Sunday, October 12, 2014

Prehistoric Instruction Manual

I was browsing a second-hand videogame store, looking for cheap entertainment material when I came across two boxes of instruction manuals.  However, they were so disorganized that I could hardly find anything there, and went to the trouble of organizing them into their prospective sections.  (I like organizing things)

Early online manuals just simply replicated the text, with none of the helpful illustrations.  The surprisingly difficult Low-G Man had maps of the boss levels, as well as how to ride several vehicles, which wasn't terribly intuitive, since unlike other side scrollers, you defeated enemies by shooting (freezing) them, and then stabbing them with a spear that only worked vertically from above or below.  Since I borrowed pretty much every game I was interested in (but didn't want to buy) out of a Video Store (back when such things existed), they oftentimes didn't come with the manuals, leaving it up to me to figure out how to play them with brief hints in Nintendo Power.  Today's online archive of V-game instruction manuals is more comprehensive, but they're not as tactile as the real thing.  What surprised me was that there was a 16-page comic in the Bubsy game that gave some background for the twin-headed Woolie boss you face at the end.

There was also a comic for Earthworm Jim, but that was only in an Electric Gaming Monthly mag, or one of its spinoffs.  (The Marvel comic doesn't count)

You probably can't see it, but on the second page where Psy-Crow pulls out his "Bigger Gun" on the alien, the green blob is raising his hands, trying to surrender.

Getting back to the disorganized instruction manuals, I divided them into Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega Genesis, X-Box and Playstation consoles piles.  What surprised me was how small the Sega, PS2 and X-Box section were.  But what surprised me was how large the old-school section was.  And I'm not talking about the Nintendo section - I'm talking about the Atari and Intellivision manuals.  Of the drab adventure, sports, learning, puzzle and side-scrolling game manuals, there was one that caught my eye.  Namely, the one based on a comic strip.

I was completely unaware that Johnny Hart outsourced his legendary strip to the early realms of experimental gaming.  There were a lot of generic games with cover art that was more fully detailed than the actual games themselves.  People nowadays have a fond nostalgia for pixelated art, but back before the Japanese made this an art form, practically nobody knew how to fully render sprites to resemble human beings, so all we were left with were splotchy blobs that barely moved around.

In addition, the game was played with a ColecoVision keypad joystick that was similar to Intellivision's which was ranked the 4th-worst controller in history.  Just look at this thing.  Long before the advent of the Wii made handling a remote with ease, the Intellivision's controller was a literal remote control.  With numbers and everything.  With a curly telephone wire connected to the console.

Despite its crude presentation, this game apparently won all kinds of awards back then, which goes to show just how much times have changed.  Chances are if you saw this game first-hand with no prior explanation of what was going on, you'd be completely perplexed by the seemingly nonsensical obstacles throughout the game.  It's only by looking at the helpful illustrations that you get some idea of what you're up against.  I've taken the liberty of rearranging the text to more closely resemble what they're talking about for ease of access.
The title is somewhat misleading, since the main character is actually Thor, inventor of the wheel.

As you've no doubt noticed, the background flows from one edge to the next.  The only wrinkle is at the entrance to the Dinosaur cave, which was continued on the back flap of the instruction manual.

The Cute Chick apparently has quite a pair of lungs, considering that her cries can be heard all the way across the vast expanse of pathway that Thor apparently has to roll across.

 There's no transition of when you reach the exit.  There's no literal light at the end of the tunnel - one moment you're dodging stalactites, the next, you're in broad daylight, with the Cute Chick looking no worse for the wear.  Furthermore, you have the same expression as when you're being carried by the Dooky Bird and jumping over the cliff, which raises unfortunate implications.  This marks the end of the game right here and there - but don't worry - you can just start again from square one - only slightly faster each time.  Thing certainly have progressed considerably in the account of New Game+ that weren't just rehashes of the first game, having Goombas replaced with Buzzy Beetles, or a harder Zelda layout with next-to-impossible puzzles involving warp whistles and invisible walls.

