Saturday, February 14, 2015


When you live in a place like Iqaluit you get used to being asked a lot about what it's like to live there. Some of it is genuine curiosity, but I've always thought there is some internal measurement system going on. "Could I handle living in a place like that?"

When I used to update my "Living in Iqaluit FAQ" I wrote there are four main considerations/challenges to living in a place like Iqaluit if you're coming up from down south.

1. Isolation
2. Daylight
3. Lack of southern amenities
4. Cold

We've been in Iqaluit for almost 10 years now. As I frequently tell people, Iqaluit has ways to let you know it's not the place for you. We've been here this long, odds are we're here until we retire 15-18 years from now.

But man, Iqaluit has tested us these last two months. We're not packing up, not even close. But we have questioned the wisdom of moving to the Arctic.

It has been cold in Iqaluit the last two months. Yes, it's the Arctic in winter. It should be cold. There was an incident about eight years ago where it rained for a few days at the end of February. You would have thought the Apocalypse had happened. We're used to cold. Cold is expected. It's nice even.

I've viewed the cold (including wind chill) at three levels. There's cold (0 to -20), Cold (-20 to -45), and Fucking Cold (-45 and colder). We've now entered a new realm. It is known as "What in the name of holy fuck is this" Cold.

As I write this on Friday night, there is an Extreme Cold Warning in effect by Environment Canada. It's -37C with a windchill of -55C (-35F, -67F). Which is fucking cold. The problem is it's been that way most of the week. We've had more Extreme Cold warnings this week than we had all last winter. We've had more in the last two months than the last nine years combined. We had a day a few weeks ago where it went -44C with a windchill of -67C (-47F, -89F). That was, by far, the coldest day I've experienced since we moved here.

I asked on Twitter if anyone can remember a cold snap like this. Because we've only been here 10 years. We are not experts on long-term Iqaluit weather trends. I had a guy who has been here since 1989. This is the longest streak of sustained cold he can recall.

(Btw, if you go, "Huh, so much for climate change" I will smack you. Seriously)

But there's a catch to this that I don't think people understand down south when we hit this kind of sustained level cold. I think people believe "Well, that sucks. It's cold, bundle up or stay indoors until it passes." But when it goes on for months like this, there are all kinds of effects you might not think of. I'm not exaggerating when I say the mental health of people in town is starting to take a serious hit.

Let's look at some of the things that happens with this kind of sustained cold.

1. Things start breaking. Everyone has a horror story at this point. Our car battery died before Christmas. It died while the car was plugged into the house with a block heater and battery blanket going (it has died a couple of times previously, so it was on its last legs). So that was a tow to the garage and a new battery. Or, $550. I've gotten off easy.

Pipes freeze or burst. My next door neighbour had some kind of horror show happen where the truck water guys accidentally flooded his house. He can't live in it for months and the repair bill could push $100,000.

Adding to this is the airlines are seemingly having difficulty running in this cold. So cargo is apparently weeks behind on some orders. So when your car breaks, it's taking a couple of weeks to get the parts in.

Trying to get vital elements of your life repaired when it is bitter cold outside...just a touch stressful.

2. The schools/daycares close when an Extreme Cold Warning is issued. Which makes sense. Yes, people who have been up here a long time have a high tolerance for cold. I saw kids playing hockey on a makeshift outdoor rink when it was -50C. I saw a lunatic biking to work this morning when it was -54C. But you don't want kids standing outside waiting for a bus in it, or having kids walk home in it.

But when schools/daycares close, it leaves parents scrambling. Some bring their kids to work with them, or have to burn sick days to stay home. It's a small town; there are limited options for taking care of kids in situations like this, especially when they go on for days. It causes serious spikes in stress levels.

It also means people are getting pretty frustrated with the schools, which are following the guidelines, but it hasn't stopped people from lashing out. So that means kids, parents, teachers and administrators are all in a pretty foul mood right now.

3. Mercifully I haven't heard of anyone seriously hurt by this cold, but the risk is there. It does not take long for skin to freeze in this if you're not careful. Minutes. I try to walk to the post office and back from my office once a day on my break. Just for some exercise and fresh air. It normally takes 15 minutes. I haven't done it in weeks. Too cold to risk it.

Iqaluit also has, like most cities, a homeless problem. They go to shelters or stay in over-crowded housing or other situations. Again, the stress of trying to stay warm and safe during this level of cold is high.

Iqaluit just isn't a happy place right now. There's too much sustained cold which is generating a lot of stress and unhappiness. You can't stay outside for any length of time without a lot of bundling, which can do weird things to people. It really does feel like people's tempers are quicker. People aren't happy. This can be a rough time of the year, just from the lack of daylight (although it's getting better each day). But the cold is certainly adding to matters.

It also doesn't look like it's going to break anytime soon. The forecasted high (without windchill) for the next week is -28C. I don't think I've seen warmer than -25C since well before Christmas.

Yes, I live here and I choose to live here. And yes, this a freakish event. I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't get a single Extreme Cold Warning at all next winter.

Still, if you talk to someone from Iqaluit in the next couple of weeks, treat them gently. We've all had a rough winter.

Last Five
1. Always look on the bright side of life - Spamalot Cast Recording (seriously) *
2. Love to lover - Florence and the Machine
3. Sentimental tune (live) - Tegan and Sara
4. London burning (live) - The Clash
5. Message in a bottle - The Police (live)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Best Graphic Novels of 2014: 10-8

So onwards with the list that literally six of you are reading....

10a. Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More
10b. Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Yes, I'm cheating already. But these two books are linked. Recently, Marvel Comics noted that there are more than white guys in the world and that some of them might like comic book characters that were more like them. Such as women. Or non-white people. So they're in the middle of a push to diversify some of their line. She-Hulk, Elektra, Black Widow, Ghost Rider (hispanic male). Thor is now a woman. Captain America is black.

