Friday, February 28, 2014

A Pundit of Clichés

I just recently came across a helpful page full of the most overused lines in movies, which consist of wonderful sentences such as:

“I won’t let you do whatever you want!”
“I love you!”
“Look out!”
“Let’s get outta here!”

While the notion of relying on repetitive lines is nothing new, it's the constant repetition of the very themes that these lines convey that cause discomfort among film critics and audiences.  To get an idea of whether the movie you're watching is heavily cobbled from multiple sources, just induce the drinking game whenever any character says any of the following.  If you're unable to stand up or see straight after 20 minutes, chances are that you're watching a B-movie of epic proportions.

As mentioned, the above phrases are used quite a lot in Anime, basically because (with few exceptions) the villain wants is pretty much that: does whatever he wants.  There was a forum that threw them all together to create the beginnings of a screenplay:

HERO/INE: “I won’t let you do whatever you want!”
MAIN SQUEEZE: “Look out!”
HERO/INE and VILLAIN fight; HERO/INE wins but VILLAIN starts self-destruct mechanism.
HERO/INE: “Let get outta here!”
MAIN SQUEEZE: “I love you.”

=The End=

Kinda predictable, but serviceable. However, jumble it up and...

VILLAIN: “I love you.”
HERO/INE: “I won’t let you do whatever you want!”
Villain and Henchman attempt to do whatever they want; HERO/INE pulls gun.
HENCHMAN: “Look out!”
VILLAIN: “Let’s get outta here!”

=The End=

Hmmm, still kinda predictable, though good enough for Cinemax, I suppose. Let’s roll the dice yet again...

VILLAIN: “Let’s get outta here!”
HERO/INE: “I won’t let you do whatever you want!”
MAIN SQUEEZE: “I love you.”
HERO/INE: “Look out!”

=The End=

Ends on a note of jeopardy, doesn’t it? Must be a sequel in the offing.  Of course, we could just turn it into a short film...

MAIN SQUEEZE: “I love you. Let’s get outta here!”
HERO/INE: “Look out! I won’t let you do whatever you want!”

=The End=

Hentai might go this way–

VILLAIN tries to hit HERO/INE with a battle-axe. Sidekick points at weapon–
SIDEKICK: “Look out!”
HERO/INE: (points at VILLAIN) “I won’t let you do whatever you want!”
VILLAINwinks at HERO/INE then laughs. Suddenly a lot of tentacles shoot out of VILLAIN’s butt.
VILLAIN: “I love you!”
HERO/INE and SIDEKICK both look at each other.
HERO/INE: “Let’s get outta here!”
Tentacles grab HERO/INE and SIDEKICK, then creepy synch music kicks in and I turn around to my friends and say,
ME: “Why did you guys rent this?!”

=feh!= The trick is not to ADD new dialog but to tell a story with what you’ve got. However, if we play with the punctuation...

Gestures to Hero/ine’s garments.
MAIN SQUEEZE: “Get out!”
HERO/INE measures anticipated distance with hands.
HERO/INE: “To here? Look!” [SFX: Zipper] “Out!”
MAIN SQUEEZE: “I love you!”
HERO/INE: “I won’t let you.”
MAIN SQUEEZE: “Do what you want!”

m’kay, let’s try this – The end of almost any episode near the end of a GUNDAM series run.

(Villain and HERO/INE stand in the remains of a space colony surrounded by broken giant robots after a tremendous battle that destroyed the colony)
(Villain points a finger at HERO/INE)
VILLAIN: “I won’t let you love me!”
(HERO/INE in a freeze frame, looking puzzled, as speed lines fly and camera pulls back)
(Before HERO/INE can react, the room starts to shake. Bits of the ceiling fall)
HERO/INE: “I–Look out!”
HERO/INE covers his/her face then reaches for VILLAIN.
HERO/INE: “Let’s get outta here!”
(VILLAIN turns back, looks over shoulder)
VILLAIN: “Do whatever you want.”
(VILLAIN walks away as room falls to pieces. HERO/INE stares, squinches one eye, then runs the other direction out of the decaying room in disgust.)

Like TVtropes, not all cliches are bad.  It's just when so many of them are overused and prevalent that the threads begin to show in the patchwork.  What would make for a much more interesting result is if somebody took the typically overdone phrases and reworked them into an entirely different meaning than the scenes they're usually associated with.  To shake things up, you could try to change things around so that some phrases would have completely different meanings.  The overall result would be something that would be much more interesting than the typical trailers that are released nowadays.

With this frameset in mind, I had the bright idea to try to garner a kind of mishmash screenplay that consisted of nothing but clichéd dialogue.  Go ahead and try it yourself!  See if you can convey something resembling a comprehensible story out of these standalone lines.  Fun!

After some imaginative re-interpretation, I came up with the following trailer for a movie that probably won't be coming out anytime soon.

Ubiquitous Studios Present:

Cliché the Movie

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Delayed Reaction Crying

I've written before about some emotional scenes that've affected me, and since it was the month of February, figured it was time to expand the list.  As mentioned, there was Moto Hagio's Hanshin, of conjoined twins which was reprinted in A Drunken Dream.  But there's also The Willow Tree, a short mostly silent comic about an anthropomorphic representation of a lone tree in a field that I won't bother spoiling.  Even Trina Robbins in the foreword cautioned having tissues handy when reading it, and even with that warning, it still made me cry.

But there's another realm of tearjerker scenes that only affect me AFTER I reread them.  This is in a different kind of reaction than the emotional gut-punch that turns on the waterworks like there's no tomorrow.  I didn't cry the first time I read them, but when I reread them a second time, I do.  Knowing the story behind the build-up and prelude beforehand is what sets me off.

Before going onto the field of slow build sucker punches, I might as well expand upon the list of comic pages that never fail to bring a tear to my eyes, whether I know about them or not.

The top contender would be in Please Save My Earth where after a brutal psychic battle, the poster bad boy, Rin starts to have nightmares of his former life as Shion.  Shion's past as a constantly abused war child finding solace only found refuge when he was found by Nuns who relocated him to a safe haven.  He's later put in care of a guardian acting as a foster parent, Lazlo.  Even though Lazlo treats Shion respectfully, Shion is still alien to the idea of being in a family, having known war all his life, and is unsure how to handle his teasing personality.  Eventually, he gets in a fight with some other kids at school over his status as a war orphan to the point where the bully needed stitches.  Rather than reprimand him for his actions or outright scold him for inappropriate behavior in the face of teasing, Lazlo simply forgives him for his actions, and treats him with nothing but kindness..

I simply can't understand the purpose and meaning of forgiving someone doing what would be considered a reprehensible act, but that simple act of kindness towards his trauma never fails to break me up, either in animated form, printed page or memory.  And then he died in a car accident shortly after, causing further damage to Shion's psyche.  "What'll I do if you aren't there?" is constantly running through his head.  Alice (Rin's reincarnated love interest) attempts to soften this rush of painful memories by singing to his sleeping body.  Child abuse is such an overdone cliche that acts of trying to undo that kind of damage is extremely rare.

Naoki Urasawa is a great manipulative storyteller for constantly creating stories that plucks at the heartstrings.  As much as I enjoy his work, I can't really recommend his latest series Billy Bat, because it's filled with silly conspiracy theories that don't quite mesh, such as another look at the JFK assassination and the fake Moon Landing, which was debunked with Darryl Cunningham's excellent comic essay on the topic, along with other Science subjects.  Not to mention the titular character, which is supposed to be representative of 1930's newspaper comics looks closer to a Modern-Day Manga with funny animals.  His reliance on children as hostage devices doesn't help either.

His masterpiece, 20th Century Boys is much more tightly plotted, and is particularly unique in that it has not one, but TWO emotional scenes in it.  The first is where a character grew up being basically ignored through life, and had no pictures of him as a child finally getting his sense of worth justified when his childhood teacher handed over a long-forgotten photo of him.  To me, its akin to hearing stories of war survivors where family memories of their deceased relatives is proven only through rare photos, because the frames were worth money, and the pictures were tossed away only because they had sentimental value.

