Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scary Sundays

Around this time of year, its traditional for cartoonists to take the opportunity to have their characters observe the triumvirate of year-ending holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. (And to a lesser extent, the New Year) However, since there's a delay of six weeks before these comics are printed, they're planned in advance long before the holiday season. When they're sketched, inked and drawn outside of their respective months, it can be schizophrenic to the cartoonist if they're not in the festival mood already. Lately, some artists have even rebelled against the system by refusing to do any holiday-themed strips and just focus on the characters and story and not bother with the timetables.

With that in mind, the Family Circus had the following Sunday comic:

It merely consists of the father sitting around the campfire and telling horrifying stories that're scaring his children. That's the joke. Unless there's something in the throwaway panel to the side that I'm missing, it feels extremely out of place for what's generally known as a typical family-friendly strip. Even the invisible gremlin "Not Me" looks fairly mischievous in comparison.

Next up, Adam regulates a nightmare he had, which sounds pretty horrifying in its own right.

Now, these would be perfectly acceptable comics to be shown around Halloween, right? Only, that's not when they were published. The Family Circus one was shown in August, and Adam in July. Nowhere close to the month of October, and not even a few days later in November when that could've been forgiven for being a little late. It's these kinds of out-of-the-blue strips that make you stop and wonder what was going through these cartoonists' heads at the time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Archie out of Context

I’ve recently discovered the glory and perverse fun that is Archie out of Context. This is equivalent to the guilty pleasure of SuperDickery and unintentionally sexy covers. There's scenes of child abuse, slash pairings, double entendres, lingering liquids, X-rated movies, outrageous statements, and the truly perplexing.

The funny thing is that these wholesome comics have some risique elements that wouldn’t be obvious to the target audience. It’s only when you read the actual comic in question that you find out that they’re actually pretty tame and not as scandalous as you would believe. Revealing the story behind the panel drums up interest in what could potentially motivate these characters into such compromising positions? It’s like those “falls down on girl’s breasts” theme in Harem Manga squared. There’s a perfectly reasonable explaination for it, but it’s really complicated.

For an out-of-context Archie panel to work, there must be several things working for it:
  1. It must be an actual comic that’s been published – no photoshopping.
  2. There should be just enough detail to allow the reader to fill in the blanks.
  3. It must be hillarious.
Since I’m not as obsessed with S-heroes as other comic bloggers, and prefer different comics that mainstream audiences are likely to enjoy, this is something I can contribute to with full knowledge of the subject. Hopefully, the Archie corporation won’t object to this in the same vein that they removed Slightly Improved Archie, which resulted in closing the site down. My favorite is still Jughead struggling to close a door against an elephant trunk and screaming, “REPUBLICANS!”

Although Betty’s been portrayed as being something of a psychotic flake, Archie’s pretty nuts himself.

This puts the Jughead / Reggie rivalry in an entirely new light.

Jughead looks very nervous about what Coach Kleats has in his locker.*

Nope, nothing potentially creepy about Coach Kleats right here, even though he’s emulating Mr. Kimura from Azumanga Daioh.

One of the most popular themes is interest between Betty and Veronica. I wonder why?

Veronica turns Betty down with a well-reasoned logical retort.

Amazingly enough, this isn’t the only comic to make use of a nudist camp. The other one shows more skin though.

This was one of the most controversial pages to appear in Archie comics, and not for the reasons you think.**

Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?

Archie was questioning whether Veronica was wearing a pair or not. Why else would she lie like that?***

There's only so much loose morals can succumb to, before prudes decide to punish their children for it. Or not, depending on your interpretation.

Reggie looks pretty shocked at being caught taped doing his “favorite activity”.

I think this one pretty much speaks for itself.

With all the controversy that comics have gotten for pandering to the lowest common denominator, there's a certain strength in giving audiences what they want and simultaneously denying it from them. Audiences want to be surprised, but they also don't want the same old thing all the time, which drives executives nuts, since there's never a "sure thing". Editors could fire up writers' imagination by forcing them to think up the most intentionally shocking scenes they could think of, then tell them to dilute their strength by showing them in context that'd make it pale in comparison. (This doesn't mean that the shocking scene would only be a prelude to a more horrifying scene, but that it'd be less scandalous than upon first assumption) Somehow similar to how movie trailers selectively show "exciting" scenes that are actually pretty dull in execution. I'm pretty sure there's a MAD article about that. The trick would be making the rest of the story worth reading after getting past the "scandalous" parts.

Archie's been doing this for years, so they must be doing something right.

* A Basketball uniform. And no, it's not role-playing.
** Reggie was talking about natives here, and naturally, some people got a little upset.
*** Boots. What were you thinking?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spy Club

Spy was looming over me, daring me to say anything to commorate the event. However, there wasn't really much to say. With a pineapple bomb lodged between your teeth, you can only speak in consonants.

Project Joke and Laughter was already in place to take down multiple companies at the stroke of midnight.

I know this because Spy knows this.

Then I realized that all of this - the guns, the bombs, the poisoned pens, the boomerang ties, the squirting acid flowers, the killer kazoos, the wooden clubs, the booby traps, the secret decoder rings...

