Ave atque vale, Dilbert

I’ve long loved the comic strips. In high school I’d regularly run across the street for a cup of coffee and the Waterbury Republican, work the crossword, and catch up on the day’s funnies.

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When webcomics became a thing, I subscribed to many. Way too many. One of them was responsible for my getting together with my wife, but the time-sink was worse than TV Tropes. Ultimately got pared down to 14, ones that have compelling story lines, or which make me smile, or which are relevant to how I see the world.

After lo, these many years – 28, more or less – I just pulled “Dilbert” off my list. When I was working in the corporate world, a lot of nonsense that I saw happening around me was reflected in the strip, and it was nice to think that it wasn’t just me that had to put up with management idiocy and the idiosyncrasies of co-workers. And in the early years, the strip could be painfully funny, particularly since I worked for a good many years in the tech sector.

Dilbert - Computer Wars

Last few years I’ve just gotten the feeling that Adams has run out of material, and he entered the stale zone that Garfield has been in for decades, and which Gary Larson and Bill Watterson so assiduously avoided. Still, I kept reading for the sake of tradition.

Lately, though, I added the fact that I just don’t click with the author’s world view, he being a staunch supporter of the cretin-in-chief that is currently disgracing the White House, and has even started injecting politics into his strips:

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Courtesy of Paul Taylor, author of the incomparable Wapsi Square, comes this commentary:

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So other than this one post, I don’t plan on being the kind of person who leaves something but who can’t leave it alone – you see a lot of these on the comments boards, folks who don’t like a strip and who come every day to complain about it.

I own a lot of previous Dilbert material that I still appreciate, and will continue to do so – but unless things change drastically in the future, I’ll just go elsewhere for my daily dose of smiles.

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

“I’d rather get a root canal than do [X].”

I remember hearing this phrase many times when I was growing up, and always wondered why it was held up as an example of something to be feared.

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This recently-found cartoon backs me up.

Then I had one.

The procedure was not really that horrid from the “sitting in the chair” standpoint, because I couldn’t see what was going on, but I remember that it just took a long time. I think if I had seen this animation (the Internet didn’t exist back then), I might have had even more reservations about going. Ow ow ow…

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Now, I already had a crown on the affected tooth, so the last bit wasn’t necessary, but I had no idea this process was so involved.

The biggest challenge was the fact that I ached for three months after I had it done. It was insane. I wondered if I was going to have to have the thing done again, but eventually the pain subsided.

And thinking about this whole thing brought up a whole raft of memories about dental work… and I had a lot of it done as a kid.

See, the thing of it was, I was terrified of needles. I started getting cavities in my teeth before I was 8, and had a lot of my baby teeth filled, and I refused to let the dentist give me anæsthetic… so I endured countless sessions in a setup that looked a lot like this:

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Image found at aacd.com

This may be a bit older than the 50s, but the basic setup looked the same as the one Dr. Glick used on me. No high-speed drills here, just that belt-powered grinder, and despite the agony I still refused the Novocaine.

I found out how foolish I had been when I broke a tooth or lost a filling or something when I was at summer camp in Maine, sometime around 1963. They ferried me to a dentist in town, and I told him that I didn’t want anæsthesia. “Mhm,” the dentist responded. “Open.” And then the son of a bitch stuck me.

The blessed son of a bitch.  Sheesh. If only I had known. Dental work still isn’t fun, but a little pain up front is certainly worth a lot less torment for a couple of hours.

A few weeks ago I went to a local dentist for the repair of a broken tooth. I thought for sure I’d have to get a crown on it, because the entire inside surface of the tooth snapped off – but I was pleasantly surprised. A tiny bit of drilling, two applications of bonding, and I was as good as new – at least for this time. The whole thing took about 10 minutes. I mentioned to the dentist that the advances in dental technology were astonishing, and he said that not much had really changed in the tools, but the materials were where the miracles were taking place. I can’t help but agree, with the exception of the digital x-rays that they do these days.

First they put me in this contraption that whirred all around my head and did a complete 360° scan, and then the technician put me in the chair and zapped me a couple of times with this baby:

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Handheld, she didn’t even have to leave the room. No developing time to speak of – all digital. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this:

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Howard Tayler, author of Schlock Mercenary, holding a replica of Sergeant Schlock’s plasma gun manufactured by Doc Nickel, who in his own right not only manufactures some really awesome paintball stuff but also draws The Whiteboard, a webcomic vaguely about paintball.