This is not gone over well in some narrow minded geek circles, and not all of these books have succeeded. But they've all gotten pretty good critical attention. My two favourite of the bunch are these two books.

This is the second run of Captain Marvel by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and it's much better than the first. Her first time on the Captain had some iconic moments (punching a dinosaur is always a win), but the writing was a bit erratic, and the art ranged from awful to quirky. She was also handicapped with too many cross-overs that took away momentum.

This time she has a top notch artist with David Lopez who brings a fun, energetic and clean art style to the book. And DeConnick seems like she has a better idea of where she's bringing the story. Sending her into outer space so she's helping people being harassed by pirates and threatened by a galactic empire works much better. Throwing in the Guardians of the Galaxy as guest stars doesn't hurt sales either. The book is much more fun this time around, but just as importantly, much more focussed.

Ms. Marvel is following a tried and true Marvel formula - misunderstood teenager gets super powers and decides to fight crime. It's almost impossible to do it better than Spider-Man. But G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona come pretty damn close. I've read a lot of teenage superhero origins. This is one of the best I've ever seen.

Kamala Khan is a teenage girl in New Jersey, who has a huge heart, but between her strict Muslim parents who are terrified of what impact western culture is going to have on their daughter, and people at school who mock her because she's "different" it can be hard. Then, like you would, she gets super powers (she's technically an Inhuman, if you care about such things). She can change her appearance, heal quickly and grow or shrink in size.

Some wrote this book off as Marvel trying to political correct, which is insane. I'm not the target audience for this book, but you can still see quality from a mile away. It's fun, it's got energy and Khan might be the best new comic book character, and costume design, I've seen in years. As I said, she's got a big heart, but right now she's terrible at being a super hero. Which she should be. I'm just glad to see Alphona back doing comics after Runaways. And Wilson is crafting something special.

Peter Parker's mantra has always been "With Great Power comes Great Responsibility." In a stroke of genius Wilson quotes the Quran as to what drives her. "Whoever kills one person, it is as if they have killed all Mankind and whoever saves one person it is as if he has saved all Mankind." And that's why she chooses to be a hero.

They're both ones to watch. Captain Marvel gets her own movie in 2018. If there's any justice Ms. Marvel won't be far behind.

9. Moon Knight: From the Dead

From the Dead is the kind of book you want to study and rip open the guts of if you want to be a comic book writer or artist. Learn from it and steal it's magic.

Moon Knight is a character Marvel hasn't been able to figure out what to do with for decades, coming off as a poor man's Batman. Even the great Brian Michael Bendis couldn't get a series to last longer than a year, a rare misfire for someone who hasn't had many in the past 15 years. But writer Warren Ellis specializes in taking damaged characters, fixing them up and given them to others to play with.

From the Dead isn't even Top 10 Ellis, really (When you have Transmetropolitan, Planetary, The Authority and Global Frequency on your resume, the bar is set pretty high on new work). It seems deceptively slight. I burned through it pretty quick my first time through. But the second read is when I started paying attention. Ellis is always trying to find new ways to tell a story. This might be the least talky book Ellis has ever written. Instead, he lets artist Declan Shalvey do the heavy lifting.

There are six, stand alone stories in this book. The art is marvelous in all of them, but has a unique feel. Each story sees Ellis and Shalvey trying new techniques. But one has something I've never seen before. Eight people being targeted by a sniper. The way their story is told, and how their deaths are handled is a masterclass in storytelling. Shalvey deserves awards for his work on that story alone.

As for Ellis, as always, he finds the angle to make the story work. And it's a simple one. What kind of man wears a bright white suit (literally, in this case. It's a white three piece suit with a hooded mask) and goes out at night to fight crime when you can see him coming. That he wants his opponents to see him coming. Is he just plain crazy, or is he the kind of crazy you want to run away from very, very quickly?

There are a few answers to that question hinted at here. And like he's done before, Ellis is happy to lay the groundwork and offer hints before moving on. Moon Knight was never a character I cared much for. Six issues was all it took for me to wish Ellis and Shalvey were sticking around.

8. Magneto: Infamous

The best X-Men book of the year is about their greatest villain.

Lord knows there's no shortage of X-books. There was All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Amazing X-Men, X-Men, and then spin-off books with Nightcrawler and Storm. Plus however many dozen Wolverine books there were. And I read a few of them. But Magneto was top of the class.

Then again, he's always been the most interesting character in that universe. A deeply conflicted man who went through horror as a child, grew up vowing "Never again" only to discover that he had the power to make good on that vow. He's been cast as a villain, a hero, a teacher and now he's just dangerous. Enemies of mutantkind are re-emerging, more dangerous and clever than before. He won't allow that to happen.

The premise is that due to a big crossover that you should in no way care about, his powers are broken. He can no longer throw tanks into orbit with a flick of his finger. Moving the smallest metal thing require effort. And somehow this makes him more dangerous. He can be terrifying using, literally, a paperclip.

There's clever writing going on here. It's a fascinating character study of a man who knows he's far from his glory days, finds dark humour in it, but is still determined to do what he thinks his right, no matter what the body count or his own personal damnation. There's smart story structure. My favourite being the hook in the open few pages, where a Starbuck's employee compares what he does to what Magneto does. And it absolutely works. It even gets reference later in the story in a clever way

Gabriel Walta and Javi Fernandez but provide solid, occasionally very flashy artwork. It's nice stuff. But it's Cullen Bunn's story that sings. I'm looking forward to see where he takes Magneto next.

Last Five
1. Tighten up - The Black Keys
2. Lost together - Blue Rodeo*
3. VCR - The XX
4. Go to sleep - Sarah Harmer
5. Alice Springs - Liz Phair