Category Archives: Comics

Under the Tenfluence: Books

I finally tracked down my last missing Prehistoric Zoobooks, but have not had the time to put them in a proper post, it is still on the list though. I am working more on my dissertation at the moment and with a new routine at home due to the arrival of my son at the end of June things are a bit up in the air with anything that isn’t deadline/need-based driven. To that end though here is something that I am retrofitting for a full post that was done in a series on Facebook. It was one of those “10_____ that influenced (or some other verb) me” chain tags that go around from time to time. I usually ignore them, but this one came an a time of reflection on my own habits and what I was writing about early American readership so I decided to take something flippant and approach it in a way I could use it for a blog post. In fact, for people starting out blogging or online journaling these types of lists may provide a nice ease into the pool.

I was finally tagged in one of those throwaway things that inspire and thanks to my friend Blake, I have now had a long weekend full of existential crisis. He completely blew the rules (whatever they are) buy posted 9 in a square grid and saying “Ciao” for Guatemala. I have seen the last few run through the “no explanation, blah blah” and I wonder if that is to increase the chance of people doing it if they don’t have to do anything but pull an image off the internet and post it. This one is about books, I will think about the albums later. The 10 books that had an impact on you, or impacted you, or influences you, or inspire you, or whatever. I started listing mine out first ten without thinking, really, and ended up with a pretty interesting trend that had really shaped my current dissertational status, sometimes for content, sometimes for style, and sometimes as introductions to the person writing. 

#1: The Red Badge of Courage

The summer between my fifth and sixth grade year my grandfather gave me a Walmart 2/$1 copy of The Red Badge of Courage. I have never been a huge military history buff and he absolutely hates anything about the Civil War (he keeps chalking that up to having been killed in it, really). So it was an odd choice. Luckily though, the whole point about this book *isn’t* necessarily the war itself. It is more of the idea of war, and our place within it. The intro to my edition even says that “the plot itself is a somewhat rambling sequence of campfires, troop advancements, battles, and retreats, interspersed with gruesome scenes of death and human destruction.” It is all about the transformation of Henry’s life that make it interesting. Actually for me it is the whole cloud of irony that hangs over the entire book that really made it great. Crane’s whole approach to the romantic notion of warfare (bravery, chivalry, et al) and the military stereotype is brilliant, and this is in 1894. But that is the life of Crane who was a freelance author for newspapers fond of reading the monthly Century Magazine. The Red Badge of Courage was originally sent to McClure’s Magazine and they sat on it for 6 months before Crane asked for it back and sent it out again. Eventually it was cut down (55000 to 18000 words) for serialization, which ended up in a kind of syndication and made Crane famous. He was a war correspondant for the Greco-Turkis and Spanish-American War, and died at a health spa in Badenweiler in the turn of the century German Empire. So my relationship with monthly magazine serials, newspapers, and ironic stories filled with death (which I tend to find funny) really began before I entered Jr. High. 
Sometime in 2003 on one of my reset nights of staying up all night I happened to catch the miniseries Rough Riders presented in one long swoop on cable a run time of at least 4 hours (I think). But is had a great, if historically misaccurate version of Crane, which has tended to remain the avatar for the author in my mind:

There are many great parts in the film, and it should be good watching for high school classes  and even college. (I want to use it in my Real vs Real course one day) but this little sixty-seconds of so exchange at 2:57 or so sums up a lot about life’s philsophy between a career soldier and someone from the outside familiar with a larger picture:(This is worth the full 18 minute watch, but the part about Wes Hardin and Clay Allison really should give us all some food for thought.

#2 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Nothing about this is part of a regularly schedule program or a complete breakfast, but here is the second installment of I don’t remember all the details I was tagged in but I am making these up as I go and giving you explanations you won’t read about books with which you shall do likewise. Second in line is another Walmart 2/$1 books. The sticker isn’t a sticker. It started that way, but by this second wave it is actually printed on as part of the cover. 20,000 leagues under the Sea is sort of that you have to read adventure story, at least it was for me after my grandfather talked about how many times he had read it in school. I come from a long line of book escapists. I enjoyed the story, but I benefitted more from the opening of science fiction to my imagination. I was able to fully immerse in books like this, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle as if every word were true and possible. Years later when I started following up on the authors I would see a lot of “man before his time” stuff to describe Verne. Turns out he wasn’t ahead, he was just in tune *with* his time. Attending public lectures, demonstrations, and exhibits throughout Paris. Good observational skills are essential to writing great science fiction. I like to think that I have them, and that living within these stories, and the rest of the 2/$1 club has given me part of the wealth of experience that I am putting into my dissertation talking about how Sci-fi provides a litmus test of sci-fact, from every major theory that goes the “right” way towards a cult of progress, sci-fi can go back and shoot off as if the opposite were true.

Some of my favorite books ever written were included in this reprint series, and I am not even sure how many they actually made. I also think it harkens back to a time at Walmart when Sam Walton was still alive that was going to provide an avenue to put “classic” literature into the hands of their customers for the price of a canned coke. Now I am imagining a book vending machine filled with these. You see, some times it really isn’t about the stories per se, as much as it might be the book as artifact with context as product as well as a source.

#3 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

20 years ago I was a subscriber in good standing of Entertainment Weekly. As part of their service we received a VHS tape with summer movie trailers on it. This film was one of them. The movie was released on May 19, and my Literary Journal for my English class was compiled and turned in on the 25th. You can see the influence.

The subtitle (inside the “O”) is “A mind-bending experience.” The story is insanity at its finest and a testament to Gonzo-journalism which in 1998 was exactly what I wanted to major in in college, only with less drugs. This was the longest work by HST that I had read, although I had been through a couple Rolling Stone articles before. Aside from the “I do what I want” and less than sharable in polite company attitude/musings there is much you can learn from Dr. Gonzo. Mainly that the truth, especially that truth that they refuse to tell you, is far more bizarre than fiction. Like others on this list, it introduced me to an author and a genre that became an underlying tenet to how I see and process the world. I will recommend a serial read of this, The Great Shark Hunt, The Rum Diary, and one most poignantly relevant today as when it was published “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” Fun fact: I bought this copy of the book and the soundtrack (which is great by the way) on a driver’s ed class trip to Parkdale Mall which was like 40 miles from where I grew up. The Great Shark Hunt is also great.

The trailer, it just about as stunning quality as the VHS I watched it on the first time.


#4 The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House

This installment is a twofer. Easily justified by the George Carlin philosophy of presentation: My rules, I make them up. They are both quick reads and they both basically do the same thing: tell the truth. These works, and others by Tom Wolfe were less of an influence and more of vindication of my own internalization of what I was experience reading theory in college. I absolutely love thesebooks because they take to task the desire for theory over practicality or even enjoyability of art (The Painted Word) and Architecture (From Bauhaus to Our House). I have been thinking more about my relationship with Wolfe’s stuff since his death a couple weeks ago. While reading many of the obituaries and reminiscences it was interesting to see the all the introductions go something like this: “Tom Wolfe, author known for XXXX, passed away..” wherein XXXX was one of his works, which one seemed to change based on the publication. Some were similar, but there were outliers. They also addressed his lifelong trend of wearing white suits, which I usually religate to summer but have endeavored to do more in memory of Tom.

