Sunday, March 31, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #18

Following the ending of the Baroque Works saga, the heroes of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece set off for further adventure, which prompts the question of how to follow up such a long and satisfying storyline. With the long buildup that stories can require in this series, will we get bored and wonder when it's going to get good again? Well, here's Oda's way of getting us excited for what's next:

I've mentioned how well Oda uses a sense of scale before, and this is a great example. Look at the size of that ship that just suddenly falls out of the sky! That image alone is compelling enough to make both the characters and the readers anticipate answers, and it definitely merits two volumes of the Merry Go crew trying to figure out how to find their way up to a mysterious island in the clouds. That sense of adventure and exploration can be as much of a draw in this series as the emotional relationship drama and the basic goal of following one's dreams, and Oda can pull us right in with his images. He's leading us by the nose, but I for one am ready to follow wherever he wants to go.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #17

In a previous post about Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, I had stated how much I enjoyed the weird, wacky character Mr. 2 Bon Clay, and I'm happy to say that he does turn to the side of good, becoming a friend to the Straw Hat Pirates, and the send-off he gives them in volume 23 is a great moment of over-the-top emotion:

I love this sort of silliness, so I'm glad that this strange fellow will be showing up again in the future.

What's more, he's far from the only weirdo in the series, or even in this storyline. Check out these guys who showed up in volume 22:

Oh, Oda-Sensei. Please never change.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Neverending Fray: I aspire to be the Supreme General of Groo fandom

Groo the Wanderer #87
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1992

This issue kicks off the comic's new format, with an increased page count, an introductory strip on the inside front cover, a Rufferto strip on the back cover, fewer ads, better paper, and a higher price, and it's interesting to see what the Groo Crew does with the additional space, in which the main story stretches to a full 30 pages. It's a fairly rudimentary Groo tale, in which our favorite mendicant seizes upon a new desire and pursues it unflaggingly until he achieves his goal, only to find out it wasn't what he expected. In this case, he decides he wants to be a Supreme General, a rank which is bestowed upon the leader of the army after a king dies, making him the most powerful man in the kingdom. So he sets off to find a kingdom which will make him their Supreme General, and eventually finds one where a prince with an ailing father seems suspiciously willing to allow Groo to quickly rise up through the ranks of the army. And sure enough, after Groo finally realizes his goal, it turns out the prince had an underhanded reason for promoting him to the position so quickly. Sometimes what you thought you wanted just isn't all it cracked up to be.

With the increased page count, the story does seem to be a bit padded, but at least in this case, that just means more room for jokes. There are some really good ones here, like this exchange between Groo and the prince:

Or this example of how a battlefield can become even more dangerous when Groo is around:

And this imagined image of Groo and Rufferto at the age of eighty cracks me up (especially Rufferto's beard and graying spots):

As an example of the rule that anyone who plans for Groo to do something ends up meeting failure, this story works pretty well, with the prince who promotes Groo to Supreme General for underhanded reasons ends up seeing chaos and destruction visited upon his kingdom. But I think this might actually be a rare example of Groo being the one to fall prey to the rule; usually he doesn't think too far ahead, preferring to act in relation to whatever wanders into his path, but this time he's actually planning ahead and pursuing a goal. That's not necessarily an indication that he deserves to fail, but tellingly, he gets so wrapped up in getting what he wants that he starts to sacrifice his usual ideals, as when he captures some slaves to work in the kingdom, building the king's tomb:

That seems to be the moment that Groo earns whatever comeuppance he receives, but the goal itself, a position of glory and power, is outside of his normal desires as well, so one doesn't feel so bad for him when his quest gets him in trouble. It can be something of a shame when everything goes bad for the hapless doofus we love to wander along with, but occasionally, he deserves what he gets. But I bet he'll be back to pursuing cheese dip and random frays soon enough, and we can go back to enjoying his mindless carnage and still wanting him to stay out of harm's way. What a strange moral world this comic has built...

