Saturday, December 31, 2016

Endings and Beginnings: New Year's Revolutions

As promised, I'm going to be posting the start of every month with relevant repetitive BC comics.

A preview of things to come.  There'll be the occasional Religious insight in a few comics which're unavoidable, but they won't be the major focus, which should come as a relief to some.

New Years Resolutions are little more than an excuse to try to improve on our faults and failing, only to try again for next year.  Baring any dramatic changes, it looks like a fairly safe bet that I'll be able to continue this (dubious) proud tradition for this year.  Next year's anybody's guess.

While pretty much almost every letter and poem is extensively reused multiple times, to the point that Wily's slight head nods are repeated down to each panel, there's the occasional break in patterns here and there.

And those instances will be exclusively included, which'll break up the monotony somewhat.  The Fat Broad is a consistent opinionated presence who makes the occasional critical observation as seen here:

And of course, there'll be the occasional insight into the highly-advanced civilization of Peter's snide never-seen Ocean Pal.

Yee Tee Vee

To round out the year, and have some variance between updates, here's a quick update for a label tab that I never expected to have more than one entry for: the missing strip of the YTV advertising adventures, staring Dash & Jade.

Recently, I've taken the task of filling in the missing pieces of my collection by browsing the relevant dates available on Microfiche.  Not the online databases, but the physical copies at libraries.  Going through these archaic devices isn't exactly easy, since there's an elaborate setup system, and going through a spool takes time, since the plastic takes a good while before I can find the material I'm looking for.  Then, once I'm finished, I have to wait while rewinding it back to its previous state.  So far, it takes me a good two hours just to go through at least four dates.  If I didn't know exactly where to look, it'd probably take me even longer.

The only fault is that sometimes the quality isn't as good as it could be,and some of the writing can be a little unclear and hard to make out.  For instance, the large swatches of indecipherable scratchy writing is supposed to be Mr. Devlin laughing.  Here's an inverted into blue version of the above for easier reading.

Now that I've got the whole story, I now notice what wasn't obvious to me before - they never once confront or run into any of the characters of these shows - just their props.  Neat way of dodging the
whole headache of being consistent with different art styles, and copyright infringement.  You can have the presence of a flying Police Box and Ninja Weapons spoken alongside the titles, without overtly referencing who uses these things in the first place.  Just the presence of these items is enough to indulge in fantasy roleplaying, which is pretty much what they're doing here anyways.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Next Year: Letters & Poems

After I completed my monthly allotment of not-Far Side Cow Ads, I was left floundering for anything that could potentially replace my intended updates, and it looked like I wouldn't have to deal with any more deadline-relevant material.

Then, while going through my old collections, recalled that there was something substantial that while not particularly festive, does have occasional instances of the passage of time, yet allows for subtle variance - Peter's Letters to his Ocean Pal, and Wily's Poems.

These static images have been reused so many times that it's easy to forget how they even started.  And their overreliance of repeat panels makes for visually uninteresting comics in the same vein as the abundant Akbar & Jeff strips in Matt Groening's Life in Hell.

Recently, there's been some research that when it comes to things that humans still do better than computers, it's in reading comics.  Apparently, the process of integrating the entire aspect of a panel, and distilling the relevant bits, as well as trying to make connections between pages, as well as intuitively "reading" and interpreting the meaning behind a panel is something even a child can do that the fastest processing device on the planet can't.  They're likely to be pay more attention to irrelevant aspects of the drawing, than focus on the things worth paying attention to.

Of course, if we're insisting that these machines jump head-first into an American comic printed between 1930-1950 with all it's obscure trappings, intricate inside-joke humour, and references to ages-ago events that have no modern-day equivalence, then of course they're going to be confused!  Not to mention comics that vary their artistic styles in tribute to other artists, parodies, tonal shifts, usage of humour, and personal experiences which are all areas that fall outside a computer's range of experience.

