Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Harsh Mistress

The moon, that luminous orb hanging in the sky is a national object of mystery.  Stories and Legends have revolved around it.  It's also been blamed for everything from rising tides to solar eclipses to Lycanthropy to dramatic nighttime lighting.

Just recently, there's been a study done that's shown that the effects of the full moon has no effect on making people act like lunatics.  That's just a convenient excuse gleamed from the paradoxical nature of having a source of illumination during nighttime.  (Not that people don't act irrationally on a day-to-day basis anyways)  Of course, this non-controversial study could've been simply carried out if the researchers had bothered to check a certain Wizard of Id comic belaying this very subject.

Naturally, the whole purpose of science, other than to constantly disappoint fable tellers of the harsh reality of the world is to constantly test out hypothesis, just to make sure that they're true.  After all, there's no guarantee that the same thing'll keep happening all the time.  Maybe one day, the laws of physics would simply look the other way, causing pigs to fly, leading us to rethink the whole philosophy of how the universe works.  As if things weren't confusing enough already. There's research to show that with the proper heat, humidity and pressure conditions, a snowball could actually survive in Hell.  (Not that there wouldn't be patches of Hell that were intentionally cold anyways...)

Even though the moon's light is really nothing more than the sun's reflection, this hasn't stopped people from creating stories based on the moon's glow.  When you're confronted by an unreachable object you can't possibly influence in any way, you seek out ways to explain the unexplainable.  These fables are usually more interesting than the cold reality.  Particularly when the sun is actually larger than either the Earth or Moon, even though it looks the same from the surface.  To put it in illustrative terms, imagine the Earth as a green rubber ball, the Moon as a golf ball, and the sun as the world's largest red and yellow striped beach ball.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Gift from Orbit

It occurs to me that I haven't exactly done much promotion of some of the comics projects that I've been espousing lately.  Truth be told, I'd been holding back on these comics simply because I wanted to keep them on my backburner backlog whenever I didn't have enough other stuff to update my blog with.  These little updates seemed a little too easy, and thus, didn't warrant as much attention as some of the other stuff I paid attention to, which can change on the spur of the moment.

However, despite the allure of easy available material, the real hurdle in these so-called "leisure posts" is trying to find something amusing or relevant to every single comic and in between.  The quality of the contents of my writing can be gauged by just how much effort I spend blindly writing for something sight unseen without any added visuals, since the accompanying comic may make my point more succinctly and more emphatically than any rambling stream of consciousness.  In these instances, a picture literally speaks a thousand words.

It also doesn't help that my attention span is divided between multiple projects, both personal and external, each vying for a specific amount of time that, depending on my apprehension or mood, stand little chance of getting finished, unless they're extremely urgent.  Reading dozens of Cracked articles has ruined any attempt to create meaningful analysis that isn't ultimately reduced to four-sentence sound bites.

So as an apology of sorts, here's a continuation of the mini-fan following; the Orbit Project.  These Sunday comics continue off from where we last left off, with the shoeshine alien boy being lost in the vast realms of space after meeting Dr. Valvelock and his untrusty dog Tyrone.  The following comics finish off the remainder of 1985.  Expect to see some more of 1986 next year; though despite the Orbit Project's enthusiasm, there doesn't seem to be any archived samples of 1987.

With the restructuring of blogspot.com, images can now appear larger than usual, without the need to click on the picture to read the comic.  Of course, this only applies to the last month or so.  Any comics uploaded via the old system remain in thumbnail form.  I've considered updating my past posts to take advantage of this new feature, but it's too intimidating and time-wasting to contemplate doing.

It may still be November, but that still hasn't stopped stores from already advertising Christmas decorations. So by that same logic, seeing Santa a little early to deliver an inspirational message shouldn't seem too out of place here, one month ahead of schedule.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Male Duck Lips

Recently, there's been an outcry against girls who pucker up their lips in various photos in the mistaken impression that it makes them look more attractive.
                                                                    Artistic license.

It's been pointed out that these pouty expressions are simply exaggerated versions of pin-up girls making kissy faces at the camera.  A side-by-side comparison shows that the original models who were simply exaggerated in order to appeal to their demographic audience.  No guesses for who that was.
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However, despite some people's distaste for making women appealable for the unfairer sex,
there are three cartoonists who've been able to successfully implement this style into their artwork using men instead of ladies with Duck Lips.

1. Kevin Maguire

For any fan of humourous S-hero comics that relied more on character interactions rather than cosmetic high-stakes fights, Kevin Maguire's extreme facial expressions were hard to beat.  Even he gives equal billing to both sexes doesn't take away the power of his visuals.

