Monthly Archives: March 2011

Random Quickies: Removing His Speech Bubbles Turns Dagwood Into a Faulknerian Manchild

The last couple of days, everyone’s been atwitter about 3eanuts, the blog that takes out the last panel and supposedly makes Peanuts more depressing. This never made sense to me, since I’m a pretty avid Peanuts reader and I always found it to be a depressing strip, final panel or not.

Instead, I give you Removing His Speech Bubbles Turns Dagwood Into a Faulknerian Manchild, whose premise is … well, I’m sure you get the idea. Like Garfield Minus Garfield, you’ll be surprised how much better a stodgy old strip looks by removing a key element. Dagwood acts like a silent film character (or perhaps like the dialogueless Mario Mario), which makes him far easier to sympathize with. And, dang it, sometimes it’s just plain adorable.

Crabcake Confidential: NHL Guardian Project (The Original Six)

If you’re not a hockey fan, you may not have heard of the NHL Guardian Project. And God bless you for your ignorance. The NHL Guardian Project is a totally insane attempt to create a superhero for every one of the NHL teams, and then write a comic about it. Why? Hell if I know. To create a mascot or something? Advertising to get young people to watch hockey? At least the NBA and the NFL were savvy enough to get rap stars to model team jerseys on rap videos. Team-based superheroes lacks a certain … coolness, despite all the uninformed media pundits who tell you that “Superheroes are cool now!”

Maybe so, but not these heroes. Honestly, if the NHL had run a contest to create a superhero for each franchise, you’d discover that ten year olds would’ve come up with more creative superheroes than any of the NHL Guardians.

Anyway, to make matters more insane, the whole project was helmed by Stan Lee. Sure, he’s a legend, and he’s responsible for creating some of the most iconic superheroes in history. But that was in 1960. Lately, Stan The Man has been the guy who has lent his name to Ravage 2099, Stripperella, the Who Wants To Be a Superhero? reality show, a bunch of terrible motion comics from POW!, and newspaper Spider-Man. So it should be no surprise why most of these guardians look like already well-established superheroes.

Naturally, as a Red Wings fan, I was curious to check out what they did to wreck the reputation of my beloved team. And, just to bulk up this review, I decided to check out what was done with the rest of the Original Six (which includes Toronto, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Montreal). Because the only thing better than harassing rival fans over the superiority of your team is lording it over the rest of the League that their team is not as old as yours.

Shown: Top row - Red Wing, Bruin, Canadien; Bottom row - Blackhawk, Ranger, Maple Leaf. Not shown: a sense of shame.

So we have:

  • Red Wing – clearly an Autobot. Not to be confused with the other Red Wing.
  • Bruin – a giant anthropomorphic bear. Unique, I guess, unless you’re counting Ursa Major of the Winter Guard.
  • Canadien – I know you’re tempted to say “Iron Man,” but to me he looks more like Malibu’s Iron Man clone, Prototype.
  • Blackhawk – A color-swapped Master Chief. Well, at least Stan’s current on his pop culture references.
  • RangerThe Manhattan Guardian. Which… is actually a pretty obscure source. And a little clever, too. OK, Stan… you win this round.
  • Maple Leaf – a tree. And I’m assuming a lowly maple tree, not an oak, which is the first tree you think of when paired with the word “mighty.” Seriously, Toronto fans, a friggin’ tree. You guys got jobbed. He’s probably based on The Thing, but at least The Thing didn’t shoot… ah, I’ll talk about it later.

These comics were written by Chuck Dixon. You may remember from such illustrious titles like Punisher War Journal, Detective Comics, and Birds of Prey. And now he can add the NHL Guardians to his resume. Hey, it’s a living, right? Interestingly, there are separate “Written by” and “Story by” credits. I think that means that Chuck was responsible for the dialogue while another guy was responsible for the plot. The “Story By” guy, then must be taking home the easiest cash in the world, since every story is basically “Guardian meets a villain/Guardian fights villian/Guardian wins, perhaps tossing off a ‘snappy’ one-liner.” This is your NHL Season Ticket money at work, people!

The comics are presented in the sense-shatterin’, mind-blowin’ pdf format. Laugh all you want, but somehow the Guardians folks were savvy enough not to publish the comics in Flash. Not that these comics have any risk of anyone ever pirating them.

Or reading them.

