St Thomas, USVI, 2015

Rather than have another vacation blog post that no one will read, I figured I'd just have a few select pictures to show you how awesome my life is (er, rather, was, it's back to sucking now).

Scenes from New York Comic Con

This past week was a four day event known as New York Comic Con. I had only been there once before on a one-day professional pass (that’s right I’m a professional!) that I got through work. I decided to give in to a large experience and got a four day pass even if in the end I was only able to go to three days, skipping Saturday in fear of the even more massive, massive crowds. Comic Con is a fascinating event; a convention center filled with blocks of comics and toy dealerships as well as what's known as artist alley, which is more dedicated to independent comics and artist promoting their wares. This includes various steam punk, fantasy, and bondage outfits, weapons, sculptures, and toys. There is, of course, many problems with this event. The convention center is far too crowded making me feel bad for small children and handicapped people of which there seems to be an awful lot of, well, more than, say, at any sport or Rock concert event I’ve seen. So much of what is there is somewhat useless as New York City is filled with comic shops and toy stores. If there were bargains if I could understand, but some of the pricing borders on scams. The best thing for comic con is artist alley as there you can find actually unique items. The problem is that the same artists want to sell their material and sometimes they can be rather pushy. 

I did get some great stuff, unfortunately, at the same time, some not so great stuff. Bill Plympton’s handler made a big deal out how fast he did a sketch of me; well guess what, I rather have something good for my money than the shit he drew! FU Bill, try to treat a fan/paying customer with respect. And there are plenty of great and friendly artists who will do just that: CW, Jason Thomas, Jason Deeble, Ivan O'Neill, Fat Artist (not sure if that is his legal name), and Selina Briggs to name a few. Some of the artists want a crazy amount of money for their unknown work whether comics or art, and I can’t understand how they pull that off, but if you will do a sketch for me cheaply, or better yet for free, I will buy some of your work as well (although most people probably don’t do this, even if they should). This, naturally, lead me to getting into trouble such as when I got a sketch for a dollar and the artist kept giving me free stuff which I gladly took until the final item, which, after I express interest in, he wanted $20 for. It was hard to say that I was interested in stuff for free but that the crappy exploitative poster of a fake-porn comic was not worth paying for. This brings me to some observations.

It is also really cool to see so many people dressed as comic book characters. Despite what I might have thought, there is apparently no limit to how many Deadpool characters people will dress as or the degree of pseudo-porn you can have and pretend it is a comic. What makes this last part worse is the amount of young women that eagerly jump in on this. It seems that if you want to promote your work, just have a mostly naked chick with huge tits hawking your wares. The normally shy nerd will come out of his shell for these events and the one time feminists will see their sisters as empowering and try to act the same. I’m not sure if this last part is some ego stroking need for some women as there are many that probably wouldn’t get looked at twice in public but put their 300lbs in a sailor moon costume with their DDs and they are the bell at the ball. (Note: If you feel that you don’t match the standard of beauty, dress as a female superhero and finds some comic fans.) Yet at the same time there are incredibly attractive women going around in string but little else that couldn’t possible need the attention fix. The only thing I have to say to them is: “Where the hell are you when it comes to my life?! I’ve never met the model who is both a nerd and attracted to them!” Props to the women dressed as an original Star Trek doctor as you are very attractive but didn’t wear anything that crossed the line. 

Anyway, while I knew “Welcome to Nightvale" podcast was popular, I had no idea that it would have blocks long lines for meeting cast members—btw I just ordered merchandise to support you when I could have got it cheaper without waiting or paying for shipping. Speaking of lines, what is the interest in that? I just don’t want to wait two hours to meet Lucy Lawless for five seconds or spend $20 to shake hands with an 1980s wrestler or Mike Teevee (seriously, have you done anything else, child star?). 

