05/30/2011

The New Deal

by Matthew Hawkins

Man, I am WAY overdue for a report. So with no further adieu… first big question: how was Toronto & TCAF?

“WELCOME TO CANADA, DON’T FORGET TO GO LOONIE, EH”

After a landing on Canadian soil without incident (long story short: both myself and Katie were petrified over the possibility of being harassed by customs agents, mostly due to all the horror stories that we had heard, which included paying exorbitant tariffs and having goods withheld at the border; I had spent much of MoCCA talking with past exhibitors, gathering as much intel and advice as possible, which were all funneled into my meticulously crafted b.s. of an invoice that thankfully was not utilized), the lil? lady and I found ourselves strangers in a strange land. Thanks to a kindly old man at the airport, who was essentially the welcoming committee, we managed to comprehend the foreign currency (which wasn’t nearly as complicated as foreign Americans made it out to be… there’s just a one dollar coin and two dollar coin, no biggie) and foreign mass transit system (which included a bus ride with an old dude that kept staring at us, cuz he could tell that we were not locals and was not pleased, along with a gaggle dopey animu girls, the Canadian variety to be exact) just enough to arrive at the hotel in one piece. And with our luggage finally secured, and a chance to use the bathroom (which alas was not as exotic as, say, Japan’s), we finally hit our number one destination…

Another item on the bucket list crossed out. Though we did take a detour almost immediately, to build up energy before embarking on the second leg of our Great White North adventure; had a taste of Toronto’s pride and joy, aka poutine! It was okay I guess. Actually, pretty gross. Then it was finally time to walk down Yonge Street and retrace John Candy and Joe Flaherty’s steps… for a very long ass time. It’s like the lengthiest avenue in Toronto or something like that, with numerous sights to behold. Which I tried to capture, despite my camera’s battery running on empty (which I foolishly forgot to charge before flying out)…

… Hello Kitty dressed as a mountie! I also took a pic of Katie’s good luck charm with her dinner, some kimchi jigae, for a truly Danny Choo-inspired moment. But didn’t come out so hot, nor did the jigae. Our excursion also came to a halt once we had to ask “gee, that’s it?” as it pertained to Yonge Street. I was also dead tired from not sleeping the night before; when we arrived back at the hotel, we ran into fellow zinester Ryan with Michael Deforge, Calvin Wong, and Hellen Jo. Was really looking forward to finally meeting the later two, but thanks to my fatigue, I rambled on like an idiot with zero recollection of what was said. Immediately afterwards, I crawled into bed to enjoy the splendors of cable television, my favorite guilty pleasure at any con.

Ran into Ryan in the lobby again the next morning. After apologizing for coming off as a complete delirious goof with Calvin and Hellen, I also remarked how Yonge Street was (no offense) kinda lame. He explained that you needed a local to show you the actual cool spots, and what perfect timing, because that’s when I got an email from Zaque Coatsir! Aside from operating Steel Bananas and one of the finest Tumblrs going right now, The War Against Gygas, the guy writes for like a billion different folks; a guy after my own heart! As well as a native Torontonian, and was kind enough to show Katie and myself around proper.

During a brief coffee break at Canada’s version of Starbucks, John Green showed up out of the blue, and so it was the four of us! Zaque wanted to introduce me to the local cool indie game shop, and man, it sure as hell did not disappoint…

A & C Games felt a lot like the old St. Mark’s Games before moving two blocks and becoming VideoGamesNewYork, except all the employees here weren’t total dicks (with the sole exception of Robby Rackleff, of course). In fact, they were exceptionally friendly, especially Gar Wan Toy, one of the owners, who even bought one of my zines! That was neat. But much like the aforementioned St. Mark’s establishment, the tiny Toronto shop is one rather narrow hall with all sorts of game treasures on either side, just piled up on each top of each other…

… I believe that’s Gar Wan’s brother Chang, whose the other owner BTW. [UPDATE: wrong, it's Gar Wan after-all!] Additional highlights include this absolutely adorable custom Tails plush toy…

… And one of the boxes from the Lepos exhibition!

