Moustache Rides to Williamsburg (blech)

I had two missions for November: write a novel for National Novel Writing Month and grow a moustache for Movember. I failed miserably in the former (although I did write about 1500 words of something that could grow into a short story, a first chapter, or a one-act play) but succeeded wildly in the latter, proving that natural facial hair growth will always trump creativity and a sketchy work ethic.

Amy hated the ‘stache with a passion, and offered to contribute to the men’s health charity behind Movember just to get me to shave it off early. I decided to keep it for a few extra days so that she could take some pix in natural light.

Stash

And, of course, while shaving it off, I had to try out The Hitler:

My pal Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter, was visiting from New Mexico (and staying with us) this weekend to attend the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, so on Saturday I drove out to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Williamsburg to see some cartoonists and serve as Tom’s valet. I took no pictures, so instead you get 20 quick observations/notes on the afternoon. After I shaved off the Hitler.

1. I was dressed pretty generic adult-prep at the event — white button-down oxford, black sweater, tobacco khakis — and was kinda stunned to find out that all the sartorial stereotypes about Williamsburg hipster guys were true: the trucker hats, wild facial hair, chunky eyeglasses, flannels, skintight jeans, Converse, etc. I had assumed this stuff was an exaggeration, but it was a veritable uniform for the men at the festival and in the neighborhood. I think some of the cartoonists treated me nicely because I was dressed like such a (non-ironic) square. Or an adult. Whatever.

2. The festival was just packed. I was impressed by the turnout. It’s a smaller affair than the Toronto Comic Arts Festival we attend every May, but New York paradoxically may not have the same space opportunities that Toronto has, at least for an event that doesn’t charge admission for attendees. It’s got a lot of potential, esp. with the Williamsburg art-crowd, but it’ll be tough to keep the show from getting too crowded.

3. I was awfully darned happy to get to chat with Drew Friedman, whose work I’ve enjoyed for about 20 years. He turned out to be a really pleasant guy, and liked the stylish business card my wife got me for my 40th birthday. I gave him the card so he could spell my 3-letter name correctly in the copy of Too Soon? that I bought from him. I also picked up a super-awesome print that’s going to be a Christmas present for a pal of mine. He seemed happy when I told him that his dad’s memoir is the next book on my reading list. Overall, I was surprised by how warm he was in conversation. For some reason, I thought he’d be a bit irascible.

4. Earlier in the day, I discovered a great Gary Panter rarity, a cardboard-bound proto-collection of his Jimbo comics from 1982, at our local Barnes & Noble. It was in the first-editions case of the B&N’s used books section. I thought Gary would like to see it, so I brought it to the festival. He beamed, and drew me a great Jimbo & dinosaur sketch inside the front cover. He also liked Amy’s business card and asked to keep it. (You should read my wacky story about my first meeting with Gary.)

5. I turned from one table and literally bumped into Matt Groening, who was at the festival with his son Abe. He may be the highest net worth individual to whom I’ve ever said, “Pardon me.” I’m pretty sure some of my friends would have simply fainted dead away upon meeting Mr. Groening.

6. I had a mind-blowingly good tongue burrito at Yola’s Cafe on Metropolitan Ave.

7. I wanted to pick up some original art from the Scott Eder Gallery table, but wasn’t inclined to spend in excess of $2,000 for a Jim Woodring page. (The “Matt Groening’s here!” prices, as one wag put it.) I ended up buying a partially inked sketch by Al Columbia and a set of 4 silkscreen prints of Woodring’s stuff. It was a lot cheaper. Multiple people warned me against showing the art to Al Columbia when he was signing at the Fantagraphics table later in the evening, for fear that he would take it from me and rip it to shreds. When I saw Al at the table, I realized they were right to worry. This is what I bought:

bobby.jpg

8. I bought the new Gloria Badcock comic from Maurice Vellekoop, because he’s a hoot. He also loved my business card and asked to keep it.

