Saturday, September 28, 2013

Comics With a Message

I just recently found a comic blog that had the mission statement of choosing Comics that say Something.  Most of their contributions were mainly stolen from gems such as Calvin & Hobbes, Xkcd, Cyanide and Happiness, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Zen Pencils, and Hyperbole and a Half, most of which were repeated fairly often.  But that's changed recently, much to the appeal of readers who feared the content was beginning to grow stale.  Since then, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Some of my favorite comics include:

The public fear of getting heavily involved in world affairs, the appeal of Weird peopleMonsterous Discrepancies, how some people see people, and the intangible support of Internet Friends.  If there is a fault, its that sometimes, the reduced text is too small to see, and zooming in on a relevant page isn't as easy at first look, as evidenced in this "flipped" Manga about being alright..

Most of these comics go out of their way to say something, and help spread the word of other cartoonists worldwide.  But there's one particular Argentinian cartoonist who although is largely respected in European and foreign countries, remains as far removed as a household name over here.  I'm talking of course, about Quino.
A bit of idol worship here, but I'm hoping I'll be able to bridge a gap.
Quino is a man who lived his life through the rise and fall of numerous dictators, which can explain his worldview through his comics.  Some novelists relieve their tensions from unwanted leaders through describing Dystopian civilizations.  Quino's actually LIVED it, and can attest to the paradoxical nature of the appeal of dictatorship.  (Not that he's for such things, but can see why people would be drawn and rejected by the concept)

He started out doing stints in advertising for magazines and newspapers before being commissioned to create a comic that would have traits of Blondie and Peanuts, resulting in his most famous creation, Mafalda, which despite its similar setup of precocious children, is NOTHING like Peanuts.  At the height of his popularity, he decided to end his strip for personal reasons that continue to be reflected and speculated on, and returned to doing Political comics again in his imitable style.  In that regard, he's kind of like the Anti-Watterson.
One theory is that Quino didn't want Mafalda to grow up and become an ordinary girl.
But don't be fooled into thinking that Quino is limited to subjective humour that would only be appreciated if you were hip to the current events happening at the time.  His themes are universal, and covers topics such as property...

to authority...

to religion...

to security...

to appreciation of the arts...

and the occasional Dadaism.

So why isn't Quino better known over here?  This can be summed up with three theories:

1. As cartoony as his artwork is, his subject material is quite esoteric, and the humour isn't always consistent.  Likewise, the lettering which can loop and weave across the page requires more than just a simple photoshop job.

2. Abundance of space for single-panel comics, which while allowing the art to breath on its own, could be seen as wasting pages, and could be better put to use by placing numerous comics onto a single page. Likewise, many of his comics are done in pantomime, and even the ones that are heavily verbose can still be understood.
This seemingly simple concept took up the entire lower half of a page.
3. Use of nudity in his pages is a common setback, which has been problematic for other European comics not getting licensed, which is ironic, given that censorship is one of the many themes that he represents and conveys so well.

But probably the main reason is that his comic strip Mafalda has never been shown in any American newspapers, not even in reprints.  People aren't likely to pick up work from a reputed cartoonist without having had prior experience with it.

Dirk Deppey of Journalista! fame often expressed his admiration for Gordo, a Mexican newspaper comic
with interesting Sunday comic designs.  But even his outright promotion for the comic wasn't enough to guarantee annual collections of the favored cult strip.  Sure, there were collections of the old stuff, but they were rare and hard to find, and unless you made a conscious effort to find them, they would easily slip under your radar without ever noticing.  such is the same dilemma faced with Quino.

Mafalda collections were quietly released in 2004, and then never spoken of ever again.  Maybe the cross-promotional approach wasn't strong enough.  Maybe the audience appeal wasn't there.  Maybe Charles Schultz speaking out in favor of the cartoonist on his wiki wasn't enough.  (A stronger comparison would be Sergio Aragones)  One reason that's been brought up is that Mafalda was too Latin-American for an American public, which is ridiculous, given that the majority of audiences worldwide can relate to her, and other foreign works in other countries have made a home here as well.  Then again, Americans don't like Asterix and Tintin, so what do I know?
Another possibility is that the subjects Mafalda brings up tends to make people nervous.  (As they should)  My hope is that by showing some representative samples of the man's editorial work may spur interest on seeing more, and reignite interest where there was previously none.
Hasn't every child thought of this at least once?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

River of Dust

Recently at CHIP (Communicaid for Hearing Impaired Persons), there was a collection of old VHS tapes that the staff were considering throwing out, because they hadn't used the boxes in an age of DVDs,
and furthermore,  the material on them was from the 80's, and was woefully outdated by now.
However, I talked them out of excising the stuff too soon, and even offered to make some copies by transferring them to DVD, because, hey, you never know.  Somebody might want a particular clip from one of those tapes sometime in the future.  So far, the person who was supposed to go through the tapes hasn't had a chance to do so yet, but it brought up that unfortunate reality of objects of potential historical value - there's too much undocumented and unlabeled stuff out there to ever be categorized entirely.