The second scene is where Kanna finds a video of her absent mother, after believing that she was responsible for the virus that destroyed the world, only to find out that her comparison to Godzilla was more out of in scales of destruction rather than taking pride in such an act.  (A Robert Oppenheimer "I am become Death Destroyer of Worlds" kind of thing)  Then the video ends with her determination to stop the virus, and a last barely audible message to her child to "Be happy."

That does it for the straightaway tearjerkers.  Now, here's the second half - the slow build-up to the emotional gut-punch that affects me that when I reread them.

I'm no stranger to seeing Death on the comics page, but the notion of someone dying has lost its shock value, especially considering how cheap it is.  (Especially when they come back to life)  I'm much more interested in the question of how long someone can possibly survive while in hostile and potentially hazardous territory.  This is why I prefer Suspense to Horror, because unlike the latter, you're more likely to care for what the characters are going through.  Death would only be a release for them.  While other people are affected by the deaths of household pets, such as Old Yeller and W3B, I have no such comparisons.  To me, the concept of the livelihood of animals is a binary equation.  They're either dead or alive.  There's no middle ground.

Where this differs is in the first story (or sixth, chronologically speaking) in Matt Kindt's Super Spy, a collection of loosely-connected stories set in WWII.  It shifts between the life of a girl visiting a seal in a zoo and her grown-up life unwittingly sheltering people for the Resistance.  Everytime the girl sees the seal, she tosses a pebble over to his cage, and watches in glee as the salty dog eagerly gobbles the little treat up.  She continues in this vein for several days, in absolute joy, until the seal exhibit is closed.  It turns out that all the rocks she'd fed the seal wound up lodged in its stomach, and it died.  The key closing words "I had no idea" never fails to impact me, because there are multiple instances where I've wound up hurting someone without realizing the consequences of my actions.  The equivalent would be a kid feeding their dog chocolate, figuring they'd like it as much as they do, not knowing that the sugar would be poison to their body.

This is also tangentially related to the next scene.  Throughout the magical Gorn-filled world of Dorohedoro, there's been hints of Nikaido's reluctance to use her time travel magic, which had been hinted at causing the death of a friend of hers.  It isn't until the 12th volume that we finally get some context for the backstory that's been building up all this time.  It turns out she first started to experiment with her magic when she was still a child, and went back at a pivotal moment in time.  When she came back to her present time, she was confused as to why no one remembered her sister Yakumo.  Since she'd never seen any Time Travel movies, it took her awhile to put the pieces together.

Because she interrupted her parents at the crucial moment in time that would've saved a baby from the water, they never had an extra child in their house.  It was only when she explored past the river that she saw a headstone commemorating a grave of a nameless baby who'd drowned that she understood what she'd done.  The result caused a mental block that prevented her from using her magic again, since it was too dangerous, when she was too young to understand its power.

Unlike the others which I've been able to analyze the specific reasons behind their emotional issues, this last one is something I have trouble rationalizing properly.  For some reason, the cover of last chapter of Sandman's epic arc, Brief Lives, which gives bullet points of what the epilogue contains in a circular arc in the middle of the page before ending on a repeat of the Title Drop.  (For some reason, the Trade is missing the first heading, Farwells.  Whether this is corrected or removed in later printings, I haven't checked)  Unlike the others on this list, it confuses me why this particular layout affects me so much.  It's not as if there's any emotional trigger in it.  There's nothing truly remarkable about the cover.  It barely even visually represents any of the images in the chapter.  And yet like the various tactical stimuli that make Erika "DAR!" Moen climax, it affects me.  I have no idea why.

