Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Cold Day in January

The 1988 calendar was my first FBofW calendar. I have no idea if there were any earlier calendaes before then, since all my searches only result in the latest calendars being sold. On its own, it serves as a good introduction to the Patterson houshold.

With the advent of Global Warming mucking up the usual weather paterns lately, the prospect of dressing up in as little protective winterwear doesn't seem as preposterous as it once did.

These calendars also had mini illustrations in the dates page. Many of these for this year were reprinted in subsequent book collections. (It's all Downhill From Here) However, for some reason, many of them didn't fit the thematic format of the month. I'm only posting this one as an example, since it captures the mood of the year-end party. In future months, I'll refrain from posting the redundant extras (to save image memory space) unless it has some relevance.

1992 was also around the same time that April would later make her appearance. Since it could take around two years for a calendar to be released, the cartoonist had to prepare the character design well ahead in advance. As a result, we don't get to see April's earliest inception this month. (Try again in March) For a serial strip that relied on consistency, the artist couldn't afford to stray too far from the planned character designs. This was just one of several reasons why Lynn Johnson felt burnt out around the beginning of the 21st century (the biggest factor being the death of her mentor Charles Schultz) and resorted to doing future calendars using old strips on autopilot.

Before then, the later calendars had all-new illustrations in the dates area that served to give some silent commentary similar to the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strips.

On some occasions, some months would have jokes that would be single-panel variations of previous jokes. Although I enjoy the snowman's reaction here, this is still just a slight variation of this strip. (And later, an expanded Sunday)

This was one of the elements that would inspire me to do my Mathematical Equivalence of Comics post. (Still one of my proudest accomplishments) There's still several comics observations I have in mind that I hope to publish once I get the chance at getting around to them. Putting the calendar pages at the beginning of each month should make it easier to free my mind up on what subject to talk about on a given week.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Metaphorical Library Trials

The Bibliothèque Nationale is the biggest library in the Monteal area. It houses an impressive four floors of media, for research and entertainment purposes. Recently, they've even devoted an entire month to the mechanics of Manga. The amount of reading material is enough to fulfil the curiosity of anybody on the lookout for wisdom. Of course, the most common areas I traverse are the shelves that contain stuff that I’m interested in, which happen to be the comics section. It’s also one of the most heavily populated areas of the library, and there are numerous patrons taking advantage of the lounge chairs with a pile of reading material handy. There’s a whole wing devoted to French BDs, and a smaller area that houses some English comics. (That’s not even counting the children’s section which is on a different floor entirely) Still, there’s enough material available to ensure my multiple visits to this library. That, and I can only take out ten comics at a time, due to the restrictions of the loaning period. Although I can borrow a maximum of 15 items, only 10 of them can be about the same subject material, and I can only take out 3 DVDs at a time. (Pay attention to this part. You’ll be quizzed on this later) However, since I can borrow entire TV series for three weeks, without having to worry about marathoning the contents in a week, I can afford to take my time. Even so, I keep finding myself returning to the Bibliothèque Nationale at least twice a week so I can take read the other comics that I haven’t had a chance to before.

However, as much as I’ve been praising the merits of the system, that still hasn’t stopped me from running into certain problems there that I normally don’t encounter at other libraries.

The whole reason I bothered to study to be a librarian was so I wouldn’t feel embarassed at having to ask for help on where I wanted to look up certain books. (That, and I hoped that I might be able to find some children’s books I encountered as a child) Along my educational path, I learned about having to deal with unexpected disasters such as problem patrons. These are the kind of people that you won’t find on your final exams. They’re members of the public who react outside the boundaries of library settings, and dealing with them requires innovation and lateral thinking. One such example involved a flasher who would brazenly expose himself to anybody unfortunate enough to catch his attention. He would wantonly open his coat without discrimination. Upon facing the head librarian, he proudly displayed his natural bathing suit to the woman. She looked at the man, inspected him from head to toe and calmly said, “I’ve seen better”. The flasher glumly walked off the grounds and never came back.

I only bring this up because there are occasions where even the best programmed system can encounter situations that no amount of preparation can adequately prepare for. Outside the entrance of the Bibliothèque Nationale are two guards who monitor the comings and goings of the populace, to ensure that no valuable materials get taken and that everyone goes through the ‘enter’ and ‘exit’ doors properly. If the detector goes off, they stop whoever’s going through, and ask them to check their luggage to ensure that nothing important gets smuggled out.

Normally, I wouldn’t think too much of such a system, since I wouldn’t expect myself to get caught trying to sneak something out without registering it first. If I wanted to, I would read it in the library first. (That’s one less book I’d have to take out, leaving me room for more) However, due to a little glitch, I somehow managed to get stopped several times while trying to leave. At first, this confused me, since I’m normally a morally-abiding citizen (within reason) and would never think of trying to blatantly break the law. The cause of the detector going off? A book I took out of another library.

If you’re not aware of the typical library anti-theft system, I’ll give you the reader’s digest version. There are magnetic bar codes inserted inside library books that will go off if they aren’t deactivated. However, the library that I borrowed the offending book from was one that I was working part-time at, and hadn’t bothered to install their scanner. Because this library didn’t get much repeat business since they were under renovation, they saw no need to invest their funds for something that would have limited practical uses. As a result, every time I tried to move past the heavily guarded detectors at the Bibliothèque Nationale, their books would alert another library’s anti-theft system.

