Saturday, April 30, 2016

Less Filling, Tastes Great!

The week of Passover officially ends tonight, which also ends my weekly deprivement of my favorite foodstuffs, bread and pasta.  You'd think giving up one category of the food pyramid wouldn't be as challenging as giving up meat for a day, until you realize just how dependent you are on certain foodstuffs.
There's even gluten-free Matzoh now, which should be difficult to create in the first place.
You know what they all say:
Less Filling Tastes Great.
In order to get past this hurdle of consumption deprivation, there's several recipes to lessen the pain of withdrawal.  They're not exactly pasta substitutes, but they have potato starch in place of flour, which helps ease the baking process somewhat.

Making a peanut butter & jam sandwich with dry matzoh bread risks getting a lopsided result from the unbalanced fruit bits sticking out, and getting crumbs all over everything.  If creating flaky PBJs isn't your kind of thing, you could always put something else on them.  One required suggestion is to put egg salad on them to make them tastier.  I always prefer using Egg Matzohs anyways.

Of course, there's the definitive Passover appetizer, Charoses (pronounced Ka-ro-set).  For that, you need the following:
  • Apples
  • Walnuts
  • Raisins
  • Cinnamon
  • Brown Sugar
  • Grape Juice
Grind the apples and walnuts in a blender.  (Separately, and chop the apples up so the slices will be easier to blend)  Don't leave the apples in the blender too long, lest they'd be reduced to juice - we want pulp.  The nuts can stay longer until they've been reduced to dust.  Scoop the contents of the ground apples & nuts into a large bowl.  Soak raisins in water, and let them gain extra wrinkles for awhile.  Add raisins, Cinnamon and brown sugar to the mix.  Depending on the concoction, feel free to add more apples or nuts depending on the consistency of the mix.  If it's too soft, then add more nuts.  If it's too hard, add more juice.  If it's too sour, add more sugar.  For years, we added plenty of sugar and Grape juice due to the walnuts being so bitter.  This year, the walnuts weren't past their sell-by date, so instead, we used the water from the soaked raisins as well.

Once you're done, put the brown mixture in the fridge to ferment overnight.  The next day, you'll have a representation of the mud the slaves used to slather on bricks.  Surprisingly enough, this concoction goes well with egg salad.  Try it!

Being on a pasta-free diet means no regular noodles in your chicken soup.  Instead, you have to get by with either eating it virgin, or using egg noodles as a substitute.  To make egg noodles, you need the following:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • Salt & pepper
  • Vegetable Oil
Separate the eggs by putting the yolks in a separate bowl, and whisk the white bits (not the eggshells) until they're all frothy.  Add the yellow egg yolks to the egg whites and beat those up along with the rest of the ingredients.  (The oil in the mixture will make frying them easier, rather than lathering up the pan)  Make sure you keep stirring the mixture, lest the potato starch becomes as hard as cement.  Pour some of the mixture on a frying pan and cook it.  For some reason, the first batch comes out all ruined, but after that failure, every subsequent batch comes out perfect.  Fry and flip the fried eggs on the pan until they're cooked until you have no more egg mix left.  Take the pancake-like results you've got, and rather than pour maple syrup all over them, roll them up and cut them into pieces for your very own egg noodles.  I always found the resulting noodles to be too long for me, so I cut the rolled-up egg pancake in half horizontally, before making cuts vertically.

Of all the Passover meals, Tsimmes is normally reserved for Rosh Hashanah, but my mother always seems to enjoy cooking it for any Jewish festival, so I'm including it here.  Her particular recipe combines several into one concoction, which contains lots of the following:
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Prunes
  • Honey
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Onions
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Potato Starch
Peel the carrots (about 10 stalks) then chop them up into circles, or if circles bug you, rectangles.  Either way, make sure they're bite-sized.  The same should be done to the sweet potatoes (about two).  Throw in about eight to ten prunes.  Put the chicken and beef in any way you like.  The order doesn't matter.  The onions can be left whole.  (Just remove the peels beforehand!)  Pour half a cup of honey in, then use warm water to extract the leftover bee barf.  We don't want to waste any potential sweetness, but take care not to use too much water, lest the stew becomes too liquid.  Cover the pot and put it in the oven on 325 degrees for three hours.  After that, uncover the pot and add some corn starch in water on top.  Cover the pot and put it back in the oven for another hour.  If left uncovered, it'll become all crusty and black.  Altogether, this slow-cooking recipe takes 4 hours to complete, which explains why it's not prepared often.

