Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Road to El Deafo

This was something of a pleasant surprise.  I was browsing the comics section of a bookstore, and came across this title that I'd received no notice or advance previews on any regular comics newsites, and upon reading the first thirty pages, bought it practically on the spot - something I NEVER do for anything I haven't previously read elsewhere.  That goes to show how strongly the subject material affected me, even though I have little to no interest in Deaf culture, despite being deaf myself.

In case you haven't guessed by now, the theme is an autobiographical book of early onset deafness by Cece Bell (Which sadly, doesn't rhymes with Decibel, but would've be fitting if it did.  Ironically, the name means Blind in Latin)

Obviously, there are different parallels between Cece Bell and me, but it's not meant to be a reflective perspective of every deaf person out there.  Just as the Cracked tagline for the movie parody BeagleJuice goes, "If you've seen one ghost, you haven't seen them all."  By that similar token, if you've met somebody with Asperger's Syndrome, you've met somebody with Asperger's syndrome.

Cece Bell lost her hearing not via birth, but from the aftereffects of contracting Meningitis at the age of four.  During her stay at the hospital, she contracted terrible headaches, and after awhile, noticed how QUIET everything was afterwards.  She didn't think much of it afterwards, and it took awhile for her mother to notice that something was wrong.

Early intervention is crucial when it comes to combating the effects of early onset Deafness - the longer you can't hear, the harder it will be for newborns to get used to hearing.  A babysitter noticed that I didn't seem to be hearing properly, but didn't tell my mother, out of respect of not wanting to stir any troubled waters by pointing out the obvious.  As a result, I wasn't properly detected and diagnosed until a month later.  Nowadays, babies are tested to see if they show signs of deafness, but that's still no excuse for being accommodating.  If you happen to notice a child displaying familiar symptoms you're aware of - don't try being polite.  Let the parents know of your suspicions immediately if they haven't said so otherwise.  They may take offense at first, but in the long run, they'll thank you later.

I was told that when I was first fitted for hearing aids, I started fussing at first, until I had the switch turned on, and then I started reacting joyfully at the new sensation of a sense I wasn't even aware existed.  Since there's no home video recording of my first hearing experience, here's the next best thing - a baby getting results from a cochlear implant, the closest thing science has to literally inputting a computer in our brains, creating a literal cyborg.

However, while Cece Bell now has the benefit of a hearing aid, she's still not completely out of the woods yet.  She has to reacquaint herself with learning how to hear things all over again, which has some unintended comical consequences.

Fortunately, Cece Bell has her elementary education in a classroom with other equally deaf students, and among other basic learning skills (Math, English), also learns the rudimentary essential knowledge that is lip reading.  If you want to understand what's going on, this is a must.

Going off on a related tangent, there was praise given to the issue of Hawkeye #19, where the protagonist suffered some hearing loss, and had to cope by reluctantly going back to using sign language to communicate with his brother.  An attempt was made elsewhere to translate the majority of the sign language, without much trouble, save for one particular sequence, which left the proofreader baffled, but which seemed obvious to me.

Clint: No, I feel _____

To give some context, there are flashbacks to beatings from his drunken father.  With that little extra detail, we can now interpret the silent image as:

Clint: No, I feel nothing.

What's left out is how EXHAUSTING it can be constantly deciphering everything everybody's saying.
Even if you tell regular hearing people to face you when talking, it's easy for them to forget these rules when they talk to another regular hearing person, and turn away, reverting back to their regular talking speed, leaving you trying in vain to catch what they're saying.  You think lip-reading is hard?  Try doing it from a side angle.

When being mainstreamed into a regular school, Cece Bell is given a microphone in class to better understand what's going on.  This had the unintended side effect of listening in to the teacher during private conversations outside of the classroom when she would forget about carrying a one-way wiretapping device.  As useful as this is for overhearing adult dialogue in the bathroom, it's not helpful in face-to-face conversations.  It's like superhearing, but only under extremely limited conditions.

Although I had a similar FM system throughout grade and high school, I was never able to fully enjoy the wide range of sounds that Cece Bell did.  To me, the noise from the FM System was more distracting than helpful, compared to the more immediate and accurate simulation of a face-to-face oral interpreter, who not only would clear up words I might not understand, but repeat sentences I would've otherwise missed.

