A Brief Report TCAF 2015

May 31, 2015 at 11:53 pm (Uncategorized)

Oops – Wrote this and forgot to post earlier.

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) has been around since 2003. Around the second week of May, TCAF takes over the main floor of the Toronto Reference library (just north of Yonge and Bloor) for a weekend of tables, workshops and signing featuring some of the best in the world, and more than a few Canadian creators. Best of all, the entire weekend is free. If you missed out this year, mark May 14 and 15, 2016 on your calendars now!

TCAF’s raison d’être is that comics are not a genre but a legitimate form which encompasses a number of genres. Comics are not something to interest young readers before they move not to serious “literature” or stop reading altogether, a type of storytelling which dates thousands of years (The Bayeux Tapestry anyone?).  While bigger superhero-themed conventions like Fan Expo have been around since the early 1990s, TCAS has consciously taken a different path. While super-heroes are not forbidden, TCAF has focused on alternative and independent comics rather than the space occupied by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. For example, Montreal’s  Drawn and Quarterly, which has published works by Chester Brown, Seth, Lynda Barry, and Adrian Tomine to name a few, is celebrating its quarter century this year and was a special focus at the festival. 

For the last four years, TCAF has also sponsored a Librarians and Educators Day, the day before the festival presenting workshops and discussion on the use of the medium in our libraries and in our classrooms. This is the second time I’ve been, and it’s recommended for anyone who is interested in literary issues, story telling, education etc.

The day began with a keynote address by Scott McCleod author of Understanding Comics (a bit like John Berger’s Ways of Seeing but for comics and without the Marxism). McCleod’s talk dealt with the evolution of comics and our perceptions of them.  There’s also a fairly interesting TED Talk by McCleod which touches on some of the same issues – watch it here.

Workshops are always tricky. Usually at a conference, workshops fall into two categories – the one where you instantly know which one you want to attend. or the ones where you feel you’re making the lesser evil choice. TCAF isn’t like that- I wanted to attend every workshop. Here’s what I did attend:

1.     Comics: A Pathway to Learning.

U.S artist Jerzy Drozd led a workshop on how to use art in lessons to spark creativity. Each of us in the workshop created a mini-comic (mine is available upon request, but you’ll be disappointed!) I also received a package of instructional ideas and comments on art, but don’t worry. My ambitions don’t lie in that area.

 2.     D.I.Y. Comic-Con.

Or…how to have your own comic-con event: getting speakers, free stuff, activities etc. It seems the key to success is a button maker. We do have a button maker don’t we? The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has organized a list of creators who are willing to come to schools to give talks. Likewise Diamond Distribution will apparently send boxes of free comics for Free Comic Book Day. They just have to be asked! I should note here, I really wanted to go to the workshop on manga for girls, but those are the choices we make. 

 3.     Big Comics Q & A – Libraries

A workshop on what works and what doesn’t in public and school libraries: What to stock, what to weed, how to deal with patrons, parents and those who think people should be reading “real” books (when is it the right time to be getting your 7 year old to read Proust?).

4.     New releases

If you have young children, you will want to buy the soon-to-be-released book by Canadian artist Kate Beaton, “The Princess and the Pony.” I’m not a big manga fan, but I’m told Monster by  Naoki Urasawa, and Requiem of the Rose King (a rewrite of Richard III) by Aya Kanno are top-notch stuff.

I bought Jillian Tamaki’s Super Mutant Magic Academybut spent my time queuing up like a fan boy to get things signed by the likes of Chester Brown, Adrian Tomai, and Aya Kano.

The value of this sort of thing can be seen if you follow the link below


You might have to magnify the strip (I just clicked on it), but it’s worth it. BTW, the strip was created by a young woman from Norway when she was 17.

Next year, OK? Next year.

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Music Notes May 2015 – Literary Edition

May 31, 2015 at 1:25 pm (Uncategorized)

Ooh, time to listen with your eyes now.

Kim Gordon – Girl in a Band

Very fond of Sonic Youth, so there was really no doubt I would read Kim Gordon’s autobiography. She’s had a pretty interesting life before, after and during Sonic Youth. There’s plenty of gossip and cool connections in the book (I suppose if you travel in certain circles, you meet people in certain circles). Still, I have to confess a little disappointment as the writing is a little flat. A matter-of-fact style, unlike say the earlier collection of work Is It is My Body. She really doesn’t like Courtney Love though. Thurston Moore understandable comes in for a few shots too.

