Monday, April 21, 2014

When Them Manga Make Me Cry

Not long ago, I posted about comics that made me cry, and while doing my update of past posts, considered updating that entry as well, but felt it was getting long enough already, and that the content deserved its own separate post.  I singled out 20th Century Boys for having two emotionally charged scenes.  But there was another underrated Manga that I just remembered affected me quite deeply - the Sports Manga Hikaru no Go.

Late in the series when Hikaru's mentor / ghost friend / invisible mascot that only he can see suddenly disappears, which leads to him frantically running around, trying to find his annoying best friend who unceremoniously passed on without even telling him.  Hikaru even goes as far as to visit the hometown of Torajiro Shushaku (an Edo-era Go version of Bobby Fischer) Sai's first after-life student, but as educational as the experience is, Hikaru can't pay attention to any of the details, focused as he is searching for a ghost.  Only after hours does he come across some of Torajiro Shushaku old Go plays does he realize too late the genius of Sai's gift, and becomes too depressed to ever play again.

The news of Hikaru's sudden retirement causes ripples of shock throughout the Go community who'd been watching his growth, though it isn't unusual for people who've been deeply involved with their hobby to suddenly have their desire suddenly diminish what was once an all-consuming obsession.  Cases of burnout for one reason or another can happen, and it can take some time of reflection to re-discover what made them so interested in the first place.  It isn't until much later that Hikaru has an agreed rematch with Itsumi that he finds the missing element that was in the last place he expected to find.

Personally, I found most of Naoki Urasawa's Monster, his long-delayed first foray into adult territory, to be quite boring and pounding over the head with its ideas.  (This brick is a metaphor.  And I'm going to beat you on the head with it until you get the point) The scene-stealer, Inspector Lunge, didn't make much of an appearance, showing up sporadically, and most of the plot contrivances never quite fully meshed into a satisfying whole.

Despite my misgivings, I watched the Anime, partially out of a morbid curiosity and a way to pass time.  But for some reason, I found the retelling of the Children's book, The Nameless Monster much more emotionally involving.  Maybe it was the pacing, the shaky camera and colour scheme, but I was much more affected by the animated version than the Manga.  Chalk this up as another one of those perplexing things I can't properly explain.

Likewise, the last page of the 5th volume of Phoenix, Nostalgia, ends the same way it started, but the meaning behind those words is made clearer, and the Little Prince summary for some reason brought a tear to my eye.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Your Easy-Peasy Guide to Passover

Judaism can seem intimidating with all its rituals and restrictions, but it's really just another set of rules.  Once you have all 613 commandments in mind, the rest is easy going.  You just have to choose which ones you're most comfortable with.  Passover is basically the Jewish holiday where you give up bread for Lent.  While this doesn't sound as difficult as giving up meat on Fridays, that's until you realize that this applies to ALL bread products, which means no sandwiches that aren't made of Matzoh (getting dry crumbs all over everything), no cakes that aren't Kosher, no crackers, no peanuts, and no pasta products as well.  As a gluten addict, this is notoriously hard for me to follow.  Fortunately, potatoes, potato starch and potato chips are allowed on the menu, which otherwise would make the week almost unbearable.

On the night of Passover (which is actually two nights, but for simplicity's sake, we'll focus on the first one), things are already in a tense state since everybody arrives hungry, and there's a bunch of sermons and prayers before we can actually get to the main course.  There are several minor mandatory refreshments along the way, but they're just little teasers until we can get to the main meal.  Think of it as an extra-long saying of grace with breaks in the middle.  The main gist of the grace period is something along the lines of "We were enslaved, God Freed us, we're thankful, let's eat!"  A longer more detailed explanation of the above will be forthcoming.

At our house, we don't bother with going into minutiae about the deeper meaning of Passover, and just go through the highlights, pointing out the high points of the ritual.  Starting out, our eyes are brought attention to the circular plate, highlighting a dish with five holes in them (too bad it's not six, since it would be emblematic of the Jewish star), consisting of a hard-boiled egg, a lamb bone, Karpas leaves, bitter Marror (ugh), and a dose of charoset, a delicious mixture of ground apples, nuts, cinnamon and grape juice into a messy combination that tastes surprisingly good.

This is the kind of seder that goes on for so long that it's required to wash our hands twice during our presentation, not counting before the meal with soap.  The first time, everybody washes their hands by using a container over the sink, once over each hand, and then washed by a customary washcloth nearby, but no prayer is said.  That comes later for reasons which will soon become obvious.

After everybody's hands are good and wrinkly, we go on with our seder by dipping our vegetables in salt water (double-dipping is allowed) and eating it.

