Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Ohio Trip: Caves, Cartoons, Pierogies, and more!
Last weekend while many comics professionals were in San Diego for Comic-Con, Curls Studio went to new territory and spent a few days in Ohio. The main purpose of this destination was to attend the wedding of a close family member -- and since I mostly take time off from a full-time job to exhibit at comic conventions, we treated this event as a mini vacation. Here is a glimpse of our Ohio trip -- I got to visit Columbus for the first time. I'm not one to post my vacation pictures on Facebook or announce personal events online, but feel I do a great job as an "event planner" and take pride in being able to arrange trips in advance and have spontaneous fun if a discovery is made en route. I'm treating you all to this itinerary because a lot of the destinations involve comics-related journeys and cuisine fascinations that you'll enjoy. Please read on to take this trip with us...
We left the home base of Virginia on Thursday and made a half-way stop in Morgantown, West Virginia to eat and take a small break at Black Bear Burritos. I did a "build your own burrito" with spinach tortilla, kiwi salsa, tofu, and mushrooms. Joe ordered Thai One On with chicken. We also did "build your own nachos" for only $5 which included chips, queso cheese, black beans, and kiwi salsa. The nachos were excellent and I really dug the overall vibe in the restaurant. We didn't spend much time in West Virginia, but this joint is an excellent pit stop, which I suspect we'll be meeting our Ohio relatives in the future at a mid-point gathering.
Our first destination was Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills State Park within Logan, Ohio. If you're a fan of Jeff Smith's Bone, you know what I'm talking about. If you have not read Bone yet, I highly suggest you check it out. Look at a map of Old Man's Cave and you will see some familiar names: Rose Lake, Grandma Gatewood Trail... it's all there.
The area is beautiful -- we walked for miles in a 100% pure organic theme park -- imagine if Disneyland was natural -- seeing waterfalls, ferns, and rocks come to life without any gadgets or custom lighting. It had just rained, so the paths were very wet and muddy, but that did not slow us down. In the Old Man's Cave area, you'll find many trail highlights like Devil's Bathtub and Sphinx Head. It's very obvious that this is the land Jeff Smith was inspired by to create the location for his Bone series.
Reading the plaques on the trail, I learned about the first "Old Man" on our trip. Richard Rowe was a hermit who lived under the rock shelter around 1796. I also learned about a real "Grandma Gatewood" who was an extreme hiker and one of the trails is named after her.
It was starting to get dark, but I was curious to see what Conkle's Hollow was -- it is a quick drive from Old Man's Cave. I kept saying "Conky" like in Pee-Wee's Playhouse! Since we still had a bit of time before sunset, we decided to walk the lower trail because it was shorter. The lower trail leads directly to the hollowed out gorge. It was pretty scary and dark back there. Joe named it "Entrance to the Underworld."
We then drove up to Columbus, Ohio and ate nachos and fancy tacos at Bakersfield. The bar was loud and we ate on a table top placed upon a barrel. Still in the world of Bone in my mind, I was thinking -- could this be Barrelhaven? Yup. Maybe a hipster alternative world version.
On Friday morning we started the day eating breakfast at Katalina's, a small cafe known for their balls -- pancake balls, that is. I ordered Nutella and dulce de leche pancake balls with veggie sausage and Joe ordered breakfast taco that also came with delicious corn on the side side. I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it!
We were in for another treat at our next stop -- visiting the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum on the campus of Ohio State University. Unfortunately, the museum was in-between exhibits at the time of our visit. I'd been introduced to curator Jenny Robb by Mike Rhode at the NCS Convention in May and was able to get a tour provided by Caitlin McGurk. Caitlin has an amazing knowledge of comics history and guided us through the vaults and the permanent exhibit upstairs. She then led us to the library where we'd arranged for them to pull selections for us to see up close while wearing white gloves. This is much like having access to the U.S. Library of Congress, where you can request to see certain items in advance. I didn't make direct selections, but gave them a list of creators: Jeff Smith, Chuck Jones, Disney or animation stuff, Lynda Barry, Walt Kelly, Will Eisner...
The stack that they selected for us was amazing. I can not believe some of the material we were able to hold in our hands. We saw original storyboards from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, Chuck Jones's Pogo animation sketches, sketches from Bone before it was the Bone that we know of, Jeff Smith's Thorn comic strip from his college days, original Will Eisner and Lynda Barry art, and so much more! It was truly unbelievable. What stood out the most for me was handling Walt Kelly's Pogo "we have met the enemy and he is us" comic strip from Earth Day 1971. Seeing the art reproduced on the internet or in small book form is nothing compared to seeing the originals in-person -- inches from your face! Walt Kelly's art blows my mind and made me realize how much work I have to do to be a better creator -- such a long way to go.
