit. It’s not even sing-songy. There’s this wash of strings but then a light supermarket jazz piano is laid over top. They don’t meld, but then, there’s a bunch of things that don’t meld, including his voice which is trying to be an American-accented working-class country, or pop, or rock sort of thing, every kind of popular music appeal amounting to nothing. There’s a way to do this that’s classy, that would elevate the material–imagine Tom Jones on those lyrics, or at least those sentiments, and he’d be so much better. Speaking of those lyrics, they’re saccharine. And not just Christmas Pop Music Saccharine. They take something relateable about the season–driving home from whatever city you’ve moved to, to your hometown to see your family at Christmastime–and turn it into adult contemporary mush, and no, his delivery doesn’t help that part either. He’s wistful for the events that are occurring as they occur in the song, trying to sell you on just how wistful the song is without earning it. It’s less honest about it’s emotional manipulation than Christmas Shoes, and therefore actually worse. It sounds like Muzak. It is the Muzak-version of it’s own song. And the percussion is trite, too.

So I sing for you
Though you can’t hear me
When I get trough
And feel you near me
Driving in my car
I’m driving home for Christmas
Driving home for Christmas
With a thousand memories
– Driving Home for Christmas

And people in the UK fucking love it. And they’ve fallen more in love with it every year.

Released officially in 1998, the single peaked at #54 in the singles charts around Christmastime. It’s been periodically re-released since then, and last year’s 2017 re-release saw it hit #14 on the single’s chart–of all music, not just Christmas music. It’s considered one of the UK’s top-ten Christmas tunes. People love Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas… in the United Kingdom. In Canada and the U.S.A., it’s almost entirely unknown, as is Chris Rea.

There are any number of bits of Christmas music that I deeply love from my childhood, that I listen to to this day, and that set the teeth of my friends entirely on edge. The Boney M Christmas albums are so good, but German R&B and Disco covers of classic religious songs are not for everyone. Likewise my favourite version of Baby It’s Cold Outside is actually the big-band version by Steve and Eydie (Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme) from 1964, the over-the-top acting and huge orchestral sound really selling the innocence of a song that has a lot of otherwise problematic elements. I get liking music, particularly in this genre, that other people hate. A big component of why I like it, and why a lot folks like Christmas music in general, is nostalgia, and the nostalgic colouring of our feelings. The Christmas music of our youth, or a certain time in our life, is going to always help us smooth out any of the problems with a song (or genre!). “Yeah I know it’s cheesy,” we say. “But I can’t help it, I grew up with The Count from Sesame Street singing All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,’ and that’s my version!”

It’s also why there’s so much argument over the best version of Christmas songs–it’s a limited repertoire after all and adding to the Christmas song cannon is difficult as hell. So with very few exceptions, the ‘best’ version of a Christmas song to most folks is the one for which they have the strongest personal connection, either nostalgia, their existing love of the singer, or a version of the song that meant a lot to them. Michael Buble has basically recorded the entire cannon of Christmas songs at this point, and his isn’t the best version of any of them, but even my Mom, who provided all of the music that imprinted on me, who should know better, would still rather listen to him than Dean Martin, or Elvis, or whomever. Even after the atrocity that is Santa, Buddy. Inconceivable. But, here we are.

So it’d be easy to say that it’s just a lack of nostalgia, a lack of early introduction to Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas 30 years ago, that’s preventing me (and, TBH, North America) from appreciating this song that is inescapable in British Christmas celebrations. Except. Except. There is…

SLADE.

Alt Link

Slade recorded Merry X’Mas Everybody in 1973 and it hit the top of the charts at Christmas. A UK-only release, from a glam rock band, the song has every single component of Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas, done right, and done better, even including being almost entirely unknown outside the UK. I actually didn’t discover it until my mid-20s, on the Warren Ellis forum, where the assorted Brits would talk about deeply loving this song I’d never heard of. Of course, I loved it right away upon finally listening to it, with no nostalgia, no rose-coloured glasses, the exact opposite reaction to Driving.

Merry X’Mas Everybody is about Christmas, yeah, but it also evokes Christmas, and you can’t quite tell is it’s pro-Christmas or anti-Christmas, it presents Christmas as omnipresent, inevitable, inescapable. It ends with a literal scream, IT’S CHRISTMASSSS!, the sort of childish exuberance at 5am Christmas morning that simultaneously lights-up and makes-weary every parent. It’s neither working-class nor upper class, it’s certainly not posh, and it isn’t wallowing in the difficulties of the year, but it also isn’t ignoring them either. The entire song, actually, is surprisingly ambivalent about Christmas, simply stating things that are happening and asking questions. It is drenched in the nostalgia of the season, like Driving, but it’s also self-aware in a way that Rea deliberately avoids. Hell, Rea, manages the line “Driving to Holy Land” to refer to like, his parent’s house, with a straight face, while Slade points out the hypocrisy of your Grandmother, who is up and dancing to contemporary music, including, of course, the song to which you are listening, Slade’s song.

