Saturday, November 13, 2010

Untranslated #2

By Lando

I can’t help but read this issue of Untranslated as a critique of the current wars happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The comic opens with a group of humanoid (it’s only several pages into this that we can even tell that the soldiers are “human”, or at least very close) on a desert planet. They approach the bombed out ruins of some buildings, only to encounter a number of aliens who attack them. The rest of the comic deals with, well, “the horrors of war”.

So why does this remind me of the current situation in the Middle East? Well, the desert setting certainly plays a part, but the larger part is the utter alienness of the aliens that are encountered. They look like monsters, they dress weird, their technology is different, and their houses look strange; even their sound effects don’t look the same. And yet, we can still tell that the “aliens” we encounter in this story are mostly just civilians who have no idea what’s going on.

The “human” soldiers haven’t made any attempt to understand these other people, and the “aliens” are just confused. “Why are you hurting us?” is the unanswered question their appearances and actions seem to ask. Perhaps followed by “Who are you?”. Of course the soldiers probably don’t have any answers to give, even if they were capable of communicating. Why attack those buildings? “Because we were told to.” Why are you on this planet? “Because we are making you (and us) safe.”

Fuck, am I reading too much into this? I want to watch Starship Troopers again. (And by “again” I mean not as a 14 year old.)

Sigh. Okay, onto the art. Lando’s style is not what I usually expect to see in minicomics. It is very much influenced by European artists such as Moebius. It’s not as detailed as Moebius’ work (what little I’ve seen of it), and Lando seems to use far more use of white space in his pages, at times leaving the art to look a little sparse (though Lando has said that he wanted to use a minimalist style for these comics). Those aren’t the only influences evident in the art though, the use of speed lines and other aspects are definitely reminiscent of manga techniques.

Ultimately, as much as I love the speedlines, the buildings, the explosions, and all the other details, Lando’s art disappoints me little when it comes to the actual humanoids. Part of the problem comes from panels which involve drawing smaller detail. I found the line work at times to be thicker when a character is further away/smaller. This seems sort of backwards to me and pulls the eye away from where you would think it should be (the larger object).

I also felt that the characters seemed oddly spindly in places, with their legs not seeming larger enough to support their weight. All of this does come down to the fact that I enjoy how Lando draws the hard lines of equipment and other solid equipment, but am less fond of the softer, curving lines he uses for more pliable objects like clothing and flesh. The fact that I’ve put this much thought into the art does mean that I’ve studied it fairly intensely, which is more than a lot of comics have going for them. I really like the explosion in this panel though:

The lettering is really interesting too. As the title suggests all the dialogue in this comic is untranslated, but more than that it is almost completely unrecognizable as text at all. In fact, there are two different speaking styles here, one for each type of humanoid. That of the soldiers is the same as the one seen on the cover, two lines that turn at sharp angles and intersect with each other.

I have no idea how much thought Lando has put into this, maybe he just think it looks cool, but I’ve spent probably too much time trying to figure out if this could work as a functioning alphabet. We’re given a pretty limited amount of dialogue to deal with, but I think that it could work. I don’t think it’s an actual, functioning language in these comics as every word begins with what would seem to be the same character, but if you wanted to create an intelligible alphabet this could work.

The alien language is even less recognizable as dialogue, portrayed almost as 2-d representations of three dimensional objects. How do you think this sounds?

Actually, looking back through this I’ve just discovered that at several times the “aliens” are clearly trying to speak the “humans” language. This is portrayed in a third way of writing that is somewhere in between the two already established, and implies a heavily accented way of speaking.

Wow! Lando seems to have put more thought into this one aspect than many creators put into any of their work. Hell, even the sound effects from explosions look like they’re from some entirely different culture.

Dang, look at how much I have written about this comic, and yet I don’t think it’s really something most minicomic people are into. It’s a sci-fi war comic with European influenced art. I have no idea who the target market is, but if you’re into any of that stuff you should definitely check it out.

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