I was then taken next door, where A & C have also set-up an arcade of sorts…

It’s only been in operation for a month, but thus far, sounds like a good deal; it’s just a place for gamers to hang out, make some new friends, plus flex their skills in a semi-competitive yet supremely friendly and safe environment. They’ve had a few fighting tournaments thus far, like this one for Mortal Kombat that just took place.

Aside from consoles, one could also find real-deal arcade games, like The Simpsons! Not pictured, but trust me, we all geeked out upon seeing it…

Along with makeshift (and somewhat ghetto-tastic) Neo-Geo…

Plus other forms of curiosities in every which corner…

… A Japanese Virtual Boy? Wow! Anyhow, afterwards we explored the city some more. Unfortunately, this was about as close as myself and Katie got to CN Tower; we mostly stuck around the trendy part of town, the college district, just north of Chinatown…

All over the place were flyers for some Reg Hartt fellow…

We didn’t get deep into Chinatown, but enough to spot this…

Eventually Zaque took us to a gigantic store called Honest Ed’s, a fairly well known establishment in those parts for being this gigantic super store that sells all sorts of crap at dirt-cheap prices. Mostly because, well, the stuff is indeed crap. It reminded me of the B&I, this really run-down, ghetto mall from back home in Tacoma; both the selection of goods and folks who appeared to be clearly regulars of Honest Ed’s were rather depressing. But much like the place I grew up with, the place was not without its charms (or plain and simple bizarreness)…

Another similar to B&I touch were head shots and other photos from local celebrities, which in this place’s case was someone who was instantly recognizable (the biggest celeb my place back home got was Burt Ward)…

This alleyway, between the two builds that Honest Ed’s occupies, was where the very first TCAF took place!

It’s also worth mentioning that just around the corner was The Beguiling, the comic shop run by Chris Butcher, whose also the primary force behind TCAF. Ryan once noted that it’s the best comic shop in North America, and I couldn’t agree more. Was also my chance to finally meet Chris; super swell fellow. In addition to clearly knowing what my interests were, hence the recommendation that I check out the store’s impressive selection of manga and Japanese art books (if I wasn’t so strapped for cash, which is always the case before a convention, I could have easily cleared an entire shelf), Chris also made me feel welcomed at the big show, which was sincerely appreciated. As perhaps mentioned in the past, was a bit nervous about TCAF due to the fact that I was an odd-man out somewhat; even if a large deal of my video game oriented of my goods were by some of the finest talents from the world of indie comics, along with my long-felt belief that the two worlds already share common-ground, felt a degree of self-consciousness that I had never experienced at any previous show while representing Attract Mode. I guess because the show was tightly curated and a few folks had already expressed “oh really” when they heard I had gotten accepted.

Some final pictures from day two, including the big adult theater across from the Korean chicken joint where we had lunch…

After another night in which we turned in early, which meant even more cable tv in bed (whereas with Adam it’s Disney Channel, with Katie, Spike TV curiously enough), it was finally showtime: TCAF 2011!

… A shot from above of the first floor, which was always jam-packed. Whereas we were upstairs, which also got plenty of foot traffic, though not the kind I was hoping for… more on that in a moment. But yeah, the show took place at this massive library, a breath of fresh air (literally) when compared to the dingy MoCCA armory. I know, especially at this point, drawing comparisons between the two is akin to beating a dead horse’s bones, but it can’t be helped. The degree of organization demonstrated from the very beginning, including all the emails from Butcher that were chockfull of helpful details (and which remained constant throughout), the positive energy every fellow exhibitor had going in and during the show (not the self-delusional type that one must practically adopt to get through the weekend at that other thing), the immensely dedicated group of volunteers that were eager to help in any which way (they actually tried to answer the questioned you asked, which is all anyone could want), all the wonderful natural light that filled the upstairs (not to mention the air conditioning), plus so much more. Yeah, can’t really say I’ll ever be interested again in the comedy of errors that the shindig in my backyard has become.