Then, the host points at the special triple-layer Matzoh, the middle portion which is taken and broken apart, and Christened the Afikoman.  Specific attention is given to this Afikoman, which will be eaten at the end of the meal.  Kind of a crunchy after-dinner mint.  The host showers great attention upon this seemingly innocuous Matzoh, which doesn't seem that different from the other Matzoh at the table, with specific instructions NOT to touch it or remove it from its valuable hiding place, neatly tucked where everyone can see.  Naturally, when the host of the Seder goes up to wash their hands, THIS time to do their extra-long prayer, that's nigh opportunity for someone to take the Afikoman from its resting spot and hide it elsewhere the host doesn't know about.  This will come in play later.

Then it's time for the Four Questions, which is usually sung by the youngest children in the room.  Since the youngest "child" in the room is over 30 years old, that usually gets regulated to me and my sister, singing in halting off-key stanzas and half-forgotten lines from lack of practice at the last minute, due to having (mostly) memorized the lines in our youth.

The questions ask why this night is different from all other nights:

1. Why do we eat Matzoh?
2. Why do we eat bitter (ugh) Marror?
3. Why do we double-dip?
4. Why do we slouch in our seats?

The answers are as follows:

1. When the Jews fled Egypt, they were in such a hurry that their bread-on-the-run came out flakey and uneven, so we have to eat it and like it.

2. The (ugh) Marror is symbolic of our ancestors' suffering in Egypt. They suffered, so we have to suffer.

3. The salt water is emblemic of the sweet bitter tears we wept while enslaved in Egypt.  Tasty!

4. We reline since it's a time to sit back and relax like ancient kings, lying on their cushions smoking hookah.
Personally, I can't relax on the required soft cushions, and prefer to sit on hard firm chairs pressed against the table.  Anything too relaxing would be too stressful for me, so I'm exempt from this exercise.

Then we move on the the Four Sons, the Wise son, the Bad son, the simple son, and the silent son.  The ensuing dialogue goes somewhat like this:

Wise son: What exactly is the hidden symbolism, meaning and motivation behind all these annual rituals?
Host: They're the basic laws of Passover.  After the Afikoman (which I hope none of you bothered to move from its secure hiding place) has been eaten, we can't eat anything else.
Wise son: Hopefully, by that point, we won't have anything left to eat.
Bad son: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I'm hungry.  Let's hurry and get through this already.  Why are you bothering to take your time with this boring prayer anyways?
Host: This is a sacred tradition handed down hundreds of years, and I'm going to make sure you learn to appreciate it.
Bad son: How about I convert to another religion that lets me eat sooner?
Host: Tough.  Pretty much every religion has some form of fasting, in one way or another.
Simple son: Uh... what IS this Seder for?
Host: Lemme check my notes.  (Reads passage) "With a mighty hand did the Eternal bring us forth from Egypt, from the house of bondage."
Simple son: Kinky!
Host: No, not that kind of bondage.
Silent son: .....
Host: Can't think of anything to ask?  Good.  No problem there.  Let's move on.
Silent son: .....

I should also point out that there's a lot of wine pouring and lifting while announcing prayers, some where we're allowed to drink, others where we're not.  I'm not going to go through every single one of them, but there's a certain ritual that deserves attention.  After recounting the history of Jew's slavery in Egypt (as overacted by Charles Heston in The 10 Commandments) where the Angel of Death Passed Over the blacklisted houses of lamb's blood, thus sparing those who weren't visited by the universal hitman and giving meaning to the bloody name of the holiday.

To commemorate the 10 plagues that eventually convinced the Pharaoh to (temporarily) let us go, we dip our pinky into our glass of wine 10 times for each individual plague.

Blood
Frogs
Gnats
Flies / Wild Animals
Cattle sickness
Boils
Hail
Locusts
Darkness
Slaying of the firstborn

After which, we dip our pinkies another three times for the acronym of the plagues, Detsach, Adash, Beachab (DAB for short)

Incidentally, there's some unsubstantiated theories that the plagues came naturally after the other.  It would've started from an impurity in the water, causing the fish to die out, which would cause a mass migration of frogs leaving.  The lack of frogs meant that gnats and flies would become uncontrollable without a natural enemy to wean them off.  This likely would lead to an infection of livestock and blisters forming on people.  Likewise, this would lead to a spread of locusts, and sudden child death syndrome.

Where this theory falls apart is the connection to hail and darkness, and would have to be chalked up to coincidence falling upon already hard times, or more likely, events happening chronologically earlier or later.

