Saturday, February 25, 2017

Making Some Good Points

Arcade centers may have fallen to the wayside, thanks to the proliferation of the home console market exploding in popularity, making quarter munchers something of a rarity, appealing only to the few outlets that still allow access to the mainstays that haven't been converted to the home video treatment yet.  Not that there aren't some diehards who won't stop at the opportunity to top the latest world record in terms of useless challenges.

This has led to multiple instances of other media implementing their references without really understanding their appeal, such as Tony Soprano "playing" a lap of N64 Mario Kart one-handed just by handling the joystick without actually pushing any buttons.  (You need to use both to move)

including the Star Trek episode, The Game, where the whole crew was being subjected to being brainwashed by an addictive game that basically consisted of mentally throwing discs down funnels.
somewhat unusual for a futuristic utopia that prides itself on

Probably the biggest insult would be the cameo appearance of Toru Iwatani, the creator of the instantly identifiable Pac-Man, who quashed his moment of immortality in an Adam Sandler movie.  (I'm not even gonna justify naming it - you can find it yourself)

Then there's an outer-space Spider-Man story from Electric Company, that may or may not have been inspired by The Last Starfighter, where an average kid who's really good at a Space Invaders-esque game finds himself roped into an intergalactic war, because reasons.

And yet, despite dozens of genres ranging from Platformers, Street King Fighters, Puzzle Droppers, Rail Shooters and the lot, the go-to representation of console games seem to be the ol' blast-em-Commies-outta-the-sky edition.

The demonization of Videogames is nothing unusual.  People have been complaining about how the latest newfangled devices these ungrateful younglings are abusing to their whim will bring about the downfall of civilization as we know it.  Well, they're technically correct, since these lawn-standing children are rewriting the rules of the previous generation that will pave the route to the NEXT batch of unforeseen upgrades, which will carry their own baggage of complaints from future Luddites.

But it's not so much the rush of playing the games themselves as is the sense of accomplishment of actually succeeding in a monumental repetitive task.  After all, if Video Games were as mindless as everybody says they are, everybody would be passively pushing buttons waiting for their turn.  In The Game Believes In You by Greg Toppo, an adult tried his hand at playing a typical gateway game, and was surprised at just how difficult it was.  (Granted, most beginner console games were Nintendo Hard)

It wasn't just the learning curve of having to readjust his preconceived notions of hand-eye coordination, but also the intense amount of concentration needed to get through a typical level.  He was surprised that despite his apparent smarts, that he was having great trouble at re-learning new traits that for all intents and purposes, should've been deceptively easy.  If you pay attention to a gamer's expression while they're playing, they intensely focused on the action happening on the screen.  (Unless it's an unskippable cutscene, at which point, they're just waiting for the mini-movie to finish so they can get back to the action)

Indeed the purpose of a good game is to force the player to keep trying over and over, compensating for their mistakes until they succeed in overcoming their surmountable tasks.  The very first Mario game level is easily recognizable and iconic, but it was actually designed near the end, so Shigeru Miyamoto could properly showcase everything the beginning player needed to learn about the basics of playing.  (Though it took a computer ages to learn what came naturally to grade-age kids)

Despite their high degree of difficulty, the game allows you to try again over and over until you manage to succeed, all for the sake of that elusive A WINNER IS YOU! end screen.  This is accomplished by memorizing dozens of patterns, calculating various formulas, testing strengths and weaknesses, using items in every conceivable combination possible and deferring to the game's internal logic, usually consisting of warped reality that naturally appeals to kids.  (And resorting to cheats when they're ultimately desperate)

In fact, because of the way games are made, the techniques and tricks you use to get past creative enemies, obstacles and traps in later hair-pulling stages are designed to gradually teach the player how to develop these traits and integrate them into their playing without being fully aware that they're learning.  In this sense, videogames are actually better teachers than most schools.  (And more fun too)

