Friday, July 30, 2010

FOOB Redundancy?

After doing the calculations of the latest collection, with 368 pages, I figured it’d be more like 2 ½ years than three years. (52 weeks x 3 pages [Dailies & Sunday]) x (3 books) = 468 pages. If it were 468 pages, that would be an exact 3 years, fitting in with the 30 years she’d put up with the strip. Instead, with 100 missing pages, we’re out by almost half a year. (-100 pages ÷ 3 pages) = (33 weeks) So, instead of having 10 books, in a decade’s worth of releases, we’d have 12 books for the remainder of Lynn’s lifetime. (30 years ÷ 2 ½ years) = 12 books. (33 weeks x 11 books) = 363 pages for the last book.

If the new collections adheres to this rigid standard, there probably won’t be any room for any of the doodles she did in place of the missing strips in previous collections. (Some of which were very memorable.) I’ve oftentimes wondered if there was ever going to be a collection of the comics she did for the Calendars, which were large one-panel jokes. Some of them were ripped off from the daily strip, while others were entirely new.

While trying to figure out how much of the previous collections would be in the latest omnibus, something else came to mind - I was thinking too much about a strip I used to care about.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the FOOB Livejournal has any further purpose to its existence? It no longer has as many visitors as it used to in its heyday. Most of its audience has left for greener pastures, leaving only the dedicated who’ve stayed. The last group of faithfuls include trumanf, aprilp_katje, dreadedcandiru2, forworse, and howtheduck. Not to mention that the AllFOOBedUp parody page has stopped updating after the last of Lynn’s new dailies stopped circulation. The other parody sites, Foob's Paradise concluded last year, and The Fifth Panel hasn't updated since March 17th. The only new element is Elly's twitter, which updates infrequently, and would be funnier if we had the comics they were referencing. (Something that Coffee talk with Warren & Paul solved) All they’re essentially doing at this point is preaching to the choir to the faithful few who’ve stayed.

At this rate, they run the risk of only talking to their own audience in the same way that Lynn was surrounded by adoring fans. When nobody has any substance to say, any further talks loses all meaning. I’m reminded of how Dirk Deppey of The Comics Journal finally decided to end his continual arguments with Brian Hibbs over selling comics at the bookstores - he decided to leave one final argument and go home. He’d only refer to that article if the man decided to bring up the issue again. There comes a time where it’s easier to stop making the same argument every time, especially if you’re not going anywhere. There are other things worth wasting your energies on.

Everybody knows that Peanuts in its last decade wasn’t as good as Schultz’s work in its peak years. Yet you don’t hear anybody constantly harping over those lackluster strips. The only defender of those later strips was, ironically enough, Bill Watterson. Although he was constantly bemoaning the limitations of the Newspaper strip, he continued to lavish praise on his favorite cartoonist.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Peanuts. Every now and then I hear that Peanuts isn't as funny as it was or it’s gotten old or something like that. I think what's really happened is that Schulz, in Peanuts, changed the entire face of comic strips, and everybody has now caught up to him. I don't think he's five years ahead of everybody else like he used to be, so that's taken some of the edge off it. I think it's still a wonderful strip in terms of solid construction, character development, the fantasy element...Things that we now take for granted–reading the thoughts of an animal for example–there's not a cartoonist who's done anything since 1960 who doesn't owe Schulz a tremendous debt.

The problem was, compared with the earlier Peanuts, there were week or month-long stories, and we were reduced to one-panel jokes. There were very few highlights other than Rerun experimenting with Underground comics. I would’ve liked to see more of Lydia, the girl who continued to infuriate Linus by constantly changing her name and because she was born a few months after Linus, always asked, “Aren’t you too old for me?”

The FOOB Livejournal certainly didn’t think that Elly was a horrible woman until the last ten years or so of the strip. If the people at the FOOB journal are reduced to talking about how dysfunctional the Pattersons are, then they’re grasping at straws. For a REAL dysfunctional family, they should check out Alan Moore’s The Bojeffries Saga, which is like a British version of the Addams Family.

Not to mention that with no newer strips coming from Lynn Johnson, what else are they going to focus on? How long are they going to re-analyze the older strips with the same mean streak? Until John & Uncle Phil goes on the canoe trip that opened up the FBOFW world and showed more than just Elly’s viewpoint? That could be years off, and could be very tiring to continuously hear nothing but negative interpretations of Lynn’s mental state, now that we know how much of a messed up person she is. I’d rather enjoy the story these people make, rather than be constantly reminded of what kind of people they are.

There have been many people who’ve tried to get through Dave Sim’s ambitious comic, Cerebus one issue at a time, but they’ve never gotten further than the first volume, which was Sim’s weakest, back when he was still experimenting with the form. Even the CereBlog, which found new historical interpretations for those early stories never even made it halfway through.

It’s a strange thing that Lynn Johnson and Dave Sim (both of whom are Canadian) both got increasingly mentally hinged in their later cartooning days. So far, only Jim Unger (of Herman fame) avoided this escape into madness by retiring early. (Even though Jim was British-born, he later emigrated to Canada, but made one-panel comics there)

Part of it might be that Dave and Lynn were influenced by one of the unsung hero of the Canadian Cartoonist world, who’s only just now being recognized; Doug Wright.

Doug Wright’s works first appeared in the Montreal Standard, which was released bimonthly (every two weeks) which is why he wasn’t widely known outside his country. He wasn’t well known, even in his home country, which is something Fantagraphics is trying to change with their release of two large hardcovers of his works. Granted, these collections can be daunting for the average customer (the things are the height and width of a small table), so it’s fortunate that a more user-friendly collection, Nipper has been announced.

Nipper was created before Hank Ketchem’s Dennis the Menance, and with his bald head, was considered to be a homage to Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. The difference between these two being that Nipper was entirely silent, with only a few sound effects and store signs being the sole exception. Not to mention its unusual format - every strip was vertical instead of horizontal, and was in black and white and red.

As Lynn Johnson wrote in the foreword to the collection, “The Doug Wright family was what I wished my own family was like.” Indeed, the boy wasn’t bratty 100% of the time - he had brutish tendencies, but didn’t act on all of them. And the parents could be exasperated, but could be just as understanding in the same instance.

There were even two Nipper comics that inspired two FBOFW strips. If you’re going to rip off someone, rip off from the best, and an obscure source. (Sorry about the discolouration - I couldn’t fit the entire book on the scanner, which should give you some idea of how big the collection was)

More than anything, I’d like to think that FBOFW had more good influences than bad. Raina Telgemeier, the illustrator of The Baby-Sitter’s Club even said she based her drawings on a FBOFW pastiche. However clean her works look, I feel it suffers from an insistency of sameness, where the profiles are identical throughout the stories. It might not be obvious to younger readers, but to a comic veteran like me, it’s glaringly obvious.

Then there’s Lynn’s background stories, which would happen in silence while the main story was in the foreground. Next to the fighting clouds between Mike & Liz (which were always different every time), these were some of my favorite details in FBOFW. Samm Schwartz (the definitive Jughead artist) used this kind of thing all the time, and was a popular element in the early Yakitate! Japan chapters.

Then there’s the inimitable Posy Simmonds, whose works predated FBOFW. (and who I blogged about in an earlier post) I might make a separate post about her Wedding, if anybody’s interested.

Not to mention there’s plenty of Family-friendly French BDs that’s never been translated that would be a big hit on this side of the shore. One title that comes to mind is Margot et Oscar Pluche (later shortened to Sac a Puces) [Fleabag in French]. It’s about a Girl & her stray Dog, her large family (6 children, counting Margot, not counting the baby who was born at the end of a later volume)

Then there’s Nathalie, who has shades of Calvin in her. She has grandoise plans of traveling to exotic places, oftentimes involving her baby brother who she rentlessly tortures every other strip. Her father’s being a workaholic and her mother suffering from maniac depression surely have nothing to do with her antics. Not to mention her Uncle looks and acts a lot like Uncle Phil in his early days.

Of the translated BD family strips available over here, only Cedric from Cinebook has been brought over. Apart from bringing home bad report cards and having a crush on the Chinese girl, he’s pretty much like any other kid. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen his Grandfather laugh.

Anybody hoping to find a new Family Newspaper comic strip on par with FBOFW in its peak years should give up. You’d have more success finding a webcomic capable of filling that role. Their autobiographical comics are nothing like the self-loathing Robert Crumb versions that Indy comics are most reputed for. They’re more likely to have humourous elements, the good with the bad, and have visual metaphors in the mix.

What I worry about is not the stagnation of comic writers who develop a rut in their style, but the legion of comic fans who simply stop looking for something better. Sure it’s safe to stay within the comics you’ve grown up with, but that also cuts off your possible enjoyment of other comics with better potential. It’s always scary venturing out into the unknown, especially if there are some known stinkers out there. But the pay-off is worth it for those willing to devote their time and effort. For the less adventurous out there, having a helping hand to traverse these unknown waters could be a huge help.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

FBOFW update

Despite my previous concerns, it seems the latest For Better or for Worse omnibus collection will be reprinting the new-ruins that's been showing up alongside the earlier strips.

This is slightly distressing for me, because although it seems to gather the majority of the legendary Newspaper strip, it also lumps together Lynn's creative output when she was just starting out with her creative downfall at the end of the strip's declining years. I'm frankly amazed that there are people out there who simply can't tell the difference between a strip 30 years ago, and Lynn aping her style back then, 30 years later. There's all kinds of visual clues that are missing, such as the stiffness of her characters, multiple panels, and the extensive use of words.

Not to mention there were Sunday comics that were obvious retreads of earlier jokes, only horribly misunderstood. Can you understand what's happening in this strip??

It took a lot of people multiple re-reads to understand what was going on, and even with help, it still didn't make much sense. For the uninitiated, Elly was trying to teach Farley (still a puppy) not to scratch the door by squirting a watergun in his face. Then, when she passed the job over to Michael, he heard John's scratching the door, and hit him in his midsections.

There are several reasons this doesn't work:

1. How did Elly open and close the door & squirt Farley without the dog running in the instant the door opened a crack?
2. How did Michael open the door if Elly was "Palov training" Farley in the first place?
3. If John was scratching the door, why is he further away than he should be?
4. Why would Michael squirt at his father without further prompting?

More expressions of incomprehension from forworse is better expressed:

I had to spend far too long reading this strip to understand what was going on. Farley scratches the door and gets sprayed. Then we see Mike opening the door, so I assumed that Mike had been spraying him with a water pistol. Elly rushes over to the door, so obviously she hadn't been nearby, reinforcing the suggestion that Mike was at fault, as does the following panel where she seems to be lecturing Mike ("!!!"). Then she handed him the water pistol and book and lost me completely and I had to start the strip again. Who had been squirting Farley in the first place? Mike was near the door, Elly came running...was there a lengthy lapse of time between the second time Farley was squirted and when he scratched the door and Mike answered? Why does John scratch at the door? Is it because he still doesn't have his keys back from the car wash? Why can't he use the doorbell? Why did Mike open the door and squirt John? Wouldn't he have recognized his father when he opened the door? Did Elly (or whoever) open the door to squirt Farley or just squirt through the letter box? Surely a dog would have been quick enough to get past her and into the house if she opened the door. Why has Mike back-combed his hair so much in panel 8? Why? Why? Why?

