Month: March 2011

Radiation Dose Chart proves Bananas are Evil

Mega-popular web-comic xkcd writer/artist Randall Munroe has created a really helpful chart showing radiation exposure comparisons. With the help of a Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor in Portland, Oregon, he compiled information on the relative radiation levels of things like daily life (none for talking on cell phones) to exposure at the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl (lots). With the ongoing fears regarding the partial nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, this should be of great interest to a lot of people. He notes at his blog though that there are bound to be mistakes since he is not a specialist and that this is intended for general information only. He also points to his friend’s own charts, which provides a Layman’s Intro to Radiation.

Chart by Randall Munroe (click to read full-size version)

According to his information, eating 1 banana is just as dangerous as living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for 1 year. Considering my past experience with bananas, I assume that means it is incredibly dangerous and merits immediate freak-out. Don’t let the bananas win.

(via Comics Alliance)

Sequence to Motion: The First Comic Book Movie and the Comic That Inspired It

Happy Hooligan by Frederick Opper (click for bigger)

We’re getting closer to the beginning of the big summer blockbuster season and once again, comic book adaptations are making up a very visible percentage of the big cinematic spectacles. But before Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America, before Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man and Superman all had their own superhero movies, there was Happy Hooligan.

Over 100 years ago, newspaper comics were still refining the language of comics but at the same time they were becoming a hugely popular form of entertainment. It was basically TV for the masses before there was television (or even radio, for that matter) in America’s living rooms. In 1899, one of newspaper’s biggest moguls, William Randolph Hearst, hired a respected illustrator of humor magazines to add to his growing roster of newspaper cartoonists at the New York Journal. Hearst quickly found that comics significantly increased readership and was a powerful communication tool, and he was a fan himself. He paid better rates to steal creators from his competition, and would fight for less successful creators he believed in. Hearst’s respected illustrator was named Frederick Burr Opper and one of his big creations was Happy Hooligan, which debuted March 11, 1900.

The comic strip was about a disheveled tramp with the worst luck. Happy would frequently try to do good, only to fall (usually literally) to some accident conveniently witnessed by a passing cop who thought Happy was causing the trouble. Most comics ended with Happy being dragged off by one or more cops to serve some excessive amount of jail time. Someone in the legal system must have taken pity on Happy because the following Sunday he would be getting into trouble all over again.

Above is an example from August 24, 1902, preserved and represented by Barnacle Press, which has a veritable treasure trove of old newspaper comics. The physical comedy is played out seemingly second-by-second in each panel. The main fun is in following each step of the small disaster as it unravels, and how each chess piece moves around the space and interacts with the others. In this instance, the chess pieces are Happy, the woman, her horse, Happy’s brother Gloomy Gus (essentially serving as our point of view), the police officer that runs onto the scene, and the tree. The tree’s broken branches and Happy’s pocket knife also serve as secondary chess pieces (he always has his sharpened edc knife with him). Even the bush in the background seems to respond to the action in each panel. And Happy’s ever-present tin can hat adds to the whole. It might look like it vanishes but it’s still on his head at the end, flattened from the action in panels 6, 7 and 8.) You can re-read the strip following just one of the chess pieces. Speech balloons helped direct attention to certain chess pieces at specific moments. The “camera” holds at one angle throughout, similar to vaudeville theater at the time (Gloomy Gus even breaks the fourth wall and talks to the readers/audience at one point). But this also enhances the effect of following the action. We’re a witness to this unbelievable accident as though we were walking by. It also makes it easier to track the action, allowing each panel to serve as a before and/or after comparison of the panels around it. It seems primitive at first (the panels are numbered to make sure readers understood the reading sequence), but it’s really quite a wonderful bit of choreography, and was probably really eye catching to readers of the time. It still holds a lot of delight. I love the horse’s faces! And there’s something really bewitching about Gloomy Gus’s spotted hankerchief, which seems to know more than it’s letting on.

