Socially Distanced Chad Reports from the Belly of the Pandemic Whale! a.k.a. How you doin’?

chachachad 1

Hi folks!

How are you doing?

No, really. How are you doing? 

I’m really curious as to how people are handling all this craziness lately. I, for one, have been bad at social distancing (more on that later). Normally, my articles have some kind of focus on a product or list or whatnot. I read things, I rank things, I play with toys—you get the idea. Today, I’m just going to be socially distant. There’s not so much a product at play, as a reflection of the time, for posterity’s sake.

Bear with me for this week.

It all started on Monday, when I went into work to snag some materials to help make working from home easier. Especially if online everything continues into next year, which I think is a safe bet, there are books and post-it notes and materials necessary to make the magic happen. After walking into my empty classroom with all the kids’ projects strewn about the floor (apparently I left my windows open on the day regular society paused), I snagged whatever materials I thought I would need. I couldn’t help noticing how normal everything else was—my desk was still cluttered with day to day paperwork—except it is all paused now. Pardon me for being melodramatic, but it was like seeing the watches frozen in place at times of sudden disasters—it’s just eerie. 

Then, instead of heading straight home, I met up with my friend Mike for some tennis—a fine socially distanced activity. I know you’re not actually supposed to be social during these times—but we all need exercise. With tennis, you’re always 6 feet and a protective net apart from your opponent. For longtime gotstratosphere fans, Mike is the guy who came with me and Stew on our C2E2 trip just for fun. He chided me for writing my regular articles about toys or comic books in the middle of this unprecedented time. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but he essentially told me, “Nobody wants to read about Deadman! Nobody wants to read about 1980’s Deadman books normally, but especially not now!”

You can still read about it if you’d like.

He has a point. Initially, I argued the flip side of the equation. People most likely come to this site to escape the craziness of the outside world, but sometimes it’s important to reflect on what’s going on. If you’re looking for escapism, today’s article ain’t that. Today’s more about catharsis. Plus, years from now, when I look back on my articles, shouldn’t there be at least one that tackles what is likely the major defining event of the decade, if not generation? I remember the difference between the pre 9/11 and post 9/11 world—I feel like this is going to be something just as if not bigger in terms of changes. So here goes my attempt to capture this particular part of time.

Shout out to my pal Jamie for letting me share his socially distant Scorpion!

The Business Shut Down!

We talk about comics a lot here, which are distributed through comic shops primarily, and those are small businesses. Online, too, I guess, but that’s a different beast.

In the state where I’m located, all ‘nonessential’ businesses have been shut down for at least 8 weeks now. There’s a slight light shining in the tunnel here as openings are just starting to expand beyond the most basic essentials in the last few days, but that’s a long time for a business to not open its doors. On the consumer end for the most part, because most restaurants, groceries, and big box stores like Target and Walmart have been open, I still have access to the majority of the stuff I would normally look to purchase. But that doesn’t mean this has impacted me personally in a couple of ways. 

First, and probably the biggest, is the small business where I helped out on Saturdays closed up shop. It’s probably the coolest job I’ve ever had. It was a video game/movie store that paid cash or store credit for items that they then resold. Think GameStop, but if you could sell and trade movies and toys and retro stuff there, too—and if the pricing and payments were more fair. Basically, I would hang out and talk about video games and movies all day while cleaning, cataloging, or testing stuff that came through the door. Like any small business, we had our regulars, including lots of folks whom I genuinely care about. I worry about the folks that would come in not just to buy or sell things,  but would need us to download updates patches for them or solve their home IT problems while we sold them PlayStation games and gave movie recommendations. The small services we did at our location felt like they had value in the community, and unfortunately because of the shut-down, we had to close up shop without even so much as a going out of business sale. I’m sure it’s not the only small business whose doors will remain closed, which is definitely a sad thing. If you can, try to get a way to support the places you care about to help them get through this rough patch.

And now I’m out as far as access to cool video game and movie stuff! Couple that with the shuttering of most conventions this year, and my financial situation got that much more challenging. Let’s hope the car passes inspection this fall easily without new brakes or rotors or tires!  I’m still lucky enough to have my main source of income still going—I know a lot of people aren’t as fortunate. Many people in my life have lost work and the unemployment situation is an absolute mess right now. I know a lot of friends in small business and retail and who work in the gig economy that are struggling a lot more, so I’ll count my blessings.

