Friday, January 29, 2016

Mangled Franglish

When it comes to translating one language to another, there are potential pitfalls that come from not fully understanding the social ramifications of the individual words you're using that are close approximations to what you're used to in your home language.  Not to mention all the conflicting uses of punctuation that spell the crucial difference between Going to Hospital, and Going to The Hospital.  One of the trickiest things to convey is correctly showing someone unintentionally misusing language.  At best, you have amusing Engrish that permeate the pop culture landscape, and at worst, becomes almost intelligible.

The Batman Odyssey, a marvelously insane comic, had a joint summary between two comic fans, David Wolkin and Laura Hudson who gave a hilarious recap that was far more comprehensible and entertaining than the actual comic.  They also cleared up some of the more baffling narrative choices that would've been completely incomprehensible for lesser minds.  To put it in their own words, "Every time I think The Batman Odyssey can't get any crazier, it suddenly does."  Each subsequent issue gradually ramped up the madness factor to the extent that by the time the last few issues came out, they'd given up attempting to tackle it out of sheer desperation and exhaustion.  David threw the comic away after reading a few pages, and after another issue, he was so traumatized he had to get a kitten to recuperate.  (There was some moving involved too, which may have been a factor)  It's been suggested that there be a Brave & Bold episode adaption as examined by Bat-Mite, with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Ambush Bug in a kind of Mystery Science Theater 3000 tribute.

At the very last recap, a commenter, Ben Freeman made the following observation:
The most fascinating thing about Batman Odyssey is how close it can come to making sense. Take "Acquit yourself, you kung fu movie guru", for example - it's not so very hard to see how that line is SUPPOSED to work. It would look fine (if still a little odd for Killer Croc) as "Is that all you've got, you Splinter wannabe?" or "Fight back, Mister Miyagi" or what have you. But somehow, the actual words on the page have been chosen from synonyms which form a sentence that nobody would ever actually say. And the ENTIRE COMIC is like that. It's like the script was somehow run through Google Translate into and out of Korean or something.
Sadly, this results in even some of the comic's pretty cool moments (like Batman instantly knowing that Deadman has possessed someone because they switch from left to right handed) being rendered into surreal nonsense ("right-handed. other stuff.") And Adams' tendency to have every character speak entirely in sentence fragments separated by ellipses only muddies the waters further.

Still, the script's tendency towards total screaming madness did give us the line "and octopus of a thing - and I have but an inkling!", which has since become a catchphrase of mine, so it's not all bad news.
On the other end of the spectrum are comics that've been translated into one language, then re-translated into another.  As with photocopying from various sources, something is bound to get lost in the process.  Especially if the re-translation is too faithful.  One of my linguistic challenges when reading a badly translated piece is to try to rework the text around to a more condensed readable form.
In this instance from Shin Tekken Chinmi, the above page seems perfectly normal at first glance.  But after browsing several pages in quick succession, you gradually begin to notice that the speech pattern doesn't flow as smoothly as it should.  For instance, the following dialogue could be modified like so:

Sailor: Taste the water.
Chinmi: It's salty!
Chinmi: The river is spilling into the sea!
Shuufan: Our boat trip is almost over.
Chinmi: Tantan!  Wake up, Tantan! (Unchanged)
Tantan: Ugh, don't bother me... I'm seasick...
Chinmi: We're at the bay.  We're gonna see the sea soon.

See how much easier and faster it is to follow?  For typical elementary Shonen-type Mangas like these, large clunky words slow down the narrative.  Estuary is the technically correct term, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.  If English teachers wanted to motivate their students, they could have them correct online work, then make the necessary modifications where necessary, since pointing out other's faults is more fun than concentrating on your own.

In my instance, I almost wound up doing some self-correction of my own.  District 14, a wonderfully inventive series is set in an alternative 1920s civilization where humans and anthropomorphic animals are caught in a conflict involving themes of journalism, protection rackets, psychic mediums, illegal aliens and an immigrant elephant's backstory has allusions and callbacks to War & Peace.  The story takes so many inventive twists and turns that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, and I looked forward to seeing the next page.  About halfway through the first season, there was an incident involving some French cats, and at first, I thought the translator made an amateur mistake.  But then I quickly realized it was intentional.

In this instance, in the second panel, when he says "keep the brain busy", he really means "keep your mind occupied".  The purpose of such an act is to make the reader think about a character's manner of speech, and as such, resist temptation in making their script free of errors, so that some linguistic mistakes still make their way through.

One of the best examples of intentional mangled English comes from the PBS classical adaption of Agatha Christie's Poirot, as portrayed by the definitive and inimitable David Suchet.  I was able to enjoy watching the episodes again after the latest re-release on DVD finally acknowledged my complaints and had subtitles added to them.  In one of the episodes, Captain Hastings talked about abstract art, and how you need to view it in a different way to fully understand what you're seeing - that a transparent outline could show both the front and back of a person.  For years, I was continuously perplexed as to what the opening image was supposed to be.  It looked like a sword in midair, next to a moon, that suddenly became deformed, then windowpanes of the Belgian Detective would taper down the middle.