As a means of socializing NYCC is a contradiction. On the one hand I ran into a few people that I have not seen in as many as five years (I’m glad they recognized me, because maybe I was passing by all sorts of people I once knew as I seem to be face blind). Since this is a group of “my people,” so to speak, you would think it would be easy to chat it up and make friends. Additionally, call a person by the name of the costume they are wearing and they are very excited to let you take of picture of/with them (this is where the creepy guys get to put their arms around the half naked with boob popping outfitted barely legal girls (here’s some math for you: increased breast size + lower clothing size = more popular (but I guess you can say that about anything in life)). Yet, on the other hand, I find NYCC to be rather isolating. The most fun I had was when I met up with Donette and wandered with her. It is something about having someone to immediately share the experience with that truly make the event, and yet to find a group of people that want to do this with me is ridiculously hard for some reason despite the hundred thousand people plus that attended and my own circle of seemingly comic loving friends.

Still, for whatever the problems, NYCC is a fascinating event and worth experiencing. Rather than continue to bore you with observations I'll let you see some of the creative and fun things you can see (I'm especially big on the little kids in costumes although I wonder how much of it is their parents forcing them to dress as the character verse because the kid's a fan). These two that you might not recognize are Pippi Longstocking and Kiki (as in Kiki's Delivery Service) which you should learn about (and, appearently, I like tales of girls with _i_i as their names).

Scenes Seen from a Zine Fest

It may be late but I wanted to write a little about some works I bought/traded for at comic and zine fests this summer. One of the best parts about zine fests is being able to meet the creators themselves, who are usually very open to chatting with you about their work and the creative process, even if for such cynical reasons as they are bored or simply hope to make a sale. On a similar note, everyone is pretty open to drawing a sketch for you if you spent as couple of bucks on their works, which is all the more reason I have to urge them not to put out signs saying you will do a drawing for 5, 10 or 15$! I totally understand that art is often how you make your living and you have every right to turn someone down if they just want you to work for them, or to do a half-ass job if they only buy your cheapest item, but I purposefully stayed aways from those tables that charge for doodles. As I'll bring up again, fest are for fun and networking, so be friendly and let's see what I stumbled on. Be aware that these works are not presented in any particular order and I'm not including anything I didn't like. I've known Bill Roundy for a number of years and he is both a nice person and fun comic creator. He tends to make comics that are either D&D or gay oriented (or both) or are part of his on-going series about various bars throughout NYC. I like and admire his work and enjoy talking with him but I must warn that his non-Bar Scrawl work is often short which might turn some people off. Additionally, his Bar Scrawl is great if you find a bar you know or wanting to try, but otherwise you are reading a short comic about a bar, so unless you are really into bar reviews it can get old fast. I bring this up because as popular as it is, what is the long term goal? I rather see some of his effort put into creating more substantial work (i.e., Orientation Police). 

Rachel Burkot had a lovely collection of poems, Think of all the Beauty, but if she wishes to continue with this, she needs to at least invest in a long arm stapler as it just doesn't visually appeal to have some printouts of text folded into booklet form. ...And make it look more like The Ken Chronicles who records observations and thoughts of his travels and life in general, along with pictures (some in color!). This is a great example of what one can do with a zine and Mr. Bausert seems like a very nice guy, so I wish him well and am glad to see he has at least 30 issues of his work!

I picked up Cosmopolis by Z-Man as I was immediately taken by his zanny art (maybe that's what the "Z" stands for). It's a cute collection of strips about a crazy world (i.e., ours), but I think the art is the best part. He may be better served by collaborating with a writer. (PS Everyone should put the phrase "except for the purposes of review" in their copyright to allow me to include pictures)

Monday Saddies! by Steve Seck are various stories usually involving talking things that should not talk like violent park animals and idiotic locker contents. It's fun and I like the large size format of the books, but with a big disclaimer of "NOT FOR KIDS!" I was disappointed by its lack of utter craziness. Talking to him and his wife(?) was more fun--and I mean that as a compliment. 

Marguerite Dabaie has several works on the Sogdians as well as jewelry in its style. What the heck is a Sogdian? She's glad you asked and should check out her work. The very short answer is that they are a "lost" culture from central Asia's silk road (think about all those -stan countries). I'm fascinated by the peoples of central Asia and would like her to produce more comics (vs non-reading material) and hopefully of lesser cost to help hook people. 

