Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Weird Romance - Ernie's Pretty Birds

Bud Grace of Ernie Fame just announced that he's retiring his long-running cult comic on February 3rd of next year.  For those who still devotedly follow his comic, this is something of a mild shock.  Newspaper comics are no longer the merchandising bonanza they once used to be, and his comic never really broke the public consciousness.  That, and his comic felt like it was just spinning its wheels, even as it renamed itself The Piranha Club in a vain attempt to attract more potential clients who liked Uncle Sid as a main character.  Guess what??  It didn't work.

That said, there are some truly weird - and I mean WEIRD stuff that happened early on that the recent batch of Piranha Club strips fail to recapture.

Now, this comic above showed on the 23rd, but the next one below didn't return back to the petshop until the 27th.  For the sake of coherence, I've left out the irrelevant comics involving Ernie's girlfriend talking shop.

For this, some context is going to be needed.  In case it wasn't already obvious, Uncle Sid is a notorious cheapskate, who constantly fosters off of his nephew Ernie, and eats meals from Effie, a sweet senile old lady who's gone through at least five husbands, and constantly mistakes Ernie or Uncle Sid for one of them.

If it were just a case of mistaken identity, Uncle Sid could leech off Effie all he wanted.  But there's just one minor inconvenience.  Effie has a tendency to create creative recipes that makes thrown-up garbage look appetizing.  Still, he continues to scarf the food down, just because it's free.  In terms of scrimping for money, he makes Uncle Scrooge look like a skinflint.  (May be a match for another notorious cheakskate, though)

I switched the above 6th and 7th of July strips around, so it'd flow better.  Until I pointed out this detail, I doubt you'd ever know the difference.

You know, Uncle Sid, that condemnation wasn't intended to be taken as a challenge request.  But this minor setup is worth it for what has to be the funniest following comics in all of Ernie's history:

After that, it settles down into a rhythm with the rare 3-panel comic.

And just to complicate matters further, Uncle Sid shows up to reluctantly claim rights over his so-called "love" of his life.  Well, not so much "proclaim", as just "show up and outlast the competition".

This would be considered something of a weak way to resolve the conflict, so here's another short mini-arc where Barnacle Bill started hitting on Ernie's girlfriend instead.

Well, maybe "hitting on" is the wrong choice of words.  It's Doris who instigates her affections, right in front of her reluctant boyfriend yet.  Either she was just displaying fondness for animals, or trying to make him jealous.  Take your pick.

Sadly, I can't seem to find the Saturday comic that comes right after this, but it'd be hard to top this finisher.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Fog & Pony Show

Recently, there was an expose of Hillary Clinton's book, What Happened, of her Campaign Trail that's been getting mixed reviews, from people who admire her, and people who loath her, usually for the same reasons.  Even though the majority of the book deals with her personal experience, the most vocal critics mainly focus on a brief paragraph that singles out Bernie Sander's reluctance to tone down his rampant sabotaging attacks on Clinton, long after he was no longer in the running that included a timely Facebook metaphor:
Bernie: “I think America should get a pony.”
Hillary: “How will you pay for the pony? Where will the pony come from? How will you get Congress to agree to the pony?”
Bernie: “Hillary thinks America doesn’t deserve a pony.”
Bernie Supporters: “Hillary hates ponies!”
Hillary: “Actually, I love ponies.”
Bernie Supporters: “She changed her position on ponies! #WhichHillary#WitchHillary”
Headline: Hillary Refuses To Give Every American a Pony.
Debate Moderator: “Hillary, how do you feel when people say you lie about ponies?”
Another complaint I heard elsewhere (but can't seem to find again) was that Hillary would offer to concede to Bernie's plans, and even offered to integrate his ideas onto hers, but Bernie would undercut her attempts.  If a Health Care Plan required the citizens paying 4% of taxes, he would up the ante by saying, "We can do it for 0%!"  And then, Hillary would be demonized for asking for being the Fun Police in asking how this plan could work.  Bernie may mean well, but he has yet to offer a reasonable way of having it pay for itself.

If this seems somewhat reductionist, it's because this is just a roundabout way of saying it reminded me of a relevant passage from Jaka's Story.

Most of Cerebus (particularly the early parts) can be somewhat of a slog, with pages of overdone prose and in-joke references to American comics events that were taking place around the 80's and 90's when it was published.  Here's a sample from an early issue, where the narration is still in its infancy:
It's only after you scroll down that you notice that there's some needless text at the very bottom of the page, which somewhat ruins the whole effect of reading the panel.  I always thought it would be greatly improved if the text was moved higher up, which not only would put it next to the big sound effect, but also have the text flow much more smoothly in conjunction with the action.  Of course, Dave Sim was still learning his craft, and intended to keep all aspects of his improvements intact, warts & all, but I can't help but think a slight modification would help in this instance, even for the Restoration Project
Equally annoying is that very often, plans will be discussed in great detail... only to be completely overturned due to a previously unforeseen event, rendering most of the previous conversations practically redundant.  You could skip a large portion of these pages, and still wind up in the same place.  It's very like the Yotsuba Arc of Death Note where L would explain a plan to avoid being detected, and then stupid Matsuda would wind up ruining all of his carefully laid schemes.

