Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Superheros (or as I like to call them, S-heroes, since they’ve been labeled with everything including Science heroes, Specials, and serious threats get S-ranks) have been a persistent staple of the comics world ever since Superman bashed a getaway car against a rock. The staunchest defenders of Superhero comics claim that there’s literally no genre that Superheros can’t be part of. A Sci-fi Western that’s reminiscent of Star Trek & Star Wars? Superheroes! A Medieval Fantasy with Steampunk overtones? Superheroes! A Sports Drama with a soap opera cocktail? Well, maybe not that last one. The inclusion of Superheroes in everything in the American comics market meant that for anything done in a comic that wasn't about S-heroes was basically an indy comic.

So it was a surprise when at the height of the Quebec Referendum (or as Josh Freed put it, the Neverendum) that an attempt was made to satirize the political events by caricaturizing politicians as muscular men willing to slug out for their issues.

Written by Mark Shainblum and illustrated by Gabriel Morrissette, AngloMan was done on the presumption that the political going-ons would be considered too unbelievable if they were being written down as fiction. An excerpt from a foreword reads;

We couldn’t make this place up! DC Comics would reject it in a second! Universal Press Syndicate would laugh at us! Hell, even MAD Magazine would probably slam the door in our faces!

Even so, there are allusions to S-hero archetypes so as not to completely alienate readers. For instance, AngloMan’s costume is modelled after Captain America’s, with a bilingual Stop sign for a shield, and lives in The Fortress of Two Solitudes. His rebelious sidekick, West Island Lad insists on calling it the AngloCave, much to AngloMan’s annoyance. The female partner Poutinette sometimes shows up to help, with a gun that shoots greasy french fries, though she usually works on her own.

Capitaine Souche (based on former PQ leader Jacques Parizeau) gets his power by calling out a secret number, 101, at which a bolt of lightning falls from the heavens and transforms him, and he has an origin reminiscent of Batman where he was traumatized by his parents not getting any customer service in French.
I guess you had to be there.
There’s a LOT of inside jokes that’d be completely alien to any outsiders or people ignorant of the Canadian political system. One of the recurring characters in the first book, The Northern Magus is based on Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was best known for saying “Fuddle-Duddle!”

However, the webpage description of NM is slightly incorrect. It should read:

Height: He knows.

Weight: And he ain’t telling.

Group Affiliations: Himself

Powers and Abilities: There is literally nothing the Northern Magus can't do. He’s a Secret Master of the World, and virtually everybody has done his bidding at one time or another. Angloman may or may not have been set upon his mission and granted his abilities by the Northern Magus. Whether for ultimate good or ultimate evil, we can only guess.

Although AngloMan made his debut in the Montreal Mirror and had two stand-alone books telling longer stories, his exploits have never been fully collected. Part of the reason for the lack of popularity might be the obscureness of the subject material. It could be the scratchy artwork where it was difficult to decipher what was going on, let alone who was being caricatured. Without reference notes explaining the historical themes happening at the time, a lot of the humour is lost.

Another major reason this didn’t catch on is because the face of politics keep changing every year or so. Today’s leaders may not be the same respectable people tomorrow. Not to mention a constantly rotating cast means that chances of seeing any old favorites would only happen if they were caught up in a recent scandal. As such, the odds are not good.

Or maybe it’s because the jokes simply weren’t that good.

Quality satire is difficult to get right, especially if it doesn’t resonate with the public. It didn’t help matters much that people who might’ve been interested in S-heroes wouldn’t enjoy Angloman’s foray in Quebec politics. As much as they enjoy convoluted storytelling, they’d be totally lost without understanding all the references. Not to mention everything was in black & white.

And political cartoonists wouldn’t enjoy S-heroes peanut butter getting their chocolate suits all dirty. At least in the first story of the second book, it showed the fallacy of a Superhero registry system better than Marvel’s Civil War.

Naturally, Angloman being a Captain America archetype (and rational Superhero) is reluctant to give away his real name. However, he’s assured that he’s protected by the “Loi sur la confidential√© des secrets imbeciles en ridicules”. After being reassured by the confidentiality agreement, he starts filing out the rest of the overly complex form requirements.

Having failed to meet the requirements, Angloman's forced to wait for his turn and wait for his number to come up:

I didn’t bother to save too many of the comics that appeared in the newspaper, since the majority of them went over my head. I only kept the ones that had personal significance or relevance to me.

