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Monday, November 30, 2015

Appaloosa And Dinosaurs

The days spent in the hospital, lending moral support to my sick family member, and the rest of my family, allowed me to finish another drawing. Unlike St. Luke the Ox, I had started this one a few weeks previous. 

On that weekend, a family member had given me a copy of Robert B. Parker's novel Appaloosa. Of course, I've seen the movie version several times, but this was my first experience of reading Robert B Parker. I flew through the novel, devouring it in two days. I liked Parker's lean writing style, and enjoyed getting a little more insight into his story. 

One thing that surprised me was how true director and actor Ed Harris stayed to Parker's novel for the film version. The main difference was how he softened the characters, and made them more complex in the process. Take, for example, the role of the heroine Allie French. In Parker's novel, Allie comes across as a much harder character. She's almost like a carnivore of men. She can't accept her man unless he's constantly fighting for her. So she does things that purposely set her man, Marshal Cole, against others. She reminds me of those who sat in the Roman arenas, cheered on the gladiators, and booed if the match didn't end with a spectacular death. In Harris' film, Renee Zellweger's character comes across as more sympathetic. She may have difficulty controlling herself around powerful men, but she seems to truly love Cole, and not purposely instigate events that would cause him harm.

I suppose reading that novel influenced me. For one of the times I took a short break from devouring it, I started a sketch of dinosaurs in a western town.* Sitting in the hospital room gave me plenty of time to contemplate the drawing, and figure out how best to bring it to life. I even put shadows onto the ground, while I'd never attempted before.

Once while I was coloring, I heard a nurse beside me suck in a breath, and she said, "Wow! Are you a professional cartoonist?" I don't know about you, but that made me feel good, pardner. 


Dragon Dave

*Robert B Parker's novel, and Ed Harris' movie, utilize horses instead of dinosaurs. But then, no story is perfect.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Comic Book Holiday Shopping for Dragons

Last December, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful vacation in Florida. In addition to touring Universal Studios and Gatorland, we visited a number of comic book shops. We had some great conversations with people in those shops, and found a number of bargains. But mostly, we just loved exploring the discount boxes, and finding old comics we might not find in the shops back home.

Those visits even inspired me to immortalize them in my sketch book. 

It's not as if we don't have enough great comics already. But there are always gaps in any collection. If you're more concerned with the pleasure of reading than the condition and resale value, thumbing through the discount boxes is a great way to fill out a series. We've also discovered new series that have become favorites in those boxes. If you don't have to worry about the price per issue, you can experiment a little more, and find writers, artists, and stories that really grow on you.

This year, several comic book stores in my area are offering Black Friday sales. Some special offers will extend throughout the holiday weekend. A couple hundred shops in the United States have also signed up for Local Comic Shop Day, a new event for this year. These comic book retailers will be handing out free comics specially printed for this event. So if you can pull yourself away from the Thanksgiving leftovers, and spare time out of the biggest shopping weekend of the year, you might find it worthwhile to cruise by your local comic book shop and have a look around. 

You might discover an old or new series that you really enjoy. Who knows? You might even find me there!

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Local Comic Shop Day

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Hobbit and the Harp in the ICU

During our stay in the hospital, one day passed rapidly into another. I found reading difficult, as there were always people coming and going. Thankfully, I had brought my sketch pad and colored pencils. Unlike reading, where I would have to shut people out to concentrate, with sketching I could embrace the interruptions, listen in on the discussions around me, and truly be there for the family. 

Above all the nurses and ICU staff, one visit proved particularly memorable. A woman introduced herself as a volunteer, and asked if the patient would like to hear a little music. When my sick family member answered "Yes," she wheeled in a harp.

Yes, you read that right: a harp.

I've played the piano all my life, and heard all the instruments that people typically play in church. I've always listened to music at home, from records to tapes to today's Compact Discs. Yet I've never really grown accustomed to hearing someone play the harp. I believe it says in the Old Testament that David played the harp for King Saul, and that the music eased his ruler's troubled brow. I can imagine that. It's such an elegant instrument, and she played it beautifully. She may have only played for a few minutes, but I could have listened to her for hours. 

You know, in his novel The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien records that Thorin Oakenshield played the harp. I'm not sure where or how he carried it as he traveled, but he played it that night he and the other dwarves visited Bilbo's little home in Hobbiton. In fact, all the dwarves played their own instruments. I'm not sure what happened to all those musical instruments after that. I don't remember the dwarves ever playing them again during their journey. Maybe they had to trade them in to buy their provisions for their adventure. In any case, it's sad they lost those instruments, particularly Thorin's harp. I bet they would have escaped the elves in Mirkwood much more easily, or perhaps even won their friendship, had they played so beautifully for the elves as they did that night in Bilbo's house. Don't you agree?

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 23, 2015

St Luke The Ox

A collection of agricultural equipment
in the Torquay Museum in England

Last month, I attended church to find the congregation celebrating the Feast of St. Luke. As Luke was a physician who attended Paul on his missionary journeys, we recited the litany of healing. Then everyone in the congregation was ushered up to the altar to be anointed. As two members of my family were facing debilitating illness and infirmity, I thought of and prayed for their healing. 

During the sermon, the priest mentioned that Saint Luke was associated with the symbol of the ox, which farmers in previous eras used to plow their fields. I found the way he described the association powerful, and so I picked up my sketch pad and started drawing.

That night, we received a phone call. One of the relatives I had prayed for during the healing service was in the hospital, about to undergo an operation. The prognosis was not good. This situation threw our normal lives out the window. We packed up and got on the road to be there, and help him and other family members in any way we could.

The days spent in the hospital gave me time to finish the drawing I started in church. Interestingly, in addition to serving as the patron saint of physicians, St. Luke is also a patron for artists. 

Now, the only question remains: do my efforts qualify me for his patronage?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nazi Stamp Album: Part 2

Arnold might have accepted the situation better, had he understood what had happened. But how can a child understand what has happened to family, his community, and his country, if his father refuses to talk about it? How can he make sense of such an upside-down situation, when all the men in his town who fought on (he thought) the side of right refuse to speak about, or even remember, their involvement in the war? How can he feel any sense of identity, and hope for his future in his home or his homeland, when forces from other countries walk his streets, and dictate how his government should function? Even his cherished stamp album was taken away from him. This album had fired his imagination with the grand new, modern world Hitler had promised to build. Instead, just as Allied forces had destroyed Hitler's dreams, the foreigners occupying Austria stole Arnold's cherished album, along with everything else associated with the Nazi party, and consigned it to the flames.

How could any child deal with that?

Is it any wonder that, as a child, he fixated upon the idea of America, the world's conquering hero-nation of World War II, and the home of all the movies that helped him escape the poverty and emptiness of his childhood, as being the land of opportunity and freedom? Is it so incomprehensible that he looked for a way to escape Austria, and when he found a means that seemed to work for him in bodybuilding, threw himself so fully into it that he became the most successful bodybuilder in history? 

Extraordinary times breed extraordinary people, and, as Total Recall demonstrates, one such person is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He worked hard at Bodybuilding, and when his successes gave him the opportunity to emigrate to the United States, he leapt at the chance. After working one's muscles to failure for four, five, or six hours each day, most bodybuilders lack the energy and focus to do much else. Not so Arnold. In addition to his rigorous gym sessions, he took business classes in community colleges, helped run Joe Weider's Muscle And Fitness empire, promoted bodybuilding contests he didn't compete in, ran his own mail order bodybuilding business, and operated several home repair businesses with fellow bodybuilder Franco Columbu.  

Note: Arnold Schwarzenegger thought most of his fellow bodybuilders were "lazy."

Arnold's hard work paid handsome dividends. He made his first million dollars in the real estate market. When he tired of all his conquests in the Bodybuilding world, he turned his focus and passion toward Hollywood, and helped make the kind of movies that he adored as a child. When he tired of being a movie star, and desired to give back to the country that had given him everything he ever dreamed of achieving, he threw his energies into serving as the governor of California. In addition to serving Californians everyday needs, he helped design and fund infrastructure projects that would improve cities, update highways to relieve congestion, and build high speed rail systems. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger's life might have been far different had his father really reached out to him, talked to him, and helped him understand the Austrian government's reaction to the post-Hitler years. His life might have been more conventional had he been allowed to carry some relic of the past, such as his cherished stamp collection, into the future. Instead, he worked hard, never lost sight of his goals, and eventually transformed all his desires and dreams into reality. And unlike Hitler, he didn't need to start a war, or oppress an entire culture and race, to build a better world for all of us to live in.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 16, 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nazi Stamp Album: Part 1

Arnold Schwarzenegger's father was not a hate-filled person who dedicated his life to the extermination of the Jewish people. At least, that's not the way Arnold remembers him in his autobiography Total Recall. He was an Austrian gendarme, or policeman, who served in the German army during WWII. Thus, in his small way, he worked to transform Hitler's dreams into reality.

All conquerors and empire-builders dream of doing good works that will benefit the majority of their subjects. Like my grandfather with his stamps, and me with my Wacky packages, Arnold remembers collecting Nazi stamps, and putting them into an album. Its pages awed young Arnold with the glorious new world Hitler promised to create. 

