Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pmurt, The Anti-Trump

Chapter 34: Prescription
by Moore Urasawa

(Setting: the interior of a hospital wing.  A balding detective in a trench coat knocks on the door of an office)

Detective Flinch: Dr. Tenma?
(The door opens, revealing a world-weary brunette in a laboratory coat)
Doctor Tenma: Mister Flinch?  You made an appointment, right?
Flinch: Yes.  I was hoping we could speak confidentially.
Tenma: My office is always open.  (Leads Flinch inside, closes door)
Flinch: Lately, we've had rumours that the vigilante known as Code Name "P" is planning to take advantage of the ensuing confusion regarding the upcoming election.
Tenma: (Looks a little lost)  Unless it has to do with something medical, I'm not quite sure how I can help.
Flinch: There is.  You have access to a certain illegal drug in your possession.  A controlled substance, under article C2oh25-N3O, I believe.
Tenma: (Blank look)  What are you talking about??
Flinch: There's no use hiding it.  We've known about your operation for quite some time.
Tenma: (Looks warily at the door, seeking an escape route)
Flinch: Don't worry.  I'm not seeking a conviction.  I'm semi-retired, so officially, I'm not here.  I'm far more interested in a controlled substance that I used to partake.
Tenma: You??  I find that hard to believe.
Flinch: (Inhales, exhales deeply into his hands) It's not exactly something I'm proud of.  You see, I used to be a much more high-profile detective, helping solve some of the most baffling cases.
Tenma: Baffling cases?... You don't mean to say that... you were L?

Flinch: No, I wasn't THAT good.  (Chuckles)  No, but I took some mental-boosting pills that increased my productivity.  Unfortunately, they had the side effect of cutting off my relationships.  I became too grossly invested in my work.  My wife left me, my colleagues could no longer tolerate my presence.  My arrogance began to overwhelm getting further cases assigned my direction.  Eventually, I weaned off the pills, but my reputation was never the same afterwards.
Tenma: (Confused) So, why come to me then?  Why take these pills at all?
Flinch: In order to get into "P"'s mentality, I need to indulge deeply into the deepest darkest recesses of my mind.  And my ability lately has been sorely lacking.  I've always been three steps short of him, never quite catching up.  I don't like resorting to this, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Tenma: (Picks pills from behind secret compartment)  This 'P' threat, it's pretty big, huh?  (Hands pills over)
Flinch: You have no idea.  (Contemplates pills in his hand)
Tenma:  You know, it's not too late.  You can still back out if you want to.
Flinch:  (Shakes head) I know I'm reaching.  Frankly speaking, I'm scared about what getting into his state of mind entails.  (Swallows pills)  But I'm more scared about what 'P' might do more.
Tenma: (Points towards door, hand on doorknob) Should I leave, or...?
Flinch: Stay.  I need somebody to keep watch over me.  I have no idea how I'll react, having been off for so long.  My relapse should -
(The detective stops short, his eyes bulging out.  He puts his hands on his head and starts convulsing, his whole body shaking wildly, alarming the doctor.  After several seconds of erratic movement, the seizures stop)
Tenma: (Tentatively moves within the drug-induced detective's line of sight)  ...Inspector Lynch?

(Detective Lynch removes his hands from his head in a relaxed manner, revealing the face of a smiling confident man with a cool lean predator-hungry look with razor-sharp eagle eyes constantly seeking justice)
Detective Lynch: "I am 'P'."

(The screen becomes warped and corrupted)
*Static plays*
(The Horizontal and Vertical warble)

(The face of a man wearing a smiling Pikachu mask appears on the screen)

P: Hello.  Sorry to interrupt during a pivotal moment, but I felt it was time I had a few choice words to say.
This speech is not aimed at the general populace, but at the higher rankings of so-called men in charge.

At this current rate, your party is collapsing faster than I could possibly hope to implement.

Really, you have only yourselves to blame.

You've openly supported a man who for all intents and purposes, was a reprehensible human being.  All the proof was there for everyone with a lick of common sense to see.

The only reason you started backing him up was because he gained the popular vote with the same poisonous methodology you've used over the years to appeal to your voting base.  The problem with using such a technique for so long - somebody was bound to corrupt and override the formula down to its most basic elements for maximum impact.

