You may have noticed that most of our comic panels are far wider than they are tall. Yes, we occasionally create a taller panel, or use multiple smaller frames, but those are the exceptions. We realised that our view of The Greys’ world is like that of a child peering through a letterbox – and this strip was born. Enjoy your voyeurism while you can…
Archive for ‘Italian’
This is the first comic for our local Town Council’s quarterly magazine, Aylesbury Town Matters. This strip appears in issue #20, together with an article introducing the comic. A low-resolution copy of the page is available here, in case you really want to read the accompanying text. In order to differentiate the strips we’re producing for Aylesbury Town Matters from our usual comics we’re giving them all a green border. That should make it easier for you to skip them if you’re not interested in them, or find yourself visually assaulted by the larger font we’ve had to use to ensure it’s still readable in print.
This particular strip references a well-known, and somewhat contentious, local building, Aylesbury County Hall. It towers over the other buildings in the town, and dominates the landscape for miles around. Despite often being derided as little but a concrete monolith, even this building can look interesting given the right photo:
Finally, as this is our first appearance in the magazine, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Town Council staff who are responsible for Aylesbury Town Matters: Keith, Hilary, and particularly Danny who was kind enough to champion our proposal for inclusion. We’d also like to offer huge thanks to our friends at Bluepepper Designs, who lay out and print the magazine, and were incredibly helpful and understanding as we went through the learning process of getting our Inkscape file onto the page without losing any quality on the way.
Natural. Organic. No artificial colours, flavourings or preservatives. They’re great marketing terms, but pretty meaningless in the real world. Just how natural is that flapjack from the health food shop? I doubt it was picked from a flapjack tree by organic fairies. Instead it was made, by humans, from oats and other ingredients grown in bulk on farms outside the plants’ natural habitats. They were harvested, usually mechanically, then processed by more machines. The mix wasn’t left to cure in the heat of a mediterranean noonday sun, nor even baked in a clay oven heated by wood. Rather it was cooked in an artifical oven, powered by gas or electricity, before being sliced, diced and packaged by more machines, loaded onto an air-polluting truck, and delivered to the shop. Naturally.
The problem is that there’s no clear definition of what is “natural”. We generally get the gut feeling that an apple is natural, but that chewing gum is not – even though that apple was probably stored way beyond its usual shelf life in a not-so-natural atmosphere rich in carbon-dioxide. Taken to its logical extreme you could argue that any processed food is the result of the action of natural organisms – it’s just that those natural organisms happen to be human beings. Taken to its illogical extreme it becomes clear that every atom in nature started out in a star or accretion disk, so absolutely everything is natural.
The Feedback section at the back of New Scientist often pokes fun at products which purport to contain “no chemicals”. But such is people’s distrust of science that the word “chemical” has negative connotations, rather than the benign associations it should have. When faced with such attitudes it’s hardly surprising that vendors have discovered the benefit of marketing “natural” products to an almost anti-science public.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m happy for products to be labelled as natural, organic or free-range. Where it leads to better animal welfare and more informed customers, it can be a good thing. But as consumers we should definitely be a bit more cynical of such claims. After all if it’s natural, it might also mean that it’s full of insects.
Trawling through our back catalogue of 1994-era ideas, we came across this simple little joke, plus a couple of closely related ideas. They weren’t strong enough to stand as a series of strips, so we’ve rolled them all together into this one. Where are the other two? Best download yourself a copy of Inkscape and start exploring…
This strip is a follow-up to our previous one. While that strip deals with the popular press’s fixation on the Dalek’s apparent problem with stairs, this one is intended to draw attention to the fact that stair-climbing isn’t the only restriction imposed by encasing yourself in a metal can. Quite honestly I’m surprised The Doctor has so much trouble with them.
We have a new winner in the “longest Greys comic” competition. With seven panels, this one beats our previous incumbent by one.
For many years as we grew up it was a running joke that the Daleks could be evaded simply by going up some stairs. Yes, they were a destructive force to be reckoned with, and the modulated voices alone could send thousands of children – and quite a few adults – dashing for safety behind the sofa. But despite their menace we all knew that our bedrooms – almost invariably upstairs – would be safe from invasion.
Then Russell T Davies came along and changed all that by giving the Daleks the ability to fly* in the episode “Dalek“. As an extra jibe at those of us who had grown up through the earlier years of Doctor Who, this capability was introduced in a stairwell, just as the humans thought they would be able to outrun their nemesis with a few feet of additional altitude.
So the Daleks used to be unable to deal with stairs; now they can fly. Clearly there must have been some period of Dalek research and development during which they experimented with various approaches to “the stair issue”. This comic is our impression of what probably went on throughout those quiet years on Skaro.
There are some common features of sci-fi that are “problematic” at best – and none more so than the issue of language. When your plot involves a mixture of races from various parts of the universe it’s inevitable that the question of how they communicate will come up at some point – unless the scriptwriters decide to just brush it under the carpet altogether.
Usually the solution is some kind of universal translator: a technological marvel which somehow translates alien languages into plain English, even for races that are being encountered for the first time. At least Douglas Adams confronted the absurdity of this head-on with his biological alternative, the Babel fish.
One of the more common translation-based plots is based a joke that’s probably been doing the rounds ever since cro-magnon man noticed that the neanderthals had a bit of a funny accent: the gag in which a completely innocent phrase in one language is misinterpreted completely in another. Yes, we descended low enough to use that idea in one of our earlier comics – but we’re in good company, as even the inventor of the Babel fish had a go at it.