All had to do with the Lady in Grey.

In my old life, I was practically a sleepwalker. For days, I couldn't stay awake. I couldn't stay awake. I couldn't stay awake. With hypersomnia, nothing's real.

Every workday's the same as the last. Tedious meetings that went nowhere. Uninteresting coworkers spouting the same tired old lines. Junk mail selling the same old stuff. Even my diary was a cruel parody - every week could've been copied and pasted, and nothing would've changed.

On a long enough timeline, the expiration date for everything drops to zero. Even the sun will only last for another five billion years, if we're lucky. With planned obsolescence, we don't even bother making products last longer than two years anymore. Once they become obsolete, they were chucked out because a certain part wasn't available, even if all the other stuff still worked. Its become easier to just buy the 2.0 version, since it has more bells and whistles attached to it.

I prayed for anything exciting to happen; a car crash, a train crash, a plane crash - anything that'd help relieve my tedium. I'd even settle for a bicycle accident.

Then one day, a strange man with in a long trenchcoat approached me, handed over a folder and said, "Here, look casual. I'll be back later." And as soon as he arrived, he abruptly left.
The whole incident was so bizarre that I wondered if I hadn't dreamed it up. In my current workplace, carrying large stacks of papers was considered practically normal, so I didn't really stand out.

I kind of got my answer when the mysterious man showed up again later.

Thanks for the help. I'll be leaving now.
Do you mind telling me what all this is about?
Sorry. That's on a need-to-know basis. And he left again.

However, I wasn't going to let him leave without satisfying my curiosity. Besides, I was on lunch break, and could use a change from the fish paste sandwiches. I caught up to him in the lobby where he continued to feign innocence with me.

I'm sorry, have we met before?
Don't lie to me! You handed me a folder without any explaination, and I'd like some answers! If you don't tell me what all that was about, I'll call the police right now.
He looked around, eyeing the speculators and passer-bys, then said, "It's too crowded here. Here, meet me at this cafe.", and discreetly handed over a card.

By the time I read the address, he'd disappeared into the recesses of people.

I decided to take him up on his offer, since I didn't have anything better to do and no one would miss my presence for the next slide presentation.

Why were those papers so important?
Oh, the actual content of those things don't really matter. If you'd bothered to check them, you'd find out they were blank.
Then why -
- you were nothing more than bait.
I felt indignant and excited at the same time. "Bait for what??"
Well, if you must know, I was being pursued by a man known only as El Hombre Siniestro. Thanks to you, I was able to extradite him back to Cuba. By now, he'll be nothing more than a pale memory.
"Glad I could help", I sarcasically replied.
Truth be told, this was really just a test to see if you were applicable.
Now I was a little curious. "Applicable for what?"
What we do is recruit perfectly normal people and assign them roles to help us with our esponiage business. People never really notice the lowly man working at the bottom of the totem pole, so you'd fit in perfectly.
You've really got to work on your sales pitch.
And you've got to work on your drooling. You're dripping all over the place.
I casually wiped my mouth, trying to sound as bored as possible and failing. "Interested? Who's interested?"
Keep in mind that this is no easy feat. This is the kind of job that demands unwavering loyalty in the face of all opposition. That means you have to follow all orders without complaint. Think you're up to it?
I've done nothing but do people's requests' all my life.
Good. Then I'm going to give you an order, and I expect you to follow it to the letter.
Name it.
I want you to kiss me as hard as you can.
I want you to - wait, you weren't hitting on me were you?

After that embarassing setback, we decided to never speak of it ever again. This led to the first two rules of Spy Club:

The first rule of Spy Club is,
You do not talk in Spy Club.

The second rule of Spy Club is,
You DO NOT talk in Spy Club.

After our first session, I felt more alive than I'd ever felt in my life. I hurt and bruised all over, and lost at least two times. However, winning or losing wasn't really the point. I was now part of an organization bigger than myself.

The human body is a wonderfully resilient thing. You can live without blood or oxygen for about a minute before bouncing back. You can drink a pint of blood and a gallon of snot before you start feeling sick. Bleeding cuts and sores get healed over, broken muscles and bones repair themselves, and if you're hurt too badly, it shuts down and reroutes blood from non-vital body parts to the more important organs.

This was really great. We should do this again sometime.
Agreed. I'll be in touch.
What's your name though? I can't keep calling you 'Spy' all the time.
You can call me Spyer Burden.
Sounds made up to me.

Spyer was full of useful tidbits of trivia, such as,

Did you know that if you mix equal parts of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate, you can make napalm?
No, not really. What you wind up with is an undrinkable mess. It's that kind of misinformation we spread around, so the public feels like they're in posession of some hidden knowledge, when they're actually failing to create proper bombs and such, which helps cut down on terrorism tactics. That's what this spy business is all about.
I thought it was driving around in cool cars and hooking up with hot babes.
That's just the perks of the job. Don't let it distract you.

