Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bumstead, You're Hired!

I wanted to talk about today's Blondie:

It's actually a much more condensed version of a Sunday comic. Here's the September 18, 1983 version:

Blondie always had more panels than other Sunday comics. It made for much more interesting reading, when they could choose their rhythm over a space of twelve panels. For the longest time, I thought it was an holdover from the Golden Age of Sunday comics, back when they had more freedom, similar to how Doonesbury had larger panels.

It was disapointing to me when it went from widescreen panels back to larger space panels around November 1986. That was the point I felt that they were taking shortcuts, so it wouldn't take so much time to create a comic. So I was very suprised to see that it actually returned to its roots.

It wasn't until several years later when the dailies went from four panels to three that I felt the strip was just coasting along. Even the Sunday where Dagwood quit his job to work as Blondie's caterer didn't amount to much.

That historic moment happened on September 6, 1992.

This sudden change in status quo lasted for an impressive... two weeks.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Can you solve the Mystery?

Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I’ve been preoccupied with other stuff. First, there was that Manga scanlation crackdown, and my disappointing argument against it.

Now, with the arrival of 22(!) volumes of CMX Mangas coming in this Wednesday, there might be even LESS chance of an update anytime soon. So I might as well start off with a post I’d been meaning to submit for some time now.

Normally, I avoided realistic art strips such as Prince Valiant and Mary Worth, since they were long-term serious works that required years of foreknowledge to just comprehend, and without any backstory, I had no desire to even read them, with a few exceptions. (More on that in a future post) The sole exception being the children’s mystery series, Can you solve the Mystery? staring Hawkeye (no relation to M*A*S*H) and Amy.

Like any other tweenaged sleuths, Hawkeye & Amy were always being called up by Sarge to help solve some currant case he was having trouble with. Where are all these policemen who’re casually bringing underage civilians to the crime scene coming from? Any REAL officer of the law would have second thoughts about bringing kids in, no matter how good they were. I suppose that’s the appeal of Detective Conan - it’s the illusion of being able to confront criminal scenes without having to risk any personal harm or damage to your paycheck.

With some variation, the stories ended with a single final panel which could be a sketch of the crime scene, or a close-up of an object. Here's a rare exception of the hint being a photograph. (Unfortunately, due to the printing restrictions, the vital clue was cut in half)

The solution to the puzzle would always be presented in a mirrored text, which would be maddening to me, since I had trouble angling the comic in front of me. (For someone who’s used to puting their comic right in front of them, doing the same with a mirror is no good - your body would get in the way) As a result, I had to ask for help in deciphering some of the clues. Here’s the code to the comic below. Can you crack it?

Ducks __Elephant
Went __Canoe
By ____Around
Car ___World
Horses _Dog
To ____On
Flew __Back
Over __Mouse

If you were able to solve the above without clicking on the comic & seeing the penciled words, you’re either a very good cryptographer, or a great liar.

Like any other mystery series, the puzzles ranged from pathetically easy...

To the maddeningly obscure.

Usually, it was Amy’s sister, Lucy who was the forefront of the easy puzzles.

Like Encyclopedia Brown, Hawkeye had his personal “Bugs Meany” in the form of Lance, who always tried to put one over the sketcher with an outlandish-sounding tale. Obviously he never heard of the old idiom “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”.

Later, the artwork became rather rushed, with emphasis on closed-up faces, rather than drawing the backgrounds and such time-consuming details. I didn’t become aware of this until years later when I decided to go back and scan these comics in.

This is only a sampling of the various Sundays that I have in my personal collection. Until I did an online search for this comic, I wasn’t even aware that it was part of a failed publisher opportunity to try to expand their market. Hell, I didn’t even know there were dailies. I was disappointed when it went away without any fanfare or announcement, but chalked it up to being one of those comics that stayed or went. Unlike the majority of today’s newspaper comics, there was no great deal in seeing a new comic being rotated out. It really is a shame - there's nothing like it on the comics page before or since.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Scanlation Thoughts

Earlier, I was worried that the Scanlation crackdown would be potentially hazardous to the online community, but so far, the results haven’t been as bad as previously thought.