For desert, you could always simply purchase Kosher food.  Or, you could take the more difficult path, and prepare some Matzoh Buttercrunch of your own.  To make some, you need the following:
  • Matzoh that'll fit onto a large flat pan
  • 1/2 to 1 butter stick
  • Brown sugar
  • Chocolate chips
  • Chopped toasted almonds (optional)

Cover the pan with aluminum foil, and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.  Cover the sheet with Matzoh, breaking pieces to fill the holes if necessary.  Melt the butter in a bowl (but not completely) and mix the melted butter with the brown sugar until they're combined.  Heat the mixture until it's boiled for about 3 minutes.  Pour the buttery sugar over the Matzoh.  Try to spread as much of the stuff over the squares as you can.  Put it in an oven at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Don't let it burn too long.  When it's out, sprinkle chocolate chips over the toffee layer and let it melt.  Then spread the chocolate cheer around.  Sprinkle nuts over if that's your kind of thing.  Let it cool in the fridge.  They won't all fit, so you'll probably have to stack them atop each other.  After which, you can break them apart into smaller pieces.

The strange thing about these foods is that they look utterly unappetizing, but somehow winds up being more edible than you'd think.  But then, the same could be said for seafood, which despite looking like the most repulsive items alive, are actually some of the tastiest living things on Earth.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Good Night, Sweet Prince

This has not been a good year for entertainers.  David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee have all died within weeks of each other.  And now, the musician Prince has joined their number.  Best known as a hyper-flamboyant male/female icon his unpronounceable symbol was best summarized as "The man formerly known as Prince".

I wasn't much of a fan of these musicians, though from the online grieving loss, there's a palpable sense of loss that such blatantly open expressionists would never be seen again... until the next breakout composite weirdo breaks through.  You may laugh, but someday, Lady Gaga might be looked back with fondness.

Of course, it's difficult for me to understand such admiration and devotion towards someone's work I have no familiarity with.  It's like a blind person hearing respect for a well-known caricaturist along the likes of an Al Hirschfeld.  They may have heard of their reputation and be surprised to hear they were still working on their craft, but any knowledge or respect of their works would be far beyond their comprehension.

I was surprised that going through MAD's blog tribute towards Prince was just limited to some artists' caricatures.  A search through their keyword only turned up some extra Don Martin Frog comics.  My only passing familiarity with Prince was in the pages of MAD's group satire of three select Blockbusters, drawn by various artists, as narrated by the definitive film critics, starting with GhostDusters:
Naturally, from their severe takedown of the musical movie (which I still haven't seen BTW) gave me the impression that this wasn't exactly something I'd be interested in seeing anytime soon.  One could say that Prince's comfort over his display of his blatant sexuality confused people who weren't sure which gender he preferred.  For some reason, androgynous musicians wearing puffy shirts made people nervous, which just further attracted social outcasts who embraced his outrageous lifestyle.

There was even talk of a Simpsons episode back in its glory years of a sequel to the former insane inmate who believed he was Michael Jackson that never followed through.  Both creative sides had conflicting opinions of how to best represent the Pop musician.  One such subplot was Prince being amorously involved with Selma, Marge's sister, and there's Lisa's attempt to get concert tickets that's bafflingly foiled by a dangling spider.  (What is it about Spiders & Hollywood?)

Speaking of his closest pop-culture equivalent, Michael Jackson, Prince, for all his status, never degraded to a nostalgic state.  He didn't pander to Michael's obsession of all things infantile for a childhood he never had.  That certainly wasn't the case with my only other experience with the famed musician from the 5th Marsupulami album, Baby Prinz.

In this volume where the titular Marsupulami was sidelined for the human cast, the main plot focused on the trials of the remaining heir of a long-running Palombian dictatorship that's having trouble keeping the population from feeling dissatisfied for being under an oppressed thumb after years of matrimony rule.
Another admirable trait of Prince was that he gave inspiring speeches for promoting other musicians who were just starting out.  Obviously, none of this is portrayed through in this less-than sterling rendition of The King's Speech.
When the revolution and outcry has died down, and the previous regime is overthrown, the vacancy is filled and replaced with an even more ruthless dictator.  So, the populace wound up getting what they wanted.  Yaaay?

