A Brief Report from Fan Expo 2014

September 1, 2014 at 8:59 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s not San Diego Comic-Con yet, but every year, the crowds get bigger and the lines get longer at Toronto’s Fan Expo. This year the early estimates were up around 120,000 over the four-day celebration of nerdom. So, yup, me and the boy spent three days there.

As usual I bought a deluxe ticket which means you get access to all four days and a t-shirt. You also get to enter at 2:00 on the first day instead of 4:00, so the floor is a little more breathable. Unfortunately, deluxe has pretty much become the standard unless you’re a casual attendee, which means it’s value has been diluted. The next stage up is the premium ticket, which gets you all of the above, plus more swag and different and possible shorter lines to stand in. Last year, I wrote that buying a premium ticket was crazy, but ….

So…we arrived a little earlier than last year and ended up waiting inside rather than in the punishing sun like last year. And it did seem that things were a little better organized as we were on the floor on the convention shortly after 2:00. Thursday is the day to buy stuff.

I bought a copy of Ray Fawkes’ beautiful collection of Canadian ghost stories The Spectral Engine and got it signed. I also got some old issues of Frank Miller’s Hard Boiled signed by Geof Darrow. I should note here that most artists don’t charge to sign stuff. Yes, if you want a commission, it will set you back a hundred or so, but you’re getting something original. Celebrities on the other hand do charge. This year, the cheapest autograph was $25 for a Ted Raimi (Joxa the Mighty on Xena: Warrior Princess). At the top end, Matt Smith, the eleventh doctor, was asking $110! And he got it. There was a huge line-up for him. I don’t collect those. Although one year, I did fist-bump Larry Hagman.

Did pick up new steam-punk goggles, a ray-gun key chain, a dalek pin, a new collar for the dog, the obligatory free EB Games bag, the third season of Adventure Time and a pile of paper, coupons and vouchers I still have to wade through.

Other highlights:

  • My son played demo versions of Lego Batman 3, Little Big Planet 3 and Far Cry 4.
  • We had our pictures taken by a Big Hero 6 promo
  • We made fake promos for the Showcase
  • My son sat on the Ice King’s throne
  • We hung out with our friend Lindsey

I didn’t attend many workshops this year. We did however line up for the Adventure Time one. For those of you who don’t know, Adventure Time is a very weird cartoon which airs on the Cartoon Network in the US and Teletoon here in Canada. It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy about Jake (the dog) and Finn (the human) and their friends and enemies in the world of Ooo. John DiMaggio (Jake) and Hynden Walch (Princess Buddlegum) were on hand to show their favourite episodes and chat. Over 600 people crammed into the theatre to see them.

Of course the other fun thing at Fan Expo is dress-up: Dr. Who (various doctors), Illyria, Poison Ivy, Thor, Loki, Captain America, various Dragonball Z characters, Star Wars, zombies, Black Widow, Superman, Batman, Gamora, Starlord, Spider-man, Rick Grimes, Green Arrow, . I saw a guy standing in costume who looked really really like David “The Governor” Morrissey of the Walking Dead, but to ask “are you..?.” doesn’t quite cut it. (see Fan Expo’s Facebook page for more – if you look for the picture of Finn and Jake and see the girl dressed as Marceline the Vampire Queen, my son and I are in the row behind out of frame. “So what?” I hear you shrug. )

Overall, while I had a great time, I’d say I had less fun than last year. I attended fewer workshops (there did seem to be less to do and a lot of repeats) I somehow missed Steve Epting. I didn’t get to see the cast of Lost Girl. There also seemed to be less swag and Marcel, DC and Dark Horse were not there (all three are a good source of free stuff). And yet, no doubt, we’ll be back next year.

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Music Notes: August 2014

August 31, 2014 at 8:12 pm (Uncategorized)

The Back-to-school Edition

1. The Bats – Volume 1

Oh, you really need to hear this. Jangly psych-pop from New Zealand. Eight albums in and they are still fantastic. This compl collects the first two albums Daddy’s Highway and The Law of Things (+ extras), plus another CD of EPs and  rarities. It will make your ears happy.