These books also tie back into Fear and Loathing because believe it or not Wolfe and Thompson knew each other, and sometimes worked the same beat. Hunter wrote a delightfully scathing letter to Tom over the coining of “New Journalism.” Later, according to an intervie with Wolfe Hunter had himself along with Tom and his wife thrown out of a restaurant after downing 8 banana daquiries and banana splits. Whether HST was okay with being boxed into New Journalism or not, over the years I began to see Tom and Hunter as two sides of the same coin. Tom in his white suit and Hunter in anything but they became the Spy vs Spy of journalism a la MAD magazine. Only instead of being at war with each other they were at war with “the establishment.” Even if it was a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend I was overjoyed when years after reading these for the first time I found out just how they were connected, that it was professional, and personal, and utterly needed in American literature. That these two books upset so many art and architecture critics is enough to tell you he was onto something. And now that I am working with some professional architects in order for them to help showcase a section of “American” Architecture in the 50s and 60s I think about Tom Wolfe more than once a day, and know that in the end I’m justified because Tom Wolfe was right:

“This is not what is so often described as the lag between ‘the artist’s discoveries’ and ‘public acceptance.’ Public? The public plays no part in the process whatsoever. The public is not invited (it gets a printed announcement later.)” –The Painted Word (I also have a proud Wolfe moment when I got a paper back in graduate school that said “you can’t just dismiss theory!” written on it.)

Here is a link to that letter. Know that it comes with an MPAA language warning, but if you know Hunter S. Thompson you know to expect that you “thieving pile of albino warts.”

Hunter S Thompson’s letter to Tom Wolfe- the ‘pig in the ‘filthy white suit’

#5 Bully for Brontosaurus

This is the book that introduced me to the genius and wit of Stephen Jay Gould. This is one of those collections of essays that you come for one and stay for the rest. What I have always loved about Gould is his ability to take complex ideas and break them out to meet a general reader where they live. His prolific output is only matched by his variety and ability to tell stories. Unlike some who merely rehash old books into knew when a new chapter’s worth of ungulate evolution has come to light, most of Gould’s work is different enough from itself to always learn something. I have often described him as the Dave Barry of popular science writing, but there are many people who required a backstory on Dave Barry, so that might not be the best way to go. This is a fantastic book to gift, not only for content but for stylistic study. We are sorely at a loss of essayists these days, and collections such as this are true treasures. This was one of the first books that I looked at and said “I want to do that” that actually had content I was familiar with. It is also partly to bless or to blame for my blogging and my penchant to write as if I were talking to you or producing something for verbal narration.

I will add here a bit more about the science in popular culture aspect of my work. Gould was one of many guest stars on The Simpsons who provided his own voice acting in the episode “Lisa the Skeptic.”


#6 The Bonehunter’s Revenge 

Paleontology is the gateway science drug. It can also be the gateway history of science drug. The great thing about it is that it can be applied in outreach across a wide variety of student interests. When I first learned about Cope v Marsh I set out to learn everything I could about the whole ordeal. Interestingly there isn’t as much as you’d expect. The Bonehunters’ Revenge is one of the ones I picked up. It is one of my favorites although not well reviewed as people compare it to other Wallace books. As it happens this books turned out to be more important for my dissertation than it would have been had I stayed writing about the history of paleontology in America. In particular it is the vehicle that brought this private feud to an adoring public that makes it significant: newspapers.

Specifically the tabloid newspapers, and exactly the New York Herald overseen by James Gordon Bennet, Jr. (We’ll see more of his family and this paper later). Once the public became engrossed in the dirty deeds done dirt cheap in this bizarro world Paleo Spy vs. Spy (two MAD references in one system, that could be a theme here as well), congress started paying attention too. Whether you are #TeamCope or #TeamMarsh it was their tantrums that led to government wondering why it was funding the hunt for “birds with teeth” and began to cut back on apporpriations for such expeditions. This feud was actually a continuation of a broader one that manifested early in the careers and goals of Ferdinand Hayden (Cope’s mentor) and J.W. Powell (Marsh’s mentor). While these reports come a half century after the emergence of the Penny Press and American tabloidism, it shows just how engrained the papers were in daily life and how they could grow to shape things beyond the profit of a newspaper. Fun fact, the first American animated film–incidentally starring a dinosaur named Gertie–was the brainchild of New York Herald editorial cartoonist Windsor McCay who may be best known for his comic strip Little Nemo.

#7 The Sun and the Moon

With a good editor this would have been a three book series. As it stands it is still one of my favorites and parts of it have popped up in my work and research ever since I discovered it. This book is the history of newspapers in America, it is the history of science fiction in America, it is the history of popular culture in America, it is the popular science communication in America, and it is the history of hoaxes in America. While the New York Sun penny paper is the main star here, it’s early rival The New York Herald, under the eye of James Gordon Bennet, grew influential enough to have rivals of its own. It covers the earliest printing of court reports and all other sorted things which before 1835 weren’t fit to print. Other players taking the stage to the background of moon man bats included, P.T. Barnum and his first humbugs, Edgar Allan Poe and his first forays into sciene fiction, including those that influenced Jules Verne, and an unassuming but brilliant writer and social commentarian Richard Adams Locke, whose parable in six parts took the newspaper reading world by storm and increased circulation of cheap newspapers beyond anyone’s imagination.

Once the roots of these papers had found suitable soil it would take a digital revolution 165 years later to budge it, and then it only changed formats. One of my favorite stories of all time comes from this book. It comes from Charles Dickens visit to the US (which he loathed unapologetically). Stepping down from his coach he was appalled to find a dirty working class mechanic with a newspaper under his arm. Apparently the very idea that newspapers could be for everyone offended Chuck’s sensibilities. This is a well-read audiobook too, with the narrator reading the newspaper articles in their author’s accent. This is particularly useful as Bennet was Scottish. Now I am guilty of reading everything that Bennet wrote in that same accent. If you are giving it a casual read I recommend the audiobook over the printed. Although it does say the same thing, it doesn’t seem to get as convoluted listening to it. 

#8 Annals of the Former World

Continuing the introspection of what books influenced me in some way or another is this collection of John McPhee stories. Most of McPhee’s work comes in at a couple hundred pages and range, no pun intended, from Alaska to Florida, and oranges to canoes. There really isn’t a bad one to get you started. Annals of the Former World takes you though the heart of the continent from east to west. If you ever find yourself getting your kicks on Route 66, or in that general direction, this book will take you through the past of the present that you are ignoring listening to your audiobook. This was one of the first books that really captured geology in a way that was readable and shareable with people who haven’t been baptized will all the smutty sounding vocabulary of the geologic trade. There is plenty of technical jargon in here that will keep the practicing rockhound satisfied, and probably bore your more Dan Brown summer readers.

Annals of the Former world won the Pulitzer Prize, and two of the books that are collected were finalists themselves. This was one that got me thinking about spinning my history studies more towards the history of science–I got out of science and into history so I could reclaim my use of adjectives and metaphor–thinking here is a nice model to work with. Well guess what McPhee is *not*, yes, a historian. You know what he *is*, (if you’ve been following along this should be easy) a journalist. This may have been the most useful pointless exercise that I have been tagged in on Facebook. I will end with a nice little paragraph from McPhee’s wikipedia page which juxtaposes him with the two New Journalist spies I wrote about earlier. Many of the topics in his New Yorker Pieces are bits of larger works. If you don’t have time for 700 pages of geology, I would recommend starting with Adventures with the Archdruid. That, in my opinion can give you the best summation of McPhee’s style.

“Unlike Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, who helped kick-start the “new journalism” in the 1960s, McPhee produced a gentler, more literary style of journalism that more thoroughly incorporated techniques from fiction. McPhee avoided the streams of consciousness of Wolfe and Thompson, but detailed description of characters and appetite for details make his writing lively and personal, even when it focuses on obscure or difficult topics. He is highly regarded by fellow writers for the quality, quantity, and diversity of his literary output.”

You can delve more into McPhee’s New Yorker work here.

For good measure (and a little tri-fold symmetry) I should also specifically include this piece about Lacrosse which was illustrated by Ralph Steadman who lent his talents to depicting the gonzo world of Hunter S Thompson.

