Tag Archives: humor

Norman Rockwell

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When I was a boy in the 1960’s I looked forward to Grandma Aldrich’s Saturday Evening Post arriving at the end of her farm lane in the mailbox.  We were at Grandpa and Grandma’s farm north of town almost every day.  I often went to get the mail.  This one magazine was supremely important to me, not because I liked to read the articles, that was too much like school, but because of the wonderful pictures on the cover.  Norman Rockwell had established himself by that time as THE cover artist.  He wasn’t on every single issue, but he was on most.  And the world inside his paintings was filled with the kind of gentle humor, beautiful color, and wisdom tempered by love that I wanted to imitate.  I wanted to paint just like that… and if I couldn’t, then I would find a way to tell stories in words the same way I saw them in his oils.  I could gush more about the humble painter from New England, but I think it would serve my love of his work more just to show you what I mean;

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That Silly Old Writer, Me!

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I was invited to take part in the “My Writing Process” blog tour by a fellow young adult fiction writer, Stuart West.  (https://stuartrwest.blogspot.com)  Stuart is the author of the Tex, the Witch Boy series of paranormal YA thrillers.  He is something of a mentor to me, and easily the best published author I am personally acquainted with.  Before you take me seriously, you should definitely check out his blog.

For this little exercise, I have to answer four questions, then invite three other authors to do the same.  I’m a little slow on getting others to agree to this plan, but I am shameless when it comes to opportunities to talk about my own writing.  I will post the three authors later this week, after I am done begging and bribing.  

Step 1: Acknowledge the person and the blog site that invited you to take part.

As you can see, I’ve done that above, but here is the second mention; Stuart R. West .  (https://stuartrwest.blogspot.com

Step 2: Answer four questions about your writing process.
1)      What am I working on?
2)       How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3)       Why do I write what I do?
4)       How does your writing process work?

  1. What I am working on now is a story that is sequel-requel-prequel to my novel Catch a Falling Star.  That means that it uses characters from that novel, a bunch of new ones, and some from other stories of mine as well to tell what happened before that novel, during that novel, and after that novel.  Silly plan!  Believe me, I realize that while sweating over re-quel details (a phrase that here means a retelling of parts of that novel – I do also realize I stole this particular conceit from Lemony Snicket).  The book will be called The Bicycle Wheel Genius about a scientist who is a super-genius inventor trying to live incognito in a little Iowa farm town after leaving government service.  He is trying to live down a family tragedy while at the same time befriending the boy next door, avoiding government agents and assassin robots, dealing with an alien invasion by invisible alien frog people,  juggling time travelers, creating rabbit-men, and engineering old-fashioned high-wheel bicycles. 
  2. How does my work differ?  You have to ask?  Unlike all the careful plotters, step-by-step writing crafters, and picky editor types out there, I put words and ideas in a blender, mix on the “Are you insane?” setting, and then let it all come pouring out into pages and scenes and chapters (although I call them cantos for some bizarre reason).  I also have to admit that I base a lot of my characters on real people that I either grew up with in Iowa, or met over my thirty plus years as a mostly middle school teacher.  And these stories have percolated in my head for twenty to thirty years.  Did I mention already that I am not a person who thinks in straight lines?  You can tell by the shifts, reverses, and loopty-loops in this paragraph that much of what I call humor comes from my purple paisley prose (a phrase which here means overly ornate, wordy, and down-right convoluted sentences and paragraphs).  (Thanks again, Lemony).
  3. Why do I write it?  Let me think.  Could it be because teaching middle school students for too long leads to insanity, and if the insane are going to be useful in society, they have to do something at least mildly interesting for people who live in the real world?  I mean, if I just sit in a room all day drooling and counting and re-counting my Pez dispenser collection, that wouldn’t be entirely helpful.   Writing honors all the people I have known, alive and now departed, who touched my life and made a difference to my heart.  It also helps me make sense of things that have happened to me over time and shaped me as person… hopefully a person you might like to get to know.  And you can know a person through their writing long after they are personally worm food.  How could I live without Mark Twain or Charles Dickens in my life, and both were dead long before I was born?  And I know you’re going to ask yourself what makes me think that other people couldn’t live their lives better without knowing me?  But don’t ask.  I have developed a certain amount of wisdom over the course of my life, and I know I really don’t want an answer to that question.
  4. How does my writing process work?  I have taught the writing process in the classroom so many times, that the only answer I am still sane enough to give is that everyone’s process is entirely different.  I can, however, drop an insight or two on you.  First of all, everything I have ever written is still a part of what I call Prewriting… with a capital P.  Everything ever written can be rewritten and improved.  Secondly, it is important to re-read what you write.  I hate typos and mistakes in what is supposed to be “finished” writing.  It is the reason I hate the entire experience of my first published novel, Aeroquest.    That writing will never be okay until I have a chance to re-write it and re-tell it and re-everything it.  Dang it.  Thirdly, you must carefully consider who to allow to have input on your rough draft and re-worked copies.  Even some professional editors don’t bother to try to see things in a way that reflects the fact that they care about what you have written.  You need someone on your side to share it, and love it, and cherish it the way you do.  Only that person will give you input that is worth listening to.  Fourthly, if you reach fourthly your list is too dang long.  And finally, publish it.  Share it.  Don’t put it away in a drawer for the mice and spiders to read when you are long gone. 