We could have comics that speak solely to computer's preferences, but barring knowing what'd appeal to computers as their target demographic, we'd be trapped inside a circular chain of reactory logic.  Instead, I'd suggest starting them off with something far easier.  Start with the basics.  Use Peanuts & Garfield comics.  (Random Garfield Generators manage to create uproarious comics more by accident than design)  Computers would have to figure out that Garfield's thoughts can't be heard by Jon, despite some random inconsistencies.  Woodstock's scratchy remarks aren't indecipherable codes, but meant to be interpreted by Snoopy later.  In essence, comics are just logistical puzzles.  And Computers have to figure out the whole picture before predicting the outcome, which can't always be an easy task.

A mostly-text issue of Transmetropolitan is considered to be an entry-issue for first-time comic readers who aren't used to the art form.  The essay sprinkled throughout the comic is somehow more understandable, since there's no dialogue spoken through word balloons.

I'd also hold off on using the oft-used Dinosaur Comics, because, despite their repetitive nature and consistency, the actual content within varies and changes so much that it becomes nigh impossible to predict how events would play out.  With Peter writing a letter, then chucking it in the ocean, we're given a progression of time that's eventually paid off with receiving an answer at the end.  Wily's poems are stylistically and functionally similar from almost every panel, but there's no confusion over the order, and there's some rhyming and rhythm thrown in the mix.  As I've said before, I enjoyed seeing panels repeated multiple times, since I could get a sense of similarity between them and make connections that'd make sense later on.  (Even though I would label these under Plagiarism later on)

That said, I'm not going to willy-nillingly use every single one of the constantly used letters or poem comics - I'm just going to single out the most noticeable and different ones.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In Tennis, Love is Nothing

Every year, I struggle to try to find something suitable for my parents.  And every year, I wind up short, because they're pretty self-sufficient, and don't have very many wants or needs.  Anything that needs to be replaced or repaired can be quickly found online for a fraction of the price, and there are various items that can be fixed with some slight adjustment.  Plus, my Father's quite the handyman, though computers are outside his area of expertise.  Likewise, my Mother is trying to cut down on heavy books, preferring instead to read them on her e-reader device.  (Even though multiple novels on her reading list may spontaneously disappear without warning)  So, rather than try to appease their interest through Gift Cards (which they can afford & don't need), I need to delve deeper to indulge their baser interests, especially when Christmas and Hanukah have lined up so close to their lunar dates.

And the surefire way to appeal to their target audience is to talk about Tennis.  To my regular comic readers (all five of them), forgive me for going outside the realm of normalcy, giving attention to a sport not normally seen on the funny pages, particularly for a season-specific sport, but procrastination and stinginess have brought me to this point.

From a young age, my parents were enamored with the sport, having the convenience of living next to a Tennis arena.  They even had me go to lessons there so I could join them and learn the sport.  There was even a ping-pong table in the basement for handling a miniature version of the game with ease.  With practice, I was able to handle the racquet with ease, and even bounce a tennis ball on it multiple times.

And yet, I never really warmed up to the sport.  I couldn't feel comfortable playing out in the bright sun, wearing reflective clothing.  Not to mention the unnecessary dress code of having to wear white shoes instead of my more comfortable running shoes.  Part of this was my innate boredom in waiting for the ball to come back.  I wanted something more stimulating, so in my spare time as a teen, I would play against the wall by bouncing two balls at once.  One ball to bounce back, and another ball coming back as soon as I made my swing.  Naturally, the wall won all the time.

Another notion that constantly infuriated me was the ball going over the high-wire fence, and having to go all the way around into the field to get the ball, toss them over, only to have the ball go over the fence again.

