Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hagar's Home was a Castle

Usually, Hagar the Horrible's main residence is a straw-based hatch, but there were various rare occasions where the Viking husband's home was something more grandoise in design.

It's understandable why this large abode would've been changed for something smaller, since all that extra space would be inhibitive for the cartoonist to constantly draw all the details of the exterior. (Which could also explain why these castles were mainly shown at night, since it's less trouble to draw silhouettes than elaborate brick walls) Not to mention that these kinds of castles were normally the focus of viking raids. Living in one of these huge structures would be akin to a family man living in a mansion while going out to conquer high-rise appartments buildings.

While all that extra space a castle provides could prove fertile ground for potential jokes, it could also prove to be an impediment to general storytelling, especially if all that room isn't going to be used effectively with the boundaries of a typical comic page. Sometimes the best devices are the limits we impose upon ourselves. It's unknown exactly when the change from a large castle to modest home was implemented, but this comic below does a pretty good job filling in some gaps that normally wouldn't need explaining.

Chances are, those Lingerons are still living there, long after their purpose has been used.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Signs of the Olympics

The Olympics have just recently started in London, and things have already reached a ridiculous fever pitch of excitement, starting with overzealous cracking down on any establishment trying to profit from usage of the famous Olympic symbol without official support. Other than the grandmother making a tiny doll sweater worth $1.63 with emblazoned Olympics logos, the most famous example of the overprotection racket is a bakery forced to take down its quadruple-ringed row of bagels or risk facing fines up to $30,000. What's led to this banning of any casual item in the pattern of the Olympic symbols, when other countries would be understandably lax in this area? In the U.K., they passed The Olympic Games Act in 2006, which thereby forbids unlawful use of not just the five colourful rings, but any combining any of the following words; “games”, “2012”, “Twenty Twelve,”, “gold”, "silver", “bronze”, or “medal” in the same sentence. Makes you wonder how any editorial cartoonist could casually use anything Olympic-related without facing fear of penalization. As a result, there's more of a police task force looking for offending copyright infringements than security for the Olympic athletes.

In a sense, this feels like divine retribution from Canada hosting the Winter Olympics two years ago. For anybody who doesn't remember or didn't care, the British media were lambasting Canada for being overly confident for having the Olympics on their home turf, having more practice with winter sports, not regretting the death of a luger and not being gracious to other nation's values. (i.e. the British) It was made all the sweeter when we wound up beating several records. Our games didn't start out very promising, with our dinky acquisition of three medals in the first few days. But eventually, we started coming in first in a large number of sports, and our National Anthem was the most repeatedly sung song. Our boast of "Owning the Podium" which at first seemed premature, turned out to be very prophetic. (Even though the US won most medals total)

Their criticism seemed kind of ridiculous, given that Canada is notably less jingoistic about their patriotism compared to the United States. Canadians' general reaction to their identity boils down to, "At least we're not Americans". If America is always "Number 1", we take pride in being "Second Best", even if we're regulated to being a worldwide joke. If we can't laugh at our given redundancy on the world stage, what can we do? Do the best we can with the limitations we've got.

That notion of doing the best we can do in the face of overwhelming strength is something that appeals to supporters of the underdog. While building up strength to match or exceed your opponent's abilities is usually the desired result of massive training, true satisfaction comes from giving your all against the best and succeeding. The real joy comes from taking down someone stronger than you are. That, and getting vindication for being overlooked in the face of overwhelming opposing publicity, such as in the case of female weightlifter Holley Mangold getting more publicity than Sarah Robles, who's not getting enough sponsors simply because she doesn't fit the profile of a beautiful strong woman. There's also the notion that wealthy countries are more likely to win medals than poor countries.