It reminded me of the subject of Broken Records by Siobhan Roberts that was featured in Saturday Night, a weekly Canadian magazine.  In it, it lamented that our Canadian historical archives are becoming increasingly backlogged without proper maintenance or organization, and is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain as more stuff is included to their already-bursting collection.

The ironic thing is that while the main text version has remained intact online, there's no archived collection of Seth's contribution to the article.  What you see here are photocopies of the relevant missing pages that were taken while I was taking my course on library archives.  A copy of a copy, as it were.

Part of the problem with having an excess of information is that so much of it gets passed over for more recent stuff that's more identifiable to the public.  One of the faults against Google is that they favor more updated news and rumours while neglecting old websites that might have more informative and in-depth articles.  The loss of Geocites and Altavista pages that haven't been backed up via Internet Archive is incalculable.

Much of what is mentioned certainly has some historical value, but the number of people who'd be interested in such items would have no idea that such things exist in the first place.  One of the jobs of a library archivist is not just to accumulate items of worth, but also to slim down the amount of material into something that would be contained in the human mind.  This involves weeding the impressive backlog of old books that have either been neglected or too damaged to be worth keeping.

Certainly there's some valuable information buried within the large collection of boxes, but finding and categorizing the relevant items to parties who would find them useful is outpaced by the sheer amount of available resources versus available and reliable staff capable of sifting throughout the material and sorting them into proper categorizational locations.  And God forbid if you should come across an item that has cross-referential descriptions.  Do you risk putting it in one category where it'd have more in common with the subject, or lump it in its own individual classification where it'd be more likely to be neglected and ignored?  Cross-promotional mixing of similar and dissimilar ideas is one of the cornerstones of creative imagination, and not having archives available for viewing is considered another loss.

In view of the recent flooding disasters that ruined many valuable artifacts and historical records just before they were going to be scanned for posterity this can be seen as either a lost opportunity too late or getting rid of lead weight.  What's worse?  To lose history to natural disasters or to store away valuable items where they'll never be appreciated?

The items can vary from photos, documents, radio interviews, cult commercials and videos that are becoming increasingly corroded to the ravages of time, even with protective elements in place to guard off vermin and mold.  It's one of the cruel ironies of life that the more recent writings has less of a shelf life than scribes written down on papyrus scrolls or parchment.  The latter has survived legibility for years while the former is lucky to last a decade at most without backups.

And yet, updating the documents to compressed computer records just presents another dilemma - by the time all the relevant items had been transferred to the latest digital database, the archived components would be obsolete.  It's an ever-increasing race against Bohm's law that's the inverse of Zeno's paradox.  Every time we started moving our archives to another reliable location, there's an as-yet technical innovation that'll render all our efforts useless.  The closer we get to our goal, the further away it gets away from us.

This is further compounded by by the sheer amount of information available and how people attach sentimental value to some things, and not others.  We're more likely to lament old books read in our youth that's now largely unavailable, because we were confident that we could retain the contents in our heads indefinitely, or we'd simply outgrown the stuff and didn't need it anymore.  Trying to explain the appeal of these nostalgic items without visual aids is an exercise in futility unless somebody out there happens to have enough storage space to hold everything of value ever.

Some items I've once owned that I got rid of that I now have nostalgic pinings for include:

  • The early McDonaldLand Fun Times with their painted covers, rather than the later pamphlets that were less polished and more of a rush job.  It's always discouraging to see quality commercial products disintegrate before your eyes, and that's where I first learned my painful lesson about the decline of corporate merchandise.

  • My Sesame Street magazines.  I've kept my collection of Chickadee and Electric Company / Kid City and the occasional World and Owl magazines, even though I'm long past the required reading age, simply because I can still recall my innermost thoughts when going through these entertaining educational primers.  I have no memory of any of the inside articles, save for a few cutouts of the cut & paste pages, I have no idea what the contents of the magazine were like.  I even had the double-page spread of a Halloween special used for the exterior of a TV set costume.  Sadly, all shots of me in disguise are out of focus, and the page I used for the picture is lost.