Musically, it’s a solid track. It’s right in the middle of Slade’s oeuvre, with some lovely concessions to the holiday season instrumentally. The singer’s giving it 110%, and the bass line in particularly is great. It’s very of its time of course, but so solid that it’s also a top-10 Christmas hit in the UK still, and gets a ton of radio play.  It’s just on the edge of being a cheesy novelty song (or at least, more of one than all Christmas music), but it legitimately rocks. To my mind its more successful than the other great glam rock Christmas track, Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, which is also similarly exhuberant and joyous but too relentlessly positive, it doesn’t leave room for anything other than agreement. Slade invites you into the madness, Wizzard forces you to comply.

Which brings us back to Driving Home For Christmas. Without the nostalgic attachment, the repetition over decades, it’s failed to make an impression in North America, despite re-releases and its appearance on that Spotify list. As someone who seeks out Christmas music every year it’s made an incredibly negative impression on me though. It’s a bad song, badly performed. People don’t get excited about it (although I imagine the comments section will be perhaps full of angry Brits), but when people do speak of it positively to me, they usually describe it as a respite, a slower and more reflective Christmas standard that you can hum along to, that fades into the background without drawing attention to itself, without making itself obnoxious (or in any way notable) and that negative space in between other more ‘demanding’ Christmas music earns it a lot of points in a season that can feel overwhelming.

I can get behind that. Like I said at the very top, by way of disclaimer, people should find the things that they need, and enjoy them, and for a whole Kingdom that’s the sleepy sweet embrace of Chris Rea’s snowy, traffic-light-filled Christmas tune. But to me, the very best Christmas music, going back to the translated-from-German secular music and even the religious carols, are about observing a time and a place and an event, about the recognition of good (Birth of The Saviour! Trees!) and the bad (freezing to death because of being poor but being saved through the magnanimity of Kings, a somewhat rare occurrence), and about celebration. Stevie Wonder’s One Little Christmas Tree is basically perfect, for example. I could never connect with Rea’s song because, despite literally driving home for Christmas every year, it never felt real to me.  Neither as fake and bouncy as a manufactured Christmas Love Song, nor with the biting realism of the difficulty of the season like Rilo Kiley’s Xmas Cake, it just seemed so middle-of-the road, so self-serious about its mundanity, so lacking in profundity despite its earnestness. Also it fucking sets my teeth on edge. I almost wish I had that same nostalgic lens as many friends to view the song through, so I could save my poor tooth enamel.

Ah well, there’s always The Count to soothe my soul.

  • Christopher Butcher

I’ve been on some podcasts and been interviewsed!

Heya!

Given that I spend way too much time on twitter, I sort of prioritize announcing things like this in-the-moment there, and have neglected to update this blog with a few podcast appearances and interviews over the last little while. I actually just recorded an episode for a new podcast by Jeremy Melloul that’ll go up in early September, I believe, and it reminded me to update y’all here too!

Speech Bubble Podcast, with Aaron Broverman: I joined my friend and ex-employer Peter Birkemoe to do an exit-interview, of sorts, on leaving The Beguiling, and its recent move and upgrade. Apparently Peter and I play off of each other pretty well. 🙂

True North Country Comics Podcast, with John Swimmer: A short interview about the lead-up to TCAF 2018. I also did another short interview about TCAF’s many trips to Japan, and what we hope to accomplish there. [Link 2]

Interview at TCJ, with Kim Jooha: This one was a great, long, slightly rambling conversation with writer Kim Jooha. It was also a little bit weird because I’d already accepted the job offer from VIZ, but had to keep quiet about it… I think it turned out great though. It’s long! Settle in before reading. 😉

Hopefully in lieu of any fresh writing here, you will delight in and enjoy these other instances of me sharing my opinions about comics. For now, anyway. 🙂

  • Christopher

Top photo by me, from Osaka, just cuz I thought it was a nice photo

Chris @ San Diego Comic-Con 2018!

Hey folks! I’m headed off to San Diego for Comic-Con again next week, and I’m pretty stoked at being on a bunch of panels, I think a record of six panels? That’s pretty good.  🙂 I’ll be very busy, especially on Thursday! I’m not otherwise hanging out at like, a booth, or whatever, so if you wanna get a hold of me hit one of these panels up and we can hang out…as I run to the next panel. Or just drop me an email I guess? 🙂

Panels and descriptions!

