The Gonzo Diplomat

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Ten Comic Strips that make me smile

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2012 at 12:50 am

When I talk about comic strips, I’m not referring to Marvel or DC comics. Not that I have anything against them, I’m just not the most avid reader of them. Watchmen and The Killing Joke aside, I tend to find that the films are just as much fun as the comics, or better.

It is the comic strips that appear in newspapers that I seem to adore. Even as a kid, eating some Krispies and tired of reading the back of the cereal box, the strips at the back of the newspaper were there to make me chuckle, when and if I understood the satire in them, that is. These days, I seem to have resumed my interest in them. Anyway, enough about the crap where I talk about how I like comic strips. Here is a list of the top ten comic strips or webcomics (excluding strictly political satirists like Herblock or Eneko) from the many that are around, that are there to cheer you around when you need some light reading.

10: Garfield

Jim Davis’ 1976 creation holds the Guiness World Record for the most widely syndicated comic strip. The lazy ginger cat, named after Davis’ grandfather, is a childhood favourite, as its humour was pretty simple and lacking political or social commentary. Yet whilst the comic seems to have jumped the shark, especially due to to the unsucessful movies released in the last decade, during the 90’s it was certainly my favourite comic. A trick to know which comics come from the best eras is that the bigger Garfield’s eyes, the less witty the content.

The evolution of Garfield

Having started with his comic Gnorm Gnat, which followed several insects, upon having this strip rejected because, as Davis would explain, it looked like only he found insects funny, the artist decided to choose a cat for his next strip, even though the main character was Jon Arbuckle. In the end, as the United Feature Syndicate saw that the cat had the wittiest lines, the stories began to centre around him and his feline life, eventually transforming from a simple cat, to a cat that could communicate with his dog friend Odie, walk on his hind legs, and push him off stools.

In recent years, Davis seems to focus more on Merchandising Garfield and this appears to have taken some toll of the comics, which do not seem to have the spark of its earlier years, and like other cartoons like Mickey and Donald, are being saturated for marketing.

9: Fred Bassett

Another comic strip that follows the daily life on an animal, Alex Graham, who had confessed to not knowing how to draw dogs, was given a Bassett Hound as a present and began to write a comic about him in 1963.

Slightly more surreal than Garfield, the strip is also non-political and straight to the point, only differing in recent publications that are no longer made by Graham (who died in 1991), but by Michael Martin and Graham’s daughter Arran Graham.

8: Dilbert

Not a comic for kids, Scott Adams’ Dilbert originally was originally set in the home of Dilbert and his pet Beagle, the megalomanic Dogbert. However, it was only after Adams set the main stage to the workplace that the comic strip kicked off. The satire regarding corporate culture, the dullness, incompetence and idiosyncrasy of the characters seem to resemble the hopelessness and tight grip managerial big fish have on their workers, and the grimness of office life, in a way that one may actually relate to it somehow. Then there is Dogbert.

Two times Presidential candidate, CEO of a company, head of the FBI, lover of soft pillows and President of the Fourth World ex-Communist state of Elbonia, the dog with no mouth seems to steal the show with his evilness and apathy, mixed with a strange devotion to Dilbert, only when he wants to. The original Stewie Griffin, Brian the dog or Brain the mouse.

7: The Oatmeal (The Bobcats):

When Matthew Inman got tired of his job in a marketing firm he decided that he longer wanted to work for somebody else and preferred to generate his own income. Now, many of us may dream about this and then resume our meagre existence, yet Inman’s first step was to set up a dating website. This site was called Mingle2, and the way Inman set out to advertise for his site was through fun quizzes and comics. It was these comics and absurd tests that eventually led him to also make The Oatmeal. Random comics are scattered around with strips ranging from Grammatical lessons (How to use an apostrophe), his obsession with Game of Thrones, Why it is not cool to date a Tyranosaurus Rex, his awesome comic strips on cats and grotesque faces.