Aprilp_Katje put another reason why the comic didn't work:

You know what else bugs me about today's strip? Lynn is lifting this whole motif from when Edgar was a young dog. He kept scratching to be let in, and Elly et al. were trying to teach him to bark to be let in. In fact, they put Farley out with him, hoping that he'd teach Edgar to bark (but Farley promptly fell asleep). John ended up putting carpets on the doors to protect them from the scratching. Then Edgar figured out how to use the doorbell, and John installed one on the inside, so that Edgar could use it to let them know when he wants to be let out. Shortly after that, he figured out how to bark to ask to be let in and out. Lynn can't even keep straight which dogs have which quirks.

The biggest reason for failure is that it was based on a better strip that Lynn had obviously forgotten:

As HowtheDuck put it, the collection seems to be a way to even out the amount of work she'd done, from a 28 1/2 year output to an even 30 year number. In other words, the latest strips were not to "fill in the creative blanks" as Lynn put it, but rather to "fill in the years". Instead of answering any questions, we got abortive storylines such as Deanna's sudden disappearance and reappearance, and Lawrence's insistence of using a particular bathroom (a shout-out to Christopher only wanting to use his own potty).

Thankfully, she seems to no longer be doing new comic strips, and will only be doing the covers for the book collections from now on. The newer strips were becoming such a visual cancer on my eyes they were literally painful for me to read. It was a testament to how far Lynn Johnson had fallen, and should've quit 10 years ago when she still had something to look back on.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Splendor

To update my last post, here’s two more American Splendor comics I was able to reread that I remember enjoying. The first is the only widescreen comic that’s on its side. It was about how Harvey was worried that he’d lost a check for a lot of money, visualizing all kinds of suicidal / self-inflicted wounds he’d punish himself with. He was only able to calm down when he did another search of his bag and found the missing check inside a newspaper.

The second story was where Harvey lost his glasses, and then likewise worked himself up in anxiety in trying to find them, even borrowing the car back to work on a slim chance, and forgetting to refuel for gas. Faced between the prospect of not having his glasses, and that his wife’s car might run out of gas, he sets out to solve his problems as best as he can. Particularly noteworthy is the scene where his wife phones Harvey to reassure him that she was able to get some gas on the way home.

These comics really speak to me, since I have a tendency to be extremely distressed about things I can’t control. What I’m most particularly impressed with is how Harvey handles his situations. He may deal with the problem in an inappropriate manner, but then will make up for his outburst by apologizing for his behaviour. It’s that kind of maturity in the face of disaster that really speaks to me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

OneManga RIP?

I'm feeling kinda stunned about this recent piece of news. Even though I knew that there was going to be a crackdown on scanlations, I thought that OneManga's popularity in the Google rankings made it somehow immune.

I was wondering how this was going to affect 1000Manga, after it was erected due to the Google sponsers complaining about certain Mangas being slightly risque than others. (Surprisingly enough, Seinin titles that are relatively tame, such as Historie and Bambino are there, as are popular childish fare such as DragonBall and Dragon Quest.) Sadly, it looks like it will also be disbanded along with the main site, so my slim hope of a surviving site was diminished.

With all the people bemoaning the suspension of OneManga, I’m also surprised at the amount of people expressing schadenfreude at it going the way of the dodo. There seem to be people who feel that leachers who were just reading for kicks deserved to be kicked to the curb. Likewise, there are those who’re more knowledgeable in the Japanese language taunting others to “learn the language” just so they’ll get their fix. And then there’s those who simply don’t like Manga who’re glad to see the site going away. The more reasonable ones are those pointing out that scanlators were stealing profit from the very authors and companies they were paying homage to. (Never mind that some of these authors had never been heard of before outside their home country) Up to a point, when these struggling artists were still unrecognized, they could’ve been deserving of wider recognization. It’s when their works become licensed that they should’ve been limited. Of course, fans being eternally ravenous beasts can never be entirely satisfied with small samples and need the full course to fully experience the full impact.

Even though OneManga is going to be suspended soon, I’m pretty sure a new site will pop up to fill the void. Or the remaining Manga sites will have an increase in site hits.

I’m more likely to purchase a Manga if I’ve seen the interior, or am familiar with an artist’s works. This is why I’ve pre-ordered Moto Hagio’s Drunken Dream, but not Wandering Son from Fantagraphics, despite there being multiple words of praise for the latter. Until I see the finished product in the bookstore, I won’t make an impulse purchase.

There are Manga series that are simple TV show concepts, such as Detective Conan, or short jokes, such as Bobobo-Bobobobo or Sket Dance. Then there’s Mangas that go on for multiple volumes with no end in sight, such as Grappler Baki or Hajime no Ippo. And then there’s Mangas that’s actually not that good, or not my kind of thing. I find them to be a fancy passing, but nothing I’d actually want to buy myself. I’m the kind of person who prefers to buy books I’m likely to reread multiple times over. If I buy something, I want to make sure I get my money’s worth.

