Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Doodle Penance Triple: "superheroines in jumpsuits," "tintin's ontological meaning," and "christian larp"

I might have shot myself in the foot with the challenge of this week's "Doodle Penance." You see, people found the site by way of some very interesting search terms this week, and we couldn't really make a good choice between "Superheroines in jumpsuits," "Tintin's ontological meaning," and "Christian LARP."

I mean, how could you decide between those terms?

My proposed compromise was to draw all three at once. Alas, you'll have to click this image to read the dialogue.

I don't think I've handled it very well, but I don't have time today to improve on that.


...Well, I didn't have time to improve on that on Sunday, either, which is why I'm finishing this post on Tuesday! Plus, I had an idea that I thought would look neat and didn't want to rush it, exactly, though you tell me if this cuts the mustard. I just went for two of the options, "superheroines in jumpsuits" and "Tintin's ontological meaning." Here's what I got:

Perhaps a word or two of explanation is in order. Since Tintin's ontology is basically visual—he's a cartoon—I wanted to represent Tintin as a kind of exemplary case of a cartoon made up of the primary visual elements of contrast and tone. For contrast, Tintin would be sketched out of marks on a spectrum of hues from black to white, with grey at the center. For tone, rendered in terms of the primary colors of light (and of a computer monitor, where this image will be displayed), that means Tintin would be made up of red, green, and blue, and combinations thereof.

Therefore I have set an image of Tintin's diagram-like face at the hub of a series of spokes radiating out to discs whereon stand superheroines who represent these colors in their costumes (or, in the case of She-Hulk, in their pigmentation). I went with three Marvel and three DC superheroines (or, well, female athletes dressed in jumpsuits that loosely resemble the superheroines' costumes—I'm not convinced these women are those superheroines themselves). I wanted to stick with mainstream, familiar superheroines for the most part, but somehow I still ended up using the Kimiya Hoshi version of Doctor Light (because I needed a superheroine in a mostly black costume, and I'd already been reduced to using Storm's white costume). Also, if I'm honest with myself I would admit that I went with RBG instead of red, yellow, and blue as the primaries because I couldn't think of any appropriate yellow-clad superheroines. (Isaac has since suggested a couple, but they were even less familiar to me than the female Doctor Light.)

Anyway, that's my doodle. I'm not sure what its ontological meaning is, but by gum it features what look like superheroines in jumpsuits, apparently warming up for some sort of weird track meet. Was this drawing worth the delay? Was it worth drawing in the first place? And must penance itself be a reason for penance? Perhaps only a Christian LARPer can answer that last question.

Doodle Penance Warm-Up: Ancient Doodle, Newly Colored

Well, it's entirely my fault that the expected Doodle Penance for Sunday last is going to be a couple of days late, but there have been extenuating circumstances. Moreover, it's ALMOST ready to go--but not quite.

In the meantime, I offer this old doodle from ca. 2000-2001. It's from an abortive project that was one of the first attempts between Isaac and me to produce a collaborative comic; indeed, it may have predated Satisfactory Comics #1 and our independent minicomics, though I can't recall for sure. As should be plain from the image, it was a goofy superhero story. What might need explaining is that the superheroes were all versions of our grad school colleagues, teammates on the League of Graduate Heroes; this guy's superhero identity was Boy Genius:

The thing is, his real-life counterpart was also already known as Boy Genius before Isaac and I got the cartooning bug. Various members of the class ahead of mine had code names like "The Little Colonel" and "Sunshine," and "Boy Genius" was just another one of those. Isaac and I made up a few new nicknames for some of our other colleagues, strictly for comics purposes and never used IRL. And we refrained from casting ourselves as heroes, though somewhere I have a doodle of Isaac summing up the would-be comic's plot, much in the way that Stan and Jack would occasionally have a walk-on appearance in the Fantastic Four (and yet, how different...).

At any rate, this doodle from almost a decade ago seems in keeping with the doodle I ended up doing for the latest Doodle Penance, as will be evident when I finally post it...and, come to think of it, it's not out of keeping with the last post offered in penance for a tardy Doodle Penance.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Academic Decathlon Team We Root For

As far as central-California high-school Academic Decathlon teams go, there's only one that really stokes my team spirit.

Here are the fightin', thinkin' Grizzlies of Granite Hills High, of Porterville, CA, getting psyched for another round of competition at the recent Academic Decathlon competition in Sacramento:

Those are some sharp kids, with a fine sense of team style, wouldn't you say?

