Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pet Peeves: Author / Artist Disharmony

Scott McCloud and Harvey Pekar have long been of supporters of Graphic Novels (or as I like to call them, Comic Paperbacks) that truly great feats of literature can be achieved through harmony of both art and text working in concert with each other.  One or the other can dominate in other works, but its those that combine those spectacularly that are the most memorable.  When those traits are out of sync, they can lead to disunity and confusion.

This can be a tricky subject, since the meanings and motivations of creators are not always well-known, and are generally kept out of the public eye unless there's enough cultural interest in said stories.  Fortunately for us, the best and most examples come from Operation: Jail the Justice League!, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky.

This is a Silver-Age story where Green Arrow decides to spontaneously retire from the Justice League over "personal reasons" that he declines to give any further information on.  The other members figure that he's being targeted somehow, and decide to dress up as Green Arrow themselves, so they can deal with whatever threat is making him so scared.  The only one who's spared this is Wonder Woman who is unable to patrol the streets due to looking too much like a Rule 63 version, long before the term was even coined.

Apparently, having a change in disguise is more limiting than expected, since pretty much everyone winds up being easily defeated by C-list villains for the sake of the plot.  By all rights, Batman shouldn't even have this much trouble fending off the Penguin's hat-tricks, yet the other heroes are similarly left incompetent.  After each defeat, the hero winds up looking like the villain, and the villain looks like the hero, which allows for easy apprehension by the cops.

By all rights, this shouldn't be a complicated plan to understand.  Every time one of the "Green Arrow" heroes get defeated by a villain, they get switched and placed in jail while the villain gets off scot-free.

In the very next instance of the switcharoo, Martian Manhunter is accosted by Dr. Light, yet at his defeat, his Dr. Light persona winds up looking confident rather than defeated.  Rather than reverse engineer how some influential comics would've been written, (with the exception of Alan Moore whose overly verbose scripts are laden with dense commentary over something as simplistic as a panel of falling rain) a greater challenge would be trying to figure out how such an amateur mistake could've gone past the editors.

I'm not much of a fan of the American style of comic scripting, since they read too much like Hollywood scripts for my taste, constantly putting the setting and location before the dialogue.  What probably happened was that this scene was written as "The form of Martian Manhunter (Green Arrow) lies comatose in the air while surrounded in rings of light as changing into Dr. Light, while on the roof, Dr. Light changes into Green Arrow and looks upon in triumph."  Only, the artist made the mistake of having both Dr. Lights look active.

Things only get more confusing with the last "victim" Dr. Woodrue and Atom, switching places.  Here, the comatose body of the Atom changes into the standing pose of Dr. Woodrue, while the comatose body of Dr. Woodrue turns into a standing Green Arrow.  It's possible that the artist had no idea how to superimpose two collapsed bodies on top of each other, one being smaller, and easily obscured.

This isn't my only source of discontention.  This particular annoyance can come from artists who are more concerned with how "cool" each panel looks, rather than how they're combined on a page.  Panels that bleed into each other is pretty much a staple of Manga, but can lead to general confusion when the boundaries of invisible borders aren't made clear and leave no clear clue for where the wandering eye should flow.  That kind of crime can be understandable for those who struggle to understand the form without understanding the function (more on this later), but this shouldn't be much of a problem for individual panels.  Kelley Jones' Batman is enjoyable more for the portrayal of grotesque anatomy and misshaped bodies cast in warped dark shadows than anything else.  Exaggerated muscles is nothing new, but you'd think there'd be better consistency between panels.

In the very first frame, the terrified doctor is reaching for a medical hammer conveniently close to his hand.  In the very next panel, the hammer has somehow turned around in his hand, ready to strike his foe.  In the last panel, the doctor's hand is caught due to "lightning quick" reflexes, yet has somehow switched hands somewhere during the downswing.  That's some fast sleight-of-hand there.

Granted, this could all be chalked up to artistic license, but chances are, Kelley Jones saw the words, "Doctor reaches for hammer", "Doctor lunges towards foe with hammer", and "Foe catches arm clutching hammer" as three individual instances taking place.

For a more overt example of how artists tend to ignore the writer's intentions, check out these panels of Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man.

