Monthly Archives: April 2012

Checking out the city’s first major comicon at Fan Expo Vancouver

FanExpoVancouverAs a sci-fi/fantasy geek in Vancouver B.C., I’ve envied the conventions that take place in the rest of North America.

We have some small scale events here, but they’re pretty low-key and mostly entail browsing through the stock of the local comic book stores. I like them, but I’ve also been craving the big con experience, along with the cosplays, chaos, and big media consumerism. I finally had a taste of it at first Fan Expo Vancouver.

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Badass Cosplayer. Photo by Rick Chung. (www.rickchung.com)

It took place this past weekend, April 21-22, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The line-up outside was insane, eventually spanning several blocks. I purchased my ticket in advance, so I was able to go inside immediately, but even then, it still took 45 minutes of lining up inside. It was that packed.

Damn, there were a lot of geeks, so many that I’m sure that many were from outside of Metro Vancouver. The scifi/fantasy media represented were mostly film, TV shows, video games, and comic books. Guests included the original Batmobile, Adam West & Burt Ward (Batman), Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda), Marina Sirtis & Michael Dorn (Star Trek: Next Generation), and Kristin Bauer (True Blood). Canadian author Spider Robinson was pretty much the only one repping SF literature. But where was Vancouver homeboy, William Gibson? Perhaps cons aren’t his thing.

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The original Batmobile. Photo by Rick Chung.

Comic artists/writers included Pia Guerra (Y The Last Man), Greg Rucka (The Punisher), and Whilce Portacio (The Hulk, and he’s Filipino-American). English voice actors represented the anime area (none of which I recognize, not my scene, although Anime Revolution hosted some panels), and several folks behind ReBoot were there.

Just some quick background–ReBoot is a 3d animated series from the 1990s, and a favourite amongst many Canadians of my generation. It was the first of its kind and produced from Vancouver, paving the way for the city’s animation industry. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a single episode. What the heck was I doing back then? I think I was watching Cybersix and reading Dragonlance. Anybody have episodes to lend? I need to fill the hole in my Vancouver geek cred, quick.

I also had a nice chat with comic artist/writer, Nina Matsumoto, i.e. Space Coyote. She’s most well-known for her comic art for The Simpsons. She also illustrated the comic prequel to the Last Airbender film and is the creator of Yōkaiden, an original English manga published through Del Ray.

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Nina Matsumoto/Space Coyote

I actually haven’t read any of her more recent work, because I knew her from her Saturnalia webcomic, before she became famous with her Simpsons art. She’s busy with the Simpsons series, but she said that if she were to return to Saturnalia, she’d like to work on a prequel. Nina is also a Vancouver-based artist. She went to a high school that I know several people from, and we also went to the same art school, but at different times.

My favourite part of Fan Expo was the Artist Alley, checking out the goods by local comic artists. I read indie SF literature all the time, but what about indie SF comics? It’s a scene I’d like to explore further. I procured some merch to facilitate further research.

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My Canadian comic bounty

My research materials into the Canadian comic scene consists of two fancy comic books, and one badass print of a flapper with a Tommy Gun. Awesome. Oh yes, apologies for the bad photo quality. Despite the fact that I am part Frida Kahlo and part cyborg, I still use a Nikon point and shoot from 2005, and I don’t have Instagram pro skills. Consider these previews of the real thing.

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Flapper with a Tommy Gun by Craig Wilson

My photo doesn’t do this art print justice but I swear, it’s gorgeous. I don’t think this lady is in a comic, but she should be. She’d probably fit into Art-Deco-Noir Strange Aeons webcomic. But yes, this print is made by Craig Wilson, who is a Vancouver comic artist man of mystery, who probably likes snowboarding or storyboarding because his online pseudonym is BoardGuy, but that’s all I could find out about him. Craig, where I can I find the rest of your stuff outside of your blog? Do you have an online shop? When’s your next con appearance? And if you’re reading this, can you please make a 1930s action comic where the ladyfolk are armed to the nines? You can collaborate with Jordan Boos of Strange Aeons, or compete against him, I don’t care! I need to see that flapper in an action sequence set inside the Marine Building, and causing the whole thing to collapse unto itself and burst into flames.

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Like this.

Next up is Lords of Death and Life, a Mesoamerican historical fantasy comic by Jonathon Dalton.

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Lords of Death and Life by Jonathon Dalton

Jonathon lives in Abbortsford (a city just outside of Metro Vancouver) and he has some ongoing free webcomics on his website. I browsed through them and he seems into historical fantasy set outside of the usual European/Western tradition, and I completely approve.

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Inside

This was the first time I’ve seen his work, but the premise and the beautiful artwork drew me in.

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Lords of Death and Life Back Cover

You can’t really read it, but this is what it says:

Imagine a world with powerful empires, huge cities built on trade, and three thousand years of recorded history, but one in which even the wheel doesn’t exist. It is a world where heroes step in and out of legend and magicians transform themselves at will.

Mol Kupul lives in this world. When he travels to the city of Xicalango in search of someone to interpret his strange dreams, he instead finds trouble brewing between the city’s Mayan and Aztec populations, and supernatural forces at work beyond his worst nightmare.

And with some commentary from Scott McCloud:

Jonathon Dalton’s Lords of Death and Life is an intoxicating fusion of ancient design and modern imagination. A fresh and enjoyable read.

Between those is a scene of a lone person wandering though the underworld, and beyond him is a skeleton with a spear to the skull–sold. I can’t wait to read it. If you can’t wait either, you can purchase the paper book from one of the listed retailers on Jonathon’s website, or as an ebook on The Illustrated Section and Graphicly.

