Category Archives: comic books

Thoughts on this year’s Fan Expo

Fan Expo Canada, a three-day convention in Toronto for all things nerdy, is always a hectic weekend. Despite its increase in popularity over the years, the frustration (and resulting pen stabbings) caused by crowds and line-ups have never reached San Diego Comic-Con heights. This year however, Fan Expo had some new obstacles, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the event (including the highlights, the loot and the hassles).

On Friday night, I attended a screening of the 1966 film, “Batman” (starring Adam West and Burt Ward) at the Toronto Underground Cinema. Although several of the film’s hilariously campy scenes have appeared online (including the infamous exploding shark), I had never seen the movie in full. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but “Batman” was the most hilarious movie I’ve seen all year. Besides Robin’s usual one-liners (“Holy bikini, Batman!”), I was amused the most by the obsessive-compulsive way every important button, switch or lever was labeled with its name and/or function. Most notably, midway down the Batpole, Bruce Wayne hits the “Instant Costume-Change Lever,” allowing the dynamic duo to seamlessly and instantly change into their superhero apparel.

Following the screening, the caped crusader himself, Mr. Adam West, appeared on stage to answer fan questions and indulge our requests. West’s ability to self-ridicule was reminiscent of William Shatner (West even noted that there were only a few people in Hollywood like himself who were able to poke fun at themselves), as he performed the “Batusi” and lines from Family Guy’s Mayor West (including, “Someone’s stealing my water”).

The next day at Fan Expo, fans were treated to a disorganized mess of cosplay and line-ups that spanned city blocks. Inside, the crowds were nearly impossible to navigate, and if you were lucky enough to actually make it into a room for a panel with one of your favourite celebrities, you had the privilege of almost being crushed to death while trying to exit through the narrow hallways. And unlike the hordes of people you might encounter at a sports game or a concert, the over-sized nature of cosplayers’ weapons and costumes definitely make large crowds a little more… difficult. (Trust me, getting smushed between Iron Man and a stormtropper isn’t as awesome as it sounds.)

Hobby Star Marketing President and CEO, Aman Gupta, apologized for the inadequate planning at Fan Expo and addressed the concerns of fans in a recent letter, stating that the company was unprepared for such an outpour of fans. Gupta also promised that Fan Expo 2011 would be held in a larger space — the entire South Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

However, despite the crowds and the lines, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Fan Expo.

Some of my highlights included:

  • Felicia Day. The Q&A with Felicia Day (writer, creator, and star of the “The Guild” webseries) was a lot of fun and let me bask in the awesomeness of my fantasy BFF. The one hour Q&A allowed fans to ask questions like “What’s your favourite video game of all time?” And, ” How does it feel to make girl gaming more mainstream?” Felicia’s passion for gaming, social media and writing came through loud and clear, as well as her knowledge of obscure video games. Afterwards, she signed my copy of issue #1 of The Guild comic, which I also got signed by artist Jim Rugg at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. Unfortunately, I was so starstruck and engulfed in our conversation that I forgot to ask Felicia for a photo together.
  • Artist Alley. The area for artists was much larger this year, allowing for more crafts, art and interesting conversations. I always try to spend most of my time in Artist Alley, as the rest of the exhibitors typically sell posters, comics and merch that I can pick-up at any of my local comic-book stores. Artist Alley, on the other hand, features original and hard-to-find pieces that the creators are more than happy to talk about (and sign for you). This year I picked-up some great new posters and got to chat with quite a few artists, including Runaways artist Adrian Alphona.
  • The costumes. Cosplayers are always out in force at Fan Expo, and this year was no different. I’m always amazed at the detail that goes into every costume — envious of the time, effort and talent that goes into each piece. Next year, I think I’ll join in the fun and cosplay as Atom Eve, a superhero and love interest in Robert Kirkman’s Invincible comic-book series.
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Thanks to Superman

I have to confess, I’ve never been a Superman fan. I never read the comics, or waited in anticipation for the newest Smallville episode, or really cared about Bryan Singer’s 2006 reboot.

However, as part of the 18th annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival, I was lucky enough to attend the Canadian premier of Last Son,  a 60 minute documentary on the creators of Superman, artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel.