Thurs July 19 @ 12pm: Comics, Start Here! Room 11.  It’s hard to believe, but comics used to be the black sheep of reading and were once synonymous with juvenile delinquency. Today, they’re at the center of pop culture! But just because graphic novels are popular, that doesn’t mean everyone knows how to use them in their library. Never fear, CBLDF is here! Panelists will help you make the most of this incredible creative medium for all of your patrons. Learn about CBLDF’s new research on cataloging comics and get helpful tips about collection development and defense that will help everyone in your library love comics. Featuring CBLDF board member Katherine Keller, librarian and advocate Amie Wright, researchers Staci Crouch, Hallie Clawson, and Allison Bailund, and ME!

Thurs July 19 @ 2pm: Queer Comics for Queer Kids. @ San Diego Central Library: Libraries are often safe spaces for teens who find it hard to fit in elsewhere, and this includes queer teens. It is important to keep collections that reflect these teens, both so that they can find themselves in fiction, just as we all should, and so that their peers can see them normalized. It’s also important to know how to market these items, they help no one if they simply gather dust on the shelf! Presenters will talk about queer comics and manga, how they’ve affected them personally, why they’re important to library collections, and some recommendations to start you off right. Speakers are Vincent Zalkind (North Hollywood Branch, Los Angeles Public Library), Kelly Quinn Chiu (Santa Clara City Library), Angela Ocana (Eugene Public Library), Steenz (Lion Forge Comics), and ME! Moderated by Kathryn Kania (Pelham Public Library, New Hampshire).

Thurs July 19 @ 5pm: Manga Publishing Industry Roundtable. Room 29AB. Manga in North America is enjoying a new Golden Age. More books are hitting the shelves in bookstores and comic shops, and more titles than ever are available in digital formats the same day/date as Japan. There’s more anime streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and Crunchyroll, and that’s driving interest in more manga and a more diverse range of titles than ever before. Get a taste of what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s next for manga from top publishing pros, including Ben Applegate (associate director, publisher services at Penguin Random House), David Brothers (editor, VIZ Media), Rachel Thorn (manga translator and associate professor in the faculty of manga, Kyoto Seika University), Erik Ko (chief of operations, Udon Entertainment), and Christopher Butcher (Toronto Comic Arts Festival, VIZ Media). Moderated by Deb Aoki (Publishers Weekly, Anime News Network).

Fri July 20 @ 4pm-5pm: LGBTQ Graphic Novels. @ San Diego Central Library: Today’s most dynamic creators are in kids’ comics and they’re portraying queer characters in fresh ways! Featuring Aminder Dhaliwal (Woman World), Molly Knox Ostertag (The Witch Boy), Ivy Noelle Weir (Archival Quality), ME!, and moderator Kate Monnin.

Fri July 20 @ 6pm-7pm: Best and Worst Manga of 2018. Room 4. There’s a lot of manga available in English now, but what’s really worth reading? A panel of opinionated manga bloggers and comics curmudgeons spotlight the best new manga that hit the shelves in the past year. In rapid-fire rounds, see them rave about their favorite continuing series! Watch them rant about the excruciatingly mediocre manga that they were forced to read (so you won’t have to)! Find out what Brigid Alverson (SmashPages, School Library Journal), Zac Bertschy (Anime News Network), Christopher Butcher (Toronto Comic Arts Festival), and Deb Aoki (Publishers Weekly) loved and loathed to read in the past year. Hear about their picks for the most anticipated upcoming releases for fall 2018 and beyond, and discover their favorite underappreciated manga gems that are worth picking up.

Sat July 21 @ 5pm-6pm: Manga: An intro for Comics Fans. Room 28DE. Are you a longtime comics fan who also has interest in anime and manga but don’t really know how to dive in? These panelists are here to help! ComiXologists Matt Kolowski and Kiersten Wing a ask a panel of comics luminaries and tastemakers (who are also secretly otaku) to recommend the best of manga past and present. Panelists include Chris Butcher (co-founder, TCAF; consulting editor, VIZ Media), Deb Aoki (Anime News Networks), Stephanie Borria (Media Do International), Kristian Donaldson (The Massive, DMZ), and Ivan Salazar (comiXology). Tell them your favorite comic, movie, or TV show, and they’ll give you a manga to match.

Time Flies, Apparently

Yikes. I can’t actually believe I didn’t update before TCAF this year, or at all in the last 8 months. I mean, I can, just like I can believe I’m coming up on one year working with VIZ even though that feels like just yesterday. But hey, time flies.

Anyway, TCAF was this past weekend, and pretty darned good. Thanks to all the amazing staff and volunteers, all of the great exhibiting creators and publishers, and to the 25k+ that showed up at TCAF events for 2018. 🙂

Here’s to hoping for more posting here over the next year.