  • A Dukes of Hazard 3D comic that was included in a cereal box.  A quick search gave the hint that they might've come from Shreddies, but without seeing the interior, I have no way of knowing if it's the same one I remember.  The interior had something to do with a beauty contest, and Boss Hogg stealing Daisy away so his less-than-pretty wife would stand a chance at winning.  Like the show, it was hardly anything that would be considered high art.  What I most remember is out-of-focus cars in red and blue zooming along every other page, and dialogue consisting of "They got Daisy!" and  "Come here, Daisy!", and a judge declaring "The winner!" to a crowd of spectators, while an old man and his wife looked miserable.  There was also a Dukes of Hazard Wallet, but since I never saw the show, I didn't attach much sentimental value to it.  Too bad - it probably would've fetched a pretty penny.
  • Not owned, but a lavishly illustrated children's library book titled "The Bath", where a boy cautioned not to play with the knobs ignores his mother's advice, and playful creatures as well as water pours out of the faucet.  It starts out fun at first with his rubber ducky, but eventually, the water takes on oceanic proportions and the once-friendly creatures start becoming more menacing, including one that somehow manages to light the seas on fire, and a robotic one splashing water HARD.  All the while, there was an ever-looming warning that his mother would be coming back to see this mess in a few minutes.  The nightmare only ended when his anthropomorphic duck got the idea to pull the bathtub.  It was awesomely terrifying, and I'm sorry I can't find any information on it.
  • Also neglected are the various 80's Transformers toys that I played with, with most of their custom boxes and styrofoam packing intact.  The main reason for getting rid of them was that they were becoming more of a chore to transform into their respective shapes.  (Sixshot in particular)  Also, Astrotrain had a wire that kept falling off one of its wings, and Bruticus chest plate kept falling off.  That, and freeing up room in my closet for my books.  Years later, I could swear that I saw one of my toys, Metroplex being up for display at a convention for a far higher price than I'd originally asked for.  But I'm not bitter.  I had my fun with them, and still have fond memories of playing with them.  Besides, I still have the mini-pamphlet advertising books included in every box.
  • I don't have too much significant attachment to other children's toys, but there's two I have fond memories of - one is the Fischer Price ringing apple, whose chime was strangely relaxing to my ears.  The other was a Tomy Tutor Play Computer which would slowly produce educational images similar to dial-up access to the internet.  The added benefit was that by pressing the space bar, you could have the pixelated effects become slightly animated on the screen.

The following aren't exactly material, but are a few video game oddities I've come across that I haven't seen mentioned or repeated anywhere:

  • There was an odd glitch in Super Mario Bros. 2 where I slammed a POW block at the same time I picked up a key.  The resulting earthquake somehow forced me to the top of the level, bypassing the ceiling of world 3-3.  This game-breaking glitch meant I had to restart since there was no timer and no enemies up there.
  • In Banjo-Tooie, you get a cutscene if you manage to rescue every Jinjo before facing the last boss.  However, if you take the hard route and skip over every Jinjo in the game, you'll get a different cutscene of King Jingaling all alone with no Jinjos around to celebrate.  Whenever I've replayed the game using the extra-speed cheat, I always get the celebratory video.  Having gotten used to the super-fast mode of Kazooie's running, I can't play it normally to see it again.  It's not even available on Youtube!
  • I managed to collect all the items in Majora's Mask in one day, save for a heart container that's only available if I beat the Goron Mountain boss.  I could get it by beating him, but then I'd miss the opening caption from Tatl when I re-enter a finished temple for the first time.  The 4th dungeon animation is quite interesting since it starts off from an extreme close-up, and then rotates around to Link's entrance.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Joy of Going Back to School

It's just occurred to me with the sudden drop in temperature and windchill factor that it's the middle of September already, and I haven't had the chance to show any comics about that dreaded event known as Going back to School.  But that delay shouldn't be considered a deterrent, since College / Universities tend to start later (Yaaaaay!), but have increased workload in the short time frame (Booooo!).  So this can be a tribute to older students as well.

While some people would be relieved to get back to a routine, the general reaction from students is mainly filled with a sense of existential dread.  Others actually look forward to going back to a regular routine of getting up in the morning, get off their lazy unmotivated duffs and actually DO something.  But the general perception is that parents are relieved to have their offspring shuffled off somewhere after having to deal with their presence for the whole summer.  These are the people who would consider homeschooling a living nightmare.

This mentality of parents taking pleasure of having responsibility of their children delegated to government figures is played up in the classic Staples commercial of the father gleefully picking out back-to-school supplies as his children watch on in a mournful waking slumber of going back to a dreary experience.

