Friday, August 31, 2012

Gary Bray Minicomics

I oftentimes hear about people who've been impressed with purchasing independent minicomics by individual homegrown creators who're too small-time to try to get published via a wider distribution, and are most likely to be found at comic conventions where their amateurish works can be ignored for the whole world to see. I've never been brave enough to purchase a comic beforehand without any known history, or what the story is about, save for the more experimental ones I've found in the comics corner of the library. However, one single exception is a comic that was sold door-to-door by what looks to be a stand-up comedian.

The following scans are all from a stapled pamphlet titled "What to do Until the Real Fun Begins". There's no accompanying picture on the cover, save for a badly-reproduced photograph on the back showing Gary Bray in a checkered suit near a microphone, looking somewhat like Jay Leno.

My mother is generally reluctant to even read a comic unless the words are easy to read and don't require looking at the pictures much, which could explain why she bought this from the guy as he was selling his wares. That, or he was a better salesman than she gave him credit for. When it comes to amateur comics, I'm more likely to look at a series of short gags than a crude storyboard. The general sense I get from these comics is that they're concepts that wouldn't sound out of place from typical stand-up comedian one-liners. Or at least, what I imagine stand-up comedians would say, since I've never frequented any clubs hosting them, and my only experience with said profession comes from Seinfeld. Gary Bray certainly has a distinctive way of telling his jokes.

For several years, I thought that was the full extent of his output. But then I came across another book, "The Antidepressionists...", and another, "How Come I'm not Famous Yet?", where his avatar is named Edgar for some reason. In The Antidepressionists, unlike the others, there's an attempt to try to form a comprehensive story with individual jokes, ranging from space aliens landing on the street to a museum robbery. (There is no natural logical connection between these two events - they just happen one after the other) It's also offput by silly misspellings (see "vidio" above) and a series of wonky panelling. Each page is divided into four square sections, further divided into another four panels, shaped like filmstrip, so you're constantly reading down two black panels, then moving on to the next space up, then down, then back to the middle left hand side. It's a very headache-inducing zig-zag style of reading, with most of the text below the pictures. And these jokes won't make much sense if they're read out of sequence. This is why I don't have much regard for mini-comics if they don't show much basic research in the style and presentation of a typical comic. They should be easy to read, not a chore to figure out.

Even more perplexing is that of the three minicomics I've just mentioned, no two are exactly alike. You know how American comics were basically pigeonholed because there were so many wonky variants of formats and no consistent size until Manga came along? That's what we're dealing with here. Strangely enough, they all use similar printer paper used differently. The first book had normal folded pages, the second was full-sized; and the last was the same height as before, but folded in half vertically, resulting in a very thin book. It's as if Gary Bray couldn't decide which format he wanted his comics to be in.

I tried to find out any more information about the man, but there hasn't been any mention of him since the 90's when these comics were being produced. The closest equivalence I could find of a Gary Bray from Montreal was his "235 Ways To Solve the Conflict Between Israel & Palestine" and his contribution for The Search For Peace anthology. The sketchy artwork for the latter certainly looks like his style, but since his face is obscured by his hat, I can't be sure.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Power Failure!

I just got an unpleasant surprise when I woke up early this morning, intending to watch a DVD series I took out of the library, I was near the end of the episode, when the light suddenly started flickering, and then I was staring at a blank screen growing dimmer in the darkness. The first thing I did was complain internally, because there wasn't anybody around to listen to me. I then started off by finishing some odd chores I'd done while waiting for the DVD to load, such as cutting up the rest of the watermelon, putting away some desert I neglected to eat the night before, and switching off all the power bars connecting to my computers in case a power surge came when the power would come back again. But before all that, I got the flashlight which was where I figured It'd be with the batteries still working. Since it was still the middle of the night, I needed to be able to see what I was doing. I'm pretty sensitive when it comes to bright light, but need the allure of a 60-watt bulb to set my mind at ease. I simply can't relax in the presence of a flickering candle flame for the same reason I don't like the great outdoors - there's too much uncertainty in nature. My comfort lies in stability, and not being bothered by the light being disturbed by the waving of tree branches.

At times like these, I think about a certain innovative "light bulb" for 3rd world countries without electricity that can be easily assembled with the use of liquids and a plastic soda bottle. Trouble is, in order to find out how to produce this innovative piece of technology, I'd need to look it up online, when I had no access to the information beforehand. It also didn't help that this "light" bulb works best when it's bright out, which would be counter-intuitive in the dark.

So when the power went off without any warning, after I finished up the cleaning up, I started to pace around, full of energy, with no suitable outlet. I'm much more of a night owl than a morning person, and took this opportunity to go out and pedal around to see the full extent of the damage. After the infamous Ice Storm, I wanted to see whether the full extent of the power outage would've extended to the outreaches of the city, and whether there was any power still running. I was worried that I would never get the opportunity to embrace the glow of the electronic screen ever again; thinking back to those 3-month stints in India where there were entire populations without power. In situations like these, my mind always goes straight to worst-case scenarios.

Part of my frustration lies in not having access to certain information. I can't rely on listening to the radio like everybody else - I have to get secondhand information from someone who can actually listen to the darned things. I was also worried that I wouldn't be able to tell anybody that I couldn't contact them, because my primary mode of communication is all electronic based. There's my email and Facebook accounts, my Skype which I talk to a scanlator weekly, and a TTY that needs electricity to work, even though the phone lines are still functioning. Even with all our technological advances, we're still held at the mercy of our electronic devices not being powered up by our transformers. I don't feel secure unless there's at least one backup power source for extra energy as presented in a rare instance where Dennis' "Children say the darndest things" actually made his parents laugh.

