Originally published at Openfile.ca
When you think of gay Vancouver men, your first image probably isn’t of a drag queen Poison Ivy squealing excitedly over $10 reprints of a Wolverine sketch in the middle of a crowded comic book convention.
But she, known on Vancouver’s nightclub scene as drag sensation Raye Sunshine, and her entourage of costumed queers are practically bigger attractions than Vancouver Fan Expo’s impressive roster of celebrity guests. Her posse, collectively dressed as Batman’s worst nightmare, can barely take ten steps without being stopped to allow awestruck convention-goers to take their pictures, or to pose with the young children of enchanted tourists.
Sunshine and her friends are among the roughly 10,000 people geeking out at Vancouver’s first-ever Fan Expo because, she says, “It’s so free and accepting here. There’s no judgment or prejudice. It’s an environment you can really feel safe in to be whoever you are.”
Or whoever you aren’t. Sunshine’s a master of makeup, though her strikingly accented cheekbones and the feminine arch of her drawn-on eyebrows can’t hide the decidedly manly, muscular bulk on display in her green leotard. She says when she speaks and her masculine voice comes out and confirms her actual sex, people get a bit of a shock. But she adds it’s a thrill for her admirers and she gets off on their wonderment, considering it affirmation of gender play well-executed.
Not so long ago, safety and acceptance within the fanboy world might not have been so easy to come by. The comic book industry and superhero culture were traditionally straight boys’ clubs, and are only just beginning to open up and include their dedicated gay following. Like many modern gays, comics had a repressed adolescence and are blooming late. But at last weekend’s Fan Expo, Vancouver showed off its leadership role in the progressive sexual politics of comic books.
Consider it the final frontier of popular mass media. Today, a few homegrown, trailblazing artists are boldly going where no stereotypical superhero nerd has gone before: over the rainbow.
Vancouver-based artist Stephen Sadowski made his name re-imagining some of DC’s classic characters for a revamped Justice Society of America series.
On the first day of Fan Expo, I can’t interview him from across the table that lines the back wall of Vancouver Convention Centre ballroom E for fear of being swept along with, or trampled by, the unbroken current of portfolio-perusing fans coursing down the row of comic artists. I sneak in behind the curtain and kneel next to him while he signs prints and chats with his enthusiastic devotees, most of whom are too timid to interrupt the interview to get a piece of their idol. Lucky, otherwise there would be no break in the flow of exuberant fans.
Sadowski, a bearded bear-type (for the layperson, bears are gay men, usually hairy, over 30 and sturdy of frame) is known for his realistic work on some of DC’s most popular characters. At least once at every convention he attends, somebody compliments his hairy-chested version of Hawkman. Sadowski’s signature aesthetic is a sensibility, he says; he puts just as much effort into making his male superheroes look sexy as he does his female characters. And that means drawing parts of the anatomy that mainstream artists have typically been uncomfortable with: Sadowski may be one of the first of his contemporaries whose superheroes are actually packing some male genitalia in their skintight shorts.
Soon, a dreamy-eyed fan in a green jumpsuit and bowler hat covered with handsewn felt question marks shuffles along artist’s row and eyes Sadowski’s portfolio. Instantly captivated by the pencil detail and the vibrant colourwork by Sadowski’s partner Shane Rooks, he flips the pages greedily, gushing about Sadowski’s “badass” Wolverine, or the ferocious action that leaps out of Sadowski’s new John Carter, Warlord of Mars panels. But a palpable change crosses the fanboy’s countenance when he flips to Sadowski’s famous Wildcat pinup. The golden-age staple stands naked, in all his hairy musclebound glory, in a tastefully steamy shower with a come-hither grin. The fanboy pauses a moment, looking blank. Then he giggles self-consciously and hurriedly turns the page.
It’s a common occurrence at Sadowski’s convention appearances. Many fans are still shocked by Sadowski’s equitable stance on objectification within a culture that has pandered to a pretty narrow slice of its actual base for so long.
“Comics are basically straight boy power fantasies,” Sadowski says. “A lot of big-titted women, you know. So a lot of times when you see male characters, you see they have no crotch. Well, why are the women always so built with the big boobs busting out and why don’t the guys get the same treatment?” He says more importantly than the titillation factor, it’s simply ridiculous to flatten the male characters’ naughty bits, but he also wants the industry to know what it stands to gain by catering to a more diverse market. He says he hasn’t yet met with resistance from editors, signifying the industry is opening up whether fans are ready or not.
Also Sadowski’s main collaborator, colorist Rooks agrees.
“From a marketing perspective it’s become kind of natural for a publisher to feel comfortable allowing that to work its way into their intellectual property. It started edging itself into successful TV shows,” Rooks says, and it’s grown to the point where a show feels unrealistic and weird if it doesn’t have LGBT storylines.
