Friday, December 30, 2016

Conan: The Servants of Bit-Yakin: The Platypus Reads Part: CCCVII

It's been a few years since I last dipped in to the world of Robert E. Howard's sword-swinging barbarian, Conan. While the writing is always high quality, the racism and sexism that riddle Howard's oeuvre is hard to handle in large doses. After a good, long break, then, I decided that it was finally time to have a go at finishing my annotated edition of the complete works.

The Servants of Bit-Yakin:

The Servants of Bit-Yakin returns us from the microcosmic novella that is The Hour of the Dragon to the world of the standard Conan adventure story. Once more, we return to the pseudo-Africa that so dominated Howard's imagination. This tale, with its ruined city created by a lost race of white men who were able to perfectly preserve their corpses, and its eternal queen apparently owes its inspiration to H.R. Haggard's She. Rather than give us another She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, however, Howard evolves the adventure in his own way with the mysterious element  coming in the form of the savage creatures that haunt the ruins, the servants of Bit-Yakin. These gorilla-like monstrosities may have cast their shadow over Michael Chrichton's Congo, but they are very much the sort of degenerate "monsters of evolution" that fascinated pulp authors like Howard and his pen-pal, H.P. Lovecraft (see especially Lovecraft's The Cave). In keeping with Haggard's She, the source of this weird peril seems to be rooted in the natural, though the super-natural is never ruled out (also a common feature in Lovecraft's consciously atheist fiction). The other characters in the story are true to Howard's types: the courtesan, Jim-Crow-inspired superstitious and lustful Africans, and Conan as the Barbarian with a code that forbids rape and mandates saving women in distress over accumulating shiny things. Stories like The Servants of Bit-Yakin prove that Howard's genius had very little to do with what he wrote about and everything to do with how he wrote about it. The story works, as Howard's stories always do, by careful attention to plot, mood, and pacing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

'89 Batman: Film Platypus

After reading Glen Weldon's book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, I decided to add my second encounter with the Dark Knight to our Netflix queue. What I knew of Batman as a kid came from the Adam West t.v. serial. Seeing Tim Burton's Batman was a revelation. It cemented my love of the character for years to come. I think it's been well over a decade since I last watched the film, so it was with not a little trepidation that I popped the DVD into our home computer this past weekend. I'm glad to say that after all these years the 1989 Batman is still a treat.

The first thing that struck me was the art direction. Gotham looks like New York felt before Giuliani cleaned it up. There's that run-down Art Deco aesthetic crushed under the weight of steel girders and Brutalism all covered over with a thick patina of filth. We can feel the weight of urban decay. The helplessness of Gotham's dedicated civic leaders, the Mayor, Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon accentuates the setting as do Danny Elfman's haunting score and Prince's decadent vibes.

The story in Batman often gets panned as loose and thin, but my wife and I were actually struck by the tightness of the writing. Every action the hero or villain takes finds itself mirrored in the other and wrapped around the axis of Vickie Vale. Watch the scene where hero and villain each try to woo Vale: both bring flowers, both fixate on themselves, and both use violence in an attempt to force Vickie to listen. We are asked again and again what the real difference is between Batman and the Joker. Both are obviously insane, both are have a flair for the dramatic and an ego the size of Gotham, and each created the other in a toxic codependent cycle of pain. In the end, the answer seems to be that Batman channels his pain into a desire to protect others while the Joker wants everyone to feel his hurt. It's a message that comes up repeatedly in Burton's gothy oeuvre.

I also have to say that I enjoyed Keaton's take on Batman. In the limited space he has to work with, the comic actor succeeds in creating a multi-faceted character that has all the labyrinthine twists and turns of the opening credits. We feel the fracturedness of his personality and understand why he keeps the Batman costume locked and bolted behind foot-thick steel. Jack Nicholson's Joker is a work of art in itself and still stands strong after the brilliant work Heath Ledger did in re-inventing the character for The Dark Night. I was left feeling that the two principle characters perfectly balanced and complimented one another -two halves of the same flawed coin.

Finally, it was wonderful to see a lushly imagined movie with no CG. CG is amazing, but there's still no hiding the intangibility of it. Models and mat paintings may lack polish, but the sense of weight they provide is priceless.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Early Inklings Scholarship: The Platypus Reads Part CCCVI

There's nothing quite like arriving late to the conversation. It's why I don't like being late to Christmas parties if I can help it. When I began reading Inklings scholarship (Tom Shippey on Tolkien, Doug Gresham on Lewis), I knew that I'd arrived late to the party. Things were being referenced or scoffed at that I didn't fully understand. Over time, I began to pick up on elements of the earlier conversation and orient myself. Recently, however, I've been able to go back and look at that earlier part of the discussion; specifically, the parts before the coming of Humphrey Carpenter and his monolithic J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Inklings.

The particular works in question come not from Oxford insiders or authorized biographers but academics on this side of the pond who were willing to risk professional scorn by asserting the literary greatness of the Inklings and their associates. They are, respectively, Understanding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings (copyright 1968) by William Ready, and Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien/C.S. Lewis/G.K. Chesterton/Charles Williams (copyright 1974) by Edmund Fuller, Clyde S. Kilby, Russell Kirk, John W. Montgomery, and Chad Walsh. Those in the know will recognize the names of several North American scholars who were instrumental in securing Inklings material for future research. These are the guys that Humphrey Carpenter seems to be pushing back against when he asserts that the Inklings weren't particularly united or particularly Christian. They also look like the fellows Diana Glyer is giving a nod to when she proves Humphrey Carpenter to be in serious error.

For me, this was the missing part of the conversation. I had reconstructed the basics from context clues, but it was highly enlightening to actually see the argument. Hearing the participants in their own words gives me a better idea of how to understand later speakers like Carpenter and Glyer. I had to get these books on loan or from the used bookstore, but they were well worth the extra effort -if not because of their conclusions then because of the hole they fill in the conversation.

So, if you feel like their might be some holes in your understanding of Inklings scholarship, may I suggest picking both of these volumes up?

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Season Finale That Never Was (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Ok, so I couldn't resist...

I've been fiddling around with Paint for my own amusement and using it to dress up a few of my pen and ink drawings. Spending time around the local comic shop with a few coworkers recently has also put comic book layouts are on the brain. My own efforts are about as far from Hellboy or Rai as I am from Pandemonium or 4001 A.D. Still, it's fun to play around with a little zero-risk creativity.

Often we wish our hobbies were jobs. Jobs can be wonderful things when we love what we do, but they are also work. There are deadlines to meet and customers to satisfy. We may enter a business in one department and drift inevitably over time into another. In other words, when we're tied to the paycheck, we have to follow the money. In our unpaid hobbies, however, we are free. No one penalizes us for puttering away at side projects. The labor is unprofitable by definition.

Henry David Thoreau worked for six weeks a year and then lived simply so that he could do what he wanted with the other forty-six. For him, that meant doing the work of a naturalist, or what we might today think of as the duties of a park ranger. His challenge in Walden to "simplify, simplify" is not meant to be a call to do as he did but it is call to all of us who have yet to land our dream job. If our work takes us away from our loves, then maybe we can reduce the time we spend at it by reducing our wants. The balance can then be spent as we will. The trick is to know what we really want.

So... Bad Nun
How far would you go to find your calling?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Season Finale That Never Was: Creative Platypus

It all started with a whiteboard doodle during a brainstorm session in study hall. We were experimenting with pitches.  Suddenly, the room synergized and a story began rolling out with the force of a freight train. We had an idea -a great idea.

How often do our thoughts come back to us with an alienated majesty? We discard them because they are our thoughts.

Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance with my students this year, this passage struck me with the force of that freight train. Do I distrust my own thoughts simply because they are mine and not some paid authority? In a democratic nation, creators crave the votes of the masses; votes in the form of dollars. As the 51% (hoi poloi) become the arbiters of Right and Wrong, so the Paid Position tells us what is worthy (to agathon) and unworthy (to kakon) of our attention.

Plato taught that we do evil through lack of knowledge. No person would knowingly choose the bad since the bad would inevitably harm themselves in the end. Aristotle broke with the master by pointing out that we often do evil through weakness of will. In the same way, perhaps we do not always discard our thoughts because they are ours. Perhaps we also discard them because we lack the will, or the skill, or the power to carry them out.

So here we are. Bad Nun: a whiteboard doodle, a few sketches, and nothing more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Over the Garden Wall: Film Platypus

I'm always a day late and a dollar short to things. In this case, it's about two years late. Late to what, you ask? Well, my wife and I finally got around to seeing Cartoon Network's mini-series "Over the Garden Wall". It's a show about two brother who become lost in the woods and travel through an eerie feast of New England Americana seasoned with a with worthy of Homestar Runner. In short, it's the show I wish I was brilliant enough to create. As Emerson might say, it was my own thought come back to me with an alienated majesty.