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The Webcomic Overlook #160: Adventures of the Floating Elephant

Tim Hamilton’s Adventures of the Floating Elephant, which was already blessed with a name too curious to pass up, opens up with one hell of a beginning sequence. We see a man with a slash across his face. He’s adrift in a black, turbulent sea. He’s riding in what looks like a damaged cage atop a floating elephant… specifically, a fiberglass statue you tend to find a retro drive-ins or in the Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure movie. It looks vaguely Indian. Its forehead is decorated in what looks like a jeweled headcovering. Special attention is given to the the eye, which will be subject to loving close-ups later in the story.

It’s a fantastic visual. I’m reminded of Farishta and Chamcha plummeting through the sky and holding a conversation as they descend into the ocean after hijackers blew up their plane. There’s a touch of danger, a touch of surrealism, and a touch of whimsy. It’s the sort of scene that makes you want to know more.

But, best of all, it gives me an excuse to shoehorn an awkward Kurt Vonnegut reference like an awkward Liberal Arts major. Why? Well, other than making me sound smart and pretentious, the reason should become apparent later.

I will begin my review like this: “Listen: Jackson Beckerman has come unstuck in time.”

It ends like this: “And that’s the bottom line, because El Santo said so.”

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Joe Is Japanese tackles the earthquake in Japan… rather bizarrely

So what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate when discussing the eathquake, tsunami, and nuclear threat in Japan? The past month has had the public struggling with the answer to that question, with certain political pundits getting chastised over tasteless jokes, Gilbert Gottfried losing his Aflac job, and, most recently, certain nuclear meltdown episodes of The Simpsons getting yanked from the air. Cartoonists are feeling the heat, too, especially since it seems nearly impossible to refer to the earthquake without referencing something from Japanese pop culture.

But… what if those pop culture references came from someone who actually experienced the earthquake? That’s what happens in the webcomic Joe Is Japanese. The production crew at get an email from the man he based the main character off of, a 35-year-old animator named Koga Sato. It’s a really bizarre e-mail, referencing everything from Mike Tyson to Ronald Reagan to a huge somewhat buff Jesus. But it’s also very personal. There’s a harrowing scene where Koga realizes that cities have been permanently wiped off the map and anxieties over what’s to come. On the surface, it’s a little silly to be shoehorning such strange observations into a national tragedy… but when you think about, it’s also a testament to Koga keeping his spirits up while struggling to communicate the magnitude through shared, innocent cultural references.

Which, when you come to think of it, is a lot more deeper and touching than lazily showing Ultraman running from a giant wave.

The comic ends with an appeal to donate to the Search Dog Foundation, which has been hard at work trying to find survivors amongst the rubble.

(h/t Robot 6)

One Punch Reviews #44: So… You’re A Cartoonist?

Have you every run into a bitter person who will talk your ear off about all their problems whether or not you actually want to listen? Will that person rant and rant and rant, and at some point say that they’re speaking their minds, and if no one speak up, then who will? But really, everything they’re complaining about is trivial? And that person is really just goddamn annoying?

Put it in webcomic form, and you get Andrew Dobson’s So … You’re a Cartoonist? This comic, by the way, was introduced me by a message board thread devoted to making fun of Ctrl+Alt+Del, who were bowled over by its horribleness despite being amongst the most jaded webcomic readers on the internet.

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Know Thy History: The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck

A while ago, I did a Know Thy History where I said, “Ally Sloper is the first comic character! Robble robble robble!” It turns out that this may not be the case. While Ally may have claim to being the first comic-based merchandising phenomenon, he’s not the first comic character. A commenter piped up and mentioned Max and Moritz, German characters who have their origins in 1865.

Now to up the ante. I’m talking early 1800’s, son! Rudolphe Töpffer’s The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck (a.k.a. Histoire de M. Vieux Bois) is a Swiss publication which some consider to be the world’s first comic book. A full version can be browsed at the Dartmouth College Library site.

There are those who would even say it’s the first graphic novel. I wouldn’t go that far; I mean, it’s hard enough making the distinction between Oldbuck and, say, the decidedly non-comic Little Golden Books. However, comic historian Don Markstein argues, “… the pictures carried relatively little of the narrative load — a bare bones version of the story can be understood from the short captions alone, tho the pictures did add a great deal to the humor. But it did tell a story in picture format, even if the story was a little on the thin side….”

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More on Chris Onstad and Achewood

Yesterday, Chris Onstad posted how he was feeling burnt out on Achewood, thus a more sporadic update schedule. His blog post on the matter was … a little flowery, to say the least. There were several questions still rattling around a lot of fans’ heads, some hurt feelings, etc. etc. etc.

