Thursday, 20 December 2012

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy Nipper New Year!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Smurf of a mystery

So, last summer someone made a 3D movie about the Smurfs, those little blue guys (and girl) -- and it made a lot of green. Like more than $560 million worth. That’s more than double Green Lantern and about $200 million more than Captain America. Not too shabby for a moribund Belgian comic. I spotted the DVD in a store the other day and it got me thinking about the surprising similarities between the enduring (and annoying) blue imps and the Brownies, a popular turn-of-the-century pop culture phenomenon by writer/cartoonist Palmer Cox.

The Canadian-born Cox created the characters after hearing stories of Scottish/Irish "brownies", mischievous little elvin creatures who would help humans at night. They first appeared in book form in 1883. A secretive society of all-male sprite-like creatures who pulled pranks and occasionally helped out humans, they were easily identifiable thanks to their one-note personalities. Some favourites: Chauncey Quoter (a poet), Major Telloff (an army commander) and Cholly Boutonnière (a top-hatted dandy). Heck, they even sported little peaked caps.

I know, right? I can’t be the only one to connect the dots on this can I? The fact that Cox died in 1924 and Pierre Culliford, the creator of the Smurfs, was born four years later lends at least some credence to the possible connection. Cox's books enjoyed multiple reprints for decades after his death, and were translated into many langugaes, so it's possible that a young Culliford would have been exposed to them. 

Keep in mind, though largely forgotten today the Brownies were wildly popular, with their adventures being translated in multiple languages and many products being sold with their image attached. Ever hear of Kodak’s Brownie camera? Yep -- an early example of sponsorship. I can’t find any info online that suggests Culliford (aka Peyo) used The Brownies as inspiration for his little men (and one woman), but it sure is fun to speculate.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A peek at Seth's latest venture: the Crown Barber Shop

He's had his own solo-show at the Art Gallery of Ontario, built a scale-model of the fictional city of Dominion out of cardboard, and once designed a float for a parade. So what could be next for the man called Seth?  

As it turns out, for the past few months he's been hard at work designing a barber shop for his wife, Tania Van Spyk. The Crown Barber Shop, which had its grand opening in Guelph, Ontario this past Saturday, is a sleek homage to the traditional two-chair barber shop -- and fits perfectly into his general mission to remake the world around him.

Located at 219 Silvercreek Parkway in a suburban strip mall the monarchist-inspired shop (a portrait of Kind Edward VI hangs inside) is trademark Seth, as can be seen by the monocle-wearing cartoon king that adorns the front window. 
According to Seth, he wanted to have a large king's head installed on the roof, but city by-laws prohibited it. Dang.

Inside the two-chair shop is tasteful, crisp - and surprisingly modern. Just look at those globe hanging lamps and blue-and-white linoleum tiles. 

And is that a custom-made King mascot figurine I see on the shelf? 

According to Seth this little fella is "The Secret King of Guelph." On the shop front his royal seal (of course) states "By appointment to his Majesty the Secret King of Guelph."

Nice job refurbishing those old barber chairs, too. 

The whole operation is a tasteful homage to the work-a-day, common-man barber shops that I used to go to with my Dad when I was a kid. Sophisticated, but welcoming: the perfect place to spend 15-20 minutes browsing ancient magazines (which raises a question: how old will the periodicals in this place actually be?)


Before I sign off, here's a shot of the space before Seth got his hands on it:


If you're in Guelph, I encourage you to swing by and say Hi to Tania. She's a real swell gall who has been planning for this day for years and I wish her all the best with her new operation. 

I met Paul Martin last weekend (and he's a huge comics fan)!

It's true -- it's all true! I was in Montreal to attend a comics conference and lo and behold, one of the speakers is former Prime Minister (and ex-CEO of Canada Steamship Lines) Paul Martin Jr.! It turns out he's a big big fan of political cartooning, but apparently he digs Doug Wright too. The proof is right there! 