So, Stuart, how did I do?  I hope at least it proves what you have known all along.  That Mickey guy writes like his hair is on fire and his pants are unraveling… in front of girls.

(Three writers to be named later will take up this same blog tour… I hope.)

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Synesthesia (Part One; French Blue Monday)

This link will help you understand Synesthesia

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Yes, Mondays are blue.  Specifically French blue.  Every day of the week has its own color.  Sunday is golden yellow, Tuesday is a yellow-ochre,  Wednesday is indigo blue and sometimes changes to blue violet, Thursday is burnt orange, and Friday is solid wood brown, and of course Saturday is rich pure red while Mondays are not just any blue… they are French blue.  I learned the names of these colors from being a painter and using oil paints.  I experience these colors every week and they help me maintain the calendar in my stupid old head.  I began to realize when I first heard about the colors of the wind in the Disney movie Pocahontas that there was something to this everyday thing, something different in the way I see the world.  I have in the last few years learned that this condition has a name.  It is called synesthesia.

 

 

It has been suggested to me by more than a few people that I don’t really perceive the world the same way “normal people do”.  When I was growing up, and going to school, I never had trouble remembering to capitalize the first word in a sentence.  I did however, have a great deal of difficulty with capital letters on nouns.  Looking back on that difficulty now, I can say without a doubt that I was having trouble not because I didn’t know the difference between proper nouns and common nouns.  It was because things like the word “dog” or “chair” had to begin with the right color.  Dogs are blue when you are talking about the color of the letters in the word.  But small “d” is blue-green, not true blue.  It doesn’t fit as well as the dark blue capital “D”.  And chairs are orange-red when you write them down, while the small “c” appears light green by itself.

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Sundays are Sun-days, and that’s why they are golden yellow.

I am told that most synesthetes are taken by surprise when they learn that they are seeing things differently than other people do.  I certainly was.  I always got funny looks whenever I described Thursdays as orange, or the month of November as sky blue.  My classmates in 4th grade thought I was nuts… of course, it wasn’t just for the orange Thursdays thing.  I was not a normal kid in any real sense of the word.  I always suspected that if I could look at the world through other people’s eyes, I would probably see the color green as what I called red, or that glowing halo that surrounded things when organ music played in the Methodist church would no longer be there.  But once I learned how synesthesia works I knew it was true.   The visual part of the brain can be scanned to show activity, and lights up on the scanner as if the brain is seeing bright colors when Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is being played while the subject of the scan is actually blindfolded.  I am told that synesthesia is more common in left-handed girls.  My daughter, the Princess, tells me that she also sees color on printed numbers and letters.  She is left handed and also gifted at drawing.  I suspect she inherited the synesthesia from me.