Beyond it's carefully researched aesthetic, the show is a delight for the classically educated. The bleeding edelwood trees have their true home in Dante's Inferno while the talking beasts and witches' cabins are firmly rooted in the Brothers Grimm. There are subtle grecco-roman touches too: the need for two coins to take the ferry across the river, for instance.

"Over the Garden Wall" is on DVD and can be watched on Hulu as well. There are ten episodes of ten to eleven minutes each. If you're looking for a quirky piece of Americana to lighten up your Saint Pompion's Day festivities, why not give "Over the Garden Wall" a try?

Note: eerie pumpkin man drawn by author of this post.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities Doodle: Creative Platypus

Not my all-time favorite Dickens book, but it has it's moments. Here we have a pen and brush marker rendition of a whiteboard doodle I did to help my students along. We're such a visual culture that some rudimentary art skills are almost a requirement for teaching these days.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hellboy and other Readings: The Platypus Reads Part CCCV

The academic year is always exhausting and with a new position this year there hasn't been much time for reading anything that's not school related. However, I have managed to slip in a few treasures nonetheless.

*Warning: Hellboy in Hell spoilers*

The first of those is the final installment of Mike Mignola's Hellboy saga: Hellboy in Hell: The Death Card. How do you end a series that has been going for twenty years? Hellboy's violent career as Anung un Rama, the World Destroyer, would argue a Big Bang. Unlike the movies, however, Mignola's Hellboy has always been more about the brooding silences and carefully worded dialog than the fights. We had our epic battle with the Dragon in The Storm and the Fury. In The Death Card, tough Hellboy harrows hell, defeats Behemoth and Leviathan, and slays the princes of Pandemonium, it is all done with a somber finality that rises above the the frenetic furor of an Avengers or Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. In fact, when Hellboy finally calls forth all his power and fulfills his destiny, it is only seen in retrospect trough the eyes of a dying demon; a Job-like and I alone am escaped to tell thee. The rest of the comic is a closing down. We see Hellboy make peace with his two loves, Anna (who has become the spirit of the England that is to be), and The Spanish Bride (who calls out to the mountains to fall on her and the hills to cover her). His sister repudiates him and is destroyed. Most interestingly, Hellboy also meets the spirit of a priest ministering to "those in chains" who reminds Hellboy that his humanity makes possible his own redemption. This could be what is meant by the three glowing platonic solids our hero meets at the end as the stars wheel in their courses above him. Whatever it means, the final scene is genius. I've wracked my brain for years over that moment, but I cannot think of a better way for the series to end. It's beautiful.

So what now? There's still Witchfinder: City of the Dead, which I'm more than enjoying as the installments come out. I've also begun Valiant Comics' visionary cyber punk drama Rai. If you enjoyed Frank Miller's Ronin or Cartoon Network's Samurai Jack, this should be right up your ally. The visuals are like nothing I've ever seen; particularly the artist's attention to light. Hopefully, I'll have thoughts on these to share as my reading continues. In the meantime, it's good to be back online and I'll check in with you all again next time I come up for air. Platypi are, afterall, underwater creatures...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Blade Runner: Creative Platypus

You know, it's been years -maybe over a decade- since I last saw Bladerrunner. I think it was a director's cut, but I'm not even sure which one. It made a lot more sense than the first time I saw it; though even then the movie left a lasting imprint on my mind. I remember the way it played with light and dark. I remember the perpetual rain. Most of all (and who could forget them?), I remember those iconic light umbrellas. So here's a little colored pencil work on a rainy day in honor of a film that deserves all the attention it gets.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Poe's Ligeia (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCCIV

Poe's Ligeia is a mystery. Her features are un-place-able. She has no family. It isn't even clear how long she's been alive. What we do know is that she has deep knowledge of alchemical and occult forces. Here we have Ligeia as an alchemical figure with Lilith-like properties and Egyptian motifs. Not a little inspiration was pulled from the alchemist's laboratory in Hellboy: Wake the Devil.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Poe's Ligeia: The Platypus Reads Part CCCIII

As a fitting follow-up to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I decided to doodle my way through a bit of Edgar Allen Poe. I've asked my students to do the same as a way of interacting with the text, moving from consumers to creators. It's an honorable tradition. After all, it's hard not to see Lovecraft's debt to Poe when reading The Fall of the House of Usher and comparing it to The Rats in the Walls, or Ligeia and The Thing on the Doorstep. Lovecraft binge-read Poe as a child and then turned his own hand to creating.

So here we have the mysterious Lady Ligeia with her impossible to place features and flair for consumptive look (hint: consumption was linked with vampirism in the backwoods of 18th century New England). Next, we have the opium inspired bedroom/ritual chamber where Ligeia makes her final grand entrance. I wasn't sure how that last one would look on paper, but Poe's aesthetic is unfailingly creepy whether in words or colored pencil.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Frankenstein Doodle (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCCII

Here is the final doodle in my Frankenstein series. As with the others, it is based on an original whiteboard doodle used in classroom instruction while teaching Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I had forgotten how haunting the novel's final image is: The monster drifting away upon a small block of ice into darkness. As with Walton, the narrator, we have heard both sides of the story and are called to render judgement. What should become of the Monster? Like Shakespeare's Prospero, we are free to send him anywhere our imagination likes. I. personally, think that the Monster is slowly dying and with Frankenstein dead he has lost all possibility of repairing himself or fathering others of his kind. Whatever the exact nature of his interior life, it will be lost forever. The Monster imagines himself as Milton's Satan, but he is not. He is a Man, and that is far more and far less than even the greatest angel.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

October Readings: The Platypus Reads Part CCCI

I'm in an American Short Stories unit with my students right now. As I looked at the list (Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe), I noticed that the chosen readings were all tales of the supernatural. For some reason, as early United States writers pondered what it meant to be "an American" their thoughts swiftly turned to folklore and the supernatural. Perhaps it was the influence of Romanticism and the Gothic craze that was sweeping Europe at the same time. At any rate, I thought I would compile my own list of favorite Gothic American Short Stories perfect for the Autumnal fireside.

Washington Irving:

Rip Van Winkle
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Nathaniel Hawthorne:

Young Goodman Brown
The Grey Champion

Edgar Allen Poe:

The Fall of the House of Usher
Ligeia

H.P. Lovecraft:

The Shunned House
The Dunwich Horror

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Frankenstein Doodle (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCC

Today's post marks the 300th literary musing here at Platypus of Truth. That journey began with a review of two of my favorite books: Aeschylus' Oresteia and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings back in '06. Ten years later, we're still going strong and still drawing as often as not from the literary canon. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein makes a fitting companion to two originators with her towering fantasy that explores of the origin of pain.

This is my third time reading Frankenstein. At first, I thought it was a Rousseauean fable placing the source of human evil in the corruptions of society. On a third read, the message appears more complex. Frankenstein and the monster he has created mirror each other. Both experience early tragedy, both are left to educate themselves, and both engage in highly articulate blame shifting that seeks always to root their evil deeds in the inattention of others. They are Milton's Satan: starting off proud and towering and ending up weak, whiny and selfish. So is Man, for Mary Shelley, merely the product of his education? My first readings would have produced a resounding "yes". Now, however, I'm beginning to think it's "yes and no".

Whichever it is, here we have a picture of Frankenstein swearing to destroy The Monster at his family's grave. Unbeknownst to the grieving Frankenstein, his creation is lurking in the shadows and hearing his oath with demonic approval.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Frankenstein Doodle (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCXCIX

This is a pen-and-ink version of a whiteboard doodle from my class on Frankenstein. Here we have The Monster fulfilling his promise to be with Frankenstein on his wedding night. Poor fool, Frankenstein believes that The Monster is coming for him! The silhouette style is meant to be a nod to German Impressionism, and influence on Mike Mignola's popular Hellboy series. I used several of Mignola's Frankenstein illustrations from The House of the Living Dead in class with great success. The students enjoyed seeing how Mignola's interpretation of The Monster matched with the images in their head. They're working on their own art project for the book and will be presenting their own creations on Monday. There are many ways to read a book. Mortimer Adler suggested that we do it pen-in-hand. I find it equally productive to do it sketch-book-in-hand.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Frankenstein Doodle (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCXCVIII

This is another marker doodle copied from a whiteboard illustration that I used in teaching Frankenstein. Here, we have Frankenstein looking up at the mountains before he meets with the creature on the glacier. Ice is a recurring theme in the book where nature closely mimics the human action. Linking the monster with ice may be a reference to Milton's Satan who has his dominions amidst pyramids of ice in the northern reaches of Heaven (c.f. Tennyson's The Last Tournament where the Red Knight's bandits make their last head like Satan in the North). Nature and natural sympathies are the bread and butter of the Romantics, but I have been surprised this time by how overt a role Nature plays in Frankenstein. I didn't remember the descriptions of the Swiss mountains or the Rhine being so lengthy and vivid. In keeping with that, the lion's share of my doodles for this book have focused on impressionistic images of the setting rather than close-ups of the characters.

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.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Weird New England (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Another picture from an unpublished series.

Weird New England: Creative Platypus


Here are two pictures drawn during a recent trip to visit family. Both are concept art for the forth volume in a series of unpublished novels which chronicle the strange life of occult detective Ronald Fairfax. The style is inspired by a read through Hellboy's World, an academic study of the comic (and comics in general) by Stanford professor Scott Bukatman. If you like Hellboy, or comics in general, I can't recommend this book to you highly enough. Incidentally, it was also helpful in understanding an illuminated manuscript collection we happened upon during our trip.

In other news, teacher's meeting have started, so posting may become erratic over the month of August. It's already be an a-typical summer with far more pictures than book reviews and reading live-blogs. Oh well. It's always Strange Places for us here at Platypus of Truth, and we'll see what the Fall brings.

Monday, July 25, 2016

It's a Zelda Day in the neighborhood (cont.): Creative Platypus


One of my favorite little quirks in the original Legend of Zelda was the "bait". That meaty little chicken leg that you could always throw down when things got to hot to handle. I never beat the original Zelda title, though I got close. This, then, is my homage to Ganon, that shadowy presence never glimpsed in all his piggy glory until I got to A Link to the Past.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It's Dangerous to go Out Alone: Creative Platypus


"It's dangerous to go out alone! Take this." These words were the passport to adventure for an entire generation of children. They're on par with "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." or "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit". So here we have Link gaining his first sword, finding the magic sword in the cemetery, and encountering a moblin in the mazes of the Lost Woods.

P.S. -Notice that the moblin is wielding his spear with a sauroter in the "correct" under-arm position and carries a javelin as a secondary weapon. Whether he has properly adjusted his grip to account for the weapon's rearward center of gravity is a matter of scholarly debate and may simply come down to a matter of artistic convention.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Childe Link Unto the Dark Tower Came: Creative Platypus


Today, it's towers and thunderstorms. We have the Tower of Hera from The Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past as it appears in the comic book version. Next, we have Barad-Dur, Tolkien's Dark Tower, inspired by The Lord of the Rings board game. The medium, once more, is art marker with highlights done in colored pencil. Of course, every tower needs its denizens. Below are a stalfos and rocklops ready to meet any unwary trespassers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's A Zelda Day in the Neighborhood (Cont.): Creative Platypus


Here are three more pictures inspired by the original Legend of Zelda drawn in marker with some colored pencil overlay. I don't know how the rogue octorok got a hold of Link's raft.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

It's a Zelda Day in the Neighborhood: Creative Platypus


Looking around the web, I found inspiration for my next marker forays. Here we have the first dungeon from the original Legend of Zelda. The medium, once more, is art marker and brush marker with a little help from my colored pencils on Link's lantern. I love the imaginative world of the Zelda games. They are permeated with a sense of mystery and enchantment that begs to be carried over to the world of brush and pen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Saint Bartholomew: Creative Platypus

I was looking for a reference to go with the last picture and came across this statue of Saint Bartholomew draped in his own skin from Milan. It looked like a perfect opportunity to play with my grey-scale markers, so I jumped right in. The finished piece reminds me a bit of those gorgeous renaissance grey-scales that Mike Mignola used to use as frontispieces for Hellboy chapters (a colored icon of St. Bartholomew actually appears in the first edition of Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder). Anyhow, this would do just as well heading up one of the chapters of a BadNun graphic novel...

Classroom Doodle (Cont.): Creative Platypus

I decided to test out the technique I used for the stained glass in yesterday's drawing on another sketch for my study hall's t.v. pitch. This led to a discussion with my wife about the probable provenance of said window and its use in the post-Vatican II era. The window itself is freely adapted from a set of Tiffany windows created in Shelton Connecticut for use at Huntington Congregational Church (with apologies to Saint Joe's).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Huntington Congregational: Creative Platypus

Huntington Congregational: one of my favorite sites. I've drawn the church in pencil and then gone over it with black brush marker and filled in the details with a combination of brush marker and art marker. Next time, I need to use a ruler.

Classroom Doodle (Cont.): Creative Platypus


Here are two more marker drawings from my study hall's t.v. series pitch. To the left, we have the local Capo thinking about his son's future over a bourbon on the rocks. On the right is our lead receiving a visit from The Voice. It's also looking like I need a range of flesh tones and a set of art pens...

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Classroom Doodle (Cont.): Creative Platypus

This is another piece for my study hall's t.v. pitch. Here we have the Irish novice's childhood friend, erstwhile love-interest, and son of the local mafia capo (you can see why our novice might want to be a nun). Of course, if you think that's complicated, just see where the students were willing to go...

Friday, July 08, 2016

More Markers and Manga: Creative Platypus

I was looking for some marker inspiration today and ended up turning to Shotaro Ishinomori's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. There's a village scene on the opening page that reminds me very much of a traditional New England township. There's even what looks like a saltbox church with a gothic steeple wacked on in the Victorian Era. So here's my reworking of a portion of that image as a further experiment in marker-craft.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Hunting Anime Witches: Creative Platypus

Grad School is a good time for moody Goth animes -especially if you're a poseur. It's been years, but I do remember liking Witch Hunter Robin. So here's my attempt at the show's title character, Robin Sena. Prismacolor art markers and brush markers are again my weapons of choice (no orbo) with a little help from my Prismacolor colored pencils for the flesh tone. My technique needs more discipline, but I am better satisfied with this piece than with most of my previous art marker attempts.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Shiitake No Oni Rides Again: Creative Platypus

Still working with my new Prismacolor art markers. This attempt looks a little more promising. I give you the "One and Only" Shiitake No Oni.

Fun With Markers: Creative Platypus

Exploring a new medium today: Prismacolor art markers. Today's image is Castle Sasune from Final Fantasy III (of the many jobs). The game's enjoyable, so I thought I'd take a stab at the art -though that doesn't come as naturally to me. Mostly, it seems as though it will take me a while to get a handle on this new medium.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Drawing the Farthest Shore: The Platypus Reads Part CCXCIV

The Farthest Shore concludes the original Earthsea Trilogy. Le Guin has come back and added a further two novels after a long hiatus, but I'm never sure how I feel about their incorporation into the original set. Even The Farthest Shore has differences in tone from A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan. For one thing, it seems as if Le Guin had encountered the works of J.R.R. Tolkien by the time she wrote The Farthest Shore and that The Lord of the Rings exercised a subtle, pervasive influence on both language and content. I was waiting in the penultimate chapter for Sparrowhawk to say to Arren "I'm glad you're with me, Lebannen, here at the end of all things".

Whatever Tolkienian echoes there might be, however, The Farthest Shore is still firmly a work of Ursula K. Le Guin. The world is her own, and she is in full command of it as Sparrowhawk and Arren go in quest of the force that is destroying all of Earthsea. No where is this more evident than in Arren's (Son of Morred = Son of David) christological descent into hell and resurrection. In this event, Le Guin shows that her world possesses a life of its own, growing and moving through historical epochs. The advent of the prophesied King and his war with the Anti-King marks the close of the Ancient Earthsea that began with the "Bronze Age" Ereth-Akbe and ended with the Taoist-Stoic "Late Roman" Ged and begins a Middle Age with its own "Anno Domini".

So, here to pair with these thoughts is a drawing of the Anti-King, Cob, standing in the dry river bed beneath the Mountains of Pain (prismacolor pencils on black sketch-paper). We'll see if any more pleasant images occur to me as I continue to think about The Farthest Shore. If any do occur, you can be sure that I will post them here at Platypus of Truth.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mansions of Madness Minis: Creative Platypus

Never mind the Mi-Go...

My skills-of-a-photographer still leave something to be desired, but here is my first-draft of the miniatures from Fantasy Flight Games' Mansions of Madness. I've supplemented the base set with all sorts of do-dads from my Warhammer collection and some old museum souvenirs I had lying around the house. Points if you get the inside joke with the cultists (aside from the obvious Cthulhu reference).