Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Polly, Dora, Flash and their pals

© Michael Chevy Castranova

So have you looked IDW’s recently released “King of the Comics: 100 Years of King Features”? At 300+ pages, it’s packed with newspaper comic strips the syndicate started by William Randolph Hearst in 1915 published over years. Older strips you’ve heard of, strips maybe you used to read and plenty I confess to never having seen before.
There’s the graceful “Dumb Dora” (by Chic Young before “Blondie”), silly “Happy Hooligan,” the Yellow Kid — from whence the name yellow journalism was derived — and “Boob McNutt” through “Bringing Up Father,” “Barney Google (before the strip devolved into “Snuffy Smith”), “Polly and Her Pals,” “Flash Gordon” and “Jungle Jim” to “Rip Kirby,” “Steve Canyon” (never as fun, I always thought, as “Terry and the Pirates”) and “Mutts.”
Famous, wonderful strips and many, many imitators of those famous strips.
The book also has plenty of photos of the cartoonists, sidebars on movies, animated cartoons and comic books inspired by these strips, and essays on various genres.
I admit my favorites are the adventure strips. The excellent cartoon style but serious tone of “Red Barry,” “Buz Sawyer” and “Little Annie Rooney” are all delightful — even if each hoped to cash in on more popular strips at the time (“Dick Tracy,” “Terry and the Pirates” and “Little Orphan Annie” respectively).
And speaking of adventure strips, chapter 365 of “Slipped” takes us right back into the thick of the action with our hero, the Scarlet Sparrow, dashing head long into danger — with no weapons, no plan and no backup. You know, her usual method of operation.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cat burglars

Image and text © Michael Chevy Castranova

The idea of cat burglars as heroes is not new, in movies or comics. There was a silent French movie serial in 1915 called “Les Vampires” in which a gang of thieves — a woman, in particular — dressed in black, scurried across roof tops and, well, stole things. Parts of it are pretty fun. (You can find it on DVD and YouTube.)
Over years we’ve had Cary Grant as John Robie, aka the Cat, in Hitchcock’s 1955 thriller “ToCatch a Thief” up to Paul Rudd as “Ant-Man” just last summer.
Catwoman has been longtime Batman foe/friend in comic books, movies and most recently in “Gotham,” as played by Camren Bicondova — though she’s more of a Cat-teenager in this latest TV iteration.
Tyler Wilson’s own cat burglary is a bit less clear. It’s stated often in “Slipped” that she has stolen, and she’s taken on the name of the Scarlet Sparrow, the infamous cat burglar of Paris, from her missing father. Or rather, that name been thrust upon her.
But she wears the scarlet mask and gloves, and her agility and stamina come from her ballet training. That’s how she’s able to scoot up and over the walls you see in chapters 362 and 364.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Thinking around corners

Image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016

I’ve always preferred heroes who weren’t simply courageous — that is, they acted even if they were afraid of the possible outcome — but also were clever.
What I’ve tried to do with the Scarlet Sparrow is make her willing to make dangerous choices but also smart enough to consider what’s around the next corner. That’s what chapter 363 of “Slipped” is about: Tyler suspects the reason they’ve been given for sneaking into a guarded complex — and you’re right, we the readers weren’t privy to the reason — is false.
She and Cartier Tour, her unwilling ally in this adventure, and Pip the dog now have to find out what’s really what.
And we also have to keep in mind that even though she’s often courageous, tough and smart, she more often than not acts rashly — with less than ideal outcomes.
As one enemy once said, she creates chaos wherever she goes.

And speaking of heroes, it was excellent to see, even belatedly, that “Jessica Jones” on Netflix was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award, for star Krysten Ritter. It is one of the best things I’ve watched on television — streaming or broadcast — in a very long time, and Ritter’s performance is astonishing. You really should watch it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Cartoon acrobats

