Friday, January 28, 2011

Tell me a Story

I've been reading The Storyteller, the recent autobiography of renown children's author Roald Dahl. It's full of interesting tidbits about his life, sure, but more importantly, it gives side-by-side comparisons of the stories he was most well known for. When your best impression of a favorite writer is the stories they've done, its best to familiraze your audience with their works. Especially if you've never read their earlier works before. I'll have to admit that I've never read his previous memoirs, since they were much more serious than his lighter fare.

For somebody who was a beloved writer, he could be a rather pompous jerk. Indeed, near the end of his life, he had alienated almost everybody around him and had few friends left. Not to mention that his output had become a shadow of its former self, being regulated to short stories and silly rhymes. In a sense, the lighter his literature became, the darker the man became. It was a kind of reverse-Dorian Gray thing. His later works were chipper and youthful while the author became crotchy and unfriendly.

EDIT - it was only after finishing the book that I was surprised to find out that the books Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts were published before he gained his reputation. Those rhyme books were later reprinted with Quentin Blake's artwork, which led me to think they were recent publications. His last children's book Matilda burned him out from producing any more novels, and forced him to focus on shorter stories of which he had an abundance of. (The story of Matilda's original conception was so far removed from its final version is a story in itself) I was reluctant to correct this glaring oversight, because as the man said; facts always get in the way of a good story.

Finding out the truth behind his history can't have been an easy task, considering how much material was left behind. The task was originally assigned to his younger daughter Ophelia, but when she got pregnant in 2006, she asked Donald Sturrock to contribute. It took four more years of research before the autobiography was finished.

The fact that somebody became good friends with him in his later part of his life and was willing to work with his notes is nothing short of miraculous. The fact that Donald Sturrock interviewed him for a BBC special presentation back when children's writers were seen as less respectable than modern-day novelists is more of a happy coincidence.

His personal memoirs in Boy and Going Solo were amazingly honest and told with a down-to-earth sensibility. They were also rife with innacuraties that differed from what actually happened. Some of them were even based on his earlier stories that were superimposed onto his exploits. Furthermore, he would contribute outlandish trivia without checking to see if they were true. When it came to his personal life, he never let facts get in the way of telling a good story. An ordinary kitchen knife could become his grandfather's trusted heirloom handed down through the ages.

The autobiography makes a considerable effort to find out which tidbits are made-up, and the underlying reasons why they were rewritten in the first place. While most biographers would resort to a deep-seated Freudian explanation, Sturrock manages to back up his claims by providing actual evidence.

In the end, people will either find the revelations behind the Dickensian stories to be explanatory or a passing fancy. Normally we don't want to think about the stories behind stories - we're more interested in the first versions we hear than think about their history. For others, they're curious about the influence behind the creator's lives and how it shaped their worldview. This book is dedicated to those historical truth-finders.

The main reason for this post is this comic below. It's well known that Roald Dahl didn't start to gain any success until he branced out his more adult stories and started aiming for a younger audience.

You too can write wholesome entertainment for the whole family! Just don't sugarcoat your stories too much and watch your audience swarm in! (That's the theory anyways) The real formula is not to treat your potential audience as intended idiots and give them something they'll find worth reading.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Insert Obligatory Wizard Joke Here

I come not to praise or bury Wizard, but to note the passing of a magazine. Although I was aware of it, I was never that interested in it as others were. I was more into newspaper comics than anything currently being printed in pamphlet form back then. Not to mention that there were no in-between comics that could've segued my reading habits from newspaper comics to S-hero comics. To use a relevant analogy, it would be like going from Peanuts to Doonsbury in one shot. The transition would be easier if Bloom County was somewhere in between. There needs to be some kind of comprehension evolution there.

A common complaint about Wizard was that it focused far more attention on S-hero comics while paying 2-page lip service to independent comics. Comics with themes such as life in Palomar, living beans, or cool hep cats. Okay, so maybe Indy comics weren't as much of a chartburner as the most recent fisticuffs, but would it have killed them to do some promotional advertising for praiseworthy comics? I'm guessing the answer is "yes".

Considering that magazines live or die on their customer's tastes, changing their tastes to explore new options would've been sounding the death knell for them. Sadly, their reluctance to change with the times turned them into pariahs and became something of an industry joke. Especially when people were beginning to notice other comics that weren't from Marvel or DC that were more interesting.

