I arrived in London by train from Didcot in the early evening of September 8, disembarking at Paddington Station. I was feeling hungry, but wanted to get my luggage to the place I’d be staying before seeking food.
It took a little bit of time to find the correct bus stop, but I did manage to fit myself and my 3 bags onto a bus, rode it a ways south and east, and transferred to another bus to go a bit further. I had booked a room in an apartment for 5 nights, again through airbnb, and I got there a bit after 8:00. The couple who lived there were very nice, offering me some leftover stir-fry that they had made for dinner, so I had no need to go out for a late meal.
The next morning, I took a bus north up to King’s Cross Station, and then walked southwest toward some museums I planned to visit. The bus system in London seems to run pretty well, as there are frequent buses, and most of them are double-decker, so there’s often plenty of capacity.
I had been told I should try a full English breakfast, so I stopped in at at a pub, but it turned out to be an Irish pub. I got their “Irish Breakfast,” which involved most of the same foods. It contained:
- 1 fried egg
- 2 pork and leek sausages
- 2 rashers of bacon
- a piece of potato bread
- baked beans
- grilled tomato
- grilled mushroom
- 1 slice of black pudding
- 1 slice of white pudding
I had not even heard of white pudding before, but it and the black pudding were not bad. The other items were pretty good.
From there I headed through the Bloomsbury neighborhood of the city, where I happened upon a little park called Tavistock Square. The place seemed somewhat dedicated to peace, as at the center of the park there is a statue of Ghandi:
and in the north end of the park was a monument to conscientious objectors (click on any image to see it bigger):
The park also had a monument to a famous literary figure of Bloomsbury’s past:
From there I headed to the Cartoon Museum. It’s a small place, so I expected to spend only an hour or so – maybe 2 hours there. I ended up being there for about 3.5 hours, as I wanted to read most of the cartoons and comic pages that were on exhibit. This being 2014, the museum had a large exhibit of World War I art, which was very absorbing.
Once I was finished at the Cartoon Museum, I walked a couple of blocks north to the British Museum. At this point I only had a bit over 2 hours to spend there, and it’s a big place, but it’s free admission, and I could always come back later in the week to see more.
Here is the front of the place:
Which is bordered by this ornate fence:
And then the interior courtyard, looking back toward the entrance hall:
This area was in the past open to the air, but now has this interesting roof:
This is the center section of the courtyard, with stairways going upward around both sides of it:
I managed to see a number of Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman artifacts, as well as an exhibit of clocks and watches, and early Anglo-Saxon items.
Upon leaving there, I took the Underground for the first time, heading out to Hammersmith. There I got a quick dinner at a falafel place (and cheap for London – a sandwich and drink were only £4 total), and then went to the Apollo theater for the Kate Bush concert (the motivation for this whole trip).
The place was quite crowded, but that’s not surprising for a sold out concert. I visited one of the merchandise booths to get a couple of things, and then made my way to my seat, way up in the balcony. Photography was strongly discouraged, as this was supposed to be treated more like a theatrical show than a rock concert. I did take a picture of the venue before the show started, though:
And here’s one at intermission (the feather on the curtain was related to the second act content):
After that performance, I saw an announcement that some of the nights would be recorded for a DVD release, so I don’t want to say too much about the content of the show, as some folks reading this might watch the video of it at some point. The show was mostly made up of 2 themed song sets from her albums (one of these sets in each half of the concert), and those involved dramatic content, neat costuming, and even special effects. But there were several songs performed in a more straightforward manner, as well. I had a great time, and still find it a bit hard to believe that I actually got to see her perform live after all these years.
Leaving the venue at the end, I noticed it was lit with color-changing lights:
It had still been light out when I went in, 4 hours or so earlier (the show itself was about 3 hours long).
A combination of subway and bus got me back to my lodging, and I headed to bed soon after.
Next: government, science, and more waterfowl.
A few more little reviews of webcomics today.
In the past I have mentioned Narbonic, by Shaenon Garrity, and her strip Skin Horse that was new at the time. She collaborates with Jeffrey Wells on Skin Horse (they co-write it, and she does all the art), and now that it’s been running for a few years, I can say a bit more about it. The strip is basically about a secret government agency that helps nonhuman sapients cope with the world (in short, they’re black ops social services). Where Narbonic was about a mad scientist, Skin Horse (that title, BTW, is a reference to the Velveteen Rabbit) often involves the main characters taking on the products of mad science as their clients. The situations and plot lines in the strip are generally silly and imaginative, such as one that involved the ongoing discovery of various creatures having created their own clashing civilizations in the basement archives.
