Sunday, April 29, 2012

That Reminds Me...

I rather liked Thursday's Bizarro comic, since it certainly reflected on a certain trait of mine - I have a notoriously bad memory for things that aren't written down. Since I'm deaf, I have a terrible auditorial memory. Things literally go "in one ear and out the other". I much better remember things if they're written down instead. I live among the way of thinking that "If I don't see it, it doesn't exist". This is further impounded by my daily experiences, when I'm introduced to who I think are new people, and then I'm told that I've met them before. I practically forget anybody I don't meet regularly over a two-week period, and am constantly amazed that there are people who can remember someone they haven't seen in years. I once did a presentation for a teacher who hadn't seen me since kindergarten, and she said she recognized me from my eyes alone. Considering that people's eyes don't change much throughout their lives, it's certainly a handy reference, but I'd still find that an insurmountable challenge. I'm usually too focused on the person's lips or face, and the outfit they're wearing. If they change their clothes or shoes on a regular basis, I'm in big trouble.

Getting back on topic, I have a tendency to leave lots of scraps of paper containing my notes or story ideas lying around, which doesn't sit well with my residents, since they're forever complaining about my creating a mess. But I thrive under these conditions where I have multiple concepts strewn about in a seemingly haphazardous manner that's actually an organized mess of spontaneous creativity, and can combine two ideas that normally wouldn't be considered otherwise. (This is mainly the inspiration for several of my mash-ups I've done) When I can see certain visual reminders, I don't have to struggle to keep every single thought running in my head reminding me to do certain things all the time. I used to keep a post-it-note at the front door to remind me to turn off the outdoor lights if I woke up early, but it was taken down because it "looked ugly", and I eventually forgot about it.

Alternatively, when I don't see some notes after awhile, when I see them again, it jogs a creative bank in my brain that fires it up for potential possibilities. One such example would be a single sentence consisting of "Midas = Pt", which inspired the following story below:

A King's Wish

Once upon a time, there was a king who loved nothing more than gold. He was surrounded by gold. His bed was made of gold, his crown was made of gold, his throne was made of gold. If there was anything that wasn’t made out of gold, it soon would be.

The God who’d granted the king his wish saw his torment, and popped out from wherever he’d been hiding and watching the king in the first place.

God: (amused) Well, are you enjoying the gift I’ve bestowed you?
King: (despondently) Not as much as I thought I would. I’ve never realized how garish so much yellow around the palace looks.
God: (factual) Well, that’s the price you pay.
King: In addition, I'm going mad with hunger, because everything I pick up, even with another golden instrument turns into gold the instant they touch my lips.
God: Well yes, you didn’t exactly specify on any restrictions or limitations for your wish.
King: To make matters worse, my powers wound up alienating my entire staff and family, save for my daughter who stayed behind, only to turn into a solid gold statue right before my very eyes.
God: (annoyed) I already know all this. I saw it happen. I’m offering to -
King: And with so much gold around, it’s actually driven the value of gold right into the crapper. I now realize that there are more valuable things on Earth than just shiny yellow metals.
God: (Impatiently waving hand) Yes, yes get on with it. What do you want instead?
King: I want everything I touch to turn to platinum.

A few days later, there was a castle made entirely out of platinum with a platinum throne containing a skeleton with platinum robes, staring at a statue of a platinum girl. For some reason, the smile on the skull beneath the platinum crown looked content.

The flip side of this strategy is that I'm notoriously nervous about reviewing my notes because I'm nervous that any of my old writings or ideas might not be as good as I thought they might be. Also, there's a LOT of stuff I've written down, and it's somewhat of a struggle to go through all of them, because they're so personal. If I read a particularly emotive sentence, I'll have memories of what I was thinking when I wrote it, the emotive state I was in when I wrote it, and the event that influenced it. I can't remember people I've met a month ago, but can remember the psychological state I was in when writing something. It's a lot to take in all at once, and I have to dillute it through a strategy of winding down by pacing around the room, preparing a little snack, or watching a show I've taped. Practically any procrastination skill that'll keep me from going over my old stuff.

Usually, my first outlet for avoiding such deeds is the addictive allure of V-games. The adrenaline factor I get from trying to collect everything and get 100% scores is the only thing that makes me feel truly alive. So far, Angry Birds is the first Video Game I've played that actually makes me want to procrastinate myself to do some actual writing. The puzzles are so touch-sensitive and repetitive, that it's actually counterproductive into convincing me to keep playing that I want to do anything other than destroy every building block. Savestates would be a bigger help into keeping me playing, but I'm not sure if I'd want to bother.