Another worthwhile quote - If schools were relied on to teach children about Pokémon, they would lose interest almost immediately.  Part of the reason is because when schools were first designed, they were intended to be suitable for children whose highest aspirations were to become factory assembly line workers, whose iteration of input and fixed formulas was a necessity.  But the latest appliances and digital devices have largely supplanted that need, resulting in teachers having to dictate an authoritarian stance over unruly children.  The earliest concept of a school worked just fine in the early 20th Century, but their model no longer applies to the modern world.  Everybody learns in a different way, and expecting everybody to conform to a single model is just asking for trouble.  Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in Japan's schools, which is more suited to produce Businessmen who are more likely to be brown-nosers and yes-men than innovative trailblazers.  In fact, the lack of harmony between Sega USA and Sega Japan was because one company was willing to take risks, and the other wasn't.  (As seen in the Sega Vs. Nintendo book, Console Wars)

Rather than demonizing the infantile traits of empowering videogames, scholars should be using the traits of videogames that best appeal to their senses.  Rather than have everybody in the class compete with each other over who gets the highest marks or best memorization, singling out the class pets, fostering an epidemic of cheating and stress, it would benefit greatly using a Warcraft model where struggling students can get farther ahead by working together.  Instead of grading students over an outmoded grading system where mistakes are seen as a black mark demerit that'll follow them for the rest of their lives.  They should be given the chance to experiment with alternate solutions that best suits their needs, substituting calculating methods with more adequate means, where they can take their time to fully understand the logic ingrained behind the theory.  Following formulas is good for starters, but shouldn't be strictly restricted to only that if the students already understand the basics, and compensate by using similar models closer to their line of thinking.  There's not just one way to calculate algebraic math.

In one instance where a student was failing in a particular field, another student offered themselves up to compensate for her loss, even though it meant losing some points himself.  The purpose was to teach how to game the playing field so that everybody gets their fair share.  In other words, compensating for their weaknesses until they're able to confidentially assert it themselves.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

License Request: Paul's Short Stories

Paul up North is easily Michel Rabagliati's most ambitious book yet.  Starting with the opening of an idlylic scene (A feat started since Paul Goes Fishing, and best employed in Paul Joins the Scouts, opening with a six-panel page of repeat moving stills of a shoe caught around a tree branch, the significance of which we don't find out until near the end) revolving around the general excitement of the Montreal Expo and the Olympics.  With the publication of Paul up North, the travails of the iconic quasi-biographical titular character Nostalgic look at Montreal (the best part being the somewhat surreal hitchhike with Paul & a friend towards a party in a snowstorm) has come to a temporary end.

With its simplistic Lingue-Claire drawings, Paul's been referred as the Tintin of Montreal, which is somewhat fitting, since there's a Blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo tribute.  The author/artist is a clear lover of European comics, and it shows, even in a three-panel layer outlook when the European norm is four tiers.

If there's a term that describes the French city, it's a rustic crumbling infrastructure, where the charm comes from flaking bricks still standing despite the years gone by.  And nowhere is that accurately displayed than in Paul's little corner of the world.  (Save for a few pages in Matz and Luc Jacamon's The Killer)

While impressive (and sometimes overly sentimental), it's also a shame, since the events surrounding Paul no longer applies to the author, since his wife left him, his mother's dead, his father's sick, and his dog's gone to the farm.  As a result, it's become somewhat harder for the self author.artist to draw recollections from his life when current personal conditions are no longer as rosy.  And when Lynn Johnson increasingly drew from her preconceived notions of what her life should be, rather than what it actually was, her life-long definitive work suffered as a result.  All of Paul's stories have a aura of heartbreak around its center, but a book filled with nothing but pathos would be difficult to swallow.

There was also an adaption of the book Paul in Québec (which was renamed Song of Roland for some reason)  The Live-Action movie was called Paul on Québec, because consistency be damned.  It was notable for having a brief scene that looked at the printing process of a volume of Red Ketchup Vs. Frankenstein, showing an interior page, flipping the inked flapout on top of the coloured board underneath.  Despite its impressiveness, that particular volume doesn't actually exist.  It was just an excuse to have the Real artist Réal Godbout show up and be posterized for eternity before it was too late, since his adaption of Kafka's Amerika would've gone into obscurity.  (I've been meaning to get back to Red Ketchup, but my usual translator hasn't gotten back to me for years)

Prior to this, the earliest adventures of Paul was composed of mini-stories, such as Paul Apprentice Typographer and Paul in the Metro, first seen in Drawn & Quarterly Vol. 3 & 4, and later reprinted in the Free Comic Book Day sample from 2005.  While these short stories were collected in a French volume of their own, they haven't been compiled in a collection in English, as per my request.  Personally, I'd prefer that they be bundled up with Paul in the Country, the shortest of the Paul books.  But that's not the only missing gem - there are others.

Now, this next bit will require some explaining.  There was a book that had re-drawings of various cartoonist pages.  On one side was the original page, sometimes with the penciled draft left intact.  On the other side was the modern-day artist's interpretation.  Several were in English, but the majority of the book was in French.  This excerpt from a typical Gaston Lagaffe page shows the eternal BoyChild engaging in various disruptive pastime activities far beyond the social norms of an office building.  (Even if said building is the publisher of Spirou Magazine)

And here's Paul's version of events:

Another short one-pager was when Paul was used as an opportunity to showcase the Visual Arts in a French newspaper, Le Devoir.  Here, he takes a very out-of-character moment to showcase the bombastic style of a pushy newspaperman that's more along the likes of Achille Talon, down to his rapid speech and verbal tics.

For the record, there actually IS a Golden Feather Award.  In the first panel below, Paul originally said "On tue la une! on bute la deux! on trucide la trois!"  I rephrased it as best as I could, including the penultimate panel.

But the major find was Paul Goes to the Hardware Store, coming from Cyclops, an anthology of Canadian artists.  As I mentioned before, my Father is somewhat of a finicky handyman, so the following pages quite ticked his funnybone.  More after the cut.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Weird Romance: Broom Hilda's Dates

Unrequited Love is a mainstay staple of the Funny Pages - one-sided triangles where people's gazes are firmly locked in a singular direction like a one-way sign.  Longing for a Romantic Interest that never reciprocates.  Or Romantic trysts that never get anywhere.  (All influenced by Peanuts in one way or another) Broom Hilda firmly lands in the latter category - a regular Lena Hyena who has a constant mad-on for any male who'd cast their gaze her way, whether they're interested in her or not.

We don't know too much about Hilda's previous married life, save that she was first married to Attila the Hun, which may or may not have had an averse effect on her personality for the rest of her life.  It may have ruined her expectations, spoiling her, since anybody else would've paled in comparison.

Other marriages have been mostly regulated to the rare dailies, such as Rip Van Winkle, which ran for a week.  Her husband was simply asleep for the whole duration of their married life.  And that was one of the normal ones.

The only prospect that one gets from her brief marriages is that these guys must've been pretty damned desperate, coerced or deranged to agree to get hitched in the first place.

Even the prospect of taking advantage of a visual aids-less device like an old-school rotary phone doesn't give her much hope.  Not that writing via love letters would give much success either, since she doesn't show much interest or experience in that particular field.

While she'd be perfectly happy with a warm body (Necrophilia being somewhat inappropriate to show on the funny pages), she wouldn't shy away from flirting with an attractive pretty face, proving she's just as shallow as the next guy.

If it's any consolation, she's not particularly finicky about her choices.  She'd love a serial killer as long as they paid attention to her.  Being a stalked target would be considered a compliment.

Actually, she probably wouldn't mind being fooled, if it'd mean getting shacked up with someone - anyone.

Though there seem to be certain... boundary lines that she won't cross.

It's not that she's opposed to the prospect of Love.  It's just that there are certain limits to her taste.  (Even if that taste is defined by cheap beer and smelly undergarments.  Cigars having been phased out early in her run)

If it's any consolation, she's an equal opportunity offender.  She'll go after anybody, no matter who.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Nuclear Primer

Okay, everybody out there knows that Nuclear Power is incredibly powerful, right?  And that power is accomplished by shaking microscopic atoms very very very hard, right?  Which if leaked through the high vibrations that the containers that are meant to hold them in, could cause potentially high damage not just to puny humans, but also to the environment, right?  Fukushima is still a toxic wasteland years after their meltdown.  Radiation levels were so toxic that they were causing helper robots to malfunction within hours within the infected area.
Images originally from Larry Gonick of Cartoon History fame, from the first issue of Itchy Planet,
reprinted in The Best Comics of the 90s from Fantagraphics.
So, given that Nuclear power is notoriously risky to play around with, let alone use as a blunt instrument, it's tellingly shocking that Trump sees the last resort option as his first resort, being woefully ignorant about their use beyond "Wiping ISIS off the map", since the consequences extend far beyond "Killing ALL the Bad Guys".

Recently, of all the leaks that've come out of the Trump office (and there are MANY), the most disturbing may be the account of the dialogue to Russia that was supposed to be left unrecorded.  (Presumably so that they could narrow down the source of the leakage, but more likely so that the conversation between Trump & buddy Putin would remain private)  The fact that there are people willing to risk their short careers by unveiling details should give some hint of just how troubling this talk went.

To start with, Trump seemed to be completely caught off guard when queried about what constitutes a Nuclear Triad, which was something that was expounded at length, given his ignorance about the subject:

Upon being queried about what Trump's opinion about START, believing that any deal Obama made could be anything but bad, his first instinct was to demean it, and vow to repeal it, despite not knowing what it was FOR.  For those of us not in the know, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is supposed to agree on the number of Nukes each country has and is allowed to have.  Trust on both sides is mandatory to confirm that neither goes over the limit.  And despite wanting to be on Putin's good graces, Trump just pissed all over that possibility without understanding the consequences.

I don't pretend to know more about Nuclear energy than I actually do, knowing the limits of my ignorance.
But Trump continues to blaze ahead, filling in the gaps with meaningless founts of knowledge to cover up his lack of such.  Eventually, those constant bluffs are going to bite back and backfire hard (if they haven't already)  If you ever wanted to relive those turbulent times in the 80's when the threat of Nuclear fallout was a very real thing, here's your chance to experience that anxiety all over again!

Like his tendency to handwave away meaningless answers to essay-length questions, just as unnerving is Trump's tendency to ask probing questions to the least qualified person capable of giving an appropriate or right answer.  Instead of asking a Financial advisor about whether a strong dollar was good or bad for the economy, he posed the question to a Military General, who, while "quite intelligent", is the wrong person to ask a question far outside his field of expertise.

His insecurity and short attention span (being unable to process any briefings longer than 9 bullet points on a single page) along with changing the subject back to familiar ground, stems from his narcissistic need to appear like he's in charge.  A regular control freak who has no control over his "kingdom" that doesn't show any respect his way, because he never showed any to anyone.  A far easier way of dealing with this personality conflict would be to approach him in the same manner of All-Knowing Emperors - showcase any said subject under the assumed assumption that Trump already knows all about the subject, without actually alluding to his lack of knowledge using a refresher course.  "As you already know..." "The situation is like this..."  "In your infinite wisdom..."  Basically appealing to his vanity.  Of course, that'd only work if Trump was willing to accept any views that extends far beyond his limited scope of the news on TV and inside his mind.
Shouldn't have spent so much time complaining about his Inauguration crowd size.
It's astounding just how quickly Trump's managed to fritter away his Honeymoon period.  Normally, you'd see this kind of breakdown around a President's second or third year, when the bloom has fallen off the rose.  But Trump's ineptitude has created public dissatisfaction at warp speed, causing large unrest throughout the whole country.  Even Nixon who forcibly resigned Attorney General and had leaked private tapes, at least had intervals of months between scandals.  But Trump doesn't even let up or allow his numerous scandals or critical failures to breathe.  The result is a breakneck runaway of consistent failures that's not helped by his whiny crybaby complaining over every slight, no matter how small.  Trump's mannerism has declined to the point where even his diehard fans are beginning to doubt his ability to deliver on his insane promises.  They paid more attention to the rants of "Locking Hillary Up" than his statements to Repeal Obamacare, which, they're only just beginning to understand the consequences of losing.

