Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Love Groundhogs, but not THAT way

February is a generally short month, consisting of 4 weeks.  (And an extra day on Leap Years)  Yet somehow, it found itself acquainted with not one, but two holidays.
The other national holiday of course being Valentine's Day; of which Peter tries to share with his fair-weather friend... with lackluster results.
As long as we're talking about Valentine's, I might as well add two comics about dealing with the subject of love.  Wily's poem is fairly consistent, but Peter's is very different from the usual formula of sending letters. Things were vastly different back in the olden days.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Emperor's Nude Clothes

When you think of serial comics on the Funny Pages, you're more likely to think of the serious drama archetypes, such as Prince Valiant & Mary Worth.  Some papers would go the extra distance and splurge for the Superhero dramas, such as Superman, Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk to name a few.  All of these strips unveiled their stories at a glacial pace, and oftentimes, it was only by stockpiling them up and reading them in large batches that you'd get any satisfactory pleasure.  (Unless you're a masochistic fan who wants to see what'll happen next, no matter how mundane it is)  Strangely enough, this formula was never really applied to cartoonier comics, which would've been a boon for repeat readers.

One happy exception would be The Tales of Hans Christen Anderson by Werner Wejp-olsen. Werner Wejp-olsen is a prolific Danish cartoonist, having worked on multiple strips over the years.  As iconic and memorable his artstyle is, the biggest obstacle to acceptance may be his name, which isn't exactly a household name.  (Unless you happen to live in Denmark)

Since the nature of serial comics is painstakingly slow, The Gazette took the preferred option of having multiple comics released in one full batch as part of an "Educational" program.  This was around 1988, when interest in comics started to increase, around the time Calvin & Hobbes started to pick up steam, and just before Bloom County was about to expire.

This experiment ran on Wednesdays, and lasted from April 13th to June 22, and was only repeated again later with Werner's adaption of The Tin Soldier (which I still prefer over the toned-down Disneyfied Fantasia 2000 version)

Technically, these stories are already available in colour, but their scarcity is only mitigated by the public's perception of them.  Consider these comics as a low-res version of how they appeared in the papers.  None of the Sunday comics showed up as part of the package, necessitating some recaps on Mondays.  At this point, The Emperor's New Clothes is Public Domain, and familiar enough to warrant repetition.

One thing I particularly liked about these comics was the use of Werner Wejp-olsen's signature in the margins of every strip.  Since his name was such a mouthful, it was shortened down to WoW.  Because I didn't know that was his nom de plume, I thought that the comic itself was commenting on how impressed it was on what was going on:
"Forget it!  This time it's too important!" WoW.
"What did you say - Magic Weavers!?" WoW.
"I can't wait to meet these two weavers!" WoW.

Anyways, the reason for showing these comics is blindingly obvious, since there's never been a more relevant time to show this story than ever before.

It's probably worth mentioning that someone compared Trump to Prince John from Disney's Robin Hood, a vain status-seeker who's obsessed with gold, and filling in shoes that are beyond his physical capability to fill.  Also, the Disney Book Club adaption of The Emperor's New Clothes had Prince John in the title role, with the two scam artists Cat and Fox from Pinocchio, the two most identifiable Karma Houdinis in literature.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Long Walk to Valhalla: Paying Respect for the Dead

A recent feature that's recently appeared on Comics Alliance, Strip Panel Naked, which analyzes the layout of quality comic pages, and what makes them work.  Since I've done plenty of posts complaining about comics that make silly avoidable mistakes, I thought it'd be a nice change of pace to pointing out what aspects of comics I actually like.  As amusing and informative as it is to focus on the negative, it doesn't mean much if I don't give equal attention to certain fields where comic excel in their craft.

Long Walk to Valhalla, written by Adam Smith and drawn by Matthew Fox is a visual tour de force.  It'd be difficult to summarize the book in concise sentence or two, but I'll try.  The story focuses on Rory, a man on his way to a city who, after his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere (rural farmland), encounters a Maniac Pixie Girl who believes herself to be a Valkyrie, and that the man needs help for safe passage for getting gas, since she thinks he's going to die soon.  Along the way, there are sporadic flashbacks to Rory's childhood, involving his alcoholic Father, an absent runaway Mother and his Mute Brother who has visions of impossible creatures that may or may not exist.  (Just smile and nod like you understand)

For the most part, comics are basically puzzles that need to be figured out.  Dialogue and events are put together, and it's up to the reader to make sense out of them.  The more intuitive a comic is, the easier it becomes to read by just looking at the pictures alone.  What I particularly enjoy are comics that don't go out of their way to make their statements overly obvious through having everybody state their innermost thoughts outright, since not everybody can make grandiose speeches at the drop of a hat.  (For a long time, I had trouble starting dialogues, because I felt that everything I said needed to be profound)  My recapping of these pages may be redundant, but it'd be handy for the less visually literate crowd out there.

The flashback scene sets out on a time in Rory's teenage life when he and his brother were making a trip to see their Mother who ran off years ago.  Along the way, Rory passes the time making snide sarcastic remarks of imitating his father who was reluctant to lend out his truck to go to a procession in the first place.

