It’s Finally Cool To Read Comics

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a class at Sheridan College the other night. I knew the instructor and when he told me that part of the course was using comic books, I couldn’t wait to get in there! One of the big pieces of the discussion was around graphic novels. I was surprised how many of the students said, “I’ve never read a comic book in my life.” WHAT??? I spoke with some of the students after class and told them I had a bit of an edge: I used to work in a comic store. So, in answer to that, here are a few choice graphic novels that I would suggest that they at least look at, even if they don’t choose any of them.

Batman vs. Dracula

Batman vs. Dracula: Red Rain

Batman vs. Dracula: Red Rain

This is one of the first ones that came to my mind when the discussion first started. Luckily, one of the students asked about the “traditional” comic books and I could put this out there. DC Comics produced this as one of their Elseworld series. They were hypothetical stories that took the heroes out of their usual environment and puts them into an alternate reality… or is it? Putting Batman against Dracula seems like an almost natural match. In this story, Batman is bitten and becomes part vampire himself. I’ll let you read the rest to find out what happens.

Watchmen

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Surprisingly, I didn’t read this one while working in the comic store. I waited until I took an English course at Ryerson University before picking this one up. I’m still not sure if I really liked it all that much compared to many of the others that I read. However, I appreciate that this is a groundbreaking piece of work and definitely one of, if not the most, recognized graphic novel of all time. The movie did it a great justice in my opinion, but I know of a number of others that have also done themselves well. The premise of the book is that superheroes that used to save the world are now outlaws. They are exiled and kept under cover. This was a commentary on the censorship of comic books that occurred in the 20th century, similar to the Black List in Hollywood. Even if you don’t pick this for the assignment, please pick it up at some point and read it, not just watch the movie.

The Vampire Lestat

The Vampire Lestat

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

I have to admit that I felt very old when I asked the young women after the class if they knew about The Vampire Lestat. No? Interview with the Vampire? No? Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt? Still nothing? How about Queen of the Damned? Aaliyah? AHH! Now I’ve got it. Phew! I couldn’t believe that they had never heard of this. This is what the world has come to with respect to vampires? All they know is about “Twilight” and “Vampire Diaries”. Sad. /rant

Anne Rice wrote this trilogy and Innovation comics put them into twelve high quality comics, glossy pages and all. Each one could probably have been considered a graphic novel unto themselves. But only The Vampire Lestat was made into a single volume. It was first produced as a hardcover edition and then as a soft cover. I bought the hardcover as soon as it came in. Cost me about $120, but it is truly one of my pride and joys. The softcover is available for about $30-$40 according to Indigo. If you really want to read a GOOD vampire story, this is a must. It is quite close to the book, so it’s pretty damn close to the written word version.

The Sandman

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

This is the story of Morpheus, the God of Dreams and the adventures he has. Every once in a while you might see an appearance of his sister, Death (who had a small series of her own) or one of the other Endless through his many adventures. For the God of Dreams, he is actually a very sad and lonely character and Death comes around to cheer him up occasionally. This is a series written by Neil Gaiman who is more an author than a comic book writer. But it’s great stuff! A character like Dream can transcend time and space, and he does. There are some really light-hearted books, like the one that takes place in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but don’t let that fool you. This series can get pretty dark. This was really the first of it’s kind that I read and I loved it. I even got a chance to meet Neil at Silver Snail in Toronto during my high school years. I tweeted him one of the photos that I scanned in years later and he even RT’d it and replied! Really cool stuff that you don’t even have to read start to finish. It helps, but if you have to pick just one, I recommend is Dream Country that has four unrelated stories, including the one of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Me, Ann and Neil Gaiman

Me, Ann and Neil Gaiman

As I mentioned in the class, there are a number of choices and you don’t even have to go to the comic store anymore. Places like Chapters & Indigo have sections now dedicated to this genre. I highly recommend you go and find one that suites you. It’s finally cool to read comics. Happy reading!

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What was your favorite class in college?

What was your favorite class in college?

When I went back to university, one of the courses I had to take to get entrance to the degree program was an English course. I never enjoyed it when I was in high school, mainly because of the essays and I wasn’t a big fan of reading. Needless to day, I enjoy writing blog posts not only because I get to choose the topic, but it doesn’t have to be that long.