Companies can be notoriously slow in trying to pick and choose from which possible Manga titles out there could be considered the next big hit with minimal risk. The only way Viz could justify posting their Shojo Beat line online along with their Shonen Sunday and SigIkki sites would be if Nana creator Ai Yazawa recovered from her health problems. Other sites are more eloquent about why taking down OneManga could be considered a bad idea, so I won’t repeat what they’ve said. I will however, point out what I liked about the Manga site.

Several things the site got right:

- Having the various titles divided by genre (Action, Drama, Sports, etc.)
- Artists / Writer works grouped together as well.
- Easy-to-navigate dropdown title search.
- Having a preview of the Manga cover on their prospective pages.
- Respect for various companies' properties. (Dark Horse, CMX, Bandai, Seven Seas, Vertical...)
- It was also very easy to skip to a later page, using the sidebar.
- Likewise, when selecting the chapters of a certain Manga, you could see their titles. This could make it very helpful in narrowing down a certain scene you might’ve been unsure of re-visiting.

I always liked how easy it was to scroll through the pages. (Either just click on the image or click the right arrow key) Not to mention the next chapter was available, even if you had to suffer through multiple pages of credits. Viz could stand to learn from this.


- Depending on the Manga, they might not start off with the title cover, which could only appear at the end of a chapter, making for slightly schizophrenic reading.
- Some double-page spreads were sometimes scrunched too much to be able to read some of the smaller writing. (MangaFox, buggy as it was, has this slight advantage over them.)
- Some scans were of inferior translation quality, and ruined my reading experience.
- Although they credited who did the translation, they didn’t give links to these scanlators’ homepage. (This might’ve turned out to be a plus)

Quite likely, OneManga fell victim to its own success. The whole point of posting unknown Mangas online was for fans to easily share their joy with others, without having to resort to lengthy downloads or brain-wracking translating. Now, what was once a niche hobby has now blossomed into a huge monster that threatens to overwhelm its closest competitors.

There is a possible silver lining in this, and it didn’t occur to me until I recalled the shaky origins of Manga trying to find a foothold here. Could there be a similar site that focussed on Bande Dessines? (French / European comics) With the Smurfs joining and forming the triumvirate of popular BDs such as Asterix & Tintin, there’s no better time to push ahead the realm of French comics. Manga sales in France are second only to Japan, and with the wide amount of comics available there, it’s not hard to see why.

There have been sporadic translations of various French comics, but they’ve been few and far between. If a site could collect and post these for passive viewing in a format similar to the OneManga mold, it could spread more demand for BDs in the same way that ToriyamaWorld was able to create demand for Hikaru no Go.

Something to consider - Manga didn’t start to get popular until they started releasing titles aimed at children. The whole Pokemon craze is the obvious result of that. Some children’s titles that would be very popular among the young age set, along with Adult readers include Violine, Little Spirou, Gaston Lagaffe, Nathalie, and Mafalda. These are truely All-Ages titles. You can find three translations in the comments - just look for Mike Hunter.

Then there are titles that are considered too different or daring to be released stateside. Pyrénée is about a teenage girl living in the wild - and she spends the entire story entirely naked. It’s not sexual at all, but could make some Conservative groups very nervous. Chninkel (by the same artist as Thorgal) is the only European comic to be shown on a Manga scanlation site.

There was a time when a Manga scanlator tried to scanlate Lanfeust of Troy, but it didn’t last for long. If a few scans were translated, it might inspire others to finish what was started.
What we need now is a scanlation site that in a few years, will make European Companies threaten to shut them down. Once they do that, we’ll know that we’ve succeeded.

There would have to be limits to what could be shown of course. For starters - no comics that are already being translated into English. Anything currently being released by Cinebook would be off limits. (The only exceptions would be those early volumes that have been skipped over in order to get to the good stuff. This isn’t unusual - the French Calvin volumes started from the 3rd book Yukon Ho!, and near the end, started reprinting the earlier stuff) If these companies wanted to expand on their sales, they could stand to show a few sample pages of what their books are like, so their audience could have a better idea of what to expect. One such example would be Thorgal, which is like a Viking version of Conan the Barbarian, only more sophisicated. I’m glad to finally see this in English, even though they skipped the first two books.

There are several samples available on ScansDaily. I particularly recommend Navis, Gaston, Neêkibo, and Spirou.

Of course, BDs face an uphil battle on several fronts. 1. The books are expensive - $15 for what amounts to 48-62 pages. Granted, those pages are chocked-filled with detail, but it doesn’t feel as much bang for your buck as a single Manga volume does. 2. There’s no good media awareness. The comics themselves are admittedly, very intelligent, but when they’re made into Movies or TV shows, something’s lost in the conversion. Check out any Asterix movie, and compare it against the original comics it inspired. You’ll be dismayed at how much was lost.

If I had a piece of advice to anyone who’d want to translate from French to English, I’d suggest that they go the bowlderization route, and make the transistion as easy as possible. It’s too easy to Babelfish everything and miss the little nuances in the text.

Mais... mais... translates to but... but..., but could be better translated as Wait a minute... It’s basically a placeholder until they’re able to gather their thoughts together.
Quelle Horror translates to How horrible, but could be better translated as That’s awful.
The point is not to be 100% accurate, but to make the text match the images as best as possible.

