Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cropped Covers

I was browsing through 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, a brick of recommended essential reading material of comic paperbacks, hoping to chance upon a GN I came across in the mid-90s.  It had something to do with a sorcerer wanting to force his way into a paradise / utopia that was zealously guarded by women.  No matter what defenses they drew up, he effortlessly managed to shoot them all down with unerring accuracy and logic.  Then, once having reasoned his prowess, was just about to step through into Paradise when the leader made a last-ditch effort and relocated Paradise to somewhere at random that even she wouldn't know.  From that point on, people all over the world started to feel the effects of the removal of Paradise, and feeling uneasy without knowing why.  This led to various long-winded conversations between people everywhere and the creation of a log cabin.  Although it was drawn in a fairly realistic style, it was still somewhat amusing.  The general weirdness of the premise and lack of any central main character might have something to do with its obscurity.  If there's anybody out there who has any idea of what I'm describing, please let me know.

Anyways, getting back on topic, I was going through the collection of comic titles, when I came across an item that was familiar to me.  It was something I'd borrowed from the library - Bosnian Flat Dog, which despite its horrific sketchy drawings,, is actually a loose autobiography of a group of cartoonists in a land of Kafkaesque proportions.  A major plot point consists of following trails of ripped out diary pages about having the mummyfied body of Marshal Tito stuffed in a refrigerator and an underground ice cream network.  (It's weirder than it sounds)

At the time, I didn't think much of the cover, figuring it was typical of the nightmarish world they were living in.  But when I looked up the title, the reference page gave the larger image, which showed what I'd been missing:

It got me thinking about other covers that were cropped for the sake of convenience.  The most infamous example I can think of is CMX's conservative editing of Tenjho Tenge, a fairly fanservicy Manga, dealing with violence and breasts, This was somewhat surprising, considering how the company would later try to aim for fanservice with more risique S-hero titles.  (I suppose if the creators and commercially licensed characters are American, you can get away with pandering to your fetishistic fanbase, rather than branch out to potential new audiences)  In addition to releasing their early volumes in stiff uneasy-to-turn papers, it pretty much poisoned the well for the company's reputation.  But apparently, it's not the only instance of slightly modifying the cover to make it more mainstream.

Back when Frank Miller wasn't as crazy as he is now, and wasn't pining for the world of 1940's gangsters, he was expressing admiration for the world of manly Manga, where muscle-bound men would prevail against formidable opponents while weeping openly.  He showed this by drawing the covers for the first twelve issues of First Comics edition of Lone Wolf & Cub, which were later reprinted out of order for the Dark Horse collections.

What was left out of the cover for "The Gateless Barrier" where the assassin-for-hire manages to train himself mentally to be able to slay a living Buddha is the shocked expression of the lone man in the crowd.  That little extra detail made the dramatic moment more amusing than it should've, which is probably why he was cut out.

This extends to reprintings of children's books as well.  One of my favorite examples, The Church Mice series has been through various reprintings with various publishers, and different covers.

This reviewer may be more lenient with the reprint, being happy just to have the recent classic available, but I'm far harsher, particularly with the removal of some images from the first printing, and the treatment of dumbing down the original text.

For anyone curious about the missing images, as well as how the front and back covers looked, a comprehensive display can be found here:

In some cases, it may be a cultural thing, depending on what is considered more important.  The English version of Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller had the girl and her teacher in a tree, putting the characters foremost onto the cover up front.

But the French edition of the same comic gave a much wider scope of their surroundings.

Before we get all high and mighty about such things, the French market doesn't always get the right end of the shiny stick.

Casterman's reprinting of English titles has them changed to conform to a consistent line of comic covers that have the characters cast against a blank background.  It makes them thematically similar, but also somewhat dulls the overall exterior appearance.

Some Mangas even go the similar route as well.  Kaoru Mori's Otoyomegatari (A Bride's Stories) was faithfully reprinted (in hardcover with cover flaps) by Yen Press to the delightment of her fans.

Whereas, the French edition went by completely whitewashing the lushly drawn background details, as well as the accompanying back cover art.