You wouldn't believe how much crap people throw away without thinking. I've been stealing - borrowing lots of old office supplies out of the trash bin. Obsolete computer software without their RAMs have plenty of useful material that can be reused. Would you believe that gold is a common circuitry conductor? If you collect enough of these, you can make a small fortune.
Jeez, you don't learn, do you? The amount left is so neglible it wouldn't even amount to anything, and the information it contains would be more valuable than anything you could buy.
Next lesson - never believe anything anybody tells you. This includes me. Don't trust anything until you cross-reference what you've heard with multiple sources. Then double-check those same sources to make sure they haven't been tampered with by biased researchers.
How can I tell the difference?
A good rule of thumb is, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. What's really difficult are those who mix lies in with the truth. In most instances, just take everything with a grain of salt, otherwise you'll wind up double-guessing yourself all the time.

The trick is to convince people they're rulers of their own fates and not remind them they're actually cast adrift in a universe that doesn't care about them. To combat this, a helpful guideline of rigid rules helps give them the feeling of being in control. Once they're trapped in that mindset, it becomes almost impossible for them to break the pattern, even though all their instincts scream otherwise. Social experiments have proven over and over again that people are not interested in doing heavy-duty thinking. They want somebody else to take care of it for them, so they can focus on the stuff that really matters to them, such as memorizing their TV shows and video game cheats.

Third rule of Spy Club,
If someone dies, goes limp, or craps out,
the Spy is over.

For some reason even though our rules seemed very reasonable, they were very off-putting to a lot of potential members. As a result, the only repeat customers were me and Spy. I should've felt silly doing these violent actions with only one other person present, but I eventually grew accustumed to it. Let the outside world burn for all I cared, as long as me and Spy could scheme circles around each other to our heart's content.

No matter how grandoise our plans were, we always managed to find some way around it. I would devise elaborate devices that were capable of crushing a human skull, and Spy would somehow manage to find a potential flaw I'd missed. Likewise, Spy would come after me with an unstoppable killing machine, and I'd suddenly see a hole in his defenses.

"What're you doing? It looks like fun."

Then the Lady in Grey showed up, and she ruined everything.

Fourth rule of Spy Club,
Only two Spies at a time.

It was difficult to explain the rules without breaking the first two, but we managed by handing out a photocopy that Spy had lying around. Once she'd gone over them twice, she wanted to get started. I opted to be her first opponent, since it was her first time and all. That was when I discovered that she was far more efficient in her abilities than I'd ever prepared myself for. I found myself facing utter defeat within five seconds. Spyer didn't fare much better - he went down in the span of six seconds.

Even with both of us unfairly ganging up on her, she still managed to easily ward off our offenses. It no longer felt like a friendly game, but a one-sided grudge match, which we were hopelessly outmatched. She was constantly distracting us with her techniques, strategy and good looks. If it weren't for her sheer silk stockings and her plunging neckline showing tons of cleavage, we might've stood a chance.

I opted to add another rule along the lines of, No women allowed in Spy Club. However, Spyer didn't agree, saying that she was a welcome spark to our routine, which was getting stale.
We were now at an impasse. Spy started seeing the Lady in Grey more often, while I started seeing him less. I shouldn't have minded, but I suspected he was really trying to figure out her techniques and not just checking out her privates.

Fifth rule of Spy Club,
Hats and glasses are mandatory.

I didn't like how much attention the Lady in Grey was getting compared to me, and displayed my displeasure with my latest string of operations all aimed at Spy. Spyer started retaliating in kind with what he'd picked up from the Grey Lady.

Eventually, these continued successes and failures began to take its toll in what was originally intended to be a fun game between two bored people. Spyer began to grow resentful of my continuous sequences of wins, even though he won as many victories as I lost. Our Spy games became more progressively violenter than they'd been in the past, and I found I had to follow suit. Sure, I could've played it safe and asked him to tone it down, but that would've been admitting defeat, and having Spy lose his respect for me was the last thing I wanted.

Then I found out that I was being framed at work for selling company secrets to our competitors. The evidence against me was overwhelming - I was the only one who had access to the information in question. I was the only one with my fingerprints all over the keyboards. And shortly after the deals were made, a large amount was deposited in my account.

I would've betrayed the company on my own anyways, but still felt lousy that I was blamed for it. I didn't even get the satisfaction of doing the job. This time Spyer had gone too far. It was time to hit Spyer back where it really hurt. It was time I did some research of my own.

And I used to be such a nice guy.

Unfortunately, I was beginning to find out that Spyer was a much better espionage agent than I'd ever given him credit for. Any attempt to find information about his past history led to a dead end. His address and fiances seemed practically nonexistent. He had perfected the art of being a non-person so completely that it was like he didn't even exist.

In fact, of the few legal documents of his that I could actually find, all his physical descriptions wound up sounding a lot like me. I began to see the inheirent logic in his plan - he was grooming himself to eventually take over my role. Well, two could play at that game. I could create just as many false identities as him. That should throw him off the track.

However, I'd grossly underestimated the extent of his information-gathering skills. No matter how carefully I encrypted my files, no matter how many false trails I left lying around, no matter how many times I doubled-back to make sure I wasn't being tailed, he always managed to be one step ahead of me every step of the way.

