Friday, July 20, 2018

Last Days of AstroLib

Well, my comic store - sorry, ex-comic store, AstroLib officially closed at the end of last month.  Their last day was announced on their webpage, but I went the week before to pick up the last of my stuff while I still could.  Then, I went there next Wednesday, for one last good look-around before it was locked up for good.

What I didn't expect was to see that the interiors had been completely vacated.  Save for several paperback books keeping the front door open, the inside was practically empty.  The trucks had already come and taken the excess books not sold, leaving a hollow shell of what the store had once been.  I was surprised to see that so many wooden fixtures that had been part of the store - the counter, the shelf rack - were just movable tables.  It felt extremely unusual to be wandering over empty spaces that were once dependable structures.

There were the occasional leftover books left lying on the floor, but nothing I really wanted worth keeping.  The biggest noteworthy item was a Robert Crumb cookbook, but since it was filled with random images of his Underground Comix, and recipes that I had no interest in, and no overall stories in it, I didn't bother picking it up.

Since this would be the only time I'd ever get a chance to see what the back of the store looked like, I jumped at the opportunity.  If anybody showed up, I'd politely make my apologies and hightail it out of there.

Along the way, I noticed taped notices on the walls, giving notice of card game tournaments that would happen after hours.  I never participated in these, let alone knew of their existence, but browsed the room where the Magic (the Gathering) would've happened.  What interested me were the papers that gave rushing memories of my first time there.  I was notoriously nervous and shy (still am), and my time there was mainly spent browsing the latest and back issues, catching up on comic stories.  It wasn't until I found out that I dared to ask and confirm that there was substantial discount on preordered stuff that I started ordering books on a regular basis.

One of the promotional material in order to spread word and find potential customers was to encourage people to sign up at the store in a "Headhunter" program.  I would've participated, if I knew anybody who I would've taken advantage of, who liked comics as much as I did.  Let me rephrase that - if I knew anybody in the vicinity, period.

In the middle of the store was a huge trash bin, holding various electronics, including a large outdated scanner, a busted printer, and near the top, a bulky catalogue of comic titles and their prospective prices.  None of these were worth salvaging.

On one of the shelves were a bunch of Sports cards, and promotional cards for the store itself, that's now sadly redundant.  There were scattered Previews catalogues that I could've easily taken with me with no one the wiser, but I didn't feel like taking bulky material that I couldn't really use.

As it turned out, exploring the forbidden recesses of the store wasn't as thrilling as I thought it'd be.  Behind the dusty shelves were some magazines, some papers meaningless to me, and a promotional booklet from the Previews catalogue.  In the back room where the mythical card games would've been played, the only item of notice left behind was a dictionary with half the content missing.  In the basement were less interesting things than I'd hoped would be.  The most noteworthy items were boxes of discarded VHS tapes, their covers in another box, and dozens of copies of the same issue of a sailing magazine.  If I'd bothered to bring my cell phone, I could've taken pictures as proof.  But these remainder keepsakes weren't what interested me.

A week before the store closed, I mentioned to the clerk behind the counter that I would like to have a memento of the place, and the thing that struck out for me was the Subscription Program advertisement that was taped on the table next to the cashier.

I asked if there were any other people who wanted this piece of history, and if so, was willing to pay for it.  I later got confirmation from the owners that no one else had asked, and the next time I showed up, they would let me have it for free.  That was extremely generous of them.

Even more generous of them was giving me back the down payments I'd made for upcoming books that would no longer come.  I wondered what would happen to the other customers who weren't as fortunate to come over before the store closed?  I later learned that another comic collector, the Comic Book Hunter had these clients shifted over to him, and would give any prospective clients the books they might've otherwise missed.

Looking at the stuff on the walls, there was another item of memorabilia I neglected - a silly photoshopped Peanuts comic.  It was in the doorway between the second-hand books and the bagged stuff in the back.  It had been around since the first time I visited the shop over twenty years ago.  I thought for sure this would be picked up or asked for by someone, or at least kept by the shop owners, and was surprised to still see it standing.  I figured I'd never have a better chance to save it from obscurity, though now that I have it, I'm not sure it was worth the effort.

Among the stuff lying on the floor was a wide TokyoPop Manga banner that'd been propping up the store's excess Manga material.

