King Con! A dream come true

The previous two days had been horrendous. Melbourne insisted on cold and rain but we needed a nice sunny Autumn day. It was a chilly morning but the forecast for Saturday May 27 was favourable, as we gathered at the library to prepare the last few bits and pieces. It was going to be a beautiful day in more ways than one.

Everything was ready, we had worked hard for months to reach out to comic book creators, to games experts, to community groups active in different activities and fandom. We knew it was a good program with a good balance of events covering comics, games and pop culture.

We were confident of the program and the worked that'd gone into putting it all together. But even the best program can fail. What if there was some other event that we didn't know about? What if only a little bunch of people showed up? 

Did we do enough to promote it? I looked at the poster and smiled.

As the opening time approached, any doubts we had quickly vanished in thin air replaced by a concern. There was an enormous crowd gathering outside, ready to storm the library. 

It was a rush, a wave, a flood.

Had we underestimated how many people were coming through the library's doors? Would we have to turn people away? 

One thing became clear. Our first, little library comic con was a resounding success. Our first King Con! and we had already outgrown the space.

But we have to go back to 2019. Fel, a children and youth librarian, and I thought of putting a comic con-like event at the library. Our dream was to have a totally free event at the library that would bring everything we loved together. Authors, comics, video games, table top games, D&D, LARP, cosplay, pop culture, etc. An event that would bring different fandoms and interests together. And an event for everyone, from little kids, to young adults, to adults. 

We dreamed up the event, put a proposal together and it was supported by management. 

As we started planning the event and we started confirming festival guests, the pandemic arrived at our door. All doors where shut, we had to cancel the whole thing and put King Con! in the back-burner. That was such a disheartening day!

But no one can kill King Con!

Spring was in the air in 2022 when we started receiving some positive signals from management about King Con! They said there was a budget, they talked about 2023, and they wanted us to revisit our old plans and start again.

A committee was set up. Fel and I presented our idea and plans. Most of the event was already there, the main events we wanted, the authors, the games, who to contact. The work we had done previously paid off. 

Organising an event like this at the library takes months and even though we started planning in November 2022 for a May 2023 event, and we had an incredible committee of hard working library staff, we all wished we had a bit more time.

More time would be better. Sure. But as more and more people burst into the library, dressed as a Jedi, greeting everyone as they came in and directing them as best I could, I knew that we had created something special.

Libraries are there to serve the community, to cater for a diverse range of people and interests. While I'm proud of what we do every day and the fact that we continue to be a space that offers access to information and entertainment for free (an incredibly rare thing nowadays, where everything has a price tag). It's events like this that I have long wanted to see at libraries. And I have looked with envy from a distance, at Comic Con-versation in Sydney, Comic Gong in Wollongong, Dandy Con in Dandenong and the Comic Con events at YPRL in 2019. 

I've always felt that libraries are really good at having programs for babies, primary school children and adults. But I've always wanted more programs for young adults and programs that bring everyone together.

As the event unfolded, surrounded by characters from Star Wars, superhero comics and movies, manga and anime, fantasy and sci-fi books. 

As I saw a group of teenagers cosplaying Demon Slayer and other anime characters. 

As children laughed with Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood's Real Pigeons talk. 

As people of all ages joined Dean Rankine's comics workshop. 

As people gathered to see the Exodus LARPers battle each other and the Southern Rogue Saber Corps demonstrate their lightsaber fighting skills. 

As people of all ages gathered around tables to have a go at different table top games, Minecraft and VR games, and to go on a D&D quest. 

I knew that the dream Fel and I had was worth it. That the hard work the committee put into putting the whole event together was worth it. 

I didn't have time to feel the emotion in the course of the day. I was busy running around ensuring that everything run smoothly. That I was where I had to be. But at the end of the day, when I arrived home, totally exhausted and wrecked, I couldn't help but shed a few tears. Good tears, of joy and relief. 

We put an event together and the community joined us to party. King Con! is here to stay and we can't wait to start preparing next year's event.

A massive thank you to Fel (my co-conspirator), the whole King Con! committee for putting in 100% and then some more, for management for believing in our idea and supporting it, all the festival guests for fully embracing the event and being amazing all day, and the community for joining the party.

I love your courage...