Then there was the time the first issue of Pokemon was a consistent seller for sixteen weeks straight on their charts. It must've mystified them that such a kiddiefied concept could've attracted so many readers without having to resort to blood & boobs to attract an audience. (If they'd known that it was actually censored to appear more family-friendly, they would've had to admit that some themes were more attractive to a general audience than others)

Another major knock against Wizard was that it was little more than a thinly-veiled price guide with some comic editorials added in. In fact, it was the price guide taking up the majority of the issues that made me reluctant to pay full price. The only times I ever bought a Wizard was when they were available in a bag of other comics or when a second-hand bookstore had an issue's content that wasn't reproduced elsewhere.

The only reason for reading Wizard would be for the humour, which was remarkably juvenile for its taste. When comic news sites such as Comicon, Newsarama, and ComicBookResources popped up, Wizard declined to put up a webpage of their own to compete with them. After all, they had their own customers to deal with, and why change a good thing? But as the need to be more up-to-date on comic news became a daily ritual, Wizard's announcements of upcoming projects became laughably out of date months after their issue was launced. It was their failure to adapt to a changing climate that spelled their doom. The sad thing is Wizard was a more consistent seller than the comics it routinely covered. Now that sales have fallen to a fraction of what they once were, it seems they can no longer depend on their name brand and have to branch out onto the web. That hasn't stopped them from acting like immature jerks though. They fired their staff without warning, and have no immediate plans to renew subscribers of their money.

So far, Toyfare is the magazine spinoff I'm most likely to miss. I never collected any of the figurines that were advertised (which became more esoteric with episode-specific statues), but I greatly enjoyed Twisted Toyfare Theater. Though I'm disappointed that there'll probably never be an omnibus collection of all the silly comments sprinkled throughout the magazine, as well as some larger TTTs that were too big to be contained in a collected format. Apparently, some of these stories ran throughout the magazine, and would only make sense in that context. Would it really be that difficult to re-edit those issues in a more manageable form? Though, as some people noticed, Toyfare had fallen in quality recently, so it doesn't feel like much of a loss.

Like many readers, I was always more likely to read the humourous commentaries the comic characters were saying than read any of the self-congratulatory essays of Marvel or DC that were the major mainstay of the magazine. I really appreciated its comic summaries which were far too few and far in between. The one that comes to mind is a concise history of the Hulk with wonderfully cartoony art by Brian Ahern:

I have no way of knowing if any of this is true, and if it is, it's even more ridiculous than I ever thought.

I was never a big fan of the Jade Bruiser, and even after reading all this, I'm even more reluctant to even start.

This is the inherent danger of trying to tie everything that's happened into one cohesive narrative. Some things may fall apart even as various writers try to hold everything together.

Personally, this last part is where the appeal begins to fall apart for me.

For those of you lost in the last panel, it's a reference to Future Imperfect, about an old tyrannical Hulk versus a younger Hulk. It's these kind of in-jokes that lessens the impact of these summaries. Marvel's What The...?! magazine had a spot-on parody of Akira that ended with an in-joke involving their editors, which felt extremely out of place with everything else that happened. If Wizard had made a more serious effort to put their essays in comic form, they could've collected them together in an easy-to-read format for an interested public. Of course, nobody back then ever thought that anything in magazine form would be considered being read again years later. Do you see the irony here? A comics magazine devoted to pricing rare comics back when comics were disposable entertainment with throwaway comic material that should be reprinted.

Pop Quiz: If Wizard and Toyfare magazine were listed in a price guide, how much would they be worth? The winner will get a no-prize.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Walking Dead Game

It seems the popular zombie comic The Walking Dead which was just recently made into a live-action show on AMC is considered being adapted into a video game. Obviously these people have never read this series. It’s likely they saw the ratings for the show and decided to cash in on its popularity. Problem is that the series isn’t exactly custom-made for a typical videogame experience. It’s nothing like House of the Dead where you navigate a corporation building full of reanimated corpses and bosses named after Tarot cards. Nor is it similar to the campy cult hit Zombies Ate my Neighbours. It doesn't even bear a passing similarity to the oddity Zombie Nation, where a floating samurai head shoots down enemy planes. (Nintendo games were weird)

When it comes to showing the results of reality in videogames, the results have been less than successful. Considering the bleak nature of the series, this doesn’t exactly sound like a solid recipe for an addictive V-game. (People have a tendency to die really easily) A typical setup would be something like this:

“Okay, I’ve just woken up from a coma and have no idea how long I’ve been asleep. Can’t have been that long, since I can still use my legs. This hospital is surprisingly empty. Where’s the nursing staff? And why’s this door’s barricaded?”

