Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fill in the Blanks

There was a recent Adrian Tomine interview where the cartoonist mentioned abandoning several of his comic projects because he was more concerned with real-life issues. Daily interruptions can sometimes be a major influence on someone’s work, but too many of them can be very offputting and reduce their drive to continue going down a certain storytelling path, especially if the road in that direction puts up more barriers than they knock down. In the end, we have to ask ourselves whether the story we’re writing is really worth telling.

However, we shouldn’t be too overly concerned over Adrian’s dumping several potential series. I’ve found that I’ve preferred some of his earlier stuff when he wasn’t trying too hard. One such example was a silent two-page comic telling an obvious story. By just looking at the pages, it’s clear what’s happening within the span of the panels.

Usually, I have a horrible time thinking up one-liner punchlines to single-panel comics. There's either too little or too much variety that I can think of, and I usually wind up being too literal. I'm always amazed at the number of people who're able to give multiple contributions, when I can't even think up one. I'm better able to give a revised script if there's more than one panel, since I can give the semblance of a story happening within the confines of the pages. The more panels there are, the more I can fill in the blanks and flesh out the elements throughout.

As a result, I wound up writing two different versions of the same script - one that would accurately describe the action on the screen, and another that would be a satirized take, similar to MAD’s Murder the Husband / Story drawn by Jack Davis. Other readers are welcome to do their own take on the comic, but it'd better not be too close to mine.

Page OneTitle: Advertising Gimmick

Panel 1
Sorry to bring you in like this, Ma’am.
If you could just go over what happened one more time.

Panel 2
Well, there’s not much to tell. I last saw my partner a few months ago.

Panel 3
We were working on an icon that would best represent our company.
How about a penguin with an anchor?
Maybe something less challenging.

Panel 4
We traveled everywhere, looking for inspiration in the unlikeliest places.
A giraffe with a ladder?
Needs work.

Panel 5
Until one day...
Waitaminute - that’s it! A dog holding the product on his nose!

Panel 6
He hit upon the perfect combination that could possibly work.
I bet we’d make a killing with this, what’d you think?

Panel 7
I stayed over at his place, ironing out the bugs in our project.
That idea’s mine, bastard!

Panel 8
I left at night, leaving him sleeping comfortably on the table.

Page Two

Panel 1
The next morning...

Panel 2
Hah! It's pointless! They’ll never find the body. Never!

Panel 3
When he didn’t show up to work for the meeting, it fell to me to continue my half of the presentation.
...therefore, this should capture our audience’s attention. Agreed?

Panel 4
Within days, our product became the hottest selling stuff being sold around the world. You could hardly pass a street without seeing it being advertised somewhere.

Panel 5
I only wish that he was still be around to appreciate how his efforts had borne fruit.

Panel 6
That’s the last I ever heard of him. What more can I possibly say?

Panel 7
She’s not falling for it.
You can come in now!

Panel 8
How could you say all that with a straight face?! I knew you were ambitious, but I never thought you’d go that far!

Panel 9
No, it can’t be you... you’re dead!

Now, here’s the alternate version!

Page OneTitle: Lovebird Confessional

Panel 1
Okay lady, calm down. You’re safe now.
Now, why don’t you tell us what’s bugging you?

Panel 2
It’s like I’ve been saying. I want to admit to committing a murder.

Panel 3
For years, I’d been trying to have sex with the cute nerdy guy at work.
Want to make out on my desk?
Later, I’m thinking.

Panel 4
I lured him to several suggestive places to subtly hint my forward advances.
Why did you want to have lunch here?
Oh, no reason.

Panel 5
Then all of a sudden...
Hey, I just thought up an amusing VTM recorder joke to send to The New Yorker!

Panel 6
I got a devilish thought in my mind to seduce him at his place later.
I better write it down before I forget!

Panel 7
But my anticipation quickly turned to disappointment.
Five seconds??? That’s it???
I’m sorry!