#9 Sea of Glory

I bought Nathaniel Philbrick’s Sea of Glory on a whim the first or second year I worked for H.E.B. Grocery. Since it was a “Plus” store it had books and magazines among other non grocery things. It was on the red dot clearance rack for what I thought was $7 but in actuality turned out to be $7 off, so it cost me $5 more than I had figured. I was more interested in the time period than the fact it was a navel voyage since there are relatively few books written about the antebellum period.

My original intent in graduate school was to study scientific expeditions in Victorian England, mainly because that had proved to be an easier sell than wanting to write about Game Rangers in British East Africa. I was pretty well versed in expeditionary forces and camps and leaders in the US from Lewis and Clark onward, or so I thought. I had never heard of this expedition, and that annoyed me more than anything. Even looking more into it there was only a few things written in the “professional” journals, and a neat Smithsonian exhibition somewhere around its 150th anniversary. Reading this book snapped a few things into place to make it the initial cornerstone for my dissertation: Titain Peale was involved, and it started with a hole in the earth.

Hollow Earth Theory has always interested me more for the mythology that has been built around it than anything else. It also provides a great point to go back and look at Science Fiction writing as it continues on as though some theories are true and explore any wisdom (or commentary) that that particular reality may impart. It is also a great introduction to Jeremiah Reynolds who actually managed to get the thing organized and ultimately himself disinvited from the journey. A newspaper man by trade besides taking up the cause for a hole at the pole he ended up stranded during a mutiny where he was introduced to a dangerous whale off the coast of South America (where his post mutiny group landed) called Moche Dick. His article influenced Herman Melville’s book which ultimately explains most of everything in the 19th century. His essays on polar exploration influenced Edgar Allan Poe as well, who, in the story of Arthur Gordon Pym “borrowed” several (most) lines. Pym influences a French guy named Verne and we get him trying to finish the story in The Sphinx of the Ice Realm.

I have read this and listened to the audiobook while driving back down to Texas, and still laugh about how it ended up being such a large part of my professional life. It also reveals a huge oversight in American Scientific Biography as James Dana needs a good 700 page bio from his familial ties to what becomes Scientific American to his checking Darwin’s theories of islands once this voyage makes it to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii, or post-now, Hawai’i). He had read a newspaper article the explained Darwin’s island growing theory he had developed a few years before in the Galapagos. Let’s all just take a moment and put the hope out into the Universe that Dana isn’t shadowed in his own biography as “The American Darwin.” One of the only things that might save him from that is that there are only a handful of us that see Darwin as a geologist.

The book also explains that with the help of the material specimens collected by the Pacific Railroad Surveys and the U.S.-Mexican Boundary survey (both guest stars of my dissertation) the materials collected by the U.S. Ex. Ex. forced the hand of the early Smithsonian decision makers to abandon their initial plans for a research base only and not a collection of cabinets to an enormous collection of cabinets. With 400 tonnes of stuff coming in that was government property the only place to store it was the nation’s attic. So, in quite a few ways this little sea cruise was as big an influence on how some American cultural things played out and this book was a large part of my decision to write about it. 

Bonus points here, when I got to OU and met some of the other graduate students it turns out that one of them was going to use the U.S. Ex. Ex. for their research on the contributions of the US Navy on American Science. We actually share a birthday–further still in a graduate program of fifteen,  three of us shared a birthday; which is an interesting coincidence if I do say so myself.

#10 Watchmen

This one may be the odd one out, but it really made me see the whole medium of comics and graphic novels differently. Comics weren’t a big part of my life until late elementary and early jr. High School. I had several books of comic panels that had belonged to my mother, Heathcliff, Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, etc. and I would get Garfield books at/through the book fair, but superheroes weren’t really it at all. I think the first one I got was in like 5th grade from a flea market because it was 10/$1. The only one I can remember was the one where Hawkeye was shot in a drive by shooting and had to get a new costume. When I started reading them in earnest it was X-men and they came from the loneliest magazine rack you’ve ever seen in a Brookshire Brothers grocery store. I sent away for some catalog in the back of one and ended up with opportunities to buy back issues for pennies and issue so I tripled my collection then, getting important “collector” issues like The Death of Multiple Man in some X-factor I wasn’t familiar with. The fun thing was they put me on a mailing list and one or two flagged me as under 18 to it went to the only other James Burnes in Fred that they could send it to, my grandfather.

In fact, he got them first and my grandmother kept asking me if I was reading “playboy funnybooks.” I was always a bit confused with the whole superman thing, I knew it as cultural thing, and had seen some of the early animated shorts (when he could just leap buildings in a single bound and not fully fly) but I guess I projected his powers onto people I knew and they weren’t saving the city. I came to Watchmen later and it instantly drew me into the realness of living in a world with costumed vigilantes. The logic behind the mythos. A weird inverse morality in the face of the pure American mythos. By the time I picked it up I had been out of comics for a few years, I had to offload my collection–two boot boxes full– because “they were a fire hazard.” Seriously, it wasn’t like we didn’t have 3 bookshelves full of apparently less flammable paper. I had also settled into my sort of default philosophy of Romantic Nihilism in a way that I couldn’t explain it to others, that everything was beautiful and nothing mattered. There are aspects of the Comedian that I really identified with and there were others that I find repulsive, so I had to deal with that internal schizophrenia and its outcomes.

I had actually had practice living in two minds as I was spending recess doing imitations of Jim Carrey and then later getting to listen to my grandparents talk about how terrible he was, they couldn’t stand him, that was all just stupid, etc. Learning that you can share some of the more mundane, (useful?), personal traits from people/characters without subscribing to the bad is a great and powerful thing. I think a little of it goes back to the whole newspaper thing again too with The Frontiersman and Rorschach’s Journal, that is where the truth is. Men in Black taught us the same thing, right? I mean, that’s independent confirmation. The hard black and white truth is cut out of the full fabric of life too, and you can think that as long as they are *believing* something it is as good as if it were true. My second master’s thesis looked at that (it didn’t matter that the Piltdown skull was fake, it still had *real* repercussions on the science and practice of anthropology). Maybe that is a kind of blue pill in the end, and we all choose which lies we are comfortable living with, or maybe there is a varying degree of “reality” that we all experience. There was also a giant owl airship (owlship?) named after the cartoon owl in Disney’s The Sword and the Stone.

The few comics I did keep were some of the dark Marvel What-Ifs. Specifically, “Deadly Inheritance” which saw the Fantastic Four’s powers consuming them, and “The Mark of Cain” where Juggernaut finds himself the only being on earth after a plague. There are two honorable mentions here before I fall into talking about how comics are keeping me sane through my dissertation and they are somewhat tangentially related to Watchmen as they spin some thing cold war related. The first is Red Son, which follows Superman as he fell to earth in Russia and instead of becoming a good hard working American, he became a good hard working communist. The other is similar (and again Fantastic Four–What If really seemed to have it out for them) with the Fantastic Four being cosmonauts instead of astronauts.

I will add that it was also nice to start and end something this long written sequentially by a single author. I wasn’t *too* crushed getting out of comics in the mid 90s because by that point X-men was as full of *see issue XX notes as it was real dialogue. The last thing I remember was something on Asteroid M and Rogue and Iceman were on a road trip after she kissed Gambit.

Another bit of unpopular admittance is that I enjoyed the film. There are some major differences that would not translate to the screen from the page. It was a closer reading than Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which I think was easier to approach than that graphic novel, but where it died in the water was the insistence on including an American character to draw American audiences. The whole Tom Sawyer thing was bland as he wasn’t much of a mean mean warrior so to speak. I didn’t hate it, I just wanted more out of it, but I digress. Even if you didn’t enjoy the movie or hated the changes you almost have to admit that the opening Bob Dylan music video with all the references and stills is fantastic. And the many scenes that are direct copies of the comic panels were amazing.

