On Friday June 5th I met with Miles Baker, TCAF’s Managing Director, and Peter Birkemoe, owner of The Beguiling and TCAF’s Co-Founder and primary sponsor, to let them know I would not continue in my role as Artistic Director of TCAF for the rest of 2020 and beyond. I had hoped to relinquish all of my responsibilities to TCAF, and to do so for two reasons—to address persistent health and wellness issues in my own life that I had neglected, and in the hopes that existing staff and potential staff and volunteers might be able to move up into the organization into leadership roles that I was abdicating. I’d been doing so much for so long that I didn’t feel I could let go of, until I realized that letting go completely was the best thing that I could do for both the festival and myself. I offered to do whatever was asked of me to ensure that the Festival could and would continue, in an advisory role. I wasn’t going to announce this publicly until more work had been done, but given the criticism that both TCAF and myself have received today I wanted to provide this information that I feel is relevant to the discussion, about the steps that I personally, as well as the organization, are taking.
Festival continuing in my absence was not a given until just this year. I
invested 17 years of my life into building it, many staff and volunteers have
done the same for more than a decade now, and I didn’t want that to be wasted. Succession
planning and continuity became key goals of the Festival through 2018 and 2019,
largely thanks to Miles trying to make it a priority, trying to build more
group management and non-hierarchical structure within the organization, and to
do the hard work of putting together an active Board of Directors that could help
manage and create continuity year to year. These are things that have happened,
and will continue to happen, to grow and improve the Festival, and I’ve done my
best to support those necessary changes while trying to maintain a vision of
the festival that prioritizes creators.
Peter and I
co-founded TCAF to meet a need in Toronto, and in the larger comics industry.
I’m tremendously proud of everyone who has donated their time and energy into
the Festival succeeding as it has, and I sincerely apologize to those staff and
volunteers who haven’t felt their contribution appropriately recognized, either
by me specifically or by the organization as a whole. I hope that the work TCAF
does continues, because comics needs as many possible outlets for creators to
promote and sell their work, network, and build their artistic careers, and I
truly believe in the positive effect that TCAF has had on the medium and
I’m truly fortunate to have people in my life who care for me and who reached out when they noticed I wasn’t doing well this month, and I appreciate everyone who reached out to check on me. I completely resigned last Wednesday June 22nd to address my wellbeing more urgently, and I’m grateful to Miles and the Board for stepping in to cover my responsibilities. I’d like to thank the Board and the staff past and present for everything they’ve invested in the Festival.
I also want to acknowledge the criticism that the Festival and I specifically have received, particularly around issues of support, inclusion, and recognition of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. I understand these criticisms and I believe they are necessary to address imbalances within the organization. I sincerely apologize for the role I played in devaluing the contributions of members of staff and volunteers. I believe in both statements that TCAF has made this week, and believe that TCAF will continue to improve and be a necessary part of comics. I’m committed to these same principles of improvement for myself—I want to be better and I want to step back completely and take the time to do so.
In closing, if you helped make TCAF what it is along the way, in any capacity, I sincerely appreciate it, thank you. Working with an amazing crew to build TCAF was the hardest thing I’ve done, but I’m glad I got to do it. I hope to see it continue, to thrive, to meet the needs of an evolving comics industry, and I sincerely hope that the larger community will continue to offer their support and participation.
I spent the night at the elaborately named Shin-Hakdoate Hokuto Station last night. Actually, and luckily, I spent the night at the station hotel, which has a different name on Google Maps than it does on the front of the building, usually denoting a relatively recent change of ownership, management, and in this case it looked like a pretty recent refurbishment as well. It was a nice night’s sleep after having been on trains and walking all day, and I slept pretty soundly.
When I woke up this morning I got my first good look at the surroundings of Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station. From my room’s window I could see: the parking lot, the car-rental agency next door, more-or-less empty fields until a small mountain in the distance. It was a gleaming new station building and hotel dropped into the middle of a farmer’s field.
I had gotten to the hotel at around midnight the previous evening, the train car emptying out over a hundred passengers into the quiet, largely closed, immaculate new terminal station. It was cooler there than it had been in Sendai, and darker too. Dark with no stars. It had been overcast all day, taking the edge off of the hot and humid Japan summer, but was now robbing us of the brilliant starfields that we might otherwise receive hundreds of miles north of Tokyo’s light pollution. Still, a cool breeze, the first I’d felt since arriving in Japan this August, was a welcome reminder that I’d arrived in northern Hokkaido.
I wisely booked my room at the station hotel ahead of time, knowing I’d probably end up stuck in Shin-Hakodate Hokuto for the evening, instead of being able to make it to my eventual destination in the large city of Sapporo. I checked in without a fuss, my room was ready for me even at midnight. Thanks, Japan. Thanks, Expedia. The folks next to me in line seemingly did not book ahead, and ended up squeezing 4 people + luggage into the same sort of twin beds room I had. They didn’t seem thrilled at the prospect. That’s what you get for traveling during the holidays.