Panel 8
I then buried his entire apartment in his backyard so no one would notice!

Page Two

Panel 1
The next day...

Panel 2
You’ve got to be kidding me! Who puts pictures of adults on the back of milk cartons nowadays?

Panel 3
With no one else present to give his presentation, it fell upon me to take over his lousy job.
And now, for my next slide, a doggie with a square on his nose!

Panel 4
As an attractive saleswoman, I managed to pass all his side projects that’d been toiling under obscurity. Despite being rejected submissions of New Yorker cartoons, they were a smash hit in the advertising world.

Panel 5
Even as I accepted awards from stealing his ideas, the guilt kept gnawing at my core.

Panel 6
And that’s exactly what happened. Really. Why would I lie?

Panel 7
She’s starting to crack.
Bring in the surprise witness!

Panel 8
What’s the big idea telling everybody you killed me? We only went out once, and you broke off our date halfway through!

Panel 9
No... get away... your face, it’s hideous!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Telling Right from Left

Yesterday, I helped give some feedback to a new interpreter who'd been assign to replace another High School interpreter who'd suddenly quit. We started out with relatively easy stuff, such as fairy tales, whose stories I already knew. But since this was a crash course, we had to quickly introduce her to harder and faster stuff to bring her "up to speed." One of the hardest tricks is not to repeat everything verbatim, but to stay a little behind what's being said so there'll be some leeway time to think about how to best present the message. If a sentence is spoken more than once, summarize it up by only saying it once. If a sentence is hard to lipread or understand, reword it so it'll be more comprehensive. It also helps if both parties view a video beforehand, so they're not caught off guard when it's shown during class. Equally important is some context given over what the topic material is going to be about. A student expecting History, and getting Math instead may be confused why all these numbers are being bandied around without any dates given.

One early piece of advice I gave was when the interpreter was doing a video dialogue between two people on opposite sides of the screen. In addition to using relative terms (saying 'she says', instead of 'I said') another mistake made was that the interpreter didn't bother to look behind her to see which side was talking. Normally, when you're switching from one dialogue to another, you move your head and hand movements to one side, then switch to the other. The only problem was, when the person on the right talked, the interpreter pointed to the left, and vice-versa. As a result, I was constantly having to remind myself which side was which, and not paying attention to the content of the message.

This also reminded me of another internal problem I have - I have great difficulty in telling the difference between left and right. (It's good to know I'm not alone in this)

One of my earliest instincts that I didn't think the same way as everybody else was when I was 'mirroring' the instructor in gym class, and wound up copying her exact body movements as if she were doing them from her POV, and not like a mirror. Somehow, I managed not to bump into my classmates.

Even though I use the right side of my body more than my left, whenever I'm told to look to my right, I usually have to hold up my hands, figure out which is my left, and then make my move. When that happens, I feel like Papa Bear in the last stage of The Bike Lesson.

Well, I know my sides small bear.
My right is here, my left is there.

Or is that right? How can that be?
Left side, right side, let me see...

Left hand on the left hand side...

Right hand on the right hand side...

It's far easier for me to follow directional arrows than waste time trying to figure out where I should turn. A lot of people claim that it's no different from telling the difference between up and down. However, that only works if you're on a flat plane, and not in space. Up and down remain constant when you're bound by gravity. But left and right get switched around all the time depending on which direction you're facing. To make matters more confusing, "your left" and "my right" are the same thing.

That also prevents me from going the route from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close where a man losing his power of speech tattooed responses all over his body. Putting reminders on my body a la Memento would only work from my side, and not from whoever's watching me.