As way of teasing payback, his Mute Brother turns on the windshield wipers, splashing some water all over him through the open window.  It's taken in as good humour though.  Despite his handicap of not verbalizing anything, Joe manages to get his point across with minimal verbal and visual cues.  Also, the lack of anger at Joe's mischief suggests that the two of them get along well together with little animosity between the two of them.  Then Rory notices something showing up on the road ahead.

Drawing closer, the two of them come across a sight that'd be better left averted, and Rory tells his brother not to look.

Leaving the scene, Rory reminds his brother to pay attention to the road, echoing his words of caution earlier.  In the distance, an Ambulance whines its siren, whose arrival is mostly redundant at this point.

Having arrived at their destination, Rory notices a crowd gathering, and figures that must be where they're expected.  Rory gives an impassioned expression while Joe gives a friendly smile to the crowd full of faces that he's never seen before in his life, as the Priest exposes of a life well lived.

At the mention of the dead woman's name, everybody looks up at the two new arrivals.  Even though his mute brother hardly says a word, his expressions and actions speaks volumes.

Having come to the correct grave this time, worried that they just missed the service, the only people in their Mother's life who bothered to show up don't do much more than offer flowers and stand in silence.

For Joe, being quiet is his default state, so pays tribute the only way he knows how - by example.

Joe's curious actions begin to attract the attention of the funeral crowd who they'd interrupted earlier.  Rory gives the closest explanation to what his brother's doing, trying to take his clothes off in a secluded section of the world that normally doesn't have much activity.

Some people lay stones on cemetery headstones.  Some people light incense.  Some people throw dirt in the grave.  And some people cover the dead with the clothes off their backs.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Window into my Life

Things had been quite hectic at my Parent's house last year.  There was a lot of minor construction being done, which involved re-roofing the tiles, installing new insulation, exchanging Gas Heating for Electric, a new electronic reader, and installing new Windows inside the house.  (And I'm not talking computer software here)

This last renovation took longer than the others, since my Dad was rather finicky about making any rash decisions that could impact his living conditions.  He's solely responsible for yard maintenance, mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, doing minor repairs, shoveling snow, and other tedious little tasks to make the lush greenery on the grass look presentable.  He's admitted that he's had nightmares of the hedges surrounding the yard suddenly being ripped from their roots and replanted upside down.

In order to find the kinds of windows he was looking for, he was looking all around, comparing different dimension strengths, checking their advantages and disadvantages, looking for industrial strength that would not only keep the circulation of air during hot and cold weather, but also factoring in different opening options that would be best.  In a sense, he was literally window shopping.

Then, once he finally found a choice he was satisfied with, he started doing measurements, checking the dimensions of the replacements, and making sure that when the new frames were installed, whether the blinds would still be able to fit back once the replacements had been set.  These new windows weren't just being put inside where the old ones had been - no, the whole frame would change dimensions, potentially covering up the screwholes where the old blinds used to be.  Otherwise, that'd require drilling new holes into the foundation, something he wanted to avoid if necessary.

This momentous task wasn't something he wanted to rush into, so by the time he finally made his choice, it took him three years.  (I also mentioned he's a slow eater, which factors in his decision-making skills as well)  My father is the opposite of those TV sitcom dads who go around fixing things beyond repair due to their technological know-how.  No, he'll do major prep time, do calculations over and over to make sure the numbers are right because like me, he hates making mistakes.  The difference between him and me is that I like to get things done, and experiment around, not belabor a product that may never come.  Ironically enough, this work ethic doesn't apply to my writing.  If I get interrupted when I least expect it, it throws a wrench into my plans, throwing my whole planned schedule out of whack, demotivating me to the point where I don't even bother jotting down my ideas in the first place.

When the day finally came to replace the windows on the second floor, I helped him with shuttling the blinds from the bedrooms, bathroom and computer room to other locations, such as the guest room bed, the basement table, and a carpeted bedroom floor.  The actual installation took just a little less than an afternoon.  Yet, after that, the blinds were left off the new windows for at least three weeks.  This meant anybody within viewing distance could just peek into the upper floors of their house with the proper viewing equipment.

This was quite problematic for me, because I relied on having these blinds block the light streaming into my eyes.  It was most problematic for my Mother's office, because the sun happened to be strongest from her direction.  A stopgap was applied by having a towel draped over the metal area where the blinds used to be, reducing the glare somewhat.  Most problematic was the bathroom and bedroom, where I took the occasional mid-afternoon nap during stressful situations, which proved almost impossible, because I'm extremely sensitive to bright lights, and had modified the blind with duct tape so no light could stream through.  (To be frank, I never expected the blinds to be removed, so didn't see any point in leaving them open, since what fool would want to subject themselves to the bright outdoors early in the morning?)

The most problematic aspect was having no available protection available in the bathroom, which was the only place I felt comfortable reading.  (My family has affectionately nicknamed it "The Library" considering how much time I spend there)  Part of the reason being that the lighting doesn't reflect off the surface of some of the shinier papers of American comics I take out of the library.  Others being that I don't feel claustrophobic or distracted by the nearby bathroom elements such as the towels and wallpaper there.  As such, I was forced to do my reading elsewhere, or wait until dark to not get bothered by the sun outside.