Clockwork Game is a historical comic, dramatizing the history of a real device – a seemingly chess-playing automaton known often as “The Turk”, for its decoration as though it were an Ottoman figure from a certain period. Jane Irwin is the creator, as well as having written and drawn earlier the fictional Vögelein graphic novels. The strip covered much of the life of the device’s inventor, Wolfgang von Kempelen, and his displeasure with something he built as an amusement coming to overshadow his more practical creations. Currently, the story is concerned with the work of the man who acquired the automaton after Kempelen’s death, what he did with it and other technologies. The comic is really neat as an interesting look at some history of technology that I wasn’t aware of, and several famous personages are encountered in the strip.
Finally, for a few years I’ve been reading Octopus Pie, by Meredith Gran. I may have mentioned her briefly in my NEWW posts, but I don’t think I talked specifically about the strip. OP follows the lives of several friends/acquaintances in Brooklyn, and is generally a humorous comic, though it has had its more serious stories. For the most part, it’s a slice of life type of comic, but the art style is quite cartoony, and occasionally it gets out of the realm of our usual reality. Gran has a great gift for dialogue, and often the characters say hilarious things, or at least say things in a funny manner. The strip pokes fun at a lot of aspects of modern urban life, such as hipster culture, organic food stores, bike culture, drugs, etc. The main character, Eve, is an excellent cranky protagonist, and she has a great foil in her really laid-back roommate Hanna.
So this is a quick review of a comic I’ve been following for about a year, now. I picked up a copy of the first book collection of Family Man from its creator, Dylan Meconis, at Webcomics Weekend last year. In one of my posts about that convention, I briefly mentioned and linked to her, but I have said nothing about the comic itself. It’s time to rectify that.
I had not read the comic before that point, though I’d read one previous comic by Meconis. Family Man is the story of Luther Levy, the son of a clockmaker in 18th century Germany (or what will become Germany, at any rate). Luther has studied theology, and aspires to get back to academia. He gets a chance to do so at an out-of-the-way university, but there are some odd things about the school and the town that houses it.
The comic is beautifully drawn, with very compelling and rich characters. It’s also a neat look at how life was in the 1760’s, especially the life of a scholarly institution (it’s interesting how much similarity there is with academic life today). The story is slow to build, and where it will eventually go is only vaguely hinted at, but there is still plenty to enjoy while we wait for more to be revealed.
There is still only one print edition available, which contains the pages up through early 2010. There have been many more pages published online since then, though not as large a number as you might think, as she took a hiatus for nearly half of this year. No telling when a second print version will come out (maybe late next year?), if you prefer your comics that way. Nevertheless, Family Man is definitely worth your time if you like intelligent storytelling in a well-researched historic setting, including the politics and social forces of the time, and where there might be something supernatural going on.
A month ago I made my way to a small, one-day comic convention in New York: the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. It’s a pretty new con – this was only its second year – but it attracted a great variety of talent.
I drove part of the way there, but parked in Connecticut and took the train into NYC. I noticed that there was a book rack placed in the train station by the local public library:
A closer look revealed that all the books on the rack were romance novels:
Perhaps that’s what the library expects train riders will want to read. I did not pick one up, myself.
I rode the train into Grand Central, then took a couple of subways to get to Williamsburg. While walking to the convention site, I saw an interesting Orthodox church:
And also this graffito beyond a freeway overpass:
I wonder where Eggyolk was, then…
Here’s the venue that the show was held in, another church:
Specifically, the event took place in the church’s gymnasium and cafeteria. Here’s the exhibit/signing floor in the gym:
There were a couple of tables on the stage at the far end. I took another picture from the stage:
It’s a bit hard to see the layout of tables in these pics, partly because the place was so crowded. Attendees filled the room all day.
There were a few people I wanted (and got) to see there, starting with Jason Little:
I had picked up the first book of his comic “Bee” back in 2003, and then had lost track of the comic. It turns out, he had only just published the second book, so I picked up a copy from him. Haven’t read it yet, but I really enjoyed the first book, Shutterbug Follies, which is about a woman working in a photo lab who stumbles on a crime plot from clues in negatives that are dropped off.