What's especially frustrating when these blackouts happen is that they often occur in a secluded area of town, when the weather is perfectly fine. During strong storms when the rain is pounding against the windows, I'll cautiously turn off the computer during these turbulent times, and surprisingly enough, the power will manage to stay on. Yet when it's perfectly calm and sunny out, the power will suddenly turn itself off without warning. It's very frustrating. I remember a particularly aggravating moment when the power on our block was out, and the lights right across the street were working perfectly fine. Noticing the presence of electricity in the absence of your own is an unavoidable prospect, and the only real plothole in this otherwise fine Dennis comic, which some people have noted is better than the single-panel daily version.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nintendo Power is in Another Castle

This year truly is the end times. It's just been announced that after 24 years of tips, Nintendo Power is going to end its subscription, the last issue being on December this year. While it's probably just another meainingless coincidence alongside with Doomsday scenario Manga 21st Century Boys being released in English around that month, the implications are still unsettling.  When the Mayan Calendar talk about the end of the world, it could just as well mean the end of our current world as we know it. While this cancellation was probably inevitable given it's irrelevant redundancy in the face of Gamefaqs which would give helpful hints on the very day the game was released while the magazine would still be in its hype stage, it still feels like a loss.

I only became acquainted with Nintendo Power after I ordered a certain hint guide for a certain game. I'm sure you all know which one I mean.

This was essential, since I had absolutely no idea where to find the elusive 7th dungeon after having bombed every wall in existence and pushed every block. It never occurred to me that I should use the whistle or candle in the overworld. (Why should I?) It didn't help matters any that the old man's hint of "There are Secrets where Fairies don't live" proved to be of no help whatsoever. It seemed like just another initeration of one of his ramblings, like Eastmost Peninsula is the Secret. If it were something more obvious like Dodongo dislikes smoke, I wouldn't have had so much trouble.

One thing I especially liked about the Zelda dungeons was that they looked like each separate dungeon could easily fit within the boundaries without any overlap. I'm still waiting for the day when there's a grand dungeon that'll have borrowed aspects of every dungeon implemented into them. That is, a switch that would be flipped in one dungeon could affect switches in all the other dungeons. The closest this was ever accomplished to my vision was in Banjo-Twoie, where levels would be connected to other levels, but that was as far as it got.
All dungeons thumbnail

This simple request for some help put me on a mailing list with a very influential subscription deal that seemed too good to pass up.

In addition to getting the magazine, I would get not one, not two, but four different player guides! Note that the covers of these advertised guides hadn't quite been finalized yet, but that didn't matter, since the content alone was enough to garner my attention.

The NES Atlas had the VERY helpful guide to the Zelda 2nd Quest, which was like a hyper version of Mario's Lost Levels. Unlike the first Mario game which just replaced all the Goombas with Buzzy Beetles, EVERYTHING in the new Zelda game was different, save for the location of the first dungeon. The enemies were tougher, there were invisible walls, and no intuitive clues as to what you were supposed to do next. Finishing this game would've been nigh impossible for a child to complete without help. So far, only Orcarina of Time Master Quest and Super Mario Galaxy 2 have delivered anything on a similar level to the 2nd Zelda quest.

Prior to that, my only experience with Nintendo Power was a Pocket Power pamphlet given out during the release of The Wizard. The general impression was that this magazine was a must-have that seemed very exciting at the time.

One thing that I was slightly disappointed with the Mario Atlas was that there weren't as much promotional doodle art, or Mario's history, and his last name wasn't revealed until the release of the Super Mario Bros. movie, which like all Hollywood adaptions of V-games, darkened the light and fluffy source material.

I subscribed for just a year to see if I wanted to stay on beyond the trial period. The Howard and NESTER! comics were just as amusing, if sometimes perplexing if you weren't familiar with the game they were giving hints on. While Howard eventually left, Nester was left behind, and eventually devolved into one-pagers, then was dropped altogether, and only returned for a half-pager in the 100th issue, and again for the 20th anniversary. (I always thought Nester looked like a red-haired Vegeta for some reason. Note the family resemblence?)

Then they added the Mario and Zelda comics, and I HAD to renew just to see what would happen next. The Mario comics were some of the funniest material I'd ever seen, and I was sad to see that the last adventure was a short comic with Mario and Wario trying to get a Samus doll.  For some reason, this story wasn't part of the Mario comic collection. It would've been amusing to see an annual Mario comic having some tangental relation to each new year's games.

However, the magazine began to enter its redundancy phase around the same time that the Playstation started gathering competition away from more mature audiences who weren't content to squash mushroom heads anymore. The last regular game to be advertised in comic form was Super Metroid, which was rather lackluster despite revealing Samus canonical backstory. The experience felt rather rushed, and it's lack of popularity didn't even bother to continue with another mission after the main story was over, like they did with the previous Star Fox comic. Even though the Chozos were used, the side characters were left out of the game, particularly salesman Friendly Floyd and Nome the Wandering Knight (baring a startling resemblance to a certain Cyborg especially his ironic name, Jet Link).