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Synesthesia probably explains what this nonsense is all about.

Now, I acknowledge the fact that my synesthesia is self-diagnosed and not proven by any of the methods the articles I have read about the condition talked about.  But my personal experiences always seem to fall in line with descriptions of letter/number/color combinations and music/color combinations that I have read about.  And if I do have it, it is not the same as any of my six incurable diseases.  It is not a bad condition to have.  In an artistic sense, it might actually be a good thing.  I could use some good for a change.  Good doesn’t usually come from weirdness… not my weirdness, anyway.  (Oh, and capital “G” is lime green… as is the word Goodness).

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Coca-Cola Mind Control

If you’ve read very much of my goofy little blog, you’ve probably run across the fact that I am something of a conspiracy theorist and strange-twist believer… sometimes referred to as a tinfoil-hat-wearer, or that old uncle you don’t want your kids sitting next to at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  And I’ve got another one for you.  I discovered while obsessing about nostalgia and old ads in the Saturday Evening Post, that the Coca-Cola company is probably  responsible for warping my mind as a child.

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My plan in revealing this hideous conspiracy is to take a look at ads and illustrations that I saw as a kid addicted to reading Saturday Evening Post every week at Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm.  I will scour them for hidden meanings and try to reveal to you the insidious plot underlying these mind-altering illustrations.  Keep in mind that you should probably take everything I say in this article with a grain of salt.  No, really, salt can protect you from subtle mind-control messages.

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And, yes, I realize that not all the messages are that subtle.  Sometimes they shout at you, “Drink Coke and you will have more sex!”  And you have to remember we are trying to avoid that kind of mind control.  We have to fight every instance of ad companies trying to take control over us by exploiting our baser animal urges.

So, let me take a momentary interlude, a break if you will.  I have this big glass of Diet Coke I just bought at QT, and…

Well, that was good!

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Coca-Cola has been at this for a while.  This ad from the  1940’s is apparently attempting to win World War II through choice of soft drinks.  Look at this feisty brew the soldier is about to quaff.  It is actually struggling in the cup to get out and go bite some German soldier’s face off.  Any American soldier who can choke this stuff down is tough enough to take on the Axis powers, Napoleon after Hitler dug him up and used Frankenstein’s scientific breakthroughs to re-animate him, and even several countries we weren’t actually at war with.  Even Rush Limbaugh and his weird lesbian-farmer-subsidies theory can’t compete with Coke on this level of propaganda wars.

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I also think Coca-Cola ads may have something to do with why I became a Cardinals fan when I lived in a place full of Cubs and Twins fans.  I admit, I added the dialogue and the commentary, but I used to do the same thing in my head when I was eight and the Cardinals went to the World Series… and the Cubs could not win it all even with Ernie Banks on their team.  The Cardinals beat the Yankees in 7 games!

I blame Coca-Cola.  Especially their ad department.  Cause the generic manager is telling the generic Oubs player to “Relax… take it easy.”  But the Cardinals won because Bob Gibson had that laser-intensity stare that bored holes through Mickey Mantle’s bat!  (It is Oubs, not Cubs, by the way.  Look at the big “O” on his jersey.)

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And you can’t tell me that the Coca-Cola ad seen here, the one with the white-haired goblin child casting a spell on you with his crazy eyes and pointing at your dark, delicious master isn’t seriously trying to mess with children’s minds.  There used to be a big five-foot-tall metal sign with this very picture on it in the one and only alley in Meservey, Iowa.  The one time I went to the barber there to get my hair cut I had to sit in that barber chair and stare at this evil thing staring back at me from the alley across the street.  It warped me.  For one thing, I never went back to that barber shop again… at least until I was in college and the sign was gone.

So, I seriously believe Coca-Cola was messing with my mind as a child.  They did it through subversive ad illustrations in Saturday Evening Post Magazine.  And if I’m completely crazy now, I blame them.  You don’t see that kind of thing going on today, do you?  Well, I mean, we should be very worried.  Because it probably means they have gotten better at it.