The ironic thing about the comic below is, of the select Angloman comics that’re available for online viewing, they’re all abysmally small, with some random lines of text or art being whited out. This doesn't make a very compelling argument for preserving the comics if we can't read them properly.

For those of you wondering who the old bald guy with glasses that Dilbert’s shooting at among his victims in his postal rage, he’s Ben of the Canadian comic strip created by Daniel Shelton. He’s a family strip about an elderly couple, their children, and their grandchildren, and is based on what the author feels like he’ll (hopefully) grow up to be when he’s within retirement age.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How to Draw S-hero Comics

So far, the recent decisions of DC's plans to reboot all their issues to attract new audiences don't appear to be working. They seem to be regressing back to the 90's where comics sold in the millions, hyped events were the mainstay of the day, and first issues sold gangbusters. Trouble is, those issues were only selling multiple times to the same people. If you're selling the same issue to the same person, that doesn't really count. It's keeping those sales consistent after the first issue that's been a problem.

What's sad is that this Cracked article which exaggerated the Liefeldian poses and Image layouts is even more relevant today. Before Cracked became a site for immense trivia, it was known as MAD's weaker cousin. The jokes and satires weren't always up to the high standards of MAD, but when they were funny, they were funny. Sadly, this was extremely rare.

I would've combined the two images together, but I've found that when I've uploaded large files, the pictures shrink to compensate. Just read from one side to the next page, otherwise you'll suffer from reading incomprehension.

Next up is a hallmark of S-hero comics - incomprehensible page layout. You'd think this kind of thing would've died out by now, but you'd be wrong.

This post was inspired in part by a recent criticism of the new DC costume designs with the simple premise that Jim Lee's characters look ridiculous if done by anyone other than Jim Lee.

"In one of my blogs I mentioned how in order to tell if a design was strong or not, an easy way to do that was to draw the character in a neutral pose. That way you can look at the design itself and not let the pose distract you from the design. And that sometimes, an artist would try to save a poor design by putting the character in a dynamic pose to distract the eye into looking at the strong pose, and not seeing the weak design. That is in part what Jim Lee does."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Everyone was Sailor-Moon Fighting

Ever since it was announced that sales of Sailor Moon was selling gangbusters, I was wondering why news hadn't been reported on comic news sites. I was going to wait until it was confirmed nationwide, because maybe it was just for that region alone. Apparently, I needn't have worried, since sales were brisk and keeping with local demand. Never underestimate the appeal of ditzy cute girls in leggy outfits.

It's really amazing how Sailor Moon has managed to retain her popularity despite not being in public view for almost a decade. Apart from the nostalgia factor, there's also the fact that there hasn't been a popular iconic female figure for Manga in a long time. Even the impressive amount of Magical Girl Animes that it spawned, such as Cardcapturer Sakura, Magic Knights Rayearth, Tweeny Witches and Princess Tutu haven't managed to knock off the reigning champion from her throne. (Recently, Puella Magi Madoka Magica managed to deconstruct the Magical Girl trope starting around the third episode.)

Sure, the bad guys might've succeeded if they'd focused on more than one plot at a time, so the Sailor Senshi wouldn't always (somehow) stumble upon their plans to drain human energy, but it made the experience more enjoyable. The formulatic premise also helped cement the popularity of the francise. While people might've looked down on the monster-of-the-week formula, it also helped make it easier to jump into any episode without really missing anything. If you look at a lot of the early S-hero comics, you'll notice a lot of repetition at the beginning. The Hulk was always getting angry and crying "HULK SMASH!!!"

That simplicity may explain the inheirent appeal of Sailor Moon. Despite its large cast, the storyline's fairly simple. A forbidden love between Earth and Moon people were reincarnated to try their lives again. For some reason, the beings who caused their deaths want to stop them from getting together again. It's loosely based on the legend of Kaguya Hime, a baby girl found in a bamboo shoot. (This isn't as odd as it sounds - Momotaro was born from a peach) When she became of age, and five suitors began to ask for her hand in marriage, she had to decline their offers because she was actually a Moon Princess, and had to return to her true home.

