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EAGANBLOG ARCHIVE
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A Freakin’ Genius
Did you hear about Jason Padgett? He’s the affable, 41-year-old futon salesman who became a mathematical genius. All he needed to do to was get beaten practically to death.

Mr. Padgett was jumped by several young toughs one evening as he left a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington. He was, among other things, given several hard kicks to the head, and those blows resulted in severe, permanent brain damage.

That, as it turned out, was Jason’s lucky day. According to neuroscientists who examined him after he recovered, his brain responded to the injury by commandeering an area of itself that wasn’t doing much at the time. For Padgett, a college dropout with no history as a numbers whiz, that area happened to be the one responsible for mathematics and mental imagery.

Suddenly, the lights went on in the math department. Cascades of formulae and numerical relationships exploded across his brainpan. Everything he saw, from buildings to mountains to single blades of grass, was instantly translated into precise fractal imagery. Furthermore, he is now able to draw intricate geometrical renderings of the mathematical relationships that have flooded his mind. He had become, through some accidental application of violence, a gifted, brilliant savant.

All of which is very nice — a great story and a stunning rejuvenation of Jason’s unremarkable life. Still, I have to ask: how can the rest of us get in on this action? How do we go about turning on the lights in some dark region of our own minds and so become the next Mozart, the next Einstein, the next Thomas Kinkade? Or, better yet, how do we get all the lights turned on everywhere in our brains? How do we become super-beings with godlike powers? Is that too much to ask?

I suppose you could start by trying to kick yourself in the head, but I can’t imagine that would produce anything more than some amusing clips for YouTube. You could ask a loved one to go at your noggin with a ball-peen hammer, but that might only serve to undermine the relationship. Besides, if all there were to becoming a genius was random, blunt force trauma to the head, then everyone in the NFL would be a Nobel laureate.

So how do we get those lights turned on and grab some super-powers of our own? I figure the only way is for some poor schlub like Jason to be brutally attacked and later wake up with a fundamental grasp of the wiring of the human brain, becoming a kind of accidental neuroscientific savant. Then that guy could tell the rest of us where the light switch is.

Would someone like to volunteer?
Save the Dinosaurs
All the dinosaurs are dead. Deader than dead, in fact; they’re extinct. And yet, the scaly behemoths are everywhere, kept alive by our modern technology and culture.

I confess that, until recently, I have bought into this ghoulish resurrection. As a boy, I was transfixed by Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms. That monster, with its prominent (and paleontologically indefensible) canine fangs, scared me more than anything from Jurassic Park. At the end, when a young, sharpshooting Lee Van Cleef fired a radioactive isotope into a gaping wound on the Beast’s neck, I was rooting with all my heart for him to die.

The passage of time and a lot of personal reflection have changed my feelings about the Beast — and more broadly, about all dinosaurs and our abuse of them in our culture. It is the dinosaurs who are the victims here, not civilized society, not melted soldiers, not the one dude doomed to be snatched, still wriggling, from the crowd and chewed to death. No, all of this is a monstrous — literally — slander on these poor, extinct creatures, and they are powerless to defend themselves against it.

Take Barney. Does the name alone fill you with revulsion? Yes, that Barney. A purple, overweight, excruciatingly nice “dinosaur” who cavorts on TV with other such characters and a cadre of excruciatingly nice child actors. Some parents, I am told, actually pretend to like Barney simply because their kids watch the show. This, in my view, is an argument for compulsory parenting classes.

There is no doubt that such a portrayal does damage to the reputation of dinosaurs, but what can they do about it? Nothing. You may suggest at this point that no animal has the power to complain about its appropriation by our human culture, and you would be right. Animals (with apologies to Koko the gorilla) can’t speak. What they can do, however, is walk around being themselves. Elephants still act like elephants — wise, maternal, herd-oriented — despite how disreputable the modern Republican Party becomes. Cats remain cats no matter how many comic strips Garfield racks up.

Not so the fully extinct dinosaur. Its behavior, its personal style, even its color, can only be the subject of an educated guess. Who is to say that T. Rex wasn’t purple, chubby, and repellently cutesy? T. Rexes are not here to put the lie to such cultural whimsy, not here to walk around being themselves, and not here to devour Barney in the most gruesome fashion imaginable.

Save the dinosaur, I say. Stop the slander, stop the abuse, stop speaking ill of the deader-than-dead. Let them remain in museums and books of learning, where they belong. Let them rest easy in their deep graves. And from now on, always root for the Beast against his apish usurpers.
The Sun
You know how to draw the sun. First, make a circle. You can draw it freehand, use a compass, or simply trace around something round, like a quarter. Just don’t stare at your subject; you’ll go blind.

If you want to emphasize brightness, add a few short, straight lines emanating from the surface of your sun. To show warmth, make those lines wiggly, or maybe try a corona of flames licking outward. You could even put a face on your sun; cartoonists do that all the time. There may be a temptation at this point to add a pair of sunglasses to the face. This, too, is a common gambit. I strongly advise against it, however. To do so is to wade into the murky waters of cartoon metaphysics.

To begin with, why would the sun need to wear sunglasses? As a shield against its own brilliance? Even if that made sense (would you wear earplugs because your own voice was too loud?), putting the glasses on the outside of the Sun would do nothing to protect it. Or, perhaps the sun is in need of protection from something even brighter than itself? A supernova, say? Let me assert that such a plot twist, though possible, is rare enough that we can ignore it here. I could also mention that a pair of 800,000-mile-wide sunglasses would vaporize instantly on the surface of the sun, but we are talking about cartoons, after all.

What makes the sun-in-sunglasses conundrum so troubling, however, is that it actually works on a visceral level. It communicates the feeling of brightness just as those short, straight lines do. Ordinarily in cartooning, if something works you don’t question it on logical grounds. Still, I can’t get past the wrongness of it. Maybe it’s the cuteness of the image, the lame, saccharine little irony of it. That’s like fingernails on a blackboard to me. Furthermore, those sunglasses add an element of attitude to the sun, a sense of detached hipness, that is just not appropriate for a huge ball of thermonuclear energy.

If you really must include a prop to enhance your drawing of the sun, why not try putting one of those metallic UV reflectors from the 50s under its chin? Not only are they inherently funny, but the image would actually make sense. In any case, I respectfully request that you not draw your sun in Foster Grants, no matter how good it feels. It is not for my sake that I ask this; I take full responsibility for my own demons. It is for the young cartoonists, the next generation of drawers of funny little pictures. Posterity will thank you, even if they don’t.
Help!
Here on Earth, life is sweet. Oh, there is plenty of suffering, to be sure. War, poverty, obsessive greed, and natural disasters all take their toll on humanity and other living things. On the whole, however, we are a caring species. We want to help; we try to reaffirm that life is not only sweet, but is also worth preserving for everyone.

Consider, however, star system 3C321. Two galaxies, orbiting one another, comprise the system. Each has a giant black hole at its center. Black holes are a little scary in general, but there’s nothing particularly alarming about such an arrangement.

The black hole in the larger galaxy, though, is sending out a monstrous jet of particles, X-rays, gamma rays, and other radiation. The jet is traveling nearly at the speed of light, out into the space around the galaxy. Even this phenomenon is not that unusual — except that this titanic bolt of destruction is slamming directly into the smaller galaxy!

The result, it is thought, is catastrophic. Tens of millions of stars will be affected. The wholesale destruction of planetary systems is taking place. Quadrillions of sentient life forms — many of them much smarter and nicer than we are — are being annihilated. And, if left unchecked, the obliteration will continue for tens, even hundreds of thousands of years.

And yet we stand by and do nothing!
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee