Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chibi Comic Characters

Next to speedlines, decompressed storytelling and tentacles, one of the most popular techniques borrowed (stolen) from Manga is the act of Superdeformation, which is to render a typically full-figured character into a shorter stockier (and cuter) version of that character.  When Manga was stealing customers from the comic shops (or more accurately, giving a neglected audience something that actually appealed to their tastes), some companies retaliated by putting out Chibi versions of their customers on some variant covers.  This practice didn't last long, because the interior art was drastically different from the exterior, further alienating these people from trying something that would constantly squander their interests by failing to live up to their promises.

This practice is simply reducing these iconic characters down to their most basic elements.  It's not unlike being able to recognize someone by seeing their silhouettes or pixels.  There was an attempt at doing Chibi versions of the Disney Princesses entitled Little Princesses, which wouldn't be entirely out of place from Disney's desire to reach a wider female presence, but so far, it hasn't amounted to much.

However, in the question of comic characters on the rapidly shrinking Newspaper page, the result of shrinking already small cartoons would seem almost redundant.  But only up to a point.  In most cases, when someone is drawn smaller and cuter, its more likely to show them as they appeared in their youth.

At first, I had no idea who these side characters were supposed to be, until I found out that Hi & Lois occasionally crossed over with Beetle Bailey.  After that, the rest was easy.

Its a handy visual shortcut to tell who the little kid is, even though they couldn't have possibly looked like that when they were young.  (Adam's schnozz is still notoriously large here)  Even accounting for puberty which messes up with your chromosomes something awful, the result is usually something that looks less like the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly and more of a work in progress resulting in a final outcome that'll be either aesthetically pleasing to the eye or a visual trainwreck, depending on how much you care about your looks and health.

The miniaturization could also result from the adults thinking about how they appear now, instead of how they actually looked back then.  For instance, Hagar is sporting a rather impressive beard for someone attending grade school.  (Not to mention wearing a smaller version of his daily clothes)  Its very much how James Stevenson's Grandpa's youth (That Terrible Halloween Night) always sported a mustache as a kid.

That's why I'm impressed with artists who manage to convincingly portray their characters as appearing different throughout the ages, and not just from a change in clothes alone.  You can count on one hand characters who DON'T look like their older and younger selves on one hand.  There's a series of articles by Telophase about Manga characters growing up, though Kanna from 20th Century Boys comes to mind.  Interestingly enough, in another Hagar comic, his inner child runs amok, and looks closer to what a typical red-headed kid would've been before the wine food and fun got to his waist.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

McDonaldland Fun Times

Of all of the McDonaldLand Fun Times that I picked up in my regular visits to the fast food restaurant, this is the only single issue I've kept over the years, because I felt it had the most quality stuff inside worth keeping.  Right away, the front cover has a level of painted realism that would gradually be lost in later installments which would become increasingly simplified.

A slight warning - some of the easy puzzles have already been solved.  Not by my own hand I assure you, but by my mother who's able to find word association with the greatest of ease.  This was nothing more than a simple exercise to pass the time.  I should also mention she's a monster at Boggle and Scrabble where I struggle to string together anything longer than four words.  It's no wonder I hate playing these games with her, because even when playing with a handicap, she routinely beats the pants off everyone else in the room.

Next, we get a little taste of the influence of the environmentalists craze that was beginning to pick up steam in the 80's.  What I liked to imagine was the process the "junk" would've taken inside the machine to produce the total product at the exit.

Confession time - I've never actually read any poems that showed up here, and I always skimmed over this page because it wasn't very interesting to me.  Also, sans its text, it was very similar to the page next to it.

Draw-it-Yourself pages must be the easiest part of a children's book to do.  Just leave a mostly blank page and allow the reader to do your work for you.  Since I was abysmally neurotic about drawing anything that would be perceived as imperfect, I never bothered to fill in the page.  Besides, the side details and background colouring were enough for me.
Keeping in the theme of protecting the planet is a slightly amusing look at the various ways you can succeed and fail to save energy through various means in the form of a board game.  The environmental message was something I superficially thought was perceived important enough to warrant keeping since it was "sending a message", and anything that didn't have any overt commentary wasn't worth its time.
The second reason for keeping this was this explanation of the symbiotic relationship between crocodiles and plovers.  In addition to reminding me the name of those birds, it was also a handy reminder of the potential direction McDonalds could've gone.  The overall impression is something that would not feel out of place in a Rudyard Kipling Just So story.

So far, we've got word puzzles, childcraft instructions, environmental tips, a Porquoi story, and a few riddles added to the mix.  Something I just realized now - there's a surprising lack of the McDonald mascots in this pamphlet than you would think.

The number one reason I kept this magazine was for the second board game at the end.  Normally, these kinds of games are passable due to their luck factor (and having to use a coin instead of dice), and seems almost redundant with the NRGY game seen earlier, but what saved it was the monkey's facial expressions.

Then for completists, there's the answer page, most of which have been solved already.  Including the answers to the picture right above the answers.  I understand there's space restrictions and all, but that's kind of cutting corners there isn't it?

At the end, we get a perfunctory inspirational message from the clown mascot himself.

The only other memorabilia of the McLFT I have is a tiny cutout of a character sheet that was part of another board game that I foolishly took a sharp instrument to.  Because of this, I felt unwilling to keep a part of nostalgia that was obviously disfigured, so I got rid of all of the Fun Times, confident that they would reside in my memories, and wouldn't need them to reference any explanation to anybody unaware of their existence.

Boy, do I regret that decision now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charley's War II's Memorable Scenes

It's Veterans Day once again, which means it's time for my annual Charley's War tribute.  Titan publishing has managed to complete their collection of Charley's War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun with the 10th collection appropriately titled The End.  There was rumours of collecting the second half with Scott Goodall doing the writing, but with a title as definite as that, it sounds like interest wasn't high enough to guarantee sales for the second half.

So it's likely that any chance of the Goodall stories won't be seeing the light of day.  As disappointing as that sounds, it's probably for the best.  Pat Mills original intention was that the continuation of Charley's War would follow the exploits of World War II through Charley's son (who would also be named Charley - a kind of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure kind of thing) but editorial interference denied him of that, and apart from the first three episodes, the rest of the WWII adventures fell into Scott Goodall's hands.  To further twist the knife, Charley's son was named Len, so out went that opportunity, which meant that Charley was forced to go back into the war as a veteran in order to find his missing son, leading to a recursive history where Charley wonders (quite redundantly) how all this warmongering began, looping back to the beginning of the story.

Without Pat Mill's research, the overall exploits of Charley's new adventures felt somewhat lacking.  While Joe Colquhoun's artwork was as striking as ever, the magic behind the script was gone.  I'd heard that the later stories were more adventure based, but having read so many anti-war propaganda, I was unaware of what a pro-war comic would be like.  Apparently, it was akin to a typical action comic with little or no attachment to reality involved.  (Often involving fisticuffs in a world of tanks and riffles)

Even so, that didn't stop a few gems from showing up here and there.  Here's a list of what I consider to be the highlights of the weaker half of Charley's War.

4. Cricketing Officer, Captain Winslow Cariton-Hyde

With Captain Snell gone, there would have been ample opportunity for a new commanding foil to make their appearance.  There was the war-crazed Bert Nickles who was rumoured to have a glass eye, but couldn't be discharged on lack of proof.

But I felt more partial to the British soldier who treated war like a inconvenience while concentrating on games of cricket.  Another carryover from the Great War where there were actual officers who were more preoccupied with their pastimes than engaging in the distracting war which "would be over anytime now."

3. A "Handy" Man
One thing that Pat Mills was quite successful at was building up a roster of secondary characters who would periodically pop up in the narrative and then be taken out just as suddenly.  The most memorable soldier was Smith Seventy (since there were so many Smiths in the war they were assigned by number) with his trademark "Bit technical, know what I mean?"

Goodall's perchance for creating secondary characters was less based on realistic affirmation of life in the battlefield and more preposterous caricatures exaggerated to a large degree.  The most notable early example would be Handy Smith, a soldier whose defining trait was hands larger than the average man.  Here, we see the results of having MAN-man hands.  Eventually, he went out in a similar way that Mad Mick did in the Somme, which goes to show how much blatant mining of Pat's ideas was done here.

2. Bill Tozer's Assistance

One of the things that made Charley's War stand out was not just limited to showing life on the battlefield, but also showing events happening at the home front.  Cousin Oiley appeared sporadically through Charley's War as a cowardly profit-monger who would take advantage of any dirty deal that could be made, no matter how small.  Likewise, Charley's sergeant Bill Tozer was a rough-and-tumble military man who would lord it hard over his men, but also know when to turn a blind eye to unfair bureaucracy.  So when Charley's wife was unjustly framed for a trafficking crime she didn't commit, it was up to Charley's retired officer to help out in his absence.  Naturally, this led to the confrontation between a snake salesman and a drill sergeant which ended in the only way it could - through a fistfight.  This meeting between two unlikely people also relieved some pent-up frustration from seeing the slimy relative get some sense of justice.  For some reason, we can't feel satisfaction until we see jerks get punched in the face.

1. Hortense Flaubert: War Widow

In a typical war comic, it's a safe guarantee that there'll pretty much be a low content of women involved, unless they're prostitutes, high ranking lieutenants, or mistreated citizens.

So it was somewhat of a surprising subversion that we got the intimidating figure of a large woman who managed to overpower the enemy by sheer determination and strength alone.  Having plenty of guns and ammunition in her cupboard didn't hurt either.

