Category Archives: Popular Culture

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.




Summer at the Museum

I was originally just going to throw some fun screen grabs from these early time machine  Phineas and Ferb episodes up on the Paleo Porch facebook page and be done. While going through the episodes for the shots though I noticed there was more to say and show about the museum than just the “back-in-time-with-dinosaurs” trope.

Backing up a bit, if you haven’t watched Phineas and Ferb before, or in a while, you should add it to your queue because it is well written , clever, and even the angular animation style is less offensive than its contemporaries.

The time machine arc here actually spans two episodes across two seasons. The first one, episode 21 “Out of Time” aired over 10 years ago now (!) has them fixing the time machine in the museum and going back in time.  The establishing shots and setup are great though:

Gags, and chronologically challenged fossils aside, the backgrounds and the animation inside this museum are great. They really capture the essence of the Natural History Museum as it exists in our collective consciousness. Who wouldn’t love to see a hall of gadgets through the ages permanent exhibit?

Once they get the time machine working and end up in the past, chaos ensues in the predictable manner, what is brilliant is the continued cuts to the modern ichnology display at the museum as it changes from alterations (altercations) in the past/it’s present.

Now, if you are into your dinosaurs you are thinking that a T-rex really gives away the geography of the show, but I am going out on a limb here and considering that this T-rex is actually called a “Tri-State rex.”

Once Phineas recognizing the track, their problems are all but solved. Taking a stick he quickly draws out a message to the others at the museum. Be thankful that there is a time travel section in the Fireside Girls Handbook. 

Isabella and the troop arrive to save the day, only the Tri-State Rex comes back too. This is a longer clip as it wraps everything up, and if you aren’t familiar with the series the talkshow/secret agent cut will be a little confusing, but just roll with it, because “Fossils. *da, duh, dahn.*”

Again, just taking a few seconds to stop in on the interior of the museum as it rolls under a chase scene, and it is a great collection, even if the fish, pteranodon, and protoceratops thing (and the coprolite?) are a threepeat run sequence.

One of the best things about this show was how well the writing meshed across its entirety. Not just within an episode but across episodes and even seasons. It was built as a coherent universe and the obvious and subtle running gags really play in to reward the viewer. The “It’s About Time” episode arcs all the way into early season two  when the time machine comes back into play plot and in “Quantum Boogaloo” we  see the museum and the Tri-State area 20 years in the future.

Something quietly reassuring that the museum of the future, which we are halfway to now is pretty much the same.

In the end, not only was this a fun museum/dinosaur/time travel episode. It was one of the best written time-travel stories written for any medium. It doesn’t complicate itself with 473 different paradoxes, it plays out well in the 22 minutes the episode was given, and ties in pretty seamlessly with itself the following year and a half later when the second episode aired.

Irish Folklore in Popular Culture

There are countless instances of Irish heritage showing up in popular culture one way or another. They range in seriousness from say the clan wars in Gangs of New York to a box of marshmallow cereal. I think that there are two reasons that The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series drug so much out Irish lore: 1) They live in New York City and B) There is a lot of it. Below is just a running list of things–episodes and issues–that can make your St. Patrick’s Day a little more Ghostbuster-y. Currently (as of 3.17.18 The Real Ghostbusters is streaming on Netflix and The Extreme Ghostbusters are on HULU)

The Bird if Kilarby is a less common than your usual Irish faire, but a haunted Irish Castle that was “brought over stone by stone” and reconstructed in a lake in the park complete with pipes, drums, and 800+ ghosts is a great place to start.

Banshee Shanna has decided that one at a time misery is too old hat and that taking her destruction national is the best way to go. Mirrors reveal their true self, but her own voice may be her undoing.

It will be another 10 years before we see a banshee again.

“The Scaring of the Green” follows a bog hound rising on a full moon on St. Patrick’s Day to carry off the head of the Clan O’Malley, who just happens to be the chief of police. The family was cursed in ancient times for stealing a Leprechaun’s pot of gold. Chief O’Malley shows the guys a lock of the bog hound’s hair that his grandfather had gotten. Peter called it a family hairloom.