That's a general comment I often have about things from zine fest. I realize that so much of your work is painstakingly and lovingly done and producing them is expensive, but I honestly believe that no one is really going to get rich off this forum, so use it a a means of promoting yourself and your work and networking with others (through trades) until you can get that book deal.

Masterpiece Mini-Comics are simpler to my own My Life as Literature only R. Sikoryak uses traditional comic characters to retell classical stories. Hands down he does a great job mimicking the format and capturing the literature's style. I should have bought more. 

Another rather professional publication I got was Sam Henderson's Magic Whistle, which I have purchased issues of before. One of the great things about a fest is that you get to buy a comic that is rather simply drawn, but filled with outrageous and sexually deviant comics, and then to meet the creator who is the most unassuming man you'll ever meet. I guess still waters run deep and I'm glad he makes this comic or he might go on a killing spree. I also bought a piece of his art. 

T. Motley had some interesting fairy tale-esque stories and his art is quite sophisticated, but the small minis may not be the best form for his work; I would rather see it in a larger frame. Better suited to this small medium are some works like the silly Sam Spina's Tarn and Alan King and Jamie Vayda's The Rats Were Bad That Year, which was one of the best  stories I read from a zine fest. 

Speaking of great reads, perhaps the most impressive works I had the pleasure to buy/trade for was by Teylor Smirl. Two issues of Flightless Birds and a stand alone called Wild Turkey are incredibly raw, dealing with her drinking and relationship issues and featuring a very punk rock penguin. As an aside, Ms Smirl was funny, charming, has great tattoos, and is utterly gorgeous, so I can never fully believe that such women have difficulties in relationships, but I'm blinded by delusion. The art is quite strong and the no holds bared subject matter coupled with great humor (ex "I got a palm reading today ... just so someone would hold my hand") shows her major potential. The copying is a little weak and the works are a few years old making me wonder if she has anything else in the pipeline and/or is planning a new run of (clearer) printing. I certainly hope so, as I'm eager to read more--high praise from a curmudgeon. Being obsessed with all things Lovecraftian, I got a kick out of Lara Antal's Cthulhu mythos inspired pictures and cards featuring Yog-Sothothery love proclamations. At one fest I gave her some suggestions as to other eldritch horrors she should turn into terms of endearments, but didn't see any new ones the next time we met, so I guess I have to summon a great old one to destroy her mortal form. 

Caitlin Cass shows talent and creativity in her mockery of ABC books (like my first comic: The ABCs of The USA!), making fun of literature, and producing creative displays of historical cities. Her art is rather cartoony, but I'm not sure if it is styled that way as she does have a problem getting words to fit within panels and balloons, which makes the work look--unfortunately--unprofessional. 

A staple at many a zine fest is the Barnard Zine Library and it is always nice to see the activist and overworked Zine librarian, Jenna Freeman. Dedicated to helping the downtrodden get information as well as promoting zines, my hat goes off to Ms Freeman. She has some cool zines that are truly DIY and I encourage anyone to visit the library despite that the focus is of female issues/created zines rather than all inclusive. I took part in a zine workshop there and I was the only male in the group and am still kind of convinced that I wasn't suppose to be there. Still, everyone was very nice and it was great to be creative around so many zines. I'm telling you, if  could get a job as a zine library at a university, I'd cut and run from this PhD program so fast it would make your head spin (mainly because I had to murder you by breaking your neck to get the job). 

Speaking of activism. There is a group called Research and Destroy New York City (you'll have to figure out if that means they want to destroy NYC or are just based here, but they certainly have it in for cops) and they produce some amazing zines, some heavily researched recounts of events and information and some, equally researched, but much more whimsical, zines that are simply a collection of newspaper articles revolving around a single subject, such as my favorite: Cats Hate Cops that just shows attacks on cops by cats. Being that I have been on the wrong end of an unprovoked butt kicking by cops too many times, I understand where some of the rage comes from. It used to be that police considered communication their best weapon, now they have seminars on how cops can explain why excessive force was used. This group is always very open to trades and I greatly appreciate that. 