2. The Boomtown Rats – A Tonic for the Troops

After picking up their first album, it was only a matter of time before I got this one too. If the debut was punk influenced R & B, this one was pure new wave. New wave that despite the cheery, catchy tunes, contained songs about suicide, Hitler, euthanasia and alienation. I was surprised I still knew all of the worlds.

3. Mirel Wagner – When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day

Sparse, atmospheric sounds of Wagner’s second disc. Not immediate, but repeated plays reveal the depth and intimacy of the record. Playing Toronto at the Drake in November. I have my ticket.

4. Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay (eds.)  White Riot: Punk Rock and the politics of Race

Came across this volume in a second-hand book store. Fairly interesting collection of stuff on questions of race within punk. As well as texts and interviews by participants, the book includes work by Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, and Dick Hebdige. Thought provoking to say the least.

5. Massive Attack – The Best of Massive Attack

Why get compilations when you already have most of the songs? Ah, well, you see this one has a nice bonus disc with harder to find stuff and a DVD of all the videos. A cash-in to part the unwary from their hard-earned cash? Most likely, but it still sounds lovely.

6. Roxy Music – Roxy Music

Now, I grew up in the UK in the seventies so I knew the hits, but I’d never really sat down and listened to an entire Roxy Music album, especially the ones before it became Bryan Ferry’s back-up band. This may be the most successful pairing of glam and art school sounds ever. A look back and a look ahead. It’s no wonder the punks loved their early work.

7. 5 Seconds of Summer – 5 Seconds of Summer

My daughter was a huge One direction fan…until she wasn’t. From obsession, she quietly stopped talking about the band. And then, a month or so ago, a new band began to pepper her conversation: 5 Seconds of Summer. It’s a boy band, true, but it’s one where the band play guitars and write their own songs. It’s still too poppy for me (and the better songs sound like Blink 182 – no, I don’t like them either), but it’s a step in the right direction. And the less said about Calum Hood’s penis the better.

8.  Darling Violetta – “The Sanctuary”

Re-watched the final season of Angel recently (the deaths of Fred and Wesley still make me cry). Still love the opening music by Darling Violetta. They no longer seem to have a web page and “their” Facebook page is empty. Alas.

9. Half Japanese – Greatest Hits

Oh and you should really find this one too.  “Firecracker,” which opens this 2-CD set was my favourite song of the summer. This beast which dates to the 90s features tracks from most Half Japanese recordings and a few new songs (including a quite wonderful version of Primal Scream’s “Move on Up”). Jad Fair is playing in Toronto next Saturday.

10. The Clean - Anthology

Ooh, another of those New Zealand pop bands. In fact, Robert Scott of the Bats is the Clean. I don’t want to waste too much time talking about this because it’s time you could be suing to get these songs and listen to them. Like the Bats, simply outstanding.

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Dogs and Work

August 31, 2014 at 12:50 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Where does the expression work like a dog come from?

I’ve had a little bit of a break from work, but am heading back in a couple of days.  Whenever I move from not working to working, that old Smiths refrain jangles through my head:

I was looking for a job and then I found a job
and Heaven knows I’m miserable now

As fate would have it, I was browsing though a volume called Guy Debord and the Situationist International, a collection of texts and articles from an expanded issue of October magazine. Among the pieces is a 1983 interview with Henri Lefebvre. In the interview, Lefebvre discusses the notion of work, and refers to City, a 1950s science fiction collection by Cliff Simak:

[in the book] work is performed by robots. Humans can’t stand the situation; they die because they are so used to working. They die, and the dogs that are left take advantage of the situation. The robots work for them, feed them, and so forth. And the dogs are perfectly happy because they aren’t deformed by the work habit.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t die if I didn’t have a job, but I do like the notion that  dogs would have a seamless transition. Based on my own observations of my dog, I think he’d be pretty happy. Something for us then.