Despite my misgivings, I was never embarrassed by my deafness, seeing it as a part of me, but Cece Bell clearly felt otherwise, going so far as to hide her hearing aid underneath her clothes, the only proof of her disability being visible via the wires attached to her ears.

Inside and outside of school, Cece Bell has trouble with fitting in by being unable to enjoy the same radio and TV programs as everybody else.  Since this obviously takes place before close captioning became more widespread, I can only imagine the amount of frustration she had to overcome.  To this day, I STILL can't watch several shows I'm potentially interested in simply because there aren't any available subtitles, either legal or illegal.  While she had to gleam what was going on from second-hand sources from her brothers and sister, she greatly enjoyed the silent cartoons of Tom & Jerry, with their slapstick antics.  Likewise, I enjoyed the cartoons of the Pink Panther and the Coyote & Road Runner.

I was also surprised to learn that Cece Bell didn't know how to read at an early age, since I was able to do so thanks to being constant surrounded by storytelling of beginner's children's books.  As I mentioned before, I learned how to communicate by learning how to read, THEN talk, which I understand is backwards from other people, who learn language by listening, then reading.  I suppose her being able to hear in her early childhood might've been a mitigating factor.  Even so, I would've liked to learn how she managed to overcome the hurdle of reading.  The only hint we get is of a single Batman comic, which is used as an apt metaphor.

In addition, because of her reluctance to interact with the outside world, she had an extremely small circle of friends, starting with a domineering friend who wanted to control her, which brought back ugly stories I'd heard about my sister's experience in High School.  The next friend she made was friendlier, but tended to aggravate Cece Bell by over-exaggerating her speech patterns.  She could understand her clearly, but felt like she was being condescended to, even though she could comprehend her speech at a faster pace.  Trying to find and keep friends who are easy to get along with is an uphill battle.  It's not like you can just easily switch out to another friend who's easy to understand.  To quote a metaphor I often use, trying to get someone with social phobia to interact with a party is like trying to introduce an illiterate to a library - they're going to be intimidated by the amount of material.

The only parts I didn't personally like were Cece Bell's imaging herself as a S-hero, imagining herself saying and doing things she'd wished she said, overdramatizing her dilemmas and the schoolgirl crush over a cute boy that's basically a self-contained one-sided Soap Opera drama.  Fortunately, the latter didn't quite protrude over the latter half

Of course, these are purely my personal opinion.  These factors may not bother other readers, and shouldn't be considered a deterrent for what's essentially a window into a world of deafness that no longer exists, but which struggles remain relevant to this day.

"Hearing is the deepest, most humanizing philosophical sense man possesses... the sound of the voice that brings us language, sets thought astir and helps us in the intellectual company of man."
- Helen Keller

or, as otherwise heard by a deaf person,

"He****** ** **e *eepe*t, ***t hu******** **l*****c* *e**e *** p***e**e*... **e **u** ** **e ***ce t**t ****** u* l***u**e, *et* ***u*ht **t** *** help* u* ** **e **tellectu*l c**p**y ** ***."
Hele* *elle*

Thursday, September 11, 2014

More Rejected Garfields

Since it's been such a long time since any of my submissions have shown up on SROMG (the last entry was in February), and there aren't any of my submissions coming in the coming month, I thought it might be time for another entry of Garfield concepts that didn't quite make the cut.

Keep in mind that this is a compilation of concepts I had that were never fully realized, so some samples will remain incomplete.

Before going on to my comic drafts, I figure I might as well point out some worthy Garfield parodies that were found online.  First up is Josh Burggraf's comic consisting of taking two separate comic panels and doing the artwork in between.

Somewhat appropriate, considering there was a Random Nancy generator before a Garfield one.

Or this comic that's a contender for the most disturbing Garfield since the legendary Halloween week.

And then there's this oddity that I can't find the original address of, though I'm sure it was either the sixth or seventh comic in the archive.

There are also two comics shown on the forums that I'm surprised haven't shown up on the archives yet.

One which will make more sense to Jojo aficionados.

The other, which is a take on the recent Blender Face meme.

Maybe they're still in the queue, or they've just been forgotten.


These are some pages that came from comic magazines that were often in conjunction with other comic parodies.  It seemed somewhat of a shame to just include the Garfields without showing the other comics included on the page.  The sole exception to this was Electric Company Magazine, which was unusual enough on its own, and didn't require further explanation.

