Category Archives: Education

Seattle Focus: MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Once a toy has become an artifact of childhood, it has reached a very special place. For the purposes of this exhibit, a look at American toys spanning three decades, the focus is upon the joy and comfort these toys provided. The context is both simple and complex as viewers are invited to study the various exhibits from their own personal point of view. Did you have a happy childhood? If not, maybe a toy helped you along the way? Sectioned off into three decades worth of childhoods, there is plenty to recollect and reassess.

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is enjoying its West Coast premiere on display at MOHAI here in Seattle. Originating from the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit asks you to revisit many toys that, by today’s standards, would not be deemed suitable for children on many grounds, including common sense safety! Lawn darts, anyone?? Yep, we don’t see lawn darts sold in today’s toy market. They’re basically sharp steel projectiles. They’re not going to cut it, or rather, they ARE going to cut it! But, you see, lawn darts have a home here–on display only. Lawn darts are not subject to recall within the bounds of this exhibit. They are here to conjure up good lawn dart memories, for those who have them. And they’re also here as a subject for discussion. As much as this exhibit is a trip down memory lane, it also invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

What are your thoughts on Barbie dolls or toy guns? You’ll find them here ready for your marvel or scrutiny. The point is that you’ll find all sorts of toys, whether or not they pass today’s safety or societal tests. The overwhelming nature of childhood memory takes over. Countless kids loved their toys and now we have the nostalgia for yesteryear and contemporary perspective to guide us. You’ll find a lot of kids attracted to the exhibits. You’ll see lots of families with their toddlers, too young to appreciate any nuances but ready to grab at anything not secured. And then there are the adults who grew up in these respective decades. For them, especially, the exhibit features living room re-creations for each decade on view. For these viewers, the couch is right there to sit and go back in time with, alone or perhaps to share with younger family members.

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

Toys are certainly not easy to pin down. Toys resist being dismissed even if the originals are stored away or thrown away. Toys come at you from every direction. At a certain age, they define your leisure, your means of escape. They can become your world, your identity. They’re based upon all you think you know about the world whether from books, movies, television, just about anything. What does a choice in a toy say about a child? What does a toy say about the adult who chose it for the child? The adult who created it? The manufacturer that produced it? The country that embraced it?

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

One of the best examples of how toys can make a difference is the American reaction to the Soviet’s being the first in space in 1957 with the Sputnik satellite. That little object in space caused shockwaves in the United States. Toy makers would definitively enter the Space Age and Space Race. Hubley’s 1954 Atomic Disintegrator, right out of science fiction, was all well and good. But now was the time to step up a focus on science and technology. Amsco Industries responded in 1958 with the Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, “designed by missile engineers, tested in Cape Canaveral.” And, as the display makes clear, kids ate it up! There’s this priceless quote from the exhibit:

“How did I get interested in science and make it my life’s work? Kids in the late ’50s and ’60s could get toys that complemented that interest. My friends and I loved my Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile: Mix up some baking soda and vinegar, put it into the missile, put it on the launch pad, and pull the string. That baby could really fly.”

–Mike Smith, b. 1952, meteorologist

It was fun, as a discerning adult, to wander back and forth between the three living room areas: the wonder and innocence in the 1950s; the keen interest in science and exploration in the 1960s; and a full circle escape to wonder and innocence in the 1970s. It seemed like, after having landed on the moon, and the rise of the Vietnam War, Americans were ready to refocus. Instead of looking to actual stars, Americans were ready to go see the new blockbuster hit, “Star Wars,” entertainment with its roots in 1930s pulp fiction. They were also ready to buy all the Star Wars toys.

Hey, that's Han Solo's Millennium Falcon!

Hey, that’s Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon!

I have fond memories of the ’70s as a kid. And I recall seeing “Star Wars” in 1977, at age 14, at our local movie theater at the mall. It would not have occurred to me to buy all the Star Wars figures, let alone a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. But it was really nice to see the whole Star Wars set on display here at MOHAI. Any kid would have been thrilled to have owned them back then. But I’m sure that I owned a couple of figures. And I know that I went to see “Star Wars” more than once, despite the very long lines. I didn’t question any of it back then, although I was certainly old enough to do so. I was more than happy to accept it just as fun. I didn’t think about profit motives or the future of franchises or the American spirit. This brand new thing called “Star Wars” left you with a good feeling inside. And that’s the best thing any toy can offer.

