Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Knockout From Orbit

I'd like to say that my lack of blog updates is due to personal events infringing upon my life, and that would be partially true, but not as life-threatening as it actually sounds.  Lately, I've been preoccupied with replaying the Zelda Skyward Sword game and sneaking snippets of playtime in between my available free time.  I'm currently playing it on Hero mode, which, as any Zelda affectionado can tell you, is quite the challenge.  Fortunately, just before I gave it back to my sister, I managed to save up a whole bunch of craftable items
Playing the game all over again is at times slightly easier, and slightly harder.  I now know what I need to do, but I have to avoid getting hit three times.  Fortunately, the enemies and puzzles are left defeated and solved, otherwise the whole experience would stink of Nintendo Hard territory.

Also, at times when I have a planned blog topic, but don't have the relevant scans ready, I find it necessary to delve back into my archives to find an alternative placeholder until I have my presentation ready.  Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but I'm something of an Obsessive-Compulsive personality when it comes to unfinished projects.  I simply find it extremely difficult to concentrate on anything else until I get whatever Sword of Damocles is hanging over my head.  On the one hand, this keeps me from thinking about other stuff because I'm so upset over not having the relevant materials around.  On the other hand, this intense focus helps me keep focused on getting the job done, otherwise, I'd never get my projects off the ground in the first place.

So as a means of apology, it's time to make a mini-contribution to the now sadly-defunct Orbit Project.  (Probably should've saved the available comics while they were still available)

This particular trilogy of strips starts off on a rather innocuous meeting with a rather benign alien.  Of course the old adage "Don't talk to strangers" isn't constantly repeated ad nauseum by overly concerned parents for a reason.  Pay no attention to the scribbles near the bottom.  They're early attempts to decipher the code toe the riddle, which any well-reasoned adult with child logic should be able to solve.
Presumably, there were all kinds of in-between events that took place between the Dailies and the Sunday comics, which should be evident with Tyrone's reasonable panic over Orbit's sudden disappearance.  Pay attention to a certain familiar-looking device in the background...

In the end, Tyrone makes an unlikely rescue using Orbit's Christmas Hoverbike.  At times like these, I'm left wracking my brain at how this series of events could've played itself out in between the intervals of the last comic and this one, all leading up to a rather silly pun.  Any contributors out there care to take a guess, or better yet, find the original Orbit comics to help fill in the gap?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

License Request: Bichon

Usually when I make these License Request columns, they're for old personal comics that I'd love to see officially translated over here, even though there's little chance of them ever being so.  But this time I'd like to recommend a fairly recent comic that's more for a potential audience than anything else.

Like most young boys, Bichon is compassionate and overly sensitive.  However, there's a certain trait that sets him apart from the others:

He likes the pink swirly stuff.  Okay, so he's at that young impressible age before gender differences are clearly lined out and defined.  Surely he doesn't know any better, right?

Nope.  He clearly has gay tendencies, which is reinforced with decorations of Rapunzel, Stitch, Totoro and Maya the Bee in his room.  In a way, it takes a certain kind of fearlessness to be able to display that kind of emotion openly.  Even though he hasn't quite opened up to his sexuality, it's clearly evident which side of the fence he's leaning towards.

Bichon is a quasi-biographical account of David Gilson's childhood through a filtered lens, and what the author hopes will appeal to a larger demographic.  A recent issue had an imaginary scenario of Bichon as an openly Gay president advocating for Gay marriage.  His namesake is obviously based after the Bichon Frise, the overly pretty dog.  The unfortunately named Poo Poo from Pooch Café of the very species is constantly put down on for displaying effeminate qualities, even though he's male.  There are some who embrace their identity, and others who reject the stereotypical labels foisted upon them.

I'm not gay, but I can understand the appeal of wanting to like things that are deemed too "girly" for their usual taste.  I'll admit that in The Wizard of Oz, I greatly admired the Lullaby League for their gracefulness and melody while the Lollypop Guild seemed overly tough in comparison.  The girls' stuff seemed more appealing compared to the rough and tumble physical stuff I was supposed to be accustomed to.  To someone who wasn't fully versed in the formula of action shows, this divide between sweetness and brutality frightened me.  There was simply no middle ground.