“Sonic Youth” see a return to Banshee-ville, although this time she has a sister. The sister is a Siren. Luring people in with her voice so her wretchedly haggard banshee sister can steal their youth.

The Extreme Ghostbusters actually face a leprechaun, not just the by product of one’s curses, hellbent on capturing the Sons of Erin and retrieving his stolen gold. By now, the curse has moved from the chief of police to the mayor.

Honorable Mention: “When Halloween was Forever” is really all about halloween, but given the fact that Samhain hails from the Emerald Isle he should at least get a spot on the list, right?

DisHonorable Mention: “Halloween II 1/2” is the sequel. It wouldn’t be bad except it is one of those “junior ghostbusters” episodes. I hated that then, and I hate it now. There was so much “tweaking” that execs pushed through because charts and research with everyone but kids said too.

When I was first thinking about this list I was just including the cartoons, then I remembered that IDW specifically ran a “Happy HorrorDays” arc in the Ghostbusters comics. In Volume 2 number 9, which I *think* is the kickoff, the Ghostbusters meet Stingy Jack.

His carved turnip lantern is ubiquitous (as a pumpkin) with Halloween, but it is another dive into Irish folklore. 

Jack’s carved turnip is also the face of our new old friend Samhain. Less pumpkiny, and more concerned with names.

Later in Ghostbusters international, the guys again meet up with a banshee. The whole international arc is fantastic and I would love to see another one or three, bringing in folklore as it would work if it were real has always been my favorite part of storytelling.

This particular setup is a bit different though, the banshee brings life  to the victim to keep them alive forever as a curse.

I will add that this issue manages to make Walter Peck a sympathetic character and that the whole IDW run has managed to humanize him in a way that I really think befits the character.

Well there is a quick rundown and collection of bits and clips for a Ghostbustin’ St. Patrick’s Day. I partly wanted to put this together for my love of The Real Ghostbusters and partly for my love of myth and folklore and how it conveys messages and meanings to things humans didn’t understand. I was a kid when The Real Ghostbusters hit syndication, maybe that is partly why I am into folklore so much. I think I might be one of the only people who liked the “monster of the week” episodes of The X-Files far more than the alien conspiracy stuff.

ADDENDUM: (3.19.18) When I was putting this together I went digging around on Archive.Org’s WayBack Machine to check out the old Extreme Ghostbusters site, and ultimately didn’t link to anything since it didn’t add much to the rest of post, but after thinking about it, I want to include some of the screenshots here for posterity. There was also a specific entry in Spengler’s Spirit Guide for St. Patrick’s Day and a few paragraphs on just what leprechauns might be made of/from. Also enjoy the little slice of 1998 internet.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


There’s some Paleo in my Cup O’ Noodle

There is so much stuff I need to catch up on. I need to write about getting a full time position, how my dissertation work is shaping up, and how I finally wrapped up the Shead stuff.  But, a collected set of commercials came across my social media feed the other day and that pretty much has set everything else in the back seat.

The following stop-motion (I still call it clay-mation) #PaleoPopCulture brilliance is brought to you by Nissan Cup O’ Noodle. Kim Blanchette animated a series of these commercials in 1992 .

Blanchette’s CV is impressive, and has worked on just about everything recent in 3D animation from Toy Story to The PJ’s to Robot Chicken. It was these cavemen v. nature ads that gained him international acclaim according to the bio on Where they “won numerous awards and considered the Cinderella story at the 1992 Cannes International Advertising Festival where it won the Grand Prix Award.”

And now a word from our sponsor: all these ads follow the same format, but what is so great about the Tom and Jerry-esque takes is that the prehistoric beasts involved are beautifully rendered. Starting simple, with a mammoth.

There were technically four mammoth commercials, the last two (at least in the order I saw them) being the same animation for  the “Curry” flavored noodles.

and a little extra for the “Spicy Curry”

Another common ice age animal is the sabre-toothed tiger, it gets two spots.


