Wednesday, November 17, 2004
"What are you here for?"
"I'm going to a comic book show."
The Immigration officer stares at me as if at a stone covered in hieroglyphics, most of the characters still filled with sand.
"What is that, like a show with comedians on a stage..."
"No, they buy and sell comic books. I draw them. Like Tintin and Batman."
Looks down at paper again.
"You say a Leonard Wong is coming to pick you up."
"Why did he buy your ticket?"
"Because he's putting on the show, and I'm a guest of the show."
"The comic-book show."
"We'll have someone page him."
--Leonard is never paged.--
"Now, you said you don't know where you're staying."
"Some hotel somewhere. I don't know anything about Vancouver. Is something wrong with my passport?"
"No... what's your social security number?"
Similar exchanges went on for the better part of an hour as I waited for Canadian Customs to let me out of the airport. I asked what seemed so suspicious about me in particular, but never got an answer. I saw people from five other countries be allowed in at blinding speed. At last I was stamped and let into the baggage claim where Leonard stood with a question mark hovering over him. I try to explain as we drive through his home city, and he points out the school where he teaches. It's known widely as Smallville High to TV viewers, and the place is lousy with Hollywood people most of the year. It's so appropriate that one of the most integral figures in British Columbia's comics scene works at Superboy's high school that I can't think of how to state it.
Later Len took a group of us to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. This usually works out really well for him and his guests, but tonight the staff really wasn't in the mood to bring us food. This set into motion Greg "Pleasant Greg" Rucka, who dogged the waitresses at every turn, questioning where parts of the order vanished to and why did they keep crossing out our selections. The place wasn't that busy, and it's not like they have to cook the food... the women finally got so exasperated they started bringing us other people's orders and extra things they found in the kitchen. We all finally got enough to eat and walked down the street looking for a bar. The Canadians got an earful of Americans ranting about our recent e-lection, and politely offered us citizenship should things deteriorate further in our country.
At the nice bar decorated with deep red drapery, I got to talk at length to artist Michel Gagne and his wife Nancy. Michel is an animator who now puts out his own books, such as Insanely Twisted Rabbits. Once I found out he worked on The Iron Giant, I grilled him as if he were on trial. We talked about the man of the hour, Incredibles director Brad Bird, and then went back to Michel's early days working for Don Bluth in Dublin. I had a lot of questions about Bluth, who's work after Secret of NIMH has always perplexed me, and Michel explained a lot.
Then I catch up with the easily excitable Steve Rolston and his blue-headed mate Sabina. Hair-Trigger Steve laid out the comics factions of Vancouver for me so I'd know how the game is played here. Of course, all cartoonists have to answer to our pal Leonard, the kingpin of comics shows (whatever those are) for the area. We got a pleasant surprise visit from Calgary retailer Kelly Dowd, who came to town to briefly visit Len's show and then go to the football game. Somehow we got on the popular topic of clairvoyants talking to the dead, and though we weren't trying to be spooky, I noticed Sabina's knuckles going white as she death-clenched her minty drink.
Sunday, the show begins at a reasonable 11 am. As you can see by the image of guitarist and former Charlton artist Verne Andru, this event brings out every possible artistic leaning. The building the show is in is a charming old Postal Station that I'm determined to work into a comic book soon. And I'd already heard numerous references to the "weird urinal" in the basement bathroom (excuse me, Canadians say "washroom". Apparently they wash things in there, and we take baths in there). I kept drinking water, eager to see the arcane toilet. Around the support column from me is High-Octane Rolston, busily drawing and signing Queen and Country hardbacks next to Greg, who's caught up signing books and working in his laptop. He keeps the Formatting turned on on his monitor to keep at bay the Terrifying White of the page that all writers fear. Turn the brightness down on the monitor, I says. Through half-open eyes Steve "thanks" me and Kelly for the fact that Sabina kept all the lights on all last night.
Leonard introduces me to Kaare Andrews, a likeable gent who likes his Starbucks. I see from this picture that Len took that Steve Skroce was there momentarily as well, but I never saw him. Most of the time I did my Interman song and dance and sketched. I drew a few Escapists, and did a commission of Vampirella poised to wack a zombie with a shovel. I hope that guy sends me a jpeg of that. A comics enthusiast dad and daughter talked with me for a while, and eventually bought one of my cheaper pages. As it often did during the weekend, The Incredibles came up, and I asked the girl what she liked most about it. It made me really happy to hear the painfully shy 13-year old enthusiastically say "the daughter-Violet!" Of course she was going to like Violet, I can't believe I even asked the question.
Just like at the Calgary show, a pretty bright crowd over all, and easy to get along with. And tolerant of me never having Canadian dollar coins with which to make change. I finally march downstairs with resolve to the men's washroom and see a standing urinal unlike any I've ever encountered.
Made in Scotland quite some time back, this triumph of design allows fellows to relieve themselves and carry on conversation without having to turn their heads and possibly lose aim. That was worth coming to British Columbia for. Vancouver-- I'll be back.