 

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The Ultra-Mad Madness of Don Martin

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Born in 1931 and lasting in this crazy, mixed-up world until the year 2000, Don Martin was a mixy, crazed-up cartoonist for Mad Magazine who would come to be billed as “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.”    His greatest work was done during his Mad years, from 1956 (the year I was born… not a coincidence, I firmly believe) until his retirement in 1988.  And I learned a lot from him by reading his trippy toons in Mad from my childhood until my early teacher-hood.

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His style is uniquely recognizable and easily identifiable.  Nobody cartoons a Foon-man like Don Martin.

The googly eyes are always popped in surprise.  The tongue is often out and twirling.  Knees and elbows always have amazingly knobbly knobs.  Feet have an extra hinge in them that God never thought of when he had Adam on the drawing board.

And then there is the way that Martin uses sound effects.  Yes, cartoons in print don’t make literal sounds, but the incredible series of squeedonks and doinks that Martin uses create a cacophony of craziness in the mind’s ear.

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And there is a certain musicality in the rhyming of the character names he uses.  Fester Bestertester was a common foil for slapstick mayhem, and Fonebone would later stand revealed by his full name, Freenbeen I. Fonebone.

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And, of course, one of his most amazingly adventurous ne’er-do-well slapstick characters was the immeasurable Captain Klutz!

Here, there, and everywhere… on the outside he wears his underwear… it’s the incredible, insteadable, and completely not edible… Captain Klutz!

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If you cannot tell it from this tribute, I deeply love the comic genius who was Don Martin, Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist.  Like me he was obsessed with nudists and drawing anatomy.  Like me he was not above making up words with ridiculous-sounding syllables.  And like me he was also a purple-furred gorilla in a human suit… wait!  No, he wasn’t, but he did invent Gorilla-Suit Day, where people in gorilla suits might randomly attack you as you go about your daily life, or gorillas in people suits, or… keep your eye on the banana in the following cartoon.

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So, even though I told you about Bruce Timm and Wally Wood and other toon artists long before I got around to telling you about Don Martin, that doesn’t mean I love them more.  Don Martin is wacky after my own heart, and the reason I spent so much time immersed in Mad Magazine back in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.

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Toonerville, a Place I Once Lived In

There is a place so like the place where my heart and mind were born that I feel as if I have always lived there.  That place is a cartoon panel that ran in newspapers throughout the country from 1913 to 1955 (a year before I was born in Mason City, Iowa).  It was called Toonerville Folks and was centered around the famous Toonerville Trolley.

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Fontaine Fox was born near Louisville Kentucky in 1884.  Louisville, of course is one of the two cities that claims to be the inspiration for Toonerville.  Apparently the old Brook Street Line Trolley in Louisville was always run-down, operating on balls of twine and bailing wire for repair parts.  The people of Pelham, New York, however, point to a trolley ride Fox took in 1909 on Pelham’s rickety little trolley car with a highly enterprising and gossip-dealing old reprobate for a conductor.  No matter which it was, Fox’s cartoon mastery took over and created Toonerville, where you find the famous trolley that “meets all trains”.

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I didn’t learn of the comic strip’s existence until I was in college, but once I found it (yes, I am the type of idiot who researches old comics in university libraries), I couldn’t get enough of it.  Characters like the Conductor, the Powerful (physically) Katrinka, and the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang can charm the neck hair off of any Midwestern farm-town boy who is too stupid to regret being born in the boring old rural Midwest.

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I fancied myself to be just like the infamous Mickey (himself) McGuire.  After all, we have the same first name… and I always lick any bully or boob who wants to put up a fight (at least in my daydreams).

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So, this is my tribute to the cartoonist who probably did more to warp my personality and make me funny (well, at least easy to laugh at! ) than any other influence.  All of the cartoons in this post can be credited to Fontaine Fox.  And all the people in them can be blamed on Toonerville, the town I used to live in, though I never really knew it until far too late.