Remove Plank?

“Strange that they’d go to so much trouble to close this door and OH MY GOD, these people are seriously sick! Better close off this quarantine wing again!”

“Geez! One of the patients somehow escaped through when I wasn’t looking! And he’s walking towards me… very… very… slowly… looks like I have enough time to get back to my room to reacquaintance myself with how I use my handgun.”

“Okay, this handle locks the shells in place, and the underside reloads them, though I only have enough bullets to kill six of these guys at once. Why’d I tell myself that? I’m a sheriff - I should already know this. Oh, and the zombie’s managed to find me. Guess I should conclude my lesson by firing… waitaminute – I’ve only got six bullets. I should use something else.”

Use Bedpan?

“Cool! A partner to help team up with me to blast away these zombies. Okay, let's go out and – LOOK OUT!”
(One bite and gunshot blast later)
“Don’t worry. It’s just a flesh wound. Its not as bad as it looks… hello? You CAN’T be dead! I’ve got a medkit and everything! And they’re coming again!”

Run Away?

“The hell I am! You’re not dead, you’re just resting. I just need to get you to another hospital and – hey, you’re getting back up! I knew that – hey wait, what’s that look in your eyes – Get back!”

Shoot Friend?

“My God, what have I done? No time for regrets. Better leave him behind for the hordes to feast on his still tasty flesh.”

Eat Friend?
> No

“I’m NOT resorting to canabalism! At least not yet. Oh hey! There’s some more living people! And it looks like they’ve got a solid house that’ll stand up to repeat attacks! And my wife & kid’s still alive there! This looks like a wonderful community full of quirky characters who’ll support each other while we face against the next horde of -”

Girfriend has left the party
Boyfriend has left the party
Bartender has left the party
Husband has left the party
Cute little girl has left the party

“What’s going on? Why’s everybody dying before the zombie's even getting here?”

Leave Party?

“Let’s get outta here. This place’s too dangerous. Hey, here’s a prison facility that looks pretty well guarded. My wife and kid and the others who’ve followed me should be safe here -”

Black guy has left the party
Sexy slut has left the party
Chick magnet has left the party
Uber nerd has left the party

“Okay, one of the prisoners is a serial killer and -”

Serial Killer has left the party

“Well, that’s one less threat to worry about. Now we just have to worry about the zombies and supplies and – being held at gunpoint.”

Stall for Time?

“Whoa! Hey pal, no need to overreact. I’m not looking for trouble. We’re just looking for a safe place to - OW, my hand! Okay, we’ll go sit with the rest of the hostages.”

Use Handgun?

“This would be a good time to develop my marksmanship. I haven’t shot anything in five minutes and I’m feeling rusty. Too bad my index finger’s bent out of joint and they stole all my ammunition.”

Talk to Wife?

I don’t know how much more of this stress I can take. It’s a good thing you’re here. I can count on you to be faithful to - hold on, are you pregnant?”

Baby has joined the party
Tank has joined the party

“How did you get pregnant without me? Waitaminute – tank? What do you mean we’re at war against a rival camp? I thought we were gonna be shooting zombies and stuff!”
(Huge explosion rocks the prison)

“Oh god, I’ve just lost everybody I ever cared about. I’m so alone…”

Put shotgun in mouth?



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rites & Wongs

A few days ago, I was given a little project to help my mother out. She wanted me to double-check the emails that bounced back and see whether the links were still working or not.

I’m normally comfortable around computers, but this task was a little trickier than most. For one thing, she preferred that I not mess around with her settings, since she was comfortable with them. This was rather problematic, since I like to have my pop-ups in different folders at the bottom of the screen; and she had several Word documents that were grouped together into one drop-down folder.