Even when I knew beforehand that these books would set off the alarm, I couldn’t convince the librarians to take the books beforehand and ‘legally smuggle’ it to the other side. I had to get ‘caught’ first, then prove that the rest of the stuff in my backpack was safe, then I could safely move out and catch the metro.

The second incident that happened was something that sounds very Kafkaesque. Normally, when I want to reserve a book or DVD at a library, I make an request to hold onto it, especially if the item’s recently available. Recently, I saw from the online database that a potentially interesting show, The 4400, a concept that sounded similar to Heroes (though not quite like Misfits) had two copies of the first season available that day. Naturally, I made an online request to reserve it for me, and expected to find it waiting for me when I came for my next visit.

However, upon arriving, I found that not only wasn’t my request not kept, it was outrightly declined. Why? Apparently, according to the library’s system, it can only reserve items that have already been taken out. Because one DVD was already borrowed by another patron, and the other DVD was still in the library, I wasn’t eligible. Okay, so I thought, “If the other DVD’s available, I should be able to find it first, before anybody else gets the wise idea of taking it out before me.” So I went to the section where their DVD section is a disorganized mess. While their movies are categorized by subject, you need to flip back the covers just to see the titles, and nothing’s in alphabetical order. It’s a wonder anybody manages to find anything there. Though that might be part of their strategy - forcing their patrons to check out the similar items on the shelves encourages them to see other shows they might’ve not considered otherwise.

After a fruitless search, I was wondering whether some nameless patron was walking around one of the other floors, holding my copy of the DVD that was rightfully mine, just taunting me with the knowledge that he could’ve taken it out anytime he wanted, but wanted to continue torturing me with the slim hope it was still in the library somewhere. That was when I found out the awful truth - no patron had it - it was still on the library returns shelf.

The Bibliothèque Nationale is so large that when an item is returned, it takes three days before it’s put back into circulation. That means that as long as it’s still in the reserve shelves, it counts as ‘being in the library’.

So, not only CAN'T I reserve a DVD if it’s available, I ALSO can’t take out said DVD if it’s available. My only hope at seeing this show is to reserve the DVD when BOTH discs are taken out and thus AREN’T available. (I also have to pray that the third DVD which is still being processed doesn’t happen to make itself available at the same time the other DVDs are taken out)

Now, I’ve saved the most recent event and best one for last, which was the inspiration for this post.

I just went to the library to pick up a reservation of the second season of Babylon 5, which I was only slightly interested in, since I understood it got better after the first season. That, and it was written by the same guy who wrote The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. I managed to find my reservation in the corner where they were kept. Unlike other libraries which kept their reservations behind the counter, our reservations were available for easy picking. Easy, that is, if you could find it, since they were colour-coded by the date they were set aside, and the number you were registered under. After looking through every shelf containing my identification number, I finally found my DVD under the last shelf, which naturally was the first available shelf. However, just before I went to the self check-out lane, I decided to access my account and see if I could slim down my reservations some. In addition to only taking out three DVDs, I could only reserve three DVDs at a time. (Remember the restrictions I mentioned earlier? This will become relevant soon enough) Naturally, I saw that my earlier reservation was still online. So I got the idea of removing my request for Babylon 5, since I already had the item I wanted in my hand, and submitted another DVD request. Satisfied, I went to the self check-out center to register my items and leave.

Then things got complicated when I was notified that my DVD was requested by somebody else, and could only be notified by the library clerk. No problem. I’d just have to stand in line and have them do the job for me. So I stood. And waited for my turn.

Below is a rough summary of the dialogue that ensued:

Librarian: You can’t take this out. This DVD is reserved for somebody else.
Me: Yes, but you don’t understand. I canceled my request before I could take it out. I had no idea that by doing so, I would be voiding my request. I’m simply asking for the simple courtesy of mending a little mistake I made.
Librarian: I’m sorry, but the next person is waiting for his reservation. You’ll have to wait your turn.
Me: I came all the way down here for this DVD! And now you’re telling me that you won’t even go to the effort of taking maybe thirty seconds to reverse my cancellation?!
Librarian: You’re holding up the line, sir.

I was exasperated. Naturally, I thought that since it took a few minutes for my requests to come through, it would take a similar amount of time for my redundant cancelations to register. After all, this was a system where it took three days just to put a book back on the shelves. The whole process of canceling my reservation happened much faster than I anticipated. I had no idea that there were other people ahead of me who wanted to see the same show that I did. In my mind, the number of interested people begins and ends with me. I pleaded with the guy behind the counter to reconsider his decision, maybe even hand over the DVD case so I could make a stronger argument, but he held fast to his convictions.

Exasperated but not quite defeated, I went to the Information desk to see if they could help change his mind. (I also wanted to change my notification of when my reservations came in from telephone calls to emails, since I’m deaf, but that was a complaint for later)

It took me an extraordinary amount of repeating my story several times before my complaint was fully understood. Part of the problem was that the library and its librarians were mostly French, and I wasn’t making things much clearer because I was quite upset. (Even the Bibliothèque Nationale website is dominantly French, and every time I try to convert it to English, it’ll revert back to its home language when I try to use one of its useful links) Eventually I managed to get across that I had unknowingly canceled my reservation five minutes before I took out the very item that I wanted to take out. Fortunately, the Information guys were sympathetic to my cause, but were mystified on where to find the DVD I wanted. In the time it took me to explain my dilemma and them to comprehend my complaint, Babylon 5 had already been swallowed up into the vast expanse that made up the Bibliothèque Nationale reserves. I offered to lend my eagle-eye expertise at finding the proverbial needle in their haystack of happy returns, but they declined on the grounds that they couldn’t let the public behind their nationally guarded secret revival procedure. Potential spies could steal their techniques, and some of the magic might be lost.

Sorry to disappoint everybody hoping for a happy outcome, but it is the nature of Kafkaesque stories that things never end well.

I later asked the guys behind the Information desk if this situation was a frequent occurrence in their line of work. They had to admit that they’d never encountered this kind of thing before. That’s the problem with fool-proof plans - inevitably, some idiot will find some fatal flaw in a system that no rational thinking human could possibly think up.

All people are idiots. I am a people, therefore I am an idiot.”
- Me

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Evolution

Starting next year, I thought I'd do something slightly different with this site.

On a recent episode of The Good Wife, a member of the jury mentioned that she had a blog that registered an average of 45,000 visitors a day. For a site about buttons of all things. Granted, her numbers were probably inflated due to the fact she updated at least twice a day just to jot her thoughts down, and to sound impressive in Hollywood terms, but they're still much larger than my figures, which are too embarrassing to mention in comparison.

I've noticed that most of the more popular comic blogs have a particular theme that they return to that ensures repeat readers, which is something that I'm sorely lacking. Mike Sterling has Swamp Thing, his Sluggo Saturdays and End of Civilizations. Dorian Wright has WildCat, his Gay Previews and Flops. Chris Sims has Batman and his Anita Blake / Tarot reviews. Neilalien had his Doctor Strange and daily updates. Valerie D'Orazio had her autobiographic traumatic experience as an S-hero writer. K-Box has his chart of monthly Spider-Man sales. Kleefeld has daily updates and his Garfield mash-ups.

Apparently, doing various short essays of slightly obscure Sunday comics isn't enough to guarantee repeat visitors. Not to mention that my mini-essays aren't considered long enough to attract a loyal and devoted number of return readers, especially since I only update at least twice a week, if I'm lucky.

I determine whether enough time's passed between the last time I raised the subject material in a previous post. I change subjects with pretty much every entry, because I don't want to get tied down to any one specific comic field, and my mind has a tendency to wander all over the place, depending on the latest news feed, whatever I've eaten that morning, or the general mood I'm in. One day I'll feel like posting an ambitious parody script, the next, I'll feel like blogging about an obscure comic I've just read.

Part of the reason my interests range so widely from Sunday comics to European BDs to Children's books to Manga is because I'm attracted to anything that has a good combination of words and pictures. Usually I scan various comics with the intent of creating a future post on them, and then completely forget about them until I chance upon them later. As a result, I have a very sporadic and eclectic range of tastes that may not be to everyone's liking, especially since people tend to favour one medium over another. I realize that this rapid switch in subject material might be offputting to casual readers who're expecting lighter fare, and therefore, gives them less of a reason to return.

Therefore, I've decided to have a consistent theme for the next year. At the beginning of each month, I'll be displaying the interiors of the various For Better or for Worse calendars that I've kept over the years. One month at a time. Many of these have never been collected before, even with the omnibus collections. Hopefully, this might spur other people to feel the need to share their personal calendars. I've only got five For Better or For Worse calendars, because for other years, I had other calendar choices. For some reason, it could be extremely difficult to find the proper cartoon calendar I wanted. The sad irony is that once For Better or for Worse calendars stopped being hard to find (in their home country no less), they started showing only reruns of Sunday comics, instead of single panel comics.

Whether this will actually increase my numbers remains to be seen. I don't expect an immediate pick-up just from posting a few pages here and there, but eventually, the months will accumulate, and people will start paying attention and start coming back on a regular basis. Hopefully, I'll even get some regular commentary for some of my entries. I'm more likely to be inspired by the feedback of my audience who bother to voice their opinions. I'm a stimulus-responsive kind of guy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Late Hanukah Party

Normally, I like celebrating Hanukah, because it usually comes a little earlier than Christmas. In a rare instance of synchronicity, we wound up celebrating the festival of lights rather late this year. Unlike Christian holidays, Jewish holidays operate on a lunar calendar. The earliest date was on November November 28, 1994, and the last time that Hanukah came close to Christmas was on December 24, 1997. I hoped to share the 8th candle burning on New Year's with our relatives for our New Year's party, since it was such a rare event, but things got too chaotic and unwieldy for my taste, and I forgot to take the chance to share the event with my French family members who I don't associate with much since I have trouble understanding them and vice-versa. (I never bothered to learn the language)

Our gift-giving had declined somewhat compared to previous early years of celebration where we would have a completely different gift for every day that we lit the candles. Afterwards, I would participate in the dreidel song, which I would spin around with great enthusiasm until I fell down from sheer dizzyness. (Pretty much anybody on the autistic spectrum enjoys the spinning motion, and the fact there were three stanzas of this silly song, I I could whirl around to my heart's content) Nowadays, we're lucky enough if we manage to remember to light the candles consequentively, since we're so often preoccupied with other stuff on our minds. This year, our gifts have been a package of Chocolate Hanukah gelt in the form of Canadian currency that's been rationed to two coins a day whenever we bother. The actual giving of the major gifts would come once everyone was gathered together under one roof, which happened to be last Friday.