Without getting into the philosophy or any of the mucky stuff above, the shortest reason to put this on my list of 10 it that it helped me get over the internalized belief that comics (or “graphic novels”) were some how lower forms of literature. That I wasn’t “reading” if I was reading comics. That was internalized because that was what I was told. By the same grandfather that gave me The Red Badge of Courage and was getting my catalogs for “playboy funnybooks.” I think that was finally shattered seeing the graphic novel From Hell on the English Honors reading list or purchase shelf at the Lamar Bookstore (Kampus Korner) when I returned as a sophomore and a half in my undergrad after being out for 4 years. From Hell incidentally, was written by the same guy.




When You Want to Know Everything

I am not entirely certain, but I think a great part of it might have to do with what I associated “science” and “engineering” with when I was a kid. Even when I was little the idea of scientists in white coats was a bit weird. I had seen them made fun of in cartoons enough to appreciate a caricature. My grandfather worked in a hospital lab and for me such lab coats were for doctors.  I never could put my finger on it until recently but as I have went back through the franchises I enjoyed as a kid, I finally realized who I wanted to be:

Commissioned art from Eddie Nuñez digitally colored by author

I know that they are basically the same person, barring the mutation thing. But that was it. Referencing in books, figuring out solutions and answers, the person that people went to for obscure things, that is who I have always wanted to be. In fact, it turns out that when I was 8 I tried to teach myself Assyrian and Sumerian because Egon knew them.

Now, here is the problem: There isn’t a path of study that can lead to that outcome. That outcome is not quantifiable nor does it really bring prestige or money to your alma maters and paters. As I continue to work towards finishing what has become a huge portion of my life I take solace in the fact that all of the extemporaneous stuff I have done through these years have led me more towards being the person I really wanted to be.  Whether or not a Ghostbuster and a Ninja Turtle were the reasons I decided to get a PhD, they remain the noblest aspect of this entire experience.

If you enjoy either franchise check these crossover out. If you like both, buy the recently released hardover collection

I have learned more about myself in the things I have done to stay sane during graduate school than I have about any topic I have studied. When it came time to pick a major for university I settled on Mechanical Engineering because I was good at math and mechanics. If you’ve taken courses in engineering you can see where this is going. I completed all my core courses my first year in college and realized that I didn’t want to be a career engineer in the sense that we were learning it. I wanted to design and build things,  not manage button pushing operations.  There is a perfect example of this in Egon’s life in an episode of The Real Ghostbusters: “Cry Uncle”

Real GB #19 Cry Uncle by clist007

In “Cry Uncle” Egon’s uncle shows up and reminds Egon that he said he would come work for him at Spengler Laboratories. There Egon would get to do “real” science.  Once at Spengler Labs, Egon has his white coat, and is tasked with feeding the research rats and mice. When he admitted it wasn’t what he expected, Uncle Cyrus explained there are no small jobs in research.

I really like this shot because it shows that it isn’t only the rats that are caged.

There isn’t inherently a problem with going into a field you are good at, especially if you are interested in it, but for me it was extremely limiting in the scope of my expectations for college. Such expectations continue to shape my opinions of higher education.  I think the first thing I found odd was that the way our classes parsed out on the rubric I would be a senior taking freshman speech. Nothing built on anything else. Even the Engineering courses, which were only offered every other semester or so, wanted info in and were built on the premises that you passed or dropped out.

When I went back 5 years later I tried my hand at a broader field: Anthropology. I took every course my university offered and enjoyed them all. I did field work in Belize with another University and ran the gamut of geology towards that degree. Issues of being color blind and terrible mineralogy courses dropped me out of that certification (although I still practive the paleo and science outreach that I learned there) and ended up with a history degree. That itself is just as problematic because everything is formulaic and most of the people at the top hate everyone and have painted themselves into such tight “intellectual” corners that they wouldn’t dare step out of their offices to help someone even if they could.

I even completed an advanced degree in History. Then moved on to combining what I had done and what I thought I wanted to do. History of Science. I worked on another MA, which was worse than History because of the way our coursework is arranged. I still wanted to know more. Not more of one thing, but more in general. There were loose ends that needed to be tied up. So I reached out and ended up taking graduate level hours in Art History and Biology. As I have worked through all the stories I want to tell, and then figuring out how to appease the Academy and still get to write for the audience I want to engage with, I realized that I still want to know it all, and I want to be able to use that to help people answer questions and solve problems.

I still want a lab and a workshop. I doubt I will ever build a nuclear accelerator or a portal device, but with such a practical environment, who knows. I think that this is one of the reasons I have gravitated towards museum exhibits. Aside from presentation and engaging the public with collections (and collecting) there is the technical aspect of getting the displays built, arranged, and installed. Practical needs that people ask you do do.

I think the best thing about all of this is that it took years of advancing schooling to get back into comic books only to find what I study and write about was there all the time. That isn’t to say I write about mutations or ghosts, but a huge swath of my work is science and popular culture, and how the public engages with science. As for my dissertation, it will compare early American Naval and Army expeditions in their scope and treatment of the scientists (naturalists) and artists as were full expedition members. The first one, The United States Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex.Ex), was in many ways undertaken due to John Symmes’ insistence and marketing that the Earth was hollow.

The Hollow Earth Theory

Even my PhD advisor admitted that my niche might be in being a generalist.

Saturday Morning Cartoons: A tribute to the long 80s.

Today is another of those scenic turnout days from comps work. Instead of painting (I did that last week, and will post it after the next section break) I spent the day organizing and figuring out my bazillion bytes of animation data that I have spread across several hard drives.

This post will be filled with cartoon intros and very little thinking substance. While organizing and checking for new DVD releases I was checking the dates of some of my favorite series and noticed that they all happened about the same time. This isn’t a complete or exhaustive or even objective list. These are the series I remember watching, playing, and remembering from the three channels that we had on television.


He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
My cousin had nearly all of the toys for this line. At least I thought he had nearly all until I saw the list of what all actually made up this toy line.

The 2002 series intro is much shorter and actually spoofs the original, which is a lot of fun.

G.I. Joe: The Real American Hero actually “debuted” in 1983 as well, but the first two seasons were mini-series, so I will add that intro in 85.


More than meets the eye. I think it did something like the G.I. Joe mini-series intro, I was more familiar with Transformers than G.I. Joe so I am putting it in for its first year release.

These things have come back around in various (dis)guises forever, I think the last time I saw any at all they were in the computer animation style beast wars and Optimus was a gorilla and Megatron was a dinosaur.

Voltron-Defender of the Universe
I never saw Voltron until I was much older. I was aware of it through toys, but I wanted to include it here in situ with Transformers. 

Voltron-The Legendary Defender
The new (2016) Netflix launched one (that has been picked up for a second season) that really shows you how to do a reboot of a popular 80s franchise. It is a great story, but most importantly it looks like it is supposed to. Since it is Netflix, there isn’t an intro per se, but here is the original trailer that we were all excited to see

and a really great fan-made intro where none were before

I don’t want to leave 1984 without adding one of the best kids’ shows that ran the last half of the 80s. If you haven’t seen it, or don’t remember it, just because it was muppets doesn’t mean it didn’t have action, adventure, and a healthy dose of satire.

Muppet Babies 


I had the light up sword of Omens from this series but always wanted Panthro’s nunchucks. I thought Tygra’s whip was cool, but never really liked him. I can’t remember why.

More recently Thundercats came back in 2011. I haven’t brought myself to make time to watch it yet. I have seen bits and clips online and I am torn on the character looks. From what I understand there isn’t a tradition intro as one would have, but there are several fan made ones on youtube, with clips from the show with the original audio.

