March 2010

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CB_strip_011

Let the invasion begin! This strip was inspired by a trip to Cactus Jack’s, my favorite burrito place during grad school. Or, maybe it is more accurate to say, AFTER a trip to Cactus Jack’s because that night I was attacked by my bean and cheese burrito. And, believe you me, it felt Earth shattering at the time. In fact, it was almost a whole DAY before I could bring my self to eat a burrito again.

Anyway, in the midst of my roiling gastrointestinal pain, I imagined the damage that burritos could do if they ever evolved into spiteful, intelligent being with world conquering aspirations. Thus, were born the burrito people and their leader the Burrito Supreme. In retrospect, it could be argued that this idea was, in many ways, just something I pulled out of my…well… you know…the place where all my ideas come from.

In terms of art, I tried a few new tricks here, specifically the silhouetted control console in the foreground of panel four. Also, I went for a three quarters birds eye shot of the ship’s interior which deviated from the eye level perspective to which I typically adhered so rigidly. I was also trying to draw more detail in the background, a practice I avoided during the hasty pace of making a daily strip for the Notre Dame newspaper.

Things are getting busy for both Jason and me. He is in the process of exploring some exciting job opportunities and I am bracing myself for the academic onslaught of April. So, the Sunday Challenge has become the Monday challenge to give ourselves a little more time to work. Unfortunately, that didn’t do me much good. The panel below is all I have to show for the week. And, since it was drawn months ago, that means all I managed to do in seven days was to ink the letters in one balloon. And, I just realized I didn’t even finish that (note the final word ‘science’ is still in pencil).  Sheesh, that’s bad. But, there have been papers, test and quizzes to grade, advisees to lead astray and other commitments that needed my special, half-assed attention. Maybe this week new vistas of time will open up. Fingers crossed!
Monday_Update_005

This movie took longer to do than ANY we have done so far. Not because it was particularly challenging to film or edit, but because after we filmed it two weeks ago our home computer crashed. We got the computer back yesterday and I successfully downloaded the clips. Unfortunately, as I was editing, iTunes on both the iMac and my laptop decided to wig-out so I spent a lot of time obsessively trying to work out the problem. I was up way past my bedtime last night, but the kiddos had waited so long that I just wanted to get it done. Which it now is. I hope the funky ninja action gives your Friday the kung fu karate chop it needs.

CB_strip_010

Last time I promised the start of an invasion, but I forgot that this strip was next.

In the early 1990s a comic creator (later revealed to writer/artist Erik Larsen) wrote a letter to the Comic Buyer’s Guide while the Cow-Boy strip was still in its early going. He apparently signed the letter but asked to have his name withheld because he was working for Marvel comics at the time. The letter (which you can read here) criticized lazy writers and suggested that many artists would be better off writing their own books. He pointed out that there will always be good writers that artists want to work with, but decried having to draw the same tired stories that some hack writer had rehashed. Of course, when Larsen did venture out onto his own writing/drawing ventures he boldly created…more super-hero comics. The genre itself seems a bit tired at this point, but I guess the point is he was writing HIS tired stories, so it’s all good.

Any way, the letter spawned quite a little flurry of outrage, righteous indignation, mischaracterizations and cries of “you-go-girl!” These discussions descended quickly into oversimplified debates over whether a writer is even needed for a comic and were characterized on the internet discussion boards by sparkling exchanges like

Yuh-huh!

Nuh-uh!

Yuh-HUH!

Nuh-UH!

I was still pretty naïve about the comic business at that time, but I figured that I could oversimplify with the best of them. Shoot, if I had leaned anything as a college cartoonist it was that oversimplifying things was a critical skill. If you were fairly ignorant about the topic, even better! So I wrote the above strip. I broke the fourth wall and threw in a little self-deprecating humor to curry favor with the readers (that never really worked, the Bumpkin Buzz strip was always much more popular than Cow-Boy). In retrospect, this oh-so-witty topical strip with it’s self-conscious wink at the reader and attempt to lampoon a comic “controversy” can ultimately be summarized with one word:

Filler.

Invasion next time, I promise.

Sunday_Update_004

Well, another week, another page of Age of Elytra for my weekly cartooning challenge with Jason. Unfortunately, since we were in D.C. last weekend I forgot to post my representative panel last Sunday (it was done, I swear). This one shows the entire crew hanging out and doing…something or other. I can’t remember. Anyway, I’m sure it all very exciting.

As super-powers go, living forever isn’t one of the flashiest nor is it all that original to the comic book genre. That said, there have been a number of memorable comic book characters that have immortality. The DC villain Vandal Savage was a caveman whose exposure to a radioactive meteorite made him an immortal jerk.  He’s spent the last 50, 000 years trying to take over the world.

Savage

Vandal Savage (c) DC Comics, Mr. Immortal (c) Marvel Comics

On the other end of the serious spectrum, you have Marvel Comic’s goofy Mr. Immortal, the good-guy leader of the whimsical Great Lakes Avengers. He’s a mutant who can’t be killed but it isn’t entirely clear how he survives his fatal injuries. Where exactly is the immortality gene in humans? Nowhere, that’s where. However, there may be a biological explanation for immortality that we can torturously extract from the biology of a hydrozoan jellyfish. Let’s start by taking a look at its life cycle.

Hydrozoa_Life_cycle

Colonial hydrozoan life cycle

When adult hydrozoan jellyfish (known as a medusa) aren’t busy stinging the bejillikers out of humans at the beach, they are busy floating in the ocean stinging the bejillikers out of small copepods and eating them. It’s a good life, but eventually the time comes to make babies. At this point, male and female jellyfish release eggs and sperm and then promptly expire. Meanwhile, the egg and sperm unite to form small, free-swimming planula larvae. The planula larvae settle on the ocean floor where they metamorphosize into a colonial polyp. The polyp is the juvenile stage and it looks like an inverted jellyfish, with tentacles sticking up rather than hanging down.

In this stage, the polyp can asexually create numerous small, jellyfish adults. This alone is quite a trick. In most cases (like you, for example), when a single egg fuses with a single sperm a single individual is formed. In the hydrozoan jellyfish, one sperm and egg can lead to a multitude of adult individuals because of the polyp’s prodigious cloning capacity.

Okay, now, for the immortal part. The adult jellyfish Turritopsis nutricula has found a way to cheat death.

jelly_cartoon_02

After reproducing (and before expiring), Turritopsis nutricula shift their lifecycle into reverse and revert to the immature polyp stage. For this to happen, all of the adult cells have to revert into juvenile cells. The process of one type of specialized cell turning into another is called transdifferentiation and it usually only happens when some creatures regenerate organs. No other critter uses this trick to pull a Ponce de Leon and switch back into a kid. With the ability to transition back and forth between adult and polyp there is no limit to Turritopsis nutricula’s potential lifespan, because the adult stage need never die. And, even if some of the adult Turritopsis nutricula do die (perhaps eaten by some sea slug that will steal their stings), a zillion of their clones will endure elsewhere.

Turritopsis-nutricula-3

Turritopsis nutricula

In fact, this jellyfish seems to have been using this remarkable super-power to avoid death and spread silently from its native Caribbean waters. Turritopsis nutricula has been popping up in oceans all over the globe, slowly inexorable taking over the world.

Vandal Savage would be proud.

Further reading:

Bavestrello, G. Sommer, C., and Sará, M. 1992. Bi-directional conversion in Turritopsis nutricula. In Aspects of Hydrozoan Biology. (J. Bouillon et al., editors). Sci. Mar. 56 (2-3): 137-140.

Piraino, S., Boero, F., Aeschbach, B., and Schmid, V. 1996. Reversing the life cycle: Medusae transforming into polyps and cell transdifferentiation in Turritopsis nutricula (Cnidaria, Hydrozoa). Biol. Bull. 90: 302-312.

BioBonanzaSmallLast Wednesday night the Juniata College chapter of Tr-Beta (the Biology Honor Society) hosted the first annual Biology Bonanza.  The night kicked-off at about 6:15 and ended around 9:00.  Our group started in the strawberry chromosomes lab where we extracted globs of DNA from lucious bits of fruit. Lisa took the above photo from the momentous event (actually she took several, but I picked this one because it looks like Max is trying to feed me the slimy genetic goo).

Each station was manned by students I have or have had in class and as I listened to their explanations of the biology a strange feeling began gnawing at me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was feeling, but it was unsettling. It wasn’t until I was drifting off to sleep that I realized what it was. I shot bolt upright in my bed with beads of sweat on my forehead, my heart racing when I realized that strange feeling was…pride?

All kidding aside, I am proud of our students. They were poised and engaging. And they had more than just a monolayer of knowledge about their topic. When kids asked probing questions, our students demonstrated a gratifying depth of knowledge and capacity to explain ideas. And, as they often do, they taught me a thing or two.

CB_strip_009We are heading to Washington DC this afternoon to see the sights and meet some friends. I leave with you this upbeat strip. I was only 9 strips into the Cow-Boy epic and I was already stealing ideas from my college strip Spelunker. Needless to say, when I it appeared in its original version it was me, and not Cow-Boy, on the receiving end of Rejection Man’s beating.  As you can deduce, I didn’t do a lot of dating at that time in my life.

In our next episode I started to make the transition away from stand-alone gag strips into longer (but no less silly) stories. This transition really set the stage for me to work on my ability to tell longer stories. We kick this new era off with a full scale invasion!

See you Monday!

CB_strip_008Resurrections can be a tricky business especially when twisted Swiss plastic surgeons are involved.

Super powers seem to fall into two broad categories: those that emulate what other organisms do naturally (like scaling a shear wall or breathing under water) and those that do not (such as shooting beams of energy out of your eyes or becoming intangible). The power to steal someone else’s powers, as Superman’s nemesis The Parasite can do, always seemed to fit squarely in the latter category. A recent discover in sea slugs, however, suggests that power stealing may have a natural analog.

SeaSlugscartoon (c) Jay Hosler 2010

In the comics, the Parasite can absorb the super powers of any hero he touches. Tap the Flash on the shoulder and he gets super speed. Shake Superman’s hand, and he’s able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Nudibanch sea slugs appear to have a surprising similar ability.  Researchers have identified a species of sea slug, Elysia chlorotica , that steals chloroplast from algae and then starts photosynthesizing. The nudibranch takes a single meal of algae early in life, extracts the chloroplasts from its prey and inserts them into its cells.

This ability to harvest the cellular apparatus of another species seems to be something nudibranchs do very well. Several species of nudibranchs have been identified that can extract the stinging organelles (or cnidocytes) of jellyfish and coral and insert them into their own tissues for protection (although, how they extract the sensitive cnidocytes without triggering them is a still a mystery).  But, just like the Parasite, this ability doesn’t last forever.  Once the nudibranch has fired its purloined cnidocytes, it must replenish them by eating more jellyfish or coral.

What makes the discovery of Elysia chlorotica so exciting is that, unlike the Parasite or its cnidocyte-stealing nudibranch brethren, once E. chlorotica has the ability to photosynthesize it never loses it. And it never eats algae again. This is surprising because the stolen chloroplasts require a constant supply of chlorophyll to catch the light necessary for photosynthesis. But if the sea slug isn’t eating algae then it can’t replenish the chlorophyll that way. It would have to make its own, and we know of no animal on the planet that can do that. Until now.

E. chlorotica has the genetic hardware to make it’s own chlorophyll and keep its stolen chloroplast running. Where did it get the genes to do this? Probably stolen from some algae a long time ago.

The research was published in the Nov 18, 2008 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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