Next: The next issue I have is #89, "The Cult".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: None in the main story, although starting with this issue, the Groo Crew appears on the inside front cover to introduce the story, with everyone, even Stan and Tom, getting a speaking part:

Hidden message(s): None
Moral: "The faster you climb, the swifter the fall."
Spanish words: Only Sergio saying "Buenos Dias!"
Running jokes: Groo thinks "Did I err?" and even with the expanded page count, that's about it.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Behind Schedule
Letter column jokes: Mark makes note of the new format and increased price, thanking the readers who stuck around and noting that prices are going up everywhere. When Aaron Crozier writes to say that he looked up the word "mendicant" and wants to know if Groo is a beggar, Mark replies "At these prices, definitely." Rodrigo Ribeiro threatens to name his son Groo (and then rethinks it and makes an even worse threat to name his daughter Groo) if his letter isn't printed, so Mark agrees, in order to "spare a child the agony of going through life with the name Groo Ribeiro." Chris Young notes that he has never written to Groo and asks if he gets a no-prize for his accomplishment, but Mark says that unfortunately they only give no-prizes for not writing to Groo, so he's now ineligible. Steven Ranzoni asks how come Groo always makes it through battles uninjured and if it's because nothing can get past his swords. Mark says no, it's because nothing can get past his nose. The rest of the column is taken up with the Statement of Ownership (average sales: 69,525; sales of most recent issue: 63,200), which Mark once again fails to make any jokes about, making me think that I'm more committed to that gag than he is.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #16

A few years ago, I read and wrote about an issue of Shonen Jump that contained the big climax of the Baroque Works storyline in Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, and I liked it well enough, but now that I've read the whole thing, I can really see what I was missing. With the full context, I can not only enjoy the amazing action, but I understand the stakes of the conflict and feel the emotional release that comes when the good guys win. And I can marvel at how Oda constructed the buildup to this climax, laying the groundwork over the course of about twelve volumes, building the relationships of the characters to make the reader care deeply about what happens to them. He sets up insurmountable obstacle and unstoppable villains, which makes us cheer wildly when our heroes manage to surmount and stop them. And after so many pages of buildup and preliminary battles, everything explodes in a final conflict, taking place across volumes 22 and 23 of the series, as Luffy fights the evil Crocodile while Princess Vivi and the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates try to stop a gigantic bomb from going off, all in the midst of a civil war that the villains have spent years fomenting behind the scenes in a plan to take over the kingdom of Alabasta as a stepping stone to eventual world conquest. The big fight to the finish lasts something like 200 pages, and it features an incredibly tense sequence involving the Straw Hats helping Vivi scale a clock tower by kicking or throwing her higher and higher in the air so she can stop the bomb at the last possible second, followed by an amazingly moving act of self-sacrifice from Pell, a royal guard who can change into a giant falcon, that Oda paces for maximum emotional effect, somehow weaving flashbacks and reactions from nearly every character into the middle of a split-second rescue, perfectly paced to leave the reader floored:

And that's not even the finale! Luffy's final battle with Crocodile builds up to an earth-shaking final moment, emphasizing the pure evil of the villain and the determination of the hero with one of those bits in which the former asks the latter how he can possibly find the will to keep fighting, and why he cares so much to risk his own life for another, which gives us a classic shonen manga declaration of friendship:

This could be corny, but with everything we know about these characters, the relationships that have been built over hundreds of pages, it's moving and emotional, a moment worthy of cheers, and it provides the certainty of an awesome triumph, a promise that Oda delivers on beyond the wildest expectations:

And as the perfect punctuation to the victory, we get this moment in which Vivi's father, the king, offers his thanks to Luffy:

That combination of righteous determination and happy-go-lucky adventure is the basis of this series, and it's exactly what makes it so fun and satisfying to read. Now I've just got another forty or so volumes to go...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Neverending Fray: No one enters!

Groo the Wanderer #86
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1992

One of the funny things about Groo is that he can be both an unstoppable force and an immovable object; when he puts his mind to something, he's going to do everything he can to accomplish it, whether his goal is acquiring some food, defeating an army singlehandedly, or following some order so obtusely that he completely defeats its purpose. This issue sees him take "immovable" status; having been ordered to guard the entrance to a city and let no one pass, he takes the direction extremely literally, refusing to let anyone enter, including the residents of the city and the army who left him to defend their homes. It's a version of the "don't ever base plans around Groo" rule, but one that's centered in ignorance rather than duplicity, a case in which Groo's stupidity turns what should be a simple situation into a ridiculous problem.