Furthermore, she wanted me to use Microsoft Office Outlook. It’s not a program I’m familiar or comfortable with, because everytime she uses it, any long links she sends from there are cut in half. If they stretch across the page, the first part is a normal link, and the rest in plain text. I usually wind up clicking the first half and then copying and pasting the second half onto the nonexistent link. Also, every e-mail has a winmail.dat attachment that doesn’t open anything. Computer technicians have been baffled with this harmless bug.

What made this job harder was that she’d replaced her regular carpal tunnel syndrome wrist protector with a beanbag one which I found extremely uncomfortable.

Anyway, I managed to find the relevant people in question, and grouped them together as per her specifications. I found that the major reason why some people weren’t getting their messages was because the sent e-mails were one letter off. After dividing them into two divisions of full names and typo names, I decided to send a quick message to one of the misspelled people first to make up for lost time. So I clicked on the little envelope thingie at the top of the page, and it disappeared.

Feeling apprehensive, I took another look, and felt worried, since I noticed that the file name for the attachment was a different name than the example posted. I debated with myself on whether I did the right thing or not, and hemmed and hawed over telling Mom about the possible mistake. When I explained the situation, my mother went into a frenzied rant on how I sent the wrong information. It turns out that the document I attached contained confidential e-mails on all her clients.

She complained how she had to do everything herself, since I had a tendency to go too fast in anything I do without taking the time to consider the consequences. She was sick and tired of having to do everything, and resigned herself to completing the job since she couldn’t trust me with her files. She went straight away into sending an e-mail to the previous applicant on ignoring the previous e-mail attachment and looking at the right one.

However, things took a turn for the perplexing when she searched her “sent” history and found no trace of any e-mails with attachments being sent. She even registered to her e-mail account, and found that nothing in that memory had been sent either. After combing through her history, it turned out that the e-mail with the confidential information had never been sent.

After calming her down and regaining her trust, I was able to continue finishing the job she requested. Eventually, I found the missing document that made my mother lose her temper. Turns out the envelope icon I thought would send the documents didn't do that. That icon just opened up the e-mail address page, which was blank, making me think it had been sent. The real “send” icon was in text, which was how I missed it. THIS time, I replaced the attachment with the right one. I wasn’t going to go through that whole lecture again!

I told you earlier that I wasn't familiar with the program she wanted me to use. Good thing too, otherwise I would've succeeded in sending the file over in the first place. Turns out that even as an accident, I manage to screw up screwing up properly.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Past Blog Updates

There were multiple previous posts that I wanted to do some updates on, due to some acquisition of new information and scans, but was reluctant to update them individually with nobody around to notice them. So I decided to be upfront with everything new, and post everything noteable in one go here.

First up, remember the great Fables controversy? Well, I took another look at the earlier volumes before the noticeable Goblin cover, and found out the copying started even before then.

Oh you want proof? Well, I'll give you proof. Our first target apart from our face-off, is right outside our office. Here, Prince Charming does the remarkable feat of going outside the building without ever actually moving his legs. One might suspect a treadmill is involved so he wouldn't have to sully his perfect suit.

I'm sad to say that even Snow White isn't free from suspicion in this guilt. Her position while waking up and talking to me is consistent throughout. While I wouldn't normally complain about the placement of her perfect hair, it becomes rather laughable throughout.

No this isn't envy that her bed hair never requires brushing and looks better than mine. It's basic common sense.

Not enough for you? Well, I managed to double-check the 11th book again, since the library copy was out, and found some more examples to add to the pile of evidence. Remember Pinnoccio’s ugly mug? (Who could forget it?) Well, here’s some more glaring similarities.

Faced with the threat of upcoming death of one of his friends, he suddenly developed a defense mechanism and conveniently forgot his stone-faced gaze and reverted back to a familiar Marlon Brando-type sneer. (Not that he actually succeeded...)

When it comes to tyrannical president-for-life dictators, they rely on repetitive images to bolster their image. In the case of the Emperor whose iron rule declares that nobody gazes on his figure for too long lest they cower in fear of his appearance, this becomes something of a hindrance. He has a few words to say about the competence of the artist working on his likeness:

I could post some more obvious examples of his fearsome visage, but I think I've made my point.