The Comic Scene!

On the comic front, we have a bunch of different stories going on. The first I’ll talk about is the shop that the Ghosts of the Stratosphere normally hit up for Free Comic Book Day events, the Phantom of the Attic. Free Comic Book Day would have been yesterday. It is…postponed. I know companies like Source Point Press are having some kind of offerings, but the overall hullabloo will have to wait. Phantom is a great comic shop, and they’ve moved to an online business model. 

https://stores.comichub.com/phantom_of_the_attic

I highly encourage anyone interested to check out what they have to offer to fill in gaps in your collections or to find that trade you’ve been waiting on picking up. If there were more recent issues of comics you meant to pick up but never made it to the shop, they have those, too. I’m not sure if they’re carrying the new DC comics, but they have plenty there to make a go of things. Plus, they ship quickly and my materials I ordered were very well-protected. They are definitely mail-order friendly for the serious collector. I hope they do well making a legitimate go of things. I put in an order yesterday because, well, in normal times, I would’ve been there. When they can open up normally again, I’ll be there then, too.

Nope.

Other places are…less legitimate. I’m not naming names because snitches get stitches, but I do know of one comic shop that is still operating. It’s open sign is off, but the doors are open, and you could wander on in if you were so inclined. I struggle with this one a bit. Is this shop doing the right thing? Probably not. Social distancing measures are in place for a reason—to protect all of us.

Is it doing the right thing for the owner? As far as I know, rent is still due each month. The comic business relies heavily on people checking in regularly for their items, and without being available regularly, he might lose that business permanently. The small business loan program from the government left out a lot of businesses before it ran out, so that’s a factor, too. It seems like business-wise, it makes more sense for him to go against the public health and stay in business rather than suffer for doing the right thing. 

On the consumer end, should I support it? Probably not. But it does feel like getting booze from a speakeasy during prohibition. He’s like the Dukes of Hazzard with the ‘shine. There’s a certain element of danger and excitement and ridiculousness—but it’s for comic books!

Also on the comic front, New Dimension Comics, the company that puts on the 3 Rivers Comic-Con, which Ghosts of the Stratosphere had a wonderful time at last year, has had to cancel their convention this year. They were planning a big expansion of the show, but now that’s on hold–just like most major gatherings of people. I’m not sure if their stores are online, I haven’t seen any word or social media announcements saying otherwise, so I’m assuming they are riding the storm out. Maybe their loan application went through?

It does raise the question about conventions in general. I’m a huge fan of conventions, and have been on all sides of the equation: worker, presenter, panelist, attendee, and as press. What will they look like on the other side of Covid? I’ve never been to a con where people were 6 feet apart. I have seen plenty of folks wearing masks, though. Maybe cosplay sees a big boom out of this whole thing.

On the comic distribution front, you may have heard how Diamond Comics had stopped sending out new books. From a consumer perspective, it sucks, because there aren’t new things right now. From a business perspective, it makes sense. Most stores aren’t allowed to be open. Continuing to distribute new material would either put stores at a supreme disadvantage if they did follow procedures and stay closed—-or force them to undertake riskier practices to be open and get books to customers. Not everyone is ready or willing to risks their lives or their employees to get comic books out there with a curbside model or otherwise. I totally understand that.

Then, DC Comics made an announcement that they were going to use two new distributors (one is basically Discount Comic Book Service and the other is Midtown Comics from New York) to get a handful of new books out to the market. It’s a questionable decision at best. No comic shop owners that I’ve spoken with or read on social media enthusiastically support the plan. Retailers don’t want to support one of their competitors—especially when they didn’t really have a choice as to which competitor they ordered from. And, by putting some new stuff out there but not all new stuff, it creates a weird dynamic. It puts fans and retailers behind the 8 ball. Now, in the event that some places are open and some are not, some fans are going to be behind, or comic shops are going to be backlogged with material they couldn’t get access to. Then, once things do open up, where does the already limited money go? To picking up what people missed or the steady stream of new products? 