A better motivation for spurring my creative juices is having a deadline to produce such works at a time they're available. Another is having a specific topic to work from. All I need is a little push in the right direction and I'm good to go.

Of course, this system of having everything in plain sight has a certain drawback. Being constantly surrounded by the covers of my favorite books means that I'm constantly reminded of what the contents are. I already know what the punchline will be before I even get to the end. However, my memory for newspaper Sunday comics only peters out at 1996, when Calvin & Hobbess retired, and the number of readworthy comics in the paper continually declined. The best way for me to be continually surprised by a story I've read is to hide it somewhere out of sight, then come across it again unsuspectingly, reread a relevant passage I'd somehow long forgotten, and be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lament for Neglected Extras

For the 85th Anniversary of Asterix, some scans were recently released in conjunction with some author’s interpretations of the famous gauls in the form of two books: Asterix & his Friends and Uderzo. However, these scans were drawings that were only hinted at, but never shown fully in the Asterix and the Class Act album.

This brought up a certain complaint of mine that I have with some reprint licensed properties - sometimes not everything is published from the original comic. In a lot of European comics, there are some pages that are left out to save on publishing costs, such as in a collected omnibus that’ll give the customer more bang for their buck, they’ll leave out the other covers of the original volume, and only choose one. On the one hand, it’s a fair marketing move, but it still saddens me that there’s some artwork that’ll otherwise go unnoticed, save for the fanatic few who insist on having multiple copies of the same book in various languages to get that ‘authentic’ feel for the product.

The original covers for David B’s Epileptic (L'Ascension du haut mal) started out with the autobiographical subject as kids that eventually grew older with every new cover, as well as increasing number of Mayan-like drawings that threatened to obscure the material, until the 6th book when the Epileptical beast on the back cover overwhelmed everything to the point of blacking out everything in the background. The English cover is basically a combination of the 1st and 4th covers.

Sometimes the interior and back cover can complement or summarize the contents of the comic by either using a singular picture or minicomic, where other publications would be content with giving a detailed transcript that’ll give ineffective typical teaser sentences such as “Will General Patton be able to stand a chance against the rampaging horde of a thousand soldiers bearing down on his already depleted army?” Oftentimes the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” works very well in this context.

For instance, Les Psy (The Shrink) who has a hairstyle that looks like an Anime character who’s suffering from premature male pattern baldness. While his general bedside manner isn’t quite on a level of Paul Weston from In Treatment, he certainly has his unique way of dealing with his various clients. (The facial expressions he makes when he’s upset don’t hurt the humour either) In addition, each cover tells a story that’s not just restricted to the front page. Here, the cover for the second book, “Talk to me!” has said shrink talking to his mirror image.

On the back cover, we see for some reason that the very same mirror is smashed in.

It isn’t until we open the book itself and see the interior cover that we find out what happened in between. This gives an added incentive to flip through the pages and be exposed to a comic that normally wouldn’t’ve been given a second look. This is an alternative factor for wanting to see the story behind the cover issue - wanting to find out what happens in between panels that’s only revealed within the inside.

Another such instance of the interior “telling a story” can be reflected with the layout for the inside cover art. Some of the most famous examples are the Tintin gallery of fame, Asterix’s concise summary (Asterix punching a Roman sans sandals into the sky proclaiming “These Romans are crazy!”, Obelix saying he’s feeling a little weak, and Getafix refusing, since he fell in the cauldron when he was a baby), or the Smurf’s random pairings. A good example that was left out would be the two interior pages that were in the French version of The Bellybuttons.

...and the end cover showing the results of the previous example.

In some cases, it’s understandable why certain images may or may not be brought over. The magazine the comic originally ran in may not be available in the country it was transferred over to. Very often at the end of an album, it’s not unusual to see blatant advertising for said magazine.

Of the books released so far, only the 3rd Bellybuttons book had the concluding image, because it revealed a vital secret behind a certain tall dark stranger that was only hinted at since the series’ conception. (And no, I’m not going to tell you who or what it was)

Even Manga isn’t safe from this omission. Sometimes it’s impossible to include every image that’s part of the book’s interior. There may be gag comics that’re hidden via the wraparound cover. There may be written diary entries in the margins. There may be magic-eye patterns that're only visible by dissolving the paper in salt water. Depending on the company, you'll either get a faithful translation that'll leave the sound effects alone, or a complete touch-up job that'll replace the essential sound effects with American ones. In 20th Century Boys, the chapter names were represented via cut ‘n paste letters typical of amateur ransom notes that kidnappers used, but this is nowhere to be found in the official version.

Likewise, in Eyeshield 21, the funniest Football Manga (also arguably, the best football Manga, but it’s the only one I’ve seen apart from that single page in Manga Manga! of a football player going up against a giant emulating a battleship) had unique cast and preview pages that varied with every book, where other series would be content with repeating stock images over and over. Translating the majority of these illustration-heavy pages was a feat that’s as daunting as it was intimidating, but somehow the job was done. But starting from the 3rd volume, the table of contents were also given their own unique voice, and these were left out, even though the French volumes had them. It’s that reluctance to go that extra mile that gives me pause.

For some reason, the French publication also had a double-page spread of a Texan team at Darrell Royal that wasn’t included in the English version.

Also, I’m conflicted with the “clean” Bleach covers, which seemed to start out of a necessity for wanting to prevent any concerns about intentional misspellings on the covers, which gives them a certain flavour of their own. Part of the appeal of Bleach’s rapid-fire pace is also the poetic chapter titles that can show up about five pages or more after the story starts. Even so, I imagine it couldn’t have been that difficult to modify the second cover THAT much. All you’d have to do is move a few letters around, and create an ‘H’ in a similar font to create the correct spelling. They were able to do so for the interior title in the box - why couldn’t they do the same for the exterior? They could’ve at least left the volume numbers intact. So far, their edits seem mainly concerned with covering up a certain amount of underboob for some of the later volumes, particularly no. 34 and 42. (You know which ones I’m talking about)

But so far, my greatest regret is the toned-down version of the collected Marzi books, which was made up of five albums. Only the 2nd album cover was used, and there was none of the interior artwork, such as Marzi’s internal feelings on the events that was happening around the time the current events were taking place.

Another concept I particularly like was this representation over the topic of religious persecution, which was first shown in the upper left hand corner of the interior album cover...

And then concluded with a final commentary of same.

Likewise, the back covers had condensed summaries of what happens inside, forcing you to use your imagination in ways that you wouldn’t suspect of otherwise. Part of comprehending the riddle behind the image is reading what happens inside, and then understanding what it means later.

Especially lamentable is how muted the otherwise colourful artwork was, compared to the original, which put everything into a shade of depressing grey. This dulled effect also made it difficult to make out Marzi’s otherwise large blue eyes which seemed paler in comparison. When I say Marzi was toned-down, I don’t mean that they played down the events that happened in her childhood (though what happens isn’t entirely memorable), but that the tones were literally reduced. Here's a sample of the English version...

And here's how it appeared in the original French. See the subtle difference?

This could partially explain this negative review of Marzi sticking to a rigid 6-panel grid for every page. Another issue is that it originally ran in the pages of a children's comic magazine in Europe, which could account for some of the symmetrical topical subjects and overall blandness. This image from the All-girls's Special edition of Spirou Magazine has a few added extras that weren't present in the final version. Can you guess what they are?

All in all, I feel a certain kind of regret with the knowledge that there will be comic readers out there who won't know about the existence of these extra images. If they're casual readers, then the chances of them coming across these images falls even further exponentially the longer they aren't exposed to them. The responsibility of getting these missing images out shouldn't have to fall on the hands of the fans alone.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ripped From the Headlines

On Thursday’s Doonesbury, there was some confusion regarding Roland Hedley’s tweet of his point bulletin sound bite message where he was giving up-to-date accounts of what was happening in the region he was in. A trait that has gotten lesser reporters in trouble for alerting troops where they were going to attack in advance to the media. (Thus giving their targets time to readjust their strategy) EDIT - just remembered it was Geraldo who did that during the Iraq Gulf war. This reminded me of a certain duo of Sunday comics that I was naturally confused by.

On one side of the page, I had a Cathy, which ended with an unseen sound effect from behind an elevator.

Coincidentally, that very same sound had a very different meaning for the throwaway panels in Adam right across the very next page. At the time, I didn’t know that RIP could be abbreviated for Rest in Peace, and thought it meant that the milk carton should be torn up and thrown away.

Still, this was a very rare occurrence of two completely different strips having a common element at opposite sides of the spectrum - one at the beginning, and the other at the end, somehow (but not quite) linking them together. I often make a big show off how cartoonists lift ideas from each other, but this kind of synchronicity is probably almost impossible to accomplish nowadays.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Electric Company

Growing up, I was introduced to various children's magazines that I looked forward to every month. Some, like Sesame Street and the McDonaldLand's Fun Times I threw away once I outgrew them. (Nowadays, I'm still regretting having done so, because I'd like to see them again) Others, like Chickadee, Electric Company, (and later Kid City) I still kept because I had fond attachment to what I read in them. Magazines generally have a shorter shelf life than most, and that's kind of a shame, because there's occasionally some imaginative concepts and drawings that simply aren't collected anywhere else.