2. Keisuke Itegaki

When the male fighters are not opening their mouths in shock at their opponent's resistance or ferocity, they're pursing their lips in an almost insulting manner to throw them off.  Considering the high amount of male machismo, you've got a recipe for potential homorotic slash between any fighting partners, which could be part of the series's appeal.

3. Carl Barks
                         No further comment.

Yes, I know the above image isn't exactly from one of his comics and more from an animated cartoon, but it was the first thing I thought of when I first heard of the term.  The whole point of this silly post was to lead up to this obvious punchline.  There are times when my mind goes into realms that other people would rather not venture to, and I don't bother listening and plough on ahead so I can share the pain with the rest of the world.
Whether pursing their lips is something that men want to engage themselves into is still undetermined, since they hate being excluded from anything that women are privy to, save for menstruation and giving birth.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Low-Level Antique Thieves

My mother had a woman's bicycle that she proudly used without fear of getting stolen, because it had a low-hanging bar and a baby seat on the back.  She'd had it for many years, leaving it unchained, confident that no one in their right mind would want to be seen riding such a monstrosity.  Last year, it was stolen right outside my parent's garage door.

My neighbors had an old-school lawn mower - the kind with a flywheel and no a motor.  Using this kind of basic invention is a sadistic ritual, since you need to use it multiple times over the same field in order to cut any grass.  This machine falls way behind more recent designs in terms of efficiency, and wouldn't be considered worth stealing.  It was stolen from their yard last week.

These kind of low-level crimes leads me to wonder what kind of thieves could possibly benefit from these C-level antiques?  They're not valuable enough to be resold at high prices, nor are their parts rare enough for replacing certain worn-out parts.  Other than nostalgic Luddite fanatics or Wizard detectives who are loath to use any complicated machinery containing dreaded microchips that would interfere with their finer sensibilities, I'm at a loss to explain these petty thefts.  The only other benefit stealing such old objects would be to sell their metal for scrap, but you'd have to steal dozens of the old things in order to make a profit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

War Hearse

Last year, Spielberg's latest movie war movie, War Horse was released to the acclaim of audiences and disdain of critics everywhere.  Since it was about the last time that horses were allowed to be used during a war, I thought it might've been influenced by Charley's War, since it too had several scenes involving horses.  Considering it influenced two mocking reviews of the movie, it's safe to say that the results were somewhat of a mixed bag.

Actually, War Horse was based on a young adult's novel by Michael Morpurgo.  Still, it's probably a good thing that it wasn't based on the British comic.  If it actually had been inspired by Charley's War and people didn't like it, it might've turned the public away from the legendary WWI comic.  This is better known as the Howard the Duck effect.  For fortunate individuals who've never seen this legendary British war comic, I'm offering a limited offer to download the entirety of the first major arc, The Somme for today only.  (This will expire at 11 A.M. the next day)  These are high-res photocopies that are missing certain details that weren't present in the torrent downloads, including some missing pages.  The cursive letters to Aunt Mabel were difficult enough to read at a reduced size.  If you want to read more, you have two choices - either buy the books from Titan Books (with added annotations) or wait until next year.  (Assuming any of us are still around after the Mayan calendar ends)

As with most classic comics, the early chapters are rather verbose, but it gets easier reading later on once the writer gets the general pacing of the story down pat.  Fittingly enough, the very first act of Charley's War opens up with a scene involving a horse.  Charley isn't much in the smarts department, but he's a general good-hearted bloke.  So when he hears from his "friends" that the war department is looking for prospective horses, he figures that the retired stagecoach horse is suitable enough for the job.

Once he finds out the truth, he decides to pay reprisal on the pals he once trusted.  Seeing nowhere else to go, he decides to enlist by lying about his age.  Even though he lists his age as 18, but lists his date birth as 1900, the army is willing to let the oversight by, since they're in desperate need of men to provide as cannon fodder.

Along the way to the trenches, an Ambulance horse is spooked by the blasts of mortar shells and dragging the wounded into a mudhole.  The horse's about to be shot for behaving like a wild beast when Charlie gets the idea to calm said horse by covering his eyes with Aunt Mabel's scarf.  He later writes in his letter that her scarf came in handy.

Later having survived the horrors of trench warfare, shelling, sniping, rats and other hazards, Charley gets the opportunity to see the impressive sight of a Cavalry flank swooping down on their German enemies.  Like the soldiers, the horses had gas masks custom fit to protect them from poisonous gas.

Around this time, Charley was beginning to lament using horses during war, since they seemed out of place in a battlefield that was beginning to use tanks and machine guns in place of swords and bayonets.