Changing topics, one of my longest posts was about the relevance of the Foobjournal continuing its barbs on the reprints of For Better or for Worse. I wrote a throwaway line about how the family strip in seach of an ending reminded me of a Peanuts strip. I found the relevant comic in a book titled Snoopy's Guide to Writing. (Considering the number of his multiple rejection slips, he’s the last muse we should be going to for influence)

While we’re talking about the Foobiverse, there was a recent discussion about whether characters had done mundane things that were beyond redemption. One example that jumped out at me was where Deanna was more interested in shopping for suitcases worth of clothes, several years after being a health volunteer for poverty-stricken Africans.

It was very reminiscent of another Cerebus similarity where Jaka couldn’t conceive of travelling with the same clothes for more than two days, despite living on a mountaintop for months without complaint in Jaka’s Story. (This was also around the time Dave Sim started to lose it with his women = soul-sucking voids worldview)

In my defense, I only focused on the first two decades of For Better or For Worse. Whenever I read anything that was written in the last ten years, my mind starts to wander. In fact, my Sunday comics collecting started to become less obsessive around the time Calvin & Hobbes left the paper for good, and there was a lack of worthy strips to replace it.

In the latest One Piece chapter, after 2 ½ years of sidequests, the Straw Hat crew has finally made it to Fishman Island. I mentioned that the main characters have a tendency to inevitably destroy whatever new territory they come upon. Out of the many characters that’ve been introduced in this underwater village, a mermaid seer decides to take a peek into the future of the Straw Hat captain, and makes this prophecy:
Oh Luffy, We simply can’t take you anywhere without you tearing up the landscape can we?
On another note, I have a theory on who’ll be the newest member to join the Straw Hat crew. It’ll be Jimbei, former Warlord of the sea. In addition to having a connection with Luffy’s brother, who Jimbei was good friends with, it’ll also keep Luffy’s involvement in the Navy/WhiteBeard War from being a waste of time.

There was some fear that having such an overpowered player join the crew would be seen as cheating, but since everybody’s gone to the trouble to take two years to power themselves up to face the upcoming threats, Jimbei wouldn’t seem out of place with the others now. Not to mention that his experience in the water could rescue any Devil Fruiters from sinking and help Nami’s navigation charts. Besides, as evident from the recent chapters, having a female mermaid join the crew would be hazardous to Sanji’s health.

Monday, January 10, 2011

So Many Arias!

It seems that when it comes to fantasy titles, Aria is a popular name that's used worldwide. However, each country's use of the title is as different and varied as the country they came from. For the sake of simplification, I'll be summarizing each different Aria from my first impressions of their first stories alone.

The first and most well known Aria is of course, the slow-paced Manga Aria.

It's about a water based world where gondoliers called Undines ferry their customers across a Venice-like waterscape. Even though it's based on the future of the 24th century, it could just as easily take place two centuries ago, with no lack of technological innovations involved.

It's been compared with Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou in terms of idyllic setting and the lack of a world-threatening plot. The fact that it's more of a relaxing read than a pageturner may explain why despite critical exclaim, it hasn't set the reading world on fire and its scheduling releases have slowed to a crawl of one volume a year.

In fact, Aria isn't named for the main character Akari, but rather the company she charters for. It's also named after the owner who's a chubby cat-like creature that rides the gondolas all the time. (Don't ask - it's one of those things you need to take with a grain of salt to swallow your suspension of disbelief)

To further confuse things, there's also a recent Manga magazine named Aria as well. This magazine is aimed at mature woman than the usual Shojo audience that's usually targeted. I haven't seen any scanlations of the titles listed so far, but would be interested to know what they're about.

The American Aria is another beast entirely. This Aria from Image Comics is about a mystical creature living in the real world. Only she's a cynical woman reduced to selling tarot items and giving advice at a magic bookstore.

I suppose that's a politer version of saying "Gads, these people are idiots!" But then it wouldn't sound Shakespearian would it? The basic plot is of a recent dark force from the mystical lands threatening the fae folks that wants to come over to the other side by murdering people and blah blah blah. It's nothing that hasn't already been done multiple times already. If it wasn't for the occasional burst of humour, I wouldn't have bothered.

Since this, (and two other spinoffs) were limited to four-six issues at most, and with the stiff ultra-realistic art that hampers the condensed storytelling, I can't really approve of this comic.