Cracked scripts were hardly the stuff of sophistication, and less than polished, their level of humour was closer to a children's demographic, which would have material that would normally be bypassed by MAD's more adult readership.  As a result, you were more likely to see cartoon parodies like YuckTales there.

The Quebec satire Magazine CROC was the French National Lampoon / MAD Magazine over there, and there would be instances of mean-spirited portrayals of famous cartoon characters, of which Garfield was part of.

However, simply submitting the Garfields alone would put him in situations that would be difficult to explain without removing the other comic parodies for context.  It also didn't seem right to exclude the other comics as well, since I would be effectively be removing their presence from a wider audience.

Just be warned - part of a satirical work means staying close to the source material, so if the humour doesn't come across as particularly funny, that means they've done their job properly.

Children's Books

Steven Kellogg is one of my favorite Children's Book author / artists, creating imaginative and lushly drawn watercolour classics such as The Mysterious Tadpole, Can I Keep Him?, Much Bigger than Martin, and Ralph's Secret Weapon.  And that's not counting his retellings of American Folklore like Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, Mike Fink and Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, as well as alternate takes on Fairy Tales such as Chicken Little and I Know an Old Lady, always with amusing noisy details in the background.  His children showed a breadth of imagination long before Calvin made it an innovation on the Newspaper pages.  Not to mention beloved characters such as Jimmy's Boa, Pinkerton and Marvelosissimo the mathematical magician.

But I consider one of his earliest books, The Orchard Cat (along with Best Friends) to be his masterpiece.  Sadly, much of his older stuff is out of print, and would be completely unknown for today's young audience.  (It's not even available on his homepage!)

For those who haven't read it, The Orchard Cat is about a cat who is brought up believing that he has the right to rule over everyone, regardless of charisma or ability.  After pretty much bullying and terrorizing every creature in the woods (winning himself no one over to his side), he stubbornly continues off into his path. It isn't until after crashing a children's birthday party, and overindulging himself inside a chocolate cake that's larger than he can possibly swallow, that he's made sick to his stomach.  Once found, he's basically adopted by the birthday boy who says, "What you need, kitty, is someone who cares."  While recuperating, the cat begins to realize that being King isn't what he really wanted all along.

In addition, I had trouble finding multiple suitable frames of Garfield's mother for where the Cat's abusive mother relays her last words upon her son.  It also didn't seem right to turn his mother (who'd been nothing but considerate and affective to her son) into a Ma Barker figure.

You can see from the sample below which comics I'd intended to use.  It shouldn't be that difficult to figure out which goes where.

Kliban is an artist who is best known for drawing distinctively grey tabby cats.  One particular comic happened to catch my eye, and I suitably combined it with the chorus from Millions of Cats.  While a suitable mash-up, I felt it wasn't close enough to an actual Garfield theme to warrant submission.

Aislin is best known for being a Canadian cartoonist who does scathing caricatures of Montreal politics in striped-down form.  Sometimes they're so condensed that its oftentimes difficult to know what's being referenced without historical notes on hand.  His crosshatching style and "dandruff" dots signature style is easily recognizable, and he has no trouble with imitating other cartoony styles if they serve his purposes.  He branched out in doing a children's book about a dog named Tootle, which starred a dog who wanted to be a human.

Sadly, just having a picture of a tabby cat isn't enough - I need to find inspiration or a connection to a Garfield strip, and there simply wasn't one I could find.  Not surprisingly, Garfield's popularity comes from avoiding anything remotely controversial, so it's no surprise why I had so much trouble.


That obsession in finding images of orange cats for reference material led me to borrowing a sub-par 3-D animated movie, Missing Lynx.  It's about an accident-prone Lynx and a gang of endangered species trying to escape from a poacher that's closer to Clayton than Percival McLeach in terms of intimidation.  Needless to say, I wasn't very inspired to find any suitable frames for parodying.

Other times, my reach exceeded my grasp.  There was a Krazy Kat that had a rather catchy Sunday comic with multiple rhyming stanzas.  However, I was simply intimidated by the amount of searching I'd have to do to find suitable frames for each line, as well as the amount of editing involved.  Furthermore, I was stumped on how to end it properly, considering that it cuts off near the end.  Although there already was a SROMG featuring a Krazy Kat, it was hardly enough to gain a rise in popularity, and my tribute would still be considered odd.  Maybe somebody else can pick up from where I left off.

The Gazette Comics where I got my love of reading Sunday comics from would have their front cover graced by various drawings from multiple budding child artists.  The subject matter would be extremely varied, ranging from everyday childish scrawls to commercial toy products to animated characters, and yes, even sometimes some familiar cartoons ripped from the funny pages.

From this collection of covers, you can make out a kind of chronological story that goes as follows:

Garfield is intimidated about making an appearance at first without guidance.  Then he rapidly rises to the top of the ranks in popularity.  Within short time, he's hosting the appearance slot.  Soon, he's hobnobbing with some of the highest cartoon figures.  However, being associated with celebrity status isn't an equal opportunity market, and there are a few bad eggs in within the ranks.  Some cartoon characters (who shall remain nameless) have no scruples about playing pranks on the fat cat, much to their delight at tormenting whenever possible.  In order to get his beloved possessions back, Garfield is forced to undergo enduring embarrassing public initiation rituals, though there are certain limits he won't cross.

(With thanks to Lachie Bleachley, Colette Shaw, Kenny Kunin, Catherine Le Gallais, Dianne Hollinger and Cindy Torreiro for providing the artwork)

When I made the suggestion to do a compilation effort for Garfield's Judgement Day, I was hoping I would be able to attract other enthusiastic fans who wanted to create something along the lines of Batkira or Sailor Moon Animate.  However, the project proved to be too overwhelming, especially considering the number of new characters would outnumber any background characters in the strip.  Let me rephrase that - any REUSABLE background characters, since unless they're pretty girls, the men are pretty varied.  I suppose it's easier to remake a widely beloved franchise if the audience is already aware of every single frame, rather than recreating something from scratch with the barest bones of a plot available from a fairly obscure book.

One thing that occurred to me that was mentioned in the background was that various pets made complaints about the limited imagination of their names, being regulated to either Mittens or Spot.  I figured that this could be alluded to when Garfield first arrives at the theater during the storm.  While canvassing the crowd to see who'd made it, the scene could go something like this:
"Okay, there's Mittens, Spot, Spot and Mittens, Mittens and Spot, Mittens Mittens and Spot, the three Spots... wait, Eli and Barney aren't here.  Let's tally up one more time.  There's Spot and Mittens, Mittens and Spot, hi Mom, Mittens, Mittens and Mittens, Spot, Pots, Stop and Tsop... wait, Arlene isn't here either!"
I made contact with one of the regular SROMG contributors who commented on a forum, and this was the sole result of all our work.  (Most of it mine)  The scene in question takes place when Garfield and the other animals gain the power of speech to warn their owners about the upcoming storm.  Jon is coming home from the grocery store and striking up another one-way conversation about what tantalizing treats he's just bought.

This last one is something of a personal regret.  Often while taking public transportation on the highways, I would see the outlines of three warehouses in the horizon.  They were named as follows: GARTERM, GARPORT and GARFIELD.  Yes, there actually was a building named Garfield.

For a long time, I wanted to capture all three of their logos into one picture.  Unfortunately, by the time I had a camera and close-up access to the location, the Garfield warehouse had disappeared, leaving the remaining two warehouses standing.

If there's anybody out there who has photographic proof of the land where Garfield once stood, I'd be grateful.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Influential Books

There's been some kind of meme going around with the following theme:  In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes, and don't think too hard about it. They don't have to be the "right" books, or great works for intellectuals, just ones that affected you in some way.  As chain letters go, you could hardly do worse.

After looking back over my list, they're all stories that deal with alienation in some way.  Comprehensive notes for the stories are as follows:

1. The young adult books of Gordon Kormon

The Canadian writer got his start with the troublemaking duo Bruno and Boots at MacDonald Hall boarding school, long before Harry Potter made such administrations seem appealing.  Interestingly enough, I wasn't a big fan of his works at first, but that was because I was in a small classroom with other orally deaf students, and the teacher made us read The War with Mr. Wizzle in a slow and methodical manner, making sure that we understood the material, effectively cutting off the joy of quickly reading and absorbing the story naturally.
She was technologically sound, but it really wasn't to my taste.  Oftentimes, her teaching methods and my learning ability were at odds with each other.

Since my only consensus in doing a book report was to hit all the checkmarks of what was required (what I liked, what I disliked, what the story was about), I hardly paid attention to the little details that were part and parcel of the story, such as what the book was about.  If I'd had a more concrete example to work from instead of having to rely on my internal critic, my reports would've been more organic and fluid instead of static.  As such, I wasn't able to really enjoy Gordon Kormon's stuff until later, far away from the prying eyes of literary critics whose only modus operandi is to overanalyze the text to the point of removing all joy from reading.  Of course, it's doubtful I would've been able to accurately give specific reviews to my teacher's liking, since I had (and still do) have a tendency to remain maddeningly vague and elusive about certain plot details out of an irrational fear for not spoiling the story for anyone who isn't already intimately aware of the details.  It's why I only look up reviews of comics, books and movies after I've already become acquainted with the subjects in question, so I can have my opinion verified, and even get an alternate look if my POV doesn't match the majority opinion.

Ironically, many of the technological concerns that were present in The War with Mr. Wizzle, such as having a computer rely for printout of data, or limited number of letters for names are charmingly anachronistic and outdated today.  These were modified to incompatible technology in later updated reprintings.

But it was Gordon Korman's attempt at youth literature aimed at an older audience that I consider among his strongest works, such as Don't Care High, an apathetic school rediscovering its long-forgotten school spirit, Son of Interflux, a rivalry between the businessman of a successful company of useless (yet essential items) and his artist wannabe son, A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag, an unlucky student fastidiously scheming to get an all-paid vacation to a Greek island of reputed luck, and my personal favorite, Losing Joe's Place, the madcap adventures of a guy and his two friends doing everything they can to keep his brother's apartment from leasing over Summer Vacation.  Don't Care High is actually the weakest of his attempts, but still got marks for the portrayal of the future School President Mike Otis.  Chosen completely at random, the boy is someone who speaks in monosyllables, never changes his outfit of a plastic pink raincoat with diaper pins regardless of weather, and drives a modified fancy car that doesn't exist on the market.  His most frequent saying to anything is "There are a lot of things at this school I don't understand."  Needless to say, I identified greatly with him, even though he hardly ever did anything.

2. The Wave by Todd Strasser

A true story about how a teacher's attempt to make his class more efficient wound up implicating a cult mentality throughout the school that bordered on frightening.  I later found out it was the novelization of a movie that was originally intended to be an After School Special back when they weren't just regulated to preachy moralistic shows,

The story was powerful enough to be remade into a German movie, which compressed the events into a week, which some critics expressed disbelief that a school would fall victim to fascism so quickly.  Interestingly enough, the events that inspired the book and movie actually occurred over the course of five days, which goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction.

It showed me how people were successible to peer pressure, and got me interested in cult mentality, such as Moonwebs.  I figured at least *I* would be immune, since such cults would require constant intervention from people, constantly exposing new ideas without time to develop or explain them, and I'd need time to process everything I was being told, and make sure I understood everything clearly, which would require constant repetition.

However, despite not falling prey to peer pressure, I still fell for propaganda of an unintentional source.  When I watched Transformers (sans close-captioning) at a friend's house, which aired the Jetfire episode, where a strong transforming robot put up a good fight before deciding to switch teams, and winds up sacrifing himself in the process.  Despite not hearing anything, I was able to easily identify sides, and could determine who the leaders were.  However, when I picked up a copy of the Transformers Marvel comics, I was surprised to find out that the Autobots were the good guys, and the Deceptions were the bad guys.

The reason being - I didn't trust Optimus Prime, because I couldn't see his lips.  (Beast Wars would've made that irrelevant)  Moreover, their logos were at odds with each other - the Autobots looked like they were crying, while the Deceptions were smiling.  As a kid, I was still operating under the illusion that "only bad guys die".  It was a sobering realization, and since then, made it a point to not make rash decisions on deciding who the good and bad guys really were.
Even the Marvel comic was confused, getting Ratchet's logo wrong.
And yet, I still got taken in by the misdirection of the Israeli / Palestein conflict, and in 20th Century Boys.
Even in the best of times, no one is immune from outside influences.

3. Matilda by Roald Dahl

A gifted young girl whose speciality is in reading miles ahead of her age group.  Although I wasn't much for most of her choice of reading material, she was the first literary character who's defining interest was in books.  This, more than the elaborate pranks she'd play on her less than intellectual family and her brief psychic powers were what spoke most to me.  Interestingly enough, the first draft was dramatically different, fully focusing on the child's pranks, and winding up using her telekinesis to manipulate a horse race, sacrificing her life in the process.

4. The Teahouse of the August Moon

I first read it before I even knew it was made into a movie or play.  What particularly impressed me was how much... SLOWER the Oriental's lives were compared to the hyperactive fast-paced storytelling of American media.  Their values seemed completely at odds with what we ordinarily think of as normal, and yet made a kind of sense from their POV.  It was among the first of many stories that got me interested in Japanese culture as a whole.

5. The short story "Mazelife" from Monkey Brain Sushi

Monkey Brain Sushi was a collection of Japanese short stories, some of which were excepts of longer novels.  There even was Japan's Junglest Day, a stiffly drawn Manga about WWII Army refugees, a talking canteen and a space alien collecting for charity debating philosophy about the nature of misery.  (Even among Manga concepts, it's kinda weird)

The most memorable story is Mazelife by Kyoji Kobayashi.  It chronicles a man known only as "K" (a possible allusion to Kafka's other hapless protagonists, but more likely an extension for the author's acronyms) who is tired of having to go through life being confronted with human feelings, so he develops (or tries to) a computer program to simplify his life into a system of computer codes that can be systematically followed.  However, this proves to be far more difficult than he thought, since every possible permutations for doing something as simple as preparing a sandwich would result in thousands of binary circuits (not counting the option of eating said sandwich, and how to eat it)  So he decides to simplify his life further by devoting it to a God.  But WHICH God?  As borderline obsessed K is with trying to find the perfect God to worship, the choice he winds up making turns out to bite back on him HARD in the end.

It's a rare work that has the courage to start (and maintain) a humourous tone throughout, and completely subvert that into a rather depressing ending.  Fully putting your life in someone else's hands is just as disastrous as not wanting to take responsibility for your actions.

6. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

During recess and lunch hours, I would spend my time not going outside, but standing around in the library carrying my heavy backpack which due to its weight and pressure, was not considered a back problem, but my only source of comfort.  In one of the rare moments of intervention between me and my Resource teacher (a teacher for deaf students like me), I was told numerous times that I looked odd simply standing there, but I paid no mind - I felt comfortable, and that was all that mattered.

At the time, I was still largely ignorant of the library cataloging system, and mainly browsed the titles on the shelves willy-nilly, hoping to come across something that seemed interesting.  While checking the category under humour using library catalogue cards (they still existed back then), I came across a collection that was listed with the subgenre of Science Fiction.  I'd always been interested in Sci-Fi, despite only catching brief episodes of Star Trek Next Generation, but hadn't latched upon the idea that something that was based on outlandish scientific ideas could also be funny as well.

Everyman Arthur Dent perfectly captured the essence of someone being constantly out of his comfort zone at all times (even though he hardly did anything in the books), which was explained patiently in a patronizing manner by Ford Prefect who brought him along for reasons unknown.  But it was Marvin the Paranoid Android I really warmed up to.  I was beginning to develop a rather cynical and pessimistic worldview, and there was this robot showing off its ability to overdramatize the pure awfulness of the universe in an understated manner.
He even did the Ice Bucket challenge long before everybody else started daring themselves to.
He hardly even had to be coerced into doing it in the first place.
Thanks to him I was able to define myself as a Pessimistic Positive Nihilist.  Somebody who only sees that behind every Silver Lining, there's a Cloud, yet won't hesitate to describe the bleakness as absurdly as humanly possible.  Therby giving proof to the lie that there ain't no double negative that can't not be disagreed against.  Never simply say "yes", when two "no"s, will do.  Mathematically, it all works out in the end.

7. Battle Angel Alita

While I was beginning to embrace my inner pessimist, there was another aspect of myself that I was beginning to grow increasingly uncomfortable with.  My head was increasingly filled with thoughts of an uncomfortable nature, and I noticed that my tastes were dramatically different from everyone else's.  This wasn't just a cause of being contrary to everybody (though that certainly played a part), I simply couldn't relate to anybody that was around me that wasn't my sister who shared my common interest of comics.

