Monday, January 25, 2010

Doodle Penance: "what does it mean to doodle balloons"

This week's "Doodle Penance" comes from someone who punched the question "What does it mean to doodle balloons?" into a search engine. Maybe it wasn't Google. I don't keep track.

Mike and I may seem to reveal something about our habits of thought when we answer this question. My thoughts went like this: Well, I haven't doodled balloons, so let me try it out. Perhaps the meaning will be revealed to me in the process. And so, during a lecture I attended this evening, I drew balloons instead of my usual pile of robots, kachinas, and puny hulks.

After twenty of thirty of these, I realized what I was drawing. Here's a somewhat scale-corrected version of the mini-doodle at the bottom of that image:

Maybe that's no big revelation, but I hadn't thought of it before.

Mike, meanwhile, resorted not to experimental methods but to literary analysis. Better click it so you can read it:

I believe he takes the palm this time around. I'm always pleased when Mike's doodle comes with doggerel.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Doodle Penance: "satisfactory and similar words"

This week's "Doodle Penance" comes from a Google-searcher who was looking for "satisfactory and similar words." That's a bit of a puzzler, isn't it? I mean, there are so many ways that words can be similar to each other: semantically, cryptographically, metrically, etymologically, or in terms of Scrabble scores...

Using my unerring intuition, however, I'm guessing that this week's Googler was looking for anagrams.

Here you go: satisfactory and a few anagrammatically similar two-word phrases:

Of course you recognize the mascots of Satisfactory Comics.

When we decide to imitate sartorially Mr. Frederick Herman Jones, our book becomes Ratify Ascots Comics.

When we try the 24-hour comic a few too many times in a row, our book becomes Ratty Fiascos Comics.

And when we have been immortalized in tofu by a dairy-free future civilization, our book will be known as Soy Artifacts Comics.

That's probably enough like Mike's sense of humor that he doesn't even need to draw something this week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Koong Foo Pawndah

Presented here, with minimal introduction and no further comment, in response to popular demand: a page of notes and doodles from a lecture (a couple of months ago) by Slavoj Žižek.

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Doodle Penance: "десять докторов"

Google is everywhere, which means that even an ordinary website like ours gets the occasional hit from a far-flung place like Oxford or Rennes, or Israel or Hungary. And this week, we apparently received a very brief visit from a Russian-speaking inquirer, looking for десять докторов. That's "ten doctors," if you can't read Russian.

It's possible that some Muscovite has ten ailments, like Writer's Cramp and Butterflies in the Stomach. Or perhaps some right-wing American kook is trying to make a very subtle and misguided point about socializing health care.

But my theory—indubitably the most plausible interpretation of the search term—is that there's some student out there hoping to do some quick Russian-language drills by making flash cards out of the names of comics characters. In a "Twelve Days of Christmas" sort of build-up, he or she has already printed cards for nine versions of Superman, eight super-gorillas, seven Starmen, six trick archers, five folks with wings, et cetera, and is up to Doctors. (Eleven and twelve are Lanterns and Captains, clearly.)

(Click the pic, please, to enlarge and perhaps admire.)

Actually, there could be more in this set. I've thought of another six or seven already, and there are probably more. Somewhere in comics-land there must be a university that gives a lot of honorary degrees.

Anyway, since our Googler wasn't just looking for "ten doctors" but "десять докторов," let me supply the other side of the flash cards, too.

(Russian translations by my friend Zina Deretsky. Thanks!)

Recognize them all? If the dude with the wild eyebrows and the Kirby krackle isn't familiar, you might need to book a trip to the Fourth World.

If you don't recognize that bald little gremlin in the ninth square, you haven't been reading our archives.

And if you don't know the skeptic in the final panel, you'd better prenez garde aux architectes.

And if you think my original color version doesn't look Russian enough, here's a version in sable and gules.

Mike? What have you got this week?

—Man, why should I even bother? But since I must...

