Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Way I See it

In my last post, I ended on a somewhat ambiguous note that I was interested in what other people's perceptions of comics first were.  I feel that I should probably clarify and expand upon that, since it's a topic that's dear and close to me.

Last year, I was part of an online study to see how people interpreted comic panels.  The test was composed of random Peanuts comics, with some panels replaced with comics from other Peanuts strips, others with the panels rearranged or dialogue removed entirely.  It was difficult to give entirely subjective answers, especially since I could distinctively recall which comics they came from.  The results were seemingly obvious to me, since comics without dialogue were basically exercises in narrative, and I was constantly trying to figure out what kind of story was being told through these tiny pictures.  Below is a transcript of the email I sent to Neil Cohn, the head of the study:

I figure that I might be a bit overqualified for the test, since I've been reading comics since I could look at pictures.  Since I was deaf, I had an unique disposition growing up.  I learned how to communicate by learning how to read first.  Most people tell parents of deaf children that they should learn how to listen, and THEN read, which is based off their perception.  However, this technique is completely backwards for people who can't hear properly.   Rather, they focus on making sure deaf children understand the symbols of the objects before applying sounds to them later.

There's a certain kind of mindblindness in this teaching method, since so many people learned how to read by listening, that any other unorthodox method is completely alien to them.  I have to admit that I'm slightly guilty in this as well.  Until I talked to other people about comics, I had no idea that my reading method was different.  When I read a comic, I convert words to pictures, and pictures to sounds.  The results are varied every time, even if the script is the same.

I've mentioned before how I always thought that people could read comics the same way I did, until I found out that not everybody experiences the world as I do.  There were several activities I engaged while looking at the pictures that I'm unsure is a universal theme.  One of my common practices was to rotate through several panels multiple times on a single page.  For instance, I would constantly cycle through panels 2 to 5 on this Archie page, so Mr. Weatherbee was constantly tripping and falling against the poor woman.  Is this common practice for beginning readers outside of lovers of slapstick or people with sadistic fetishies?

Another slightly modified version of the above is this page from a Tweety & Sylvester comic when the bad-luck cat had a cueballed-sized nose with a distinctive reflection.  Only, in this example, when Sylvester showed up as the "Batboy" in the 4th panel, for some reason, I had him talking at length, rambling on and on to the coach.  To this day, I couldn't tell you what he was talking about, just that he seemed really into speaking about the details.

At the opposite end of the extreme, I would mentally input words where there were none, such as in this silent Archie page where Veronica managed to successfully knock Reggie out with her seductive outfit, only to be condescended to by Jughead.  Even though I wasn't fully conscious of the kind of conversation that would ensued, just awareness that there was some kind of dialogue taking place.  Somehow, in my mind's eye, I subplanted my own dialogue to match the action on the page.
"Now that I've knocked him into submission,
I'm sure you would like to - uh?"
What's interesting to me was that even though there were no words in the whole comic, save for the title and a single text-heavy panel, I subconsciously implanted internal dialogue over the character's heads, when there were none.  In the last panel where Veronica is kicking the tree, in my mind's eye, she was running a torrent of cartoon swears lasting three sentences across the panel.  Even now that I have proof of the actual comic in question years later, I'm still surprised to find out that there's NOTHING up there.

But these are just minor examples.  Where I differ wildly is in how I do the majority of my comic reading.  When I read a comic, I don't just look at the pictures and then the text, or the text, and then the pictures - I look at both at the same time, focusing on whatever is considered important, depending on which is the more dominant figure.  If the balloon overtakes the majority of the page, it'll catch my eye, but my vision will inevitably be drawn to the image.  Whereas when the picture takes prominent over the words, I'll see the image, and text at the same time.

That's pretty much par for the course for most veteran comic readers.  Where I suspect I widely veer off is in how I implement internal sound effects even in scenes that don't have any present.  Comic fans who've grown tired of the overuse of onomatopoeia (Sock! Pow! Bam! having gotten a bad rap via newspaper headlines over the years) have praised recent declined usage, even as their innovative aspects have become overshadowed or downplayed or even omitted entirely due to influences such as Watchmen.