MangaHelpers, which used to gather translated Manga scans has closed down, and simultaneously launched a new site, OpenManga which will "allow manga creators to distribute their work digitally. The program will feature the ability for artists to sell merchandise and accept donations. The new program will also provide ways for users to legally translate and localize these manga."

The commentary on the AnimeNewsNetwork forum is... surprisingly positive, given how negatively they react to anything. When I first read the announcement, my first thoughts were that it must’ve been a reconcilatory declaration of defeat. Now, having read it again, I’m still not entirely sure what’s happened.

I’m not entirely satisfied with my last post. It’s full of various ramblings without standing for a definitive position. The majority of my arguement is a post I commented on a month ago, and was still without an opinion about. Part of the problem was I tried too hard to match my thoughts to one of the Randomized Garfields, and as a result, lost my train of thought. I was worried that other readers might not be able to understand its reference, and went into a bit of overkill.

One possible model I thought that would be helpful would be if companies allowed scanlators to submit their models via cell-phones. A typical Manga page that can sampled quickly even at a reduced size, and can be flipped quickly would be more popular than Mangas where you have to see both words & pictures in a wider canvas. Thus, Shojo stories where there are often vertical panels going towards the bottom would be less popular than Mangas with traditional comic layouts going from top to bottom.

There have been other bloggers who have made their points more eloquently than I have, which suggests to me that I shouldn’t bother trying to venture into realms I’m embarrassingly naive about, and stick to what I know. I know more about comics in general than about the business of comics, which is the kind of subject where my eyes glaze over. All I want is enjoyable re-readable stuff at a reasonable rate. Is that too much to ask?

One of the Sunday comics reprints I was most interested in was Polly & her Pals, which is coming out this fall. I’d been interested in the surreal Dadaist strip ever since I saw some samples in an encyclopedia of comics. But when I heard about the insane price of $75, I hoped that the price would go down. If it were $20, I would snatch it up in an instant! $40? Same as the Popeye reprints. But $75? That’s the old joke of lemonade that costs a thousand bucks, but the kid only really needs to sell ONE glass. I’ll probably wait until the price goes down, or I find it second-hand at a better price.

See? This kind of arguement I'm much more comfortable talking about.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Manga Crackdown?

Originally, I wanted to talk about the arguements Shawn Fumo posted about the lack of success European comics have had, but that’s been supplanted by the recent announcement of Manga publishers cracking down on scanlators.

I wanted to wait until I could gather up my thoughts. I have a bad history of having spontaneous reactions that don’t pare up to the rest of the blogosphere. My first thoughts upon seeing the news were:

1. Christopher Butcher is HAPPY about this?
2. Where am I going to get my next fix from?
3. I better download as much stuff as I can before they take it away from me!

Eventually when the task of trying not to go over my maximum bandwith overwhelmed me, and I calmed down enough to think rationally, I was able to rationalize that they couldn't possibly shut down every offensive scanlator site. After all, chances were that if one went down, multiple ones would sprout up to take their place.

Not to mention the main scanlator site, OneManga has a pretty good policy for taking down certain Mangas if requested by companies that ask them to. As a result, they don’t display any Mangas from Yen Press, Darkhorse, Dr.Master, CMX, or ADV. Even though the last three companies are no longer in business, I’m sure they’ll stick to their principles. So far, the major exceptions seem to be the best-sellers such as Naruto, Bleach & One Piece, which continue to rachet up sales despite (or because) of their presence online. Of course, this reaches shaky ground concerning less popular titles that don’t have as much of a larger audience as they should.

My general thoughts were close to Kleefeld’s, in that everyone was in a general state of confusion. I was for and against the concept, both in practice and theory. If that doesn’t sound contradictory, it explains a lot of the mentality I saw online. I saw comics fan expressing a kind of schadenfreude for this happening, and devoted fans complaining about not getting their next FREE! instalment. All in all, it was a dizzying array of multiple viewpoints both for and against both sides. For years, the Manga industry just let this kind of thing slide, effectively enabling their thieving customers. If they went back on their word after raising such a stink, they would lose respect in the eyes of their customers.

