05/21/2012

A Stranger In A Strange, But Friendly Land: Toronto & TCAF 2012 Part 1

by Matthew Hawkins

And? I’m back! Actually, been back in American for about two weeks now. Sorry for the radio silence, but you know how almost every single blog entry since forever has opened with me lamenting how absurdly busy I’ve been?

Well, it all finally caught up with. You could say that I crashed and burned upon my return from Canada, and been recovering ever since. By doing absolutely nothing; if I could afford to see a doctor, I’m sure he would approve.

Alas, it’s not like there’s been all that much to do. My trip to Toronto had many high points, but a few low ones. Like how I lost not one, but two freelance gigs, plus a third was scaled back a considerable degree, all while up in the Great White North.

But instead of looking for work, all I’ve been doing is vegging out on video games and Netflix (the entire run of Transformers cartoon from the 80s is on Instant, btw). Was that tapped out, mentally and physically.

Am now finally getting back into battle ready mode, and figured that now would be a good time to talk about the rest of my Canadian adventures, as well as how COMICS VS GAMES turned out…
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Day 0

I arrived on Canadian soil on a Friday, late in the evening, via train. Even though the trip took 12 hours, and flying would have only been just one, I have absolutely no regrets. I actually LOVE to fly, or at least used to, until it became such a pain in the ass. Dealing with customs was still nerve racking, but not nearly as much at an airport, plus the abundance of leg room on the Amtrak made me finally realize how much of a caged animal the airlines and TSA makes one feel these days.

Arrived just in time to be pinged by Mathew, inviting me to see a documentary with him about GLOW, since he knows how much I am into wrestling. Unfortunately, right before my trip, I began to develop a nasty cough, which went full borne on the train (yet another reason why I’m glad I didn’t fly; I would have surely gotten punched in the face by some germaphobe). Instead, I just had a late night dinner with Miguel, who not only invited me to be part of COMICS VS GAMES, but was kind enough to let me crash at his place for my first week in Toronto.

And Miguel’s place is pretty rad, filled with accouterments of someone with discerning tastes?

My trusty camera is great most of the time, but when lighting conditions made some things tricky to capture, like Miguel’s autographed Utena poster (Kunihiko Ikuhara!!!), and some totally random anime cel he somehow came to acquire, that’s where my iPhone and Instagram came in?

Day 1

My first official day in Canada was spent with Zack acting as tour guide, much like he did the previous year. This time he took me to a place that he had a hunch that I would love to death. And he was right; the previously noted Pinball Cafe. I’ve posted pictures from it on Instagram already, but once again?

They even had a super tiny Asteroids machine, in a housing that was completely foreign to me?

It was at the Pinball Cafe where my eyes were finally opened as to how beautiful the artwork that adorns such machines truly are?

The place also served food, like my personal favorite?

Because of the nasty cough that I could barely keep under control, the totally cute girl working the counter made me mint milkshake to accompany my cough syrup?

Eventually it was time to finally make my way to the Magic Pony, to oversee the installation of the big show. I’ll be honest: the last time I had set something similar up, it was rough going to put it very mildly.

So I was somewhat expecting a long and rocky night. Thankfully, everyone at the space was (and are) quite simply the super coolest people ever. I especially hit it off with Steve Cober, the man in charge; knew almost instantly that we’d get along well when discovering his two fave games: Rez and Vib Ribbon!

Also finally met Suzan Sabir, from TIFF Nexus, the primary force behind COMICS VS GAMES in the first place, and who was equally awesome! You also had her crew, plus Christine Love and Damian Sommer, two of the designers that helped to make the game jam the stunning success that it was. Everyone pitched in to make set-up as smooth as butter?

Best part is how everyone, especially Steve and Suzan, couldn’t stop playing the games…

Again, things went relatively according to plan, but there were still technical difficulties. Game jam games can be inherently difficult to get up and running, especially in a gallery environment. Two of the games were also unfinished; here we have an earlier version of We’re No Angels, as evidenced by the place-holder character select screen?

Wrapped up around 1 or 2 in the morning, much earlier than expected. The only other comparable show was Heavenly Symphony, and everyone went home around 8am, the day of! Anyhow, it was also time for a late night snack, and thus I had my second taste of poutine. And? sorry Torontonians, I just don’t get the appeal.

When I said that the first (and only other) time I had the stuff wasn’t anything mind-blowing, Miguel and Christine took me to a place called Smokes that was supposedly the cream of the crop as it pertains to poutine. Again, wasn’t horrible per say, yet not entirely earth-shattering either.

Day 2

Day two was actually day one of COMICS VS GAMES. And, as also previously noted, it was a smash success, especially for a soft launch, on a Sunday no less! Time for some additional, Instragramed pics?

Due to a variety of reasons, I was not able to pre-promote as much as I would have liked. Night two was it downed on me that, trying to promote COMICS VS GAMES, plus maintain my normal output of freelance work, all while being sick away from home (fun-fact: Canadian over the counter meds are not as potent as the stuff in America, cuz we like everything super-sized and all), might mean a rather hellish week to come.