I only renewed once a year, because I knew that I would get more bonuses from the magazine, such as my choice of Player's Guides and extra incentives in order to keep me on as a member. Why stay on for two years, when they'll appreciate you more if you're going away in one? However, later renewal envelopes began to get more desperate, with having an angler fish lure you into a trap, or comparing a tough level with cafeteria food. They simply didn't have the same level of bite compared to their predecessors.

I eventually let my subscription run out when I no longer felt the same spark of excitement with the newest games, since they seemed too easy compared to their earlier output. Not to mention that my desire for finding hard-to-find NES games that still worked was phased out once the concept of emulators was shown to me. At least the Gamecube games were exempt from this. Then I discovered Super Mario World hacks that basically gave advanced versions of Mario games that were more imaginative and harder than the Nintendo originals, and required intuitive control of certain skills once thought mastered.

And yet, I still continued to keep the magazines and various incentives to keep me on as a member long past their sell-by date. Especially Super Power stickers which could be used for discounts on any players guides or merchandising in any of their catalogues. I always saved up for the player's guides, though I'm regretting not getting the GameBoy Advance guides that were only available on magazine racks, since I was holding out for them being available online. The second issue had some tips on Advance Wars that could've come in handy in being able to comprehend the complicated strategy involved, since the learning curve was very unforgiving, and the slightest military mistake could set you back for miles.

One particular bonus that I've still kept all these years are the popular Super Power Club cards, with descriptions and challenges of various games on the back. I have no way of knowing if these cars were randomized or consistent with every issue, since I knew no one else who bothered to subscribe to such a "kiddy" magazine. Maybe someday, someone will be able to comiple a comprehensive collection of all 200+ cards.

Some of the notable challenges include:

#6. Super Mario Bros. 3

Challenge: Use the three Warp Whistles to get to World Eight. Then, try making it all the way through to Bowser without--

Novice: Using any special items or suits
Intermediate: Losing any lives
Pro: Losing any lives as small Mario.

(This challenge would be impossible to complete, because you need to be big Mario in order to smash your way through the bricks early on in the 2-sided fortress)

#21. Battletoads

Challenge: In the second level, how many extra lives can you earn for repeatedly bopping birds into the wall?

Novice: Two
Intermediate: Five
Pro: Eight

(I'm proud to say that I've managed to get up to 10 lives on that level. This made going through the later levels much easier)

#47. Soul Blazer

Challenge: Once you've reached GreenWood Forest, how far can you go without using your sword?

Novice: Reach the Fire Shrine
Intermediate: Reach the Light Shrine
Pro: Reach the Stone Men

(Hint - use magic to defeat your enemies, then use their dropped gems for more. Be sure to stock up in Grass Valley beforehand)

#115. Star Tropics II: Zoda's Revenge

Challenge: Which Chapter can you finish without taking any damage?

Novice: Chapter 2 - Cave Dwellers
Intermediate: Chapter 4 - 19th Century London
Pro: Chapter 7 - King Arthur's England

#150. Legend of Zelda

Challenge: How far can you get with only a certain # of heart containers?

Novice: 14 Containers
Intermediate: 11 Containers
Pro: 8 Containers

(A hardcore gamer's probably finished the game with only 3 hearts)

One thing that I appreciated while looking through the latest Nintendo Power issues at the library (yes, there are libraries that held Nintendo Powers - if it'll get children reading, they'll order it) there would be homages to past games and cult hits that deserved more attention, such as Little King Story, Astro Boy Omega Factor and Shantae.

In fact, years after I quit my subscription, I only began to look through my old magazines in order to see if there were any quality games that I passed up the first time around that I could pick up for bargain prices. Unfortunately, my Nintendo Power index only went up to issue 70, and year 1996 (issues 80-91) are printed with looser spines, compared to the stiffer spines of the other years, making flipping through them harder than necessary. It doesn't help that your only clue of whether a game was mentioned or not was by looking in the releases index in the magazine, printed in itty-bitty text which would strain your eyes trying to find that elusive game buried somewhere in all that crap.

However, the standard for quality reportage of Video Games was Next Generation magazine, with its in-depth articles, constructive criticism and comparisons of games and how they should be, it raised the standards compared to its competitors, which were virtually indistinguishable from each other. Next Generation rose itself above the pack. It was the Comics Journal of the V-game world.

- Now you're playing with Power! Portable power! Super Power! If the N64 had kept its original name, their slogan would've been Now you're playing with Ultra Power!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Animation Mistakes

Like any other kid, I spent most of my Saturday mornings watching cartoons on TV. Over time, after watching the same cartoon multiple times, I began to notice some annoying little inconsistencies, such as how a sign would be flipped up and be briefly blank on one side, before showing the hidden writing later. I now know that this was to cut down on production costs, because who’s going to notice that insane attention to detail? (Eyes dart around nervously)

One particularly erroneous example that annoyed me was when the Coyote accidentally rocketed himself to China. I didn’t object to the fact that a rocket would’ve likely burned itself up upon approaching the Earth’s core. I didn’t complain that the Coyote escaped the gravity of the symbolic inner planet much faster on his return trip. No, what I found indefensible was that the Coyote changed directions midair at the very last second. Remember, he fell into the hole feet first, so by all rights, he should’ve landed on his feet upon re-entry instead of his head when he did that U-turn on the cliff face.