It’s interesting to note that Diamond is supposed to start shipping new materials again for May 20th release. Are they going to be putting stores behind the 8 ball, too? It does seem like the worst of this first round is behind us at this point and things are starting to open up more—but a lot of places still aren’t open yet. Initially, it seemed like Diamond was doing the right thing as far as the social well-being, although business considerations surely played a part. If stores can’t pay for books, Diamond can’t pay their bills and so on and so forth. Moving forward, some places might be able to open and some not. Some folks might head online for comics or some might drop the habit altogheter. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I would be lying if I said I knew what the best answer was for dealing with this craziness. I guess we’ll all see what plays out soon enough, if we’re lucky.

Media!

In media news, there also have been plenty of interesting topics and subplots.

First, the positives: My favorite shows came back! 

MTV’s The State re-united to release a quarantined edition of Porcupine Racetrack to YouTube! I love the State, and couldn’t have been more elated to see this, even though parts are very frightening.

Hopefully this opens the door to more collaboration soon!

Parks and Rec released a new episode for charity! It aired this Thursday, and it’s a fundraiser to help people facing food insecurities. Check out the episode here or to find information to make a contribution to feeding America that will be matched through May 21st.

The ten main cast members all made appearances as did a ton of the best side characters. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say I heard Perd. This show was exactly what I needed for a pandemic pick-me-up.

Let me remind you, this is my #2 favorite sitcom of ALL TIME! And it came back! Just for this! Everything totally fit the spirit of the show, and it just goes to emphasize what a special thing Parks and Rec is in the TV landscape.

Click the pic for the rest of my top 10 sitcoms!

This show is great regardless, because it’s one of the few shows that builds things up rather than tears them down, and right now, more than ever, that’s what we need. The wife and I have been doing a full-show rewatch through Netflix (again), and the show definitely holds up.

Speaking of Netflix, the Tiger King happened. I watched it. I was intrigued by the insanity of most if not all of the people involved. I’m not sure if it belongs in the positives, but there have been some cool new things popping up on the streaming services. The new Dave Chappelle Mark Twain Prize special is great, and Middleditch and Schwartz is fun. David Spade and Lauren Laupkis have a Netflix movie due out soon, so I’m pumped for that, too.

The other big streaming bit happened when Universal Studios released their new Trolls movie direct to streaming. That was cool, and a quick response to the crazy situation. Bloodshot and other movies that were in theaters when the shut downs started also found their way to online streaming rentals. Disney put out Onward and Frozen 2 practically straight to Disney Plus, and even Sony gave away 2 solid PS4 games: Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and Journey for free! Streaming and online services have been winning the day if only because nobody can go anywhere. Still, it’s nice to see them putting forth an effort to get interesting content out there.

Except, it turns out that AMC movie theaters were a little threatened by Universal trumpeting their Troll success. They’ve now announced that AMC theaters will boycott Universal movies if they continue this trend of streaming first releases instead of the traditional theater-first model. That’s when theaters are allowed to have people again.

In other media news—the news is bad. I don’t watch that any more with any frequency. Maybe once a week I’ll check in. Otherwise, I think of Kurt Vonnegut writing about how craziness is just a mixture of bad ideas and bad chemicals—and the news too often has both. No thanks!

Personal Stuff!

On the podcast front, Ghosts of the Stratosphere has picked up mostly without a hitch. Recording definitely is different as we needed to shift to online taping as opposed to all being in the same room, but we’ve adjusted fine and haven’t missed a beat (or a show release!). It was weird this week when we released a canned show where we played board games in person because people can’t do that right now—but it was nice to relive in a time when we could for an hour or so. I always feel like doing the show is our small part to help out during this craziness. I hope the audience feels the same :-).

Social Distance Disclaimer: …stay distanced until directed otherwise. We’ll all play board games together soon eventually!

Also on the really personal front, we adopted a dog! About a week into quarantine, my wife found a 6 year old Weimaraner on a pet finder app that needed a home. Jango has fit right into the family, and he makes us take him out daily for walks, too, which is also great for the fam. He loves the wife and is great with the kids. I wonder if he thinks we all just live like this normally?

Meet Jango. I asked if his name was Star Wars or Tarantino—it’s Star Wars.