A closer look to the side showed something that had escape public scrutiny, since it was largely covered by excess books:

Stuff like this is why comic shops have a bad reputation.  This is like discovering your parent's dirty laundry after elevating them up on a pedestal for so long.  And I can't exactly be blamed for libel for a store's that's no longer in business.

Apart from a few promotional material, paperback novels and discarded coin rolls (waste not, want not), there wasn't much left for me to salvage.  During this time, one other guy popped up, and I expressed my condolences, and left him to wander around the remains of the store that had once been a beloved place.

For anyone who's been wondering about the lack of updates for this month, I've been extensively going through the Astronotes - vintage Previews catalogue with added commentary sprinkled throughout the page.  A feature that was:
"published in hard copy since 1995, and coming on-line in 2004.
It's basically "Previews Lite", giving descriptions of just about every new title in comics and TPBs each month, along with the odd item of unusual interest, line listings of ongoing series, and bits and pieces of news and commentary."
Now, the online notes only went as far back as September 2012 (AstroNotes 206), and continued until March 2018 (AstroNotes 272), but that was still an extraordinary amount of text to wade through.  What made this personal project so labour-inducing was that there was no quick and easy way to search for these extra notes.  They weren't highlighted or surrounded by variable { } brackets, which would've made finding them easier, but thin borders which didn't register at all.

So I had to manually go through the entire catalogues for each one, one at a time.  And I was enough of a perfectionist that I only chose samples that I deemed worth keeping for posterity.  What worried me was that their homepage would be taken down the instant the store went too, until I received confirmation that the webpage would still be up for a few months longer.  This came as a great relief, since it extended my deadline, but also made me more laid back, knowing I had an extended reprieve.  I operate better under definite deadlines.

By the time I was finally done, I'd amassed 170 pages of material.  I was planning on sharing some of those, but given the amount of text, figured that could wait another day.

One of the surprising finds amidst the datadumps of Cowboy trivia and Montreal history was two pictures of a man and a woman who could've been the owner's Father's parents.  Their file names were "Dads_father" and "Dads_mother", respectively.  Just thought I should show them here, in case they disappear later on.

Another item of notice was a link to a Gazette article in 2017, lamenting the store's status back when it was on perpetual danger of closing up, no thanks to the owners suffering a stroke, and increase on taxes.  Those fears were finally founded when the rent went up. Since it won't be up for much longer, as old Newspaper articles don't have a long archival life, I'm reproducing it in its entirety after the cut.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Steve Ditko's Principles

Steve Ditko, the reclusive Objectivist Randian artist who was responsible for the creation of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and even Squirrel Girl, died.  Or rather, he was found dead in his apartment at the ripe age of 90, 2 days after he was found.  He also created Killjoy, who's quite positively his goofiest creation - and that's saying something.  He only showed up in two issues of E-Man, the complete stories which can be found here.  You can clearly see the Spider-Man acrobatic influence, even after he no longer wanted anything to do with the hero.

I won't attempt to decipher his interpretation of Randism that he latched onto with a fervority, though unlike others who adopted the philosophy of "It's every man for themselves!", he betrayed convention to form, and was simultaneously the crankiest curmudgeon and nicest person you ever met.  Given the clear Black-and-White nature of comics, it's clear that he found a home there, and objected to the corrupt underlying criminal enterprise that made up the Comics Industry, and only outletted his talent for comic properties he felt were truly worthy of his work.

Just why he stopped working with Marvel will forever remain a mystery, though it's speculated that he had a falling out over Stan Lee's shameless huckerism and objected to his term of "considered" as in, "I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator” before outlining the artist’s many contributions."  Now that he's gone, we're no closer to the truth, since Ditko was notorious for declining interviews (the last one being in ), and an urban legend that he turned down $1 million dollars for revenue from the Spider-Man movie.  (Why would Marvel hand over money to a weirdo freelance artist when they were so unfair towards Kirby?)  Given his tendency to snub his nose at money and only take on projects that caught his fancy, one wonders just how he managed to earn a living (apart from producing minicomics) from the artform that defined him.  Likewise, his comics could be a mixture of panels filled with brief dialogue / monologue bits, or dense reams of walls of texts that'd make Cerebus proud.  (Look at any splash panel of Mr. A)

Stupid Comics posted a scene in Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos where near the end, "the cast talks about "James "Shogun" Clavell's The Children's Story, an Ayn Rand-ish fable about a dystopian future America where children are brainwashed by an authoritarian collectivist dictatorship."  But there's a certain scene in the 2nd issue that I feel deserves a closer look:

While he largely turned his back on the comics' world, that didn't stop his throes of admirers (who he was reluctant to lavish praise upon him, lest his head swell too large), and answering letters in his own inimitable way, all handwritten, no typewriter.