Obon is basically the summer holidays, where the whole
country is more-or-less expected to take their vacation during the first two
weeks of August, to visit their hometowns, the places that they’re from, to pay
respect to their ancestors and still-living relatives who never left for the
big city. I hesitate to generalize about Japan, I’ve had an incredible
diversity of experience here and met so many truly unique people, but I will
say that about the only thing that would be an effective excuse to the boss for
the average worker to actually take the holidays from work that they’re
supposed to IS to leave town and pay respects to your ancestors. On this trip
it’s clear that more and more folks, especially young-ish families, are
escaping work under the cover of Obon to actually travel WITH their families,
to see sights, to enjoy themselves. Unless everyone’s ancestors are interred at
Japan’s famous historical sights and-oh-by-the-way-there-are-beaches-nearby.
I received a phone call from the front desk exactly 15 minutes after 11am, politely informing me that checkout was at 11. “Sumimasen. Wakarimasu. Chotto matte. Go-bu. Domo arigatto.” I guess I really did need the rest. Pro-tip: If you’re like me and hate mornings, shower before getting into bed. I threw on some clothes, repacked my suitcase, and 5 minutes later entered the hallway confronted by a squad of cleaning ladies. The doors of every other room open, all of them huddled patiently near my door waiting for me to emerge so that they could also open my door. An asynchronous chorus of Ohayo Gozaimasu! greeted me. Don’t be late checking out in Japan.
My first impression of the station building was correct. It was brand new, it was gleaming, and it was a massive creation standing tall amongst not much else. The Shin-Hakodate Hokuto station isn’t really in Hakodate, or Hokuto, or anywhere. Maybe on a map with generous borders.
The entire station building is glass-fronted, as is the style now, despite Sapporo’s cold winters and the propensity for glass-fronted 4 story open-air buildings to be nearly impossible to cool once the weather gets warm. Beautiful wood timbers hang from the ceiling, maybe acting as sound baffling, but certainly adding warmth to the otherwise outsized and boxy interior. Despite being closed last night at midnight, it still SEEMED closed at 11:30am on a Monday. Looking at the train schedule you could see the building only got about a train every 15 minutes, most of those local trains too. The Shinkansen back to Tokyo only ran every two hours. Same for the train onward to Sapporo. Even getting a ride into Hakodate could mean a 20 minute wait. I guess by North American standards this doesn’t seem so bad, but standing in this giant, state-of-the-art facility designed to accommodate thousands, especially having come north from Tokyo, the lack of passengers waiting for trains, and the lack of trains running on a Monday morning was unsettling.
I was hungry, and the “Kiosk” branded mini-combini in the station wasn’t cutting it. This enormous building and all it had to offer were 10 kinds of train bentos and a drink fridge smaller than the one in my store back in Toronto? I pulled up YELP to see if I was missing a breakfast option, since hotel breakfast ended well before checkout (as did access to the on-site onsen—they REALLY don’t want you hanging around). YELP told me that there was a highly-rated Starbucks 9 miles away in Hakodate that I might enjoy, and literally nothing else nearby, except for another Starbucks that was 10 miles away, also in Hakodate, but with a lower review score.
One neat trick of being a foreigner travelling in Japan is that you can get a JR pass, good for all local trains and most of the high speed Shinkansen routes. It will also let you into the shinkansen-area of the station, which usually requires a separate (expensive) ticket. So, while I only needed to catch a local ‘express’ train to Sapporo, I still walked right through those Shinkansen gates unmolested like some sort of transit god where, lo and behold, there was a much larger “Kiosk” branded convenience store. It had sandwiches, and delicious local chu-hai options, and so breakfast became brunch as I had a Japanese spin on Bacon & Eggs with with Egg Salad and Pork Cutlet sandwiches. My delicious Cantaloupe Chu-Hai making a top-notch mimosa replacement.
As predicted the station building was stuffy. It was only 72 degrees outside, but definitely warmer (and humid) in the waiting area where I enjoyed my feast. Glass-fronted buildings. I exited the Shinkansen area again and headed down to my train platform 30 minutes early in the hopes of getting to experience the cool breeze I’d felt last night. On arriving at the train platform to Sapporo, I discovered that it’s outdoors and unenclosed, only a roof to keep offer a little shade or protection from the rain. It was clearly a remnant from an earlier version of the station. It was nice, there, in the breeze, and offered me a new view of the surrounding area. I could see houses about a mile away, a little town nestled at the base of another mountain. According to the map this town is Nanae, maybe even where I was standing them was technically Nanae, or at least, it was.