After some drama involving some German soldiers with a vendetta, Warrior gets some shrapnel in his leg, and Charley is just about to shoot the beloved horse...

...when it suddenly makes a miraculous recovery.  This being a children's war comic, there were certain boundaries that couldn't be crossed.  While Warrior was lucky enough to escape unscathed, that didn't stop the mercy killings of other unlucky horses spread out among the battlefield.  Despite these limitations, even toned down, the amount of pathos and brutality present in WWI still manages to shine through.

Charley wouldn't see Warrior again until Ypres when after another minor moment of distress, the white horse rears up on his hind legs to the distaste of Captain Snell, a superior commander whose casual snobbish manner of treating the war as a minor inconvenience made him more of a threat than the enemy they were fighting against.  He was part of an elitist upper class who truly believed that the war would all "blow over by Christmas", even as he played Cricket on the battlefield and used live soldiers as flesh shields during gunfire.  In short, he's the representation of every entitled officer who believes they knows what's best for the men despite all evidence to the contrary.

Captain Snell is about to shoot the beast for insubordination until Charley manages to calm Warrior again by removing the offending barbed wire.  Only after the "nag" calms down does Captain Snell decide that the animal is suitable enough for his own personal property.  Around this time, the war effort had gotten bad enough that Charley decided to make things slightly less hazardous for him by reluctantly agreeing to be Captain Snell's personal steward.  When you've got to swallow your own pride and be in service to someone you hate in order to survive, that's never a good sign.

After several weeks under Captain Snell's command, the last straw comes when Charley finds out about orders to paint the once-proud white horse brown, because he didn't comply with army regulations.  Charley decides to use this opportunity to get some payback for Captain Snell's obsequiousness by "accidentally" painting his saddle as well.

Once Captain Snell realizes that his khakis are stained and he's been made a fool of, he pays in retribution by taking his anger out on Charley's hide.

For all the punishment he's taking, Charley can't strike back, because according to the rules, striking at a superior officer is grounds for execution.  Even so, he's not the kind of guy who's just going to stand there and take it, and is willing to risk death in order to stop Snell's constant sneering.  Just as he's lingering between hesitation and action, another Lieutenant happens upon the scene, and admits that Captain Snell can whip Charley all he likes, since he knows he can't fight back... but HE can.  And proceeds to knock Snell's lights out.  Before the two officers can even write each other off for their behavior, the shelling starts again, lighting the stables on fire, causing the horses to panic, and are only saved by diverting them into the shellholes.

The next morning, Charley hopes to see Warrior at the horse's hospital, but receives unwelcome news that the horse's been stolen.

Despite his friend's proclamation that he'll never see his beloved horse again, Charlie does manage to find Warrior again against all odds, but that wouldn't happen until near the end of the war in the Falklands.  When Charley recognizes Warrior still wearing the trademark brown paint decked out on him, Warrior's now been reduced to a carriage horse instead of a proud cavalry horse.  Quite an ironic fall of status considering how this whole horse affair got started.

During their assault on advancing tanks, Warrior gets caught in the blast, and Charley finally resigns himself to shooting the horse that he'd been unable to do so so many years ago.  By then, Charley had already long since graduated to the cruelties of combat.  At least Warrior is spared any further suffering.  Charley's still got to see this thing through to the end.

Charley's War may be melodramatic at times, but it never feels less than authentic.  In fact, the ONLY unrealistic thing about Charley's War is the amount of creative swearing in place of ACTUAL swearing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mouth Mouthpieces

Growing up deaf, I had to learn how to lipread pretty early in order to understand people.  Actually, it's a common misconception among hearing people that children need to learn how to speak first, before learning how to read.  This is completely backwards when it comes to newborn children who can't hear.  I learned how to process language by learning how to read, THEN by converting those lines on paper into sound.  (Deciphering pictures from comics and being read to multiple times certainly helped too)  Just as I find it perplexing that there are people out there who have trouble reading lips, I find it amazing that people are able to understand what's being said without help.  Even so, it took me several years to be able to learn how to talk correctly.  Until I was able to master the aspects of tempo, timing and pacing, people had trouble understanding me.  I've been told that I have something of a Deaf accent, which is imperceptible to my imperfect pitch.

Although the general consensus is to teach deaf children sign language, I never gradually warmed up to the finger dexterity, though I still do retain the basic alphabet and numbers.  Anything more complicated that can't be clearly communicated via visual equivalences is beyond me.

