My personal statement in Wordle

The boys showed me Wordle last night. It takes the text from any document or website and creates a collage of words (a word’s size is proportional to the number of times it’s used). Since I’m working on my file for promotion, I thought I would run my personal statement through the program and see if I’ve got my priorities straight. It’s pretty close, actually…


Grades are in, Beetles are back

I submitted my grades at 1:00 pm yesterday and by 1:15 pm I was working on a new page for Age of Elytra. Most of my comics work over the school year has been with Ant Edna and Wilbur in the 22-page photosynthesis story Gimme Some Sugar and the 8-page story Tag for Free Comic Book Day. The style for those was pretty spare and flat. It is fun to get all detaily again. I have restructured the story a bit since I last worked on it and I think we are looking at about six more chapters. My hope is to get the rest of it completely written and a big chunk of it penciled this summer. To celebrate the resumption of the beetle work, I am posting the page I did yesterday. I removed the dialogue, because I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but I can tell you this: something is happening.


Free Comic Book Day

Today was Free Comics Book Day and comic shops around the country were inundated with folks looking for sweet, free comic goodness. As has been my tradition for the last five years, I spent a big chunk of the day sitting at a table with fellow cartoonist Jarod Rosello at The Comics Swap in State College. Normally, I don’t have anything to give away for free, but this year Jarod had the brilliant idea to put together a free mini. So, along with our other fellow cartoonist Denny Connolly, we each put together an 8 page story for a 24 page extravaganza called Evolution of Adventure (the title wasn’t my idea, but i love it for obvious reasons). The cover was done by yet another fellow cartoonist Alexis Bennett. All in all it was a pretty nice package. We managed to unload all 117 copies (yes, yes, they were free, but people didn’t have to take one…). So, in the spirit of Fee Comics Book Day and for those of you who couldn’t make it (you know who you are), I am posting my story here. It features the return of Ant Edna and Wilbur.


Recycled Comics You Probably Haven’t Seen

As always, the spring semester is kicking my tail. So, in a desperate attempt to post something, I present a two page strip on SARS I did for a magazine called Your World: Biotechnology & You. This is one of a handful of strips I did for them a few years back. As a rare treat, it is in color! This strip was also part of the successful NSF grant proposal that eventually funded the production and testing of Optical Allusions.


New Comics: Photosynthesis, page 16

Is it too much to hope for a little Kirby-inspired grandeur in a comic about photosynthesis? I hope not, because that’s what I was going for. Rubisco is a monstrously big cube of protein, but it is also relatively inefficient. I had always imagined it as a big, impassive galoot with lids at half mast. I also wanted something that make the page interesting and fun (to me, at least). For some reason Galactus and Ego, the living planet came to mind and the central image on the page popped into my head.

As always, this page also appears with the full story over at the Whole Enchilada.


New Comics: Photosynthesis, page 15

Must…finish…before…classes start. I’m close. We just need to meet rubisco, take a quick spin on the Calvin cycle and then recap. I’m thinking three more page. Of course, I had originally envisioned this as a 4 page explanation of photosynthesis, so what do I know? In this episode Wilbur is reunited with his long lost noggin.

The entire photosynthesis story is archived in the Whole Enchilada post.


The Field Guide to Super Powers # 8: Wolverine and the African frog

The X-Man Wolverine has never been one of my favorites. Maybe it’s because it didn’t seem fair. Most mutants only get one ability, but he got two: an impossibly potent healing factor and retractable bone claws that are housed in his forearm. The latter seems to require the former or he would run the risk of infection and severe loss of blood every time he popped his claws out.


Wolverine (c) Marvel Comics, artwork by Frank Miller. Image: Gustavocarra / Creative Commons License

In terms of a “healing factor,” The Field Guide to Super-Powers is replete with examples.  Most of us are familiar with reptiles and amphibians that can regenerate lost tails and limbs. There’s even a newt (Notophthalmus viridescans) that can regenerate a lost an eye, for Pete’s sake. We’ll discuss some choice invertebrates below that also regenerate bits and pieces they’ve lost. So, healing factor identified in nature. Check. Let’s turn our attention to those ridiculous…er…fascinating claws.

lizardOuch. Photo (c) Gary Nafis

Wolverine’s bony claws are housed in his forearm and pop out of his knuckles. As an added bonus, some really bad people coated the claws and all of his bones with unbreakable adamantium so these babies can cut through anything. What makes the ability particularly strange (and I realize we left strange behind some time ago, but bear with me) is that it requires Wolverine to do some self-inflicted damage since those claws must pierce his skin each time they are deployed. Obviously, he can handle it since he has the healing factor. But surely self-inflicted wounds don’t happen in nature, right?

cucumberYeah, I used the cartoon before. So what? It’s mine! (c) Jay Hosler

In fact, there are a number of examples of critters that will do bodily harm to themselves if the circumstances are dire enough. Sea cucumbers will eviscerate themselves and sea stars will jettison an arm to evade predators. Both, of course, can regenerate what was lost, so these are extreme but survivable, measures. They are also dependent on their respective “healing factors.” Now I know what you’re saying: These are last ditch defensive measures. Surely, SURELY, routinely popping bones out of your skin as a weapon makes no sense at all in nature.

Except, of course, it does, when it provides a selective advantage. Case in point: African frogs of the genera Astylosternus and Trichobatrachus. I spotted these creatures as I was wandering around Cameroon (O.K., David Blackburn made the actually discovery, but I did stumble across this as I was browsing through an old National Geographic a couple of weeks ago in my easy chair). When disturbed, these frogs deploy a bony claw from the tip of its toe. The claw is usually held in place by a stationary claw rest. To use it, a tendon pulls the claw from its resting position and the tip of the curved bone pierces the skin. Snikt!

x-frogs_claw_close_upPhoto (c) David Blackburn, Art by Mariel Furlong, National Geographic staff

A bad attitude seems to come along with claws like these (it probably stings a little for the frog and Wolverine).  When disturbed, these frogs apparently flip out, kicking and squirming in an attempt to inflict as many gashes as possible on their attacker. As the researchers who described this adaptation point out in Biology Letters, this is a truly unique adaptation. No other vertebrate has to pierce its own skin to use its claws.* Fortunately, the self-inflicted wound that results from their use is probably no big deal for the frogs since, like many amphibians, they do have that remarkable ability to regenerate tissues.

Blackburn, D.C. , Hanken, J and Jenkins Jr., F.A. (2008) Concealed weapons: erectile claws in African frogs. Biol. Lett. 4, 355–357

National Geographic (June 2009), Wildlife, page 22

* This is a unique claw, but other amphibians pierce their skin with other bones. When threatened, the ribbed newt Pleurodeles waltl can project poison-tipped ribs from their back.