While Prinz and his butler are on the run, the two of them get split up, Prinz being kept for safety in a cage with an old Marsupulami.  Eventually, the elder animal and the deposed prince escape into the jungle for safety.
After various adventures with a teenaged couple living in the jungle (I've left a LOT out), the deposed butler eventually comes across his former ward again, where they discuss potential plans for the future.

While there was the possibility of a comeback, Prinz never showed up again in any future Marsupulami albums after this.  Possibly there was threat of copyright infringement or lack of celebrity interest.  Certainly, there are more flattering portrayals out there.  I just don't know where they are.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Commercial Comics Adaptions

When it comes to advertising a product, it's not a bad idea to use as many promotional platforms as humanly possible for maximum exposure.  Unless your product stinks, then you'd be better off playing it safe, and use the same old formulas you're familiar with.  The problem comes when time-sensitive material starts outpacing the era they appeared in.  For example, this old Crest pump commercial combined hand-drawn animation with stop-motion claymation.  You'd have to look long and hard to find a more time-consuming animated method, all for the sake of a 30-second slot to draw excitement over the latest technological marvel in toothpaste disposal via a pump.  (Not just limited to shoes!)

That self-confidence booster over the simple accomplishment of not getting any cavities combined with all the celebration of a Hollywood award show was simplified below, and added a boy for further identification material, I'm guessing.  (Or a callback to the first Hooray commercial)

There are several articles about old advertisements, but not many about those that were adapted into comics.  I figured somebody should talk about those ads.  And that somebody would probably be me.  Of course, it turns out I'm not the only one, since the most likely culprit of such ads are regulated to sugar commercials.

The above condensed the inherent zaniness of Candilicious into a single page.

These ads would be fine enough on their own, but they were little more than weak adaptations to the source material, and thus, would lose much of their potency being far removed from the memory of their airing dates.  Though some ads, such as The Flintstones sharing a casual smoke are best left forgotten in favor of higher quality material:

On a nostalgic article I can't seem to find, it mentioned that there were two very different Barney Rubbles.  You had the normal easygoing Barney on The Flintstones, who was something of a slow intellect.  But when it came to Cocoa / Fruit Pebbles, he became a talented trickster, constantly finding new and creative ways to trick Fred Flintstone out of his breakfast cereal through paper-thin disguises.  (Usually with Dino helping for some reason)  The fact that they used Bugs Bunny's voice may have had something to do with it.
A purvey through a comprehensive collection sees many of these attempts were unsubtle tie-ins to popular animated movies.  (I won't name names, but many of them seemed aligned with Disney cartoons)

The key rhyming word alerting Fred's radar is slightly different in the comic and the cartoon.
In the cartoon, it's "trick Fred", while in the comic, it's "my bowl".
Sadly, when Mel Blanc died, the legacy of future Pebbles commercials died with him.  They were replaced with the Flintstones' daughter promoting the things, but despite the name similarity, it wasn't quite the same.

The guiltiest pleasure of these commercials is how they distill the enjoyment of a typical Warner Bros. cartoon into a single bite-sized segment.  Early Sugar Bear commercials had him hulking out on a sugar rush to recover his stolen cereal, before moving on to the calm deadpan bruiser he was more remembered for.  They don't make cereal commercials like these anymore.

Also, check out the commercial versus the Ninjas at the 6:12 mark where he passively-aggressively dodges ALL the Ninja moves without using a single Vitamin-packed PUNCH.  Most likely, this was a subtle jab at all the Soccer Moms complaining about the use of violence in children's TV shows, particularly those that focused on Mutants.
Strangely enough, the bees commercial isn't included.
For that, you'd have to check out here:
I'm just annoyed that the only way to find out what happened with the villain team-up near the end was to actually purchase the damn cereal itself.  This was a pretty common occurrence, starting with Capt'n Crunch and the Soggies (crossing over with Spider-Man), and extra promotions, such as prizes inside cereal boxes, extra marshmallows, or more sugar packaged inside these complete breakfasts.  (Strangely enough, there were never any extra vitamins, since they probably figured 12 were enough)

A welcome exception for this was the Cocoa Puffs where Sonny was tangled in a debate over which element best represented the cereal; the chocolate or the Crunch?  Going into a Referendum was a welcome change for Sonny who was usually forcibly enabled to try Cocoa Puffs that made him extremely hyperactive with excitement.  The above comic misses some of the amusing little touches, such as Sonny crossing his arms, fingers pointing in both directions at being unable to choose, the king breaking down crying, and rivals on both sides, pouring choice cereal into Sonny's bowl, one being slightly annoyed at spilling some cereal, from Sonny moving his bowl away to the other side before going back to the center where he would receive a "fair encouragement" to swing his vote.