Probably the most surprising reveal from this above entry was that he had no knowledge of Carl Barks, the "Good Duck" artist.  Considering that almost anybody who gets into the business gets so because they started out via reading Uncle Scrooge comics, this is an amazing oversight.  It's like getting into the Newspaper Comic business without knowing who Calvin & Hobbes were.  (To be fair, Berkley Breathed had no knowledge of Pogo when he started Bloom County, and basically threw everything he could think of, breaking rules that he didn't even know existed)

Probably the best portrayal of Ditko's worldview would be from a short story originally published in the 160-page graphic novel Steve Ditko's Static in 1988: that was shown on Brietbart of all things - that is now offline, but I was able to save a copy of the 4-page piece of madness that you can see for yourself.

As with any Strawman argument, the story collapses if you think about it too much.  Having a single drop of blood taken from you once a year to help people worldwide isn't too bad a premise.  Where it falls apart is leaving this charitable donation down to just ONE man, instead of outletting it to MANY people.

Fun fact - for the longest time, I always pronounced his name as DIK-TO, not DIT-KO.  I wonder if anybody else had the same problem?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Knock on The Fridge Door

Just a bunch of miscelaneous Fridge Door comics to show this time around.  Nothing special.

Oh, and their Word of the Week feature, which have been dumbed down to more manageable levels.

Or at least dumbed down to a point where they're still baffling.

For the uninitiated, Patina is, according to my dictionary, "a green film formed on copper and bronze by exposure to most air" or "a superficial covering or exterior".

Yeah, that's something that comes up in regular conversation all the time.

As you can guess, readers' submissions for trying to make sense out of these archaic words don't lend themselves very well as you can see below:

The comic of Eugene imitating a TV set would've been more resonant if it'd come a week earlier, right after Noodles commented on the TV watching him.

And here's some more examples of children failing to grasp the meaning of words without context, debunking their intellectual capacity.

  • "The king's claim of greatness is now debunk."
  • "Special entry - Debunk is where my brudder sleeps!"

Since this was printed in 1992, we won't be seeing any references to Tingle-Tingle-Kooloo-Limpah! anytime soon.  (Thankfully.)

I'm just going to end out Canada Day by saying that last year, when we celebrated our Centennial and a Half, there was a general feeling of apathy that wasn't mitigated with the inclusion of a huge rubber duckie.  THIS year, I'm feeling particularly patriotic for some reason.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

You Had me at Hello!

Long-time readers might vaguely recall a Canadian comic PSA about using the Telephone that had anthropomorphic representations of Operator, and 911.  At the time, I noted that there was also a colouring book, but figured that had long since been regulated to the Recycling Bin of history.

Well, as chance would have it, earlier this year, there was a Library booksale that not only dumped some of their long-kept books with little borrowing history, but also accepted submissions from people who wanted to dump material they'd read once, and never wanted to look at again, giving others the chance to share the pain, and free up room in their living spaces.
Hello!  It's me, Special Agent Single << 0 >> the trouble shooter.
This booksale actively ran several days, and I decided to come back, even after I'd picked up several library titles worth keeping, because they rotated their stock, and there was the chance that new material might come through.  By the slimmest of chances, I came across a bunch of colouring books with this little hidden gem among them, and practically gasped upon seeing what nobody else (but me) would've appreciated.
I'm Cordy 911.  I help Single 0 in some cities.
What I most recalled was that while reading (that is, looking at the pictures), I would have the Disney Sunday Movie intro running through my head.  Not the music, but the opening camera angles.  That is, it would start out with the first page, zooming in on Special Agent 0 (Disney name), then going overhead 911's head (Epcot), then rotate past Phona and Telly (Mickey Satellite) whose names make more sense in the original French.
Here are our friends Phona and Telly.