Image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2016
The thing in comic book heroes these days — on TV and movies, and in the books — is everyone seems to be a gymnast and everyone is a master of some form of martial arts.
Even the much-praised Daredevil on Netflix, though he starts in a boxer’s stance, still flips about and kicks opponents in the head as often as using his fists.
That’s one of the refreshing things about the near-perfect TV version of Jessica Jones — she can jump, but there’s no acrobatic cart-wheeling in space. No Vulcan karate chops; she just slugs the bad guys. Or drops a refrigerator on him.
When the Scarlet Sparrow lost the Time Sword a few years ago in “Slipped,” I needed to figure out a way for her to defend herself. Guns definitely were out. And it had to be some means that would make sense for the 1920s.
So I figured the athleticism of dancers — I’m thinking of ballerinas I’ve known — would be different and a nice touch. That would explain her keen sense of balance and being able to achieve great jumps (both key traits of a cat burglar), as well as excellent stamina.
You can see an example of that in chapter 362, panel three.
As for Cartier Tour, in panel two, her unique skill set will be explained soon. Well, soon-ish.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The thinking behind “Slipped”

© Michael Chevy Castranova 2015
 In my comic strip, “Slipped,” I have tried to tell and depict the kind of adventure stories I would like to read. So while not PG, certainly within an R rating.
The tales aim to be exciting, the violence thrilling but not gruesome. Tyler is a cat burglar, but hardly anyone ever dies — or is seen to die. This isn’t “Terry and the Pirates,” as much as I admired that fantastic strip.
The art in “Slipped” itself remains cartoon-y, even as I want the protagonists to be cartoon-world attractive — Tyler is cute and pretty, Pip the dog is endearing, etc. At the same time, Tyler has matured over the course of the strip, since March 2008, from a plucky youngster to a young woman. So, yes, sometimes she dresses as an adult woman — keeping in mind the styles of the mid-1920s.
(More important, she tends to make it known if she doesn’t like the attire I’ve selected for her. She reminds me that she’s the star of “Slipped,” after all.)
And most of the time the stories themselves are within the bounds of reason — well, if you accept that time travel, singing dogs and giant, intelligent rats are credible, right?
The tone changes, though, as the adventures evolve. Sometimes our heroes are caught up in a basic chase story or maybe a fight scene, espionage or science fiction — remember, Tyler met Pip on the moon.
But underneath all of it is Tyler’s search for what became of her father, Arkady Wilson — the first Scarlet Sparrow. That is what convinced her, and her sister, Mendacity, to agree to their latest adventure.
Which brings us to chapter 361, where things are about to go wildly astray from how Tyler planned. Of course.
Take a look.
And thanks for reading …
© Michael Chevy Castranova 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

PIp makes a comeback

Image © Michael Chevy Castranova
With chapter 360 of “Slipped” I intend to bring Pip back into the main story. He’s been somewhat sidelined as new characters have been introduced.
And maybe, too, we can resolve whether he really can talk or if only Tyler imagines he talks. Of course, as he’s the one narrating the story from the future — or maybe the past, I’d have to look that up in earlier chapters — and comes to be known as a semi-famous singer of the American Songbook, I guess he does. Or maybe that comes later. We’ll just have to see.
The notion of dogs as companions in adventure fiction is not new. With little effort, we can name RinTin Tin, Lassie, Sandy in “Little Orphan Annie,” Toto in “The Wizard of Oz,” Asta in “The Thin Man” series, Snowy in all the Tintin stories, Bear in “Person of Interest” and Gromit in “Wallace and Gromit.” Each one helped instigate action — Sandy often saved the day as did Gromit, Toto is the reason Dorothy ran away from home and Asta actually found the missing Thin Man in the first movie, not Nick Charles.
I don’t think we should count Snoopy, though. Not much of an adventurer and, frankly, pretty off in his own head.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Safe territory in “Slipped”?

Image © Michael Chevy Castranova 2015

I don’t like guns. I don’t like drawing guns in cartoons. But sometimes in an adventure comic strip set in the 1920s, between two significant wars, people have guns.
But you’ll notice, no one has died in “Slipped” from being shot by a gun. In fact, not one character seems actually to have died at all.
The guy in the first chapters — unnamed in the strip but I think he went by Etienne — was killed, but then when the Scarlet Sparrow retraced her timeline, she and her sister, Mendacity, saved him.
And while Dickie Talbot was left to be buried alive, along with the Golem, it’s in the cards for the Scarlet Sparrow to get back to them, too.
Oh, wait, I just recalled those two “Vampires” who accidentally died while attempting to do damage to part of le Metro to stop les Rongeur. Hmmm ….
It’s hard to keep track of almost eight years of continuous weekly comic strips.
In any case, next week sees the Scarlet Sparrow, Cartier Tour and Pip catapulted into their new adventure. Please stand by.