Originally, I wasn't going to include any comics in my list, until I saw that others had titles such as Maus and Watchmen on them.  Since only long-length narratives applied, this would leave newspaper comics off, though if the daily funnies were allowed, Calvin & Hobbes would be at the top of my list.  (Other influential contenders being For Better or for Worse, Fox Trot and Herman)

I was feeling increasingly despondent and disconnected from everyone.  There were things that everybody liked that were completely anathema to me, and there were things I was obsessed with that no one else seemed to share.  In fact, I was scared of how much I related to Anime and Manga at the expense of everything else, including homegrown entertainment.  I had trouble relating to anyone to the point where I began to doubt that I was even capable of being good.  I started shoplifting junk foods I didn't want to pay for in a conscious desire to be caught and rightly punished for my misdeeds.

I'd only come across the Manga series at various intervals in bookstores, which were full of gore and violence with a philosophical bent, reading the 4th, 2nd and 6th volumes in that order.  The nature of the landscape and setting changed so much through its run that I thought they were three individual Manga titles starring post-apocalyptic fighting girl robots.  I thought the genre was popular enough for it to spawn worthy imitators.  In fact, considering the popularity of endearing kick-ass fighting teenage girls, it's surprising it hasn't become more widespread.  (Characters such as Cassandra Cain and Cammy White wound up being spiritual influences though.)

Coming across the serialization of the later volumes came at a turbulent time in my life when I had serious doubt about my self-worth, and hit enough intellectual and emotive points that I thought were already beyond saving someone as wretched as myself.  Knowing that there was somebody - even a fictional character - that would embrace warped ideals while simultaneously being revolted by them was as close to relief I got.  It helped me feel better about myself.

8. Flowers for Algernon

Although comparably smart in High School, I still had trouble relating to people, and understanding basic social concepts beyond saying "Hello" upon greeting, and not much idea of what to say afterwards.  One of the main reasons I read varied Manga was to get a wider range of insight into people's minds.  Despite this, I was extremely ignorant about the internal racial hatred and race relations that existed in the South, and being confronted with the kind of warped logic makes me start thinking unwelcome thoughts that make me uncomfortable to confront.  I even had to be taught why somebody called the N-word on Degrassi was such a big problem, and would've felt completely out of my element reading the book, since at the time, the movie wasn't even captioned.

The English teacher seeing that I was struggling with understanding the theme, suggested an alternate Sci-fi novel more to my taste, and I immediately took to it like a fish to water.  The idea of a retarded man undergoing a surgical process to become smarter was something I could relate to, more than the subtle undertones that would've surely gone over my head.

To this day, I've watched the movie starring Atticus Finch, but have yet to read the book, despite knowing that there additional details that were left out.  I keep telling myself I should give it a try someday, but can never manage to make enough motivation or time to do so.  It's one of those classics that everybody likes to keep on their shelves, but never actually go out of their way to read.  I'd rather have my shelves groan with titles I'm immensely vested in, rather than titles I've never even cracked the spines of.

9. An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks - namely the section with Temple Grandin.

When I graduated from Grade School to High School, it was a major transitional issue.  I was indoctrinated into a new routine with multiple teachers instead of just one, and mainstreamed into a regular school with other students.  Most of the other deaf students who I'd grown up with lived in other parts of town, and we were spread out all over the province.  Only a few came to the same High School as I did.  Over time, anybody I could talk to was systematically taken away from me. One friend from moved to another province after two years.  The remaining friend from my Grade class was monopolized by a deaf girl from the same class.  She wasn't even romantically interested in him, and I found it increasingly difficult to get a chance to talk to him alone.  On the rare occasions where I could manage to get some time together to talk briefly, we were followed everywhere - including inside the boy's bathroom!

Moreover, I was relentlessly taunted and teased to the breaking point.  When I tried to point out these hecklers to my Resource teacher, I was dismissed and told that they were just playing around.  I had to mentally force myself to enjoy being left alone, otherwise I would've been crushed by the loneliness.  I grew increasingly frustrated to the point where when the deaf girl was leaning in front of an open window on the second floor, I simulated pushing her out with my hands, without ever getting close.