Mindy Indy (pretty sure that's not her name) had three little comics (one a year which is a good rhythm) that I thought were cute, especially the one about a dog in a fight with his balloon animal counterpart; likewise I got two from Alisa Harris that were also well worth the pittance I paid for them, giving fun "tips" for living on nothing and a guide to some live music venues that I knew and which no longer exist.

On the high end of comics (price-wise due to (semi-)uniqueness and hand crafted excellence), my obsession with mollusk forced--forced I say!--me to buy The Cambrian by Estrella Vega and Pulpo by Alexandra Beguez. The former traces the, well, Cambrian age through beautiful illustrations and the latter is a delightful story about a boy and an octopus that is similar to one of my own encounters that I've presented in an "Aquatic Adventures" comic. I spent more on these two works than on everything else on this post put together, and while I do not regret it, as I love the work, I have to bring up a bone of contention hinted at earlier. Hard Traveling Hero and I both bought works from these ladies and asked for sketches as well, and the illustrations they did for HTH were much bigger and intricate than they did for me. Now I spent easily ten times what HTH did and I'm at least ten times as good looking and charming as him so WTF!? A little commensurate behavior is all I'm asking. Not that I'm bitter--F you HTH!

Going back to zines, Katie Haegele has some short ones on fashion that are nicely done, if not what I'm personally interested in. Joseph Carlough is doing some creative work by taking old (circa a hundred years old) literary stories and texts and bringing them to contemporary attention to hilarious/intriguing results. Both these individuals were extremely friendly and open to trade, and seem to be doing their work--at least in large part--for love not profit. Points to them! 

I'll end--mainly because this is taking a lot longer than I thought--on two little (size and length) comics that make all of us who say we can't draw or don't have the time etc complaint look like dorks. Alden Viguilla has a delightful and simply drawn work, Lesson #1, about a cat and dog fight, and Kriota Willberg has an even simplerly (?) drawn work called Phagocytosis about bacteria. Unfortunately, I already filed away some of the other works I collected this summer and I apologize for inadvertently missing any works/creators I enjoyed. If any of these things here do sound interesting to you, please look for them online or at a comic/zine fest. As always, if you are interested in trading some of your work for those of the ArmzRace, let us know!

This One Summer - Jillian & Mariko Tamaki

What should be just another summer vacation for Rose and her friend, Windy, at Awago beach turns out to be dark and confusing. It feels like I have to read five comics to come across one that is any good, but this story should count as double. Beautifully drawn, elegantly paced, simply colored with blue ink, spartanly written, this YA tale is powerful and fun, if a heavy inducer of melancholy. It involves two summer vacation friends: two young girls, somewhat dissimilar with just enough of an age difference to cause some problems. Together they become by-standards to grown-up (sort of) intrigues that they don't quite fully understand. It is a story about friends, family, growing up, and the fleeting nature of life. I greatly enjoyed it. 

Zine and Comic Fests

Summer time is for comics and zines. I know this because I just made it up. I went to the Grand Comic fest and Pete's Mini Zine fest and wanted to show some pictures of the events, even if I don't get around to reviewing everything I read from them. As a bit of a personal evaluation (other than the fact that Pete's was so much cooler last year (mainly because AR was representing), Grand was better for comics, but the crowd at Pete's was much more friendly and open for trading). I have a bunch more pictures of art people made for me, but you'll have to go to the AR twitter account to see them.












St T 2014 XV

Sadly, my vacation is coming to a close. I could easily spend another month here before I would start to get bored. It is frustrating that I have to split my time (not 50-50 but still) between vacation and work, but it is certainly better to be here in the sun and water than in NYC in the cold and snow. Maybe I should work for the West India co. Didn't do anything monumental today, but that's the point, just sit in the sun on a hammock reading, and swimming in the ocean looking at fish and turtles. 