On Friday evening the wedding took place at Franklin Park Conservatory & Garden. I won't go into too much detail because sometimes you need to keep things to yourself and those memories are meaningfully preserved internally, but the venue had an art installation called David Rogers' Big Bugs. It was like Honey, I Shrunk The Kids with giant ants, spiders, and other insects parading around. I enjoyed seeing the praying mantis because I'm a fan of Zorak.
On Saturday morning we ate a mushroom quiche (like the Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures would), orange brioche, and macaroons (pistachio, lavender honey, raspberry chambord) at Pistacia Vera.
From there we took a tour of the Ohio Statehouse. Which, surprisingly had very little security. Being from the Washington, DC area we are used to multiple inspections, gates, ID cards, metal detectors, but in Ohio there is none of that. There was a guard at the door and most likely cameras, but certainly not to the level of protection I'm used to. In fact, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is more highly guarded than their state capitol because the artwork is behind vaults and if the door is opened and not shut within a minute, the cops are alerted. The art is also temperature controlled and some of the more prized possessions are in a vault within the main vault.
I should mention that there was an opportunity to view Warner Brothers cartoons on Saturday morning "Cartoon Capers" at the Ohio Theatre during their CAPA Summer Movie Series. I set my alarm to awake early and get breakfast then go to the show, but from going to bed after the wedding past 2AM, I was too tired to actually get out of bed... looking back I wish I could have made more effort to get up, but I was a bit exhausted. So we missed out on that.
After touring the Ohio Statehouse, we visited Packrat Comics. I was briefly on Twitter early that morning as the Eisner Awards were being announced live from Comic-Con and noticed the store that won the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award was in Hilliard, Ohio and made note of it. We arrived around mid-day and lucky for us they had a community event going on with a moon bounce for kids, food truck serving pizza, a small press comics show with no more than a dozen creators, free books, and a costume contest in the parking lot. It was really cool to stumble upon the activities and enjoy everyone having fun.
From there we went to Schmidt's in Columbus's German Village neighborhood. This was a place I really wanted to fit in because they have authentic German food. There were many people there and after waiting a bit over 30 minutes to be seated, we ordered their Famous Pretzel Nuggets and the tangy mustard sauce was great! I knew not to order too much or have their awesome buffet because we had a wedding after party to go to immediately following, so I ordered a Bratwurst Sandwich with sweet kraut and Joe had a Bahama Mama Sandwich with potato pancakes. Nonetheless, the late lunch left me full as we headed out for another meal.
The wedding festivities continued at Three Legged Mare for a post-wedding evening event with lots of fried bar food. Since I was already full from eating at Schmidt's, I had a lot of water and nibbled on a healthier broccoli option, but also had a beer battered mushroom, and a few other small bites that were available on the provided group platters. We walked a few blocks to attend the Columbus Clippers baseball game as part of the wedding party. Toast was a stowaway in my backpack and had fun at the game. Thus concluded the wedding obligations, but since we were in Ohio I figured we drive a couple hours north to Cleveland since we were close enough.
Once we arrived in Cleveland on Sunday morning, our first stop was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Joe had never been to Ohio before, so I wanted him to see the Rock Hall because he's a musician. I had been to Cleveland before on a summer trip with my family over 15 years ago and already had seen the museum -- and it actually has not changed much in over a decade. It was great to see all the costumes, guitars, and memorabilia... but I felt like the museum needs an update. For example, they have a section called "Video Killed the Radio Star" but the video package being shown was completed in 1995. Twenty years of music videos has been overlooked. I'm also concerned about the loss of rock music in general life. Sure, we'll always have U2, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Elvis -- but besides the heavy hitters, it would be great to see rock music make a come back. It seems like all we have now is the Foo Fighters... and I know there is more out there. Even with females -- they push Joan Jett, which is great, but there are a lot more females that contribute to the music industry.
I enjoyed the Herb Ritts special photo exhibit and seeing Michael Jackson's sparkling glove on rotation. It's also cool to analyze glowing musician inductees signatures on the wall of a large hallway. Other highlights included seeing Bruno Mars's gold jacket and Taylor Swift's first guitar.
