Saturday, April 28, 2018

Libraire Astro Joins the Stars

I received word earlier this month that the comic store I've been frequenting for two decades now is going to close around the end of June.  Libraire Astro, or Astro Books, or AstroLib was one of several comic stores that was just several blocks away from my High School, the other being Nebula, which closed close to two decades ago, which was when Manga was starting to gain steam in popularity, and I was developing interest in such things.  Back then, there were five - count 'em, FIVE comic stores all in close proximity to each other.  Not on the same block, but on the same street.  That number's dwindled even further now.  They were also one of the few second-hand bookstores still around, when such establishments are becoming increasingly rare to find.  That musky open-book smell is a welcoming experience, and I'll be sad to see it go.

They weren't the ONLY Comic store that dealt in second-hand books, but they were the most visible.  The other choice being Infinity Comix, located in the Pointe-Claire shopping Center.  When that side business dried up, Infinity Comix relocated to the nearby pharmacy, where it continued to be lucrative, but eventually was driven to an increasingly smaller section that is now a pale imitation of what it once used to be.  They also gave away copies of the current month’s Previews Catalogue, which was close to 500 pages of upcoming comics, and a snapshot of what the current Comic Culture was like at the time.  There’s a vast gulf of difference between then and now.  For starters, the Manga entries can be counted on the palm of your hand.  There’s barely any titles that would appeal to a wider audience.  Lots of near-pornographic images for attention getting, which certainly got mine, but not enough to actually make orders for what’d amount to five-minute flipthroughs.  And more pages devoted to merchandise than comics.  Okay, so Previews hasn't changed that much.

While disappointing, I hoped that AstroLib would be able to put off the inevitable.  The owners had been running the store for years, and even the influx of younger staff helping out wasn't enough to deter the impending demise.  An article about charitable donation showed just how much trouble the owners were in:
Betty walks with two canes, but still comes in daily. Paul got past a bout of flesh-eating disease several years ago, then suffered a stroke about (five) years back that left him partially paralyzed. He still comes in for a few hours a day, and works from home.
“If this store closes, he would turn into a vegetable,” Betty says. “So will I. I’m not looking for that.” 
The death knell came from... well, the blurb on their front webpage says it all:
It seems our *pfui* old landlord sold the building in October of 2017, and didn't even have the courtesy to let us know. We made contact with the new owners in January, but were unable to come to any mutually acceptable terms, so we have to be out (which means the place has to be empty) by July 1st., which is exactly 31 years since the day we started setting up here.
Whoops- looks like the new landlord jumped the gun a bit and put up a really nifty "For Rent" sign on the Ides of March. I had planned to make the announcement at the end of the month, with the new (and final) Astronotes.
That's right - the new landlord raised their rent rates without telling them.  How much?  Well, the new owner went by market value, which means that it went from a reasonable $3,500 a month to $9,000.  When no one was looking, the landlord raised to $9,000 a month.  That's more than twice as much.  And that's terrible.  Even with Kickstarter charity donations, that's still too rich for their wallets.

For those not in the know, Astronotes are those blurbs they give to Previews Comics.  A sort of mini-Progressive Ruin's End of Civilization.  The earliest entries go as far back as #206 up to #272.  I've been going through their online backlog looking up quality commentary worth saving, which I'll share further down.
It's been a lot of fun (and a lot of work), but frankly neither Mary, Betty, Mark, nor I, at ages 67, 72, 74 and 68 are in the kind of shape needed to start over with a new location.
AND DON'T WORRY about your list: We've got it covered until (and including) whatever ships June 20.
I was assured that the excess money I put as a down payment for future comics would be refunded after the last of my orders came through.

Interestingly enough, there was constant confusion between the two elderly female members of staff, Mary and Betty.  People would constantly confuse the nice woman with the cranky woman all the time, even though they didn’t look much alike.  I suppose when you don’t deal with women much, facial blindness ensues.  Despite her jowly looks, Betty Stock (apt name) Handleman is the friendly one.

I don't have an available photo of Mary, but she looked far more cheerful with fritzy hair, yet was the cranky one.