In a surprise coincidence, my sister arrived on the same day that we got a sudden outburst of snow, around a month that had been relatively snow-free since our brief snowfall back in November. At the time, I thought for sure that the snow would multiply in increments like it did 'round this time of year. However, due to the unseasonably warm temperatures, it looked less likely that it would be a 'white Christmas' by the end of the year. As I mentioned to my sister in a previous get-together where the weather was a torrental downpour, causing flash puddles (like flash floods, only smaller) everywhere, I quoted a familiar passage that only she would've understood; "I mean, say it was snowing so hard we couldn't make a fire". (If you don't know where that came from, I pity you and your canned ravioli)

When I was little, I used to believe that if I pressed the pages of my Chickadee magazine against my bedroom window to a certain page overnight, it would snow the next morning. This was my superstitious method in making sure that there would be a snow day, and hopefully, school would be cancelled and I'd be able to romp around and play in the excess white stuff. Now that I'm older and more boring, I look forward to days when I no longer have to play dress-up in order to brave the elements and double-glare of snow blindness.

When my sister Chantal who I nickname Chant, (because she talks so much) finally arrived, we started talking about various things around the kitchen table, such as how using typewriters wasn't a requirement for getting a job. It was generally only expected for secretaries to use them. The other end of the spectrum for using typewriters was to spiff up term notes to impress the teacher with your well-written assignment. And they HAD to be well-written, since any attempts at correcting any mistakes with white-out meant that you'd have to roll the page up, apply the fluid, wait for it to dry then realign the page back into its proper place and hope it wouldn't look too off-kilter for the next letter. As a result, making the slightest error could result in extreme frustration, since it often meant having to redo the whole page over again, especially if your teacher expected good page design. Spelling mistakes, punctuation and grammar were a writer's worst nightmares, and must've been a relief just to finish a composition, since the pressure would finally be over with... until the next essay. No wonder people preferred to write instead, though even that was no guarantee. I know of a well-written essay with precise grammar and spelling that was flunked simply because it was written in three different pen colours.

Not to mention that because of how typewriter keys were designed. If they were pressed too lightly, the letter wouldn't appear on the page, or be skipped entirely. This might've been the real purpose behind those 'hunt and peck' typists who have no knowledge of the Qwerty code. They want to push the keys hard enough so they'll appear on the page, even if the carbon paper is low on ink. I also suspect this might've been the inspiration behind the writer's challenge at creating an entire novel without using single letters so they wouldn't have to spring for a new typewriter. So what if the sentences were unnaturally clunky without ever once introducing someone or something with an 'A'? Once the royalty payments came through, then they could afford a newer model.

I used to play with an old electric typewriter by trying to copy the exact words from this little extra doodle in a FBoFW book. The first few lines were relatively easy enough, but I kept messing things up in trying to duplicate the Asdfkj kind of random button-mashing done here. The 'j's hidden in the row of iiiis was really tricky to get past. Eventually, I just gave up because I always kept messing up in the row of EEEEEs, because there was an 'F' slipped somewhere in there.

The conversation then veered into how we learned to use the computer keyboard. I learned how to type thanks to a very basic computer program that started with typing out words with the four letters on my left hand, (A, S, D and F) in various combinations, then moved on to my right hand (J, K, L and ;) then expanded from there. To get an idea of how old the program was, the screen was black and green. Our first home computer wasn't that old, but it had an on/off switch at the back, Printmaster page designs, WordPerfect programs and an impressive 2000 MB of RAM. The only problem was that in order to use the files properly, you had to type certain commands using a combination of F-number keys, shift tabs and letters. You needed an instruction manual just to be able to save a shopping list there. Oh yes, this computer didn't have a mouse either.

I was reminded of a story about how the alphabet was first introduced in computer language. Originally, if you wanted to type a word, you had to do it in binary code. That meant that for every sentence, you had to do it with a series of ones and zeroes, which is only slightly less annoying than doing it in morse code. Fortunately, a woman found the whole procedure too ridiculous to contemplate and too lazy to type out the numbers herself devised a program that would remove the numbers from the equation entirely, and have the computer do the work itself. It's thanks to lethargic people like these that we're able to enjoy writing as a part-time activity as opposed to the diligent slog it was back in the days of good penmanship.