It’s funny, but with all the advances, I still miss the old rinse-and-spit routine so common in the old days; you can see the cup and spit bowl in the office picture above. It may not have been as hygienic, but I could get a lot cleaner than the spray/suction routine they use today. And, I got sprayed with Lavoris™, a cinnamon-flavored mouthwash that seems to have vanished from store shelves, only to be replaced by foul-tasting chemical ersatz copies which taste like camel piss.

Imagine my delight when I found out that this wonderful stuff is still available online:

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I scored some at Drugstore.com, it was a bit cheaper than Amazon’s offerings, and it was every bit as pleasant as I had remembered it. Now that’s cinnamon.

I’ve had a lot of dental work done in my life. Almost all my teeth are filled, and a number have been capped. I have all my wisdom teeth, and even they have been filled. I just have soft teeth, I guess. But I have all 32, and I’m grateful for the technology that has helped me preserve them. I still don’t like that accursed needle, but as I learned long, long ago, there are prices and benefits to that choice, and the benefits far outweigh the price.

And, I still hope I don’t ever have to have another root canal.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Freefall: Jerry Pournelle’s Review.

Flo Galaxy

Art: Mark Stanley. Background and color: The Old Wolf

I’ve mentioned Mark Stanley’s Freefall webcomic several times in this blog (just do a search, you’ll find the articles, but here’s one of my favorites).

I found a link to this article by Jerry Pournelle at the Freefall discussion forum, and was so impressed I felt I needed to share it. WARNING: If you decide to check out the strip before reading Pournelle’s review, start here. There is great value in working up to the current storyline climax, and not spoiling it. Unless, of course, you’re the kind who reads the last chapter of a mystery first, which is fine as well. Just saying.

I wrote this for another conference, but it occurs to me that while I have mentioned Freefall here before, it has been a while:

If you are not a fan of Freefall http://freefall.purr…100/fv00001.htm you ought to be.  Alas, it really will involve some time because it is a serial story, and the current panels are shocking — that is, they have a total surprise that I do not think many readers saw coming. I did not. And you should not see them before reading the rest of the story leading up to now.

The graphic novel — it has become as long as one — has as its premise that mankind has settled planets other than earth, and on one of them there is a population of a small number of humans and tens of millions of robots, all pretty well subject to Asimov’s three laws, only a lot of that is in my judgment better thought out than Isaac did.  The robots are highly intelligent and competent, but they are programmed to obey most human direct orders, and are very protective of humans.  This situation can be exploited by certain unscrupulous bureaucrats.

And into this mix comes Florence,  a Bowman’s Wolf, an artificially intelligent product of genetic manipulation, a genetic mixture of red wolf, dog and human genes with programming for artificial intelligence, born of a dog (St. Bernard) who was not her biological mother, and developing opposable thumbs, human speech, and the ability to walk on her hind legs although she runs much faster on all four legs. She wears clothes and has normal human modesty, and grew up in a household of humans, first as a pet then as — well, as an intelligent dog, then as a sibling. In theory she is the property of the human family. She has most of the powers of a real wolf and an IQ I would estimate at 140 or so.  She is a graduate engineer.

Also living on this planet is a single member of an alien species brought there as a stowaway from another planet — he is not artificially intelligent, he is intelligent, but he has nothing of the ethics and mores of a human and no human companionship. He is of a race of scavengers, and had thousands of siblings but he is probably the only survivor, and that because he stowed away on the human ship. He owns two robots and as owner he can give them direct orders.  One is a general purpose robot who likes him, and the other is his space ship which he managed to acquire as scrap and sort of get it running — but the ship considers him a danger to humans and hates him and would like to kill him but has been forbidden to do that.  It belongs to Sam.  Sam wears an environment suit which makes him appear sort of humanoid, but under that suit he is not humanoid at all.

All this happens in the first couple of dozen panels.  Sam acquires the Bowman’s wolf as his ship’s engineer. He does so by devious means, but she considers herself bound as a crew officer to be respectful to and obey the captain.  Only sometimes that would be disastrous and she’s pretty clever about playing logic games.