I mentioned earlier that I have an unique way of reading comics in that I convert words to pictures, and pictures to sound.  The overall results of the page depends on the mixture of the quality of the drawings, the words used and the background can become completely different depending on the combination.  One of the most subtle way is that I have a completely different reading of dialogue depending on whether the captioning I see on TV is via close captioning (BLACK BARS WITH WHITE BOLD TEXT) or subtitles (yellow text in lowercase) can "sound" completely different to me, even if I'm seeing a foreign movie or not.

I normally don't pay much attention to the background music of TV shows and movies, since I find them rather distracting, and oftentimes they can be too revealing in setting up the atmosphere.  For instance, during an uneventful lull on a Sopranos episode, when I had my hearing aids on at that particular moment, I had the distinct impression that that guy was going to die, and sure enough, five seconds later, he was.

In the same way that music and sound effects are constantly reused without variance, I have a somewhat limited range of sounds pertaining to the usage of facial expressions and body language.  But don't let that limit fool you.  There are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, but the number of combinations is perpetually limitless.  This was most evident in comics relying in simplified character designs such as Peanuts and other strips.  When there were exaggerated expressions used on a regular basis, I would use the same sound effect whenever it showed up, leading to cacophony of noise making up the story.  For instance, the following Cathy would be composed of the following sounds:

Panel 1: Eeyoooh
Panel 2: T-wuh (turning noise)
Panel 3: Eeyoooh
Panel 4: Kweh
Panel 5: Ptmpk
Panel 6: Aaaaaah
Panel 7: Eeyoooh
Panel 8: Gheh (grinning through clenched teeth)
Panel 9: Aaah
Panel 10: t-dih (going from Cathy's exit stage right to looking at audience)

Keep in mind that this is not an accurate representation of the internal sounds in my head, but the closest noises I'm capable of conveying without any audio present.  It's difficult to give a full description to some of the panels (especially #2, #4, #5 and #10), since there's no real phonetic equivalent to what's in my head, and would be mainly composed of Seussian sounds without any frame of reference.  It would be very much like having the lyrics to a MAD satire version of a song without any knowledge or experience of the original.

Pay particular attention to the difference between the "Aaah"s of panels 6 and 9.  The former lasts longer than the latter, since it's in conjunction with the amount of text appearing during the mouth movement.  Consciously, I was aware that Cathy's mother was talking at length, while Cathy was not.
Hagar's got the same weird facial expression throughout,
so he looks kinda stoned.
When I found some of my missing Sunday comics from my youth, I was amazed to find out that I still had memories of how some of the comics I'd read "sounded" visually.  It was something of a shock to find out what the characters were actually saying.  I can still recall how pictures I've seen in my youth "sound", even though I know what's going on.  I'm now immersed into that strange realm where my prior first experience and the new revelations exists simultaneously.  I have no way of knowing if this kind of Synesthesia is identifiable with other people, so I figured I might as well describe it as best as I can.

Even now that I know the actual lyrics to the Whatchamacallit commercial, I still retain the visual song memory that I always played in my head while watching the motions on the TV screen.  What concerns me is that I have no memory of the interval between when I "read" the pictures to "reading" the comics so that they made sense.  This worries me because if I can't remember the mental pathways that lead to this, than I'm incapable of giving a rough guide for others to follow.

What I can do is give a more detailed overview of some of the more easily explained aspects of my reading.  When I read a page or panel, I implant a indistinct kind of "sound" to each element, which I can subtly notice if it's repeated multiple times throughout a book via blatant photoshopping or re-editing as pointed out in some of my previous examples, especially Fables.  (Just found a few more after borrowing my sister's copies)  In other instances, I can detect similarities between obvious influences.  To me, these two pages from Please Save my Earth and Moon Child essentially "sound" alike in page structure and design, even when the content is drastically different in each.
There's the iconic usage of "thought bubbles" to emphasis when a Manga character is thinking, but not thinking of anything specifically.  I always "hear" this somewhere in the realm of a muted submachine gun and a cat's purr.

