Clarence, Cartoon Network’s Newest Series, Debuts Tomorrow Night

I don’t get modern cartoons, I’m afraid. I was sent a screener for Clarence — a new Cartoon Network animated series that launches tomorrow, April 12, at 7 PM ET / 6 PM CT — and the whole time watching it, I didn’t see much that would bring me back.

Clarence

First, there are the designs. Clarence is a chubby kid whose cheeks are much bigger than the rest of his head, which makes his outline look weirdly obscene. His friend Jeff’s head is perfectly square, while most everyone else gets a circle head. Except for Sumo, the third kid in the banner there, who resembles a humanoid rat.

Clarence, his mom, Sumo, and Jeff eating fast food

Clarence, his mom, Sumo, and Jeff eating fast food

Then there’s the lack of female characters. We get to see Clarence’s mom (Katie Crown) in the first 15-minute episode, “Fun Dungeon Face Off”, since she’s the one that takes the three boys to the fast food restaurant where Clarence torments Jeff (Sean Giambrone). The second segment, “Pretty Great Day with a Girl”, has Amy (Elizabeth Hope) biking Clarence around town, which was an improvement. She’s not listed in the main cast, though, so I don’t know if we expect to see her again. All the other kids in that episode are boys.

Clarence and Amy

Clarence and Amy

(I’m sure that hanging out only with your own gender is typical for certain ages. My objection is that so many cartoons already exist with mostly-boy casts that I’m not very interested in watching yet another one. But that’s the demographic Cartoon Network is proud of attracting.)

The show is the first created by Skyler Page, a former storyboard artist for Adventure Time. He also voices Clarence, who’s described as

an optimistic, spirited, lovable boy who sees the best in all things and wants to try everything. Because everything is amazing! Celebrate the best of childhood: epic dirt fights, awkward crushes, trampoline combat, sleepover pranks, and secret tree forts all through the eyes of Clarence. Clarence’s novel perspective transforms nearly any situation, however mundane, into the best day ever. No matter what happens, good or bad, nothing brings Clarence down.

That’s a nice attitude, although it’s not necessarily one I would recognize in the first episode, which featured Clarence teasing Jeff for not being more like him. Perhaps that appears more later; there will be a total of 12 fifteen-minute segments. Regardless, the flat-looking animation, although a currently popular style, isn’t pleasant for me to watch. I suspect kids and parents who can relate to the kids’ behavior will like the show more.

You can watch the first episode, “Fun Dungeon Face Off”, here:

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Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood

I found this memoir, presented as a book for older children, disappointing, although older adult readers might get more out of it.

Each two-page spread consists of text memories accompanied by a watercolor illustration related to the incidents described. While the misty images might accurately represent the vagaries of memory, they weren’t specific enough for me to get a sense of the place and time from them. They’re stiff and remote, without conveying much emotion to this reader. I’m sure making this art meant a lot to the author, but that meaning isn’t carried through. Several of them, generic in approach, could have been set at any time or place, not specifically World War II China.

For that reason, I found the book better aimed at older readers, those who already have some idea of the time period portrayed. The writing is similarly light on emotion, although full of disturbing events when you stop to think about them. James’ father was British, living in China to run the family’s business. His grandparents, originally missionaries, founded an orphanage for girls who would be otherwise left to die; they became workers producing embroidered goods that the family sold.

No consideration or discussion is given to the geopolitics of Brits coming in and making money off the abandoned girls. A sentence early on talks about how these girls were more desirable as brides than others because they had a valuable skill and could speak English, which I read as an implied justification. James and his family led a privileged life, with servants and a social club, but I wondered how others saw them.

The one page that describes the author’s parents meeting and marrying is full of unexplained questions. His father went to Canada to be a musician, where he married a divorcee who already had two kids, at which point he went back to the family business. I wanted to know about the blended family and how they got along, but the other kids disappear from the book with a brief mention of being sent to study in Canada. I wondered if the father was disappointed by his change in future plans, or if the family accepted this older, divorced woman at a time when that was a scandalous status, but no information is provided there, either.

The main meat of the book begins a third of the way in, as the Japanese army takes over the Chinese town when James is four. The company continues operating with the permission of the occupiers. Four years later, James’ family finally attempts to leave, with the mother and son sailing from Shanghai to the United States before voyaging to Canada. The father joins the British Army. The author doesn’t go into detail, but it’s clear that the mother has a drinking problem, a desire for status she no longer has the money to support, and anxiety over her disarranged life. James goes to school for a while in India, before winding up again in Canada and finally, the US.

