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Post my Face Wanted Dead or Alive June 5, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Cartooning, Other.
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A few months ago another blog (Drawn!? Boing Boing? I don’t remember) posted something about Damien Weighill’s blog Your Face.  For those who haven’t seen it, Damien was trying to discern whether there are actually people out there reading blogs, so he offered to create an original artwork from portraits people sent him.  He found out, as it turned out, that there are tons of people reading blogs.  I scrambled to find a picture and send it in, like a thousand others did that day.  I wasn’t first in the queue, and it took a while for him to get to mine.  But he posted it today:

dane.png

I don’t think it looks anything like me, of course.  But it could be one of those disliking-my-voice-when-I-hear-it-played-on-a-tape-recorder sorts of thing. There was something of the facial expression I had on that day (this was a couple of years ago when I was out with my family taking pictures of the flood in Lowell Massachusetts–no, not this year’s flood, the one before that, maybe two years ago, Mothers’ Day weekend) that makes more sense with the gun pointed on my head.  Um, it was still raining, so that’s why I was wearing a hat, which I hardly ever do.

Anyway, thanks a bunch, Damien.  I subscribe to your blog and smile each time I see a new post in my bloglines in-box. 

Go, Speed! April 3, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Cartooning, Japan, Other.
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Sandra Bullock was a guest on The Daily Show a couple of weeks ago.  She is amazingly funny, and held her own with Jon Stewart, cracking him up.  Maybe she seems even funnier than she actually is because she is so conventionally attractive.  I never expect somebody of either sex who is that attractive to be so witty.  Anyway, they were talking about her current movie, which is apparently all jumbled, temporally speaking (although some reviews assert that it is jumbled in many other ways, too).  Events don’t appear sequentially in the narrative, like Slaughterhouse Five, I guess, although I haven’t seen the film, and probably won’t until it comes out on DVD.  Ms. Bullock pointed out that, as an actress, all films were like this to her, because they don’t film scenes in the order in which they will eventually appear.

Sometimes things are like this watching shows in syndication, too.  Remember M*A*S*H?  They had a final episode that wrapped up the lives of various prominent roles.  I don’t remember what happend to any of them because I was pretty bored with the show by then, but I know that they did. 

As a kid, I watched Speed Racer, and I always wondered what happened in the final episode. Did he ever find out that Racer X was actually his brother Rex Racer, who had run away from home many years before?  Did he ever marry his girlfriend Trixie? 

You can’t really find out from the official Speed Racer site, because they only summarize episodes from the first two or three disks, before they got bored, I guess.  I rented three of the five Speed Racer disks from netflix, and I found that the final two were only available for purchase.  So I ordered them from somewhere and we watched the final episode last week.  Since you, gentle reader, are dying to know what happened, I’ll summarize Episodes 51 and 52, “The Race Around the World.”

The episode begins as Speed enters the Around the World Grand Prix.  The winner is to be awarded “a small mountain of purest gold.”  Just before the race started, the sponsor, Mr. Goldminter, announced that there would be an additional prize.  The winner would also marry his daughter, the beautiful Lovelace Goldminter.

Naturally, Lovelace is horrified, and with her faithful servant/mechanic Oscar, she decides to enter the race.

Some of the racers, Lovelace among them, disguised as a boy, notice that the rules did not prohibit interfering with other racers, so they decide that they will do everything they can to wreck each others’ chances of winning.  Speed, of course, wants no part of such talk.  Quoth he:

All the gold in the world isn’t worth a man’s honor.

And,

I’ll win fair and square and no other way.

The race begins in California, with Formula 1 cars, and racers are soon pushing each other off the road and using dirty tricks to wreck the other cars.  They travel through Washington DC, for some reason, although their first destination is Miami.  Before they get to Miami, somebody working for Lovelace tampers with Speed’s jetboat.  So even though he is the first to arrive (naturally), his boat catches fire on the way to Brazil.  Speed and his assistant Sparky began to fix the boat just as Lovelace and Oscar comes by, dropping off Speed’s brother Spritle and his pet monkey, Chim Chim, who had sneaked aboard Lovelace’s boat, thinking that it was Speed’s. 