To some degree, of course, comics have always been gay. In Fredric Wertham’s 1954 anti-comics tirade The Seduction of the Innocent, the psychiatrist famously posits that Batman and Robin must be homosexuals because they live in a mansion together with floral arrangements. Cartoonist Ken Boesem, who contributes a semi-weekly strip to Xtra! West, notes gays essentially embraced that reading. He adds that common themes of secret identities, living a double life and being outside normal society are particularly resonant for queer folk.
Yet out, mainstream gay superheroes are still woefully underrepresented as leads for their own titles (save for Batwoman, an out lesbian, whose leather-clad escapades are well-received by straight male fans for obvious reasons). The good news is, Sadowski and Rooks can’t agree on whether it’s Marvel or DC who has the most realistic, well-written queer storylines. Ideally, they say, the next step is devoting entire plot arcs and miniseries to queer characters that don’t involve anybody coming out of the closet or getting HIV. Society’s past that. Such stories are rote.
Canadian historian John Bell argues due to a history of censorship and suppression, comic books were once Canada’s lost culture, but they’ve finally matured. At least in one way, he speaks too soon. Thanks to Sadowski, Rooks and others like them, though, the days of camp and innuendo a-la Wertham are numbered.
Though she glows through her green body paint from all the attention, Raye Sunshine takes momentary refuge in a nearby food court from the paparazzi-like mobs of admirers demanding her picture.
“I’m glad [Fan Expo] is bringing comic culture into the mainstream,” she says as she catches her breath. “But really, I just like putting on cute clothes.”
It’s just playing dressup, one of her friends insists. It doesn’t go any deeper than that.
Just then, a straight guy, a total suburban bro in a baggy jersey and ball cap, walks by. He ogles Sunshine on his way past.
“Awesome,” he says.
Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom today rejected the New Westminster mayor’s recent demand for small tolls on all bridges to pay for their upkeep.
Last week Mayor Wayne Wright decried what he believes to be dangerous traffic volumes on the Port Mann Bridge and suggested its steep $3 toll should be lowered and new tolls be placed on the other bridges to balance usage and fund construction.
But Wednesday, after meeting with the region’s mayors in Burnaby, Lekstrom said that wouldn’t happen.
“There is no indication that we’re going to alter our tolling policy nor do I see that happening in the near future,” Lekstrom said.
The TransLink Mayors’ Council was discussing a much-called-for overhaul of TransLink’s operations, including funding and taxation policy, governance and public accountability.
Funding issues have long dogged TransLink. To help fund the Evergreen Line, the mayors’ council last October approved a controversial gas tax hike of two cents a litre and plans to raise fares in 2013. If no new funding models are found by the end of 2012, the average homeowner will see a property tax increase of $23.
Mayors’ Council chairman Richard Walton said he wants to address the public’s concerns that such squeezes on their wallets may not be warranted.
“There’s not a lot of public confidence in TransLink,” Walton said, adding some mayors are calling for a set process for reviewing TransLink’s operations and finding spending inefficiencies via the provincial or municipal auditors general, or an independent audit.
Members of the Mayors’ Council itself have previously complained that TransLink often makes decisions without input from the council, which then takes the blame for unpopular policies.
Lekstrom said he is waiting for formal recommendations from the mayors’ council before taking any action.
The Mayors’ Council will next meet April 10, when TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly will issue a report on the 2013 fare increase.
The idea that anyone would want to be involved in an abusive relationship is scary. If you heard anyone say in earnest that they deserved or wanted to be beaten to an unrecognizable pulp by their partner, your internal warning bells would go berserk.
That’s probably why following the 2012 Grammy Awards last night, a Vancouver journalist retweeted this link from Buzzfeed that calls out 25 girls for tweeting variations on the theme “Chris Brown is hot so I’d let him beat me like he beat Rihanna.”
Check out the highlights from the police report on this post-Grammy blog post if you need convincing it’s a horrifying scenario.
But is reposting doing more harm?
There’s an unwritten set of principles governing the ethics of republishing tweets: they’re already out there, so compiling them somewhere else doesn’t make them any more public.
It’s a logic used frequently in traditional journalism. But there’s a discipline to which good journalists will try to adhere, for the protection of private citizens and to legally cover their own asses: such information should be broadcast if it serves the public good, and if it does not expose citizens who are not inherently newsworthy by ethical standards to ridicule and hatred.
That defense arguing the publisher’s passivity in the dissemination of the tweet is a facile one, especially concerning a heavily-trafficked site like Buzzfeed. My point is not that Buzzfeed is meant to be held to the standards of serious news sites. But by publishing names and pictures of the “upsetting” tweeters they are exposing them to ridicule and hatred, and here’s some proof:
Well done, defenders of women’s dignity everywhere.