I began to grow excessively paranoid. Spy's information circle was far greater than I'd ever anticipated. While going through his files hidden in a triple-locked safe laced with an explosive trigger, I found out that Spy had already outlined a profile on me before he even recruited me.
He knew more about me than I knew about myself, while I knew practically nothing about the man before I signed on. What had I gotten myself into?

I decided to dig deeper. What was the name of the guy he was tracking down? El Home Sinistro or something?

Sixth rule of Spy Club,
Spies will go on for as long as they have to.

Finding out information about El Hombre Siniestro turned out to be more difficult than I thought. It was like chasing a ghost. There was practically almost nothing known about the man, save that he relished doing unspeakable cruelties to random people. Spyer Burden had certainly done the world a great service by getting rid of him. However, apart from a few obscenities, I couldn't find any concrete activities that he'd done. Even his deportion back to Cuba was practically nonexistent. One troubling detail that I noticed was how much he looked like Spyer.

Armed with my discovery, I approached Spyer Burden with newfound confidence. Now that I knew where he was coming from, I could face against him with the intent of putting him down once and for all.

Spyer, there's something that's been bugging me.
The products are perfectly legal. Until the companies start complaining about their stolen trash, they can't link their stuff to us without proof.
That's not what I wanted to talk about. I did some research on the guy you were chasing after the day you came to me, and apparently his modus operandi is very similar to your policy.
We all learn from each other. That's how we stay the best - by anticipating the other guy's moves before they even make them.
Okay then, can you explain how you deported him?

That's confidential information.
I know, but there's no mention of his name listed anywhere.
We wanted to keep his location under wraps. It would look bad if his transport route showed where he was going.
You could've used multiple decoy trucks.
And alerted multiple sleeper agents to help him escape? No thanks.
Maybe, but it doesn't account for the lack of a paper trail showing any boats or planes going into Cuba.
Well maybe we moved him to another country that wasn't restricted by an embargo, you ever think of that?
That's what I thought, until I got my hands on a picture of the man in question, and I noticed that El Hombre Siniestro looks suspiciously like you.

What are you saying?

I should think that it's pretty obvious - you ARE El Hombre Siniestro! You changed your identity by taking care of the agent who was tracking you down. And now you're trying to replace me by usurping my role in the workplace for your own devious means.
Which are?
I don't know. Maybe you're going to spike the water cooler with laxatives. Maybe you're going to double-staple every folder in the company. Maybe you're going to burn the building to the ground - but whatever it is, you must be stopped before you even start!
I've already done all those things under your name.
Calm down. There's a very good reason for all of this. The reason El Hombre Siniestro is so difficult to track down is because he doesn't exist. He's nothing more than a former alias that I created.
I suppose you're going to tell me that you're an alternate personality created from my repressed rage at an increasingly customerist society?
No, I'm the dominant personality. YOU'RE the alternate personality!

Seventh and final rule of Spy Club,
If this is your first time at Spy Club,
you have to Spy.

I was visibly shocked at this kind of news. How could I possibly be a mental condition when I clearly remembered so many vivid images of my past? What was extremely depressing was that other than Spy club, all I could recall were the endless days of drudgery at the office, waiting for the day to end.
You only remember your boring past because I filled it with endless days of drudgery at the office, with you waiting for the day to end.
How did you -
I know this, because Spy knows this.
I stared at him incredulously. He was repeating the exact same stuff I'd been thinking. He must've been planting sublimal messages without me noticing.
Everything you know, I already know. Everything I know, you already know.
I countered back the only way I knew how; "Well, maybe I just memorized the wrong stuff so I could lure you into a false sense of superiority and catch you off guard?"
You're not that smart, and I'm not that dumb.
This seems like an extremely complicated scheme with such little payoff. Why go to all this trouble then?
It became extremly boring to have no one else match my intellectual capability, so I decided to create a persona equivalent to playing chess with myself. Haven't you ever wondered why you had so much trouble staying awake? It was only after I fed you the fantasy of the boring office worker really being a secretive undercover agent that you showed any signs of interest. That's how were you able to implement so many complicated aspects of spying in such a short time.
I thought you were a really good teacher. What about the female spy? She picked up the game faster than either of us!
Which is why you've become redundant. Now that she's shown up on the scene, I don't need you anymore. I've finally found a worthy rival, while you're nothing more than a scapegoat.

I grew red-hot with livid anger. How dare this man demean my past efforts? Well, Spy was going to find out that this spy wasn't going to be so easy to put down!

...At least, that's what I thought when I lunged at him and fell flat on my face.

Looks like the sleeping pills are finally taking effect.
That's impossible! I switched the cups around! And only YOU took a drink!
you're not very bright, are you?
Those were the last words I heard before I blanked out.

When I woke up again, I found myself tied to a chair with a grenade in my mouth.