After repairing the boat, they get back in the race, only to find that Lovelace’s boat had crashed into some rocks.  Lovelace and Oscar are in imminent danger of being eaten by a shark, so Speed stops his boat and dives into the water with a knife in his teeth.  He kills the shark and tells them that they should row to a nearby island while that shark distracts the others in the area.  Then he gets back into the race.  Another assistant of Lovelace’s steals another jetboat and she gets back in the race, too.

When they reach Brazil, the racers transfer to fanboats to make their way up the Amazon.  Then they transfer to biplanes (!?!) for the rest of the journey through South America.  Racer number 4 (Reed Scrounge, if I caught it correctly, and his unnamed assistant) had thought ahead, installing a huge switchblade on one wing, with which he cut the wings off of most of the other planes, sending their pilots and crew to the ground.  Speed and Sparky crash in this manner and have to build a boat out of logs to make it the rest of the way to the next checkpoint.

Geography is abused in a number of ways, I think.  I’m relatively certain that there is no major river that flows from the headwaters of the Amazon to Tierra del Fuego.  At any rate, they get aboard submarines to travel to Antarctica, then snow trackers to the South Pole.  First Lovelace’s snow tracker is thrown into a crevasse. Speed pulls her out, and Spritle discovers, during the rescue, that she is actually a girl.  He tells Speed, but he doesn’t believe Spritle.  Speed calls her “the smart-aleck boy who travels with the old man.”

Then Speed’s snow tracker is destroyed by a land mine, placed by Scrounge.  He and Sparky rig a snow sailer out of the parts to continue.  In Antarctica, we see Scrounge’s true colors, the depths of his evil, when his assistant spots a flock of penguins and points them out to him.  Scrounge says:

Let’s have some fun with them.

And then he drives straight through.  It isn’t all that graphic, because the only type of gore that the cartoonists were comfortable with was explosions, but the point is well-made:  Scrounge is bad.  He’s a bad guy. 

The race resumes in Africa.  Although they are traveling from the South to the North, the race seems to take place entirely within the Sahara, in jeeps.  Scrounge lobs hand grenades from his jeep, dozens of them.  Speed thinks that it is Lovelace throwing the grenades, because Scrounge has painted her number on his jeep.  Um, they take motorcycles (with side cars) through Italy, then, finally, climb aboard the Mach 5, which takes them through Russia and Siberia.  At some point in Siberia, Lovelace runs out of gas.  Speed stops and loans her some.  They shake hands and he discovers that she is a girl, because of her soft hands.

sr404-01-07.jpg

Unfortunately, Speed soon runs out of gas himself.  Racer X happens by (He is not competing. Perhaps his yurt was nearby.) and chews Speed out.  Speed had no obligation to help the other racers, Rex tells him.  He shouldn’t have let Lovelace have that gas.

sr304-01-07.jpg

Speed realizes it was a stupid mistake for a professional racer to make, and he cries, eventually lying on his back and tearing grass out of the ground weeping and sobbing.  You can fight sharks for other drivers.  You can turn around and pull them out of a crevasse.  You can offer to give them a ride if their boat is smashed.  But do not, under any circumstances, give them your gasoline.  It is an odd code, but it is not ambiguous.

sr204-01-07.jpg

But Sparky watches Racer X drive away and notices that he had left a can of gas behind.   So they race towards Vlaidivostok, where they will catch a ship to take them to the final leg of the race, to Tokyo.  Scrounge attempts once again to run Speed off the road, and Speed hits his automatic jack, sending the Mach 5 into the air.  Scrounge flies off a cliff and his car blows up.  Although Scrounge’s car appears in the distance shots of the subsequent ticker-tape parade, he is not seen again.  Lovelace comes in second, and Speed wins.  He doesn’t claim Lovelace as his prize, but heads off to “more exciting adventures,” with Sparky in the car, saying

“Come on, Sparky. Let’s go!  There are more races to be won.”

sr104-01-07.jpg

So, none of the series’ loose ends are tied up.  Aside from a couple of episodes where people appear to have revelations of some sort (Episode 50, for example, where Speed tells Racer X that he thinks he is his brother Rex, and Rex punches him in the stomach and quits racing forever, in order to put more energy into his full-time secret-agent gig) the actual order of the episodes doesn’t really matter all that much. 

But now, after all these years of guessing, I know that for sure.  They left things open for the movie that is coming out next summer.  That’s thinking ahead.