I had a next door neighbor who was the school commissioner who I sold some fundraising chocolate bars to.  When he finally got the chance to talk to me at a social gathering, he reintroduced himself as someone on our block and tried to jog my memory.  However, I had absolutely no idea of what he was saying, even though he repeated his sentence five or six times.  It was only when my mother intervened and said, "You sold him chocolate" that I understood.  Until that point, he hadn't quite realized the gravity of the uphill struggle I lived with on a day-to-day basis.  To be fair, there were several factors against him - he was taller than me, he had an accent, and I'd never talked to him before.  From that point on, he was a viable help in getting me an interpreter through High School.

Most Autistics look away from the eyes as a way to avoid being overwhelmed by the visual stimuli those ovular orbs provide.  There's simply too much information conveyed in there, as well as the eyes constantly moving about.  I managed to slip through the cracks of that social barrier by simply focusing on the lips instead.  They're a more consistent source of information relevant to what they're talking about, and people can hardly tell the difference of where I'm looking at anyways.  (Go ahead, try it out.  See if anybody notices)  Even so, it takes me awhile to get used to a new person's mode of speech, since every person is different, and they have their own discrepancies of how they talk.  One of the most annoying tricks is when someone smiles all the time as a way to hide their nervousness.  That might work with reassuring total strangers, but it plays havoc for someone who relies on reading lips.  If all you see are teeth, it's harder to tell what sound is being made.
Just look at that reassuring smile.

Despite my ability to read lips, it's all useless if I can't get any sense of what's going on.  It doesn't help that a lot of words look exactly the same on the lips.  A 'B' looks just like a 'P', and you can only tell the difference between a "Pager" and a "Beggar" by the surrounding objects nearby.   Without any noise, they look the same, but hearing the little sounds count as subtle hints to help fill in the blank.  It's exhausting to constantly double-check every spoken word without any reference.  While the cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened up with a closeup of singing lips, I had absolutely no way of making out the nonsensical lyrics without help.  (Names and locations are especially hard, even in given context) Even after I finally saw a subtitled version years later, it still lacked the added benefit from the improv audience participation.
The first letter on these lips is an "F".
Go ahead and guess how it ends.

That being said, there's a surprisingly numerous mascots for various commercials that were nothing but a disembodied mouth.  Not exactly in the same disturbing realm of a cheshire Cat smile, but weird nonetheless.     When your entire life revolves around making sense from reading lips, you begin to notice these kinds of things.  One such short-lived example was the Tang mascots with arms and legs.  These guys could be considered perfectly normal, save for having mouths bigger than their bodies.

Even so, despite their openness, I could never actually understand anything that these mouths were saying.  In particular, the Twizzlers ads weren't made any easier with the mouth suddenly transforming into another object during mid-sentence.  There's a surprisingly amount of time given in the American animation industry to make lip-syncing consistent even as overseas animators rely more on repeat open mouth formations for easy multi-media purposes.  Most popular dubbed Animes rely on this, which leads me to wonder why, if script re-writers have such a hard time finding choice sentences in a limited time frame, but aren't averse to editing a "controversial" scene, why don't they just reuse a simple frame of the character talking to make it easier for them?

Ironically enough, there are no toothpaste mascots I can think of that are represented by the mouth.  They're all either anthropomorphic teeth or toothpaste tubes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Radical Middle

In politics, parties are generally divided between the left and the right, better known as the Liberals and the Conservatives.  In the past, the Conservatives were more progressive in bringing about change, such as ending slavery, but recently, their roles have flipped with the Liberals appealing to minorities while Conservatives have gotten their financing from corporations.  The ironic thing is, they have more in common with each other than they think, and oftentimes, they'll oppose new laws and bills only because they didn't think of it first.

In Canada, our political system is slightly more different.  We've got at least FIVE different parties each vying for attention, though it's more likely to be divided into three main philosophies and differing agendas that keeps changing with the times.  After being under the Liberals for almost a decade, it's been somewhat of a shock to be back under a Conservative government, even as we're loath to admit that Stephen Harper is damned efficient at keeping his party under control.  The Liberals have been floundering ever since Jean Chretien left, leaving a subsequent line of weak successors, each replacement lamer than the last.  Only the NDP with their resounding surprise success have managed to rival the Conservatives in number.

Where most political parties start to fall apart is when they start being ultra-devoted to the themes of their party line without considering the implications of such harsh outlines.  Ultimately, party members being in the political game inevitably start leaning towards one side or the other.  Considering that political party lines keep changing goalposts depending on the values of the ages, it should come as no surprise that there's new demand for a new political party - The Radical Middle.