Lastly, the comic that I really wanted to talk about that I found in a secondhand comic store, and was translated by the now-defunct Starblaze Graphics is Michel Weyland's Aria.

Serialized in Spirou magazine, it's about a spunky woman in medival times lending her military expertise to whoever requests her services. Despite her scanty white garb, there's hardly any panty flashing or sideboob as would be expected from someone wearing such a skimpy outfit. Rather, she relies more on her cunning to overcome her enemies.

The heads of the camp, not trusting their newest advisor decide to test the limits of her ability by having her train the lowest ranking soldiers in their army.

It isn't until she's forced out into a mission to take over an enemy outpost that we get a chance to see her tactics in action. Of course, in order to be taken seriously, she's all decked-out in full armor, natch.

It's only after encountering a ruined village and surveying the survivors that includes an old man and a young kid that she initiates a plan to infiltrate the enemy camp by herself, leaving her soldiers on standby. When she's alone with the two civilians, she reveals her true gender in front of them, amazing them further. Then she reveals her plan to them giving them hope of getting revenge on the soldiers that destroyed their home. Naturally, we don't get to see her plan, just see in in action, since if we heard it beforehand, it would be subverted or ruined somehow.

With the two civilians, she approaches the enemy gates posing as a lost family looking for shelter. Because of her unnatural beauty, Aria is immediately chartered to Galbeck's main headquarters. The general decides to have some fun with her until Aria reveals she's a priestess of a religious cult which transpires predictable results:

Obviously not a lover of missionaries, Galbeck allows Aria to parade her nonsensical verses around camp, allowing all the guards to kiss her hand as per custom. After which, she's imprisoned in the slaves headquarters until dawn.

Come the next morning, Galbeck arouses his soldiers with an inspirational speech, that's remarkable for its lack of fanaticm. Apart from badmouthing artists and intellectuals, it's entirely stripped of symbolism.

Halfway through his speech, Galbeck notices that one of the prisoners' just escaped, and started acting like a lunatic.

The old man who was travelling with Aria tells the soldiers that she's infected with a contagious madness disease that only shows its warts during days of the full moon. The only cure is to fast themselves for a week, lest the symptoms begin to show. Half the soldiers don't believe him, while half begin to panic, feeling the effects already. In order to preserve themselves, Galbeck holds off his planned invasion for a week, while planning to incinerate Aria before she infects anyone further. After a rather tasteful bondage scene, Aria counters by showing surprising lucidity for someone in the throes of madness.

Aria tells Galbeck that he could easily use her against the army he's planning to invade. Seeing wisdom in her words, Galbeck has Aria locked up in quarantine while his soldiers go to bed to wait out the effects of the nonexistent virus. It's only while alone in his tent that Galbeck begins to doubt the doctor's prescription. After all, the only verdict came from people outside his camp, and when your only source of information come from one outlet, that's when you should start displaying your doubts. Unfortunately, it comes too late for him, as realization comes from Aria's sudden escape, which leads to this anachronism.

I doubt parchment has any aerial ability even when folded, but I'll allow it for the sake of the story.

Weakened and caught unaware, the enemy garrison is easily taken over and burned to the ground without any bloodshed. There's some loose ends followed up upon Aria's return to the village, and revealing her true form to her loyal soldiers, but this seems like a good place as any to end my summary of the first album.

There's apparently six more translated books of this series that I haven't been able to find anywhere. Starblaze Graphics also translated the first Thorgal volume that hasn't been re-released by Cinebook, who's done the more reasonable route of releasing two volumes at once for the first six books. Not buying that translated Thorgal volume when I had the chance is something I regret, since Thorgal is more sophisicated than Conan, but just as cruel.

Aria could be considered a medival Wonder Woman, only without the gimmicks that the Amazon is well known for. There's currently 32 albums of the series released since 1982, and shows no sign of stopping.

EDIT - I forgot to mention that the reason Aria is free of obvious fanservice (save for some brief casual nudity in later albums) is because it's a husband and wife team. Like the creators of Girl Genius and Miss Don't Touch Me, it's a collaboration between two people. While Michel handles the main art, Nadine takes care of the colouring and story. For a comic that's about the overlooked history of woman warriors, forgetting her contribution was an ironic oversight on my part.