And what has he done since?

Furthermore, his default first response to any perceived threat is to go straight to the nukes.  And ALSO thinks that more countries should have nuclear weapons.

ANY other politician would long have apologized for their misgivings, hoped he'd be forgiven for their slights and move on.  Not him.  When met with anything resembling resistance - not even defiance - he digs in his heels and further digging in his roots for the hills he's willing to die on.  For all your hopes that he'd change his tune once sworn in as candidate, he decided to stick to the formula he knows best, since it worked this far.
This is a man who openly admits to refuse to change.

All these warning signals should have scared you off.  It didn't.  Experience should've shown you that unscrupulous businessmen make lousy politicians.  Your last Presidential Candidate should have shown you that.  It didn't.  Maybe now, you'd learn your lesson, but experience has taught me not to rely on wishful thinking.

Your ceiling of quality, once so high and lofty has fallen so low that it now more closely resembles a cellar floor.  And yet, you continue to follow behind him, while openly resisting any serious backing.  Which is it? You can't have it both ways forever.  Sooner or later, you're going to have to make a decision.

The ONE politician who made no move to endorse him, and appealed others to "vote their conscience" was booed off the stage for displaying disloyalty within the party.  Strange that voting our conscience is considered reprehensible.  At what point does despicable actions become acceptable behavior?

This is what comes out of letting your greed dictate your political terms.  We're at the point where a corporation is considered to be a person, but people are considered property.  You've made emotional arguments that have nothing to do with policy, and scared your voters beyond reasonable margins using anti-intellectual stances.  Annoying know-it-alls were just getting in the way with their factoids.  Well, here's one for you:

I have heard grumblings of the overwhelming dissatisfaction of the incompetence of the authorities in being unable to apprehend me, on the basis that "I'm only ONE man!"  Well, let me turn that back on you.  You only had to stop ONE man from rising as high into power as he did.  What's YOUR excuse?

And now, back to our regular feature, currently in progress.

(Brief flicker of snowy static)

(Interior of the Doctor's office is a shambles)

Flinch: (Looks around, confused.  Is surprised to find himself naked)  What happened?  I didn't hurt you, did I?
Tenma: (Shaking) No, you just did some bizarre pantomime actions, roleplaying multiple theoretical scenarios using my office supplies, before stopping and writing something down before collapsing.
Flinch: What'd I write?
Tenma: (Tentatively hands piece of paper over)
Flinch: (Reads page)

Page: It's already too late.  "P" doesn't need to do anything at this point.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Hazards of Driving

I've never been one to fully embrace the trial of enduring a driving lesson, even though having a driver's license would make things easier to sign up for, as an added proof of who I say I really am.  (Because there are all kinds of frauds out there who'd like to impersonate me, without any of the emotional baggage I entail)

To me, a car is less the feeling of rebelliousness freedom, and more a golden albatross you're anchored to.  There's the cost of having to fill up the gas tank on a regular basis, keeping the tires inflated, the windshield wipers fluid working.  And on top of all that, there's the ever-persistent threat of your car suddenly experiencing system existence failure right in the middle of traffic.

Ah yes, traffic.  Home of the highway, constant stop signs and the source of road rage, where the slightest distraction is the only thing from reducing your high-tech vehicle into a twisted steel death trap.  If your body hasn't been fully damaged beyond repair in your metal coffin, you'll be lucky(?) enough to only scrape by with some amputated limbs, brain damage, and ruptured internal organs.  Not to mention the act of having to pay attention to every single functioning aspect of the car, memorizing what each gear does, and keeping a watchful eye on daredevil jaywalkers.  There's simply too many things for me to keep track of.

That's why I prefer to go the route of public transportation.  Let THEM deal with the worries, while I doze away to the comfortable vibrations in the back.  Not that riding the bus is that great a deal.  The latest designs are nowhere as comfortable as the old models (50 seats reduced to 30), seats with no place to rest your head, too many windows that allow sunlight to glare through, and a limited number of comfortable spots that are quickly filled up.  Not to mention the threat of missing your stop through inattention or not ringing the bell properly enough.  And the pressure to keep a vigilant eye on making sure your bus doesn't pass you by when you're not paying attention.  And the fares keep rising all the time, with no end in sight.