Most fans recommend skipping over to the 2nd volume, High Society, but even that has its faults, since several reoccurring characters make a reappearance, and the climax loses its punch if you're not aware of a certain story that took place in the 1st volume.

But Jaka's Story is Cerebus at its most accessible.  All that's really needed to know are three things:

  1. Cerebus used to be Prime Minister, then Pope, before losing it all.
  2. Cerebus is in love with Jaka.
  3. Jaka's Uncle is Lord Julius, who looks and acts just like Groucho Marx.

That's it.  That's all you really need to know.  The rest of the story plays out naturally without the need for extra unnecessary exposition.  And the consistent 6-grid paneling is broken with the occasional dense typewritten text both for the Oscar Wilde expy and internal scripted dialogue of storekeeper Pud.

Reading Cerebus - even as a first attempt isn't always an easy thing.  You can't just blindly rush into a single book and expect to knock it out in a single weekend.  (Well, you can, but you'll get a headache doing so)  Like the Krazy Kat strips, they need to be absorbed at a slower pace, to truly understand what's going on.  Or, you could just flip through the issues, reading the pictures, and the occasional spoken word where appropriate, before moving on to the next in a mad dash to get to the better stuff.

High Society can count as a single novel, but was also intended to be read as individual issues, which meant rereading a chapter again while waiting for the next, and noticing certain details that wouldn't become evident until later.  It's only when the high point of Church & State kicks in that you're flipping the pages at a rapid rate to see what'll happen next that it starts feeling like encroaching on familiar territory.  It's a long road getting there, and may not always to everybody's tastes, but is still an enriching process for anyone brave enough to take the plunge.

EDIT - I'm ashamed to admit that there was another Pony metaphor that just occurred to me, that would be just as easily applicable here:

And, just for extra reference, in case anybody missed it the first time around, here's My Little Shetland Pony again:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Stranger Things Under Orbit

It's been a long time since I've updated my blog recently, which means it's time for another Orbit-centered story arc!  This once focusing around the time Professor Valvelock was arrested, and Orbit was kidnapped.  But then, I'm getting ahead of myself.

One of the things I personally enjoy about going through these old comics is finding where my inspiration for certain story elements came from.  In one instance, I was told to make a story for a school assignment.  In one such story, I combined what I was aware of, consisting of combining The Basselope from Bloom County and The Jackalope from America's Funniest Videos, and someone getting a speeding ticket for going 51 miles in a 50 mile zone.  (They were very strict)

Now, the ironic part is that back then, I had extreme difficulty in making up stories, since I couldn't figure out the exact formula for creating such things, that seemed to come out of the aether.  To get out of this mundane task, I compensated by creating made-up recipes for nonexistent foods, or outright plagiarizing children's books & TV shows that the Teacher wouldn't otherwise recognize.  I was amazed they weren't aware of the story Popcorn by Frank Asch, or the poem On Tuesdays, I Polish My Uncle from Alligator Pie.  (Ants in my pants, Dirt in my shirt...)

For the longest time, I felt guilty about using these stories as a way to get an otherwise unpleasant task out of the way, rather than rely on my own initiative, but I was simply responding the only way I knew how.  That shame was lessened when I read the afterword to The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker, who admitted she wrote revised Fanfics that she submitted to class, and later used her expertise to create her Immigration Experience story.

It wasn't until I started reading Manga that I figured out that as long as I knew what the ending was, I could simply reverse-engineer events towards that destination.  Sure, there'll be several detours along the way, but it's more about the experience than being restrained within a specific word or page count. At their heart, all stories are metaphors.  And as long as you know what message you want to convey, the rest becomes easy.

People can be easily intimidated by the prospect of creating a story, and at first glance, it's easy to see why.  There are so many characters, so many potential themes, and too many things to think of all at once.  So many things can be happening that it can be overwhelming at first.  A handy-dandy trick is just to focus on ONE specific story.  Flesh it out and expand it as much as you like.  Then divide that story into shorter batches for easier reading.  Then, if you feel particularly compelled about certain events that take place, you can create another story that might be happening around the same time as the first story.  And do the same divisions as the first story.  Then splice those divisions into other parts of another story that happens to be taking place within that same universe.  That's pretty much how most Novels work - they keep the reader's boredom at bay by never leaving them fully vested in one spot, and constantly shifting the goalposts with delayed gratification.  The trick is making sure that the events are concurrent with each other, and don't contradict what's happened before.

Oftentimes, when I get stuck with writer's block, I take a step back, and try to approach the situation from a humourous angle.  If I can figure out a way to make the situation funny, then I've won half the battle.  One aspect that most writers seem to struggle with is humour, and I've usually managed to make a scene work with humour, than without.  Ironically enough, although I've often expounded on the benefits of quality entertainment, I find myself more motivated by crap media than excellence media.  When I read painfully purple prose, or watch a particularly wretched scenario on TV, I think to myself, "I could do better than that!"  And then proceed to do just that.  Sharing them with the outside world is another chore in itself though...