TOYS at MOHAI!

TOYS at MOHAI!

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Childhood, Children, Comics, Education, Family, History, MOHAI, pop culture, Sci-Fi, Science, Seattle, Toys

Review: THE OUTSIDE CIRCLE

"The Outside Circle" by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

“The Outside Circle” by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

To tell a big story that resonates, you need to fit it within the framework of a smaller story. This is what Patti LaBoucane-Benson does in “The Outside Circle” as she addresses the Canadian government’s treatment of its own native people though the journey of one brave man. When you embark upon the process of building up a graphic novel, you make various choices along the way. One critical decision is setting the right tone and that is tied in with what kind of work it is set to be. It can be a little of A, B, or C, and ultimately it will be mostly one kind of graphic novel. “The Outer Circle” is chiefly an educational work with lots of room for artistic expression. It is a tale with many facts to bring forth. In this regard, Kelly Mellings does a great job of balancing what must be said with finding a way to say it in the most compelling way.

A tattoo that speaks volumes.

A tattoo that speaks volumes.

“The Outside Circle,” by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings, is a story of flawed and vulnerable characters who seem resistant to change and yet hunger for redemption. We explore what led Pete, an Aboriginal Canadian, to succumb to a life of crime and violence. One of the most compelling pages shows Pete after he’s being rewarded by the gang with a tattoo. Pete has just committed a crime worthy of acceptance by the gang members. However, the tattoo reveals the pain and sorrow of Natives under the Canadian government.

Rehabilitation and redemption through the Warrior Program.

Rehabilitation and redemption through the Warrior Program.

Pete must lose everything before he can regain his own dignity and sense of purpose. After a fight that turns deadly, Pete is sent to prison and his little brother, Joey, is placed into foster care. The act of Joey entering foster care mirrors the plight of Canada’s Aboriginals. The government’s solution had always been to separate the native-born children from their families and have them placed into foster care and go to special residential schools. These residential schools turned out to be run-down and poorly kept. The children were often neglected and sexually abused. The last school of this kind closed in 1996.

But a strong spirit may rise above the worst trauma. Pete is deemed worthy of a second chance and a good candidate for the prison’s “In Search of Your Warrior” program. It is the journey that Pete embarks upon that informs the rest of our story. Pete must find ways to break the patterns of violence and self-hatred. This is a moving story told with compassion through words and pictures. And it proves to be a excellent source of information and hope, another great example of the power of comics and graphic novels.

“The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel” is a 128-page trade paperback, in full color, published by House of Anansi Press.

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Filed under Aboriginal, Canada, Comics, Education, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Tacoma Focus: Washington State History Museum

On the Wagon Train! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

On the Wagon Train! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Wandering through Tacoma can be like time travelling with so many finely restored historic landmarks. Add to that all the classic cars driving down the avenues. And add to all that the Washington State History Museum. It is a massive fortress filled to the brim with all sorts of pathways and portals into the past.

Yes, I gravitated to the pop culture!

Yes, I gravitated to the pop culture!

I know that I love novel uses of words and pictures. It’s not just because I create comics and graphic novels. As both a writer and artist, and as a lifelong learner, I have always cherished the unique place that museums of all kinds have in our lives.

Washington State History Museum

Washington State History Museum

I am especially grateful for the Washington State History Museum as an essential resource for state history. It serves as the state’s attic, a very special venue for all manner of items, large and small, a place for careful study.

Watercolor painting of Chief Leschi

Watercolor painting of Chief Leschi

Museums are for all ages. It could not be any other way. Mentors and cubs alike make great use of museums. But it is no secret that museums hold a special place for the kids. The great push forward from one generation to the next must always include quiet contemplation amongst the artifacts of bygone eras.

A small drama plays out at the train set.

A small drama plays out at the train set.

And when you come right down to it, I love good visuals, which this museum has plenty. And, among them all, I love that massive train set! Like any elaborate train set worth its weight, this one has some unexpected dramatic scenes peppered about, even an accident site complete with ambulance and accident victim. We can only hope it was a minor accident!