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Being a Dad (part 8)

August 28, 2014 at 1:49 pm (Uncategorized)

They sure grow up fast. My 14-year-old daughter is starting high school next week and went to a grade 9 orientation this morning. I drove her there.

Years ago, on her first day of daycare, I dropped her off there too. As she realized I was leaving, she burst into tears, crying, “Don’t leave me daddy.” I was crying in the car as I went to work.

Today wasn’t quite so traumatic, but both of us had tears in our eyes. When I tried to explain this to my son later, he looked at me as if I were crazy. He’s right, parents are crazy. How can we not be?

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On Aufhebengate and TPTG’s Counter Inquiry

August 27, 2014 at 8:39 pm (Uncategorized)

In 2011, a scandal broke out in the circles I travel in. A member of the collective which publishes the very interesting journal Aufheben had signed his name to a report for the police on crowd control. At the time, the group I’m with, published its statement on the matter. Since then, we have not changed our opinion on Aufheben, but we have revised our position regarding a proposal by the TPTG group which broke the scandal. Here is the statement:

In 2011, the Greek communist group TPTG publicized the fact that a member of the collective which publishes the journal Aufheben , J.D., was also a signature on articles on crowd control which were commissioned by the police. This class-collaborationist act was the subject of much heated discussion within the milieu.

TPTG for its part also proposed a “proletarian counter-inquiry.” In November 2011, we published a short article on our blog entitled “On Aufhebengate” which condemned the actions of J.D., but also rejected TPTG’s proposal for a commission into such actions.

Since we published our position, we have pursued this discussion further with both Aufheben and TPTG. In the case of Aufheben we stand by our original assessment, but we now recognize that our assessment of TPTG’s position was inaccurate.

Rather than an inquiry to investigate the behavior of a particular person, TPTG’s proposal was directed at police methods in general, and the thinking behind it, including the use of crowd psychology. That is indeed a worthwhile research-project, and while it has so far yielded little in the way of concrete results, we have written to TPTG to offer our support and participation.

Internationalist Perspective


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No one is Waiting For My Posts…

August 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm (Uncategorized)

Or are they? I really don’t know.

When I published Red & Black Notes, I had a pretty good idea of who read the thing. I posted copies, and I sold copies directly. Sure, I sold a few in bookstores, but I’d venture that I met or mailed to 90% of those who ever read the thing.

A blog is different. Unless someone subscribes to the blog or posts a comment, I have no idea who reads the thing. It’s quite unnerving at times.

I find too, the pace is very different. With R&BN, although the publication schedule changed over the years, it was fairly regular. The blog tends to go in fits and starts: some months, I publish 3-4 pieces a week, but it’s been two weeks since the last post, and I could offer all sorts of reasons. But I won’t.

Instead, I go on.

Yesterday’s New York Times provided a good insight into the fucked-up world we live in.  no, on, I’m not referring to coverage about the seemingly endless assault on African-Americans by US cops (Ferguson and Staten Island most recently) or even the decapitation beheading fetish some self-styled Islamic radicals are displaying.

No, no. If you pick up the style magazine from yesterday, you’ll see a product comparison with  Jenna Lyons of J Crew and Courtney Love. Among the objects they discuss are a Four and Sons a canine themed literary magazine (at a modest $20 an issue), $1,500 Dior shoes, and a Kara Walker jug with an Aunt Jemimah-ish caricature, and in Courtney’s words: “It’s beautifully rendered, but I think for white people to own it would be kind of tacky.” Uh, huh.

Skip over to the book section and you can see what Malala Yousafzai is reading. Among her favourites, “The Alchemist,” “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “The Kite Runner,” “A Brief History of Time,” and “The Breadwinner.”

