A Report from Fan Expo 2013

August 31, 2013 at 4:36 pm (Uncategorized)

My son and I spent two full days at Fan Expo last weekend. Here’s the guts and glory.

I usually buy a deluxe ticket because it seems to be the best value (OK, you can spend over $150 on a ticket , but that’s crazee). With the deluxe, you get unlimited access (the boy gets in free) and this year there was a t-shirt (OK, they raised the prices to cover the t-shirt, but still…) Also, although the expo opens at 4PM on Thursday, with the deluxe, you get in at 2PM. (well, not quite)

We arrived about 1:20 to pick up our tickets, which took a little longer than expected. The lines were ridiculously long, and to make matters worse, much of the time we waited, we were standing in the sun (not good for vampires, those in costume or pretty much anyone). We finally reached the floor at about 2:15. Next year, I’m picking up the tickets early or having them mailed to me.

If you’ve never been to Fan Expo, the first place to stop is the convention floor. Pretty much anything to want comic/SF related is there, although I never did find that Lying Cat t-shirt I wanted. The newbie mistake is to wander in with the view that you will just pick up some stuff. No, no! You must be organized.

No Marvel or DC booths this year, but Dark Horse comics were there for the first time.  Lots of cool sway (the boy and I drank lots of Dr. Pepper, which I remember I couldn’t stand as a child), demonstrations and foolish things to waste your money on. (My dog got a new collar)

In artists’ alley, I met Steve Niles who wrote the 30 Days of Night series and also the Criminal Macabre books for Dark Horse. I splashed out on a Criminal Macabre anthology, but it was a really good deal…

We also stood (sat) in line early to get stuff signed by Mike Mignola. For those of you who don’t know, Mignola is the creator of Hellboy, one of my favourites. nice chap and we did the fanboy thing of getting a picture with Mignola. Later the same day, I met Toronto illustrator Michael Cho and got a book signed by him. Cho is a very talented artists, and if you have time you should head to the Beguiling this September 4 to meet him and get a copy of the black and white Batman book in which he has a story.

To close the first day, we went to a panel on Steampunk. I’m a big fan of the idea of steampunk and the outfits, but I’ve read very little I actually enjoyed. It’s never a good sign when one you detest of the “seminal” books of the genre Moorlock Nights.

as we were leaving on the first day, we saw several Daleks fro Dr. Who. as one negotiated the crowd, it barked in that Dalek voice “Move! Move!” The only thing cooler would have been if it had exterminated someone, but then there would have been a law-suit. (I was brought down slightly by a person behind me explaining to another person it was a Da-LEK – c’mon, DAH-lek!) Minor quibbles.

Saturday is never a day to go to Fan Expo. It’s the busiest of the four, but we decided to venture there anyway. The boy got to play a demo version of the new Marvel Lego game (he was especially pleased because the 40-something playing the game before us was unable to get out of a chamber; the boy did it in about ninety seconds). Then we raced over to artists alley and got my copy of Pixu signed by the very talented Becky Cloonan  (pick up The Mire – it’s well worth it)

Then to a DC comics panel which was interesting for about twenty minutes. Canadian comic readers note that next year, it’s Justice League Canada. no word on where the bad guy will be a thin-skinned control freak called Hephen Starper.

Half way through we left to stand in line for an Adventure Time special screening. For the uninitiated, Adventure time chronicles the adventures of Finn, a human boy, and his talking super-powered friend Jake (who happens to be a dog) in the post-Apocalyptic land of Ooo. Other characters include various princesses, including Bubblegum and Lumpy Space, Marceline  the Vampire Queen and the Ice King. It’s ostensibly a children’s show , but much-loved by many adults, including the 350 or so who had got in line ahead of me for the screening.

Eventually we got in, watched five creator selected episodes, saw a never before seen episode “Time Sandwich” (which airs on September 9) and won not only a Finn hat, but also the complete season 2 on DVD. Nice.

Every year at the start of Fan Expo I swear, no it’s too crazy, never again. By the end, I’m usually thinking about next year.

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Music Notes – August 2013

August 31, 2013 at 4:10 pm (Uncategorized)

1. Bare Mutants – The Affliction

The review in Pitchfork suggested by bandleader Jared Gummere is playing it safe by simply revisiting the classic Velvets/Televsion/Modern Lovers/garage sound. Maybe so, but what a lovely sound it is. If you loved any of the bands i just mentioned, this will resonate. And reverberate. And make you happy, All day.