Are there any other scenes out there that have similar impacts on you?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Balloon Product Placement

Ever since humans started becoming more sophisticated with their grunts to the point of making comprehensible speech, mankind has been trying to capture the pure essence of what passes for talking in a concentrated form.  Whether you're using quotation marks or speech balloons, it's all done in a way to emphasize the invisible realm known as dialogue.  This in turn has led to the annoying principle known as trying to figure out how and where to place the characters so that anything they say won't wind up obscuring the artwork.

This is a common fault of aspiring writers who believe they have something worthy to say and wind up putting to pen more lines than is actually needed.  Achille Talon (Walter Melon) is well-reputed for never settling using one word when two dozen will do.  One of the most important rules in cartooning is to make sure that the words don't wind up covering up more space than necessary.  Oftentimes, this means being forced to draw smaller, rather than do some creative script editing.

But that practice while practical, can limit the alternate possibilities of putting a balloon.  The regular ritual of having our words hang above our heads is so commonplace that it's difficult to imagine any other possible way to do it.  Some of the earliest examples presented speech in the form of scrolls, since that was how prose was done at the time.  Note that the written word isn't kept level, but written to the side and almost upside-down.  The form of free-floating words was something considered intangible.

This is perfectly understandable, since any exploration into a new medium is hampered only by experience within the limits of past mediums.  The first television shows were set on a stage with the same backgrounds since that was how plays were done.  It was only when people experimented with the form that they found out it didn't have to be restricted to a single camera view, and so all kinds of rotoscoping tricks were discovered and later implemented in various ways.  It's the same with cartoonists.  Less common, is to have the balloon below the character's head.

I had planned to show an example of an old comic that had word balloons embedded in the crouching character's stomach, almost obscuring the action, but was unable to find it again.  To get an idea of the busy artwork, it looked like the people were talking from their stomachs.  The closest comparison I could find would be this example from Nylon Road.  The practice of having word balloons over our heads is so ingrained in comics that when there are exceptions to the rule, they tend to stand out.  The closest equivalent today would be to have text boxes floating all over the monologuing character, but that's not quite the same thing.

Eventually, this practice of having text at the bottom was regulated to one-panel comics such as The Far Side and New Yorker cartoons.  In the case of the latter, the art comes before the text, and it's only with the text that we get some comprehension of the scene going on.

In Manga, there's the benefit of having vertical text, which allows for more room, and also allows more general freedom of sound refraction.  Usually, the word balloons are put right besides the characters, sometimes in dual balloons surrounding them from both sides in stereo fashion.   Another added bonus is that sometimes the outlines of the character's bodies can be slightly transparent, so there's not as much detail lost when blocking certain features.

Another concept is to do away with balloons themselves and just have the barest outlines visible, much in the same way as Doonsbury or Feiffer comics.  A similar tack is to have a page of black panels interposed with expositionary internal monologue in place of showcasing various headshot perspectives or views of buildings.  This practice is so prevalent in Josei comics that there was a page in the 4th volume of Tokyopop's Your & My Secret that was printed with no artwork showing - just the text - and no one seemed to notice.

One of the most troubling aspects of a page loaded with dialogue is that there can be some general confusion about which side is talking.  This can be offset by the person's body language and the general surroundings.
In some cases, you're fortunate if the order they speak doesn't really matter.

Normally, when balloons are sandwiched between panels, it's so the character above or below is speaking. Very rarely are they used for the same person talking at two different phases of time.

But using the panel space divers (gutters) isn't the only way to make use of blank space that could be put to better use.  In Orbital, we got an innovative way to have a character talk to someone across them without having the balloon tail intruding across the scene - just use the comic "gutters" as a shortcut.

It all comes down to what is considered more important in the story - what the characters look like, or what they're saying?  To a writer, the aspect of getting details across the board right is considered essential, and it would look like lazing off if they put more time in describing a scene than on the character interactions, hence the need for extra words in order to show their work.  But to an artist, their ability lies in getting the story across, even without any dialogue.  (This usually gets shoehorned into the realm of hitting people, which while quite exciting, is violently limited)

This is further compounded by the added challenge of mentally rearranging the characters in all kinds of positions and camera angles in order to configure the best "capture" moment that'll leave enough room for text that won't seem intrusive.  For most, this prospect can seem an intimidating task, and is usually regulated to the staypoint of above their heads, since that's easiest.  But it shouldn't be the only dependent safety method.  Rigorously sticking to the 180-degree rule doesn't always mean shifting the camera so that everybody is facing front.  Use your imagination to find innovative ways for your characters to talk.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Weird Romance: Sir Rodney and...