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Pogo is Old News

With the recent announcement of Fantagraphics' long awaited Pogo books, it might be cause for celebration. However, the news that it won't be released until November of this year doesn't exactly bode well for those of us who've been patiently waiting for these books since they were first announced in 2007. That's a long time to wait for well-reputated comic archivist company to gather the considered long-lost Sunday strips that were a major mainstay for Pogo's popularity.

Unlike the daily strips whose storylines would last several months without end, the Sundays were different. Walt Kelly always created Sunday strips that weren't considered part of the main narrative, and were designed to work well enough on their own. Since these wouldn't be deemed neccessary for full enjoyment of the strip, people wouldn't have considered keeping these, not knowing they'd be needed years later.

When my Grandmother made her annual trip to Florida in order to escape the curse of winter, she was thoughtful enough to save some of the Sunday comics from the newspapers there. Since newspapers have different coimics depending on the geography, I got the chance to see several strips that I otherwise would've been ignorant of. One of these was the brief Pogo revival strip done by Doyle and Sternecky.

When negative reaction to these creator's comic turned foul, the writing and drawing chores was passed on to Walt Kelly's children. After failing to live up to Walt's legacy, I can't imagine how well Peter and Carolyn managed to try to carry on the torch . It's equivalent to Orson Welles' kids being expected to create a masterpiece on par with Citizen Kane. That's some high pressure to live up to.

Sadly, my Grandmother wasn't as devoted to collecting comics as I was, so I only managed to save two of the latter-day Pogos. I had to constantly remind her every time she went back to Florida in the hopes that the newspaper would pick them up again. They never did. My knowledge of this strip is extremely slim, save for what I remembered, involving a rabbit with a crown who was caricatured as George Bush. (Then again, it could be Prince Charles - Pogo was notorious for never quite spelling out what point it was trying to make)

However, I did manage to pick up some subtle clues from these slim offerings. First up, from the first strip, it seemed obvious that Albert and Beauregard got into a fight that involved some paint-slinging, hence their awkward colour scheme. Secondly, the absence of Pogo was something I dimly remembered, where Pogo was practically absent. Thirdly, Albert's reluctance to be washed with the dreaded "soap & water" helped clear up some of his aversion to being cleaned, which was only hinted at in some of the Pogo collections I picked up cheap.

If - and that's a big if - IF Fantagraphics manages to follow their promised publishing schedule as planned, I'll celebrate by scanning two major stories in Pogo's Peek-a-Book that greatly influenced Calvin & Hobbes. Seriously, the amount of influence is so strong it's like Watterson plagiarized from Kelly without anybody complaining.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

License News

It’s only a few days into the new year, and already there have been some exciting announcement of comic licenses in the foreseeable future. First up from Fantagraphics, on the heels of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse comics (think Mickey in the realm of Tintin adventures), would also reprint the collection of Carl Barks’ Duck comics. Hopefully we’ll be able to find out the meaning behind this panel here. For anyone who’s grown up reading the adventurous stories of Donald & Scrooge, this is a long overdue boon. There WAS an affordable version available years ago, but it was outrageously expensive, and only pandered to serious collectors. Amusingly enough, there are commentors who’re dismayed at the news that the Disney comics would be reprinted at a slightly smaller size than usual - at 90%, rather than 50%. As Gary Groth said, the cartoony books are easier to read in reduced form than stories with more realistic art & tiny text.
Wholesome family entertainment!
This is a welcome respite, since the only reliable spot for reading Disney comic masterpieces was on a dedicated fansite that reprinted everything Carl Barks, and his self-notes successor Don Rosa did, along with some of the aforementioned Mickey comics that was released by the now-defunct Gladstone comics line. Surprisingly enough, even though it was announced at another comic news site, the company in charge of the announcement has a notoriously bad job of tooting their own horn. Nowhere on Fantagraphics page or blog is their acquisition of the Donald Duck comics even mentioned.

On another welcome note, the webcomic Minus will be released in book form. (Many thanks for GastroPhobia’s comments page in pointing that out)

For the longest time, it was compared to Calvin done in watercolours. Ever since Bill Watterson retired, cartoonists and readers have been trying to reclaim the kind of imagination and creativity that was lost in the comics page. Some comics have attempted to capture that using the old axiom of a child & their animal schtick, but Minus really felt like a child’s comprehension of manipulating the world to their whim. After a few years of experimenting with the format, the creator like Watterson decided he’d had enough and unlike the reclusive cartoonist, expanded on to other projects he was more interested in.