At least it's not as bad as in The Boy who Reversed Himself by William Sleator. In that book, the directions are Ana and Kata, which lie somewhere between above and below our space, and can allow you to pass behind locked objects. To further confuse things, prolonged exposure to the forth dimension makes the explorer experience a state where left and right become indistinguishable from each other. The actual mechanics of fourth-dimensional hopping is never quite specified or explained, but the basic gist is fairly straightforward. Imagine a stick figure on a piece of paper. If you turn that paper over, that stick figure will be reversed. Now, take that concept to a human being, and you can understand how a forth-dimensional being can have complete control over lower dimensions. No wonder Mr. Mxyzptlk likes teasing Superman so much.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Online Subtitles

One of my greatest laments was that I couldn't watch certain movies or TV shows simply because they weren't close-captioned or subtitled. To make things even more unfair, some shows that were once captioned on TV weren't captioned when re-released on DVD. I couldn't re-watch Poriot on DVD, because it wasn't captioned by Mobil Corporations. I couldn't watch Sandbaggers, which was the influence for Greg Rucka's Queen & Country. Hell, I couldn't even watch Transformers, even though I collected plenty of their toys. (I later sold said toys at a garage sale with the boxes intact, because I was getting annoyed at how Bruticus' chest plate kept falling off, Sixshot was getting harder to transform, and one of Astrotrain's slots was showing the thin wire. I understand these toys are now selling for plenty more than I originally sold them, but I'm fine with that - I had my fun with them. It's my childhood comics I can't find that continue to torment me.)

According to a source, DVDs are phasing out on captioning, while ALL Blu-rays are now being outfited with subtitles. The reason is that closed-captioning is slowly becoming obsolete. New technologies like High Definition require special HDMI wires. These wires prevent closed-captioned encoding from passing through. That could explain why even torrents of old TV shows that were once captioned don't show up on TV - we're dealing with incompatible technologies.

Now, it seems that's all changed with the advent of having captioning available for videos that normally don't have captioning. All that's needed is to go to either open subtitles or podnapsi to get a .srt subtitle extension file. Look up the the relevant TV show by episode name or season, choose which language you want (preferably English), and then download it. (Be careful not to mistake the various ads sprinkled around the site for the actual download link, which should be in blue text) It shouldn't take very long for it to download, since they're very small (under 100 KB), but it's that tiny piece of coding that spells the difference between understand ing and incomprehension.

Once that's out of the way, put said .srt file in the same folder as the video you want to watch. Open the Media Player you want to use (I prefer VLC), press play, then go to the video menu at the top, select "Subtitles Track", and open the .srt file you downloaded. The video will start showing words telling what the characters are saying.

This also works for DVDs that don't have captioning / subtitles either. Just open the DVD on your computer Media Player, and patch the subtitle file through using the same options as described above.

If this is too much effort for you, there's supposingly already a piece of free software called Boxee TV that'll allow us to do all the work for us, and save what little energy we'd need to dredge up to look and search for said relevant TV subtitles. While this was originally developed for a computer, the actual device can also connect to a HDTV too, and be controlled by remote control. Saving that, the only way it could be done even easier would be if somebody else did it for you. This is the future of technology people - everything will be control by handy-dandy point-n-click items at our fingertips. Only the people who know how to fix these thingies when their insides run out and can't be repaired by replacing their batteries will be able to save us. Nintendo had the right idea for their Wii controller.

As an added bonus, the subtitles remain onscreen even when I click the fastforward option! Like the Far Side comic, I'm a hummingbird who can only watch movies with the action greatly sped up. It's not that I have a short attention span, it's just that so many movies and TV shows have a tendency to follow the same old formulas so often that any pretense of suspense or novelty storytelling gets tossed out the window in favor of conformity. (TVtropes has ruined this for me.) The whole experience becomes a lesson of endurance in waiting for the damn thing to end. Some shows I've watched were so wretchedly bad that I had to pause the screen several times and brace myself for the next onslaught while trying to kickstart my brain back into a higher gear. Sure, I could've stopped anytime I wanted to, but I wouldn't know how it ended. Going through the show at twice the speed cuts the torturous time in half.

