Monday, February 27, 2012

Alphabeasts: T is for Tove

I'm writing this in the wee hours of the morning, as usual, and this time I'm a little tired, so maybe I'll keep it brief.

For this week's Alphabeasts entry, T is for tove. You know, from "Jabberwocky," in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass.

What do we know about toves, aside from the fact that they gimble and gyre, that they're typically slithy, that they make their nests at the base of sundials, and that they subsist on cheese? Well, Humpty Dumpty tells us that they're something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews.

There's one canonical illustration of the toves (along with the raths and the borogoves, which I've clipped out for the sake of clarity), and there's no way I could improve on it (though I have been happy to swipe it already). I tip my hat in sincere respect to John Tenniel.

Given that I knew I couldn't outdo Tenniel, I started trying to think about ways that Humpty Dumpty's description could fit a different-looking creature. That led to some false starts: what if it were a squat little chameleon with a curly horn? What about a little horned-toad sort of thing? How can something be like a badger and a lizard at the same time? And so forth.

I even tried a pose that involve a little more gyring (whirling in circles) along with the gimbling (drilling holes as with a gimlet), but I couldn't bring myself to ink it because it looked so awkward and wrong.

Anyway, there you have it.

Next week, a sea monster from the Earth Nation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Comics Pedagogy: Symbolism

Sometimes the obvious and direct meaning of a text goes right over my students' heads.

It can be frustrating.

(Actually, the problem is usually the opposite of what Bechdel is displaying here. My students are pretty good at hallucinating a symbolic reading of a text and, at times, pretty bad at picking up the literal claims the sentences in front of them are making.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Alphabeasts: S is for Sand Bug

This week's Alphabeasts drawing is from maybe the second most obscure source I'm going to tap for this project, but it's also one of my real favorites. I figure there are really only two possible relations a comics reader can have to Kazimir Strzepek's The Mourning Star: fandom or ignorance. In other words, if you've heard of it, you probably love it.

The reason it's so appealing, at least to me, is the pervasive sense of a completely imagined world, with its own cultures and problems, its own languages and sports, and of course its own fauna. From out of that fauna comes the sand bug, the eggs of which infest the water in the desert wastes then (if you make the mistake of drinking them) consume you from inside while the desert sun withers you.

Watch out, because S is for sand bug.

(Yeah, I drew it busting out of that particular spot on the skull in a tribute to my recent sinus surgery. My recovery is going fine.)

The vibe in The Mourning Star is somewhere between D&D, skate punk rock, Kung Fu, and Mad Max: a civilization in ruins, populated by characters with cute faces and hard attitudes; everyone struggling to survive, often in awesome action setpieces with brutal martial arts involving knives and scissors. And you definitely get the sense that there's more to the world than what you're seeing, which is the best test of worldbuilding.

If you've got the dough to spare, I suggest picking up the first volume of The Mourning Star somewhere other than Amazon, where (as of this writing) the cheapest copy is going for more than $260. I'm a big enough fan of Strzepek's work that I've even swiped it wholesale in the past, for the last page of our "Stepan Crick" story, but even I would balk at a figure like that. (Plus, there are copies for sale in other places. There's a tip for some "inve$ticomics" that might actually pay off.)

Anyway, there's only one scene (so far) that features a sand bug, and at the time we don't really get a clear look at it. We don't even learn the name of the creature until the second volume. Early in volume 1, though, the amnesiac snipper sniper fights one:

Right before this fight, he drinks from the canteen of the dead man the sand bug is growing from. (He doesn't know the creature's ecology until later, when he remarks that it sounds "familiarly terrible.") Should we be expecting the snipper sniper to explode with a sand bug in a few more volumes? It's only one of a bunch of loose threads and cliffhangers that have me on tenterhooks waiting for the next volume. One of the latest posts on Kaz Strzepek's blog hints that Volume 3 is close to finished. I am super psyched about that. There really aren't many comics I anticipate more eagerly.

Next week: creatures I swiped a drawing of back when I was doing the Animal Alphabet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Alphabeasts: R is for Rust Monster

If you know that from the entire Star Trek universe I chose the mugato for my Alphabeasts alphabet, then you might be able to predict what critter I would choose from the superpopulated realms of Dungeons & Dragons. Evidently I have a fondness for an awkward chimerical hodgepodge whatsis, so I had to draw the Rust Monster.

Yes, that's what R is for.

Like the piercer, the mimic, and the lurker above, the rust monster is one of those D&D creatures that only makes sense as a tactical obstacle in a dungeon-crawling game. If it attacks you in combat, it won't hurt you, but it very well might disintegrate your cherished +4 plate mail and enchanted longsword. It's kind of a jackass thing to for a DM to bring out, in most circumstances, though while doing my research this week I found a smart little blog entry that makes a case for the sort of game where the rust monster is not just appropriate but a sort of suitably frightening challenge.

But why does it look so dorky? Why the wingnut propeller on the tail, the Ben-Grimm hide, and the mishmash of different body parts?

Well, like the bulette and the owlbear, the rust monster was originally based on a crappy plastic toy from a bag of "Prehistoric" monsters you could buy in convenience stores when I was a kid. Here's a picture of the original toy, pulled from a cool photoseries that any D&D-philes ought to click over to look at.

Since the first edition, D&D has apparently tried to de-dorkify the rust monster, but to me those revisions just don't ring true. The fantasy world of D&D is supposed to be a gawky, clumsy reworking of Tolkien and assorted folklore; the awkward ugly cartooning of David C. Sutherland III and the weirdo heavy-metal Aztec foofaraw of Erol Otus are the way adolescence is supposed to feel. Give me, instead, a lengthy pseudo-scientific explanation of its gimcrack ecology (search this PDF, and ye shall find) and the threat that my mithril shield or gauntlets of ogre strength may not survive the encounter.

Anyway, given the rust monster's origins as a stiff plastic toy, it turns out to be pretty hard to "animate" into a different pose: those legs are too short to do more than waddle, and there's not one joint in the critter's body from its nose to the base of its tail.

So I did a little doodling. This week, it struck me that I could put my doodles on the postcards I was about to send, up in the area where the cancelation mark will go.

I hope you have enjoyed this little jaunt down Curdled Nostalgia Lane.

Next week, a tribute to a small-press comic that you should all be reading.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alphabeasts: Q is for Quagsire

I have never been much plugged in to Pokemon in any of its media iterations, but I know that there are Pokemon for every letter of the alphabet.

And so Q, in this week's Alphabeasts entry, is for Quagsire.

Quagsire seems to be some sort of kin to the Japanese giant salamander. His earlier form has feathery gills.

And apparently he's sort of a thing, at least for some people, though I don't understand why.

You know, as much as I enjoy salamandrine critters, I can't seem to summon my usual expansiveness ... or any interest in Pokemon at all. I'm sorry.

I guarantee I will have more to say about next week's critter. As a little tyke I even had the plastic toy that it was based on.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Comics Pedagogy: Albert the Alligator

Yesterday one of my colleagues said jokingly that she thought of her lectures like stand-up comedy routines.

Later in the day I saw this panel in a January 1949 Pogo strip:

Indeed, I feel like this sometimes in front of my classes.