On one hand, there's the anticipation that the other countries' opponents will put up a worthy fight, and all the hype will have meant something. On the other, there's some kind of schadenfreudic hope that the whole ceremony will somehow blow up in their faces, embarrassing them further.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cosplayers & Violence

There's been a Colorado shooting at the last of Nolan's Batman movies, and already fingers are being pointed at. From the NRA argument breaking down in the face of the gunman wearing full-body armour to the legislation of the firearm that allowed the masacre to happen. Chances are the old arguments about preserving children's innocence from being influenced by the media will flare up again. There’s been some concern that the Colorado shooting may cause some further restrictions for Cosplayers, because of the association of dressed-up people in colourful costumes may be inclined towards violent acts. I don’t think so, because of several reasons:

1. Cosplayers spend a lot of time beforehand preparing their costume to make sure their real-life clothings can come close to the portrayal of the outfit, right down to the emblems, buttons and ribbons on the shoulder pads and chest area. Since a lot of Anime characters have plenty of detail that only work when presented in a static medium, a lot of imagination has to go into play to make those concepts work realistically without losing the magic of the original. (Something a lot of S-hero movies fail to conceptualize)

2. On a similar note, they spend in inordinate amount of time making sure that they capture the pure essence of their favorite characters down pat, from their little characteristic quirks to their off-hand remarks, and can accurately have in-character moments to anything they're totally unprepared for. Any out-of-character reactions would result from being in the midst of an extenuating circumstance or obsessive heckler coming out of left field. They’re basically improv actors.

3. Any weapons that are part of the character’s design have to be pre-registered beforehand to make sure that they’re suitable for public use. Even if they’re as large as Cloud’s or Sephiroth’s swords, they shouldn’t do much more damage than a rubber foam paddle. While realistic-looking guns are acceptable, live ammunition is a definite no-no. There are paintball tournaments or Doom marathons for that kind of thing.

To sum up, the Colorado shooter followed none of these requirements. For starters, he dyed his hair orange, when The Joker’s is obviously green. His aim wasn't to amuse the public, but to terrorize. If he was looking for publicity, he certainly got it. However, for all his rampant insanity, The Joker always has a plan in hand, even as he’s improvising every step of the way. The Colorado shooter seems to have no further thought than to go into a theater and start playing target practice. In fact, you should be on the lookout for any Cosplayers who fail to follow the most basic of character designs and just recreate their favorite icons from memory. They’re not true fans - they’re poseurs, and should be watched with a wary eye.

I'm not even surprised that this kind of thing happened - some people get too excited over some hyped-up events, and take it to an extreme that most people would stop at. Naturally, this will eventually lead to blame being assigned on children play-acting, because they're afraid of being unable to tell role-playing from real-life. Do you know who has trouble telling fantasy from reality? Children who’re forbidden from playing make-believe, because their parents are convinced that if their children go around playing Cowboys and Indians using their fingers, they’ll grow up to be gun-toting maniacs, shooting anything within sight. When children are forbidden from "playing" with guns out of fear of hurting anybody in the future, it's the parents who can't tell fantasy from reality, because one is going around shooting blanks, and the other is using ammo. Ask anybody who grew up playing such violent games, and you'll get no desire from these mature adults to go around maiming people. They've already expressed their frustration through play, and expunged any bloodlust that such harmless activities would display. And when serious injuries do occur, they display horror and grief for putting their friends through such a serious accident.

Furthermore, studies have shown that when trying to support gender-neutral toys, such as having girls play with trucks and boys with dolls, the girls would treat their machines like babies, and the boys would use the doll's arms as guns.
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In fact, it's possible that the shooting may actually boost ticket sales, because audiences may want to experience some kind of understanding or closure of a horrific event. In Gerald Jones' Killing Monsters, he writes that in an example of children experiencing traumatic events, their drawings of horrific events shock people, and are made to feel guilty for doing so. Thing is, they're not intentionally making these drawings to disturb their parents - they're making those drawings to better understand their feelings by confronting what they're most scared of.

By that same token, the public's experience with seeing violence releases a kind of catharsis reaction of a horrific event that's not happening to them. Surgeons wouldn't be able to operate if they couldn't desensitize themselves to blood. When there was the July 7 London bombings, Terry Gilliam's Brazil was shown on TV. The closer a media event ties in to a horrific event, the better audiences can relate to it. For some people, it can also be an example of Too Much Too Soon.