  • Christopher

It’s travel season! New York, England, Tokyo and more

Hey folks,

Just a quick update as I’m going to be traveling a bunch this autumn and hitting up some comics events! Very exciting! 😀

  • I’ll be at New York Comic Con from Friday-Sunday this year, October 6th to 8th, with my lovely and talented husband Andrew also joining me.  I don’t think I have any panels or things, I’m there to mostly network and talk to folks about my new gig. If you wanna grab a coffee hit me up.
  • Then the NEXT weekend, I’m leading a large contingent of Canadians (under the auspices of TCAF) to Merry Olde England to attend my 5th-straight Lakes International Comic Arts Festival, October 13th to 15th, in Kendal, England. I’ve written about the Festival before on this here website  and if you want to know more about the Festival, check out the official website.
  • Lastly, the TCAF train keeps rolling as we lead a different, large contingent of Canadians to Tokyo, Japan for a series of events! These will include Kaigai Manga Festa, Comic Art Tokyo, Brave and the Bold, and Tokyo Comic-Con, from November 22nd right through December 3rd-ish.

I’m gonna try real hard to do separate posts about the England and Tokyo trips (here and on the TCAF site) but I just wanted to have this info in one place in case you wanted to say hi. 🙂

Best,

  • Christopher

Catch me in San Diego & San Francisco!

Hi folks!

So I haven’t posted about it here yet but I have a new job. After 14 years I’ve left the good folks at The Beguiling, and I’m now a Consulting Editor with VIZ Media. I’m psyched! It’s gonna be great! You can read the official announcement here:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/newsbrief/index.html?record=1391

I’m still working with everyone on the TCAF team to put on The Toronto Comic Arts Festival every year, and I’m still helping out at Page & Panel: The TCAF Shop, our retail store opened two-and-a-half years ago. Everything’s copacetic with The Beguiling too, it was just a great opportunity with VIZ that I didn’t want to pass up.

So! That means I’m going into Comic-Con this week wearing a different hat than usual, AND it means that I’ll be heading down to the VIZ offices in San Francisco following Comic-Con for about a week. If you wanna catch me in either city, drop me a line! chris@comics212.net

Speaking of Comic-Con, I’ll be on three panels this year! They’re all pretty great too:

Thursday, July 20th

Editing Comics
What does an editor do? What goes into editing a book? This program is a discussion of how professional editors from the industry’s most prestigious publishers work with authors to make awesome comics and graphic novels as well as what else goes into an editor’s job. This program is for people interested in the behind the scenes of publishing as well as for aspiring and young writers and artists. With Robin Herrera (Oni Press), Cassandra Pelham (Scholastic), Mark Siegel (First Second Books), and Shannon Watters (BOOM! Studios). Moderated by Christopher Butcher (TCAF).
Thursday July 20, 2017 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Room 4

Publishers Weekly: Selling Comics to a Diverse Audience
It’s no secret that the audience for comics has become far more diverse over the last decade. As more children, women, people of color, and queer readers discover comics-and more work is created for these audiences-reaching out on a retail level is even more important. PW senior editor Calvin Reid talks with comics retailers and booksellers about expanding the readership and standing up for representation and what works and what doesn’t. With Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling), Terence Irvins (Kinokuniya), Jennifer Haines (The Dragon), and more.
Thursday July 20, 2017 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Room 23ABC

Friday, July 21

Manga Superheroes? Super Differences Between Japan and the US
From Astro Boy to Ultraman, Sailor Moon to One-Punch Man, the super-powered characters of manga, anime, and live-action tokusatsu TV shows wear costumes and fight bad guys, but how do they differ from their U.S. counterparts, and how do they reflect differences in U.S. and Japanese societies, values, and politics? Join Andy Nakatani (editor-in-chief, Weekly Shonen Jump), David Brothers (4thletter!, Comics Alliance), Chris Butcher (director, Toronto Comic Arts Festival), and Brigid Alverson (MangaBlog, Good Comics For Kids, Smash Pages) for this fun and super-charged discussion, moderated by Deb Aoki (Publishers Weekly, Anime News Network).
Friday July 21, 2017 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Room 4

Alright! My plane is boarding. See you in San Diego!

  • Chris

New Usagi Yojimbo Figure & Comic from Nickelodeon at Comic-Con

I’m on the PR list for Comic-Con this year and I’m getting a deluge of emails. One of the ones that I liked best though was the news that there’d be a new box-set featuring a brand-new Usagi Yojimbo action figure from his upcoming run on the TMNT Animated series, Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! That’s nice enough, Stan Sakai is a great fellow and deserves every bit of attention for his long-running Samurai-rabbit serial, but the best part is that the figure comes with a comic reprinting two of Usagi’s crossover appearances in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series! Nick’s putting the comics back into comic-con!