Back again, are we? I suppose it's time to reveal my grandoise plans. Project Joke and Laughter is already in place and is unstoppable. At the stroke of midnight, all the companies that you've sent the corporate secrets to should already be infected with the malicious virus that's invading their systems right now. By lunch tomorrow, the market will be in a state of chaos trying to keep their customer service up and running, and for the first time, people will have to learn how to adapt in a world of faulty gadgets.

I wasn't really paying attention to what Spy was telling me. In the back of my mind, I somehow already knew what he was talking about. I was more concerned with getting out of my predictament. It looked pretty hopeless so far, But what Spy hadn't anticipated was that with all our past fights, I'd had to replace multiple bones and internal organs after some of our more violent sessions. I was purchasing dentures in bulk since I went through them so fast. All it would take was slipping my false teeth out of my mouth and spitting the grenade in Spy's general direction. Too bad he noticed before I even got the chance to interrupt his little speech.

You're STILL trying to resist?
Of course! I am beautiful, unique, and no flake. I'll do anything to protect my identity!
Really? What's your name then?
Well, it's... hang on, it'll come to me...
Where do you live? Who are your parents? Do you have any friends?
I have lots of friends!! There's that black guy in accounting... and the janitor...
Admit it - you're nothing more than a figment of my imagination. The sooner you accept that truth, the easier it will be for both of us.

I was falling into confusion and despair. The events of Spy Club had drowned out everything else that happened in my life. I couldn't even remember the last time I went to the bathroom, since it was so boring in comparision. The only thing left for my was Spy Club, and even that had betrayed me.

Hang on a mo - what was it he'd said? The purpose of a spy is to intentionally spread misleading information to the public. And he was recruiting people off the streets... therefore, I was one of the masses he was trying to decieve!

I suddenly saw a way out of this.

The first rule of Spy club is you do not talk in Spy club.
What are you doing?
The second rule of Spy Club is you DO NOT talk in Spy club.
Get back! I'm warning y-

And just like that, Spyer Burden suddenly fell silent, falling upon his default mode of obeying orders. Once engaged in the ritual of Spy Club, he couldn't break free from his loyalty to the rules, and that gave me all the advantage I needed.

Now that he was no longer free to spread his scandalous lies, I could focus on my counterattack. Before he could get his bearings, I reached over and shoved the grenade inside his mouth. He tried to mumble something in protest, but with a pineapple bomb lodged between your teeth, you can only speak in consonants.

I watched with a satisfied smirk as a bright flash replaced what had once been Spy's head, and raised two fingers in truimph. I figured I stood a better chance with the Lady in Grey now. Judging by Spyer Burden's attempts to impersonate me, I might be able to pull it off.

I was all set off to leave when I felt a strange sensation in my lower chest. For some reason, a wet spot was showing up, and a sharp point seemed to be poking out from it. I twisted my neck around to see where it'd come from, and was shocked to see Spy with his head ducked between his shoulders.

Of course - I'd forgotten that I knocked out his teeth just as much as he'd broken mine. He must've spitted out the bomb, then ducked his head within his trenchcoat to deflect the blast.

This wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.

With a cry, I groggly stumbled towards Spy with a knife hidden in my pocket. Both our eyes were unfocussed, but victory would go to the one who landed the final blow. Every knife wound at my former friend felt like a stab in my gut. He was a lot more resilent than I'd thought. Every time I thought I'd finally beaten him down, he rose up like a Phoenix. Likewise, everytime I felt too tired to continue, I would find some hidden resevoir of renewed strength.

I lost count of how many times we went at each other, but figured it was somewhere in the triple-digits range.

When I woke up, I found myself lying sprawled on the ground in a puddle of blood and mangled limbs. I looked around for signs of Spyer Burden, but couldn't see him anywhere. This was impossible - he couldn't have crawled away from the scene without a trace! Instead, I saw another figure. It was difficult to disconcern from my hazy view and swollen eyes, but it was umistakably the Lady in Grey. She was riffing through my suitcase and saying some cryptic words along the lines of, "finding a cure", and "selling to the highest bidder", but I couldn't hear her properly.

"I'm fine, thanks for asking," I sarcastically replied. "You should see the other guy..."

The Grey Lady heard my wavering voice and stopped whatever it was she was doing. Then she walked over to my comatose body and said the three most painful words a woman could say to a guy in my condition;

I win again.

Then she walked out the room without even casting a backwards glance. While I was enjoying watching her ass as she walked down the stairs in high heels, I heard a familiar voice behind me. Spyer Burden had seen better days.

I'm not quite sure another woman's the answer we need.
I couldn't help but smile. "Are you still up to adding another clause to our Spy Club rules?"
How about we Spy for it? As soon as I start feeling better, I'm going after you with a vengeance. I'm thinking of a Rube Goldberg inspired deathtrap that you'll never see coming.
Not if I stop you first!

I love the smell of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate in the morning. It smells like... victory.

- Spyer Burden

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Before Tom Armstrong became better known for creating a baby comic, he made his first debut with a collaboration with Tom Batiuk. (Yes, THAT Tom Batiuk. Apparently, there are things in cartoonists' pasts that are more interesting than the strips they create) However, since I know practically nothing about John Darling and don't have any scans of him, we'll have to settle for the baby.