I found myself wishing for a differently focused story. The mother strikes me as a more interesting character than the author, but we don’t find out what happened to her or get much insight into her feelings or choices. The author has his struggles — he’s thought effeminate because he’s not good at sports and prefers art — but we don’t get much idea of his emotions either. It’s a surface presentation, with “and then we went here” substituting for insight. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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*Attachments — Recommended

All it took was reading one of Rainbow Rowell’s books, and I became a devoted fan. Attachments is her first (so far) adult novel, and it’s a fun, satisfying read.

Lincoln had his heart broken by his first, high school girlfriend. He’s now back living with his mother and working nights in IT security for a newspaper. The paper just put in internet connections, and since the higher-ups are nervous about employees wasting time surfing, everything is being monitored. (I should mention that the book is set in 1999, which gives it an entertaining layer of retro references and avoids the despair that would permeate any story of newsroom journalists today.)

That’s how Lincoln gets to know Beth and Jennifer without ever having met them. They talk about all kinds of “inappropriate” subjects, so their email conversations wind up in the web filter, where he has to review them. Beth is the paper’s movie reviewer, Jennifer a copy editor. Their exchanges give Attachments the frothy, forbidden feel of a modern epistolary novel. Isn’t reading someone else’s mail fun?

Jennifer’s happy with her husband but ambivalent about getting pregnant (although he wants them to). Beth has been living with wannabe rockstar Chris and dealing with his perpetual immaturity. They talk about periods and why Beth no longer goes to Chris’ shows and movies and Beth’s sister Kiley’s wedding planning and (my favorite) whether Superman would really work in a newsroom.

Then Lincoln realizes he really likes Beth, only he doesn’t know what she looks like or how to meet her. And worst of all, he has no way to explain how he got to know her without creeping her out. How this all plays out is entertaining, a real page-turner. I loved the way the technology underpins this modern romance, and how Rowell deals with the difficulty of making new friends as an adult. Her portrayals of family relationships are varied and realistic as well. Plus, I was reminded of the Y2K panic and how it felt to work that evening, just in case.

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The Here and Now

Ann Brashares, author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, tackles YA science fiction with The Here and Now, the story of time-traveling Prenna and her struggles to do what’s right for the world.

I was strongly reminded of Rogue Touch, last summer’s superhero novel tie-in, with the romance between Prenna, girl from the future, and modern-day Ethan as they try to save the future world.

The book is on the short side, under 200 pages, and a bit sketchy at times, with more suggested than portrayed. Prenna’s future, we’re told, is horrible, due to a lack of resources and a blood-borne plague, but we don’t really get pictures of what it was like to live there, day to day. That makes the plot, about whether changing the future is possible, a bit difficult to get our hands around, particularly in the latter third, when multiple alternate timelines are suggested.

However, many teen readers will relate to the idea of a restricted life. Prenna, as part of a group of travelers who came back in time to escape their dying world, lives under a series of rules that are strongly enforced by the adults around her. The most important to her is the one that states “We must never, under any circumstances, develop a physically or emotionally intimate relationship with any person outside the Community.” Of course, she’s going to fall in love, calling the assumptions of her existence so far into question, and threatening the conspiracy that aims to control her. He’s too perfect, but I liked the character of Ethan, the smart, sensitive, patient, caring boyfriend. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Amazon Buys ComiXology

It’s the perfect news story. There’s a shocking fact — Amazon has acquired the most significant digital comic distributor, ComiXology — but no idea what it will actually mean to the comic market, so people have lots of room for speculation. Which is why everyone’s already weighed in on it.

I’m reminded of Bruce Sterling’s quote, “Being afraid of monolithic organizations especially when they have computers is like being afraid of really big gorillas especially when they are on fire.” ComiXology had, in digital, already effectively replicated the monopoly position of Diamond Distribution in print — they were the elephant you had to deal with if you wanted to join the circus. Will being owned by Amazon change that? Make it worse?

Amazon is already publishing comics, although I never heard anyone speak of any of them. Amazon also sells digital comics for Kindle, although they don’t have the Guided View technology that makes the ComiXology experience smoother. From that perspective, we lose competition, as two of the biggest digital markets now will combine.

There was some fear, mostly hypothetical, about what would happen if ComiXology went out of business, since their locked format couldn’t be converted to anything else, so people would lose the comics they’ve “bought” so far. As part of a much bigger company, that’s now less likely to happen — although it’s still possible that Amazon will decide to move away from the format for some reason.

“Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed”, so we don’t know what ComiXology is worth. ComiXology will continue to operate under its name, as a subsidiary of Amazon. Comixology CEO David Steinberger will remain, and their offices will stay in New York City, with no layoffs planned.

Fans are speculating widely, with popular options including hoping for cheaper prices (not up to the company, but the publishers, unless Amazon starts throwing its weight around) and free digital copies with purchase of a physical edition, the same way Amazon does for many CDs. Still to be determined: What does this mean for Submit, ComiXology’s program for independent publishers? Will you still be able to buy comics in the iOS ComiXology app, or will Amazon remove the purchase path that gives Apple 30%? Personally, I wonder if this ties into Amazon’s increased emphasis on providing value to Prime customers now that they’re raising the yearly fees — will free comics come along with the free TV and movie viewing?

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Breakfast Served Anytime

I knew I had to read this YA novel when I found out that it was set at a geek camp, a summer program for gifted and talented students. I’m an alum of geek school myself, and I was eager to read another story of the experience. It surpassed my expectations in its portrayal of friendship among several creative and entertaining young people.

When we meet Gloria, aspiring actress, she and best friend Carol are dreaming of their future escape to New York City. They don’t like Kentucky, and they want their real life to start, imagining artsy existences in the big city elsewhere. That’s typical of her, since she values anticipation more than the actual experience.

But before they move on, Gloria’s going to spend a month at a summer camp for promising high school seniors. The program’s set up to keep talent in the state (when so many want to leave). Gloria’s particular program even asks her not to use cellphones, computers, or other internet gadgets. That’s to help her better get to know her fellow students: Calvin, a farm son who’s brilliant and caring; Chloe, who loves France and the 1920s; and Mason, demented and imaginative.

I liked the exploration of what it means to have a state attachment, a home in a location with some things you like and some you can’t stand. I liked the course, about the magic of writing and favorite books, and I liked the way the teacher was actually honest with the kids. I liked the way not everything came with an answer; like life, there are questions, such as the one about coal mining vs. environmentalism, that didn’t have easy solutions.

I loved the scavenger hunt that bonds the four friends together. I loved how smart and passionate and involved they all were, and how exhilarating their conversation and interactions could be. I miss that feeling of life before you, of discovery and wonder and intellectual exploration. Breakfast Served Anytime captures and shares that well. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Oni Serializes Archer Coe on ComiXology

Archer Coe #1 cover

Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks by Jamie S. Rich and Dan Christensen, which I enjoyed reading, will be released as a graphic novel in June. However, in advance of print publication, publisher Oni Press has announced that it will be serialized at ComiXology as 14 digital issues. It’s 99 cents for 17 pages, and future chapters will appear every Tuesday and Thursday.

Since print issues don’t make sense any more for a limited-run independent project like this, I suppose this is yet another sign that digital and book collections can run in very complementary fashion. It’s also a great way to make samples easily available — you don’t have to read it all digitally, although if you do (and if the price stays the same), it’s cheaper by about $6.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Want to Ride Captain America Movie’s Coattails

It’s no surprise that Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a dynamite opening weekend, setting a new box office record for April with a $96+ million take. Internationally, it’s also doing well, taking in more already than the first Captain America made overseas in total. The sequel is expected to far surpass the original overall.

Thus, it’s also no surprise that the struggling Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing its best to grab some of that success and interest. Marvel sent out a press release yesterday that said:

Nothing will ever be the same for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. following the jaw dropping events of the blockbuster film Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, now in theaters! In the series’ latest episode “Turn, Turn, Turn,” airing Tuesday, April 8th at 8|7c on the ABC Network, Coulson and his team come face–to-face with the Clairvoyant and must deal with the greatest threat of all … one that will hit closer to home more than they’ve ever imagined.

with the following video clip:

I’m still confused on what this actually means. They talk about how the TV show and film both deal with S.H.I.E.L.D., but didn’t we know that already? Promotion of this kind actually makes me LESS likely to watch the show, since I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet and I’m now vaguely concerned that I’ll either have something spoiled for me, or I’ll miss something because I won’t know the reference. Of course, it’s probably nothing, just attempted cross-marketing to raise the show’s viewership. And it’s probably a fair assumption on their part that plenty of people did see the movie already, given the ticket sales. I seem to have heard that Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson wasn’t even in the movie, which strikes me as a poor choice, since he’s been the glue of the cinematic Marvel universe so far.

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