If 1% of 1% of the Manga scanlators out there could use the energy they put into translating weekly Manga into translating BDs, we could be exposed to a much wider variety of comics than usual. As I’ve said before, there’s literally tons of untranslated stuff over there that’s in desperate need of wider recognization.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Favorite American Splendor Stories

Upon finishing my last blog post, it occured to me that I hadn’t actually paid tribute to Harvey Pekar. I’d just referenced another comic strip that I thought Harvey would’ve liked. Of course, when thinking about American Splendor itself, I’m more likely to think of comics that seemed similar to it, without implying their influence. When two people stumble upon a similar idea, thier results might be very different.

Ben Katchor’s Cardboard Valise is even more user unfriendly than any of Pekar’s long-winded rants. It feels very much what an American Splendor strip would be like if it were a weekly. It’s even done in a very scratchy style that makes me think it’s how Harvey would’ve drawn it with his limited skills.

But I’m not going to talk about Ben Kachor - I’m here to talk about my favorite American Splendor stories.

I was able to appreciate the early Harvey stories, mainly because of Crumb’s artwork. I first read his stuff as a child, due to my library having the 4th Crumb Book. This, along with the 3rd Barefoot Gen volume and an early What’s Michael? collection were my first entry into independent comics. (My mind was invariably twisted at a young age, thanks to these books)

First, a few omissions - I’m not going to include the David Letterman ones, since I’ve never been able to watch Pekar on TV. Until Youtube is able to close-caption the relevant interviews, I won’t be able to understand the appeal of the show. As faithful as the retelling of the behind-the-scenes comic was, I get the feeling that I’m missing a lot not seeing it in person. I can appreciate Pekar’s wanting to broach more serious issues on air, in order to appear as more than a quirky comic creator. It’s reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where Bart, after being strongly identified with a catch phrase (“I didn’t do it”), wanted to broaden his horizons.

I’m also going to leave out Our Cancer Year. As much as I can understand the trailblazing of a difficult topic, both the story and artwork in the book leave me cold. I’ve never been able to appreciate Frank Stack’s artwork. The sole exception being a select few. (Check the honourable mentions section at the bottom)

I’m much more likely to read Pekar’s foray into having to deal with losing his voice for months on end. That’s more identifiable to me, even though the story goes on and on. But the length works, since you keep expecting it to get better, and it keeps eluding you. It also serves very well as emotional foil for what Pekar was going through, making you identify with the man more.

I’m also going to leave out his Jazz reviews. Obviously, being a deaf person, I can’t appreciate music in the same vein as he could. The only thing I can contribute is the metaphor I read somewhere that American comics were Jazz, and Manga were classical music.

And now, my favorites, in no discernable order! (Titles may not be accurate, as the books are currently out of the library, and are basically recalled from memory)

Who is Harvey Pekar? - This was the first American Splendor comic I read, after having read every other comic in the bookstore. What really makes this one stand out are the pauses Harvey takes to tell his story. They’re the comic equivalent of paragraph breaks. They give the reader time to reflect on the previous words, and switch to a similar topic without making the reader feel like they’re reading one long infodump.

Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines - a classic, and the inspirational scene in the American Splendor movie.

Jazz Addiction - Pekar’s continual obsession with Jazz records leads him to buy whatever stuff’s out there that’s worth listening. At a radio show, he makes a subtle play to steal some records from the place, but is foiled by a single locked bathroom door. After the downer, feels that he’ll never be able to break the habit, but is surprised the next morning that the bad feeling is still there. Apparently, the thrill was gone, and he was able to focus his energies into writing comics.

Christina - Pekar recalls a woman worker who was one of the most eccentric people he’d ever seen. Her activities included randomly kissing close friends, sleeping in the sun, rollerskating to work, and mailing pieces of written toilet paper from Alaska.

Stealing Papers - Pekar steals - borrows - his neighbour’s paper, and every little sound makes him sure his neighbour’s suspects that it was HE who continually stole his paper every morning.

Mourning - a man at work tells his co-workers that his father just died, and his mother was really mad at him. The reason being that, upon hearing his death, he asked if he could have his desert.

Before Noon - a man picks up a phone, and replies with “Before Noon”, and when the call’s finished, his co-workers ask why he answered that way. He said that since it wasn’t afternoon, but earlier, he said “Before Noon”.

Performance Art - a man dressed only in half a fish costume performs in front of a toilet bowl that ends with half the audience yelling and screaming to get outside, and the new unsuspecting customers to hear the baffling warning cry, “Don’t Kiss the Mermaid!!”

Kaparra - An amazing story about a Holocaust survivor who arrives at a camp. I’ll say no more.

Maus Haus - a parodical work of a Jewish WWII survivor in the style of Maus.

Violence - Harvey talks about how he tended to get into fights as a kid, and how that continued with some close calls as an adult.

Broken Window - After Harvey accidentally breaks a garage window after saying he’d be careful, his father rushes towards him in a rage. Later, when he wakes up, he’s surprised to find himself lying in bed with his parents looking concerned over him. He’s also surprised to find out how much time’s passed, and why his parents weren’t upset about the broken window.

Jury Duty - Pekar goes to a courthouse, and explains his reluctance to be a juror, which causes nervousness on the prosecution side of the court. The defence thinks Pekar’d be a fine Juror himself. Ultimately, he isn’t chosen to be one of the finalists, but is able to get some reading done.

Stetsons - on a rainy day, Pekar winds up in a second-hand clothing store, and while looking around, chances upon some shoes from his childhood in good condition.