There was a second BC game titled Grog's Revenge, but I wasn't able to find the manual for that one.  From what little I've seen, the character designs are more fully rendered, but you're basically still on a stone wheel, picking up (running over) blue clams to pay Peter's toll to pass the levels, as well as navigating totally dark caves with a flashlight.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pet Peeves: Rearanged panels

This is something I've seen quite often, but has hardly ever been mentioned.  This isn't in the same realm as Perplexing Reprints where there are various panels drastically different from their first printing.  Nor is it in the vein of being confused from the layout of a double-page spread.  This refers to two panels being accidentally switched around so that the comic in question winds up being slightly out of whack.

This has happened more than once, and one of the easiest examples I know of is this early Calvin & Hobbes Sunday comic:

For a long time, I thought this was how it was supposed to go, but other more faithful reprints have had the last two penultimate panels switched around so that Calvin winds up sliding before announcing his mortality verification.  Even now, it's difficult for me to go back to the right version, despite knowing that it's the proper way to go.

This wasn't an isolated incident, since I wound up seeing instances of switched panels everywhere.  I don't have the albums and treasuries in question, but these recreations should be close enough to get my point across.

With these panels out of composition, Garfield winds up acting rather schizophrenic, long before Garfield Minus Garfield relayed that role to Jon.

While the composition of the bodies are more consistent, the overall flow of events is a mess.  Garfield winds up losing his enthusiasm halfway through, only to suddenly regain it near the end, and then lose it completely.  While I can look back and laugh about it now, it bothered to me no end, because it wasn't how the joke was supposed to go.  Knowing comics forwards and backwards isn't quite the same when they're slightly out of alignment.

EDIT - After thinking for awhile, it occurred to me that ironically enough, I got the composition of the rearranged panels wrong.  It was most likely the 3rd and 4th panels, rather than the 4th and 5th ones.  I must've subconsciously chosen this new alignment, solely because it was more pleasing to the eye.

The Peanuts collection Brothers & Sisters: It's all Relative was the worst offender, having not one, not two, but FOUR comics, each with the same mistake.  See if you can figure it out.

For this last one, Charlie Brown is pointing down exactly to the next panel.  These comics only make sense if seen in a strange zig-zag pattern that's at odds with the other comics in the book.

The modern-day equivalent to such reprinting mistakes would be having pages switched around or showing up multiple times in the same book, all of which I've seen in various publications, which for a long time was one of the main arguments against having trade paperbacks of comics, since they would be radically different from their "better" pamphlet format.  Things have considerably improved since then, but mistakes still abounded.

Domu was one of the earliest Mangas I ever saw in French, and I started off with the last third, which was quite a traumatic experience.  It was one of the scariest things I'd ever seen.  There was so much death and destruction involved.  I had absolutely no idea who all these people were, and why they were dying left and right.  At the time, I thought that Cho was a boy who'd aged overnight after facing off the assault from Etsuko's rampage.

The Dark Horse English version helped clear things up, but there were a few pages that bothered me.  In the 3rd issue, the police interview with the press had the pages on opposite sides.  But more than that, I felt that the rearranging of some panels felt slightly off.

If you've read Telophase's essays on Manga page layout (and you should) you'll remember that there was a section on making the eye flow easily rather than forcing your vision to go all the way from left to right, and back again, but in a zig-zag pattern, that unlike the Peanuts comics above, was more intuitive.

Now, here's that same scene of destruction as above.  I couldn't find the same book I saw years ago, and am not going through the trouble of flipping the text, but see how much smoothly it handles.

If that's not enough proof, check out this scene of collateral damage in the mostly silent anti-climax climax, where Etsuko is conducting a final psychic assault that's just barely glimpsed at.

And the slightly modified version:

Not only does the position of the broken chain make more sense, the bent beam is also more consistent.  Somehow, the proofreader for Blade of the Immortal got their wires crossed and forgot to correct a flipped panel.

If I hadn't already known about these comics beforehand, I would've been more upset.  But when it comes to reprinting something that the rest of the world doesn't already know, the result can only lead to further confusion.