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Watchmen by Alan Moore

The first one that I took was called the Hero’s Journey. This is the first time I really learned how to properly write an essay. I actually read the books, including Dracula and many of the mythologies, such as Hercules. I enjoyed it so much that I took two more English classes during my degree and made it a point to take one whenever I could. I was actually ENJOYING English and reading!

The next one was Zap, Pow, Bang!: Popular Literature. How could I not take this course? We got to read comic books! Specifically, one of the best known graphic novels of all time: Watchmen. I knew that it was influential, but I never realized how deep it actually went. We also read The Maltese Falcon and From Russia With Love. Our group project: Comparing The Maltese Falcon to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” as a film noir. We of course got top marks for that one. It was definitely one of my favourites.

During my last year, I took one more. However, it wasn’t my first choice, nor my second choice. They eliminated both of those, one of which included Eastern Literature and I ended up with Science Fiction. Now this may surprise many people who know me, since I am a big geek when it comes to Science Fiction. But I’ve never been a big fan of the writing or reading of it. Give me a screen any day and I’ll watch “Firefly“, “Battlestar Galactica” and of course “Doctor Who” any day, all day. I have to admit, I wasn’t very fond of most of the novels required for the class, including Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Octavia Butler’s Kindred or H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine. I appreciated them for what they were, but they weren’t a pleasant read for me. It felt more like high school all over again: reading stuff I didn’t want to read just to pass a class. But I am happy to say that this was the only piece in the course I didn’t like. There was plenty more! We got to watch “Ghost in the Shell” and “Bladerunner” as part of our studies, so there was some video thrown in which made my day.

William Gibson's Neuromancer

William Gibson’s Neuromancer

I did enjoy reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer, especially when I was told that it was what sparked the famous Role-Playing Game (RPG) “ShadowRun“. I actually found the audio book narrated by Gibson himself. Very interesting to say the least. One of the assignments was to do our own bit of creative writing (which I was terrible at in high school). But I actually enjoyed it too. Based on Neuromancer and a ShadowRun game that I used to play, I came up with the ending to a campaign that my GM never finished. And no, I never forgave him for that. At the time, he said that he figured everyone could do their own ending. So I did. It’s still not finished, but I completed the assignment and have actually created a blog on it. There I also describe the back ground to the story as well as a totally different storyline which I think I need to pick up again very soon. Check out ShadowShui here.

So thank you Ryerson University for renewing or rather starting my love of literature.

Commentary: TheStar Freeze on Toronto’s ‘Welcome Policy’ means low-income families missing out

I read this article this morning in the Toronto Star: TheStar Freeze on Toronto’s ‘Welcome Policy’ means low-income families missing out.

They say that they don’t have enough money to support the Welcome Policy that was introduced in the 1990’s. I remember when fees were introduced and it was a mess. I worked for the City of Toronto in the Parks and Recreation Department. There was never an issue whether or not someone in this city made enough money, they had access to recreation. I’m sure the justification of this is to recoupterate some of the costs of running the programs. Now, I don’t know the numbers, but just humour me for a moment.

When the City decides to make people start paying for the services in recreation, it’s not just that simple. You have to put into place payment systems, train the staff into using them and the time involved with dealing with the payments is taken away from the time they use actually providing the service. Alternatively, they are paid more time to take the money so that the net time for the program is not affected.

Then you have to take into effect the drop in attendance. The original estimates were that there would be about an average of a 30% drop across the board. Boy were they wrong. At the centre I worked at, they had a drop of 67%. The centre wasn’t making nearly enough to cover even their staffing costs. There were a couple of reasons for the drop, from what I know:

  • They couldn’t afford it or began to budget what they could attend; and
  • People looked at alternatives to paying the Recreation Centre to privately operated services, such as art classes and family gyms based on not only cost, but on quality of service.

People didn’t enroll in classes, less staff is needed, so many of us lost hours or had so few that we had to leave and find other work. Many people had spent two years in the Recreation Program at Centennial which was designed to be the recruiting ground for working as a Recreationist in the City of Toronto. When the fees came in, they all went scrambling looking for other work. Those that did get taken into the City, ended up becoming sales people to the public for permits selling the insurance packages and pushing paper, rather than doing what they were trained to do: programming and running recreation.

So what you’re left with is a very expensive payment system, a barebones recreation program, a lot of qualified people that went to do something else and a very large population, the most of which cannot afford the system. Those that can afford it, most likely go to a private gym anyway.