Then for some reason, we started talking about floppy discs that were found while cleaning up. my parents were worried about the content within them, because none of the more recent computers were compatible with them, and they didn't want to throw them out in case they held any incriminating information. At first, I thought they were talking about the flat square black discs with holes in them. I was later corrected that they were the more recent square ones that looked transparent, and had miniature circular CDs inside them. I had to leave the room once they started opening them up, because it was too emotionally uncomfortable for me. In fact, I often equate computer repair to brain surgery, and have the same reaction as normal people do in the presence of exploratory operations. Unlike the human body which has specific tasks designed for your innards and every organ serves a single function, the computer is nothing but a whole memory, and the thought of interfering with even a single microchip feels like prodding at a piece of the old grey matter itself. That's potential information that may never be gotten back, and it always fills me with queasiness. If my sister hadn't bothered to check the spare computer in the basement to see if it held a floppy drive, the euthanasiasm might've been carried out. (The fact it was being done with scissors didn't make it any easier)

Shopping for the family is always extremely difficult, since we have a tendency not to wait for others to give us stuff we want. My Dad is always the hardest one to shop for, since he purchases everything he needs beforehand, and has very few wants of his own, save for anything involving Tennis stuff. I preorder most of the comics that interest me, so the only books that're left are items on the backlog that sound interesting, and the hope that they haven't been sold out yet. I was fortunate enough to find several online sites selling the remaining volumes of the Suikoden III Manga to fill the holes in my collection. I casually - but not quite casually - mentioned the details of these links to my Mother in the unsubtle hint that she might order them for me, since she's normally reluctant about ordering anything for me without permission.

When she finally decided to get around to ordering the items, she wanted to take advantage of Amazon's discount shipping rate by finding as many as many discount books to add to the limit rate. If she ordered over a certain amount, the shipping for all the books would be FREE!
It was extremely difficult for me to find several books that I'd personally want to keep for my personal collection, since I still had a stack of personal books lying on a shelf that I hadn't gotten around to reading yet. Unfortunately, the various books I wanted all came from different locations outside of Canada, so she actually wound up losing more money, and had to cancel some of the extra books we'd ordered. (I didn't want most of them anyways)

While my presents were taken care of, my Mother was wracking her brain on what possible gift she could possibly give my sister for a present. I casually tossed out the suggestion that maybe she would like to have the Complete Calvin & Hobbes collection, since Chant often lamented that she didn't have her own books to read after she moved away from mine, and into a small apartment with her fiance (now husband). However, I felt that this would be too elaborate a gift, given the hefty $150 price range. For that kind of money, I could also afford a Far Side collection, which had several comics that were never collected. But even the allure of maybe 100 'new' Far Side comics couldn't stunt the blow to my wallet.

Upon further reflection in the upcoming weeks, my mother thought that a DVD collection of The Big Bang Theory would be a more suitable present. Chant had seen a few snippets of the more funnier aspects of the show, and Sheldon (the smartest guy), had so many parallels with my Aspergic tendencies that were spot-on, even though their depiction of nerd culture left me with revulsion. Of course, the hard part would be for Chant and Derek to find time to actually watch the episodes in the first place. They've still got bunches of Wii games that they still haven't gotten around to finishing yet. I gave my mother the green signal for that option, since I couldn't think of anything else.

Well, when we finally got around to giving out the gifts we'd given each other, there were some unexpected outcomes.

I lent my sister the first book of Pooch Cafe, along with multiple library books I knew she'd like, secure in the knowledge that she'd easily blaze through them within the span of a week. My sister gave my mother a Kindle, which would help with her increasingly bad eyesight, and my father, a subscription to National Geographic. (Never mind that there's already hundreds of the magazines spread throughout the house with their yellow spines that's hardly been read twice) Because of my financial crunch, the only thing I could offer was cleaning up the house before company came for New Year's, including the bathroom tubs, which seemed to please my mother greatly. (This is not an exaggeration)

Then it was time for us to receive the gifts in turn. I got the Suikoden III Mangas as expected, though I was a little annoyed that one of the volumes was a hardcover book, which would interfere with the page-turning enjoyment, but I considered that a minor inconvenience compared to actually reading the rest of the story. Then my Dad gave two boxes of Maple tea for my sister. I later found out that my sister also ordered my parents a package of the very same product for my parents as well. This tied in very well with the next gift which brought shrieks of joy across the table.

To my utter amazement, my mother had followed through on my suggestion and actually ordered the massive Calvin & Hobbes collection. Apparently, Mom was still upset about not taking advantage of the Amazon shipping last time, and upon seeing it on sale, decided to purchase it just to feel good about herself. Spending more money to save money seems to be a popular holiday pastime. My sister gleefully ripped open the fragile plastic covering and tried to wrench out a single volume from between the tight cardboard covering. That was when Chant's husband dropped the bombshell - he'd already ordered the very same collection for his wife.

In a sense, this answered a nagging question in my sister's mind. She wondered what the heavy package under her arms she was carrying from the car into the apartment could possibly be. This also left us with another moral quandary. My sister had already opened the package and tainted any possibility of returning it. Not to mention that Derek (Chant's husband) was now pressed for time in finding a replacement gift, not to mention returning the C&H book before Christmas Eve. That was when a suggestion was thrown in my dirrection - what would I think about having my personal Calvin & Hobbes collection? I objected on the grounds that I still had my own books, and didn't need extra duplicates lying around. Not to mention that I'd already made a copy of Calvin's first appearance from a library book.