G.I. Joe: Real American Heroes 
I didn’t have many, if all, of these figures either, and I only remember seeing a handful of episodes, and I really only include it because it is iconic in lists of 80s cartoons. I remember liking the ones that weren’t in standard uniforms which, in the 80s, meant some kind of outback hat and vest or something.


The Real Ghostbusters 
Now we get into the realms of utterly obsessed I suppose. The Real ghostbusters were the first figures I remember asking for by name. I remember having the sword of omens but not asking for it. I remember asking for and getting a proton pack. I never got a trap because we had carpet inside and dirt outside and there was no place for it to roll. I always thought this was unfair reasoning. It is also the first series I remember wanting to be like someone and that was (is) Egon. I saw the cartoon before the movie and was a little disappointed that Harold Ramis didn’t look like Egon was supposed to.

The show holds up extremely well. I didn’t care for the slimer shorts when I was a kid, but it didn’t bother me when he became more involved in later episodes. I didn’t like the Jr. Ghostbusters at all.

Bonus: Why are they the Real Ghostbusters? The earlier Filmation (who also did He-Man) series debuted in 1986 as well and it was based on the 1975 live-action version.

Filmation’s guys were the sons of the live action guys, episode 1 was even called something like “I’ll be a son of a ghostbuster or something.” I am a diehard Real Ghostbusters fan, but there are things to appreciate about filmation’s busters, if only for the level of bizarre the series took. There was crazy fallout conspiracies with the two on air at the same time. One even declared Filmation was racist as the ape was supposed to be the equivalent of Winston.

in 1997 a PKE surge saw the formation of a new gang of busters. I was an adamant hater of Extreme Ghostbusters then. I caught a couple reruns on cable after 2000 while working out of state but didn’t see the whole series again in order until the dropped it on HULU. Honestly the “extremeness” really sets itself firmly in my late junior high early high school days, but the writing on this still holds up and like the original some of the episodes are genuinely spooky. Egon (and Janine and Slimer) are the carry overs (if you aren’t familiar) with the extreme ghostbusters consisting of students in one of Egon’s courses. A more diverse group, without being preachy, the toyline on this one really blew up when they refused to market the wheelchair bound adrenaline junky Garrett.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
By all accounts this was a true phenomenon when it hit the airwaves. The comics has been around a couple years and an older generation (or those that lived anywhere near a comic shop) generally hate the cartoon versions, but they were my first exposure and I was hooked. The downside to getting turtles toys was I had to get rid of my ghostbuster ones. Seriously. It was a tough choice and I think when it stopped coming on television I was able to justify the cut somehow and went on to get the turtle van and sewer lair. I never had the blimp but wanted it. Plus this thing runs for 10 seasons, the intros change (not for the better) throughout the season with the final “Red Sky” seasons splicing bits of the movie into the intro.

I just finished re-watching the series and there were scores of episodes I hadn’t seen as they aired on cable channels later. I have more recently started watching the 2003 series having never seen a single episode. The character development seems solid and the writing is an over arching story reminiscent of the original series first seasons. We’ll see how it goes for another 7 seasons. This is an extremely annoying intro and I have skipped it every time since watching it the first time.

TMNT comes back again in 2012 (there was a feature length computer animated film called Turtles Forever but that isn’t what this is all about). This series is fully computer animated and is generally described as “more for kids” but there are some deep themes covered in this ongoing series (currently towards the end of season 4). This intro is ridiculous too, but watching it change through time is interesting. Given the changes the intros made within a series who knows where they will go now.

My original list ended there, but I started looking at other things I watched on Saturday morning so I could round out the decade. In fact I would say the 1980s were the zenith of animated series that didn’t subtitle themselves “The animated series.” But before moving on, we can’t skip one of the best that is about to get a reboot:

Ducktales (woohoo)

One of my favorite episodes still is the druids episode with the glowing hound.

Another that seems only a handful if us remember was the far out space sci-fi western (way before Firefly) Bravestarr, another Filmation production.


Garfield and Friends
I am watching old episodes of this as I type. The craziest thing about this is that the intro I remember doesn’t jive with the episodes I remember. It is also one of those intros that changed for the better and one of the few that had something different in each one (similar to, but not to the extent of the Simpson’s couch gag, more like Bart’s chalkboard writing).

The intro I actually remembered:

A Pup Named Scooby Doo 
I watched every episode of this. Scooby Doo is by far my favorite animated series and this was the newest incarnation of the franchise  (13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo kicked off in 1985, but was something between a mini series and a series, but some great voice work).

The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh 
It seems like 1988 was trying to turn away from the gritty anime action stylings with these new releases. In fact this is about the same time The Real Ghostbusters started fading towards a harder focus on Slimer and their intro was reoriented to be Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters. Either way, the turn wasn’t terrible. Maybe the sword fighting sound effects guy retired.



This was the year for me that everything went Nintendo. The two new shows that hit network television were Captain N: The Gamemaster (which so few people remember) and The Super Mario Brothers Super Show. 

Captain N: The Gamemaster
This was a weird live action into animation that included a dog. I didn’t know many of the characters in the show because affording Nintendo games wasn’t something I was good at. Welcome to VideoLand

The Super Mario Brothers Super Show
This is one of those shows that I remembered fondly and when it hit Netflix a couple years ago I wasn’t disappointed. That isn’t to say that it holds up as well as Real Ghostbusters, but the live action segments were the best. It was an animation/live action mixed intro with music that was great, but catchy as hell. I always liked Luigi, but being an only child I never was able to play the character (that is why I liked Super Mario Brothers 2). It is a weird intro, and when it was on Netflix it didn’t have the Legend of Zelda shorts in the middle. You remember “Excuuuuse Me Princess”? Because Link was obviously a valley girl. Putting this together I realized this show was over 10% intros.

Full show intro:

The Mario Brother animated Intro:

and the Legend of Zelda intro:

It wasn’t all Nintendo though, these were on Saturday morning, but after school (or at least by the time I got off the bus) there was an Indiana Jones and Magnum P.I. team of chipmunks.

Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers 


The 90s. What’s to add except

Tiny Toon Adventures 


My grandmother loved this intro.


I am going just into 1991 to include a few outliers.

Darkwing Duck
Is an excellent parody of the super hero genre that really takes off with animated series of their very on from 1992 until the virtual end of television.

The Pirates of Dark Water 

Peter Pan and the Pirates 
This was an excellent series and I wish it would get a DVD release. Who wouldn’t love a Tim Curry Captain Hook?


That will wrap up the pre “animated series” series. This is a rough mix of what I watched on Saturday mornings and when I got home from school, after feeding all our animals. The later years most of the good stuff came on FoxKids which was channel 29 for us and we only picked up if it was cloudy-but-not-too-cloudy. From 1992 on you see Batman, X-men, Animaniacs, The Tick, and a huge shot in nostalgia’s arm with Cartoon Network’s Toonami (my aunt got satellite by this time so I could get some VHS recordings of the Herculoids, Thundarr, The Centurions, G-Force, etc. Then Cartoon-Cartoon took off and we got Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken, and (maybe most importantly) Samurai Jack.

This all started while I was waiting for files to transfer and I was interested to see which of these were on the air at the same time.