And what's that interesting heraldic device adorning the backs of their team colors?

Doesn't that look familiar? Yes, indeed, they're wearing an enlarged version of one of my Darwin cartoons. No kidding.

Their academic coach, Mark Harriger, found the cartoon a few weeks ago with Google. (In fact, "Darwin cartoons" is one of our most popular search terms these days.) Mark emailed me and asked whether he could use the cartoon on their shirts, and I was only too happy to provide him with a high-res (and slightly improved) version, on one condition: that he let me post a few photos of the team back here on the blog. (Thanks, Mark!)

Go Grizzlies! We salute you!

Isn't the internet awesome?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Link or Two to Click

Well, check this out: one of my poems that got published in the latest Hayden's Ferry Review is available online. Enjoy.

Also, my review of an excellent book of poems by one of my favorite living poets, Maurice Manning.

Doodle Penance: "jack kirby machines"

I'm pretty psyched about this week's Doodle Penance, not because I think I've done an especially good job with the doodle, but because this week's search term was absolutely, 100%, or-your-money-back guaranteed from the start to be fun to draw. And I did have a lot of fun with my doodle.

Someone found our site this week after a search for "Jack Kirby machines."

I can't think of a nicer way to spend a Sunday morning.

I figure what this person was looking for was a good set of principles for building his own Kirbytech machinery, so I've created this handout that outlines a few of the most important points. I hope it's helpful.

(Isaac says, "Don't ask! Just click and enlarge it!")

Have a look at how some of these ideas are employed in a couple of panels from Fantastic Four #46.

You can use the principles of Kirby machine design to create something as complex as a two-man Terrigen-mutation-scanning device ...

... or something as simple as a cigarette lighter:

Mike, what have you got?

—All's I've got is a Jack Kirby machine:
There's a lot I'm dissatisfied with where the drawing is concerned. But my greatest mistake was giving it a name! I should merely have referred to is as a Jury-rigged Apparatus for Cartooning Kind-of-Kinetic, Idiosyncratic, Robotic Beings with exposed circuitrY, instead of shortening it to Jack Kirby! But now, as you can see from the vexed expression in the view-screen, it can reason...can compute...can feel...and, as is plainly evident from its uni-wheel, it wants to move...to be free..! Despite all the fear it may engender, I pity this machine-man, this monster!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thesis: Zack Snyder Fetishizes Blood

I waited a little while, but this week my curiosity got the better of me, and I went to see the Watchmen movie. Here's my take on it. It wasn't terrible, but it seemed to miss the point of Moore & Gibbons's comic in a lot of important ways. A lot of the comic's complexity had to be streamlined and flattened out for the film, and although Zack Snyder obviously had time to put a lot of stuff in slow motion—and to extend a number of quick melees into fight-scene set-pieces—many of the subtler parts of the book got sped up so that they didn't have time to register properly. (The revelation and decision on Mars might be the worst example of this.)

There were also things I liked about the movie—Rorschach's death was played remarkably well, for example—but mostly it felt to me overly faithful to the surface properties of the comic while completely missing its soul. I'd compare it to a note-for-note cover of, say, an early Elvis Costello song, played on "updated" instruments and sung by someone who doesn't speak English and is only repeating the sounds of the words phonetically. Maybe all the right sounds are there, but everything about the rhythm of meaning is screwed up.

And then there's the question of blood, which is the reason I've gathered you all here tonight. Moore & Gibbons's Watchmen has some brutal violence in it, especially considering the context of mid-'80s superhero comics it was written in. (Many more violent mainstream superhero comics would eventually emerge, but that hadn't happened so much yet.) And when people are hurt badly in the original Watchmen, they do bleed. But watching Zack Snyder's Watchmen, I got convinced that he thinks the human body is a highly pressurized balloon full of blood and bones. It's an alarmingly gory movie, and many of the bloodiest moments are actually places where Snyder and his screenwriters depart from the text they're otherwise following so faithfully.

For example: Big Figure's tubby henchman never gets removed from in front of Rorschach's cell; he's killed quickly so that he won't suffer when the other henchman cuts through the lock with an acetylene torch. No bloody stumps waved at the camera.