Which words do you own?–Neil Gaiman March 16, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, bookmooch, Books, Cartooning, fiction, literature, Neil Gaiman, Other, vocabulary, web 2.0, writing.
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Note: This is part of a continuing series on the actual vocabulary in use in the blogosphere.  Posts on this subject started here.] 

I began to read the work of Neil Gaiman last year when somebody suggested I read Good Omens, a collaboration between Mr. Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  Then I read American Gods and Neverwhere and everything else I could get my hands on.  The only thing I haven’t been able to get ahold of is his latest, Fragile Things, which nobody has posted on Bookmooch or Paperbackswap (have to be a little frugal this year, I’m afraid.)  Anyway, Mr. Gaiman is a tremendously talented writer of creepy and interesting tales.  And he writes a darn good blog, too, which I subscribe to and read whenever I can.

I sampled 22,000 words from Mr. Gaiman’s site, spanning the period January 6 – March 14, yesterday morning.  I had to run the spell-check a little differently from the way I normally do, because Mr. Gaiman uses the English spellings of words like color, organize, check (cheque, a draft on one’s checking account), favorite, and orangutan.  So I just changed these to the Americanized versions in his list so that I could merge it in with the others.

I have started to add some words to my spell-checker, and with Mr. Gaiman’s blog I added googled, blog, blogger, blogging, edamame, and perhaps a couple of others that I forgot to write down at the time but which I was absolutely certain were correctly spelled words.

The Blogger’s Vocabulary List is getting larger with each blog I incorporate.  The latest, which includes samples from Three Quarks Daily, Daily Kos, this blog (Pretty Good on Paper) and Neil Gaiman’s Journal, contains 9,383 different words.  In a couple of months I should be able to make a pretty good estimate of the size of the vocabulary in actual use out there (here?) in the blogosphere.  Check this space for updates.

Mr. Gaiman added 1,112 words to the list, an impressive feat at this point for an individual blogger.  Here is a vocabulary cloud composed of the words Mr. Gaiman added to the list, with font sizes at twice the point size as the number of times they appeared in his 20,000-word sample (click for a larger image).

cloudng.jpg

I’ve decided to stop estimating the size of the vocabularies of individual blogs in this study because such estimates are too artificial.  Even bloggers and writers use most of their words in conversation.  And since your vocabulary is altered by each conversational partner, (your conversational partner asks a question about broccoli or oysters and you find yourself using these words yourself, if only to ask for clarification) estimates of this sort don’t seem all that relevant.

What does Mr. Gaiman’s vocabulary cloud say about him as a blogger?  What does it say about the bloggers to which his words were compared?  What will Raincoaster‘s vocabulary cloud say about her or us or anything, when it is added to this growing pool tomorrow? 

Anybody?
Anybody? 
Anybody?
Bueller?

Digital Doodlebrains March 15, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Cartooning, Other.
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Drawn just posted a link to a site I hadn’t seen before–Digital Doodle, which puts up a theme and lets you draw a picture, then posts it for votes.  I only got 3 hours of sleep last night, so although I had just read about the site, and that pictures were supposed to be based on a particular theme, and that the theme today was “Jungle,” I drew a squid.  Does the word “Jungle” encompass underwater scenes?

Much to my surprise, it turns out that my drawing was more in keeping with the actual (as opposed to official) them of the day, male genitalia.  This was accidental on my part, though.

Click picture below to enlarge.  Better yet, just don’t bother.

waryhumboldt.jpg

Books–Making Comics (IV) October 19, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, Cartooning, Memory, My other blog, Other.
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I guess I should mention here that McCloud is on tour with his family and blogging about the tour, and he has a nice website as well.  Anyway, his sections on facial expressions, body language, and emotion are the ones I have learned the most from in this wonderful book.  But again, the ones that I have found validating and the ones I find myself thinking about the most are concerned with rhetoric and consciousness. 

One of the primary difficulties everybody faces, and one that is getting much worse because of the internet, is the simple fact that we are drowning in information.  If you don’t find yourself constantly struggling to filter out superfluous information, you are doing it unconsciously. 

So to gain an audience, whether it is in some sort of writing at work, or performing, or gaining and keeping friends, you have to make sure that you don’t send too many messages that you don’t intend to broadcast, because these increase the ratio of noise to signal.  And they make everyone’s information management problems more difficult.