Krazy Kat is generally regarded as one of the finest (if inexplicable) comics, and the reprinting project was especially challenging, since there were so few reliable collections available.  So when the first strip of 1933 was presented, it left the impression that there was some hidden underlying message lost on readers not sophisticated or smart enough to figure out.  As a result, no one dared point out that there was something in the sequence of events that didn't make sense, lest they appear foolish, even if it would've allayed some general suspicion.

If it weren't for the generous contribution of a German Krazy Kat fan named Erich Brandmayr, the resulting comic would've gone completely unnoticed.

This wasn't Fantagraphics' only reprinting mistake.  The first album of Popeye the Sailor Man had
Even more annoyingly - the panels in question are numbered, so catching this mistake should've been obvious when putting it together.

At first glance, the two strips in question seem to be perfectly natural, but the lack of recapping right from the start should've been a tip-off.  Since daily comics tended to refresh the reader's memory every day, reminding them of the events of last time.  When placed all together, the result is something that's 50% rehashing, 50% story, and 50% running jokes.

Cerebus and Akira produced serial stories that when their exploits were collected into telephone books,
their narratives flowed so smoothly without disruption, interruption or recapping - making it almost impossible to find the seams in the works.  A trait that still hasn't been matched with recent comics.  (But there's still time)

At the penultimate reveal in Minds, Cerebus' adversary, Cirin, sees an event in Cerebus' childhood that's of great personal importance and interest to her,


To make matters more infuriating, this interruption only makes sense when it shows up in context later on.  All the dramatic build-up that'd been growing then is gone because a copied page was put in the wrong place.  At first, I thought this was an isolated event, but I saw another book in a second-hand comic store, which had the exact same misprint.  I have no idea if this is an aberration or not, since I can't find any mention of it anywhere.  Doubtless, any new readers who came across this misleading passage must've been grossly confused.

This isn't solely limited to just Newspaper strips and comic books though.  MAD Magazine suffers from this same symptom.  Because the dimensions of the magazine don't conform to the typical size of a comic paperback, some panels wind being out of order.  While this is fine for thematic articles such as "A MAD look at..." where which panels you read don't matter, it plays havoc when certain articles are slap-dashed haphazardly.

The article The Facts of Life (& Death) is ruined with the last two panels out of sequence:

Of all the artists, none was treated more slipshod than the legendary Don Martin.

His stories would start out normally enough (or as normal as a Don Martin character gets), and then things start getting weird before the punchline.

So far, the cut-and-pasters (I don't know what the proper technical term is) seem to have the most trouble in trying to tell when a Don Martin character is walking away.

Somewhat fittingly, a Sesame Street parody, Reality Street in a state of reconstruction wound up with this situation, fixing what wasn't broken.  Anybody who's been forced to undergo construction on their street can surely relate.

The one singular exception to all this was a Bloom County comic which was rerun from Berkeley Breathed's early days of B.O. (Before Opus).  Here, it looks like Milo is about to leave before Freida figures out the calculation, only to be prevented from doing so.  Ironically, making the penultimate panel the punchline wound up making it personally funnier than if it were left alone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October is All Kinds of Weird

Normally, I've refrained from commenting on my calendar images, which's saved on some valuable typing time and trying too hard to think of something clever to say every time, but for this month, I'll make an exception.

Murphy's Law is generally the de facto faction when it comes to the the X-factor and Chaos Theory.  So it's somewhat inevitable that even the very prospect of everything going wrong can be bound to go wrong itself.  Check October 8th for a more concise summary.

Oct. 5, First Baby Show Held 1854 - Paul's Law: You can't fall off the floor.  Chapman's Comment:  It takes children three years to learn Paul's Law.

Oct. 8 - Larsen Pitches Perfect Game 1956 - Silverman's Paradox:  If Murphy's Law can go wrong, it will.

Oct. 12, Columbus Day - Young's Law: All great discoveries are made by mistake.

Oct. 16, Marie Antoinette Guillotined 1793 - Evan's Law: If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you just don't understand the problem.