When Dan and Laurie are ambushed by the knot-tops in the alleyway, they fight back brutally—the book certainly gives the idea that the way superheroes survive their tussles is by fighting dirty—and there are probably some broken bones. But click this image to enlarge it, and see if you can find a compound fracture:

When Dr. Manhattan is "fighting crime" at Moloch's gambling den ("Dante's"), we don't see human debris splattered onto women's faces or the ceiling. In fact, I'd always assumed this guy was just getting a face full of nitrogen or something like that.

Similarly, when Dr. Manhattan is winning the Vietnam War for Nixon, we don't see him exploding any people. In fact, the trio of enemies in the foreground (uniformed here; in stereotypical conical hats in the movie) seem to flee in fear pretty successfully:

I'm not sure whether these changes are meant to make Dr. Manhattan seem more distanced from human morality (something that's supposed to happen gradually, not all at once, so placing that change in his past is a problem), or whether they're just meant to make him seem more dangerous, or more of a badass. Given some of the other aspects of the movie, I'm inclined to guess that Snyder's driven here by the cheapest and dumbest motives, but I could be wrong.

Similarly, there's more blood when Rorschach fights people. As a boy, Walter Kovacs bites the cheek of a boy who has been teasing him. (That's fruit juice on young Walter's face.) The cheek never splits open to gush blood.

The man who kidnaped Blaire Roche doesn't exactly get off easier in the book, but his demise seems to require a more cold-blooded detachment or dissociation from Rorschach. It's not a crime of passion. (Killing the dogs might have been.)

(In the movie, Rorschach tells the kidnaper that "dogs get put down" before he swings the cleaver. If anything, Chapter VI figures Rorschach, not the kidnaper, as being like a dog: in the panel right after he bites the other boy, two different speech balloons say he's "like a mad dog." And of course the split dog's head has the same fearful symmetry as a Rorschach blot.)

When Rorschach dispatches Big Figure in the prison bathroom, it's pretty clearly a death by drowning. As he walks out of the bathroom, Laurie tells him they shouldn't "dive head-first into things," and he answers:

Somehow, in Snyder's Watchmen, that turns into a seeping puddle of blood, not toilet water. (I hesitate to speculate how Snyder's Rorschach got that much blood out of Danny Woodburn.)

In these instances, I can really only guess that Snyder just thinks blood spatters are kewl, and that a badass super-vigilante would be even more awesome and extreme if he left a trail of bloody carnage.

Remember that flashy kung-fu sequence in the prison riot? Well, in the book, Dan and Laurie incapacitate most of the prisoners who are still alive after the riot by turning on the "screechers" in Dan's Owl-ship. These seem to give the prisoners nausea and headaches. So here's the kung-fu fight sequence from the original prison break:

That's some adrenaline-pumping action, isn't it? (Again, I think Snyder is mainly at pains to make his superheroes seem like badasses, instead of like out-of-shape middle-aged people with sharp minds, a bit of preparation, and some martial arts training.)

Oddly, there are a few scenes of blood in Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen that get played less brutally in Snyder's movie version.

One of them is the moment when Adrian Veidt is attacked by a gunman in his corporate offices. In the movie, Snyder's camera lingers over the bullet piercing Veidt's secretary's calf (in the book, she takes the bullet in the chest, and bleeds a lot). This is one of the few moments when his Matrix-style slow motion is justified by the tempo of the scene in the book. But look at how harshly the original Veidt handles his assailant, compared to the movie's quick, balletic strike:

My guess is that Snyder's Veidt doesn't hit as hard because he's never as athletic as the original Veidt. Snyder seems to want Veidt to be merely an effete ultra-rich celebrity, not a match for all comers in hand-to-hand fighting.

In fact, one of the other places where blood disappears in Snyder's adaptation is in Veidt's super-fast dispatching of Nite Owl in their "final battle."

That hurts. And in fact, that's the last moment when Dan tries any sort of attack against Veidt. (Rorschach keeps coming, and Veidt almost absent-mindedly neutralizes him several more times while Dan stands around, pats a cloth against his nose, and talks to Veidt.) In Snyder's vision of Watchmen, Nite Owl isn't pudgy around the middle, and is still able to imagine taking Veidt in a hand-to-hand fight. Moore's Nite Owl knows better than that.

And of course, there's one other scene in which the blood totally disappears.