As I'm missing the 2-parter commercial, here's the "prequel" where the villagers of Hushville are at first resistant to the sound of crunching cereal that's louder than a simple Snap Crackle or Pop.  (Incidentally, there was also a series of Rice Crispies commercials where the elves were kidnapped by monsters on the premise that "Food should be eaten, not heard!" and got out by their sound effects alone)

As it turns out, given the choice between chocolaty taste or the loud CRUNCH it'd make, the poll results, were announced with the King taking a bite of the latest cereal, revealing a regular "crunch.  A crunch that wouldn't've been out of place in the old Hushville, eliciting an audible GASP from the crowd.  Showing that between the two, sound wasn't the deciding factor.  Not that the company would admit to keeping the only element of their cereal that made it popular in the first place.

One of the strangest usage of Commercial Mascots is showing them unable to sample the very product they're selling.  (The other, being anthropomorphic representations of the product they're selling, like M&Ms, Kool-Aid and Mr. Peanut, the ultimate corporate sellout)  The biggest offenders of this is The Trix Rabbit (not to be confused with Nestle Quik's Rabbit), the Coooooookie Crisp Dog & Thief as animated by pre-Playboy (now ex) artist Dean Yeagle.

And then you've got Chester Cheetah's Cool Rules for snatching those elusive snacks.

Strangely enough, despite his first outings, all later failed attempts to snatch a bite of those elusive Cheetos were never numbered.

His first appearance had the formula pretty much nailed from the start.  He would appear all nonchalant until he noticed some passing stranger downing some prized Cheesy bits.  At which point, he'd go absolutely ballistic with excitement, then cool down and make his way towards the target, only to wind up short of achieving his Zeno's Paradox goal.  Despite not acquiring his intended target, he never loses his composure upon failing.

When these comics came out, they were little more than additive supplementary material with alternate interpretation of the same product.  But as time moves further away from their original airing dates, the collective memories of tying the two disparate elements together also becomes further disconnected.

Nowadays, if you're going to be seeing cereal commercials, you're more likely to see them on Prime Time instead of Saturday Morning Cartoons.  Not that SMCs exist anymore, having been squashed into redundancy from all-cartoon channels, which made cartoons a respected medium, but the trade-off was fewer cereal cartoons.  Back then, going for more sophisticated tastes would mean eating so-called boring cereals, such as Raisin Bran, Cream of Wheat or Shredded Wheat.  Even the double-sided Frosted Mini Wheat commercials that once aimed at both kids and adults now ironically uses a cereal mascot that's more likely to be seen on Prime-time dramas.  Even weirder, there are two different national representations of the Frosted Mini Wheat mascots.

Even the Honey Bee is a staple on late-night viewings, which is a far cry from back when he used to cross over with Godzilla.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pet Peeves: Name-Calling

In the olden days of comics, the easiest way to know anybody's name was just to wait five seconds, and you'd find out either by them proudly proclaiming themselves in the third person or calling somebody else out .  (Usually to insult them)  For a long time, this was generally accepted to familiarize audiences (both old and new) with helpful recaps of past issues, surely a requisite for long-running Superhero Soap Operas.  (And possibly so the writers could tell interchangeable characters apart)
And this was back when there were only a dozen Deceptions.  The Autobots cast call took up two full pages.
For the most part, if a group of close people are already acquainted with each other, it shouldn't be necessary to constantly confirm the other's name.
"So, Mr. A, we're in agreement?"
"That's right, Mr. B."
Constantly repeating someone's name has less to do with familiarity and more to do with exposition and brand recognition.  If audiences know who has greater credit, they know who to pay more attention to.