The comic must have hit a chord with people fairly quickly, because within the year the silent film producer/director J. Stuart Blackton (who also created the first American animated film) began making live action short films based on Happy Hooligan. Blackton himself played Happy, complete with torn clothes and a tin-can as a hat. Six shorts were made between 1900 and 1903. Sadly, nearly all of the shorts have either been misplaced or dissolved from the passage of time. Fortunately, The Library of Congress has been able to retrieve and digitally save about 1 minute of one of the last shorts in 1903. This scene was shot on June 15, 1903, at the New York studio of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, the production and distribution company for the shorts.

Cute bit, definitely a classic. But from the start, you can see that movies already had a challenge in adapting comics that would dog them for a century. The visual effects just can’t recreate the madcap slapstick and physical choreography of the comic strip. And this was a good 35+ years before superheroes introduced superpowers and flashy costumes into the mix. Movie-making technology has come a long way since then but it’s still a challenge to get the visuals right. Just last week, the reveal of Wonder Woman’s costume for the new TV series caused much outrage and ridicule online. We’ll see how this summer’s movies tackle it.

Meanwhile, Happy Hooligan went on to influence Charlie Chaplin’s tramp and other lovable homeless characters with bad luck. Happy had three brothers, one of which was named Gloomy Gus (seen in the comic above), a term that’s still sometimes used today to describe an excessively depressed person. Happy also had three nephews that looked nearly identical and spoke in unison, likely influences for Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie. The strip has also been cited as the comic to establish the consistent use of speech balloons as the regular comics form of depicting dialogue. Before that, comics typically had dialogue below the panel as a caption. While the comic might take work for some readers to adjust to its aging style of storytelling, it will always hold a significant place in history.

More info about Happy Hooligan and Frederick Opper: Toonopedia, Wikipedia, Comiclopedia

To read more Happy Hooligan comics, visit the previously linked Barnacle Press, and NBM Publishing for their published compilation.

Someone make this: Searchable database of comic strips in major newspapers throughout history

I was hoping to find something like this but for the Boston Globe instead of The Oregonian (scan from Jonathan Shipley's Writer's Desk blog)

I was trying to figure out what comic strips were running in The Boston Globe when I started reading the comics section as a young lad. I know there was Garfield, probably the Amazing Spider-Man strip, Peanuts most likely, For Better or For Worse probably, but I can’t really remember what else. I think I started regularly reading the comics pages just before Calvin and Hobbes started, as I remember that being “the new strip”. So probably around 1984? I would love to have that information.

I was hoping I could find a scan of a random page from the ’80s to help refresh my memory. You can find everything online, so I figured this might take some clever Googling but should be doable. Well, apparently not. (Or I’m just not a very good Googler.) I did an image search at “the Google” for said random scan but no such luck. Then I did a search of all the internets, every single one of them, hoping for some ugly GeoCities fan site created by an obsessive-compulsive Globe reader who had cataloged every comics page, preferably using HTML tables and yellow font on a gaudy background. Maybe a dancing Calvin & Hobbes gif to really seal the deal? Well, GeoCities is gone, so maybe it took this hypothetical site with it. Once again, no such luck.

So this got me thinking. This is something that should be out there. All of the major newspapers with comics sections: The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune – it would be a great historical resource to know which strips ran in which papers when and for how long. (Last night on Twitter, I mistakenly included the New York Times in my initial wish list, but they don’t have a comics section.) Getting smaller papers would be great too but at least the major papers initially. And this information undoubtedly exists. The syndicates surely have extensive records of this information and more, although they probably have little motivation to provide it. So it will likely fall to the people to collect this information. So come on, everyone, let’s head to our local library‘s microfiche and get this going!

It’s MS Awareness Week: MS = 1 day at a time #msequals

Hey everybody! Multiple sclerosis is a thing that exists!

There, now you’re aware. That wasn’t so hard. Problem solved!

Huh. Probably should’ve done that sooner.

Wait… I think multiple sclerosis is still a problem. And I think there are people that may not have read this yet that don’t know about MS. I guess I’m not done after all.