Here, Felicia is menaced by an approaching Venom, with a chandelier peeking out at the upper corner.
Somehow, despite having one leg caught, Black Cat managed to notice a hanging crystal ornament behind her and kicked off the chain with her free foot, and have it fall on Venom, even though he was nowhere close to the instrument.  Now, it could be argued that there was more than one chandelier in the apartment suite, but realistically, how often do you see more than one fancy overhead light in more than one room?

Even independent comics aren't free from this glaring flaw.  The historical comic on folklore song Stagger Lee was easily understandable, showing a clear argumentative division between two men.  And then this page came up, which blurred the lines between Billy Lyons and Lee Shelton further than intended.  To differentiate between the two men, Lee Shelton was cast in a Mexican scrawled outfit, while Billy Lyons wore a checkered outfit.  Other than the text box creating potential confusion, can you tell what the problem is?

The key clue comes from the words "Conversely, a little shrinkage occurs in the process of turning Billy Lyons into the big man's perpetual victim."  If we're turning Lee Shelton into a more imposing figure, then Billy Lyons should be larger first, then smaller second.  Chalk this up to being constantly overexposed to people Hulking out in more popular comics.  Unless this confusion was intentional.

Just as annoying are people who take inspiration from the source material, but are unable to interpret it properly.  For years, comic fans were nervous when Hollywood became interested in doing adaptions of their favorite titles, after having been burned by low-budget movies that only scratched the surface area of their comics.  For the most part, those fears have been a combination of confirmation and justification due to results being a mixture of faithfulness or misguided interpretation.  Watchmen in particular suffered from being too faithful to the action scenes, (which weren't the book's most memorable moments) while downplaying or condensing other scenes that deserved more attention.  The most successful adaptions are those that adhered to the spirit of the comic, rather than being a lavish devotion to the comic (which usually doesn't translate well onscreen).  There are many examples of minutiae left out in Movie adaptions of Comic Books, or Comic adaptions of movies.  Chances are, something's going to be left out of the equation.  But I think this example of a homage to the MAD parody of L.A. Law portrays my point best.

For the most part, the majority of the cast are able to recreate the poses as portrayed on the cover. However, the two actors on the far right annoy me.

Richard Dysart is doing a thumbs-up that's pointing up, and nowhere close towards the judge's direction, while Jimmy Smits is just impotently dangling his tie in the air instead of using it as a makeshift noose.  Alan Rachins can be forgiven for having his palms spread outwards, and Susan Ruttan looking extra surprised, since they're closer to the spirit of the parody.  It could be argued that actors would be better prepared to understand the motivations of their characters, but you'd think they'd be able to understand the nuances of a drawn page better.  Otherwise, they're just going through the motions without understanding the meaning behind said actions.  It's also annoying that no one who took this photograph noticed this discrepancy.  But maybe there were just too many moving parts to pay attention to the small details.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gochika the Friendly Cockroach

It's no great secret that Japan is capable of using any object or subject, no matter how unsexy or mundane, and manage to make it cute.  Anything from Lovecraft Lore to Melon Bread to Internet Browsers to Military Weapons to Anthropomorphized Countries.  Even knowing this, the sheer range and subject material of fetishized stuff shouldn't continue to be a surprise, yet it constantly does.  The latest source of amusement comes from a Moe version of a Cockroach of all things.

There have been comic versions of cockroaches before, the most memorable being Milquetoast the Cockroach from Bloom County, and Don Martin's Nature Documentary on subject of same, but those were certainly closer to being on-model compared to the miniaturized girl on display.  If it weren't for her diminutive size, she'd be no different from other openly scorned little people in other literature.  At least she's certainly cuter than the overtly racist Cockroaches of Terraformars.

What sets her apart from other cockroaches is that she's a compulsive cleaner who wants nothing more than to be friends with humans.  Too bad that whenever anybody catches sight of her crawling towards them, their first reaction is nothing short of outright disgust. Much like how Casper's revealing appearance would scare anyone into screaming "A G-g-g-g-GHOOOOOOOOOST!!!" before running away, so does Gokicha face the same dilemma.  Of course, with her, the reaction is much more immediate - "A cockroach!  Kill it!"  Fortunately, since she's an invulnerable cockroach, she gets away with little more than cartoon bandages over her shell.

