Saturday, October 11, 2008

SPX 2008: There and Back Again

I've been trying to get to SPX for years now but something always seemed to crop up and I'd put off the idea for a year or two. This year I finally made it and it sure was worth the wait.

SEPT 30TH, 2008

My pal Patrick and I rented a car (thanks Jay!) and hit the road for Moncton to catch Blue Man Group playing at the Moncton Colosseum.

I've been a big fan of these guys for years, but Patrick knew very little about them and was rather indifferent until the show started. I knew he was going to love it and I was not wrong - how could you not? Our floor seats sucked so we took to the high ground for a better view. I'd seen the show before on PBS and knew all the music so it wasn't too much of a surprise to me, but very enjoyable none the less. Great crowd.

After the show, a few friends had backstage passes to meet the BMG, so me, Pat and my nephew Josh were waiting around for them to get back. Out of no where my cousin Craig Wilson from St. John greets me. I haven't seen him in decades! What I remember most about Craig was him giving me his Star Wars toys one time when we visited (I still have them too).

We crash at Carol's uncle Dave's house that night. I have trouble sleeping because Pat bought me a coffee just before the show.

OCTOBER 1ST, 2008

Woke up early the next morning with a mild headache, fueled up on coffee and hit the road! We had a few days travel time so the plan was to not have a plan. Stop at interesting or weird places and take back roads where possible.

Just outside St. Stephen, NB we find our first weird stop.




The next stop was the US border where I learned and interesting thing: A Canadian can not go into the US and sell stuff. We were stopped and whisked into the Department of Homeland Security building, the watchful eye of George W. Bush grinning at us from a large framed poster while border guards went through our car and belongings.

An elderly woman, attempting to bring 8 peaches across the boarder was stopped and her fruit confiscated. Pat had a peach while we waited.

I was mildly concerned when the officer came in with a handful of books from the car, one of them Dave Sim's Judenhass. I half expected them to flip it open, see a drawings of Hitler and Jews from Auschwitz and charge us with distributing hate literature. Thankfully that was not the case. In fact, the officer was as helpful as she could be but in the end told us to go back to Canada and get rid of all but 2 copies of my books and I could keep the free preview comics.

We grabbed lunch at a nearby Pizza Delight and tried to formulate a plan. I'd be damned if I wasn't going to SPX this year! My salvation came in the form of Brenda Matheson, a kind and trusting soul who manages the Tourist Information Building in St. Stephen. She kept my books in her office for a week and I can't thank her enough for helping me out!

We breezed back through the US border without anyone bothering to make sure I'd done as told. None the less, The US is justly safe from Canadian comics and peaches - well done!

Pat wanted some Marlboros and happily smoked away when the fancy struck him. We stopped at a Tim Hortons, curious as to what passes for Tim Hortons coffee in the States. I ordered a medium and got a large. Pat ordered a medium and got a large. When he commented on that, the woman serving us said, "Oh, you must be Canadian. Everything is bigger in the US". Sadly (but not surprisingly) the coffee sucked.

We drove until it got dark and rainy, stopping outside Boston around 9PM. We found a dark parking lot and decided to save a few bucks and sleep in the car for a few hours. It was almost impossible to sleep, and when I did finally fall asleep for a few hours, it was on a sharp plastic corner of the armrest. I still have a baseball sized black bruise on my thigh from that.

OCTOBER 2nd, 2008

By about 4AM I'd had enough and started driving again in the pitch dark and in a downpour through Boston and onto the I95. By dawn we were pretty hungry so we pulled off and found this amazing little German styled restaurant filled with teddy bears, aptly called Pat's Kitchen. Breakfast was awesome.

Our first sight of NY signage! We debated if we should go for the day but rightly decided against it in favour of hitting Philly for the day tomorrow.

Pat veered off and we took a pit stop in Port Jervis, an awesome little place filled with neat antique shops. We started off at an Army Surplus Shop.

This would have made an excellent Halloween costume!


We decide to go for a walk.


Pat finds himself a nice Hawaiian velvet Elvis painting at a great antique shop. I find this book I had and loved when I was a kid, so I bought it to read to Alice & Hayden. Good coffee house called Port Java in this town too.