Train Set at the Washington State History Museum

Train Set at the Washington State History Museum

The train set exhibit brings to mind a fellow who has dedicated a big portion of his life to creating what is probably the world’s longest and most complex train set display encompassing football fields of space. That’s Northlandz in New Jersey. But this is not a competition. He has his train set and this wonderful museum has its train set, which is pretty massive!

Brass Lantern Clock, circa 1630

Brass Lantern Clock, circa 1630

Vintage Women's Suffrage Placard

Vintage Women’s Suffrage Placard

Washington State History Museum is located at 1911 Pacific Avenue in the heart of Tacoma’s Museum District, adjacent to Union Station. For more details, visit the website right here.

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Filed under Education, History, Tacoma, Travel, Washington state

Interview: David Schmader on Literacy, Neighborhoods, LGBTQ, and Cannabis

David Schmader

David Schmader

David Schmader is an American writer known for his solo plays, his writing for the Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, and his annotated screenings of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls.” He is the author of the 2016 book “Weed: The User’s Guide.” And he is the Creative Director of the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a literary arts center offering free programs for youth ages 6 to 18. I had the opportunity to interview David and discuss better approaches to community and seeking common ground. Locally, for those of us who are a part of the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, we have been undergoing a recharge, a rallying around, after a gas leak explosion that tore into the fabric of everyday life. With BFI preparing to return to its original Greenwood site this month, it seemed to me a good time to check in with a thoughtful leader in our community. I begin our interview going back to that March 9th gas leak explosion in the middle of the night. Fueled with cups of coffee, we settled in at Couth Buzzard Books for this interview.

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Filed under Cannabis, Education, Gay, LGBTQ, Literacy, Marijuana, Seattle, The Stranger, Youth

Review: ‘Freehand Figure Drawing For Illustrators: Mastering the Art of Drawing from Memory’

Human-Figure-Drawing-Watson-Guptill

Whether you are an artist, or would like to be, being able to draw without a model, but from memory, can be a challenge. With David H. Ross, you are definitely learning from the best. Mr. Ross has worked with all the major North American comic book publishers including Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Dark Horse Comics. I can tell you, as an artist myself, that he knows numerous techniques that do indeed make it possible to work from memory. Look no further than his new book, “Freehand Figure Drawing For Illustrators: Mastering the Art of Drawing from Memory,” published by Watson-Guptill Publications, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Here you will find the time-honored methods and practical guidelines that you need. In a lot of ways, it all seems rather easy and Ross makes that possible with very clear examples, one step at a time. I believe that clearing all the clutter is essential in art instruction. You address one aspect, focus on that, and move on to the next. Ross begins with the first place you need to go and that’s the space that your model inhabits. If you’ve ever felt a need for a refresher on perspective, you’ll find it here.

David-H-Ross-Drawing

The basics and then some, that’s what this book offers. I have fond memories of art school and having my trusty little wooden mannequin as well as a skeleton and skull to keep me company. But, with this book, you find ways to internalize that reference. That’s a key point. So, when you do have your model in the flesh, you can work faster as you go deeper into your interpretation. Anatomy, posture, bone structure, all of this will already be stored away and allow you to concentrate on the unique character of your model. And, of course, with this book’s guidance, you can always work without a model at all.

“Freehand Figure Drawing” is a 208-page trade paperback, published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is available as of July 28th. For more details, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under animation, Art, Art books, Comics, Education, Illustration, Penguin Random House, Watson-Guptill Publications

Webcomic Review: DAWN OF THE UNREAD

Dawn-0f-the-Unread-James-Walker

DAWN OF THE UNREAD is a graphic novel webcomic exploring Nottingham’s literary history created by James Walker. Now, this is quite an impressive project in its specificity and its execution. The underlying mission here is to spark the imagination of new readers and have them rediscover the world of fiction and, most importantly, their local library! To that end, this webcomic is interactive and contains very compelling content. A new installment is published on the 8th of each month. Let’s take a closer look at some of the previous chapters.

Above: Artist Francis Lowe discusses his collaboration with Adrian Reynolds for their “Little Boxes” chapter, published on 8 June 2014.