Autographing - Pekar goes to a comic store to do some celebrity signing, and only two people show up asking for his autograph. Later, one of the men who's in the arm and is interested in his work has a long talk for the remainder of the day. Before the store closes, Harvey and his wife choose several books to make up for the lack of customers sent his way. When the owner appoligizes for lack of business, Harvey feels that between the bargain and the conversation, he actually managed to get ahead in the deal.

I am a Man - Pekar’s bout with a clogged toilet leads him to remark a long-denied claim of ritual into adulthood. I’m oftentimes amazed at how people can manage to figure things out on their own without an instruction manual or textbook. Even more impressive if they’ve never done these things before.

The Quitter - in a direct reversal of the Shonen desire to be the best at everything, Harvey is so distressed at the possibility of failure, that he feels it's better to stop while ahead, rather than lose. As a result, he doesn't become particularly good at anything.

The Chester Brown Comics - In the brief five pages, showed his relationship with the Canadian artist. When I saw Harvey’s tense stance, he reminded me of The Brain from Pinky & the Brain. At the end of the 4-pager, Harvey mentioned liking Degrassi High, while Chester didn’t. As a fan of the show, I can understand why Harvey liked it. If your teenage media input is mostly 90210, then Degrassi must seem like a breath of fresh air. It also didn’t hurt that most episodes ended mostly unresolved. An example would be a character turning around to say a last line - and then the freeze right there. This used to drive me nuts. Even though I knew what the character could’ve said, I never got the closure I needed. The closest comic I can think of that perfectly emulates the “Degrassi ending” is the last story in Joe Ollman’s This Will All End in Tears.

Also, I find it strange that he prefered realistic art over cartoonier art, when most autobios generally favor the latter for more relatable narrators. Guy Deslie, Marjane Satrapi, David B, Art Spigelman and Scott McCloud all used cartoony avatars, and no one seems to think less of them for it.

This might be why he had trouble with Chester Brown’s self-caricature of himself as a Plushie Bunny. (If it makes things better, he used to portray his then-girfriend as a chipmunk too)

Honorable Mentions

These are the stories that I like to read from the halfway point, rather than start from the beginning.

- A piece of history that eventually devolves into an argument about how Socrates was dishonest.

- Harvey has a caricatured arguement with Crumb over the quality of his work.

- Pekar sets up a matchmaker with an educated man and a ticket woman, and all the guy can talk about is the weather.

- The constantly changing relationship of a Jewish man Harvey works with.

- One of the few stories by Frank Stack I don't mind reading. Has Harvey at a comic convention, noticing that one printing of his American Splendors is of better quality than the other. After talking to a friend of his for the majority of the strip, almost sells him several copies, then suddenly relents, since he figures he should hold on to the good printings while he can, since “Y’never know.”

- The differences between Harvey and his wife.

- Harvey waits for a woman to get off the phone so she can drive him home, but loses patience and his temper, thinking she'll never get off, and starts walking. Later, a car comes alongside him, and it's the woman who was on the phone, who was wondering where he was. (I'm a lot like Harvey in his regard for losing control, and am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who understand me)

- Harvey's car breaks down, and is lucky enough to get helpful information from a nearby garage attendant when any other garage would've cost him much more.

- The aforementioned Asperger story. It wasn’t by Pekar himself, but was good enough to merrit a mention.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Posy Simmonds

With the sudden death of legendary comic writer Harvey Pekar, I was surprised at how upset I felt. After all, I hadn’t read his stuff in a long time, and found that rereading his works could sometimes be something of a chore.

For me, it was because Pekar was just finally beginning to have his earlier works recognized after working for years in obscurity. His comics might not have spoken to the average comic shop customer, but they certainly reached a wider audience when they were collected in attractive books. Then his agreement with several publishers gave him another creative outlet to produce expanded versions of his earlier stories. I hope he managed to write several scripts yet to be drawn before his untimely demise.

Since Harvey Pekar had help from other artists who helped support his vision (which can’t have been easy), it gives me a margin of hope that I might be able to find someone willing to draw my story ideas. One comic I was particularly interested in was where a man with Asperger’s Syndrome wrote a comic-based biography in a stuffed envelope that was eventually placed in the middle of a typical Pekar story.

It was only after reading his American Splendor books that I managed to better appreciate the works of Posy Simmonds.

Comic veterans know Posy by her later adult books, Gemma Bovary - a modern retelling of the classic book Madame Bovary, and Tamara Drew - based on Far from the Maddening Crowd. But what not many know is that before she started writing and drawing these dense comics (which have written prose alongside the drawings, which also have word balloons) she drew a weekly strip for the Guardian originally titled “The Silent Three”. It started off as a parody of girl’s adventures stories. But later, evolved into a more sophisicated strip that poked at the foibles of Middle-Class living.

Strangely enough, unlike other strips which hang on to their titles for maximum recognization, later versions of the strip were left untitled, oftentimes replaced by the theme it was going to cover. The book collections so far are: Mrs Weber's Diary, Pick of Posy, Very Posy and Pure Posy. Named more for the artist than any characters in the books.

In my mind, this seemed to me what a cross between For Better or For Worse and American Splendor would look like, if Pekar had a consistent artist. If FBOFW was the highest bar that could be set for a Family comic strip, then Posy Simmonds sets that bar even higher. And this was in the mid-1980’s, when FBOFW was just finding its legs.

By sheer chance, I found two books collecting her early stuff, which strangely hasn’t been reprinted, given her later notoriety. Even stranger is that her collections are out of chronological order. You’ll have a strip from 1985 alongside a strip postmarked from ‘87.