My Daily Lie

His page is growing at a ginormous rate, he also collaborates with Tumblr whenever the server breaks down, has a song about Motherfucking Pterodactyls and gets over 20 million page visits a month, and if anyone has a cat, they will love his comic The Bobcats.

6: Simon’s Cat:

I actually don’t have a cat, but my girlfriend does. And they are selfish, cheeky arrogant little runts. I have dogs though, so that must explain why there are so many cats and dogs in this list. My girlfriend loves Simon’s Cat almost as much as she loves the Bobcats. The only difference is that while the Bobcats, as well as Garfield, have talking animals in surreal situations, Simon Tofield follows the Oatmeal’s original cat comics in potraying cats being cats and the humour behind their intentions and often stupidity.

Starting off as a cartoon film, Simon’s Cat is now in two book forms and as a strip in the Daily Mirror. The cat doesn’t speak, and usually just wants to get into the house, scratch things, attract the attention of Simon or eat, yet recent strips are starting to see the cat take on the surreal forms of other comics. It is still cute though and fun to look at.

5: The Far Side

Gary Larson’s comic stopped being published in 1995, but by then it had already been translated into seventeen languages, carried by nearly 2,000 newspapers and published in 22 compilation books. I also remember going shopping with my mother, and letting her look around the aisles while I hung around the birthday card and calendar section reading cards and chuckling at monthly comics taken from The Far Side.

Originally preceded by the comic Nature’s Way, Larson doesn’t follow any specific characters, instead opting on varying from cavemen, to animals to married couples and a range of repeating themes like desert islands, alien invasions and the difference between heaven and hell. His comic though, usually consisting of one to four panels with a text written below it, as opposed to the typical speech bubbles, is gold, and it is no surpise that his books have topped the New York Times Bestseller List on several occasions.

4: Toothpaste for Dinner

Drew Fairweather is some kind of a genius. Yet calling him Leonardo Da Vinci may be taking things too far. Still, he has managed to make himself self sufficient by drawing one strip with a ball point pen (no Adobe Illustrator or digital software) and scanning it every day. He has also written a book, Veins, which in his strange humour kind a way, is hilarious, and he has recorded albums, first under the names KOMPRESSOR and Dog Trader, but most recently as CRUDBUMP. The music is strange, almost a pisstake, but actually quite catchy, but nothing is comparison to Toothpaste for Dinner.

Starting off as a chemist and part time musician, Drew started to draw comics in 2002 and ended up publishing one a day. His wife Natalie Dee, also publishes Married to the Sea, with occasional wit and absurd humour, but of no rivalry to Drew. The socially awkward, surreal and sarcastic messages, criticising modern day hipsterosis and obnoxiousness is somewhat pessimistic, but ironic and funny all the same. More importantly he always manages to point out what we hate about what we see around us, and the geekiness in some of our acts in a way that you can only mumble to yourself “so true”, (something that only memes like socially awkward penguin and bachelor toad can do as well).

3: Suicide Bunnies and Selfish Pigs:

You’ve probably seen them in posters and books. I remember my Suicide Bunnies poster hanging in my room next to my Radiohead, Fight Club and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ones.  The other posters passed unnoticed, as most music and film posters should, but people always chuckled at those rabbits trying to kill themselves in the weirdest ways possible.

The Book of Bunny Suicides is Andy Riley’s Masterpeice. Along with the three books on Bunnies trying to commit suicide, Riley also has two books on Lies To Tell Small Kids and one about Selfish Pigs. Since this post seems to be animal orientated, though it didn’t seem to be my initial intention, I will stick to Bunnies and the Pigs.

The dark humour in both comics, where pop culture references are used as well as numerous contraptions and devices, show the creativity employed by Riley to make each death, and act of egotistic selfishness unique. The bunnies are tragically funny, the pigs are a repulsive invitation to snigger and both comics, without speech bubbles are gems.