I'd also opt for being picked up by someone who knows how to drive, but waiting around for them to come is just as nervewracking as waiting for the bus, since people don't operate by a timesheet system.  But that's them breaks I guess.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Olympics Funnies

Of all the holiday-centric themes, the Olympics rank among the scarcest in terms of coverage.

Since Olympics only happen every four years, it's less of an annual marker, so it doesn't normally weigh in on Cartoonists' minds, unless they make a conscious effort to tie in their characters to coincide with the event.  Not to mention the Winter Olympics, which happen in between the Summer Olympics, giving people from colder climates (Canadians & Russians) equal footing.

Since ancient times, people worldwide would compete in various events to see which one of them would be the best shining example of being the best in their fields.

If there were any national events that happened to take place before the Greek tradition was revived in the late 18th Century, no records of them exist.

In Hagar's case, his Olympic event apparently consists of a triathon involving carrying two barrels of beer on a hurdle course, toasting a hundred times in a row, pillaging a castle, swinging across a moat (Moat Monster optional) and breaking through a wooden finish sign, because why make it easy at the end?

To ensure that everyone gets their fair share, the Olympics have branched out into various fields, from the handicapped, to the Deaf.  If any others are included in the future, they'll be so that no one (country) is truly left out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

License Request - The Comic History of BD

When it comes to going through in-depth history about comics, such books tend to be filled with long lengthy essay-length journals full of investigative analysis of comic's evolution throughout the ages.  Unless you've had some familiarity with the subject material and massive plot spoiler summaries already laid out for you, or you've lived throughout the times when these comics were being printed, you're very likely to be glazing your eyes over the text, preferring to skip over to the pictures, of which there are massively few to appreciate.  Not to mention that when pictures are available, the whole story isn't included, which removes much of the context in question.  And for the most part, comic histories tend to overwhelmingly focus on Superhero comics rather than other works that would be more receptive to a general audience whose tastes run in a different direction.

With very rare exceptions, such as Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey's The Comic Book History of Comics, going through information about an extremely visual art form can be an outright slog.  Now, we've got another worthy contender to add to the surprisingly small pond: Nervé Bourhis' le petit livre de la Bande Dessinée.  Or, as I affectionately (and appropriately) reChristian it, The Comic History of BD.

While there's some perfunctory attention to cave drawings and Rodolphe Töpffer, the vast majority of the book covers comic's growing trend near the end of the 18th Century all the way up to 2014.  The book highlights many comics and when they first started, along with notable cartoonist's births and deaths.  Furthermore, the sheer range of comics noted throughout each year is massively varied, covering not just BD, but also Newspaper comics, American comics and various Mangas.  It also notices when comics have been adapted to other mediums, such as movies and television shows, when comic magazines make radical decisions, and when cartoonists join up or leave various companies.

Another selling point is that various comic covers are redesigned by multiple (European) cartoonists who put their own unique spin on some of the most famous comics ever printed.  Not unlike the retired Covered comic blog.

No matter what your interest is, whether it's Superhero comics, Newspaper comics, Manga, or European comics, chances are high that there'll be something of interest to attract your eye on a history page.  And by extension, you may also find other intriguing tidbits of information you might not have noticed otherwise.

Of course, this mainly covers the three major exports of comics, North America, France and Japan.  Any references to other countries that didn't immediately gain massive commercial appeal or licenses years later are forgotten or left out.  This book mainly covers the major attention-grabbing comic stories that gripped the nation.

The only minus is that some covers may be somewhat radically different or obscure compared to what North American readers are familiar with.  Unless you were already acquainted with the wild drawings of Gotlib, you wouldn't know that this cover would be a "before", with Issac Newton & Co...

...and the cover below shows what happens "after" .

Also, the European market can sometimes change things more to their liking, which may be considered surprising.  The cover for the first Calvin & Hobbes collection was closer to a BD format with the front cover not being hand-painted by Watterson himself, but a blow-up of a single representative panel instead.

I mentioned before how some Newspaper comic collections in book form would be chopped up to meet a bookstore's shelf space requirments.  In France, Newspaper comics were rearranged in a typical BD format, four strips a page, and a vertical arrangement of normally horizontal Sunday strips.  The more experimentative comics would be rotated sideways.  To further add to the madness, in this format, a typical BD collection would only collect half the material in a regular North American comic 128-page collection.