9. I walked over to Union Pool to attend the Chip Kidd & David Mazzucchelli panel, but the room was way overfilled, with attendees milling outside in the bar’s courtyard, way out of earshot. I was bummed. Later in the day, I bumped into Chip and had a pleasant conversation. We have a mutual friend in Samuel Delany, so I established my not-just-a-fanboy bona fides. We talked about his work, the panel earlier in the day, comics in general, and Delany’s health. I told him that I wanted to bring my copy of The Learners along with me for him to sign, but decided to bring “this neat Gary Panter Jimbo rarity” instead. He knew exactly the edition, and was happy to hear that I own both his novels. I also told him that I admired his becoming a celebrity in the field of book and graphic design, since it’s not an area that generates celebrities. He joked it was a little like being the world’s greatest plumber. I was too afraid he’d sneer at them to give him one of my business cards.

10. The BQE separated the church (where the festival was) from the Union Pool bar (where the panels were). The city noise was kinda exaggerated by the volume of cars zooming by overhead.

11. I bought the new Kramers Ergot anthology. I thought about getting each of the contributors to sign/sketch it, because they were all on hand, but I didn’t know many of them by name or work, and thought it would be rude to say, “Don’t know you, don’t know you, don’t know you, don’t — Oh! Hey! Sammy Harkham! What are you doing out on shabbat?” And in a church, no less!

12. I got to meet Jeff Wong, who drew the cover for Tom’s book on Stan Lee. I knew his work from The Comics Journal and Sports Illustrated, and he seemed pretty delighted when I praised his work on the latter. I doubt the Venn diagram of indy comics nerds and SI readers has much overlap.

13. Like all artists, cartoonists really do like to receive praise for their work. I (briefly) interrupted R. Sikoryak’s conversation with a couple to let him know how much I enjoyed his Masterpiece Comics. He really lit up and thanked me effusively for the compliment. I told him that I first read his “Inferno Joe” (Dante’s Inferno in Bazooka Joe style) strips in a late-’80’s issue of Raw, and that it was a positively warping experience (as in, I was warped positively). You really oughtta read his book.

14. I hoped that the Drawn & Quarterly table would be able to replace a recent issue of the Acme Novelty Library that had been misprinted, but they didn’t have it in stock. They promised to send a replacement. When I tried reading the book 2 years ago, I thought perhaps Chris Ware was engaging in some post-modern storytelling wackiness by running the last 12 pages of the book twice, but concluded that the printer/binder just screwed up. It was almost as bad as when I started reading a Xerox preview of The Birth Caul from the last page forward and didn’t realize my mistake for a dozen pages. Now I’ll finally find out what happened to whoever!

15. Near the end of the evening, I caught up with Gary Groth at the Fantagraphics table. We spoke briefly a few nights earlier, at an event at The Strand honoring legendary cartoonist Jack Davis (Fantagraphics just published a retrospective of Davis’ career). This time, I asked Gary what he’s been reading lately (non-comics division). He was so fried from working the table all day that he just stared down at the various books on display, pondered for a bit, and then mentioned a brief biography of Cahiers du Cinema, but said he was drawing a blank otherwise. A few moments later, when I bought a copy of Michael Kupperman’s new book, Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010, with a $20 bill, Gary tried to give me $80 back. It was a long day.

16. I found street parking right around the corner from the festival, which made up for my getting raped by bridge-tolls: $12 at the GW, $6.50 each way on the Triborough. The Triborough really is an amazing bridge. Robert Moses sure had a heck of a vision for New York City. (You can be wrong and still have a vision.)

17. Tom moderated a conversation with Brian Ralph and CF, neither of whose work I’d read before. I took Tom out for dinner before the panel, where he worked on his questions, and then dropped him at Union Pool while I took our stuff back to the car. I thought that the panel would be more sparsely attended than the Kidd/Mazzucchelli one from a few hours before, since it was the last one of the day, but it was packed, with people spilling out of the room and into the courtyard. So I sat in the bar, had a Plymouth & tonic, and wrote for a little bit.

18. There were 3 women at the table behind me, arguing about whether one of them knew she was hot and was just downplaying it. One said, “Screw you! You don’t go to a comics festival in a kimono and thigh-highs if you don’t think you’re hot!” I was puzzled because, when I walked past the table on my way in, I reflexively noted that none of them were hot.

19. A woman standing by my table looked at me like she was about to say something, then stopped. I asked her if I knew her. She said she thought I was someone else. “The mayor of Chicago?” I asked. “Because I got that last week.” She didn’t see any resemblance between me and Rahm Emanuel. I admitted it was puzzling. She sat down at my table and we chatted for a big about cartooning. She gave me her new photcopied 8-page comic, presumably because I told her I was here with Tom.