The Shinkaksen only recently started running up to Shin-Hakodate Hokuto station. In fact the station is only about 18 months old, existing on the site of the former Oshima-Ono Station (we hardly knew ye), and before the war was called Hongo Station (we never knew ye). Before the Shinkansen came here, for years, you could only take it as far north as Shin-Aomori on the main island of Honshu. All the way at the northern tip. At Shin-Aomori you’d have to switch to a special train that went under the water in a tunnel to Hokuto, then once in Hokuto switch again to the Hokuto Express to Sapporo. The new extension of the Shinkansen to Shin Hakodate Hokuto shaves something like 2 hours off of the trip North, it’s incredible, and particularly welcome for foreigners like me, intent on seeing as much of the country as possible without getting on an airplane. But it means that you’re not really in Hokuto anymore, and Hakodate, a city suffering its own issues around recession and depopulation, is now a specific side-trip out of the way, and Sapporo is much better-known to foreigners visiting the country, and much more exciting a destination for Japanese tourists exploring the region.
The trip north from Tokyo by train is a little treacherous (though not at all dangerous) for folks visiting Japan for the first time, folks without a great command of the language. Once the trains stop running, they stop running, and wherever you happen to be is where you’re spending the night. It wasn’t by accident that I knew to book my station hotel ahead of time, let me tell ya. The first time Andrew and I were traveling to Sapporo a decade ago we got stuck in Shin-Aomori, the last train north having been missed, the overnight sleeper-car train being completely full. Wearily and with no language we trudged up from the station to the first hotel (terrible!), booked a room having no Japanese language ability, raided the combini for a beer and a snack, and got to sleep so we could get all of our transport sorted the next morning. That’s the only time I’ve been to Aomori really, just for a night, just for one hotel booking and a thousand yen at the combini. But now, I don’t know that I’ll ever actually go to Aomori, let alone Shin-Aomori. I certainly haven’t been back since, though I’ve passed few it a few times, and that’s all it will be for most people—a place to pass through.
Hokuto and Hakodate though, now that the train has been rerouted up to the gleaming new station? Well now no one has to pass through there at all.
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. 🙂
Top photo by me, from Osaka, just cuz I thought it was a nice photo
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.
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.
*: Marvel Publishing, i.e.: Marvel Comics.
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
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!
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!
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.
“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.”
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.
December 9th: Santas by Chris Schweizer!
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/
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…?
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
Released on Twitter and apparently printed and posted around the city. Love it. 🙂
December 5th: Krampusnacht
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
(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.
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
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
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. 😉
While in Japan this fall, I was fortunate enough to take in a lovely exhibition of original comics artwork by two modern masters, Igort and Jiro Taniguchi. While I’m super behind on my Japan blogging, I wanted to mention this one because it ends on December 19th, and if you can attend you absolutely should, it’s wonderful and free!
My friend Jocelyne and I made the trek to Kudanshita, and then up the hill to the exhibition at The Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo. We arrived just as the building was closing for the day and we had the place all to ourselves. So: a few pictures!
The exhibition featured lovely introductions for both artists, in Japanese and Italian, and the large printed materials really complimented the originals and helped fill the large, lovely space.
The exhibition featured Igort on the right (orange), and Taniguchi on the left (blue), and was about men taking a walk. Igort’s work was pulled primarily from his new book “Les Cahiers Japonais: Un voyage dans l’empire des signes”, a travelogue of sorts. The art was lovely and was very much the perspective of an outsider looking into Japan, lots of Japonisme to the work. I’m interested to read it now, and I hope it gets an English translation.
Taniguchi’s work was drawn from one of his newest projects, a gorgeous fully watercolour-painted travelogue of Venice, commissioned by Louis Vuitton(!) and available more-or-less exclusively through them. It’s a gorgeous book and the artwork itself is similarly beautiful, the details and sense of place very impressive indeed.
In addition to the originals from both books, the display cases also featured original artwork and books from different projects in the artists’ careers, going back almost to the beginning. It’s remarkable just how much Taniguchi’s style has changed, and how much it’s remained the same, over the years. The exhibition also featured 4 short films about the artists on a loop, and a selection of their graphic novels for visitors to browse (French, Italian, and Japanese).
The exhibition is free, and also features a small catalogue to go along with it. We got ours for free, which was a lovely treat! Unfortunately they’re still packed away, and I’ll see about uploading a photo or two of it when I unpack.
I wasn’t allowed to take close up pictures of the art, for obvious reasons, so I’ve included a few samples from both cartoonists below that I found on the web. Both books are lovely, and if you can track down that limited edition Taniguchi do so before it’s too late–it’ll set you back $80-$100.