The first clip of this series I ever saw was the one with the Megatherium. I was already thinking about a PaleoAd post before I found this treasure trove of 90s animation.

The Moa makes an appearance:

Then, as the fount of paleo animation began to runneth over, I started seeing creatures that I worked on from the Eocene.  The Brontothere (you’ll see this on youtube as a “Giant Warthog”)

and not to be outdone a Uintathere! This one is a top favorite of mine since my Paleontology studies started in the Uinta Basin in Utah.

This next one surprised the heck out of me. You almost never see this one get reconstructions. They show up in some paleoart, but I haven’t seen a mount of one yet. I think the strongest image I have of the syndyoceras antelope is from my copy of Zoobooks which, who knows, maybe that is where Kim saw it too. (You’ll find this one on Youtube as “saiga antelope.”


I am putting this one at the bottom, not just because it isn’t a mammal, but because it is part of that “we know it didn’t happen but it’s part of the trope” situation that is humans living with dinosaurs. I always think of Gary Larson’s intro to the collected Far Side where he says you almost feel like you should confess in the vein of “forgive me Father for I have sinned, I have drawn humans and dinosaurs together” (paraphrased).  That being said, it is still a great animation.


There are a couple of honorable mentions. Specifically to the theme of this post, not because they are in any way sub par animations. The Seafood flavorings of Cup-O-Noodles had some aquatic problems for the local, hungry heroes.


If you would rather watch most of these at once, you can see them all linked here:


I had never seen any of these commercials before and was only made aware of them when the Stan Winston School of Character Arts posted a video of them to advertise their stop-motion animation courses.

R.B. Shead: Art Director

If you have been following along, you will recognize the crescendo of  this Shead story has taken over my posts and summer research. It is hard to think of anything else I could add to what I’ve discovered so far save just adding to his already herculean numbers of completed pieces of art. Following the magazine covers that were part of his enormous portfolio and utilizing the interlibrary loan services at my library I secured a few copies of the Specialty Salesman Magazine. 

They aren’t readily available and is one of those magazines whose volume numbers roll over in the middle of the calendar year. Luckily I was able to get a copy of November 1925 as it explained the change in editorial and layout (in great detail), and the new direction that the magazine was headed. This is fortunate because one of the pages featured a set of portraits of the magazine staff including their titles.  Not only was Ralph Shead a contributing illustrator to the magazine he was the magazine’s art director. This explains the several covers that were part of the portfolio as well as the few pieces of art that weren’t his.

Specialty Salesman’s Staff November 1926
R.B. Shead, Art Director

So far the earliest I have seen is the November 1925 edition, but one of the portfolio covers shows  the change from 1924 to 1925. Perhaps he was working for the museum even earlier. I am still trying to track down as many copies of the magazines as I can to at least figure out when he started publishing illustrations there. This isn’t a particularly easy task as the magazines are large format (about 12×14 inches) and average 150 pages each. Some of the earliest ones I have seen swell to nearly 250. This means they take up a lot of space on library shelves and are likely not to be requested much. This is one of those instances where the physical copies of the magazines are essential to determining who produced the art. As great as microfilm is for text it is just as bad when it comes to images. We’ve preserved hard black and white letters for 500 years, but there was no apparent reason to care about that the images were. Simple pictures and visual aids are of no importance. (This is where we need a dedicated sarcasm font). For instance, in microfilm you would never be able to make out the works on the wall or on Shead’s easel in this image. Working with the physical copy you can clearly see one of the originals from the previous post hanging on the wall.

I am working on getting a clearer scan of that page to see if I can match any more of the extant pieces with the Art Department’s studio. I am hoping against hope that the one he is working on in this photo is one of the originals, but I fear I may have already used up my allotment of luck for this project.

Before I show the few matching pieces that I have found I want to share a little about the magazine itself. As its title suggests it is a magazine for men and women who sell. Sell what, exactly? And to whom? The mid twenties saw a rise in the traveling salesman and this magazine was a trade magazine of sorts to those enterprising enough to go door to door. Even if you’ve never been visited by a brush or vacuum cleaner salesman, you know there kind. This is exactly what Daffy Duck was doing representing the various head offices in Walla Walla, Washington. It wasn’t just a television trope.

