Sunday, December 26, 2010

Real(!) Christmas Trees; Adventures in Recycling

I hope that everyone had a Merry Christmas (or a merry whatever-other-holiday-you-celebrate), and will have a Happy New Year.

I celebrated Christmas with my family in West Virginia. My brother Carl and I arrived on December 24th, just in time for the whole family to partake in a tradition of ours, acquiring a real Christmas tree from a local cut-it-yourself tree farm. We chose a fraser fir (an authentic Appalachian species).

Regarding the perennial debate over which is better (or worse) for the environment, a real Christmas tree or an artificial one... Research demonstrates that a real tree is clearly the more earth-friendly choice (1)(2).

And speaking of the environment, here is another educational comic from the pen of yours truly. This one I created in the fall of 2003, during my senior year at Dension University. Throughout my time at Denison, I was involved in DURP (Denison University Recycling Program). Due to great organizational efforts by some other DURP members and university staff, the institution greatly expanded its recycling program in 2003--introducing, among other things, recycle containers for every dorm room. But there was a problem: many students did not follow proper recycling protocol. We faced recycle bins contaminated with non-recyclable garbage, and various other issues. To address these difficulties, I created this instructional comic/ poster.

Boris, the star of the story, is DURP's long-time mascot. I do not know who originally created the character.

My comic still graces some walls at Denison, thanks to the efforts of current DURPers. It may be the second most widely-viewed media work of mine, after my earthship video.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Attendance Issue

Here is the second of the two educational/ instructional comics that I produced for ICLAD. This case deals with the problem of a high dropout rate in Marshallese Schools. Analysis revealed that the schools' strict policies on attendance and timeliness were counterproductive, if keeping students enrolled through graduation is the goal.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Keeping the Charles River clean

I produced this educational comic for the International Consortium for Law and Development (ICLAD). It illustrates the "Seidman Method" for addressing social and environmental problems. In this example, the problem at hand is a Charles River contaminated with motor oil....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Birth of Fear

I am currently in an intensive EMT course, and intensively studying for the big National Registry exam. Still, my speculative imagination is at work, somewhere in the background.

After reading the chapter on emergency childbirth, inspiration struck, and I ran for my sketchbook. I envisioned a woman giving birth to an evil space alien. With brush and ink, I placed this nightmare on paper. It is one of the most shocking and graphic images to come from my brush, "for mature readers," I must warn. Granted, you have probably seen worse in horror movies.
To view the image, click here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The blood of turkey on my hands

I have always loved animals. I have never been a vegan.

Although I consume dramatically fewer animal corpses per year than the average American, I have never been disciplined enough to completely purge animals or their products from my diet. I am somewhat ambivalent about the ethics of eating animals. Sometimes I agree with Peter Singer: his arguments against killing animals seem impeccable. Other times, my view is closer to that of Michael Pollan, that raising animals for meat, if done right, can be ecologically sustainable and good for animal welfare.

Every year, I have eaten turkey at Thanksgiving. This year, I 'met my meat' most directly.

Some friends in Seattle, many of whom are graduates of The Homestead, have a Thanksgiving tradition of obtaining live turkeys from a local free-range farmer, and butchering them personally. This year, I joined the effort. My initial plan was only to help with setup, takedown, and 'dressing' the birds.

For this narrative, I have given pseudonyms to my friends and associates.

It was an unusual day for Seattle. Below freezing, four inches of snow on the ground, light snow still falling. By weather, it felt like The Homestead (Ohio) in the winter.

Byron had obtained seven turkeys from a local farmer a few days prior. (We had multiple Thanksgiving dinner tables to cover.) They were fine and healthy animals. They clucked and strutted about in a pen in the backyard.

Seven persons were present. (I am not trying to sound Biblical; my numbers are accurate.) We set up the chopping block, with two nails close together pounded into it. Prepared some pots of hot water, tables and tools for dressing the birds.

Byron went into the pen, came back holding a turkey, upside-down, by its legs. Chickens and turkeys 'mellow out' when upside down; it seems to be an autonomic response. Some birds in high stress can resist the inversion sedative. This bird did just that, flapped and squawked, shed feathers; they drifted to the ground. But Byron held its legs tight.

Then he put its neck between the nails, pulled it taut. And Moab brought the axe down, missed on the first two attempts, severed the head cleanly on the third. Byron held the bird upside down as it thrashed with death throes and spattered blood all over the snow. And then he fetched the next bird. He moved efficiently, and without hesitation. He was a 'man on a mission.'

The turkey's head remained on the choppig block. Its beak continued to move as though still clucking for up to two minutes after decapitation. Someone removed it from the block and tossed it into a bucket, for the compost. (Seattle's municipal composting can even take meat and such.)

Jaya took the second turkey. I encouraged her to take several practice swings before we put the bird on the block, as she was less familiar with the axe. I was quite familiar, because I split a lot of wood in my Homestead days (and still split wood these days when the opportunity arises). She decapitated the bird. Commented that she felt her stomach fall to her knees when she did.

Byron asked me to volunteer. I asked if we had other volunteers. Adair stepped up.
Being a Homestead-trained splitter of wood, Adair cut through the bird's neck on first swing. Adair was also a religious vegetarian in his Homestead days, with some of his inspiration and reasoning based on Hinduism. I must find out what inspired his 180 degree shift.

Jeb volunteered to hold the birds in the chopping block setup while others delivered the final blows. Senga stepped up to the plate. I offered her too, a bit of coaching. I explained how chopping through wood or flesh is like baseball--keep your eye on the target. And Byron noted the need for weight on the blow as well as accuracy. (For many, the greatest dread when stepping up to the block is that one might misfire and cut but not kill on the first hit, and cause additional suffering.)

Byron then told me "two birds left, one for each of us." I took the axe with little hesitation. Byron held the bird fast. I said, "Turkey, I thank you for your blessings. And I apologize that the cycles of life are sometimes so grisly."

I began with the axe-head by my feet and swung it above my head and down onto the target in a continuous motion, like chopping wood. The axe bounced off the bird's neck, the blow accurate, but too light. I very quickly squared back up and delivered a short, solid hit. The bird's head was severed and blood gushed forth from its body, and added to the growing patch of spattered dark red on the snow.

Byron killed the last one with a short, precise, forceful swing. Like a pro.

We immersed the birds in hot water, plucked, eviscerated. They very quickly started to look more like turkeys at the grocery store do, and less like those on the farm. They have many feathers, and plucking every last one is quite a task. The removed innards smell foul.

It seemed strange how polite we were with sharing the tools around and not stepping on each others' feat when we cut up the dead turkeys. Ironic that we are so dignified to each other, after such violence to our fellow animals.

Adair and I examined the birds' anatomy as we dissected our respective turkeys. We noted the radius, ulna, bicep, windpipe, lungs, and whatever other features we could identify--all of which humans share, in slightly modified forms. Somewhere in the past, we and the turkeys have a common ancestor. Hence, we dissected our relatives.

I assisted with the slaughter of a small flock of chickens eight years ago. That was emotionally harder, in part because I had raised the birds and known their personalities. Then, I did not deliver the fatal stroke myself, but tied one bird in place so that it could be delivered. And so felt that I was part of the deed.

This was the first time that I personally dealt a bird its deathblow. A number of rationalizations went through my head before I stepped to the chopping block.

Among them:

"The turkeys are going to die today, regardless of who brings down the blade. I can volunteer my wood-chopping skills and deliver these birds a swift and expedient death, and minimize suffering."

(I do wonder if executioners of people use similar reasoning--'They'll die anyway, if I don't pull trigger someone else will.')

"I was raised a Lutheran (Christian), but am very skeptical about what they told me in church. I don't think that I must fear God's punishment. Besides, most Christians I know are hardcore meat eaters. Killing animals isn't such a bad thing, in their worldview."

Another bit of philosophizing that came to me as I cut up the turkeys is that I have no right to complain about any of the minor things that I sometimes complain about. I am so much better off than the turkeys, who are now dead.

I have a great deal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

...Ross as a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Midgard Serpent

I have always been rather fond of Halloween, being a holiday to celebrate monsters and the like. It is Halloween all year in my sketchbook, which I populate with strange beasts. Here is a depiction of the Midgard Serpent, the monstrous snake that encircles the Earth, according to Norse myth. He is Thor's arch-rival, and the two shall battle to the death at Ragnarok, the battle to end the world. (And no, it won't happen in 2012.)

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reflections on Crater Lake 2010, part two: experience and inspiration

Crater Lake remains an awe-inspiring place, whether you are seeing it for the first or the five-hundredth time. Visually spectacular, scientifically unique, sacred from many perspectives. Prompts contemplation among Native Americans on the mystic powers of the waters, and contemplation among white men on the presence of fish, variation in lake level, and whether the lake freezes.

Being a ranger and interpreter, it has been my charge to share the wonders of Crater Lake and the surrounding old-growth forest with the world, through boat tours, trolley tours, guided hikes, talks from the rim, roving interpretation, and campfire presentations.

My iconic ranger photo atop Mount Scott, the highest point in the park, at almost 9,000 feet.
The Klamath call the mountain Muckwulx, “a place where chiefs sleep.” To them, it is a place for vision quests. To tourists, it is the only place where one might fit the entire lake into a camera's viewfinder.

A boat tour, with me at front, visits the waterfalls in Chaski Bay.

The sunset from atop Watchman peak.

The plunge into Crater Lake. The water is *$@#($#*( cold! (I understand if you consider me to be cheating by wearing a wet suit, but for me the suit makes a bit of swimming possible. Without it, one jumps into the lake, and then right back out.)
I managed to get out for one day with the trail crew. It was a rewarding day of clearing for the new Pleakney Falls trail (apologies if I mispelled the name). Turning the volcanic earth of Mt Mazama into a trail, especially one accessible to people with disabilities, is no easy task. We used leverage, technique, and a bit of brute force to clear massive rocks from our path. It is quite rewarding to see a rock go crashing down the hill, after much effort by rock bar and muscle.

Towards the end of my season, we had summer weather in late September (clear and sunny), producing astounding reflections on the lake (to which my photography does not do justice; nonetheless, the view from the Phantom Ship Overlook.)

And thus I conclude my reflections.

My thanks to the unnamed tourists who shot the various photos of me. (The scenery photos are by yours truly, and the trail photos are by Kara Reinhardt.)

In other events, coming up is 10/10/10, a day to take action for a better world, by participating in a local project to mitigate global warming. Find one near you. (I will be aiding the harvest of Wealth Underground Farm in Portland.)

I have now moved to new locations, and so shall my blog. Coming soon... scary drawings, and notes on scarier world events.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reflections on Crater Lake 2010, part one: art show

My time at Crater Lake has come to an end, once again. I do not know whether I will return, and do not know what I am doing next. I was in a similar situation previous two times I made my exodus from this grand park. There is some sadness every time I turn in my badge and radio, and a combination of reflecting on the past and contemplating the future.

This season has been short (only a little over three months) but busy. Especially since August, I have been going almost non-stop. Among my many projects in this short time: the first-ever Crater Lake National Park staff art show. (First-ever as far as I know, anyway.)

I took the lead in organizing, with instrumental guidance and assistance from our dynamo of an Education Coordinator, Linda Hilligoss. Twelve staff artists displayed work in the show. Over 600 park visitors attended, by a very conservative estimate. Our efforts were documented in the Herald and News of Klamath Falls.

I was simultaneously honored to have my own work on display, and impressed that there was so much artistic talent in our staff. Once I announced my intentions across park headquarters, the artists started coming out of the woodwork, with captivating images to show me. To name a few: Fire Management Officer Greg Funderburk had mystical-looking photos of Crater Lake in the winter, with Wizard Island covered in snow and the lake shrouded in fog. Ranger Dave Harrison had skillfully rendered watercolor paintings of scenes from the coast. Lesley McClintock, an art teacher from California who volunteered this summer as a ranger at Crater Lake, had accurate and attractive illustrations of the park's geologic features and wildlife (including the spotted owl on our NPS flyer above; the Raven over Crater Lake is by yours truly.) I hope that the art show becomes an annual tradition.

Ross Wood Studlar and his artwork

My personal Artist Statement for this show:

“At Crater Lake, one is awed by the forces of nature. Volcanoes, glaciers, earthquakes, blizzards, lightning storms and forest fires have all left their mark upon this landscape, and made it what it is today. The mythic beasts of my illustrations interpret the powers of nature metaphorically. I take some inspiration from Native American Legends, as native peoples are great interpreters of earth's might and wonder. On display is the three-part “Llao vs Skell,” an interpretation of the Klamath Legend on how Crater Lake formed. Also there are scenes from my book The Raven and The Crayfish. It is an original story that re-envisions the mythic guardian of Crater Lake. My “Thunderbird Over Crater Lake” is inspired by a lightning storm which sent I and a boat full of tourists to hide in the shelter on Wizard Island. “The Unlucky Pika” is a tribute to the cute but heat-intolerant member of the rabbit family. With Global Warming, the Pika's survival is in question. My drawings are pen-and-ink or scratchboard, which I scan and modify digitally.”

"Thunderbird Over Crater Lake"

Coming up, some reflections on the season as a whole, to conclude my recent string of Crater Lake-related posts.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ross meets the Klamath tribe

Lahoma Schonchin of the Klamath tribe and Ross Wood Studlar of the white men,
Ross having presented his book The Raven and The Crayfish, which is inspired by Klamath legends.
Photo by Ranger Dave Harrison, used with permission.

The Crater Lake Trust hosted a special Family Fun Day on September 25th, 2010, which featured drummers, dancers, and storytellers from the Klamath tribe. It took place at the rim of Crater Lake.

The Trust hailed the NPS to recruit a Ranger to give a short presentation on the lake's geology and scientific significance, to complement the Klamath perspective. By the luck of schedule, that honor was assigned to me. I welcomed the opportunity to meet the first denizens of the Crater Lake region, and to share with them my Raven and Crayfish, which is so inspired by their stories. (I have met Klamath folks a few times before and listened to their perspective, but have never been brave enough to share my artistic interpretations with them... until now.)

I introduced myself to the public as follows....

“Hello I'm Ranger Ross, and before I begin my talk I must say that I am honored to have members of the Klamath tribe here. They are the true discoverers of Crater Lake, and the first people to inhabit this area. Although their perception of Crater Lake and that of most members of the National Park Service may not be the same in every detail, there is an underlying theme in common. Both parties see Crater Lake as a very special place. I would even go so far as to say that we, like the Klamath, see Crater Lake as a sacred place. I have long been fascinated by the Klamath stories about this landscape, just as much as I am with its geology and biology. I share their stories with visitors wherever I can. I have even drawn illustrations to their stories. I even wrote a book, my story about Crater Lake, which borrows elements from some of theirs. Ordinarily, when I do my presentation about the origins of Crater Lake, I give the Klamath perspective as well as the geology. But today, since the Klamath people are here to speak for themselves, I will omit the former. And without further ado, I present the origin of Crater Lake, according to geologists....”

I told the tale of how Mt Mazama became Crater Lake, and then turned things over to the Klamath. Lahoma Schonchin commented on the special significance of Crater Lake to the Klamath tribe, and introduced the performers. Then commenced the drumming and dancing. The ages of the Klamath people involved in the festivities ranged from three to senior citizens. The dancers wore their traditional regalia.

During the intermission of the dancing and drumming, Lynn Schonchin, a senior member of the tribe and father of Lahoma, took the stage and noted that he appreciated my presentation and it was interesting, but that he would tell the real story of how Crater Lake formed. His story was a version of “Coyote in Love with a Star.” He also commented on the sacredness of Crater Lake's water, and his people's traditions of drinking it for strength.

I have not yet heard any two Klamath people tell exactly the same story about the formation of Crater Lake. My favorite Klamath legend is “The Origin of Crater Lake” as it appears in Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella Clark. This story was originally recounted by the Klamath Chief Lalek to the young white soldier Willam Colvig in 1865. It tells of the battle of the ages between the Chief of the Below World and the Chief of the Above World... and has AMAZING parallels to the geologic explanation for how Crater Lake formed. Not all Klamath stories are as close to the geology, but most have one notable thing in common... they describe a high mountain, which collapsed into the ground to create a gaping hole, which filled with water to become Crater Lake. Geologists long debated whether Mt Mazama blew apart or fell into the ground, and finally concluded that the mountain “fell in”--just as in the legends.

After the ceremonies, I presented one of my Raven and Crayfish to the Klamath folks. They were enthusiastic to receive it. I shall find out if they have any especial comments.

Notably, my book now has an ISBN number. It is 978-0-615-38888-5

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Rime of the Phantom Ship

Phantom Ship photo © 1999 Benjamin Zingg of Switzerland, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

If ever you visit Crater Lake National Park in the summer, a boat tour is highly recommended; it provides a unique perspective on the lake. I know firsthand, having guided a few hundred tours.

The Phantom Ship is among the lake's most spectacular features when viewed from the water.

Inspired by the Phantom Ship and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I have composed the poem below. I share this poem on my tours, when we visit the Ship.

The Rime of the Phantom Ship

Looking forward, I behold a something in the lake.
At first it seems a little speck,
and then it seems a mist.
It vanishes, returns and takes at last
A certain shaped I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape I wist.
And still we neared and neared.
Like moths to flame, we are drawn to see,
the mysterious phantom ship.

Spires like sails, the ship prevails
over the deep blue lake
Without a breeze, without a sail
its shadow makes the heart shake

400,000 years old,
the eldest in the caldera,
these rocks do tower,
At the base of Mazama they did stand
in the mountain's final hour.

One after one, by the smoke-filled sky
Too quick for groan or sigh,
The surrounding rocks crumbled and cracked,
and cursed me with their cry.

In two great landslides, the surrounding rocks,
too loud for sigh or groan,
with deafening crash, into the ground,
They dropped down all at once.

The Phantom Ship, betwixt the landslides
Survived the boom.
In subsequent epochs,
the wind and rain have shaped its craggy loom.

Its walls are steep, and hot and dry
And yet, life persists
Growing upon these grand spires
seven species of tree exist
A point of fascination, to any botanist.

Lichens and penstemons also grow,
the pink flowers they do thrive
Upon the Phantom Ship, between the lake and sky.

Gramercy! I cry! Violet green swallows
on ­the spires!
They fly and dive, in green and glossy black,
They coil and turn, and ever track
is a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! No tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushes from my heart
And I bless them unaware.
Sure my kind saint takes pity on me,
for I bless them unaware.

the mariner and the water snakes, one of Gustave Doré's illustrations to Coleridge's
Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The poem and the illos are now in the public domain.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ranger Art Show at Crater Lake August 22nd

Beyond the Blue: Interpretations of Crater Lake

Community House, Rim Village, Crater Lake National Park
10 am - 5 pm FREE

All artwork by Park Employees!

This special show illuminates the "off hours" creativity of the Crater Lake National Park Rangers.

Features work by over a dozen ranger artists, including Ross Wood Studlar, Lesley McClintock, Dave Harrison, Mike Cook, Carole Holomuzki, and many more.

Made possible by the Crater Lake Science and Learning Center.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Beaver at Vidae Falls

I returned to my seasonal park ranger position at Crater Lake National Park in mid-June.

Just yesterday, a fellow ranger and some visitors on a trolley tour made a discovery.... a beaver at Vidae Falls. (Vidae is a little waterfall on the southeast part of the rim drive, not far from park headquarters.) I visited the waterfall with another trolley tour later that same day, encountered the rodent and got a photo (without the flash so as not to disturb.)

NPS photo, public domain
It is the first time that I have seen a beaver in this park, also a first for some other employees who have been here much longer than I.

It makes me recall a Native American Legend from the Pacific Northwest, wherein the trickster Coyote battles Aprooish, a giant beaver.

Wikipedia tells me that in the Pleistocene, giant beavers lived all over North America. They went extinct around 12,000 years ago. Humans have inhabited the northwest longer than that, so the two species must have crossed paths.

Therefore, a mortal giant beaver might have been the inspiration for the mythic Aprooish!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Emu and the Earthship

I am overdue for a blog post, so I shall share two creations: an interesting but unknown sketch, and an intriguing and widely-viewed video.

A sketchbook drawing which I call 'weird emu head.' A popular image among the five or so persons who have yet seen it.

And my youtube video, "Earthship Construction at The Homestead." The Homestead at Denison University is a unique student-run intentional community with a focus on environmental sustainability. I shall write about my experiences there in more detail in later blog posts. I shot this short video at The Homestead 30th Anniversary Reunion in May 2007. Current Homesteaders and alums joined together to work and celebrate. Events incuded contributing to the construction of Cabin Pheonix, which is an Earthship--a building made of tires filled with compacted earth. The design is durable, energy-efficient, and generally friendly to the earth. Homesteaders began planning the Pheonix design in 2006, and finished the grand structure in 2009, after much labor and love. At the time of this post, my little video has received 41,419 views! Therefore it is probably the most widely-seen media work of mine ever, to date.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Plant a Maple

Few activities in life are as rewarding as planting a tree. In an Earthweek event, our small crew of Land's Sake volunteers and employees transplanted three sugar maples at Dickson Fields in Weston. It was a good morning's work and a productive workout. In eighty years, the pictured tree may be quite large, and may even be a source of maple syrup--assuming that global warming doesn't completely nullify maple syrup production. Perhaps I have found a new motivator, which should convince me to do more to combat the climate crisis. I want to harvest sap from this tree in a future year.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Earth Week; praise and FAQs for The Raven and The Crayfish

'blue marble' earth photo by NASA, public domain

Happy Earth Week everyone! I advise that you celebrate by volunteering a good deed for your planet. I plan on planting some Maple trees for Land's Sake. There are thousands of volunteer opportunities of all types out there, some near you, and easily found through the magic of a web search.


From Crater Lake National Park, Ranger Dave Grimes had high praise for THE RAVEN AND THE CRAYFISH:

"Studlar has taken many of the essential elements of Oregon's deep blue lake (crayfish, ravens, the introduction of fish, native tribes, discovery by gold prospectors, the question of what lies below the lake's surface, uncertainty about the volcano's future) and wrapped them up in a story that is simultaneously surprising and satisfying and that, moreover, wrestles with the key concepts that are fundamental to this mountaintop caldera: mystery, power, violence, transformation, and protection. After reading his legend, I will never look upon the lake in quite the same way.”

Yes, Crater Lake fans, he's THAT Ranger Dave, the one from Colorado, and a legend among park interpreters.


When folks who are less familiar with Crater Lake read THE RAVEN AND THE CRAYFISH, these are the most frequently asked questions:

1. Is this a real legend?
In my 'about the author' I said that I heard the story 'from an elderly Thamalk chief from a village called songe.' In the real world, there is no Thamalk tribe, and 'songe' is French for 'dream'. I invented the story, or discovered it in our collective unconscious, so we can think of it as a modern legend. There is a Klamath tribe, famous for their stories and religious beliefs on the sacred Crater Lake. I borrowed elements from their stories in crafting mine.

2. You wrote of radiation from the lake. What is the story behind that?
Down on the water, the UV light is INTENSE. The sun is bright, and the clearest lake in the world reflects UV light back at us in our little open tour boats. During the first summer that I worked at Crater Lake, I became a bit concerned about the UV, especially considering that there is a history of skin cancer in my family. I only half-jokingly called the UV light 'Llao's revenge.' (The Klamath spirit who inhabited Crater Lake was named Llao, in most versions of the stories. In some versions, he is referred to as simply 'the Chief of the Below World.') In my second summer on the lake, I took to wearing long sleeves and hi-tech 'glacier' sunglasses whenever on the lake, and found the sun considerably less threatening as a result.

3. What about the bubbles rising from the lake?
The US Geological Survey classifies Crater Lake as an active volcano. However, it has not had a sizable eruption in 5000 years. The mountain has shown some signs of activity in recent years. In 1945, there was a 'burp', wherein park visitors and staff reported bluish gray clouds of smoke or gas rising out of the lake. On September 20, 1993, the park experienced earthquakes of up to 6.0 on the richter scale, another probable sign of volcanic activity. And in 2007, visitors hiking Wizard Island reported seeing bubbles rise out of the lake, accompanied by a smell of sulphur. They reported this event to me (because I was guiding their boat tour), and I forwarded the message to the lake research crew. The research crew visited the approximate site of the bubbles in following days, and did not find any more evidence of activity. In any case, we never know when Llao might awaken!

In the near future, I'll follow up on my April 6th post with some comments on the work of Dunstan Firbolg. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

MOCCA, Cyborg Horse, and Slime Mold Revolt

I will be at the MOCAA comics festival April 10 and 11, New York City, at the IKnowJoeKimpel table.

My RAVEN AND CRAYFISH will be for sale (and it is still selling online via IKnowJoeKimpel.)

This will be my first MOCCA appearance since 2005. Other duties have called me away every year between then and now. It will be interesting to see how the festival has evolved. SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED for small-press comics in the past five years; it will be interesting.

Now a preview of a current project, which certainly will not be ready in time for MOCCA....

The Futuristic Wood

Since I was very young, I have had a special fondness for science fiction. My first published comic book (small press) A HUMBLE JOY (2004) was an SF work about a research physicist and his guinea pig. SF themes dominated my comics work during my time at The Center for Cartoon Studies (2005-07): notable works there included MYTHS FROM THE FUTURE, “Paper Slave” (with Sean Morgan), and my thesis project ARRIDABA, an unfinished SF graphic novel featuring sea turtles. It would be wise for me to finish the work as a script, but so far I haven't mad much progress on that.

However, my CCS comrades might be glad to hear that I am currently working on two projects in the venerable genre of science fiction. One features a cyborg horse.

In 2008, I produced this drawing:

I took a bit of inspiration, or at least the idea of a priest riding on some sort of weird robot-donkey-like creature, from “The Quest for St. Aquin” by Anthony Boucher. Just about everybody who saw this drawing said the same thing: “I like the horse / donkey.” With that in mind, I wondered if I might compose a narrative starring a cybernetic horse. Evidently, the parts have been coming together in my imagination, because I am right now at work on just such a story.

A sneak preview:

His ally ia a cybernetic orang-utang:

And to you sports fans out there, this work also features a futuristic athlete (who also has musical ambitions):

And that is as much as I'll reveal, for the time being.

My other SF work in progress is a collaboration with fellow CCS pioneer Sean Morgan. (Warning: his site is 'for mature readers.') The “Paper Slave” team is back together. This time, we're creating an SF/ horror comic featuring zombies. I have composed the script, and we have made a bit of opening progress on the artwork. I hope that announcing the effort here will help to prompt greater progress.

And on a related subject...

I didn't know it, but science fiction could be in my genes(?!) Last week, my mother and her three siblings made their final clean of my late-grandparents house in Minnesota, before the new owners move in. My mom made a startling discovery. Or, should, I say an ASTOUNDING discovery.

She found a manuscript “Slime Mold Revolt” by Dunstan Firbolg, the pseudonym of my grandfather, the famed naturalist and conservationist John B. Moyle. It was accompanied by a rejection letter from the editor of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION. I had no idea that anyone else in my lineage ever wrote in this genre, but evidently my grandfather had made this effort, unbeknownst to his eldest daughter, until now.

ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION lives on today, having been retitled ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT. The editor during the era of the former title was John W. Campbell Jr. He was, among other things, mentor to the great Isaac Asimov. An honor to think that Campbell read my grandfather's story, presumably.

I haven't had a chance to read SLIME MOLD REVOLT yet, but I may have more to say once I do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coyote and his Huckleberry Sisters

At Crater Lake, I created a dramatic digital slideshow presentation called “Tricksters in Myth and Science” and delivered it weekly at the outdoor amphitheater at Mazama Campground. My program featured the coyote, raven, and fisher, Native American legends and biologic facts about each. I revealed many parallels between the mythic animals and the mortal ones.

The first and best story of the program was “How Coyote Brought Fire to the People” also called “The Fire Race.” The story describes an ancient world where the only fire on earth is on a high mountain, guided by wicked old spirits called Skookums. The people tired of cold homes and raw food and asked Coyote to bring them fire. At first Coyote could not think of a good plan, so he asked his wise advisors for assistance. They are his three sisters, who live in his stomach as huckleberries. (On the west coast, the term 'huckleberry' refers to a type of wild blueberry.) They share a plan, and coyote tells him that was his plan all along. Then he leads the animals in a team effort to get the fire.

In many stories from Northwestern tribes Coyote calls upon the wisdom of his huckleberry sisters. And he never gives them due credit. After they develop a plan for him he says something like “ah, yes, that is just what I thought. That was my plan all along.”

At one point last summer, my parents visited me at Crater Lake and saw my program. My mom, the wise botanist Susan Moyle Studlar, had an insightful interpretation for the huckleberry sisters. They are a metaphor for how a person carries his family with him throughout life. Their voices and care are present always, however many thousands of miles away they may be in the flesh.

I had already created a few original illustrations to include in the slideshow, including one of coyote sneaking about the skookums' lodge—now the banner atop this page. Mom prompted me to also draw Coyote consulting with his huckleberry sisters. And that one now graces my business card:

To read the story of how coyote brought us fire, consult INDIAN LEGENDS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST by Ella E. Clark (an amazing book, also contains my favorite version of the Klamath myth on the origin of Crater Lake). Also, it appears that I am not the only person so intrigued by the fire story as to illustrate it. The Karuk version of the story (in which the wicked skookums are wasps) is the subject of a picture book, FIRE RACE by Jonathan London and Sylvia Long.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Top Three Comics" and "Poorly Crafted Comics That Can Still Change Lives"

In the early days of The Center for Cartoon Studies (fall 2005), our fabled instructor Steve Bissette taught his first CCS course: Survey of the Drawn Story. At the beginning of each session, he asked a few of us to explain our top three comics… What three comics have had the most profound influence on you and your artwork? It's an intriguing question, and one that requires some probing into one's unconscious. After some thought, I determined that my top three comics were…

1) SPIDER-MAN, because it was thanks to the wallcrawler that I became interested in comic books in the first place. At age four I saw Spidey on television and then acquired a Spidey comic the first chance I got. (I even had a period in preschool when I wore a Spider-Man mask at all times.) I was influenced by a variety of Spidey creators, including the classic work of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. I have continued to follow the wallcrawler ever since.
2) DOOM 2099, a '90s series that featured a futuristic version of the classic Marvel villain Doctor Doom; Warren Ellis wrote some of the series including the noteworthy "One Nation Under Doom" storyline. DOOM got me particularly interested in science fiction and the future, including cyberspace, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic engineering. I explored similar future technologies and their philosophic and political implications in A HUMBLE JOY and MYTHS FROM THE FUTURE; and in my unpublished work-in-progress graphic novel ARRIDABA.
3) THE SANDMAN, particularly volume 8: WORLD'S END. I discovered Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN at age 17, and WORLD'S END was the first volume that I read. It was a reading experience unlike any I had ever had in a comic book before. It enabled me to envision more possibilities for the comics medium and ways that I might use it than ever I had previously.

Every member of our CCS inaugural class had a different set of top three comics, although LOVE AND ROCKETS, AMERICAN ELF, and CALVIN AND HOBBES had the special distinction of making more than one top three list.

The top three comics project gave each of us a rare insight on our colleagues artwork--the influence of their respective top three comics was often quite evident. I also noted that many comics that made the top three list of one student or another (ARCHIE, Swedish children's comics, Marvel STAR WARS comics, etc), were not works that most critics would consider for a "100 best comics of the 20th century" list. It showed that a comic doesn't necessarily have to be formally perfect to influence someone, to inspire them to take their life in a particular direction, whether towards drawing comics or towards something else.

I'm sure that by the standards of most analytical critics, JIMMY CORRIGAN would rate as a better comic than SPIDER-MAN. But it was SPIDER-MAN, not JIMMY CORRIGAN, that captured my imagination as a youngster and made me want to be a cartoonist. When Chris Ware (author of CORRIGAN) visited CCS, I got a bit frustrated at his criticisms of my web-slinging hero (prompted by a Spider-Man poster that I had affixed to the wall of our classroom/ studio.) So I produced this cartoon (for a little thank you booklet that we made for the guests of honor).

I was concerned that Chris might find this cartoon a bit harsh, so also included a warm and nice note in the copy of the booklet that we gave him. I don't know what was his reaction. I do know that Tom Devlin (Creative Director at Drawn and Quarterly publishing) really liked this cartoon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


A beautiful deep blue lake in the cascade mountains radiates mystic energy and otherworldly power. The Raven, a legendary trickster, wants the lake for his own- but the mighty Crayfish Beast stands in his way! A warrior of the Thamalk tribe, the birds of the sky, and a strangely-haired man with a bucket of fish all play a role in the conflict over the sacred waters.
40 pages, 10.75" X 7.75"
FOR SALE ON IKNOWJOEKIMPEL.COM ! Only $7.00 plus shipping.
This first printing is limited to 100 copies. I advise getting yours while supplies last.

And comics legend Steve Bissette (TABOO/ SWAMP-THING/ TYRANT) has more good things to say about RAVEN AND CRAYFISH in his 02-March-2010 MYRANT blog post.

On display are the front (top) and back covers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


"Thunderbird is a very large bird, with feathers as long as a canoe paddle. When he flaps his wings, he makes the thunder and the great winds. When he opens and shuts his eyes, he makes the lightning. In stormy weather, he flies through the skies, flapping his wings and opening and closing his eyes."

"When Thunderbird flies toward the ocean, his wings darken the sky and their movement makes a loud noise. When he sees a whale, he throws Lightning Fish into its body and kills it. Then he carries the whale back to the mountains and eats it."
--Quillayute and Makah legends, as retold by Ella E. Clark, INDIAN LEGENDS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST © 1953 the Regents of the University of California

It occurred to me that it would be really #$%*ing scary to encounter Thunderbird by hot air balloon. And I followed that strange impulse to draw one's nightmares….

For the latter two of these drawings, the originals are for sale.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In the fire, the fierce joins the cute

NPS photo, 1968, public domain

The legendary wolverine.

It kills caribou ten times its own size. It battles wolves. It challenges cougars and grizzly bears over kills.

But even the wolverine is not safe from global warming, according a recent story from the BBC. The decline in snowpack is leading to a decline in wolverine populations.

I'll pull a few wolverines from my sketchbook.

Wolverine vs Wolf

Wolverine vs Bear