So you have plenty of time to move your list to another store. I'd particularly recommend Marc Parenteau's "Comic Hunter" up at 9675 Papineau.
One of the few stores to predate us, Komico, is still on Decarie near Queen Mary, and Cosmix continues on Decarie in Ville St.Laurent. I'm sure any of these guys will be more than happy to take care of you. Oh, and lest I forget, I'm told (by Mary and a few customers) that Charlie, the new owner of Capitaine Quebec (just across the street from us) is a nice guy, and you shouldn't have any problem finding that place!
BUT PLEASE- WHEREVER YOU'RE GOING TELL THEM TO START PULLING FOR YOU JUNE 27 AND NOT BEFORE! We need every last nickel we can get from you folks, so play nice, okay?
They recommended these stores, but I decided to go with Crossover Comics, since it’s closer to public transit, and the interiors don’t make me feel claustrophobic, and I can talk to the staff with ease.  Not to mention the reservoir of available comics is closer to my demographic compared to the other stores which are more closely designed to appeal to the typical Old-School Comic buyer audience, which isn’t my taste.  Another plus is that they have a preview of what’s coming out this week, which the other stores don’t have.  Granted, it’s not divided between pamphlets and Trades, but there are covers shown, so I gain something and lose something.

Their ordering system is slightly different, which confused me at first.  Normally at Astrolib, I made a down payment of cash up front for multiple books in advance.  Helpfully, at reasonable American prices, not the higher Canadian prices, made fluid by what the exchange rate at the time was.  At Crossover, I pay a $5 fee for each individual book I want that I'll get back to pay for the book in full at a 20% discount when it comes in.  It'll take me some getting used to.
Or maybe if someone wants to buy us out, we'd be more than happy to talk, and you won't have to decide on a new place> We'll try to engineer it so you can just continue here. For obvious reasons, if buying Astro appeals to you, it's best to get it done ASAP, because the sooner it's done the better your chances of customer retention.
You know, I've always disliked those "Being called home to Jesus" sales that are so rife in this business (Buy our books or we'll die). Well, we've been called home,so we're gonna have a sale. Call it a "Turn off the lights sale!" 
Talking of sales, Astrolib would go through the extensive amount of comics in an interesting way.  Every September, it would undergo it’s annual 9-9-9 Dump the Clunk massive clearance sale, where the mass backlog of comics in their longbox display would be available at incremental discounts.  10% off on the 1st day of September, 20% on the second and so on up to the ninth, where everything would be 90% off.  I never participated in these deals, but imagine it must’ve been extremely tempting for casual customers to decide whether to make an impulse purchase for an issue or hold off until later on the off chance it’d still be available then.

Then, after numerous articles were made about the store's imminent demise, this disclaimer showed up on the webpage later:
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE RENT We've gotten a substantial amount of press since we announced the store's closing, Unfortunately, they've all focused on a rent increase s the reason. While we couldn't handle a jump to the new landlord's asking of $9500 a month, we had made the decision to shut down well before that number came up. In fact the number came as a result of a prospective store buyer making the call to the rental agent. It's probably true, but it makes no difference to us. We're finished any way you look at it. The actual reason is that neither Mark, Betty, Mary nor I are physically capable of putting in the kind of effort needed to get the place flying again. To everything there is a season, and this happens to be the winter of our working lives.
One thing that I feel particularly guilty of is that the store still has volumes 2-3 of Oyayubihime Infinity, after I ordered the series when CMX was going out of the Manga business, and I was collecting whatever worthy Mangas in their stock was still available.  There was some conflicting information between Mary and Betty, which resulted in double orders, and no other customers bothered to pick those volumes up.  That always bothered me.  For the record, apart from From Eroica With Love, I haven’t really reread any of the CMX Mangas - that’s probably another failing of the company line.

Also, Astrolib was remarkably progressive.  In addition to stocking Manga, it had a wheelchair ramp allowing for easy access.  How many Comic shops are Handicap Accessible?  Go ahead,  I’ll wait.  The closest would be Carsley's Comic in a building via elevator.  But the restrictive open hours and narrow entrance doorframe would work against that.

Amazingly enough, as progressive as they were in supporting other forms of comics including
Manga when it was only available in pamphlet form, they never updated their computer system, stubbornly using the same DOS program for YEARS.  To get an idea of how ancient their system was, the computer monitor displaying the latest arrivals was in Black and White.  It was THAT old.