As I’ve shared in the past, my wife Nahleen was diagnosed with MS over 8 years ago. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that damages the ability of the body’s nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord to communicate with each other. This leads to a variety of symptoms, usually different for each person, that can include coordination and balance problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, pain, speech difficulties, cognitive lapses and other fun stuff. The severity can vary wildly but generally (but not always) gets gradually worse over time. The cause is unknown. There is no cure.

The National MS Society is trying to change that. They do amazing work to raise money for research and treatment. They also organize workshops, seminars and other activities to help people live with this disease. They have been a great resource for us and their proactive involvement has helped produce the first oral medication for MS, Gilenya, which Nahleen started taking a few weeks ago.

Before that, Nahleen treated her MS with one of four self-injected medications. Yes, self-injected involves stabbing oneself with a syringe deep enough to get between the fat layer and muscle. Depending on the type of medication, this is done either daily, every other day, three times a week, or once a week. The worst thing in the world? No. But the process was not a good time. Pre-medication (Tylenol for the pain and numbing of the injection site with ice), preparation, injection, clean-up. Then there are all sorts of awesome side effects for each version. For Nahleen, she experienced flu-like symptoms like a fever (she would usually wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night after each injection), muscle aches, fatique, depression (Hey, aren’t these some of the symptoms for MS? Why yes, yes they are.), and injection site reactions (bruising, swelling). Oh yeah, and it hurts. Sometimes barely at all, but sometimes quite a bit.

So yeah, switching to a pill kind of feels like winning the lottery. Side effects are minimal to nothing so far. (Although we might need the real lottery to pay for it.)

If that’s all the National MS Society did, I would love them forever, but they do so much more. Like organizing Walk MS events, which we usually do (but sadly not this year), Bike MS, and MS Awareness Week, where they’re asking what MS means to people. You can post your answer at that last link, or tweet including the hashtag #msequals, make a video on YouTube or post a blog like I’m doing.

My answer is in the title of this blog. MS = 1 day at a time. One thing I had to abandon was what I expected to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, forever. Every day is different for Nahleen, and I have to be willing to allow for a drastic or slight change of plans. Whether it’s about grocery shopping tomorrow, flying back east to visit our families this summer, or great big life decisions and dreams 5-10 years from now, I have to be able to let them go. Sure, it can make RSVP’ing for birthday parties challenging, but we’ve found that most of our friends understand. It takes being patient, forgiving and willing to… improvise. Why yes, maybe there’s something to those improv comedy shows I do with the Magic Meathands that help me accept and adjust. Even comic books offer a way to look at life that can help in dealing with all of this. Comics, or sequential art, break up life into snapshots or moments of time. Appreciating that moment, within and without the context of the moments (and life) around it, give me a gratitude for the times Nahleen and I have together regardless of whether it was the big date we were “supposed” to have, or a quiet and careful night at home.

Nahleen and I may not be doing Walk MS this year, but we would still love to help raise money for the National MS Society. We’d like to refer you to two Walkers this year, and hope you will consider donating to them. Michelle Hazan is a friend of ours and has been on our Walk MS team for several years now. Through the magic of Twitter, I met Angelina Fuller (@Symph0ny) who is doing her very first Walk MS this year. It would be amazing if our people could help them reach their goals.

Also, if you’re in the west LA area around lunchtime (12-2 PM), there will be a different food truck camped out at the National MS Society Southern California office at 2440 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles 90046 each day of the week, to celebrate MS Awareness Week. 10% of sales goes to the National MS Society. Naan Stop and The Surfer Taco trucks were there Monday, yesterday saw Cali Cuisine (aka the Calitruck), and today will have three trucks hanging out in the So Cal office parking lot: Don Chow’s Tacos, White Rabbit, and the Calitruck! I heard there was a 45-minute wait yesterday with only one truck there, so the lines should be moving faster today. Check out the Facebook page for Walk MS SoCal & Nevada for tomorrow and Friday’s food trucks, and to hear more about their efforts to fight MS.

