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Long Weekend on the Road (International Edition)

I was a little taken aback by how strongly my wife approved of my suggestion that for this year’s anniversary trip, we should take the Clipper to Victoria, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

“Because I want to have high tea,” Julie explained. “At the Empress.”

Well, okay. It seemed out of character for Julie, but okay. On our anniversary I can refuse her nothing.

The Empress Hotel IS a magnificent old place. But high tea there is overrated, believe me.

I’d had high tea at the Empress, twenty years ago. Back then, I had thought it a ridiculously overpriced meal that consisted of tea, sandwiches so tiny that they ought to have been ashamed to bear the name, and various similarly tiny desserts, all served by incredibly snooty waitstaff that seemed to think we should have been swooning over the privilege of sitting in an ornate white room and made to feel slovenly and classless while we ate our sliver of tuna sandwich. I’d been certain that they only kept a straight face long enough to run to the kitchen and burst into hysterical laughter at the stoopid American tourists paying thirty-five dollars a plate for a cup of tea and a couple of cookies covered in frosting.

Victoria itself, though, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, is a wonderful city and a trip there sounded like a lot of fun. I’d always meant to go back there and this was the perfect excuse. Tea and overpriced sandwiches notwithstanding.

Besides, riding the Clipper is a great time by itself. At least in summertime.

Plus it’s way easier. The regular ferry to Victoria leaves from Anacortes, up north, an hour’s drive or so from where we are, and then the ferry itself takes about four hours. What’s more, they drop you in Sidney, a little town that’s quite a ways out of Victoria, and you’re on your own from there. It would have been our whole day.

The Clipper is a hydrofoil that leaves from downtown Seattle and makes much better time, getting you to Victoria’s Inner Harbour in about two and a half hours or thereabouts, and they’ll shuttle you right to your hotel, too. The only downside is that you can’t bring your car.

This should give you a better idea of the geography. The Clipper leaves Seattle downtown and winds up through north Puget Sound before making the final sprint across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria.

Really, it’s a lot like flying commercial, except you can go out on deck and admire the view, if you feel like stretching your legs.

Took this from the rear deck. The western shore of Whidbey Island, which is incidentally another great place to spend a few days bookscouting, if you've a mind to.

Anyway, not to shill endlessly for them or anything, but they took good care of us and the package deal with the hotel was amazingly cheap considering it was the peak of the summer season. Here’s their web site if you live in the area and are in the market for a vacation that starts with a boat ride.

The point is, if you don’t mind getting up a little early, you can board an early sailing on the Clipper in Seattle and be in downtown Victoria well before lunchtime, with most of a vacation day still ahead of you. Which is what we did.

Took this on the pier in downtown Victoria, waiting to clear customs.

The punch line, though, was that on the boat the staff is endlessly pushing various Victoria attractions and tours and when they announced their eagerness to assist us with Advance booking for High Tea at the Empress for only sixty dollars each, make your reservations now! my bride almost choked on her coffee. “Sixty dollars each? No way,” Julie said firmly.

I hadn’t said a word; it was our anniversary, I’d have done it if that’s what she wanted. But I admit to being relieved she’d changed her mind.

Instead, we went with our usual vacation plan… which is to say, no plan at all, other than to bumble around and stop anywhere that looked interesting.

Victoria’s built for that. Downtown, especially, is full of little touristy shops and entertainments and tour buses and what not.

Everywhere you go in Victoria it seems like someone is offering you a walking map of downtown, or at least has one next to the cash register. They even have them pasted to the light poles at crosswalks with a helpful YOU ARE HERE notation. This is one of the better ones we found.

Julie had seen an advertisement on one of the tour flyers for a place called Beadworld, on Johnson Street. My wife loves beads and crystal and handmade jewelry with the same fervor that I love old men’s adventure pulps, and this seemed like sort of compensation for not doing high tea after all. (I try to give Julie first dibs on activities for our anniversary trips.)

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So once we’d dropped off our luggage at the hotel, we struck out for Beadworld. Our handy tour map told us that the 500 block of Johnson Street was more or less on a direct line north from our hotel, straight up Government Street in front of the Empress.

But, as often happens, we were distracted by something on the way.

Total tourist trap, no question. But a fun one.

Miniature World is just exactly what it sounds like: a museum of model trains, dollhouses and dioramas of all kinds.

One of the many historical cityscape models....

It really is worth it. The sheer craftsmanship involved in the construction of the things is astounding.

...and here it is with Julie's hand in front of it, to give you a notion of scale.

But what isn’t mentioned in any of the brochures or postcards or websites or anything about Miniature World is that it’s not just all model railroads. There is a huge nerdgeek somewhere on staff, because this is the first exhibit.


There’s a whole hallway of spacescapes, spaceship models and dioramas, complete with moving ships and lights and all sorts of amazing stuff.