Oct. 20 - Milstead's Driving Principle: When you need to stop at a light to put on makeup, every light will be green.

The Teddy Bears generally occupy a world made up of anthropomorphic creatures.  So it's somewhat disconcerting to see these very same cartoony animals in front of a frame with photorealistic versions of the cast of a classic movie.  Particularly since it would make more thematic sense back in February.

Oct. 22, "Pretty Boy" Floyd Shot by Feds 1934 - Jone's Motto: Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.

Oct. 24, United Nations Day - Katz's Law: Men and nations will act rationally when all other possibilities have been exhausted.

Oct. 29, Stock Market Crashes 1929 - Crane's Law: There' ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Oct. 31, Halloween - Ely's Law: Wear the right costume and the part plays itself.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Road to El Deafo

This was something of a pleasant surprise.  I was browsing the comics section of a bookstore, and came across this title that I'd received no notice or advance previews on any regular comics newsites, and upon reading the first thirty pages, bought it practically on the spot - something I NEVER do for anything I haven't previously read elsewhere.  That goes to show how strongly the subject material affected me, even though I have little to no interest in Deaf culture, despite being deaf myself.

In case you haven't guessed by now, the theme is an autobiographical book of early onset deafness by Cece Bell (Which sadly, doesn't rhymes with Decibel, but would've be fitting if it did.  Ironically, the name means Blind in Latin)

Obviously, there are different parallels between Cece Bell and me, but it's not meant to be a reflective perspective of every deaf person out there.  Just as the Cracked tagline for the movie parody BeagleJuice goes, "If you've seen one ghost, you haven't seen them all."  By that similar token, if you've met somebody with Asperger's Syndrome, you've met somebody with Asperger's syndrome.

Cece Bell lost her hearing not via birth, but from the aftereffects of contracting Meningitis at the age of four.  During her stay at the hospital, she contracted terrible headaches, and after awhile, noticed how QUIET everything was afterwards.  She didn't think much of it afterwards, and it took awhile for her mother to notice that something was wrong.

Early intervention is crucial when it comes to combating the effects of early onset Deafness - the longer you can't hear, the harder it will be for newborns to get used to hearing.  A babysitter noticed that I didn't seem to be hearing properly, but didn't tell my mother, out of respect of not wanting to stir any troubled waters by pointing out the obvious.  As a result, I wasn't properly detected and diagnosed until a month later.  Nowadays, babies are tested to see if they show signs of deafness, but that's still no excuse for being accommodating.  If you happen to notice a child displaying familiar symptoms you're aware of - don't try being polite.  Let the parents know of your suspicions immediately if they haven't said so otherwise.  They may take offense at first, but in the long run, they'll thank you later.

I was told that when I was first fitted for hearing aids, I started fussing at first, until I had the switch turned on, and then I started reacting joyfully at the new sensation of a sense I wasn't even aware existed.  Since there's no home video recording of my first hearing experience, here's the next best thing - a baby getting results from a cochlear implant, the closest thing science has to literally inputting a computer in our brains, creating a literal cyborg.

However, while Cece Bell now has the benefit of a hearing aid, she's still not completely out of the woods yet.  She has to reacquaint herself with learning how to hear things all over again, which has some unintended comical consequences.

Fortunately, Cece Bell has her elementary education in a classroom with other equally deaf students, and among other basic learning skills (Math, English), also learns the rudimentary essential knowledge that is lip reading.  If you want to understand what's going on, this is a must.

Going off on a related tangent, there was praise given to the issue of Hawkeye #19, where the protagonist suffered some hearing loss, and had to cope by reluctantly going back to using sign language to communicate with his brother.  An attempt was made elsewhere to translate the majority of the sign language, without much trouble, save for one particular sequence, which left the proofreader baffled, but which seemed obvious to me.

Clint: No, I feel _____

To give some context, there are flashbacks to beatings from his drunken father.  With that little extra detail, we can now interpret the silent image as:

Clint: No, I feel nothing.