There are now two thousand four-panel pages of story, all relevant to the story line although some are not obviously so.  We are now reaching a climax, I think, and certainly the story has taken a surprising turn.  Meanwhile we have met many fascinating characters, including robot police who have to deal with humans, a veterinarian who sort of falls in love with Florence the AI wolf, a child who wonders if Florence and the vet will marry prompting Florence to be amused that the kid thinks all mammals have the same number of chromosomes, scheming officials who try to prompt a robotic war so they can get rich on scrap, and a great number of antics in which Sam acts quite morally for him == he is a scavenger, after all == but which drive the human authorities nuts. Especially since Sam is a very skilled thief, pickpocket, and jail breaker.

If you never heard of this you should try it: it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s the best of this kind of thing I know of. It is a combination of comedy of manners and some broad farce, and it mixes those elements well. It starts black and white but acquires better art and color at a couple of hundred pages (again four panels to a page).  It is now up to a couple of thousand and it will take you a bit of time to get from the beginning to where we are now, but I liked every episode I read.  I urge you NOT to skip ahead, and particularly don’t look at the current pages at all; catch up to them from the beginning. It will be worth it in my judgment.  The story is well developed and very logically constructed.  I’d like to see it win a Hugo.  It’s really good.

Recommended.

Be aware that the Freefall time line is mind-shatteringly slow. Day One begins on March 30, 1998; as of today, Florence has spent approximately three weeks on the planet’s surface. And for those of us who want to find out how the story ends, the three updates per week can be painful… but I’ve been hooked for over 10 years, and by Mogg’s tufted tail I am not giving up.

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If you don’t take my recommendation, take Pournelle’s… and enjoy.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Doc Rat: Silly and Serious

Earlier I wrote about Wapsi Square by Paul Taylor; today I’d like to share another webcomic which has long delighted me, to wit, Doc Rat by Jenner.

Jenner (a pseudonym) is a real-live physician from down under, and he works his professional experience into a long-running – 7 years now – story about Doctor Rat and his practice. Recently he tossed out a contest in which he asked his fans to write him about why they enjoyed the strip; today in the mail I received a wonderful bit of treasure, one of his original strips, having been selected as one of his five winners.

DocRat original art

For me, this is a Big Deal. I love supporting the artists whose work I enjoy, directly or indirectly, and to have a bit of their handiwork on my wall is like icing on the cake. I’m very grateful to Doc Jenner for his kindness, which included a warm and personal letter.

The strip fluctuates between gag-a-day format (often involving some horrid pun or other):

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Groan…

Four Black Skulls

“Four black skulls” – I love that…

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I concur

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Every time

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Drug marketing is given no quarter

and extended arcs dealing with the life and challenges of Doctor Rat, his friends, associates, and patients:

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Many of these stories are out-and-out tearjerkers; well-written, current, and relevant to events and issues of the day. I even used one to communicate my feelings to my then-intended and now-wife:

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With seven years of daily strips behind him, there are over 1800 Doc Rat strips to enjoy; the link I provided above is to the start of the series. Jenner’s website is undergoing an upgrade, and his developer has run into a few difficulties, so the site is a bit slow at the moment; fortunately for devotees, there are 10 Books available for purchase, with both Australian and USA prices.

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There are thousands of webcomics available, but given time restrictions one has to be selective. This is one of a handful that I look forward to on a daily basis, and I recommend it without hesitation.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Space Opera, then and now

For my friends and readers who enjoy good SciFi

In a period of time eons ago, but after the coalescence of the Two Galaxies… was E.E. “Doc” Smith, the father of modern Space Opera. If you’ve ever read his Lensman series, or his *giggle* Skylark series, you’ll understand why he earned that title. Swashbuckling heroes with muscles that ripple in their gray leather suits, red-headed seven-sector callouts with tawny, gold-flecked eyes, strange looking aliens both good and bad, a deus ex machina good-guy gimmick, a drug that transcends any humanly possible high, intergalactic gangsters, ancient, wise and terrible guardians and blackguards, and weapons that become ever more powerful, biting, clawing, gouging, and coruscating through the spectrum into the black, beyond even the ability to describe their absolute, incomprehensible-cubed destructive ability… well, you get the drift. I happen to enjoy his fiction… it’s old, corny, hackneyed, totally disrespectful of all known laws of physics, and a great ride.