One of the many stylized traits of Manga is their usage of speedlines to denote action or emphasize an important focus or plot element on the page.  Though recently, there's also been the use of small grouping of lines facing away from the person's head to give the iconography of a subtle notice of surprise which I always lable as a "tk" sound.

Unlike the majority of the MTV generation, I was never privy to the numerous Music videos that were popular at the time.  But I compensated for this loss with numerous fansubbed Anime openings and endings which with their lyrics displayed onto the screen gave me the closest equivalent to those bouncing ball songs that populated the middle half of the Famous Studios cartoons.  They say that every generation has their own particular bias in their taste in music, claiming that their generation was the best, and the recent output by these newfangled rockers and rappers don't have the same lure or appeal as the quality of musicians in their youth.  I have no idea if this is a product of the ages, but I find the Anime lyrics of the 80's and 90's to be quite catchier than most of the recent stuff.

Once I got used to knowing how long the lyrics were for each frame, I would either pace myself or read rapidly with various intonations depending on what was shown on the screen.  In particular, the third Bleach ending theme, Houkiboshi (Comet) is unique in that there are 13 different animations, each showing the members of the different companies making up Soul Society.  And although the lyrics remain consistent throughout, to me, the rhythm and tempo is completely different for each, depending on what's shown in the background.
Unlike the majority of people who have a craving for hearing their childhood music and can simply resolve their fix via downloading their favorite melody off Napster, I have no such equivalent, and finding my favorite songs is made even more difficult with Youtube's removal of Anime openings and endings.  At times like these, I keep hoping I'll find a site that'll have a comprehensive list of my nostalgic show sequences and bumpers, or even better, find somebody with access to same.  But with a lack of access to such resources, and the Otaku honesty mentality to remove fansubbed tapes once they've been licensed, my chances are looking increasingly dim.

Actually, it's uncertain if what I've got can accurately be described as synesthesia, since it's basically another form of reading, which is kind of Synesthesic in itself.  A philosophy class brought up the disturbing notion that the very act of reading is considered unnatural, since moving the eye across a defined area on the page isn't something that would be considered genectic - it has to be learned.

To explain where this fixation on images came from, I might as well start at the very beginning.  As a kid, I had a great craving for apple juice which remains to this day.  Yet if a container of the stuff was placed right in front of me, I would show practically no interest in the impressive package.  But if I was shown a cut-out advertisement of the very same item, I would become animated and point at it to express what I wanted.  It was as if I were operating on a plane where I could only understand concepts represented on a 2-D platform as opposed to the actual thing in reality.

Is there anybody else out there who thinks along these lines, or am I the only one?

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Personal CIDUs

The site Comics I Don't Understand regularly posts the latest newspaper funnies that defy public perception,
and just basically don't make much sense.  By sharing these strange comics with others online and thanks to audience participation, these hoary jokes are given a wide range of interpretations, many that are funnier than the comic itself, and some eventually zeroing on the target.  Such a webpage would've been extremely helpful for me when growing up, since oftentimes, there were comics that practically baffled me upon first reading. Later when I learned how to read, the majority of them made some sense, even though the 60's sitcom humour might've not always been to my liking.  Then there were occasional comics that even years later I still have no better understanding of now than I did then.

Here's an easy one that took me awhile to get, and I'm sure most people wouldn't be able to get the joke upon first sight either.  One major complaint usually made on CIDU is that the artwork can be too subtle for the joke to be properly conveyed, which can be partially blamed on the ever-shrinking comics page.

At first, I thought there was a printing error, since there wasn't any visible text in Peter's pen pal's reply as is typical with all of his past correspondences.  Do you get it?  No?  Pay closer attention to the colour of the stone letter at the beginning and the end.  A regular knee-slapper, this one is.  However, this is a children's puzzle compared to this next cryptographic oddity:

Even accounting for the obvious identity of the man living in the keyhole cave, this just brings up further questions: WHY is he hiding there; WHY is he wearing that stuff, and HOW could Johnny Hart think anybody would find this funny???

This isn't solely limited to the comics in my collection.  Even the early comics of The Family Circus had comics that made you take another look.  Upon seeing some of the early comics of The Family Circus, it seems that Bil Keane wasn't above stealing from himself whenever convenient.  Not being particularly religious and rather ignorant about campfire songs, the self-censorship by these kids and the mother's irked facial expression was cause for puzzlement.