Think, for just a second, about how many Web 2.0 technologies exist only to help us to filter our information more effectively.  Bloglines (or other RSS reading mechanisms) allows us to take weblogs that may have radically different facades and make them appear more uniform so that we can extract the actual content from webposts, rather than getting distracted by the appearance of that post and that blog.  Google and other search engines filter out sites when we are looking for information.  Flickr sets up tags so that we don’t have to (mostly) look at thousands of pictures that we are uninterested in.

Or think about this:

“[I]t is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second, or 7,560 per minute, or almost half a million per hour.  Over a lifetime of seventy years, and counting sixteen hours of waking time each day, this amounts to about 185 billion bits of information.  It is out of this total that everything in our life must come–every thought, memory, feeling, or action. ”  —Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990.

Or take it from Scott McCloud:

“Your readers are humans, just like you and me, and we all sort information in the same way.  Every day our five senses take in an overwhelming amount of information, yet we quickly sort out what we care about from the chaos and direct our attention toward it.  And at the end of the day, it’s the flow of selected moments that we remember–and all those other sensations are left on the cutting-room floor.”

So you are engaged constantly, as the day progresses, in creating a narrative of that day, a flow of events that makes enough sense to you that you will remember it as a story. 

For Csikszentmihalyi, this constant decision-making process is called “attention.” 

“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work it is dissipated.  We create ourselves by how we invest this energy.  Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it.  And it is an energy under our control, to do with as we pleasse; hence, attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.” Flow, pp. 33.  (This forms a part of the context for my other blog, in case it wasn’t obvious already).

McCloud’s advice about how to get rid of extraneous information from cartoons and how to think about composition in this medium is a better, more helpful guide to rhetoric in any medium than I have seen in books posing as guides to rhetoric.  And part of the reason he gets these messages across so forcefully is that he does it visually (a big part, too, is that he is passionate about the importance of this stuff.)   Whether you are constructing a comic book or making sense of your day, McCloud is in invaluable explainer.

I might have more to say about McCloud as I continue to ponder this book.  For now all I can say is, in the words of Patrick McDonnell’s cartoon dog(?) character in Mutts: “I bow to your wow.”

Facial Expressions and Cartooning October 19, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, Cartooning, Education, Massachusetts Drivers, Other.
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In response to the interesting comments of Nannette and David B. Dale I have only a few insights into this.  As a guy who is coming to think of himself as a high-fuctioning (at least some of the time) autistic, some sort of early education into what various facial expressions mean might indeed have been helpful.  Perhaps the sort of education Nannette suggests, whereby children are asked to draw cartoon characters with various emotional states.  If I recall correctly, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, which I liked quite a bit when I read it some years ago, did not spill much ink regarding that subject. 

My son was engaged in some sort of role-playing activity in school yesterday that did something very similar.  They were asked to fight over a pencil in the way that younger kids in the school would, and then asked to disagree about the possession of it afterward in the way older kids were expected to.  It’s a pretty good Montessori school, so they do this kind of stuff all the time.  My son, primarily due to my wife’s constant attention and influence, seems to read people much more consistently well than I did as a child.

David describes a scene where apparently he and the traffic cop felt threatened and they worked it out by means of facial expressions.  That sort of exchange has the potential to ruin my day.  I learned to drive in California, where driving decisions are primarily mediated by traffic signals and rights of way (well, that’s the way it was in the early 1980s).  Now I live out here in Massachusetts, where rights of way are negotiated on an almost constant basis.  Waves of hands and subtextual cues and traditions that I find it hard to fathom and that I resent quite a bit. 

For example, people often expect that in intersections where there is no left-turn-only arrow signals, oncoming traffic is expected (by tradition?) to let the first car facing them to turn left in front of them.  Often, people behind them will take advantage of tentative, hesitant drivers to follow that left-turning car until the oncoming car (the one who has had the right of way legally the whole time) asserts itself by plowing forward into the cars turning left.  The whole thing seems incredibly dangerous to me.

I guess cars have gestures, although I suspect they are not so anthropomorphic as the ones exhibited in that recent children’s movie.  But I miss the days of driving on the west coast where I didn’t have to read them.

Books–Making Comics (III) October 18, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, Books, Cartooning, Other.
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I’m going to respond to the comments of David B Dale in this post, rather than just leaving him in the comments thing to be unearthed by only the very curious.  Let me first say that you must have a great deal of discipline to write 299-word short stories every single day (I didn’t count, but that seems to be the idea).  Your blog is very interesting, a sort of one-man McSweeney‘s, and once my tribulations at work stabilize I plan on taking a closer look at some of the stories. 