Among the short stories illustrated by Shead and a handful of others there were scores of advertising pages providing dealer direct stock of men and women’s clothing, fountain pens, pocket watches, and even fire extinguishers. It is basically a magazine full of all the things that are relegated to the backs of most magazines today.

With nearly 9 more years to round out the 20s I do not know when or if I will be able to complete the decade an further to see when Shead’s final piece appeared, but there is more than enough here to attest to the profound productivity during his time in Indiana. In the 14 issues that I have catalogued Shead produced 84 illustrations and the all their covers.

For every one of the originals that are still in the portfolio there are several that exist as illustrations only. Some are part of the same stories, others are dispersed throughout countless other stories.

Shead’s illustration surrounding this poem “The Gallant Salesman” also shows that his animal scenes were just as good as any of those featuring people. It would be almost a decade before his subjects took him back to Norman to the campus museum and into prehistory.

As a final though on Shead’s work and to tie it all back around to his work at the Stovall museum and where I first encountered him, there is a marvelous collection of images that are all part of the same  project. Throughout this project besides breaking through some of the obscurity of the man and his work, I have been able to see his watercolor study, the plaster Marquette (which it turns out are not his), and a beautiful black and white photo of the finished diorama as it ran in The Oklahoman in 1952. 

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum


Original Oklahoman Caption: “”big game hunter Frank buck has nothing on Dr. J. Willis Stovall, director of the museum at the University of Oklahoma, with the possible exception of Buck’s “Big’em back alive” slogan.” Photo Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

R.B. Shead: Pre-Museum Years

Several days after visiting with Ralph’s great nephew, Bill, he called me to say he had found a small watercolor study for one of the old museum dioramas and a few charcoal studies that Ralph had done as a student and others that were originals submitted as accompanying illustrations for short stories.

I was finally able to go back with my camera and take better photos of the paintings as well as look at these new finds. Those “few” sketched turned out to be an enormous century-old portfolio filled with over 100 pieces of art that Ralph had done either for story illustrations, studies, or magazine cover layouts. I was in awe.

The magazine covers were layout for The Specialty Salesman: The National Inspirational Monthly for Men and Women who Sell. The earliest cover layout was the January 1924 issue. I have no idea if these are the same ones that include the illustrations, but I have three years worth (12 months collectively bound) requested through interlibrary loan to find out.

Other covers included a music journal and an advertising flyer for the ad service that Ralph was working for in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The nudes and studies are not dated but could be from his time as a student at the University of Oklahoma. The earliest dated piece is from 1916 which was Ralph’s senior year at OU. The architectural details (Cherokee Gothic) reveal that it is somewhere on campus.

R.B. Shead 1916

Most of the illustrations, when dated, are 1925 and 1926. These make up the bulk of the portfolio, which, incidentally survived the house burning down in 1937. Flipping through these huge (18×24 inches) original illustrations was something that doesn’t happen every day, and all could have easily been lost 80 years ago.  In addition to just being great artwork, the instructions for the engraver and printer were included on many including the finished sizes for printing, the largest being a mere 8.25 inches.

There a a few pastels and watercolors among the monotones as well.

One of the watercolors ties back into Shead’s museum work. It is a watercolor sketch for one of the many dioramas he painted for the Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma starting around 1933. Shead created these Leptomeryx plaster models for reference.

Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum
Leptomeryx plaster models by Shead to be used in the Oligocene case in the museum. Copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Natural History Museum

Finally, in the back of the giant portfolio was a “regular” sized sketchbook. The remaining sketch pages were all landscape studies from the 1940s complete with the color descriptions for painting– things like “pinkish bluff” and “light purplish bluff.” Many of these are recognizable areas for anyone who frequents the Southwest. Most specifically the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. 