Marvin was also the first instance I ever got of a comic being further condensed. While most comics are normally shown without the title page and throwaway panel, my newspaper outdid themselves by removing several panels that weren't necessary.

In other cases where the other panels were mandatory to the punchline, they were squished together. As far as I know, no other strip suffered as much as Marvin did, but it was one of these things that help spurn the additive/reductive element of comics.

There's been some speculation that Marvin was inspired by Garfield, since it shares some striking similarities -both feature a small destructive creature that eats a lot and only communicates by thinking. Since Marvin was debuted around the time that Garfield started to take off, it's not unreasonable. The difference is that one is a baby, and the other is a cat. For some people, there's not much difference, save that babies eventually grow up, unless they're cartoon babies.

Now there's a scary thought for you - babies' faces frozen in the shape of famous dictators. I have to admit that when I saw Marvin's face in the last panel there, I thought he was impersonating Frankenstein. I wasn't very immersed in politics, let alone American politics. I didn't even know we had a Prime Minister until Brian Mulrooney got caught up in multiple scandals. At the time, I thought he was a nice guy. (I was young!)

The Garfield comparison is even more pronounced when you take Cousin Megan in consideration. She's clearly the closest thing to competition that Marvin has. From these few examples, we get the sense she's clearly more ambitious than her cutesy outlook implies.

However, a cursory check on TvTropes showed that she hadn't shown up again in years, and was only briefly mentioned in a recent strip.

There was some controversy when Marvin started changing, not just in his character design, but also when he started expressing actual human speech and interacting with his parents without resorting to baby talk. In addition, he started standing up and walking as opposed to crawling around. But there was a strip that showed he was capable of this much earlier.

For those curious where the title image of Marvin running in his baby stroller comes from, this strip looks like a good originator as any.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Making Xkcd Better or Worse

Sometime back in April, I made an interpretation of a Tetris game that I felt was a fairly accurate revision of the newest Xkcd strip.
Shouldn't have pressed "down" so soon.

However, I felt slightly discouraged when I found out that a similar strip to mine had already been posted. As a regular contributor to another parody comic strip, I should've been aware that ideas were likely to overlap, but it still bugged me.

I only recently discovered Making Xkcd Slightly Worse via a Square Root of Minus Garfield comic. I was reluctant to check it out, because I'm always afraid of trying new things. Either I'll hate it upon my first chance, or I'll become too addicted to the latest new toy and find out I can't live without it. It's why I was so nervous about using the internet in its early days, because I worried that I wouldn't be able to tear myself away from the daily distractions. However, since it was another revised parody strip, I decided to give it a shot.

Sure enough, my fears were acknowledged - once I got started, I found it extremely hard to stop. Actually, I found browsing the forums to be a better indicator for judging the quality of the comics, because I could see many of them at once, which saved on download time. Not to mention the mouseover text was out in the open, which meant I didn't have to constantly move my mouse over the picture to find the hidden joke. Sadly, some of the strips on the forums have disappeared, and even the comic archive didn't bother to make any copies, so until the original contributors bring them back, they'll be lost to the annals of time.

Most of these comics started out as concepts of ruining the joke, excluding a single element/panel or combinations of various strips that were just as, if not funnier than the original. Even Randall Munroe seems to have been influenced by some of these strips.

After reading so many comics in a row, it was inevietable that I would feel inspired to try a few strips of my own. I felt very much like the guy in this comic - I stayed up all night and couldn't stop until I'd gone through every single comic until I got a general idea of the parameters involved. Some jokes got reused multiple times, while others only appeared once. One particular favorite were variations on the on the That's what SHE said! jokes. I didn't even know the basic setup, let alone why it why such an innocuous line wound up sounding so funny, but I think I managed to find a good combination from three different strips.

For all intents and purposes, this backfired in more ways than one.

In the meantime, I created a few more Xkcdsws that I thought would be fun. However, the backlog seems to be even longer than for SromG, and Xkcdsw doesn't update every day, which takes longer for my turn to come up. I was told that my comic would be released on July 23, but apparently that's for the Webpage date, not Calendar date. It's currently at April 20th, and I'm getting impatient at ever getting to see my comics get posted, so I figured I might as well save myself some aggravation and just post the stuff up, image memory be damned.

I also made a slight variation to a comic that had already been done better.
Somehow, this doesn't seem as glamorous as TV made me believe.
I also made two variations of a similar joke, with a different punchline:

While on a webcomic binge, I combined two similar concepts from two different sources, the second being Cyanide & Happiness. I'm sorry to say that Black Hat's reaction looks more like he's running away, than actually being blown back. If you have him facing right, it'll look closer to my intended use.