St T 2014 XIII-XIV

Sorry for the delay but I got the day wrong and realized an assignment of mine was due when I thought I had an extra day. Anyway, never mind that, instead let's focus on the awesomeness of the sea life here. Someone told me that it might have something to do with the full moon but I'm not sure. Either way, things are kind of crazy with the influx of pelicans, about 10 billion minos (give or take a billion), a seeming up tick in procupinefish, queen angelfish, and schools of 10 horse-eye jacks that got to be 4 feet long at least. Also saw more turtles than ever: what appeared to be a mother and father and baby--so cute!--(only the parents where together) and maybe grandpa who was pretty big but hard to get a clear picture of as he was over 20' underwater and covered with other fish snacking off his food (plus he took off so damn fast I couldn't keep up with him). Haven't seen any sting rays in a while, and absolutely no trumpetfish. While swimming along I came across a great egret and slowly floated on up to it. Got within 4' by being very slow and quiet and it was quite beautiful. Fascinatingly, when looked at face-on their very thin and long necks and beaks become an almost invisible line, which explains how they can so easily catch fish. Happy birthday, Mom!!!

St T 2014 XII

There are so many pelicans flying around it's crazy. 7 seems far too many considering that last time there were 2 (I guess we know how the increase happened). Going snorkeling I learned why this might be: There were so many minos (or whatever these little fish are) that saying in the tens of thousands seems to be a low call as they were so thick you couldn't see past them. Then, all of a sudden, they would part, leaving a path, through which the biggest fish I've ever faced would stroll on through. Easily 2.5-3 feet long and maybe a foot from top to bottom. I think they were Chub or Horse-Eye Jacks, and yes, I saw more and then 2-3 at a time. All this below and the pelicans on top, I was concerned I might get caught in the middle of a feeding frenzy. Thinking I might be better off deeper down, I took a tank out to go scuba diving. Just my luck it had a slow leak so I went through air faster than I thought I would, but I did see some cool fish like procupinefish and queen angelfish as well as a turtle that I got to swim around with and actually see from below rather than looking down from above. There was also a lionfish, but they are invasive and highly poisonous. And just for fun I played with Mango the "stray" beach cat for a while. 

St T 2014 XI

Despite the weather reports the day started dark and drizzly. I headed to Havenside, which is a port for the smaller cruise ships (be aware that these are still the size of a small city, but the idea that there are bigger ones...), but also the home of a butterfly farm and a tropical garden. Some of the butterflies are absolutely beautiful and often deceptively so as with their wings folded they could be a dull brown but spread they might be an incredible electric blue. The garden was also delightful if the path was a little narrow and the signage minimal. I returned to the hotel and took a refresher class for scuba diving (considering the horrible ear trouble and near drowning I dealt with last time it seemed like a good idea to do so). I was disappointed as I didn't see anything (and maybe even less) than I would have if I simply snorkeled. Still, good to get back underwater. 

St T 2014 IX-X


I fell behind a day, not because of the Golden Balls or whatever its called wherein rich, famous, beautiful people get praised for doing their incredibly lucrative jobs while drinking champaign. Instead I was "distracted" to hear that a friend of the family had a horrific accident and may be paralyzed. So glad you actors got to basic in your own limelight. Anyway, on the brighter side of things (and yes, I realize that these posts are also somewhat self-indulgent), I enjoyed some great weather and spent a good deal of time playing with sea turtles, being called away to prep for next semesters work and the online class I'm currently taking. As a complete aside,while I'm used to seeing mediocre guys with hot women (maybe the guy has a lot of money) there are two guys at the hotel that appear to be very good-looking and in excellent shape, married to very mediocre women; it's throwing my world into chaos! It just dawned on me last night that my vacation is over half done and the great panic sets in about what I've done and what I still want to do (it's reasons like that which led me to write for this blog, even if the stuff "I still want to do" usually is sitting in the sun doing nothing). 

St T 2014 VIII

Probably the best weather so far with the clearest water. Spent too much time reading and finishing a YA novel that was on the NYTimes best seller list only to be rather disappointed. Much better in the water where I saw 8-9 cuttlefish at one time which was rather unusual and two Peacock Flounders hanging out together (spoting one of these camouflaged guys is hard enough. At one point I saw this 3 foot long fish and thought "cool, a shark, I'm going to get a closer look" until I realized "crap, that's a barracuda, I'm going away now." I suppose the second reaction should be applied to either case. 