To my son and his courage when facing anxiety

I love your courage
Breaking new ground
Exploring new sights
Opening new roads
Calmly facing storms in both, heart and mind

I love your courage
Taming the winds
With all will and might
Sailing with purpose
Following the sun and aiming for the horizon

I love your courage
Mastering the current
Washing away all fears
Carrying you further
Than you ever thought you could reach 

You feel vulnerable but you never surrender 
Never let yourself be taken by the current
And you climb mountains with firm steps
Soaking up the pain, striding ever forward

And when you face the unknown
When fear and anxiety grip you
Your voice doesn’t falter

You have your courage
To face the storm
Stand tall and
Be your own master

We Don't Know We're Strong Enough...

We don’t know we’re strong enough

That we hold the words, the power and the will

To build bridges and tame the storm

It’s good to be someone

With a purpose, with a path

It’s good to know you belong

That you’re not just one

You’re someone

A part of the whole



Despite the fears we held inside
We knew there was hope in the horizon
The salty breeze of the sea
Dancing in the waves carelessly
In the ocean we were born
On the plains we grew strong
Climbing mountains we greeted the sun
When we were young…

Despite the tears we held inside
We knew there was joy in the horizon
The high plains and snow peaks
Every stride a step with boldness and will
On the road we kicked the sand
On the mountain we did stand
As we roamed we learned to belong 
When we were one...

Despite the hate we held inside
We knew there was love on the horizon
The treacherous valleys and cliffs
That we embraced with generosity
Giving shelter to those in the cold
Giving hope to those that were sold
Sharing our hope of a future to come 
When we were old...

Despite the sorrow I held inside
When you passed away beyond the horizon
The desert of silence and grief
An oasis for all the future seeds
Creating anew from what was destroyed
Creating new suns where there was a void 
Fostering new dreams to be enjoyed
When you were gone.

The Chronicler

It was already lunch time and he had nothing. 

It dawned on him that if he continued like this he would not be able to pay the rent and would have to hit the streets again. 

Living in the streets was not pleasant, it wasn’t for everyone but he had managed for eight years and, perhaps, he should go back to doing just that. 

Despite the cold moments of winter, despite the starvation he often suffered, for some reason he missed those days. 

He missed being carefree, not having to clock in and out at set times, not having deadlines to meet with his articles. 

He wrote when he felt like it, or when he felt that inescapable urge to say something; to raise his voice and let people know a piece of his mind.

All that behind, now he had a rent to pay and a deadline to meet. 

He had chosen to go back into the the mad world that the majority of people populated. 

Even though he was aware it was not his natural habitat. Even though living in the streets or, better still, somewhere in the countryside like a self-sufficient hermit appealed to him, he had made the decision to enter the arena again and try to claim a place within the ‘mad habitat’.

It was not that he felt the need to be ‘normal’, or ‘grow up’, whatever that meant when his family or his ex-wife said it. It was, as usual, that he just felt he had to be part of the bigger picture. He had to play a part and he decided that his part was changing the world with his gift: words.

It was another selfless act. 

They would look at him with pity and anger again and tell him to ‘get real’. But he would not give up. Not this time. 

He knew he couldn’t change the world by himself, but he was confident that if he gave it all, if he managed to use the right words at the right time, talk to the right people, he could start a wave that together with all the other waves around the world would sweep the evil that was ruling the world.

More than four decades of life and still so naive.

He had lost count of how many times he had started the article this morning only to erase what was written. 

He took a deep breath and promised himself he would not have anything to eat until a first draft was completed. 

It was due tomorrow. They would not accept any delay and, more importantly, he knew today's words, whatever they might be, would be important.

The money he would receive for the column would pay the rent, it would buy some groceries but that wasn’t as important as the words themselves.

All his friends and family had deserted him, there was nothing left in his life but the writing.

He looked at the blank screen again, put his hands over the keyboard and started to type tentatively, not really thinking about what he wrote, just letting his fingers type whatever came to them. 

Words appeared on the screen, one after the other, constructing phrases that this time seemed to make sense. 

He moved his eyes off the screen and he typed faster more vigorously, not thinking, just letting himself go, and aware of that feeling that filled him when he wrote something that was worth it.

Good riddance 2020 and the right to dream in 2021

 Good riddance 2020, go back to the dark shadow.  

I didn’t write much for this blog last year but 2021 is here and I thought I'd share a few scattered thoughts and hopes inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s right to dream that he wrote in the turn of the millennium (see the video below).

Fair warning: The ideas below will be spilling out as they go and are not fully thought through.