I also didn't like how unwieldly the volumes were, compared to the original books, not to mention the pages were too shiny, and could blind you if the lighting wasn't perfect. I hate having to tilt my reading material at a specific angle just to be able to enjoy it. I shouldn't be held hostage to my pages based on the light source - it should be the other way around!

However, once it was pointed out that I didn't have the extra poems and stories that were available in the omnibus collections, I started backing down from my original position. Frankly, I didn't put up much of a fight. As a result, you are now looking at the reluctant owner of a perfectly good Calvin & Hobbes collection. On the minus side, my sister's surprise present for Christmas is now ruined now that she knows what it is.

For anyone who wants to try using my Chickadee page for creating their very own White Christmas, print out the following image below, press it against the window overnight, and let the magic do its work. (It had a 70% chance of success when I was little, and I take no guarantee of the efficiency of the product. Satisfaction is not guaranteed)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Alternate Tintin Interpretations

With the Tintin movie opening in America's movie theaters tomorrow, we'll face the answer to the question that's plagued long-standing oponents and faithful followers of the series for years - will the property be a hit or a miss with Americans? I've often heard the argument that Americans can't identify with the boy simply because he's too much of a boy scout. But Astro Boy and Superman are also considered boy scouts in their own right, and no one disputes their popularity, even though they've fallen out of favour recently. Perhaps their fears stems from Tintin not having any powers, save for cunning, resourcefullness, and nigh invulnerability in the face of danger. Who could possibly identify with such an improbable character?

Quebeccers were fortunate enough to have a sneak peek at the movie, due to Montreal being the comics capital of Canada. Since it's more French there than anywhere else, they've got plenty of French imports that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Early reviews were mostly on the negative side, many of them from The Guardian for some reason. The fandom is equally divided between two camps of the old guard and the potential new audience. I haven't seen the actual movie itself, save for a few scenes sneaked here and there from the trailers alone, but even though what I've seen fills me with a weird sense of glee, I still have reservations about seeing an American version of the Belgian reporter. I wasn't that crazy with the Nelvana animated series, even though it was extremely faithful to the source material, because it still didn't feel like an accurate rendition of the Tintin books which I took (and still do) great pleasure reading from.

With such an iconic and popular property, it's inevietable that there would be warped versions of the boy reporter. And indeed, Tintin has been used for practically anything. From Iraq-stylized commentary, to Left-wing anarachist revolutions, to Lovecraft homages to Prison Break parodies to S-hero stories. However, no one else does elaborate satires of the Belgian detective than the country that spawned him. Herge was extremely protective of his property, correctly feeling that nobody else other than him would be capable enough of presenting accurate versions of Tintin.
Not that's stopped others from trying!

One such cameo appearance was late in Joanne Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat, where the titular cat and his owners come across a familiar figure while traversing the continent of Africa. In an interesting role reversal here, the Rabbi's cat got his power of speech from eating a parrot, only to unexpectantly lose it later after taking the lord's name in vain too many times, and encounters a dog who was capable of talking to his owner, but gradually lost his ability to do so once Captain Haddock appeared on the scene.

I have to admit that as much as I admire Sfar's creative output and wealth of subject material, his actual stories and art style leaves me cold. Fortunately, there's still plenty of other works to purvey even if once particular storyteller doesn't match your tastes. Heavy Metal is famous for having loads of European material between its pages of scantly-clad female covers. One particular story that popped out was Raul Fleetfoot. (Strangely enough, his name was reverted to his native language, Raoul Fulgurex in later translations)

Raul is part of an organization of inspectors who're assigned to infiltrate comic stories and make sure that things are going according to the script. They do their best to make sure the story stays on target and doesn't deviate from the plot. Think of them as real hands-on editors. They have to be capable enough to deal with the same dangers they might encounter while following the protagonists. Anything ranging from sudden typhoons to cannibalistic pygmies to sudden pitfalls to immediate cancellation.

However, things start to unravel when the lead investigator falls in love with the female protagonist of a pulp fiction story he's involved with, and saves her from assassination from a generic tough guy. As punishment, he's reassigned to the high-risk section where he's in put in charge of a certain individual...

It should be pointed out that this investigator is something of an idiot. He means well, but always puts his own needs ahead of the company's, and by the end of the series, he has trouble following complicated concepts, even when they're explained in point-note form. He might've not initially appeared this way, since even at the beginning, he was somewhat bright, but as the series goes on, he becomes more reckless until he's a disaster magnet just by showing up. He doesn't even have to do anything, but just stand there and events will spiral out of control.

It's only when we see the Tintin character here that we see he's an unflattering portrayal of the boy we like so much. Here, he's less of an idealistic youth and more of a cynical coward who already knows the cards are stacked in his favour, and won't hesitate to run the other way once faced against the slightest hint of a threat.