2: Calvin and Hobbes

So much can be said about Calvin and Hobbes, I wouldn’t know where to start knowing that this can’t be a full post about them. All that can be said is that I love them. Bill Watterson’s duo is the perfect nostalgic flashback about a boy called Calvin and his best, albeit imaginary, friend. This friend, of course, is his toy tiger, Hobbes.  The philosophical debates, the social criticisms, and the jovial imaginations of Calvin are delightful to read and worthy of high appraisal.

Despite the incessant childish traits that characterise Calvin, there are numerous artistic references to show the talent of the boy, even though they are also challenged by his macabre intentions, fuelled by his curiosity, for example, upon seeing how quickly some snowmen melted, the act incited Calvin to try his own inventions on snowmen.

His intelligence and wide imagination is also accompanied by his sensitivity, particularly regarding death, as can be seen when he sees a dead bird and, after trying to philosophise, concludes that it is a strange world we live in, or during the time he cared for a dying raccoon his father took home, and upon being to save  it, concluding that despite eventually losing everyone in the life cycle, it is imperative that Hobbes stays with him.

As in many cases, Watterson was a man frustrated with his job in advertising who would spend his free time drawing cartoons. After several tries to publish some comic strips, United Feature Syndicate finally gave some positive feedback on a secondary character in one of his comics. It was a little boy and his stuffed tiger. Even then, despite the UFS final decision to turn down the comic strip,  the Universal Press Syndicate opted to take it. Ten years later, Calvin and Hobbes was one of the most succesful comic strips ever produced, until the last day of 1995, where Watterson, tired of resisting merchandising his characters, stated that he would cease from producing the comic strip and sent his last one, showing Calvin and Hobbes heading off to explore more things in the snow.

1: PEANUTS:

Imagine the difficulty faced when having to shortern the appraisal and information on Calvin and Hobbes into four paragraphs and multiply it by ten. This is what happens when you have to write concisely about Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. A key reason for this, apart from the genial content and character development (but not physical growth) of its key stars, is the fact that it ran from 1950 to 2000, when Schulz passed away. Over those fifty years, Peanuts allowed Schulz to earn nearly one billion dollars, due to the selling of merchandises, animated shows and the actual strip, something unimaginable when Sparky published his first strip with Charlie Brown.

Having initially had little success with his first comic Lil Folks, Schulz continued with the essence of his characters from his first comic to make a new one, which the UFS baptised as Peanuts, much to the dislike of Schulz, who would later add and Good Ol’ Charlie Brown, whenever possible and also name his paperback collections as Snoopy or Charlie Brown.

During the first five years of the comic strip key characters began to emerge, Charlie Brown, Schroeder, Shermy  Patty (who would stop appearing in the mid seventies) and Snoopy, who would gradually become more and more extravagant. In subsequent years, characters like Violet, Pig Pen and Linus would also become key figures, and it is only in the sixties when the famous bird Woodstock and characters like Peppermint Patty, Rerun, Franklin and Marcie were introduced, showing the changes that took place within the comic.

Physical changes too

Snoopy is cute, Schroeder determined and obsessed with Beethoven, Lucy in cynical and aggressive, Linus a vulnerable and genius and then there is Good Ol’ Charlie Brown,  the perfect symbol of failure, awkwardness and low self esteem. In the real world you may even hate his whiny ways, self doubt and constant monologues, but for some reason, I couldn’t but help but love him when reading his comics (and the books). Social, political and general satire was used in this comic, mixed with the absurdity of Snoopy’s doings and the cuteness of mixing adult issues through the eyes and lifestyles of children in the most popular comic strip ever released. One that could sadly only end with the failing sickness of its creator.

The Mathematics of Eurovision

In TV/Movies, Uncategorized on May 27, 2012 at 2:19 am

Part Two. The Contest is over, my predictions were not too far fetched, and this is not because I am a genius, but because it seems pretty easy to determine, because whilst it is a contest, it is evident that there are formulas for winning. The combination of cheesy+trashy+english tends to reap decent results, along with geopolitical standings, those that allowed Serbia’s drab song to reach a high ranking as well as the truly Godawful Albanian song.