Here’s the scoop:

Nickelodeon is bringing three decades’ worth of iconic characters to life at this year’s SDCC, with retail items that celebrate memorable ‘90s shows like Hey Arnold!Rocko’s Modern LifeThe Ren & Stimpy Show and Rugrats, and fan-favorite properties including SpongeBob SquarePantsTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe Loud HouseAvatar and Danny Phantom.

-snip-

Playmates Exclusive Samurai Rabbit Usagi Yojimbo Figure

In Nickelodeon’s 2017 Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the samurai rabbit Usagi Yojimbo will reunite with the Ninja Turtles once again for a three-part story arc that begins airing July 23.  The San Diego Comic-Con exclusive of the 2017 Usagi Yojimbo new character design action figure comes in a limited edition of 350.

This item features the newly designed Usagi Yojimbo action figure in a 5” scale, dressed in his classic blue robe, and comes with his traditional Samurai swords.  Also included are two additional exclusive, interchangeable Usagi heads, his pet Tokage lizard, and a flag with Usagi’s signature emblem.  All this is presented in a collector edition 5th panel storybook package, with a rerun of the 1987 Comic Book “Leonardo Meets Usagi Yojimbo in Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew,” and the 1989 Comic Book “The Treaty.”

SRP: $30.00

3 cheers for Stan Sakai, I know a low of people that have been eagerly awaiting another Usagi Yojimbo to put on their (our!) shelves… it’s been like a decade since the last one! 😀

(Also I gotta admit I absolutely love Powered Toast Man. Hopefully they make an additional figure where he’s actually pointing at his butt… check out the full PR and images under the cut to see what I’m talking about):

Continue reading New Usagi Yojimbo Figure & Comic from Nickelodeon at Comic-Con

The Problem with Marvel

The Problem with Marvel* is that there is no problem. Honestly. Marvel is, absolutely, integrally, Marvel, and not much is terribly different at the company now from the past 20 or so years that I’ve been paying attention.

However, for the sake of argument, if there is a problem with Marvel it’s that it’s still Marvel, and not, say, what people would prefer Marvel were. Which is to say, Marvel hasn’t significantly changed as a publishing entity in the past 20 years, despite being acquired by Disney, despite the aggressive movie slate creating millions of new fans worldwide. Marvel is Marvel in the face of enormous change around it. The fandom has changed (though there’s still about 30,000 old-timers hanging in there, the Marvel fauthful), the publishing industry isn’t the same publishing industry, and the discussion (‘the discourse’) is so very, very different too. Marvel largely can’t understand its new fandom, can’t understand the new publishing industry, and its certainly having a hard time understanding those with legitimate criticism as anything other than ‘internet complainers that we should not pay attention to.’ These changes didn’t happen overnight, they were gradual and consistent. The fan demographic has been shifting for years and the discussion has changed alongside it. There’ve always been voices of protest, but there are more of them and they are louder now, and there’s a much richer chorus. It’s harder to ignore.

Not, apparently, impossible though.

Speaking of ignoring dissenting voices. I have a lot of sympathy for comic shop retailers, having been a comic shop retailer for a few decades. Marvel, when the stars align, is tremendously easy to sell and a tremendously consistent seller. I’ll even go out on a limb here and say most direct market comic shop retailers would prefer to sell Marvel to anything else (including rivals at DC Comics), from my observations of them and discussions with them. Marvel is a tremendous part of their business, largely low-hanging fruit, and they understand it. They’re invested in it, and have been for a long time in most cases. When Marvel doesn’t sell well, when it’s out of sync with the world around it, retailers’ jobs become difficult, their thin margins evaporate, and their investment in Marvel is shown to have been a fool’s game.

I had a lot invested in Marvel for a long time. Now? Not so much. If this were five years ago I’d say I grew up, but I’m trying to be less inflammatory in my old age, so let me instead say simply that I moved on. Yes, these characters are [still] tremendously important to a number of people. Yes, there are touchstone moments from the history of Marvel comics that were tremendously important to me too–when Northstar came out in Alpha Flight I got to come out a little bit.  But at a certain point I recognized that Marvel is Marvel, it’s designed to be (and stay) Marvel, and I’m not gonna be that closeted teen forever. I’m not gonna be that comic collector, I’m not gonna thrill to seeing Spider-Man web up Megatron, I’m not even gonna be awed viewing the 60s Marvel heroes through the lens of Phil Sheldon until the end of my days. I’m gonna move on and yeah, I’m still gonna enjoy a good yarn, but I probably won’t be able to enjoy it very much if I know that people are seriously hurt by it. It’s the difference between loving something, enjoying it, and being able to appreciate it despite its flaws. It’s being able to see that the emperor has no clothes but he’s still pretty hot if you squint and as long as he doesn’t open his mouth and ruin it.