2. The Julie Ruin – “Oh Come on”

And speaking of garage, Kathleen Hanna’s heading back to it.  A fine taster for the upcoming album. I will admit a slight queasiness about the fact the merch seems to be ready before the music, but people have to eat.

3. Valerie June – Pushing Against a Stone

With the success of the Alabama Shakes everybody’s looking for the next blues-soul crossover. Which means fantastic artists like Valerie June both benefit from the interest, but are downplayed as bandwagon jumpers. Unfair, unfair. Listen without prejudice.

4. PJ Harvey – “Shaker Aamer”

A track for the last remaining British resident in Guantanamo Bay. Amazing. Available as a free download from Soundcloud.

5. Anna Calvi – “Eliza”

After what seems to be such a long time, the first single from Anna Calvi’s new album One Breath is out (album in October).  Lovely, atmospheric pop.

6. Serge Gainsbourg – Master Serie

Overall, I’m not a fan of French pop, but I’ve definitely revised my opinion about it. Working my way through this Gainsbourg 3 CD set. I’m not loving all of it, but there’s a lot that merits repeated listens (sorry, too lazy to type titles)

7.  Iggy Pop – The Idiot

After last week’s Riot Fest show with Iggy (review pending), I pulled The Idiot, the least Iggy like in my opinion of his albums, off of the shelf. It’s an odd one.  Carrying a lot of Bowie’s influence, the record though is certainly layered and beautiful. To see Iggy now, and I recommend it to everyone, Raw Power seems to be the strain that has won out, but it’s worth listening to the other stuff (and especially Fun House) to see what else the man did. OK, OK, I was super-thrilled when he played “the passenger” last week.

8. The Strypes – “What a Shame”

Argh, am I going to have to plug the Stypes every month? Well, if they keep releasing singles I am.  Another slice of Rolling Stones R and B. Album out next month. Now how about some North American dates?

9. Dean Wareham – “Love is Colder than Death”

Well well.  I can’t remember the last thing released. The Warhol comp? Dreamy, moody. And a great, though not entirely original, title

10. Paul Faulkener

My mate Paul has played in various bands longer than I’ve known him. He’s recorded an album which will be released in September. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t try to build some buzz?

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The CNE and Its Food

August 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

I haven’t been to the Canadian National Exhibition since the mid-nineties when I was working shows for CPI. I know it’s a Canadian tradition, but I didn’t grow up in Canada, much less Toronto. I usually take the kids to Wonderland, but the CNE never seems to register.

Besides the rides though, the main reason people seem to go to the Ex is to eat. A few weeks back I wrote about the Pig Combo,  and wondered about how people could consume such a thing. Well, it turns out it wasn’t the Pig combo, but something called the Cronut burger which made people sick.

The cronut burger is a “deep-fried sugary doughnut filled with meat and cheese and topped with maple bacon jam.” 

Turns out, the cronut burger contained, at no extra charge, a bacterial toxin which poisoned over 200 people and led to the item being withdrawn. Yesterday two other food stands, unrelated to the cronut’s owners, were closed on health grounds.

But given the amount of fat and calories in these things, it seems that even without the bacteria, these things ain’t making you live longer.

So, if it’s not war, pollution or cancer, our food seems our likely killer. Huh.

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Fan Expo 2013

August 22, 2013 at 12:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Fan Expo 2013 starts today in Toronto. Me and the boy will be heading down to check out all the comic book/SF goodness there. Big thing for me will be Mike Mignola who created Hellboy.

This year, they’ve added a sports expo which will likely draw too, but not me (and I suspect large numbers of other geeks will not be impressed). I’m mildly amused that one of those appearing at the Sports Expo is Ben Johnson. Yup, that Ben Johnson. The same guy who had his Olympic medal stripped for doping.  Huh.

I’m also looking forward to meeting Michael Cho, a Toronto artist who has an amazing collection of Toronto back alley illustrations.

A fuller report coming to be sure.

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The Dickens of Detroit. R.I.P.

August 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Have you seen any of the following movies/TV Shows ?

  • Get Shorty
  • Justified
  • 3:10 to Yuma
  • Out of Sight
  • Jackie Brown

Well, then you watched and likely enjoyed a film that came from a novel or short story written by the great American story-teller Elmore Leonard who passed away today at 87.

Along with the list above (which is by no means complete), Leonard wrote over 40 novels and countless short stories and screen plays.

