Saturday, January 21, 2017

Deep in the Heart of Hartland

When I first did my annual Famine comic tribute, I came across a comic that was a clear rip-off (i.e. influence) of Bloom County.  That comic was Hartland by Rich Torrey, who's now found better success through a line of modest children's books.
For weeks, I attempted and completed the dubious accomplishment of saving every single Hartland comic from June 17th, 1985 to March 1st, 1986.  And I can safely say without reservation that it is one of the WORST comic strips ever made.

Having accomplished the masochistic task of poring through every available comic, struggling to reach my goal, I was able to compile a comprehensive microcosm of the comic, though I might as well have gleamed the same results just from a month's worth of material alone.

The cast, other than Dave Hart (the boy) consists of:

The Father, Ted Hart, a bitter man who has hostile reactions to any mention of his ex-wife, and constantly makes disparaging remarks about his son's weight.



The Mother, Sallie Hart, also a divorcee, who constantly cries out for attention, but is usually passed over in favor of the Father's POV.



Seech, Dave's best friend.  He's not mentioned in the cast list, but he's the resident weirdo, and consequently, the only child Dave's age who bothers to talk to him.

Mrs. Blister, the Babysitter, is actually the wild card in the bunch, and makes Seech look normal.  One thing to keep in mind while finding these comics was that I cleaned up a lot of the newspaper residue, including the flecks of dust and smudges, represented by various "dots" on the page.  (Though Hart looks better without the Freckles on his face)



Lastly, there's Dr. Joystick, who's supposed to be a Family Counselor, but probably got his qualifications from the Lucy Van Pelt school of Psychiatry.


Part of the problem stems from Torrey suffering from writer's block, being intimidated at the legacy of Charles Schultz's Peanuts (which was only 35 years at the time), and trying to figure out what to write that would leave a lasting impression.

It's just too bad that so much of what he penned down was so unimaginatively uncreative.  Most of the material was shamelessly pilfered and done better by more competent cartoonists who knew what they were doing.  The 2nd comic from the top?  Lifted from the 1st Doonesbury.  The kids talking philosophically on stone walls?  Lifted from Peanuts.  Even Berkley Breathed's early College strip, Academia Waltz, had some elements of broad humour that would later become the basis of classic Bloom County comics.

Eventually, readers began to loath seeing Hartman on the pages:

Another problem is that there's practically no daily progress.  Everybody's stuck in their same rut, and there's hardly any consecutive storylines, rendering much of its material utterly forgettable.  Hartland is what would've happened if Breathed had just stuck to the cast of elderly people in his first year who would've been phased over for their more interesting complementaries.  (Of all of them, only Steve Dallas and Milo Bloom would remain, with Rabies the Dog becoming the Basselope in spirit)  If there IS one thing that Hartland did that no other comic did, it was have a boy who expressed concerns over body issues.  This topic would be more relevant today, even though it's a subject more likely aimed at women.





It's just a shame that Dave manages to undermine that by being so much of an emotional whiner.  It doesn't help that on the occasions where he's not talking, he's staring at whoever's talking with a dazed open-mouthed expression.  And so much of his childhood nervousness feels artificial and tacked-on.  And this is damning with faint praise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Requested Adaptations: Asterix & the Gaslighter

Just in case you're unfamiliar with the term, Gaslighting is when someone plays up the guilt card by implying and inferring that what you're said was invalid, playing your thoughts against yourself.  Unless there's verifiable recorded proof saying otherwise, you're caught in a game of "I said, You said".  Expert passive-aggressive assault consists of constantly harping over your words, trying to redefine what you've said in painstaking minutiae essay-length detail that causes your innocuous remark to die in the process.

The rise of the Alt-Right online, spreading their rhetoric of hatred has had large implications not just in America, but also across waters with the dissolution of the E.U.  A bunch of rowdy politicians who wanted to implement their narrow visions upon the world, only to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.  But winning through the narrowest of defined victories had extravagant costs that they're just beginning to find out. They never intended to win in the first place, let alone grant all the promises they made in order to gain popularity and eyes their direction.  Now that they're forced to live with the decisions of the (stupid) mass majorities, they're faced with the unenviable choice to either follow-through on their impossible demands, or boldly forge ahead, and risk being lampooned for generations to come.  Backpedaling on reneging their promises would make them look weak otherwise, and they wouldn't want to risk admitting they had no plans beyond winning.