The Right to Dream in 2021

In 2021, Covid-19 will evolve into a virus that will heal our battered and exhausted hearts and minds. As a side effect it will wipe out racism, homophobia, transphobia, science and truth denialism among many other ills in our minds

Health workers, educators, supermarket check out workers, cleaners, firefighters... they will be hailed as the essential workers and heroes who kept the world safe and spinning when those elected failed, not just this year but for decades

Those who looked the other way, who chose to do nothing, who put profit, business and economy above humanity, empathy, solidarity and health will see their fortunes reversed setting them on a path of learning and humility

People will no longer believe and spread lies and fake news. This will be followed by the sudden disappearance of trolls who will evolve and turn into creatures of light and wonder: unicorns and winged horses, for instance

Journalists will only be able to write the truth, whether their editors like it or not because ink will choose not to print lies and lies will not be able to be beamed or travel through the net, simply becoming a silence, a blank space

Governments and economists no longer will talk about GDP, growth, dollars and gold. Instead, they will measure people’s well being, happiness, access to homes, availability of affordable public transport and all essential needs

Military budgets will dry up completely and young people will embrace each other across borders and trenches ignoring orders that only inflict pain, suffering and sorrow in a cycle that perpetuates hate and death

Governments and politicians will realise that people can see they’re naked, that people cannot live off promises and that corruption will no longer continue with total impunity

No one will be arrested, condemned and imprisoned for shedding light on crimes against humanity, exposing corruption, lies and deceit, warning and protecting the world, seeking a better life away from conflict and persecution, dreaming of a better world

No one will be spied upon and persecuted, ridiculed and criminalised for loving our earth, protecting the rich diversity of life at risk due to our greed and materialism

No animals will be endangered anymore, with a sudden and unprecedented resurgence of life and trees; flowers and plants long not seen will blossom again

Some gods will vanish never to be seen again: Death, Weapons, Money, Coal, Oil. Instead people will put their faith in solidarity, empathy, love and understanding; everything that gives joy, warms hearts and betters life

Borders will no longer exist, there will be no refugees and flags will be buried with the realisation that our human nature is not one of greed, envy and self interest but as the social animals that we are, one of community as we all hold the same hopes and dreams, desires and needs

The old wars and conflicts will die and new wars will emerge: against climate change, poverty, water and food scarcity; against, hatred, injustice, inequality and racism; to cite a few

Wealthy elites, religious organisations and corporations will all pay their fair share of taxes with the abolition of tax havens, tax rebates and special treatment. From this revenue poverty will be erased, inequality abolished

The church will change the ten commandments, putting Earth and the universe as our prime concerns, from where all life emanates, proclaiming the existence of gods and spirits in all nature, in every tree, plant, rock, ravine, earth, wind and sky, which we must respect, nurture and celebrate; mandating sharing of gifts, food, and wealth, solidarity and free love

Police will lose all power, no one will die in police arrests and police custody, and as they head back to their homes in plain clothes, their weapons will turn to seeds from which olive trees will grow

Education and learning, health and well being, water, food, shelter, electricity, and all our basic needs will finally be free for all and not just for the privileged and those who can pay

A coalition of Indigenous People will take the reins of the nation and leading with example and generosity initiate a treaty process with the white settlers who so cruelly have treated them for so long

All in all, for this is becoming too unwieldy and too long, our laws will not be punitive, will not tell us what not to do, but what we can do and achieve; they won’t say follow this path blindly and within this narrow confines, instead they will encourage us to always aim for multiple horizons, through a myriad of traversing paths

And we will blossom into our positive, nurturing, social, human nature, in peace with our Mother, the giver of life, ceasing to kill and destroy, choosing to clean, reforest and rebuild; blossoming and flourishing as we turn the tide

21st century literacy with graphic novels

Reading is reading

We read books, newspapers, magazines, billboards, signs, notices, bills, websites, blogs, social media posts et cetera. When we read all those things, consciously or unconsciously we’re developing and using multiple literacy skills. Thanks to the internet and social media, we’re also increasingly relying on visual literacy and multimodal texts.

Comics have long suffered a stigma that is unfortunately frequently reiterated by teachers, parents and librarians. A child is reading a comic or wants to borrow one and a well-meaning grown up says, ‘Pick a real book. Do some reading.’ Every time this happens enormous damage is done, with children being turned away from reading the books that pique their interest.

A comic – a graphic novel – is sequential art. But what is the harm in that? Reading is reading and it is a well-known fact that children who read for fun and find pleasure in reading become lifelong readers. So let’s fight the stigma and discuss some of the literacy superpowers that can be gained by reading comics.

The power of comics

Comics come in all shapes, forms and genres. It is all too common for people to think of superheroes on hearing the word ‘comics’. However, the most popular and best-selling comics for young readers today are Raina Telgemeier’s humorous and heart-warming slice-of-life graphic novels, where she shares some of her life struggles, and Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man. As an English teacher noted, among all the fun and silliness of Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas, one page featured the words ‘shun’, ‘redundancy’, ‘eschew’, ‘reiteration’ and ‘recapitulation’.

