More than two millennia before Gary Gygax was even born, it turns out ancient Egyptians were slinging 20-sided dice.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has in its collection what could very well be the world’s oldest d20 die, dating from somewhere between 304 and 30 B.C., the tail-end of the Ptolemaic Period. That explains the Greek lettering, but not how you determine your attack roll.
Made of serpentine, the die was collected between 1883 and 1906 by the Rev. Chauncey Murch, and purchased by the museum in 1910, which offers no clue as to how to roll a saving throw. I think it’s Σ plus class bonus, plus …
A historian believes he has identified the designer of the Bayeux Tapesty, an 11th-century embroidered cloth once characterized by Bryan Talbot as “the first known British comic strip.”
Embroidered on linen with colored woolen yarns, the 230-foot “tapestry” consists of about 50 scenes depicting the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Although some scholars have long theorized it was commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror, the name of the actual designer has been elusive.
But now Medievalists.net reports that in a paper published in the journal Anglo-Norman Studies, Howard B. Clarke credits Scolland, abbot of St.Augustine’s monastery in Canterbury, with the work.
History | Scholars will present their research this week on The Glasgow Looking Glass, which is believed to be the very first comic book, at the International Graphic Novel and International Bande Dessinee Society Joint Conference in Glasgow Published in 1825, the work is a satire of early 19th-century Scottish fashions and politics. [ITV]
Retailing | Aaron Muncy, owner of The Comic Shop in Decatur, Alabama, is matter-of-fact about his business: There isn’t much of a kids’ market, he says, and he has no time for collectible comics: “Since it’s worth so much money — it’s just straight to eBay and get rid of it. I’ll leave it in the store for a week or two if I pick it up, just to give my customers a chance but it’s worth too much money to have sitting around.” [WAFF]
Awards | Were women underrepresented in the first British Comic Awards? With three women and 13 men on the shortlist, some argue they were; Laura Sneddon follows the discussion, including those making that claim and those who responded. [The New Statesman]
Best of the year | Paste magazine lists its 10 best comics of the year, including Hawkeye, Saga and Building Stories. [Paste]
Best of the year | Rachel Cooke focuses on British graphic novels, although a few outsiders creep in as well, for her list of the best graphic novels of 2012. [The Guardian]
Thank you, Teleread, for turning me on to the British Cartoon Archive, and just in time for the weekend, too. The physical archive has over 150,000 comic strips, cartoons, and other interesting bits of ephemera, and they are putting a number of their holdings online. The website is searchable, and there’s also a nice little tag cloud that can hook you up with vintage Andy Capp comics, caricatures by David Low, and, of course, Hitler cartoons.
The most intriguing section of the site (so far) is the collection of double-entendre postcards that were sold at popular seaside resorts in Britain but became the focus of an anti-obscenity crusade after World War II. The site includes a fascinating account of the police tactics used to seize the offending postcards:
“We have our own method of dealing with obscene postcards”, one Blackpool police officer noted in 1951: “Upon receiving a complaint from a member of the public, a plain clothes man is sent to buy a copy of the offending card. When the stationer says that he can see nothing wrong in the card, he is asked: ‘Would you send that card to your daughter?’ If the answer is ‘No’ – as it usually is – a prosecution may follow”.
The whole story is worth reading, and as a special treat, a number of the offending postcards are presented in full color, along with their prosecution records. The collection itself is a bit of an oddity: It was created by the Director of Public Prosecutions in order to try to impose some consistency on the postcard prosecutions. As always obscenity proved to be more difficult to define than to recognize, and the whole effort was ultimately abandoned, but the collection serves as a nice little time capsule of what passed for racy humor in the 1950s.
You read that right. You may think of Flannery O’Connor as a writer of the sorts of books that are all words, but in her younger days she yearned to be a cartoonist—and she wasn’t half bad. Fantagraphics will publish Flannery O’Connor: The Cartoons in December, and Flavorwire has a sampling of her work, while The Guardian places her cartoon work in the context of her life and career.
O’Connor did both pen-and-ink drawings and linoleum cuts like the one above, and because it was done while she was in high school and college, most of it reflects that life. Her cartoons look a bit Thurbereseque, and in fact she used to submit them to the New Yorker, but without success. Ultimately she turned to prose instead, but as the Guardian article points out, the cartoons were notable in that they show that O’Connor took the outsider’s point of view from the beginning.
(via Peter Gutierrez, on Twitter)
Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics and other stuff we’ve been enjoying lately. Our special guests this week are Aaron Alexovich (Invader Zim, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Serenity Rose, Fables) and Drew Rausch (Sullengrey, The Dark Goodbye, Cthulhu Tales), the creative team behind the horror/comedy comic Eldritch!