Considering the amount of outcry Manga fans over here get when details of their favorite titles get mangled or slightly manipulated with, you'd think there'd be similar outcry on the other side of the ocean.  Either there isn't that much publicity or overanalysis compared to over here, or there hasn't been much publicity involved, or maybe they have slightly different priorities, being happy just to have a title available.  Does anybody have any idea what constitutes a scandalous change over there?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Voice Impressionist Robin Williams

Last week, the world was shocked when renowned actor Robin Williams committed suicide.  There was further outpouring of grief when it was further revealed that the man had been battling depression.
In the end, he faced his inner demons and lost.

Anecdotes have come up ranging from giving shout-outs to neglected people in the movie industry to hiring homeless people to help with movies.  As much as everybody's been reminiscing his roles in his movies, including the few rare instances where he played against type in more serious roles, the fact remains that he wasn't always as highly regarded as people remember.  There was an article (which I can't find right now) which pointed out that Robin Williams had a tendency to do a repeat of his stand-up routine, long after he'd already proven his worth.  In Good Morning Vietnam, he played a fast-talking radio jockey with perchance for doing funny voices, in Ferngully, he voiced a rapping experimentative fruit bat with various voices, in Mrs. Doubtfire, he applied for a job interview by - surprise, surprise - rattling off various funny celebrity voices.  The article likened him to an annoying uncle who repeated his favorite party tricks, regardless of whether the family was tired of them or not.

It also didn't help that he tended to play Man child roles, such as in Hook, Jumanji, Jack and Toys.

His self-esteem was such that he clearly didn't think that he played that big a part in Aladdin (despite being a scene-stealer in every part he played in) and asked that they downplay his presence in favor of the other voice actors, feeling that they deserved equal attention.  He was also against using his animated form for being a huckster shell for selling stuff, which was against his ethics.  So he was dismayed when he saw the promotional poster of the movie displaying Genie as the largest character there.  This led to a falling out with Disney, and the part of Genie was replaced by Dan Castellaneta for the sequel and TV series, and only came back after a formal apology for the 3rd sequel, Prince of Thieves, which Roger Ebert noted, had the same plot as another movie, Kazaam.

Much of Genie's appeal came from Robin William's improvisation, over 30 hours worth (which greatly inspired the animators) for a 90-minute movie, which unfortunately, led to a plague of rapid-talking funny mascots in later Disney movies, when they weren't really needed.  Later Celebrity voice actors simply couldn't duplicate the amount of comedic off-script material that made Aladdin a success.  In some cases, they might have been better off not trying.  (I'm looking at you Eddie Murphy)

So far, the most scathing recent criticism was for the 25th anniversary of Dead Poets Society which was heavily lambasted for not understanding the literature of poetry and effectively teaching independent thought free of the teacher's influence despite the fact that the message of the movie was to enthuse the students with inspiration by going off the usual beaten path and being an influence to make studying seem interesting.

But all these are just symptoms after the cause.  Actors have been heavily criticized for their crutch shticks before and have coped by falling back on money and publicity.  The most likely trigger was the cancellation of his last TV show The Crazy Ones.  Despite starring an all-star cast and director David E. Kelly, it couldn't save the tired formula and cliched father/daughter relationship from appearing boring.  Even having an episode pre-empted in an Elementary time slot wasn't enough to garner interest in the show.  Just simply playing to his comedic strengths wasn't enough - it needed the same kind of heart that Robin Williams was fond of doing in passing, and it's hard to do that authentically.  With all the stories told of how funny he was behind the scenes, particularly between takes of serious movies (such as One Hour Photo, where the actors struggled to retain their composure), a better concept would've been of an over-the-hill actor doing comedic bits between takes before going back on set.  It would've fit his role perfectly.  One wonders if the kind of jokes he told were too risque for Friday Night television.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It's a Cat's Lives

I've just recently found out that yesterday was World Cat Day, which seems appropriate since the internet seems tailor-made to support cat-related sources such as amusing cat videos and Cat Memes.  One of the most recent links that seems to have exploded in popularity is Confused Cats Against Feminism, which is a parody of the typical male reaction to anything that potentially threatens male privilege.