Then Manga showed up and started changing the rules again.  For the select few series that were available, there were whole swatches of pages where iconic characters wouldn't identify each other by name for lengthy intervals, let alone announce their powers upon first appearance.  You had to wait before they would bother to reveal such heavily guarded state secrets until the time was right, once the proper introductory rituals had been followed through.  And instead of footnotes specifying which issues a significant event took place, you had background montages of that event instead.

Then we got introduced to the more mainstream commercial stuff, and found out that in the holy Mecca of Japanese comics, they were just as guilty of overwrought and lousy writing.  If you read enough, you start to notice certain patterns in Manga that continuously pop up that are just as tiresome in American comics.  What once was considered quirky can quickly become tiresome if it isn't handled well.

Oftentimes to lengthen out the pages, you'll have people spouting spotable cliches around every corner, highlighted with dialogue quirks and verbal tics, the most memorable being ending presentations with "This - this is!..." before cutting away elsewhere.  Other examples have lengthy scenes padded out to increase the page length/ running time.  This is best implemented with characters who will routinely spout out long speeches, with side character audiences spouting their names in awe.
They say Ryoko's name four times throughout this page alone.
At least it's not as bad as other Mangas where rival Manga characters will repeat their opponents' name out of fear that they might forget them.  (Clamp's X/1999 is especially guilty of this)  Akira's Kaneda and Tetsuo has been relentlessly parodied over this very trait, despite there being like 10 seconds or so of them screaming at each other.  Throughout the movie's 2-hour running time, that's ALL anybody seems to remember.

However, the good thing about noticing cliches is that it gives ripe opportunity to improve and expand upon them.  Rather than just have characters repeat the talker's name, use it as a way to try to attract their attention from their grandstanding.

There are various schools of thought for this kind of expositional storytelling.  You can embrace the old common traits routinely seen in fiction and use that as a crutch to overlay your story through reliable comfortable routes.  Or you can opt for a more experimental trailblazing style of storytelling never seen before.  With such high risks in braving the unknown, it's not surprising that many people opt for the path more taken.

You can be overly awed by the high production values of a classic, and feel inferior at even ATTEMPTING to create anything of that level, not knowing all the sweat and tears, countless revisions and fine-tuning to make that classic a classic.  On the other end of the spectrum are stories that were cranked out of sheer inspiration or desperation, and throwing whatever sticks without regard of quality, and being surprised at the results.  Then there's the low low low end in the guilty pleasure realm where disposable pulp trash are trotted out, where works such as Manos: The Hand of Fate, Plan 9 from Outer Space and the legendary Harry Potter fanfic My Immortal, a work of staggering ineptitude(?) that's inspired re-enactments, analysis and re-readings for being So Bad It's Good.  What makes these works outstanding is that they fail in ways that were never considered before and broke rules we weren't aware even existed.

The ironic thing is, as much as I've been impressed by high-quality productions, I've been more inspired by crappily produced low-quality guilty pleasure forms of media.  I'll be idly passing the time, reading a book or random TV episode/movie and think to myself, "I could do better than that!"  And I wind up fantasizing imaginative sophisticated scenarios that far outstrip the events I'm currently seeing.  The hard part is putting all these improvised scenes into a coherent narrative that makes sense.

For all the derision fanfiction routinely gets, what's often overlooked is how much of today's storytelling is dependent from piggybacking on millennia of works inspired by retellings of other stories for "recent" audiences.  There's a long, longm LONG list of noteworthy titles all made possible via what would've been considered "fanfiction".  Even Cerebus which started out as a Conan parody was heavily influenced by Howard the Duck.  The two titles may have fallen out of favor due to uncomfortable association, but they were remarkably influential for their approach to counter-culture to this very day.

It's only by getting overly used to overused tropes that we can break down and subvert them to our advantage.  Lord Voldemort certainly wouldn't be considered as scary if he was constantly referred to as Ol' Whatsisname.  If you're aiming for Evil Overlord territory, you want to be remembered for your atrocities, not devalued away into redundancy.

The mark of a good writer is not predetermined by a certain amount of books they've read.  It's not qualified by when they've read 1000, 100,000 or 1,000,000 stories; but from internalizing more stories than they can count.  As the old saying goes, a bad writer engages in plagiarism.  A good writer engages in homages.

