Tuesday, November 17, 2009


A few months ago I wanted to try doing pencil tests on Flash so I thought I'd do a little YouTube film of Italian insult gestures. It never came about. I had so much trouble getting the program to work that I finally walked away from it and did something else. Now I have a trial download of Digicell Flipbook, and the tiny film seems try-able again....except....

...except I just looked over my incomplete notes for the gestures and I can't remember how some of them worked, or what some of them meant.

This drawing (above) for example. What does it mean? It fell out of my notes, and I have no idea what I was thinking when I drew it. It's something I used to see in high school. Sometimes it provoked laughter, once a fight. But why? What does it mean?

And what is this (above)?

I forget what the top finger-pinch (above) means...my guess is that it says, "You mean less than dust to me!"

The bottom drawing (above) is one of the oldest and best insults: you simply turn your back on the other person. They're not worthy of your front.

Once the back is turned (above) the insulter has the option of intensifying the insult with a butt shake...

...maybe followed up with a tooth flick.

Some insult gestures (above) are so strong that to use them is to make an enemy for life. I have no idea what the above gestures mean, but I suspect that a mother's virtue is being questioned here.

All these little finger gestures...what do they mean? They look pretty nasty.

Whatever it is, it can't be good.

This one (above) had me puzzled, but I figured it out while posting it. It's the first of two drawings (the second one must be missing) showing a man about to do a pushing away gesture, as if to say, "Your existence is an offense to me! Go away! Just GO AWAY!"

What makes this special is the extreme anticipation to the push (above). It's not just a simple prelude to a push, it's a statement of obliteration. The pusher is so disgusted by the other person that he chooses suicide if necessary to avoid having to look at such a fool for a moment more.

I wanted to end the film on a cheerful note, maybe with a quick little story demonstrating some of the most common romantic gestures. I haven't found all the doodles yet, but I remember how it started:

A boy is sitting with his friends when a beautiful girl walks by. He does a startle response (above), then pushes his friends aside, maybe upturning the table, and he runs ahead of her and introduces himself. The boy puts on a good show but, since she gets hit on 50 times a day, the girl gives him a bored look and keeps on walking.

The boy runs to catch up. After trying everything, he pulls out his big gun...the thing that never fails...his most irresistibly charming gesture. He symbolically plucks off the girl's cheek, retrieves it and kiss it...kisses every finger of her cheek (!?)...then blows it back to her.

The poor boy! The girl is unaffected. She just walks on. The boy, outraged and broken-hearted, shakes the kiss from his hand, does a "Heck with you!" gesture, and returns to his friends, who are doubled over laughing.

As the speaker says in this video (above), Italy is fast losing it's gestural heritage. What a pity! I read that it used to be most intense in Naples, which was a noisy city where everybody hated everybody. The gestures were a way to argue between balconies when the clatter from the streets made spoken insults unworkable.

This video (above) is completely off topic. I found it when I was searching for gesture videos on youTube. It's only a minute long. See what you think.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


About a month ago New Scientist magazine ran a story which claimed that Chinese scientists had succeeded in creating a mini-black hole (above), or something which mimics black holes, in the laboratory. That's amazing! I don't remember seeing that in my local paper. Maybe it was buried in the obituary pages.

Evidently the hole they created isn't exactly the same kind we encounter in space (above). This one only absorbs microwaves, though the lab that created it claimed that they'll probably be able to make one that absorbs optical light by the end of the year. This would be a very, very significant event!

It's significant because the black hole absorbs the waves and emits the energy again in the form of heat, and heat powers engines. This means that black hole solar cells could run cars (above), and do it much more efficiently than solar cells can do now. No directional solar collectors would be necessary. The cars would simply absorb the ambient light around them. Maybe this would make them appear as black silhouettes to observers.

I forgot to say that this Chinese black hole was created without benefit of a super colider like the one at CERN (above). This was done on a tabletop device made of printed circuit boards arranged in rings around a cylinder. Two Indiana scientists figured out how such a machine would work in theory and the Chinese surprised everybody by actually building it.

Thanks to Milt Gray for telling me about this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I thought I'd put up a couple of the wigs and hands (above) that I scored at Halloween time. This rubber giant's hand is a thing of beauty. The photo doesn't do it justice.

Expect a story about a giant soon. I've gotta give this baby a test run!

And here's (above) the new Moe wig! What do you think?

It's (above) really versatile. Tilt it forward a bit and you get the emo look.

No, wait a minute. Emos (above) comb their hair over to one side! Here I'm a bright and happy side-combed emo.

Here (above) I'm a sad, dimwitted one.

Roll the wig back a bit, and you get Spock from Star Trek!

SPOCK: "Klingons on the starboard bow, Captain!"

Roll the wig forward and I'm Bones, the Enterprise's tempramental doctor:

BONES: "I'm a DOCTOR Jim, and I'm not going to have my sickbay turned into an amusement park!"

Spock again (above):

SPOCK: "It's LIFE Jim, but not as we know it!"