I'm always impressed by the variety of stories that can be told in this comic, and this is a nice example of one of the many approaches to the character. Some of the tales based around him can be complex, with lots of characters bouncing off him and surprising incidents spinning out of his actions, but this story goes the other way, taking a simple concept and just making it funny. Groo simply plants himself in people's way, and they have to struggle to find a way around him, with amusing attempts ranging from bargaining and threats to bribes and trickery:

It's funny stuff, although the Groo Crew seems to recognize that it's a little too simple on its own, so that main story actually takes place as a story that one of the town's elders is relating to the others to explain why they've got two entrances (which ended up being the final solution to the issue). He also tells of a neighboring city who ordered Groo to protect a bridge from an invading army, which gives us this amusing moment:

But the final punchline to their mockery of the mendicant who caused so much trouble comes when they realize that the man they hired to guard the door to the room where they were meeting is, you guessed it, Groo! It's an obvious gag that was set up from the beginning of the story, but it's no less amusing when the payoff finally comes around:

As I always say, the rich world that Sergio and company have created here has endless possibilities for great stories, and seeing them take something so simple and spin it into hilarity just makes me marvel at how skillful they are at this. My only concern is that I'm going to run out of ways to say so.

Next: "The Supreme General"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: No regular supporting cast, but Sergio makes an appearance as one of a chorus of singers that tries to put Groo to sleep with a lullaby:

Hidden message(s): Nothing this issue.
Moral: "Only a fool follows orders without knowing why."
Spanish words: The town of Tula might be named after a city in Mexico.
Running jokes: Groo's table manners are so terrible, he eats the bill. He also gets tempted with some cheese dip and says "You take me for the fool I am!" An old joke makes a comeback when someone calls Groo "slow of mind" and he asks them what they mean six pages later.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Doorman
Letter column jokes: Douglas Graen writes to say that he finally broke down and bought a bunch of back issues of Groo, even though he had been boycotting the series for years due to its poor paper quality. This gives Mark the opening to mention the change in format (better paper, more pages, less ads, higher price), which will start next issue, and he apologizes for the price increase, but says that, as the saying goes, three things are inevitable: death, taxes, and higher comic book prices. But then he remembers that there are lots of other things that are inevitable, including the cable going out, people painting your house number on the curb and demanding money (this is the second time he's mentioned this in a letter column, so it must be a real pet peeve), and traffic jams on the Ventura Freeway at rush hour. Samual Wallin writes in with a joke, asking why elephant are big, grey, and wrinkly. Mark thinks about it and says that it can't be the old gag that if they were small, white, and smooth they would be aspirin, but Samual contributes another letter with that exact punchline, causing Mark to remember not to overestimate the class of Groo readers. He then prints a few Grooism entries: Tomas O. Togmdha contributes two, with the first being a time a friend said he couldn't tell someone the time because his watch is five minutes fast, and the second being when he said "I wish I could swim well. What if I was on a ship and it drowned? I could sink?" Ryan Poenisch tells of a friend's comment upon watching a commercial from the National Arbor Day Foundation: "What does planting trees have to do with a place you park boats?" Returning to jokes, Andrew Zombek asks if he can "computer scan" Groo into his law school briefs, and Mark says lawyers already have a bad enough reputation in this country. Chris Carter threatens to sue the "Groo Dudes" if they print his letter, but Mark says he's not worried, especially if Chris gets Andrew Zombek to represent him. And, in a final comment, Mark thanks actress Jewel Shepard, star of Hollywood Hot Tubs II, for "services above and beyond the call of Groodom", whatever that means.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #15+

One of the common sources of amusement in superhero comics comes from when characters are fighting and somehow deliver speeches or have exchanges with each other while they're flying through the air and punching each other. It's one of those quirks of the comics medium, and it can be a suspension-of-disbelief-breaking moment when somebody has time to speak several sentences in between when they throw a punch and when it lands. But it's not always a dealbreaker, as Eiichiro Oda proves in this scene from the 21st volume of One Piece. For context, good guy Sanji (the Straw Hat Pirates' cook, who fights with his feet to preserve his hands from any damage) is fighting bad guy Mr. 2 Bon Clay (who can take on the appearance of anybody he has touched, but reverts back to his normal appearance when he touches his face), and he's having trouble because the latter keeps impersonating Nami, and he can't bring himself to hurt even a simulacrum of her face:

Amusingly, Sanji has time to reflect on Mr. 2 Bon Clay's weakness (and also light a cigarette!) while the latter is flying through the air to kick him. And then, after avoiding said kick and responding with a kick of his own (one so fast that his leg is an indistinct blur), Sanji has time to have an exchange with Mr. 2 Bon Clay and trick him into reverting to a kickable face before it lands. It's ridiculous, but it fits in with the exaggerated nature of the action in this series, and thus becomes awesome. Realism isn't the slightest concern in this comic, so there's no need to nitpick the details; just enjoy the craziness.