We know that comics are attractive to children. They appeal to them because of their visuals; however, we also understand that comics are multimodal texts where the reader needs to use multiple literacies to make meaning. Think about the Dog Man words mentioned earlier. These are very high-level, but the power of comics makes them easier to understand as readers can infer meaning from the images.

It is this perfect blend of the written word and visual narrative – with the added bonus that readers are in complete control of the experience – that makes comics incredibly rich and complex texts. Novels offer no visuals. Movies offer visuals but no words and a viewer has no control over the pace of viewing. With comics, words and visuals complement and enrich each other. Even better, readers are in complete control of what they focus their attention on and how quickly or slowly they decode and read the text.

Multiple-literacy superpowers

Borrowing and adapting the New London Group’s multiliteracy model from 1996, five literacies that readers have to use when reading comics are:

  • linguistic (written language)
  • visual (mood through colours, shading, composition et cetera)
  • gestural (body and facial language)
  • spatial (panels, layout …)
  • symbolic (icons, balloons, visual representations and emanata).

In order to make meaning, the reader has to look at all of these elements, decode and interpret them, and then combine them all to make meaning. It may be argued that by combining all of these elements, the reader is working much harder than when reading a book or watching a movie. Best of all, studies have shown that readers benefit from greater information retention because they have to decode so many different elements using multiple literacies. This is why graphic novels are increasingly being used in classrooms, including in tertiary education.

Additionally, comics model some excellent literacy practices for readers, such as:

  • precise, concise and rich language (Jaffe 2014)
  • visuals supporting and strengthening memory recall with higher neural connections (Jaffe 2014)
  • a higher incidence of median words and rare words than junior fiction, comparable to adult fiction (Center of Teaching and Learning)
  • learning complex non-verbal communication (Kullberg 2018; Jaffe 2014).

Comics demand the writer to be concise. They don’t have long paragraphs and the constraints of the page demand that narration and dialogue are kept to a minimum. No word can be wasted, which forces the writer to be incredibly precise with the written word. This models excellent writing and offers rich vocabulary because every word matters.

Comics also offer a rich visual narrative with a multitude of tools for the artist to create meaning, for instance the shape of the panels, the colouring, the lines, the number of panels on the page, the shape of the speech balloons and emanata. They’re all elements the reader decodes to infer meaning. This is a complex task because often the visuals act as metaphors or contradict the text, forcing the reader to decode and establish their relationships.

In summary, comics are an excellent resource for educators because they engage struggling readers with a visual allure. They encourage reading because they don’t seem as daunting as a whole book filled with words. Comics help early readers to decode text with visual elements providing clues to support the reader. More importantly, comics extend the reading for advanced readers with the interaction of the written and visual narratives adding complex layers of meaning.

There are some great reasons for reading comics and graphic novels and they’re incredibly popular right now. Young readers are devouring Dav Pilkey, Raina Telgemeier and Aaron Blabey’s works (among many others). In fact, Pilkey’s Dog Man was the third best selling book in the US last year, despite coming out in July, and Raina Telgemeier’s Guts was in the top 15 despite coming out in October. Australian Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys books have been in the NYT Best Seller list for more than a year.

Hollywood and TV studios are adapting an enormous number of comics for the screen, but best of all, some of the most amazing, personal, independent and diverse titles being published right now are coming out as graphic novels. School curriculums are placing increasing emphasis on visual literacy and there is no doubt that the old stigma must be cast into the dustbin of history by librarians and teachers. The time to embrace the rich variety and depth that graphic novels have to offer is now!

This article originally appeared on SCIS’ Connections Magazine, Issue 115, Term 4 2020.  

The King

It was a cold morning of December and black clouds hovered in the sky, the threat of a storm coming.

The king hadn’t slept all night. Instead, he stared out of the window for the whole night with empty eyes, as if waiting for something that would most likely never come.

His eyes moved to the sky and recognised the threat of a furious storm coming. He had been a peasant, a farmer, most of his life, always looking to the sky and praying to the gods for good weather to come.

“Days long gone…” he said to himself but there was no one to hear him.

Turning his back to the window, as if the morning had shed light to a view he didn’t want to see, he walked away to the darkness in the centre of his hall.

Silence filled the air, a heavy silence that posed no threat but there was a weight to it, as if the silence knew the burden he carried in his heart.

