Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Girl Power of Mothra

My beautiful friend Raven will soon give birth to a baby girl named Indigo. In celebration of this genesis, I wanted to give Indy an icon, to tell her that there is no limit to what she can be. Naturally, my first thought was Wonder Woman. However, the Amazon princess is controversial as a feminist symbol. I found another character: Mothra! When I re-watched Mothra vs. Godzilla (AKA Godzilla vs. The Thing, directed by Ishiro Honda, 1964) with my friend Lesley, she gave a perspective on the mighty insect which I had not realized in my youth. Mothra symbolizes girl power, in a variety of forms—from the sonorous and elegant magic of her miniature twin princess allies, to the overt strength, courage, and perseverance of the great moth herself. Mothra also has characteristics of a mother goddess diety, with her transformations—from egg to caterpillar to moth (who sometimes produces a new egg and continues the cycle.) While most of the Kaiju are lone wolves, Mothra keeps up a social network by way of her telepathic connection to the Shobijin (the miniature twin princesses from Infant Island.)  In Mothra vs. Godzilla, the Shobijin summon Mothra to rescue humanity from a rampaging Godzilla. To protect both the world and her own mysterious egg, Mothra has Godzilla on the ropes for most of the fight, generating hurricane winds from her wingbeats and raining poison powder from her wings and body. The tables turn when the Godzilla catches Mothra with his nuclear breath. Though the mother insect goes down in flames, her egg hatches just in time, and the twin caterpillars are born warriors, who evade Godzilla's deadliest weapons and encase the nuclear dinosaur in a silken prison. In subsequent film appearances, Mothra remains a brave and formidable combatant who goes mandible-to-fang with the toughest monsters in the Toho universe, such as King Ghidorah and Godzilla... and sometimes emerges triumphant! Described as "a monster of principle and peace" in the Official Godzilla Compendium[1], Mothra is the most consistently heroic of the Kaiju. In the varied films, she defends Infant Island, Japan, and the Earth. (In contrast, Godzilla's role fluctuates between villain and hero, hence he and Mothra are sometimes allies instead of opponents.) Mothra may be the second most popular Kaiju after Godzilla, with the second highest number of film appearances, and a long history of drawing crowds to films in which she appears. Lesley is not alone in her admiration of the great moth. A poll in the 1990s found Mothra to be the most popular Kaiju among women[2]. This prompted Toho to make another movie featuring confrontation between Mothra and the Big G, Godzilla vs. Mothra (AKA Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, directed by Takao Okawara, 1992.) Okawara described Mothra as "a very feminine monster"[2] and portrayed her as a defender of Earth's environment from an extractive corporation. Mothra has longheld connections to Mother Earth and the ancient past, celebrated in the song that the Shobijin (who are renamed the Cosmos in the 1992 film), sing to summon their goddess defender. Luckily for me, Mothra is not human at all. Thus I can draw her without having to worry about body type!

1. Lees, J. D. and Marc Cesani (1998). The Official Godzilla Compendium. pp. 137. ISBN 0-679-88822-5 
2. Kalat, David (2010). A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. pp. 184–90. ISBN 978-0-7864-47-49-7

Mothra is trademarked to Toho.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

An eventful year

My family has a tradition of sending a traditional Holiday letter/ Christmas letter out to friends and family. I'll share here the section that I penned about me. (Don is my dad and Sue is my mom.)

"Ross began the year in Portland, Oregon, with some hope of finding a permanent home there. He worked part-time teaching at an after-school program in nearby Gresham, where he led youngsters ranging from Kindergarten through fifth grade in a variety of scientific projects and games, most notably growing a fruit and vegetable garden. He also volunteered as a Crew Leader for Friends of Trees, guiding teams of volunteers in forest restoration at city parks and schools.

However, none of this led to a longer-term job, and in May Ross crammed all his stuff into a Subaru once again, and returned to a second season of ranger work at Yellowstone National Park. This time, his station was Norris Geyser Basin—the oldest, hottest, and most frequently changing hydrothermal area in Yellowstone. Norris is home to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser, with major eruptions three times the height of Old Faithful and manyfold louder and more violent. However, Steamboat is unpredictable, with intervals between major eruptions ranging from four days to fifty years—making it far less friendly to a tourist’s schedule! On his talks and tours, Ross stood before Steamboat and invoked fear and awe by telling the story of its latest major eruption, which happened in September 2014. Generally, Ross enjoyed the rustic environment of Norris—with its 1930s buildings and limited staffing—which contrasted with more developed parts of Yellowstone such as Old Faithful and Canyon Village. He applied DIY skills to electrical outages and dilapidated boardwalks, and responded to medical and enforcement situations while rangers en route from Canyon maneuvered their vehicles through the busy summer’s perpetual traffic jam. He gave old-fashioned evening campfire programs at the Norris Campground without the aid of powerpoint. His chosen topic for said programs was “Survival Stories from Yellowstone”—an increasingly relevant subject in our changing world! He attended the 100th birthday celebration of the National Park Service at Mammoth Hot Springs, and a three-day class about Native American Plant Uses (led by ethnobotanist Linda Black Elk) at Lamar Valley. He went on backcountry hikes with friends on days off, visited waterfalls, and met wildlife such as bighorn sheep.