The Sandia Mountain sketch is dated September 1948 which means this enormous portfolio spans at least 32 years of work including Shead’s time as an OU  art student, his work as a professional advertising and illustration artist, his return back to Norman and his unfathomable amount of artwork at the museum, and, likely, the personal landscapes that adorn the walls of his home. Such a corpus of work, in addition to the fact that nearly anything at the Stovall Museum with paint on it was his, proves that R.B. Shead is fantastically more than the few sentences dedicated to him in the “official” university histories.

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.

The Road to Comps Part 14: Scenic Turnout 2

When I first constructed the schedule to get through all these readings there weren’t full days built into maintaining sanity. The plan was to have these large “scenic turnout” posts when I completed a full section. After trudging through the first few weeks I realized that in order to actually survive this road trip was to have at least one day each week that was devoted to specifically not reading anything.

To that end, most Sundays are spent doing something as far removed from comps lists as possible. Productively this usually means painting, like the one highlighted in Scenic Turnout 1.  This last path cut through the American Cultural Studies had more days of rest but less art production than the days would have provided.

This weeks installment is a nice urban landscape, which is fitting since I am starting the Art of the American West section of my comps and the American landscape features prominently in the myth-building of the new nation.

Firehouse painting

These are, by default, just one day adventures. So I haven’t had any extended canvasses sitting around unfinished during the week. I might attempt a longer, more complex (probably not less cartoony) piece after Christmas as I near the end of comps prep completely and our special collections offices are closed for the holidays, but I haven’t decided yet. As with all the ridiculous, useless things I create I do it as much for the time-lapse opportunities as for the finished products, which, as meager as they have been I have grown to like more and more.

There were far more days off than paintings painted. A lot of these ended up being wasted away on other side projects as exciting as shampooing the carpet and waiting for the cable internet tech to come and fix all our internet woes. Otherwise it was spend in the most time consuming manner imaginable: video games.

I have never been huge into video games, especially the sandbox games that require 416 hours to complete without doing any side missions. I do have Red Dead Redemption which is a great game when I have two days to play through, although I think I have been asleep in the bunkhouse now for four and a half years and never did master playing horseshoes.

Although there is a new one coming out, but I don’t know if it will be enough to warrant cobbling the cash together for a PS4 since Drake 4 wasn’t and Uncharted was the only reason I ever got a PS3, which happens to turn 8 this Christmas.

More recently, I have replayed Ghostbusters and the whole lack of backwards compatibility is one of the reasons I haven’t seriously looked into getting the 4.  It is great because you can pick it up, play awhile, and quit like the old beat ’em up arcade styles. Some creative youtubers have clipped and edited the cut scenes with some gameplay and it is actually an excellent Ghostbusters 3. (I’ve watched the “movie” twice).

Most recently, I actually bought a new game when it was released. I have no idea how that happened. Maybe I was preparing for comps earlier than I thought. Some of the reviewers hated it because it was simple, a quick play through, and didn’t have a gazillion side missions. Those are the very reasons that I have loved the game. It is a blast to play, and I can pick it up and play for an hour or so and go back to something else without feeling like I need to complete just one more mission. The graphics are great, the mechanics aren’t bad and the AI isn’t overly problematic if you aren’t running on “Easy.”

Of course all this is offset by having my old, original NES system hooked up to our giant-for-us television to play Kung Fu and (what else) TMNT: The Arcade Game. For the record I have never, ever, in the history of having the first TMNT nintendo game, gotten past the disarming the bombs in the reservoir.

Kung Fu


TMNT 2 The Arcade Game

The final undertaking that I have been putting off has been to paint the miniatures that came with the The Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles Boardgames from Kickstarter. I suppose now might be the best time to tackle it on the Sundays in the future since it should start to ice and snow soon and the yard won’t need mowing again– at least after I mulch the leaves.

Intro texts for the art section coming up and with the holiday weekend, I will be back on the road to comps in just a couple days.

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. 