Thanks to the reprintings of the early strips, I found that there was a similar moment pointed out on Joshreads, where the children were crying, and the parents were doing everything they could to focus on their dressing up and ignoring their outbursts.

Surely this kind of attitude might've been somewhat understandable back in the 50's when the Family Circus were mainly made up of bothersome brats instead of precocious saccharine moments, but why bother updating it for a new era when such an attitude wouldn't make much sense?

 Then there's this perplexing unexplained moment in one of the books:

 What exactly is the father doing here?  Is he engaging in some kind of low-tech high jumping technique?  A Jump rope game gone horribly arwy?  Why do the kids look so nervous?  These are the kind of things that require further in-depth explanations, and now that the cartoonist's no longer with us, we may never get a satisfactory answer.

Pretty much everybody likes to find hidden meanings in the latest hot comics being released nowadays.  I'm more interested in what people thought when they saw comics for the first time without any prior knowledge and were basically struggling to interpret what they were seeing without any previous insight.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hearing is Believing

There was a recent Sci-fi article about how Science in recent Science fiction movies tends to be overshadowed in the face of flashy gunfire and explosions.  But it lost points for putting the awful Nicolas Cage movie Knowing on a pedestal, and reminded me of a previous post I made about some of the problems I had with that movie, and the painful recollections I'd rather not have remembered in the first place.  (One of the major problems is that the Nicolas Cage character has no real influence over the natural disaster that's about to happen.  He has as much chance of affecting anything as an ant has against the rising tide.  It's outside his sphere of influence, and all he accomplishes is being there when disaster strikes.)

Rereading that post reminded me that there was another Manga I'd been meaning to talk about.
Some months ago, there was a debut controversial one-shot Manga, Koe no Katachi, about a deaf girl being bullied in middle school.  The editors were concerned about the realism and portrayal of bullying, where they almost wound up not publishing it.

Upon reading it to the end, it's more about the aspects of bullying than displaying actual authenticity in being deaf.  But its inaccuracies for some scenes still feel "off" for me.  Not the technical detail of the hearing aid, which is pretty close to my personal model, but the interpersonal issues themselves.

So far, my biggest issue is the girl's passive forgiving nature, which is pretty much the Japanese norm for the idealistic portrayal of what's considered attractive in a woman.  Somebody who's willing to constantly forgive and suck it up, no matter what happens.  It's also a big part of the Japanese mentality that the group is more important than the individual.  As one of my favorite mangled sayings goes, The hammer that sticks out get nailed in.

First off, her main mode of communication is to use a wide paper board, much like a children's notebook.  It's a quick visual shorthand to show her talking, but is somewhat inefficient for communication in an age of tablets, cell phones and Blackberries.  Not everybody has pre-painted wooden signs that can be lifted out of hammerspace for easy use.  There are far more efficient ways to communicate, though they would be considered visually distracting or difficult to convey consistently.  (Let alone display an air of innocence) There was a comic, On the Odd Hours which had an unique way of some deaf characters communicating via sign language, but those instances are few and far between.

The class's main problem towards the deaf girl only really begins when she wants to sing at a contest when its clearly obvious that she has no natural talent for singing.  This handicap extends far beyond the simple disability of not hearing things properly.  This isn't the kind of thing that can be overcome by hard work and practice.  Despite all the speech preparation, there are all kinds of slight intonations and pitches that are subtly undetectable to the deaf ear.  My deaf sister has perfect pitch, and even SHE is completely tone deaf.  All the experience in the world won't make up for the fact that our hearing is always going to be slightly "off", and thus are unable to determine our weaknesses when we feel our voices are perfectly fine.  Otherwise, when we talk, we come across as positively normal.

