Back in 2004 an editor at Natural History Magazine contacted me because they were gong to start running single panel cartoons in their letters section. The email was part of a larger call for submission, but I was flattered to be included in the search. I had read Natural History Magazine for a long time and enjoyed the Stephen Jay Gould pieces. Today as I was looking for something else I rediscovered the samples that I had sent them.
Below are two examples of my first pass. I sent 5 or 6 of these for the editors to consider and ended up inking one to use on an Invertebrate Biology exam.
Natural History passed on this batch and told me they were looking for something “witty.” Ouch. However, they did ask me to try again so I interpreted the witty comment to mean I needed to be a little more New Yorker-esque. (Not that I had much hope of attaining that, but it was a target.) Below are examples from the second batch I sent.
Eventually they picked the cartoon below, which appeared in a May issue of the magazine (I can’t remember the year but it had a bee on the cover…). It was fun to see it in print, but the momentary warm feeling I got from appearing in the magazine really wasn’t worth the time and effort I had invested. I have so little time to write and draw as it is. I don’t know if they still run cartoons but I never submitted again.
And, of course, work like that takes me away from completing my own cartoons. Like, say, the Photosynthesis cartoon I’m working on. The one I was going to do a page-a-day? pfft. Looks like I need to make that a page a week…
I found this link to The Lay Scientist by Martin Robbins (via Pharyngula) and thought I would share it. It is a terrific send-up of how science journalists write, exposing the insidious mind-sapping formula the underlies much of their writing. This goes out especially to my pal and biologist extraordinaire Mason Posner who teaches a Science Communication course at Ashland University.
Well, here it is after a long summer of reading and sketching, the first page in my photosynthesis story. I’m not sure I can actually do one page a day, if this one is any indication. Maybe one every other day? We’ll see. I need to get this done, because it is the center piece of a larger teaching project I’m working on. The observant reader will note that Wilbur’s eyes are different on this page than the image I posted a few days ago. When I was inking the image, it was clear that Wilbur lacked visual weight. So, I decided to go with drawing the compound eyes as I do in my Age of Elytra project. I really did like how the original illustration captured the multiple facets of the insect eye, but to move ahead I’m going with this. Comments are welcome.
OK, I need one more day before starting the photosynthesis page-a-day. I had to finish grading the Bio II test I gave yesterday to give back to them today and I also had to write my Animal Behavior test for today. (As we speak, the students are furiously writing and, judging by the expressions of a few of them, I suppose that ‘furiously’ could be taken to mean both ‘fast’ and ‘angry’ all at the same time….). So, Let me introduce the other character in the story, Ant Edna.
My Dad lost his parents when he was very young and was raised by his Aunt Edna. When I was young, Great Aunt Edna lived just down the alley from our house. She lived an extraordinarily long, caring life that involved helping others and this character is named in her honor.
Ant with a myrmecophilous beetle from Holldobler, 1972
I have drawn Ant Edna like many of the ants illustrated by T. Holldobler-Forsyth for articles by the great myrmecologist (ant biologist) Bert Holldobler. (The two are obviously related, but I’m not sure how.) The ants were always flat black with white seams to indicate the joints in the exoskeleton. As you can see from the example above, T. Holldobler-Forsyth’s ants are elegantly beautiful graphics. The look of Ant Edna is respectful nod to those classic ant illustrations.
When I started this blog, I really had intended to post more science cartoons. The name of the blog was inspired by a simple drawing of a fly that I did. I thought this simple approach would allow me to draw lots of stuff really fast. So far, not so good. But that all changes today! Well, ok, tomorrow. Tomorrow I start putting up a page a day of a comic story about photosynthesis starring the little fly Wilbur.
May dad used to make-up bedtime stories about two flies named Wilbur and Wendell that would have various crazy adventures. Being a dinosaur enthusiast, my favorite story involved the Dipteran duo traveling back to the time of the dinosaurs. Most memorable was the moment in which Wendell accidentally flies into the nose of a fully submerged Brachiosaurus. (This was back in the old days, when we used to think sauropods had to spend all their time in the water because they were too big to lumber around on land.) As a graduate student, the first strip I did for the Notre Dame newspaper was called Wilbur and Wendell and featured a smarty pants lab rat (Wilbur) and his hardluck, graduate student owner (Wendell). In retrospect it was like a scientific Garfield. Brr. I just got a chill down my back. I hope that this most recent incarnation of Wilbur is a better homage to my dad’s inspirational stories.
I have been egregiously delinquent in posting the following cartoon form the delightful Karen Romano Young. To be fair, I haven’t posted anything lately. But I seem to have found some motivation so here we go again. This cartoon form Karen is all about turkey vultures (love ’em!). And when you finish with this one and hunger for more Doodle, head over Karen’s Doodlebug site.
Have you been curious about my office hours? I post them, but few students ever show. Well, just in case you like to enjoy your office hours at home, here is the first episode of a new web series called Office Hours. View it at your convenience. The whole schmear is a production of a stalwart band of folks here at Juniata College. Faculty, staff. students and alumni act, film, produce, direct and edit the whole shebang. I do the storyboards and make my screen debut in the next episode as Mark Deacon. Stay tuned!
This really is too good to resist. As the school year kicks off and everybody worries about assigning and receiving grades, Drake University has launched a new marketing initiative called the Drake Advantage. Part of the campaign is to add a big, life-affirming PLUS to everything (students+, faculty +, etc. ). The logo for this campaign is a big Drake D followed by a plus. That’s right, the school has just started and Drake has already given themselves a big blue D+.