I only once saw an English version of this in a second-hand bookstore years ago, but only flipped through it, and didn't bother to buy it, now that I understood what little was said.  By the same token, I passed up a PSA of Smurfs brushing teeth because it too was in French, and I wanted to find the English one.
Together, we will learn to use the telephone in case of emergency. help us get to the phone.
I thought back to Mike Sterling's list of Comic Shop Customer Types: The Unreasonable Mint Hound:

Customer: “I’m looking for a copy of Tales from the Uncanny Valley #2. I’ve been looking for that thing for years... I can’t believe how rare that comic is. I’ve encountered dealers who’ve never even seen an issue of this series. According to my sources, there may only be about 20 to 25 copies of that particular issue left in the world.”
Clerk: “Oh, hey, we have one. It’s in Very Fine Mint for $25.00.”
Customer: “No thanks, I’d rather get one in better condition.”
Don't play with the telephone.  Did you know?
Also, since the comments were wiped when he revamped his site, here's what I saved:

  • You said “uncanny valley.” Prepare for an onslaught of linking!
  • And what about me? I was the kind of customer that would stay at the shop all day long reading all the while Ralph was telling me “Kevin, don’t read the comics.”
  • I don’t mind flipping through the comics. It’s parking on the floor and reading them straight through, one after another, that kind of irks me.
  • I’d always thought “Tales from the Uncanny Valley” would be a good comic book title.
  • I wonder, do guys like that start a shop just so they could have a place to do gaming? Because if that’s so, it’s got to be the worst reason to start a business. You’ve got to pay for a space in a minimall and order comics from Diamond just so no one bother you while you see who has the most “Mana points.”
Special Agent Single << 0 >> and my friend Cordy 911 are always ready to help you in serious situations.
You only have to dial 0 or 911.
  • How they’ve managed to stay in business for as many years as they have baffles me. Especially with the glut of 90s Image products taking up the majority of their retail space.
  • They’re also the type of shop that prohibits customers from flipping through comics on the shelf, out of fear that the comics won’t stay in mint-condition.
  • Wankers.
  • Also, there’s clerks who will use any opportunity to rant about whatever they’ve got on their mind to customers. One store I went to, the manager/owner would sit behind his counter and rant and rave about how the military-industrial complex faked the Moon landing or UFO conspiracies and how the then supposedly looming Y2k crisis had been engineered by the “shadow government” for their own benefit, whatever that means.
  • “Do you have a water damaged, coverless copy?  For under a dollar?”

Can you finish drawing this phone?
So, given how rare the chances were of ever coming across another unblemished copy was, I thought THIS time I'm not passing this up.  You probably can't tell, due to the black and white scans, but some pages were done in crayon.  And some easy puzzles have already been solved, spoiling it for the rest of us.  You can probably easily bypass this by erasing the clues, but why bother?
In case of emergency, don't hesitate, you can always call us.
The only thing missing from this colouring book are the Pineapple mascots.  I'm sure that until I mentioned them just now, you completely forgot they even existed.
Cordy lost his head and his phone number. Help him find them.
You can always call us from a phone booth even if you have no money. Dial 0 or 911.
Who am I? A boy or girl? Draw my face as you imagine it.
Can you bring the water to Cordy? Only go through the real emergencies.
 Draw a super fast tricycle for Cordy. Don't forget his license plate: it's 911.
Can you write the numbers that are missing on the right keys?
Also enter your own phone number. Do you know it by heart?
Can you find the real emergencies?
Phona is lost. Take her to the telephone booth.
Tell her what number she has to call for help.
This next bit is probably the most outdated reference, yes even older than the usage of a telephone booth.  At least those still have cultural relevance - colour-coded sections in the Yellow Pages are practically an unknown now that any contact information is available online.
This big book is the telephone directory. There are all the phone numbers.
Be careful when coloring it: look what colors are the pages of your directory.
You can directly dial the number of firefighters or the police. Ask someone to help you find them.
Colour the 0s in red and the 911s in blue. Can you write 0 on the balloons?
You called 0 or 911 during a real emergency. Draw yourself receiving a medal.
The phone is fun! You can talk to whoever you want...
Where there is a telephone, you are never alone. Hello!
And just for completist sake, here's the serial information, just in case anybody still wants to order this.  I'm unsure if there's any complaints about violating copyrights, since they had the chance to reprint this, and I just shared the book in full.