20. Lots of people give Tom their comics. We joked about the “Comics Reporter sales bump” and thought about designing a stamp, a la Oprah’s book club, for the CR Seal of Approval. After his panel, Tom made his round of goodbyes back at the festival, and we headed back to NJ. The drive home was smooth, and I was glad to escape the constant vibration of the city. I’m afraid I’m a little out of tune.

Unrequired Reading: April Link Showers

Bizarre! I was just settling in to collect my May Twitter-links for a big Unrequired Reading when I discovered that last month’s load o’ links never went live! So here’s all of April’s great stuff! I’ll post May’s tomorrow!

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It’s time for another month’s worth of Twitter links, dear readers! If you want to follow along, I’m at twitter.com/groth18!

First, the retweets:

RT @mookiewilson86 (paul raff): David Koresh had a better homestand than the Mets.

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RT @ESQStyle Esquire Style: And the best-dressed male guest at the #RoyalWedding is… not David Beckham.

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RT @felixsalmon (felix salmon): Wherein Martin Amis blathers on for 4,000 dutiful but unnecessary words about Christopher Hitchens.

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RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle van Blerk): Client request of the year.

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RT @simondoonan (Simon Doonan): Creative factory: Simon Doonan, My Faves!

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RT @GreatDismal (William Gibson): “WE HELPED YOUR GRANDAD GET LAID” #daytonbootsvancouver

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RT @mattzollerseitz (Matthew Zoller Seitz): “‘After Hours’ exists to prove that ‘Taxi Driver’ actually displayed some restraint. @notjustmovies

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RT @JPosnanski (Joe Posnanski): In honor of touching CNN story, I write a little more about Nick Charles and a moment I’ll never forget.

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RT @asymmetricinfo (Megan McArdle): Why Europe won’t develop as an independent military power

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RT @kottke (kottke.org): Hilarious fake TLC promo

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RT @kylevanblerk (Kyle van Blerk): Bored at work. Photoshopping Bieber’s head onto things.

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RT @questlove (?Love of The Roots): Man. Not even “OJ Guilt” is the proper colloquialism for what I feel after eatin Cinnabon.

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And now, the links!

NBA Action: Bet On It! #IhadSpursandMagicinthefinals

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Ah, #vodka, with your “marketing gimmicks that make getting drunk seem like a gateway to fame and fortune

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The bowling alley of the #Frick: it’s no basement of the Alamo, but still.

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There’s now a computer as dumb as my boss. #thatswhatshesaid

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Joe Queenan goofs on the #gehry glut.

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Is anyone at the #royalwedding sporting a monkey-tail beard?

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Via @khoi, abandoned Yugoslavia monuments of awesomeness.

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Xanadu comes back to life! (Will #MichaelBeck and @olivianj be at the opening?)

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Xanadu: More of disaster than @XanaduMovie? #likedecoratinganuclearreactor #bringbacktheAlexander’smural

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In the movie, I see Billy Bob Thornton as the local, and Pesci as the mobster: #greateststoryever #trustme

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Tefillin: it’s like Jewish blood pressure.” Go, @MitzvahTank! #areyouJewish?

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Will nobody think of the #pistachios?!

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#AllStarSuperman never should’ve released the sun-eater from captivity:

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The Walk of Shame goes #StreetStyle, via @sartorialist

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So VCs are like the AIDS activists of our time?

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I’m all for taking advantage of gorgeous chicks, but sheesh! #modelscam (via @felixsalmon)

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#HaroldBloom and his “elite Europhile glasses” #agon

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Eat lead! #staedtler and #fabercastell at war

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Every so often, I remind myself why I find contempo literary fiction useless and stultifyingly dull

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Go read this #BenKatchor interview! Nownownow! #CardboardValise (just plow through the “what is comics?” section)

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@felixsalmon delivers a (much appreciated) Jonathan Franzen smackdown

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@witoldr on the secret language of architects.

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This #Houdini article escapes from the need to write in complete sentences. #escapeartistry

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I guess I oughtta get around to reading #GeoffDyer sometime, huh?