Being exposed to the other sex's POV can make it easier to make the transition to the other side.  In fact, Barbie and Polly Pocket commercials were advertised fairly regularly in conjunction with the boy toys, which kept the gender balance somewhat equal, and prevented the viewership from being a total sausagefest.  The only time I ever saw a boy in a girl commercial was in Keypers where he seemed interested in getting a chance to snoop into his sister's diaries, or whatever secrets they were hiding in those plastic snails.

It's widely acceptable for girls to start liking action movies, masculine sports and S-heroes, but it's still an uphill struggle for the reciprocal of getting the brasher sex to admit a fondness for demure media.  So venturing out into this largely unexplored (if slowly expanding) field is somewhat brave.
Changing values isn't always easy, but it wasn't that long ago (last century to be specific) that pink was for boys, and it was considered manly to cry, a trait that's faithfully followed in a large number of "tough guys" Manga.  Things have started changing already with the Bronies obviously in awe of Unicorn Power.

While homosexuality has improved in the last few decades from mental disease to primetime comedy, studies have shown that Gay men are still bullied more than lesbians.  The truly ironic part of all this is that this stigmata of not fitting in has actually led to gay teens causing more pregnancies than their straight friends.
Puts the whole sin of not procreating in a whole different light, doesn't it?

Pretty much everybody needs somebody who appeals to their demographic.  There are specially designed Barbies in African countries that aren't dependent on the typical pale model figure.  I know that I greatly identified with child protagonists.  The boy from Flight of the Navigator looked EXACTLY like me, right down to the stripped T-shirt I wore.  Lately, there's been a rise in protagonists with Asperger's Syndrome, and I always seek out these books and movies to see just how much I relate to these portrayals, and whether the authors get certain subtleties down pat or if the reception leaves me cold.  Calvin in particular was a great influential reading buddy while growing up.  I find it surprising that there's so much resistance to show identities that are not considered "mainstream".  I was able to identify with someone who looked like me, so why couldn't other minority characters fill in a niche void that obviously needs filling?

There's Fantagraphic's Wandering Son, but that deals more with transgenderism, and I find the issues and a little slow to my taste.  Archie's made inroads with Kevin Keller, the openly Gay teenager, but why stop there?  Personally, I look forward to the day when being Gay is considered something less of a defining characteristic for somebody and is just another trait.
Just look at how HAPPY he looks to get his present.

Bichon ran in the French Tcho! magazine, which ran Manga-influenced BDs such as the Nadia-inspired Agito Cosmos and the stereotype-laden Zblu Cops.  So I was greatly surprised and disappointed to find out that the Tcho! magazine had just ceased publication.  At least they finished the latest Lou! story, The Crystal Age before the magazine went under.  While the Tcho! magazine may be cancelled, fortunately the titles will continue to be released in album format.  Yoshihiro Togashi of Hunter X Hunter fame may get a lot of flak for his continuous hiatuses, but to me, it feels more likely he's just emulating the European model of spending a year to create a book that's then filtered out via sneak previews in Shonen Jump.  The chapters keeping the specificied page rate is just a convenience at this point.

It seems somewhat fitting that the last official "end" of the magazine paid tribute to Bichon on its cover.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spike, the Original G-G?

Chances are you're already familiar with the concept of Garfield Minus Garfield, with Jon mainly talking to himself and his surrounding objects.  Basically, they would have the same effect if Jon Arbuckle just talked to a household plant, with similar results.
Something like this.
However, like all legacy newspaper comics that's existed since the 50's, Peanuts got there first.

Unlike the majority of other rival cartoon brothers who are either cooler or more talented than the main characters, Spike is the sole exception to that rule.  Also, unlike Jon, Spike at least seems aware of how crazy it is to talk to something that doesn't talk back.  It's the equivalence of Tom Hanks in Cast Away keeping his sanity by having lengthy conversations with a volleyball.

While Snoopy goes off into wild realms of his imagining as the WWI Flying Ace, Joe Cool or the World's Famous Hockey Player, Spike lives out in the desert where apart from being in servitude to the coyotes, his only faithful constant companions are the various cacti littered about the scene.

When Spike's not engaging in heated monologues with these silent prickly plants, he indulges into meetings of which he is the sole member.

