13 fingers

Drawing in sharpie in my sketchbook from when I was tired the other day and in no mood for anything other than letting the pen decide. No, I have no idea what it is or what size it might be but if the 13 ‘legs’ are human fingers, I’m guessing it is around 1 1/2 feet across… unless those are some big fucking fingers. Watch where you sit.

Floating Cities, adventures underground, etc.

I’ve been doing some illustration work for a book being written by someone I know; a young adult novel that includes a floating city, flying ships, etc. Here is one of the drawings I did that the author likes a great deal (a floating school / city). It’s not 100% there yet, but it is on its way.
In addition, I’ve been working in the garden pretty much non-stop from spring. We have a fairly large plot this year with cucumbers, peppers, squash, corn, collard greens, beets, chard and other things that do well in Michigan. In the spring I had to build an 8 foot tall fence to keep the deer out. The lettuce is finished (but was surprisingly long lasting). Here is some of one days harvest — what we can’t eat gets preserved or frozen.

Finally, a shout out to Chris Cilla; a comic book artist whose work I recently discovered and enjoy. I got a copy of his book, “The Heavy Hand,” and, although I haven’t had a chance to read it, my first peeks have me excited to do so. “The Heavy Hand” seems to be about two groups of researchers studying the critters who live in a cave and a hapless character named Alvin who wanders into their midst.

It can’t be the hardest quiz if I got 60%

Happy Birthday, Gary Gygax. I was surprised I scored as high as I did since so many others seem to know so much more Gygax-lore than I do.

Stefan took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!

You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You’re probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

I am getting old

I was visiting my parent’s house in Saint Louis a week ago and noticed a copy of AARP magazine on the table. (AARP is the “American Association of Retired Persons” (or something like that)). The magazine, by itself, was not surprising. My father finally retired and he likes to look through magazines while sipping his morning coffee.

But I was alarmed to see Han Solo on the cover:

Desperate for attention, Glenn Beck sinks to a new low

Glenn Beck apparently saw all of the headlines about the attack in Norway by Anders Breivik and said to himself, “How can I get in on some of that attention?” Well, he gave it his best shot by comparing the people who got slaughtered at the Utoeye camp to ‘The Hitler Youth,‘ provoking hoped for howls of outrage from all over and once again getting his own name into the headlines.

“There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like the Hitler Youth, or whatever,” Beck said. “I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing,” Would he had made the same statement if the shooting had occurred at one of the youth camps sponsored by Beck’s own 9/12 organization in which instructors provide “heritage-based education for youth, with special focus on the Constitution and the Founding generation”?

“I’m thinking about killing Glenn Beck, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. … No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. Is this wrong?…” (now, now, put your righteous indignation away; for context, check #3 here)

Why do they do this?

In almost every single movie where someone on foot is being chased by a car, the person being chased always seems to run along the road rather than off of the road. Why is that?

Currently Reading: The Hunger Games

“The Hunger Games” is a 2008 young adult novel by Suzanne Collins (it is the first of three books in a series by the same author). My S.O. is currently writing a young adult novel, and, as a result, she ends up reading other things that have been published for young adult readers (most of which, according to Annie, is wretched stuff). She recommended I read ‘The Hunger Games,’ and, since she knows my taste fairly well, I finally got around to starting it a day ago.

I didn’t like the highly regarded “Ender’s Game” enough to finish it, and, in most cases, I’ll pass on literature written specifically for young adults. Although I am only about half way through “The Hunger Games” and am glad I picked it up. Collins is an excellent writer; her prose is spare without being bland and her characters are interesting. Since the book is for young adults, the main character is a fifteen year old girl named Katniss.

‘The Hunger Games’ takes place in a dystopian future where the inhabitants of the outlying towns (known as “districts”) work in near wage-slavery in order to support the lavish life of the privileged in the Capitol. Every year the Capitol hosts an event called “The Hunger Games.” A boy and a girl are selected at random from each district and fight to the death in a setting known as ‘The Arena.’ The last survivor’s district is given extra food and privileges for the coming year, so there is great pressure for the children selected to succeed.

