Thursday, 8 May 2014

My First Encounter with the Popular Culture Association - PCA/ACA 2014, Chicago

April was a whirlwind. It's the only suitable way to describe it. The winds began on the 8th, in fact, my last post and the international Day of DH. That was the first day of setup for my BFA grad exhibition. The following week was a week of 18 hour work days as I emptied, cleaned, painted, and constructed my exhibition space. Most nights I slept at school, crashed on a couch in the studio or a corner of the floor or wherever I could find that security would let me get some shut-eye. T'was a long week.

Tuesday, April 15th: the day I was destined to fly to Chicago for the Popular Culture Association conference. Monday night at around 10pm my good friend TP walked into the studio and made me realize just how much I wasn't going to be finished hanging my show by the time the last bus left campus. So I packed up and headed home, showered, packed, and caught the 11:30 bus back to campus. By 7am the show was up and ready to go, and I had a flight to catch. I took the bus from campus to the airport, hopped on a plane, and 10 hours later touched down in The Windy City.
This is good, yeah? I'm in Chicago, at my hotel, settled in by 11pm-ish...and supposed to present at 9:45 the next morning. At which point it hit me just how ill-prepared I was for this whole endeavour. I sat down on the hotel sofa and started editing, and suddenly it was six. In the morning. How did that happen? Well, I thought, I'll just take an hour-long nap. And this is part that I haven't talked much about until now.

Because I woke up at two in the afternoon.
Needless to say, I was devastated. As far as I was concerned I'd just blown it at my first big academic conference, my academic debut if you will. I dragged myself out of the hotel and down the street to the conference centre to beg forgiveness from our area chair. Dr. Wandtke was incredibly gracious about the whole thing, understanding of the negative effects that a string of all-nighters and a cross-continental flight will have on punctuality. He had, he told me, a Friday afternoon panel with only two presenters on it that he could fit me into. Long story short, I moved some flights around and made that happen; a little pricey, sure, but damned if I was going to leave Chicago without giving that presentation.

This was all followed up immediately by a moment that made me realize just how important community is in the world of comics scholarship. I walked out of the conference room with what felt distinctly like a new lease on life, and nearly bumped into John Lent, EIC of the International Journal of Comic ArtTwitter fiend that I am, I knew that IJOCA was up for an Eisner; the nominations had been announced the day before, and I'd seen Dr. Lent's name on the list during my layover at Pearson. Without missing a beat I introduced myself and congratulated him on the nomination, which was enough to get him to stop and talk. We were promptly joined by Chris Couch (University of Massachusetts), and I suddenly found myself in conversation with two men who were referring to Scott McCloud and Denis Kitchen by first names as old friends and colleagues. Mind. Blown. I cleared the awe from my head in time to answer a series of questions from Lent about my topic, which prompted Couch to ask if I had a background in Judaic Studies. "No, art history", I said, all the while thinking, "I'm an undergrad surrounded by giants. I don't have a background in anything; I'm stilling working on finishing the thing that will get me into what will be my background...". And then John Lent asked me to send him my paper, and I don't remember the rest of what happened.

Well, alright. That's not entirely true. With a light heart and a head full of dreams (as one ought to have when encountering success in The Windy City), I made my way to Lou Malnati's, the city's top-rated deep-dish pizza joint. It was there I discovered that Chicago deep-dish is a beast to be reckoned with; that you cannot be a foodie in that town and avoid sausage; and that the locally brewed Pale Ales there are to die for. Seriously. Amazing local beer scene. Even the hotel lobby had a dozen or so local brews on tap, each deliciously different from the next. My culinary experience there was wonderful, but frankly I blame the people. Food is always better with fellowship, and I had that a-plenty. I met up with my Twitter acquaintance Heather Urbanski, also a presenter at PCA/ACA, and found a whole new group of people to hang out with. We went out for sushi one evening, and I realized that I am, in fact, a terrible British Columbian. My province is up to its eyeballs in sushimania, and I can barely tell sashimi from a California roll (okay, that's a lie; I can very easily tell sashimi from a California roll, but I have to make my point somehow). To sum up my experience with Chicago's food scene:

  • Discovered Chicago's famous deep-dish pie (the sausage, man...)
  • Reveled in the local beer scene
  • Had an awkward sushi experience (made better by excellent conversation)
  • Ate a cheeseburger at a literal hole-in-the-wall (Billy Goat Tavern; seriously, it's in a wall under a bridge)
  • Consumed a lot, we'll say "too much", Dunkin' Donuts
Did I mention comics?

Yeah, there were also comics. I made a point of walking down to Graham Cracker Comics, which is an excellent shop if you're ever in Chicago, and picking up...well, a bunch of stuff. I was able to track down Astonishing X-Men #2, the second-to-last Joss Whedon issue I need before I own the complete run. I snagged the new Serenity title (because it's shiny, why else?), the much lauded Sex Criminals by Hickman, and Lumberjanes, a title I've been longing to get my hands on since Noelle Stevenson first mentioned it on Twitter. It's all proved to be excellent reading. And Gotham Central...that series, never ceases to amaze me, never will. Read it, you crime comics people reading this post, if you haven't already. It will rock your world.

Anyway, that's about it. I did successfully present my paper, in a panel on Comics and Education. You don't get a lot of questions in question period when you're the only guy talking about Jewish narrative tradition in a room full of people interested in pedagogy, but them's the breaks when you've slept through your alarm and had to reschedule. I flew back Saturday instead of Friday, having shuffled my flights to make the panel a possibility. I landed at 7:30pm, and went straight back to school to attend the opening of my BFA grad show. I was a bit out of it; I wandered around the gallery for some time, going "I've been in three different international airports today, where am I now?". This, ladies and gentlemen, is my life.


  1. Don't forget the victory waffles we had the day after the grad show to finalize the weekend ;)

  2. Mind. Blown.
    You're living your passion, Asher, and I applaud you.