In their most recent actions, Marvel more-or-less doubled down on being Marvel. I won’t get into specifics, but it looks like Marvel still doesn’t quite want to be anything other than Marvel. Or maybe it doesn’t know how? Regardless, they clearly see their standard operating procedure as no problem. So who am I to argue, right? We all want more of the same, slightly shifted. Heroes Reborn, Reborn, Reborn, Reborn. Alex Ross brought back to give us the old razzle-dazzle, to help us be awed by Superheroes again. Like I said, it’s not for me anymore, but Marvel seems convinced it’s going to work, that there are no problems that can’t be fixed by renumbering their books.

Ultimately Marvel is Marvel, and that ain’t mine anymore. Maybe after this it won’t be yours either? I just hope that in deciding to double down, in deciding to stay the course after years of growing dissatisfaction from the new fans of their characters, disenfranchised older fans of their comics, retailers who say that the product has stopped selling, and the people doing the work to try and illuminate issues around sensitivity and inclusion… well, honestly, I hope no one gets hurt, no one’s store closes, no one becomes disenfranchised by comics as a whole because the medium outside of Marvel is truly awesome. Heck, it’s even awesome AT Marvel every once in a while.

And if not, if Marvel means too much to you and you’re gonna hang in there regardless? I hope you can take solace in the fact that, at some point soon thanks to the movies and the cartoons and the merch, there are more people that wanna read the smooching-adventures of Steve and Bucky than want to see them on opposite sides of a dumb nazi brain-washing scheme, and I bet the folks at Disney will have no problem finding someone else to make that happen, because Marvel may be Marvel, but Money is Money.

– Christopher
*: Marvel Publishing, i.e.: Marvel Comics.

25 Days of Christmas

Here are some things I like about Christmas, and Christmas things from this year mostly. Pictures and Comics and Songs and things. I’ll keep them all on one post so I don’t push everything else off the front page. I might not update every day, but I’ll have something for every day from the 1st to the 25th. Merry Christmas. 🙂

December 19th: Christmas Lights

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Jon Klassen posted this picture of one of his neighbours’ houses Christmas setups and it’s so, so good. I’m looking forward to getting in the car and driving through the fancy neighbourhoods to look at the lights. 🙂

Also, back when I had cable I was a sucker for those “Most Extreme Christmas Lights Ever!” shows.

Click for a larger version.

December 18th: Office Christmas Party (Kids in the Hall)

Actually now all I can think about are various Kids in the Hall Christmas skits.

December 17th: Did you know Dave Foley from Kids In The Hall did a Christmas Special? Called “The True Meaning of Christmas Specials?”

I DIDN’T KNOW THAT.  I love the straight-up KITH Christmas Special (The Queen and Buddy Cole, I mean honestly), and I had no idea this existed until Dave Foley himself tweeted it, so I don’t feel that terrible about linking it on Youtube.

December 16th: How Many Of These Ways Have You Ruined Christmas?

Have you Hung Stockings By The Chimney Half-Assedly? Donated Blood to Toys for Tots? Or worse? Take this quiz to find out all of the ways you have royally fucked up Christmas over at Clickhole.

December 15th:  Happy Snowflake Day! It’s The Clone High Holiday Special

My favourite contemporary Christmas television special is The Clone High Holiday Special, in which the characters celebrate the just-invented Snowflake Day, casting aside all of the “exclusionary” holiday celebrations that have preceded it.  Today is the day of the first viewing of this contemporary classic, and it gets better every single time I see it.

December 14th: Christmas Cheer

We had a great event at Page & Panel on the 14th, with Jon Klassen, Matt Forsythe, Kyo Maclear, and John Martz at the shop talking about their new picture books. It was fantastically successful, but the best part was getting to hang out and have a drink and a bite to eat with some great folks afterwards. Andrew and I aren’t doing a Christmas Party this year cuz we’re just too busy to organize anything, so getting to socialize and raise a cup of cheer is just that much nicer, that much more important.

The evening before I got to have a very rare drink with Mark Askwith and Jim Zub, shooting the shit and ‘solving comics’ as Jim described, and while I had a few too many, it was just too good of a conversation to leave.

A couple of nice nights.

December 13th: Overwatch Winter Wonderland!

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It’s really, really good you guys. 🙂 I’m playing on PS4 as Comics212 if you want to add me.

December 12th: It’s Andrew’s Birthday!

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My husband Andrew was born today! Hooray! He is literally the first person I’ve encountered with a December birthday whose birthday didn’t get lumped in with Christmas. He is very well adjusted about this, actually. Still, shout out to all the December babies who got a ‘combination Christmas & Birthday gift’, that’s rough.

December 11th: Mariah Carey Wrote The Last Great Christmas Song: Deal With It.

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“In 1994, I wrote the last good Christmas song. Deal with it, world.

“It’s called “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” I wrote it with a man named Walter Afanasieff, who went by the nickname “Baby Love” in the 80s. We won’t speak of him again.