Of course, it's not exactly perfect. Some DVDs that already have captioning or subtitles can get corrupted or wonky results if you try to add the .srt files . (and why would you?) You get lines completely out of sync, or lines that flash across too briefly on the screen. The worst offenders are subtitles that only display themselves in ALL CAPS, WITH NO INDICATION OF ANY CHANGE OF TONE, BACKGROUND NOISE, OR SHOUTING MATCHES. IT'S LIKE WATCHING A DOCUMENTARY OF WORKER BEES ON MAXIMUM VOLUME.

This kind of thing is a real lifesaver, especially considering that it allows me the chance to catch up on the latest shows that I accidentally missed. Especially since the latest tapings of The Good Wife kept showing up half-an-hour later, and because of the programming, I only taped half of the lawyer drama, and wound up missing a viable chunk of quality subplots. While most people could simply resort to streaming videos, that option simply wasn't feastible for me until now.

It also helps cut down on my worries, since I don't have to wait two-three months for the reruns. I don't have to vigilantly watch the TV times in vain, hoping that it'll come back when I'm not paying attention. I just need to download the relevant episode via Bitorrent and patch the subtitles on. The bitorrent thing's the only hard part - waiting for the thing to fully download until it's finished.

The only real downside to this whole thing is that I'm now open to a whole range of movies and TV shows that I'd once shunned because I couldn't understand them. Now that option's no longer on the table, I now feel obligated to play catch-up on various majorly hyped stuff that'll keep me backlogged until the end of time. Watching these things at doubleplus speed isn't fast enough - I need to see these things at tripleplus speed.

Of course, even with this added incentive, there's still the need for better captioning on Youtube videos. There's plenty of old commercials I fondly remember that I'd like to see again. As long as there are disastified customers who can't hear properly, we won't be content to sit back until we can understand what's happening. Even then, we still can't sit back and relax - we have to make sure that the quality of the captioning is up to par. We're the only couch potatoes who won't take passive watching lying down.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Adam's Snowman Trilogy

Well, after an unusually long period of uneventual weather, it's started snowing again. Every year, Canadians live in perpetual denial that maybe, just maybe we won't get caught in a torrential downpour of snow that'll blanket our entire nation, and despite the proclaimations of Global Warming, we're still caught by surprise every year. Very often, we feel like the Coyote in the first minute of the Roadrunner cartoon, Freeze Frame. We know it's coming, but we still live in the dismissive hope that it might not come this year. It doesn't matter if the days are getting colder. Some particularly stubborn people refuse to admit the truth until the calendar says so for the first day of winter (December 21st), even as they're wading in hip-deep snow in their khakis. We're still clinging onto the memories of Summer, unwilling to believe that the season's changed, and wanting to embrace the fleeting moments of warmth, even if we have to parade around in our shorts to prove it. It's only until the first flecks of snow starts to fall that we decide now might be a good time to put our winter tires on, which everybody who wasn't a full-fledged procrastinator, had already done.

The difference from other forms of precipitation is that unlike rain, which tends to evaporate fairly quickly, even with multiple puddles around, there's little chance of snow disappearing anytime soon. What's worse, the lingering white stuff have a tendency to multiply in the forthcoming days, with more flakes coming from the heavens to punish us for whatever misdemeanors we were completely unaware of, and have no idea what we've done to deserve this.

Back when Adam was still being drawn by Brian Basset, there was a brief annual tradition that started with his kids making an unusual snowman on the front lawn.

This was followed up the next year with a more ambitious project, showing the househusband's true motivations in completing his chores. As much as he lamented his job (as opposed to working for something that actually paid), there were instances where he began to slouch off his daily duties in favor for the simpler pursuits of life, such as lazing around. This often resulted in Adam delegating his cleaning, and having his kids for doing the chores for him. This would be understandable as a way to decrease division of labour, since his family was responsible for a lot of the messes that happened in the house. Not to mention that the few perks, such as enjoying his TV shows, baseball games and sleeping in were constantly denied him, which explained why he was so cranky all the time. With his Pyrrhic victories, he was a perpetual loser, all his carefully prepared plans come to naught.