I first came across Leonard’s work while working in a used book store in Toronto. In the mass market paperback racks were always a few copies of his books. Eventually, I succumbed to the beautifully garish covers and read a couple (I think Rum Punch was the first).

What was great about Leonard’s work was not just the way the stories flowed and drew you along, but the memorable characters and the dialogue. In the best adaptations Leonard’s work such as Get Shorty, the film wisely chose to use large sections of Leonard’s words as they appeared in the novels.

They’ll be any number of better tributes to Leonard that these few words, but I can really think of no better tribute than to go and read one of his crime novels.

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Amadeo Bordiga and the Myth of Antonio Gramsci

August 19, 2013 at 8:18 pm (Uncategorized)

The following is Loren Goldner’s introduction to John Chiaradia’s Amadeo Bordiga and the Myth of Antonio Gramschi which is avaialbe on his web site. Chiaradia’s text is over 200 pages long and so impossible to print here, but at first look it seems to be a fascinating and significant text.

In the mid-1990s when I first became familiar with the Communist Left, it was to the Dutch-German tradition that I was drawn. With its emphasis on workers councils without the medium of a party, the Dutch-German tradition was immediately more attractive to me as I broke from Trotskyism’s  partyist pretensions,  rather than the “super-Leninists” of the Italian left.

Of course, like the so-called Leninist CLR James, the Italian left ‘s Leninism and its contributions were not what they seemed from a distance. At around the same time, I also encountered an article by Loren called. Communism is the Material Human Community: Amadeo Bordiga Today. It’s a thought provoking article and two decade after I read it, it still bears re-reading. Maybe there’s something more to this current that I imagined. And there was.

Here then is Goldner’s introduction to the text and taken from his site (Note: Goldner’s footnotes in this introduction have been ommitted).


The reader uninitiated in the history of the working class in Italy, and of the socialist and then communist parties in that country in the crucial years between 1912 and 1926, will find not find John Chiaradia’s text “Amadeo Bordiga and the Myth of Antonio Gramsci” an easy read. It does not pretend to substitute for a full social and political history of Italy in those years; it is rather an attempt to disclose, perhaps for the first time in English, the quite explosive truth about the long-cultivated historical oblivion of one of the great, and greatly ignored, figures of the20th century Marxism, Amadeo Bordiga, leader of the Italian Communist Left, and the important initial role played in this oblivion by the far better known Antonio Gramsci.

Chiaradia’s text might strike such a reader, or even one more familiar with the figures and developments to which he refers, as a vast academic “review of the literature”. But Chiaradia aims much higher than that: by debunking so many esteemed works and their authors, he is attempting to tell the story, largely unknown in the English-speaking world and, in reality little known to this day in Italy or the rest of Europe, of what one might call the Stalinization of the Communist Party of Italy (PCd’I) in the early to mid-1920’s, with Antonio Gramsci as Stalin’s hatchet man in that country.

Chiaradia has had, to put it mildly, a difficult time getting this story out. Both academic and left publishing in the English-speaking world, where Italy is concerned, are dominated by what one might call the “Anglo-American Gramsci Mafia”.

Chiaradia’s manuscripts, which go back to his 1972 doctoral thesis The Spectural Figure of Amadeo Bordiga, have been rejected time and again by “outside readers” beholden to this particular form of academic omerta Some of his manuscripts have been returned from publishers without comment. The following work, written in 2001, was also relegated to the “gnawing critique of the mice” (Marx), or, in more contemporary terms, of the computer virus, as it were.

Only in the past two decades has the English-speaking radical left become vaguely aware of the name of Amadeo Bordiga. Even the broadly left communist and libertarian milieu, has had a hard time getting past the specter of the Bordiga, “more Leninist than Lenin” for whom Lenin was the unabashed “rehabilitator of Marxism”, who tried to convince Lenin to drop the term “democratic centralism” (too much of a concession to democratic ideology) for “organic centralism”. Difficulties are only enhanced by the few English translations of Bordiga’s work.

Checking the on-line catalogue of the best university library in the U.S., I found 550 titles about Antonio Gramsci, and 10 about Bordiga, none in English. That is a 55:1 ratio. Yet I would say that Bordiga is easily 55 times more important than Gramsci in the current ferment attempting to discover and develop a revolutionary communist theory for our time.