One weird argument made about violence on television is that there's not enough violence on TV. To further explain, he wasn't condoning the amount of violence shown, but decrying that the violence is oftentimes too sanitized and toned down to de-emphasize the consequences of said violence. If the broadcasters had allowed the "banned" episodes involving the World Trade Center or collapsing buildings after 9-11, they might've been condemned for allowing "insensitive" programming on the air, but chances are their audience would've been watching these episodes intensely to work their inner frustrations out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Chickadee Magazine

Just recently, it's been announced that there's going to be a College-funded course for Canadian cartoonists. This is something that's been long since coming, since Canadians have an unique perspective that's not regularly seen through the usual comic channels. By that same token, I'd also like to see some acknowledgement of old Canadian comics. Their relative obscurity and subject material can make them somewhat of an oddity to people not familiar with childish entertainment, and the pricing and scarity of these items can make seeking them out something of a chore.

Back when Canadian-created content was practically nonexistent, an outreach program was implemented to develop talents that would focus on homegrown material instead of being solely dependent on US-based products. One such result was the creation of Chickadee and Owl magazine, which put an elementary focus on science and nature. Chickadee magazine was for young children not sophisticated enough for Owl magazine. The only reason I stuck around with Chickadee as long as I did was because Chickadee had comics, and Owl didn't.

If not for these comics, I wouldn't have bothered sticking with the children's magazine for as long as I did. But the comics in the back were suspended around 1987, leaving only Daisy Dreamer inside, so I let my subscription lapse because I was craving something with more content.

At first in the magazine's early years, the comics in the back were regulated to a one-pager of Henry, baring no resemblance to a certain mute bald-headed kid.

However, it was later switched out for another more cartoony comic by Tina Holdcroft, staring various animals and a different title for each one. Although there were no reoccurring characters, it seemed that mice were the most likely species to show up.

Some of these comics were blatant swipes at well-known children's books, including one that should look familiar to regular readers.

I'm particularly fond of this one below, because of a certain lesson conveyed to me as a child. Back when I was still learning to speak, my mother would constantly remind me to stress my plurals when talking about more than one objects. Annoyed with her constant nagging, I one day pointed to the last panel of this comic and said,

"It's raining CATSSSSSSSS and DOGSSSSSSSSS", in a snarling snake-like voice, if snakes could snarl. Very much like how Odo explained to his adoptive scientist father that he didn't like being constantly poked and prodded with electronic devices to encourage him to change shape, I felt the same way towards my mother. The ensuing reminders may have been mentally annoying, but they certainly got results; and I didn't begin to appreciate this until much later. (I'm pretty sure I still would've held a grudge against her for this cardinal sin)

Tina Holdcroft's main comic work was more closely associated with Owl magazine, particularly her illustrations of Dr. Zed, and that's where she presumably lent the majority of her services to. She's still doing drawings to this day.

The second comic feature of Chickadee was Daisy Dreamer, first drawn by Lynda Cooper, and now currently written by Philip Moscovitch and drawn by Gabriel Morrissette. In case the latter name sounds slightly familiar, he's also the co-creator of Angloman.

The basic theme of every Daisy Dreamer comic was the same; every issue, the red-haired girl would imagine herself as a different animal. This wasn't just restricted to the usual assortment of cute furry mammals, but also a dizzying array of animals, such as starfish, star mole, moth, bat, hippopotamus, etc, etc.

In addition to imagining herself as a different animal each time, she would also deliver basic trivia of each animal involved as well.

These daydreams always ended on a lesser Little Nemo note of Daisy either snapping out of her dream state by having her animal persona put into a similar situation as her human self, or being interrupted by her perpetually off-screen mother; and usually with some kind of wordplay involved. Though really, the easist way to tell when she's getting out of her daydream is when she reaches the end of the 2nd page.

The only distinguishing mark separating Daisy from everyone else is the red bow on her head and large expressive eyes than the other more realistically rendered animals.

This is probably the only instance where Daisy's starting catchphrase of WOWEE! is completely different. The ironic thing is that just a few months ago, she turned into a turtle and didn't seem as shocked at the prospect. Of course back then, she wasn't exactly in a hurry.