However, the top three were not bad songs to be honest. Romania’s song was catchy and sexy, Russia’s was adorably cute, and Sweden had the sufficient help from her neighbours, and a catchy dance tune that had already reached number one in four different countries. Truth be told, the fact that more than ten songs for Eurovision had been composed by Swedish musicians, and that Sweden is economically capable of holding the event next year, I don’t think it was that bad a result. However, the UK’s and Denmark’s terrible results; Spain and France’s deserving of a higher place, and Albania’s farcical top five finish, shows that some countries are going to find it almost impossible to win Eurovision, whilst others can always get a helping hand from their neighbours.

Serbia’s help from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, was an example of geopolitical companionship, even more so Albania’s help from their neighbours from left to right, Italy, San Marino, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia and Greece. The UK’s neighbours, France and Ireland only managed to give them four points (all from Ireland), and the unpopular French got no votes from their neighbours.

Nothing new here, at least Jedward didn’t win, though the dissapointment of Albania’s ranking is really frustrating, as can be seen in the video in my last post, it was painful to listen to.

So the formulas for Eurovision: Trashy+Cheesy+Good neighbours+English+Make sure you have made good PR of your song before hand (Germany’s Lena Meyer Landrut can also testify to that) is a winning formula. Congratulations to Sweden you are Europe’s cheesiest singing nation.

Now one last formula and Eurovision’s “finest”:

Colin Farrell + Ed Norton = Parfeny Lauter

   Ed Norton

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Eurovision 2012…oh sigh

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Well I am back on this blog, as an alternative to my other one, and coinciding with Eurovision, I had decided to make a new entry, without the political criticism that usually follows this terrible, terrible, music event that wastes money yet cannot be ignored when it appears on our screen. Here in Spain, they have been boring the pants off us with constant, and I mean CONSTANT, reruns of Pastora Soler’s whiny “Quédate conmigo”.

Yet as the event is currently on, so here is a live reaction to Europe’s cheesiest representatives in Baku, which may I add, looks like a nicer city than I could have ever imagined:

Credit goes to the presenter of the Festival, a mixture of Justin Timberlake and a mongol. This promises.

THE SINGERS:

UK: Engelbert Humperdink- Love will set you Free: Forget the Harry Potter-esque  name,  respect must go to  Humerdink’s trajectory in music, yet to be honest, this song doesn’t do him any favours. A love song as it may be, sweet in it’s essence, it is just way too cheesy but not trashy enough for Eurovision.

Hungary: Compact Dis- Sound of our Hearts: So normal I can’t even remember it.

Albania: Rona Nishliu- Suus: Oh Lord, this must be the worst song in Eurovision 2012. A horrible dress making her look like dracula’s test tube baby with a nest on her head. And screams. Lots of screams. Yelps, blood curdling, painful screams.

Her face during the whole song.

Lithuania: Donny Montell- Love is Blind: Ah, I get it, Love is blind, hence the blindfold. Now, the seventies disco pop song? And the geeky white Carlton dressed as James Bond and shaking his hips? Fail.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Maya Sar- Korake Ti Znam: Normal, bland, boring and…zzz

Russia: Buranovskiye BabushkiParty for Everybody: These cunning Russians, they know how to trick us, to make us vote for them via the sympathy vote, a bunch of grandmothers with a bread stove, the story of them wanting to spend their Eurovision money on rebuilding their church, they musn’t be trusted, I will not fall for it, I…Oh my God, did you see the really small grandma?!! I want one! 12 points!!!

I want this one.

Iceland: Greta Salóme and Jónsi- Never Forget: Yes, Eurovision mediocrity, singing in English, violins, an aryan guy and girl, and plenty of vomitful material.  Me no likey.

Cyprus: Ivi Adamou- La la Love: Pretty, tall girl… oh and the song? Catchy. Should get a decent positions but I don’t know how popular Cyprus is politically.

Leggy. Iva Adamou

France: Anggun- Echo (You and I):  Exotic and beautiful, Anggun’s song starts catchy, then gets drab, then gets catchy again. Noone likes the French, but their song is ok.

Formidable, je crois.

Italy: Nina Zilli-L’Amore È Femmenina (Out of Love): Amy Winehouse’s talentless long distance cousin. Slightly better looking. Not much else to boast about.

Estonia: Ott Lepland-Kuula: Good voice, young lad, boring, borrring song. Humpledinkory.

Norway: Tooji- Stay: Ten seconds into the song, it is good, my sister is wooed by his looks, fifteen seconds she begins to suspect that he may be gay, the tight leather pants confirm it. “Shame” she says. “And the song?” I ask? Meh.

Azerbajan: Sabina Babayeva-When the Music Dies:  Operated sex doll lips. Cher like inexpression, sloppy love song with violins. An original dress and hairdo and…ah there they are, annoying screams. Yep, that certainly killed the music.

Romania: Mandinga-Zaleilah: So it begins with a guy moonwalking with a bagpipe, not bad, then there is an outlandish brunette. She sings in Spanish and English with a  latino vibe, and sufficiently catchy. It’s pretty good. the song that is…and her looks.

Mandinga

Denmark: Soluna Samay- Should’ve known better: Keisha lookalike (looking better though), trying to be an indie cutie mixed with a sailor in leather pants. Truth be told, it isn’t the worse of the songs, it sounds like a typical radio tune, maybe not Eurovision material though. More Kiss FM.

Greece: Eleftheria Eleftheriou- Aphrodisiac: What name is that? How am I going to Google that? Yet another country who have played the pretty singer card. Now the song? Okay too. But her voice isn’t the best. And there is no way Greece could afford to host a Eurovision contest next year.

Elle Elefthariou

Sweden: Loreen-Euphoria: This year’s winner for sure. Because it is already well known. Because she is exotic in the most non-swedish way possible, the dance is great and it is a pub song. And they have good neighbours, if the Eastern Bloc don’t have their say.

Turkey: Can Bonomo-Love me Back: Rio Ferdinand dressed in leather and singing a disneyfied stereotype of Turk music. It will get votes from their neighbours though.

Spain: Pastora Soler- Quédate Conmigo: Great voice, best in contest, but slow, boring, non-eurovision song. Mid table.

Germany: Roman Lob- Standing Still: The Fray wannabes. Typical radio song, from a guy with a sock on his head.

Malta: Kurt Calleja-This is the Night: Sleazy chat up lines in a song I have taken three minutes to forget.

Macedonia:Kaliopi-Crno i Belo: Zzzzz…Mercy!

Ireland: Jedward-Waterline: Shoot me. Is it the fact that I already hate them? the pidgeon shit bobs on their head? their lame song? Trashy, cheesy, like that episode of the Simpsons where Bart and his friends make a boy band and sing lame songs. And that part where they get together and form heart shapes with their hands…killed me.

Serbia: Željko Joksimović- Nije Ljubav Stvar: The violin part sounds nice but too familiar, the singer? no opinion whatsoever. This looks like it should be midtable indifference, but Serbia has lots of neighbours. Lots.

Ukraine: Gaitana-Be my Guest: Anastasia’s voice, not unattractive, yet this song, you can never know how it does in Eurovision or as a Euro 2012 song, and this indecision makes me think it will probably be midtable.

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny-Lăutar: Colin Farrel and Edward Norton’s bastard child singing another disney like tune, sounds like the right kind of cheesy, and thanks to the magic of geography and politics, Moldova will be fine.

PREDICTIONS:

For the song and the popularity of the song: Sweden

For geographical reasons…just that. Serbia, Azerbajan, Moldova and Albania.

For cuteness, (oh so cute): Russia.

Worse song: Albania. It was terrible, truly terrible. And they will probably get more points than UK, Spain, Germany and France combined.Oh and Jedward were Shite.

Eurovision Scream Contest winner.