Tuesday, May 28, 2013

2013 pittsburgh comic arts fest

Over Memorial Day weekend I drove out to Pittsburgh, PA to check out the 2013 Pittsburgh Comic Arts Festival. The truth is, my main motivation was to meet Patrick McDonnell, author and illustrator of Mutts, as well as have him sign some of my collected books and prints. So, I didn't get to check out any of the panel discussions, etc., but I did get to meet Patrick and have some fun hanging out in the 'burgh on a beautiful, cool spring day. 

The wife stayed home and did things she needed to do, got caught up with some of her friends and got some much needed r&r. So, I went it alone and stayed with my dad. The drive out from Leesburg, VA on Saturday morning couldn't have been more ideal, and on Sunday morning I took off early for the Toonseum in Pittsburgh. The day started off on a very positive note after visiting this great little coffee shop called Amarabica Coffee House (see above), off Rt 19 in Wexford, PA. I got a latte, which tasted fantastic, and the place itself, a family-owned operation was beautiful and unique, full of color and character. I was the only person there (and probably the first to open it that day), however a few cars actually pulled in while I was leaving. I was sad when this former Star Wars shop (yes, a store dedicated to only Star Wars stuff!) closed to reopen as a tobacco shop a little while ago. Hopefully it's latest incarnation is here to stay. Highly recommended. 

I have to admit, Downtown Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh is looking kind of rough these days, but there are some things about the place that add some life, including the enormous mural by Brian Holderman called "Yesterday's Tomorrow" (see above and below), a title I found somewhat ironic, considering some of the run down structures nearby, sadly. Needless to say, I must have counted at least thirty people who took a picture of this massive work of art, which I love and always have to stop and look at a while when I'm in the area.

Near the front entrance of the Toonseum stand these two giant sculptures (below). I'm not sure what their significance is, but they're a great way to draw attention to an otherwise smaller space. 

Though I arrived quite early, a big line began to form to see Patrick McDonnell (below). I didn't think so many fans would come out of the woodwork and I was actually very happy to see that they did!

Meeting Patrick (see below) was extremely cool and the guy is truly a class act. Despite the long line, he took some time to genuinely greet his fans and never seemed at all in some kind of rush. I had several items for him to sign, including a wonderful print based on a piece by Hiroshige, a postcard comic inspired by Hokusai, as well as a hard bound copy of his fantastic collaboration with another one of my favorite people, Eckhart Tolle, titled "Guardians of Being".  I thanked Patrick for all he's done and let him know how much I appreciate the way he sometimes incorporates tributes to great artists in his work. I loved that he took the time to draw a little cartoon on everything, along with his signature. Some people think autographs are kind of silly, but I personally see them as an important mark indicating a moment in time when I met a fellow human being who inspired me and brought something good and meaningful into my life. 

After meeting Patrick and hanging out some at the Toonseum, I got sidetracked by this great little bookstore (below) that had a superb art section. I probably browsed around for about an hour and I made some great finds, while paying very little for them.  I think the place was once called Awesome Books but is now called Amazing Books.  Either way, I'll take it!

The actual street festival took a little time to get underway, and during this time I found a place that served pizza for lunch. 

There were some art vendors, including the well-known Pittsburgh-based Tugboat Printshop (below), who do some incredible woodcut work.  I wasn't too clear on how to vend this year and was too busy anyhow to even try. I talked to one vendor who said they were keeping things a little lower key this first time around, to test the waters, and perhaps next year things will get bigger. If so, I think I'm going to look into selling some work, if possible. 

There was a vacant space that I believe at one time housed an art gallery funded by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and it had a piece of paper taped onto the window with the words "Bureau of Surrealist Research" (below) that caught my attention. Who knows what that was about, but I thought it was pretty cool, whatever it meant.

I stuck around a while until author and illustrator Mo Willems was scheduled to sign books at the nearby August Wilson Center (above). My friend Susie, who is our school librarian loves to read his "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus " book, and has a good number of the kids in school drawing the pigeon character all over their notebooks, etc. So, I waited in a fairly long line (below) to get him to sign that very book for her, as well as a copy of the book "Leonardo, the Terrible Monster" for me.  Mo was a real cool guy with some great, encouraging words of wisdom for his younger fans, who were there in abundance. 