The Road to Comps Part 3: Emergent Specializations: Paleontology

It is amazing what you can do with an extra half-day off.  This is half of the emergent specializations set, the other being Anthropology and Paleoanthropology.  In this case it covers the development of paleontology from natural philosophy, through the interested gentleman scholar/statesman/parson through to its full professionalization in the beginning of the 20th century. There is no delineation of what comes from which book this week as they mostly say the same things, they only structure the order somewhat differently or go into farther in one life or another.

No wonder that I have spent the last two years with the art history folks
No wonder that I have spent the last two years with the art history folks

Let’s start as our early geologists have: In the Beginning…The books I have reabsorbed here do not concern themselves with the birth og geology per se, but it is useful to frame what happens first before jumping into what happens next. Gentleman naturalists. Men of means with an insatiable curiosity (usually) rivaled only by their families purse are the progenitors of our “geologists.” The irony of this is the amount of time these drawing room men would spend in the field, on the coast, in early stages of canal building, mud pits, mines, caves and taverns caverns.

History of Geology
If you want to get a full range of the History of Geology I recommend you get these books and read them together.

Some of the earliest cross class relationships develop between the collector with a cabinet of curiosity and a working class man in the field or, more often, a mine or quarry. Nothing less than answering the broadest questions about the earth’s history is their duty and charge. Their approaches reveal much about their backgrounds. Catastrophists and Neptunist are the camps that Early Modern practitioners tended to raise their flags. At the most broad level they were earth’s historians looking at the vast petrified pages of the archive preserved in the countryside.

Steno lays down the sediment in order, all flat and uniformly, then converts to catholicism and moves to northern Europe letting the rest of Europe fight it out.  William Smith (a working canal-man) notices that the layers can be matched with an order of fossil shells, and producing a “map that changes the world.”


Paleontology, and in this case vertebrate paleontology goes one farther to answer questions about enormous bones that are obviously not just natural stone shapes mimicking living organisms. On the American side of things, which is where I am situated–geographically, socially, and intellectually–the bones were reported by European colonists very early.  Some, such as mammoth teeth, were identified by African slaves as elephant. Others were less easily identified, but neither were exactly easy to explain.

Legacy of the Mastodon

Thomas Jefferson was fashioning a bulwark against Buffon’s accusations of New World degeneration with American (vertebrate) paleontology. A giant (neé mega) claw from a cave is first described as a large American lion. TJ here is an interesting case with more involvement in the Enlightenment arguments of Europe than others of his day. John Adams was notoriously uninterested in giant bones as there were more important matters of state and nation at hand. Jefferson, like many deists of the time, could not fathom the idea of extinction. Nature was perfect and balanced and there most definitely were the American mammoths (actually mastodons) living in the vast expanses of the North American continent including the Louisiana Purchase.

The Fate of the Mammoth

The biggest question about any of these bones were “what are they?” Taken as a whole it was up to the anatomists of the day to make the distinction, and even they didn’t agree on what the similarities and differences meant. Richard Owen was of the Archetype mind which works on sort of a single blueprint with modifications for different animals idea. The reason that bats have the same bones in their wings as humans have in their hands and whales have in their fins is because they are all forms from the same archetype.  Others were trying to work out a more encompassing theory and throughout the mid 19th century variations on this theme peg all along the spectrum as Darwin’s Origin ushers in a more compartmentalized theory. Is there a difference in an Archetype and a common ancestor? That depends on who you asked in the 1850s, which depended greatly on the answerers socio-economic class, political and religious affiliations, and to a great extent what the person they hated believed (see previous post).

Rudwick’s book looks at the visual aspect of not only Theories of the Earth but of the emergent descriptors of paleontology (just assume at this point when I write that I mean “vertebrate paleontology”). The illustrations themselves stem from the biblical tradition–namely putting everything possible into  single image a la all those edenic scenes you are familiar with. That is almost still the case as you see a version of the Eocene with hundreds of creatures flittering about a waterhole that would never be there together if things were so green and lush. This may be practical in the case that you get as much mileage from your one or two illustrations or mural as you can, or it may be implicit nods to the biblical roots. I think it is more the former.