Here’s a shot of my table…

… Not only was I happy to finally gaze upon Farel and Hilary‘s Giant Robot pieces in the flesh at long last, but Angie Wang‘s Castlevania print, which is another new edition to the Attract Mode store. Adam had everything so tightly packed that I didn’t get a chance to see them when they arrived in NYC the few days prior.

Oh, speaking of, Adam’s special delivery was in caught in the crossfire of a mental meltdown that I unintentionally triggered in the postal employee that had dropped it off. Whom I was genuinely afraid was going to destroy it, right in front of my eyes, when I said the wrong thing (which was basically “relax dude” when he showed up needlessly cranky for the umpteenth time). He also told me to fuck myself and even implied that I shouldn’t be surprised if my mail all of a sudden stopped showing up. Which led to me filing a report with the US Postal Service and two phone conversations thus far with local investigators that are also douchebags, but for different reasons. But that’s a story for another time…

Back to the show, whenever it’s your fist, it’s always nice being around friends. Behind us was Colleen, and just a few tables down to our left was Love Love Hill. Here I am with An, whom I hadn’t seen since MoCCA 2009…

And here we have what was undeniably the book of the show…

Katie’s contribution…

Was behind the table so much that I barely had a chance to walk around and take pictures (let alone give The Hand Eye Society’s Torontron 2). Though I did get this pic of a big pile of stickers for sale, right next to Angie’s table (where I got the very last of her Hausu-inspired prints)…

And I had to capture the following; the table across from us had this hanging at the side of theirs, so it was barely noticeable. Though Katie and I certainly did…

I guess the real question is how did I do? Unfortunately, not as welll as I had expected. Ultimately I made costs, which is all one could really ask for at any show, but I was honestly (and perhaps foolishly, at least for my first time being there) expecting to make bank, given that Toronto is such a hotbed for game development. There were tons of folks there and hardly ANY games people stopped by. Totally confusing. I also found the crowd not to be what I expected; given how super indie and diverse the selection of talent and work was behind the table (I’ve never been part of a show with such a high caliber of quality on both accounts, btw), has assumed the attendees to be generally the same audience. Perhaps there were those same kind of folks, but there was also a ton of folks that were definitely… more mainstream. Hey, that’s not bad, just saying. I just wasn’t expecting as many folks with Spider-Man shirts, but as it’s been pointed out, that’s what you get when its open to the public.

But perhaps as a result, lots of folks were either confused or just not into what I had to offer. What I found most shocking was the relative lack of interest in any of the prints, though as I would hear from pretty much everyone selling something similar, prints were impossible to sell at that show this year. Though I also feel stupid for waiting till the very last moment to pass along Farel his copies, since he could have had one on display to then send folks towards my table…

Remember the black and white version of the front cover his did for FORT90ZINE4ANSWER? Which I’m happy to say, btw, is far and away the most popular thing I’ve posted on Tumblr thus far. Well he was kind enough to pass along the originals to me…

Speaking of the end, what really killed my profit margin was how things were still so jam packed on Sunday downstairs that none of the exhibitors had a chance to leave their stations either; was really banking on them wanting to spend some of the money that they had earned, which is usually the case with most other shows as they wrap up. Though once more, it was the lack of game industry types that I was mostly bummed out about… which I also blame myself for not sufficiently advertising my presence, due to do a billion things at once leading up. At least Craig Adams, of Superbrothers fame, stopped by with his wife (and tweeted about it afterward)…

EDIT: My God, I can’t believe I forgot to mention him, given the extremely limited number of games folk who stopped by the table: after nearly a decade of reading each other’s stuff online, and chit-chatting back and forth via the internet as well, finally met Mike Nowak in the flesh! Without a doubt, the most mind-blowing moment of the entire shindig.

Lindsay Collins also stopped on by, who was one of the participants from my No More Heroes fan art contest…

… Now, I failed to highlight her entry because it just wasn’t my cup of tea, though it’s here for those interested. Certainly well done, but just not what I was looking for. Thankfully she took the news well (unlike one other contributor, as anyone who checked out the comments section knows already), and was kind enough to pass along some stickers she had created, featuring all the other ladies from the series. Which I told her, if she had submitted instead, would have perhaps been a strong candidate for first place…

… For those of you who still insist on seeing every single entry, I’ve finally forwarded the entire batch to Grasshopper Manufacture, who shall decide their ultimate fate. Simply keep an eye out on Facebook page for their eventual appearance (which already has a few pieces that I hadn’t seen, specifically all of Sem‘s ladies in individual pieces).