If you've noticed, the character design for the girl is significantly different from when she first appeared; back then, she was more cartoony and wide-eyed. Then she became progressively more grounded and realistic. Things certainly have changed since then. Nowadays, she's somewhat more of an adventurer and instead of transforming to the whims of her imagination, she now changes form thanks to a magical cap. In addition, she's gone from a redhead to a blonde. (Or brown-haired, depending on the colourer) She's certainly changed a lot since her early inception. In fact, it feels more like a page out of Super Friends with the Wonder Twins doing their transformation powers to take care of a perceived threat. Check out this sample and see if you can tell the difference between the two. Heck with that, see if you can find any similarities. Can you believe this is the same girl as the previous pages?

There are no collections of children's magazine comics, and despite their inherent short shelf life, I find it something of a shame. I keep hoping for a collection of Cricket magazine comics, but given the inherent difficulty of their format (a double-page spread at the bottom, continuing with a half-pager in the middle of the magazine, and tapering out with another two-three pages at the bottom), it seems extremely unlikely. Now, it's possible that a compromise could be reached by dividing the low-page comics by splitting them up and combining them into a single page. It's made all the more distressing since the main artist for Cricket magazine was replaced, and I got rid of my copies years ago.

When it comes to magazine collections of comics, the demand for past material simply isn't there. The single exception may be DĂ©brouillards, which I plan to talk about in a future blog entry.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Requium for a Tree

Just recently, the Rowan tree outside my old house was found to have Fire Blight, a progressive disease that was threatening to spread to other foliages. It used to grow red berries that I was told never to eat, because they were poisonous. I didn't think much of it when these berries stopped growing several years ago. I'd only recently noticed that there were some dead branches near the top, but didn't put it much attention, since I thought it was perfectly natural.  I used to climb that tree all the time when I was a kid, using my foot as a foothold in the knothole. Just before I knew that the tree was going to be cut down, I tried to relive my previous climbing encounters. Turns out I'm more out of shape than I thought. I couldn't even manage to lift my body up the main limb without falling back down. (Of course, I'm also significantly heavier than when I was a kid, but that's no excuse) After my first failed encounter and feeling the jolt of landing on the ground, I promptly gave up. It doesn't take much to convince me to quit doing much strenous activity nowadays.

Several days after I received the diagnosis, and the woodcutters were appointed to come, I was told that there was a bird in the tree. At first, I thought it was another bird's nest, which could've complicated the sudden removal of the supporting structure, but after some clarification, it turned out to be a temporary residence in the form of a woodpecker instead. For some reason, my dad found the back-and-forth motion of the woodpecker's rapid action against the dead tree bark very amusing to look at.

A few days later, the lumberjacks came to fell the tree, which they fed into a woodchipper without a single human body to get rid of the evidence. So now, all that's left of the tree is a lonely stump lying in the grass, waiting for it to either be covered in grass or have a replacement tree planted next to its remains.

If my sister were a more emotional woman as she was in her youth, we would've been in the vicinity of a crying match and virtual tree-hugger territority. But she's all grown up now and has gained some maturity points after leaving the roost, and thus didn't experience any loss, and thus, no family drama resulted. If this verdict happened much sooner, it could've very well been something out of Margot et Sac a Puces.

Margot et Sac a Puces (Margot and Fleabag) is about a girl and her dog. Well, it's a little more complicated and sophisticated than that. The girl is living with her family of five children and a baby, and her father isn't a fan of the dog Fleabag, partly because he's a stray covered in fleas, hence his name. Even so, Margot keeps seeing the dog on a regular basis, thanks to Fleabag sneaking into the house via a hidden key, and she keeps sneaking out to meet her unofficial pet at a secret rendezvous.

Margot is also the only one who can understand what the dog is saying. As anthropomorphic as the mutt is, I've never seen Fleabag talk to anyone else, though much of what he conveys comes across perfectly well in pantomime. For as much as they declare their love towards each other, there's nothing sexual about it. It's a childhood romance where two beings simply enjoy being in each others company. They laugh, play, get into fights, argue, make up, complain, make-believe, talk, and pretty much anything they can think of. They're closer to friends than lovers.

This late-night partying is taking place at Chestnut Tree school, so aptly named for the large tree that takes residence of the main playground area. From the size and date of romantic graffiti etched into the bark, it's safe to say it's over a hundred years old.