Also of note in this sequence is Oda's use of distorted perspective to exaggerate the action. He does this a lot, with characters punching or kicking "into" a panel, and their limbs become elongated to the point of absurdity, surrounded by speed lines that almost make it look like the reader is staring into a tunnel, eyes drawn directly into the target of the blow. I love the way Mr. 2 Bon Clay's leg almost gets lost among the speed lines on the first page above, and Sanji's leg does something similar on the last page; it's like a massive burst of energy is being directed right into their opponent's face. I love the way Oda makes all these elements work together to deliver such amazing action, and he does it over and over, with enough variations that it never gets old.

Also also, this is as good a time as any to talk about the craziness of Mr. 2 Bon Clay. Just look at this weirdo:

He's a seriously insane character, a flamboyant goofball who wears makeup, a poof-ball headband, ballet slippers (which draw attention to his hairy legs), what appear to be beach ball underpants, and a coat with decorative wings and weird swan protrusions on the shoulders. He's apparently supposed to be a transvestite/drag queen, but if he's coded as gay, it's not seen as threatening by other characters; if anything, he's just annoying. The English translation seems to downplay the gay aspect (although there is one point in which he impersonates a king, and somebody makes a comment about him being both a queen and a king, and there are some references to him being both male and female), or at least leaves it as a subtle aspect of his character for older readers to recognize. In the original Japanese, he refers to his fighting style as "Okama kenpo", which translates as "Crossdresser Fist Way", but in the English-language manga, it is called "Oh Come My Way Karate", which is an amusing way of turning it into a pun on the original word while adding some vague flirtatiousness. I'm kind of fascinated by how bizarre he is, while still remaining a dangerous threat that is taken seriously by the characters (in fact, I think he becomes friends with the Straw Hat Pirates after this storyline, in classic shonen manga fashion). He's really just another bit of craziness in this world that Oda has created, fitting right in alongside people who can turn their bodies into wax/swords/spikes/sand/etc. He's nuts, but I kind of love him.

Bonus! For a good time, check out a Google image search for "2 Bon Clay cosplay".

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Relish: Well, I certainly did

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
By Lucy Knisley
Published by First Second

Is there a comics equivalent of food porn--that is, the subgenre of movies that feature such delicious-looking food being prepared, served, and eaten that one becomes mouth-wateringly hungry (Examples: Big Night, Tortilla Soup, Eat Drink Man Woman)? Because if not, Lucy Knisley offers an excellent starting point here for what will could kick-start a subgenre of its own. Her depictions of food and the preparation and eating thereof are cute, charming, and unique in their combination of cartooniness and realistic texture and volume, and yes, they look delicious, whether she's detailing gourmet meals, fast-food guilty pleasures, or homemade chocolate chip cookies. It's not just the pictures though; her comics-style descriptions of the various comestibles combine text and image in a way that makes the treats especially delectable:

This isn't just a book-length series of images of food though, it's actually something of a memoir, with Knisley using food as a subject, whether central or tangential to the events depicted, and filtering her life so far through her relationship to the edible delights that have been such a large part of her upbringing and adult life. She's only in her mid-twenties, but she has enough of interest to describe, discuss, and impart that age is no issue. Her life makes for an interesting throughline, whether she's talking about her youth in New York City and, after her parents divorced, in upstate New York, or her years in art school in Chicago, but the structure is fairly loose, with some chapters covering certain periods in Knisley's life and others veering off to discuss more tangential subjects like Knisley's enjoyment of junk food despite her gourmet-loving father's objections, or how her mother (an excellent cook and Knisley's obvious culinary role model) forced her to learn how to make chocolate chip cookies through her own experimentation. Some other chapters focus on a specific time period or incident, such as a trip to Mexico in which Knisley and a friend both experienced life-changing moments of transition from childhood to adolescence.