After having the chance to think things over, there’s several reasons why I hope the scanlation crackdown won’t be on par with Napstar.

First off, it gives us the chance to check out various titles that otherwise wouldn’t be brought over here. After all, there’s no point in trying to create a market for a new audience if people don’t know they might be interested in the first place. Nobody ever thought comics about Go, Football or baking Bread could possibly be fun reads.

Then there are lesser series that I originally wouldn’t be interested in if I hadn’t seen samples of them first. Of course, seeing grade B Mangas is no indication that I’ll still be interested in them. I may want to continue reading them, but I won’t feel particularly inclined to purchase them. I may introduce them to people I know are interested in certain concepts & themes. For example, Chaosic Rune is basically an adult version of Yu-Gi-Oh!, only with more sex and violence. (In the same way that Gantz is a shooter game with T&A) And Toriko is like a cross between Yakitate! Japan and Grappler Baki.

One of the things that I felt led to the demise of CMX was their lack of scanlation knowledge. As far as I know, only a handful of their titles were scaned after their print run, and even fewer were scanned before they were picked up. It was this small sampling of their titles that helped show me that Canon wasn’t my kind of thing, but Oyayubihime Infinity looked interesting. I’m still on the fence on Astral Project, since I ordered it sight unseen, and still am, even after seeing the first two chapters online. I’m hoping the positive reviews I’ve heard will offset my paronia.

It also gives us the opportunity to see scans of series as they originally appeared, such as the Naruto exam and the missing Nana pages.

The use of digital media also solves the elephant in the room - the issue of space. There are some series, such as Hajime no Ippo that are TOO LONG for the average household to simply contain. Only a dedicated fan or an obsessive maniac would consider collecting all 90+ volumes of the boxing Manga.

Another recent comment that's more eloquent than mine is that scanlations are not a problem, but merely a solution to a problem that already exists. Now, we need a solution to the solution. Okazu points out that while 80% of scanlators will willfully drop a series once it gets licenced, 20% of unscrupulous scanlators will pick up the slack from where the previous group first left off. This has happened multiple times with various titles, and shows no sign of changing in the future.

So far, the one model that’s been suggested that I strongly identify with is a shared translation effort where devoted fans would pool their efforts into translating and editing their scans into one comprehensive package. I’ve noticed that oftentimes, there would be teams translating the same Manga chapter, but only a select few of those were worth re-reading. It might’ve been the font, it might’ve been the flow of dialogue, but some translation packages read better than others.

After all, one of the things I found discouraging was that the fan translations were oftentimes, of higher quality than the official translations. I’ll reproduce my comments I posted on MangaBlog regarding how the Manga industry was broken:

This is an incredibly well-deserved scathing condemnation at all three fields of enablers, each one sponging off the other.

And yet… I still don’t know what the solution to the problem is. The price for the Shonen Jump volumes has gone up to $9.95 from their bargain-bin $7.95 price range. Which makes it even more ludicrous given their One Piece Nation. They’re asking potential customers to dump at least $50 a month for five months to catch up to where the series is right now. And things are seriously getting crazy insane in the storyline as is.

If I hadn’t had the good sense to force myself to slog through at least 300 chapters before the really good stuff happened, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the amount of inventiveness Oda puts on the page. I was too concerned over getting to the end of the storyarc to pay attention to the other things going on. At times, I was annoyed at how long some of the early stories tended to drag on. (Luffy’s delayed punch on King Wapol is one that frequently comes to mind)

I’m also of the mind of supporting series that would otherwise never get translated, such as long-running titles such as Hajime no Ippo, Grappler Baki and Glass Mask. Trouble is, fans are more likely to translate the most recent titles rather than the historically relevant ones. It’s why I’m so relieved at seeing the Fantagraphics translation of more Moto Hagio. I’m still on the fence on the other book, Wandering Son. Without having seen any interior pages or an example of a singular chapter, I’m unwilling to risk any hard-earned cash for something I might not like. Maybe once I read some pages in the bookstore, I’ll change my mind.