Given Trump's tendency to pay attention to favorable ratings (obsessing over Obama's Inauguration crowd being larger than his), it's not a farfetched claim that his team would be willing to allow Terrorist attacks on their home soil, just so they could "prove the protesters and naysayers wrong".  Especially after the botched Yemen Raid that wound up killing 30 civilians, including an 8 year-old American girl and a Navy Seal, and the target got away anyways to taunt Trump another day.  That operation can't have been easy on Trump's ego, especially after constantly harassing Hillary over her Emails that led to the ineffectual investigation on Benghazi and her emails.  Considering the sheer hypocrisy of Trump's team using their personal communication devices rather than switching to more secure Government ones, after firing their Cyber-security   (because Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York is such an accomplished computer-savvy guy), the whole team is in direct danger of being abused by unscrupulous hackers.

One wonders what could spur a homegrown attack, since, when Bush Jr.'s popularity sank below 50%, he got a resounding comeback at 90% after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks.  (And then squandered that away in the Iraq War)  A lot of people worldwide were visibly upset at the 2016 Election results (myself included), seeing it as a 11/9 disaster.  But the outpouring of protesters fighting for women and their lives has given renewed life to Democracy-lovers who would've been otherwise complacent with a Hillary win.  It's reassuring that when their way of life is threatened, the people aren't simply willing to take it lying down in the face of overwhelming ineptitude.  But that may mean nothing if in the midst of a Trumpian temper tantrum, he winds up outlashing at everybody around him in a vain attempt to strike back.

On the plus side, Trump is doing every single instance on how NOT to run the White House. Too bad he has to use it as an actual Real-time experience, and not a thought experiment.  This is the world's worst Reality TV program currently airing.  And yet, I daren't look away, because I'm terrified of the consequences if I don't pay attention.  In any other parallel reality, it'd be an amusing diversion.  While there were numerous YA dystopian novels, I often lamented that these authors weren't able to accurately convey the overwhelming sensation of being caught under a totalitarian Government constantly hovering over their every action, like those who actually experienced such states.  It was NOT a request to make one a reality.

Also, it's somewhat of a shame that Trump is meeting Justin Trudeau tomorrow, and not Jean Chretien.  Could you just imagine a conversation between an amusing master pithy orator (A proof is a proof, Balls like this... or THIS?) with Mr. Word Salad himself???  Chretien's speech would run circles around Trump's attempts to intimidate to the point he wouldn't know whether he was coming or going.
"Why keep a semi-auto rifle or nuclear weapon at home? It's dangerous - a child could find it and play with it." - Jean Chretien on gun control; outside the House of Commons, 1998
In some instances, there's There's a certain similarity in their mode of speech.
"To be frank, politics is about wanting power, getting it, exercising it, and keeping it."
"The art of politics is learning to walk with your back to the wall, your elbows high, and a smile on your face. It's a survival game played under the glare of lights."
"A successful politician must not only be able to read the mood of the public, he must have the skill to get the public on his side. The public is moved by mood more than logic, by instinct more than reason, and that is something that every politician must make use of or guard against."
The difference being, Chretien could make his word salads work.  In particular, these phrases must've come as anathema to Trump:

"To my mind losing is always better than never trying, because you can never tell what may happen."