Whether Garfield Minus Garfield was subconsciously inspired by Spike's internal ramblings is somewhat debatable, but once I saw the similarities, it was hard to miss, and becomes more hilarious than sad in retrospect.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Weird Romance - The Anteater's Girlfriend

When it comes to comic portrayals of predators and prey, it's a common factor for the weak victim (usually mice or birds), to somehow find a way to avoid and torment their larger foes from ever eating them.  However, the Anteater (EatAnter in some circles) from BC is an unusual exception since he has an equal success / failure ratio for eating ants.  This is practically unheard of in the cartoon world.  But in the world of BC where ants are generally interchangeable (save for Jake & Maude and Queen Ida), the potential cast of thousands can be reasonable whittled down by half, and hardly anything would change.

And yet, surprisingly enough, even though the Anteater has more success at getting his meal ticket than any of his contemporaries, he doesn't seem to actually ENJOY eating ants that much.  During these brief self-pitying intervals, his resemblance to the Coyote of Road Runner fame is practically identical and impossible to miss.

In the early years when BC was at its creative height, a minor subplot was tried out when the Anteater came across an unusual object during one of his normally uneventual walks.

Naturally, this has the intended effect on our intrepid snorting-bugs-up-the-nose sucker.

Sadly, despite this common element, there's never any scenes of the pair going off in their shared mutual activity - eating ants.  Rather, the only thing they do is roll around together, and not in the romantic sense.

You'd think that an armadillo would be an unsuited partner for an anteater, and would smack of inter-species romance, since the only common factor between the two of them is their long prehensile tongues, but a little research shows that they're part of the same myrmecophagous family so it's not that entirely far-fetched.

Apart from a few sporadic appearances throughout the years, she remained an obscure and forgotten animal compared to the other more memorable creatures such as the Clams with legs, Gronking dinosaurs and the ever quotable Apteryx, the wingless bird with hairy feathers.  Since not many people would've been aware of her origins upon first sight and long-time readers would've forgotten how the couple met in the first place, her eventual absence became a distant memory, and would puzzle new readers wonder what she was.

Considering that an aardvark is part of the anteater and armadillo family, there's lost opportunity for a love triangle there.  (Good thing Cerebus wasn't around back then to muddle things up worse)  But BC was really more about the puns and visual jokes than romantic endeavors.  That realm was mostly covered by the Soap Opera-ish episodes of the various affairs between the ants.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Missing European Pages

In one of my previous posts, I lamented how there were various pages of minor artwork that for one reason or another, weren't reproduced in the English versions.

However, what I'd like to focus on is something slightly different.  Here's an example of a two-pager from a gag-based comic, Melusine.

When I first read the Cinebook version, I thought it was censored at first, since they went to the trouble of skipping ahead to the later volumes, because the cute redheaded witch had a tendency to sleep in the buff.  But I went back and checked the original French books, and was surprised to see that it was just like that in the album, even though it was different in the magazine.

By sheer chance, I had the very issue this appeared in, and knew something was off, because it "sounded" different visually.  Just why the other contestants were omitted and the last page expanded to twice its length is something that escapes me entirely.  This isn't the only exception.  There are other instances where a page is modified to reasonable expectations.  In Papercutz's book, Apprentice Smurf, the ending had a random Smurf chasing a butterfly.

But in the original, below the panel, there were some runic scripture of a Smurfic nature.  Chances are this was considered too difficult or obscure to photoshop properly, and so they went with something lighter.

While the Smurfs are essentially a children's property, they're never better than when they're sophisticated satirical takes on society as a whole.  In the Simpsons' 1st season, they were represented via expys in The Happy Little Elves.  While the concept of banal animation was abandoned in favor of Itchy & Scratchy, I kind of lamented that Bart and Lisa would never get a chance to read the comics the Elves originally came from, and be surprised at how dark and mature the original stuff was, and how the show greatly watered down the majority of its commentary plots.  But that's just a pipe dream.

In the latest Smurf book, Smurf Soup, the backup story The Clockwork Smurf (a revised title that I actually approve, given the Medieval setting) has this single page title...

Which is just a condensed version of this widely blank double-page spread.

Upon reflection, it could be considered creative editing so as not to prematurely show Baby Smurf, who'd be the main focus of the next book.  But that can't be, because Baby Smurf is clearly visible at the bottom of the second panel of the first page here.