After this comes a Jewish song containing 15 stanzas (usually feels like more) consisting of the numerous things God did to help us get out of Egypt, (The 10 plagues, the sudden exodus across the desert, crossing the Red Sea, giving us Jewish holidays) and containing the most annoying chorus; Dai-dai-Dayenu, Dai-dai-Dayenu, Dai-dai-Dayenu, DaiDayenu (literally, it would've been enough) repeated ad nauseam until I've had more than enough.

Once I've gotten over this linguistic horror, there's still the next obstacle to face - consuming the dreaded (ugh) Marror.  As you may have noticed by now, I'm not exactly thrilled with the prospect of eating the symbolic representation of the bitterness of our ancestor's slavery in Egypt.  I'm not much of a connoisseur when it comes to spicy foods, and generally balk at anything stronger than pepper.  My Dad however, loves eating spicy stuff, and will often try to increase my limited palate by shoving new experimental foods on my plate for his amusement, since these experiments rarely ever go well without my pouring copious amounts of water on my tongue to lessen the sudden pain.  Needless to say, its no great secret to say that Dad revels in the suffering of others.

Considering that the mildest sampling of (ugh) Marror was enough to send me into convulsions, and there were servings of stronger stuff being passed around, I wisely declined the offer.

This serving of (ugh) Marror on Matzoh is lessened by the next serving, which consists of eating the charoset (Ka-ro-say) and Marror together.  This is slightly more bearable, since the sweet stuff is mixed in with the bitter stuff.  There's a lot of rules governing which foods are acceptable to eat with which, and with which instrument.  You're not allowed to have milk with meat, which makes it sacrilegious every time you eat a cheeseburger.  By that same token, it's frowned upon to have charoset with Liver, otherwise you could have charoset of the Liver.

After all this buildup, we finally get to the main purpose of what we've been sitting around for - Dinner.  Some people are more fortunate than others.  My sister is still reeling from the shock of going to a Seder that didn't start their meal until 3:00 in the morning, at which point everybody was gnawing the furniture from hunger.  (The meal didn't end until 7:00 that same morning.  Good thing they didn't have work that same day.)  Assuming that you're attending a more sensible less Ultra-Orthodox Passover, you should be able to start eating a good half-hour after everybody's started.  After which, when everybody's bellies are full and desert has been served, we can go into the tail end of the Seder.

You might've remembered a certain special Matzoh that was set aside to be eaten at the end of the meal.  That time has come, and the host checks out the location where they last left it, where *surprise surprise* the valuable Afikoman isn't in it's secured hiding place guarded by an impenetrable layer of cloth.  Naturally, this leads to questioning the guilty party for bringing this ceremonial ceremony to a halt.  Once the thief makes veiled references to possibly knowing the location of the missing piece to the end of the meal, they ask what the Host is willing to trade in return.  This presents the valuable lesson of bargaining for supply and demand.  The price can range from anywhere to a gift card to a new car, depending on the generosity and desperateness of the host.  Sure, we could simply give the Afikoman back free of charge, but where's the fun in seeing them squirm around, wanting to bring an end to this never-ending meal with full stomachs?

While the digestion of the Afikoman means we can't eat anything else, that doesn't allow for the convenient loophole of drinking more wine.  Nowhere is this more evident than when we welcome the presence of Elijah, which is signified by pouring wine in a glass, opening the door to let the drunken essence in, and shake the table, while marveling at his invisible appearance at sampling our wine.  For some reason, the sanitation of this glass who's been touched in other households is never called in question.

Then there's a whole bunch of songs, but the most memorable and relevant ones are the last two songs, one which is a kind of variation of the 12 Days of Christmas, culminating in 13 Divine Attributes, 12 Tribes, 11 Stars, 10 Commandments, 9 months of pregnancy, 8 days before circumcision, 7 days a week, 6 books of the Mishnah, FIIIIIVE Books of the Law, 4 matrons, 3 Patriachs, 2 Tablets of the Covenant, and One Eternal above Heaven & Earth.

The second song, Chad Gadya is a cumulative story in the style of The House that Jack Built.

Only one kid, one kid, which my father bought for two zuzim, one kid.
And a cat came, and ate the kid.
And a dog came and bit the cat.
And a stick came and beat the dog.
And a fire came and burnt the stick.
And the water came and doused the fire.
And the ox came and drank the water.
And the butcher came and slew the ox.
And the Angel of Death came and killed the butcher.
And the God came and... (somehow) eliminated the Angel of Death who killed the butcher who slew the ox who drank the water that doused the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid my father bought for two zuzim, one kid.

Brings to mind of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, the only difference being that she eventually choked on a horse.  If she put her mind to it, she could've gone on to eat bigger and better things.