We drive and get to Philadelphia in the early evening. Driving into town was interesting; litter everywhere! The place was dirty and looked very old and poor. It took a long drive to get down town and then it was like night and day - huge, beautiful buildings everywhere! Such a contrast.

We found a hotel after a good deal of insane driving around the busy core of the city then we went out to find some food and a good pub. I guess the Vice Presidential Debate was taking place in town; every TV was tuned into the debate. It seemed to be about the only thing anyone would talk about was the Election everywhere you went. So very unlike Canada.

OCTOBER 3rd, 2008

Next morning we're up early after a much better nights sleep and we start to hoof it around Philly.

The architecture, fountains and statues everywhere are truly amazing!

Trick photography at it's finest.

Randomly walking around the city we find ourselves in the Free Library of Philadelphia. A sign indicates there is an Edgar Allen Poe exhibit on in the Rare Books section of the library. We go check it out and are truly floored by the things we find:


To show but a fraction of what we saw:

A hand written copy of "The Raven"...

..."Grip", the actual raven owned by Charles Dickens (featured in his book "Barnaby Rudge" and the inspiration for Poe's poem....

... Original artwork by Arther Rackham...


... 4000 year old Cuneiform tablets (not shown) and 2500 year old Egyptian scrolls on papyrus...


... 12th Century hand painted illuminated Book of Hours (each page is made of real vellum, it took the dried flesh of two calf's to make a page)...


... A page from the Gutenberg Bible...

... The list goes on and on, from the desk that Charles Dickens wrote in (he etched his initials into the wood) to letters from Columbus to the King telling of his discovery of the Indies (we were not actually allowed to see that one, but they had it there!). It was completely mind bending.

Our next find was the Rodin Museum!

The imposing "Gates of Hell" greet you.

Detail.





On our way to the Art Gallery. The steps leading up to the building were made famous by this movie called "Rocky".

Amazing sculptures outside the museum.




Patrick attempts to spar and fails.

I just want to be his Adrian.

And here is the moment you've all been waiting for:





We never made it into the museum as time was running out and we had to get to the convention. We hailed a cab and got an enlightening history lesson from the cabbie (who was about to go home and put a big rockfish in the oven). "We call this place the City of Brotherly Blood. All those pretty buildings you see are thanks to 400 years of free slave labour". We asked him about the upcoming election and he was convinced that America was not ready for a black President and should he get elected he would be killed. I hope he's wrong.

We hit the road and make it to the hotel without incident. We find our show passes and in the evening have drinks with a few of the other comic creators who've arrived (Hi Ben, Lamar, Chris and Mike!)

The meet and greet moves to the hotel lounge and I get to meet a few of my IDW brothers, Pat Lewis and Kevin Colden and a slew of other. It's been a long time since I've been to a comic con and I'm really enjoying it.

OCTOBER 4th, 2008

Pat and I went breakfast hunting and found an awesome place called the Silver Diner. The menu had a special "Vote With Your Breakfast" item: The Obamalette and the McCainlette. As a Canadian in the US at election time I had to cast my vote, and I'm happy to see that the Obamalette is way ahead in the polls at silverdiner.com

Show Time! I neglected to take many pictures at the show as I was so busy meeting people and dealing with legal issues surrounding the Angora Napkin cartoon. Pat snapped this one at my table just after the show started. Thankfully, IDW had sent my advance TPB copies of Chiaroscuro to the show! Thanks Ted!!


The blurry view from my table. Ignatz Award winner Nate Powell and his book Swallow Me Whole at the bottom left. I got so many books to read it's going to take some time to get through them all. Pat took off to check out Washington and I didn't see him again until later that night.

This photo was lifted from Brian Heater's Flicker page. After the Ignatz Awards everyone made their way to Karaoke. I was in the loud room where James Kochalka and Liz Baillie belted out Quiet Riots "Come on Feel the Noise" as best they could (the screen text was in Korean).

I got a lift back to the hotel with the great folks from the table next to me (Hi Joe, Maris, Duddits and Tim!). I found Pat hanging out in front of the hotel with Danielle from Girls With Slingshots fame.