His eyes moved all around the hall. The big tapestries on the wall, the swords and axes, the jewels and the paintings, all the gold and wealth overwhelmed him once again.

His eyes turned to the throne that lay high in the room where the light gave way to shadows, as the memories hit him again.

The time when Koldar had ruled the lands, when hope was nowhere to be seen, when fire and destruction were the everyday bread.

The days when he stood against that evil, against the doom, and people followed him with sudden hope in their eyes.

The days when he had risen as a warlord and had led armies.

The days when he was respected, when he had become a hero, when he had led the war of the peasants against the corrupt masters.

“…and now, what have I become?” he whispered softly as he flopped on the throne, not daring to break the silence surrounding, afraid somebody could hear his words.

(fragment of The Dark Throne, believed to be based on Artanor nar Bruem, King of Galador; writer unknown)

I wanted to travel

I wanted to travel

to see your faces

to feel your embrace

and I caught your scent

stepped on the sand

braved the roaring waves

Leaving the winter cold

immersed in your warmth

the summer breeze

the hustle and bustle

the familiar old streets

of my vanished youth

I packed all I needed

my heart, my soul, my will…

to be with you one more time

years without your caress

the comfort of your smile

your breath of joy and life

It’s cold in Mordialloc

the wind cuts to the bone

and you fill my thoughts

my friends, my blood

my other home 

Breaking the news

 We sit at the table for breakfast with a good spread of fresh fruit and cereals. The football season, or soccer as they call it in this country, was meant to start at the end of March but the pandemic put everything on hold.

The little man has missed a lot of things during the lockdown, his friends, Taekwondo, visits to the library, watching movies in the big screen… but when everything started to reopen it was football that was most in his mind.

Training in the dark, in the cold, for weeks, he has been so focused to be ready for the first game that I don’t know how to break it to him. I’ve noticed that he’s been eating less sweets and has been asking for healthier foods. He has also been asking to watch videos of Messi, so he can observe and learn from the best. Only nine years old and so committed!

A smile blossoms in his face as he gazes at me lost in my thoughts. He’s in such good spirit, how can I break the news? But really, I can’t wait any longer. It’s Thursday and his first football game was meant to be this Saturday.

He senses something’s on my mind. “When you come back from work, we can play Exploding Kittens,” he says.

I smile. If it was up to him we’d be playing Pokemon but he knows I like Exploding Kittens much more.

“Sure,” I respond and decide to just let it out. “The football season has been cancelled. We’re on lock down again.”

A shadow appears in his forehead, his eyes darken for an instant.

“That’s a shame,” he says containing his emotions.

“I know, you were so looking forward to it.”

“It’s okay dad,” he says as his eyes brighten up and the shadow vanishes from his forehead. “We all need to do all we can to stop this Covid thing.”

Nine years old and sometimes, it seems like he’s taking it all in better than myself. I haven’t slept well worrying about what a second lock down means and the effects it will have on so many people.

We embrace, giving energy to each other.

“When you come back from work, can we play football in the park?” he asks.

“Of course,” I reply.

If innocence is a crime II

If dreaming, aiming of a better tomorrow

Treading the path of hope and utopia

Is a crime we must bury and burrow

If freedom is a risk to be contained

Legislated against, fought and curtailed

For the right to hate and discriminate

If money is to be prioritised and elevated

No matter the human consequence

The sickness and death it has cultivated

If the earth is to be raped and plundered

Single mindedly ignoring the devastation

Extracted, polluted and sundered

If racism and sexism are to be elevated

Once again to the halls of power

With impunity lust and hate never sated

If innocence is the crime of our days

Aiming for human rights and justice

Equality and solidarity, lost in a maze

Let us not pretend there’s a place for us 

In memory of Ursula K. Le Guin

 No words can ever do her justice... 

One of the greatest writers of the 20th century; perhaps, the greatest. 

An extraordinary and uncompromising writer with the incomparable ability to imbue every word, every paragraph with deep meaning and yet make her writing accessible.

There’s no way I would be half of what I am without Ursula K LeGuin’s books. 

She challenged me, she made me reflect and think, she offered me insights, possibilities, wonders I could never have imagined and rewarded me by opening and expanding my mind and understanding.

She changed everything in literature with her perspective and deep humanity.

She was powerful, uncompromising, a feminist and an anarchist. 

I’d like to think that she’s gone to a better place, perhaps one of those places that she created, or perhaps a new, even better place the Ekumen hasn’t reached yet.

As Neil Gaiman says, her words are written in my soul. She’ll continue to live in us.