Snyder shows us a few immolations in the climactic attack on New York, but the only aftermath we really see is architectural. What do you think that says about Snyder, or about his fetishization of blood?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lecture Doodle: a Robot with a Sense of Fear

Well, I went to another lecture this evening, and while I was listening to the presentation I filled about half of a notebook page with random, silly doodles.

I liked that robot doodle enough to color it. Enjoy:

I don't have much to add to that. See you in a few days.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Doodle Penance: "new haven postcards"

This week's "Doodle Penance" post originates in a search that I've seen a few times in our Google logs: "new haven postcards."

And, to tell you the truth, there's already a perfectly adequate post on the site here about postcards of New Haven. I still have batches of them for sale, too, if you want some. But apparently that didn't satisfy this Google searcher, so we're going to draw some more.

So: if you've driven up Whitney Avenue in the past couple of years, you may have noticed that Yale has installed a life-size sculpture of a torosaurus outside of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. It's really pretty cool.

What you may not realize is that every year on October 29, zealous Elis adorn the torosaur with a nude male mannequin:

The mannequin usually stays in place until some time in the afternoon of October 29th. Police and museum officials have been lenient about the running gag, chuckling that a college just isn't a college without a few traditional pranks.

Edit: I couldn't resist tinkering a little with the color in my doodle. This isn't much better, but it does at least get the background to recede a little bit. I encourage anyone with better color sense than me to tell me what I did wrong with this drawing. Click to enlarge; leave a comment down below.

Mike, what have you got?

—Well, Isaac, I thought I'd contribute an image of one of my favorite spots in New Haven, the banks of the Mill River near the Orange Street bridge. The missus and I took frequent walks down to this calm oasis at the end of our neighborhood, and we loved that a mere twenty-minute stroll could bring us to a spot where it was possible to see nary a building nor a wire (though the sound of the nearby streets was always audible).

Of course, we also had to be careful on our walks owing to the occasionally unruly animal life. I once got bitten by a dog (prompting Becca to shout indignantly to its owner: "Your dog bit my husband!"). More worrisome, though, was the genuinely wild life, such as the most famous denizen of the lower Mill River; of course I mean Millie, the New Haven Crocodile:

While Millie could indeed be fearsome if caught unawares (or hungry), she was as much to be pitied as feared. No Connecticut native, this creature belonged in the Africa from which she hailed and for which she pined (that tear should show how much she misses the Nile). I myself am no native of the Elm City, but I do catch myself pining for it on occasion, huge reptiles and all. And with this living relative of your statuesque torosaurus, I conclude this postcard salute to New Haven!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tardy Penance Penance: Super Friends

Doodle Penance is going to be a day or two late this week, because Mike's in transit and I'm scrambling to end my break on a productive note.

So, in lieu of the usual goofery, here's unusual goofery.

That's our friends Rachel and Nick, drawn as superheroes for a silly booklet Mike and I designed as a sort of wedding favor for them, more than three years ago. The color is new.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mike Sterling

Today's the birthday of Mike Sterling, the inimitable author of Progressive Ruin, one of my favorite comics blogs.

If it's the last time in your life that "XL" fits you, Mikester, wear it well.

Other brithday tributes to Sterling here, here, here, here, and here.

Oh, and also here, albeit tardily.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pogo at the Center for Cartoon Studies

One nice thing about being on spring break is that it frees me up to do some of the sorts of work I don't have time for during the regular workweek. For example, today I took a drive down to the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction to give a little guest lecture in Steve Bissette and Robyn Chapman's "Survey of the Drawn Story" course.

This week's class was on the subject of autobiographical comics, and I brought in a few images that I thought would helpfully complicate the easiest or most straightforward way of thinking about autobiography. (In essence, I was trying to suggest that although a lot of people think autobiography is about "expressing your true self" or "getting yourself onto the page," it's actually much more a question of telling interesting stories, just as fiction is, and that this requires a certain distance between the writer as narrator and the character or person being written about—a kind of retrospective awareness of the difference between present and past selves.) Here's a six-panel picture of that, from my lecture slides. Please click to enlarge this clever sequence from Eddie Campbell's After the Snooter:

(Those images really aren't formatted for the blog, are they? They looked better in Powerpoint. Really, please: click to enlarge.)

Anyway, the class was a lot of fun, and discussion after my talk got pretty interesting. It's always cool for me to go down to CCS And meet the new crop of cartoonists there, because I'm always sure some of them are going to draw great things in the next decade or so.