Yeah, what all these girls said was kinda gross. But imagine hearing it in passing in the hallway at school, or if your friend said it to you. Would you begin viciously blasting her, calling her stupid, saying you hope she’ll never procreate? Would you tell anyone who’d listen what a pathetic idiot she was?
The flippant comments we make in the corporeal world seldom lead to the public tarring and feathering to which we gleefully subject one another online. There are at least two main reasons: one, the written word has an intrinsic sense of import and permanency, so perhaps we take what we read more seriously. Two, we’re safe behind our computer screens to bully one another and remain blissfully ignorant of the pain we’re causing.
I’m not saying – wait, I think I am saying – give these girls a break.
I believe there should be an expectation of professionalism in an online persona. I try, not always successfully, to cultivate that. I believe when your online persona reveals things about you that prove you are wrong for a job, reveal violent intentions or explicitly racist/homophobic tendencies, or expose corruption, the appropriate measures should be taken by whomever is in the position to do so.
But I do not think this schadenfreude is the same as standing up for the public good. About these girls’ stupid tweets, relax. About the stuff in this roundup of getting fired from your job because of tweets, go nuts and freak out for all I care, you got some real examples of direct conflict goin’ on there.
As the spectacle of humiliation expands from reality TV to the ‘net – increasingly the place we waste all our free time – will society, bruised, learn to pick its battles? To live and let live? Or will kindergarten classes start teaching kids to micromanage their reputations?
I’m gonna try to go outside today, stay off the computer. Maybe talk to a stranger.
Soon, Canadians could literally have the pulse of their entire city at their fingertips.
That’s the vision of Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, who spoke to city planners and politicians from all over North America at the Vancouver Convention Centre today.
Nenshi was part of a panel discussion about fusing everyday data collected by cities with technology most citizens carry in their pockets, like smart phones. Nenshi bragged about his government’s open data accomplishments, and stressed the need for more transparent bureaucracies across Canada.
“One of the big shifts we’re working through is to change our entire mindset so we understand that we don’t serve the city, we don’t serve the process, we don’t serve the bureaucracy, we serve the citizen,” Nenshi said.
He said before his government’s innovations, creating a new city budget involved lengthy consultations and long lineups for speakers at city hall, snaring progress for months. He joked that it resulted in “blood running down the streets, babies being killed in their cribs, and generally not very nice parks.”
Nenshi said he decided to try something different, and began public budget consultations earlier than usual with a digital app that asked citizens what services they would like to see their tax dollars fund and allowed people to draft their own mock budgets.
Plowing through bureaucracy
Nenshi also pointed to Calgary’s system of snow plows, now outfitted with GPS to let citizens plan their daily transportation using phone apps.
“It seems utopian,” he said. “[But] if we can figure out a way to share data so that people don’t have to queue up for hours in order to access the services they need, that’s a very, very good thing.”
Nenshi was joined by City of Vienna representative Ingrid Goetzl and IBM spokesman Gerry Mooney.
Mooney dismissed concerns that new forms of open data are expensive or time-consuming to implement.
“Some of it is very cheap,” Mooney said. “It depends on where the data sits today, what format it’s in and what you gotta do to convert it. The act of sharing it is rather simple.”
Goetzl agreed, adding that similar innovations in Vienna only took a few months to reach the public, which she said is relatively fast.
Nenshi told the story of a Calgary citizen who proved, by simply capturing streamed video from city hall and putting it on Youtube, that there was no good financial excuse for staying in the dark ages.
Loke is stoked
Vancouver Park Board commissioner Trevor Loke with Vision Vancouver said he found the discussion inspiring.
“I was sitting with some of the parks managers, and we were all taking notes and tweeting each other about it. I think we’ll really have a good discussion of what we‘d like to see, what’s pertinent to us as a city and important to citizens.”
“If we invest a little bit of time now, it will pay off in the future,” said Loke.
The new frontier
Communications and research consultant Leah Camenzind was impressed by the discussion and excited to see what kinds of access open data could grant citizens. She said she uses a similar app to Nenshi’s snow plow mapping tool already for car rental service Car2Go.
“This I some of the coolest technology,” she said, demonstrating how the app lets her find out where any available car is located on a Google map, and even how many spaces are left in downtown parking lots. “It’s almost shocking that governments are using it as well, and great. I didn’t know that frontier was so close in municipal politics.”
The panel was part of the inaugural Cities Summit, a two-day conference to “bring business, political and urban thought leaders together to catalyze investment, job creation and new urban ideas,” according to a statement by Mayor Gregor Robertson, apparently the event’s originator.
Anyone wishing to attend the half-day conference tomorrow can register in person at the Vancouver Convention Centre’s west building for a fee of $295.