Also there was Kate Beaton, whose archives I have now read. I was going to buy the book collection of her strips from her, but she didn’t have copies with her. Instead, she had a minicomic containing newer strips, which I bought.
Yes, I seem to have taken pictures of the tops of people’s heads.
Kate said I looked familiar, and I mentioned that I had volunteered at NEWW the previous month. On the back of the minicomic she sketched me and wrote a thank you for volunteering! She may not remember that I messed up her line management, but she probably wouldn’t dwell on it anyway.
The always funky Lynda Barry was there, so I got to meet her for a second time:
She has a new book out about creating art, to go with her previous one about writing. I now have both in my “to read” pile.
I got a few comics signed by Paul Pope, who I had met once before:
And then there was the one creator I most wanted to meet there: someone whose work I’ve been reading for more than 2 decades, but whom I’d never gotten to meet before. My main reason for attending BCGF was to see:
Bill Griffith. If you aren’t familiar with Zippy the Pinhead, well, it’s probably the most surreal strip you’ll find on the newspaper comics page, and one of the most satirical.
Down in the cafeteria, below the gym, they had a section with food being sold and a separate panel area. I went to 3 panels during the day. The first was basically a conversation between Lynda Barry and Charles Burns, who were classmates in high school and college.
My favorite moment from this panel was Barry being asked about a lot of recent collage work she’s done, and her anecdote from her childhood about that. She said she spent a lot of time cutting pictures out of magazines her mother (who worked in a hospital) brought home from work. When she was bored or feeling bad, she would do things like cutting slits in a picture of Beefaroni and then have cut-outs of different famous people rise up from the pasta and slide back down into it. It never failed to amuse her, and I can see why.
The second panel I went to featured Evan Dorkin and Paul Pope, and they were supposed to be joined by an old industry veteran Irwin Hasen to discuss his and other artists’ comic work from earlier decades. Hasen was unable to make the con because of illness, and though I’m a fan of the two remaining panelists, they failed to hold my attention much.
Look, I was so bored, I couldn’t be bothered to hold the camera still! 😉
The third panel had Bill Griffith on it, so I wanted to hear him speak, though the subject was the comic strip “Nancy”, which I’ve never been a fan of.
It was okay, and though I’m still not convinced by the panelists that “Nancy” is one of the greatest strips ever, they did show some funny examples of it and other Ernie Bushmiller work.
I left the convention shortly after that last panel, and went in search of dinner. That ended up being at a little Turkish restaurant where I got some decent (but not great) falafel, hummus, and grape leaves. On the way, I was asked if I was Jewish by a man handing out literature (I admitted that I’m not). It appeared that the local Chabad organization was doing this as part of Chanukah, and they had a large menorah on one street corner:
After dinner, it was back on the subway, back on the train to CT, and then back in the car to home. In between subway trains, someone in front of me on the platform noticed a rat crawling around on the tracks, and declared that she had now had the full NYC tourist experience. Indeed.
On the second day of NEWW, I had a bit of time to spend looking over artist tables and deciding whether I wanted to try anything new. I ended up buying a book from Jonathan Rosenberg, some of whose earlier books I have.
I was scheduled to volunteer at 1:00, and I ended up getting assigned to line duty. That is, I was supposed to manage the fans lined up at tables to see Jeph Jacques and Kate Beaton. I’ve never read Beaton’s comics, but several people have recommended them to me, so she’s on my radar. She seems to be enormously popular, and her line required quite a bit more managing than that of Jacques. By ‘managing’, I mean that I had to make sure people weren’t blocking the passageway, which required arranging the line in a particular shape, and periodically capping it temporarily so it wouldn’t be too long. I was certainly kept busy for most of the two hours of my shift. There was an unfortunate miscommunication, though – at one point Kate thought I had capped the line for good, when I had only done so temporarily. Once it shortened enough I let more people in, and she emphatically asked what was up and made it clear that she had to stop soon (her hand was getting sore from signing and drawing). So after that I had to turn away some disappointed fans, but the artist gets to decide when she’s done.