The book was actually a do-it-yourself album for promoting the mighty accomplishments of the Third Reich. There were sections for different categories, such as public works, tunnels and dams under construction, Hitler’s rallies and speeches, great new ships, new monuments, great battles being fought in Poland. Each category had blank pages that were numbered, and whenever you went to the store and bought something or invested in a war bond, you would get a photo to match up with a number and paste into your book. When the collection was complete, you’d win a prize.

But WWII turned against the Germans, and Hitler's dreams turned to ashes.

Those who worked hardest to bring Hitler's dreams to life--those who survived--were imprisoned, tried in courts of law, and executed. The rest--those who merely served, and carried out the orders of their commanders--were sent home, to rebuild their communities, and resume their ordinary lives. Yet what can be ordinary about returning home to a devastated land, one in which all the glorious visions that the media has inundated its citizens with have failed? What can be ordinary about returning home as a soldier, after having lost the war, and being told by the world community that you must atone for your crimes? Imagine doing your civic duty for years, then returning home, and as the years go on, you work hard in relative poverty, and keep learning more revelations of the cruelties and horrors the regime you served had perpetrated. Definitely not a situation you'd want to relive with your friends every Saturday night, or regale your family with your war stories.

Arnold would have loved to have talked with his father, and understood why his nation, Austria, now had to atone for its participation in WWII. But Arnold's father refused to discuss the war. And then, one day, Arnold's cherished stamp album disappeared. Like all such reminders of the Nazi movement, it too was spirited away by the forces now occupying Austria, never to be seen again. 

This is the societal and familial situation in which Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up. It wasn't a situation of his own making. Yet, it was one he had to live with. Amid poverty, feelings of isolation, and an authoritarian upbringing, Arnold forged his own path to independence. He would become the greatest world championship bodybuilder of his era, a world-famous star on the silver screen, and a two-term governor of one of the largest and most famous states in the United States of America. But he started off poor, lonely, and without any real resources to call his own. Aside from ambition, of course. But then, what else do you really need in life?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sherlock Holmes' Expenses in The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sherlock Holmes & the dreaded hound
in Princetown, Devon

In The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry Baskerville is staying in a hotel in the Charing Cross region of London when he receives a letter warning him not to travel to Baskerville Hall in Devonshire, England. Only one word in the letter was handwritten. The rest were clipped from a newspaper, apparently with nail scissors, and affixed to the foolscap paper with gum. From their distinctive type (or font), Sherlock Holmes identifies the words as having been clipped from the inside page of yesterday's Times. Holmes wishes to determine where the paper might have been sent from. So he instructs a boy named Cartwright to visit all twenty-three hotels near the one in which Henry Baskerville is staying. At each, he is to give the outside porter one shilling, and tell the man he wishes to see yesterday's waste paper. 

In each case, the outside porter will send for the hall porter, to whom also you will give a shilling. 

Holmes gives the boy an additional ten shillings, in case he encounters any unforeseen expenses.

In all, Holmes is entrusting the boy with two pounds and eighty pence. This may not seem like a lot in today's money, but it's probably equivalent to what the boy earned for a six-day work week, working ten hours a day. Apparently the boy showed some ability during a prior investigation. On this occasion however, young Cartwright could find no copies of yesterday's Times with parts of the second page cut out. 

After Henry Baskerville left 221B Baker Street, Holmes and Watson followed him. As he hoped, Holmes spotted a man with a beard following Baskerville in a hansom cab. Holmes contacts the cab company, and the driver later visits him. Holmes offers the man half a sovereign if he can tell him the name of the man with the beard. 

"His name," said the cabman, "was Mr. Sherlock Holmes."

For a moment Holmes sat in silent amazement. Then he burst into a hearty laugh.

I've no idea how much the cabdriver earned after expenses, but he was so concerned about his reputation that he visited Holmes when he learned of his inquiry. Yet he readily tells Holmes about his charge when Holmes offers him a half-sovereign, which equates to a half-pound. All total, Holmes has now spent three pounds and thirty pence on his investigation on Henry Baskerville's behalf. I wonder what that might equate to in today's money, don't you?

The investigation will prove much more expensive, as Holmes sends out Watson to stick by Henry's side while he stays at Baskerville Hall. And then Holmes will have many more expenses in research, sending wires (telegrams), food, and travel. It makes me wonder how much Holmes earned in comparison to other classes of people in London at the turn of the twentieth century. He certainly dresses well, and lives in an apartment in the heart of the city. And he has enough to send Watson out to purchase a pound of the strongest shag tobacco on the first day of the investigation, all of which he smokes while considering whether or not to take the Baskerville case.

Thankfully, Sherlock Holmes smoked so heavily before tobacco caused lung cancer. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case today. While I may not understand the value of wages and the cost of living in 1901, we all know what the cost of lung cancer is today, don't we?

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Lord of the Manor

When searching for a new home, it's important to determine exactly what you want. If you want to get away from the city, and live in a cozy rural environment, then the English county of Somerset is worth a visit. There you'll find lots of stately homes, built from stone and lovingly maintained, such as this gentleman's manor house in Cricket St. Thomas. 

Looking for a property with an interesting history? It was here that writer Peter Spence set his TV series "To The Manor Born." His father-in-law owned Cricket St. Thomas back then, so it became a natural place to film the series.

Looking for a home in a pastoral setting? A stream flows through the grounds, which are filled with colorful trees and gardens.

Need some outbuildings to house your servants, and ample room for guests? As Cricket St. Thomas currently serves as a hotel, it can supply the most demanding owner.

Do you want to a house you can be proud of? Again, Cricket St. Thomas is for you. A walk around the manor house is a feast for the eyes. Every side of the building impresses, and tempts the budding artist to break out his sketch pad.

Is keeping fit an important consideration? Do you enjoy competitive sports? You'll find both needs fulfilled at Cricket St. Thomas. In addition to the ample grounds, you'll find a carefully manicured green, where you can while away the afternoons bowling with family and friends.

The only question is, can you handle owning such an important piece of English history? Can you really see yourself as the lord of the manor? 


Dragon Dave

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro: Moving On & Rebuilding

In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's historical novel A Flame in Byzantium, Olivia waits in her home in Constantinople. She has delayed her escape from the city to hear from her lover Drosos, who Emperor Justinian has recently recalled from Alexandria. Frantic with worry, she sends her servants out to find him. 

Eventually, Drosos ends up in her house. Instead of rejoicing in their reunion, he repeatedly asks her to send him away. He asserts that she must not be seen with him, or associate with him in any way, lest his disgrace (and accompanying suspicion) also fall upon her. She refuses to send him away, pledges to remain by his side always, and takes him to her bed to comfort him. 

Sadly, something deeper and darker than a concern for her well being lies behind Drosos' protests. In the act of their lovemaking, she attempts to bite him as usual, in order to draw strength and sustenance from his blood. This proves the final straw that breaks Drosos' regard for her, someone who never embraced his idealist view of the emperor. Drosos shoves her away, and proclaims her secret nature as a vampire to her entire household. 

The riches of ancient Egypt are celebrated
in the British Museum.

She realizes then that Drosos is irrevocably broken. The ideals and philosophies he treasured were shattered by the Emperor's orders to destroy the libraries of Alexandria, and so he despises everything around him, including her, the woman who--despite her different, supernatural nature--he once loved. So she allows him to go his own way, still hoping he can find a means of repairing his broken nature. As for herself, she must carry on, and find a means of surviving the threats posed by her enemies in Emperor Justinian's court. She has centuries more of life to look forward to, and she is determined to forge a new future for herself somewhere else.

We can all learn a lot from Olivia's determination to move on and rebuild her life. Even if she is a vampire

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 2, 2015

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro on Adapting Our Beliefs

People once believed in protective house gods,
and Ugallu, the storm-demon,
depicted on this ancient Assyrian stone panel
in the British Museum.

In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's novel A Flame in Byzantium, Captain Drosos of the Byzantine army puts off carrying out Emperor Justinian's orders to burn the Libraries of Alexandria for as long as long as he can. He sends back letters requesting clarification of his orders, and looking for any excuse not to destroy all this precious, accumulated knowledge. But finally he receives orders both explicit and final. He can delay no longer. He must raze these libraries, or someone else will assume command and do it for him.

With a heavy heart, Drosos follows Justinian's orders. As he watches the great libraries burn, he cannot believe that the Emperor knew the significance of his orders. In earlier discussions with Olivia, he argued that they must give the Emperor the benefit of the doubt, and trust his judgment in all things. He had been selected by God to lead all of Byzantium in the correct path to follow. He was the divine representative to humanity. How could he order such senseless destruction?

After his recall to Constantinople, he tries to suggest that Justinian misunderstood the situation, or had been ill-advised. The Emperor takes his comments for a lack of loyalty, and like General Belisarius, releases him from his command. Drosos wanders Constantinople in despair, having lost his military commission, the respect of society, and the trust of his emperor.

Drosos' life becomes a tragedy, because he steadfastly refuses to adapt his beliefs and principles in view of changing circumstances and others' actions. Like Drosos, we often clutch ideals to our chests long after the world has proven that they no longer apply to present circumstances. Refusing to release outdated beliefs can leave us irrelevant and alienated. Even if we're not vampires.

Dragon Dave