I finagled my way into a little face time with Martin, in part to gift him with a copy of The Collected Doug Wright, the massive awesome tome that I worked on. He knew Wright's work as soon as he cracked it open. Could Martin be a future jury member? A DWA host? A nominee? Who knows? More pictures and the full story are over at the Doug Wright Awards blog.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Woods chips and smoke rings

Hey you - did you know that I have another blog? Let's face it, I'm a man of many passions -- too many for one measly blog to contain -- so I started a new one dedicated to my passion for curing and smoking meat. It's been up and running for a few weeks now and is called Wood Chips and Smoke Rings. So far I've written about smoked pork tenderloin and how to make your own bacon. This here is a pic of a DIY bacon and tomato sandwich I made the other day:

And here's a another of the pork tenderloin I did a few weeks ago:

Recipes for both of these are on the site.

I've been having a lot of fun with this crazy smoking contraption over the past few years and I'm jazzed about sharing it with the rest of the world.Come join me.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A back-stage pass to Pee-Wee's Playhouse

Like many of my generation ("X", if memory serves) I loved Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Along with Twin Peaks, it was one of the few shows I watched religiously -- and that's what the show was like, really, a religion. You either loved it and were entirely devoted to it, or you thought it was juvenile nonsense. Back in the late 80s early 90s, that was the line for me: if you got Playhouse, then I got you. You were my kind of people as they say. (Dumb, I know -- but I was in my 20s for Jambi's sake!)

When the series was released on DVD a while back it was one on the first items I purchased with the intention of watching with my daughter, who was then about two-years-old. One kid later and the discs are still in steady rotation in the household.

For the longest time I assumed that Gary Panter was the man behind the insane design on the show -- and he was in charge. He even won an Emmy for his work on the show. But about 10 years ago I met Panter at a comics convention in Toronto and tried to get him to sign my Billy Baloney puppet (don't judge),  only to have him demure. He said that Wayne White, one of his staff, was actually responsible for designing Billy along with many of the other characters on the show.

I didn't think much of it until a couple of years later I found myself mesmerized by these "word paintings" executed on thrift store paintings by none other than -- one Wayne White. Anyways, White has done a bunch of stuff since then (and is featured in a recent documentary about his career) but the Pee-Wee stuff is still likely his most widely seen and enjoyed work.

I was checking out his blog the other day and came across all these great photos from his time on the  show, including original sketches. Behold! 

And here's one of Pee-Wee and White on the set:

There's a bunch more over at White's site, Go check it out!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Review: 'The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist'

I get sent a fair number of books for review. Some are so-so, some are good and a few are great. Then there's The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist. When I received this book my socks were knocked clean off. This monograph on Clowes (the man behind The Death-Ray, Wilson, Ice Haven and Ghost World) is a career-spanning beauty of a book that manages to capture the spirit and scope of the cartoonist's work over the past 30 odd years.

I liked it so much I decided to review it for The Comics Journal. It's up over there now -- and you should go read it. Then go acquire a copy. It's worth it for this alone. And for this photo:


Monday, 14 May 2012

It's an honour just to be nominated

While I was in Toronto last weekend I learned that a feature I had written last fall for the Canadian Bar Association's National magazine had been nominated for a magazine award, which is very flattering and reassuring. The piece, a profile of Ottawa immigration lawyer Warren Creates, was nominated in the Best Profile of a Person category at the Kenneth R. Wilson Awards, which recognizes the best in Canadian business/trade magazines.

The piece was a  joy to write in large part because of its subject. Warren Creates, as anyone who has been pulled into his orbit will tell you, is a larger-than-life whirlwind of a man who is the real-goddamn-deal. I interviewed Warren twice for this piece and the second time I asked him straight-up: What's the deal -- how do you stay so relentlessly positive? His answer gave me a chill; the kind you get when you know someone is giving you a great closing quote for your piece. But it was also a piece of advice that I have adopted in my own life in the hopes of staying as positive as possible.

Warren invited me to Ethiopia after the article came out -- which led a great friendship and another piece I wrote, but that's another story. 

You can read the Creates piece over here, and let me know what you think about the ending.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

My review of Guy Delisle's latest graphic novel

I'm just now getting over my trip to TCAF during which I conducted (trust me; that's the right word) The Doug Wright Awards. On Friday night I bumped into cartoonist Guy Delisle -- who seems super pleasant -- and it dawned on me that in my haste to organize the awards I forgot to update the blog with a link to my  recent review of his latest graphic novel, Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City.

So, you know - I reviewed Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City for The Globe and Mail a couple of weekends back. You should go read it and tell me what you think. This is undoubtedly the best of his series of comics dispatches from some of the most interesting places on the Globe. He really spends his time with the story and has thought about what he has witnessed. I hesitate to say he's matured (since that would imply that he was immature before), but there is a palpable maturity about how he approaches this material.