It's all probably a matter of taste.  I seem to be missing a particular flipped switch that enjoys doing extravascular activities, since my parents keep engaging into the game, despite returning home with frequent injuries.  I dreaded when these happened, because it'd mean that my Mother would get invariably upset, because she couldn't work out her frustrations on the court, meaning she'd be more crabbier than usual.  And she's crabby even on her best days.  So when she injured her back a long time ago, she couldn't return to the court for a good two years, leaving me to suffer the brunt of her wrath.  (Not that she'd beat me with a tennis racquet - I don't bounce very well)  She couldn't even enjoy doing any of the trickier dances on Dance Dance Revolution, because many of the advanced stages require doing multiple jumps in a row, which only aggravated her spine further.

In recent years, they haven't been able to enjoy the sport as much as they'd like to, but like addicts who need their fix, they get their required allotment of exercise by a similar substitute - PickleBall.  It's similar enough to Tennis, but played with ping-pong-like paddles and a whiffle ball instead, which requires a delicate touch.  And like Tennis, it has a similarly weird scoring system.

The surest way for me to lose all interest in any game that requires coordination, dexterity and skill is to have a bunch of intrusive rules that limit the amount of movement and fun in playing a game.  Sure, they're there to level out the playing field and make things fair, as well as add a degree of difficulty, but I feel freer when I don't have to hold back on my restrictions.  Or maybe my indifference may be something more innate - the surest way for a child to lose interest in a hobby is for parents to have a vested interest in it in the first place.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Slug-Man "The Final Confrontation III"

Apparently, the market for inside jokes regarding various Sunday Comics filtered throughout children's drawings was an extremely limited market, appealing only to me, considering how few links it gained.  Since my last entry regarding childish drawings wound up being so unpopular, I decided to change tacks, and showcase something similar that I figured would garner larger interest.
The second Fox Trot Anthology collection, En Masse, had a secondary comic along the likes of the larger Calvin & Hobbes collections - a Slug-Man comic drawn through the vein of Jason Fox's warped vision.
Apart from the coloured Sunday comics, this was the only new material to make up the bulk of the collection.  And I was reluctant to purchase a book containing material I already had just to gain a few pages of a short story that I wasn't really that invested in in the first place.  Not to mention I was hoping that it'd be reprinted in another anthology elsewhere further down the line.