At first, I thought she didn’t seem to have any understanding about the comics medium, since she was continually defying my perceived conceptions of how comics should be. Take a look at the last panel of this strip:

The businessman is thinking of himself talking about himself. The obvious “correct” way would be just to have a blank balloon with the relevant text, but alongside the other characters who’re thinking of themselves, it kind of makes sense. It was maddening to me how she would insert narrative where there didn’t need to be any. Then there would be little notations for how a character would talk. Instead of using half-invisible balloons for soft speaking, she would use *undertone* instead.

The cast consists of:

Wendy Weber - a former nurse turned writer of children’s books, and the central character of the strip. Obvious avatar for Posy Simmonds herself, since she also wrote children’s books herself. Wendy has SIX children.
George Weber - Wendy’s husband, is a polytechnic sociology (social science) teacher, and tends to go off into psychological intellectual observations that are almost impossible to impentrate.
Benji Weber - the youngest of Wendy’s children.
Amanda and Tasmin Weber - twin girls.
Sophie and Beverly Weber - despite being teenages of similar ages and opposite gender, they’re almost never seen. Their role is mostly supplanted by...
Belinda Weber - the eldest daughter of the Weber family. Is also the most mature and something of a rebel.

Trish Wright - former art gallery assistant.
Stanhope Wright - an advertising executive who has blatant affairs with other women.
Willy Wright - Trish and Stanhope’s baby boy.
Jocasta Wright - Stanhope’s teenage daughter from his first marriage. Self-dependant art student who’s in a relationship with an older man.

Jo Heep - tennis coach
Edmund Heep - a whisky salesman who’s also an alcoholic and looks just like W.C. Fields.
Julian and Jolly Heep - two rebellious teenagers who, despite their punk getup, are more sophisicated than they look.

Then there are various stories from their Mother-in-Laws, other relatives and the occasional neighbor friend who may show up once.

Like Pekar, Posy had a very linguistic verbosity within her strip. At times, it was so British it could be difficult to figure out what some of the characters were saying, and necessitated multiple re-readings to understand the underlying message.

It was only when I read this strip below that I began to understand why a lot of the humour tended to go over my head. It depended a lot on the dilemmas of class divisions, and the notion that certain people are better than others. Once I got that tidbit of information down, the social arguements in other strips began to make much more sense.

If there is a fault, it may be that some strips need a certain British mentality to truely appreciate them. Not to mention that because of the sporadic organization of the collections, there’s not a continual story line. All the characters are locked in their roles and never advance or grow any older. When the strip ended in 1987 (with the marrying of Belinda) that might have been around when Posy decided to stop.

This is not an easy strip to jump into, but then again, neither was Pekar’s works. You need a really open mind to be able to appreciate these kind of comics. They’re more satirical and witty than actually funny.

This is something that comic veterans should give a shot at, if they find the current comic output to be lacking. I’m sorry that I never got the chance to tell Pekar about this strip before he died. We should pay our respects for those groundbreaking trailblazers before they pass on. I can only hope we can get more appreciative stuff from Yoshihiro Tatsumi before he succumbs to cancer as well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Octopus Pie

Playing a little catch-up with this piece of news, since I'm not a sports fan, but thought this was too good to pass up.

With the Soccer World Cup coming to a close, fans were reaching a fever pitch. The further certain countries get into the finals, the more superstition rises with each remaining team. One such noteworthy superstition was Paul the Octopus.

Cute little bugger ain't he? The usual ritual was to put a piece of food between two different cases, each one portraying a different country. In previous meals, the octopus generally favored Germany. So it was a great shock when he favored the container representing Spain instead. They should've chosen something more to Paul's liking if they were worried about the results. Ironically enough, the last time Paul chose Spain, Germany won. This led others to hope that the outcome would be the same as last time.

It wasn't. On the day of the match, Spain won the day with an exciting 1-0 game, which is par for the course for Soccer games. This led to baffling cries of "The octopus was right!" to anyone who wasn't in the know.

This in turn led to the psychic octopus getting death threats and songs baying for his blood(?). Which led me to wonder what kind of lyrics could be considered anti-molluskic? After all, these creatures are already considered ugly - what more could we say that'll make them sound worse? The closest I can think of is the following to the theme of "Alligator Pie".

Octopus stew, octopus stew.
If I don't get any, I don't know what I'll do.
Take away my vuvuzela, take away my kazoo,
But don't take away my octopus stew.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Old-School Ipod

Everyone knows about those iconic Ipod advertisements, where there would be people dancing to the music in Silhouette, right? I found a Sunday comic that might've subconsciously influenced this - from 1987, when such things were called Walkmans.

The vacuum cord even acts like the headphone cords for the Ipod as well. I didn't think about this until I noticed. Being deaf, I don't have any real interest in music. I might sound like one of those old fogies, but to me, ALL music is noise to me. (Which, technically, is the definition of music, only it's synchronized noise) Interestingly enough, I have a hobby of collecting Fansubbed Anime theme songs, since I prefer these verbose lyrics to the official versions. In some cases, I preferred the theme songs to the shows themselves. Seeing the words onscreen and eventually figuring out the rhythm is rather challenging, especially since most of the words don't rhyme. They're more like poems than anything.

Seeing the lyrics in accordance with the Animation makes me wonder if that's how people who watched MTV enjoyed music videos in the same way. As I mentioned before, I convert words to pictures, and pictures to sound, so it's a very unique visceral experience for me.