Anyhow, despite the somewhat disappointing showing, at the very least, I learned plenty for next time. And from what I understand, there is interest in having me come back; forgot to mention that I moderated a panel the morning of day one, and got quite a bit of positive feedback, enough to receive very early word of hopes of me doing a couple next time! And more importantly, got to finally experience TCAF, whose glowing reputation was completely justified and validated, so it was indeed an honor to be a part.

After the show, myself and Katie had dinner with Colleen and some pals of her… one of them ending up being a pal of mine from college WAY back in the day, so that was a pleasant surprise! Afterward, Katie and I hooked up with Ryan, Michael, Calvin, Hellen, An, and others for karaoke, which had long been talked about, and something I was afraid would never happen.

Not helping… and if I had to make one big complaint about the trip, this is it… was how keeping in touch with everyone was a nightmare. I spent the money on an international call and text plan, but didn’t blame anyone else who didn’t feel like splurging, because it was highway robbery. A few relied upon email, and given that international data packages are FAR worse (it was Adam who calculated that checking out just one blog entry on my iPhone would cost $200… no lie), it meant mooching off of free wifi whenever possible, which in most cases, was a total headache.

So with all that in mind, the rather dingy karaoke joint, with their abysmal selection of songs (seriously, there was NO Duran Duran, wtf), and super cranky staff was not enough to dampen spirits and impede an awesome evening! I just hoped I didn’t come off as too obnoxious with my Billy Joel. But yeah, I guess that’s it… till TCAF 2012? One last pic from the show: my loot…

… A modest haul, but definitely no duds in this haul, that’s for sure. My only regret was missing out on the Team Society League’s hardcover collection… next time I guess. A a big thanks to John for alerting me of their existence in the first place! And I am ashamed to admit that, alas, I have yet to dig into Mathew’s latest issue of exp. This week, I promise!

The News Ways Of Doing The Same Old

I guess the second big question is: how’s the zine going? Truth be told, wasn’t able to jump right back in upon returning from Canada. The cough I got, which I thought was allergies, turned out to be a cold! Though I’ve mostly been adjusting to my new gig at GameSetWatch! Which essentially has meant approaching familiar waters in a new manner. But before going into all that…

Not too long after TCAF was NYU, the 2nd annual No Quarter show to be exact. It marked my first local game-related social engagement in quite a while, due to me being a hermit (looking for work and putting a zine together will kill one’s social life, that’s for sure). My return was warmly received, and I felt like the prettiest girl at the dance, with tons of folks wanting to chit-chat. Many of whom I hadn’t seen in ages; old friends, colleagues, even former students! One of whom ended up taking my advice and dropping out of SVA to enter Parson’s game program instead. Which needless to say, my former place of employment was not too happy about, hence why we’re not exactly on speaking terms! Anyhow, he just graduated and has a promising road ahead of him! Which includes making Jizzmoppa 2 and Spread Bear for me, if time and other factors permit. But yeah, spent so much time talking that I didn’t have any chance to play any of the games! Including At A Distance, the latest by Terry Cavanagh…

… Tried watching others play while waiting for my turn (which never happened because it was getting late), and never did figure out what the hell was going on. At least Steve clarified it afterward.

At least I got the chance to finally give El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron a spin that same afternoon. Which I later wrote about for Guyism

Mentioned it already, but it bears repeating: I’m now writing for a new bro site! Where I post and comment upon the day’s headlines and other bits of mainstream news… or at least that’s what I’m supposed to. But instead, I generally post whatever floats my boat, provided it also falls within the demographic of the intended audience, or at least try to pitch it towards them (thankfully I’ve been told that I can assume a fairly convincing tone). Such as…

- Me bitching about how much I can’t stand video game burlesque.