Fortunately, a Facebook user had the whole thing available (and still is), on her page, and I was able to bypass my hurdle of paying for something I was reluctant to shell out for in the first place.  So far, these pages haven't been reprinted anywhere else, and none of the later Fox Trot collections had any bonus material, save for a look into the cartoonist's creative process of creating a typical Fox Trot strip.
One good reason might be that this kind of material could easily be classified as an Old Shame.
Much of the appeal of Slug-Man comics was hearing Jason's attempts at trying to mimic the over-the-top aspects of a typical Superhero comic with all the Adam West Batman Show cliches present.  Paige-o-Tron is a nakedly disguised representation of Jason's animosity towards his sister, which isn't that far removed from other comic creators venting their frustration towards real-life figures on the funny pages.
But much of that enjoyment is significantly lessened when seeing an actual full-length Slug-Man comic with none of the stylistic beats of a Sunday strip.  Perhaps a project like this would've required quality control to look closer to an amateur's attempt, or reduce the flowery purple narrative boxes that cover up the majority of the artwork, leaving hardly any room for (un)natural dialogue.  Or maybe my standards are just too high.
Something that's been recently pointed out is that there's a large influx of movies that get by, by being purely average.  They don't aspire to reveal any inner humane truths - they just go through the motions, rehashing reheated dialogue and scenes from other movies.  They're neither Sleeper Hits or Must-Sees, or So bad it's Good, but more along the lines of So Okay it's Average.  And that's where these Slug-Man comics lie.
It took me awhile to work around just why I was so reluctant to splurge the hard-earned cash over for 
that I had no real vested emotional interest in.  (Even though it'd fill in a hole in my collection)  Having mostly flipped through the pages in a hurry in order to absorb the contents, I didn't have much time to think through the main reason.  And then I hit upon it - apart from the Superhero beats (which I've never really warmed up to), the majority of the Slug-Man comic simply isn't that particularly clever or funny.
It's not so much that the comic plays the Superhero cliches straight - it doesn't do so in a manner that's any different from what's been done hundreds of thousands of times already.  This isn't a satire on a tired genre - it's an outsider's perspective of the medium, filtered through a child, as penned by an adult man.  With all these elements, you'd expect there to be some kind of commentary that would be accessible to all audiences.  But apart from some light touches here and there, it plays the whole thing totally straight.
If you look at the upper right corner of the Slug-Man cover, you'll see that the price has been constantly slashed down to the point where it's practically given away for free.  If Jason couldn't give these comics away, then what possible value could be foisted on these pages, which aren't even consistent from panel to panel?  "Seal of Quality", indeed.  And I use "Quality" in ironic quotation marks.
One thing that always annoyed me about abundant narrative boxes was how much they detracted from enjoying the comic, revealing useless details about how you're supposed to feel about a character or events playing out in front of you.  Much of the work stemming from writers who believed the power of their work was only emphasized by the amount of verbose baggage they cram their hacked stories together, and not trusting the artist to convey their vision across.  Which oftentimes results in such clumsy sentences such as, "He jumped fifty feet high!" "He punched him all the way across the room!" "He's drinking his tea now!"  And the pertinent facts that are relevant are buried in the huge paragraphs they've laboured on, to make sure that every single line is read.
You could ignore the majority of the narrative boxes, and just focus on the main action (like I did), and you'd still wind up with greater comprehension of what happened.  Comic fans nowadays may complain of "decompression" where a story that normally took place in the span of a single monthly comic issue was instead stretched out over the span of six months.  But those are bad usage of writers not understanding how to properly use decompression, and Comic fans mistaking the large amount of overwritten narrative boxes for content.
It may not seem apparent, but only the cover and last page are full-sized comic pages.  The regular content of the Slug-Man comic was displayed on a four-panel comic grid that were chopped up for easier readability.  The "quality" of the comic otherwise, I'd argue that it's easier to read this way.  The narrative box keeps switching from top to bottom, forcing the reader to focus their eyes across the page, depending on where they're likely to look next.
If there's a tentative sameness to S-hero stories, it's because much like the authorities, the heroes don't actively go out of their way to stop disasters before they happen.  They only step up once the factors start to personally impede onto their lives.  Oftentimes, jailing up or having the criminal masterminds run away to fight another day thanks to a contrived distraction that just happened to pop up in the nick of time helps as a useful narrative crutch for popular reoccurring villains.  But it can become annoyingly obvious when overused to the point of absurdity.
The general solution to any conflicts in Superhero comics  is to punch problems in the face until they're solved.  That may be a gross oversimplification, but the instances where conflicts are resolved without violence (including where two heroes fight each other over a misunderstanding) is remarkably small.  The whole purpose is to give a semblance of calm to the status quo, however long that lasts, until the next major revamp, the latest creative team wanting to shake things up to appeal to long-jaded readers who're constantly in need of their next fix, and need to have long-running franchise comics relevant to today's issues, even though newer characters from younger creators not tied down to corporations stealing million-dollar ideas from underpaid artists would be more appropriate.  No, I'm not particularly bitter, but I know a few people who are.
As typical of a Jason Fox get-rich quick scheme, the comic ends with a full advertisement page, filled with merchandising products that will never ever be available.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Covering Influence

When you read various works by many creators, you begin to notice certain parallels and similarities in theme that have been built on the skeletons of multiple crafts built throughout the ages.  One of the joys in reading other works is backtracking and finding how and where other authors and artists have subtly influenced other writers and artists through their penmanship or prose.  Though sometimes, the influence can be so embedded with miniscule in-jokes that it can be lost to the ages unless specifically pointed otherwise.