John Lydon – Anger is an Energy

Volume two of Lydon’s memoirs, which cover the same ground as Rotten, but take the story through the PIL years to the present day. Like the Kim Gordon book, there was almost no chance I wouldn’t read this, and like that, it’s both fascinating and disappointing. Fascinating for the wealth of details about people and personalities we all know, but sometimes Lydon’s words get the better of him, and you lose sympathy for his perspective. Something we’ll all guilty of I suppose. An essential read.

3. Dave Wise – The End of Music

A hard-to-find piece written in 1978 about punk rock and ultra-leftism. Plenty to argue about for sure. For a long time an incomplete version circulated in the AK Press collection What is Situationism? This is a slightly different version (it’s billed as the “original” on the site.). Provocative, fascinating stuff.  And there’s plenty of other good stuff on the Revolt Against Plenty site.

4. Chris Stein – Negative: me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk

Sure, sure, I own those early Blondie records, and listening to them again, they hold up pretty well.  This is a pretty coffee table book of photographs Stein took in the history of Blondie (there’s a lot of Debbie Harry), but like some of the others mentioned today, there are lots of shots of other cool people too. A fun way to spend a couple of hours.

5. Dave Laing  – One Chord Wonders

Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders is available again through PM Press and features an introduction by TV Smith from whose band, the Adverts, the book takes its title. Great attempt to look at the meaning behind punk placing it in the context of broader subcultures.

6. Andrew Bolton – Punk: From Chaos to Couture

Despite the fairly interesting pieces by John Lydon, Richard Hell and Jon Savage, this picture book which traces how punk inspired designer fashions is depressing. Watch in glorious photos how a rebellion was turned into a commodity.

7. Randal Doane – Stealing All Transmissions

Just got this and haven’t had a chance to read it, but it sure as hell looks interesting: A secret history of the Clash. How could I resist?

8. John Cooper Clarke – Snap Crackle and Bop

Yes, the one with “Evidently Chicken Town ” and “Beasley Street.” But basically I wanted to mention that the ‘Bard of Salford’ is playing a show at the Garrison in Toronto in September. Already got my ticket. Very excited about this one.

9. Leon Rosselson – The World Turned Upside Down

Fantastic. This collection, which traces Rosselson’s work from the sixties to present day, is a four-CD package with an 80 page book of explanations behind each song. Lovely personal political folk music.

10. BB King

Not a literary note really, but let’s pause to mourn the loss of BB King who died May 14. No words will adequately sum up his contribution. The best thing to do is just to listen to his work.

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Class Struggle and the Class Room

May 28, 2015 at 9:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Teachers in Ontario have been without a contract for almost a year. Well, actually, it’s been a bit longer really.

At the end of the last contract in August 2012, the governing Liberal party tabled and then passed Bill 115 subsequently The Putting Children First Act (see it you can spot the irony here) giving the province substantially more power in bargaining with education  unions. A key point was the demand that the unions accept the province’s hand-crafted contract or the province would impose it on them.

Given the “we will fight them on the beaches” style rhetoric from union leaders, they opted to have the province shoot them rather than commit suicide. At least that way, they could retain their dignity. Not much, mind you because despite the rhetoric, almost nothing was done.

Come the end of two years and it’s bargaining time again. This time there’s a bit more talk of fight back. Six weeks ago, secondary teachers in Durham, the board just east of Toronto walked out. Two weeks ago, teachers in Peel (Mississauga) and Rainbow (Sudbury) also walked out. Faced with more locals poised to strike, the Liberals introduced back-to-work legislation which passed today. At the same time, the Ontario Labour Board in response to a petition by the striking school boards declared the strikes illegal. Teachers went back to work on Wednesday, but union leaders have vowed to fight on.

Wow! Pretty militant stuff. Or is it?

A number of teachers I spoke to are pretty cynical about the whole thing. Is it possible that the striking boards were just used as cannon fodder? (Teachers wages will be garnished by the union to pay the strikers and make up the outlay by the union) The Liberals get to posture as tough against the unions, and the unions get to tell the membership they are still fighting for them. When you think about it, back-to-work was always at the end of the road, and what did the unions do to prepare? Very little. No mass rallies. No enlisting other unions to help out. What solidarity pickets there were, were organized at the local level not by the Federation. Is it too much to suggest that there’s already a backroom deal in the works? Despite the rhetoric of both the province and the unions, their agendas are virtually the same.

No? Well, cast your mind back a few years to when current premier Kathleen Wynn was running for leadership of the party. Education unions called for a massive protest at the convention site, and it was massive, in the thousands. What those protesters didn’t know though was that members of their own executive were inside lobbying with and for Wynn and actually gave the union’s money to her campaign! And when he retired from leadership of the federation, Ken Coran actually ran for the Liberals. He lost, but OSSTF had still endorsed him! Elementary, it should be noted endorsed the NDP candidate, but it might have been a different story if one of theirs had been running.