According to a footnote, this poem is regarded as a parable, descriptive of incidents in the history of the Jewish nation, with some reference to prophecies yet unfulfilled.  More than one interpretation has been given to it, substantially differing from each other.

And that's all there is to Passover.  Easy, right?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter Updates

Back when I posted my find of Gazette Sunday comics available in a retail outlet for Video Games, a commentor was kind enough to point my attention to an eBay auction that was selling more of the coveted childhood comics.  I was amazed that there was an outlet for such items, let alone anybody who'd kept archaic comics around for so long.  Of course, that's more for the Gazette comics when they were shaped like comic books.  Anything after July 1987 when they changed formats to a more conventional newspaper style is considerably harder to find.

As a result of these finds, I've found some follow-ups to many of my previous posts:

Some behind-the-scenes voyeurism of Laura at her office workplace.

Remember my Valentine's entry about the Weird Romance between Sir Rodney and Maiden Gwen?  There were two recently found comics that further highlighted the unsexual tension between them.


On the other side of the spectrum is the King's Mom, and their truncated relationship showing no love lost between the two of them.  The earliest introduction is where her presence is more felt than outright seen.

Later, we get the first physical appearance of the King's Mother, who looks significantly different from her later incarnation.

In a rare display of affection, the King goes out of his way to try to put his feelings to paper, constantly rejecting his efforts as he does so.  Enjoy this while you can, because it can't last.

Nowhere is this more evident on a rare occurrence where she shows up on a day that isn't Mother's Day, and the King is an ass to her for no reason other than to punish her for minor infractions, and to display his power over her.  Not much of a punchline here.

With such a toxic relationship, is it any wonder that he views any gifts from her with suspicion?

This might be less obvious, but I found another duplicate copy of the King's Speech to his Peasants.  More examples can be found in the link.

Taking a break from the Wizard, and going onto the realm of cavemen, there's some more samples of the once-traditional Fat Broad's Easter Bonnet.



Another fine example of a sterling character no one ever asked to see again - the Snake's Father.

Here's another example of the lost practice of Shoe's sports metaphors / analogies of winning teams.

Following that vein is another helpful technique from the bachelor cookbook.

Lastly, just in case you forgot, more proof that Hagar used to live in a Castle.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Serge Gaboury, Quebec's CROCest Artist


There are artists who strive their whole life in order to be recognized.  There are artists who dabble in doodling and after posting a few funny pictures online, wind up becoming instant social meme generators.  And then there are prolific cartoonists who make multiple contributions while lying under the radar of everybody in their home country.  A prolific creator of gag comics, Gaboury got his start in the pages of CROC, a French humour magazine in the vein of National Lampoon that was "Dangerously Droll".  Many cartoonists got their start by showing their talents in that magazine, who've moved on to new projects including Jacques Goldstyn (Débrouillards) Pierre Fournier and Réal Godbout (Red Ketchup, the upcoming adaption of Kafka's Amerika).

Gaboury has a consistent cartoony style that's a cross between Mordillo and Duck Edwing.  His first comic was used as inspiration for the cover of his first collection, La Vie c'est Mourant (Life is Deathly Funny), though an equally apt title would be How Dare you Die under my Feet.  Indeed, casual bloody violence is a reoccurring theme in his full-page works.

This is actually one of his tamer slapstick comics.  His comics generally follow one of several scenarios:

  • A series of 4 widescreen panels set in a static scene, usually resulting in violence or death with uproarious laughter from the onlookers or solitary straight man.



  • Three small panels at the top setting up the scene with the punchline in an extra-large panel taking up the remainder of the page, with loads of visual jokes compounding the situation.



  • Four rows of panels of meandering buildup, culminating into the inevitable punchline. 


While these are his most dependent formats, he's also prone to drawing comics with multiple panels on a single page.  It's these remarkable feats of engineering that I most think of when thinking of the man, even though the former styles of gag comics are more likely.

If you look closely, you can see a prisoner begging in the last panel.

Even more remarkable is when he's able to implement dialogue in these comics, which would be challenging enough to conduct, even with silent panels alone.

These examples feature Hi-Ha Tremblay, a kind of mascot for CROC Magazine, showing up somewhat late in the magazine's run, similar to Alfred E. Neuman, or Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked fame.  The difference being that Hi-Ha is based on an actual comedian.

You can practically see the family resemblance.

Although Gaboury's work has shown up in multiple French magazines in Quebec, he's virtually unknown outside of his home province.  The ONLY work of his that's available in English is the collaboration with Brigitte Ostiguy, The Quebecois Book, a handy-dandy guide to Quebec.  Strangely enough, although it's faithful to its source material, there were some items that were in the English version that weren't in the French, and vice-versa, particularly the section about various bars, even though the last selection was already censored in the French book.