The Gummi Bears is a remarkable anomaly in that there's practically NO merchandising, which is quite rare for a Disney property. I’ve been enjoying watching the frist three seasons on DVD after not having seen the show for years, and catching all the little things I missed the first time around. One thing that really jumps out at you is the attention to continuity even among the stand-alone episodes. The Gummi juice only worked on humans once a day, despite it working for Cavin in the first episode. Likewise, there was some discrepancy of size reagarding the humans and bears; Duke Igthorn seemed twice as large as Cavin, but was later toned down to a more reasonable adult height. Sometimes the Gummis would be as high as Cubbi, and other times, they would be their normal height. In addition, the magic words for Zummi's lighting spell kept changing with every writer who couldn't keep that little nugget of information straight. Otherwise, the mistakes were kept to a reasonably small number.

Until it was pointed out that Princess Calla played a much larger part compared to knave Cavin, I didn’t even notice that it was her who was holding the knight-in-training on a piece of rope. Then again, in my defense, it went by very quickly, and was sandwiched between two short clips of the boy bashing an ogre’s head with a piece of meat, and looking impressed at the contents of the Great Book, so it’s easy to see where the confusion lied. Taking a closer look at the screenshot, I'm wondering where his legs are resting. Any ideas?

Another detail that I didn’t notice in the opening was the inconsistency of was Cubbi rolling towards the ogre in Up Up and Away. Do you see anything wrong with the following screenshots?

Simply put, the ogre is falling backwards, when in all likelihood, he should be plunging forwards. That's not how physics work. The ogre is obviously on the take and deliberately taking a fall. It's rather embarrassing that I never questioned the unnatural movement despite seeing it multiple times in the revamped opening. Reading multiple martial arts Manga has ruined cause and effect for me.

In The Crimson Avenger, there’s a scene where Cavin is framed for stealing the King’s ruby studs, despite being nowhere close to the man when they were taken. (Then again, this was during the medival ages where being caught with stolen items was all the proof they needed) Can you tell what’s wrong with this picture?

Hint - a certain horse is standing in midair a little higher than it should be. Otherwise, the horse is resting on a very narrow stretch of sidewalk. As admirable as it is to praise a quality show for high production values in animation and story, sometimes it’s just... FUN to find silly preventable mistakes like these. It makes you wonder if the animator badly mangled the top of the horse’s head, and didn’t bother correcting it, since hey, who’d notice?

Given the flush animation, you'd be hard pressed to find any heavy Anime influences for the overseas cells in Japan. Though there is one notable exception; remember the weird trapped wizard from For Whom The Spells Holds with the rooster comb glove on his head? That’s Dr. Tenma, Astro Boy’s father. These are the kinds of details you only begin to appreciate years later.

Despite these niggling complaints, I really hope there's a continuation of the remainder of the Gummi Bears episodes. I never saw the epic two-parter finale, King Igthorn. The last episode I ever saw on TV was The Knights of Gummadoon, where a castle appeared once in 100 years, and the fact the episode ended with a book closing in on them, I thought for sure that was the last episode, since I never saw any more of them after that until today. I don't even have the luxury of downloading said episodes, since there aren't any Srt. subtitles. I waited 20 years to see the Gummi Bears again. I can afford to wait another six years for the next DVD set. I just hope that it'll be soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

License Request - SODA

The modern-day rational of an S-hero keeping their secret identity and their civilian life separate from each other is so they won't endanger the lives of the people they're close to is so ingrained into the genre that it's hardly ever expanded or explored. In fact, it's easier to list the exception of S-heroes whose dual identities are inseparable from each other, since any information revealing such a secret would be fatal for anyone in the spy business. One European comic that puts an unique spin on this angle is an authority figure named Soda. Despite sounding like a soft drink, his nickname is derived from the first two letters of his file name, Solomon, David.

Soda is a New York cop who hides his true profession from his Aunt May-like mother by pretending to be a priest. Much like how Alex in Good-bye Lenin! devised an elaborate white lie to convince his mother that her country was still Communist, so too does Soda go to similar lengths to prevent his mother from ever finding out he's in a dangerous profession. Although Soda worries for his mother, he displays none of the geekish awkwardness that Peter Parker does, though he's more world-weary than anything.

Part of the fun comes from seeing how Soda does his police investigations while simultaneously trying to hide his true profession from his ailing mother. While his "secret" civilian identity is never quite the main focus, it's something of a running gag that EVERYBODY except Soda's mother knows that he's really a cop. It also doesn't hurt that there are times when his Priest alter identity comes in handy as a plainclothes officer.

The cartoony expressions help convey a sense of the grimy underbelly personality that make up 90's New York city in a way that feels more authentic than the most realistically designed drawings in noir-stylized comics fail to accomplish. Another admirable trait is the amount of facial variation given to black people, which is in direct contrast compared to most negative perceptions of Nubians, commonly seen in Asterix and Tintin albums. (I wish I had more examples to show here, but you'll just have to see for yourself) Things only start getting interesting until the third book, which is not only when the quality of the stories improve, but also when the artists change from Luc Warnant to Bruno Gazzotti. It's not unusual for an artist to be switched for another cartoonist in the middle of a series. It's been done for Brothers in Blue, Thorgal, and Violine, among others; the most famous example being Spirou who's gone through multiple writers and artists. Though it's unusual for one to be switched out in the middle of an album.