When your platform suddenly finds itself upon shaky ground, you're liable to be at the ire of people wanting a more progressive mindset or upsetting faithful voters at changing your mind.  One day it's perfectly acceptable to beat your child within an inch of your life.  The next day, you can't even risk slightly spanking your rebellious kid without being under the scrutiny of child protection groups.  Sooner or later, we're going to be finding one or both of these concepts reprehensible and outmoded someday.  Why beat around the bush?

Their entire platform is based on the illusion of change, where all progress is reduced into a perpetual treadmill.  New bells and whistles are added every year or so, but ultimately, we're still moving forward while running in place.  So, take a stand right in the middle!  It's where everybody winds up sooner or later.  If you really want to.  No pressure there.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Not Much to Say

Recently for the past six months or so, I've been Skyping with a fellow Scanlator whose works I'd been helping proofread before they were released into the small European scanlation community.  We'd been corresponding via email for several months before then, and I'd just gotten a camera for my birthday, which would make things easier for the both of us.  Ironically enough, the camera was originally bought so I could communicate with my sister, but I've used it more for my scanlator than my rival sibling.

At first, our sessions started out cautiously, with having to request certain words repeated again to get the full meaning of what was being said.  It takes me awhile to get used to a new person's mode of speech, which isn't made any easier with the herky-jerkiness of the frame rate of overseas distance.  Fortunately, there was an ever-helpful writing tab just beneath the video capture, which allowed for easier communication between the two of us.  (Which was just as well, since my partner had a continuously dry throat that constantly needed refreshing via a close bottle of tea)  Before we knew it, we'd been talking for just over an hour.  That's the longest time I've ever had to talk to someone who shared similar interests with via the phone without outside help.

We made an appointment to talk to each other every week, and the results of our keyboard conversations were copied and pasted into dated notebook files for posterity, even though they missed most of the in-between dialogue that were the inspiration for the majority of the written word.

Then one day, I just didn't feel like talking to my scanlator.  I'd grown kind of tired of the routine and wanted to take a break in order to pursue other interests.  (i.e. playing Video games)  Fortunately, my scanlator was feeling a little off that week too, and needed some time off.  I admitted later via email that I didn't exactly feel like talking that day.  I was then admonished for not being entirely honest, and that I shouldn't be afraid to speak out on being unwilling or unable to talk if I didn't feel like to.  I was praised for being one of the few entirely honest people ever met online, and that I shouldn't put up any false fronts just to avoid any hurt feelings.

Feeling bolstered with this out, I managed to talk at our next scheduled appointment, secure with the knowledge that I could break our talks anytime I wanted if I didn't feel like doing so.  Then two months ago, for a full month, there was no Skype dialogue between us.  While I was relieved with the prospect that I didn't have to talk when I didn't want to, I was concerned that something happened.  Later it turned out that my scanlator had been busy with work-related stuff, and couldn't make the time to talk to me.  It was suggested that we change the day of our weekly meetings to a more suitable time where the scanlator wouldn't have to worry about getting up early for work the next morning.  I agreed to the slight shakeup if only because it meant that it could bolster our dialogue somewhat.

Thing was, we'd been running out of things to say to each other that we hadn't already covered via email.  Our projects were already beginning to run dry and the efforts on my part were ridiculously backlogged.  (I still haven't started the second half of the Red Ketchup or Chninkel projects, let alone scanlating various French comics I wanted to give attention to, because Paintshopping the dialogue with the proper font is exhausting)  We were already consumed with reading certain books and watching TV shows that we'd recommended to each other.  After a certain point, it became harder and harder to find anything to talk about.  The events of the previous week weren't much cannon fodder, since neither of us expressed much interest in rehashing our frustrations and conveying it to the other.  Our conversations basically dried up to staring at each other, daring the face on the other side of the screen to say something, ANYTHING to break the tension.  Any dialogues that eventually came up were centered around the contents of our desks, how much dust our keyboards were accumulating, and the number of pens we weren't using.  No wonder most cartoonists' works stagnate after several years - constantly working in the same environment can lead to an atrophying mind unless you're involved in mandatory overseas vacations.

Just a few weeks ago, my scanlator admitted that the laptop had a freak accident when some tea got spilt on it.  It had to be rushed for repairs, which meant no further Skype conversations.  Not that it changed things much, since we still hadn't thought of anything else to talk about.  If we ever did meet in person, we would be utterly deprived of anything to talk about, despite all the things we have in common.  We need a third party in order to prompt us into potential dialogue themes in order to get the ball rolling.

For a rather universal theme, it's surprising that there isn't a TVtropes page for this kind of thing.  Maybe there is, and I haven't used the right search terms.