On the one hand, you’ve got stories that you’ll likely read only once and never pick up again. On the other, you’ve got stories you don’t mind reading over and over multiple times. The trick is to find those series you don’t mind paying for. It was this mindset that made me devoted to paying the volumes of 20th Century Boys even though the story went downhill somewhat, and the translation isn’t up to par to the scanlated version. But I’m still paying for it because I really like it. It’s just unfortunate that it’s being released at a larger and more expensive format. If it were at a similar size to Monster, it might be more widely read. The shame is, it was originally going to be solicted three years ago, but Urasawa wanted Monster released first. If it was released then, we would be reading the end of that epic by now, instead of the catastrophic date of 2012.

Another thing that Jake Forbes brings up is talking about the sub-par translations. This is something I readily agree with. One example that comes to mind is in the 4th volume of Death Note when Rem tells Misa about how a Shinigami can die, by loving a human. In the Viz version, she says it’s “a wonderful way to kill”; but in the scanlation, she says its “a romantic way to kill someone”. There’s a very subtle difference there, and one I really would’ve preferred to see the scalated version of.

It would be great if the official translation could take cues from the scanlations and what they find most enjoyable to read. But it tends to turn into a pissing contest where everyone wants to put their own mark onto the translation, preferring their own over others, instead of picking and combining the best efforts from everyone available. Fans are more likely to glomp onto a property if they feel they’ve made their unique voice heard, and can feel betrayed if a certain phrase isn’t uttered a certain way. (Hand of God anyone?)

Maybe what we need is some kind of webcomic that can be on par with their Japanese competition. Trouble is, there are very few that have the kind of page-ending cliffhangers that Manga excel at. Gunnerkrigg Court and Jack are two wonderful exceptions that come to mind.

For a blog that’s originally devoted to Sunday comics, I haven’t had much of a chance to give them their spotlight. If nothing disastrous happens in the next couple days, I might be able to post some more scans & commentary on another underappreciated comic.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Obituary for the Living

The sudden demise of Tiamat in the Mangasphere was an unpleasant surprise for those of us who hoped he’d recover from his destabilizing disease. However, since I wasn’t a constant visitor, I didn’t feel that upset about the loss. But I can understand where their outpouring of grief comes from. It’s always disappointing when a frequent blogger suddenly goes away. Even more disappointing if for some reason or other, they just STOP blogging.

So, I’d like to pay tribute to those legacy bloggers that are no longer with us:

Fanboy Rampage, THE site for collecting arguments at the stupid moves comics companies did. It fell victim to too much outrage, which threatened to overwhelm the site, and the founders left in a fit of exhaustion. What’s sad is that it quit JUST as things were starting to get really bad. Now typical Fanboy outrage has given way to Fanboy apathy. Not the wisest business move if you’re trying to engage your audience’s interest.

Irresponsible Pictures was a blog that poked foibles at the Anime/Manga crowd. And then all of a sudden, the blog went down. Even though the blog’s visible now, it’s a shadow of what it used to be. None of the articles from February 2007 and up can be accessed anymore. Even Dirk Deppey wondered what happened to the site.

Worlds within Worlds, by Shawn Fumo, one of the most vocal fans of Otaku culture, back when Manga was just gaining an audience. Also a Yo-yo fanatic. He posted on multiple forums and gave lengthy arguements that spoke highly for Manga fans, and comics in general.

He’s my main inspiration for being able to post commentary at all. So it was surprising when he suddenly disappeared without another word. Years later, another blogger wondered whatever happened to the elusive Shawn. Two years later, we have yet to hear an answer.

Looking through those archives, I can see that Shawn's opinions closely mirror mine. Or maybe I created my opinions around his...