In the (sadly) still relevant book How Children Fail (it was published in 1964), John Holt mentions that many children see school as a jail.  Considering that their lives are basically controlled by authorities who tell them what to do, when to do it, and what to think, it's little wonder that they have little desire to return.
These schools are unintentionally designed to squish out the desire to learn out of children.  This reality does not extend to Adam's excitement of making his life easier, much to the displeasure of the rest of his family.

Adam's reaction to the news of his children getting out of the house is so intense that his enjoyment extends to defying the laws of physics and dancing like Fred Astaire in a Ritz Cracker commercial.

So what's worse than receiving Schadenfreude from your children's suffering?  How about Schadenfreude from depriving your spouse of Schadenfreude?  Truly, these are awful people.

However, it's not all gloom and doom.  Whenever schooltime rolls around and it looks like the endgoal is too far removed from your sight, just keep this little thought in your head:

Friday, September 13, 2013

AT&T, Phone Home

Well, we may not have our jetpacks (no matter how impractical they are as a transportation device), but at least we have our cellphones.  The ubiquitous of cells is quite an accomplishment, considering that portable phones were only available to people who could afford such luxuries.

Just recently, my sister updated her regular cellphone for a fancy-schmancy Smartphone.  As is, she's rather pleased with her new toy, even though it'll cost her quite a bit for the phone rate.  She offered me her old model for me, since it was likely she wouldn't be using it for much longer.  It was a sliding model with a Qwerty keyboard hidden in the underside.  Only problem was, it was of a different model than the one whose plan I'm currently on.  Unlike the majority of the population, I don't exactly have a wide range of friends to talk to via a phone, let alone have a network of close connections to communicate with on a regular basis.  As such, my plan is limited to just texting 100 times a month.  I'm told that this would be considered quite conservative for teenagers who would feel positively restrained with that kind of restriction, and go mad, since that's how much they text in an HOUR.  I'm lucky if I text more than twice a WEEK.  So the fact that my plan only costs $5 a month for texting ONLY (no calling, no receiving photos, no internet connection), it's a pretty good bargain.  Sticking it to the Man!  As limited as the functions of my phone is, I'm rather satisfied with the basics, even though sending multiple texts drains the battery extremely quickly, so that if I'm expecting a reply, it'd better be while my phone is still on, and not just recharging.

However, my parents haven't been so lucky in finding a landline phone for their house.  This is further complicated by the fact that the model that my parents prefer is one that's no longer in circulation.  Some of the problems they had with finding a new phone was some niggling little details that turned out to be more annoying than helpful.

For starters, the caller ID window gives you the heads-up on who's calling you, and depending on the caller, it's either a close friend, a business associate or a telephone solicitor.  Depending on the caller, you can choose to pick up the receiver right away, or let the machine deal with it.  The problem only comes when wanting to look up the list of people who've called.  On their old phone, you get not just the name of the person who called, but also their phone number, the time and date they called.  Four pieces of information available on a single screen.  Easy-peasy, just plain old queasy.  Only, nothing can ever stay simple for very long, can it?  The phone companies obviously thought these designs were not to their customer's satisfaction, and so changed them to something more their liking.  So, for the new phone, if you wanted to check your caller inventory, you no longer were required to push a single button.  After pressing the Call ID button, you'd be routed to a menu, asking you what options you'd like: the time, the date, the number or the name of the caller?  After choosing which of these hoops you wanted, you'd finally get the number, but the name wouldn't be available on the same screen.  For THAT, you'd have to go back to the menu, and go through the whole process again.  After which, you'd probably forget what you were looking for in the first place.  This 4-step program would drive anybody to a 12-step program.

I know that planned obsolence is needed for companies to replace their wares for potential customers, but is there some rule that says the next update has to be technologically superior and less effcient and user-friendly?  Microsoft Word, Vista and Windows 8 come to mind.

Another annoying feature is that the text can be hard to read off the screen.  This is not just regarding the font size and digital numbers, but also the intensity and boldness of the readout.  The glow of tiny font is easier to see on one screen than off another.  Two guesses which version is more practical.  Since my parents aren't avid texters, and don't rely on seeing touch-tone digits for making calls, this kind of option is useless to them. In another feature, the keyboards glow in the dark, making it easier to see the numbers, while the screen showing relevant information, stays muted.  To make matters more frustrating, the text disappears if it's not seen at a proper angle.  If you look at the screen from any view other than straight head-on, the information will vanish from your peripheral vision.  I can relate since I find reading comics with shiny glossy paper difficult to read because of the angle reflecting light off the page, making the glare annoyingly distracting.  We should be able to manipulate our tools, not have our tools manipulate us to their needs.