While most contributors would no doubt be submitting plenty of funny and cute stuff, I thought I'd make mine more closer to my heart by combining two of my favorite stories - one from the sadly offline, the source of early online Anime fandom essays, and the other by Émile Franc from 2000 Comic L'association, an anthology consisting of 2000 pages of silent comics from various cartoonists all over the world, usually having the new millennium as a theme.  Normally, you'd think that having a book consisting of nothing but pictures would be an easy and quick read, but since the stories are all done by various artists, the comics all have different amount of pacing, which amounts to having to implement lots of careful "reading" without any helpful words to help propel the action along.  If you're having trouble understanding what happens, there's a handy cheat sheet at the bottom.  Seriously, you should try re-reading it multiple times to really get it.

As for the story below, I changed around the order of some of the opening paragraphs so they'd be closer to the relevant pages, but otherwise, nothing's really changed.

The Cat who Lived a Million Lives:

There was a cat who could live for a million years.
He died a million times, and lived a million times.
He was a great tiger-striped cat.
A million people adored the cat,
And a million people cried when that cat died.
The cat never cried, not even once.

Once, the cat was a king's cat.
The cat hated the king.
The king was great at war, and was always at war.
And, he put the cat in a magnificent cage,
And took him out to war.
One day, the cat was hit by a flying arrow, and died.
The king embraced the cat and wailed during the battle.
The king stopped the war and returned to his castle.
And, he buried the cat in the castle's garden.

Once, the cat was a sailor's cat.
The cat hated the seas.
The sailor took the cat to all the seas of the world,
And all the ports of the world.
One day, the cat fell off the boat.
The cat could not swim.
The sailor hurriedly scooped up the cat with his net,
But the cat was soaked and dead.
The sailor embraced the cat which was now like a wet rag,
And wailed in a loud voice.
And, he buried the cat under the tree
In a park in a far-away port.

Once, the cat was a burglar's cat.
The cat hated burglars.
The burglar walked quietly through the dark town with the cat,
Just like a cat.
The burglar robbed only houses with dogs.
While the dog was barking at the cat,
The burglar opened the safes.
One day, the cat was bitten to death by the dog.
The burglar embraced the cat with the diamonds he stole,
And walked through the night town wailing in a loud voice.
Then, he went home and buried the cat in a small yard.

Once, the cat was the cat of a lonely grandmother.
The cat hated grandmothers.
The grandmother looked outside every day from a small window,
Holding the cat in her arms.
The cat was asleep all day on top of the grandmother's lap.
Time passed, and the cat died of old age.
The frail grandmother embraced the frail dead cat,
And cried all day.
The grandmother buried the cat under a tree in the yard.

Once, the cat was the cat of a magician in a circus.
The cat hated the circus.
The magician put the cat inside a box every day,
And cut him in half with a saw.
Then, he removed the cat, still in one piece,
Out of the box to receive his applause.
One day, the magician made a mistake,
And really cut the cat in half.
The magician wailed in a loud voice,
Holding the two parts of the cat in each hand.
Nobody applauded him.
The magician then buried the cat behind the circus tent.

Once, the cat was a little girl's cat.
The cat hated children.
The girl piggy-backed the cat, and slept clutching the cat.
When she cried, she wiped her tears on the cat's back.
One day atop the girl's back,
The holster to keep the cat secure wound around his neck,
And the cat died.
Holding the cat with the dangly neck, the girl cried all day.
And, she buried the cat under a tree in the yard.

The cat had no fear of dying.

Once, the cat wasn't anyone's cat.
He was a stray cat.
The cat was able to be his own cat for the first time.
The cat loved himself.
Since he was a great tiger-striped cat,
He became a great stray cat.

All the female cats wanted to be the cat's wife.
There were cats that gave him huge fish.
Others gave him premium mice.
Some cats brought rare catnip as a gift.
Other cats licked his tiger fur for him.
The cat said to all of them—
"I've died a million times! This is so ridiculous now!"
The cat loved himself more than anyone else.