Whereas, if you wanted to explain Wonder Woman's background, you'd have to delve into intricate backstory of Steve Trevor crashing/washing up on the shores of Paradise Island
where no man shall set foot, and Wonder Woman passing her initiation by hiding her face behind a flimsy mask. That setup's all fine and good, but it falls to pieces from there. Wonder Woman lost her powers in the 70's, and became a working woman. Steve Trevor becomes such a non-entity later on he was killed off - twice. (He came back later) Attempts to romatically pair her up with Superman or Batman have ended up in failure. And there hasn't been much of a relationship with her Queen Mother. Basically, she's an ambassador of peace, but is also held to an impossible standard of feminine equality and diplomacy. Only Greg Rucka's run managed to make a convincing portrayal, but it was spoiled by editorial interference by Amazons Attack, an event that's better left unknown.

In addition, Sailor Moon was also responsible for putting school miniskirts on everyone. It was one of the most iconic (and leg-revealing) designs that simultaneously conveyed power and sexiness. Just as strongman pants became shorthand for S-hero underwear, short skirts became synonymous with powerful pre-pubescent girls. The amount of influence is still felt to this day. Next to Slave-Leia, it's one of the most popular costumes you're likely to see at Anime/Comic conventions.

Even though the girls show off quite a bit of leg, they're still more tastefully done than most sexualized S-heroines who're closer to sex models than anything. Part of it may stem from everything being done by a woman who's admitted that she prefers drawing women to men, which makes for a refreshing change of gender imbalance. The love interest, Mamorou shows up less and less later on, and becomes the token male. The similarities to Wonder Woman can't be ignored either, especially since Sailor Moon uses her tiara just like the live-action show starring Lynda Carter.

Sometimes, you just want to feel like a princess.

Girls are more interested in admiring their role models as being the center of attention rather than the actual responsible figures of power. That's why they prefer princesses to Queens, since one is involved in ruling a country, and the other isn't. If we haven't seen the harsh decisions made that could make a queen considered unpopular, it's harder to identify with them otherwise. This was something that was touched on with the portrayal of Marie Antoinette in Rose of Versailles - we saw her rise and fall with the political intrigue that happened in between, so we couldn't hate her entirely. (The sparkly eyes didn't hurt either)

Below is a mash-up that I'm surprised hasn't been done before. You may hate me for this.

I thought about doing one of Sailor Sat-Uran, but couldn't find an appropriate sprite to use.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Right Text, Wrong Balloon

There was a recent discussion on what Manga publishers do that upset their customers. The answers ranged from cancelling a series only three volumes in its run, or even worse, just one volume away from completion. Then there's the other general pet peeves, such as transparent thin paper, and slipshod translation efforts.

However, there's one slight detail that's easy to make mistakes in that can occasionally get on my nerves. It's when dialogue gets placed in the wrong balloon. I've written before about text across the page that can be read the wrong way, but this is something different.

Even though this example is faithful to the source material, it would sound more natural if it were "My knife... and fork!" Not to mention having the words be consistent with Toriko's hand gestures.

Here's another example from Emma. At first glance, nothing seems wrong with this scene. But take a closer look...

In the green circle, there's the tiniest hint of a balloon tail. It makes it sound like the accused is admitting to being greedy, when her facial expressions say otherwise. Also, the offscreen teasing sounds coming from overhead would be more consistent.

If this kind of detail is too hard to see, there's another helpful shortcut. Just take a look at the size and shape of the balloon. A good rule of thumb is, if there's more space than usual, or if it's spiky, that's a good clue right there. Otherwise, important information would have to be squeezed into a smaller balloon instead of the larger balloon where it would naturally belong.

It bothers me that text is inserted without any regard for the context of the overall picture. It's as bad as exposition that explains what we're seeing right now. Sure, it helps if we're not clear on what's happening, but oftentimes, that's not the case.

In other instances, we get information that's revealed prematurely.

It's rare, but even scanlations can slip up on this little mistake. Here's an example of some crucial information coming out early in the wrong dramatic panels.

Part of the reason why this happens is because word balloons can be read either sideways or across, and it's not always clear who's talking. To make things even more problematic, those pesky tiny balloon tails? Sometimes they're intended to be spoken from characters across from each other. You might not be able to tell, but this was flipped to read from left to right. It doesn't look unusual at first, until you take a closer look at the dialogue, and realize that Astro is responding to something that Big X hasn't even said yet.