In the mostly aggrivating personal news, I got into a car accident! I was out driving our two year old around so she could take a nap, and another car turned into my lane and my car. Nobody was hurt, thank goodness. The kiddo didn’t even bother waking up from her nap until later. All damage was cosmetic in nature for both vehicles. Dealing with this is still inconvenient! It’s less inconvenient since I’m working from home, but still a pain in the backside. It’s funny because now there are way fewer travelers on the road, so you would think things would be safer–but I don’t think they are. I liken it to getting worse service in a restaraunt when there are fewer customers. You’d think it would be better service, but oftentimes you end up waiting longer. When we can go back into restaraunts, that is. Fewer drivers means less focus and more cosmetic repairs!

In surprising personal news, I don’t have nearly as much free time as I expected! As a family Chad, I’ve often thought about being a stay-at-home Chad and all the extra free time that would allow. No more commutes! Sweats instead of khakis! Crocs all the time! Instead, taking care of my family and cooking meals and taking the dog for walks and working from home actually seems to leave me with less free time than before. And dirtier Crocs! It’s a challenge I’ll gladly accept, even if I complain about it. I love my family and am grateful to have them. My wife is super cool and my kids are fun. And the Crocs clean up like a dream.

I’m sure everybody’s quarantine experiences are different, and they probably all have their benefits and drawbacks. My single friends I’m sure have way too much lonely time. I’m sure my married DINK (double income no kids) friends are busy driving their spouses crazy because they have no one else to buffer this. We all have our burdens to bear. Even when I’m feeling down, I try to think about the things I like and that I’m grateful for.

Continuously watching a loop of kids shows like Sesame Street and Muppet Babies (along with Frozen movie repeats) have helped me sing a lot of songs that help me deal with my feelings. If you’re struggling, hang in there. It’ll get better. Let me know if you need some Muppet Babies songs to help.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BDxibOJPTXc

I’m back to customizing action figures! Much to my wife’s dismay, I have used what free time I have to get back to painting and piecing together some toys. It’s a creative outlet for me that helps me to feel like I’m producing something. Like the other day, I painted spots on a plain white action figure to make…the Spot! It took me longer than you would expect!

Here’s ”I am not Daredevil” Matt Murdock from the Waid Samnee run and the Spot!

I’m hard at work on the second half of my Boss Fight Figure review that started last month. When the wife catches me, she yells and tells me I should be watching the kids or cleaning up—even though I’ve done those things already a lot. That’s ok, though. Like I said, we all have our burdens to bear.

In the this might be personal for you, too note—The kids aren’t in school to make Mother’s Day projects! This is a notice for my dear readers who made it this far and need reminded to get on some Mom-centric projects this week. Something tells me my wife will not want an action figure painted in her honor. Maybe if the kids make it. Still, don’t forget about all those moms both in your house and elsewhere who would be delighted to hear from you in some form or fashion. Plan accordingly!

Look for gotstratosphere.com to get in on the action as we rank our favorite moms from media starting later this week! I still need to start that article! Take care of your moms, people.

Style-wise, pandemic pants and Crocs are fashion wins! Comfy pants and slip on shoes are great. I missed out on the mask train, though. We had a bunch of fancy ones we mailed to a family member who is a front line medical worker (thank goodness for her and those like her) early on when the CDC said to not wear masks. Once they said to wear masks, I was out of luck. I cut up terrible towels and jeans for makeshift ones, but it seems like everyone else at the grocery has nice, not temporary masks on. I’ve gotta get on that train. I made the wife order me something cool from Etsy, so hopefully it’ll be here soon.

Ok. I think that’s enough. We covered a bunch. You got your small business report; your update on the comic scene; speculation about digital media and its effect on theaters; and a bunch of personal stuff that I usually try not to share online. You got to meet the new dog! That should keep you busy. Thanks to all the folks out there who are still keeping things going—medical workers, grocery and other essential business folks, people who are still pressing the buttons at Netflix! I appreciate you.

Don’t hesitate to drop a line in the comments or at me @chachachad on Twitter if you feel like sharing. I hope you’re doing well.

Until next time, don’t forget about your moms!

OOOOooOOOOooOOOOoooh!

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