Also on the TCJ board, Shawn "Silverthorn" Fumo weighs in on European comics, aka bandes-desinees, and argues that everything that might make BD popular here in the states (idiomatically it's much closer to American comics than manga is; it's almost solely concentrated in genres that make for very popular airport reading in America, like crime, mysteries, thrillers, horror, fantasy, erotica, even sports--the recipe for industry success according to Fantagraphics founder Kim Thompson) is offset by the simple fact that it doesn't have the same thriving underground support in this country that paved the way for manga's big success in the last couple years. Good point, as they tend to be when they're made by Shawn Fumo. Shawn, why don't you have a blog? I won't beg, if that's what you're waiting for--it's unsightly...

Grotesque Anatomy, a comic blog that started out by collecting various comic news by bullet points, and then started commenting on some of the more outrageous aspects of them. Later, when the Manga news started gathering more attention, created another blog that was more focused on Otaku culture. In a sense, the blogger didn’t exactly die, he just switched identies to...

Sporadic Sequential, where the comments were quite insightful and amusing. I used to go to the page daily in the hopes that there would be a new entry - and there often was. Even when the updates became more spread out throughout the months, I still kept devoutly checking the site in the hopes that there would be a new entry. And then the bombshell came at the beginning of the year:

After three and a half years of blogging here, I've decided it's time to call it quits. My output was never prodigious: in 3.5 years I only managed just over 400 posts, which puts my blog's developmental maturity much lower than its calendar age. The fact that I could only muster seven posts in the last five months of 2009 is pretty clear evidence that my heart just wasn't in it anymore. One of my personal blogging benchmarks was that if I ever went a month without posting anything it was time to start thinking about shutting things down. And December 2009 came and went without a single post from me, so here we are.
At least he had the good sense to tell us the reason why he was quitting. However, I’m still living in the hope that someday, something truly fantastic will happen in the comics world that will inspire him to write about it. It would have to be something rivalling Moto Hagio being licensed, the revival of the Smurfs and the fall of CMX combined. Here’s hoping!

Valerie D’Orazio of Occasional Superheroine fame was one of the most vocal female bloggers I’d ever read, and it was made even more remarkable given the sexual harassment she’d received at the comics workplace. I only read snippets of what she’d gone through, waiting for the chance to read her story in chronological order. (The annoying thing about blogs is that they’re organized from the top down, and there’s no way to organize them without being the moderator) So when she finally released an Adobe version of her story, I instantly lept on it, even though I dislike using Adobe.

What happened to her throughout her life was the stuff good biographies are made of, with all the struggles and unfairness of life. If I had a PayPal account, I would’ve made a contribution, but I’m intensely paranoid about managing money online. I don’t trust anything I can’t see for myself. However, if I see a hard-print copy of her short bio-work for sale, I won’t hesitate to purchase a copy. It’s the kind of story I know my sister would devour in a weekend.

So it was surprising to me that half the comics blogsphere condemned her for pointing out an uncomfortable truth that they didn’t want to acknowledge.

Her Punisher Butterfly oneshot was enjoyable for seeing it as a thinly-veiled reference to her experiences. I remember her blog post on how she created a Punisher story when she was maybe TEN, and submitted it to Marvel. The editorial response she got at that time was truly remarkable. Rather than dismiss her outright because of her gender & age, the editor recommended that she hone and fine-tune her story to the point where it was better than it already was. Those were words of encouragement and inspiration to the young Valerie, who went on to create multiple comic stories of other characters until she managed to get the chance to publish her own Punisher story.

The longshot of it is, Valerie said that she’d been reconsidering posting on her comics blog for ages, since she’d basically exorcised her personal demons and didn’t see any need to continue updating it. But she kept updating her blog almost daily, until the day she finally quit. Now, nobody who’s friends with her can see her previous entries without inputting the proper password.

On the plus side, she’s got another blog, but without the comics angle, it doesn’t feel the same. Not to mention her latest thoughts on Twitter aren't exactly as eloquent as seeing her essay-length thoughs in print.

EDIT - it seems her previously inaccessible blog is now back. I've re-introduced her blog back on my list of favorite links again. I'm glad I can still get to hear her unique voice.

So what about you? What blogs out there do you miss the most?