But there was just one beautiful white cat
That didn't even look at the cat.
The cat went over next to the white cat, and told her,
"I died a million times!"
The white cat just said, "Oh."
The cat became slightly upset, since he loved himself.
The next day, and the day after that,
The cat went over to the white cat and told her,
"You haven't even finished one life."
The white cat just said, "Oh."

One day, the cat did three somersaults in front of the white cat,
and said, "I once was a cat for a circus."
The white cat just said, "Oh."
The cat started to say, "I have had a million—"
Then asked the white cat, "Can I be at your side?"
The white cat said, "Yes."
The cat stayed by the white cat for a long time.

The white cat had many cute kittens.
The cat no longer dared to say "I have had a million—"
The cat loved the white cat and all the many kittens
Even more than himself.

As time passed, the kittens grew up and all went away.
The cat, satisfied, said, "They became great stray cats now."
The white cat said, "Yes," and softly purred her throat.
The white cat had become a grandmother cat.
The cat purred his throat even more softly.
The cat thought that he wanted to live forever with the white cat.

One day, the white cat quietly stopped moving next to the cat.
The cat cried for the first time in his life.
Night came, morning came,
Night came again, and morning came again.
The cat cried a million times.
Morning came, night came—
and one afternoon, the cat stopped crying.
The cat, next to the white cat, quietly stopped moving.

The cat never came back to life again.

The Cat Who Lived a Million Times

Handy timesheet of the above dates:

1900-1917:  A mother cat is found to have too many babies, and has her litter dumped in the river.  One solitary survivor is retrieved from a rescuer downstream, and lives fairly free until while wandering a battlefield, gets its neck snapped in a noose of barbed wire, much to the soldiers' pleasure.

1917-1922:  Is part of the high socialist's society, and while the owner is preoccupied with a romantic liaison with her fiance, walks precariously alongside the balcony window until unwittingly pushed off.

1922-1936:  Gets caught up in a gang war of musicians who keep assault weapons in their guitar cases, and winds up a casualty of friendly fire.

1936-1943: Is part of a family couple, until spied by a butcher while climbing one roof too many, and is knocked off by a slingshot and sold for meat.

1943-1960:  Lives an uneventful life with a married couple well into their retirement years, which goes to show that a boring life may not be all that bad.

1960-1969: Lives with a rich carefree family with little responsibility over their children to the point where some boys cut the cat open just for fun.

1969-1975: Lives with a couple that later becomes part of a Hippie society, and is crucified on a tree as a warning to others.

1975-1990: Roams the highways until tempted with drugged food and sent to a laboratory and then experimented on until it's outlived its usefulness.

1990-2000: Is part of a large group of friends for a decade until dying of natural causes, and a seance is held  and a proper grave is contributed in honour of its previous lives.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Business Metaphors

In the newspapers comics world, Dilbert's pretty much taken the top slot when it comes to portraying cutthroat elements of office politics.  Of course, that was only after experimenting with multiple abandoned themes such as talking dinosaurs, bizarre science experiments and Dogbert's plans for World Domination, and finding that dealing with petty work relations struck a chord with readers.  In that same sense, other comics tend to flex their creative muscles, and wind up producing some surprising results you wouldn't normally associate dealing with the business world:


Business Lunch

Business Trip

The Stock Market

Friday, August 1, 2014

August Placement

Aug 2: Wild Bill Hickock Shot During Card Game 1876 - Canada Bill's Motto: A Smith and Wesson beats four aces.

Aug. 8: London's Great Train Robbery 1963 - Munder's Corollary: Everybody who does not work has a scheme that does.

Aug. 11 - Priestler's Law of Desire: The more you want it, the quicker the letdown after you get it.

Aug. 13 - Jones' Law of TV Programming: If there are only two shows worth watching, they will be on at the same time.

Aug. 19 - Sattinger's Law: It works better if you plug it in.

Aug. 21 - Suazo's Observation: Middle age happens when the chest and stomach start occupying the same parts of the body.

Aug. 24 - Mt. Vesuvius Erupts 79 AD. - Young's Law: All inanimate objects move just enough to get in your way.

Aug. 27 - Sintetos' Law of Consumerism: A 60-day warranty guarantees the product will self-destruct on the 61st day.