It's a wonderful trip through Knisley's life, a rigorous exploration of how she came to be who she is and why she loves food and everything surrounding it, from its preparation, to the culture surrounding it, to the context of where and with whom memorable meals were eaten. Her clear-line artwork makes for a perfect depiction of the people and places, giving them enough specificity (and continuity, with people being recognizable at different ages and at different times throughout Knisley's life) to convey that they are real people, but remaining cartoony enough that they and their experiences are universal.

What's more, Knisley ends each chapter with a recipe, how-to, or collection of food-related tips drawn from her own experiences, and they're lovely bits of design, taking a comics approach to what can often be dry recitation of ingredients and procedures. The beautiful art and fanciful text livens up the proceedings, making the process look enjoyable and the results mouth-watering. It's a great bonus, and it even makes a cooking-averse kitchen-phobe like me consider trying them out to see if I can manage to concoct anything similar to the delicacies on display.

As the book nears the end and the timeline approaches the present, Knisley finds some closure with a chapter in which she reflects on her parents' relationship and sees how food and all the elements surrounding it have played such an important part in her life and theirs. But she has much of her life ahead of her, so she continues onward to define a sort of philosophy of social eating, and in a final chapter that's sort of a love letter to the delicious eating available in the city of Chicago, she describes a visit to the kitchen of the restaurant Alinea, a "molecular gastronomy" restaurant that serves incredible food in amazingly imaginative ways (this is something of a follow-up to a webcomic Knisley made in 2008 about eating there). It's kind of an odd way to finish the volume, but it works as a way to look to the future, as Knisley continues to consider how food affects her life and relationships. It's definitely an important subject for her, and she's sure to create more stories and develop more ideas as her life goes on. Here's hoping for a second volume in five or ten years, and knowing Knisley, it will be just as delightful as this one.

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #14

I love the cartoony sensibility that Eiichiro Oda brings to One Piece, and the expressive characters are always a real highlight of the artwork. It's shonen manga, so there's a lot of exaggeration, but somehow, Oda is constantly pushing it to new levels, with characters often sporting mouths so wide open with laughter or screams that they stretch to at least twice the size of the rest of their heads. One would think so much high-volume reaction would end up being monotonous, but Oda regularly comes up with new ways to demonstrate surprise, disbelief, anger, and all manner of other emotions. Here's a current favorite, from a scene in volume 21 in which horndog Sanji is fighting Mr. 2 Bon Clay, who can assume the appearance of people he has touched:

I don't know why, but this moment cracks me up. Sanji is regularly depicted as swooning over beautiful women, especially the Merry Go's navigator Nami (who Mr. 2 Bon Clay is emulating here), but the sudden appearance of a Tex Avery-style freakout is just hilarious. It might be that Sanji was presented as the serious half of the battle, stoically rebuffing Mr. 2 Bon Clay's ridiculousness, only to suddenly assume an even sillier expression himself, or maybe it's the way the expression is turned on and off like a light switch, but whatever the case, it's a great example of Oda's facility with humor, even in the midst of incredible action. You never know what you're going to get in this comic, but it almost always lands perfectly and gets a big reaction. Oda is a pro, no matter how much it seems like he's just throwing nonsense onto the page.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #13

I love the way that shonen manga is all about friendship, loyalty, determination, and other such virtues in the midst of bombastic action, and Eiichiro Oda's One Piece does this as well as any comic I've ever read. In fact, the displays of heart in the midst of incredibly hard-hitting fights are often just amazing, leaving the reader open-mouthed in astonishment at how effectively Oda sells it all, and then cheering in jubilation when the good guys win. Here's a great example from volume 20 of the series.

Actually, the sequence probably requires some explanation first; while the action is pretty clear and understandable in the context of a full story, taking a mid-battle sequence on its own might be somewhat confusing. In this scene, good guys Usopp and Chopper are fighting some villains: Ms. Merry Christmas, who has mole powers; and Mr. 4, who wields a four-ton baseball bat (along with a gun that is also a dog, because that's crazy). The mole-lady has just insulted Usopp's friend Luffy's dream of becoming king of the pirates, and this has solidified the sometimes-cowardly pirate's resolve, just as she begins to grab his feet and drag him along the ground to crash into obstacles:

The level of destruction that characters survive in this series is often pretty hilarious, but also somewhat horrific; just look at the impact of the baseball bat that almost seems to disintegrate Usopp's body, and we even get an x-ray view of his skull being cracked. But due to the incredible levels of loyalty and determination, he stands up and keeps on fighting, even though he looks like his body has completely been wrecked. It's amazingly effective, and it gets the reader on their feet cheering for the victory that is soon to follow. I think I might have mentioned this, but this comic is awesome.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Groo might be more dangerous when you don't see him coming