An even bigger mistake of this kind is when dialogue is translated, but organized the wrong way. This scene near the climax of the classic Astro Boy story, The Greatest Robot on Earth, is made confusing because the dialogue is translated, but the page itself isn't flipped. See how much easier it reads if the circled balloons are switched?

For the most part, this kind of thing is more likely to be looked over in Mangas that have lots of throwaway dialogue that's not likely to get a second look. Most modern-day Mangas don't suffer from this problem, since they're usually not too text-heavy, but there are exceptions. Here's a few examples from Yu-Gi-Oh!

This kind of mistake happens quite frequently in From Eroica with Love. Even now, I can't tell if there's anything wrong with this panel or not. (Apart from the obvious reasons)

In the 3rd panel below, Klaus is responding to James, the unseen stingy accountant (a man after my own tastes) under the table, which gives us a clue as to what's wrong with the 5th panel. The way Eroica talks there, it sounds like he's threatening to kick Klaus under the table instead of considering his offer.

Oftentimes, because the balloons are so close together, it's easy to get them mixed up. The lower one is closer, but the upper one should be read first.

You probably can't tell, but the circled balloons are pointing towards different targets. usually, the American way is to have balloons over the character's heads, but in Manga, they're more likely to be by the side.

Also, since panels are likely to be filled in from left to right, the first available open space is more likely to be filled in. If they're not numbered properly, this kind of mistake becomes easier to make. Here, in a sudden revelation that Eroica's been hoodwinked in a wild-goose chase, the internal monologue is in the wrong place.

During a scene where Major Klaus was being hit on by a rather ugly woman (actually Eroica in drag), he's getting some natural ribbing from his superiors. The agent with black hair, Lawrence, fancies himself to be a James Bond archetype, even though he has none of the Agent's charisma or skill. The line he's saying would sound more natural coming out of Klaus' mouth.

Here, a suspect of a terrorist organization sounds like he's accusing his interrogators, instead of the other way around.

For all of Lawrence's faults, he's surprisingly efficient in other areas, such as waking up on time. This is another example of somebody responding to something before they've said it.

Lawrence's not a telepath, otherwise he'd pick up on the intentional hostility of his co-workers. Unless he'd actually say what they were unconsciously thinking.

Just as Lawrence is inept in social etiquette, Klaus is equally ignorant of the art world. Or rather, he would be if he didn't guess what The Blue Boy was.

Despite being an extremely effeminate art thief, Eroica has an irrational dislike of women. So much that he's stolen the harem girls' introduction.

Context of this scene would help, but I won't give any, other than Klaus is impatiently buying a plane ticket.

Another example of reading from top to bottom, rather than from side to side.

Another example of somebody else stealing their lines.

If there's one thing that Klaus' butler is that Alfred isn't, it would be emotional. In this instance, it sounds like he's lamenting his own recollections, and Klaus is breaking out in tears because of it. (The butler actually broke up an argument between Dorian Klaus by talking about Klaus' childhood bed-wetting accidents. The result was so embarrassing that both men lost the will to continue fighting)

A scene of Eroica escaping by throwing scalding food back at his prisoners. The guards really should know better, otherwise they'd wind up reversing their pronouns.

Lastly, it sounds like Walrus-guy (Bonham) wants to buy a statue, when he's actually scared of it being haunted, and wants to run away. If Eroica had known how things would've turned out, he might've had a change of heart.

Despite these faults, I hope that a company will pick up from where CMX left off and continue the zany adventures of Eroica and Klaus. This, along with the remainder of Swan, Even a Monkey can Draw Manga, Club 9 and What's Michael? Hell, why haven't Viz done omnibus collections of their out-of-print Shojo lines? Classics such as Please Save my Earth, Basara, Red River and Banana Fish would be potential bestsellers, and solve the dilemma of finding rare volumes. Especially Banana Fish, which only begins to pick up steam around the 7th volume, and becomes an intense page-turning thriller similar to the last half of Cerebus' Church & State, and the 4th storyline of Sam & Fuzzy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tintin's Survival Skills

It seems like every major comic nation has their own personal boy scout ambassador. America has their Superman*, Japan has Astro Boy, and Europe (or to be precise, Belgium) has Tintin. The latter one may not be as powerful as the first two, but his ability to survive in the face of impending disaster is nothing short of miraculous.