This one was inspired by a punchline from an Xkcdsw comic. The question of who's actually dreaming is never called up.
That sentence made him stay up all night long.
And now, for my magnum opus, taking elements from 25 different strips. I doubt anybody'll be able to beat my record, though they're welcome to try. This was my most ambitious Xkcd project, trying to find sentences that would have warped meaning for the original comic. Only one panel was borrowed from an Xkcdsw strip - all the others were actual lines quoted in the main webcomic. There were at least three revisions, with me replacing one carefully chosen sentence with another. The ones that were in the first draft included the following; I've never seen so much blood!, You're my lovely cutie pie, and Those mysterious wood chips? Bonus points if you can accurately guess where they originally belonged.
If I were any more ambitious, I would've made the memes rhyme.
Colider, Gyroscope, Contemplative, Internet
Hamster ball, Talking, Balls, Kama Sutra
Black Hat, Cat, Turned on, Photoshop
Map, Spoiler, Compiling, Pencil
Politics, Vibrator, Blockier, Like you
Diet Mentos, Flying Car, Jurassic, Vista

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Childish Fears

As Halloween's coming around again, everybody seems to be collecting another round-up of the scariest things they've ever encountered in comics. However, the things that scared me weren't the monsters with oozing pus or the horror stories with preachable endings. What scared me were concepts that struck too close too home. The following descriptions may be slightly vague, because I've only read the following material maybe twice, so I'll do my best to recreate the stories from memory.

The Ren and Stimpy comics were certainly more sophisicated than the TV show that inspired them, or at least as sophisicated as gross-out humour could be. It's a shame that Marvel (along with its Star Comics line) hasn't bothered to reprint any of their titles. Alf was a consistent seller, often outdoing several of their S-hero comics, which must've been seen as something of a low blow. It's possible that they're no longer bothering to reprint them due to copyright issues, or out of sheer spite, but conventional wisdom says that the current editors are "not interested in releasing stuff aimed at children", which should be quite contradictory to their Disney bosses. (Unless they're the same people who won't release Kim Possible DVDs to the public)

For the curious, here's a link sample of some Ren & Stimpy comics.

I can tolerate cartoon characters getting hit with anvils and explosives, because they always bounce back. But I have great difficulty when they're encountering emotional situations. While it was accepted wisdom that Ren & Stimpy engaged in actions that was intentionally offensive, I still felt extremely uncomfortable in the 11th issue where Ren got REALLY mad at Stimpy.

I can't exactly remember what made Ren so angry in the first place, but whatever it was, it was something utterly inconsequential, and Stimpy was responsible for it. Ren started reacting by contorting his body in rage for several panels, scrunching up his face while changing it into various colours of purple, before venting a blood-curdling scream that took up an entire page.

The reaction was so dramatic that Ren was admitted to a hospital because he was suffering from high blood pressure. He was hooked up to multiple wires and tubes, and kept twitching uncontrollably. The doctor explained his patient's discomfort to Stimpy, showing a stress chart of people in high-stress jobs. Then the doctor flipped over the graph, showing a chart completely inked in red. "This... is Ren's stress level."

The doctor cautioned Stimpy that if Ren suffered another stress attack, it could be potentially fatal. To counter this, after Ren was released, he was placed in a therapeutic center to learn how to control his temper by doing a series of ever-escalating relaxation techniques that looked extremely painful in execution. (Being totally at ease while a steamroller rolls over your hand, and using the flattened palm as a substitute for toilet paper f'r instance) After years of resisting various relaxation techniques because I found too many of them stressful, such as controlling my breathing which always made me hyperventilate, I could relate. Eventually, Ren managed to find a suitable technique by visualizing himself in a hallucinogenic "peaceful place".

Having passed the tests, Ren was all set to relax in the comforts of his home, but began to utterly lose it when he saw Stimpy putting peanut butter on his chocolate bars. Obviously, what worked inside the lab failed when exposed to the nature of the outside world. Ren was all set up to have another explosion of violent rage until Stimpy reminded him not to lose his temper. Having suddenly remembered his relaxation technique, Ren went back to his peaceful place, but the hallucinogenic backgrounds became replaced with visions of Stimpy and chocolate covered in peanut butter, so Ren's veins started acting up again, and he grew so mad it caused a nuclear explosion in the shape of Ren's head.

Then the scene flashed to the far future where a huge kid with Ren's likeness asked, "THEN what happened Great-great-great grandpa Ren? Didja DIE?!"
"Heh, no you little whipper-snapper", a postively ancient Ren answered. "I finally found my own personal peaceful place."

Then Ren saw old Stimpy doing something that annoyed him - probably the same thing that caused him to have a meltdown in the first place. "Come over here Stimpy! We're going to my peaceful place!" Then Ren slapped Stimpy with as much force as his old bones could handle, and briefly through his slaps, there was the image of a young Ren looking content. Once old Ren finally vented his frustrations, he left old Stimpy behind, gazing at nothing in particular until the final panel where Stimpy simply muttered, "Joy."