One thing I especially like about this series is the impressive amount of information that's conveyed within the silent panels as well as the wordy talking heads scenes. The former is pretty much the selling point for me in a police story that normally relies on hardboiled dialogue to get its point across. There is the occasional narrative, but it's not the full focus of the storytelling, and is less of a writing crutch than just another writer's tool.

Oh yes, there's also the most ironic usage of David and Goliath's names since Disney's Gargoyles. The cat may not play a large part, but his silent commentary and rivalry with David's suitcase containing his police stuff is the stuff of heightened tension.

Observant readers may have noticed by now that Soda only has three fingers for his gloved left hand. Despite this handicap, this little setback is never fully commented on or explained, which is something I find rather refreshing. It plays up the mystery allure, and plays on the audience's imagination of what could've possibly happened. The closest we get to an actual backstory is a single sentence when Soda returns to his hometown on a trip. Naturally, any cop on vacation is guaranteed to get anything but rest and relaxation while away, since crime practically follows them on the job. It's a rule or something.

There are only 12 albums of the series total, but although it ends on a unresolved confessional leaving certain questions hanging, it doesn't feel unfulfilling at all. It's just as well, since the last two books were more serious than the early stuff, and had become more depressing of late. Better for it to leave readers wanting more than to devolve into mediocrity and wonder what they ever liked about it in the first place.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Smartest Thing About MangaMan is the Title

When it was announced that writer Barry Lyga and artist Colleen Doran were going to team up to give their tribute to Manga, I was apprehensive but wary about their proposed story of a Manga character falling in love with an American girl. It wasn't so much the pitch, but rather the execution I was worried about. Would the material stand on its own, or would it be an embarassment to look at? For the record, I might as well admit that I'm not at all familiar with either creators, save that Colleen Doran oftentimes claimed to be the first American "Shojo" artist, given that her designs for flamboyand wardrobes and long flowing hair would constantly grate on the nerves of comic editors who couldn't stand seeing such effeminite drawings from a FEMALE CARTOONIST.

From the minimalist cover alone, you'd never guess that Ryoko, the titular MangaMan himself, had long flowing hair that wouldn't look out of place in a Shojo (or Shonen) Manga, but certainly looks out of place in a High school with a more restrictive dress code. This hairstyle would constantly change throughout the story, first from being cut short, to warping to spiky proportions representing whatever mood he was in. Even so, he's quite a far cry from the other MangaMan design on Anime VHS covers.

I went into the comic with low expectations, hoping that they would be dashed. They weren't.

I wanted to like this story, but the amateurish setup and execution kept preventing me from doing so. It was only 125 pages long (with extra pages allotted for chapter title and reused artwork) but it still felt like an eternity to get through. It's never a good sign when I need to take a breather every few pages in order to gather up strength to prepare my brain cells for the next onslaught of visual and verbal abuse. I was reminded of similar Manga-themed works based on Sandman, particularly The Dead Boy Detectives and Death: At Death's Door, which were less than successful spinoffs of Neil Gaiman's main storyline.

Compared to the typical dark plots that Barry Lyga is better known for, such as his Fanboy and Goth Girl, the setup in MangaMan is more lukewarm than anything else. Part of the appeal of Manga is that it represents a different kind of worldview that's oftentimes very un-PC when compared to the kinds of themes that they're likely to explore. (Even though many of those themes oftentimes take place at school where Japanese people spend the majority of their lives at, which explains the constant reuse of that setting - they stick to what they know) That kind of risque could've been expanded into a literal metaphor with Marissa finding some kind of inherent heightened risk or danger from hanging around Ryoko in a sort of reverse bad-boy archetype, since he doesn't quite follow any of the usual rules that make up such rebels. But it never quite goes down that path. It's as if Barry Lyga thought up the concept overnight and then just stopped expanding any possible creative output that such a scenario could involve.

In addition, Ryoko's extreme reactions to the slightest things such as seeing an attractive girl or simply raising his hand in class sends the students around him in turmoil because they cause disruptions every time he does so. It's that kind of overreliance of extreme excitement that turn off people from enjoying Manga in the first place.

Where it gets problematic for me is when the story ventures into Grant Morrison territory, with the MangaMan testing the borders of the American comic conventions. That makes it just another comic breaking the fourth wall without fully expanding upon the consequences of doing so, and becomes a tipping point of stealing ideas from other people. If you're going to rip off obvious sources, you'd better be sure to take that concept all the way to the moon.

Another failing was a certain detail about the Federal agent in charge of looking after Ryoko. Although the Government guy claimed to be familiar with Manga, he still freaks out when Ryoko symbolically conveys the "Kaju" monsters. Anybody familiar with Manga would already be used to characters doing emotional representations happening in the background, and shouldn't be surprised by such common occurences. Maybe it'd be a little different seeing it in real life, but even so.

If anything, it could've been more about culture clashes, and trying to cope. One particular example is how every time Ryoko does any movement, no matter how mundane, he leaves trails of "speed lines" lying around, creating a mess. This could've been avoided by trying to rein in that mode of expression by studying old-school animated cartoons where anthropomorphic animals would display "thinking" or "yelling" lines that gradually fade away. If there's one thing Manga characters excel more at than Western comics, it's training. Another factor that could've been expanded on might've been how anybody can tell what anybody else is feeling with their subtle facial cues. Manga characters are basically an open book, compared to realistic faces, and Ryoko could've wondered how anybody could tell what anybody else was thinking, since there would be no telltale signs. While he could've just as easily resisted on the grounds that he wouldn't want to wind up looking like one of those narrowly-slitted serious rival guys, this kind of coping would have to be necessary in order to deal with his new world.