It wasn't until I paused the screen before the crucial eye-catching distracting detail that I finally noticed the significance of the warped sword - it was actually a profile of Poirot himself, with the edges of the sword acting as a representation of his mustache.

One of the most amusing things is how often Poirot (not a Frenchman, but a Belgian!) continuously gets certain English phrases just slightly wrong:

That may be to your profit (advantage)
Is there nothing Poirot cannot turn his finger? (hand?)
Yes, we pull ever gently the leg.  (pulling your leg)
And on the debit side? (bad side)
I am in something of a difficulty.  (quandary)
What's the word?  Bloater?  Kipper?  (Red herring)
She is close to the breakthrough.
We'll be out.  Hold the castle.  (fort)
Better the safeness than the sorrow.
We must not try to walk before we can jump.  (look before we leap)
Wonders will never stop.  (cease)
I need a... lampe de poche.  What is that, a lamp of the pocket?  Torch!
Twins?  Yes, two pins in a pot.  (peas in a pod)

Still very far from being the species extinct.
Not suitable for the humour.
Do not be stinting with your praise.  (damning with faint praise)
Running up the wrong tree.
I'm still a force to be calculated. (reckoned with)
The case is dried and cut.
The quickness of the hand deceives the eye.
He's mad - taking leave of his rocker.
There should not be the sleepy dogs.  (let sleeping dogs lie)
He's been sold a pup.  (a dog)
Barking up the wrong bush.
Kindly do not band together against Poirot.  (gang up against Poirot)
The appearance of being above the board.

Shortly after compiling this list, I came up with a Poirotism of my own:

My senses have left.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What is the Form of a Question?

This Monday, viewers were treated to a rare feat on Jeopardy!  By sheer chance, every single contestant decided to wager everything they'd won onto the Final Jeopardy! question... only for all three to lose their savings in one fell swoop.  This kind of occurrence has only happened six times during Jeopardy!'s 50+ year run.  At least it didn't happen during a Tournament of Champions.

An actual 3-way Tournament of Champions tie would be an incredible upset, resulting in audience outrage.  Not long ago last year, we were treated to the exploits of a rather remarkable achievements of a young paralegal who came out of nowhere to dominate the Jeopardy! board.  Online reaction was mixed, being amazed and appalled at Matt Jackson's autistic-like ability to perfectly time his answers as soon as Alex Trebek confirmed they were right.  Those haters weren't looking forward to having another contestant who'd keep staying on the game for what looked like months on end.

They reminded me (naturally!) of an early MAD satire of a gameshow starring a contestant who was rather unpopular, despite his impressive ability of accurately making rapid-fire predictions down to the decimal point.  In between rounds, we found out some interesting trivia about Matt Jackson, including the fact that he had a Jewish mother and a Christian father, as well as a twin brother.

During Matt Jackson's run, Alex Trebek mentioned that previous champions were hoping that he'd keep up his winning streak, since they were terrified of having to face up against him for the Tournament of Champions.

In one particular Daily Double (Oct. 7), Matt Jackson bet the sum of "Five" in a Music category. (WHY he kept persisting in a category he was having trouble with is a mystery)  After making the wager, Alex said "$5000?  Alright then, here's the clue..." to which Matt Jackson got wrong, but a measly $5 was deducted from his score, which was a major factor, because it was still a close game; and Matt Jackson lived to play for another day.

As it turned out, the latest contender for breaking Ken Jennings' 74-day record ended after a mere 13 days, losing to Michael Baker after being overconfident in betting in Final Jeopardy!, but then it was a very close game, having just a $200 advantage over his closest competitor.  Michael Baker seemed like a worthy replacement... only to wind up losing the very next day.

When shown in the Tournament of Champions, Matt Jackson's introduction, whose trademark of opening with raised fingers of his running streak, and a creepy unwavering timed smile was inverted by opening up with a smile that tapered down to a disappointed smile.  That reversal could've been considered prophetic, considering how disappointing Matt Jackson's results were.

In the semi-finals, he continued his usual pattern of racking up maddening numbers of moolah, easily outpacing the other opponents.  But then he fell apart after reaching the 2-day final rounds.  His strategy of quickly pressing the buzzer and choosing the mid-number categories to get the Daily Doubles faster only works if he's the only one implementing that strategy.  His contender, Alex Jacob, who copied that tactic to great effect left Matt Jackson constantly playing catch-up.  Losing valuable money on wrong Daily Double answers didn't help Matt either, and by the end of the first Final Jeopardy!, he'd lost most of the money he'd made, despite impressively keeping pace once he finally got his rhythm going.

Also, in deference to Matt Jackson's line of rapid-fire answering, Alex Jacob used the counter-intuitive method on every Daily Double by taking his sweet time giving an answer, looking constantly worried, then popping a question... which would turn out to be right every time.  The man certainly knew how to play his audience.