On the last day of TCAF I ran into Guy again on the festival floor and got him to sign my copy of Jerusalem. It ends up that we have kids that are around the same age (8 and 5) so I asked him what he had planned next, what with his kids in school. His wife and him have decided to stop traveling for her work, so he's going to stop doing travelogues -- switching back to his other comics-type work. That has got to be a hard choice to make -- what with Jerusalem debuting on the #1 spot on The New York Times Graphic Novels best-seller list -- and I really admire his choice.  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The professor, the ancient nomads (and me)

I'm happy to report that the first article to come out of my recent trip to Ethiopia is now in print in the May 2012 issue of University Affairs magazine. The piece -- "The accidental statesman" -- is a profile of University of Ottawa law professor Joseph Magnet (known in Ethiopia as "Professor Joe") who traveled  to Ethiopia last October as part of our five-man team. 

As I quickly learned, Magnet is a tremendously smart (and funny) guy who for the past couple of years has donated his time as legal counsel to the Afar people, a centuries-old tribe of nomads who live today as an ethnic minority in Ethiopia and Eritrea. A well-respected constitutional law expert in Canada, up until this point Magnet had  kept his involvement with the Afar low-profile, preferring to talk about only with close friends and family. Luckily I was able to convince him to share his amazing story with the rest of the world. 

Joe Magnet as photographed for University Affairs

And I think I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I call it Amazing. Magnet is comfortably ensconced as a legal authority in Canada and at 65 was not looking for a new cause. But as a man of passion, once he met and spent time with the Afar -- whose generosity of spirit was disarming even to me -- he readily offered up his expertise to them. What he's done since then has to be read to be believed.

I've had a lot of positive feedback so far about the piece, especially the opening which recounts a unique moment I was witness to  in a small town in Northern Ethiopia as we were on our way out of the Afar region. In a trip full of colourful moments, this easily took the cake for me. (That, and the time that Joe, frustrated by my journalistic intransigence, ordered someone to "Shoot that man and put his body in the truck!" I admit: I was being pretty stubborn at the time.)

As a side note, I was inordinately honoured to be informed by the editor of University Affairs that my article was the first to ever include the "F-word", unedited, in the mag's pages. (Stop! I'm blushing!)

As a bonus, here's a photo I took of Magnet taken during the meeting I describe in the opening of the piece. 

Another bonus, for those who enjoy the sound of my voice, University Affairs interviewed me about my trip and posted it on their site as a podcast.

Monday, 27 February 2012

My review of 'The Someday Funnies'

So, after more than three decades The Someday Funnies was finally published last fall by Abrams Comic Arts. I reviewed it in this weekend's Globe and Mail.

I was anticipating this book as much as anyone, thanks the romance of its backstory and its treasure trove of lost comics riches from the likes of Harvey Kurtzman, Justin Green, Kim Deitch, C.C. Beck and Art Speigelman.

But, then it came out.

As I detail in my review, this massive book is flawed in a number of fatal (and regrettable) ways. One of the books most aggravating flaws (that got trimmed from my piece) is the intrusive and unfunny cartoons of editor Michel Choquette that are conspicuous throughout the book. Imagine trying to read, say, Maus or Clyde Fans and having a tiny avatar of Art Speigelman or Seth pop up IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANEL, and you'll understand how annoying this trope is.

It speaks to a failure to understand the medium of comics itself. Why else would you foist a trope like this on art that people have been waiting decades to see in print? Who knows?

Hopefully maybe someday -- 40 years hence -- an ambitious editor will publish thsi product in an "artist's edition" (like these from IDW), devoid of shoddy colouring job, confusing layouts and "pop-up" cartoon editors. 



Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Kurt Cobain, burgeoning comic artist

Young artist Kurt Cobain draws inspiration from Marvel Comics Giant-Size Werewolf. From Cobain Unseen.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Footnotes in Gaza gets animated

Whoa - has anybody heard about this yet? Award-winning Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique) is adapating Joe Sacco's most recent graphic novel into an animated feature. Apparently Villeneuve will be co-writing the script (perhaps with Sacco) and will bae the look of the film on Sacco's drawings. Super-interesting.