It was as if the writer saw the potential popularity of Manga and wanted to cash in on the broadest Manga tropes without fully exploring the wide range of topics available. It's like reading a sex manual from your grandparents. They may be experts in the field, but the way they describe the act feels old-fashioned and out of date. It's less than reading the Kuma Sutra, and more like cliff notes versions hastily scribbled down from Playboy. No matter how much care has been put into it, something about the material just feels 'off' somehow.

It leads one to wonder just what possible audience this work is intended for. It has realistically defined detailed people, which would appeal to connoisseurs of realistic art, but Ryoko's overreactions would sour them. The background details are lovingly rendered, but the Manga segments would be old hat to any major Otaku. The theme of love overcoming all obstacles is as universal as ever, but the overall theme would be too juvenile for older people. It tries to aim for both audiences, and winds up pleasing neither. It IS possible to create a work that'll appeal to both demographics, but sadly, MangaMan isn't it.

In general, I felt it was a story with squandred potential that could've been more imaginative than it allowed itself to be, and wound up poorer as a result.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Harrowing Train Experience

When most people talk about their bad experience with a public service transportation platform such as a train, the closest thing that normally comes to mind is playing chicken or staying too close to the tracks when one whizzes by. I'm normally reluctant to take the train, even though I took it practically every day on my way to High school. It's partially the design of the later trains that aren't quite up to my liking. It's also because the schedules are rather sporadic that it makes memorizing the schedules an awful chore. But mainly, it's buying tickets for what amounts to a 5-minute trip that really rattles on my nerves. Back then, I could reuse my bus tokens as proof for train passage, but now the system is divided up so that I need to purchase separate tickets for each, which hasn't quite helped my cheapness any.

The horror stories I've heard about people taking the train don't help either. There was the story of an interpreter who took the train during a nasty blizzard and wound up unable to attend her appointment right across the tracks because of an accident or something. She was practically five feet away from her destination, but couldn't move forward until the safety conditions were met. So she had to wait outside in the cold with a throng of other people for several hours until it was finally deemed safe enough to cross.

Then there was my sister who one day took a train going the wrong way, and wound up extremely distressed by the experience. This was back in the day before cell phones existed, and my sister was also deaf, but had no one to ask for help, and only had a rotary phone to call.

On the day in question, I was feeling tired, so I decided to take a shortcut by taking the train home. I left late during lunch one day, and noticed that the train went past by right ahead of me. I didn't think much of it at the time, but thought it would be a useful note for next time.

So that day, I went towards the train, hovering my passcard over the registration plate. I wasn't going to waste a perfectly good ticket until I was sure the doors opened. Once they did, I waved my card over the plate, then got inside. I rather liked the roomy design of the train and the comfortable seats, which I vastly preferred to the other make of the trains I normally took to go to work. Soon, I noticed that we were passing by some concrete highway bridges. I didn't think much of it at the time, since I figured that we were probably taking an alternate route, and this was nothing more than a minor detour through unfamiliar territory.

I probably should have been more worried.

My first inkling that things weren't quite right was when the board above the door started displaying the words "LASALLE" in bright orange neon. That's when I noticed that I was on the wrong track. I was on the yellow line, when I meant to take one going the opposite direction.

No problem, I figured. I'll just get off at the next stop. It was at that point that I took a closer look at the railroad map and saw that the next stop would be taking me across Montreal Island for quite a far distance into Sainte-Catherine.

I could've made things much simpler by pulling the emergency break, but didn't want to inconvenience everybody (even if there weren't that many people on the train), let alone risk being subject to a huge fine anywhere from $75-$500. My plight of being off-track didn't seem worth the risk when I could simply make up the mistake by getting off at a later stop and backtracking on another train.

It doesn't take me much to get lost. I still can't recall the street names around my block without a map on hand. I get LaSalle and Laval mixed up very easily. I have to rotate the map to figure out the street angles. I miss the You Are Here downtown maps that would have a blinking huge arrow pointing not just where you were, but also which direction you're facing. It was also the first time I ever got off the island on my own without preparation or planning. Not exactly the best indicator for repeat business.

Further complicating matters was that I wasn't sure if the ticket I just registered was valid for this train or not. Each section of Montreal has a specific amount of tickets that needs to be purchased in each region, and if the wrong ticket is used, the riders can be eligible for a fine. To make matters worse, I still had one ticket left on my card, so if I needed to buy a return pass, I'd need to buy an additional card, since multiple cross-regional tickets simply aren't available. (Though you can purchase bus passes and train tickets on the same card) I tried to relieve myself by paying attention to the rivets while crossing the bridge. I noticed what looked like either a cellphone tower or wireless receiver jutting out of the water. At least I wouldn't be approaching a total backwaters part of town.

When I finally got off at the next stop some ten minutes later, I waited with trepidation for the train to depart so I could easily make it across the tracks and simply wait on the other side for my return trip. Imagine my confusion when all that was left waiting for me was a parking lot and an empty stretch of road.