If you look closely at Paul's monitor, you can see it's a blue spreadsheet with a typewriter keyboard, similar to the familiar model I'm used to.  Once the store closes for good, I hope they find something to do and keep themselves far away from lethargy and boredom.

As promised, I picked out some of the most noteable Astronotes entries.  Keep in mind that this is only a small sample, from 206-210 and a quick look at 272.  I had to stop because it was extremely time-consuming.  More behind the cut.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Getting a Leg Up

It just occurred to me that I neglected to show the latest Sally Forth Easters that I found since last year.  This can be chalked up to forgetting due to the holiday suddenly showing up earlier than usual and being preoccupied with other things.  Annoying Real Life things.

First up is the widescreen version of the 1991 comic with the sideways throwaway panels.

Then I was able to fill in the hole in my collection with some more dubious example of Motherly Traditions and Family Values.

Sadly, despite all my best attempts at trying to find the missing year, 1993 remains elusive.  But at least I know which dates it Doesn't show up on: March 21st or March 28th.  April 4th is my best guess.
Just putting up Earcapitated Chocolate Easter Bunny comics would be rather sparse, so here's a little something extra to pad out the resume.  Devoted readers may remember this particular Easter where Ted was wearing a cast for the sake of continuity.  Well, now you get to see how this event played out.

Interestingly enough, when I first tried to find this arc in one Newspaper, it reran a plotline from 1985 instead.  Strangely, the very next week, it presented the broken leg arc without any setup or reason.  Just a quick recap instead.

Newspapers accidentally or purposely messing up their comic arcs is one of my major Pet Peeves I've talked about before.  To those of you curious, here's the storyline that ran beforehand.  The confusion must've been Paramount.

Broaching the subject of bruised sports ego must've been a major dealbreaker for the paper to censure themselves over.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Untapped Image Potential

Some long-running Image comics concluded recently, and while they reached admirable milestones, there's a general sense of dissatisfaction that rests uneasily with me.  Chew had loads of wacky plots and subplots up the wazoo, with copious amounts of amusing background text for those paying close attention.  But there was a frequent tonal dissonance with the format that made it increasingly difficult for me to care.

So many side characters were introduced with the implication that they'd be revisited later on, and then they never were.  They were mainly one-off self-contained playing parts that never really meshed as a whole.  One character, Peter Pilaf, who made sporadic appearances with a vaguely applied description of his Food Powers that was somewhat redundantly shown at the very last issue, when all other future conflicts were already resolved.

But that's not what I'm disappointed by.  The premise of Chew - a man who receives images of memories associated with things he eats - was laden with a very uneven tone.  That could be applied to its episodic format, which was supposed to be a sales pitch for a TV series that was never picked up, because, any attempt to adapt its formula would be a pale imitation of the source material.

In the very last issue, which the author claimed was where the whole series was leading up to, having deliberately sprinkled copious amounts of clues throughout that would only make sense upon rereading, which wasn't made much easier thanks to Mason's (a Rogue Agent) constant long-winded rambling that would be incomprehensible and annoying for those not in the know.  Which would be often.  (Does the man ever like to hear himself talk)  So much had been made of this anti-Chicken conspiracy that any details behind the truth behind the big reveal would wind up being underwhelming.  As such, the ending wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and was somewhat of a letdown.  I won't spoil the exact specifics of what happened, but to explain in context, an earlier scene in the same issue made this statement about Tony:

So, as a final act of defiance, what does Tony Chu do?  He leaps in the air towards his intended target, which I've helpfully censored out to avoid any potential spoilers for those who haven't seen the resulting scene themselves.  Needless to say, the ensuing events the man went through was just to engage a macho "Take That!" against those he felt personally wronged by.  While it may have been the ending the writer intended, it felt too Comic-Booky for my taste.  And by that, I don't mean engaging in wackyness for wackyness sake - the highlight was a Cyborg Chicken (Rooster, actually) - I mean that retribution was all that mattered in the end.

Moving on to Invincible, which ended earlier this year.  I won't go into the specifics of what happened, other than that the writer, Robert Kirkman seemed to be running out of steam and imagination, having devoted his energies to his other series, The Walking Dead, the comic I know of, and the TV series I haven't bothered with.  If there's a particular trait of Kirkman's writing that's particularly annoying, it's his tendency to have his characters expositionalize about themselves rather than have actual conversations.  For someone who prided in going into rather dark corners in his Superhero Universe, there were some paths I was surprised he didn't venture into.