Also, this bathroom had the towel rack removed to make room for putting the replacement windows, and those also took their sweet time being put back as well.  This wouldn't have been so problematic if this particular bathroom didn't have a shower and bath, which made washing up problematic.  There wasn't anyplace safe to put a wet towel, save for on the stair railing, which was quite easy to forget once you'd locked the door.  I had to carefully plan out my shower schedule, coordinating my previously mindless ritual, which played at odds with my regular routine.  I had to keep a watchful eye, making sure that no one outside was looking, preying on my paranoiac fears, having been confused over the purpose behind the "It's Okay to say No" PSAs.  I didn't understand why there were people out there who'd be so interested in seeing my privates.  Surely, my naughty bits were areas of vital National Interest from Foreign Powers who wanted to compare sizes for some indiscernible reason.

When the blinds were finally put back in place, it looked like the prospect of having light streaming in my eyes was over.  However, that wasn't the case for the bathroom.  An unforeseen side effect of the new frames is that they're now significantly higher than they used to be, while the blinds remained the same length.  As a result, there's a small imperceptible gap of light now streaming through the bottom that was previously blocked.  This minor detail would've gone unnoticed by the majority, but as someone notoriously sensitive to bright light, it stuck out to me like a sore thumb.  And the bathroom is where I do most of my major comic reading.

To overcome this annoying obstacle that's come to light, I now have to take a container of mouthwash or soap, and place the bottle alongside the newly-installed towel rack, and place it against the lower end of the blind so that the light doesn't stream from the bottom.  Sometimes I get so used to feeling comfortable that I forget to put the cleansers back in their proper place, which drives my Dad further nuts.

At least he doesn't have to worry about me tampering with his products at night.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Deep in the Heart of Hartland

When I first did my annual Famine comic tribute, I came across a comic that was a clear rip-off (i.e. influence) of Bloom County.  That comic was Hartland by Rich Torrey, who's now found better success through a line of modest children's books.
For weeks, I attempted and completed the dubious accomplishment of saving every single Hartland comic from June 17th, 1985 to March 1st, 1986.  And I can safely say without reservation that it is one of the WORST comic strips ever made.

Having accomplished the masochistic task of poring through every available comic, struggling to reach my goal, I was able to compile a comprehensive microcosm of the comic, though I might as well have gleamed the same results just from a month's worth of material alone.

The cast, other than Dave Hart (the boy) consists of:

The Father, Ted Hart, a bitter man who has hostile reactions to any mention of his ex-wife, and constantly makes disparaging remarks about his son's weight.

The Mother, Sallie Hart, also a divorcee, who constantly cries out for attention, but is usually passed over in favor of the Father's POV.

Seech, Dave's best friend.  He's not mentioned in the cast list, but he's the resident weirdo, and consequently, the only child Dave's age who bothers to talk to him.

Mrs. Blister, the Babysitter, is actually the wild card in the bunch, and makes Seech look normal.  One thing to keep in mind while finding these comics was that I cleaned up a lot of the newspaper residue, including the flecks of dust and smudges, represented by various "dots" on the page.  (Though Hart looks better without the Freckles on his face)

Lastly, there's Dr. Joystick, who's supposed to be a Family Counselor, but probably got his qualifications from the Lucy Van Pelt school of Psychiatry.

Part of the problem stems from Torrey suffering from writer's block, being intimidated at the legacy of Charles Schultz's Peanuts (which was only 35 years at the time), and trying to figure out what to write that would leave a lasting impression.

It's just too bad that so much of what he penned down was so unimaginatively uncreative.  Most of the material was shamelessly pilfered and done better by more competent cartoonists who knew what they were doing.  The 2nd comic from the top?  Lifted from the 1st Doonesbury.  The kids talking philosophically on stone walls?  Lifted from Peanuts.  Even Berkley Breathed's early College strip, Academia Waltz, had some elements of broad humour that would later become the basis of classic Bloom County comics.

Eventually, readers began to loath seeing Hartman on the pages:

Another problem is that there's practically no daily progress.  Everybody's stuck in their same rut, and there's hardly any consecutive storylines, rendering much of its material utterly forgettable.  Hartland is what would've happened if Breathed had just stuck to the cast of elderly people in his first year who would've been phased over for their more interesting complementaries.  (Of all of them, only Steve Dallas and Milo Bloom would remain, with Rabies the Dog becoming the Basselope in spirit)  If there IS one thing that Hartland did that no other comic did, it was have a boy who expressed concerns over body issues.  This topic would be more relevant today, even though it's a subject more likely aimed at women.

It's just a shame that Dave manages to undermine that by being so much of an emotional whiner.  It doesn't help that on the occasions where he's not talking, he's staring at whoever's talking with a dazed open-mouthed expression.  And so much of his childhood nervousness feels artificial and tacked-on.  And this is damning with faint praise.