More than anything, it was Ren's anguish that caused me great distress because it reminded me too much of my personal reactions to whenever something went wrong. (I've now been able to calm myself by recalling various comics I've read) Furthermore, Ren's personal disfigurement was too much like the dog's internal turmoil at not being able to scratch himself in An Itch in Time. As someone who can easily be driven nuts over an itch I can't scratch, this scene was extremely painful for me to watch. (Images taken from Classic Cartoons)
For some reason, some people find this funny.
As Nausicaa once said, "There is a terrible rage that exists inside me." It's also why I'm a total teetotaler. Other than the fact that I can't stand the taste of fizz on my tongue, I'm absolutely terrified at the idea of ever losing my proportions. I worry that if I lose my inhibtions, I'll wind up doing things that I would never have the common decency and sense to even try. Then again, there's the possibility that a chemical imbalance that I'm missing that's keeping me from my full potential. Children with ADD get fed Ritalin to slow down their impulsive behavior, when that same drug would make anybody else hyperactive. By that same token, a CIA study done in the 1960-70s found that when children with autism were given LSD, they became more sociable and friendly. Considering that a theory found that autistic children had a fungus that produced a chemical that was equivalent to the toxic sweat of an Amazon Rain Frog that caused hallucinations, we'd need some "strong stuff" to snap us out of our state.

However, for sheer unmitigated horror, the one comic that scared me wasn't really a comic, but actually a children's picture book called "The Stubborn Bear" by Robert Sidney Bigelow. The cover below was the only image I could find, and even blown up, it looks like the interior art from behind the cover, instead of the wraparound dust protector which showed multiple bears surrounding a scowling bear with bug-eyes. If you've never heard of this book, there's probably a good reason why.

The basic set-up goes something like this: Every morning, a bear would wake up and go to the bank of a river, catch a fish, then continue hunting various animals for the rest of the day. However, one morning, no fishes showed up that day. "I'm not leaving until a fish swims by!" he haughtly said to himself.

Hours went by, and no fishes came. Days went by, and the nearby bears became concerned at how long he was staring at the riverbank, waiting for a fish that never came. All their efforts to convince him to look elsewhere were dismissed. Eventually, they gave up and let him stay by himself.

Weeks later, the bear had lost a ton of weight, yet was still staring intently at the water. A fox bounded nearby, and asked what he was doing. "I'm waiting for a fish."
"There don't seem to be any fish coming! Why don't you go and try some of these nuts and berries in that bush over there?"
"No. I'm not losing my place. A fish might come while I'm not here."
The fox didn't see much reason in arguing with the bear any further, and left to enjoy the fruits by himself.

Months later, the leaves had fallen off the trees and the other bears had stored enough fat to hibernate for the winter. As they were going into their caves, they looked concerned over the figure sitting at the edge of the water. Still the stubborn bear refused to move. At this point, he was basically a skeleton wrapped in fur. I've mentioned how upset I am when I see cartoon characters being hungry, but this was different. He intentionally starved himself for the sake of preserving his routine.

All alone by himself, the bear was exposed to the harsh cold of the coming winter. Fittingly enough, the weather was reminiscent of the storm when the fisherman's wife wanted another wish. The snow was whipping around from all directions, stinging ice pellets everywhere. Still the bear wouldn't budge from his spot.

Then all of a sudden, through the wind and storm, he spied a fin sticking up out of the water. It wasn't an illusion, but looked like it belonged to a fish that looked twenty feet wide if he were an inch.

His patience had paid off! This was a fish worthy enough to sate his gnawing hunger. He felt hungry enough to eat the biggest fish in the world. With the waves pounding against the rocks, the fish inched closer to the shore, and -

- ate the Stubborn Bear.

Yes, that's how the children's book ends - the character's persistence pays off in the end with his life in payment. This was the closest thing to an uncensored or sanitized version of a fairy tale, and the result was extremely shocking. What preyed on my greatest fears was the knowledge that I was the stubborn bear. I have a tendency to be very steadfast in my beliefs and routines, even if they make no sense to anyone else. I knew that someday, I would find myself into an argument that I would not back down from at any costs, and suffer from the results. Such a conviction would eventually lead to my ruin.

To an Aspergian, being right is the most important thing. All our obsessions go into being doubly sure that we're 100% correct in our observations in a wildly unpredictable world. That's why it's necessary to make sure that our cause is worth dying for. The best way to defend against making the wrong decision is to always make the right choice in life.

In fact, there's many industries that continue to support a failing project, even when all evidence points otherwise. Carol Tavris made a study in his book, Mistakes Were Made, but not by Me, which showed how people tend to self-delude themselves into a path they're convinced is the right decision.

Like a gambler who continues betting, confident that the next wager will "bring in the big money", so too do people continue to stick to a plan that has almost no chance of success. The more time and effort we spend on a project, the more compelled we feel that we must succeed, otherwise all our efforts would be for naught. It's why I felt lousy for the teacher at the end of Election, because he was basically lying to himself that he was doing well.

Likewise, when people engage in a harmful practice, they go out of their way to find positive things about it long after the point. They convince themselves that the slightest positive thing justifies an otherwise harmful habit. Smokers will wave away all the research done on nicotine addiction and focus on the single clause that shows that cigarettes slow down Alzheimer's. Even if research goes into the other direction, they'll still convince themselves and others that they're doing nothing wrong. In the same token that joggers continue to push themselves to reach that runner's high, we feel justified if all our hard work has a benefit in the end. This may explain how some parents restrain themselves from killing their children.