It’s lit mostly with blacklights, so it really sells the illusion that you are standing in a tunnel in some asteroid mining station.

The hallway itself -- or 'Avian Deck A, Space 2201,' the exhibit's official title. The dioramas are set up to be viewed through portholes.

I think if I’d seen this when I was eleven, my head might have exploded from the sheer awesome. I probably would have tried to live in that hallway until it was time to go to college.

Unfortunately, the darkness that helps create the illusion also makes it very difficult to get pictures. But I tried.

And when you emerge from the “Space 2201″ hallway to enter the historical western section with all the tiny frontier towns and so on, you have this hanging in the hall to greet you.

Trekkies REPRESENT, yo.

I mention all this just to make the point, once again, that Our People are EVERYWHERE.


We spent a little over an hour in Miniature World, doing the tourist thing, then set out for Johnson Street once more.

Here’s a brief aside. When I was visiting Chicago twenty years back, there was a section of town, Lincoln Avenue or thereabouts, called Bookseller’s Row. And it was lined with the most amazing antiquarian bookstores. It was a Disneyland for book collectors. No idea if it’s still there or not (I suspect not) but I’ll never forget the afternoon I spent there. It was the high point of the trip.

Well, my friends, the 600 block of Johnson Street in Victoria is Comic-seller’s Row. Seriously. There are four different stores there and they all looked amazing:

Legends Comics, winner of Canada’s Joe Shuster Award….

Didn't find out till I looked it up at home upon our return that it was an award winner, or we'd have probably stopped in.

Curious Comics

This seemed more about the games and toys, so we passed it by.

And literally next door to Beadworld itself was this place, Snowden’s Books.

The comics selection here was actually kind of sad... BUT the books paid off.

Since it was next door to Julie’s bead destination, it was the first place I actually looked into. Despite the promising sign outside, Snowden’s had a pretty lame selection of comics… just a cardboard box of quarter-bin trash by the front door. But I did turn up a couple of interesting finds, nevertheless.

The first was this C.S. Forester omnibus collection.

I like these for the same reason I like Marvel Essentials. Just a big ol' chunk o'reading, all in one package.

You saw a lot of these hardcover greatest-hits omnibus collections on remainder tables in big-box bookstores in the early 1980s, most all of them from either Octopus-Heinemann or Avenel Books. They’re not particularly rare or valuable or anything, I just like them.

Three of my favorites. I'm all about the bulk.

And I’d been meaning to get around to C.S. Forester for years, anyway. (Most every old-school Star Trek fan adds Forester to the reading list once we find out Gene Roddenberry based Captain Kirk on Horatio Hornblower.)

I poked around for a little while longer, but nothing really jumped out at me. I bought the Forester and was on my way out the door when I saw, right in the vestibule, a wall of hardcover juveniles. (It was largely hidden behind the open door, as you entered — you couldn’t really see it was there until you were on your way out.)

So I gave it a glance, not expecting much… and by God, almost invisible, eighteen inches from the floor, were two pristine Trixie Belden hardcovers from 1971.

Always remember to check the lowest shelf!

Now, these were the least-collectible editions, dubbed ‘the uglies’ by Trixie fans in the know. But still, only five dollars each. Five dollars Canadian. I could easily double that on eBay if I felt like it, and anyway after researching them and writing about them just as collectibles, I thought maybe I’d take the time to actually read one, just to see what the shouting was about.

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So I took them back to the proprietor and bought them. He smiled at me and said, “Yeah, these are getting really scarce lately.”

I hoped my inner gloat didn’t show on my face. A bookstore guy that’s a little behind the curve is what bookscouts live for.

When I found Julie in Beadworld, she was just getting her purchases rung up. I showed her my finds and Julie was duly impressed at the Trixie Beldens, but what made us both smile was the clerk also straightening up at seeing them and saying, “Oooooh, I used to love those!”

Back out on Johnson Street once more, we tried to decide which of the comics retailers were the best bet. One of them had a gaming tournament going in full swing, so we ruled that out. Most of the others looked like they were primarily selling new stuff.

But Yellowjacket looked more like a place that had a good back-issue thing going on.

Curious, Legends, and YJ ALL looked like good shops -- they'd have to be, that close together -- but this was the one that looked most suited to us.

The display case that greeted us when we stepped inside instantly confirmed that impression.

Lust at first sight.

The proprietor, an older bearded fellow, greeted us with a smile and a nod as we came in, and we shot past the new stuff in the front to the longboxes of back issues in the rear of the store.

All kinds of good stuff, reasonably priced, but I made myself stop and consider carefully if something was getting reprinted soon or not. (When things like Gold Key’s Land of the Giants get the high-end hardcover treatment, you kind of have to assume that anything before 1975 is probably going to get collected sooner or later.)

What I settled on were some of the 1970s Charlton Phantom comics, by the amazing Don Newton.

Don Newton is praised for his Batman work, and rightly so, but really I think I like his Phantom stuff better.

