Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sometimes Bald Is Better

Kitsune points out:

Somehow, I like Buddy with his hat better than without. It kinda looks like a woodsman's hat to me. Since Buddy is a frog of the wild and all... I've gotten used to the hat this winter so now, without it, he looks sort of, well, bald.

There's no reason why a frog couldn't have hair in the strip. It wouldn't be the first liberty I've taken with a frog's biology. But there are those who look better without hair (that's my private hope.) And in Buddy's case, there are legal concerns. I'd hate to get a call from a Troll Doll lawyer.

Wildlife And Romance

Brad Fitzpatrick keeps a blog of sketches and this one caught my eye and tugged at my heart. Not so much for the moose -- which I saw occasionally when I lived up north -- but for the insects keeping it company, which I saw more often (except for the no-see-ums, of course.) There are bugs in Rhode Island, but I've never noticed the ubiquitous (though apparently not so ubiquitous) black fly. And even mosquitoes seem more retiring if you avoid the woods.

I don't miss the flies.

But, strangely, I do. A breeze is never more loved than when it blows away a cloud of flies.

Moved by nostalgia, I googled no-see-ums -- aka midges -- and learned:

The biting midges belong to the genus Culicoides of the family Ceratopogonidae; they are the smallest of the bloodsucking insects and are common pests in the NE United States, where they are called punkies, sand flies, and no-see-ums. The adults have mouthparts that pierce and suck and inflict irritating bites on humans; some species ride the wings of dragonflies and lacewings, sucking the blood of their hosts.

There's something daring and romantic about a midge riding the wings of a dragonfly.

By the way, note the dandy drawing of a frog at the top of the page. It's only flaw is the strange symmetry in size between the eyes.

Friday, April 01, 2005


Excitement in Wheaton (from the April 17 Sunday.)

Though it hasn't been mentioned in the strip and perhaps never will be, Spot and Karl live in the town of Wheaton, NH. As far as I know, there isn't a Wheaton, NH. But there is an Eaton, NH, where I lived in a cabin on a lake for a summer and a fall, where the frogs would croak and I'd play my trumpet. A keen listener could tell the difference.

Cold-Blooded Contemplation

From April 12: Spot and Buddy contemplate the state of their affairs.

Comic As Storyboard


We all know by now that Frank Miller's cult-comic series Sin City is hitting the big screen this Friday, and that it's directed by both Robert Rodriquez and Miller. Legend has it Miller thought Sin City was un-make-able until Rodriquez invited him to his Texas castle movie studio and shot, edited, FX'ed and scored an entire scene from The Babe Wore Red in one day. The results impressed the author so much, he decided to trust Rodriquez with his baby, but only if he co-directed, of course. It's been obvious throughout the project that the two were visually sticking close to the books.

Setting aside my qualms about movies that mime comics, there's some eerie deja vu going on. (via Drawn!)


From an article in the Rocky Mountain News:

Even the late Will Eisner, who often received credit for coining the genre's moniker, preferred to characterize the marriage of text and images in book form as "sequential art." He invented the term "graphic novel" out of desperation, in an attempt to sell his first book - a series of illustrated short stories - to a publisher who didn't dabble in comics. The publisher passed, but Eisner's work eventually found a home. A Contract with God was published in 1978, marking the birth of a new genre.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Comic City

I saw Jessica Alba in an interview for Sin City. She referred to the movie's inspiration as a graphic novel, and then, seemingly uncomfortable with the phrase, called it a comic book. I wonder what prompted the clarification/reduction? It's certainly graphic. It's certainly novel.

I've been calling comic books graphic novels since Miller's Batman. But when Alba said comic book, it surprised me that she clearly thought graphic novel was obscure and exotic. I'm not sure what that means, beyond the idea that comic books have been wearing adult sizes for a good while, but others still see them in short pants.

In another interview I saw the director Rodriguez explain that a graphic novel is cinematic storytelling. Translating Sin City to the screen was straightforward, he said (and since Miller is the co-director, that view is a chorus of two.) But a movie is always in motion, propelled by the director. A graphic novel -- and any non-animated cartoon -- can linger. That seems to be a clear difference, one that invites a different relationship with the reader. Moving forward by staying still.

Movies suggest reality by cutting time into pieces and splicing the bits back together for a race through the projector. You see what you see for as long as the editor leaves the door open. Graphic novels suggest reality by freezing time; the same bits as a movie, but always on display. The door never closes.

Sin City may look like a graphic novel, but until it's available on DVD and I'm stabbing the pause button on the remote with every scene, it's a graphic movie.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Finding Laughs

Mike Lynch is hosting Mark Anderson's blog this week. He begins with a nice bit of arcana -- though for all I know every cartoonist uses one on the sly -- and shows us the Laugh Finder. If you're the sort who chuckles at the implied punchlines in a grocery list, you need this device.

The Seduction of Wertham

I have a connection with Fredric Wertham.

In his The Seduction of the Innocent (1954), he uses an illustration to drive home the point that crime comics are violent and contagious. It shows a woman with a knife held to her eye. The knife point is a gasp away from the pupil. The woman's name is Mary Kennedy.

And since I'm engaged to Mary Kennedy, his point is well made.

His other points are less sharp. Here are a few excerpts:

Our researches have proved that there is a significant correlation between crime-comics reading and the more serious forma of juvenile delinquency. Many children read only few comics, read them for only a short time, read the better type (to the extent that there is a better type) and do not become imbued with the whole crime-comics atmosphere. Those children, on the other hand, who commit the more serious types of delinquency nowadays, read a lot of comic books, go in for the worst type of crime comics, read them for a long time and live in thought in the crime-comics world...

Many comic books describe how to set fires, by methods too various to enumerate. In some stories fire-setting is related just as a detail; in other stories such as "The Arson Racket" the lesson is more systematic. There are other sidelights, like how to break windows so you cannot be found out; all this highlighted by the philosophy of the character who says: "From now on I'm making dough the easy way -- with a gun! Only SAPS work!" That lesson, incidentally, is true of crime comics as a whole: glamour for crime, contempt for work...

Another comic book shows how a youngster can murder for profit. He gets a job as a caddy, loses the ball, then kills the player when he goes searching for it...

A fifteen-year-old boy was accused of having shot and killed a boy of fourteen (the authorities chose to consider this accidental), of having thrown a cat from a roof, of having thrown a knife through a boy's foot, of sadistic acts with younger children, of having shot at a younger girl with a B.B. gun. After a full study of the psychological and social background, we came to the conclusion that the fact that he was an inveterate reader| of comic books was an important contributing factor. His favorite comic book, read over and over, contained no less thank eighty-one violent acts, including nineteen murders...

I should point out that I have read many violent things in my 45 years, and so far have resisted the temptation to throw my cat off the roof.

Don Simpson has a good piece on the continuing villification of Werthram. And Dwight Decker reveals Wertham in his final years as someone who discovered -- with the publication of his final book, The World of Fanzines -- that those who read comics aren't as brutish as he'd imagined:

The World of Fanzines is a masterpiece of scholarship gone off the track. It's the only book you'll find about its subject in most libraries even though the author never quite understood what he was writing about. He never said as much - he couldn't admit it for the sake of professional pride, perhaps - but The World of Fanzines contradicts everything Dr. Wertham wrote about comic books and their readers in his previous books.
In the end, he decided, we'd turned out pretty much all right.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

How Many Fireman Does It Take To Free A Frog From A Watering Can?

The answer.

Medical Breakthrough: Mice Made Allergic To Cats

Mary is allergic to cats. Or, more precisely, the one cat we live with.

Scientists at UCLA are working towards a solution:
The treatment comprises a molecule that loosely links a feline and a human protein together. The feline end is a protein called Fel d1 found in cat dander and saliva that causes so much misery in allergy sufferers. On the other end sits a piece of human antibody that docks to a cell receptor that can be recruited to stop allergic reactions.

The investigators named the molecule GFD, or Gamma Feline Domesticus, for its human and feline parts, according to lead scientist Andrew Saxon of UCLA. The cat allergen end of GFD binds to antibodies on the surface of the cell. The human end of GFD links to a different cell surface protein that interrupts the allergic response.

Saxon's team first tested GFD in blood donated by people allergic to cats. Scientists cultured blood cells with either GFD or with a purified human antibody as a control. Then they added the cat protein that triggers allergic reactions to all the blood cell cultures.

"We measured more than 90 percent less histamine in the cultures with GFD," they wrote in the paper, "those results suggested that GFD successfully prevented the immune cells from reacting to cat allergen. The next step was to test GFD in mice that we had made allergic to the allergenic protein found in cat saliva and dander.

I've always assumed that mice, in the big scheme of things, were already allergic to cats -- in the same way that I'm allergic to mad dogs. But what a boon for mice. Why depend on scent and sound to spot cats when watery eyes can do the job better?

The Drug Of Choice

Dorothy Parker had to wrestle with many demons in her life. Depression and alcoholism were just two of them. From an article in the Toronto Star, we hear this confession:

"For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips — all comic strips," Parker wrote. "This is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, `I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past 25 years.'"

The article reveals that she wasn't alone in her guilty -- perhaps criminal -- affection for comics. "Writing in The New Republic in 1948, Marya Mannes referred to the form as 'intellectual marijuana.'

'Every hour spent in reading comics," she asserted, "is an hour in which all inner growth has stopped.'"

What I find interesting is the similarity between the knee-jerk loathing of comics and the reflex others feel when condeming drugs. Comics, alcohol, marijuana -- they all have their benefits, and they all can be abused (for some of us, comics are the most potent drug, consuming us whole.) But none can be dismissed with a single thought or witticism.

The article goes on to show that many who first despised the comic form, be it strip or book or animated cartoon -- Marshall McLuhan "suggested that Superman was a potential dictator" -- came to respect and savor the cartoon on closer inspection, just as beer can be an agreeable diversion when you're not cracking Prohibition-era kegs like bad eggs and flooding the gutters with ale.

The writers Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester are the editors of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium.

I Want To Kill Cathy

Those aren't my words. I'm not a Cathy fan, but when I take the time to read a daily, I always find it well-crafted. I'm amazed by Guisewite's ability to juggle so many words without dropping the ball -- every strip has a punchline, and every word leads you to it. If you stand back a few paces and consider the wall of words in a Cathy strip, it's easy to presume overwriting; a brick layer who loves bricks too much. But try to remove a single brick and the edifice is somehow less.

The "I Want To Kill Cathy" confession is the lead of an editorial where Julie Doll wrestles in public with a potentially impending execution.

I don't know if Spot is being considered, but if you live in the readership area, it never hurts to make the suggestion.