There's been some renewed interest in Tintin with stills of the animated movie being released. For years, readers worldwide have enjoyed the exploits of the boy reporter, though it (along with Asterix) have had an uphill struggle in finding an audience in America. Even though the new movie's directed by Stephen Spielberg, and Tintin was the archetype of Indiana Jones, there's still a lot of reservation of the actual outcome. The director isn't known for his reputation regarding animation.

Still, even if the movie turns out to be an unintentional stinker, it still won't take away the power from the books. There's a reason they've managed to be read by readers of all ages for over 70 years - they're that good. And by all ages, I mean ALL AGES. From babies growing up to senior citizens indulging in nostalgia. There's a timeless quality to these adventures, even though they reference events that took place back when they were being serialized.

Besides, Tintin's endured past clunky adaptions before. The live-action movies, The Golden Fleece and The Blue Oranges were new stories that took the popular characters with stories written by other people. Having only seen the Fumetti books of these films and not actually watched them, I can't verify for their quality. Hopefully, someday, I'll be able to find a copy and judge for myself.
Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece, and Tintin and the Blue Oranges - British Film Institute DVD releases
Even the animated version which had to severely tone down the elements of Tintin's escapades, haven't severely impacted the integrity of the classic comics. One child reviewer complained that Haddock's swearing wasn't as imaginative or verbose as the comic versions. Drug-smuggling was toned down to diamond conveys, the storylines felt different on the TV screen, and the animation was somewhat jerky. The Nelvana series was more faithful to the source material, though they still had to tone down some elements, such as Captain Haddock's alcoholism.

All this is tied in to Tintin's earliest incarnation when he was Totor, an actual boy scout. He was so much of a blank personality that young audiences quickly latched onto him, and wouldn't be fleshed out until much later. This much is evident with Tintin's first adventure, where he endured an amazing amount of damage that would otherwise kill a normal man. There was a study that showed this hero would've been long dead if he suffered from the kind of abuse he'd accumulated over the years, which would account for his youthful appearance. Much like Jackie Chan, the amount of dangerous cliffhanger scenarios were toned down in the later years to appear more realistic, and the slapstick scenes were regulated to the supporting cast members who would be more accustomed to this kind of thing. Spreading the pain around = family entertainment!

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was the only early Tintin book that wasn't coloured and redrawn and predates the controversial Tintin in the Congo book. Hence the following drawings, which weren't touched up, show how rough (yet charming) the first Tintin stories were. While the boy is entering a potentially dangerous country, he's constantly faced against agents who're trying to discourage the reporter from doing any negative coverage of their country. Since this (and the Congo one) were done for propaganda purposes, it's safe to say these sleeper agents failed. Within the first few pages, Tintin (and Snowy) is the sole survivor of a train bombing...

Falls out of a speeding motorcycle...

...and gets hit by a train in a getaway car. Keep in mind that this car was being attacked by bombs from a passing airplane.

Later during a lull in the action, Tintin tries to go to sleep in a sewer. Not the concrete platform itself, but actual sewer water.

Next is a common scenario that happens frequently - being lined up for execution. Tintin's
preparation plans here are very omniscient, and could only happen if he'd had foresight that this would happen to him. Since he was intending to sabotage the army he was traveling with, this almost gets a pass.

Next up, Tintin gets encased in a shell of ice. Don't worry - despite his proclamation of doom, he gets better.

And finally, he survives a plane crashing face front into the ground.

During all this, how do the Russians try to counter against this seemingly indestructible boy reporter? Halfway through the book, a Russian agent who looks suspiciously like Skunk Kusai hatches a spontaneous plan; having him slip on a banana peel and hope he'll break his neck.

Then again, the agent might've been onto something there. This theme would be picked up years later in Cigars of the Pharaoh as a successful way to capture Tintin.

This seems to be the most dependable technique to stopping the young detective - stop with the outlandish plans and just use common sense.

*Interestingly enough, America's other do-gooder icon, Mickey Mouse, had stories by Floyd Gottfredson that were reminiscent of ongoing serial adventures very much in a Tintin vein. If Disney had capitalized on his adventures, rather than making him a bland character, we might've gotten more cartoons benefiting of adventure dramas rather than hokey good-guy type stories.
It's rumoured that Mickey Mouse was how Walt Disney saw himself, and Donald Duck was how the animators saw Disney. To put this in perspective, there's about 50 Mickey cartoons, and over 200 Donald Duck cartoons.