Don Newton didn’t do the Phantom book for Charlton all that long, but what he did was magnificent. For me it often outshone his later work on Batman for DC.

I loved Newton's Phantom, especially when he inked it himself.

I found one more non-Newton Charlton Phantom, and threw it on the pile just because it was cheap. We took it up to the register and there was League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969 in a standup display. I’d missed it earlier that week and so I reached for it, then stopped.

Two more for the road.

“What?” Julie wanted to know.

I tapped the back cover. “Canadian pricing.”

“Oh, it’s all American pricing here,” the clerk explained. He waved a hand at the shelves. “We always use the American price on all our books.”

Well, that was a different story. American pricing in Victoria B.C. was — I think, that weekend, anyway — cheaper than it would have been from my regular store in Seattle. So I went ahead and got it along with the others.

By then it was late afternoon and we were too tired, really, to keep going, and anyway this was the first day of four…. no reason to burn through all the shopping on one day. So we decided to catch a bus back to the hotel.

The first day's loot.

That was actually a nice haul for an entire trip, let alone one afternoon… and I’d have thought we’d have peaked with comics at least after Johnson Street. But the best was yet to come. Victoria is a great book town.


…But this is getting rather long and this seems like a natural stopping place, so we’ll pick it up again… next week. See you then.


Happy Belated Anniversary!

I love these road trip columns of yours – can’t wait for the next installment!

I have both those Trixies. Actually I have the first fifteen in that particular edition. Used to get them at the D&C store for $1.79 apiece (I think). Hope you’re going to do a full review on these. I never did like the Marshland Mystery, but the Blinking Eye was one of my favorites.

The cover to Phantom #73 is beautiful! And the interior art is gorgeous – especially in panel three with the contrast between light and dark.

If it’s not too nosy – what does Julie like to read? I’ve been curious.

Great fun as always. This feature is my favourite thing on the internets.

We went to Victoria some years ago – we took the ferry, so we had our car, but we regretted it because the ferry takes so much longer than the Clipper, and we probably didn’t need our car. You’re right – it’s such a nice city. We did have tea at the Empress, but we didn’t think it was overrated – it was so filling we skipped dinner, so the price didn’t bother us too much. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on Humboldt Street right on the other side of the nunnery, which we could see from our window – on that map you show, it’s probably the thin reddish house southeast of the nunnery. I didn’t get to any comic book stores while we there, unfortunately. We did hit some used book stores, though, but they didn’t have any comics.

Nice post, as always. I love when you write about a place I’ve been, not only because it makes me nostalgic, but because I can see where you went as opposed to where I went.

Love the travel posts! Thanks

OK, now I’m going to have to dig for some Phantoms. Wow. I’ve always heard good stuff about Don Newton, but yeah, that’s good stuff.

A dog in a domino mask, dammit! How can that NOT rule?!

And if we didn’t all already love Julie for indulging you so much, the “SIXTY DOLLARS!?!” certainly makes us do so.

Ah, Canadian money. Back in…’95, I guess, I was on a school band trip to Toronto, and in one store (a mall bookstore, maybe?), I saw one of the Miracleman collections. And didn’t get it due to not being sure about the exchange rate, etc. Grr!

Because the damn Phantom of the Opera playing cards and key chain I got with the Canadian money instead get used so much instead!!!

Um…ok…don’t mind me.

If it’s not too nosy – what does Julie like to read? I’ve been curious.

Well, I am MUCH more of a reader than Julie is. But she likes old-school mysteries — Ellery Queen, Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe. Ideally with a touch of romance.

And comics once in a while, as well. At the moment she is reading The MAZE Agency graphic novel by Mike Barr and Adam Hughes. And she adored Stardust, I gave that to her when we were dating — but she first read that as the prose novel, we didn’t get the illustrated Charles Vess version till just a couple of years ago.

Happy anniversary, and great column, as usual. Although a native of the Pacific NW, I’d only been to Victoria once, for a brief weekend, but I really liked it and would love to take a longer trip, especially now that I know it’s a great place for books and comics.
I love those omnibus type editions as well. Right now I’m working my way through a nice single-volume editon of Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. And good call on those Phantom issues. I don’t think there’s any comic drawn by Newton that I haven’t liked, and I’d love it if someone would collect his brief run on Charlton’s Phantom…

I love that comicbook row. The only time I’ve been to Victoria was for a training stint for my job at the beginning of September, so it was still nice enough to head down there one afternoon and check out all of the stores, I think I ended up buying something unique from each of them while blowing $200 in the process. They all manage to provide an experience and deals so much more valuable than simply ordering books online. I quite liked it; in fact, the old head office where I was training was right next door to the “spinoff” store of … I think it was Legends? (It’s been a few years), and that was one was well-run as well.

Forget the nice weather and beautiful scenery, I’ll be coming back to Vancouver Island for the comics one day. :)

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