In Electric Company, it wasn't unusual for them to have 2-page articles focusing on various comics I'd never heard of. One such example was of Ask Shagg, an edutainment strip that answered various questions involving animals.

I don't know about you, but I think the deadline's kinda passed for submitting any entries to Electric Company headquarters, though there's still an online forum if you've got any questions. One that won't be answered is why the official site doesn't seem to be working, while the fan site is.

The magazine even had a tribute to the Upside Downs of Gustave Verbeek, even though they didn't use the Black & White images from the actual book in question.

Instead of MAD's fold-ins, there were Fold-its, which took a slightly different take on the concept. A single page would be shown, presenting a perfectly normal scenario...

...until it was folded in from the image and letters on the other side of the page. I've combined both pages for a more complete picture. Also note that there's some filled in blank words relating to the subject in question.

Like so many people, Electric Company was my very first introduction to the world of Spider-Man, and this particular issue was quite ambitious in showing a wide selection of the various villains that populated his world.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea that actual Spider-Man comics existed outside of this magazine, and thought that all S-hero comics were typically 4-page long serials, with quick resolutions to their hackened plots and just further bolstered my assumptions that S-hero comics were disposable garbage. (Whether this is still true nowadays is still up for debate)

I've always been perplexed as to why the most commonly reproduced section of Electric Company comics seem to come from Spidey Super Stories, which are even more simplistic and stripped down versions lifted from the TV series, when the samples here seemed to be of higher quality. One of the few online searches I found had the full version of Spidey's origin story I was more familiar with.

Another monthly tribute would be a Make Your Own Cartoon, which was basically a children's version of "choose your own caption" that would later be picked up in The New Yorker. The difference being that unlike being a subtle incomprehensible reference, these entries were more likely to be quick punchlines typical of tickling children's funny bones.

You may have noticed that there have been various coloured words in some of the pictures shown. These are chosen advanced words that were considered too difficult for elementary children to understand to expand their vocabulary, and would be further explained at the end of the Magazine, with some additional comics explaining what each meant. Of course, anybody worth their salt would be able to understand the meaning behind those words when used in the correct context. Saying something like "His anatidaephobia was really bad" doesn't really help explain what anatidaephobia is.

Personally, I felt that the decline of Electric Company started when they stopped doing any more comics that appealed to me. When the number of comics declined from 2-pagers to 1 pages, and eventually dropped off altogether, I finally cancelled the magazine out of disappointment. If I wasn't going to get my comic fix there, I would have to look for it elsewhere. Unfortunately, the only available choices that appealed to my tastes were too childish, too different and too far between. It wouldn't take until the availability of Manga exploded before my purchasing habits suddenly changed.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tax in Time

It's that time of year when Americans have to do their taxes for the date of April 15th. Well, normally that dreaded date would be today, but due to a technicality, since it falls on the weekend this year, there's an extension so they'll be due on Tuesday, April 17 instead. Canadians have a slightly longer reprieve, only up to April 30 midnight. As long as you submit your filled out forms before then, you're good to go. I imagine that having a whole month to work on your taxes instead of two weeks when April shows up can do wonders for your morale. The procrastination that starts at the beginning of the month can feel a lot different when you've got more time to work on your figures.

This ritual is the closest adults get to experience the anxiety of having to brush up on their long-neglected math homework. That is, if this time-honoured tradition isn't shuffled off to their accountant, who'll probably have a better grasp of numbers and legal loopholes that'll allow them to save pennies on the dollar while mega-corporations can allow themselves to be registered as "people" and save quadrillions on the dime without ever having to pay more than absolutely necessary.

If the content of this post is sorely lacking, it’s because I’m suffering from bread withdrawal. My mind was beginning to stagnate without the boost from carbohydrates to help give me that motivational rush. No coffee and cigarettes for me. Chocolate and pasta is all the stimulant I need. (That, and addictive V-games) This was evident when accidentally ate a package of Kraft dinner macaroni last two days ago, not knowing that the end of Passover week was on Saturday night, not Friday.

(Boring religious math question up ahead - feel free to skip if you want)

One of the more perplexing passages in the Passover prayers is where we pay tribute to all the favours our God (or G_d, as some of the more fearful religious ones call him, though YHWH would be more accurate) did to us when we were liberated as slaves from Egypt. The list goes as follows: “If by one finger the Egyptians were smitten with 10 plagues, it may be deduced that in the Red Sea, they were smitten with 50 plagues."

