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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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”
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.
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.
Even my PhD advisor admitted that my niche might be in being a generalist.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transformers 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.
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:
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:
Ghostbusters/Real Ghostbusters (2015)
TMNT/Batman (Dec. 2015-May 2016)
and DC is currently running…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Publications 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.
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.
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.
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 parexcellance 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)
Midweek post, but I think I have a schedule and routine that will facilitate more efficient information acquisition and postings. This is a subset under the 19th century natural history block, the next few are particular to that as well. It will be a big deal when I get to the next “question” area of study.
I have also realized that most of what I write here will make little to no sense to anyone who isn’t familiar to Darwin (or any other portion of this) in the same manner that I am, but if you are along for the ride, it is worth the price of admission.
Let’s talk about Darwin. One of the two possible images that come to mind might be the portrait of the young man in relation to his famous voyage on the Beagle. The other, more likely image is an old bearded man in with a white beard peaking our from a black coat and hat.
So much ink has been spilled with regards to Darwin that it may seem insurmountable to get your bearings within a larger context of who Darwin was in relation to other 19th century naturalists vs the modern context of who Darwin is in relation to modern biology.
Working backwards it is best to start with when the Darwinian Revolution became a thing. It wasn’t in 1859, or 1871, or even later with the worms. It wasn’t really even in the 19th century. One of those modern social construct type arguments. On that point it is poignant to ask “Was Darwin and a Darwinian?”
I’d say to a certain extent he was. But not in the case of being a Charles Darwinian. He was an Erasmus Darwinian. Charles’ grandfather and I share a birthday (and the more I read about him, it seems a few more sensibilities). His influence on young Charles is almost always understated in such a manner as “he grandfather’s book was on their shelves…” But the elder Darwin was far more influential in Charles’ politics and freethinking than that book, or his poetry really suggest. The connections can be drawn by anyone who looks at their work as comparative literature.
I first met Darwin through his geology, and to my mind he is a geologist that made great inroads and has sense been shanghaied by biology. This, most likely, is why Sandra Herbert’s Charles Darwin, Geologist is my favorite Darwin book. Re-reading it now, with a greater understanding of British politics made it even more enlightening.
Paired with the first volume of a large biography (Voyaging) by Janet Browne reinforces the thought-path that has put me in this predicament: field work. The voyage and its meaning on Darwin and biology are still argued, lauded, cussed, and discussed but the simple matter of fact that is as important in this case as the American cases that I will cover in my dissertation is that field work is incredibly important for shaping scientific enterprise.
Knowing geologist Darwin makes Herbert’s argument incredibly obvious: Darwin travelled as a geologist so of course his discoveries should not be surprising in relation to geological thought in the 1830s/40s. What is brilliant is reading this and then reading one of, if not the newest Darwin text to hit the press Political Descent by Piers Hale. For full disclosure at this point, Dr. Hale is on my committee and was the original point of contact when I discovered the HSCI program at OU. After visiting, meeting, and finally getting accepted into the program I moved into the American side of things from the Victorian, but he still plays a major role in the comparison work that I am doing.
That being said, Political Descent is a beast. To say it is a Darwin book is like saying The Bridges of Madison County is a Clint Eastwood film. This book is an amazing history of British socialism with Darwin in it. And why not? With all that has been done with Darwin he gives a good meter-stick to follow on either side. What is brilliant about it is that the argument is almost the same as Herbert’s replacing “geologist” with “radical whig.” More is said about Erasmus’ influence here as well.
The best parts of the book, for me at any rate, was the reconsideration of Herbert Spencer, bringing Huxley down a peg, and my introduction to Peter Kropotkin. I was absolutely glued to the Kropotkin account from beginning to end. Mainly because it is another example of how Darwinian natural selection wasn’t the obvious choice chosen by all except the church after 1859. One of the biggest things about Kropotkin was the impact that FIELD WORK had on his anti-malthusian version of descent with modification. Hale also brings in work on H.G. Wells and how evolutionary politics and political evolution not only show up in his works, but in most cases is the pulse of his works. Having studied under Huxley as a student, it only makes sense. The little coursework in Victorian history at Lamar turned out to be a boon to understanding the background politics in Political Descent too, and that is always a good feeling. Reading more about Gladstone and his government as Darwin (and his family) saw it, was like running into an old friend at the coffee shop, or tea house as this case might be.
Many people describe Desmond and Moore’s Darwin biography as the Darwin biography. It is exhaustive, and it is enormous, but I don’t know that there can be a the book in the collection of Darwinalia. It’s as close as any I suppose. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, or think it is a great insight into Darwin’s life, it is just a bit much and adds fuel to the whole Darwinian importance that is pretty much all time since the 1920s. Thinking about it while reading Ruse’ philosophy of science (ick) book on the Darwinian revolution really throws into focus that you can fully remove Darwin from the entire equation of descent with modification. Other people could have discovered it, in fact other people did (you know, Wallace?). It is the very reasons that Herbert pointed out about the geology network and the same reasons that Hale pointed out about political networks that keep Darwin on people’s lips until his theories reached critical mass by being validated (more or less) by genetics and modern biology.
Even as people are adopting the term “Darwinian” in the late 19th century they are not all using it in the same way. Kropoptkin was very adamant about this case in regards to Huxley. I mentioned earlier about Huxley being dropped a peg, I suppose I mean humanized. Don’t get me wrong, I love Huxley and he is eminently quotable as so many of the good British speakers tend to be, but any time someone of such historical stature can be plinked, I am always for the plinking (this is probably why I read CRACKED and MAD magazine). Huxley’s work with the newly franchised working and middle classes through his public lectures have always been of interest, and his ability to use them to his own ends is remarkable. This also goes back to Lightman’s popularizers accounts (many of which were not publishing on Darwin’s particular version of natural selection during the period) when Huxley wanted to put that responsibility in the hands of the men of science themselves–especially himself. Much to his consternation he was unable to find success until he employed the same methods that he actively bitched about. To his credit he did employ those methods to great success in the end. Much could be done comparing Huxley and Darwin’s reactions after the passing of their children. It comes up in random places, but I am not aware of a side by side comparison that shows how existing personalities were solidified and enhanced in the years that followed.
What does it mean in the end? Darwin is still the greatest meter stick of natural history, politics, and even upper class education in the mid 19th century. He fits firmly into his family’s whig politics while also utilizing more than a few things he inherited *ahem* from his grandfather. He is a perfect storm of gentlemen naturalist, radical whig freethinker, and (for a time) active traveller. Many of Darwins contemporaries possessed some combination of these but few could claim all three. That is why, in the end, on the occasion of his interment at Westminster Abby the Times could, with absolute justification, quip “the abby needed Darwin more than he needed the Abby.”
There are frillions of documentaries and some films about Darwin’s life, but of all the ones I have seen (most of them) the best for my money is is first part of PBS’s 7 episode series Evolution. That episode (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea–of which (the clip above is from)is notable because the first time I saw it I thought Charles and Erasmus Darwin were played by Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria, respectively. After discovering that wasn’t they case, I still wish to make it so.
Popular Culture has taken up much of the torches that carry Darwin on as hero among heroes with no equal. One of the more ridiculous is in a series I am collecting for another project. I have mentioned Beakman’s World in a few other places regarding representation of science and–with his smokey door of history–history of science. This is one of the most unique portrayals of Darwin for at leat two reasons: 1) It is a young Darwin, and B) he has a speech impediment, now who, in all the hagiography that is Darwin Studies would stand for that? Well, “You Dar-win some and you Dar-lose Some”
Another, more recent incarnation shows the ye olde bearded Darwin taking on a David Bowie Classic Changes in Horrible Histories. This really works well to reveal just how much, and what of, Darwin has become part of popular consciousness.
Something that makes complete sense until you think about it is having Charles Darwin show up in a franchise that revolves around mutations. I don’t think that he has made an appearance in any version of the comics, but he does show up in X-men The Animated Series. Obvious tropes aside I think it is one of the better episodes as it reveals the backstory to Sinister (who, I hear will be in the newest whatever after Apocalypse X-men we get, it theoretically *should* take place in the 90s, but I digress). It’s called, what else, Descent. Charles Xavier’s grandfather-James-was a contemporary of Charles Darwin, while Essex was working on a serum to save his wife–the daughter of Lord Grey, among some mutant experiments, most of which are pulled off the streets in London running from mobs calling them demons. The Irish surnames add another layer to it all.
This section’s core texts:
Browne, Janet. Charles Darwin: Voyaging Jonathan Cape, 1995
Desmond, Adrian and James Moore. Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, W. W. Norton & Company, 1996
Hale, Piers J. Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in VictorianEngland, University of Chicago Press, 2014.
Herbert, Sandra. Charles Darwin: Geologist. Cornell University Press, 2005.
Ruse, Michael. The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw. U of Chicago Pr, 1999.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If 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. Wizard. That 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 Worldwhere we were allowed to take up residence until 1997. The show, which is based on a comic called You Can With Beakman and Jax, also pays homage to Mr. Wizard’s World and Mr. Wizard himself in the form of two puppet penguins named 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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 Everythingwhich 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!)
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.
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?)
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.
Southern fried paleontology and life stories from the world’s front porch