The film, which does an excellent job tracing the origins of Superman and gives a thorough exploration of Shuster’s and Siegel’s childhoods, provided me with a newfound appreciation for the Man of Steel – for his history and for his influence on comic books and superheroes to come.

From a young age, both Joe and Jerry showed an interest in comic strips and sci-fi and fantasy pulp magazines. After meeting in highschool, the two collaborated on numerous projects, including short stories and comic strips for their school newspaper. One of their longest running strips was Slam Bradley, a detective series about a private eye who always got the girl.

Later, the two friends created “Science Fiction” – a five issue  magazine used to publish many of the duo’s comic strips and short stories. One such piece of fiction was The Reign of the Superman, a short story written by Jerry and illustrated by Joe about a man who developed special powers and called himself the “Superman.” However, unlike the Superman we grew up with, Joe and Jerry’s first rendition of the Man of Steel was a villain who aspired to world domination.

After facing constant rejection, Superman would finally appear on the cover of Action Comics #1, a 13-page comic book released in 1938. Joe and Jerry would end up selling the rights to Superman for $130 (that’s $10 per page) – consequently resulting in decades of law suits and embarrassment for both the creators and the publisher.

Despite the messy legalities, what impressed me the most about Last Son was its insight into the hero’s design. Superman’s legendary appearance – the belt, the boots, and even the iconic “S” on his chest – was influenced by the world the creators grew up in. A variety of athletes and fads from the early 20th century can been seen throughout Superman’s design.

Joe, who drew on his mother’s bread board (except on Friday’s when she made the bread),  never went to art school, so he copied Superman’s poses from the body builders and boxers in fitness magazines. Last Son attributed Superman’s build and size to the body builders that Joe aspired to as a child, and the boots and belt were also common aspects of the strong man ensemble. Surprisingly, the “S” was featured as stitching on trendy ladies’ garments.

Following the screening of Last Son, the audience was treated to three original Superman cartoons from the 1940’s. Although the cartoon was filled with clichés and predictable plot lines, I was pleasantly surprised with the depiction of Lois Lane. An independent, hard-working journalist, Lois was a real character with a personality. She did whatever it took to get her story, and in an office dominated by men, she spoke her mind and didn’t follow orders. Although her independent spirit often put her in harm’s way (allowing Superman to come to the rescue), I couldn’t help but marvel at this unconventional portrayal of a woman in the 1940’s.

And so even though Superman draws heavily on the icons of his time, so too has modern-day art and media drawn on Superman. Action Comics #1 is considered the first real comic book, and Superman our first superhero. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel have inspired countless artists and writers, and the Man of Steel has helped shape our vision of truth, justice and heroism. So despite his pretty-boy demeanor, I can’t help but appreciate Superman and his influence on my favourite medium.

Conveniently, each 1940’s Superman cartoon ended with the same piece of dialogue: “Thanks to Superman.” I couldn’t agree more.

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The Hairy Tarantula

The Hairy Tarantula

Situated above street level at 354 Yonge, The Hairy Tarantula is easy to miss. But climbing up the flight of stairs to the second floor, the movie and comic book posters plastered across the walls are sure to get your inner nerd senses tingling. Just don’t forget to the close the door at the top of the stairs or you might let one of the store’s two cats out.  

Even though the location by my apartment doesn’t sell individual comic book issues, The Hairy T is still my all-time favourite comic book store (BlogTO also listed its west-end location as one of “The Best Comic Shops in Toronto“). It’s literally crammed full of board games, role-playing guides, toys, anime, and volumes of comics. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful (unlike their counterparts at the Silver Snail), and they always have competitive prices.  

One of two cats at The Hairy T

Once inside, you’re immediately won over by the store’s charming indie feel. Board games are piled ceiling high, toy displays are covered in dust, and it’s often difficult to navigate between the crowded rows of products. But you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to a better time, before all your favourite comics were exploited and turned into disappointing B movies.  

So if you’re in the Toronto area, make sure to stop by The Hairy T for all your nerdy purchases. Oh, and while you’re there, don’t forget to check out their monthly specials – you’ll often find comics selling for their US cover prices, and board games at a significant discount. 

What’s your favourite comic or board game shop? Know of any good stores in Toronto or abroad?

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