Believe it or not, at this point, I honestly thought I could still get my zine done in time for that following weekend! Anyhow, instead of going out and about (another fun-fact: everyone closes rather early in Toronto, especially on a Sunday), I just chilled at Miguel’s, where I not only got a chance to test drive his upcoming Xbox Indie game, also got to enjoy his massive Atari Lynx collection?

Was my very first chance to finally play around with the system and its games (I knew no one growing up who had one). Thankfully. Miguel had a TON of games to sample, as you can see above. The highlight was some Robocop rip-off, which had positively the most insane pre-game scrawl ever. Took plenty of screencaps and hope to make an animated gif eventually.

Days 3, 4, & 5

The following couple of days were as hellish as predicted. My routine was as followed: get up, take a shower, find a spot that had wifi so I could do work, and also handle COMICS VS GAMES promotions, plus medicate myself when necessary until evening time, often beyond. Even when I threw in the towel as it pertained to the zine, my workload was super taxing.

When I finally discovered that I had lost those aforementioned gigs, and the last one left was being scaled back (in the form of three emails, all delivered in span of an hour, no joke), never before had I so badly wanted to just craw into bed and wither away. Unfortunately, it was many miles away at that point.

So I had to keep on trucking. Tried finding a new place to handle business every single day, which at least afforded me the chance to explore Toronto. Wasn’t long before I became a fan of it’s street art, which simply gets points in my book for being non-pretentious?

I had also been told that Toronto was a music lover’s paradise, and the crazy number of record shops seemed to indicate that there was truth to such a sentiment?

A random Mr & Ms Pac-Man sighting?

And a random MJ sighting as well?

One day I passed by some place that had a bunch of robots in the front window?

Aside from my rather tepid response to poutine, I really loved the food in Toronto. Especially the Korean cuisine; it was so good that it actually got my angry. Angry that, in NYC, it costs literally four times as much for dishes that’s half as good.

Though I did have a bowl of ramen at some random Chinatown joint that was so bad that I was pissed about it for two solid days. Had foolishly assumed that Toronto Chinatown might somehow be better than NYC’s when it comes to Japanese cuisine. Was dead wrong. This pic is the only good to come from that abominable meal?

The Linux Cafe, alongside The Pinball Cafe, was one of my favorite places to work; practically single customer was a techie of some kind, either programmers or graphic designers. They really pushed it’s love for operating system, but not in an annoying way?

It was there in which I got yelled at by some crazy old person who I got a phone call. At a certain point, I really wanted to deck the guy, but quickly remembered: A. a young guy punching an elderly gentlemen might get me in some hot water, and B. a young American punching an elderly Canadian would DEFINITELY get me in trouble.

Fun-fact #3: MTV controls the Freemasons in Toronto?

Like I said, there was plenty of COMICS VS GAMES promotions to take care off, which included being interviewed by various Canadian television outfits?

And here we have the final piece from Electric Playground, where I make an appearance near the end. I rambled on like a complete idiot, so they did a bang up job making me sound semi-coherent. Also, please note once more that I was as sick as a dog that day.

It was around this point in which I decided to finally give up on getting FORT90ZINE4ANSWER done in time for TCAF later that weekend, and instead, finally enjoy my evenings. So here I am out with some drinks with Kris and Nathan from Capy, at their fave watering hole. And Jesus, can they pound the liquor! I was barely able to keep up?

Fun-fact #4: Kris is a hardcore Star Trek fan. Case in point, his bizarre Riker painting (be sure to observe the leg lamp from Christmas Story in the background)?

He also has this autographed CD from Brent Spiner. You know, Data?

Day 6

It was eventually show time: the COMICS VS GAMES closing party! As expected, things were kind of hairy behind the scenes: last minute final build of games to install, a storm that caused considerable headaches across the board (like for Steve, who was literally stuck at Newark Airport for many hours and ultimately couldn’t attend), and competing with the Canadian premier of Indie Game: The Movie across town.

Yet in the end, we were still the hottest ticket in town…

Was elated that both John and especially Dave enjoyed the games as much as they did. They have very particular tastes, which I can totally appreciate?

Here we have Lindsay Collins, who aside from being the only artist from the Attract Mode portion of the show to be in attendance, is also the only local artist to be included as well, along with her bf Mike, who is another all around super rad individual?

It’s Zack with Benjamin Marra, who is my new favorite creator in comics from the past year, without question?

Miguel and Dave and Steve Manale, the artist on We’re No Angels?

Back to Zack; he was kind enough to take some pics with his fancy pants camera! Here we have myself and Inez, one of the wonderful staff members of the Magic Pony?

It’s Mathew (on the right) and some folks, all trying to prepare for The Yawgh?

Black Church Brigandage was another game that was tweaked up until the very last minute, but all that work definitely paid off?

Someone brought a dog! UPDATE: Turns out, it’s Miguel’s sister Mara…

One of the win screens from We’re No Angels?

Steve enjoying himself?

Again, the evening was a MASSIVE success. Loads of people played some games, and even bought some art I’m happy to report! Thanks to everyone who stopped by and simply lent their support by spreading the word. And of course, congrats to all the artists for such an incredible effort; the city of Toronto sincerely appreciated it!!!

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