First off, there was Dr. Sinclair who had a perchance of dabbling with dead bodies, making them walking soldiers, and applying the same morally dubious necromantic skills on the Evil Alternate Universe versions of the titular hero.  (A tactic that said hero, later grudgingly agrees with)

It should also be pointed out that the Aliens, the Viltrumites, were largely wiped out by a virulent virus that wiped out 99.99% of their population.  The number of their bodies were so massive that they orbited the planet they were on.

But then, the planet got blown up, and all the corpses got dissipated, so, no more dead bodies to abuse.  Yay?  Though if Mark had the foresight to make use of those bodies back on Earth, that could've been too much of a power imbalance later on.

But that advantage could've come in handy if Kirkman had gone the other route I thought for sure he was going to take.  Early on, Mark's Father was briefly exiled on a planet of Mantis people, whose lifespan was abnormally rapid, and his offspring grew up at an astronomical rate.

A tactic that Grand Regent Thragg later used to build his own growing army.  On his way to Earth.

Now, on Earth, the heroes had been fighting these beings called Flaxans, who existed on another dimensional frame, where time passed in Narina time.  One year there would be equivalent to a few minutes on our side.

I thought that when Thragg made his way to Earth, he would've abused the Flaxan world to exponentially expand his army on a Bell curve of Moore's Law that would become increasingly impossible to counter.  By the time the first wave got through, there'd be a second wave that'd be an already advanced version of the army they'd just fought, with technology and intellect advancing at an unparalleled rate that even Robot would struggle with.

The only way I could see this battle turning the tide would be if the Flaxan side was already infected with the Viltrumite Virus that would prove fatal to anyone who was half-Viltrumite.  Unless Robot already set up that failsafe, even if it meant never returning back there.  If not, then injecting the virus there would be potentially suicidal, since anyone in the Flaxan world who escaped to Earth would wind up infecting Earth as well.  It'd be a suicide mission.

Probably why Kirkman didn't go that route, since it'd be rather depressing.  But I would've liked to see him make the attempt, rather than the (to me) half-hearted result that actually happened.  When your hyped expectations are in the stratosphere, the reality can sometimes wind up being underwhelming.

Having read some of Image's other properties, there's a deliberate adherence to the trade format, which I don't belabor them on - it's what the Comic Industry should be focusing on.  But their Companywide mandate seems to be limiting their writer's ambition to five-six issue monthly formats that centers around arcs designed to fit a certain format.  When you start to notice certain little verbal and visual tics across, it becomes more noticeable.  I couldn't specifically point out what in particular that trait is, just that it's easier to notice when you read multiple trades at once.

Fitting Endings

There were several comic sites that once popular, suddenly dried up in terms of production.  For some reason or other, they were largely abandoned, and sporadically updated.  Ironically enough, when I was gathering material for their lack of updates, they spontaneously updated, as if they knew I was going to complain about their inactivity.  Well, joke's on them!  I'm going to talk about them, whether they want me to or not!

First up is an Archie Out of Context that I Almost submitted.

The only difference between this and mine was, I included the first panel, hence my hesitation.  The removal of the setup is a bigger improvement, since it presents an alluring figure in high heels, as all women who get out of the shower are won't to do.

Garfield Minus Garfield was a major contributing force back in the day, but recent edits have largely dried up.  The latest submission in months is not much different from all that's come before, the edits being easily manageable, and the motivation being just as uninspired by the source material.  That reasoning being that some strips that are background sensitive are trickier to deal with.

If at any time that G-G ever decides to hang up the phone on the parody for good, this entry from November 13, 1980 would be a worthy closer.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

DragonBall Universes

It has been a high time for revamping numerous properties that were once popular years ago with new interpretations of the genre.  Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Star Trek, Star Wars, Pixar Sequels, Lara Croft, Indiana Jones, whether anybody asked for them or not, since it's easier to piggyback on known properties than invest energy on a new project that may not succeed.  And it's no less different overseas.  Naruto, Sailor Moon, Legend of Galactic Heroes, have enjoyed a resurgence that never really went away in the first place.