She was easily my favorite part of the Goodall-written stories so far, even as her abilities and manners remained totally outlandish.

She was easily the most memorable character to date, and much like Fiona Brass in For Better or for Worse, she left too soon in order not to draw too much attention away from the central characters.  A pity.  She was enough of a presence to deserve her own series.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Expanded and Condensed Similar Ideas

One of the things I outlined in Mathematical Equivalence of Comics (one of my blog posts that I'm most proud of), is that there were comic pages tackling topics of varying length depending on the kind of comic used.  Something I'd like to expand on is that there are some ideas conveyed through comics that some cartoonists may choose to portray a message that depending on how much of the message they want to get across.

It's not unusual for cartoonists across different continents to express similar sentiments since they display universal themes.  One of the hallmarks of a good author is how effective they are in stealing other's ideas and passing it off as their own.  If they're good at it, they won't be called out on their plagiarism until they're dead.  If they're especially good, posthumous criticism won't deter their fans from enjoying their work at all.  "Stealing from one author is plagiarism.  Stealing from multiple is research."  In other circles, you get the rare case where you have the same idea, but expressed in a different way.

There was a Feiffer comic about a man who continued to write harsh criticism of people in power, even as they continued to express their dissatisfaction upon his efforts.  Until one day when the higher-ups decided to change their tactics.  It makes for a somewhat sobering read.

But many people might not want to slog through what would be an intimidating wall of text with static narrative.  So rather, Quino manages to accomplish what Feiffer did with the barest amount of introductory exposition allowed, which results in a more dramatic and enlightening coverage of the same issues.

In this Posy comic, the adults talk among themselves about the lessons enforced upon the children on the meaning of animal life and mortality.

Now compare that with this For Better or for Worse Sunday comic.  There was some discussion about how Grandma's fantastical telling of God painting the leaves individually was somehow less worthy compared to Elly's rational explanation of how nature works.  It reminded me of a line from the novel Life of Pi where the Indian boy dreaded the day where all sense of wonder would be lost to the dry statistical analysis of reality.

Even though people know that Walt Disney was cremated, they still like to believe in the urban legend that his frozen head is cryogenically frozen beneath Disneyland.  The explosion of Science Fiction has meant that understanding how the universe works has also undermined the exploration of said universe.  There's little to no possibility of Flash Gordon-style adventures happening anytime in the future.  Then again, there's still believers in the Flat Earth Society and Hollow Earth theory, so sudden acceptance of rational thought isn't a possibility anytime soon.

There was a recent news article about how China was attempting to stop people from speeding by having fake police cars along the highway.  Sure, you could go ahead and zoom past an empty police car, but would you want to take the risk?  Naturally, this reminded me of two relevant comics about deterrence through false imagery.

While Don Martin uses fake policemen as a deterrent from punk gangs, Broom Hilda goes in the opposite direction for security.

MAD's Al Jaffee is well known for his many contributions to the magazine, especially his MAD fold-ins, MAD inventions and of course, his Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.

Although Al Jaffee didn't invent the concept of Snappy Answers (it may have originated as early as Foolish Questions by Rube Goldberg), he's strongly associated with the joke.  Near the end of a Comics Journal interview, he mentioned a fan who gave him a typical SATSQ book with all the blank balloons filled in with repetitions of the question itself.

Other than repeating the question back verbatim like a Smartbot, you might be wondering how you could possibly make an already short joke shorter.  Herman found an alternate way with one minor difference - by eliminating the snappy answer entirely.  Rather than the answer, the joke takes the form of the question, since the answer would be completely obvious to anyone.

Friday, November 1, 2013

No no no no no no No-vember

Sorry for the monthly delay.  I would've updated earlier, but I was plagued by a series of power failures brought upon some high-speed wind currents that sporadically appeared across the province today.  If it weren't for the lack of heating and the gradually dimming sunlight, we could've passed the time by attempting to take a mini-vacation this way:

Indoor Beach Party
If the weather is too bad to go outside, bring the outside inside.  It never rains in your living room, right?  It is recommended you hold a party of this nature right before you're planning to redecorate anyways.

The lack of blog posts last month can also be summed up in this diary entry:
Dear Diary... Busy, Busy, Busy!  Too many things happened today to possibly tell you about.
On the one hand, I'm busier than I've ever been, but on the other, I also feel like I'm not working to my full potential that I could be.  Whether those covert projects will see any results in the future remains to be seen, but I'll keep you appraised when the time comes.

As promised way back in March, here's what I consider the funniest Garfield calendar comic.  Considering the competition, it's not much of a contest.

Apart from the rare bonus of two jokes in the last panel, this is also the only comic that even mentions the theme of Thanksgiving.  Apart from the Thanksgiving special, there are no daily strips that mention the holiday.  There's various comics about Garfield devouring waylaid turkeys, but nowhere close to November for them to count.