- It’s both deluxe, sit-down arcade cabinet and… beer dispenser?

- Various arcade offerings that Americans will never have the pleasure of experiencing.

- How a couple months old video of the new Zelda manage to make everyone cream their pants all of a sudden, after one person’s discovery.

- Super Mario on ice.

- A most awesome mix of Metal Gear, Call of Duty, and Halo.

- Why watching other people play Tetris will never get old in my book.

- Lil B showing off his “rare” video game collection.

- A reason why every Miyazaki diehard will now need to play Minecraft.

- The awesomeness that is Gabe Newell.

- Yet another fine example of superb game playing.

- Old Genesis games spoiled, and some old SNES carts ruined.

- Why I’ve long been fascinated by the mixture of video games and basketball players.

- By far one of the best freak outs ever on Xbox Live.

- Let’s go back in time when life, and Nintendo, was far less complicated.

- And finally why video games kinda suck.

… You know, I personally wasn’t super excited with the idea of doing daily duties for yet another dude’s site, especially since that’s SO not me. But on my first day, when I noticed my boss had posted a video of a cat dressed as a dog, eating a hot dog, it quickly became clear that this Guysim thing was not half bad!

Back to what’s been happening in the Big Apple; we just had ourselves another Blip Festival! And how was it? Well, guess you’ll have to check out micro-reports for GameSetWatch for all my full rundown (night 1, night 2, and night 3). As you’ll see, I had an amazing time; more than anything, the atmosphere was intoxicating. Such a warm and friendly environment, with none of the negative vibes that had marred the last few Blips (again, hate to be a hater, but I blame Brooklyn, or at where the Bell House resides). I’m just bummed that I didn’t get a chance to hang with certain folks as much as I would have loved to, like Anthony and JC.

Though one person who was dearly missed entirely was the man formerly known as click-stick, aka my good pal Brian. A few might know him from his guest piece in the third edition of my zine, though more recently, he appeared in Boing Boing! Anyhow, dude couldn’t make it cuz he’s too busy expanding his current made out of mud abode, as well as his garden, setting up a bee hive, designing a brand new home, plus making ravioli in his also custom-built kitchen. Here’s a pic of the dude from last year, when he was in his pizza-making craze-phase. As you can see, moving all that earth around does a body good…

… Sorry ladies, but the dude is taken. BTW, for those interested in how he made his home made of mud, be sure to pick up his book! Oh, and back to Blip; in addition to my reports for GSW, I also did a pair of interviews for the Blip blog; check out what Anamanaguchi and Zen Albatross had to say when I asked about how they got involved in 8bit music, their favorite Blip memories, and thoughts about the chip scene in general!

Oh, so here’s a better pic of that totally hawt Bit Shifter shirt, which I picked up naturally…

And because the UPS guy arrived literally two seconds after I took the pic above, with Muchi Muchi Pork/Pink Sweets…

Plus the DLC card that I couldn’t redeem at first, which caused utter panic, but thankfully the fine folks at the shumps forum got it working for me…

But yeah, my new post at GameSetWatch has been the main reason why this blog has been especially quiet as of late. Mostly due to the fact that it’s now literally my job to deliver what I’ve generally produced on this end on that one. Hence why the following showed up there first and not here…

- Mushihimesama 1 just got an update! Yes… the very first one.

- Only one person can make heads or tails of the Zelda timeline, and it’s the professor from Back to the Future.

- This is how the Japanese are celebrating the 15th anniversary of Resident Evil: downing multicolored booze and shooting guns.

- Did you know that one point there was a chicken suit in New Super Mario Bros?

- For those who enjoy chiptunes, shumps, and pandas.

- Unlike all the other haters, I welcome the return of the Tokyo Game Show girl.

- So much for David O. Russell’s Uncharted.

- LOL Tumblr.

- Gradius X Busou Shinki.

- A new way to depixelize pixels (for whatever reason).

- The creator of Rez does TED.

- The director of Ichi The Killer is doing Phoenix Wright.

- The creator of Metal Gear gets all emo on Twitter.

- Ever heard of the band Edelweiss?