Very occasionally, though, writers try to deal with the translation issue in a more considered way. Perhaps the best known example of this is the ST:TNG episode “Darmok” in which the universal translator does a perfect job of translating the words of the alien captain, but totally misses the meaning due to the aliens’ language being based on metaphor. The writer of this episode clearly understood what we’re trying to draw attention to with this comic: when it comes to interpreting language, context is everything.
The world seems to be going through a phase of fascination with 3D. It happens every few years; “3D week on BBC2″ with a free pair of anaglyph glasses taped to the front of the Radio Times (or, as is often the case, formerly taped to the cover, before being nicked by someone who desperately wants to watch the rare archive footage of The Queen in 3D, but doesn’t want to incur the cost of the magazine in the process).
This time it’s different though. This time the technology companies are getting involved. We’ve moved past the cheap-but-limited world of anaglyph images, beyond even the more colourful but nauseatingly motive Pulfrich effect and into the world of full colour 3D, even for stationary scenes. Cinemas use polarised glasses, the new breed of 3D TVs typically use LCD shutter glasses. There are even some glasses-free technologies – which is likely to work well for the 3DS, but not so well in practice for typical TV viewing where heads tend to move around and programmes are often half-watched while trying to simultaneously read a magazine, complete that urgent Powerpoint presentation, or eat dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of 3D films, just not the implementation. I’ve been to an arthouse double-feature of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “It Came From Outer Space” and loved every minute of the camply over-the-top oohs, aahs and occasional gasps from the “terrified” audience. I’ve got a stack of anaglyph and Pufrich glasses from various promotions through the years. I’ve loved the 3D features I’ve seen at IMAX cinemas. And I heartily believe that the 3DS will be an absolute winner.
But the real me – the one who’s not looking for a short gimmicky experience – doesn’t want 3D in a television. For games, maybe – but not for movies, and certainly not for normal run-of-the-mill TV. The fatigue that sets in after a period of wearing 3D glasses (or of having to sit in a predefined spot) makes it a less-than-appealing feature. It seems that I share this opinion with just about everyone I’ve spoken to, and even some technology journalists are less than enthused.
So if nobody is really all that excited about 3D in the home, why is every company trying to push it? Perhaps they’re all trying to out-feature each others products; one adds 3D, they all add 3D to keep up with the Joneses. And the Sonys, Panasonics and Toshibas. But the cynic in me can’t help but feel that the real reasons are twofold: firstly to make all our HD Ready TVs seem as archaic as last century’s CRTs so that we’ll feel compelled to “upgrade” that little bit earlier than we otherwise would; and secondly to finally add a truly distinctive feature to Blu-ray – after all, it seems that most viewers can’t really tell the difference between high- and standard-definition, so without features like 3D what does Blu-ray really offer that DVDs don’t?
Cynicism and personal preferences aside, 3D is all over the tech news these days. And if there’s a bandwagon rolling past, we’ll do our best to hop on board, take the mick a little, then jump off again. It’s what any good satirical webcomic would do.
This is the second in our trilogy of movie poster parodies. Like the previous one, this originated with the first incarnation of The Greys, some fifteen years ago. At that time this would have been almost topical, as “The Usual Suspects” was released in 1995, with this poster:
Back then our images were much simpler, there were no Easter Eggs in our strips, and the jokes were a little more basic. So basic, in fact, that the humour in this strip originally hung on the fact that the original poster had a police line-up complete with height marks, and that our grey aliens were all a bit short. This is what it looked like in Vince’s notebook:
And this is how it looked when we stopped work on The Greys the first time round:
When we began the work to resurrect The Greys as a webcomic, back in late 2008, this was fairly high on our list of strips to tweak and update for the new media. We went back to the original source material in order to create a more accurate parody, and in doing so decided on the theme of using a few evil characters from sci-fi to reflect the clothes, style or stance of the original characters. It quickly became apparent that the characters we’d chosen were, if anything, renowned for their height rather than the lack thereof. So the not-very-amusing gag about The Greys being 3′ tall was thrown out in favour of five taller characters in a more accurate parody, which we developed on-and-off for quite some time, only now (some 18 months later) considering it finished enough to post.
Camouflage of one sort or another has a long history in the world of fiction, from Shakespeare’s many cross-dressers through to Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire, with their use of… well, more cross-dressing really. Generally speaking sci-fi tends to take a more technical and less transvestical approach to the issue of disguise – often going as far as complete invisibilty with the Predator’s cloak fooling the human senses, or a Romulan cloaking device fooling the humans’ sensors.
Camouflage is very context sensitive – just ask any cuttlefish. What hides you in one environment usually won’t hide you somewhere else. This flaw is usually a crucial point in any cloak/camouflage/hiding plotline, as intergalactic nebulae seem invariably to have the power to either disrupt a cloaking device, or somehow play havoc with ships’ sensors, making the whole nebula into a giant camouflage net. This context-sensitivity is what actually inspired this comic in the first place…
Many years ago there was an Army Surplus store on the main high street of the town in which I live. Its front was painted olive green, and its windows were festooned with camouflage netting, upon which hung items of kit and clothing, variously in greens and browns, khaki or navy blue. Like so many British high streets, the rest of the shops were drab grey with a few brightly coloured signs and dozens of misplaced apostrophes. Ironically, against this mediocre background, the camouflaged items in the Army Surplus store stood out like a sore thumb.
Standing out like that was probably good for business. I guess it wasn’t that good, though, as the store’s not there anymore. Or at least I haven’t seen it in years. Which got me thinking… what if it is still there, and they just got really good at camouflage. Hence this comic.
(Plus Inkscape has a camouflage fill pattern that was just begging to be used for something)