After Yellowstone, Don joined Ross for a road trip back home to West Virginia. Ross now assists with the move to North Carolina, and reckons with the huge volumes of paper which he left in the basement and his bedroom.

Ross’ alma mater The Center for Cartoon Studies had its 10th anniversary celebration this year. Before the reunion in Vermont, Ross and four of his former classmates (coordinating over Facebook) created a comics anthology called Pioneers, about the trials they faced as part of the school’s first-ever class. Ross completed two other comics this year—Guerilla Football, a science fiction work starring a cybernetic horse and orangutan; and Resurrection: the Real-Life Superpowers of Frogs and Mosses, a nonfiction work about the staggering abilities of amphibians and bryophytes to recover from desiccation and freezing. For this story, Sue lent her expertise on mosses especially. It will be published in the natural science comics anthology Awesome ‘Possum Volume 3. Many friends and family made donations via Kickstarter to fund the book’s publication."

Pictures from top down: Ranger Ross gives evening program at Norris Campground (photo by Dane Van Orman); Ross at Country Creek in NC (photo by Sue Studlar); Ross, Steve Bissette, and Sean Morgan in White River Junction, VT (photo by Carl Studlar.)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Stand with Standing Rock

I joined in solidarity with the water protectors of Standing Rock for the October 15 Day of Action. #NoDAPL Protests happened in over 300 cities. In LA alone, they had 1,500 demonstrators. #waterislife

Watch: Bernie Sanders delivers an impassioned speech against the Dakota Access Pipeline!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


As promised, my blog is back in October!

I'll use it first as an opportunity to promote the comics project I've been working on since April.

"Resurrection: The Real-Life Superpowers of Frogs and Mosses" features the astounding abilities of amphibians and bryophytes to freeze or desiccate—then return to full vigor with spring thaw or soft rains!

A sample (page 3) is below. The full eight-page tale will be published in Awesome 'Possum Volume 3. This massive work of science and nature comics (45 creators, 350 pages) is live on Kickstarter through October 21 (16 more days.) Your preorder pledges are needed to bring the tome to life!

Our team project was recently featured on the blog for Popular Science.

FROZEN and ....... ALIVE??!!! To find out what happens, become a backer for Awesome 'Possum Volume 3!

Thank you, friends and supporters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spadefoot dreams

As my job at Yellowstone threatens to suck the life blood out of me, and I struggle to write and draw a new story for Awesome ‘Possum Volume 3 during my off-time—this blog is on relative hiatus through the end of September. Still, I will take a moment to share this drawing of a Spadefoot toad. I completed this one BEFORE my Spadefoot sojourn at Colorado National Monument. Fanciful types may call it a premonition.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Father wolf brings a gift

I am back to Park Ranger work at Yellowstone, this time at Norris Geyser Basin, in time for the centennial of the National Park Service (1916-2016)!

On an off-day last week, I awoke at 4:15 AM, and drove my Subaru across winding roads, past towers of steam and fields of grass and sage. The roads were mostly empty (too early for even the tour buses) and the sky turned from grey to pink to blue. My destination was Slough Creek, at the edge of Lamar Valley, where my contact Rick McIntyre waited, seated upon a stool behind a spotting scope, with crowds of wolf-watchers around him. Rick is a Biological Science Technician at Yellowstone, and has been out at the break of dawn to watch wolves and record their ways, seven days a week, for the past 16 years or so. I sought Rick’s wisdom in preparation for my evening program about Survival Stories from Yellowstone, which features, among others, Wolf 755M, now the alpha male of the Wapiti Pack in Hayden Valley, who has lived through hell and back. 755M and his mate the great huntress 06 had a den of pups in 2010, in the same location now occupied by newer generations. From our perch on the ridge, we not only spoke of the legends of elder wolves, but also watched the nascent lives of young wolves—legends in the making. We watched the den of the Junction Butte Pack. We saw their alpha male trot back to the den, with a bison skull in his jaws. Found on the plain, this skull would make a fine chew toy for his pups. We later saw a family reunion; canids young and old joyfully wagged their tails. We saw bison chase wolves, and wolves chase bison. No violence occurred, but the relationship between the great herbivores and carnivores is often tense. Wildlife biologist and wolf project director Doug Smith made an appearance at the overlook as well, and joined us in watching the unfolding story of the Junction Butte Pack through the scopes. With the den in clear view, we had a rare opportunity to see the wolves grow up, one that would prompt enthusiasts to travel around the world for a glimpse through the scopes. For me, it was a trip of one-and-a-half hours in the early morning, with a weary day to follow; even though I normally arise early, this trek challenged even my circadian rhythms!

(Of course, remember that I write this blog from the standpoint of a private citizen, who coincidentally happens to also work for the National Park Service.)