Too  bad civics classes are almost over for the year. This would have been a most instructive lesson.

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Notes on the UK: Election, Royal Babies and Stuff

May 3, 2015 at 3:21 pm (Uncategorized)

Well, lots of things about the UK this week.

First is the general election on Thursday. To think, it’s been 36 years on Monday since Thatcher was elected (apparently she ate her first live baby in celebration), and it’s been Conservatives every since. OK, OK, but it’s amusing that Tony Blair MP is an anagram for I’m Tory Plan B.

The fact remains though that the election campaign by two essentially identical parties tied neck and neck has remained deadly dull. Possibly the most interesting thing was a college student who accidentally (I wonder) dropped his trousers in front of Liberal-Democrat Nick Clegg while hoping for a selfie. Ralph Miliband must be turning in his grave over what his offspring are like. And David Cameron is so clueless he likes the Jam’s “Eton Rifles.” (Still, if Paul Ryan can claim Rage Against the Machine, anything’s possible)

And then there was that woman who had a second child. As a parent who has two children, I’ll say that the second one is easier; there’s no less panic. Of course, it’s even easier, if you’re part of arguable the richest family in the world. As a fellow parent, I don’t have any personal antipathy toward William and Kate, but when I read about how the royal couple got a 10% discount at the swishy hospital Kate delivered at because they’re frequent birthers ( is that the word?) there, I think, surely you mean the general public got a 10% discount. Ah, I’m nostalgic for the good old days, the 1990s, when everyone hated them. Of course, there was the astute Mr. Blair who was able to skillfully turn public anger over the cold-hardheartedness of the first family over the death of the “people’s princess” into support for the institution.

Lastly, crime novelist Ruth Rendell died of a stroke yesterday. I never read any of her books, but I think I might have enjoyed the TV adaptation of the Inspector Wexford series at one point.  I was surprised to learn she was a Labour Party member. I was even more surprised to learn she was a member of the House of Lords.  “How can she be a Labour Party member and a member of the House of Lords?” my wife asked. I began to wind up the machine. It’s quite stunning though just uncommitted many-house trained “socialists” are, waiting for their seats in the House of Lords.

What was it the Clash wrote?

Who needs the Parliament
Sitting making laws all day
They’re all fat and old
Queuing for the House of Lords

“Remote Control”

Oddly enough, Blair has repeatedly made it clear he does not want that reward. (funny how he slipped into  this piece so many times)
I feel like reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island now.

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The Sonics in Toronto

May 3, 2015 at 2:32 pm (Uncategorized)

You know, there comes a time in every music fan’s life where said fan thinks, “I’m getting too old for this.” Usually it comes after a night out, and now the work day approaches after a lot less sleep than is comfortable. And yet, it’s been almost half a century since the last Sonics record, so if they can do it, so can I.

A month or two ago I was in Soundscapes talking to one of the guys who worked there about the show. I’d missed the Sonics at North by North East a few years earlier and wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see the band who in all likelihood wouldn’t be able to recapture those glory days.  The conversation nudged me in the right direction (“Gerry Rosile can still hit the notes”), but if I’m going to be honest, the deal maker was that catL was opening the show.

If you haven’t seen catL, you have missed something beautiful. A duo of JP and Sarah, although joined on stage by their harmonica playing friend Pete,  catL come into their element live. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the records are great, but live they are incredible. The fifty-minute set pulled songs from their four albums, and I almost left then, thinking that was going to be a peak. I picked up the album I was missing from my collection, and got a rather nice catL tote bag as well. Cool.

But of course, I stayed for the Sonics, and then the wait was worth it. The band was promoting their new record This is the Sonics, and ran through most of the album as if they were the songs they had been playing all of their lives. New songs sounded like old, and old songs sounded like old friends. Along with the new, covers from Bo Diddley, the Hoodoo Gurus, and even their version of Louie Louie (a sad note – Jack Ely, the singer on the Kingsmen’s version passed away a few days after the show). Of course the hits came too, with “Strychnine,” “Psycho” and “The Witch” bringing things to a close.  (Was a bit sad “Walking the Dog” didn’t make the set list, but at least “Have love will travel” made it)

A great show. But two things nagged at me. The hacking cough which caused people to move away from me during the show as I coughed up a lung, and if this was the Sonics at 70, when someone invents a time machine so I can go to see them at their peak, will I be strong enough to endure the mighty Sonics?