As it turns out, answering Jeopardy! questions isn't as easy as it looks.  In addition to being prepared, there's the overhead studio lights and mounting pressure to keep up the pace, even when you win multiple games in a row.  Eventually, that strain begins to build over your head until you crack.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Absence of Valise

You notice all kinds of weird things while browsing old online newspaper archives.  For starters, due to rushing the scanning process and lack of double-checking the source material, some pages are accidentally posted twice.  And other gap in the dates are filled in previous dates that run together that were never divided.  For instance, you can look up an article in say, November 28, 1985, and find a paper wasn't available that day, because they were celebrating Thanksgiving, thus yesterday's date would double-up on their features which would compensate for the lack of a paper the following day.

But this wasn't just regulated to national holidays - it happened sporadically.  There are wide swatches of missing patches scattered here and there, which makes finding archived quality comics a nightmare for anyone who didn't bother to keep a subscription to every published newspaper ever.

And then, there are the scanning errors.

This probably isn't how it originally appeared in the pages, but I like how Jeff's (the father) face is distorted in the second panel, because it looks like he's in one of those non-twinning in-between frames from multiple hand-drawn animated cartoons.  (Something that 3D animation has yet to perfect)

Another feature is that some newspaper comics used to have advertising of available book collections of the most popular strips in the margins.  Nowadays, you're more likely to see that kind of self-promotion in the cover header of the latest scanlated issue.  (which explains the wide empty spaces at the beginning and end of every chapter)

With the majority of newspaper comic content being readily available online, there isn't much impetus to seek out other comics for their low-impact humour since audiences are more likely to stick with the material they're most familiar with.  Having a singular page showing one strip at a time isn't close enough to the newspaper comic model.  The closest equivalent would be one large page that'd show every single comic that'd appear on that day.  Such a model would be an assault on their bandwidth, but it'd give audiences a wider range of samples to draw from.
This Dilbert strip is actually made worse by the lack of the middle panel
One feature that's been largely eliminated is the prospect of missing or absent comics.  For the most part, these were hand-waved away by dint of being unsuitable or controversial enough for the family content of a newspaper.  (Whose rationale for attracting reader numbers is the motto "If it Bleeds, it Leads")
If the middle panel had a suitcase, the title post would make more sense.
These strips would usually be replaced by other comics or older material.  (Pogo was notorious for having Bunny strips for its impenetrable political comics)  Considering their disposable nature, and that today's cartoonists are required to take mandatory vacations, it's surprising that other cartoonists didn't get the chance to jump in and try to substitute as a guest strip for a trial period.  Then again, some comics are so popular with certain newspaper subscribers that they're usually the only reason they bother to stay on, so removing them (even temporarily) is a risky prospect.  Calvin & Hobbes spent almost 2 years on sabbatical, but remained endearing, so there's 7 1/2 years of material within its 10-year run.

Nowadays, if there's a comic that's been banned from the pages for one reason or another (recall Opus' Burqa issue), it's just a matter of a quick search result to find the offending material, and wonder what the fuss was all about.  (Unless you're on a limited-information dictatorship plan)  But back then, there was another kind of self-censorship that had nothing to do with imposing values.  I'm referring to the most dreaded quote of debt collectors and editorial feedback: "Your submission got lost in the mail."
Back then, cartoons were shipped forward and back via a shipping process that for one reason or another, wasn't entirely reliable.  Such a method using snail mail would be considered unthinkable today.  Even more unusual would be if multiple comics happened to be "lost" along the way.
Normally under unusual circumstances, missing or mangled comics would get a correction with a proper image on the second page the next day.  But I can assure you that no such compensation was given for these comics.  Not that much would've been missed with these particular strips, but still, having 1/5th of your intended reading material cut off without any backup is kind of an insult.  Fortunately, as far as I can tell, this kind of thing didn't happen often.  Of course, that's only judging from the available online stuff.  The online archives for other papers which require a paying subscription to access their contents is still out of my reach.  I have no intention of giving away good money without sampling the wares.  (i.e., what comics those newspapers have)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

We Stand on Guard: For Who?

Brian K. Vaughan's latest comic proposal, We Stand on Guard, of the US invading Canada sounded interesting on proposal, but loses me in it's execution, even with the addition of a bilingual guard robot. Part of the problem is that it's written by an American, and not co-written by actual Canadians who'd give some authenticity to the franchise. The ragtag team at the end of the preview (their tiny Canadian flag tags notwithstanding) posing with guns (to appear cool) didn't exactly fill me with confidence.  And by the 6th and last issue, any enthusiasm was universally panned.

For the most part, Canadians are regularly ignored, and perk up whenever Americans stand up and notice any of our contributions we've done that normally fall under their scandal-watching radar.  Part of the problem is that Americans know very little about Canada, which is especially troubling since according to a multiple-choice survey, 1/3 of American 8th Graders thought Canadians were a Dictatorship, along with Australia and France.  This wasn't borne from a deep internal reflection of our last political party, but from massive guesswork of limited choices.  They thought that given their current standard of living, any other place would be considerably worse off, since who Wouldn't want to be an American???  The unwelcome answer is: not everyone.  People take a kind of jingoist pride in their own countries the same way Americans do in theirs - they just express it differently.

Generally speaking, Canadians have a different attitude and mentality that isn't easily fit for mass consumption.  Our left-leaning politics is more of a passive-aggressive stance.  We're more likely to win our battles through political manipulation than with outright overkill.  Stephen Harper tried to win his Prime Minister term with scaremongering, reminiscent of typical American election rulebooks, but his strong-arm tactics and single stranglehold over the party (along with unpopular decisions* and scandals that were coming to light) were enough to deem him undesirable, and welcome back the Liberal party, despite their Sponsorship scandal.  Boring, but practical, that's us.

Q. What's the worst insult you can give a Canadian?  A. Calling them Americans.

Indeed, a general complaint about Canadians is that we're notoriously difficult to pin down because of our lack of identity.  While that could be considered a fault, it also works as a plus, since it frees us from being strictly adhered to any one overall ideal.  But that also has a dark undercurrent for the Ugly Canadian - we're the only country that defines ourselves by what we're not.  Our singular identifying bragging feature is that we're not Americans.
"Okay, we might have a looming deficit, but at least we're not as bad as the Americans!"
"Okay, we've got rampant police brutality, but at least we're not as bad as the Americans!"
"Okay, we've got a long history of unfair treatment towards the Aboriginal First Nations, but at least we're not as bad as the Americans!"
If Brian K. Vaughan wanted to give a better portrayal of Canadians, he should've at least considered the plausible ways that Canada could protect itself from an invasion force that for all likes and purposes, overwhelm them by sheer firepower alone. The best Canadian strategy would be to hit them before the Americans could deploy the nuclear option - they wouldn't even HAVE to deploy a strike anywhere on our land - just melt the polar caps enough to flood our land beyond submission. The surest way to protect yourself against a force you're overly familiar with is to determine the most extreme solution, and then guard against that. (A gun's useless if you can't pull the trigger)

"The main aim of this policy would not be to actually fight a war, but to make it clear that the war will be so costly and so bloody that you don't want to fight it."

Of course, a better authentic portrayal would be if he'd gotten some consultation advice from an ACTUAL Canadian.  Preferably, someone who'd served in the armed services.  (The artist doesn't count - he's Spanish)  After hearing this proposal, I started thinking about all the kinds of ways that would prompt an attack.  What would be the impetus for the US to invade Canada in the first place? My first guess was that they'd want full access to our water supply, after inadvertently poisoning their reserves beyond saving. Sure, crude oil is necessary for moving large swaths of transportation around for a circulatory system of goods and people, but NOBODY can survive without water. People deprived of resources they need to live would be willing to do ANYTHING, no matter the cost, even at the expense of all else. This could be one realm where Government Bureaucracy (where Canadian excel) wouldn't be of much use.  Hostage negotiations and prisoner exchanges could be used to convince the other side to give up in exchange for some quality life-giving water.

But we didn't get any of that.  We were treated to scenes of soldiers traversing frozen wastelands, with none of the environmental hazards present.  Nor were we presented with scenarios such as preparing for warmer climates and shifting weather patterns or any background details of changing wet socks from accidentally stepping into ankle-deep waters.  If there's one topic that unites Canadians, it's the weather.  Americans have a generally stable weather system, with only occasional earthquakes and hurricanes to deal with.  But deal a little snow on the highways, and the whole city goes under, because they can't handle a little slippage, inadvertently causing car-pile-ups and traffic jams.  This isn't an egotistical slant - Canadians are just as guilty of this, because the instant a few flakes start falling, we're more concerned on getting to Point B than wasting time putting on time/life-saving snow tires.

Furthermore, for a war on water, there's surprisingly little account of coping with a water shortage, or using water-based substitutes, which would be vastly interesting.  Instant powdered foods would have to be rethought without any water additives in them.  Army showers are generally timed to make the most of their limited two-minute use - dampen the skin down, then apply soap, then rinse.  Hand sanitizers while clean, aren't as effective as good old soap & water.

There's talk of the War of 1812 where Canada fought against the US and won, but no mention of any of the tactics they used.  One particularly memorable anecdote is that before the White House was burned down, soldiers verified that the place was empty, but the President's dinner was ready.  At which point they started devouring the contents of the table and wine shelves.  When everything was eaten and drunk, the Captain said "My compliments to the cook!" before setting fire to the place.

In the event that the US (or another country) tries to invade us again, we've got various fail-safes set in place. Our bridges are designed to be blown apart at a moment's notice, which may explain our crumbling infrastructures, because they were never intended to remain standing for so long. (There's been years of corruption tied to our construction industry for this very reason)  Not that our spaghetti highways are easy to navigate in the first place, but why make it easy for our enemies?

So, how does this story start out by going into the great Canada/US divide?  By going into a blatant historical screed of Superman.  As interesting as the backstory of the founding background of Metropolis is, it feels somewhat out of place for what amounts to a border civil war.  One could say that the major difference between the creators of Batman and Superman was that Bob Kane knew how to manipulate the American Comic business to his whims, and Sigel and Shuster didn't.

The reason We Stand on Guard rings false is that it's more of a political metaphor for the Iraq War than a commentary on the political divisions between two superficially similar countries.  Pretty much any stories about the past or future are cautionary allegories for what's happening in the present, but they should also be an examination of how such rash decisions could potentially be avoided.  It's been suggested Brian K. Vaughan's stories are reflections of his inability to get over 9-11, and that certainly seems to be the case here.

Too much of We Stand on Guard's attention is focused on the jingoist fantasy appeal of a small rebellious group banding together to overthrow a corrupt government.  That setup relies and feeds on the lie that a band of trained outcasts can somehow stand up to overthrow a corrupt government.  A government that has access to unlimited supplies.  And loads of high-tech weaponry.  And elite men willing to follow orders.  Which could be safely executed miles away from their position.  Their resources would vastly overwhelm any potential outlaws.  And that's before the government'd get the media on their side.  The fantasy that one determined man can make a difference by waving their magic gun in the direction of their oppressors will make all their potential problems go away is a seductive one.  (Not that Americans tried to take their country back by force when Bush Jr. was in charge)

It also conveniently overlooks the fact that Canadians invaders could easily pass themselves off as Americans by simply aping their patriotic appeal while firing guns in the air, and using that as a pretext for buying more ammunition.  (Of course, it would have to be white people getting ammo, since other races would be frowned upon, and draw too much attention)  The challenge would be in presenting authentic forged documents to buy said ammo, though that wouldn't be too much of an obstacle, given how free Americans are about their gun rights.  What WOULD be more interesting would've been for said bunch is if they had to rationalize on their dwindling sources, and how to make the most use of every remaining bullet effectively.

The inverse would be less than true, since American spies trying to ape themselves as Canadians without prior knowledge would be easily caught using a variation of the Rick Mercer report.  Rather than try to convince us of their heritage via trivia (naming the Prime Minister, Provinces & Territories), give them the task of creating an igloo or canoe.  If they seem more eager than reluctant to the task, call them out on it.  (If they're heavily versed in wilderness living, see the extent of their knowledge, and whether they differ between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts)

A. Sure!  I'll get right on it.
B. Are you MAD?!  I don't know beans about doing that!  Never learned how!
C. Well, the surrounding material's all wrong for that, but if that's what you want...
D. This is how I've always done it.  What's wrong with it?

Alternately, it could be a case of two sides feeling each other out, and avoiding answering potentially loaded questions.

"What's your favorite Hockey team?  The Raptors or the Expos?" (Basketball and Baseball)
"I don't really follow sports."
"Well, what's your favorite Canadian TV program?"
"I much more prefer the American stuff."
"Me too.  Any show in particular you like so far?"
"Well, there's (insert futuristic show title here)."
"I haven't seen it, but heard good things.  How'd you see it?"
"Same as anybody - illegal downloads."
"Yeah?  Which server do you use?"
"The same as anybody else's."
"You got an address?"
"I mean Ca."

If we wanted to make this an ideological war, we could intentionally target potentially problematic generals who have a long history of sending their soldiers into suicide missions.  Intentionally removing these obstacles would spread confusion among the American ranks, since our deliberate targeting would operate under the pretext of "Don't make us hurt you."  However, chances are they could interpret this Canadian message as being "weak", and come after us in greater force.  At which point we'd have no choice but to retaliate in kind.

To stand a better chance against the Americans, we should pair up with Australians (another widely underestimated / caricatured country), since history has shown that when teamed up, they wind up vastly intimidating the enemy.  "Woe betide any who fight against us."  If that's not our motto, it SHOULD be.
"The U.S.A. is the antagonist of this story, but Steve [Skroce] and I never wanted to portray them as two-dimensional, mustache-twirling villains." - Brian K. Vaughan
Despite assurances that he wanted to portray sympathetic flawed representations of both sides, the US wound up being political strawmen after all.  It's probably difficult to accurately portray a Socialist society when you've been raised up in a Capitalist society, convinced that all Americans have the right to Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness, and you're up against a country whose less-than-catchy motto is Peace, Order and Good Government.  The thing is, Socialism isn't a bad thing when done properly.

It doesn't help that he's harping on old traits he's already familiar with.  The sensitive issues that're raised up are already outdated by the time they hit print (using holographic fireboarding in place of waterboarding) despite the fact that it's been proven that torture tactics don't work for gaining accurate information from resistant soldiers unwilling to give up their sources.

A better analogy would be how purer water sources are reserved for the very rich, and polluted dirty water is outletted to poorer regions.  Then blame could be outsourced to Northern outsiders having access to wider expanses of cleaner water as a way of diverting attention away from the actual perpetrators of the crime.  Some corporations have even gone so far as to hold their water reserves hostage until their customers pony up enough money to sample their wares.  Privatizing water they claim, is a monopoly, not a human right.  Even collecting wellwater or rainwater is frowned upon and against the law in certain states, because that water is "someone else's property", so it needs to be dumped for vague reasons.  Especially upsetting is how Nestle drained water not just from poor countries, but also various US states and one Canada Province as well.  The previous Harper government gave Nestle unlimited permission to pump as much water from Hillsburgh, Ontario, upon which they "pay $3.71 for every million litres of water it pumps... which it then... sells back to the public for as much as $2 million.", making a 53,908,255% profit.

There were so many potentially interesting avenues that could've been taken, and they were all squandered away for a typical feel-bad story.  Brian K. Vaughan suffers from the same problems and weaknesses as Naoki Urasawa.  Both authors are both great at spinning yarns that have attention-grabbing cliffhangers, but have remarkably weak endings to all that buildup.  They're not as bad as Stephen King, whose overwritten horror prose is fraught with too much build-up, and not enough payoff, but it's just as annoying.  If anything, it's another exercise for wasted potential.

While Canadians have managed to succeed with underwhelming weapons against overwhelming odds, chances are still high that we would still fail the instant Americans start getting serious about overtaking us.

"Please.  The odds are clearly stacked up against us.  It's just a matter of time before we're fed some misinformation, or we're rushed by soldiers who happened to catch a pattern or reading we failed to notice."
"If you're so dubious about our chances of success, why are you standing up for a belief you don't even believe in?"
"HMM!  Good question.  That's a very good question!"
(Long pause)
(Even longer protracted silence)
"If you're expecting an answer, you're going to be disappointed."

It's not that we're vehemently opposed to their ideology (though America-bashing is practically a national pastime over here, finely tuned to an art form), we just disagree with how they handle most of their internal policies.  A country operating over the impetus that anyone can be what they strive to be, doesn't mean much if a certain entitled demographic vastly outpaces 99% of the other living citizens.  We look at how they've handled things, and feel (and know) that we could do better.  It's Socialism Vs. Capitalism, but through the lens that "Socialism isn't bad when done right."  Capitalism's been ruling the US policy for decades, and how well has it worked out for people not in the top 1%?  It doesn't help that our identity is continuously squashed by our boisterous louder neighbors constantly vying for attention.

The irony is, the US and Canada are similar enough to the extent where usage of "We're not that different, you and me", would be put to perfect use.  The closest we came to a successful Canada Vs. the US parody was Michael Moore's Canadian Bacon.  Sadly, the scaremongering newscast was the best part of the movie.  Once you've seen that, don't bother with the rest.

Maybe someday we'll have a worthy satirical takedown of our tenuous relationship with our Southern neighbors filled with pathos, but not today.

*The Conservative Party's last straw was probably the intended dismantling of postal service to the protest of many (including a mayor who took a jackhammer to one), in favor of community mailboxes... that to add insult to injury, were custom made in the US, and were unacclimated to the cold, resulting in frozen boxes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Words to Pictures, Pictures to Sound

Recently, the Webcomic, Dr. McNinja, the only doctor who's potentially crazier than Doctor Black Jack (who's wound up on some wild adventures of his own) has been setting up the stages for its final arc, resolving multiple plots, and tying up various loose ends that's been built up (and forgotten) over the course of the many years that's it's been running.  While discussion basically revolved around how painfully screwed the Ninja-doc was, I noticed that the closing words comic looked vaguely familiar to me.  A quick look through the archives confirmed my suspicions - it was a deliberate homage to the first arc, back when the doctor was little more than a collection of memes smushed together into a collective taste that somehow wound up tasting great.

That kind of body language and panel composition rang a familiar bell in my head, even as the text was drastically different, especially near the end.  The reason for others not easily picking up on this as me could be contributed to several factors - they hadn't been breathlessly re-reading the series since its conception to familiarize themselves with the current arc.  With all other forms of media entertainment vying for attention (including other webcomics), chances are they even forgot about how the first comic arc ended.

But I think it's more likely that they didn't have my kind of Synesthesia.

I've remarked upon this before, but it bears repeating.  Synesthesia is the trait where one sense (sight, touch, taste, sound, smell) is interpreted a different way by another sense that normally wouldn't be expected to connect that way, and is something that's unsurprisingly, rather common in people with Autism.  When your body's all out of sync with the rest of the world, you latch on to whatever makes most sense.  And for me, that was Sunday Newspaper comics.  Of all the potentially alienating interests out there, I latched upon one that would be socially acceptable.  Like David B. (of Epileptic fame) who embraced the concept of fear, I had to master humour to understand it.  Not an easy task when dealing with old-school comics aimed at an older audience.

When I read words, it's simply a matter of converting these blocks of texts into the closest visual representative I'm aware of.  However, converting pictures is going to require some further explaining.

What I do is assign a different "sound" to each picture, depending on position, posture, colour, and movement, so that when I come across something similar, I'll have something to reference to.  Not unlike how words can have the same meaning, despite having different fonts.  That amount of variety can yield unlimited combinations with limited palettes.  While that doesn't sound like much, consider how many musical notes there are, and how we still haven't run out of new noises yet.  The only difficulty is in trying to accurately describe these "sounds" to an outside audience, since they very rarely come close to how they sound in my head, and I don't have the vocal experience to replicate them accurately.  (Not that they'd have any idea of what I was trying to convey via strange noises alone)
Even though each leaning face has a slightly similar (if different) stance,
I still have an unique "sound" for each, as well as internalized "movement"
despite each image remaining perfectly still.
It's primarily why I've never been able to get into AchewoodPearls Before Swine, or Dinosaur Comics, because to me, each character design and panel layout are TOO SIMILAR to each other for me to be able to appreciate it in any other way.  Especially with Dinosaur comics.  The strict rigid format makes it almost impossible to enjoy a typical comic, because the setup is the same every single time.  Basically, if you've seen one Dinosaur Comic, you've seen them all, even though the dialogue (and mousover text) is completely different in every one.  That kind of repetition may be fine for people who expect a certain amount of consistency from their enjoyment, but it's a death knell for visual narrative for me, because there's no variation.  The format is so familiar to me that I could recognize the format of a parody within the first two panels alone.
EVERY SINGLE COMIC sounds like this to me.
It's also my main problem in reading S-hero comics from the Golden or Silver age.  The strict narrative page dimensions mean that there's a limited amount of space allotted, so that when I flip through the pages, the signal-to-noise ratio becomes overwhelmingly obvious, resulting in a WHOMP-Whoomp-Whoomp-WHOMP pattern that quickly gets overbearing.  When collected in a large format, and read all at once, The musical rising and falling tone makes for a constant repetitive thudding sound that's painful for me to enjoy.
A page from the Star Wars Manga, staring an overconfident Grand Moff Tarkin.
The ability to detect familiar images is not unlike how obsessive fans notice obvious similarities between Greg Land's traced characters.
It may not have been obvious to most readers, but I signaled out the reused drawing
of Tarkin, from the posture of his smirk and fingers alone.
I was amazed to find out that despite heavily depending on close-captioning for understanding TV and Movies, that others might not like them, and find the helpful text at the bottom distracting.  I relied so much on these helpful tools that alternate tastes never occurred to me.  Likewise, a passage in Temple Gradin's Thinking in Pictures brought forth the notion that Temple was amazed to find out that other people didn't think primarily in pictures, like she did.  It reminded me of a shocking statement made by a Morals teacher - that the very act of reading is in itself, unnatural.  That humans were not meant to look at printed words in a zig-zag pattern.  This was extremely heretical to me, since I spent the majority of my life doing Nothing but reading, and couldn't imagine any other way.  Since then, I've learned about Dyslexics, who struggle to get by without being able to read.  Despite their limitations, they've managed to overcome them via other inventive means, and wind up being productive and innovative members of society, all without being able to read more than a few words (and recognizing some heavily overused ones).

Another surprise was finding out that despite the ease of access, there are people out there who are comic illiterates in being unable to understand even the basic comic panel.  They can't take in both words and pictures at the same time, preferring instead to divide them up separately, examine them at their leisure, and then reluctantly figure out how the two connect.  That kind of analysis is too slow for me, where I see both words and pictures simultaneously.  Having closed-captioned TV probably helped.  I had to read the text at a certain speed to be able to understand what was going on.  Not too fast, lest you run out of time, but not too slow, that you'll run the risk of leaving the sentence unfinished.  At times, I'll prefer to Mute the TV , so I won't be distracted by the captions and sounds not syncing up properly, and run the risk of missing a potentially important end sentence quote.

I've also found that my inner monologue is different depending on the TYPE of captioning used.  For instance, the typically white text on black boxes is vastly different from yellow subtitles from foreign films and Anime fansubs.  Both have their distinctively different sounds, depending on how the sentence is bolded, split up or centered.  There's also the scripting for foreign movies, which has a different kind of pacing compared to the typical Hollywood mindset.  Not every line uttered is intended to be a catchphrase, and is meant to sound more naturalistic; meaning lines that aren't intended to be memorable, but everyday typical dialogue.* Not to mention that there are subtleties that captioning capture that subtitles conveniently leave out.  (Such as names and sound effects)  I found out purely by conjecture that there were minor variations between the captioning and subtitles for GoodFellas, where there were minute differences in the dialogue for each.  The captioning would have minor cues and more instances of uttering character's names, whereas the subtitles would focus more on getting to the immediacy and reductive statement of a guy's jib.
An early scene in GoodFellas, with two subtly different sets of captions.
Likewise for when real-time captioning for the news or Videogame scripts, the scrolling motion of appearing text is significantly different from seeing the whole sentence at a time.  It all depends on how much text I see at once.  Which is why I get so impatient when I'm talking to someone, or receiving instructions face-to-face.  I simply have no idea how long the guy I'm talking to is going to be going on for.