Obviously, his children didn't agree with his policies, which led to the finale presented here. Unsubtle criticism through their medium aside, you've got to admire their artistic drive. Certainly nowhere near Calvin's cannibalistic snowmen, but just as damaging.

If this trend had continued, one wonders just how far his children would've gone to get on their dad's nerves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Whose Maus are You?

(With apologies to Art Spiegelman, Jose Aruego and Robert Kraus)

Whose Maus are you?

Where is your mother?

Where is your father?

Where is your wife?

Where is your brother?

What will you do?

Shake my mother out of the cask!

Free my father from the 'cause!

Find my wifey and bring her home.

Wish I had a brother so I could beat him some.

Now whose Maus are you?

My mother's Maus, she loves me so.

My father's Maus, he was a beau.

My wifey's Maus, she loves me too.

My brother's Maus...

Your brother's Maus?

My brother's Maus - he's brand new!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Adult Family Circus

Earlier last week, the cartoonist of the Family Circus, Bil Keanne passed away. There was an outpouring of respect and praise from various factions who admired the man’s work. Among those, Zippy the Pinhead’s one of the more surprising acknowledgements of respect, even as Bill Grithith parodied the Family Circus in his nigh-impentrable strip.

However, for everything’s that’s been said about him, there’s one particular aspect of his work that I notice hasn’t been mentioned – his collaborative cartoons done for Emma Bombeck. The following scans are taken from Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own!

The reason I didn’t make a contribution upon the news of his death was because I’d already made a tribute earlier with one of Bil Keanne’s past forgotten failures in branching out his distinctive style of round-headed kids.

I was never much of a fan of the Family Circus for many of the reasons its detractors pointed out. It could tend to be too saccharine, the jokes oftentimes didn’t seem that funny, and the inclusion of religion didn’t always help. However, there’s no doubt the man put care into his craft, even if he resorted to “shortcut” strips by letting his “son”, Billy fill in the Sunday comics with childish drawings and logic. It’s possible that the iconic circular panel was inspired by Norman Rockwell’s background figures in the Saturday Evening Post.

Doing some of these comics involving teenagers could’ve given Bil Keanne a chance for him to flex a few muscles that would’ve been sorely out of shape from capturing childish antics all the time. It can’t have been easy for the man to constantly dredge up old memories of “kids say the darndest things” long past his children’s golden years, and even having to rely on their grandchildren for source material.

There was a MAD article that made the claim that cartoon characters were losing their audience by not growing up with them, and remaining stagnant. It’s interesting to wonder what the Family Circus might’ve been like if Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, and P.J might’ve been like if they’d been allowed to develop personalities and tastes beyond their starting years. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s nice to think that there’s an alternate cartoon universe where this kind of thing would regularly happen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Creative Sports Scores

Near the climax to the second Back to the Future movie, there was a moment of comprehension when Biff Tannen was listening to the radio and realizing that the sports commentor's results were mirroring what was already printed in the Sports Almanac. Rather than focus on the rising tension, I'd like to have some brief words about the lost art of this unique descriptive scoring system.

I'm not much of a sports fan, save for the few worthy Sports Mangas out there. (I'm still a big fan of Eyeshield 21) However, I do enjoy a good descriptive passage when it conveys a visual meaning behind the scores, and the teams that're facing off each other. Depending on the configuration, there can be dozens of such possible combinations.

I have no idea if this tradition is still carried on today, but it certainly seems like the kind of thing where you'd have to reuse certain words over and over again after a certain period of time. There's only so many ways we can utterly defeat the other side, and even the entire range of various violent synonyms can only last so long before they run out. Even the Eskimos only have so many words to describe snow, and it's not even really that much.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering to Remember

Today marks another anniversary for Veteran's Day, Rememberance Day, Armistice Day, and whatever else November 11th is known for. Now would be a good time to take another look at the highly acclaimed Charley's War, the "Best World World One comic". Even if there's not enough compensation given to the artist's family or the writer's efforts. Here's to all those fallen soldiers who died trying to capture those last few miles in the world's bloodiest game of Tug-of-war.