Fortunately, Aaron Colter of Comic Alliance interviewed Mr. Onstad via email to clear up a few points. Here are a few excerpts:

ComicsAlliance: Are you finished with the comics medium for the time, or just the Achewood characters?

Chris Onstad: After ten years of working in the medium, I don’t think I’ll ever lose my taste for it, but I had to admit to myself and my readers that it wasn’t the only medium for me. That’s difficult, because for nearly a decade we poured everything we had into it. Time to spread the wings a bit, but my hope is to return to publishing Achewood on perhaps a weekly basis.

I am certainly not finished with the Achewood characters, by any stretch. I just need to grow them a bit. I’ve been writing them since a time when I was a very different person, and they need to evolve to reflect that.

CA: You mention in your note that you’re writing prose. Can you give fans any insight as to what it’s about?

CO: I’m branching into food writing, but I won’t say I’ve hit my stride yet. I’m fishing around for a book project.

CA: Do you feel at all under-appreciated by online fans because the series was free?

CO: No. Our online fans supported us by purchasing tons of merchandise through the years, and subscribed to my various pay sites. It was my choice to make the strip a loss leader, and I’m still fine about that. Strips that live entirely behind pay walls — well, I would never look into one.

CA: Was there a reader backlash toward your more experimental strips?

CO: There’s a reader backlash to a comma in what they feel is a place that is “out of voice.” There’s a reader backlash against a dresser being the wrong shade of grey. There’s a reader backlash against the strip taking half a second too long to load. I can’t worry about sh*t like that. There will always be six thousand times as many things written about a strip than was written in the strip itself.

CA: If you could go back and do it all over again, what, if anything, would you have done differently regarding Achewood?

CO: That’s not how I look at life. I think I’ve been lucky to get to do what I do. I am me, I worked my way, and responded honestly to what I saw and what I wanted to present. “Honesty” may not mean much coming from a guy who just took a couple months off with no explanation, but hey, that was honestly all I had to offer.

Read more at the Comics Alliance interview.

The Webcomic Overlook #159: Toonhole

I’ve brought up the subject of John Kricfalusi on this blog before. Needless to say, I’m not much a fan of his style. Now, I appreciate his love and respect for cartooning history, since I too have a similar love the cleverness and creativity in classic newspaper comic strips as shown in my “Know Thy History” entries. While I don’t agree with him, I love how he seems to have a disdain for Pixar, The Simpsons, and anime. It’s a refreshing, unconventional stand, and I like how he backs himself up with the passion of a thousand burning suns.

However, I don’t think he’s as revolutionary of a cartoonist as many think he is. In fact, at the risk of drawing hatemail from hardcore John K fans, I think he’s a bit overrated. Much has been said of how he brought the veiny “ugly” style of cartooning and gross-out gags into the mainstream. It’s revolutionary! Maybe. But to me, the intentionally off-putting art style was just that… off-putting. Some people will see Powder Toast Man thrust his hairy nipples in Ren’s eyes and find it the pinnacle of humor. I am not one of those people, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

In fact, I think Craig McCracken and Bruce Timm have had more influence. Powerpuff Girls made it safe for simple, retro-style cartoons that dominated Cartoon Network for over a decade. Meanwhile, Batman: The Animated Series signaled a significant improvement for action toons: the static, kitchy 80’s styles from Dic and Sunbow turned into a fluid, flexible style that emphasized action and movement. Heck, I’d go so far to say that Mike Judge did more for the “ugly” style of cartooning than John K. What did Ren & Stimpy influence? Spongebob Squarepants … and that’s about it.

(You could probably argue that John K. is a major influence for KC Green, and for that I’m thankful. However, I’d still read way more KC Green than watch one episode of Ren & Stimpy. It’s like KC Green was better at being John K. than John K. was.)

It’s probably fair to say, though, that Aaron J. Paetz, Chris Allison, Ryan Kramer, and Mike Nassar don’t feel the same way. They’re the cartoonists behind Toonhole, which oozes the Spumco style from every pore.

Now, I should warn you, the links on this site are definitely not going to be of the safe-for-work variety. I don’t feel like tagging every link with an NSFW, so I just warn you now: proceed at your own risk. Don’t click on any link lest your boss look over your shoulder to see… well, we’ll go into detail later.

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