Groo the Wanderer #85
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1992

What we have here is a solidly entertaining story that delivers on the cover's promise of Groo being turned invisible, and hilarity ensuing. It starts when we see the aftermath of Groo's visit to some kingdom or other (the king complains that Groo always destroys his kingdom, but I don't know if we've ever seen him before; he doesn't even get a name and seems to be just a generic king character), which is impressively destructive even after all the stuff we've seen Groo wreck before, with sunken ships, burning buildings, collapsed walls, and many injuries. The king is so upset that he hires Arba and Dakarba to get rid of Groo, but as expected, their spell doesn't obliterate him, it just makes him invisible (and also soundless, since nobody can hear him talking, but they still notice his terrible smell).

And thus the wackiness ensues, as people find out about Groo's apparent death and try to seize advantage. Pal and Drumm try to find a way to profit, and Taranto immediately attempts to steal Rufferto's jeweled collar, but they all find out the truth pretty quickly, and learn that they can be assaulted just as badly by a Groo they can't see:

I like the way rendering Groo unseen emphasizes the other details of his attack, like the way the decorations on the bandits' helmets seem to come to life in surprise, and physical reactions to invisible attacks make for great slapstick violence (look at the slice that appears across the guy in the yellow shirt's stomach!).

Here's another great example of invisible Groo destroying a large group of goons:

It's like Groo's power levels have gone up when he's unseen; he can normally send some guys flying, but here it's like an explosion went off and scattered a couple dozen people through space. It's pretty awesome.

This is a fun issue, although it might be a bit overstuffed with guest stars; it probably wasn't necessary to include both Pal and Drumm and Taranto, when one of them would have sufficed to grasp the concept of an invisible Groo and give him something to beat up. But that's a nitpick; this is an entertaining bit of goofiness with plenty of amusing violence and a satisfying comeuppance for all who cross Groo's path. I'll allow it.

Next: "The Two Doors"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Arba and Dakarba, Pal and Drumm, and Taranto, plus the Groo Crew are featured in the Groo-Grams header:

Hidden message(s): While the official hidden messages have been retired, I noticed some interesting titles on the books in Arba and Dakarba's lair, including Viva MAD:

And what appears to be a shout-out to the daughters of the Groo Crew and some of their friends:

Moral: "Just because you do not see it does not mean it is not there."
Spanish words: Some of Arba and Dakarba's books feature the word "magia", which means "magic".
Running jokes: Groo is lured into a trap with the promise of cheese dip. Drumm calls Groo a mendicant, and gets pummeled for it. He also wonders if Pal is going to buy him a house, and thinks "What pirates?"
Mark Evanier's job(s): Twaddleizer
Letter column jokes: This month's column is devoted to Grooisms. Nick Gill writes of a time in which he wanted to play ball when the ground was wet, and when asking how to get rid of the water, his brother suggested washing it off with a hose. Rick Chronik (who I think used to open for Dr. Dre) tells of a friend who noted that he lived within walking distance of his home. Lisa Lerner describes a time a friend warned against opening an umbrella indoors, and when asked if she was superstitious, replied "No, but I don't want any bad luck." Abbie Gardner implicates herself, mentioning a conversation in which a friend questioned her intelligence under their breath, and she said "Hey, I heard that! I'm not blind, you know!" Brad Butler shares an encounter with a stranger who saw him yo-yoing with both hands and said "I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous!" Finally, Teddy Dastick makes fun of the brother of a fellow altar boy for asking what time midnight mass is. In other content, Mark reminds readers of the upcoming price increase, but he notes that the better printing will allow readers to see all the people Sergio draws into the background, which makes this "the only comic that makes a Where's Waldo book look unpopulated." He also plugs his writing for the upcoming cartoon adaptation of the comic strip Mother Goose & Grimm, and asks readers where he (and Walt Simonson, who was also interested) might be able to see an animated film called Great which was released by the National Film Board of Canada (I tried to find it online, but I couldn't find anything by that title on the National Film Board's site, and the title is generic enough that Googling didn't yield any results).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #12

