Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Today I present pumpkins...

Gabriel's, on the top, was inspired by Monsteroso from Amazing Adventures #5.

Mine, on the bottom (next to the frog, of course) was inspired by a very poorly remembered owl face.

Now,  Monsteroso lit from within:

And the owl...

Both together:

And the parade of tiny pumpkins leading to our front door:

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Tale of Drowning in Free Beer and Corporate Treachery

On my way to work the other day I heard mention of something called The London Beer Flood of 1814. Turns out that October 17th was the anniversary of this unhappy event, one which I was surprised to have never heard of before.

It seems that a brewery, owned by Meux and Company, used to operate on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street in London. It was located in the middle of a terribly crowded slum. The brewery was large though, and boasted some truly huge barrels. One was over 22 feet high. That's about two stories of porter! The batch in that particular barrel had been fermenting for almost 10 months and the metal bands holding the wooden staves together were beginning to show fatigue. One of them snapped, causing a chain reaction that sent debris flying into other barrels, exploding them too. Some people said they could hear the explosion from five miles away.

Soon 1,224,000 liters of beer were flooding the streets. Two houses were completely demolished and the brick wall of a nearby pub collapsed on top of a 14 year old barmaid. The area erupted in chaos. People ran towards the tsunami, trying to collect as much free beer as they could in pots and jars. Some people drank with their hands. But others were washed away by the tide or drowned in tenement basements. As injured survivors started making their way to nearby hospitals the smell of beer followed them. One hospital nearly had a riot as people rose from their sickbeds demanding to know why there was a party going on and why they weren't being served ale too.

In the end, at least 7 people drowned and one died from alcohol poisoning. The area was horribly poor; some people decided to display the corpses of family members killed in the disaster for a small fee. One home hosted so many ghoulish onlookers that the floor caved in, plunging the thrill-seekers into a basement still filled with beer.

The area stank of rancid ale for months since the brewery did very little clean-up work. In fact, they didn't even pay for the funerals of the victims. Instead, residents of the local slums left coins on the coffins. When someone finally took the company to court over the accident the judge ruled it "an act of God" and therefor not their fault. Meux and Company were eventually reimbursed by the government for the money that they had already paid in taxes on the lost beer. No one reimbursed the residents for their lost homes, of course.

Still, it could have been worse. 100 years later, in Boston in 1919, a huge tank of molasses exploded, killing 21 people. Death by treacle is doubtlessly worse than death by beer.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Soft sculpture by Weird Bug Lady
Recently my friend Karl sent me a link to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity website which was highlighting "Species You Didn't Know Existed". It's a really interesting list. Even though I have a zoology degree and try to keep up with species discoveries lots of these were new to me. And even better... There is lots of information about critters that you may have heard of but know nothing about. One of these is the tardigrade, also know as water bears or moss piglets.

Tardigrades really are among the strangest creatures on the planet. They are microscopic, yet quite cute when viewed under magnification. They are almost transparent, have eight legs, little claws, and can withstand just about any insult researchers can throw at them.  Would you believe that they are just about indestructible when in the dehydrated resting state known as "tun"? It's true! These tiny weirdos have been frozen to just above absolute zero, shot into space, radiated, boiled alive, you name it. But stop the abuse, add water, and all is forgiven. The tardigrade continues about its business as if nothing has happened.

Brooches by Bobbie and Lola
These critters are so unlike us that they even have their own phylum. We are more closely related to sea squirts than to them! But that doesn't mean that we have nothing to learn from them. In fact, they make great research creatures. If you don't believe me, just watch this great video from Science Friday.

After seeing a photo of a tardigrade it's hard not to wish it was macroscopic so you could give it a hug. Luckily, some crafters have made squishy, personable stand-ins, like Weird Bug Lady's soft sculpture above, and Bobbie and Lola's brooches to the right.

Want to learn more? Check out the links here!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

City Parrot, Suburban Parrot, Country Parrot?

Two members of the San Francisco flock, from the L.A. Times
Loud, colorful, smart, and resourceful... What animal is more entwined with tropical daydreams than the parrot? Yet all over the world these birds are becoming common at backyard bird feeders.

Los Angeles, my home, is host to thousands of wild parrots. And their numbers are increasing. Almost daily I see flocks of amazons and conures fly past overhead. Military macaws roost in eucalyptus trees and on deck railings. Where are these birds coming from? Not all, or probably even most, are escapees. These flocks are established and reproducing. Of course, their numbers are added to by escaped birds, and by birds that have so annoyed their owners that they have been set free. Brooklyn, San Francisco, London, and even the Netherlands have established flocks too. Few things are more incongruous than walking down a cobbled lane in Amsterdam and seeing a macaw dart past.

A wild military macaw in Pasadena
But how are these tropical birds surviving? L.A. has very mild winters but its hard to imagine that they enjoy the weather in London. The answer lies in the way humans have changed the landscape. Cities, and even suburbs, have lots of areas that are protected from the elements. Perhaps more importantly, all of these cities are full of plants that are just as exotic as the parrots themselves. Fruit trees, ornamental shrubs, non-native flowers, all of these things make the parrots feel right at home. Another similarity is that most of these cities have man-altered watercourses: rivers and canals that have been tamed and plastered with concrete, creating fly-ways for the birds.

Unlike most introduced species, wild parrots don't seem to be causing too much environmental havoc. This is partly because they haven't yet crossed over into the wild lands that ring most cities, and partly because they live almost exclusively off of non-native plants. In other words, the environmental harm has already been done. The parrots are merely the beneficiaries.

Are we going to someday see huge flocks, hundreds of birds strong, wheeling over our cities? I don't know, but it's a remote possibility. After all, prior 1904 when the last native North American parrot was killed in Florida, huge flocks of Carolina parakeets were a common sight in the Eastern U.S. So grab a Mai Tai and keep an eye on that bird feeder!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Thing About New York Comic Con...

Well, the main thing for me is that I won't be there this year! Working on the weekends does have some disadvantages, and a big one is that sometimes getting time off to go to conventions is impossible. But that doesn't mean that copies of Heathentown will be absent!

And better yet, Gabriel Hardman will be there to sell them to you. He'll be doing sketches too, holding down the fort at table I-15 in Artists Alley while I hold down the fort at home. This is our last Con for the year, so be sure to stop by if you get the chance. Wondering about prices? Here's the breakdown:

9x12 Inked Single Character Full Figure Sketch: $75

9x12 Inked Two Character Full Figure Sketch: $100

9x12 Inked Head Sketch: $30

He'll be there all weekend, October 8th through the 10th, or you can catch him while he's signing at the Marvel Comics booth on Sunday from 12 to 1 PM. His work on Hulk has been getting lots of attention so try to catch him early to get on the sketch list!

I'm sad that I can't be there too, but I'm glad that Gabriel is going. We lived in NYC once upon a time and have many fond memories of our time there. Like the time we put a box of old comic books out on the street and watched from our fire escape as people came by and plucked book after book out, happily taking them away to read. There were homeless guys, young kids on skate boards, a guy in a suit jacket... Obviously New York is a comics-loving town. So be sure to find table I-15 and show Mr. Hardman some comics love!
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