So, I went to New York to interview Masashi Kishimoto, creator of Naruto, while he was there participating in New York Comic-Con. It was a really great experience–one of those once-in-a-lifetime things–and I found Kishimoto to be a really nice guy, and very passionate about manga. If you click above, you can see the highlights of the whole event, courtesy of VIZ.
My trip began, more-or-less, with this interview at the Apple Store, SoHo, a live on-stage interview. For this one, the questions had been prepped already and weren’t strictly my own. It was interesting as, frankly, it’s not the direction I would’ve gone in, but it was still solid. Since the interview would be recorded and included in their “Meet The Author” series of podcasts, the prepared questions felt as though they was designed to be open to folks who might be curious but weren’t die-hard fans, with the die-hard stuff coming in through the Question & Answer section instead. I’m happy to say that it was still an interesting discussion though, and I absolutely think it worked. You can judge for yourself and watch the video podcast on iTunes. I think you can access it at: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/naruto-naruto-kurietani-huiou/id266215977?i=355670682&mt=2. (you can also search “meet the author” in podcasts on itunes)
I don’t want to dig too much into the process and unravel the magic, but we did get to meet ahead of the talk, and I was grateful for the opportunity to see where he was at, mentally. Even though the Apple Store event was ‘small’, I was told there were a few hundred people there, and particularly for your first time in America, it can be a big thing to get up in front of people and talk for an hour to an audience who doesn’t speak your language. I think Kishimoto-sensei did an excellent job that night and all weekend though, which is really saying a lot considering just how in demand he was. On that note…
That’s the photograph of the crowd for our Thursday panel, over 2200 people in a room to see him. And I was up on stage in front of all of them, leading the crowd in rousing choruses of screams.
I had a lot of questions prepared, and even after we figured out what he’d be comfortable talking about and not talking about, I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to get through all of them. Also, while I’ve been on stage many times in the past and generally have that down, this was my first time in front of an audience this size (I think), and 2200 people is a lot of people! An audience that size has demands, and those demands tend to be questions that are fun, quick, and intimately about the series, rather than longer discussions on the nature of war and peace (for reals). As an interviewer, it was a really great experience to edit myself on the fly, keeping in mind not just the conversation with the creator, but also the conversation we were both having with the audience. It was a unique challenge, and I hope I get the opportunity to do so again one day.
If you want to watch the entire panel, VIZ recorded it (sadly no shots of the amazing, passionate, exceptionally loud crowd though) and you can just click the video below:
I have not watched it, because watching myself on video is profoundly uncomfortable, but yeah, it’s still worth watching because Kishimoto is honestly floored and humbled, and it’s charming, and he’s also a hell of an artist and draws a bunch in it.
Following the panel there was a short signing, and I have to admit to my one fanboy moment of the entire weekend, where I asked for his autograph. I’ve become quite a fan of the manga series since reading and re-reading it to properly prepare for the job of interviewing him, and it was nice to get a memento of the occasion–particularly while he was riding the adrenaline buzz of being on stage. 😉 I was probably annoying to the staff who were seeing to his event though, as me spending an additional 5 or 10 minutes hanging out with Kishimoto-sensei was not in the very metculous timetable, so I’d like to offer my apologies. Sorry folks! -___-;
I’ll share one more little thing. There was a private wrap-up party on October 10th for Kishimoto-sensei’s final New York event, and I was very lucky to be invited as it was rather intimate. I could tell he was a little tired from a very, very busy few days (not to mention the jetlag of coming here from Japan in the first place). So I quickly said my thank you’s to he and his editor Otsuki-san (nice guy, practical) and got out of the way, retreating to a corner to enjoy a drink with friends at VIZ. Then, a hush, and a call for attention, when Naruto’s Japanese voice actress Junko Takeuchi entered the space with a cake topped with lit candles. It was Naruto (the character)’s birthday! The assembled group sang Naruto Happy Birthday and closed out the weekend. It was a sweet moment, and a very nice ending to what must have been a very long week, month, quarter, etc. for Kishimoto and all of the VIZ and Shueisha folks who helped bring the event together. The people who make manga are real people, who pour enormous amounts of themselves into their work. It was a very human, very moving moment to see a creator thanked for their creation, a character who has touched and improved thousands of lives. I’m really glad I got to see it, and got to be a part of it.
So, again, my thanks to translator/interpreter Mari Morimoto who worked hard all weekend to help us all communicate, to Kishimoto-sensei for being so forthcoming, to Mr. Otsuki for his assistance and prudence, the staff at Shueisha, and especially the incredibly hard-working and talented staff at VIZ, including Jane, Ashlee, Hiromi, Yasue, Elizabeth, Anthony, Andy, and Leyla, for everything. Otsukaresamadeshita!