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Dog Writes

Jade Monster1Okay, like, my name is Jade Beyer.   I know I look like a dog, but my family lets me be a people sometimes.  They let me eat enough people food from their table to turn into one of them.  You know, like, all fat and unhealthy and some stuff.  So, since Mickey is being lazy today, he said I could write his blog for him.   It won’t be very long because it is taking forever to pick out the right keys with my nose.  And my nose is bif… I mean big enough to hit the wrong key sometimes.  So I have to edif caretully and ofren.

My family does a lot of funny stuff I can tell about.  Like how they pee.  They go in my extra drinking places.  You know, the white things with the extra funky tasting water.  Why are you not laughing about that?  Don’t you get it?  The house is full of carpets where they could pee and mark their territory with their scents.  But they would rather just pee where I drink.  I don’t get it.  And why is Mickey yelling at me that I can’t write about that?  I just did, didn’t I?

But besides that I can tell you about my Momma.  Mickey is my Momma.  Why do I say that even though Mickey is a man?  Well, when I was a wee little puppy and my family found me in the street, Mickey was the first one to pick me up and hold me.  He was the first one to feed me.  He says I must have “imprinted” on him as baby animals sometimes do.  And that’s why he’s my Momma.  I love him best.  Even when he is grumpy and mad at me.  I chew up a lot of his stuff because it smells like him and I love him so very much.

I am writing this today because Mickey is busy shaving off his face fur.  He found some old pictures of himself for yesterday’s post, and it made him wonder if he could look anything like that again.  I tried to chew the old pictures so I could love them even better, but he just got mad at me and swatted me on the ears.  He said I could show you the old pictures, and not eat them.  So here they are before the temptation gets to me;

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Wasn’t he a goofy-looking kid?  I like him better with glasses.  I tasted his glasses once, but not the ones in the picture, the ones he is wearing now.  His face doesn’t look anything like the third grade pictures any more.  I would very much like to lick that little-boy face with the same tongue I use to lick my own butt, but Mickey says he’s glad I can’t because that kid was dumb enough to let a dog lick his face.  Apparently when people get older, you just can’t lick them as much.  It just makes them grumpy.

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Homely Art – Amos Sewell

Still being under the weather and filled with sinus head-pain, I decided to go back to a subject I love so much that the post will simply write itself.  You know I love Norman Rockwell and his art, and I fervently believe that kind of mass media oil-painting does not put him in a lesser category than Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Raphael or any other painter with a ninja turtle namesake.   He is a genius, and though he is not a realist in so many ways, his work is more truthful than practically any other kind of painting.  If you are taken by surprise and didn’t know I had this passionate obsession, maybe you should go back and look at this post;   Norman Rockwell

Now that I got that out of my system, here is another Saturday Evening Post artist that is often confused with Rockwell.  His name is Amos Sewell.

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Sewell was an amateur tennis player who was talented enough to win tournaments.  He was an employee of Wells Fargo who was headed towards anything but an art career until he decided to make a leap of faith in 1930.  He started as an illustrator for Street and Smith pulp fiction, and soon caught the notice of the big-time magazine markets for his art.  He published art for Saturday Evening Post,   Country Gentlemen Magazine, and Women’s Day.

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Like Rockwell, he was able to find the funny in everyday scenes, like the dance party to the right.  That young man at center stage is trying so hard not to step on the feet of the red-headed girl, that you want to laugh, but can’t because it’s obvious how embarrassed he would be, and the charm of the picture leads you to shun the thought of interrupting.  The scene is so real the boy would hear you laughing as you looked at the Post cover.

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More expert on this kind of art than I am is the Facebook site that I first got turned on to Sewell by.  Children in Art History

They can also be found on WordPress.  Children in Art History (WordPress)

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There is no doubt that Amos Sewell belongs in the same pantheon of artists as Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, or Paul Detlafsen.  They are all artists who achieve in their work exactly what I have always striven for.  I want to be able to hold the mirror up to our world the way they did.  I want to capture both the fantasy and the reality in the subject of everyday family life.  I also want to share this work with you because I cannot stand the idea that such artistic ambrosia could one day be forgotten in archives where no one ever looks at it and feels the message in their heart.