I've mentioned how I've enjoyed seeing other children's interpretation of Sunday Comic characters.  Though there's another realm that I haven't really covered - deliberate lifting their inspiration from specific panels themselves.

Keep in mind that this isn't direct plagiarism in itself - all amateur artwork starts from figuring out the underlying tricks to capturing the design of a beloved cartoon character, and applying those traits themselves.
Furthermore, sharing their artwork with the newspaper staff was devoid of any profit motive.  They just wanted a chance to maybe have one of their many submissions as the cover for the Comics Page.

In some instances, it can be overwhelmingly easy when a character uses poses that haven't been overused elsewhere.  Heathcliff for instance, doesn't normally wear an old-fashioned coat with a clock, so finding that isn't too difficult.  But finding a panel where he assumes a peculiar stance before lunging on a wary mouse is slightly trickier.  You're more likely to see panels where the cat is walking forwards with two legs at his side at a time.

An experiment that removed Heathcliff in the same vein as Garfield Minus Garfield found that people were generally giving inane explanations to mundane events to random and passing strangers with no apparent buildup.

In other instances, it's simply substituting one pose with another potential interpretation.  Where in the above instance, we've got a full-body figure of the domineering fat cat, the inspiration had a different reason for his expression of sheer joy, that only showed half of his upper body.

One thing that I didn't catch on account of having a few holes in my collection was that there was another example of a cover being inspired by another comic:

In this instance, it was an expanded version of a descriptive throwaway panel from Peanuts.  Note that we don't see the License plate, and that it's mocked up to more closely resemble an Optimus Prime trailer truck.  Without any colour, we're left guessing as to what it was originally coloured.

The time frame between a Sunday comic and a child's drawing of same could vary wildly.  The Peanuts example above first showed on February 17th, 1980 (on a Saturday), but the resulting cover didn't show up until January 24th, 1981, almost a year later.

In comparison, this Animal Crackers comic first showed up on in mid-October, resulting in a similar cover a scant three months later.

For years, I struggled trying to find the accompanying comic that inspired this cover.  I was convinced I'd seen this represented somewhere.  That maybe if I could only find the comic it represented, I could make a clear case.  The only clue I had was that it appeared before 1984.  I scoured numerous microfiche archives, plumbing their depths to find any hint of Sergeant Snorkel and Lieutenant Fuzz being positioned in such a way that Fuzz would've been mistakenly placed atop General Halftrack, due to a mistake of proportion.

Out of desperation, I even considered going through the Daily strips as well.  But I was saved this hurdle when I decided to use the second-closest example I could think of, involving Sergeant Snorkel's squeaking chair.  And to my surprise - it was just the one I was thinking of.  The only reason it didn't immediately come to mind was because the characters in question had been split up in the panel in question, which "sounded" different.  That, and the Sergeant's head was slightly stretched out of proportion.

Of course, that's just basic copying artwork from a single panel.  The real joy comes when an experimental artist doesn't limit themselves to one or two samples, and draws from all of them at once.

The more examples you implicitly plagiarize from, the more it'll become a "homage".

The best example of this would be this cover from Jean-René Huot, who used his prize winning cartoon as a Gazette entry.  You can read more from a enlarged close-up of the text near the bottom.

The character designs would be considered unknown to most people, but they're a deliberate riff of the infamous silent artist, Mordillo.

If Mordillo's art looks familiar, it's probably because it shares a remarkable similarity to Duck Edwing's chubby characters from the pages of MAD, mostly in a Medieval setting.

Though that wasn't the only instance of outside influence.  Here's the only MAD-inspired art to make its way onto the funny pages:

I like the cover above, even though it gets the mirror image from the original wrong, simply because I enjoy the symmetry involved.  The mirror is simplified to a single frame, but the basic outline of the dresser is still there.

And here's the punch line, just to round things out:

I'm running out of clever ways of essentially saying the same thing, so here's one more batch of conjoined comics and covers to add to the pile.