She makes no mention of those white Beats $600 headphones with plaster pillow Jenna and Courtney looked at though.

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Secrets of the Style Section

August 11, 2014 at 12:07 am (Uncategorized)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention I own the same tie as Kevin Sussums on the front page of the New York Times style section No tattoos though.

After posting this morning’s comment about the magazine, I glanced through the style section: OK, I like the advice column: It’s fun to see what people think they can get away with, and the marriages section: “Oh look, we love each other so much our heads are stuck together.”  I always find it odd that people usually look a lot like their partner. But I digress.

For some reason today I was reminded of a piece that appeared in the Gawker about the style section  profiled the people behind the New Inquiry. Here';s the salient part:


See, the secret of the Style section is that it’s intended for two audiences. The first audience is its “official,” explicit audience: people who see nothing problematic with being told by The New York Times what’s cool, and think of the Style section is a straight-ahead, unironic record of hip trends and cool people. This is the audience that most people imagine when they okay a Style section profile.

But there is the second audience. A secret audience. This audience, of which you are a member, is both mesmerized and repelled by the Style section. This audience reads the Style section, week after week, and thinks “what the fuck is wrong with rich people?” This audience regards the Style section as a collection of dispatches from a different universe; a universe where some of the most horrible and insufferable people on the planet are treated as visionaries and geniuses. A rich universe.

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Major Threat?

August 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m sure some will be outraged by the cover of this week’s New York Times magazine which borrows its inspiration from DC’s 80’s hardcore scene and in particular Minor Threat for the story on Rand Paul and libertarianism.

It’s not 2005 Nike rip; rather it uses a clever pun along with the look of those D.I.Y. fliers which were so abundant then (even the circle “A” is a nice touch).

And the article is interesting too, to see the efforts to reconcile libertarian ideas of freedom while allowing for the state to regulate and enforce those same libertarian views.

It’s a funny thing how the question of the state looms in different political philosophies. The “right” is considered the party of small government, while the “left” is the party of big government. Yet, rightist parties seem to love the state in thier own ways (It’s significant that right-wing politicians who decry government subsidies are the largest recipients). Similarly, I did not become a socialist, a communist, or whatever label you choose to promote the growth of government control over lives. Socialism if it is anything is exerting control over life.

In the article, libertarian activist Nick Gillispie, brings a variety of different flavoured pop tart boxes to a meeting to prove perhaps – tongue in cheek  that “individualism was flourishing and choice was abundant. ”  Is freedom only the opportunity to choose between twenty version of the same type of toothpaste at the drug store? What was it Dauve said, that for those who think the concentration camps were hell, heaven is the supermarket?

When I was in the first year of university, I read, for a course, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. In the introduction, Friedman recounts a debate in the sixties where his opponent painted him as a reactionary. Friedman pointed out that as a libertarian, he opposed the draft in peacetime as an example of unjustified government activity. It won him the debate.  It seems striking though that Friedman’s introduction was written in 1982 several years after his followers in the Chicago school had braintrusted several extremely authoritarian regimes in South America who engaged in quite a few “unjustified government” activities.

And that’s it, isn’t it? It seems for some, the line is “The state has no business in society except to enforce my views on social issues, and of course to maintain my profit margins” . Have a read of the article to see a libertarian defence of traditional marriage.

And then go and listen to Minor Threat.

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Bryan Lee O’ Malley: Seconds

August 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm (Uncategorized)

Bryan Lee O’Malley is the creator of the six-volume Scott Pilgrim series. If you haven’t read it, well, it’s a pretty amazing manga-like graphic novel about the titular hero who must defeat Ramona Flowers legion (OK, not exactly an entire legion) of evil Exes in order to date her. Oh, and it’s set in Toronto

But that ended in 2010, the same year that a really enjoyable film version was released. Sooo….what do you do next?