Another noteworthy release that’s been lamented by the indefatigable Mike Sterling is a collection of Sugar and Spike.

Sugar and Spike is about two babies who can communicate with each other, and unintentionally getting into trouble. I dimly remember reading a digest collection years ago, and thought it was charming. It seems like the kind of thing that children of all ages would enjoy. Sadly, the publisher seems to be aiming at the adults who fondly remember the series and is overpriced accordingly.

Another book I’m greatly looking forward to is Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder books. I only found out about her work when it was briefly mentioned in Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics, and a few brief pages on the old Scansdaily site. It wasn’t until I purchased the omnibus collection of Sin-Eater (at a reduced size, natch) that I could really appreciate her work. I had to read the story twice to better understand what happened, and the notes at the back (which highlighted the unsaid things better) helped a lot.

Although she stopped releasing her books through the Direct Market and started going the Girl Genius route of publishing her comics on the web and gained more readers from it, I couldn’t work myself the enthusiasm to read the newest stories. I was still ignorant of the past stories she’d done before and wanted to read those before going on the the latest ones, even though they didn’t need to be referenced beforehand.

When Dark Horse announced that they would publish the Finder series, I was wary, since DH has a bad reputation for delayed shipping late books. What surprises me is that Dark Horse would release the newest Finder book before the older Finder stories. Even though the Dark Horse version will re-collect the comic I already have, I don’t mind. It’s good enough that it warrants double-dipping.

However, the one comic I’m most looking forward to is the last collection of Technopriests.

The last omnibus collection that was released was in 2004, so it’s been a long wait from the penultimate book to the grand finale. The only fault is that it’s more expensive than the first two, and with a lower page count. Judging by the wait, it’s possible they compensated for inflation.

Technopriests is about an ancient albino reciting his memoirs of what led to him leading his guide of 500,000 followers. Mere words cannot fully describe the inherent insanity this title provides, it has to be experienced to truly appreciate it. This page summary should give you a good idea. The disasters they go through may seem perfectly normal at first, until you read the last two penultimate panels:

This isn’t even the most ridiculous thing that happens in the series. Albino is such a Mary Sue figure who’s constantly getting himself into dangerous situations at every turn; and getting out of said cliffhangers by using his zen-like wits and various mind-bending hacker powers whenever the plot suits it.

The plot? Ah, that would be Albino wanting to join the Technopriest guide so he can design video games that’ll have a lasting influence on humanity. If this were a Manga, his tagline would be; “I want to create the best video games in the universe!”

Trouble is, the instant he sets foot in the gaming world, he’s less than enthusiastic about the realities of the workplace. It’s not all fun and games, and the ethics of his bosses are suspect. This is possibly a reflection of the writer’s unfortunate encounters with the politics of videogame designers. To counter this, Albino decides that he needs to change the workplace from within to create the kind of imaginative games he wants to create, and not the mindless games that’ll keep the customers in a dull stupor. As a result, he continues climbing up the ladder of success, going deeper and deeper into the corrupt world of profit and merchandising. Throughout his continuous rise through the ranks, he’s constantly confronted with an alien bureaucracy that wants to infect him with their sick thoughts.

It gets so outlandish in its descriptions that you can’t help but laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. On the other side of the story is the adventures his mother and the rest of his family went through while he’s focusing on videogames. Like many stories, this one is inspired by revenge.

His mother was a priestess of a golden temple until three pirates of varying skin tones, one white, one grey and one red, invaded her holy grounds, razed the place to the ground, and raped her. When she gave birth to three babies who resembled the pirates in flesh tone, she vowed to raise as much funds as she could to create an army that would cut the pirates’ testicles off. In fact, a lot of what happens in Technopriests is inspired by revenge. Allegiances and roles are constantly shifting so that one person may be on top of the world one day, and then be forced to clean the toilets the next. In fact, toilet-cleaning seems to be a popular punishment for whoever’s in power.

Can you tell that this comic is one of my most guilty pleasures?