Since Russian doesn't use the definite article, I assumed that our Google searcher was interested not just in "ten doctors" but in "THE ten doctors," better, "The Ten Doctors," as in the Rich Morris fan-fic graphic novel I posted about here or just as in a celebration of the ten incarnations of the Doctor (aka Doctor Who), the tenth of whom just finished his tenure on New Year's Day. So I drew quick caricature-portraits of the ten Doctors whose adventures we have seen thus far:

The less comment on this, the better. But if anyone is still interested in a foreign-language variant on Doctor Who, you could do worse than to seek out the vastly superior rendition of the famous theme-tune as if it were Belgian jazz, complete with French spoken lyrics, by the great musician-comedian Bill Bailey.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Montreal Finds #1 and #2: Table Doodle & Mascota

A couple of months ago I took a conference trip to Montreal, and I picked up a few comics there that I really ought to blog about. I know it'll take a while, though, because all of the comics I bought are in French, a language I can't really read.

But I can show you two bits of ephemera.

First, a paper-tablecloth doodle, from a bistro where I dined with a few friends also attending the conference:

That snake critter had no limbs to start with, but one of my tablemates turned out to be such an ophidiophobe that the serpentine shape of my doodle was making her nervous. To desnakify the serpent, the easiest way was to bestow a few feet upon it. And arms. And wings.

I miss the days when Mike and I would often go for Thai in a place that used paper tablecloths. We'd often cover the table with ridiculousness before the main course arrived.

My other bit of cartoon-related Montreal ephemera is a business card from a Chilean "Café-Resto" that's just down the street from the best dang bagels you can eat.

You can tell it's a Chilean place not only because they offer "Vin Chilien" or "Vino Chileno," but because they've apparently got the endorsement of Chile's favorite son.

I enjoyed their empanadas.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza: an Appreciation

I finished reading Joe Sacco's new book, Footnotes in Gaza, last night.

I mean the word "appreciation" in the title of this post in two different ways. First, this post can't really be a review of the book, since I am still not ready to write one of those. Footnotes in Gaza is more than a lot to take in: lots of information, lots of inhumanity, lots of suffering. And it's by far the heftiest book that Joe Sacco has written.

Take a look at that solidity. Keep in mind that I have large paws.

The other sense in which I mean "an Appreciation" is more trivial for public purposes, but since not many people read our blog, let me also say that I'm writing this post to say thanks for Mike, who sent me the book as a Christmas present. I appreciate it!

Leaving aside the serious, powerful stories contained in this book, which really deserve to remake your ideas about politics and human travail in the Middle East, I would like to say a little bit about Joe Sacco's drawings. I'd be willing to bet that many of the reviews of this book will have a lot to say about Sacco's world-class journalism. They may not take the time to mention that he's also one of the hardest-working cartoonists in the business.

Here, look. Go ahead and click to enlarge this.

Here's a tiny detail from the upper right corner of that panorama:

And the figures running across that demolished Palestinian no-man's-land:

Almost every panel is full of details that make the world of Gaza, in mid-century or in the present moment, tangible:

And when Sacco pulls out the stops, when he really lays down the ink, that kind of attention to detail can be harrowing:

Look at the way that the three tiny central human figures in this panel emerge from the cross-hatching:

Yes. For real. The cross-hatching.

The cross-hatching.

The labor visible in every shade of gray.

I have this theory about cross-hatching in Sacco's work:

I think this kind of cross-hatching denotes attention, and thereby compels the reader's attention; moreover, it denotes careful fidelity, and therefore compels the reader's credence.

So here's to Sacco surviving that Israeli guardtower gunfire!

Here's to the the crowquill and the callus! Here's to the latest comics journalism masterpiece!

Go get yourself a copy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Doodle Penance: "marbel old school comics"

It's the return of "Doodle Penance"!

This past week, someone briefly visited our blog looking for "marbel old school comics." Obviously, there's a spelling problem in that search term, but that's not the only reason our anonymous Googler was disappointed. Although we've certainly doodled classroom images before, and even Tales from the Classroom, we've never quite addressed the topic this person was seeking.

So. Let's see. Maybe this?

Marble? Check.

Old? It hardly gets older than the tablets of the law.

School? You can see the little desk.

Comics? Well, maybe or maybe not. Depends on whether you ask Scott McCloud.

Mike? What have you got?

—Hmm...While I also assumed that there was a spelling error in the search term, I reckoned that the correct reading was not "marble" but "Marvel," as in Marvel Comics. Furthermore, I can see why the error occurred thanks to the ungainly layout of the Qwerty keyboard, which places the V and the B keys right next to each other.

So it had to be Marvel Comics that the errant searcher sought. And by "old school" I assume that the searcher wanted vintage material; and so I reckon that it was best to go beyond the Silver Age (aka the Marvel Age proper, with Stan & Jack & Steve and the like) back to the Golden-Age origins of Marvel Comics when it was Timely Comics. Back then, two of the company's biggest stars were the Sub-Mariner and the original, robotic Human Torch, who made for classic adversaries in their elemental opposition of fire and water.

But, you know, it wasn't Marvel Comics that we were asked for, but Marbel Comics. So I'm going to further assume that the typos continue in the searcher's wishes, and since the Qwerty keyboard places the N and the M keys next to each other—on the selfsame (or "sesame") row as the V and the B keys, such that the B and the N are also next to each other—I give you, not the Human Torch versus the Sub-Mariner, but the Hunan Torch versus the Sun-Mariner:

The Hunan Torch is naturally a fiery version of Lan Mao, the eponymous star of the Blue Cat cartoon series, a production of China's Hunan Province (as should be evident by the Chinese characters for Hunan on the cat's chest). Ordinarily Lan Mao would appear blue, but since he's on fire he looks Human Torch-like. The Sun-Mariner is just an igneous version of Namor, basically.

Note how the sheer elemental poetry of the contest of fire and water has been diluted in this battle of balanced fiery forces: evidence enough of the damage done by a tyro's typos, by errors in the script. To avoid such grievous blunders, you might consider ditching Qwerty for the Dvorak simplified keyboard, elegantly evangelized by the fine Vermonter cartoonist Alec Longstreth (and others) at

Incidentally, for a far superior image, I encourage you to seek out the classic black and white Bill Everett drawing of the Golden Age Human Torch vs. the Golden Age Namor. Accept no latter-day crayon-and-ink substitutes!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Took the Train to the MLA, and What Did I See?

So: I'm back from the MLA Convention now, after riding the rails there and back in order to save money. What could have been an hour and a half in a plane turned into nearly twelve hours on the Vermonter. It wasn't delayed or anything. That's just how Amtrak rolls. And actually it was pretty fun.

On the way down to Philadelphia, somewhere in the vicinity of Hartford, the train got completely full, and the seat next to mine was claimed by a six-year-old girl. She was traveling with an adult cousin who was (apparently) not very interested in entertaining the little one. So, somewhere around Bridgeport, Miss Six got bored.

We talked for a while, and eventually we decided that we would draw together. (I figured if the activity would entertain Prof. Wenthe, it would probably also entertain a six-year-old girl.) We took turns nominating topics for drawing: a treasure (mine), Aladdin's Palace (hers), and so forth.

At one point, she got dispirited, as if she were losing a contest, because I was a better drawer. I told her we weren't drawing against each other, but she kept pouting. I suggested that we draw something easy, and she said we should draw spiders.

She laughed herself silly when this was what I produced.

"That's a duck!" she shouted.

"No, no, it's a spider. I just drew it wrong. See, it has feet. Spiders have feet. And spiders have a mouth, right? It has a mouth. I just drew it wrong."

After that, we were friends again. Miss Six suggested that we draw princesses. Click to enlarge this, and you can see the train-car shaking my line:

Miss Six did not like this princess drawing. "No. Why is she marrying a robot?" she asked.

"I think she loves the robot," I said. "See? There's a heart coming out of her there."

"She shouldn't love a robot," the little girl said. And then I got a grade of two Xs. That's not good.

I tried again, with the same princess and a different husband.

Before I could get another bad grade, I had the cheese announce his own verdict, and asked Miss Six to read it out loud.

As you can see, from the very moment I left Burlington, my high-octane critical intelligence was concerned with post-structuralist cultural critique and the hermeneutics of alterity.