In “Little Boxes,” you are treated to a variety of interesting facts about Batman lore with a Nottingham connection. Did you know, for instance, that Wollaton Hall was Wayne Manor in one of the Batman films? Well, the focus here is the nearby village of Gotham. And, yes, total Batman connection beginning with Washington Irving bestowing that nickname on Manhattan. We end up making a detour to H.P. Lovecraft. This is a very cleanly drawn comic with just the right touch of whimsy.

"Little Boxes,"  by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

“Little Boxes” by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

Read it here.

Above: Cartoonist Steve Larder, with Alan Gibbons, discusses bringing Geoffrey Trease back to life in “Books and Bowstrings,” published on 8 January 2015.

With “Books and Bowstrings,” you get it all. Steve Larder, author of “Rum Lad,” provides a punk aesthetic with his quirky artwork. With the help of some literary ghosts, byway of Sherwood Forest, the local libraries are on their way to regaining the old spirit.

"Books and Bowstrings" by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

“Books and Bowstrings” by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

Read it here.

Above: Illustrator Amanda Elanor Tribble discusses her collaboration with Aly Stoneman for their chapter, “Ms. Hood,” published on 8 December 2014.

“Ms. Hood,” takes up a contemporary Robin Hood theme to great effect. The artwork is bold and engaging. The story manages to fit in a lot of food for thought.

"Ms. Hood" by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

“Ms. Hood” by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

Read it here.

“Dawn of the Unread” is an interactive graphic novel for PC, Mac, iPad, tablet and mobile. Be sure to visit right here.

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Filed under Books, Comics, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Webcomics

The Smithsonian Is Offering An Online Course On The History Of Superheroes With Michael Uslan And Stan Lee

Stan-Lee-Rise-of-Super-Heroes

Calling all students of pop culture, history, and superheroes: It’s time to register for a unique free online course that features comic book legend Stan Lee.

Yes, true believers, this is a great opportunity so don’t miss out. The course begins May 5. Register by March 31 right here.

Details follow:

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Filed under Education, Smithsonian Institution, Stan Lee, Superheroes

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2014,’ Editor, Scott McCloud; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

The-Best-American-Comics-2014

Anyone who digs deeper already knows that comics are fully capable of being as elastic, ambiguous, and fluid as any other art medium. Just like fiction, film, and painting, the comics medium can reveal as much as it hides. There’s an annual anthology, “The Best American Comics,” that showcases a wide range of North American comics and addresses the familiar and peculiar in what amounts to a particular branch of contemporary comics. Or, perhaps the best way to put it is to say this book showcases the best in comics as an art form. The 2014 edition is now available. Let’s take a look.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Art, Art books, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Comix, Education, graphic novels, Scott McCloud, Underground Comics

Interview: Bill Kartalopoulos and THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2014

Bill-Kartalopoulos-Best-American-Comics

It is a pleasure to chat about comics, especially with someone as well-versed on the subject as Bill Kartalopoulos. For this interview, the occasion is the 2014 volume of “The Best American Comics,” which Bill takes over as the new series editor. I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts on the term, “alternative comics,” since he led an interesting panel discussion on that topic at SPX back in 2012 entitled, “Life After Alternative Comics.” This was a way to frame the conversation.

Bill Kartalopoulos is a great observer of, and participant in, today’s comics scene. Part of his impressive resume includes being the program coordinator for the Small Press Expo as well as the program director for the MoCCA Arts Festival. Both of these events are essential barometers of prevailing trends. So, if Bill suggests that alternative comics are dead, I listen. Of course, he doesn’t really suggest that, at least not as you might think. But, let me continue…

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Art Spiegelman, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Independent Comics, Indie, MoCCA Arts Festival, New York City, SPX, The Best American Comics

Review: ‘Make Comics Like the Pros: The Inside Scoop on How to Write, Draw, and Sell Your Comic Books and Graphic Novels’

Make-Comics-Greg-Pak-Fred-Van-Lente

“Make Comics Like the Pros,” really cuts to the chase with common sense advice on how to join the ranks of the professionals. Start with the golden rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated. It’s a pretty simple rule but an essential one. It’s time to get over yourself because the comics industry involves a multitude of skills, including people skills. You’ll need them not just to pitch your project (hold on, don’t get ahead of yourself) but to create your project in the first place as this business of creating comics is very much a collaborative activity.

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Filed under Comics, Education, Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak, writers, writing