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In honor of tonight’s season 2 premiere of #Treme on #HBO, check out this interview with #WendellPierce (#BunkMoreland)

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#ChrisElliott has a DAUGHTER on SNL? #igrowold

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Dali makes aliyah!

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Ron Rosenbaum implores us to visit (Joyce’s) Ithaca (but not much else). (I admit I’ll likely skip #Ulysses)

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I’m awfully happy with my @allenedmonds, I have to say

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I look down on my wife. #shekicksmeintheshins

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#Starbury = Jim Jones?

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Is it good or bad that my TV/movie/prose diet is so similar to that of #StevenSoderbergh? #MillersCrossing!

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25 years ago: Graceland and the Gatwick Baby

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“People who drink coffee are different in many ways from those who don’t drink coffee” #whataboutgin?

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Geoff Dyer on being allergic to David Foster Wallace’s writing (his compare/contrast w/Federer is great)

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“You look into the fiery furnace and see the rich man without any name” #wallstreet

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Neat video of @billy_reid at home.

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@simondoonan on camp: “I am not the brightest Art Nouveau lamp in the room…” #needIsaymore?

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NOLA: The Big Hypothetical

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Fun interview with Glenn O’Brien, onetime Warhol employee and current #StyleGuy for #GQ: #howtobeaman #glennobrien

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Ah, get back to me around yer 20th reunion, ya young bastid.

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Neat take on Android, Google’s business model, and moats.

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Authors and broken promises. #Icantgetstarted

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I would prefer not to poke you. #groupmeh

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Um, the good news is that “cancer” doesn’t exist (the bad news is that it’s more complex than anyone thought) #uhoh

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Would it have more success if it were called a “scrodpiece”? #probablynot

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“It’s still real to me, dammit!” #soareconcussions #andearlydeath #wwe

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When Antonioni met Tarkovsky: #shakeitlikeaPolaroidpicture

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RPG = Rocket-Powered Genius (of design) #rocketpunchgeneration

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@rupaul answers all questions, except, “What’s up with the mustache?” #dragrace

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@david_j_roth speaks truth to pizza (I still don’t understand how @pizzahut stays in business here in NJ.)

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Is there a Damien Hirst level to unlock? #jeffkoonsmustdie

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By @mattnycs: Vote for the man in the small hat: a rabbi runs for office … in Uganda: Parts I and II #really

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Hot chicks with (old) douchebags: #Iblamesociety #Ialsoblamehotchicks

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No Shakespeare in Topeka? #talentnotgenius #billjames

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#Koppenburg: why I don’t bike. #whoneedstheexercise?

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Accidental Mysteries: masked #seenandunseen

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GREAT piece by @comicsreporter on a trip to the #centerforcartoonstudies

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Because, as we know from #chrisrock, books are like Kryptonite to… certain people: #padandquill

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The Perplexitude of Hilfiger

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Proto-Facebook

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Darkness at Noonan: #tomgoestothebar (happy 60th, Tom Noonan!)

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And I close this month’s edition with a non-link:

“I used to believe that worry was a talisman against something bad happening to you.” thx for the wisdom, @ConanOBrien (& @MarcMaron)!

What It Is: 7/26/10

What I’m reading: Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up, Bob Colacello’s bio of Andy Warhol.

What I’m listening to: Stankonia, Mind How You Go, Night & Day, and a whole ton of random stuff while I’ve been incorporating another giant iTunes library into my own.

What I’m watching: Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, and the In Search of Steve Ditko, the Jonathan Ross special about a comics recluse/genius (reviews coming tomorrow). Also, the Captain Phil tribute episode of Deadliest Catch, which contained an anecdote about Phil’s father Grant that would qualify for an installment of “You, Sir, Are Bad-Ass” if I could find a summary of it online.

What I’m drinking: 209 & Q-Tonic

What Rufus & Otis are up to: We drove out to the annual Vernon Dog Wash on Saturday, so the boys could get baths and have their nails clipped. The vet accidentally cut one of Rufus’ claws a little too close, leading to a little bloodshed. Of course, Ru being Ru, he didn’t actually react or show any sign of pain. He just left little drops of blood on the floor, prompting the vet to use a “liquid nail” sealer to take care of it. Also, someone in town apparently detonated a bomb a few nights ago. Ru doesn’t react well to thunder, guns (we have hunters out in the woods) or firecrackers, so the explosion sent him into “Bye, everybody! Don’t forget to tip your waiters!” mode, trotting down the hall. I thought he’d gone his usual spot in the guest bedroom, and went to check up on him 10 minutes later. There was no sign of him in there. So I looked in my home office, but he wasn’t there, either. He wasn’t on either of the dog-beds on our bedroom floor, so I got nervous. Then I noticed the reflection of the hall-light off of his eyes. He was so scared he broke with tradition and jumped into our bed (Amy’s side) and curled up against the pillow. Otis had no comment.