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Happy May Day 2015

May 1, 2015 at 1:00 am (Uncategorized)

May Day has too often been the property of geriatric Stalinists parading military hardware or in the social-democratic version saluting “actually existing socialism.” Just to note that this tradition is still in place, the Mandel Trotskyists  of Socialist Action in Toronto have a guest from the Cuban Consulate at their May Day banquet. But May Day sprang out of actual struggles. And workers deaths. The article below is by Lucy Parsons whose husband Albert was one of the Haymarket Martyrs.

“I am an anarchist. I suppose you came here, the most of you, to see what a real, live anarchist looked like. I suppose some of you expected to see me with a bomb in one hand and a flaming torch in the other, but are disappointed in seeing neither. If such has been your ideas regarding an anarchist, you deserved to be disappointed. Anarchists are peaceable, law abiding people. What do anarchists mean when they speak of anarchy? Webster gives the term two definitions chaos and the state of being without political rule. We cling to the latter definition. Our enemies hold that we believe only in the former.

“Do you wonder why there are anarchists in this country, in this great land of liberty, as you love to call it? Go to New York. Go through the byways and alleys of that great city. Count the myriads starving; count the multiplied thousands who are homeless; number those who work harder than slaves and live on less and have fewer comforts than the meanest slaves. You will be dumbfounded by your discoveries, you who have paid no attention to these poor, save as objects of charity and commiseration. They are not objects of charity, they are the victims of the rank injustice that permeates the system of government, and of political economy that holds sway from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Its oppression, the misery it causes, the wretchedness it gives birth to, are found to a greater extent in New York than elsewhere. In New York, where not many days ago two governments united in unveiling a statue of liberty, where a hundred bands played that hymn of liberty, ‘The Marseillaise.’ But almost its equal is found among the miners of the West, who dwell in squalor and wear rags, that the capitalists, who control the earth that should be free to all, may add still further to their millions! Oh, there are plenty of reasons for the existence of anarchists.

“But in Chicago they do not think anarchists have any right to exist at all. They want to hang them there, lawfully or unlawfully. You have heard of a certain Haymarket meeting.’ You have heard of a bomb. You have heard of arrests and of succeeding arrests effected by detectives. Those detectives! There is a set of men nay, beasts for you! Pinkerton detectives! They would do anything. I feel sure capitalists wanted a man to throw that bomb at the Haymarket meeting and have the anarchists blamed for it. Pinkerton could have accomplished it for him. You have heard a great deal about bombs. You have heard that the anarchists said lots about dynamite. You have been told that Lingg made bombs. He violated no law. Dynamite bombs can kill, can murder, so can Gatling guns. Suppose that bomb had been thrown by an anarchist. The constitution says there are certain inalienable rights, among which are a free press, free speech and free assemblage. The citizens of this great land are given by the constitution the right to repel the unlawful invasion of those rights. The meeting at Haymarket square was a peaceable meeting. Suppose, when an anarchist saw the police arrive on the scene, with murder in their eyes, determined to break up that meeting, sup¬pose he had thrown that bomb; he would have violated no law. That will be the verdict of your children. Had I been there, had I seen those murderous police approach, had I heard that insolent command to disperse, had I heard Fielden say, ‘Captain, this is a peaceable meeting,’ had I seen the liberties of my countrymen trodden under foot, I would have flung the bomb myself. I would have violated no law, but would have upheld the constitution.

“If the anarchists had planned to destroy the city of Chicago and to mas¬sacre the police, why was it they had only two or three bombs in hand? Such was not their intention. It was a peaceable meeting. Carter Harrison, the mayor of Chicago, was there. He said it was a quiet meeting. He told Bonfield [Captain John Bonfield, Commander of Desplaines Police Station] to send the police to their different beats. I do not stand here to gloat over the murder of those policemen. I despise murder. But when a ball from the revolver of a policeman kills it is as much murder as when death results from a bomb.

“The police rushed upon that meeting as it was about to disperse. Mr. Simonson talked to Bonfield about the meeting.’ Bonfield said he wanted to do the anarchists up. Parsons went to the meeting. He took his wife, two ladies and his two children along. Toward the close of the meeting, he said, ‘I believe it is going to rain. Let us adjourn to Zeph’s hall.’ Fielden said he was about through with his speech and would close it at once. The people were beginning to scatter about, a thousand of the more enthusiastic still lingered in spite of the rain. Parsons, and those who accompanied him started for home. They had gone as far as the Desplaine’s street police station when they saw the police start at a double quick. Parsons stopped to see what was the trouble. Those 200 policemen rushed on to do the anarchists up. Then we went on. I was in Zeph’s hall when I heard that terrible detonation. It was heard around the world. Tyrants trembled and felt there was something wrong.