There were lots of talented caricature artists on hand, as well as Earl (from Mutts) and Wonder Woman. How could you go wrong? So, I had a lot of fun and hopefully it'll be an even bigger and better event next year. If you're in the Pittsburgh area, do check out the Toonseum!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

christmas lights, freescha, and night sequels

Today I found an e-mail from Attacknine Records in my spam folder, from a couple of days ago. I usually never check my spam folder anymore before pressing delete, but thankfully I did this time around! They announced a new vinyl reissue of Freescha's first album from 2001, "Kids Fill the Floor", as well as some out take tracks by one half of the duo, Nick Huntington, released on vinyl under the alias "Christmas Lights". Having almost blown my music budget for the month, I opted for the Christmas Lights release on vinyl (see above) , with digital download included. What a real surprise of an album, reminding me of just how amazing anything Freescha-related is, even if it clocks in at only about a half an hour. If you like Boards of Canada (or Freescha, for that matter!), you'll love this one. I know the Boards reference is an obvious and perhaps lazy one, but there is definitely a similarity in sound, though something entirely different and unique going on as well. Upon checking the website, I also watched the video for a mysterious new musical project under the name Night Sequels, and again, was floored at how good the music is (sounding suspiciously like another Freescha-related side project). Maybe next month I'll grab up a copy of the Kids reissue, if any are still left. In the meantime, looking forward to more from Night Sequels. Happy listening!

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Who is that adorable little girl in the picture? That would be my wife Kris at the age of two, posing with her play phone. Now she's all grown up, as adorable as ever, and her job, ironically involves talking on the phone for a good portion of the day, something she's far better at than me. The photo was taken by Kris' mother, in her home country of Trinidad. Her mother recently mailed us a bunch of wonderful old photos from Kris' childhood, which I have plans of compiling and making a book from this summer. Who knew that over two decades later, that little girl would marry some artist guy in Northern Virginia? Yesterday marked our four-year wedding anniversary, which is hard to believe since it seems like only yesterday we exchanged our vows! 

I feel like the luckiest guy on Earth to have married Kris, and 2013 has been a good year for the both of us, with lots of positive change happening. Kris finally got her green card the other day, after four years here in the states and a somewhat stressful fourteen-month wait. We thought it would never arrive but I did remain hopeful.  She's really enjoying her work and has gotten very successful at it, while making time for creative endeavors like painting, knitting, and most recently, growing plants.  For myself, I finally paid off every last penny of credit card debt. It was a struggle since I moved here to America's wealthiest county from Pittsburgh, to work as an art teacher. I remember my car dying on me my third day out here, something I had just paid off and hoped to have for a few more years. From there on, I had to increasingly rely on my credit card for things, and having to buy new wheels, computers, get married and travel to visit relatives made it difficult to pay it all off, not to mention a longtime salary freeze and increasing rent costs that were already very high by most of the nation's standards. Still, that's life and it could have been a lot worse. But now, things are on the upswing and I owe so much of it to Kris, who has had such a positive impact on my life and on all of those who have gotten to know her.

I'm a very lucky man.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

the ocean blue & more

Last Thursday night I went see to the Ocean Blue play to a sold out crowd at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA. It was a very pleasant surprise to see the band back together with a brand new album and tour. I never got a chance to witness them live on past tours and didn't buy their new full length "Ultramarine" until I got to the show, trying not to listen to anything new from the band until they played. 

I never saw a show at Jammin' Java before and have only been there to get a coffee, and recently drop off some Magic Bullet newspapers. They seemed to have a different set up, with more of an emphasis on concerts (I swear they once had a tiny stage at the right-hand side of the venue), with a capacity of what I believe to be 200 now, the stage set up at the back.  I can't tell you just how good it was to see a show where there was ample, easy parking, without the supreme hassle of driving through the city. I've pretty much sworn off seeing concerts in DC on weeknights mainly 'cause my job can be mentally and physically demanding enough, and the thought of dealing with urban evening traffic just don't cut it for me anymore. Thankfully, Jamin' Java was a thoroughly pleasant concert-going experience, and a relatively short and simple drive. Also, being this was the Ocean Blue playing, and it was on a Thursday night, I could handle it, no problem. 

I arrived at the venue about an hour before opening act, Don Peris, guitarist for another long-standing Pennsylvania dream pop band, The Innocence Mission hit the stage.  He warmed up the crowd with a beautiful set of gentle, guitar-based instrumentals at times reminiscent of Daniel Lanois, and even Doug McCombs from Tortoise. I regret not buying one of his CDs as well Thursday night, so soon I'll have to order his new one titled "The Old Century".  

Though there weren't too many people present yet, as Don played, I remained standing up front where I had been for quite a while at this point. At this point, I also wished I had been sitting, after standing and walking around on a hard floor all week, but the only place available for that was the fairly pricey VIP area. Thankfully, The Ocean Blue didn't take too long to hit the stage, and once they began to play, all thoughts of pain dissolved. The band was so incredibly good, it was hard to believe these guys had been around since 1989, yet at the same time it made perfect sense. The new songs melded so well with their classics, which many times doesn't happen when a band takes a long hiatus and make a new album. I think "Ultramarine" has taken fans by surprise, it's so good. Some reviewers have even declared it to be their best, and upon first listen while driving home from the show, I'd have to agree with them 100%.  In fact, Ultramarine is a crucial release for 2013. 

One can only hope The Ocean Blue will expand their mini-tour and come back this way again soon, hopefully to Jamin' Java again.  It's been a while since I've been to a concert so good that it makes one feel great to be alive.  Coming down from this show by the time I returned home at midnight was by no means an easy task. Thankfully the weekend was right around the corner. Below are a couple of samples of songs from "Ultramarine" for your ears to enjoy.  Let's hope more folks start to recognize the monolithic tower of awesome this band (and album) truly is.

In the meantime, I got a cool package in the mail from my pal Dave Modler, which included a sketchbook for a collaborative project he was telling me about recently.  Work, as well as another art-based project have been consuming most of my time and energy lately, but things will be settling down (at least with the work part) in about a week, allowing me to tackle this collab more in depth. I even dragged Kris into it as well, which is good 'cause she's been getting her artist mojo back quite a lot lately. Looking forward to this!

Meanwhile, if you're in or around the Leesburg, VA area, King Street Coffee is hosting the photographic work of our friend James Martin, up until the end of May. Kris and I have had James do some shoots for us in the past, and he's really come a long way with his passion for photography! His wife Tiffany, who is a truly great yoga instructor, has also been getting her art on as well, with a new line of t-shirts under the name Buddha Cat. Kris and I got shirts from her and we love 'em. Hopefully James and Tiffany will have some work for sale online in the not-too-distant future.

As for the other art-related project I've been working on, I can't say too much more than it has to do with a book to be released fairly soon, and that the subject matter pertains to endangered sea life, told in a comic-book/graphic novel style.  Below is a sneak peek at some very early stage pages. So far so good. 

Finally, a song called "Day Trip" from Don Peris.


Monday, May 6, 2013

b.o.c. are back

Last week I got the news of a new Boards of Canada (see HERE) album to be released in the states next month. For fans like myself, this is huge. We haven't seen or heard anything from the (formerly) Scottish duo of analogue knob twiddling brothers for over eight years, and most folks lost hope of anything new to surface ever again. BOC are one of those groups who will go down in electronic music history, whose sound influenced many, but could never be imitated.  As a personal tribute, I compiled ten of my favorite songs from the duo, in chronological order of release (from top to bottom), with the eleventh track/vid taken from the new album titled "Tomorrow's Harvest", which has something of a post-apocalyptic feel to it. Interesting. Some of these fan-made vids are quite good too, though listening to Boards of Canada with the lights turned off and headphones plugged in is always the best way to go. Now if only Richard D. James put out an Aphex album this year. One can dream. Enjoy the tunes.