As such, her constant rejection leaves her wondering why other bugs, such as Cicadas, Fireflies, Butterflies, Dragonflies and Stag Beetles are more popular than she is.  For some reason, the fact that her species is generally associated with filthyness completely escapes her.

It wouldn't be a 4-panel gag Manga without an opposing viewpoint to counter her optimistic worldview, and we have that Spooky the Tuff Ghost figure in the counterpart of Chaba-Chan who just wants a nice dirty place to live, and is constantly frustrated by Gokicha's naivete.

Gokicha regularly eats poisonous insecticide pellets to little or no effect, and is flummoxed when Chaba outright refuses to share in her peculiar tastes.  Both in terms of unusual appetite, human interest and cleaning, which results in being prematurely evicted due to discovery and lack of edible waste.

Furthermore, Chaba seems to totally relish her role as a Cockroach troublemaker.

Currently, only two episodes of this amusingly cute Manga were made, which is just as well given its lengthy production time (8 pages a month) and limited range.  Despite these limitations and its potentially repetitive humour, Gokicha manages to remain outright charming.  In 65 Million years when humanity has long perish, cuteness will continue to dominate the Earth.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Giving up Bread for Lent

Sorry for the lack of updates.  It's been a week of unproductive activity, due to no account of obeying the Passover rules of not eating any bread / pasta during the week (read 8 days).  If it weren't for the loophole of being able to consume potatoes, I'd go mad.  As a result, the lack of gluten going into my brain slows down my creative process.  Just relying on chocolate (even heavily discounted Easter ones) isn't enough of a motivator.  While I'm not particularly religious, I feel it's only right to do my utmost best to pay respect to my spiritual ancestors, even if my craft suffers in the process.

One of the hardest part of giving up bread products is that every year, is that when my Dad goes to visit his family for Easter, they always feel fit to give some doughnuts from a Pinsonneault bakery that's only available in their hometown.  This is a good thing, since the rich quality of these Maple doughnuts prevents me from downing these delicacies on a daily basis.

Don't be fooled by their unshapely lumpiness.  they're jam-packed with maple syrup, which accounts for their unevenness.  The collapse of their structure is due to being unable to fully contain the inherent watery sweetness within.  After having one of these, I suddenly had a craving for Glazed doughnuts (previously only choosing chocolate by default) since they were the closest available substance in comparison.

However, I'm also something of a compulsive hoarder when it comes to preserving limited quantities of foodstuff I'm particularly fussy about.  I've still got a box of frozen pizza rolls that I still haven't cooked, since I used to be visited by a Meatman who would arrive on a monthly basis until the supplier retired, and am thus unable to find any of said pizza rolls that are commercially available.  Pizza pockets and Pizza snack packs don't quite fit the bill.  When this year came rolling around, it was discovered that there were some leftover doughnuts that'd been sitting in the freezer since last year, since I was saving them for a foreign friend who never came over.  (After defrosting them, they still tasted pretty good)
If anybody knows where to get these, let me know.
In the midst of my gluten withdrawal, I was scouring social media in the vain hope that I might come across memes and personal accounts that would distract me long enough.  In the midst of these timesinks, I came across a surprising account of an Aislin comic that was supposed to be left unseen regarding Postmedia purchasing Sun Media.  This was surprising to me because despite Aislin's proclamation that this cartoon never would've found its way in the Gazette, I could've sworn I saw it in the papers recently.

I went through various old newspapers, trying to find the relevant cartoon (while clipping out other articles of interest) but for some reason, was unable to find the paper in question.  Curiously enough, one date in particular was missing - Thursday's paper.  I thought for sure that the missing cartoon must've been in that elusive paper.  (It wasn't - Aislin's comment came out on March 27, and The Gazette printed it on March 28)  I checked the remaining papers to see if it was put at a lower date.  No luck.  I even checked between articles to see if it was sandwiched between older newspapers.  No joy.  I even checked the junk mail bin in the faint hope that it might've accidentally misplaced there.  No go.