Although she didn't see me, the rest of the class did, and I was reprimanded for my actions, even though I hadn't done anything wrong.  There was also an incident where I hovered a heavy vice from woodshop over her head, which may have been an additional factor that made people nervous.

These actions and more earned me a trip to the Principal's office where I was completely unable to convincingly give a reason for my seemingly violent actions, and was suspended for three days.  On the way to my parent's car, I voiced out my frustrations with the deaf girl which I was unable to say in the presence of a crowd of adults all against me.

It never occurred to me to actively talk about my problems at home, since in my mind, the two were separate from each other.  The only connection between school and home was homework - anything else would be bringing more of the former into the latter, and I didn't want to bring more memories of what happened home with me.

During my puberty years, I was too intimidated to even consider taking time out of my schedule to go see a psychologist, who attempted to relieve my tension by coming to my house on a regular basis.  I could never understand why anybody would want to stay after school.  To me, that was the equivalence of having extra homework time that could be better put to doing actual homework.  I was more concerned with rushing out of class as soon as the last bell rang in order to catch the bus going to the metro, otherwise I'd have to stay with the rest of the rowdy teenagers teeming, pushing and shoving each other in a vain attempt to make room for themselves.  Within the crowded confines of a later bus, I developed a fear of crowds, and by extension, people in general.  To this day, I'm still intimidated from being around children, because they're generally unpredictable in their behavior, and I'm always worried that I'll either say or do something that'll impress upon their impressionable little minds.

One day, this psychologist gave me what looked like a routine questionnaire, consisting of hypothetical situations such as how a person would react under certain situations.  This was a welcome change from trying to get me more accustomed to feeling fabrics that made me uncomfortable, since I always tended to overthink these sessions, so I gladly gave my logical answers.

A few days later, it was revealed to me that I had Asperger's Syndrome.  It turned out that my psychologist had found the then-unknown syndrome while looking up information for another client, and found that they perfectly matched my way of thinking.

My general reaction to finding out I had Asperger's was, "I KNEW it!  I always knew there was something different about me!"  Suddenly the multiple factors, such as never quite fitting in with the crowd, having ultra-sensory issues to mild touch, and revulsion to everyday elements made sense to me.  I finally had an answer to why I always seemed off-kilter from everybody else.  There was a scientific mental reason, it had a name, and all the symptoms matched my way of thinking.

Memory can be a funny thing.  At the time, I went around proudly telling anybody close to me within earshot that I had Asperger's, my Relations teacher was going through a bad divorce, and wasn't feeling particularly sympathetic for my cause.  He wound up betraying my trust by siding with the deaf girl, because he felt that my symptom was just an excuse for my actions.  As a result, I was convinced to hide my diagnosis as so not to be labeled with being overly violent.

Somewhere in my field of logic, I decided to keep my symptom a secret, partially so I could use it as a story element in an upcoming Novel I'd write, having the relatively obscure symptom revealed to the world, not unlike Michael Crichton's Velociraptors getting a sudden boost in popularity.  Though on that front, I've probably waited too long.  The other more plausible reason was that I wanted to see if people would accept me for who I was before I revealed my disability to them.

10. The works of Neal Shusterman, such as "The Dark Side of Nowhere"

Ending on a lighter note, Neal Shusterman is well-renowned for creating Twilight Zone-esque stories that while seemingly far-fetched, are still within the grounds of plausibility.  The Eyes of Kid Midas is a cautionary tale about wish fulfillment with ever-escalating consequences.  The Shadow Club is another book about cult mentality spreading beyond its intended limits.  And there are collections of short stories that are as imaginative in their brevity.

Since I'm not that good at summarizing stories with multiple plot twists, I'll just say that The Dark Side of Nowhere takes place at a remote part of town where practically nothing interesting happens.  The protagonist, Jason, wonders why all the adults in his town is so enamoured with seemingly simple and boring non-events happening around them, such as breathing air and touching grass.  Perfectly mundane activities that would be among the level of excitement of seeing a documentary on watching painted grass dry.  The most interesting thing that happens is one of their classmates dying from a ruptured appendix.  From that point on, things only gradually grow more interesting than Jason ever intended, when he and a group of equally disfranchised teenagers are gathered to do some secretive training with fancy gloves, which would gradually reveal their true nature, and what their purpose really is.  As the old Chinese curse goes, "May you live in interesting times..."