To see what Aaron, Drew and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below …
Welcome to another round of What Are You Reading, where we all sit around the virtual coffeehouse and talk about the books we’re currently enjoying (or not as the case may be). Our guest this week is Wilfred Santiago, author of the soon to be released biography of Roberto Clemente, 21. Look for an interview with me and Santiago about his new book in the coming weeks. In the meantime, click on the link below to see what he and my fellow Robot 6ers are reading this week.
Publishing | Thursday’s news that DC Comics will replace the nearly 60-year-old Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval with its own rating system was followed on Friday by an announcement by Archie Comics that it, too, will drop the Code. The two were the last publishers to abandon the CCA — Marvel withdrew in 2001, Bongo just last year — which means that as of next month, the once-influential self-regulatory body created by the comics industry in the wake of the 1954 Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency will cease to exist. Before a series of revisions in 1971, the Code prohibited even the depictions of political corruption, or vampires and werewolves, and the use of the words “horror” or “terror” in titles.
Christopher Butcher wonders whether DC’s decision to drop the Code was made with an eye toward the bottom line, while Johanna Draper Carlson offers an overview of the CCA’s history. Elsewhere, Mike Sterling asks whether any retailers ever “experienced any kind of real-world impact of the Comics Code Authority?” And Tom Mason makes some tongue-in-cheek recommendations for DC’s new rating system, including “G – GREYING MAN-BOYS” and “R – REFRIGERATOR.” [Newsarama]
The Ten-Cent Plague tells the story of not one but several campaigns against comics on the grounds that they were violent and bad influences on children. And, to be fair, the crime and horror comics of the time were pretty damn gruesome, repulsive enough that a lot of folks were willing to set aside the First Amendment on the grounds that the Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have envisioned the Crypt-Keeper, and they certainly wouldn’t want to defend that. Hajdu documents a flurry of legislation banning all sorts of comic books throughout the country, mostly promoted by people who genuinely cared about children (but who also seem to have forgotten that children have brains of their own).
A similar impulse led California legislators to pass a law in 2005 banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18, but the law was struck down by a lower court, because apparently you can only protect youngsters from sex, not violence. This led Justice Antonin Scalia to become the unlikely hero of video gamers everywhere, as he argued on Tuesday that while the First Amendment definitely wasn’t designed to protect obscenity, it should apply to everything else, even violence.
The JoongAng Daily News has a brief story about South Korean political cartoonist Kim Sung-hwan, who sketched vignettes from the Korean war from life as a teenager. Sung-hwan, who is now in his 70s, went on to become a prominent political cartoonist under the pen name “Gobau.” This website, by Andrew Salmon, the author of a book on the war, has more of his war sketches, whose beauty belies the horrors they depict.
Life.com has just added a gallery called “In Praise of Comic Classics” that spotlights comics, and children reading comics, in photos dating back to the 1930s. Well, not just children: There’s also a photo of a bespectacled young chimp named Kokomo Jr. — I’m not making this up — lounging with a comic in his owner’s New York City apartment. I can’t make out what the title is, but the back cover features a cartoonish ad for Chesterfield King cigarettes. (Hey, kids! Cancer Comics!) It’s a great collection, well worth checking out.
The comics page is static, yet artists have many ways to make the characters move: speed lines, superimposed images, or simply having the character lean in the direction of motion. The 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai used another technique, placing his characters in unstable postures that often defy gravity.
Curious about how the brain detects motion, a group of researchers at Kyoto University showed images from the Hokusai Manga to test subjects while observing their brain functions using MRI. Although it’s hard to imagine reading a comic during an MRI, the researchers found that indeed, when the subjects saw Hokusai’s off-balance wrestlers and swordsmen, the parts of their brains that sense motion lit up, while his drawings of priests standing still had no such effect. Next, the researchers are planning to see if drawings of animals or even ocean waves can trigger the same response as the human figures.
I can’t tell if this is really awesome, really funny or really offensive. It might be all three.
For the past 30 or so years, Larry Gonick has been engaged in what has to easily be one of the most ambitious comics projects ever: The Cartoon History of the Universe. In four volumes (including Vol. 1 of The Cartoon History of the Modern World), Gonick has relentlessly relayed the history of planet Earth as we know it, from the big bang up to the the 1700s. That he’s done so in such a consistently entertaining and downright funny fashion, is nothing short of remarkable, especially considering the plethora of dull, insipid nonfiction comics that have come out in the past few years.
Now, with the publication of the second volume of Cartoon History of the Modern World he’s finally finished his magmum opus. I used the occasion as an opportunity to talk with Gonick over email about his new book — which runs from the French Revolution to 9/11 — and how it feels to finally be finished something that took up such a large chunk of his working life. Here’s what he had to say: