Saturday, September 17, 2016

Frankenstein Doodle: The Platypus Reads Part CCXCVII

My students are reading Frankestein right now, so here is a modified version of a white-board doodle I cooked up for them.

R. Walton imagines that he may well find the Earthly Paradise should he arrive at the North Pole. Frankenstein warns him of the dangers of obsession and proceeds to tell Walton how his own passion for scientific control of Nature led to his undoing. So here we have the northern seas giving way to the Earthly Paradise in the land of perpetual sunlight. The scene is enclosed in an elaborate terrarium that signifies Walton's desire for control and dominance cloaked in the flowery guise of Poetry.

Medium: Brush Marker on sketchbook paper

Monday, September 05, 2016

Batcannon: "Hush": The Platypus Reads Part CCXCVI

After reading Glenn Weldon's The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, I decided to brush up on my knowledge of the caped crusader. I began by revisiting Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns. I was surprised to find it a much more nuanced and positive work than I remembered it. DKI, however, represents an alternate reality from the mainline of the comic. In that sense, it's as monolithic and archetypal as Nolan's Batman Begins or Burton's Batman. To get a better idea of how the Batman of the comics has evolved, I turned to Jeff Loeb's Hush.

I read the first issue of Hush when it came out and never finished the rest. I think I disliked the art and was experiencing a distinct lack of funds at that time. After reading it all the way through, I still have issues with the art (Harley Quinn's non-existent backbone anyone?), but I do also see its virtues: it's incorporation of the strong-points of prior artists, its novel depiction of motion, its graceful changes of motif to indicate changes of mood, time, and location. Moving on to the characters, Hush presents Batman as a detective first and foremost. This is the Batman of the original Detective Comics, Batman the Animated Series, and J.L.A. He is neither the action hero of the 90s movie franchise nor the psychopathic vigilante of Miller's alternate reality. The villains (Killer Croc. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, The Joker, The Riddler, Clayface) are the villains of the comic books and the animated series, not the hyper-realistic figures of Nolan's trilogy. The supporting cast also has a nice sense of familiarity. I like Hush's Superman, Lois Lane, Nightwing, and Alfred. The new Robin is actually likable and makes sense without damaging the original concept of the character. Dolt that I am, the ultimate villain even came as a surprise to me. The clues were all there, but I was caught up in the story and failed to notice them -like a good Agatha Christie novel.

About the only thing I didn't like about Hush was its denigrating portrayal of women. How many times does a man grab Catwoman and she only talks about ripping their eyes out? The level of fan-service (in the anime sense) is ridiculous and earns every bit of the scorn it gets in Glenn Weldon's book.

However, rather than fume about it, I tried to put myself into Loeb and Lee's shoes and tackle one of the characters myself. So here's my fumbling redesign of the character that I thought got the shortest end of the toothpick: Poison Ivy.

Hush's Poison Ivy keeps the essentials of the long standing character design, but ups the ante by making the character look like an eco-friendly Playboy bunny. While at least one of the bunnies does have a Yale degree, the character of Priscila Isley came into her own in the animated series where she was a highly gifted botanist whose life-work had been thoughtlessly destroyed by a city official. My first thought, then, in terms of design, was to recall various women I know in STEM fields and think of all the stories I've heard from them about injustice in the workplace. One of the comments I remember getting on a couple of occasions was that a woman in a STEM field has to appear neuter at all times. Any hint of "femininity" elicits a torrent of condescension and unwelcome advances from male co-workers. So here we have a sort of Galadriel or Warhammer Wood Elves Poison Ivy. My idea was that she and the plants she loves have a symbiotic relationship where the plants draw nourishment from Ivy's mind and body while at the same time reordering themselves around her in response to her thoughts and wishes. Thus, Ivy's appearance would be ever changing based on the needs of the moment. She could appear as a terrible Earth Mother (see above) or slink about disguised as a bit of gardening as in the image below:

Here we have Jack Bauer's hoodie of invisibility made real. The tendrils could also be useful for opening gates or scaling buildings and would come in handy in a fight. I'm not sure how far either of these concepts really advances the ball, but hopefully they suggest some better alternatives. Of course, most of the time we should see Ivy at work in her lab. As a master chemist, she should be a suitable match for the science side of Bruce Wayne and her secret lair could be every bit as formidable as the Batcave. There's also the fact that she and Bruce both understand the nature of obsession, and that should give her an ability to think like her opponent. One major difference would be that to advance her agenda Ivy needs to steal while Bruce has the luxury of his legally inherited limitless fortune.

Anyhow, that's my stab at it for today. Comics are worth thinking about, and Hush did give me an opportunity to think: for that I am grateful.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

What's a story without a villain? Here we have one from that all-too-common unpublished novel. Still, Lucian here is giving me some more practice for my flat-color style. I'm not sure if I've arrived at the right level of creepy for a haunted New England garret, but this feels close. It needs more books, trunks, and candelabra. How do you draw Evil? Is it spiny? Is it ugly? Is it dark? Our villain here is meant to have the look of a corrupted C.S. Lewis -one who never went off to the "Old Knock" and Oxford, but who wandered off into the murky depths of Spiritualism. He's more at home now in William's War in Heaven or All Hallows Eve than on Perelandra or the woods of Narnia; a sort of Eustace Scrub with the Necronomicon.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Another scene from an unfinished novel.

After Bukatman's Hellboy's World, I decided to continue my comic book meditations with Glen Weldon's The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. Between the two books, I've had some time to think seriously about comics in a way I haven't in several years. It's also inspired me (in my own fumbling way) to begin incorporating comic motifs into my own art with the art markers. Right now, that means a lot of Hellboy's black and flat color aesthetic. We'll see if it morphs into anything else in the days and months ahead.

Friday, August 26, 2016

2016 Seven Heavens of Summer Reading: The Platypus Reads Part CCXCV

The first full week of classes is over and that means an early end to this year's summer reading at Platypus of Truth. If 2016 saw fewer titles, they were no less enjoyable than in years prior. As usual, topics varied widely with trips into 18th century literature (The Vicar of Wakefield) and comics theory (Hellboy's World). Without further ado then, let's move on to the awards.

Sun: The heaven of scholars always has multiple works vying for the title. This year presented a strong field with several works on colonial New England (In the Devil's Snare, Escaping Salem, and A little Commonwealth). Inklings scholarship can never be ignored with Jane Chance's A Mythology of Power and Mark Atherton's There and Back Again running against Corey Olsen's Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Ancient Greece wasn't missing either (A Storm of Spears). With such a tough field, it's hard to decide but the award goes to Mark Atherton's There and Back Again. It's been a long time since I've seen such a well written study of the leaf-mold of an author's mind. The book manages to be both far-ranging and concise, making the best of Tolkien scholarship easily accessible. If you love The Hobbit, reading Atherton's There and Back Again is a must.

Moon: The planet of insanity is always hard to assign without feeling as though I'm casting aspersions on the winner. Yet as the Bard reminds us, there can be method in madness. This year's award goes to the comic that turned a beloved hero into a methodical madman: Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns. It's been over a decade since I read what is quite possible one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. I caught much more of the irony this time through, as well as Miller's genuine love for the characters whose mythology he is adapting (something that seems missing from DKII).

Mercury: The planet of voyages goes to that consummate word-lover, J.R.R. Tolkien and his capricious canine odyssey Roverandom. This book just makes me smile. The older I get, the more I treasure Tolkien's scripta minora. It's in these odd little works that so much of his versatility and range is showcased.

Venus: If Love moves the Sun and other stars, then disordered love is a force of cosmic destruction. This year's Venus award goes to Ursula K. Le Guin's The Farthest Shore for showcasing the devastating forces unleashed when our loves become deranged.

Mars: Infortuna Minor, a planet of grim destiny and partner of Fortuna Minor, Venus. It was said of the Chosen One that he would bring balance to Force -balance- by first killing the Jedi and then destroying the Sith. The award for the planet of necessary evils goes to the comic that dares to take up the life of Anakin Skywalker: Vader.

Jupiter: The award for the planet of kings goes to a work that ends with the coming of The King, the Kalevala. More so that that, however, Elias Lonnrot is the "king" of compilers for creating a national epic for Finland and a treasure of world literature out of hundreds of folk songs. I read the Kalevala as a student. Returning to it after so many years, my appreciation for Lonnrot's unique achievement has only grown.

Saturn: The award for the planet of contemplation and endings goes to a book that contemplates both: Hellboy's World by Scott Bukatman. As the first book-length study of Annung un Rama, and an extended meditation on the power and meaning of comics, Hellboy's World hits it out of the park.

So there you have it. Another summer slips by upon this middle earth and another Seven Heavens of Summer Reading makes its appearance here at Platypus of Truth.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

‘I watch thee from the quiet shore;
Thy spirit up to mine can reach;
But in dear words of human speech
We two communicate no more.’

And I, ‘Can clouds of nature stain
The starry clearness of the free?
How is it? Canst thou feel for me
Some painless sympathy with pain?’

And lightly does the whisper fall;
‘’Tis hard for thee to fathom this;
I triumph in conclusive bliss,
And that serene result of all.’

So hold I commerce with the dead;
Or so methinks the dead would say;
Or so shall grief with symbols play
And pining life be fancy-fed.

-Tennyson, In Memoriam LXXXV

Another scene from the same unpublished book set in a haunted house. I'm getting more satisfied with my command of the markers. I have a long, long way to go, but working through the new Star Wars and Vader comics along with a decade-over-due re-read of The Dark Night Returns are helping a bit. Posting all this stuff is a bit like being Cosme McMoon in Florence Foster Jenkins: never good enough for the lime light so I grab what I can get.

Anyhow, summer's drawing to a close, so I'll be posting the Seven Heavens of Summer Reading awards soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Another character from an unpublished work drawn using the flat-color style of Hellboy.