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Mangaphile

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My wife brought treasure back from the Philippines for my kids and me.  She spent over a thousand Filipino pesos at a book store over there and apparently bought out the store’s entire supply of “How-to-Draw-Manga/Anime” (though the amount she spent is not so impressive when you realize the exchange rate for a Filipino peso is .025 of an American dollar).  Anyway, I happen to love the Japanese anime-style cartoons.  I have since I was a kid in the 60’s watching Astroboy in black and white on the old Motorola TV set.  So, just as you would expect, I had to go on a drawing binge, copying ideas from the books, but putting my own spin on them.

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It is not the first time I have gone on anime-drawing binges.  Let me provide some proof of that from past posts;

So, there’s my original content for today.  The day after the 4th of July, I am celebrating one of the ways that Japan conquered the United States after World War II.  Yes, manga-style cartoons have far more kids carefully copying a cartoon style with big, cute eyes than probably ever tried to draw like Walt Kelly or Al Capp.

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RumikoTakahashi

Yesterday I used a Paffooney I had stolen to illustrate my gymnasium adventures, and in the caption I gave credit to the wonderful comic artist I shamelessly copied it from.  The second imitation Takahashi that I did yesterday is now displayed next to it above.  I am now compelled to explain about my goofy, sideways obsession with Anime and Manga, the cartoons from Japan.  I love the art style.  I have since I fell in love with Astroboy Anime as a child in Iowa.  Rumiko Takahashi is almost exactly one year younger than me.  As a cartoonist she is light years more successful than me.  She has been crafting pen and ink masterpieces of goofy story-telling longer than I have been a teacher.

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Her artwork is a primary reason I have been so overly-enamored of the Japanese Manga-cartoon style.  I love the big eyes, the child-like features of even adult characters, the weird poses and still-weirder comic art conventions of this culture from practically a different planet.  She has created comic series that are immensely popular in Japan, and have even put down sturdy roots in this country, especially with young adults since the 80’s.  She is the world’s number one best-selling female comics artist.

Just as we Westerners have to accept numerous ridiculous things to appreciate the stories told in American comics (for instance, brawny heroes running around in tights with their underwear on the outside of their pants, nearly naked ladies with super powers diving into battle next to men encased in armored suits, and talking animals), the Manga-minded must also practice a bizarre form of the willing suspension of disbelief.  In Ranma 1/2, the main character is a boy marshal artist who turns into a girl when splashed with cold water.  Much of the romantic comedy of that work revolves around boys and old men finding themselves in the bath house next to naked young girls.  For some reason that sort of naked surprise causes the boys to spout fountain-like nosebleeds.  In Inu-Yasha the whole thing is about fighting demons with swords.  Inu-Yasha himself is part demon.  Apparently part-demon is a good thing to be.  Japanese villains are spectacularly susceptible to fits of crying rage and tantrums.  And everybody looks more like American white people than orientals.  Oh, and there are talking animals.

Rumiko is a master of pen and ink.  Here is a sample of of her black and white work.

And she does color well too.

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The little people are a special style of Manga character called a Chibi, and all regular Manga characters can turn into one at any moment.

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And, of course, to read actual Manga you have to master reading backwards.  Americans read left to right.  The Japanese read right to left.  You have to open a Japanese book in a manner that seems both backwards and upside down.

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This illustration shows how American publishers flip Japanese comics to make them more accessible to American audiences.

So now, by uncovering the fact that I am addicted to and seriously affected by Japanese cartoons, you have one more bit of evidence to present to a jury in case you decide Mickey needs to be locked up and medicated for a while.  Japanese comics are a world of great beauty, but also a world unto themselves.  It is an acquired taste that has to be considered carefully.  And of all the many marvelous Manga makers, Rumiko Takahashi is the one I love the best.

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Filed under anime, artwork, cartoons, humor, Paffooney