Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Blogvangelist

Here's a very interesting article about a teacher who uses blogging in his teaching. Instead of telling his students to "hand their papers in to me, the teacher," he has them post entries and respond to other's posts on blogs created for the class. Their discussion on the book The Secret Life of Bees eventually included the author of the book herself! The students soon found that their blog was the number one result for a Google search on the book, surpassing even the author's website. He believes that the Internet and the right software tools will "liberate students from the anachronistic traditional classroom" and become "self-motivated learners and creators, driven by their own passions.

McCloskey, P. (2009). The Blogvangelist. Teacher Magazine 18(2), pages 22-24, 27-29.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Monkey Business

These comics will appear in an upcoming issue of Fun for Kids magazine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can a Mighty Andar/Bighead Team-up be far behind?

This made my day -- I had sent some copies of Eclectic comics to celebrated indie cartoonist Jeffrey Brown. He sent back a postcard note with a sketch of Andar meeting his character Bighead. The note and sketch will go in the next Mighty Mailbag, but I couldn't wait to share it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jeff Smith

There's just been a documentary made about Jeff Smith, the cartoonist responsible for Bone, the all-ages masterpiece. I hope to get to see it some day. Even this preview on You-Tube was interesting.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"The Oxbow" by Thomas Cole

The school where I teach was recently fortunate enough to be recipient of one of the Picturing America grants from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). Through this grant they provide schools with huge, beautiful reproductions of masterpieces of American art, as well as a teacher's guide book that provides ideas on how to use the reproductions to teach concepts from history and art.

This painting can almost be divided in half, with the left side an untamed wilderness. A storm is passing through towards the left with lightning and dark clouds. On the right side, the storm has passed and everything is calm. It is an ideal rural scene, but the removal of trees has left scars on the hillside. On closer inspection, those scars are in the shape of Hebrew letters. From man's view, they spell Noah. Looking down, from God's perspective, they same shapes spell Shaddai, or the Hebrew word for God, or Almighty. The NEH materials ask, "Is Cole suggesting that the landscape be read as a holy text that reveals messages from God?"

The Metropolitan website says that this painting is "laden with possible interpretations". The oxbow itself is an emblem of human control over nature.

According to the American Studies of the University of Virginia site
Cole relies heavily on European conventions of landscape painting to convey the visual representation of the struggle between wilderness and civilization...The dramatic storm clouds over the wilderness speak of the uncontrolled power of nature, but also of the sublimity of this power. Cole shows no remorse for the recession of the wilderness from the scene. The soft greens and yellows and the gentle rolling landscape of the farms suggest that the pastoral civilization that replaces the wilderness is as beautiful in its order as nature is in its sublimity.
You have to look close to see Cole himself in the middle of the painting. He has staked out his claim by staking his umbrella into the hillside. His portfolio is nearby with his name on it.

According to essayist Eleanor Jones Harvey (1995)
his main goal, he says, was to create a “higher style of landscape that could express moral or religious meanings." He impressed several of his colleagues, teaching them that a landscape painter must have strength, determination, and should be willing to conquer the hazards of the weather and terrain in order to achieve success.

Cole had many views about nature, human life and mortality. He felt that the nation had a wild beauty. Cole said in one of his articles, “To walk with nature as a poet is the necessary condition of a perfect artist.” He illustrated the American landscape with a new vision, but at the same time he did not forget to paint pictures that portray allegorical and religious subjects.
Another writer (Wilmerding, 1993) thinks that in this painting Cole was "showing how the cultivation would destroy the natural wilderness, and as a result never meet in the painting.

It's interesting to me how many clues to possible meanings are left, but it doesn't seem to be spelled out definitively.

Harvey, Eleanor Jones (1998). The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature 1830-1880. Dallas: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.

Wilmerding, John (2003). Signs of the Artist: Signatures and Self-expression in American Paintings. Yale University Press. p. 58. ISBN 0300097794.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Night of the Grasshopper Mouse

I just received a copy of Night of the Grasshopper Mouse by Chris Ruggia. It is great for all ages and a really excellent story that gives all kinds of information about animals that live in Texas in a fun and exciting way. It's both a great story and very educational. I learned a lot myself from reading it. For instance, I had never heard of the grasshopper mouse, a mouse that sometimes eats other rodents and lets out a "howl" with a long, high-pitched squeak, like a "miniature wolf". I highly recommend it, and if you're interested, you can get a copy from his online store.

This 28-page comic is a printed companion to Ruggia's webcomic, Jack Adventures in Texas' Big Bend. As he puts it, "Jack is based as closely as I can manage upon actual natural history: the habitats, behaviors, and diets of the animals living in Texas' Big Bend area." It really is admirable how much of the story is factual while still being very entertaining.

Chris was also kind enough to send me a hand-drawn sketch of his version of the Mighty Andar, below. I really like seeing other artists' interpretations of my characters.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tales of Unusual Circumstance

I recently got a copy of Tales of Unusual Circumstance by Joey Weiser. I loved it! It is a really great all-ages romp through the worlds of science fiction, folklore, talking animals, monsters, superhero parody and all kinds of neat things. This book is a collection of all sorts of odds and ends of short comic stories, collecting Joey's mini-comics and anthology work in one volume. It's kind of like channel surfing on a bizarre, funny world. It's neat to see how effectively he can introduce characters and tell a story in a few pages. It's full of humor and charm.

While Tales was an anthology, Weiser's other book is a full-fledged graphic novel -- The Ride Home. I've read this online, but have ordered a copy to add to my collection. I like how he incorporates mythological characters in a contemporary setting -- like Nodo the Van Gnome, the Junkyard Trolls and Ferdinand the Sewer Dragon.

Joey is a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and a frequent contributor to the Flight anthologies. You can keep an eye out for his upcoming projects like Cavemen in Space (his next graphic novel) on his website, The Tragic Planet.

Joey was kind enough to make the drawing below of The Mystic Yak, drawn in his own style. I think it would be neat to see how other artists interpret my characters. Maybe some of them could go in the next Mighty Mailbag (the letters page of Eclectic Comics).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Robotics Competition 2

Here's a video from the recent robotics competition my sons were part of.

If you want to see more, I have a bunch on YouTube, here:

R.J., Jr. -- The Dragon's Librarian

Alec Longstreth has a really great new story at Dark Horse Presents! Check it out here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Robotics Competition

Today I got to see a robotics competition that my son Daniel's team was competing in. Since my son David will be in ninth grade next year, he got to go too, and was able to have a turn maneuvering the robot.
Each year, the robotics team is given a specific challenge and a limitted time to complete the robot according to the specifications. All the teams compete against one another. This year, the robot had to move around and scoop up balls and then try to put them in the carts being pulled by opponents' robots.
David (above)
Daniel (above)

Usually the competitions are in faraway places, so this is the first one I got to see. It was smaller in scale than the major events, but I was still very impressed with what these kids can do with the help of their mentors.

Friday, May 8, 2009

No Fear Shakespeare

I have a confession to make. I've never read much Shakespeare, probably because I never "had to" for a class. However, I've been really enjoying this book, No Fear Shakespeare: Hamlet. It has the whole of Shakespeare's original text, but side by side with a modern paraphrase. For instance, the original gives us,
What art thou that usurp'st this time of night
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? By heaven, I charge thee, speak
Beautiful language, but -- Huh? The translation re-words that,
What are you, that you walk out so late at night, looking like the dead kind of Denmark when he dressed for battle? By God, I order you to speak.
This book is available online as well, but I still prefer reading real books made of paper that I can hold in my hands. I've been reading a page of the modern and then the original, while at the same time enjoying the book below.

The same publisher has put out a companion graphic novel. It really is very good. The artist Neil Babra created the adaptation. Below is one page that describes the lines shown above.

The books are very reasonable in price - six bucks for the translation book and ten bucks for the graphic novel. I'd highly recommend them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Magneto and Titanium Man

I found a story online with pictures about a time when two of my heroes met. Paul McCartney had a song when he was with Wings called Magneto and Titanium Man. Jack Kirby and his family were invited to a concert where Jack presented him with a drawing. Magneto
Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo who also appear in the song.
Here's the drawing Jack did for the band, with Wings being drawn to Magneto's magnetic hand.
Here Paul looks at the drawing while Jack talks to the Lynda McCartney and the rest of the band.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

At the Artsfest

I had a good time at the Artsfest today. I talked to a lot of really nice people and sold a lot of comics. Across the aisle from me was my good friend Paul Bozzo, a really great artist. I spent my down time trying to sketch him.

Judging from these photos below that my wife took, it was my son Nathan that had the most fun!

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Wimpy Kid Hits the Big Time

I think it's interesting that writer and cartoonist Jeff Kinney made the 2009 Time magazine's list of 100 Most Influential People. He is the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books. This book series is one of the kind of thing that even kids who "hate to read" absolutely can't get enough of. The books are in the form of a kid's diary, with text that resembles a kid's writing and the cartoons are similar to what a young artist might make. They are funny! If you know a reluctant reader, this would be a great gift for them!