Though lately, things have gotten a little better nowadays.  One surprising thing Manga does well is having a surplus of popular nameless characters.  Breakout Characters are nothing new, but those are usually the result of having a brief period of some random guy being the epitome of cool.  It's not unusual for random doodles or outlines to gain sudden popularity from virtue of their appearance or actions alone.  Popeye became the lynchpin attraction after his first arc, negating the first ten years of Thimble Theater.  The spotlight stealer, Elmo reached international stardom after years of being a typical background monster.  And those are just the ones who've gotten names.  There are all kinds of unsung nameless characters, ranging from the Golgo-13 Sniper in Gantz, to Tetsuo's Pompadour assistant in the 2nd half of Akira.  They seem to appear out of the aether, make a lasting impression and leave.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Space Dumplings: Not Very Filling

It must be exhausting to create as much material as Craig Thompson has.  His debut mainstream work was Goodbye Chunky Rice.  He reached brand name status with his autobiographical 600 page comic, the breakout hit Blankets. Then he followed that up with a 700-page Habibi.  Overall, he's done impressive awe-inspiring illustrations of stellar quality that's been painstakingly laboured over the course of years.

And yet, I find Thompson's stories to be lackluster as a whole.

Part of that distaste could be the subject material.  Craig Thompson's comics have been noted to touch upon the themes of sexuality and religion, which have been covered extensively elsewhere.  Another fair comparison is that he emulates Will Eisner's bombast dramatics and over-empathization, which I was never quite a fan of.

Habibi was an attempt to try to bring some beauty to Arabic storytelling in an age of rising tensions about anything associated with Islam.  For the most part, the narrative manages to be rather gripping, but after the two-thirds mark, it devolves into Osamu Tezuka realm, where an optimistic fisherman does the monologuing for the main characters.  Anybody who's a vivid reader of the Manga God should know what I'm talking about.  Further complaints were that the comic focused more on the beauty of Arabic writing, rather than on the meaning of said writing.

One of the worst criticisms a writer can get upon a reader finishing a seminal block of work is not retaining or remembering anything significant about what they've just read.  Even worse is when a casual reader re-reads a book on the shelf they think is a new title, only to slowly realize that they've already read it.  When a piece of literature has failed to make an impression on you, that's a bad sign.  After coming back to Habibi after so long, I could barely remember anything past the sparse significant events in the harem, the most notable one being "transforming water into gold".  For the most part, my general reaction was very much like the sultan's; "I'm bored."

By that same token, I found going through a recent Craig Thompson book more geared towards children, the modest in comparison amount of 300 pages, Space Dumplings to be another chore.

By all rights, the premise should be an attention-grabber.  In the far future, a A young girl, Violet, is living with her working parents, who are both in danger of being fired from their jobs.  The father is a trash collector, and her mother a fashion designer.  Despite their long hours, they manage to make time, even though their attention puts them at risk for neglecting to pay attention to their little girl.  (The symbolism isn't hard to miss here)

The drama officially starts when disaster strikes where Violet's father is working, from space whales causing diarrhea spills, spreading slime and gunk everywhere in the vastness of space, infecting nearby plants and space outposts.  (Don't question it, just accept it)  Somehow in a sequence of coincidences, Violet's father manages to get himself literally swallowed by a whale.  As with Thompson's religious upbringing, there's an oblique parallel via Jonah's voyage.  I'm aware that religious metaphors are common staples of storytelling, but when it's made painfully obvious by being specifically pointed out by the characters in the story, it begins to grate on the nerves.  It isn't long before this natural disaster prompts the girl to go on a madcap foolhardy rescue attempt to get her father back, getting into trouble, and picking up some quirky friends along the way.  One of Violet's friends is very clearly a doodle from Craig Thompson's travelogue, Carnet de Voyage.

The other is a reclusive genectically modified snotty intelligent chicken who's more interested in doing solitary research than in engaging in potentially germ-rife outside environments.  No prizes for guessing whether he'll change his philosophy while being unwillingly caught up in the girl's adventures.  There's obvious setups, and then there's transparently naked intent.  To explain his existence, there's tales of a chicken rebellion for giving rationale behind his being.

It's not bad, but I need more substance than that.  Hardly anything is made use of this beyond explaining why there's an anthropomorphic chicken is wandering around, and only this chick and his father.  No attempt is made to explore the fallout over this rebellion of science gone mad.  Few works can be as overly insane as Fourteen, but that's not the point.  With such a condensed history, I should feel invested, but all I feel from this page is emotional manipulation.