Before going any further, a cautionary note: Bordiga would retch at any personalization of his theoretical work, any attempt to concoct a “Bordigism”. He saw himself merely as the expression of the “invariance” of the work of Marx and Engels, however much one might quarrel with his understanding of that invariance, or whether there is such a thing. Bordiga, in his own mind, was one theoretician of the Italian Communist Left, nothing more or less. (For an elaboration of the full content of that current, see the invaluable book of Philippe Bourrinet, The Italian Communist Left, available at http://www.left-dis.nl/ )

What a contrast with the post-1945 reverence for Gramsci. A quick glance at recent titles of “Gramsci studies” reveals work on a neo-Gramscian theory of international relations, a similar one on a neo-Gramscian political economy, Gramsci on pedagogy as compared to Paolo Freire, Gramsci on hegemony, on psychology and on space; the post-colonial Gramsci, Gramsci and Walter Benjamin, Gramsci and Hannah Arendt, etc.

One can of course not blame Gramsci for what others have done in his name since his death in prison in 1937, but one can surely recognize that the intransigence that shines through the writings of Bordiga and of the Italian Communist Left (many of whose books are collective, anonymous works) would hardly provide comparable material for all the academics, editors, publishers, etc. who have made careers from “Gramsci studies”.

Chiaradia, in the text that follows, properly shows how all the key works on Gramsci available in English, including those of Cammett, Boggs, Piccone, and Hoare, are shot through with at best ignorance and at worst simple dishonesty about Gramsci’s role in destroying the left-wing majority of the PCd’I. These works and many others tend to pass quickly over the crucial years of the early 1920’s and blithely discuss Gramsci’s development with nary a mention of Stalin or the “Bolshevization” i.e. Stalinization, of the international communist movement in 1924-25, nominally under the auspices of Gregory Zinoviev. Bordiga, whose role as key figure in the majority left-wing of the first years (1921-1923) of the PCd’I can hardly be denied, is referred to repeatedly in these works as “dogmatic”, “rigid”, and “sectarian”, but no one excels in this school of distortion and falsification like Paul Piccone, in whose book Italian Marxism,  Bordiga is referred to as a “vulgar” “Marxist-Leninist” and a Stalinist. Piccone is obviously quite innocent of any knowledge of Bordiga’s speech to the Extended Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in 1926, in which he, as the last western revolutionary to do so, read the riot act to Stalin and his flunkies over the destruction of the International, after which Stalin was heard to say that while not agreeing with him, “Bordiga says what he thinks”, a searing if inadvertent commentary on all those figures populating the heights of the Russian and other parties who had already learned not to say what they thought

In conclusion, one can hardly read Chiaradia’s polemical “review of the literature” without recalling the grandeur of the years from 1917 to 1923, when the European parties that emerged to found the Communist International in England, France, Germany and Italy were quite different from what they were by 1924, for the simple reason that they were based on, and expressed, radical mass working-class movements. Bordiga, who lived until 1970, may have spent decades of his life in his study, producing after 1945 the highly original works for which he is now becoming known, but from 1912 till 1926 he was a prominent figure in a mass workers’ movement. We, today, may feel separated as by an abyss from the realities that produced Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Korsch, Sylvia Pankhurst, Pierre Monatte, Alfred Rosmer, Herman Gorter, or Anton Pannekoek (or John Reed in the  U.S. or Andres Nin in Spain or the peripatetic Victor Serge), and all had their strengths and weaknesses, which were, we should recall, the strengths and weakness of the world working class movement of that era. Looking back, it is above all the Italian Communist Left and the German-Dutch councilists, who in very different ways, at the dawn of the Third International, insisted that the Russian Revolution and its worker-peasant alliance could not be a universal model for the advanced capitalist world, who speak to us most directly from that moment.

Chiaradia, in his decades-long attempt to clear away the webs of falsification, ignorance and complacency about Amadeo Bordiga and the Italian Communist Left, has made one contribution to a retrieval of what is living from that era.

Loren Goldner

New York City August 2013

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August 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Say it as you’d expect: show-ver-dose.

The Sunday New York Times magazine has a feature called “That Should be a word.” Sometimes they’re good; sometimes not. (yesterday was faultitasking – screwing up by trying to do too much at once) . My current favourite is Showverdose.

To binge-watch an entire season of a TV programme.

And in the DVD/Net Flix world we live in who hasn’t?

In the last little while, I’ve burned through the final season of Being Human (UK), the final season of The Wire, the first season of Breaking Bad and the current season of Mad Men.