Raoul Fulgurex also has the best ironic use of a racial caricature of the offensive Chinese villain. I won't reveal it out of fear of revealing the surprise. Personally, I feel that the second story is the weakest overall, since it's just a straight parody of King Kong. The Heavy Metal version also has a significantly censored version of the giant ape's huge... red... schwong that's naturally covered up by a carefully placed screaming balloon while the hairy beast's on a rampage. (This doesn't really count as a spoiler)

However, things start getting back to lunatic levels in the third and final book where the executives become dismayed at the quality of the stories they're in charge of nowadays. They're reduced to the level of Foreign films, where there's long stretches of time, sparse dialogue and almost no action happening. As a result, they decide to "spice" things up a bit, so their services will be back in demand again. They plan out their clandestine meetings in a certain wardrobe that should be quite familiar to long-time readers.

To accomplish this, they intentionally sabotage the very boring stories that're they're rebelling against. This means that the people in charge are now doing the very thing they were trying to stop in the first place. And just in case things weren't confusing enough, time travel is also involved. For this reason, a cameo appearance of Valerian (of Laurie & Valerian fame) pops up near the end. The in-joke may go completely over the heads of anyone who isn't already familiar with these two, but the basic gist is that these are time / space travelers from a future Earth.

There's even a gallery of the various people who pop up in these adventures in the albums. Like so many portrayals of large casts, they're easier to appreciate when you're more familiar with the source material. Anyone interested in reading these stories can find them in Heavy Metal issues January 1992, January 1994 and September 1996 respectively.

On the other side of the coin, we have what's considered to be a modern-day Tintin in the form of an anxious young boy named Jules from The Adventures of Jules by Emile Bravo. I've done my best at doing an amateur scanlation of the relevant pages to make the material more comprehensible. Any mistakes made are Babelfish's and mine. The following pages are from the second book where the titular character notices a certain newspaper article while seated next to a familiarly-clothed old man.

In order to save Jules' pet from euthanization, Janet's mother, Gredulin Wilkins, a renown scientist bypasses authority by proclaiming a few little white lies to ease the process along.

Shortly after the kids leave the train station, trouble strikes when the scientist suddenly disappears, along with Jules' pet guinea pig.

As a result of a misunderstanding, the police are on the lookout for the missing scientist, and an accomplice who's none other than Jules' pet guinea pig, which is why the children are stifling their laughter in the page below. This might be considered a slight spoiler, but the mad scientist who's photo was visible in the newspaper had something to do with Gredulin's sudden disappearance.

The resulting fallout from the questioning leads to the final exchange between the reporter and the policeman here:

Even if Tintin tanks in the U.S., it can take solace in that it drew in a high level of international numbers and $1.45 million in Quebec theaters. That might not sound like much compared to the blockbuster numbers that're usually bandied about, but multiply that figure by maybe 50 states, and you'd get a more respectable figure that make studio heads spin. It's a little unusual that a movie created in America was first shown overseas before being shown in its home country. But when you consider that the subject material is more popular practically everywhere else, it sounds like a wise business decision. All that's needed is to wait and see if supply will create demand for the original source material, namely the Tintin books which is where the real magic takes place. I'm willing to guess the answer will be "yes".

Monday, December 19, 2011

Load-Bearing Husbands

In today's Blondie, we were treated with a general reminder of the true meaning of this month's holiday season:

However, as is typical with legacy strips, this was just a watered-down and condensed version of a previous comic. Until I scanned it, I didn't notice that the woman in the pentultimate panel was also visible in the background in the first panel. (Or third, if you're counting the nonexistent throwaway panels. Fourth, if you include the title panel)

Just to round things out, here's a longer-term version of a similar event, leading to a different conclusion. I particularly like the various levels of set-up before the rousing finale. It's a wonder that these men who're being used as their wives' personal shopping carts don't wind up dropping their presents more, let alone become blind from having their view obscured by Xmas patterns dancing before their eyes.

When I was a kid, I used to try to carry every single item mentioned in the Ernie & Bert Book where Ernie would show the latest container he'd relocated everything that led to rationalizing Bert wearing a pot in place of his cowboy hat, because it was holding his fish, which had no room for crayons in the fishbowl, which previously had soap in the crayon box... you get the idea. If I dropped any of these, I would start over from the beginning until I got it right. It was only made easier by having my sister play the second party by putting the kangaroo doll on my back, which was the main tipping point that led me to restarting from square one. Only when I reached the end could I safely let everything fall on the floor. In Dagwood's case, he could be excused by having plenty of experience in balancing the entire contents of the fridge on his arms in order to create his legendary Dagwood Sandwiches.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sunday Comic Covers

Let me tell you about the recent expecience I just had a few days ago.

I was looking through a random Anime video store that was going out of business, checking the shelves for anything worth taking out. There were some live-action movies that I wasn't that interested in renting, and could easily find elsewhere, so I started browsing the back shelves of the store, looking at the old-school video games that were in stock. In this case, this included N64 and PS2 games. Even though I kept thinking "why bother?" in the back of my head, when I was living in an age where emulators made hunting rare games redundant, I still couldn't help myself from looking. After all, there might be something worth looking at.

Then I pulled out a random shelf out of a random corner of the shelf and was faced with an amazing surprise. There were rows upon rows of Gazette Sunday comics in reasonably good condition, each with a typical children's drawing in front of them.