When I explained this perplexing dilemma to my parents, they went through the same labourous search procedure I just went through, and were no better at finding the elusive paper that'd mysteriously vanished out of sight.  It hadn't been taken for a road trip or a bathroom voyage, so where'd it go?  The answer came from looking in the least likely place - at the very bottom of the pile, where old newspapers were to be used for garbage.

I feel I should explain our disposal procedure.  Recently, we've divided up our waste into three different bins, one for regular trash, one for recyclables, and one for organic waste.  Now, the latter are supposed to be collected into paper bags for easy collection, but the act of putting lots of potato peelings into a small collapsible bag with a small strike zone increases the risk of missing the target when aiming at a distance, and my Dad didn't like the idea of that.  So he devised a procedure to use folded newspapers into an origami shape of a garbage bag.  When the flow of trash reaches the top, that's when it's time to roll up the remainder into a paper fertilizer ball that'll be carefully placed into the compost chamber along with all the other fragile compostables.  When using smaller wastes, such as apple cores and whatnot, I opt for the more manageable junk mail ads.  At least those come to some use.  So what happened was that by some freak accident, Dad had taken the papers that were meant for reuse at the bottom of the pile, and included yesterday's paper in the mix.

It was somewhat painful for my Dad to admit his unintended bungling.  My Dad is overly cautious in trying out any newfangled electronic device, and won't venture into the field without having carefully read the instructions multiple times over, making doubly certain that he's aware of the implications.  While any other person would willfully experiment and play around with the combinations to see what works and what doesn't, Dad will take agonize over and take great pains to determine the consequences of the action of pushing a specific button at the wrong time.
Choosing Lottery Ticket Numbers the MAD way.
It was recently suggested that he and I are similar in that we're perfectionists that hate to admit mistakes, which is somewhat surprising, given how much we get on each other's nerves.  Our self-determined systems are simply incompatible with each other.  On the rare occasions where Dad actually manages to make a mistake, my Mom never fails to lord over and gloat over his brief ineptitude, which is her right as Dad takes great joy in other people's slapstick suffering.

Once this revelation was revealed, I instantly pounced upon this by saying,

"So, you buried the evidence under paperwork?"

One of my great regrets is that so much of my spontaneous wordplay is unknown from the lack of an audience that's not around to appreciate them.  I can never just tell a joke - I have to give an elaborate backstory with commentary included.  One-liners are a more manageable beast - they occur on the spur of the moment with few select material available.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April is the Cruelest Month

There would normally be tidbits of Mr. Bean's amusing calendar entries here, but April apparently is the rare month that has NO commentary for any of the dates, not even the first one.  Not even an allegation for Poisson D'avril, which is characterized by placing a fish behind a random person's back.  (It's a French thing)  Mr. Bean would've used that kind of prank as an opportunity to have some fried fish for dinner... if he had any friends who'd try to play it off on him, and reaching around his back to hang a fish would be more trouble than it's worth.

The only holiday mentioned is the 23rd, St. George's Day, and that doesn't even get an allusion to Dragons.
A Village Tavern
Dean Wolstenholme, 1798-1883
I was all set to do some more entries of the April Fool's Comic Strip Switcheroo, but while doing some research, found that someone else had made a very comprehensive entry about those very comics, saving me some trouble, but not after I'd already gone through half of the online database.  Admittingly, the samples found at the Troubleshooting Comics link are of better quality than what I've found online.

One of the most prized images is the long-lost Zippy comics in the style of Fox Trot!

Despite their best efforts, there were a few missed comics, so all my efforts weren't entirely for naught.

I also found an alternative version of the Non Sequitur comic, compressed into a single panel, so a lot of detail from the crowded line is missing.  And by "missing", I mean cropped out entirely.

There were also inclusions of other comics that played April Fools without resorting to switching cartoonists, but for some reason, this one didn't make the cut.

It's hard to make out the details, but I think there's a bunch of hand tools in the cat's food bowl, which is why Kit is so freaked out.  As far as pranks go, this isn't particularly high up the cleverness scale, and closer to sadism.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate the holiday, and happy Passover to those who don't.