Where I’m going: Nowhere! Although I am planning to take a vacation day today, so I oughtta do something with it.

What I’m happy about: Getting to spend an hour of Saturday evening on the deck overlooking the woods, and enjoying a cigar, a G&T and that Ditko documentary on my iPad. Also, my buddy Tom Spurgeon won an Eisner Award for his work at The Comics Reporter! Go, Tom! I hope there’s video of your acceptance speech!

What I’m sad about: I didn’t get up to the Met on my day off Thursday. But at least I got to spend some time at the Frick.

What I’m worried about: That I was often guilty of being a topic hijacker. I’ve tried really hard this year to listen much more to the other person in a conversation, but sometimes I’m afraid the pendulum has swung so far in that direction that I don’t really give an impression of what I’m thinking or feeling. Combine that with my occasionally inappropriate or blank facial expressions, and it’s a marvel I haven’t been arrested on suspicion of something sociopathic.

What I’m pondering: Well, Amy was wondering, “How different would Synecdoche, New York have been if the lead was played by Paul Giamatti instead of Philip Seymour Hoffman?” so you can ponder that along with us.

Weakly – May 7: Blame It on the Ame

[This is the fifth in a series of long-ass rambling posts about my travels in Chicago and Toronto from May 3-9. Part 1 is over here and part 2 is over there. Now, where did I put part 3? Oh, it’s right here! Part 4? I gotcha covered.]

I could’ve sworn the flight was 11:30. Of course, I’m also the guy who forgot where he was flying a few days earlier, so I’m not to be trusted when it comes to air travel.

I got home around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, woke up at 7 a.m. on Friday, and got to re-packing. Before heading out to BIO, I put together a short list of stuff to do before this jaunt:

  • get passports [don’t let the terrorists win!]
  • turn off water [because the pipes could burst, okay?]
  • leave dog-supplies by door [my pal Jason was to come by to pick up Rufus & Otis later in the day]
  • unplug computers/hard drives [I once came home to find that a power surge has left an external hard drive spinning for days: not good]
  • bring super-awesome present for Tom [scratched, as Tom had to cancel his trip]

No suits for this mini-trip to Toronto, although I did bring along a navy suit-jacket, anticipating cooler weather. Amy & I managed to pack two-plus days’ of clothes & toiletries into my carry-on. No laptop this trip; we’d rough it like the Amish by only using our iPhones on the hotel wi-fi.

I grabbed a selection of Roger Langridge’s comics so I could come up with some questions or observations for our panel conversation on Saturday, and we headed out around 9:45. We ran a little late, but I’d factored in enough time for the 11:30 a.m. departure.

As it turned out, I factored in just enough time for an 11 a.m. departure, which is when the flight was actually scheduled to go.

One of the few problems with flying a little airline like Porter is that, well, there are no signs at its Newark terminal as to what its gate is. Oh, and it doesn’t show up on the departures/arrivals screens. So we sorta muddled our way around the B terminal, had a too-long time in security because the TSA staff appeared never to have seen a computer print-out of a boarding pass, and got to the gate around 10:50. Two minutes later, they began boarding the plane, and we were off for the Great White North 15-20 minutes later.

We flew Porter a year earlier, and it was just a joy. Sorta like an old-school flying experience, right down to the attractive stewardesses. This time, we were a little disappointed by the lack of meal and beer (too early), but I still reveled in the comfort of the half-empty flight. It was a nice contrast to a pair of 100% filled Continental flights during the week.

Another neat aspect of Porter is that, because the airline only flies one particular prop plane, its Newark flights get to take off via a less-used runway. We were third in line to take off, which is unheard-of on a Friday morning. I was once on a flight that was 57th for takeoff (but it felt more like 84th).