"Economics has been called the dismal science. Once you get to understand it, you may not find it so dismal, but you don't find it much of a science either."

"It is not the government's purpose to make a profit the way a company does, because a company doesn't have to give a damn about the unemployed poor or provide services that are non-commercial by definition."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Scope of Monkey Trials

Bud Grace's Ernie is one of the... stranger cult Newspaper comics available on the Funny Pages.  Later renamed The Piranha Club years later, after tricking the titular character in selling Yak Butter in Outer Mongolia.  It's vastly popular in Sweden, but a virtual unknown in the United States, save for a few fans here and there.

It certainly would gain more of a wider following if it wasn't so consistently Un-Politically Correct.  But so much of the fun comes from seeing how much the cartoonist tries to get away with.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.  In this storyline, the constantly put-down character, Ernie, decides to reduce his workload by having helper monkeys (or Monk-Eaze) in his apartment.

The story is already available online with higher-quality images (halfway down the link provided) but I'll be damned if I'm going to let my efforts go to waste.  If this seems redundant, keep in mind that this isn't exactly usual reader fare.  So Much of the first panels of Ernie strips are constant recaps of what's just happened the day before, because it's so unusual in the first place.

So very often, we're confident that Alien Civilizations would be able to easily communicate with us, no problem, despite the fact that our English Language is filled with contradictions, bastardizations of other languages, and a constantly evolving alphabet.  By that logic, we should be able to talk to animals like Dr. Dolittle, only with a Human accent.

And even if you DO manage to communicate with said animals in their own language, it's not always clear if they'll understand what you want and expect from them.

Ernie's Landlady, Effie is a senile woman who's been married 8 times, who has a tendency to cook the most unusual inedible meals consisting of various animal parts.

Believe it or not, a monkey is the Least of the Weirdest things Effie's cooked so far.  Many years later, she would attempt to cook a Gorilla, with less favorable results.

Strangely enough, this rare Sunday comic wasn't available in the above link, but seen elsewhere on the artist's site.  I included it here for relevance.

"You should've clarified that first."
"Obviously, you need to."

Ernie's Uncle Sid is the consistent scene-stealer in the comic, who's essentially a conman in human form.  when he's not charging his cousin exuberant fees for shady deals or ripping off Elderly Ladies out of their life savings, and seeking ways to pinch a penny beyond it's expected life expectancy, seeking out the cheapest possible items on the menu... he's not doing much otherwise.  Considering his constant stinginess, you'd think he'd be rolling in the dough, but he seems to be more interested in wasting his moolah on gambling and beer.

The day of the Shotgun Wedding arrives (sans shotgun) and Ernie goes through the rituals in order to make a honest man (monkey) out of Carruthers.

Of course, Ernie's patience has its limits, and even he decides that he's had enough, and wants no further part of something he didn't want in the first place.  Hey buddy, you bought those Monkeys, you brought it upon yourself.

Fortunately enough, things have a way of resolving themselves out without their involvement.

However, this wouldn't turn out to be the last we'd hear from these Monkeys.  A scant four months later, the monkeys would return just as Ernie was in the midst of trying to convince his dowdy clingy Girlfriend that he's not worthwhile Boyfriend material.  (With lackluster results)

This later stuff wasn't included on the artist's blog (unless I haven't looked that far ahead), so consider this all-new material.

Never one to turn a profitable offer down, Sid takes on the role from Preacher to discount Lawyer.

The coffee is actually the least outrageously overpriced item on the fined list.  Uncle Sid once charged Ernie for multiple features (including the rear-view mirror and spare tire) on a broken rental moving truck.  (The left tire was missing)

"Be sure to speak loud and clearly for the clients and Jury."

And like last time, the problem is resolved by taking the path of least resistance.

Usually, throwing money at a problem doesn't make it go away, but it seems to work out in Uncle Sid's favor.  The bonus side is that he has very low resistance to straight-up cash.  It'd be almost insulting if he weren't so easy.