- Does anyone know what happened to the bad as hell Metal Gear Rex statue?

- About damn time; Harry Potter on the Genesis.

- A game in which you run around Akihabara, ripping the clothes off of women on the street to expose them as vampires.

- What the Japanese thought of early 90s hip-hop.

- Another fine example of Steel Battalion DJ-ing.

- My thoughts on sense memory as it relates to video games.

- And finally, a look at my good pal Lamar’s love for Mega Man. BTW, here’s an image I forgot to post, a more recent version of his latest stab at a Famicase…

Back to how my GSW commitment will affect the blog; let’s be honest, this place ain’t what it used to be. The primary reason for the lack of timely information and inconsistent updates was the fairly rough waters I’ve been treading as of late. So I genuinely appreciate the chance to write about what’s happening in the world of games, both the headlines and obscure stuff, for those that will in turn help me survive. The fact that the audience is definitely wider is a bonus to say the least. That’s always been the goal after-all.

In that sense, I guess you could say that this blog will be a different beast from this point forward, though the emphasis as of late has been on solely personal projects and the like anyway. Like I said last time, you can expect to see plenty of random game related nonsense even still, specifically the goods that I can’t fit elsewhere. Mostly NSFW-ish content, along with additional odds and ends, like this light novel that mixes the apocalypse and used games (which I would have posted on GSW, if not for the fact that Eric did so already… two years ago, lol).

I’ll also continue to present the best of my random images and video Tumblr, but since I’ve already hit my quote of visual aides for one blog post, that’ll have to wait. Till then, and a head’s up for those unaware as of yet: have been passing along highlights from my epic trip to Japan over at the photo dump, to coincide with its 4th anniversary.

Alright, going to use the rest of Memorial Day to actually relax before getting back to work. Not just GSW and whatever, but FORT90ZINE4ANSWER! Hopefully by next time, I’ll have pics of the finished product to share…

  • http://the-inbetween.com n0wak

    It was nice meeting you at TCAF finally. Too bad you didn’t have more time in the city to experience things beyond Yonge Street (didn’t realize that it was such an attraction?) and Honest Ed’s (featured in Scott Pilgrim.) I can’t really comment about the crowd at TCAF though as, clearly, I’m one of those non-indie types that was there mostly for the videogame stuff and a few web comics stuff (apart from some videogame related zines and buttons the only thing I bought at TCAF was socks. No shit.)

    Coincidentally, my favourite indie videogame store is just down the street from where TCAF was held but they’re far less kitchy and more on the modern stuff.

  • http://www.fort90.com FortNinety

    MIKE! Holy shit, I can’t believe I forgot to mention meeting you in my post (which has since been changed, btw). Yeah, finally getting the chance to shake hands was legit one of the highlights of the weekend! If you ever make it down to NYC…

    Oh, as for Yonge Street, I guess it’s a big deal if you were a fan of SCTV. At the very least, when It dawned on me that I was indeed making too much of a deal out of nothing. Mathew Kumar made mention that he too was familiar with the sketch in which the excitement stems from, and also began singing the song that’s contained, which was pretty awesome.

  • http://gangles.ca/ Matthew Gallant

    I love Toronto, but I’m skeptical of their ability to make poutine. You need to get out to Montr?al toute de suite!

  • http://www.fort90.com FortNinety

    Ha! Well Lindsay over at Facebook recommends that I check out the poutine that they serve at some joint named Smoke’s… Do you Canadians argue over who has the poutine like us Americans when we brag about who has the best pizza?

    Anyway… and didn’t want to mention it, cuz it came recommended and I didn’t want to have too much negativity in my report, but… Katie still can’t get over how bad the burritos we had were. But on the flip-side, I enjoyed the street vendor hot dogs quite a bit! Though nothing will beat Seattle’s I’m afraid (not even New York).

  • http://obesolete.etsy.com Obesolete

    Ha! I’m the one who made the plushies at A&C games. I agree, the guys there are awesome! The best game shop in TO!

  • Pingback: Fort90 Journal » A Stranger In A Strange, But Quite Friendly Land: Toronto & TCAF 2012 Part 1

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