Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tarantula made the world?!

Who made the world?  Most pious midwesterners I know do not attribute it to a spider, but the Apache people are less constrained in their visions. 

From an Apache Legend:

"Tarantula spun a black cord and, attaching it to the ball,crawled away fast to the east, pulling on the cord with all his strength. Tarantula repeated with a blue cord to the south, a yellow cord to the west, and a white cord to the north. With mighty pulls in each direction, the brown ball stretched to immeasurable size--it became the earth! No hills, mountains, or rivers were visible; only smooth, treeless, brown plains appeared."


I used this as my inspiration while getting to know a new set of gouache paints.

Tarantulas are content to sit quietly in their burrows most of the time.  So a world made by tarantula seems like a peaceful place to me.  Alas, frenzy has invaded!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ross-man the Barbarian; the dragons find him tasty

Awesome 'Possum Volume 4, the natural science comics anthology, edited by Angela Boyle, contains "Saliva & Skin," a story about Komodo dragons written by Steve Bissette and drawn by me. Here are my answers to some questions from Angela:

How did you pick your topic for Awesome ‘Possum?
I have been fascinated by Komodo dragons ever since I was a child. As a dinosaur-loving kid, I was thrilled that there were still a few giant reptiles inhabiting the earth. At age 10, I named one of my pet anoles “Komodo.” More recently, I learned from a Youtube video by the “Hybrid Librarian” (Kevin Garattoni) that until the 1920s, Americans had regarded Komodo dragons as cryptids, like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. In 1926, American naturalist W. Douglas Burden led an expedition to Komodo Island to verify the existence of the “dragon lizards.” In 1933, filmmaker Merian C. Cooper directed a blockbuster horror movie, largely based on Burden’s voyage. The movie, King Kong, is still popular 85 years later. Knowing that my collaborator for this project, Steve Bissette, is a wizard of dinosaur comics and expert on monster movies, I suspected that Komodo dragons would be a topic well-suited to his writing style. After I chose our reptilian subject matter, Bissette wrote a script (resembling a film script) and I created the comics pages based on said script.

What is your favorite animal or plant?
In recent years, I have been especially fascinated by spadefoot toads, denizens of the arid southwestern U.S. These amphibians stay quietly buried underground for most of their lives (up to three years at a stretch in the case of Couch’s spadefoot), until summer rain storms summon them to the surface. They engage in a frenzy of eating and mating, using the ephemeral pools, then return to their burrows for a long wait until the next “monsoon.” When I visited my friend Lesley, who was a park ranger at Colorado National Monument, we happened to strike it lucky and meet live spadefoot toads in the desert streams. Behind the huge cat-like eyes of the spadefoots, there seems to be an alien mind, one that does not object to hanging out alone in a hole in the ground for 1,000 or more consecutive days and nights.

Why do you think talking about nature is important?
We humans ought to preserve the earth’s remarkable diversity of life, what Charles Darwin described as “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.” Considering that we’re in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, it is fair to say that we’ve been doing a poor job at this task so far. People will care more about protecting creatures that they know and like. Telling the stories of wild creatures is a way of getting people to know and like them.

What are your favorite drawing tools?
I remain attached to drawing comics in the traditional way—first I sketch the images in pencil on bristol board, then I make the final drawing with india ink on top of the pencils. Then I scan the pages, make some edits and do the lettering digitally. I’m especially fond of liner brushes, which I use primarily for inking the contour lines around foreground figures and objects. My main liner brushes for the Komodo story were a Grumbacher #4 and a Princeton #4, which are very different in size. (The numbers are not at all consistent across the different brands.)

The topmost picture is my self-portrait with Komodo dragons, inspired by Frank Frazetta’s painting “Conan the Barbarian.”

To get in the mindset of a naturalist-explorer, I read Burden's first-hand account.
I warmed up for drawing “Saliva & Skin” by visiting the ABQ Biopark Zoo and sketching (and photographing) live Komodo dragons.

Back at the studio, I posed for selfies and used them as reference material for many of the panels featuring human figures. In this one, I’m reenacting the experience of Maen, the Indonesian park ranger who survived a Komodo dragon attack. Below, the drawn scene as it appears in AP4.


My studio while I was working on “Saliva & Skin.” The floor is scattered with reference photos I printed from all over the web, as well as drawing tools and scraps of carbon paper.