“Back to the song. Not only was I on top of the damn world when I released it, but give it a listen. It’s got bell chimes. I do that “ooooohh hooooo oooooh baby” thing. There are so many octaves. The message that love matters more than gifts connects with everyone in a “nah, not really, but I’m not gonna disagree publicly with it” way.”

Read the whole thing, it’s great: http://www.secondcity.com/mariah-carey-last-good-christmas-song

December 10th: Community Christmas

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I love the Christmas episodes of Community. They’re always the right mix of incredibly heavy and blissfully light. This one struck a chord because I was bullied in school and the school bullies sort of brought that back, but I did love that the characters had each others’ backs. My favourite though is probably the GLEE send-up, though the best is obviously the Claymation one.

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December 9th: Santas by Chris Schweizer!

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Chris Schweizer, the creator of the “Crogan’s” series of graphic novels from Oni Press, came up with this cool idea for a bunch of the historically-informed real and mythical characters that informed our idea of the contemporary Santa Claus. You can buy some of the original art, as well as papercraft versions, at his online store: http://crogan.bigcartel.com/

You can also see his (better) explanation of the project on his Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chris.schweizer.comics/posts/10101571439405027?pnref=story

December 8th: Christmas Eve, 3am

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I made my first Christmas mix CD back in 2003. It was themed around always having to work when I went home for Christmas, because deadlines. Some things never change.

I made an online version for people to download (PIRACY!) and I mailed out burned CDs to some of my friends too. I really massaged the hell out of it too, using a mixing software that had songs smoothly fading into one another, big volume changes to have songs start with a bang (the fanfare at the beginning of Baby It’s Cold Outside was particularly nice next to the jazzy fade on Ella’s Have Yourself…). I was so proud of this, and I think it still holds up.

I actually don’t have a copy of this anymore, James Lucas Jones might have the last copy in existence and was nice enough to send me this photo of it so I could see the track listing. I made a Spotify playlist of it too, so you could listen if you like: https://open.spotify.com/user/christopher.butcher/playlist/2zM1LeB1Vo0YRdXGyjCbqp . Sadly due to the music industry being weird and fucked, a bunch of songs on the list there aren’t on Spotify (although I get that Spotify itself is a sort of shitty service for musicians), so you’ll have to to pause the playlist and insert your own copies of Slade’s MERRY CHRISTMAS to kick things off, and the lovely tension of Bing and Bowie on Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy. It’s not the right version of Anne Murray’s Winter Wonderland either, I need the one from my youth, from the late 70s or early 80s. Ah well. Ah well.

I made maybe 3 or 4 of these mixes over the years, and I always think I’ll make another, and then I never get a chance to because Christmas has gotten too busy to even write these little blog updates, let alone actually spend 4 or 5 hours making the perfect Christmas mix. Maybe one day I’ll get to make another. 🙂

December 7th: Happy Holidays from Overwatch…?

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I’ve been playing a lot of Overwatch on PS4 lately. It’s a nice easy way to get out of my own head for a while. I was delighted when I saw this posted, that there’ll be a special holiday event for the game, presumably with Christmas/Holiday-themed outfits for the characters and more. 🙂

December 6th: Michael DeForge and Jillian Tamaki’s Holiday Illustration

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Released on Twitter and apparently printed and posted around the city. Love it. 🙂

December 5th: Krampusnacht

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December 5th is Krampusnacht, or the night of the Krampus, when Santa’s dark twin comes to whip the bad children with a switch, or steal them away. So, you know. This particular Krampus illustration hangs on my wall at home, and it’s by Matt Forsythe. I got it from a Krampus art show in 2010, I think that’s where I maybe met Anne Koyama for real, for the first time? Anyway, she’s great, and Matt’s great, and this illustration is great too.

December 4th: Illumination in Japan

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(Various Tokyo Illumination installations)

I’m not able to go to Japan this Christmas or New Years as I have for the past few years, although I did get a record three trips there this year and I realize how lucky I am for that. I still really miss it though, there’s something about Christmas there that’s very deeply different than here in Canada… but in this instance, I really like their Christmas Lights displays. They call them “illuminations” and they’re all over Tokyo and the biggest cities in Japan. Usually there’ll be 10-15 really high end, remarkable illuminations in Tokyo, with smaller ones dotted throughout the city at department stores and what not. It’s really beautiful, simultaneously over the top without being too gaudy. I used to stare at the lights on our Christmas tree for hours, back when I was a kid (and a teen), and this is like that but writ large across my favourite city.