When it comes to portraying romantic love triangles, it usually comes in the form of a bitter love rival between two potential suitors, and their attempts at underhanded methods while showering their affections towards their potential mate.  One interesting thing I found out while reading a book about female bullying is that oftentimes when two girls are fighting over a boy, they're not really interested in the boy himself, but in asserting their power and dominance over who they're fighting with.  Once they've accomplished their goal and reduced their rival to tears and tarnished their reputation, they effectively write off the boy, having no more interest in him since he's served his purpose.

Because girls have been taught from birth not to fight, they've been forced to suppress their instincts and hone them into the realm of talking things out which is "nicer" and "more appropriate".  This often leads to backstabbing and veiled compliments instead of actually saying what they really feel.  In the few instances where squabbling girlfriends broke protocol and actually said what they were so mad about (which is usually over a slight the other party weren't even aware of), the other side is relieved at having an answer to their long-standing feud, and they quickly make up after.

However, in the Kingdom of Id, the legendary knight's interests lean more towards a rival that can't be fought from passive aggressive methods via innuendo and rumour in the Royal court.

In most instances of a pet in the vicinity of a romantic interest stealing away their master's valuable attention time, the general reaction is one of outright jealousy.  However, there's no such worries here.  His horse seems completely oblivious to all the subtle complications outside of his largely sheltered life.  Gwen is unable to break past the unbreakable and unspoken relationship between a man and his steed.  The modern equivalent which would be the love between a man and his car, which has similar connotations of sexual promiscuity, subliminal suggestiveness and uncomfortable make-out points.

Despite her affectionate attention she devotes towards Sir Rodney, he doesn't even seem to see the downside of not spending time with an actual human being who's interested in him.  This extends even when he's given ultimatums.

What makes this relationship unusual is how back and forth this level of affection goes.  As long as we're switching sides, I might as well show a duplicate comic just recently discovered:

When Gwen is not pursuing her failed amour knight in tarnished armour, he's more devoted to making sure his faithful ride has a freshly sheen coat.  On the flip side, when Sir Rodney is trying to impress the reluctant Princess with his dubious achievements, he comes off as being a lesser prize than the more suitable offerings out there.

In fact, outside of his cowardly attempts at getting out of suicide missions, his most outstanding feature is the one in front of his face.  One wonders how such a consistent bungler managed to rise above the ranks in the first place to get the attentions of a fair maiden in the first place.  A likely suspicion is that of all the disastrous campaigns he was on, he was promoted on virtue of being the only survivor.

Equally telling is that when given the choice, she'd rather choose to stay in a prolonged coma rather than spend any of her valuable time with her fellow man.  Not once, but twice.  Subconsciously and consciously.

In Westerns, you were permitted to kiss your horse but never your girl.
- Gary Cooper

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February is in the air. How Romantic.

Feb. 2 - Groundhog Day - Maryann's Law: You can always find what you're not looking for.

Feb. 6 - Farrell's Law: The most expensive component is the one that breaks.

Feb. 14 - Valentine's Day - Jana's Law of Love: A dandelion from a lover means more than an orchid from a friend.

Feb. 18 - Washington's Birthday Observed / President's Day - Rule of Political Primises: Truth varies.

Feb. 19 - Edison Patents Phonograph 1878.  Ron's Observation: The scratch on the record is through the song you like most.

Feb. 24 - Gregorian Calendar Replaces Julian Calendar 1582 - Thal's Law: For every vision there is an equal and opposite revision.

Feb. 27 - Williams and Holland's Law: If enough data is collected, anything may be proven by statistical methods.