World War II may get the bigger publicity, due to its status of bigger involvement, a sequel that was better than the original, alluring villains (Which has better visual appeal - the high soldier cap or the German helmet?), and ending with a bang. But it's the first World War that's becoming increasingly forgotten, and the last veteran of that war died this year. Apart from historians, there's nobody left to tell the story. In a few years time, it'll be the anniversary of the first war, and who'll be around to remember?

To most people, trying to understand the implications and origins of WWI is a daunting task, especially since there's very few movies about that time period. To change things up a bit, here's some sobering statistics from War in the Trenches.

I always enjoy looking at Jacques Tardi's art, because all of his people look like lumpy sacks of potatoes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Persepolis Introduction

Just recently, I found out a investigative background was going to be given for the legendary comic group known as L'Association. I very often equated this being the European equivalent of the founding of Image Comics, only with more sophisicated work, rather than deriative S-hero teams. (Image may have moved away from this stereotype, but this early stigmata is still on many people's minds)

When I first heard about l'Associciation's founding members getting into arguements around its founding members, I did what any faithful fan of Liefeld and Spawn did - I willfully turned a blind eye to these happenings, feeling slightly disappointed, and hoping that things weren't as bad as they first appeared. It would've been a shame if such influential and motivational artists who strived to change the current comic's market turned out to be squabling crybabies unable to reconcile or compromise their original visions.

Strange thing, willful blindless. It can make us look the other way when we don't want to see certain inconvenient truths. However, it was this paragraph that jumped out at me:

David B. also refers to the crucial role he played in inspiring Satrapi to create her first comic and in having it published at L’Association. “When I was helping Marjane conceive Persepolis, I was helping her in practical terms,” he remembers. “I provided criticism and guidance and Menu wasn’t around. Menu asked me to write an introduction for the first volume and what happened to it? It probably didn’t square with his haughty discourse, his foundational ‘philosophy.’ If you look for it now, you won’t find it—it is only included in the German-Swiss edition. This is the issue I have with his discourse: the appropriation it makes of the work of others.

One thing I could never understand was why David B.'s introduction and drawings weren't included with Persepolis, since that kind of cross-publicity could only lead to being led to other similar work. (The drawings don't hurt either - something I'd like to see more introducers add with their reccomendations) I was lucky enough to have a library that had an early version of Persepolis complete with the persian covers, that had the very introduction David B.'s talking about here. After reading the results, I'm wondering what exactly Menu found distaseful about it. The content is more of a history lesson than an overt political tone. My French and Babblefish is very weak, but I've attempted a rough translation as best as I can. It's extremely difficult, since most of it is really just a brief history lesson. I'll continue doing more revisions as necessary until I'm satisfied.

Page 1

When the Arabs invaded Persia in 642, the decisive battle conquered the country and overthrew the Sassanid dynasty. The defeated Persians adopted Islam, but an Islam that was underground, esoteric and revolutionary: Shi'ism.

With the death of Mohammed in 632, his family was removed from power in favor of the Prophet's escorts, Ali, his son and cousin, and Hussein, son of Ali, married a princess belonging to an ancient Persian Sassanid family, were murdered one after the other, and power stayed in Sunni hands.

Through Ali's fidelity and Hussein's obvious loyalty, they preserved the Sassanid lineage and Persia's glorious past. Thus, religious holidays are based on Zoroastrianist festivals.

The permanence of Shi'ism was ensured by a hierarchy of Imams after Hussein, who followed one another until 874, the date of the twelfth Imam, when Muhammad al-Mahdi, disappeared. His supporters say he has a <<mystic>> reign and he will reappear before the day of judgement.

The Arab invasion and occupation was the prelude to a long seige. Persia would cease to exist as an independent nation for more than eight centuries.