That's what comes out of reprinting the Smurf volumes out of chronological order.  In this scene, we see Handy Smurf complaining about being constantly distracted by menial tasks while he could be focused on doing more productive work.  (We've all been there)  With this innocuous suggestion, he sets to work all night long on a Smurfoid that'll do all his boring duties for him.  Right away, it doesn't seem to work, but after some self-programming, it fixes whatever glitches and bugs its creator failed to catch the first time around, and goes about cheerfully doing it's programmed duties.  Not a bad start for a first attempt at A.I. programming.

But Handy Smurf shouldn't feel too proud of his accomplishment, because Gargamel manages to create an evil robot duplicate.  Out of clay, no less.  It should be pointed out that Gargamel has more success in creating artificial Smurfs than actually capturing Smurfs.  Smurfette, Clockwork Smurf, and even himself.  Given that his alchemy recipe for gold calls for a Smurf, you'd think he'd save himself the trouble by making one for personal use, unless the recipe needs an actual Smurf, and not a hastily created copy.  Chances are that he's more interested in getting revenge on the Smurfs for slighting him, even though every attempt he's taken has further reduced him to a pathetic villain.

What was left out when the village went back to normal was a potentially unsettling epilogue:

To recap, Handy Smurf created a mechanical Smurf overnight that not only figured out what was wrong with itself, but also managed to develop emotions and a personality.  And now that it's doing the task it's been programmed for, it's starting to rebel against its orders.  This setup has Terminator warning signs flashing everywhere, but don't worry - like all technological Out-of-Place Artifacts, the Clockwork Smurf never appears again after this.

As long as we're talking about Smurfs, I might as well point out another quotation mistake.  Here, where Gargamel is trying to appeal to Bigmouth's hungry nature by selling him on a delicious meal, he's just basically repeating Bigmouth's question before he has a chance to answer.  In the original French middle panel, he says "SMURF SOUP!", which leads to Bigmouth asking what it's made out of.  Three guesses what the secret ingredient is.

Posy Simmonds first made her mark on the comics literary world with her modern-day take of Madame Bovary with her Gemma Bovary, whose cover can be seen front and center in this latest version, displaying her most prominent features.

But it lacks the subtle tones of the original cover, which showed not just the scandalous woman out in the countryside, but also the hot water bottle she'd brought alongside her while she wore nothing but lingerie underneath her coat while trysting to her not-so secret lover.

When I heard news that there would be a comprehensive collection of Posy Simmond's early works, I was rather excited because I thought the Posy Omnibus would be a chronological collection of all the work she'd done for the Guardian, since there were several strips that seemed thematically similar, and would've been nice to see the progress of a creeping narrative flow throughout.  Instead, it's just a combination of her past books, minus the front and back covers.

Personally, I found the first book, Mrs. Weber's Diary to be the weakest of the bunch, since the comics were divided into double-page spreads with notes in notebook form, such as shopping lists, appointment times and schedules that oftentimes, bore little relation to what was happening on the page, and were very visually distracting.  This isn't made any easier with Mrs. Weber's husband going off into philosophical analytical observations that  defy any logical comprehension.  An example would go as follows:

"What astounding insight, Wendy!  We can see it as a transplanar cultural model... the mediator between nature outside & culture inside!  The blind translates the window into a mirror of... attitudes totalisantes, recording our passage from ignorance to enlightenment!"
Don't ask him how he feels about washing the dishes.
And that's his positive reaction to the new blind roller pattern.  Can you understand any of the above?  I sure as hell can't.  The only way you'd get to see any of the covers is if you'd managed to buy yourself a copy, and the same goes for the back as well.

There's the transitional sense you get when you go from the front cover to the titled picture inside.  Without that setup, the intended resonance is lost.

While the majority of the previous comic collections were combined into one neat package, for some reason, this mini comic below was left out entirely.  Since it's a mini-strip that doesn't have any of the main characters (the role would naturally go to Stanhope Wright, who's been shown to engage in these kinds of situations), and isn't particularly funny, it seems like an odd omission.  Whether it fit within the tone of the rest of the book or not is up to debate.
The remaining covers I don't have can be seen in the sidebar of this Posy Simmonds interview.