St T 2014 VI-VII

Sorry for the missed day, but I started an online class about how to teach online (lesson one organize your time). I've slowed down some because of this class I'm taking (see prior sentence) and intermittent rain has thrown me off. Yes, I know, poor me, having a tricky time organizing my swimming, snorkeling, and book reading on a hammock time. Anyway, the water currants have been a little strong of late, which is bad as it turns up sand and hurts visibility underwater, but good in that fish are slowed and easier to watch. Went to the Ritz to see how the 1% live and wasn't actually impressed, but then my standards are all beach oriented. For whatever reason my snorkeling mask kept filling with water (a problem that corrected itself just as randomly), which made taking pictures more of a blind guess for a while. I did, however, see two sea turtles at one time yesterday, which has never happened and now shows me that there are at least 3 turtles in one area of the reef. I've also been seeing groups of parrot fish (groups meaning 3) which doesn't seem like a big deal but I never recall seeing them hanging out together (as opposed to cuttle fish which always seem to be in groups of 3). Does this mean anything? Probably not, but here's a picture of a pretty bird as a change from the fish. 

St T 2014 V

Today was a much better day in terms of sea denizens. Despite an earache that I'm hoping is only due to excessive exposure to the cool water, I got in some good snorkeling seeing two sea turtles with which to play with, a sting ray for too deep for it to even notice me, and a hermit crab that attempted a hostile takeover of another conch shell. Also did a little food shopping, and while I realize that the locals may know some great places to go, if they spend half of what I do, I have no idea how they survive. Note: use sunscreen on your feet, they get burnt just like the rest of you, but you have to walk on them. 

St T 2014 IV

A problem with staying here (especially when you are taking an online class) is the sporadic Internet access. Then again, it's worth the price to avoid the freezing weather throughout the US. So I'll just put up a little note saying that I went snorkeling a few times yesterday along with swimming and paddle-boarding. Haven't been seeing some of the amazing things from prior years, such as large schools of tropical fish, and haven't seen turtles since that first one. Not sure if it is just random, the weather patterns, or something else. Well, I'll keep looking. 

St T 2014 III

Decided to begin the day heading into the main town/capital of St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie, which is rather small considering that the population of the USVI is less than 20K. I mainly went to look around, stock up on food, gifts for relatives, etc. Somehow this took about 5 hours and I returned to the beach sleepy and much poorer. The water was still very murky due to the crazy cold front from the north and while I saw some neat sea life like scrawled filefish, rainbow parrotfish, rock beauty, queen angelfish, wrasse, and procupinefish, and a barracuda, I couldn't see them very well. There are a lot of stray cats around, but one that's not so stray is a black cat missing half an ear named Mango (No, I don't know why) who decided to shred my t-shirt that I was using instead of yarn to play with her. Trying to be good and get some work done, but well.... 

St T 2014 II

The trouble with the Caribbean, especially at wintertime, is that the weather is rather unpredictable. When the rain came down I'd head to my hotel to do some work for the coming semester. As soon as I'd start, the sun would come out and the temptation to go and play was too much and I'd run outside again, just in time for the rain to begin again. Still, I did some swimming and snorkeling which had its pros and cons. On the con side I was, AGAIN, attacked by angel fish! what is with these fish and their insistence in harassing me? I managed to eventual escape that trio, as well as a plethora of foot long hermit crabs (Why am I seeing so many in such a short period of time? They are up to something!), but another con was not bring my camera. The pros were that I swam with a sea turtle for a while and hung with a (much friendlier) trio of cuttlefish and a school of parrot fish (I've never seen so many in one place and time!) as well as something I assume was a sea cucumber (it looked like a giant slug! Eeeew!). To top it off I found myself right on top of a stingray--they are so funny how they flop around the sea floor. So despite the problems it was still a fun day. 

St T 2014 I

Dodged upside-down SUVs on the icy highway in the morning and swam in Caribbean waters in the evening! First day was arriving and getting settled in, but the next included (well, shopping for food , which is still about settling in) more swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking! I fed the fishes both off a dock and under water! Sure a foot-long hermit crab snapped at me, but I'm sure it was meant as a friendly greeting. Tried to balance having to prep for next semester's courses with hammock time, but I think the latter got the better deal.