Nowhere during the story does the deaf girl display any comprehension of human speech beyond a few sustained guttural noises that barely resembles human language.  It took me YEARS of intensive training to get to the point where I could make my thoughts sound comprehensible to the average ear.
I was among the first deaf students to have an oral interpreter present for me during High School.  Prior to that, there were no such programs for Deaf students having extra help beyond some hearing aids and FM systems (which never worked properly enough for me).  At the time, it was considered unusual to allow Oral interpreters to be present during formative years when they're normally available for College or University students, when they're considered to be more valuable use then.  Which is completely backwards, since High School is where our studies start to become serious, and if we have no idea what's going on in class, we're not motivated to pay attention, and are mainly left consulting our guidance books.  While we might've been able to skim our Grade classes using these books, it's not enough, since the teacher will be talking about stuff not available in the textbooks.  Otherwise, we could all have encyclopedias dumped in our laps and not bother going to school in the first place.  (Wikipedia notwithstanding)

An interpreter would also solve some of the problematic aspects of class, such as demanding that the teacher constantly face forward when talking, repeating what was said to catch what was missed, and having snippets of dialogue going on around the room.  You'd be surprised at what you don't know when you're intensely focused in one specific direction.

My mother fought long and hard to ensure that I would have an interpreter present during my secondary education.  However, the school continuously opposed her on the grounds that there was "no money in the budget".  When it comes to not wanting to pay extra fees, that's their most reliant excuse.  However, she kept her dignity and cool throughout, always maintaining a degree of respect, even as she was silent screaming inside.  Eventually, after repeat selling and prompting, the school relented, but would only pay for half of the classes in the first year.  This meant that the higher cognitive classes, such as English, Math and Science would have an interpreter, while lesser important classes such as Gym, Drama and Art would not.

In the end, my mother was vindicated when the teachers in the classes where I had an interpreter commented on my participation and remarkable sense of humour, while the classes which were interpreter-free noticed how sullen and uncooperative I was.

To this day, my mother continues to fight for interpreter funding and is a consultant for Orally deaf.
The One-shot was daring enough that it was decided that it would become serialized, but in light of these portrayals giving an accurate representation of an actual deaf person, I'm not holding my breath.

Language is everything.  If there's no easy communication between two people, there can't be any open dialogue.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Crucial Sentences Cut Sh

In the 4th volume of BellyButtons, which is a cruel highschool single panel comic, the tale of intimidation and bullying of Butt Monkey beanpole Karine, there's a brief uplifting moment when she comes upon an albino musician who composes a song based on his first impressions.  However, this poignant scene is put off by some weird editing choices.

In addition to the musical font being larger than usual, some of the text seems to be missing, including the name of Karine's other "friend", Vicky in the musical interlude.  Mostly what makes this stand out is that his song doesn't seem to rhyme properly.  Otherwise, his synchronicity with the passing car would be far more impressive.

Something I've found while doing various Garfield edits on paintshop is that when I deal with large batches of varying fonts, the text can have varying accounts of spacing between words.  However, if the text size is increased too much, the extended sentence is left hiding inside the margins, away from prying eyes until either a smaller font is chosen or the margins are increased.  I suspect that's what's happened in this case.
A little tip for those of you wanting to match the font size for the dailies
so they won't look bigger or 
smaller than the archived strips -
change your font size to 7.5.
If this was the only time it showed up, I wouldn't pay much heed.  But it shows up again later, and is most noticeable when at her lowest emotional ebb in the series so far, having been framed for a crime she didn't commit, Karine notes her thoughts and feelings in her diary, all of which are painfully left incomplete.
How could the Cinebook editors possibly miss this oversight?

For most of these, I'm left wracking my brain trying to figure out how these sentences could've ended.  Without the French album in hand, I can only guess at the following:

Panel 1. bad day today.
Panel 2. near Melanie again.
Panel 3. what happened.
Panel 4. I'm grumbling to myself.
Panel 5. made me feel even worse.
Panel 6. understands me.

The perplexing thing is that the lyrics for the song in the first page above is reproduced in full in a later scene when she meets Albin the Albino again.  And then it reverts back to its bad habit of ramping up the volume to levels where it's impossible to make out the words.  Usually when I'm missing the odd word here and there, I can fill in the blanks with some helpful hints or consonants, but there's none of that here.  Fortunately, a scanlation of the 5th album helps complete a lyric that I would've figured out anyways:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Forgotten Characters - Adam's Dog

Having a household pet is pretty much considered a staple for families in newspaper comics.  So it's not exactly following much of a tradition that Adam had a pet of their own who's been sadly neglected of late.