As you look back through this batch of nonsense, it is the perfect time to point out that those of us that grew up with this are now reaping the benefits of others our age working in the comic industry. Of those listed IDW publishing currently runs a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing comic, Ghostbusters comes in series, and Transformers are a huge swath of their enterprise. The also have Pink Panther and Strawberry Shortcake and ,among others, the reprinting of the old Popeye comics.  There is also a growing trend with major crossovers. To date:

TMNT/Ghostbusters (2014)


Ghostbusters/Real Ghostbusters (2015)

Ghostbusters Get Real

TMNT/Batman (Dec. 2015-May 2016)


and DC is currently running…


He Man Thundercats covers

He Man Thundercats 1

He Man Thundercats 2

Ending where I started with He-Man, if you like the art here (and in the Batman/TMNT series) you can check out more, buy prints or originals at the artist’s (Freddie Williams II) website. 



My MAN! or How a mutant rhino reminded me who I was

I still haven’t put together all my thoughts on an action figure post yet (nor have I finished enough of my comps readings to make a useful post) so in the interim you get this, which, admittedly, is just an excuse to put all the Bebop and Rocksteady images I have in one place.

June ended up casting me down the pop culture wormhole that I long forgotten. In much the same manner that a random tweet rekindle my love for the Real Ghostbusters and finding the comics the universe had conspired to help me remember other parts of myself. I still say it is because all the people creating things are the same age as I am so there is a bout of cultural memory taking over production but whatever the reason, it has been fun.

There is a Ghostbusters/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic crossover from IDW publishing. This is old news to many, but if you got here through some weird google image search and don’t know about it, check it out. It is what led me over to the IDW TMNT series itself. I probably would have remained agnostic over it otherwise.


A brief word about the IDW TMNT comics as a whole: It is great. It nods to the originals (both comics and cartoon) but has a more real feel to it. I don’t mean real in the authentic sense, but I mean it develops the characters in ways that weren’t possible in an animated program used to sell toys.

Now, back to June. A TMNT movie and a special IDW TMNT comic arc were the specials of the month. I’ll start with the comics since I have less to say about it in general. Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything is exactly what it sounds like. The two get their hands on a time traveling sceptre and generally Rocksteady and Bebop their way through time and space. If you know anything about those two (and let’s assume you do since you made it this far anyway) you have some idea of just how bad it gets.

Pretty much the default issues when these guys travel through time
Pretty much the default issues when these guys travel through time

Since Time is involved we see our heroes in a half shell meeting back up with Renet (it has ties with Turtles in Time which is interesting given how much that was hated, at least that is the sense I get from the boards around this place).

As a whole this thing must have been a logistical nightmare. There are 2863 different artists (slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect) on each issue. I usually hate when artists change mid run, much less mid issue, but this one really seemed to work as they popped up and around different times and places.

seriously look at all the artist involved in a single issue!
seriously look at all the artist involved in a single issue!

They also tie back into IDW’s kickstarted for a TMNT board game. Nothing super special, just two scenarios included in the last two issues. Well it was supposed to be two different scenarios but many of us ended up with repeats.

Board Game Ad in Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything #5
Board Game Ad in Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything #5
Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything extra scenario ad Issue #5
Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything extra scenario ad Issue #5

The swath of cover art is fantastic and Nick Patarra‘s interlocking 5 actually interlock back with itself and I am currently trying to find a way to make it into a nice lampshade because that seems like the best way to display it. Thank goodness there us a digital version of it, because it really does loose something when shot together for lampshade purposes. The tangible interlocking is rough, but there is still something about it that is fun.

My copies linked
Digital links from Nick Pitarra's twitter cover
Digital links from Nick Pitarra’s twitter cover

The timing for this arc could not have been better. The breakout stars of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows film was Bebop and Rocksteady. This movie was much better than the first one, which, admittedly I never finished. But, Out of the Shadows was absolutely ridiculous and over the top and wonderful.

For one, and for me specifically, it (and the comics really) have allowed me to actually match the turtle that I always liked. Donatello has always been my favorite but I have always been more of a cartoon Ralph in practice. With the movie making Ralph a jock and Donatello a more skeptical practical person, and the comics giving him (and all of them really) more wit, sits well with me.

I have said similar things
I have said similar things

Turtles aside, the single duo reason to see this movie is the rhino and the warthog. Ever since I was a kid, even before the turtles were a thing Rhinos were one of my favorite animals, along with armadillos and anteaters. So when Rocksteady arrived I was thrilled even if he was a bumbling villain idiot. Fast forward to getting back into the comics and seeing how the duo are treated there was what kept me hooked on the series. (Now Leatherhead is back, and while I am more than a little sad he isn’t the crocodile dundee swamp thing he is, I am sure they are going good places with it).

When they announced the TMNT sequel I was skeptical and shrugged it off as another summer 2016 movie to ignore. Then I saw the first Bebop wanted poster. I instantly hit social media and tagged a friend of mine, who happens to be a DJ with a substantial mohawk (although not purple) that he had the perfect halloween costume. The next day or so Rocksteady’s showed up. So I went back and added that one and admitted that I had to do it.

Bebop Rocksteady

I saw their action figures first. I was in WalMart on the hunt for the classic Ghostbusters mini figures and since they were working on part of the store they had staged about a dozen pallets of TMNT toys in the main aisle and I had to wade through them to get to the tiny little Ghostbusters section in the back. I ended up getting Donatello first and outfitting him with a proton pack. The next time I went back I got the 11″ Rocksteady and Bebop to go with the 13″ classic Rocksteady and Bebop. For the record I don’t actively collect action figures.

Here is another mutant for scale.
Here is another mutant for scale.
Sitting on a TV tray for scale
Sitting on a TV tray for scale


I didn’t know anything about either one of the guys playing them (I have been working on PhD stuff for a while and not watching television and I have never been into wrestling) so I went in with no preconceived ideas of what we were getting and it turned out great. The entire setup and most of the movie are rife with plot holes, impossibilities, and utter nonsense but that makes it great. Someone sat down with the comics and the original cartoons and said “how do we translate this to the big screen” and however they did it and whoever made it work need awards.

I went to see it the Sunday after it opened at an IMAX matinee and there were only 20 people in there and 90% of them weren’t born when the Turtles first fell into our laps. The 3D was awesome, but not the crux of the movie which is always nice. Donnie’s holographic gadets looks great and the internal mutation stuff with the cell binding and DNA structure changing looked really good in 3D.  After seeing it, I had to go back and get the regular sized figures. The Rocksteady comes with a sledgehammer which he uses in the comics, but not the movie.
Rocksteady 2016

Bebop 2016

A couple weekends ago I pulled out some of our paints and took a stab at the comic and cartoon duo. I had recently been working on pastels based on the Cryptozoic Ghostbusters trading cards that I liked so it wasn’t a huge shift. I usually do something like that over the weekend to decompress from exhibit work and reading for comps. That is really why I got back into comics, they are a nice palate cleanse from comp prep.

Rough sketch outline
Rough sketch outline


Finished acrylics based on a comics page by Mateus Santolouco. Check out his stuff it is all great
Finished acrylics based on a comics page by Mateus Santolouco. Check out his stuff it is all great

Finished cartoon versions
Finished cartoon versions
"You're like the Bob Ross of Ninja Turtles" three people made that reference
“You’re like the Bob Ross of Ninja Turtles” three people made that reference

I still haven’t gotten the $20 (each) sets of Bebop and Rocksteady on their bikes. But I am watching for a clearance. I have wanted to chop my own bike for a while but don’t have the money and means to,  but I now at least know how I want to do it.

Rhino ChopperBebop and Trike toy

Incidentally the Paul Jr. from that old Orange County Choppers organization designed and produced the bikes. I would have watched that episode. Actually if someone cut out all the Days of Our Lives family drama and focused on bikes the series would have been great. Maybe it will come out in a behind the scenes book or DVD extras or something.