And that's my main problem overall. - the whole comic dwells in social commentary that feels extremely ham-fisted.  The satirical background of a society more concerned with style over substance lands with all the subtlety of a rusty lead hammer.  I'm reminded of James Cameron's Avatar, better known as Dances With Smurfs, which despite its impressive box office results and hype being the next Star Wars, left no cultural footprint.  Thompson's lack of substance in his works would be ironic if he was more self-aware about his shortcomings.

When chicken Eliot finally confronts his long-neglected father, the family reunion is less than expected with Daddy issues.  The Rooster father reveals himself to be very much in the jerk genius vein, along the likes of Gendo Ikari, or Astro Boy's Dr. Tenma.

Ultimately, the matter of resolving the world-destroying crisis depends on getting a baby space whale back with its parents.

Granted, cartoonists' political leanings are generally easy to suss out, and their issues may bleed onto their works in noticeable ways that can either elevate or hinder the quality of the material.  (In other words, never go full Dave Sim)  When reading typical escapist fare, I expect more than a simple retread of familiar elements that's a basic stand-in for current events.  If there's something that sticks out in my craw, it can fill me with boredom and loathing.  This page of Elliot suffering a seizure is visually interesting, but nothing within the layout really resonates with me.

It's also the problem I have with easy-to-read children's comics, such as Owly, Ameila Rules, Tower of Treasure, Lunch Lady, and Amulet.  While they're fine and dandy for introducing the basics for words/pictures relations, sequential art and are age-appropriate for their intended audience, they feel devoid of content or feel too saccharine for my taste.  Overall, I'd say that what any budding reader would value in a story overall is authenticity.  If it doesn't feel emotionally real enough for them (all pretense of illogic aside) it won't grip them the way they're intended to.

And yet, Hilda and Zita the Space Girl for instance, are all-ages works that engage me in a way that I don't mind rereading that other titles don't deliver.  I suspect it's the use of humour that keeps me coming back. That's what's lacking in most of these children's works.  The highest selling point in a comic should be to get their point across in a funny way.  Humour is one of the universal constants, but can also be a huge stumbling block for translation issues, as well as the desire to be taken "seriously" as an art form, which may explain why so many American cartoonists want to distance themselves from childish associations.

Jason Shiga's Demon was created as a challenge to himself, to create a comic that was one page longer than Habibi.  Despite the fact that the two works are drastically different both in terms of artwork and story, I'm more likely to reread Demon, even though I've memorized whole swatches of the story, compared to the few pages in Habibi, simply because Demon is more engaging on an intellectual level.

Not that European comics aren't guilty of the same sins as listed above.  Many gag-centric comics have a basic premise that takes too much time on a whole page layout to get to the weak punchline, when half that space could do.  Most likely, I've been spoiled by mainly reading Asterix/Tintin albums.  The former took a basic blank slate child detective whose early amateur globetrotting adventures matured into timeless classics remaining relevant long past the political news that inspired them.  The latter was originally printed in a magazine aimed at an adult audience, before being considered suitable for children.  (The numerous clever puns was a bonus) Much like Alice in Wonderland's mythology, the intellectual level gradually rose so that what was once considered adult fare was now commonly known to be considered suitable to children.  Somewhat similar to how Fairy Tales with their dark undercurrents of cannibalism, threatening environments, and starving carnivores, were readily accepted through osmosis.  Rather than dumbing down material that could be considered understandable to younger audiences, just explain a complicated concept using very basic terms.  The two sound similar, but they're significantly different.  One is simply saying 2+2=4; the other is condensing E=MC2.

If we're going to present material that'll engage children, it should be intellectually stimulating and visually pleasing.  Tall order I know.  But that's all part of the challenge.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Baby Herman Game

Just recently, I've been instigated* into the secret matriarchal ritual known only to women.  I helped out by setting up a game for my sister's Baby Shower.  This game was an exercise in simplicity - the guests would be equipped with half of an accompanying comic.  One side would have the pictures and the other half would have the text.  And the challenge would be to match the appropriate image with the appropriate text.