OCTOBER 5th, 2008

Last day of the show. I'd gotten Pat hooked on Scott Pilgrim a week before the show and he showed his good taste by buying a page of original artwork from Brian O'Mally. Sales were pretty good, I handed out hundreds of preview comics and had a great time. Now the big debate is what to do next year: SPX or Mocca....

That night after the show Pat and I took the subway into Washington to check out some sights.


The White House is much smaller than I expected, especially in comparison to all the gigantic Romanesque buildings everywhere else. I asked a security guard if the President ever plays frisbee out in the front yard and I guess he doesn't. Too bad.

Directly across the street is a tent and a man by the name "Start Loving" who (with others) has been holding a 24 hour protest against war and US policies since 1981. He gave us grief for putting Stephen Harper (Bush jr.) as our Prime Minister, I don't disagree. The Canadian Federal Election is on Oct 14th, I hope we see a change in our Government.

We walked down past the Washington Monument, the city seems nearly deserted of people. The long walk down to the Lincoln Memorial is truly one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, I'm glad we went at night as it was lit so nicely.

Photos do not do justice to this monument. It is huge and very somber. Standing on the steps looking towards the Washington Monument was where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Etched on the inner South wall is the Gettysburg Address.



On the trek back to the subway we passed by the Vietnam / Korean War memorial wall. Dimly lit it's a very somber view. Pictures of families, stuffed toys and little flags sit here and there at the base of the wall. A old man in a military jacket flips through a book that catalouges the names of the dead and where to find them on this long wall of names.

OCTOBER 6th, 2008

Breakfast at Rotten Ronnies and we hit the road. The plan is to hit Boston tonight, find a hotel and get up early and pound the pavement. On the road we discover we're passing through Gettesyburg. There's no question we're stopping there.

Patrick has a big canon. Take that you Confederates, that's how we roll in the North!



This is the actual spot where Lincoln gave the Gettesyburg Address. Being at the Memorial last night and here today gives a nice symmetry to the trip.


We drive on to Boston, stopping at a the Blue Colony Diner in Connecticut. We arrive in Boston late, driving past the brightly lit Fenway Park where a game is in session. We zip around the city a bit, and in trying to find a cheap hotel outside the city we discover we're not far from Salem. And we're off!


OCTOBER 7th, 2008

We have a hell of a time trying to find the place, expecting it to be some spooky cedar-shingled little warf town. Not so! We decide to skip the hotel as it's 2:30am and try sleeping in the car again, but with a bit more success than last time.


Up early again we hoof it around Salem only to find out that nothing opens until 10am. I have to be on the Canadian side of the boarder by 6pm to get my books or well be staying the night in St. Stephen. None the less, Salem is too cool not to check out.

At 10 we are in the Salem Witch Museum, which is cheesy as hell and all the better for it. We skip the "What is a Witch" tour at the end and check out the town. (Mike, you'd love it there).

They have an awesome comic shop there, tons of goths folk and and amazing graveyard in the middle of town. I found a stone with "Little" on it.... Could it be that I'm decended from a clan of Salem Witches?

Magnificent, twisted oak trees are everywhere.


Statue outside of the Witch Museum.


I was "Bewitched" in Salem. (ouch, sorry)

We left later than planned and high tailed it for the boarder. We were just on the other side of the border at 5:45 and I was afraid we'd be held up crossing so I called Brenda at the Tourist building and got no answer! I tried again and finally the cleaning lady answered. She said she would hang there for me to get my books.

I noticed crossing the bridge that the time zone changes! It was 6 on one side and 7 on the Canadian side; we were an hour late! Anyway, I got my books, thanked the lady 1000 times and went and had dinner at The Red Rooster.

I'm really glad I took this trip. We drove nearly 3000 KM and saw a side of America I wouldn't have seen traveling by plane to and from my destination. I have a greater appreciation for the country and understand better where this deep sense of American pride comes from. Everyone we met was helpful, or at least what I call "Aggressively Friendly" (in a good way). Even the homeless were more polite than those I've encountered in Toronto. We only got the Evil Eye once and that was outside New York, so I take it with a grain of salt. What a great trip!!!

Now the trick is to figure out what to do next year: SPX or Mocca....