CROC may be gone, but its spiritual successor, Safarir Magazine is pretty much the French equivalent to MAD nowadays.  From the latest movie parodies to various reoccurring comics, it's very similar, and Gaboury does some pages that would bring back fond memories of some pages of MAD; particularly The Lighter Side of..., which hasn't quite had the same level of success with their replacements.

These samples weren't translated by yours truly, but available on Gaboury's English site, which has horrendous loading time, so I've helped spare the pain of waiting to allow you the chance to see his work firsthand.

If anyone were to do a full compilation of all the work's Gaboury's done, they would be facing a momentous amount of material, much of it problematic.  Some were in colour, some in black and white, and trying to find a consistent colour scheme would have trouble right off the bat.  Secondly, despite his deceptive childish artwork, a fair amount of nudity, as well as casual violence permeates its pages.  Gaboury is not above taking pot shots against authority figures, and quite a few of his comics are aimed at the police.

The main problem is finding a potential audience that would want to read his work.  Audiences aren't prone to trying out short-term comics they haven't seen, and there's a general sense of repetition that could grow tiresome when seen all at once.  The pessimism and dreariness of Gabory's early strips are most evident of this, showing the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of life.  And that's not accounting for his various works aimed at children, such as Glik & Gluk.  His more recent work is considerably more upbeat, considering his dark origins, but he hasn't forgotten that sense of black humour that made him a quasi-star.

As such, he's more along the lines of comfort art - reliable and consistent with a strong work ethic.  A long list of his accomplishments can be found in his summary at the Joe Shuster Awards.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rising From the Graves

Every time I think I've found the last of my early comics, something happens to prove me wrong.  A helpful commentor pointed out that there were eBay auctions of the very Gazette comics I so coveted.  Not willing to let a chance pass up (but not shameless to bargain down the prices either), I searched around and found that there were other potential sellers of some missing issues from my childhood.  I'll be posting about these comics in future posts, but for now, let's examine Pat Brady's first comic again.  Unlike last time, I have an abundance of comics to choose from, so rather than show them all, I'm able to cherry pick the best examples to use.

This is the earliest Graves comic I can find, which is evidenced by the full-page spread, compared to the half-sized form of later installments.

We also get a chance to see the ever-elusive doctor, and he's just as effective on his job as his co-workers.

Last time, I regretted that I was missing the throwaway title panel of the secretary, and I'm pleased to present the business card (with extended pinky) in all its glory.

Sadly, the other woman on the far end of the cast title panel, Babs Gumbel, is still absent, and save for a rare appearance (she seems to be assistant to tortured artist Lyle Bottoms), her presence is outshined by the more dominant unsung force of the company, Margie.

This actually manages to pass the Bechdel test.

As you can tell, Graves is as much as a cold fish towards his wife as he is to his co-workers.  Part of the problem stems is that he treats his family as extensions of his job.

You'd think such a loving personality would demand that any relatives wanting to make a position for themselves in his company would insist that they start off at the very bottom, somewhere below boot-polishing the mailing staff, and work their way rising up through the ranks so that when they're old and bitter enough to venture a hostile takeover of their old man, they'll have enough of a killing business instinct to do the job.

Sadly, this turns out to be something of a blind spot towards his niece, and he winds up being just like every other executive out there.  As awful as the boss and founder of Graves Inc. is, he's at least more efficient at doing his job than the role of his second-in-command.

For all his ineffectiveness at the company, the Vice President Wild Bill Balding is something of a regular Clockaholic, despite his co-worker's best attempts to circumvent his efforts.



shows no great love towards his boss.

It's a good thing his actions are limited to brief displays of rebellion, because if he ever got the chance to display any semblance of power, he would abuse it to the full extent of his authority.  Much like Royalty, his presence is mostly as a figurehead rather than doing anything that could be considered helpful to the company.

And when he actually does have the chance to do something helpful, chances are there'll be some small overlooked detail that'll undo all the hard work he's done.

This could also be an apt metaphor for bringing publicity for the Graves Inc. comic itself.  Despite the quality artwork, the rather pessimistic worldview could explain why there's not exactly high demand for such a depressing cut-throat environment.  Indeed, it was shortly replaced by Duffy, which while having the same office environment, had much lighter humour more suitable for the funny pages.

While this isn't the last comic, it seems like an appropriate place to end this whole thing.  The employees are railing against the unfairness of the business, and are threatening to take their clients with them, in deference to Grave's insistence that they not do so.  And it took place on Independence Day of all things.