When I started to like the catchyness of a theme song (either the opening or closing), I used to try to copy as many of the words I could in the darkness of the Anime clubroom with a pen & paper handy. Oftentimes, I wouldn't succeed the first time around, and had to wait two weeks for the next meeting to catch the next installment. Not to mention some lines would go by so fast I'd have to make mental notes to keep my eyes on the middle of the screen. Also, since I was writing in the dark, I left whole sections left blank, and tried to fill those lines in the second time around, and got some lines mixed up.

Thankfully, Youtube helped relieve me of some of this madness. Especially since I was a perfectionist, and wanted to make sure I had the commas, periods and ellipsis right. Sadly enough, Japan got fidgety enough about the Youtube posts, and had the majority of them removed, further negating another generation from enjoying them. Next to not getting a copy of the Italian Calvin animation, I regret not getting a copy of these when I had the chance.

(Half) - 2nd Opening
I put my ear to your back and hold you.
My body bothers me like a border line...
I feel so uneasy that you might disappear...
My feelings drive me nuts if I hold them inside.
I always want to be close to you. Never further than 10 feet from me.
Let’s take turn pulling rose petals.
Passing over bowing sun flowers.
Riding on the wind... so I can fly...
First time I felt your temperature
I wanna be much stronger than anyone!
With warm rhythm.
Two hearts beat as one...
Lip and lip. Eye and eye. Hand and hand...
God doesn’t forbid anything at all.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
I’m not tired yet, but an adult wouldn’t get it.
It’s so painful, distressing...
I wanna show my feelings, it’s almost exploring.
I’m waiting for you, pretending I’m not waiting.
That’s why... Touch my cheek with your trembling hands in your front pockets.
Cast spell over my loving heart. Like, not to let the sun go down.

(It’s Gonna Rain) - 5th Ending
With my light step... Ciao... Ciao...
With great haste... Ciao... Ciao...
A rumbling of thunder like a lion’s roar,
Urges us to leave... What’s gonna happen... So...
It’s gonna rain.
I really hate rain... Ciao... Ciao...
I wanna stay here a little longer... Ciao... Ciao...
The time is coming when my pleasurable feelings have to leave...
So clear the lion wants to hurry this... So annoying to me!
It’s gonna rain!
The rain is already...
Erasing our memories...
He is already...
Forgeting about me...
Two are already...
Coming to an end...
Everything that’s happened to us is because of the rain...
It’s gonna rain...
It’s gonna rain...

In these two cases of Ruronin Kenshin, I only have the memory of the accompanying images that showed alongside the lyrics, and it disappoints me that no one else will know about these. I live in the hope that someday, I'll be able to find somebody who still has the ShinSenGumi fansub of the Kyoto arc, since it was so well done.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Singular Icons

Scott McCloud talked about how iconic images could portray certain moods, and if other cartoonists picked them up, it would become part of their language. I wanted to pay tribute to certain icons that never quite caught on.

In my last post, I talked about the usage of dots, and that got me thinking about other iconic signatures that certain cartoonists use that no one else’s picked up on. One that comes to mind is the ! sign that shows above Blondie characters when they’re surprised. The difference being that there’s no period point - their heads fill that role.

Here’s a close-up of the last two panels of the strip. Here, the !, and later, the question mark is given its own balloon. Even though the ! could’ve been contained in a balloon of its own, there’s no iconic equivalent of an ? there. This example always stood out for me.

Another lesser known example is the pointing of fingers in the British comic, Beau Peep. (I may do a future blog post about this strip)

In here, the icon is more of an accompanying noise with a motion. It appears when the person’s acknowledged something, or figured something out.

Here’s a rare first panel example of the technique. Here, it’s very subtle, but the “Click!” may be coming from the snapping of fingers. That could be portrayed in an easier manner, with a little spark in front of the fingers, like most Mangas do it. The “Click!” is rather tricky to convey in other comics, which is why I suppose only this comic has it. Not all experiments work out, which is why we’ve got to keep trying new things.

Now, for the biggie. There’s a certain iconic element that’s oftentimes been portrayed in old Archie comics. It’s the dual ovals.

I have no idea what to call these, so we'll call them "ovals" for now. This usually showed up when an Archie character was exasperated by something. It was usually accompanied with a hand slap to the face.

Here’s a longshot two-handed slap.

Here’s a rare half-oval, without an accompanying slap. I suppose Archie’s interruption filled that role.

Here's an even rarer example - a reaction without a single physical element influencing the character. (For those of you curious as to what happened, you can read the entire story here:)

After seeing this element in multiple places, I was finally able to figure out what emotion this was conveying - disbelief in what they were seeing or hearing.

This is an even trickier emotion to convey than insight, and there aren’t too many instances where this could come in play. Newspaper comics were more likely to use the pull-away “plop” panel where a character would faint backwards at something somebody would say. This was eventually taken to ridiculous extremes by Manga characters who would react violently, by slamming straight at the floor, causing earthquakes everywhere.

The closest we ever got to seeing this happen in another comic was in Jeff Smith’s Bone, when Phoney Bone was receiving a reversal of fortune upon Lucius’ Bar bet.

We could’ve gotten a revival that could’ve been picked up by other cartoonists wanting to capitalize on this forgotten technique. But Jeff Smith said he wanted to use his own brand of cartooning, and that meant no flashbacks, no narrative boxes, and no thought balloons. While I can appreciate that kind of straightforward kind of storytelling, I’m still left wondering if he missed his opportunity in that single panel alone.