For now, I'm just gonna focus on DragonBall Super.

I haven't seen the Anime, having been badly burnt by the abysmally slow progress and pacing problems that gave countless jokes to the five-minute rule that was much faster on the pages than actually shown.  Just recently, the Manga has advanced to the Tournament arc between multiple Universes between strongest warriors.

But this is hardly new territory.  Before DragonBall Super, there was the Fanmade DragonBall Multiverse, which had Universes where characters had slightly different outcomes from the main DragonBall we’re familiar with.  Some where the main Villains were victorious.  Others, where the main heroes took different outcomes (Krillin becoming the Turtle Master, all the Namekians combining into one).  All of them competing in a continuous Tournament that’s constantly stalled to give insight on the other Universes, which is drawn by a variety of artists on an inconsistent release schedule, so the style and quality varies wildly.  Also, it’s translated from French, so the language can sound stilted and unnatural at times.

While you’d expect a Fan Comic to deal mainly with Muscle-bound guys aplenty, it keeps itself readable with surprising uncharacteristic acts that don’t feel out of place, and utilizing clever strategy involved for dealing with overpowered opponents.  It's certainly more ambitious than the other Fancomics out there that are little more than rehashes of reused and redrawn panels of the high points of DragonBall, just with Evil Gokus.  In terms of creative bankruptcy, DragonBall AF (After) has two scenes dealing with Pilaf's old gang, being reduced to robbing banks after languishing in obscurity.

At least the second hostage negotiation has a more amusing outcome on the next page.

The lack of enjoyment I get - not even a guilty pleasure - from these uninspired Fancomics (and yes, I'm including DBSuper to the list) can be attributed to multiple faults.  Either they’re extended battle sequences that reuses the original fighting panels and thinly veiled versions of Toriyama’s side characters, or they use extensive narration and dialogue without letting the actions speak for themselves.  While there was the occasional cause for narration boxes, they were sparse in the Toriyama Manga.  In either case, they try to capture the spirit of DragonBall, and constantly fail.

A large part of the enjoyment of the original DragonBall was that you could understand the Manga well, even without having to read the text.  The sheer amount of action and panel-by-panel progression flowed so well you could gleam what was happening without much trouble.  That’s something a large majority of the DragonBall Dojins miss.

But the exception for this would have to be Dragon Garow Lee

Even if you’ve never heard of the guy, you’ve probably seen his work, since he’s best known for doing the DragonBall meets One Punch Man crossover parody that faithfully captured the humour and styles of both properties.

In addition, he also did the Alternate Universe where it was Vegeta who was sent to Earth, following the same path as Goku in the regular DragonBall.  This results in Speedrunning the DragonBall storyline, and having very different but similar outcomes due to Vegeta’s overwhelming personality.

Furthermore, the two of them have entirely different motivations for fighting.  Son Vegeta just makes short work of anyone who annoys him, and finds the early DragonBall enemies too easy for him.  And Saiyan Goku has feelings of inadequacy and overcompensation from being constantly burdened with the stigma of being a lower-class ranking citizen.  So when Saiyan Goku showed up with Nappa, it resulted in a long drawn-out fight between the two Alpha Saiyans that, despite going on longer than feels necessary, nevertheless puts both fighters on an even playing field that felt earned.
Using stances right out of Hajime no Ippo.
Sadly, after a promising start and putting AU Vegeta on the same Bad Father category as Goku for Fatherly neglect, the Space Adventure with AU Freeza was abandoned and will most likely remain unfinished.

There is also an as-yet untranslated 1200-page DragonBall / DragonQuest crossover.  So it’s somewhat surprising that the only work of his that’s been officially licensed is his 3-chapter DragonBall Isekai, where a high school student suddenly finds himself reborn as Yamcha, the weakest fighting human at the very beginning of DragonBall.  But having known what’s going to happen next, strives to train himself using every powerup trick and cheat (as well as actual training) to be able to face against the Saiyans and avoid an untimely death.

Which goes to show that stealing - borrowing characters for creative license use isn't always a bad thing.  But that's just the skeleton for building new interpretations for these characters in new and creative ways.  If you're going to flaunt copyrights, you might as well go all the way.