“The discovery of dynamite and its use by anarchists is a repetition of history. When gun powder was discovered, the feudal system was at the height of its power. Its discovery and use made the middle classes. Its first discharge sounded the death knell of the feudal system. The bomb at Chicago sounded the downfall of the wage system of the nineteenth century. Why? Because I know no intelligent people will submit to despotism. The first means the diffusion of power. I tell no man to use it. But it was the achievement of science, not of anarchy, and would do for the masses. I suppose the press will say I belched forth treason. If I have violated any law, arrest me, give me a trial, and the proper punishment, but let the next anarchist that comes along ventilate his views without hindrance.

“Well, the bomb exploded, the arrests were made and then came that great judicial farce, beginning on June 21. The jury was impaneled. Is there a Knight of Labor here? Then know that a Knight of Labor was not considered competent enough to serve on that jury. ‘Are you a Knight of Labor?’ ‘Have you any sympathy with labor organizations?’ were the questions asked each talisman. If an affirmative answer was given, the talisman was bounced. It was not are you a Mason, a Knight Templar? O, no! [Great applause.] I see you read the signs of the times by that expression. Hangman Gary, miscalled judge, ruled that if a man was prejudiced against the defendants, it did not incapacitate him for serving on the jury. For such a man, said Hangman Gary, would pay closer attention to the law and evidence and would be more apt to render a verdict for the defense. Is there a lawyer here? If there is he knows such a ruling is without precedent and contrary to all law, reason or common sense.

“In the heat of patriotism the American citizen sometimes drops a tear for the nihilist of Russia. They say the nihilist can’t get justice, that he is condemned without trial. How much more should he weep for his next door neighbor, the anarchist, who is given the form of trial under such a ruling.

“There were ‘squealers’ introduced as witnesses for the prosecution. There were three of them. Each and every one was compelled to admit they had been purchased and intimidated by the prosecution. Yet Hangman Gary held their evidence as competent. It came out in the trial that the Haymarket meeting was the result of no plot, but was caused in this wise. The day before the wage slaves in McCormick’s factory had struck for eight hours labor, McCormick, from his luxurious office, with one stroke of the pen by his idle, be ringed fingers, turned 4,000 men out of employment. Some gathered and stoned the factory. Therefore they were anarchists, said the press. But anarchists are not fools; only fools stone buildings. The police were sent out and they killed six wage slaves. You didn’t know that. The capitalistic press kept it quiet, but it made a great fuss over the killing of some policemen. Then these crazy anarchists, as they are called, thought a meeting ought to be held to consider the killing of six brethren and to discuss the eight hour movement. The meeting was held. It was peaceable. When Bonfield ordered the police to charge those peaceable anarchists, he hauled down the American flag and should have been shot on the spot.

“While the judicial farce was going on the red and black flags were brought into court, to prove that the anarchists threw the bomb. They were placed on the walls and hung there, awful specters before the jury. What does the black flag mean? When a cable gram says it was carried through the streets of a European city it means that the people are suffering—that the men are out of work, the women starving, the children barefooted. But, you say, that is in Europe. How about America? The Chicago Tribune said there were 30,000 men in that city with nothing to do. Another authority said there were 10,000 barefooted children in mid winter. The police said hundreds had no place to sleep or warm. Then President Cleveland issued his Thanksgiving proclamation and the anarchists formed in procession and car¬ried the black flag to show that these thousands had nothing for which to return thanks. When the Board of Trade, that gambling den, was dedicated by means of a banquet, $30 a plate, again the black flag was carried, to signify that there were thousands who couldn’t enjoy a 2 cent meal.

But the red flag, the horrible red flag, what does that mean? Not that the streets should run with gore, but that the same red blood courses through the veins of the whole human race. * It meant the brotherhood of man. When the red flag floats over the world the idle shall be called to work. There will be an end of prostitution for women, of slavery for man, of hunger for children.

“Liberty has been named anarchy. If this verdict is carried out it will be the death knell of America’s liberty. You and your children will be slaves. You will have liberty if you can pay for it. If this verdict is carried out, place the flag of our country at half mast and write on every fold ‘shame.’ Let our flag be trailed in the dust. Let the children of workingmen place laurels to the brow of these modern heroes, for they committed no crime. Break the two fold yoke. Bread is freedom and freedom is bread.

The Kansas City Journal, December 21, 1886, p. 1.


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