Anyway, Porter flies a Bombardier Q-400. The Q stands for “quiet,” which is an accurate descriptor unless you’re sitting in row 9, where Amy & I had our seats. In that case, you’re just in front of where the wings connect to the fuselage, and the noise is a little bad. So it was on with the Bose headphones and, for a change of pace, Lily Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You. An adorable track from that record shuffled up onto my iTunes a week or so earlier, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Cute, bouncy, a little preachy, fun. I’m not cut out to be a record reviewer.

The bigger question was: Am I cut out to be a comics interviewer? The main reason we chose this weekend for the Toronto trip was to visit TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. We went last year and had a great time. While it was disappointing that Comics Reporter and all-around best pal Tom Spurgeon wouldn’t be able to attend, I was still looking forward to meeting/seeing some of the invited comics luminaries, including Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring and James Sturm (whom I’d met in 1998, but hey).

Most importantly, I’d get to meet Roger Langridge, a cartoonist whose work I’d adored since I first saw an issue of Zoot! c. 1992. I’d corresponded with him online on and off over the years, but this would be our first face-to-face meeting. Originally, I was supposed to “co-moderate” a panel with Tom & Roger. Tom would handle the questions about Roger’s present-day comics, and I would ask questions about his earlier work. When Tom had to cancel, he wished me luck and zapped me some of the questions he’d worked up. He e-mailed the show organizers that this would certainly be a better-looking panel than the original setup.

So, on the hour-long flight, I listened to cutesy britpop, pored over pages of comics from Art D’Ecco, Zoot! Suite, The Muppet Show, Fred The Clown, and Fin Fang Four, and scribbled down some questions. Opening my Art D’Ecco collection, I discovered that it contained a sketch and inscription from Roger. I thought, “Did we actually meet? Am I getting Memento-like with comics?” This worried me, since comics are just about the only temporal anchor I have sometimes. I concluded that the book must’ve been a present from Tom, and that he must’ve gotten Roger to inscribe the book. I just couldn’t recall having seen the sketch before. Still: that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The flight was a little bumpy, but not worryingly so. I always feel safer when Amy’s beside me.

We landed at the Porter terminal on City Island (another great advantage to the airline is that it lands right next to downtown Toronto; landing at YYZ means you have a $60+ cab ride ahead of you), went through customs, and waited for the short ferry to the mainland. I noticed a guy ahead of us at the ferry line and whispered to Amy, “I think that’s Dan Clowes.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“The slightly stooped posture, bald pate, sad eyes and aura of self-loathing,” I didn’t tell her.

I thought of stepping over and introducing myself as a fan of his work, but decided not to. I knew he hadn’t done much press in years — he has a new book out this season, his first in a while — and didn’t want to bother the guy who once drew this panel:

© 1990, Dan Clowes

The ferry soon arrived and disembarked its passengers. One of them walked over to Clowes and shook his hand; he was clearly from the conference. I kept an eye on them as we boarded the ferry. I decided to intrude on their conversation for a moment.

“Hi, my name’s Gil Roth and I was just wondering: are you connected with TCAF? Because I’m a late addition to moderate a panel and don’t know if I need to call or check in with the organizers.”

The second guy introduced himself as Tom Devlin. Clowes less-awkwardly-than-I-expected said, “Hi, I’m Dan.”

“I thought that was you in the ferry line,” I said. “I’ve enjoyed your work for 20 years.”

He sorta smiled, then asked which panel I was moderating. “The Roger Langridge one. I’m filling in for Tom Spurgeon.”

Both guys’ eyes widened. Tom D. asked, “What happened to Tom?” Clowes asked, “Is he okay?”

On his Comics Reporter website, Tom had cited “personal reasons” for having to miss TCAF. I told the guys about his mother’s illness (as related about 10,000 words ago in my May 6 writeup). I was touched by the suddenness of their concern. I don’t really have a handle on how people in the comics industry regard Tom, but both of these guys seemed genuinely worried about him. I was glad I could allay their fears.

Devlin got out a list of phone numbers, and gave me a couple of people to call or check in with at the festival. Clowes looked at the list and said, “Is that a cell phone number fo Chester Brown? Does he have a cell?”

Tom looked at it for a second and replied, “No, that’s gotta be a landline.”

