A comic strip by Alasdair Wilkins and Joseph Shivers, as seen in The Harvard Crimson!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Astounding Annotations - Week 4

So here we go with what I'm calling "Astounding Annotations." Basically, this is an opportunity to explain some of the more obscure references I threw in (and there were a bunch of them), and to give some idea as to why I did this in the first place. Yeah, I'm aware this is pretty damn self-indulgent, so I'll try not to go on and on. And away we go...

Day 10


Panel 1: I have no idea why I thought a giant electrostatic glove made out of cast iron would be sufficient to knock Mr. Astounding back to his home universe.

Panel 2: Oh, that's right. 'Cause it's awesome.

Panel 3: All three of those fine fellows are based on friends of Joe and me. The joke that's being told is a pretty close reproduction of one of the jokes told in the Isaac Asimov short story "Jokester", which is all about a genius asking a super-intelligent computer to work out why jokes exist (the answer may surprise you). This was probably the first time I went out of my way to work in a massively obscure reference (well, other than Agent X-20 in week 1). It wouldn't be the last. If you're interested, here's the original joke as told by Asimov:
He said, "Ug, the caveman, observed his mate running to him in tears, her leopard-skin skirt in disorder. 'Ug,' she cried, distraught, 'do something quickly. A saber-toothed tiger has entered Mother's cave. Do something!' Ug grunted, picked up his well-gnawed buffalo bone and said, 'Why do anything? Who the hell cares what happens to a saber-toothed tiger?'"
Incidentally, I'm really glad Joe was able to get some lines of text below the big "Calendar" text. It always bugs me when information placards seem to only have the title written on them.

Panel 4: Nothing says rousing superhero adventure like a little collegiate melodrama.

Day 11


Panel 1: For some reason, I thought it was really important for there to be a clock in all three of the flashback scenes. I don't think even at the time I was clear on why this was so.

Panel 2: They're watching the episode "Arrival" from the unspeakably classic television series The Prisoner. Originally, I was thinking of making them watch Battlestar Galactica, which led me to searching through three years worth of SciFi channel TV listings to figure out when they could have theoretically watched the episode I wanted them to have watched. Turns out, it was pretty much impossible for them to have watched either of the three possible episodes I was considering ("Exodus Part 2", "Pegasus", or "The Eye of Jupiter"), so I decided they would just be watching DVDs. But then it became fairly obvious the dialogue from those episodes I wanted to use didn't seem immediately cool and badass when selectively quoted, so I went looking for something else. I decided on this iconic dialogue from The Prisoner, which I can't help but think almost connects thematically with what's going on in the strip. Not quite, but it's close.

Panel 3: It was around this time I became obsessed with working out the chronology of the comics. When I thought they'd be watching an episode of BSG on the SciFi channel, I started entertaining the notion that the strip could be set in 2007 or 2008. This was tricky as the only possible dates for such showtimes were in March or May, making it impossible for that to have happened "two months ago" and for them to still be in school. Also, there was the issue that Nora was wearing a Windmill Club t-shirt that has only existed for the last few months, which pretty much meant the strip had to be set in 2009 if I cared about all aspects of continuity (and, as you can probably tell, I do). The only other problem was that the Week 2 scenes that our hero says happened three weeks ago clearly occurred when it was relatively warm out, meaning I had to place this scene as late in the school year as possible. Thus, this particular scene takes place towards the end of April 2009.

Panel 4: Phew, that wasn't so hard, now was it?

Day 12


Panel 1: I thought it was important that the protagonist didn't seem too pathetic throughout these scenes, and I thought the best way to accomplish that was to point out that, much as he might have a crush for Nora, he's self-aware enough to realize that it's probably unrequited and that, given enough time, these feelings would probably pass. It seemed like a relatively mature opinion, although what he's about to do is decidedly not mature.

Panel 2: Indeed, that's part of the reason why I decided to set this whole scene in Annenberg, the freshman dining hall. I felt that what the protagonist does here - abandon his entire life and everyone who cares about him so he can live out a heavenly existence elsewhere - is the sort of thing that one might do as a lonely freshman still struggling to find a place in the world. Actually, let me rephrase that: it's the sort of thing anyone might do at pretty much any point in their life. I just thought it was slightly more justifiable if he did this as an 18-year-old than as even a 20-year-old. Of course, I don't really establish his age either way, so all of that was primarily for my own benefit. I also think I made him a freshman partially because that's when I came up with the idea in the first place.

Panel 3: Man, these have been pretty long tonight, huh?

Panel 4: This is based on a really beautiful panel from Superman: Red Son, where the Soviet Superman and Wonder Woman dance in mid-air.

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