But today I’d like to introduce you to one of Smith’s heirs: Schlock Mercenary, a webcomic written and drawn by Howard Tyler.

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Sergeant Schlock, an amorph and eponymous hero of the strip.

“Schlock Mercenary” is space opera, just like its predecessor… but it’s space opera for the 21st century, with both heart and brains. Tayler, in addition to being a cartoonist, is a writer, in every sense of that word, and one who takes his craft as seriously as a heart attack.

The strip is complex and deep and tangled and convoluted, and not for those looking for “fluff” – Tayler has created a world every bit as intriguing as Niven’s “Known Space,” and I’m not going to even try to give you an overview. But I’ll suggest you get to know the strip through one character: Kathryn Flinders.

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Start at the beginning of Mallcop Command and watch this lady develop as a character (you first see her on 2/11/2010). In the process, you’ll be drawn in to an amazing world of military mercenary magic, and some intriguing character development along the way. If you like good science fiction and good writing, there’s a high probability that you’ll be hooked, and have to go back to the beginning of the strip.

You can thank me later.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Funny business: Because they’re free!

Ever since everyone in my elementary school class was taught how to read The Herald Tribune (go ndéanai Día trocaire air), way back in 1961 or so, I have loved the daily funnies. I remember waking up early when I was in high school, heading for a local coffee shop, and starting my day with a cup of coffee and The Waterbury Republican.

There were all kinds of funnies, and I had my favorites, which I assiduously saved for last each day.

Ferd’nand by Mik (found at mydelineatedlife.blogspot.com)

Dondi, by Irwin Hasen. Found at Mr. Blog’s Tepid Ride

And my all-time favorite:

Rick O’Shay, by Stan Lynde.

Other strips, the soap operas like Mary Worth and Apartment 3-G, did nothing for me and I just skipped over them.

Remember that, there’s going to be a test.

Finally, when the newspapers ceased to be practical because of the internet (around 2002 for me) I became a fan of webcomics.

Webcomics are great. They are directly responsible for my hooking up with my wife, whom I love with all my heart and soul (even though she scared the living daylights out of me this morning at 3 AM and we hates her, hates her, hates her forever precious), and I’ve had to be selective about which ones I read, because there are thousands of them out there, and so many of them are top-drawer.

Some strips have discussion fora attached, one of which was how I met above-mentioned beloved wife (who is still in the doghouse). Most forum participants enjoy discussing and speculating about each day’s strip and upcoming plot possibilities, as well as an entire universe of random topics that crop up; indeed, a forum can become a living community. But there’s a strange phenomenon that afflicts these virtual villages: some people take up residence for the express purpose of being critical of the subject matter. Like the poor degenerate I mentioned in this post, they plunk themselves down and blow raspberries at the strip and its creator, day after day, without end.

Now, some of these people are just trolls, but there seems to be another phenomenon operating here. Like people who leave a religion and then spend the rest of their lives complaining about it, these netizens seem incapable of finding joy in anything positive, but must needs expend their energy complaining about something they hate. For the love of Mogg and his entire holy family, with thousands of webcomics out there, where is the value in reading something that annoys you? Coming back to my newspaper days, I can equate this phenomenon with my taking the time to hand-write a letter to the editor complaining about how boring and insipid I found Mary Worth, and threatening the artist with bodily injury and death. Every day.

A particularly egregious example of this sort of inanity is found at the “Bad Webcomics Wiki” (no link provided):

Essentially it’s nothing more than one man’s cesspool of hate and piss; the author is flat-out miserable, and assuages his pain by inflicting his misery on the rest of the world.

It’s not only the forums, either – artists get direct hate mail from readers, and it appears that this was even the case before the advent of the internet. Gary Larson’s The Pre-History of the Far Side contains some absolutely choice correspondence from people who found his cartoons offensive in some way or another. His response, in addition to mocking them in a published work, was

Teresa Burritt, the authoress of the offbeat Frog Applause, regularly posts hate mail from people, and recently blogged about it; I count a number of cartoonists among my personal friends, and some of them have shared correspondence with me that would either curl your hair or amuse you no end, depending on how you looked at it. Most of these artists take this sort of impotent vitriol in stride, and either ignore it or make a point of mocking it publicly to further enrage their detractors. Others I am acquainted with have a hard time with the sound and fury, and I hope they can get to a point of tranquility where they don’t allow the noisy idiots to dampen their spirits.