...Or maybe it's not that sad after all.  While most other dogs tended to display some form of talent or affection, Kipper was in that rare realm where he was as much use as a leaky beanbag.  He took up a lot of room while continuing to leak product all over the place.  Considering his limited uses, it's a wonder why he was there in the first place, other than to give Adam that Nuclear family sensibility.

Eventually, his regularity in the strip became fewer and fewer, and he was eventually regulated to making cursory appearances in the throwaway panels.
Another instance of why B&W reprintings of
Sunday comics don't work.
Laura's something of a sore loser.
Kipper was also one of the rare instances where we weren't privy to the hidden knowledge of household animals.  The other being Quincy the Iguana from Fox Trot (who was more of a sounding board for Jason's flights of fancy or whatever insanity inspired him at the moment)  In fact, this Sunday comic is the ONLY instance where Kipper showed any modicum of thought.

So what prompted his eventual removal?  His redundancy revealed itself around the time that baby Nick appeared on the scene.  There were two Sundays of him interacting with Kipper, but presumably, Brian Basset figured having two essentially mute characters was too much of a challenge, and from that point on, Kipper became little more than a fading memory.
Certainly something we'd all like to forget.
The last time he was rightfully acknowledged in the 90's was during a storyarc involving some escaped gerbils, when Adam asked what that noise they were hearing in their bedroom at night was, and wondered if it was the dog.  His wife sleepily responded in passing that the dog died years ago, and before both dozed back to sleep, screamed that there were Gerbils in the walls.  Not quite the same level of Lovecraft's Rats in the Walls, but it seems somewhat disingenuous to have a minor supporting character dismissed in such an offhand way.
This is pretty much the mental fate of all of Lovecraft's characters.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August Enough for You?

Sorry for the slight delay for this month's Garfields.  It's hard to think of a proper pun that'll fit the name of a month every time that'll fit the context of the comics in question.  Fortunately we've got something that'll slightly fit the tone and theme of the month in question, even if we have to force it into a pun that almost kind of works.

For the most part, the blame for this slipshod scheduling falls squarely on my shoulders.  I've been over-indulging myself on leisure activities in order to relieve myself from the perceived stressful situations I'm currently in, and plumb forgot to update yesterday because I was more concerned about finishing a DVD that was due, and I kept putting off putting commentary for the Garfield comics because I figured I could whip something up in a hurry.  By the time I figured out what time it was, it was already midnight.  I could simply just post the images first and then add commentary later, but even on a rush order, I'm something of a perfectionist, and will struggle to find the right word that'll fit the sentence I'm searching for.
Dear Diary... Today, I looked at a new condo, but, it was a little pricey for the neighborhood.
The party theme for this month is probably the most sadistic one so far, bordering on psychological warfare.

The Threaten-to-Have-a-Party Party
Pay no attention to us.  Just keep doing whatever you're doing.
Here's a great way to have a cruel laugh at somebody else's expense.  Take party paraphernalia to a library and act as though you are about to cut loose with a wild bash at any second.  The beauty of this party is that there is nothing they can do to you because you are doing nothing wrong!

The above would surely qualify for a scenario dealing with problem patrons in the library.  While being a librarian is fraught with the stereotype of an elderly lady shushing everybody who dares speak above 15 decibels, latest developments have strived to make the library a friendly area that'll attract members of the community to encourage them to share their favorite reading materials.  Even so, the increase in technology hasn't improved the manner of the occasional weirdo who'll walk through the doors.  One of the most effective tactics I remember involved a flasher who was traumatizing everybody in the vicinity.  Rather than confront him and raise a disturbance, the librarian faced the voyeur and when he showed her his privates, she calmly said: "I've seen better."  The flasher looked embarrassed and left without another word.  This is the kind of thing that won't show up on your finals.

In conclusion, we end with an answer to that immortal riddle: How do you make an Elephant Sandwich?
Thank you, thank you.  We'll be here all night.