In response to your thoughtful post, I’m not sure how much I have to say.  My own was hastily constructed (and riddled with typos, I notice upon actually reading it.  It occurs to me that McCloud elaborates later on in the same chapter (I think that was where) on adult facial expressions, which he claims are predominantly formed by efforts to mask the emotions they actually feel.  Mea culpa, I guess. 

I saw, back when my son was intensively focussed upon dinosaurs, the series Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, which ends with a close examination of the development of humans.  There is in that video a whole sequence on the evolutionary aspects of facial expressions that had me thinking at the time that most of our expressions evolved out of flight, fight, or knuckle-under reflexes.  Not a lot of call, from the perspective of evolutionary biology at least, for smiles and other types of “positive” expressions.  That’s a pretty anthropocentric view of this, I suppose.

Books–Making Comics, (II) October 17, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Cartooning, Other.
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Just coming off reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time I have been doing some thinking about autism.  Oh, and Coupland’s JPod had me thinking about it as well (because of one of the characters’ assertion that her coworkers were all a type of high-functioning autistics).  I read in Boing Boing last week that there was a recent study showing that there is a new take on autism, that it is not so much a disorder as a new type of person.  At any rate, I’ve been thinking a little about it and now I happen to read Making Comics.  The main character in The Curious Incident has memorized a few drawings of facial expressions so that he can tell when people are happy or angry and that sort of thing.  Scott McCloud’s new book, Making Comics, comes with an excellent guide for such things, showing you how to draw various facial expressions, which he claims are all combinations of six different basic types:

  1. Anger
  2. Disgust
  3. Fear
  4. Joy
  5. Sadness
  6. Surprise

What does it say about the human condition that there is really only one positive emotion represented there.  Anyway, McCloud asserts that there is a continuum between strong and weak varieties of these, and that if they are combined, in groups of twos, threes and whatever, they create more complicated, and natural emotions.

So disgust and sadness create “pain empathy,” joy and sadness create “faint hope,” and so on.  This book is a joy to look at because all of these are depicted in there.

Books–Making Comics October 15, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Cartooning, Memory, Other.
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Making Comics, by Scott McCloud, is as brilliant as every says it is, of course.  I read his first (non-fiction) book some years ago and was clotheslined by it.  This one is, I think, even better.  I am going to slice this review thing into several different posts, because there is a lot to talk about in this book. 

First thing, and most obvious, is that I’ve wanted to draw a comic strip for many, many years.  It goes all the way back to junior high school, in fact.  I was relatively new in the (no longer) small city of Folsom California.  I met two fellow trumpet players in the band and we became great friends for more than a decade.  I have since lost touch with both of them, since they never seemed to feel the need to keep up what became in 1992 an increasingly long-distance friendship.  I hear about them periodically through other friends with whom I half-way keep in touch.

At any rate, both of these guys could draw.  And I could not.  One of them drew really cool superhero-type people and later became even more proficient with his art.  The other one had unbounded talent.  He could do caricatures, he could come up with plot-lines on the fly.  He was extremely smart and funny.  He never did anything with that talent, though.  I think that I am one of the few people who really got a glimpse of what he could do.  It’s not that I think he wasted his life because he could have made a living at drawing, illustrating, cartooning, whatever.  He certainly could have.  But it is a shame that he did not at least show his work to more people.  With the new free hosting of blogs and websites, he could have a huge audience.  He could make the world a slightly better place. 

I’m not going to name him here, but I will show you one of his pieces, created during the 50 minutes of a chemistry class, somewhere around the time that Reagan was shot.  The idea is stolen from a Saturday Night Live bit, if I remember correctly, a Canadian musical version of Alice in Wonderland called Nannette in Fantasticland.  The people are recognizably friends of ours and people in classes with us, or band.  I cannot recall which one was supposed to be me.  But I married Nannette.  I am a lucky guy.

nannette-med.jpg Click on this stupid thumbnail to see the picture. 

Anyway, McCloud’s book has piqued my interest in starting a comic strup once again.  And this time I’m going to do it.  It will be in this blog, I think.  And that’s anywhere near the end of what I have to say about McCloud’s book.  So stay tuned for that.