I'm currently up to volume 20 of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, at which point the story is building up to the big climax of the "Baroque Works" saga (although there are still at least three more volumes to go before it's over), and I'm loving it as much as ever. True to its name, this storyline seems to be about excess, with tons of characters being thrown into the mix (I think there are at least a dozen major players all bouncing off each other at this point), each one crazier than the last. That's something that Oda does so well, just coming up with weirdness and silliness (I'm sure I'll get to Mr. 2 Bon Clay soon enough...), throwing in lots of jokes, but still treating it all seriously enough to keep the reader invested in the outcome. Here's one of my favorite character introductions so far:

That's right, it's the Supersonic Duck Squadron! I love these guys; they're goofy anthropomorphic animals wearing wacky costumes and sporting silly expressions, but they're still badasses, showing up in the nick of time to save the day. Like so much of the series, their introduction makes me laugh, but it also makes me pump my fist in anticipation of awesomeness to come. I don't know how Oda manages to maintain such a delicate balance between ridiculousness and awesomeness, but he's obviously one of a kind, since there's nobody else that can pull it off like he does.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Neverending Fray: TV is for dummies, but what about Groo comics?

Groo the Wanderer #84
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1991

Here's an example of a certain kind of "social commentary" issue of Groo, in which a certain aspect of modern life is filtered through the comic's quasi-medieval setting with amusing results. This might get tiresome if done too often or in a way that's too preachy, but it's mostly just funny here, with a look at what passes for TV in Groo's world: puppet theater. If there's any message here, it's the old directive to get out and see the world instead of looking at a screen all day, but the best part of the story is seeing Mark and Sergio detail the origins of how a competing pair of puppeteers manage to duplicate all the stuff that TV does to keep people watching, like dumbed-down shows full of mindless violence, paid sponsorship, reporting on the news, the invention of TV dinners, 24-hour programming, and the establishment of networks all across the land. It's a pretty accurate portrayal of people's relationship to what they watch, and the way that reasonable choices people make can lead to physical, intellectual, and moral laziness without anybody realizing it.

This does end up being another issue in which Groo is kind of stuck on the sidelines while the story plays out, although he does contribute some funny stuff, mostly through insisting that the puppeteers include more hitting  in their shows. But the rest of the satire is so on point, one barely notices. I especially like some of the little gags, like this puppeteer reporting on the weather while looking up in the sky to make his prediction:

Or this parade of late-night programming that resembles televangelists, dating services, and infomercials:

And the creation of children's shows that are thinly-disguised advertisements for toys must have been something of a personal issue for Mark Evanier (who wrote for various cartoons of the time):

This sort of thing could occasionally get tiresome, but this example of it is pretty darn entertaining, making for a skewed look at modern society that's exaggerated and simplified just enough to make us realize how true it is. It's the sort of thing that the Groo Crew does incredibly well (along with all the other stuff they do so well, of course); I'll take more, as long as I also get to see Groo wrecking stuff. More hitting!

Next: "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: A bunch of them show up in the Groo-Grams header (and Mark and Sergio are in Groo-Grams itself):

In the actual story, here's the back of Alfred E. Neuman's head again:

And speaking of MAD, these puppets look like some of the Usual Gang of Idiots:

Hidden message(s): Mark said there weren't going to be any more of these, but this issue has one right on the cover, with the puppet theater being titled "The Secret Message":

Moral: "Your life is the greatest show of all. Do not let anyone else direct."
Spanish words: One puppeteer advertises the "elixir of ruda", and ruda is Spanish for the herb rue. It's not Spanish, but one of the puppeteers is named Pupi, after the Opera dei Pupi, which is the traditional Sicilian marionette theater (you can see an example of a performance here). Another puppeteer is named Rene, presumably after an old-school showbiz personality who did puppets on various TV shows and in Las Vegas (here, have another video).
Running jokes: Groo gets called a mendicant.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Manipulator
Letter column jokes: This month, the letter column is replaced by a strip in which Mark and Sergio explain that the comic will no longer be sold on newsstands starting with issue #85, and in issue #87, the price will go up to $2.25 (from $1.00, which is quite an increase!), with "more pages of story and better printing." I'll talk more about that when we get to it, but it marks a pretty big change for the comic, with backup strips, a longer letter column, a Rufferto comic on the back cover, and an introductory message from Mark and/or Sergio on the inside front cover. Neat!
Miscellaneous: I like the pun in this ad, as well as all the cool fightin' moves on display: