January 2011

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Well, the semester has descended upon me with full, furious force. I feel like I am trapped in a whirling maelstrom of lightning. Apparently Max can see this malevolent storm of work and committee meetings because I think his rendering captures its essence pretty well.

Max_Tornado

One of the great pleasures of my childhood was watching Wild Kingdom on Sunday nights right before The Wonderful World of Disney. My sister and I would get our TV trays set-up in the living room and feast upon trays of little mini-pizzas (9 per aluminum tray, thee cheese, three peperoni and sausage). As we chomped away in the safety of our home, Marlin Perkins’ assistant Jim would wrestle anacondas in a river or climb a tree after some big cat. Todya’s Wild Kingdom Sunday features a Creature Cast video by Lee Stevens about how comb jellies move. There’s no wrestling or tree climbing per se, but there is some dancing.

CreatureCast – Comb Jelly Movement from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

And here is a video that just shows you the pretty, pretty colors they make (you might want to turn down the tinkly music though…).

One of my all-time favorites. Classic!

We’re in the home stretch for this story. Here is the Calvin cycle in all of its whirling glory! My original intent was to make this a ferris wheel or roller coaster of some sort, but decided that was getting a bit too cute. Instead, we have a more direct explanation with what I hope is a pleasing design. Plus, there are sounds effects like ZAP and BZZt to give it a little shot of excitement. The “meh” by rubisco is my favorite bit. The toughest decision on this page was whether to write the text in the arrows upside down (as the appear below) or right side up in the second two arrows. Obviously, the later would be easier to read while the first option requires you to strain your neck a bit (or flip your laptop upside down) to read the text. Why would I opt for giving you a pain in the neck? I’ll let you take a look at the page and try to explain myself below.

Photosynthesis_pg17

So, what was I thinking, right? First, I had originally drawn it with the text oriented for easy reading, however, I noticed that as I was reading left to right, the action of the cycle was moving from right to left. Second, in the right-side-up text version, the text in the second arrow ends with “…molecules of G3P” but that text was positioned right over the 3-phosphoglycerate (and the term 3-phosphoglycerate was positioned over the G3P). By flipping the text, you read with the flow of the diagram and the the text ends with the end product found in the arrow. Finally, when this story is printed, readers will rotate the book to read the text, further driving home the cyclical nature of the Calvin cyle.

O.K., that last one really is post hoc baloney. But the first and second are really what was going through my mind as I was composing the page. The new page is archived with the full story in the Whole Enchilada post.

This semester I am teaching a general education course called Comics and Culture (IC 210) with my pal, historian Dave Hsiung. As part of the class I am setting up this post as an archive of links to free comics available online.  The first entry is very cool (in my opinion). The Dartmouth Digital Library Initiative has made available scans of The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846). This story is generally considered one of the first examples of modern comics.  The English translation of this story (originally published in French) was published in 1837. The image below offers excellent advice for any students that find themselves distracted by…non-academic concerns.

Online comics links

The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Töpffer

ocn259708589-004-SMALL

Action Comics #1

Romance comics online

Digital Comics Museum: Free downloads of comics from the 1930s and 1940s. Registration is required. Comics can be viewed online (choose Preview) or downloaded.

Free Online Comic Books: Free downloads of many modern comics from the last 20 years.

Comixology: Commercial sites to purchase digital comics from major publishers like Marvel, Dc, Dark Horse, etc.

DC comics: The Comixology page for DC comics can be found at:

Marvel Online: Marvel comics makes a few digital comics available on their site

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.

Photosynthesis_pg16

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.

Photosynthesis_pg15

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.

frog

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.

References
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.

The sixth and final episode of Office Hours is now available online. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the show, Office Hours is a web comedy about life in academia. It was recently covered by the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Although this is not exactly science comics, I did do the story boards (which are sort of like comics) and I am one of the actors (and I am sort of like a scientist). The episode is embedded below for those of you who have been following along. If you are new to it, check out the show’s Juniper College website. The episodes are arranged with the first on the far right and the latest on the far left. So to watch them in order you need to go from right to left. Like manga. (Am I good at superficial comic connections, or what?)

Y’know, it it was 50 degrees outside right now, I would be walking round without a coat. But thanks to a delivery snafu, we are temporarily without oil and 50 degrees inside seems pretty doggone chilly. We are all in the office, huddling around the EdenPURE,  all in all it is nice productive family time. Which brings us to today’s photosynthesis page, produced under the watchful gaze of Max and Jack (the disembodied head bit never gets old with them).  It has been added to the full story in the Whole Enchilada archive.

On a completely unrelated note, the quote of the weekend goes to Jack. We curled up under blankets last night to watch the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and I couldn’t contain my frustration with the crappy science used to explain magic (my patience may have been worn thin by the cold…). So much elementary school science so painfully wrong (which wouldn’t have been so bad if the main character wasn’t, y’know, a physicist). Truthfully, I have no problem with magic in a movies or books (i.e. Harry Potter, Fablehaven, etc) just don’t try to make it believable. You can’t. It’s MAGIC.  Anyway, when it was all over Jack innocently pointed out to me that, with regards to the explanation of magic, “Dad, without the stupid parts, they couldn’t have made the movie.” I  completely agree. Ok, I feel better. Here’s the page…

Photosynthesis_pg14

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