The answer is Seconds. It’s the story of Katie, the chef at a successful  restaurant, but who dreams of owning her own restaurant. In the course of the beautifully drawn and wonderfully funny story, Katie comes across several spirits, magic mushrooms (no, no…), time travel and learns to deal with her own success and failure. It’s a great story.

A couple of a nights ago, the Beguiling sponsored a book launch with O’Malley at the Bloor Cinema. There was a reading, an on-stage discussion and a Q and A session, followed by a signing. (Yeah, yeah, got my book signed). I always like those kind of creator centred events because the discussion tends to be quite free-ranging and you pick up little bits of trivia along the way (O’Malley got the idea for Seconds after the publication of the first Scott Pilgrim book while he was working at College street restaurant Kalendar (No, Seconds is not based on it)

Go read now.






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Music Notes July 2014

July 31, 2014 at 12:22 pm (Uncategorized)

Here it is, your music notes for the month…

1. Harry Dean Stanton -Partly Fiction

I am prepared to watch pretty much anything with Harry Dean Stanton in it. Nuff said? This album of favourites, recorded in his living room, is a treat. Stanton could never be called a great singer, but there’s a rawness, an authenticity, a growth over the course of the record which is marvellous. On the records, which includes songs like “Promised Land” or “He’ll Have to Go” there’s a magic.

2. Oasis – Definitely Maybe (remastered)

Liam Gallagher took to social media to denounce this release arguing it was already perfect. It won’t deter fans though. We all want to see behind the curtain, to see the demos and the outtakes that led to this, arguable the best Oasis album. And, yeah, while the original album is pretty close to perfect, this provides the context, and it seems better for it.

3. Kim Gordon - Is This My Body?

Bought this on my recent New York trip. A collection of essays and texts by Kim Gordon. Stuff from her art school days and a very nice Sonic Youth tour diary.

4. Spacemen 3 – Dreamweapon

The main track on this is a 45-minute live recording entitled “An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music.” Droning guitar, audience chatter, words softly spoken. Not something to listen to every day, but there’s an intensity to it.

5. Lana Del Ray – Ultraviolence

Last year at a recital, my daughter sang the Lana Del Ray song “Young and Beautiful.” OK, let’s look at her work. So, I’ve listened to this a couple of times and have come up with a few conclusions. I like the idea of LDL better than the overall effect. The David Lynchian noir feel to her music, the black and white idealization of classic American culture has a great, well, feel to it.  Second, I’m not sure she has any songs, but rather a sound. Oddly enough, the neo-Marxist The New Inquiry has just published a collection of essays about Ms. Del Ray echoing some of the above.

6. Sharon Van Ettan – Are We There?

I can’t say much about this. You just need to listen to it. It’s a record which grows stronger with every listen.

7. Jack White – Lazeretto

Poor Jack White. No matter what he does, there’s a certain percentage of his audience that would like nothing more than another White Stripes album (and if I’m honest…). White’s second solo album continues the trend from Blunderbuss. No anthems, but some very cool songs along the way.

8. The Forgotten Rebels – In Love With the System

Can you go home? I wrote earlier about going to see the Forgotten Rebels this year. I probably saw that local band more than any other when I was in university, but I was disappointed because it seemed like faded glory. so, why should I own their debut. Probably for the same reason. Lots to shock, lots to enjoy. And, whether or not this is satire, I once loved these songs.

9. The Boomtown Rats – The Boomtown Rats

Deeply, deeply unfashionable. The Rats second album, A Tonic for the Troops was the second real album I bought, but this one is the one I’ve come to prefer over time. It’s not punk. Too steeped in rockist influences, but it has osme lovely punky moments (“Mary of the Fourth Form”) along with the Springsteenish “Joey’s on the Street Again.” This edition adds demos and some live tracks.

10. Tommy Ramone

And lastly, Tommy Ramone. The final surviving original Ramone who passed away earlier this month. Without Tommy, there might not have a been a band. He was the manager who switched to drums when it became clear Joey couldn’t keep a beat. RIP.

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