This whole essay was spawned by today’s Sinfest, by Tatsuya Ishida,

and another creation by Paul Taylor, author of the inimitable Wapsi Square:

The whole point here, which I recommend warmly to everyone who ever read a webcomic that they didn’t care for, is this:

Life is far too short to waste your time on such negative energy. If you read something you don’t like, for the love of Mogg’s holy grandmother, just ignore it. Better yet, find something positive to do – anything at all – and do it. As Artemus Ward said to the orfice-seekers pestering Abraham Lincoln:

“Go home, you miserable men, go home & till the sile! Go to peddlin tinware — go to choppin wood — go to bilin’ sope — stuff sassengers — black boots — git a clerk-ship on sum respectable manure cart — go round as original Swiss Bell Ringers — becum ‘origenal and only’ Campbell Minstrels — go to lecturin at 50 dollars a nite — imbark in the peanut bizniss — write for the Ledger — saw off your legs and go round givin concerts, with techin appeals to a charitable public, printed on your handbills — anything for a honest living, but don’t come round here drivin Old Abe crazy by your outrajis cuttings up!”

A better sermon I have never heard.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Comments are closed for this topic.

A webcomic worth reading: Wapsi Square

Webcomics have been good to me.

They found me my eternal sweetheart, kept me sane in the midst of storms, and filled my circle of friends and acquaintances with some of the best people I’ll ever know. There are thousands of them out there, so I’ve had to be selective; they can also be a terrible time-sink.

That said, I’d like to periodically recommend the strips that have meaning for me in one way or another. Today, one that sits at the top of my must-read list: Wapsi Square, by Paul Taylor.

From Wikipedia, “Wapsi Square is a slice of life/fantasy webcomic set in modern Minneapolis, “a world almost exactly like the one you want to believe you live in.” It also includes multiple supernatural elements, including a psychic and a god, which contrasts with its soap opera nature.The name derives from the Wapsipinicon River.

The story starts following the mundane life of main character Monica Villarreal and focuses prominently on her interactions with her friends. She works as an anthropologist dealing with artifacts for museum and the strips are mostly of the gag-a-day form. This changes, however, with the introduction of the character Tepoztecal, an Aztec deity, which marks the beginning of a change in tone, including longer story arcs involving mythological creatures, forgotten civilizations, gods and the end of the world.

What I love about Wapsi is more than just the stunning artwork and the captivating storyline – it’s about the inner journey of discovery that each of his dominant characters is taking. Whether the interactions are the day-to-day ones with friends and associates, or the “holy crap it’s a sphinx get in the car!” ones that happen along the way, these people fight every day with those internal demons that live within each of us: doubt, shame, guilt, insecurity, fear, prejudice, Harry the Worm, you name it. And sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose, and it’s a wonderful romp; even the demons have demons – nobody in this strip is exempt from the struggle.

Prominent among the issues Paul’s characters deal with is body image; Monica is a tiny Latina with a brobdingnagian bustline, and this provides ample fodder for both humor and introspection. Paul will often step outside the fourth wall on his blog to spotlight real-life women who personify the essence of a “Wapsi Girl”: strong, feisty, accomplished, and full of can-do attitude. If you’re wondering where the strong men are in the Wapsi World, they are there, but they tend to hide in the shadows for the most part. I for one would love to know more about Daren the bartender and his background – he reminds me a lot of Star Trek’s Guinan… a wise listener who somehow has a way of seeing into the soul.

Outside of the strip, Paul does some really nice artwork – you can see many of his pieces here, and most of these have been offered for sale at eBay, along with the original bristol-board artwork for the daily strips as well. I confess to having a rather substantial collection.

Wapsi can be lighthearted, but it can also be very dark. It would get at least a PG-13 rating, with an occasional “R” word thrown in, but adult themes are never tossed around gratuitously.

As long as it’s around, I’ll be reading Wapsi; it’s more than just entertainment for me, but also a daily reminder that all of us are fighting an uphill battle, and that we need to be there for one another. It has evolved mightily since it was started, both in storyline and artwork; the only thing I can guarantee is that nobody knows what is waiting around the next corner.

The Old Wolf has spoken.