Then Rabbi Eleazar added four different plagues; consisting of God’s anger, wrath, indignation and trouble in the form of evil angels. Wrath = 1, Indignation = 2, Trouble = 3, Evil Angels = 4. “Hence it may be deduced that while in Egypt they were smitten with 40 plagues, in the Red Sea they were smitten with 200 plagues.

Then Rabbi Akeebah modified the previous statement with God’s fierceness of his anger, wrath, indignation and trouble in the form of evil angels. Fierceness of his Anger = 1, Wrath = 2, Indignation = 3, Trouble = 4, Evil Angels = 5. “Hence it may be deduced that whilst in Egypt they were smitten with 50 plagues, in the Red Sea they were smitten with 250 plagues.

What kind of math is that??? It starts out as the Egyptians being paid fivefold, then the ten plagues being multiplied by 4 to the previous statement, and then a recalculation factoring God's upset mood as well. This isn't "an eye for an eye", this is widespread organ donation using exploratory surgery, and making use of every single piece of the human body, like in Neal Shusterman's Unwind.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Archie Made Worse in Context

In my tribute to Archie out of Context post, SmoochfestBikiniz asked, “What comic book has the story above where Archie says he is gonna do something and there's hearts all around them?

Normally, I wouldn't oblige, since the general policy of Archie out of Context is not to provide reference or explanation for the source of the stories, since explaining what happened would take the fun out of the panels. However, I’m willing to make an exception in this case, since pretty much every panel in this comic can be taken out of context. It was a toss-up in choosing which panel to use, and I chose the above, from the third page.

So here’s the basic set-up: you’ve got Archie and Betty in a comfortable location all alone, casually kissing each other, Archie acting as stiff as a statue in response to Betty’s advances. Here, he’s just staring at her, not even bothering to close his eyes.

All of this is being observed by Dilton Doiley who’s excitedly using a computer system - not just any computer, but an Archie Instant Replay System!© (A.I.R.S.). A computer that's devoted to the complete analysis of Riverdale's most popular redhead bachelor. Just another typical day in Riverdale. Wait - it gets weirder from here.

In the very next frame, Archie is suffering from fireworks going off in his head, even though he's acting like the lights are off and nobody’s home. Meanwhile, Dilton is replaying their every thought while monitoring their mating habits.

Nope, nothing potentially creepy there.

It’s that For Science! phrase that really sells this scene here, and was almost my first choice for an AooC, but I didn't want to reuse images from the same comic. I was planning to release it with a bunch of other unused panels, but decided to wait at least a year before showing them so I could let others have their turn.

You can pretty much put the pieces together from these panels and finish the puzzle yourself from here. After a sudden rush, Dilton decides this is the perfect moment to sit back, relax and let nature take its course. Again, this is not intended to be creepy at all.

Betty is practically begging Archie for release here. Hence the burning question; will Archie give in to his basest desires? Will Archie plunge into unknown depths previously unseen?

Don’t be ridiculous. This is an Archie comic we’re talking about here.

Of course, that doesn’t stop Dilton from trying to veer things back into makeout territory again. All Archie needs is a little “push”. Literally.

To recap, you’ve got a nerd who’s got access to two teenagers most private thoughts, is capable of manipulating their hormones, and recording their every action for posterity. If this were anything other than an all-ages comic, this could’ve gone somewhere else very squickly very quickly.

If this were a dating sim, Dilton would’ve gotten the lukewarm Bad End outcome. The fact that he's more interested in his research than any potential hanky-panky suggests that the boy isn't exactly right in his head. Equally hilarious is how this "advanced" computer manages to shred his clothes even though he's stepping quite a distance away from any potential sparks that could set his suit alight, much like those exploding consoles from Star Trek. Apparently, it's unable to comprehend the ramifications of a teenage libido within the constraints of a children's comic. This was at a time when a computer the size of a warehouse meant something else entirely.

Normally, I don’t like Al Hartley’s drawings, since they’re so full of off-model Archie characters and shocked expressions with flashes around their heads that distract me from enjoying the comic. This was before I found out he was later involved in Christian-themed comics with their own warped mentality issues. (Go ahead, look them up) Ironically enough, when he’s drawing normal people, they come across as looking perfectly natural. As a born-again Christian, one wonders how Al Hartley feels about finding subliminal messages in the very comics that he created? Especially the tamest ones?