My son and I have just finished watching  Justice League Unlimited, while my wife and I are making our way through season 2 of the Swedish version of Wallander. (Now I’m torn between Kenneth Branaugh and Krister Henricksson as to who plays the detective better – both have their virtues – The Independent ran this comparison between the two a few years back )

Coming up are the third season of The Killing, In the Thick and Game of Thrones season three.

Now of course, this changes the way we view TV. To reference another interest of mine, it’s a bit like buying comic books monthly or waiting until the collected edition comes out (I buy Ed Brubaker’s Criminal books monthly, but for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, I prefer to wait for the TPBs – funny huh?)

There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to watch the characters go through the story in quick succession, especially when the season is a series arc rather than just stand-alone episodes.  When the first season of 24 appeared on DVD, my wife and I raced through it, and it made perfect sense. I suggested we watch the show in one 24 hour sitting, but mercifully I was overruled.

However, an argument can be made for the traditional way of watching. It’s not how the show was conceived and perhaps we should defer to the creator’s vision. It’s a bit like colouring a black and white film. Films that were made in black and white were made with that understanding. Light and dark and especially shadow were part of the film. Imagine M colourized. I remember hearing an interview with film critic Geoff Pevere, and he mentioned that someone had told him they couldn’t wait for Memento to come out in DVD so they program scenes to watch it in the right order.

I sometimes feel the same way about playlists.  We download the songs we want and make our own versions, but in many cases the album was conceived as a whole to be listened to in a specific order. Sure, sure, we have our favourite songs, but you may also be losing something.

I’m not suggesting that you should never play around with things or that the vision of the creator is sacrosanct, but maybe sometimes we should experience it in the way it was meant to be experienced.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch the next episode of Wallander.

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A Crisis of Overconsumption

August 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm (Uncategorized)

Today is the first day of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Among the rides, shows and, well, exhibitions, is the PIG Combo.

The PIG Combo contains …

  • A Canuck burger – 2 ground-bacon patties, a slice of peameal crispy  bacon, and cheddar
  • An order of of bacon-cheese fries
  • A peanut-butter and bacon milkshake
  • A Bacon-wrapped deep-fried mars bar
  • A T-shirt that proclaims “You Conquered It” (You survived it might be more apt, although only time will tell).

Yours for $30. This caloric content of this …thing? 7,500.

A few years ago when I was in Belgium, I was struck by the absence of the obese, the presence of which has become so matter of North American society, it’s scarcely noticed. Obviously there were overweight people in Belgium, but it was nowhere like North America.

“Americans are constantly eating,” my friend observed.

We are bombarded by two types of food ads:

1. Those that promote a “healthy” lifestyle. “Light” this and “calorie reduced”  that (don’t place your hopes in those MacDonald’s salads though) or

2. Those that promote extremely unhealthy lifestyles – more calories, more red meat (yes, I’m taking to you hot dog stuffed pizza crust)

Something like the PIG Combo though pushes even those boundaries. I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years, but even as a former carnivore, the thought of the PIG Combo fills me with dread.

Sadly, they’ll have no shortage of customers.

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The Detroit Institute of Arts

August 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Here’s an article from today’s World Socialist Web Site by arts editor David Walsh, The Working Class and the Defense of the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

I was only there once in the late 1990s. I had gone to Detroit to meet Martin Glaberman who lived close to the Institute. We had lunch there near the Diego Rivera fresco.

With Detroit’s financial collapse, the sale of the DIA is likely, and it’s hard to imagine better words than Walsh’s:

One can feel only repugnance that the fate of these precious works lies in the unclean hands of financial looters and their lackeys.




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A Union in Spirit

August 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm (Uncategorized)

I don’t usually finish reading the Sunday New York Times on Sunday, so it wasn’t until this morning I came across the story A Union in Spirit discussing the Workers Defense Project in Texas.

Interesting article, and two things jump out.

1. The pull quote, “The Workers Defense Project is not like a union – it welcomes everyone.”

2. It’s in the business section – that alone reminds me of the likely apocryphal remark attributed to FDR, if the workers aren’t given reform from above, they will take revolution from below.

Now my IWW friends see this sort of organizing as the way of the future even though it is rooted in very meat-and-potatoes issues. If it meets with some success, no doubt the bigger union formations will try to co-opt it, but it does also reflect that the fundamental issues of class do not disappear simply because capital believes it has won.

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