Voices From Chornobyl – suddenly way too relevant

Next month marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster. And here we are days after the terrifying earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan that has resulted in an unstable situation at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

It’s true that the two incidents do not have a direct 1:1 correlation. The nuclear power plant industry learned from that previous horrible incident but there’s still so much that we don’t know about this method of powering electricity. And there are still a lot of disturbing parallels between April 26, 1986, and the days and weeks that followed, and what is happening now.

“This is for thousands of years.”

I’ve seen some people dismiss the warnings and concerns with figures of low death counts from nuclear incidents. But our attention should not be determined by loss of life. The quality of life in Chernobyl was irreversibly changed, just as it is being changed forever in Japan.

In 2008, I served as associate producer for the above short demo of a dramatization by Cindy Marie Jenkins of a book of interviews of Chernobyl survivors. It’s called Voices from Chornobyl. If this video captures 1/10th of the heartbreak the people of Chernobyl went through then, or that the people of Japan are going through now, and gets you or someone you forward this on to, to consider helping the people of either region in the ongoing aftermath, I’ll feel like maybe I did something right.

Smiles for Japan: $25 art commissions by manga artist Nina Matsumoto will send 100% to Japan Society's Earthquake Relief Fund (click image for more info)

To fit in the comics side of me, manga artists in Japan have been expressing their support and encouragement through a wonderful series of art with a “Smiles for Japan” theme. Robot 6 has links to work by popular creators like Takehiko Inoue (Vagabond), Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), Naoki Urasawa (20th Century Boys), Kanata Konami (Chi’s Sweet Home), Arina Tanemura (The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross), Nina Matsumoto (Yokaiden) and more. (If only I could read Japanese.)

Also, Meltdown Comics (7522 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046) is holding an art auction called We Heart Japan this Thursday, March 17, 8 PM – 11 PM, with 100% of proceeds going to the Japan NGO Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund. The event was organized by anime voice actor Stephanie Sheh (Naruto) and comic book artist/graphic designer Pinguino Kolb.

To learn more about the ongoing Voices From Chornobyl project, please visit their website.

To donate to the Red Cross and their efforts to help the Japanese Red Cross respond to the earthquake/tsunami disaster, please visit their website.

And to get activisty for a moment: To learn more about the risks of nuclear power, visit NukeFree.org.

(For detail freaks like myself, the alternate spelling of Chernobyl in the title is a more accurate English spelling of the original Ukrainian name of the city.)

Read This: Scenes From An Impending Marriage

I firmly believe there’s a comic book or graphic novel for everyone. Yes, there’s even a comic for soon-to-be newlyweds in the form of Scenes from an Impending Marriage: A Prenuptial Memoir by Adrian Tomine (published by Drawn & Quarterly).

This little book is a quick read but endlessly enjoyable. Anybody who has gotten married, no matter how smooth or not it went, will relate. The memoir goes through a number of brief anecdotes of writer/artist Adrian and his fiancée Sarah Brennan going through all of the planning stages of putting together a wedding. It stays light and humorous instead of getting overwhelmed with family drama. And there are occasional single-panel cartoons that provide a great running gag.

The author and now-wife were interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered recently and their really quite adorable.

This would make a great wedding present. Or if you’re the one getting married, you can even add it to your Amazon.com wedding registry.

Here’s Drawn & Quarterly’s write-up (and the blurb on the back cover):

Scenes from an Impending Marriage

Adrian Tomine

YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED
to witness the hilarious true story of one couple’s long march to the altar. Best known for his cover illustrations for The New Yorker and for the critically–acclaimed graphic novel Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine now opens the pages of his private sketchbook to reveal a witty, intimate account of the heady months prior to getting married. Through a series of comic vignettes, Tomine captures the amusing, taxing, and often absurd process of planning a wedding, as well as the peculiar characters and situations that he and his fiancée encounter along the way. Filled with incisive humor, keen observations, and unabashed tenderness, Scenes from an Impending Marriage is a sweet-natured document of the little moments leading up to the big day.

Hardcover, 4.25 x 5.5, black and white, 56 pages

ISBN: 9781770460348

$9.95 US / $10.50 CDN

Here’s a page from the preview posted at NPR to give you a taste.