Page 2

Iran was dominated by the Ghaznavid Turks in the 10th century, the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century, and the Mongols who founded the Ilkbans dynasty from the 12th to the 14th century. At the end of the 14th century, Persia fell under the Timurid domination. However, under these multiple masters, Persia expressed the vitality of its culture and language. The emblem is the <Book of Kings>> written by Ferdowsi in the 10th century, Turkish ruler Mahmud of Ghanzna. It tells the story of kings and heroes of Persia since the beginning of the world. This Persian epic would radiate throughout Asia and influence the Turkmen and Uzbek Khans, the Mamelukes Sultans and Ottomans, and the great Ilkban Mongols of India.

Even though it was a Shi'ism Turkish dynasty, Persia owes its revival to the Safavid in the early sixteenth century. They fought continuously against the reign of the Ottoman Turks. In 1795, after the Napoleonic Nadir Shah's period of inactivity, another Turkmen tribe founded the Qajar dynasty.

Persia was then caught in a power struggle Russia and England. During the 19th century, the country became a buffer state between the two powers. The first annexed the Caucasus and Central Avie, and the second was in Afghanistan and Tibet. The discovery of oil and the First World War accelerated the seizure of British involvement in the economy.

In 1925, an officer named Reza Khan, seized power and overthrew the last Qajar shah. He accelerated the westernization of the country and greatly upset the religious balance of power and the country was officially given the name of Iran.

Page 3

During the Second World War, the north was occupied by the Soviets, and the south by the English; and the American newcomers, requiring Iran's aid for the war on Germany. Faced with the Shah's lack of enthusiasm, they deposed him and replaced him with his son Mohamed Riza.

In 1953, the CIA organized the first coup against Mossadeq, the prime minister who challenged the distribution of oil profits by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The Americans submitted the country to a blockade of oil exports. Mossadeq was overthrown and Mohamed Riza who left the country, took back the throne. He remained in power until 1979, the day when he fled the Revolution.

All this is just background details. Marjane inherited this history, and she's responsible for creating the first Iranian comic book.

David B.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Collection Request: Ernie / Piranha Club

Lately, there’s been a renaissance of reprinting classic comic strips, including legacy strips when they were starting out, and before they became deadwood, such as Blondie, Archie, and The Family Circus. These collections show us why they were once worthy of being on the comics page. In addition, there’s also been major collections of serial strips such as Dick Tracey, Little Orphan Annie, Terry & the Pirates, and Modesty Blaise. Likewise, obscure titles that have been long overlooked, such as King Aroo, by beloved children’s artist Jack Kent have been licensed. And that’s not even including artsy strips such as Krazy Kat, Polly & her Pals, and the upcoming Barnaby and Pogo collections.

However, I’d argue that there’s another section of newspaper comics that’s being largely ignored. Namely, the more recent strips that’re still going on strong, such as Broom Hilda, Pooch Café, and the titular Ernie. (More on this later) Part of the problem may stem from that these strips are still ongoing, and haven’t reached their natural ending yet, due to Author Existence Failure, or knowledge of how to package all the recent (and past) strips into one convenient package that’ll satisfy customers in the long run. There’s the risk of not collecting everything if the author doesn’t have a finishing point or retirement plan in mind, which is why its easier to collect past comic stories early in the cartoonist’s height of popularity so they’ll remain fresh in their reader’s memories.

One strip that I’m surprised has never quite caught on is Bud Grace’s Ernie, even though it has a similar level of quirkiness similar to Bloom County. Part of it might stem from the name, which sounds like half of a Sesame Street dual cast. The titular character is a guy with a large nose who looks like a blonde version of Adam. The comic has a very diversive (and weird) cast of people.