What's left out is how EXHAUSTING it can be constantly deciphering everything everybody's saying.
Even if you tell regular hearing people to face you when talking, it's easy for them to forget these rules when they talk to another regular hearing person, and turn away, reverting back to their regular talking speed, leaving you trying in vain to catch what they're saying.  You think lip-reading is hard?  Try doing it from a side angle.

When being mainstreamed into a regular school, Cece Bell is given a microphone in class to better understand what's going on.  This had the unintended side effect of listening in to the teacher during private conversations outside of the classroom when she would forget about carrying a one-way wiretapping device.  As useful as this is for overhearing adult dialogue in the bathroom, it's not helpful in face-to-face conversations.  It's like superhearing, but only under extremely limited conditions.

Although I had a similar FM system throughout grade and high school, I was never able to fully enjoy the wide range of sounds that Cece Bell did.  To me, the noise from the FM System was more distracting than helpful, compared to the more immediate and accurate simulation of a face-to-face oral interpreter, who not only would clear up words I might not understand, but repeat sentences I would've otherwise missed.

Despite my misgivings, I was never embarrassed by my deafness, seeing it as a part of me, but Cece Bell clearly felt otherwise, going so far as to hide her hearing aid underneath her clothes, the only proof of her disability being visible via the wires attached to her ears.

Inside and outside of school, Cece Bell has trouble with fitting in by being unable to enjoy the same radio and TV programs as everybody else.  Since this obviously takes place before close captioning became more widespread, I can only imagine the amount of frustration she had to overcome.  To this day, I STILL can't watch several shows I'm potentially interested in simply because there aren't any available subtitles, either legal or illegal.  While she had to gleam what was going on from second-hand sources from her brothers and sister, she greatly enjoyed the silent cartoons of Tom & Jerry, with their slapstick antics.  Likewise, I enjoyed the cartoons of the Pink Panther and the Coyote & Road Runner.

I was also surprised to learn that Cece Bell didn't know how to read at an early age, since I was able to do so thanks to being constant surrounded by storytelling of beginner's children's books.  As I mentioned before, I learned how to communicate by learning how to read, THEN talk, which I understand is backwards from other people, who learn language by listening, then reading.  I suppose her being able to hear in her early childhood might've been a mitigating factor.  Even so, I would've liked to learn how she managed to overcome the hurdle of reading.  The only hint we get is of a single Batman comic, which is used as an apt metaphor.

In addition, because of her reluctance to interact with the outside world, she had an extremely small circle of friends, starting with a domineering friend who wanted to control her, which brought back ugly stories I'd heard about my sister's experience in High School.  The next friend she made was friendlier, but tended to aggravate Cece Bell by over-exaggerating her speech patterns.  She could understand her clearly, but felt like she was being condescended to, even though she could comprehend her speech at a faster pace.  Trying to find and keep friends who are easy to get along with is an uphill battle.  It's not like you can just easily switch out to another friend who's easy to understand.  To quote a metaphor I often use, trying to get someone with social phobia to interact with a party is like trying to introduce an illiterate to a library - they're going to be intimidated by the amount of material.

The only parts I didn't personally like were Cece Bell's imaging herself as a S-hero, imagining herself saying and doing things she'd wished she said, overdramatizing her dilemmas and the schoolgirl crush over a cute boy that's basically a self-contained one-sided Soap Opera drama.  Fortunately, the latter didn't quite protrude over the latter half

Of course, these are purely my personal opinion.  These factors may not bother other readers, and shouldn't be considered a deterrent for what's essentially a window into a world of deafness that no longer exists, but which struggles remain relevant to this day.

"Hearing is the deepest, most humanizing philosophical sense man possesses... the sound of the voice that brings us language, sets thought astir and helps us in the intellectual company of man."
- Helen Keller

or, as otherwise heard by a deaf person,

"He****** ** **e *eepe*t, ***t hu******** **l*****c* *e**e *** p***e**e*... **e **u** ** **e ***ce t**t ****** u* l***u**e, *et* ***u*ht **t** *** help* u* ** **e **tellectu*l c**p**y ** ***."
Hele* *elle*