I don't normally put my life in a narrative, but if that scene were written at that moment, my confusion could've easily been translated into: "What the... where's the terminal?" When people find themselves in trouble, most writers simply verbalize their thoughts into a more coherent line of thinking so their innermost feelings can be easily identifiable. I've never followed that line of thinking, since it's too much of an easy shortcut in trying to clarify their thoughts when they were more likely to be thinking about basic survival commands.

My thought process isn't much of a verbal model, and is more about reacting to the situations around me. As I often like to say, "I don't think, I spontaneously respond". However, for the sake of simplification, my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of, "Well, there's simply got to be another train somewhere. I just need to find it."

Up until that moment, I hadn't quite noticed how sparse the area surrounding train terminals were. There wasn't much more than two parking lots on opposite sides, and an empty stretch of road peering off into the distance. The other stations I was more familiar with were close to housing complexes, or school buildings. I hadn't quite made the connections between the specific locations of the train stations.

I sent a text to my mother in the hopes that she would somehow manage to drive over and pick me up in this new location. When I didn't get a reply immediately, I realized that she was probably at the pool, and wouldn't be back for about an hour.

I walked past the parking lot, where there was some construction of what looked like the finishing touches for a hotel. However, there didn't seem to be any workers nearby, and it didn't look like the hotel was occupied, so I kept moving past to a kindgergarten school. When I got closer, it looked locked up, then I realized that by all accounts, it was probably closed for the summer. Fortunately, by knocking on the inside window, I was eventually able to attract the attention of a teacher, and asked if she knew any information on where the Line 1 train platform was, since I accidentally got on the wrong train and would like to go back the way I came from.

The teacher seemed confused by my request, but once assured that I meant no harm, she informed me that the next train wouldn't come for about four hours. This was nothing new to me - I'd already taken a look at the schedule, but that was for the train along the normal route. However, the train going the direction I wanted to take was coming sometime in 45 minutes, so I figured I still had plenty of time. It was just a matter of following instructions.

Trouble was, I had an extremely difficult time remembering, understanding or retaining those very instructions. I was told that after leaving the school, I should keep going down the same street I was on, then take a left, then a right. But I couldn't quite make out the names she'd given me. To make matters more confounding, the street ahead of me sloped towards the right, so I just took a turn at the first block, then turned right. When I didn't see any tracks ahead of me, I started to get concerned. I asked a passing man on a bicycle if he had any idea where the train tracks were, but he hesitantly told me that he didn't speak French. What little English he did tell me was that I was going in the wrong direction, and that I needed to go back the way I came from. So I followed him back to where there was a bus stop, but no timetable, and no better idea of where I should go next. I made my way back to the Line 2 train tracks again, hoping against hope that maybe somehow, there would be another terminal hiding just out of sight. I looked into the horizon both ways. Nothing could be seen, save for a tiny dot where the railroads crossed. In the other direction, the tracks disappeared around a corner into the vast foliage. There was a tiny patch of yellow, but that could've very well been a sign, so I didn't pursue.

Denial is an amazingly persistent thing. Even under the worst circumstances, you can convince yourself that you're doing the right thing and that things will all turn out okay, despite evidence to the contrary.

Falling into desperation, I went back to the school again to ask for more instructions. By chance, I happened upon somebody in a car talking on a cellphone. I thought I came just in time to see the schoolteacher about to leave. It wasn't - it was somebody else, but I asked for directions. this time, I asked for written instructions, since I had trouble hearing. After rummaging around the car, a piece of scrap paper was eventually found, and a marker was used. I offered my book as a slab for writing upon. I now had the correct street names that eluded me. This time I would be able to figure out where I needed to go next. I started off, thanking my savior for assistance, and started walking for about a minute, when that very same person drove up alongside me and offered me a lift. I willingly obliged, thanking for their help, since it would be much easier being shown the way via somebody else.

It wasn't until I got in that I'd realized just how vastly I'd underestimated my destination. I thought the train tracks were just a few blocks away from my current location. So imagine my surprise when we were zipping along several housing complexes at a rapid pace. (Under the speed limit, just to reassure any potential criminal authorities who might be reading this)  I thought it was written 20 meters on the piece of scrap paper, when it seemed closer to 20 MILES. No wonder everybody seemed reluctant about my getting there on time. There would be no possible way I could make it on foot alone. It was a good thing I got a helpful lift from this good samaritian. It's probably the closest I've ever come to hitchhiking across unfamiliar territority.

Along the way, I kept track of the food places we were passing by just in case we wound up arriving too late. All I'd eaten that day so far was an old slice of leftover pizza for lunch. Oh, and some warm cooler water. The entire contents of my backpack only contained some remaining sprinkles from a plastic box of chocolates. Hardly enough energy to keep me going.

When we turned the corner of the relevant street, it was just as long as the stretch of road I'd just ridden past. I checked my watch, and we were maybe five, ten minutes away before the train was supposed to come. I had no idea of just how far away my salvation spot was, or if I would make it on time.

I might as well alleviate the suspense by telling that we managed to make it to the Line 1 platform, and there were people waiting for the train to come, and it didn't look like they'd been waiting four hours. I thanked my driver for going to the trouble to make a detour to drop me off here. As thanks, I pointed out a minor detail about my driver's steering wheel with Tinkerbell on the side. For some reason, the fairy was upside-down on the passenger side, when she was perfectly right side up on the driver's side. As further thanks, I tore out a small piece of paper containing my blog address that I'd been carrying in my pocket. I usually only reserve that for dropping it in backpacks of people interested in Manga/comics or meeting interesting people. That's my form of viral marketing.

