Friday, February 26, 2010

Reading Backwards

Near the end of the American Splendor movie, Harvey Pekar was lamenting to his adopted daughter that she kept flipping the pages of the comics the wrong way. Her response was "I like to read it this way". At the time, I read a comment somewhere that it was an adage for how new comic fans were more adept at reading Manga, and defying their parent's conceptions of how comics were supposed to be read. I didn't think much of it, other than to take a little pride for the subtle gains Manga was taking inroad.

Now, looking back, I have another more plausible explaination for why she was doing that. It was not an act of rebelion, but rather, trying to make sense of the story. I've noticed that oftentimes, when I'm scouring through the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine, I'll often skip past the first couple pages of a short story, then become interested enough in the ending that I'll read the comic from the beginning to see how it arrived at that point. What Pekar's daugher was doing was probably nothing more than reverse-engineering the story so she could better understand it. It's basically the comic equivalent of reading the last page of a novel.

I'm not alone in this. I've heard that in Europe, where most of Heavy Metal's works come from, audiences are notorious for going straight to the last page just to see what point the author was trying to make. And oftentimes, because the message can be hidden quite well, it can be difficult to understand what's going on.

I only began to understand that people might not be able to read comics as effortlessly as I do when my Mother had trouble interpreting the visual metaphors in the great Auto-bio comic, Epileptic. Unlike most American Auto-bio comics, which tend to be full of Crumb-based self-bashing (an unfair stereotype that never quite went away), Epileptic was much more straightforward, telling the facts as they presented themselves. Unfortunatelly, since my Mother tends to think in words (she reads the text before looking at the images), she had trouble putting the two disassociative elements together.

I finally realized she couldn't "read" pictures as well as I do when she failed to understand the visual metaphors of immigration in the silent comic, The Arrival. I was reminded of something I read on the Internet years ago: A comic fan was trying to help his wife understand the appeal of comics, but was having trouble getting his point across. For some reason, his wife had a lot of trouble understanding how comics were supposed to work. Finally, he asked a basic question: What's happening in these two panels?

The obvious answer would be a sunrise, right? Yet, he was very surprised to find out that his wife answered, "A sunset, and a sun in the afternoon." It wasn't a wrong answer, but not what he was expecting. His wife was simply unable to make the connection between two panels in a visual manner. What she saw was two different suns in two different timeframes. I used this same experiment on my Mother, and got the same answer, which leads me to believe that this is not a localized problem.

As penance, I decided to show her the Auto-bio, Stitches, which I found quite similar in feel to Epileptic, and much of a faster read. The visual metaphors are kept to a minimum, so she shouldn't have much of a problem.

I really wish I could find the links to those articles I keep referencing, but it's been so long since they've appeared that they've probably disappeared from memory.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


One week after Graves Inc. was dropped from my newspaper, it was almost immediately replaced by another similarly themed comic; Duffy.

As I mentioned in my last post, the humour in Duffy was much gentler compared to the harshness portrayed in Graves Inc. Although it took place in an officeplace, it didn't revolve around it. Much of it was told from Duffy's dry exasperation at what was happening around him.

For the sake of thematic consistency, I'll be posting the office humour strips instead, to give an idea of how different early versions of this kind of humour was done before Dilbert populized it. In addition to being well-drawn, it was also wittly written.

Even though this strip was published in the early 80s, many of the subjects are still relevant today. A good hallmark of success on the truthfulness of a strip is how well they're able to convey the feelings of the populace long after their sell-by-date, and the anachronism of their electronics.

Even though the secretary was stuck with the typewriters, the office workers had the benefit of using computers. Or maybe more of a curse. They were just being introduced around this time, and keep in mind, these computers were of the OLD school variety, where, instead of the monitor being shown in basic black & white, they were shown in black and green.

Like any other media faced with new technology, they do their best to try to understand it, while pointing out their failings... not without reason, of course.

An interesting tidbit - if you compare the screaming panel above with the snoring panel in the first comic, you're clearly looking up Duffy's nostrils. However, because his nose was so big that it practically took up most of his face when viewed head-on, and his hair was still visible from behind his gigantic schnozz, I thought his entire face was scrunched up every time he screamed. It wasn't until years later when I saw a daily strip where he was actually yelling in joy (a very rare experience) that I understood what I was looking at.

For those curious, the daily strip was published in another newspaper, and was the last part of a week-long story where Duffy was trying vainly to win one of those scratch 'n win tickets. Every time he bought one, he always lost, while the guy next to him constantly won. What made it even maddening was that, even after winning, the guy asked for another ticket. At the end of another failure, Duffy exclaimed,

"Augh! Not again! No one ever wins these things!"
"Hey, I won!"
"Except this guy", Duffy thinks.

There was a follow-up strip the next day where Duffy asked the man how he was able to win all the time. I don't remember the man's reply, but the very next day, Duffy was buying all the tickets he could get. The store owner warned him about possible addiction. Duffy flatly denied any possibility of that happening. Then asked how many tickets he could get for his watch.

At the end of the week, Duffy exclaimed, "FINALLY!! A WINNING TICKET!" with the joyous expression described earlier. "And the prize is..." wait for it... "Another ticket." And just to drive the point home, his feet were littered with losing tickets.

Given that this strip ran for several years without a collection, I'm wondering what's stopping Bruce Hammond to publish an omnibus collection of his work? Also surprising was that this wasn't the only comic strip Bruce worked on. He later worked on a Sci-fi strip that could give Spaceman Spiff a run for his money.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Graves Inc.

In the early 80's, before Pat Brady found success with his Rose is Rose comic, he tried his hand at the rather pessimistic look at Office Humour, Graves Inc.

It resonated with all the force of a resounding thud. Even now, information about this strip is scant on details. This page is the only information I was able to find out about it, and even there, it's very slight. Given its apparent unpopularity at the time, even with the corrupt marketplace, this failed to catch on. I wonder why?

It could just as well be a state of misplaced values. After all, what's popular now might not necessarily be popular in the future. And vice-versa. With the success Dilbert and The Office is enjoying now, it seems like a wasted potential, especially since the drawing is much better. (A common complaint Scott Adams hears frequently) Just take a look at this rendering of a classic movie:

The amount of panels is impressive here, especially considering the amount of detail put in each panel. The courthouse scene alone has dozens of stairs, all in an effort to give the general feel of the challenge ahead. I read this long before I ever heard about Sylvester Stallone, and as such, much of the movie was ruined for me since it so perfectly captured the pure essence of the plot with just a few pictures.

The more observant among you may have noticed the numbering in the left hand side of the top two panels. It's a very good possibility that Pat Brady had various logos that he would've rotated out on a regular basis. I, myself am very curious as to what those throw-away panels (as Bill Watterson named them) would've looked like. Not to mention the single panel representing a smoky vantage view of the city - and each one of those are different.

Sadly, these are all the Graves comics I was able to get before my paper dropped it. Ironically enough, it was replaced by another workplace comic which I liked better, so I didn't miss it that much. That'll be the subject of my next post.

But still, now that I can look back now, I sometimes wonder what might have been...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let's see if this'll work, shall we?

This is just the first posting of a blog, where I'm hoping to talk about random newspaper comic strips that I've saved up that have never been collected in one form or another. Most newspaper comics nowadays are being reprinted in omnibus collections of all types. I'm hoping to cast some light on lesser-known strips that have been passed over in one form or another, or never quite caught on.

Here's hoping I'll get some attention later on.