The decision would have to be considered carefully, because in some instances, the answer could wind up being rather nonsensical.  While my sister would've intuited the answers instantly, she'd play ignorance in order to string the game along in favor of the guests who'd be less knowledgeable.

Finding the material for this game was something I'd be a natural at, having an encyclopedic memory for pre-1996 newspaper comics relating to any anecdotal analogy.  (Too bad there isn't a job posting for that)

But the actual process of completing the conditions for the game was surprisingly extremely hectic and stressful for me.  It wasn't the process of tracing down and finding relevant baby comics that was hard (That was the easy part)  It was having my choices whited down to a paltry number that would be suitable for the partygoers, who'd be bigger fans of Cathy or For Better or for Worse than Herman.  The problem being that there were very few single-panel comics of the former compared to the latter.  If it was simply dividing a comic in half and trying to fit the pieces of the panels together like a jigsaw puzzle, it would be an easier prospect.

My Mother didn't want to run the risk of alienating anybody who weren't avid experts in understanding comics, and opted for the safer route of one picture, one sentence.  (She's not much of a visual thinker, preferring to think in words instead)  Initially, I was dubious of her claims, as well as having the "answers" ready for anybody who wouldn't be able to figure it out on their own.  Other games included drawing a picture on a bib for future use, and a guessing game for what was inside a present-bag.  The purpose of this game was to serve as an icebreaker, making people who normally wouldn't talk to each other, find their mate, match up, and engage in meaningful dialogue.  The trick was to narrow down the available choices among the comics that could be widely applicable in multiple instances, and not restricted to specific punchlines.

After the vetting process, it was a matter of copying and pasting the numerous comics, first with text, then without.  Then typing up the missing text to be printed later.  Then printing out the pictures to make sure they weren't too big or too small to carry around.  Then making sure there was enough blank room at the for holes to be punched for thread to go around the wearer's neck.  There was some general confusion as to how I could punch holes without a hole puncher, until I showed that this was achieved by putting the edge of the cut-out into the edge of a regular 3-ring holepuncher.  This was an example of "being smarter than the problem".

After numerous test printings to see the results, we finally arrived at an appropriate size ratio.  Then I had to print out the final drafts onto high quality paper that would be suitable for the guests.  I suggested printing the pictures in one colour, and the text into another, so it'd be easier to tell them apart.

Then, when it came to making a test run of a card paper sample, I ran into an unexpected obstacle - my father was using the computer where the picture files were.  I never know how to approach someone working from behind, and also loath being interrupted in kind.  Even though this was my own dad who's never displayed any kind of physical violence towards me, I still felt extremely apprehensive about disturbing him.  I replaced the scrap paper in the printer with the single paper sample I intended to use, hoping that my actions would be noticed.  It wasn't.  His peripheral vision wasn't as good as mine.

I only managed to muster up some courage by wearing a back support belt tightly wrapped around my stomach area.  After awhile, I was able to calm down enough to ask permission to borrow the computer briefly so I could print out a sample on good paper, which would only take five seconds.  When I relayed my message, I told him that there was no need for him to log off his email account - I'd be out of his hair soon enough.  It wasn't until I looked at the printer that I noticed that he'd printed out some tax stuff on the very quality paper sample that I'd been meaning to use.

I couldn't help it - I started laughing more out of sheer exasperation than exhaustion.  Fortunately, there was still enough leftover room on the page to allow a single picture that would've otherwise taken up a waste of room.  With deliberate calculation, I was able to eke out a comic that juuuust dodged overwriting any confidential information.  As a result, Dad's got a very colourful piece of form material in his files now.

In the process of naming the baby-to be, the subject of family names came up, and I found out that one of my middle names was Armand, after an uncle, and was almost considered for my first name.  But it was turned down on account of sounding too much like Herman, which would've been problematic for a growing child being associated with the comic strip.  Ironically, the sheer amount of Herman comics I've memorized made me more of an accessory than anything.  Whenever an amusing story is mentioned in my vicinity, I'll reply with "That reminds me of a Herman..." (or Cathy / Doonesbury / Garfield / etc.) and I'll eventually find the result buried in the pages of the books I have.

As a result, I figured that instead of being called by my regular name, I'd rather be called Uncle Herman.
 *Technically, I was one of few reluctant male presences there - apart from a boyfriend driving over and a gay friend who stayed, .  (My Dad acting as cameraman didn't count)