And look what smiling, happy, interesting students, even after three hours of lecture about comics arcana:

(Again, click to enlarge, so you can see Steve Bissette way back there in the back, on the left.)

But I wouldn't drive all the way to White River Junction without taking in the sights!

Actually, the drive was beautiful this morning: the trees and mountains were still frosted like a gingerbread house from a snow we got a couple of days ago. And to tell you the truth, I have so much fun when I'm at CCS that I probably would drive down for no reason other than dropping in on a class. But there were sights to see.

For example, no one should visit White River Junction without doing a status check on Alec Longstreth's Basewood Beard. Here's what Alec looked like at lunch today:

Alec gave me the new issue of Phase 7, which is a travelogue about his trip to Angoulême this year. I'm halfway through reading it, and it's good. If you're comics-curious, you owe it to yourself to check out a few of Alec's comics. He's for real.

But the thing that got me wanting to drive down to White River Junction in the first place was an exhibit at CCS (closed to the public now, but Robyn let me have a peek) of Walt Kelly Pogo strips from the collection of Garry Trudeau.

Prepare to be envious, Mike.

It's a nice exhibit, though sort of small one—there are less than thirty strips up, but I didn't count them. (Maybe it's more like twenty?) I learned a few things right away. For example, I never knew that this old joke, which I probably got from my wise-ass uncle, is originally a Pogo joke:

By the way, you can click any of these pictures to enlarge it, as usual, and in some cases that'll mean beautiful scrutiny of Walt Kelly's linework or lettering, so you may enjoy doing that.

I also enjoyed looking at Kelly's pencils. Since he penciled in non-photo blue, his pencils are still there on the board, under the ink, for anyone to see. It's interesting to see panels where he clearly reworked poses or action a fair amount before inking:

And it's also interesting to see how much more compact than his pencilled dialogue his finished lettering sometimes turned out to be:

It was also interesting to see the character designs in a strip from 1948, before Pogo and Albert and friends had settled into their more familiar appearances.

But mostly it was just nice to soak up a little of the master craftsmanship. I'll post a few images (mostly of Churchy) without further comment.

Thanks to Robyn Chapman, Steve Bissette, and the people at CCS for the invitation! I'm always glad to drop in down there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Doodle Penance: "rorschach mask pattern sewing"

Well, it seems like everyone and his dog is talking about Watchmen this week, and apparently our Google search logs aren't inoculated against Watchmania either. This week's "Doodle Penance" comes from some crafty type who was pointed here in a search for "rorschach mask pattern sewing."

As is often the case, I was initially befuddled by this search. Fortunately, I have read and taught the graphic novel co-created by Dave Gibbons quite a few times now, and I'm pretty familiar with its visual motifs.

Casting my mind's eye back over the details of Watchmen, I remembered a panel that seemed to be the one this googler was looking for. Oddly, I haven't been able to find it online or in a quick cursory glance through the book. So, since this is doodle penance anyway, I went ahead and drew it from memory. (You can click to enlarge.)

Mike's off on a trip, so he won't be able to post stories of sewing his own Rorschach mask when he was in junior high, but he has already alluded to it. (And that's probably what our googler originally saw.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lecture Doodle: a Robot with a Lot on His Mind

Yesterday I attended a lecture, and my idle hands turned out to be a doodle's playthings yet again. No surprise there.

You can click to enlarge any of the images in this post.

For some reason, I'm charmed enough with that robot that I decided to color him.

The process of coloring in Photoshop, even with flat colors like these, is a little painstaking, but I've done it enough now that it doesn't take too long. The trick is to set up a separate layer (set to "darken" instead of "normal") over your linework, then use the angle-lasso tool to circle each field of color, then paint-bucket each color into its place.

Last week's doodle penance saw me fiddling around with the "Pixelate—>Color Halftone" filter on my finished color layer, in order to imitate the benday-style coloring in one of Lewis Trondheim's books. Doing that with this colored doodle left me with this:

But I wanted to do a little more fiddling. On this version, I tried using the Color Halftone pixelation setting with only the magenta channel of the CMYK color. It still isn't quite "coloring like a little old lady from Bridgeport," but I like the effect.

You'll want to click that image to enlarge it, so you can see the effect I'm talking about.

That's all for now. Just some stupid procrastination. Don't I have exams to grade?