The entire contest is televised. Participants are released into the ‘arena’ and expected to compete and win by any means necessary. Supplies like food, tools, medieval era weapons like spears, swords, bows and arrows, etc., are available if the participants are lucky enough to reach them first. Players are allowed to form alliances if they wish in order to ‘gang up’ on other players, but, eventually, they will need to turn on each other since the games end when only one survives. In addition, according to their popularity with the television viewers and the bribes provided by ‘sponsors,’ different participants may be occasionally given helpful items like a loaf of bread or some medicine, so smart players attempt to appear interesting or appealing to the viewers.

Katniss ends up being one of the ‘tributes’ to participate in “The Hunger Games.” Before his death, her father taught her how to hunt in the woods, fish, forage for nuts and berries, set snares for rabbits, etc. While the other players compete against one another for food supplied by the game masters, Katniss feeds herself with her hunting and foraging skills.

I’m only about 1/2 way through, but have enjoyed the book immensely so far despite the fact that it is written for a younger reader. Although the book is not as emotionally brutal as 1984, I think the book is not written ‘down’ for a younger audience. Her prose is solid; we learn a lot about Katniss‘ world and her opinions in passing and in context rather than having it laboriously explained. The book explores themes of Independence and personal responsibility but (as I am about 1/2 way through) is not too heavy handed in trying to get young readers to think about these topics.

I have been avoiding reading the Wikipedia entry on the book before I finish it. Suzanne Collins claims she was inspired to write “The Hunger Games” while channel surfing between news from the Iraq war and reality television shows. The idea of ‘fight to the death’ gladitorial games in a distant future isn’t original, but I think the book is good enough that I don’t care that I have seen these themes before.

Definite recommendation.

Bavaria is for Beer, Skiing, Polka and Pilgrims

It seems there is yet another thing I have to cross off of the itinerary of my next Bavarian vacation. The remains of Rudolf Hess, noted Nazi propagandist and skydiver, were exhumed from his grave in Wunseidel, Bavaria. The tombstone was removed and the remains shall be cremated and scattered at sea.

Hess’ grave was a noted tourist destination for goose-stepping tourists from as far away as Iowa who would come to gawk at the tombstone and pay their respects to the ‘last man in Spandau Prison.’ The general creepiness of the visitors who would travel from distant lands to leave flowers and shed tears are one of the reasons that the town of Wunseidel decided that this was one tourist attraction that they would prefer to do without. That and all the skinheads who liked to descend on their town for rallies in which the ‘achievements’ of a dubious regime and it’s suicidal leadership were celebrated. Perhaps Wunseidel’s populace would like to become known for other things… or think that being unknown is preferable to being known as the Neo-Nazi ‘Sturgis’ of Bavaria.

Check out Hess’ Groucho eyebrows in the pic at right. Although Rudolf’s dad was as Aryan as the driven snow, his mother was a Greek, which probably required considerable pruning of the Hess family tree in order to make Hitler’s right hand appear presentably Aryan.

He also provided considerable fodder for conspiracy theorists. Hess started off as Hitler’s right hand man but abruptly ended up parachuting into England Scotland where he was promptly imprisoned. Some said Hess was attempting to broker a peace deal; others said he feared assassination in Germany and decided to ‘escape’ to England Great Britain. Like the child of divorced parents, the former allies and the USSR had a ‘shared custody’ arrangement at Spandau Prison. Hess could look forward to Russian guards one month, American guards the next, etc. Long after the West had lost interest in keeping Hess in prison, the USSR continued to insist he remain there, giving rise to yet more theories on what secrets Hess knew and why the Russians wanted to keep him there. Hess hung himself (or was murdered by the British, according to the theorists) in 1987. Before he died, one of the prison doctors made headlines by declaring that the man in Spandau was NOT Rudolf Hess. Others insist that it was indeed Hess but trying to quash conspiracy rumors with facts is a hopeless enterprise.