After my volunteer time was done I went to a panel on weirdness artists have dealt with from readers and others on the Internet. I did not take a picture of the panel for some reason, perhaps because I arrived just as it was starting and I squeezed into a spot against the back wall (it was standing-room-only, and very warm in the room). I can’t quite remember who all the panelists were, but for sure Erika Moen, Chris Hastings, and Randy Milholland were on it (that last strip is another one I have not read). The stories they told were amusing, and mostly seemed to fall in 2 categories: crazy stalker fans, and overblown hate mail (plus a sprinkling of IP theft).
Next post: the Webcomics Awards.
I spotted this on a bulletin board while at NEWW:
I guess that means that webcomics are a Big Fucking Deal!
I went to one panel on the first day of the con. It was about world-building. Here’s a pic of the panelists:
From left to right: Aaron Diaz; Spike; Evan Dahm; Liz Baillie; and Ben Riley. (Note that I only read one of those 5 comics, but I may check out the others) Evan was the moderator, and he’s posted an mp3 of the panel on his site.
In the late afternoon I did my volunteer stint. I ended up watching over the green room, which was basically for the artists at the con to go to when they needed a snack or some peace and quiet. It wasn’t much work, and I spent much of the time in there reading or chatting with other volunteers or artists who came in. It was necessary, though, as several people had left backpacks and such in the room.
After the show officially ended for the day, there was a dinner gathering with pizza for all the artists and volunteers. Getting to hang out there was the real advantage to volunteering. It was mostly people sitting around in a big room and talking, but there was also black construction paper on the tables and one wall, and chalk for drawing on the paper. Here are some bats that were done on a table corner:
And another section of table where I drew some objects that may be familiar:
On the wall, I also doodled a couple of things. I’m nowhere near as good as the people who draw comics regularly, but I learned years back at another convention to not let that bother me, and just to have fun with it.
A dragon took up the middle of the paper:
Here’s Spike drawing one of her characters:
A bit later I saw her drawing an eyeball with a top hat, and asked, “Is that one of the Residents?” She answered in the affirmative, and then someone came up next to me and asked the same question. I think Spike was surprised that that many other people knew of the group.
After that, someone else drew in the rest of the band:
The following day I took a picture of the filled paper:
I also have some other high-res shots that show all the details. I may post some bits at a later time.
Next post: Sunday at NEWW.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure to head across the river and attend the second New England Webcomics Weekend. It may yet become an annual event, but this one was held a bit over a year-and-a-half after the first one.
Above is the marquee on the Eastworks building in Easthampton. The actual building entrance where registration was being held was marked with these wooden cutout signs:
The signs were made by Chris Yates.
I had bought a VIP registration for the con, which got me a tote bag, a couple of other goodies, and better seats at panels. However, I also ended up volunteering, which got me this t-shirt:
The official uniform of NEWW volunteers. I did about 5 hours total of volunteering over the 2 days. More on that in later posts.
Here’s my swanky VIP badge, with art by John Allison:
John did a strip called Scary-Go-Round for many years, and though his site still uses that name, his current strip is called Bad Machinery. He writes dialogue that is often very funny, in a silly, dry, British way. He was one of the cartoonists I wanted to see there (he having traveled across the Atlantic for the con), and I bought a book from him while letting him know how much I liked the badge.
Other cartoonists I wanted to see included Chris Baldwin, of Spacetrawler (and other stuff); Spike, of Templar, Arizona; Jeph Jacques; Dylan Meconis; Erika Moen; and Chris Hastings. Convention attendees were given a sketchbook, and I got sketches from a few of them in it.
From Spike (I specified nothing about the sketch):
From Chris Baldwin (I asked for a sketch of these 2 characters):
From Jeph Jacques (I asked for this character saying something poetic):
More later on panels, people, and parties.
Another comic review tonight: for several years I had heard of, and had recommended to me, the comic Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio. I finally started reading it about a year ago.
Like Runners, this started out as a print comic, and later moved to the web. For some time now it’s been posted a page at a time, three times per week. Both of the Foglios write the script, with Phil pencilling and inking the art, and colors by a third person (the colorist has changed over time – currently it is Cheyenne Wright).
One could maybe call this a science fiction comic, though I think fantasy would be a better way to put it (the creators use the term “Gaslamp Fantasy”, in fact). It falls into the subgenre known as Steampunk, though to my recollection there’s a lot more devices in the story that are powered by wind-up clockworks than by steam power, but that’s neither here nor there. What makes it not so sci-fi for me is that there is little attempt to explain how any technology works, or to make it at all realistic (it’s more ‘mad science’ than anything else).
That said, it is a very enjoyable story. It takes place in a fictional 19th century Europe, much of which is unified under the rule of one Baron Wulfenbach. The main character of the series (the titular smart woman) is Agatha Heterodyne, who has grown up thinking she’s an ordinary citizen, only to discover that she is what is referred to as a Spark (basically, a somewhat unhinged savant), and that she comes from a rather infamous family. What ensues are her attempts to stay alive and out of the Baron’s custody while figuring out more about her past and her abilities.
The series is a nice blend of high adventure with really goofy humor, and the particular cartoony style of the art lends itself well to the humor. The comic has an almost epic scope, with a lot of characters, but even when things are fairly serious, some of the characters provide good comic relief (especially the Jaegers, a breed of humanoid soldiers who place particular importance on hats). This comic, like Galaxion, features a large cast of strong female characters, but there has been a tendency to draw them in a somewhat more revealing or cheesecakey way some of the time (though I think that tendency has lessened over the years).
Most readers of this blog probably already read Girl Genius, but I certainly recommend it for those who haven’t checked it out.
Here’s another review of a sci-fi webcomic. This one is Spacetrawler, by Chris Baldwin. I’ve been reading Baldwin’s comics for darn near a decade, and he’s one of my favorite cartoonists. (as an aside, I got to meet him for the first time this past weekend at NEWW, but the details of that event will be in a different post).
Chris has done a number of comic strips in the past, the two major ones being Bruno and Little Dee (which are each currently being rerun with commentary). Spacetrawler is different in that it’s a graphic novel being posted one page at a time rather than a single strip each day (which can stand alone even if part of a longer storyline). The plot in Spacetrawler concerns a half dozen Earthlings who are enlisted (kidnapped, really) by aliens to help free an exploited species known as the Eebs. Nogg, the captain of the ship and leader of this mission, has an elaborate plan – with which things keep going wrong.
This is another comic in which I really enjoy the alien designs. Some of them are patterned after Earth animals, but others are imaginative. What’s also great about Spacetrawler is that Baldwin infuses it with serious politics and conflict, as well as with wacky humor (the sense of humor here is similar to that in Little Dee, though aimed at a more adult audience). He’s always been able to mix comedy, drama, and tragedy in effective ways in his comics.
This is another series with very distinct characters – humans, other species, and robots – with one of the neat (and very funny) things being the different ways in which each human reacts to their newly expanded reality.
If you read only one of the comics I’ve recommended so far this month, I’d advise that it be Spacetrawler.
Here’s another sci-fi webcomic review. Galaxion, by Tara Tallan, concerns space exploration and a mission to test an experimental interstellar drive (after 2 previous experiments met with failure).
This comic is one that was first published as a print comic series in the 1990’s, but Tallan relaunched it on the web a few years ago, rewriting much of it and redrawing it from the beginning. I’ve read both, and it’s interesting to see some of the plot points she changed, but I won’t get into spoilers here.
The story has a lot of elements of mystery/suspense to it, as there is much that’s unknown about what happened with one of the earlier drive experiments. What makes it compelling is the clash of different characters, especially as the captain of the ship being used for the experiment (the Galaxion) has to deal with her civilian crew of scientists and researchers being commandeered by the military.
There are a number of very different characters in the comic, many of them defined by their jobs on the ship. One of the neat things is getting to see some of the everyday life of the crew. Another interesting point is the ship’s survey contact team, who are trained in various aspects of contact with new life forms, though in the story’s history of human space exploration only one other form of sentient life has ever been encountered (and these folks haven’t gotten to meet those life forms).
I’d also call it a feminist comic, as most of the characters are strong female ones, including the main character (a contact team member), the ship’s captain, the general leading the mission, and the contact team leader.
If you like lightly techy sci-fi with a lot of interpersonal dynamics, occasional silliness, and a slowly unfolding puzzle, check out Galaxion. Plus, this week you can see Tallan’s blog entry about her kid’s Dalek costume. 🙂
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