If all this intrigues you, you ain't seen nothing yet! Awesome 'Possum Volume 4 is 229 pages long, and contains nonfiction comics about science and nature by over 30 creators. The tales are both educational and entertaining, and feature a broad range of plants and animals, including sphinx moths, lemurs, and Rafflesia. The tome is all-ages friendly and especially good for ages 9-12. The great American author of nonfiction graphic novels about science Jim Ottaviani said,

"You'll witness love of the natural world with every story, and your own love for it will grow with every page. You'll learn stuff, too, and learning stuff is awesome."

But to bring this book to life, we still need some backers on Kickstarter! Do you know anyone who likes nature or science or comics or learning stuff? This book will make them smile.

Book cover ©Kessinger Legacy Reprints. All other pictures ©R.W.S.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Awesome 'Possum Volume 4, featuring Komodo dragons!

“I’ll never forget seeing my first dragon,” reads the opening line of a new comics story written by Stephen Bissette and drawn by me for Awesome ‘Possum Volume 4! The book is live on Kickstarter now, so now you have the opportunity to back the book's publication and preorder your copy. Awesome ‘Possum is an anthology series of nonfiction comics about natural science, edited by Angela Boyle. It brings together leading emerging and established cartoonists to tell the stories of earth’s remarkable plants and animals. The tales range from the very scientific to the very personal; they are friendly for all ages and especially good for ages 9-12. Bissette was my teacher at The Center for Cartoon Studies, and is best known for his collaborations with Alan Moore on the DC comic book series Saga of the Swamp-Thing. As dinosaur-loving children who never fully grew up, Bissette and I put our hearts and souls into writing about and illustrating the natural history and human history of one of the few giant reptiles that still inhabits the earth. AP4 also includes stories by other creators about lemurs, llamas, sphinx moths, Rafflesia, and much more.

We’re live on Kickstarter:

My work also appears in AP2 (collaboration with Bissette about fishers) and AP3 (solo work about frogs and mosses). As in the previous volumes, the writers and artists of AP4 will be amazingly diverse in how they approach presenting the biodiversity of our planet!

Cheers and thank you~

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wood from Yesteryear

 A visit to the Royal Ontario Museum when I was nine years old. Incidentally, we managed to get two of my childhood heroes—Tyrannosaurus Rex and Spider-Man—with me in the same picture. I’m not getting any younger, but hope that I still carry the spirit of this boy. I finished drawing a comics story about Komodo dragons recently, which might suggest that I haven’t changed too much! Photo by © Susan Moyle Studlar.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Crickets of Carlsbad Cavern

I am sharing here the first post I made for the official Carlsbad Caverns National Park Facebook page:

Of three species of cave crickets found in Carlsbad Cavern, Ceuthophilus longipes is the most adapted to cave life. It has pale coloration, long slender legs and body, and long antennae. A second species, Ceuthophilus carlsbadensis, shows fewer adaptations, and spends more time in areas close to the Underground Lunchroom, where crumbs are abundant. The crickets also eat natural foods such as bat guano and plant debris washed in by floods. The Ceuthophilus carlsbadensis also likes to eat Ceuthophilus longipes! Ceuthophilus conicadus, the third species of cricket, is in between the other two in its level of cave adaptation. It is less common in Carlsbad Cavern, but abundant in the nearby Spider Cave.

NPS/Ross Studlar

#CarlsbadCaverns #NationalPark #FindYourPark #EncuentraTuParque #NPS101

I wrote and drew this specific post about cave crickets on work time for the U.S. government (mostly), therefore it is in the public domain.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Caves and Waterfalls

Back in October, I finished my seasonal ranger job at Yellowstone and began a permanent ranger job at Carlsbad Caverns. The caves and deserts have their wonders, but I am a forest dweller at heart. I hope to return to the Blue Ridge Mountains when possible.

In my civilian identity, I continue to work on drawing the comics story about Komodo dragons (written by Bissette) for Awesome 'Possum 4. It has been a long and grueling quest, but the end is in sight.

I'll share a picture from Yellowstone (2015), taken by the multi-talented Raven Shade Brookner. Her friend Solana suggested that I use this as my author's portrait for some book that I will write. It seems like a good idea.

photo © Raven