Even though I saw the light of the train coming up and checked the timetables, I didn't begin to relax until the steel doors opened and let me inside. Once I sat down on the seat cushions, I then sent a text to my parents and social worker to let them know I was okay. If I managed to make it back to my launching site, I'd be back on proper registration lines and my ticket would still be valid. (It was good up for 2 hours) Then shortly after I sent the text, the train suddenly stopped. I started to get concerned - did I let my guard down too soon? Had I inavertably gotten on the wrong train after all? Was somebody else found with a false ticket?? Were we going in the opposite direction??? I peered out the window to get a better sense of my surroundings, and saw a familiar looking parking lot, a building construction and a schoolyard. I couldn't believe it - it'd stopped right back at the very stop where I'd gotten off! I went traisping around all over Sainte-Catherine for nothing! ...Of course, it's also possible that it was just making a brief stop there without opening the doors. I didn't bother to actually check. Either way, I'm not sure I could handle the actual answer.

On the plus side, I now know where LaSalle is.

As stressful as my experience was, it was nowhere close to the traumatic event that happened to my sister. She was lost during the winter in minus 20 degree weather without shelter. Mine was during the summer with very little shade. My sister only had 50 cents in quarters to use the phone. I had plenty of cash if I needed to buy something. She was practically crying because she had no idea if anybody was on the other end listening to her. I had to contend with not knowing if my texts were coming through. The one advantage my sister had over me was that she knew French, and I didn't. It was only by the sheerest fluke of luck that I managed to talk to people who understood me, otherwise my ordeal would've taken much longer.

The only reason I kept my cool allthroughout was because I'd already heard her story and used it as a base for a cautionary tale. Hopefully, others will get something out of mine.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lack of Energy

I've been feeling tired lately the past two weeks. I'm not quite know why. I wake up, do a few routine chores around the house and at work, come home and take a five hour nap, get up, do some internet browsing just long enough for another six-hour stint back in bed. Normally I can get along just fine with the alloted amount of six hours of sleep a day, since anything that lasts longer than that winds up making me feel sluggish when I get up.

This is a different kind of lack of energy compared to how generally lazy I am. I'll do pretty much anything to avoid expending more energy than I need to. If there's multiple bags of groceries to bring in from the car, I'll prefer to carry all of them at once, even if it makes opening the door that much more difficult. Better to get it all over with in one shot than prolong the experience of going in and out multiple times in a row. Until I saw a comic for this phenomenon, I had no idea that it even had a name.

In a similar vein, I don't like going up or downstairs without an intended goal with a secondary mission in the back of my mind. If I'm going to the basement for a drink, I might as well bring up some noodles for supper, or if I'm going to put something in recycling, don't forget to bring back another plastic bag. This has led to prolonged leaves of hesitation since I'm never entirely sure if I'm forgetting to bring along something that could wind up being useful later, as opposed to wasting time by going back and making a repeat trip. Only problem is, oftentimes, I'll forget what the main activity I was supposed to do, because I was so focused on one element that I oftentimes wind up forgetting the other, and wind up wasting time anyways.

The dark side of doing something along the way is that it occupies my mind like a future homework assignment that I haven't started yet and it becomes all I can think of. I simply can't relax until I've taken care of the little job I'm supposed to do, and it'll weigh heavily on my mind until the time comes that I'm supposed to take care of it. If the date of the garbage pickup changes, I won't be able to concentrate on anything else all week, because that minor task of taking the trash trash can out to the curb will be tickling the back of my mind until it's taken care of.

Likewise, I hate doing certain time-consuming activities such as wearing socks because I find putting them on such a labourous procedure. I'm rather ultra-sensitive when it comes to touch, and can tell the difference between whether the pair I'm wearing is the left or right one, since they've been shaped by my foot, and feel unnatural when I put them on the wrong foot. If I put a sock on the wrong foot, I have to take it off, since no amount of wriggling will make it feel natural unless it's put on the right foot. As a result, I find it simply easier to go around without wearing the darned things and only wear them when absolutely necessary. This is much easier during summer when it's not as cold.

On the reciprocal version of activity, I'm very energetic in doing things that interest and appeal to me than engaging in activities that are better suited to other people. In other words, if I don't find it fun, I find pretty much any excuse to get out of doing it, until the deadline becomes impossible to ignore and I have to complete the task out of necessity alone.

There's probably a reason why Ultra-Orthodox Jews go to so much trouble into preparing themselves before the Sabbath. Since it's supposed to be a "day of rest", this is taken to logical extremes. As per their rules, they're not allowed to exert any energy into doing something as menial as flicking on a light switch. So before Sunday, they have to make sure that all the lights are on the day before. Elevators in buildings are automatically programmed to stop at every floor, which can be hell if people are planning to move their furniture that day. If there's any serious activity that needs doing, a non-religious neighbor should be handy to do simple chores, such as pushing microwave buttons or turning on the ignition of the car.

I would never be able to adhere to all that restriction on electricity, because it sounds too exhausting. That, and I'd never be able to survive without engaging in some personal work of some kind. I'm an unnatural man who disagrees with nature, and need the hum of electricity to feel energetic, stay active and alive.

I'd post some more details, but I'm feeling kinda tired right now.