Because Ernie was such a milquetoast, it was practically inevitable that he would be overshadowed by the more zanier residents of the suburbs he lives in. After several years, the focus of the comic shifted from Ernie to his sleazy Uncle, and it was later retitled The Piranha Club. Uncle Sid who, like Popeye, took over the spotlight from the main character, and unlike Popeye, has all the ethical qualms of Quark from Deep Space Nine. Once the focus shifted to Uncle Sid away from Ernie, Ernie became somewhat less of a perpetual loser, and even recently married his girlfriend. (Ernie still has a perpetually large schnozz though.)

So far, I’ve only ever seen ONE Ernie book collection, Ernie out of Control, which in its introduction said that it was likely to be the “only Ernie collection to ever be released, and if found, should be snatched up since it was a rarity.” This is one of these instances where I was too cheap to buy myself a copy when it was available at the bookstore in the vain hope that maybe the artist was overexaggerating his claim, since I thought that maybe I might get it as a birthday present, or a larger collection would be released in the future. Wishful thinking. It’s been over ten years since I last saw it available (I don’t think anybody else picked it up), and have yet to see any future volumes available.

Surprisingly enough, it seems to be more popular and well-known overseas, where it’s likely to be seen by a wider audience. According to Wikipedia, it’s “highly popular in the Scandinavian countries Norway and Sweden, where it is published in a bimonthly comic book. It is also one of the most popular comic strips... in Estonia and Latvia (if not the most popular). It is published in Scandinavia's (two) largest newspapers. It is also syndicated to Japan's Daily Yomiuri along with Calvin and Hobbes.

Read that again - even Japan knows about Ernie's existence, and the fact that it’s good enough to stand next to Calvin & Hobbes should be proof of quality enough. Even if the later strips have fallen in quality, the imagination and energy of these early comics can't be denied.

Some of the more memorable strips that I can remember include:

Ethel, the kindly old lady who cooked up strange and unusual recipes left a bag of cookies in the hallway, and warned Spencer, a bratty boy, not to eat any of them. Ignoring her warnings, he quickly stuffed a cookie in his mouth, asking what kind they were. "Chocolate?"
"Vanilla? Mint? Caramel? Almond? Peanut butter?"
He kept asking and shoving cookies in between breaths until Ethel gave the final ingredient; "Dog Milkbone", which left Spencer staring with bug eyes.

At a scientific convention, a scientist deducted that the sun would explode in a hundred billion years. This lecture brought a horrified “HOW LONG?!” from Ernie.
"One hundred billion years."
"Whew! For a moment there, I thought he said one hundred million!"
(Actually, we may not be that lucky to survive that long...)

A surreal week-long story that started out with Ernie lying in bed and feeling something crawling up his leg. He was wide-eyed in terror, wondering what it could possibly be... and when the mysterious thing popped up from underneath the covers, it turned out to be Mr. Squid, the puppet mascot of a squid fast-food restaurant. Upon seeing the talking animated puppet, Ernie deducted that he must be dreaming, and proceeded to pinch himself. When he yelped out in pain and didn’t wake up, that set off a debate between Ernie and the sock puppet squid over the the best method to figuring out if he was dreaming or not. Somehow, the conversation took a turn for the weird when the squid suggested that Ernie knock himself out with a frying pan, since pinching himself wasn’t strong enough. This wound up with Ernie waking up in the kitchen telling his dream to Ethel and Spencer. I can't recall what Ethel said, but it might've had something to do with something she cooked that didn't agree with Ernie.

This, and The Far Side are probably the only comic strips in existence that even bother to mention the usage of squids in them. With such outlandish comic stories that last for about a week or so, with amusing dialogue and unique plots, it’s curious why this hasn’t gotten more critical acclaim. Part of the reason may be because so many of Uncle Sid’s plots are too outrageous for the typical newspaper comics page. Uncle Duke only gets leeway because his scams are loosely based on reality. With the last volume of Bloom County coming out, and the weaker successor Outland in the works, Ernie could be a serious contender if a comic publisher would dare try to take a risk in their hands. Bud Grace himself switched careers from an atomic physicist to cartoonist after all.