The really infuriating thing is that the could only find out about these problems AFTER they bought the phones and checked them out at home.  The whole process would've gone much smoother if they could've tested them out at the store, much like test driving a car.  The fact that I can't check any DVDs for whether the subtitles disappear when put on fast-forward has been a large deterrent in making impulse purchases of electronics.  Bringing my own DVD movies to the store is no help if the display samples don't have their remotes on hand to play around with.

Just as infuriating is that my mother has trouble finding her regular cellphone when she's not paying attention.  When she last lost it, she was scrambling all over the house trying to find the tiny ringtone from her missing cell by dialing the number, and listening for that barely audible tone.  Fun fact - the most common place lost household items are found are in the refrigerator.  (Not that that's where the phone was, but just wanted to throw that in there)  After that, she set the volume of her ringtone on MAX so wouldn't lose it next time, with the intention of setting the phone on vibrate in present company.  Of course, this doesn't always go exactly as planned, which can result in rather embarrassing distracting music playing during inopportune moments.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Adam's Receding Hairline

While looking up various items to spur my interest for potential blog topics, I came across an old GoComics editorial about Adam's art shift between how he looked back then, and how he looks now:
Adam changes
However, I take offence to their comment that Rob Harrell does a better job of aping Adam than Brian Bassett ever did.  I find Bassett's early artwork to be more fluid and animated compared to the more stiff art of his successor.  A sample of entries on CIDU should be all the proof you need.  If you don't want to check them out, I don't blame you - the comic, while never uproariously funny, had more instances of actual back/forth dialogue rather than just seguing into a lame joke.  (Okay, lamer, but the early strips were somewhat believable)

Actually, I was hoping for a more in-depth analysis of Adam's hair, since much like so many cartoon dads, he started out as having a copious amount on his head, until the features of his large schnozz and receding hairline dominated to define the man we know today.  Surprisingly, even though the trait of a husband with male-patterned baldness seems common enough, it doesn't have a TVtropes entry.  (Of course, now that I've brought the subject up, give them time...)
It's not entirely certain when Adam started to show signs of middle age, but I suspect that it could very well be significantly related to the cartoonist himself not getting any younger. Though chances are it could've unintentionally started earlier.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Three Septembers and a Party

Most other cartoons use the focus of going back to school for the theme of September, but since Garfield is a lazy housecat, he can afford to have differing opinions about the month that isn't restricted to going back to the scholastic grind, and Jon's profession is hardly addressed, so it's even less of an issue.

Incidentally, the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah takes place at the beginning of September, which seems somewhat fitting, since the religion is mainly about teaching.  Makes you wonder what other culture's New Years (such as the Chinese year in February) are supposed to signify.

So, other than schoolstuff, there's also Labor Day, continuation of the Football season, um... Grandparent's Day... the Fall Equinox...Yom Kippur... yeah, there's not much about this month outside of school that can be made light of.
Dear Diary... What a night! I had to do six encores at the club.
While it's been almost two years of sharing my calendars online, I almost didn't start doing this, and the next image will explain why.  It's also a somewhat embarrassing admission I've been reluctant to reveal:

Surprise Party for a Stranger Party
In the mood for a party, but don't have an excuse?  Then throw a party for the next person
who walks through the door in a public place.
Yes, I taped some stickers from a packet of cereal boxes, confident that I would safely retain the knowledge of the original image behind those figures.  This is pretty much the rationale behind getting rid of any of my childhood favorite books and toys long after I figured I'd outgrown them, and then suddenly had a nostalgic craving to see them again.  This can pretty much explain the packrat mentality of fandom - you never know when you'll want to see a childhood favorite, no matter how stupid it was.

Until I started doing these, I kept wondering in the back of my mind why I hadn't done this before.  Then when I came across this month, I suddenly remembered.  I could've stopped anytime, but having gone as far as I already had, it was too late.  I hoped to find an accompanying smaller picture in a recent Garfield Anniversary book which showcased a few Calendars, but this month's installment was absent.  Possibly there are others who've unintentionally vandalized their precious calendars with various doodles in the margins, which could account for the lack of a cartoon calendar tumblr.  I tried to see if I could peel away the stickers off, but was worried that any attempt to do so would ruin the page, and also possibly damage the whole calendar as well.  If there IS anybody out there who has a copy of the original, please let me know, and I'll post the quality version below.