After the Rock Hall, we went to the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum is free and wonderful -- walking in to each room was like time traveling through the world cultures. I highly suggest spending a few hours if you are in the vicinity and was lucky to be able to forfeit lunch and fit it in because they are closed Mondays.
After the museum closed at 5PM we had our first meal of the day (besides snacks in the car) at Melt in Independence, Ohio. Melt has several grilled cheese masterpieces to choose from on their menu and six locations in Ohio. I'd also seen Melt's Short North location from the outside when we were in Columbus. We started the meal with Attack of the Green Tomato appetizer -- which is fried green tomatoes I ordered the Parmageddon -- which has potato and onion pierogi, kraut, onions, and sharp cheddar. Joe ordered the Korean War Pig -- with Korean BBQ glazed pork, pork belly, kimchi slaw, relish, and muenster cheese. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and large art displays they have on the wall. I even spotted Harvey Pekar in the mural. Melt defeated me and I was only able to eat half my sandwich. Luckily, the hotel we stayed at had a refrigerator and I was able to finish the full sandwich and fries later.
Monday was the last day of the trip and we started with breakfast at West Side Market. This market is similar to Eastern Market in DC, but without the street craft vendors. There are aisles of food booths with produce, bakeries, meat vendors, chocolates juices, and more. I'd been advised the Steve's Gyros was the place to be, but unfortunately their booth station was closed. I had also heard that Maha's Falafel was good, so decided to get a Falafel with Hummus from there. Joe got a Shawarma wrap. I really feel like this is probably the best falafel I've ever had and the sauce was on point. Because of Joe's eagle eye, we were able to go up the stairs and eat on the high-rise above while overlooking the whole marketplace. If I lived closer, I would definitely shop there for produce and more. All the fruits and vegetables looked clean and wholesome.
Then we went to visit the second "Old Man" of the trip at A Christmas Story House, where the movie A Christmas Story was filmed. We had a excellent chirpy tour guide and got to go inside the house, the yard, shed, and museum across the street. This is a must see! I have to credit my Dad who introduced me to Jean Shepherd as a storyteller because we have wonderful memories of watching this movie with my family and it was awesome to see so many others enjoy this movie as well. Our tour had about 25 people of all ages and everyone related to this film. The house was interactive -- you could take photos and pose with the Red Ryder BB gun, or dress the the pink bunny suit and walk down the stairs, or hold the telephone a listen to Schwartz being punished by his mother. The way the house has been restored and staged is perfect. On the tour you get to hear about how the house was purchased and preserved, as well as other cool facts and fun tidbits about the production.
It was funny to see the Bumpus house and neighbors next door because they were flagging down and recruiting cars to park in their driveway for $5. If you do plan to go, please be advised that street parking in the neighborhood is available for free. In the museum you can see some of the recovered props and costumes. The gift shop is amazing and it's easy to get carried away with the fun things you can purchase. Who would not want an apron with "Show Me How The Piggies Eat" on it? Of course they also have leg lamps, statues, cups, mugs, ornaments, buttons, spoons, hats, puzzles, shirts, and more!
The last place we ate at during the trip was Sokolowski's University Inn, known as Cleveland's oldest family owned and operated restaurant. If you look past the parking lot, you'll see a great view of the city. Sokolowski's has a cafeteria style set-up where you get a tray, pick what you want, pay at the end of the line, and seat yourself. The walls are like home and covered with memories and famous people who have eaten there. I got four large pierogies, green beans, and a roll. The food was filling and delicious. From there we took off to head back home.
We did a little stop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to visit S&D Polish Deli and picked up frozen mushroom pierogies and cherry pierogies. There was some traffic that held us back in Pittsburgh and we got to go thru the Fort Pitt tunnel, which we had tried to attempt earlier in the year while exhibiting at PIX, however the tunnel was closed for repairs. We wanted to travel it because Emma Watson's character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower had an amazing scene in the tunnel. I'm glad we were able to finally go through both sides then head home.
Thanks to Mike Rhode from ComicsDC, Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk from Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, and Dawn Griffin for her Ohio knowledge for food suggestions! Thanks also to Jeff Smith for everything he has created and for his Old Man's Cave advice.
If I had more time I would have liked to see Harvey Pekar's statue at Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library, as I pledged to the Kickstarter a few years ago. I would have also liked to check out one of Michael Symon's restaurants because I enjoy watching him on The Chew. I would also like to spend more time in Hocking Hills State Park and seen all of nature's attractions, but in general I saw a ton over the course of four days and had a great time at the wedding!