I said, “It’d be even funnier if you had a cell number for Seth.” We all laughed, and Dan speculated that Seth probably has one of those hand-cranked phones with a wooden case. Then Tom added, “I used to tell people that Seth drives a PT Cruiser, but it got to the point where I couldn’t keep a straight face anymore.” Even Amy started laughing over that image. Ah, cartoonist humor . . .

The ferry arrived and I wished Tom & Dan a good show. I hit the ATM at the gate, but it was out of order. Luckily, our cabbie was just fine taking U.S. dollars, since they were nearly on a 1:1 exchange with the canuckbuck.

We got into our room at the Metropolitan, unpacked, and e-mailed our dinner-date to let him know we’d arrived.

See, TCAF was our main reason for coming to Toronto, but it wasn’t our only reason. For one thing, I’ve got family in the city, but almost as importantly, one of our favorite restaurants had recently reopened and we needed to make sure its legendary black cod was still All That. So my pal Sam & his wife Tracie made reservations for the four of us.

While Amy showered, I walked over to Eaton Centre to pick up a brush and a comb for her; I’d managed not to forget to bring anything, but only because most of my stuff was still packed from Chicago.

I figured she’d take a while in the shower, so I meandered around the mall, looking at menswear and trying to assess whether my suit-jacket and a thin sweater would be enough protection against the cold and rain, which turned out to be more severe than predicted. At one point, I discovered a fancy men’s place called Harry Rosen. I’d seen a writeup for its five-storey flagship store in the Porter in-flight magazine a few hours earlier, but this was a mall version. So, no Tom Ford on display, but there was still good stuff to be seen.

An ancient salesman decided to help me out, and pushed suit after suit on me. He declared that my 42 Long size was a lie, and that I’d be far better treated by a 40, perhaps even of Regular length. After a few fittings, I told him that I had to get back to my wife so we could head out for dinner. He gave me his card, told me that he’d be at the store on Saturday, and that if I didn’t see him there, I should “just tell one of the salespeople you’re looking for the youngest person in the store,” he said.

Back in the room, Amy sat worried with limp hair. (I just wanted to write that.)

I brought her comb and brush, then got back to reading Roger’s comics while we waited for our friends to pick us up. It was cold, raining, and the cabfare would’ve somehow turned astronomical.

Dinner was at Ame, a restaurant in the club/theater district. It used to be known as Rain, and I’d had several phenomenal meals there. When we visited Toronto last May, we were crestfallen to find that it was shut down, with plans to reopen later in the year.

The restaurant is owned by Guy Rubino, a chef with a show called Made To Order on Canada’s Food Network. My pal Sam explained that Rain was just too pricey an establishment for its neighborhood, and that the new incarnation — “ame” is Japanese for “rain” — would be more affordable. The place was certainly more hopping on this visit. I couldn’t recall seeing so many people in the restaurant in either of my previous times there (Dec. 2006 and Aug. 2007, if you’re keeping record of my dining experiences and travels).

We parked in a lot a few doors down from the building. After we were seated, I meandered over to the bar to check out The Gin Situation. Sam had already heard about my mind-blowing G&T from two nights before, and was worried that I’d make good on my threat never to drink another. Like that was gonna happen.

Among the standard high-end fare, I noticed a new-to-me gin named Victoria. The bartender confirmed that it was a recent addition and may not have made its way to the states yet. I returned to my table and considered my options.

Before ordering, or even checking out the menu, we spent a while catching up with Sam & Tracie, a chunk of which consisted of my telling Sam some of the BIO stories from earlier in the week. He couldn’t attend this year, but was happy to hear that it was dysfunctional an event as usual for our niche of the industry.

Our waitress was a petite Spanish-ish-looking girl with braces. She was so adorable that Amy pointed out that fact (and also thinks she was less Spanish than maybe black). Taking our drink orders, she spoke pretty authoritatively about the gin selection, and was intrigued by my snooty-ass Q-Tonic (the bar only served the standard stuff, which I was willing to overlook after my nirvana experience in Chicago). I opted for a Victoria and tonic (which meh) while Amy got the Gin Kim chi, a concoction containing gin, pickled ginger, pickled daikon, cilantro, kojuchang, lemon juice simple syrup. It was an awfully inventive and tasty cocktail. I would follow my G&T with an Aviation, but it was nowhere near as lovely as the one I had in Chicago two nights earlier.