Let me turn on the color (above), so you can see what my new Esmeralda puppet looks like in blue.

I know what you're thinking: "Where's her arms?"

Here's one (above)!

And here's another (above). She appears to be shocked at something.

Boy, I love Halloween!

Monday, November 09, 2009


I think Playboy already did a "Girls of McDonald's" spread. Bah! Let them have McDonald's! Everybody knows the real babes hang out at Carl's Junior!

I grant you, McDonald's (above) has the best fries.

But Carl's gets the best people (above). More artsy types hang out at Carl's than any other fast food chain, at least in my area.

Here's (above) one of Carl's artsy customers relaxing at home. Orange dress, orange throw pillows, and orange walls...that takes a certain boldness...

...a boldness no doubt inspired by the orange food at Carl's.

I admit that all those burgers can put on the pounds (above) if you're not careful.

Interestingly, some people manage to stay slim no matter how much they eat. I used to be one of them.

Here's (above) another slim customer. Holy Mackerel! This girl is perfectly dressed for the Royal Order of the Muskrat Ladies Auxiliary. Theory Corner women, take note!

Carl's does seem to get a lot of worldly women (above). The young innocents seem to prefer Denny's.

The restaurant also gets a certain number of people who are utensil-challenged.

Some women bring their evil boyfriends (above).

Some women (above) bring their cell phones, which is much worse. I've learned from eavesdropping on loud cell phone calls that lots of Carl's women complain to other women about their controlling mothers.

P.S. Thanks to John for the nifty title!

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Character arcs are overused today, and I blame that excess on all the how-to-write books that are on the shelves nowadays. Most of the books take a simple, boring premise and shamelessly try to pump it up by character arcs.

I don't know how the people who write these books sleep at night. They've ruined a whole generation of writers by convincing them that story is less important than character embellishments. They obscure the simple fact that writing is about story. The story can and should have character conflict (like "The Odd Couple")...it can even be about character arcs (like "Twelve Angry Men")...but there's gotta be a story, and it's gotta be a really good one. You have to watch out because obsessing over character arcs can distract you from the fact that your basic story sucks.

Well, I've said all that in previous posts. What I want to talk about here is how misapplied character arcs can subvert a story that already works. "Little Red Riding Hood," for example. The original story...which has no character arcs at all...is wonderful. It's evocative and magical, and manages to dig deep into the human psyche. Not only that, it's told with great economy. Would that story be improved by adding character arcs? Let's outline a rewrite and see....

Since we're rewriting for character arcs, it'll be necessary to firm up Riding Hood's personality at the outset, so the reader'll be able to understand how she evolves during the course of the story. For that, we'll need a sequence to establish her carelessness, and show how this worries her parents. Maybe we add a few farm animals and see how vexed they are when Riding Hood neglects to feed them.

Of course we want people to like Riding Hood in spite of her flaw so we'll need some incident to set that up, too. We can forget the economy that characterized the original...our story will take a while to get off the ground.

When her mother finally gets around to sending her to Grandma's house and orders her to not to talk to strangers, we'll need to see Riding Hood's disdain for what she thinks is her mother's paranoia. Remember that we want the reader to like Riding Hood, so that disdain will have to be carefully expressed. We'll see the worried look on the mother's face as Riding hood disappears into the forest. To tie up the father's role, maybe he joins the mother and puts a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Since the arc is so important we'll need Riding hood to mutter to herself in a disgruntled fashion while walking through the forest. Maybe we should give her a pet dog so she'll have someone to voice her thoughts to. Of course we'll need to establish their relationship. We'll also need some time to establish the dog's personality, and what it thinks of what Red is saying. And...oh, yes...we may need to get rid of the dog later so we should also take time to establish that it likes to chase squirrels, and is prone to get lost in the forest.

Aaaargh! All these arc helpers are going to need time to play out. That's okay, we can buy time by eliminating details that added texture to the original story, like the "What big eyes you have" litany at the end. Character arcs are voracious eaters of time. You end up cutting the guts out of a good story just to shoehorn all the arcs and extra characters in.

Well, that's all I have space for here. You can tell from what's here already that the arcs drastically slowed down the story, gave too much attention to minor characters, trivialized atmospheric elements, and drained the story of the deep psychological/archetypal resonances of the original.

I love the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Her walk to Grandma's house is the most famous walk in Western fiction. What a pity that it can be rendered so banal by modern storytelling technique.

Good writers know they're home free when what they've written is so primal that it lends itself to satire, as in the Tex Avery remake of Little Red Riding Hood shown above. Think about the woman on the ice flow in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," or the orphan who asks for more gruel in "Oliver Twist." These are tragic figures but you can't deny that they inspire humor. Can you say the same about the arc rewrite we just did?

Would the rewritten, formula version inspire countless puppet shows, as the Brothers Grimm version did?

Could you get a Betty Boop cartoon out of it?

Would it inspire funny drawings like the one (above)?