Sometimes a redrawn comic can be close enough to the source material, while in others, they can be radically different, while still displaying the spirit of the original.

In other instances, figuring out the inside joke to a cover shouldn't be that large a hurdle.  A simple search request or familiarity with the art style should be all the clues you need.

Most likely, this license request is little more than a pipe dream.  Translating the vast amount of text would be an uphill challenge, and some parodic covers might have to be redrawn or rechosen to further reflect American interests.

The irony is, while other books with comic essays will have delightful drawings to cover up the lack of art inside, that's not the case here.  For a book that's chock-filled with nothing but multiple unique cartoonish and realistic drawings, it has possibly, the most banal cover in existence.  It looks more like a Classical Music Record cover than a book.

EDIT - turns out that there's some sound effects, punch explosions and exclamation marks that are just barely visible if you hold the cover up to the light at a certain angle.  And the author/artists have also done collaborative works focusing on the music industry.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Herman's Last Week

Herman remains my favorite single-panel comic, far outstripping other worthy contributors to the form.  From the relaxed macabreism of Charles Adams' New Yorker comics to the scientific absurdness of The Far Side to the overwrought narrative of John McPherson's Close to Home.

Jim Unger said that the appeal of Herman was his ubiquitous loser status, but I'd say it goes further than that.  Otherwise, Ziggy would've been a prime candidate. The world of Herman is filled with people who approach the most ludicrous situations with perfectly banal commentary.  Everybody is a straight man (or woman) and they say the most outrageous statements with a straight face.  (Or a lumpy face, since everybody in Herman has the consistency of mashed potatoes)

And then, in 1992, Jim Unger decided to quit after enjoying a long run of over 20 years.  Apart from a brief hiatus in 1989 from September to December for some well-deserved vacation time, he'd been working on Herman non-stop.  Unlike other Canadian cartoonists who produce long-lasting popular comics (such as Lynn Johnson's For Better or For Worse or Dave Sim's Cerebus), Herman had no overall story structure to worry about, which may have also helped Jim Unger preserve his sanity, not having to overthink multiple story concepts that threatened to run away from him.  Unfortunately, his last book, Herman VIII, only collected up to December 8th, 1991, leaving around seven months of uncollected material.

The last week of his run was typical Herman fare:
Absurd complaints in the courtroom.
Fraudulent usage of funds for trivial purposes.
The kind of illogical logic that only makes sense to them.
This is a complete non-sequitur.  One of Herman's many specialties.
This could almost be considered a farewell retirement comic, if it wasn't the next-to-last strip.
If this looks familiar, it's because it was the cover for The Best of Herman, a book that collected many old Herman comics, but very few of the more current ones.  But that wasn't the end of Herman by a long shot.  There were still three weeks of Sunday material left.  In the meantime, papers started rerunning old material that still remained relevant & funny.
Another notable aspect of Herman comics is how much story is packed within its small frame.  Oftentimes, we're just jumping into a scenario we know nothing about, and only have the clues to the surroundings to deal with.  The very last daily reprint (before its revival in 1997) was this one:
A week earlier, on July 19th, 1992, readers were treated to this little gem:
That normally would've been considered the penultimate Sunday comic, were it not for next week's submission, which turned out to be a reprint of the first comic seen earlier, originally seen in 1986.

Handing over the Reigns

When it comes to legacy strips, there's the ever-present demand to keep a popular strip running, no matter how much the fumes are threatening to overwhelm the cartoonist's family.  When a family member dies, it's usually up to the children to decide if they want to continue their passport to safe & steady income.  Only in rare cases where a cartoonist explicitly outright says they don't want their feature continued after their death (such as Charles Schultz), fearing that their vision alone would be unique and any further attempts at emulating it would be inadequate and fail to match up.

When that happens, there's generally a transitionary period between the old cartoonist and the new one.  The trick is to make the process look as seamless as possible, which can sometimes be considered tricky if there's not enough warning beforehand.  Such as if said cartoonist dies suddenly, like Jeff MacNelly.

This was the last Sunday strip that appeared on August 13th, 2000, and it was... a Mother-in-Law joke.  Hardly a thigh-slapper.  The next Sunday strip was done by the team of his assistants and wife, whose credits can hardly be seen in this (only) sample I could find.