After we got over lamenting the lack of a chef’s tasting menu — which the four of us ordered on our last trip here and turned out to include “Squab Three Ways,” one of which was “Squab-Claw of Death” — we rampaged through the menu (with some suggestions from our waitress), pledging to eat family style no matter the size of the dishes.

The pork belly, my late addition to the order, turned out to be a home run, but the grand slam belonged, as ever, to the miso black cod. After one bite, I had to resist my boss’ practice of immediately calling the waitress over and asking for two more orders of it. I mean, we did order a second one, but at least we waited a little while. And, of course, we used our iPhones to take pictures of the dishes and e-mail them to my boss. He really needs to find some advertisers in the Toronto area so he can make a business trip up there.

Though the venue was more crowded than in its Rain days, Ame was never loud, and so the four of us were able to chat away. Sure, Sam & I spent too much time talking business, and I may’ve spent so much time discussing the intricacies of gin that Sam’s wife thought I was an alcoholic, but that’s better than being deaf from crowd noise at the end of an evening, right?

Overall, the meal was a joy. The desserts were . . . interesting, but I scored with a fig-sorbet dish. Sam went with an off-menu special, “Strawberry 18 Bazillion Ways,” one of which was strawberry Pop Rocks. (My brother would have been in heaven. If only Pop-Tarts were involved.) Though we’d ordered a ton of dishes, none of us were in bloated tick mode. We guessed that they got prices down to club-district level by shrinking things a bit. And getting rid of the Squab Three Ways. (And don’t get me started on the loss of Lamb Three Ways, an insanely good dish on my first trip to Rain.)

The only downside to the evening was the discovery that Sam’s car was buried behind three rows of cars: the perils of an early dinner reservation. It was raining pretty heavily and there was no sign of the lot attendant. Tracie talked about taking the train back out to their neighborhood and returning in the morning to get the car. I pondered all available options and concluded that there was nothing Amy or I could do, besides catch a cab back to the Metropolitan. I felt like a heel for so rapidly deciding on that course of action, but before I could propose it, Sam found the lot attendant, and they began the Tetris-like game of extricating his car.

Back at the hotel room, I had a welcome e-mail from Chris Butcher, the TCAF organizer, and a “knock ’em dead tomorrow!” e-mail from my pal Tom. I had a warm belly, a little buzz, my darling wife, and some Muppets comics. I’d also hit Tim Horton’s on two separate occasions earlier in the day. It would be a good mini-vacation.

Next: Cheers Judas

May 3: Bloodshot Eye of the Tiger

May 4: Skokie, the Germans, and the Lost Ugandan

May 5: “Jumpin’ with my boy Sid in the city”

May 6: The Miracle and the Wrigley Killing Field

Locas & Locos

Anyone who’s read Jaime Hernandez’s Locas comics in Love & Rockets knows that the men take a back seat to the women in the cast. Ray D. is pretty much the only male character who jumps to mind when I try to recall men who demonstrate even half the depth of Jaime’s women.

Still, I’ve been hoping for a while now to compliment my three Jaime Hernandez drawings of Maggie & Hopey, Terry Downe and Penny Century with a trio of drawings of Jaime’s guys.

Comic-Con International in San Diego represents the best opportunity to do this, since Jaime and his brother Gilbert bring binders of drawings to sell at their signing sessions. But I haven’t been out to the Con since 2005; my wife didn’t have a great time when I dragged her to it that year, although now that she learned Ray Bradbury was in attendance at this past Con, she’s full of regret. So maybe next year. I guess I won’t ask her to wear the Princess Leia costume this time. (No, that’s not her.)

It’s my good fortune to have an all-around great pal who is obligated to cover the Con. I asked my Comics Reporter pal Tom to keep an eye out when Jaime was doing his signing/drawing sale sessions. A few days after the Con, I received a UPS package that looked like it was mauled by the company’s new cadre of package-sorting grizzly bears.

Tom, expecting this sort of abuse, did a fantastic job with the internal packaging, so I’m now the proud owner of three Jaime drawings of Rand Race, Doyle, and the beaten-down Ray Dominguez! Time to trim (slightly) and frame ’em!

I’ve posted all six of my Jaime scans to flickr, so just click through Penny Century for the whole set!