The next day, most of the school activities are educational and entertaining as usual, but otherwise pretty uneventful. Until one perfectly ordinary day during the end of recess where a slightly anal teacher is giving the students grief for not lining up properly.

Spurned on by the possibility that their favorite chestnut tree might very well be removed, the children go around the neighborhood making their cause be heard. However, their efforts at gathering public approval is brought to naught when it's discovered that the Principal is making a list of alternate names for the school once the tree's taken down.

Once this nugget of information comes out, the students are dismayed to find out that their petition would have no effect in the school's decision, so they decide to take matters into their hands to truly make their point of how much they love their tree heard.

That's not a speech balloon, that's a cardboard cutout to give a literal physical manifestation of the Lorax's "speaking for the trees", for the trees have no tongues.

The lyrics the Principal is singing are from Autumn Leaves, (The Dead Leaves in the original French) The literal original lyrics were "The dead leaves collected at the..." It's possible that something's gotten a little lost in the translation. However, what's not left misunderstood is that the children are willing to any reasonable lengths to do whatever's necessary to preserve their favorite tree. They've basically developed their rebel group, easily identified by their chestnut tattoos with indelible ink, and their rallying cry of Marre! Marre! Marronnier!, which I've loosely translated as Jest! Just! Chestnut!

Faced with the prospect of a whole school against him, the Principal decides to appeal to their better sense by applying logic to counter their arguments, because as every parent know, children will respond better to logic than emotions, right?

After that stunning rebuttal, the teachers and principal engage over a debate over whether it's better to keep the tree at the expense of the students. an appeal is spoken from an old woman whose name was carved onto the bark of the tree; deliberations are made, and after a long meeting, a consensus is reached that should please all parties.

However, notice the man in the black suit running past the teacher? That's the tree surgeon's who's completed his report on the tree, and has concluded that it is already beyond saving, and has to be put down.

On Saturday morning, Fleabag finds out that the chestnut tree is going to be taken down, and hastily gives the news to Margot, not caring for her parents displeasure of having a mangy dog in the house. She rallies her friends through the grapevine, and make their way to the school and arrive just in time to see the timberman put the chop to their favorite tree.

So all their effort to save their tree was for nothing.

...Well, not exactly. In light of their extreme devotion and appreciation for their beloved historical landmark, the remains of the tree were refurbished to create a new organic playground, with some of the original carvings still intact.

In addition to this new playground, a new chestnut tree has just been planted to commemorate this new addition, and the school is renamed Baby Chestnut Tree School. Chances are that name won't be changed for a good twenty years or so.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Movement in Comics

In my last post, I lamented how characters in Sunday comics don't convey a lot of motion while talking, which seems like something of a waste. All the extra space compared to the dailies would seem to give them more opportunity to play around with the modern conventions and play around with the constraints of the comic strip page. However, constantly showing various styles of motion can be physically and mentally draining, which could explain why they don't show up often. That's not to say that these occurrences never happen, but when they do, it's a feast on the eyes.

Another instance is when Dagwood chases after the bus whenever he woke up late. That's not the kind of thing you're likely to see nowadays now that he's carpooling with his coworkers, though they're just as likely to leave without him, leaving him to play catch-up.

The great thing about the strip below is that you never even get to see Dagwood in this one. For all we know, it could be the Flash making a cameo appearance down there. That, or Blondie's married to a gust of wind.

Blondie isn't the only strip to rely on motion lines, though from these samples, you'd think that no other strip had such an obvious mad dash to get to their destination on time. Back before Manga speedlines became all the rage, there were other more covert ways to convey movement by having thick motion lines that would go all across and around the panel, forcing your eye to follow the line of progress all around. This was something that Bruce Hammond of Duffy / Orbit fame did with great abandon.

It's a little ahead of schedule, but this Orbit page was going to be used as a sample of rapid movement. The Orbit Project is slowly but surely, finding various newspaper clippings on a glacial basis. The individual dailies looks rather childish when presented all on its own, but when they're read in rapid succession, they make for fairly indulgent reading. I'll do another Orbit update once there's enough new material to justify doing so.