Last but not least is Exploded View, a sci-fi comic anthology from the Vancouver-based Cloudscape Comics.

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Exploded View from Cloudscape Comics

I’ve never read a comic anthology before, but it has stories from 25 different creators, so that should be interesting.

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Inside

Dialogue from Aquanaut Zero by John Christmas:

“Government issued sake sucks. It’s the first thing you learn in Aquanaut training. This still hasn’t stopped Takashi from complaining about it. We’re explorers on imperial science vessel 00119 on a mission to the heart of the ocean.”

And Takashi behind him shouts, “My dog drinks better sake!”

You can buy the ebook and paper copy at the Cloudscape Comics store.

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If you Vancouver folk want more comiccon action, there’s the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo next weekend from April 27 to 29 (only a 13 hour roadtrip!) and the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF) from May 26 to 27 (a Skytrain ride away). The latter takes place at the Yaletown Roundhouse and it’s free to attend. I’m totally going to VanCAF. By then I’ll be caught up with my ebooks and comics, and ready to take on more.

I found out all about this awesomeness through Fan Expo Vancouver. So let’s do it all again next year! What say you?

Generation by William Knight (2011)

Generation by William Knight(Smashwords not available) / Amazon / Author’s Site

2/5 stars

Description:
Journalist Hendrix ‘Aitch’ Harrison links bodies stolen from a renowned forensic-research lab to an influential drug company. Aided by Sarah Wallace, a determined and beguiling entomologist, he delves into a grisly world of clinical trials and a viral treatment beyond imagining. But Aitch must battle more than his fear of technology to expose the macabre fate of the drugged victims donated to scientific research.

In 2001, scientists isolated the gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years it had been spliced into the chromosomes of a rhesus monkey, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material. Attempting to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, a scientist will one day modify the DNA of human beings by injecting the gene-carrying virus. It is just a matter of time.

Before consenting to treatment, you may want to ask a simple question: could there be a situation in which you would want to die but were unable to do so?

Review:
Generation pitches itself as a “crime-thriller with an injection of horror” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo meets the X-Files.” That’s an accurate description of the concept, but not of the quality.

Hendrix Harrison, the protagonist, is a British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal, and he uncovers a conspiracy surrounding an experimental drug treatment that turns its test subjects into the living dead. The concept is intriguing, and I was hooked by the prologue and the body horror. I love my body horror and Knight knows how to write it excellently.

A row of teeth ran alongside a swollen tongue and Hendrix tried to discern where the tongue ended and the lips began. Translucent red skin was stretched tight across the chin and one cheek providing a window on a network of black veins and white nervous tissue. It was a mass of putrescent flesh dripping onto the pillow, soaking into the sheets, and being washed down the drain every time Thora cleaned.

While many of the horror elements are good, Generation is not a solid thriller in its current form. The first 25% of the book is a massive infodump, and I would have stopped reading it if I didn’t commit to writing a review. Sometimes, a slow build-up to the conflict is effective in horror fiction (Voice by Joseph Garraty is an example, and that’s a five-star book), but in Generation, it’s simply tedium. There are scenes of boardroom meetings, corporate Powerpoint presentations, lonely meals in greasy pubs, long-distance drives to meet with leads that go nowhere… it felt like it was going exactly in that direction–nowhere. But it significantly improves as the story goes on, and it fully hits its stride at the 75% mark.

This would have been a leaner and meaner book if chapter 10 was the beginning, and the background info in previous chapters were included in subsequent scenes that moved the plot forward. The novel has potential but there needs to be more focus on what’s important.

There was an obligatory sex scene that took place without foreshadowing (out-of-character sex seems to be the domain of thrillers, no idea why), and it was awkward because it disrupted the momentum of the story. It happened during a race-and-chase portion of the plot where the protagonists could be gunned down. I read on while thinking “This is the last thing I care about!”, flipping through it with growing frustration, hoping that the scene wasn’t too long because I wanted to get back to the story. I apologize for being crude, but the experience can only be described as the “reader blueball”.

The prose itself is good, and I could tell that the author was an experienced writer, but likely not as experienced with fiction. Small mistakes litter the work: typos, awkward adjectives (“rain-coloured sky”), redundant sentences summarizing the previous paragraph, problems with compound words, and so on. I’m not a professional editor, and I focus on enjoying the story as reader, but the mistakes kept on taking me away from the story.

Some of the differences in compound words are likely a difference in British spellings (I’m a reader based in Canada), and I’ve reviewed books by other British writers, but none of these differences bothered me. I think it’s because the errors in this book kept on switching on my inner editor and I couldn’t help but scrutinize the most minor of details.

I didn’t warm up to the characters at first, I actually had trouble telling them apart because their characterizations were so bland. But I grew to like them and root for them once Big Pharma was out to tear them apart limb from limb. This happened midway through the book, and again, I wish it took place earlier.

Overall, Generation has its moments, and it has the foundations for a solid sci-fi/horror conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, it’s not polished enough in its current form, but I hope there will be a re-edited version. Considering the major problems with story focus, pacing and infodumping, I’m not ready to read another full-length novel by this author. But Knight writes excellent body horror, so if he has some short horror fiction, I’d definitely be interested.

You might like this if you like…
A British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal; body horror; evil Big Pharma; conspiracy thrillers; zombies; near future sci-fi

William Knight is a British born journalist and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand. In 2003 he published his first feature in Computing magazine and has since written about the many successes and failings of high-tech for the Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC among many others publications. He continues to maintain a lively IT consultancy.

April 23 update: I received an email from an author stating that the ebook available on Amazon is a recently edited version and a significant improvement over my review copy.

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