There is a very short post by James M. over at Grognardia which has garnered 70+ comments and counting. James M. stuck up the picture at right (which is of the actor who is playing the part of Thorin, leader of the dwarves, from Jackson’s “Hobbit” film) along with a caption saying who it was. Most of the comments (I haven’t read them all) seem to be debating the issue of whether or not this ‘looks’ like one of Tolkien’s dwarves or not.

I’m less interested in whether or not this ‘looks like Thorin or not’ and the other issue it raises for me: If I read a book and then later see that same book made into a film, sometimes I feel like the images from the movie will actually replace those of my own imagination, which is strange and somewhat disquieting. I know I read ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ long before I saw the films, but when I imagine what Frodo looks like today, I imagine Elija Wood instead of whomever I might have pictured in my mind’s eye before that (who knows: perhaps I imagined those huge eyed midgets from the Rankin-Bass cartoon and singing goblins?).

I don’t think the above ‘Thorin’ looks how I pictured him. I lived in Germany as a wee kid and had access to all kinds of really old fairy tale books as a kid which somehow made me imagine dwarves as somewhat more stumpy, grouchy looking garden gnomes with wrinkled faces and impossibly long beards. I know that’s just a step away from the somewhat maudlin Walt Disney Snow White cartoon, but Disney’s images and mine may have been drawn from the same sources (we had a pile of illustrated German fairy tale books that I think inspired me to want to draw, some of which were old when my mother was a child. Among them is Heinrich Hoffmann’s “Struwwelpeter” which is probably still in reprint today and continues to guarantee that German kids grow up somewhat perverse and twisted — but there are no dwarves in Struwwelpeter; just kids getting killed, mutilated or humiliated).

I sometimes feel like my brain is a crowded house, and when I introduce new things into it, other things get shoved out the back door and forgotten. People who study brains and learning assure me that the human mind does not work like this, but sometimes I think conceptualization and imagination does. One of the strengths of stories like ‘The Hobbit’ is that the author gives a lot of little details in the course of telling the story but lets the reader paint his or her own picture of what the character may look like. We know that Bilbo is fat and out of shape because we start by learning about how the dwarves invade his comfortable middle class house and take advantage of his hospitality and he is out of breath from running back and forth trying to fill all of their requests for beer, cheese, wine, etc. Later in the story he complains about being hungry or not having even the smallest items of personal comfort like a handkerchief. Waistcoats and round doors and hairy feet are mentioned, but part of the pleasure of the story is taking all of these little details and creating a character image from it as you read rather than having the author give a visual inventory of Biblo Baggins at the start. If memory serves, Tolkien does not tell us a lot about how the dwarves look other than saying that they have cloaks and beards and hoods. Thorin is noted as having a silver tassel on his hood and being treated with respect by the other dwarves but I don’t recall a great deal of specificity in their individual description. The only dwarf who stands out is Bombur, who is noted as being very fat. As a reader I may have just assumed dwarves were shorter than humans because they are called ‘dwarves.’ I don’t know if that was ever specifically stated in ‘The Hobbit.’ (And, while we are on the subject, is ‘dwarves’ really correct? Should it be ‘dwarfs’?)

I don’t feel qualified to argue whether my ‘dwarf image’ is better than Jacksons… mine is probably pretty dull and predictable given what I was exposed to as a kid… but my dwarf image is mine and feels like a gift from both my own brain and the author.

I know when The Hobbit finally hits theaters I will see it. But part of me doesn’t want to. Part of me thinks that every specific image of the imaginary I expose myself to in very immersive technologies like movies risks replacing images I mentally generated in my own more piecemeal fashion, and that feels like I am perhaps giving something up.

what I have been doing

I’ve been putting in long hours on a mosaic tile floor as a part of a commission at a non profit in Saint Louis. I hope to finish today. This is a pic that was snapped by someone’s smart phone; I plan to take better pics before I go… but the project means sore hands, sore knees, a sore back, etc.