There's an anecdote I read somewhere that probably applies to this.  A young girl from a foreign country saw a Romance Comedy for the first time, and when it was over, she said it was the most terrifying experience she ever had in her life.  The whole move was composed of nothing but disembodied talking heads, cut-off feet, and dismembered torsos.  In short, she was completely unaware of the cinematic language of movies.  That kind of confusion can also apply to comics where the page layout and panel composition can be incomprehensible for someone more used to having everything spelled out for them, and not have challenging notions every second page, such as unexpected plot twists and unreliable narrators for humouristic effect.  The weird thing comes where novice comic readers are baffled by something as simple as a Peanuts or Garfield comic, where confusion shouldn't come into play.
Despite appearances to the contrary, this is NOT a randomized Garfield,
but an actual strip that appeared on September 10, 2005.
Part of the problem may be that there's no general overall agreed mandate for "reading" comics.  Some people are able to take in all the elements of a panel without being distracted by potential spoilers just lurking at the corner of their eye, while others just look at the pretty pictures first, and then go back to read the text to find out what the story was all about.

A commentor from the teaching comics link pointed out that Watchmen is a primer for reading comics for the novice reader more used to prose novels, from the very opening page, starting with a zoom-out.  Reading comics may be second nature to many already acquainted with the form, but can be daunting for those not used to combining two separate art forms at once.  As a kid, I learned to read not by listening, but by looking at the pictures first.  Somewhere along the way, I was able to recognize the weird scribbles on the page for the sounds, and by association, the abstract concepts and objects they represented.  But I have no recollection of how I arrived at that conclusion.  This lack of knowledge of bridging the gap bothers me, since I can't give any adequately helpful advice to others where it applied to me.
A side-by-side comparison from a Manga paying obvious tribute, found on a comic forum.
(Source unknown)
The feat of cross-circuiting senses suggests that having senses compensating for each other would have tremendous advantages, but being able to do so may be harder than we think.  There was a lousy romance movie, At First Sight, about a blind man who got surgery to regain his vision, and he didn't like what he saw, because they didn't look like how he'd pictured them in his mind.  By the same token, when I dare to turn my hearing aids on, I'm dismayed at how different everything on TV sounds from how I expect them to sound.  The music doesn't sync up to the movement onscreen (like Fantasia), and the voices aren't as intoned as I'd expect.  If *I* have so much trouble with getting acclimated with something as intuitive as hearing, how could others be expected to translate smells into colours or touch into music, unless they'd have a deep-seated reason for doing so?  Without proper motivation, there's no point in taking such untraveled off-the-beaten paths unless there's some deeper goal in sight.  At least comics have the advantage of telling stories, so the gateway is easier there, save for blind people.
This posing of two Cosplayers of Jessica Rabbit and Slave Leia reminded me of American Gothic,
and rather fittingly, Leia had her arm wrapped around her "property".
*[One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that "Not everything that comes out of your mouth has to sound important."  For ages, I would get tongue-tied because I was under the illusion that I had to say something significantly profound every time I spoke, and I would oftentimes be floundering, trying to find the perfect word that was just on the tip of my tongue.]

Friday, January 1, 2016

It's a Secret to Everyone...

Earlier, I mentioned last year that I was going to be doing something different for the beginning of each month for the new year.  If you've noticed the last couple posts, they've focused on advertisements in newspaper and magazines.  Most ads were limited one-offs that were just as quickly soon forgotten.  Others had repeat business from reliable artists who gave their contributions on a monthly basis with varying results.  One of these was the Labatt Blue beer ads which would reveal long-held "secrets" short of revealing their beverage recipe for hops and barley.

The other more impressive series of ads are as seen below.  I've also mentioned that I wouldn't do any comics from Gary Larson's Far Side.  However, there's no reason not to post comics that clearly gleam from his influence.

While Americans were content with their "Got Milk" ads, Montrealers had to deal with the powerful Milk Industry in a different way.  Between 1989 and 1993, there were a series of Paul Brazeau's Franchement / Vachement Lait! (Frankly Milk!) ads that while not copyright infringement, were clearly intended as homaged extensions of Gary Larson's most famous animals.
I'm using your deodorant!
What's particularly enjoyable about these is that every single comic has a smaller comic that summarizes the overall comic, usually near the bottom, not unlike those Throwaway panels in Sunday Comics.  These comics were originally much smaller, but I've taken the liberty of blowing them up to a more reasonable visible size.  Of course, even there, they need to be seen at full size to appreciate.  The ad soon changed from the Vachement pun to Manquez pas le meilleur! (Don't miss the best!)
What'd he say? / ...Beats me.
...Probably an attention hog.
Wow!  What's with him??
Another nightmare? / I couldn't say a word!!
These are just quick translations, subject to change, so don't expect any quality scanlation craftsmanship anytime soon.
You sure?
Tomorrow, let's try the barn roof!
An added bonus is that some surrealistic strips don't need any further explanation.