I like to think that the comics that appeared before and after a creative team switches out has some kind of hidden commentary behind it.  Or maybe I'm projecting issues where there's none to be found.

This was the last Shoe daily strip that ran on October 21st 2000, which hardly seems like a fitting end to a man's legacy.

A far better example would've been this strip seen earlier last week:

Because of the scheduling conflict between showing comics, there was a great gap between the last Sunday strip and the last daily strips.  Which meant that for papers that still allowed Shoe to run, instead of replacing it with another comic, many never got to see MacNelly's remaining comics.  Which is probably just as well, considering the episodic nature of the strips and lack of continuing storylines (Boot Camps and political commentary notwithstanding) the vast majority of Shoe is middling fare.

Another common unspoken complaint is when the character design look decidedly off compared to how they looked before.  The artwork for Hi & Lois and The Wizard of Id have gotten worse in later years.

Strangely enough, this slightly off-model look for Hagar appeared later in Chris Browne's run, after he'd spent considerable time following up in his father's footsteps.  In March 24, 1990, Dik Browne penned his last Daily and Sunday co-concurrently within a day of each other.
I like to think these strips were subtle commentary on how Dik Browne could no longer keep up his regular pace of work.

And then Chris Browne showed his strip, which while indistinguishable from the original, seems to have some pointed commentary, while also sounding fairly typical of a regular Hagar comic:

Strangely enough, while you can clearly see Chis' signature in the last panel, credit is still given to his father in the title panel.  I suppose there must be some power in name recognition, even after retirement.
Of course, the samples I've chosen seem more logical, compared to the alternative.
The Browne signature is barely legible on March 31st, and only next week Monday, is Chris' name added.  For a new comic, it's not that remarkable.

If an artist is skilled enough, the change can sometimes be so microscopic that it can't be told apart despite rigorous observation.  And that's even after being told there are minute differences.  But sometimes, there are small but subtle ways to tell them apart.  The art style may remain the same, but the mentality behind the art is very different.

For a rather tame comic about barbed (but never overbearing) remarks aimed at the other spouse, The Better Half had some surprising saucier elements  during it's Vinson run.  Stanley could be quite smitten with the ladies who weren't his wife.
Then Harris took over, and there was a slight but subtle change in Stanley's demanour.  He was still a fat foolish husband, but no longer conspired to cajole among the ladies.  Furthermore, any jokes regarding his boss and Mother-in-Law dried up and disappeared.
Of course, that's only my interpretation from the Sunday comics, but I don't have the time or temperance to go through the daily strips myself.  These character designs wouldn't remain attached to this for long, and become more cartoonier in later iterations.  The Better Half has gone through many permutations throughout the years as its shifted artists, finally ending up retired by Randy Glasbergen in the end.
Of course, that's just a minor change gone unnoticed throughout the years.  When another artist takes over where one left off, and their styles aren't consistent, the results can be jarring.  The last week of Brian Basset's Adam (later renamed Adam@Home) from February 16-22, 2009 was a series of lazy widescreen comics that could've been done in his sleep.  (And probably was)
 The very next strip that showed up next week was radically different:
Rob Harrell had none of Brian Basset's scratchy artwork, and opted instead for checkmark
that was just a poorly rendered rendition of Adam's mouth being portrayed at the time.
Adam's last Sunday strip on March 15th was his last chance to go all out in self-aware commentary over what he'd been doing.  Rob Harrell's artwork and dialogue seem less inspired in comparison.
Sometimes in an attempt to keep ahead of the deadlines, cartoonists employ little tricks by employing time-saving techniques, such as reusing art rather than redrawing the same art over and over (like Blondie's bizarre Synchronized Breakdancing)  In Blondie's case, they did so by reducing the number of Sunday Strip panels from 12 to 9, counting the new title banner.  The last regular feature of this format was on October 26, 1986.

The very next week had Dagwood being dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.

This time-saving device wasn't applied to the dailies until 1996, years later.

The comic above could've been modified to remove the 3rd panel completely, but would be missing the build-up leading to the punchline.  As with the laws of Alchemy, you gain something the same time you lose something.  Whether that loss is worth sacrificing for is constantly up for debate.