Scenes from Deep TimePublications came with illustrations too. Many, like those of Caspar Wistar, were done with an anatomist’s eye and an artists’ sensibilities. This standard was invaluable when new bones were discovered and needed to be identified.  That Americans had to rely on European (mainly French and British) sources caused more than a little indignation.  There was a good reason to market the American Mammoth (again mastodon) as a carnivorous giant and let the mega-claw (Megalonyx) lie after Wistar described it as a giant sloth and not a lion. This was part of nation building. I have been compiling notes on this idea of “Our Founding Fossils”™ and fossils as national identity for years now, but never enough to actually put anything together besides lists of names, dates, locations. This back and forth continued for most of the first half of the 19th century with oddities here and there trotted out by Owen or Cuvier in order to explain in support of one theory and, more often, an attack on another.

The second half of the century opens up the American West and the paleontology game entirely. Dinosaurs had already been discovered and described by the time the west was open. Mantell’s mighty megalosaurus and Leidy’s New Jersey hadrosaur aren’t as famous as the Dinosaurs of Crystal Palace but they are as old, and in some ways more important outside of the public display arena.

"I am The Mighty Megalosaurus"
“I am The Mighty Megalosaurus”

The bones that came to Philadelphia for Leidy to describe were far from a trickle, but the amount of prehistoric fossils that were shipped back east in the last two decades of the 19th century can hardly be fathomed. It is amongst this generational shift we see the terms of paleontology shift from collecting, naming, and describing that was so admirably done by Leidy, to a more theory driven undertaking.

Edward Cope and O.C. Marsh not only turn the tap on the firehose of fossil work up, the manage to knock the entire hydrant off the street corner and the geyser of their discoveries, animosities, and students fall out all over the discipline. That much has been said about the Bone Wars would be understatement. Much of that has been from the journalistic style or from paleontologists themselves. Historians of science have yet to really peel away the generational veneer to see what it means for American Science. That the fued spilled over into a younger generation and the Cope-Marsh battle regenerated, or at least continued, in the Hayden-Powell hostilities. When viewed together these become microcosms for the struggles between independent and government funded work.  Marsh and Powell working for the USGS and Cope and Hayden working for themselves, the university, or smaller society. Whichever side you choose one of the most striking things is that when Cope was approached to prove what was his and what belonged to his backers his meticulous notes allowed him to maintain ownership of fossils collected with his own money. Marsh on the other hand faced government funding backlash over birds with teeth (which incidentally was paleontologically and evolutionarily more important than Archaeopteryx ) that the appropriations committee called for an audit. When Marsh, who saw the entire undertaking as his couldn’t adequately prove what was his and what belonged to the Peabody or the USGS, he lost most of his collection. (If your German is up to par you can enjoy this German musical of their feud)

As the 20th century dawned many of the Eastern Universities and any museum worth its salt had a collection of extinct animals. Funding was still an issue and expeditions had to be underwritten by weatlhy patrons, committees, or museum boards. The American Museum led the charge with Osborn (firmly #TeamCope) oversaw huge developments in paleontology while taking over the museum directorship and moving Columbia from College to University. His political connections and personal family wealth (railroad money) aided him in ways other directors and paleontologists could only dream. The Field Museum benefactor was tighter with the purse strings not only due to a less than rabid interest in bones, but a more logical concern of building places to house the reconstructions that had become so popular.


Carnegie financed his own expeditions and it paid off. With the discovery of a giant sauropod (diplodocus carnegii) Carnegie attempted to cash in on the popularity of the reconstructions and museums. Multiple casts of the diplodocus were sent to the main institutions in Europe to display in their main atria. With a dinosaur Carnegie tried to privatize world peace. It almost worked.