At a time where truth and fiction are considered interchangeable, and the news that's considered more favorable is constantly being won out due to personal preferences, an adaptation of Asterix and the Roman Agent seems more appropriate than ever before.  But only if done by the same team of Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy, faithfully capturing the spirit of the books with Mansions of the Gods.  (Which I greatly recommend, despite reservations over some wonky translation issues)

The scene-stealer is Tortuous Convolvulus, whose mere presence causes everybody in his vicinity to lose their collective minds, even when they're aware of his ability or not.  Long-overheld grievances are suddenly brought out into the open, hostilities arise, and infighting becomes rampant.  It only takes the slightest nudging in a general direction to further flame the fans of war beyond their reasonable limits.

Not too shabby for a smug midget who has the facial features reminiscent of The Grinch.

Of course, when adapting a story from one medium to another, certain liberties would have to be taken.  We'd lose the visual impact of the infected parties speaking in Green-hued balloons, but that could be easily conveyed through having the speaker's eyes glow a persistent bright green instead.  What counts is successfully implementing various concepts from others that wouldn't normally fit in a singular story.

In the past, they meshed two divergent Asterix books, The Big Fight and The Soothsayer to create Un Coup de Menhir (Operation Getafix), and Asterix the Legionary and Asterix the Gladiator into Asterix Versus Caesar, neither of which was as great as they could've been.  The two (unadapted) Asterix books closest in theme of money, Obelix & Co. and Asterix & the Cauldron are wildly different in story structure.  One is a broad satire of Capitalism, the other a monetary journey fraught with failure.  (Asterix is skillfully adept at maneuvering people, but he's an awful businessman, since he doesn't understand finance)  For Mansions of the Gods, they used the Senator from Asterix in Belgium, and the catapult from Caesar's Gift.  By picking and choosing selective elements into a cohesive whole.
And causing arguments over how a technical term is pronounced.
By the same token, there's certain potential elements that could be gleamed from other books that would be considered unadaptable, yet be additive enough to the overall theme than they'd be on their own.  Keep in mind that these are merely suggestions for a theoretical project that as far as I know, hasn't even begun production yet.

For starters, the constant arguments between Asterix and Obelix where they fight like an old married couple would suddenly have stronger consequences and meaning in this story than their squabbles would have elsewhere.  This instance here shows how pervasive Convolvulus' influence is, causing fractures to appear even between the closest of friends.
If, at any point, Obelix's Green-Eyed glow spreads over his upper half,
and his striped pants turn purple, that's a time to worry.
And then, shortly after Obelix angrily marches off in a huff, his conviction fades away, wondering just what he was so upset about in the first place.  There have been multiple instances of the two breaking up, sulking, and making up within a very short time frame.  But I don't think they've ever been captured in a meaningful context.

Another appropriate element to borrow from Caesar's Gift would be Getafix refusing to dole out Magic Potion for the pursuit of domestic squabbles, which'd only increase rising tensions.  Other than fighting over fish, fighting over suspicion would be frowned upon.  Which would be frowned upon, since it'd look like Getafix is suddenly sympathetic towards Roman ideals.

One final element would be the portrayal of a mock trial heavily biased towards Asterix for having suspicious relations with a Foreign power who's on friendly terms, despite his constant denials.

You can just see Asterix fending off the Council's baseless claims with an almost bored expression, being slightly insulted at being probed in this manner, much like Clinton's constant investigations on Benghazi.  I also wouldn't mind seeing more scenes of Asterix trading verbal barbs against the Roman Agent, since Convolvulus is the closest thing he has to a mental heavyweight.

One last thing to consider is the consequences of trolling your base.  When you expound easily disproved facts over and over, the followers behind the instigators start to believe their own lies.

Once they've succeeded in accomplishing their aims, their only recourse is to eat their own.  The worst way to quash someone's dreams, ironically enough, is to grant every one of their wishes.  These newfound lofty positions turn out to be the poisoned chalices, the inevitable result of having every perceived obstacle casually cast aside.  When your entire modus operandi is built on conflict, and there's no more resistance, falling back on peaceful norms is practically improbable.
A possible conflict of interest in copyright infringement would be in capturing the portrayal of the General in charge.  You'd never convince a modern-day reader that the Roman General above, Felix Platypus is a caricature of French actor, Lino Ventura, and not Sylvester Stallone.  But that could be easily overcome by simply reusing General Somniferus from Mansions of the Gods.  As I've said, just throwing these ideas out there.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Conventional Conventions

Generally, when it comes to gatherings involving large groups of people, I'm reluctant to attend, even when they're mandatory.

The reason being that when I'm forced to associate and mingle with people I'm only familiar with in passing, or even family members I see once a year, it takes me a long time to unwind.  Not just from stress of the upcoming meeting, but also from being around so many people in the first place.  Some people get claustrophobic in crowded places.  I get claustrophobic in crowds.

Since I hardly had any friends growing up, I pretty much had to find ways to keep my interest engaged by indulging in activities that were most accomplished in solitary.  (Such as going to the library, reading books, movies and TV shows on my own)  I wouldn't have been able to survive otherwise.

And being thrown back into unfamiliar social territory that everybody else mingles in their element is anathema to me.  One thing that obviously upset me was that the mere act of having to socialize was the costs involved.  It'd take money to go out and see movies without subtitles.  It'd cost money to go out for eats at fast-food restaurants.  Money that could be better put to use buying Videogames and Comic Paperbacks.  I didn't have a reliable source of income, so finance was a heavy burden, and I struggled for new ways to save pennies here and there.  So what if collecting empty coke bottles gave me strange looks in my direction?  I was profiting from these actions, and they weren't.

Now that I have a stable income and can afford to splurge on stuff I would've been terrified to waste potentially hard-earned cash on, I don't really have anybody to share them with.  I've been trying to expand my social experience (what little there is) on outside activities beyond my expectations.

For the last New Year's Day party, it was brought up that everybody should wear nametags, so I would have some idea of who I was speaking to.  I generally forget the name of anybody who I haven't seen over a two-week period.  So, expecting me to instantly recall the name of a relative I saw only last year is like the worst surprise exam on a lazy student with no prep time.  And even when given a list, I could hardly remember whose names went with which picture.  This year, I was able to more cognitively recall whose names was whose.  Let's see how long that lasts.


There might be some stigma attached to wearing nametags displaying our names for the world to see (a complaint I never really understood), but it saves me the embarrassment of having to try to recall someone's name and fail constantly.  Asking for someone's name seems like an exercise in futility, since it always seems like everybody knows my name, so by extension, I should know everybody else's.  The only real downside to nametags is that they can stick holes in your shirt (if they have safety pins), rub around your neck (if they're on strings) or they fall off too easily (weak glue).

The only time I seem to flourish in social settings is when I'm given a chance to speak.  While public speaking is seen as one of the most anxiety-provoking moments favored only by death, I relish in these rare occasions, since it's a chance for me to be heard.  I don't need to worry about listening to audience feedback - I just have to make my succinct comments, say what I want to say, and leave.

Pretty much the ONLY reason I bother attending any parties or group functions I'm invited to in the first place is for the food there.  I don't exactly go for the scintillating social conversation which I wouldn't be able to understand on account of all the noise.  (People shouting to be heard over the background of people trying to be heard)

I've been attending a weekly cooking class that takes place at random locations for about six months now.  The volunteers are warm and friendly, and the classes are reasonably small, consisting of mostly elderly people, never having higher than ten people a lesson.  The only negative is that they increased their attendance costs for materials from $2.00 to... (ugh) $3.00.  Even though the increment is almost negligible, I still get separation anxiety from forking over my loose change.  (Some things never change)

And yet, despite their friendliness, I still struggled to get the courage to strike up a conversation with these complete strangers.  Unless it involves a specific request, such as the location of where the knives or grater is, I'm a total loss with open-ended dialogues, because I have no idea where the conversation is supposed to go from there.  (I like to know the results from my answers beforehand)  I haven't had much practice in advocating my right to be understood, that people need to face me, speak slowly and clearly, and emphasize certain key words; because they constantly forget they're in the presence of a Deaf man.  But constantly compounding on these reminders all the time for new people, and reminding those who already forgot, as well as trying to understand their speech patterns is physically and emotionally draining.  (Even more so for someone not used to doing this so much)

It was only recently that it was suggested that I have the volunteers and students wear nametags for the same reason for the relatives at the New Year's party - so I wouldn't have to constantly worry about memorizing their names when the time came.  And there'll also be an assistant attending me for future classes, so I won't feel totally alone.  I flourish better when I have somebody who can act as an intermediary between myself and new people.

Even so - don't expect me to instantly become a social animal.  The euphoria I get from meeting with people still can't compare to the rush I get when surrounded by familiar elements, such as readable papers filled with intriguing stories.  (At least stories have the benefit of plausibility, and knowledge of where they end)