A gondola up Burnaby Mountain to Simon Fraser University’s main campus isn’t in the cards, TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said today.
TransLink proposed the gondola project in late 2010 as a way to carry a greater volume and frequency of customers up the mountain at a lesser cost than existing bus routes. The project aimed to reduce diesel emissions and shorten the 15-minute commute by half. Hardie said a study commissioned by TransLink determined the costs are inadequate to proceed.
“It’s a good idea, simply not now,” Hardie said.
The study, conducted by engineering consulting firm CH2M Hill, assigned a dollar amount to social, environmental, and economic implications of building a 3 rope gondola system similar to the one used at Whistler Blackcomb. The study showed a cost benefit of $3.60 for every dollar spent building and maintaining the gondola over 25 years. However, Hardie said the project would cost TransLink too much in real dollars to proceed.
“[T]he fact that there’s a net additional cost to TransLink means that the gondola will not jump the queue of existing transit priorities,” Hardie said, adding the cost of building and operating the gondola over 25 years would cost $157 million, which is $12 million more than running the existing bus routes.
Hardie said the earliest the public might see renewed consultation on the Burnaby Mountain gondola would be 2014 for possible construction in 2016.
But for now, TransLink simply doesn’t have enough money.
“Unless someone comes along with the means to make it happen sooner, they [gondola supporters] won’t see it,” Hardie said. “In the meantime we’re going to put efforts into finding funding partners that can close the financial gap because that particularly will significantly improve the project’s chances for making it into the next plan.”
TransLink’s own survey of about 500 people who attended community meetings to discuss the project showed about 75 per cent opposed to the gondola project last September. However, Burnaby-Douglas Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart also conducted a phone survey of about 1000 residents and found about 47 per cent in favour, with 14 per cent undecided and the remainder opposed. Stewart told Burnaby Now he felt his results were more accurate, as community members who attended TransLink’s meetings likely did so specifically to oppose the project.
Recent SFU graduate Jill Canty said the gondola would be “totally useful.”
“People need to get off their high horses about it,” she said before Hardie’s announcement. “Students are packed into buses like sardines and sent to creep up the hill at 12 kilometres an hour. It turns a seven-minute drive into a grueling, 25-minute slow ascension.” She said she felt most students supported the proposal.
Hardie said TransLink’s priorities for its recently adopted 3-year plan include improving service on routes to U-Pass schools, expansions in Surrey, and mainly SkyTrain’s $1.4 billion Evergreen Line connecting Vancouver to Coquitlam.
Hardie added he expects to see an Evergreen Line contract by spring. He said it will be funded partly by TransLink’s proposed 2013 fare increase, and by two City of Vancouver tax increases effective Jan. 1: a 300 per cent parking tax hike, and a 3 cent per litre gas tax bump bringing the total to 17 cents a litre by April.
Here are some old album reviews I didn’t post when they were timely in their respective editions of V-Rag. I upload them here for archival purposes.
Born This Way: Lady Gaga
V-Rag wasn’t kind to Lady Gaga’s lead single from the eponymous Born This Way in March. The comparative flop Judas left even hardcore Little Monsters digging for enthusiasm as they awaited the release, heralded by Gaga herself as “the greatest album of this decade”.
It’s not without missteps – or delights. The album’s overall success is in its baffling ability to meld metal guitar riffs, rock saxophone, and Euro-electronica into an effort that begs the question, “What were they thinking and why is it so good?” Its major failure is Gaga’s need to tackle a checklist of political issues without much lyrical eloquence. She’s at her best in Hair, a sugary pop anthem so hot it kicks the title track’s ass practically off the album without attempting the religious commentary that otherwise pervades the disc.
There is plenty on Gaga‘s third effort that is well worth the price. Skeptics who like pop will enjoy its infectious fury, but probably won’t convert into Mother Monster’s zealous flock.
Beyoncé’s fourth solo album (ohhhh! I just got that!) was apparently culled by studio suits from the best of a whopping 72 demo tracks.
I’d hate to hear the 60 rejects.
I couldn‘t remember much about it after I‘d finished listening except that it is so oversung, unconventional and unpoetic it’s frustrating. I also recall one particularly bad line: “You showed your ass / and I saw the real you,” she accuses on “Best Thing I Never Had”.
Wait. On second thought…I’ve had some unpleasant shocks that way too.
The disc contains no classics, no hits, nothing memorable or catchy. It’s overwrought, weird and inconsistent, effectively removing it from the pop lexicon without allowing it to breathe in any particular genre. Maybe it’s hard to see past one of the biggest names in pop to assess the music fairly. If this album were released by another artist, some underground up-and-comer, its retro balladry might place it in a similarly nostalgic category as Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.
But a lesser, greener artist didn’t release 4. Friggin’ Beyoncé did, so where’s the beef?