I could've used a paper bag at that moment because I was hyperventilating like an old rusty ventilation system, and probably attracting the attentions of the other patrons there, but I was too excited to care. This was the kind of collection I'd only had dreams of finding in dusty corners of basements or garage sales. And here was a whole slew of comics from the early 80s available at my fingertips! Half of this stuff I had never seen before, which meant there was a very good chance at filling in some gaps in my collection and my memory. These were comics that hadn't seen the light of day in years and they were available at my fingertips! Not to mention that this could be additional potential material for my blog. This would put a large dent in my budget, but it would be worth it!

I took two huge stacks of comics out of the box and carried them, looking for a flat surface to lie them down on so I could sort them through and organize which piles were comics I already had, and which I didn't. I'm very good at organizing things, but I need a consistent system for it to work. Within the confines of the Anime store, it was surprisingly difficult to find a suitable clear table. The first platform I used somehow had too many loose clothes lying around, and every time I kept moving them, they just seemed to keep getting in the way. I didn't want a single fabric to disturb the underlying surface of the comics, not to mention making a mess I'd probably regret later. If the pile grew too high, there was the danger of it tipping over, and I didn't want that. There would be plenty of time looking in the insides, but I needed to separate them first.

Then to my great horror, while cleaning up my surface area, I accidentally knocked over a pile of my comics on the floor. When I looked over the counter, amongst the boxes and bags, they'd mysteriously disappeared. A passing girl who'd seen the incident take place pointed to under the counter where they'd bounced off a backpack, but when I looked there, all that could be found were a bunch of magazines in different subjects, as well as various ads. None of my comics could be found anywhere. When I stood back up on the table where the pile of comics had previously all been meticulously organized, this pile of paper was sloppy, disheveled and random. In addition, for some perplexing reason, there were a few Reader's Digest books in the mix. I was wondering what was going on. The books had all been perfectly organized before...

...and then I woke up.

Yeah, sorry to ruin everybody's expectations, but chances are you probably figured out what was happening long before I did. Besides, I wanted to convey the kind of frustration I constantly have over not being able to find most of the childhood comics in question. Most of the other comics have had recent archival collections, but there's still a wealth of comics from when I was growing up that I'll never be able to experience again, because they'd have to go through the early stuff first. Not to mention it won't be the same, since they'll be divided by their individual series, and not grouped together into an unique pattern in the Sunday pages.

There was one Broom Hilda comic I dimly remember that had Gaylord seeing a flying saucer, and making admirable remarks about it to the green-skinned witch. Then the UFO landed, and out popped a robot-like alien holding a mechanical device while Gaylord looked noncommittal and Broom Hilda looked surprised.

From this brief description, it's obvious that Gaylord was remarking on how we would benefit from the Alien's advances in science, technology and philosophy. Then the actual alien revealed itself to be nothing more than a salesman hucking out mediocre wares. Even though I know that's the most logical outcome, I still want to see the actual comic itself so I can determine it myself for sure.

While readers might feel cheated in the same sense that Jason Fox was when he found a whole cache of Christmas presents under the tree that he'd missed, I've grown accustomed to this kind of thing. It was just that this dream had a larger sense of scale and build-up than previous searching dreams I had. I can take some solace in the outcome, because I remembered one of the covers that was briefly shown.

It had Snoopy looking sick on his doghouse in the pouring rain thinking, "I'm telling you, I AM innocent!" However, considering that he looked like he'd eaten too many cookies, he probably wasn't as innocent as he claimed.

When the Gazette Sunday comics were released, they were always accompanied with a children's drawing that graced the cover of the Sunday comics in a format similar to a pamphlet. There were multiple interpretations of the comic characters, which was always interesting to see, and several of them proudly displayed the kind of pleasure that could only be obtained by reading Gazette comics. They're not quite on the same level of the alternate covers from the Covered site, but they're still pretty well done.

It was considered a great honor to see their artwork made public, and there must've been a lot of submissions. The output eventually slowed down to a crawl when they changed their format from a comic-book sized release to a half-page newspaper spread of several pages. Even two drawings at a time didn't save them, and they disappeared altogether in 1989 and never showed up again. They became even more redundant when the comics were compressed onto two-three newspaper pages, which reduced the quality somewhat.

This is how I'm able to categorize the comics I've read - by the shape, dimensions, size, and even the paper quality of the Sunday comic in question that I read, I'm able to find the relevant comic amongst dozens of hundreds of single panels and similarly-themed jokes.

I once erroneously made an attempt to try to sell some extra copies of these Sunday comics at a comic book store to value their worth. The man behind the counter politely said that they were only worth the paper they were printed on, and therefore only held value to the person who'd want to read them.

Bill Watterson may no longer have to worry about finding Pogo collections in old dusty corners of the bookstores, but I have no physical equivalent for Sunday comics. (I sometimes still have dreams of seeing a book of collected Calvin & Hobbes sketches or unreleased strips in bookstores every now and then) Incidentally, if Lord Morpheus' library of stories that were thought up but never completed actually exists, I know I'll be headed straight to the comics section. Good old section 741.5, or whatever filing system Lucien uses.

With the passing of every year, it becomes less and less likely that I'll ever find any more copies of old Gazette Sunday comics (or any newspaper comics for that matter) from the 80s that'll jog my memory. Yet I still live in the vain hope that I'll somehow be able to find a hidden stock of treasure buried in somebody's basement somewhere...