Designed and brought ot Life by Paul Jr. (
Designed and brought to life by Paul Jr. (
This and below from
This and below from

13320588_1151305054932722_6735414045006964892_o Bebop-and-Rocksteady-motorcycles-1024x448


Bebop's trike

I have never been big into trikes either and the only ones I had really ever seen were huge and were powered by Volkswagen engines and not an actual bike/chain drive, so Bebop’s was interesting to me on that front.

Bebop Trike For more great photos see
Bebop Trike For more great photos see
Bebop Trike For more great photos see
Bebop Trike For more great photos see –If anyone has any Pulse quality shots of the Rhino Chopper please share!

I even tracked down the UK released poster that was just Rocksteady and Bebop so I could frame it. There standard posters are 30×40 so framing it whole was going to be a gazillion dollars but luckily(?) the one I got in had a crease in it (so I got my shipping refunded) and didn’t feel bad about cutting all the words off the bottom. After getting it into a poster frame I already had, I think it looks better without the words.

Original 30"x40" size
Original 30″x40″ size
Cut for a 27"x40" poster frame. I really think it looks better without the ads
Cut for a 27″x40″ poster frame. I really think it looks better without the ads
Framed on the wall
Framed on the wall

To that end I am trying to track down all the pieces for a good human Rocksteady halloween costume, so far not a single custom shop will touch it. One custom leather place in Chicago can get a basic one I would have to stud myself for almost $300. So I think it will be old jacket and razor blade time. I will probably make a post on that process too just to see how it comes off.  The patch on the movie vest is a Black Label Society patch by the way, in case you are trying to make an authentic custom. It doesn’t show up as such on the figures, which makes sense if you listen to metal. It helps that Sheamus is only a couple inches taller than me and serves as a nice avatar for what I could look like in shape.

The final thing I haven’t gotten and probably won’t ever be able to afford are the SideShow collectibles figures for the two. (Rocksteady, Bebop) Both together are hovering around $700 before shipping, and I mean you really can’t get one and not the other that is just wrong. But the prototypes look AMAZING. Already decided when I win the Mega-Millions and build my museum of art and natural history (Faux-Art Gardens, HA) I am going to have life sized statues of these in the entryway. tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-rocksteady-statue-vault-productions-902745-07 tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-rocksteady-statue-vault-productions-902745-06

tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-rocksteady-statue-vault-productions-902745-04 tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-rocksteady-statue-vault-productions-902745-01

tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-bebop-statue-vault-productions-902744-06 tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-bebop-statue-vault-productions-902744-01

In the end, I clipped just a fraction of the trailer in to put on my youtube channel to share whenever someone asked why they should see this movie:

Someone on youtube has clipped most of their scenes from a bootlegged cam and put them together for about 7.5 minutes of madness, which is funny but I think it is even better when it is strung out throughout the movie.

***I literally just–like as I am typing this part of the post–received my stickers in the mail to put on my bike’s windscreen. I can’t afford to get the bike converted into the Rhino Chopper, but I can afford $3 skateboard vinyl stickers. These will go well on the bike since I have the No-Ghost Logo on my saddlebags and the bike *is* an 86.

Skateboard stickers for my bike's windscreen
Skateboard stickers for my bike’s windscreen

Whatever the back stories on the other in-universie mutants, (I think Rocksteady was a Russian Arms dealer in one, I haven’t kept up with them all, but I might be getting around to them later this year). For my money and universe these guys are Bebop and Rocksteady. Now it is just question of making sure my Halloween partner doesn’t flake.

Rocksteady 2

I guess the whole take home point to all this is realizing that I had packed away a lot of what made me, me. These are the things that shaped my primary school years and are people (imaginary or not) that live in my pysche. These are things I put away when I went to high school and then to college to be replaced by things like books and journals. I read the books as a kid too. Red Badge of Courage and Moby Dick in Jr. High and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a half a dozen times before that.

But the books could stay, they were acceptable part of the trade of growing up. Why did Ghostbusters and TMNT shed? I have no idea really, but  I am glad they are back on the scene, even if their influences never really went away. Welcome back guys, it has been too long.


now I have to go put those decals on my bike.

Bye Turtles


****Update: The Decals are on****

They have a whole set and a few others (Ghostbusters, Deadpool) at their Ebay shop.

Rocksteady Bebop

If You Have a Question About How the World Works

Last week some time a friend of mine sent me a youtube video from a guy called Captain Disillusion (whom I have never heard of until receiving the link) who had a very special guest on his myth debunking channel: it was Beakman!

56020If you are unfamiliar with Beakman let me bring you up to speed. There are many overlaps in production and what networks wanted was pretty similar, but it wasn’t–and isn’t– a Beakman’s World vs. Bill Nye The Science Guy world.  It goes way back to an earlier program called Watch Mr. WizardThat seems like a great place to start:

Don Herbert through a series of assistants taught kids in throughout the 1950s and early 60s. Watch returned briefly in 1971/72 but in 1983 Don Herbert had his own world with Mr. Wizard’s World which was the same format with new assistants.

Mr. Wizard’s World ran until 1990, but Herbert would live another 17 years to see his path well-traveled and extended. He died on June 12, 2007 just a month shy of his 90th birthday.

Something interesting happened in the 90s (if you actually lived through them at an impressionable age like I did, that is the understatement of the century).  Mr. Wizard’s World may have went off the air, but nature and television networks deplore a vacuum and low ratings.

I watched as much television as I could in the 90s. Admittedly that isn’t much since we had three network channels and Fox 29 if it was cloudy. Thankfully that connection improved by the time we got Fox Kids. I thought I was familiar with everything on network television and a saturday morning cartoon snob. Only recently was I introduced to Back to the Future: The Animated Series. I know you are probably thinking “Congratulations, Columbus you’ve discovered something thousands of people already knew about,” but bear with me here, this is important for science programming reasons.

The series was short-lived, consisting of only 2 seasons, but it is interesting for a variety of reasons. I was never into the Back to the Future movies or anything so maybe that is how I missed this. Or, more likely, it came on CBS opposite something I really liked. Either way, I have just recently discovered this thanks to a friend of mine in London (because I hadn’t even stumbled across it on the internet), and want to share a quick bit about how it works and what it means for the rest of the decade.

Each episode was bookended by live action segments with Dr. Emmett Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, setting up and reviewing the episode AND then explaining some principle of science related to what happened to them. I think it is doubly interesting for me since I am a historian of science to see the science and then a historical perspective and then the science again tied back into the episode, however loosely.

Here is the intro and the opening live segment.

I let it run into the narration for the cartoon to share some fun trivia on this: Even though Lloyd did the live action segments he, unlike Mary Steenburgen and a few others, did not provide the voice of his animated counterpart. The animated Doc Brown is expertly brought to life by the amazing voice talents of Dan Casttelaneta who you may recognize from a bajillion other sources, namely the Simpsons.

Now, the important part: The ending live segment with the science of the water test, more or less.

Did you recognize Doc’s lab assistant? Look again… I’ll wait. The white lab coat and the bowtie? That is Bill Nye in a non speaking, recurring role two years before he gets his own program. The animated Back to the Future ended in December of 1992 and Bill Nye The Science Guy’s debut was the following September. But, a year before something else exploded onto the science scene:

In September 1992 we all broke into Beakman’s World where we were allowed to take up residence until 1997. The show, which is based on a comic called You Can With Beakman and Jaxalso pays homage to Mr. Wizard’s World and Mr. Wizard himself in the form of two puppet penguins named Don and Herb.


Beakman's World Penguins Don and Herb

The program is as full of craziness as it is science and I absolutely loved it. From the Don King hair, to the neon lab coat to the giant lab rat with tattoos it was what I knew science to be and not what I had seen in the stuffy depictions of scowling scientists in the lab. It was fun, the same kind of fun I had when I was looking at bugs under the microscope or trying to figure out what kind of rock I found or what bird was making a particular noise. It was built around not just the experiments that you could perform at home (I made the sugar glass at least twice) but also viewer questions usually answered in a rapid fire round called “Beakmania!” (I am way prouder of that gif than I should be, but it took more than a few tries to get the timing right).