One of the reasons that the Cope and Marsh debacle is so well known outside the discipline is because the professionalization of their field occurred at the same time that the popularization of science was taking off. The Penny Press was well established by the time the Bone Wars heated up. Both men would have grown up with newspapers as staples of life. Cope had kept just as meticulous notes on Marsh’s calumnies and other errors (he had a folder labeled “Marshinalia”) Marsh notoriously would not allow his assistants to publish and was slow paying them. Many quit after Cope aired their grievances in the public press. What does this who episode reveal, is Marsh ye olde guard only threatened by Cope because he was evenly matched with family money or do the two reflect something else? Do they have to serve as avatars of larger social conditions in US science for their story to have meaning?  Wither way, when the time was right Cope took his notes to the paper. The debate raged for weeks in the paper, each accusing the other of misdealing, misidentification, misdeeds, and missing the point.

Not part of this set per se, but worth a read if you are interested in print side of the Bone Wars. Also one of the best book covers out there.
Not part of this set per se, but worth a read if you are interested in print side of the Bone Wars. Also one of the best book covers out there.

For paleontology, anthropology, etc. popularization was part and parcel of professionalization. The only difference between H. F. Osborn and P.T. Barnum was Osborn was their approach to science as education versus entertainment. That, and Barnum’s penchant for humbugs which, I suppose, isn’t any worse than Osborn’s positive eugenics and anti-immigration stance in the 1920s. (more on this is a later post, but I want to foreshadow it now because I am feeling particularly clever making this connection in print). In fact, Barnum fits as neatly between Charles Wilson Peale and Osborn as Cope, and in many ways moreso. This also leads to the popular press adoring people like Osborn and his protege (and employee) Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews’ popular books continue to influence children today because they are given as gifts from parents or grandparents as a continuation of that wonder and excitement they felt when reading it for the first time.

The Bone Hunters

It should come as no surprise that this whole section is steeped in Romanticism. Many of the authors here talk about the dual nature of the paleontologist in the field vs the lab. They are the frontiersman in the badlands and the pinnacle of modern science back east. It is a timeshare in the greatest areas of American culture. What they don’t do, mainly because they don’t delve that far into it (except Rainger) is split the distinction once again between the paleontologist trained in geology and those trained biology. Most assume that geologically trained paleontologists are those that work with the invertebrates. This distinction is true but lacks totality. Modern distinctions, if they have a place here, are geologists in the field and biologist in the lab (comparative anatomy). This is a continuation of the professionalization that because somewhere between Leidy and Cope/Marsh.

The biggest boon to American paleontology (and geology more generally) is the size of the continent and Manifest Destiny that pushed the country across it entirely. Once railroads were established field work within ones own country offered many more acres than was available to the British, French, or Germans, even taken internationally. The geography also offered more in the way of diversity of species as well as geological phenomena. Even Lyell had to visit and suggested that to truly understand the history of the earth one had to visit the United States. American geology proffered a locality for nearly each one available in Europe and in some cases even more amazing finds, from giant six-horned mammals to Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops,  stegosaurs, and sauropod. The bones from the American West were incredible in size and importance. They could not, or weren’t found in Europe. To study them European paleontologists has to visit the United States museums and universities. American paleontologists were leading the whole of the discipline and were the experts par excellance  in the prehistoric world. This was a complete turnaround from the arrangement that existing when Jefferson read his Mega-Claw paper at the American Philosophical Society.


In many ways this happened within Osborn’s lifetime (1857-1935). In fact, Osborn’s death in 1935 just missed the first rejuvenation of government funding of paleontological field expedition in the form of WPA projects overseen by universities with the federal government supplying pay for manpower.

Readings for this section:

Paul Brinkman, The Second Jurassic Dinosaur Rush: Museums and Paleontology in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Claudine Cohen (trans William Rodarmor). The Fate of the Mammoth: Fossils, Myths, and History (University of Chicago Press, 2002) Specifically Chapter 5.

Desmond, Adrian. Archetypes and Ancestors: Paleontology in Victorian London, 1850- 1875 (U of Chicago Pr, 1995)

Url Lanham, The Bone Hunters: The Heroic Age of Paleontology in the American West

Ronald Rainger, An Agenda for Antiquity: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, 1890-1935

Rudwick, Martin. Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World

Thomson, Keith. The Legacy of the Mastodon: The Golden Age of Fossils in America (Yale U Pr, 2008)