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The reason I thought of this today was because I bumped into my friend Robin Nishio, who IS planning a trip through Japan for the last half of December. I told him that the best thing I saw at Christmas time in Japan was probably “Lumiere”, the Kobe illumination display. It was and is a marvelous installation of lights, up and down the main streets of Kobe, nearly a kilometre long and ending in a giant part with huge structures seemingly comprised of nothing but light. It was a tradition begun following the great Kobe earthquake, an attempt to show the rest of Japan that Kobe was resilient, was rebuilding, and that they should come and support the city. Citizens and government banded together to create this and it added an amazing, poignant air to the already beautiful and affecting display. I was grinning ear to ear until it finally overwhelmed me and I teared up. It’s one of my favourite experiences and memories of Japan. I’m grateful to Emi and Graeme for showing it to me.

December 3rd: Christmas at Retail

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Despite working in retail for most of my adult life, I actually really love how all-out retail establishments will go to celebrate Christmas and the holidays. Sure, it’s in the service of consumerism and capitalism, but if we can get stunning, beautiful things like this because people are encouraged to spend more, I’m personally willing to take that trade-off. This also marked a rare instance for Andrew and I to go and take in a little holiday spirit together, and that was lovely too.

December 2nd: Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time

On her Facebook, my friend Liz Clayton is holding here annual(?) Wonderful Christmastime Challenge. The rules for the challenge are simple, as Liz explains: “You enter by simply existing and lose by hearing this terrible song while just trying to go about your peaceable business. Covers count. Humming or someone singing it to knock you out does not count. Your goal is to survive unscathed for as long as you can: contest begins at 12:01am EST Thursday, November 17, one week before Thanksgiving.”

Andrew and I were both knocked out of the running on December 1st, basically the first real day of Christmas music. Me, earlier in the day, when I put on a spotify playlist that I was _sure_ didn’t include the song, and then him, later, as we stood in line at Shopper’s Drug Mart after an otherwise lovely evening out.

I used to truly hate this song, and it’s repetitive, droning nature. I’ve softened on it a lot of over the years though, as its early-days synthesizer noises are actually kind of incredible, and it doesn’t sound much like any other piece of Christmas pop that there is. It also doesn’t implore or demand anything of its listener (other than ‘Don’t Look Down’ at one point). It’s not telling you to deck anything, to carol, or warning you to watch out. It’s just Paul and the crew sitting around singing about how much fun they’re having, and that’s not so bad, is it?

I mean, it’s still a little bad.

December 1st: The STYLE Christmas Comic

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Once upon a time I lived with Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim, and this other guy, and we used one of the rooms in the house for our office. It housed all of our computers. I was kind of poor, so I had a pair of hand-me-down speakers for my computer and no headphones, wheras Bryan and Other Guy both had pretty bitch’n headphones. So it made sense to me that I could just play the music I wanted because they couldn’t hear it anyway. About the time Christmas rolled around and I started listening to Christmas music 24 hours a day, I was informed that my music could in fact be heard, and was in fact intolerable.

That did not deter me. So Bryan made me a comic strip.

I still consider it a tribute, rather than a threat.

I posted this on Twitter on December 1st, at like 12:30am, and I was susprised how many people had never seen it, despite posting it here annually for a few years. A good reminder that if I ever start writing here regularly again, it’ll be to a bunch of new people. And I’ll be able to reuse a lot of old material. 😉

…more to come.

I’ll be at the Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2016 this weekend!

Hey there folks! I’m just sitting in the airport getting ready for my flight to London, where upon landing I will hop on a train northward, past Manchester, to the beautiful town of Kendal, gateway to the Lakes District, and home of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival.

I’ve actually been fortunate enough to attend LICAF every year since its inception, and I’m really impressed with its growth and ambition as an event. As someone who puts on a Festival in the shadow of giant hulking comic book cities like Chicago and New York (Metropolis and Gotham, respectively) I know that it can be difficult to get people to make the extra trip Northward for a comics event, and for that reason, and many others it, has a place in my heart. Of course, they also work their butts off every year to have incredible comics guests, and this year’s first-time attendees include Edmond Baudoin (who attended the very first TCAF in 2003!), Jordi Bernet(!), Canadians Bryan Lee O’Malley and John Martz, Benoit Peeters, and more besides. Their programme is really something, I recommend checking it out.

Speaking of which, I’m kind of a guest of the Festival myself this year, and will be moderating a few events including an on-stage interview with my pal Bryan Lee O’Malley, and hosting a Ghibli-themed live-drawing event with O’Malley, Jonath Edwards (UK), Ken Niimura (Japan/Spain), Miki Yamamoto (Japan), and Emma Viceli (UK) which should be a lot of fun too.

Tickets for all events are available now at https://www.breweryarts.co.uk/events-and-festivals/category/the-lakes-international-comic-art-festival-2016

And if I don’t see you at the events, please do track me down at the pub, it’ll be great to say hello to some of the people I don’t get to see very often.

Cheers!

  • Christopher

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