The series moved off of out local station before it ended and I had never seen the godawful season 4 until it reran on Netflix a couple years ago. It was okay, I honestly cannot stand the way they built the last assistant Phoebe (nothing against Senta Moses, but that seasons just got too 90s and too annoying). It was funny watching them again because I remembered episodes and experiments but I had somehow managed to morph Joey and Liza into one person and only ever remembered one person being their throughout the ones I had seen.

Josey, Lester, Bones, Beakman
Josey, Lester, Bones, Beakman
Bekaman's World Liza
Lester, Beakman, Liza

But what really made the show tick was the chemistry between the folks making it, the limitless guest characters played by the trio–Art Burn in his diner, Meekman, the school nurse, Woody Chipper, the sports announcers, the game show contestants–and, above all, a man in a giant rat suit. 46fac0f07be5a6c1e56affa072321cbb37542b64aa4ce9b670da5b6b270ca331_mediumimg5bgfDsRi

One of the other bits I really, *really*, enjoyed about Beakman was the “smokey door of history™” when famous folks would show up and talk about their stuff.

For instance:

I am working on cutting and collecting all of these because I use them when I teach the History of Science. They aren’t perfect, but they are memorable. I haven’t found and loaded it yet, but one of the earliest ones they did was on Maria Mitchell and her works with comets. This episode aired in 1994 and I was in graduate school for the second time in Spring of 2015 before I heard of her again.

A year following Beakman,  Bill Nye the Science Guy hit the airwaves on PBS. The closest PBS channel for us was out of Houston 120 miles away and just out of reach of our antenna so I was in high school before I ever saw my first episode of Bill Nye. Whose popularity made me an instant defender of Beakman and the gang.

Bill Nye is fun. But is had such a different feel than Beakman to me, it feels like, I dunno, safer fun. One of the biggest differences here is that Bill Nye is an actual scientist in real life and Paul Zaloom is a puppeteer and comedian.

The 90s were weird (again understatement). It was a decade of dueling doubles with two takes on the same premise: Beakman’s World/Bill Nye, Armageddon/Deep Impact, and Tombstone/Wyatt Earp to name a few off the top of my head.

One of the most interesting things about the Bill Nye/Beakman overlap is the show rules for The Science Guy explicitly pointing out things done in Beakman’s World (without saying the name) that his show would not do:


Number 3 and 4 specifically. I am not certain if number 2 is a dig on the BogusScope® or not.  I have never confirmed them as direct points of departure from Beakman, but I suspect they are. Incidentally I have an autographed copy of this, but it is framed and it photographs lousily.

Bill Nye’s show ran out in mid 1998, only 6 months after Beakman and company packed it in. Bill boasted 100 shows, Paul had only 91, but both of their impacts cannot be understated and should not be ignored. They continued a them of education a generation of kids to go out and *do* science, and better yet showed them how. I still use the how to make a fossil project with I talk to kids with the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum. This is far more than falling into the hashtag battles of #TeamBeakman or #TeamNye. I honestly believe these shows helped a ton of homeschool kids learn better science than they would have gotten otherwise. I like them both, I will always prefer Beakman to Bill. My wife had never seen Beakman’s World until we started watching it over dinner in 2014. We remain a house divided.

More instructors teach with Bill Nye Videos than Beakman. Maybe that is because they were easier to get and use coming from PBS and not our plebeian channels. To be completely fair in that sense, Bill’s shows are more thematically aligned and cohesive, but Beakman had one thing Bill could never equal and that was Lester the Rat.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 1.54.51 PM
We Miss You Mark Ritts.

I honestly don’t know where this leaves us. It is 2016, certain politicians believe Bill Nye is just a television host and he has debated the most famous creationist in the world. Bill is fighting the good scientific fight on GMOs and vaccines and such. We still need to educate kids on a level they can have to themselves. I was an ardent rule follower, but I always found Bill Nye just as stuffy as the scientists in books and film. It was Beakman who embodied what I felt about science and what it could do and what I could do with it. So, that is what I cherish, even above the terrible puns which I use every single chance I get. It was amazing to see Beakman back in character on youtube, making fun of the people that brought him there because they didn’t bother to learn how magnets work and “you don’t have to know how is was faked, to know that it is fake”

Great to see you again Paul.



New Comics Old Dinosaurs

I am not 100% certain when these posts took the hard turn towards popular culture. My working theory is that it just happened when I started paying attention and that the universe wasn’t just waiting to plop all the ink and paint references to the prehistoric into my currently-reading-for-exams lap. Either way we get another few bits into the newest incarnation of the titular villains of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Universe, Rocksteady and Bebop. There are far more things to be said about the Turtles in Time story arc, or even the triceratops aliens from the old series, the cartoon, and toy line. There was even Manmoth a poor caveman who had the misfortune of being mutated into a mammoth.

Space Triceratops
Space Triceratops $80+ on Amazon now!
Manmoth, among others
Manmoth and Armaggon who, incidentally, appears in the new video game

But we are talking about the newest of the new. Throughout the month of June IDW publishing is releasing a story arc titles Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything which I think has been their character description since their inception into TMNT canon. It is a time traveling scepter story which means we must. see. dinosaurs. I think it is federal law or something. (this is not a complaint!)

Interlocking covers tweeted by artist Nick Pitarra
Interlocking covers tweeted by artist Nick Pitarra and colorist Michael Garland

The first issue dropped yesterday but it was raining when I got off work so I didn’t take the bike across town the to the comic shop, so I am a day late to getting it. Oddly enough the preview for Issue #2 was published by Comics Alliance today. So I will add a panel from that in here as well. The covers all mash together as seen in the handy work of artist Nick Pitarra (@NickPitarra) and colorist Michael Garland (@MichaelGarland), who currently has it as his twitter banner. There are a ton of variant ones that I won’t see in the flesh, but the thing starts out at the Natural History museum so I have to talk about it here.

The turtles are ninja-ing there way into a new exhibit at the natural history museum featuring a strange mummy. The fact that Donatello is the one narrating just adds to my enjoyment as he has always been my favorite, even though he isn’t the turtle I am most like by default.

Nothing says Natural History Museum like a Dinosaur skeleton
Nothing says Natural History Museum like a Dinosaur skeleton

The preview ends setting up the cliffhanger of not only the Cretaceous humanoid mummy bit two giant bipedal creatures that look like a rhinoceros and a warthog. The explanations following that panel in Issue #1 is full of enough timey-wimey stuff to break your brain (it happened to Michelangelo) and their are time-masters that we’ve met before (if you’ve read the turtles in time series you had to see it coming, right?)

Layout 1

Then we see the duo and their new-old (like Cretaceous old) boss riding down on unsuspecting who knows what (it is in the preview you can check it out yourself, I am not spoiling it) on the proper means of pillage transportation during the Cretaceous–dinosaurs. Rocksteady in particular seems to be riding a therizinosaurus with its enormous claws and a skull of something else as a helmet. Bebop is on an ankylosaur that has a necklace and a nose ring. So that is where we stand at the moment. Issue #2 comes out next Wednesday and who knows where or when we go from there, but there are more dinosaurs on the way and we know at some point everyone’s favorite imbecilic henchmen have to lose their skin in order to be fossilized and on display back at the Natural History Museum in 2016.


The plot thickens enough that the last two(?) issues actually go along with the IDW TMNT board game that was on Kickstarter earlier this year. If you backed you will get the play through scenarios from the comics, but you will get it in the comics either way.