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July 25th, 2017

The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: , , — William Cardini @ 8:36 am

Isn’t it strange that you could travel back in time to a point in the Earth’s history when the very atmosphere could poison you?

Of course there are the long years before life on Earth had evolved and there was no oxygen at all. But there have also been at least one period of high oxygen levels when insects could grow to gargantuan size and several periods of extremely high carbon dioxide levels.

In a post on The Atlantic site by science writer Peter Brannen called “Burning Fossil Fuels Almost Ended All Life on Earth,” Brannen vividly details what it would be like to visit one such era, the Permian-Triassic boundary around 250 million years ago:

You walk down to the shoreline and take a few steps into the lapping waters, drawn toward the enveloping gloom. The seawater is almost painfully hot. There’s nothing alive under the waves. There doesn’t seem to be anything alive anywhere really. You squint and marvel at the growing terror on the horizon. You’ve seen billowing thunderclouds before, but this panoramic tempest seems to tower into eternity. Wild hot winds begin to whip in all directions. You find it difficult to breathe. Slowly baking, you know should head back to the temporary safety of the ship, but you linger here all alone on the dimming coast, transfixed by the blossoming apocalypse just over the Earth’s curve. A putrid odor begins to ride in on the swirling winds and, as you finally turn back in a panic, you pass out. Before long, this doomsday storm makes landfall, and what meager life clings to this country is stamped out for millions of years.

Because of this great writing, I bought Brannen’s debut book, The Ends of the World, which came out this past June. It’s a clever, often times beautifully written account of the past five mass extinctions in the deep past of the Earth, when almost all complex species were destroyed by overwhelming geological and astronomical forces. Like the best science writing (I would compare this book favorably to Peter Ward’s Gorgon), Brannen makes the story of scientific discovery an adventure, chronicling contrasting theories of events in deep time through road trips and engaging discussions with scientists. Unlike the common conception of asteroid and comet strikes, geologists and paleoclimatologists now hypothesize that these extinctions were driven by sudden changes in the concentration of carbon dixoide in the atmosphere. One of those changes was a drop, possibly caused by the evolution of trees, which drew down CO2 levels and summoned glaciers. But most of those changes were spikes in CO2 caused by continent-sized volcanic eruptions, huge boils in the Earth’s surface that broke open to bake the land and acidify the seas.

The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen, cover by Eric Nyquist
Cover by Eric Nyquist.

This new understanding of the past is extremely relevant to today because we’re pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a faster rate than those ancient lava flows. Like many, I was scared and panicked about David Wallace-Wells’ article on the worst-case scenario for climate change in New York Magazine. One aspect to many of the projections he collects in the post is that most of them stop, somewhat arbitrarily, at the year 2100. But as Peter Brannen and other science writers (such as Curt Stager in Deep Future, which I discussed in this post) warn us, our actions now will not only affect the next century but millennia to come. That’s why the perspective of deep time is so important to the discussion of climate change and yet simultaneously makes it too abstract for it to become a pressing policy issue for the majority. Maybe some immediate animal fear of being baked from the inside, or losing cognitive function from too much CO2, like Wallace-Wells caused in me, can spur us into action.

One positive fact that I got from Brannen’s book is that, despite many claims to the contrary, we are not (yet) in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. Even if you add in all the megafauna extinctions, such as the loss of the charismatic giant ground sloths who ate avocados and dug out elaborate tunnel systems in South America, the world has lost only 1% of its species since we evolved. In the five mass extinctions in Earth’s history, the world lost over 75% of its species. There’s still time for us to implement sensible climate change mitigation policies and preserve our world, civilization, and culture for the centuries to come.

If you’re like me and need a chaser of hope for a shot of doom, read this post by futurist Alex Steffen on how climate action is imminent and check out this chat on Vox about Drawdown, Paul Hawken’s project to explore practical climate change solutions that use existing tech.

June 27th, 2017

Preorder a Collection of Poetry Comics about Climate Change

Filed under: Events,Print Comics — Tags: , — William Cardini @ 8:14 am

Hi y’all, I’m involved in another Kickstarter this year!

I have a four page comic in Warmer: A collection of comics about climate change for the fearful & hopeful, edited by Andrew White and Madeleine Witt. They’re raising funds to print the book via this Kickstarter campaign and they have one week and less than $1,000 to go to reach their goal.

Here’s a preview of my comic for the anthology:

Preview from the first page of my comic for the Warmer climate change poetry comics anthology

Any contributions or social media shares are much appreciated!

May 10th, 2017

The Retrofit Kickstarter Surpassed its Goal!

Filed under: Events — Tags: , , , — William Cardini @ 12:02 pm

I was very pleased to see that the Retrofit Comics Spring 2017 Kickstarter surpassed its pledge goal last night with about two days left on the clock! Thanks so much to everyone who pledged or got the word out on social media, I really appreciate your support!!

You still have about 34 hours left to back the project and get all the books at a discount – the $45 print and digital comics bundle is about $30 cheaper than getting the books individually. The campaign ends at 10:59pm CDT on Thursday May 11th.

I’ve got two more previews for y’all. Here’s the table of contents (sans background):

Tales from the Hyperverse

Here’s a crop from one of the pages colored by the incomparable Josh Burggraf:

Dim Red Sun crop

May 4th, 2017

One Week Left to Order my New Comic via Kickstarter

Filed under: Events — Tags: , , , — William Cardini @ 7:51 am

There’s one week left in the Retrofit Comics Spring 2017 Kickstarter!

I’ve been posting previews every day on my new public Instagram, @williamcardini. Here’s a crop from the colored version of my comic “Ghost Arrow,” which will be one of the short comics collected in Tales from the Hyperverse, one of the six books in the latest Retrofit Kickstarter.

Ghost Arrow crop

You can order just Tales from the Hyperverse for $8, all six books at a discount for $45, or all six books and an original black-and-white 9×12″ ink drawing on watercolor paper from me for $150. I’ll draw you the Miizzzard, the Floating Crystal Witch, or whatever you want. I did this for the Sparkplug Books Fall 2014 Kickstarter, here’s what I drew for people then so you can see some examples of my work:

William Cardini ink drawing
A drawing of the Miizzzard.

William Cardini ink drawing
A drawing when I was told to do whatever I wanted.

William Cardini ink drawing
A portrait drawn from looking at a photograph.

William Cardini ink drawing
A drawing of the Miizzzard vs Kid Space Heater for Josh, the creator of KSH.

April 24th, 2017

Retrofit Comics Spring 2017 Kickstarter

Filed under: Events,Print Comics — Tags: , , — William Cardini @ 9:22 am

I’m super excited to tell y’all that a collection of my old and new short comics, Tales from the Hyperverse, is available to preorder through the Retrofit Comics Spring 2017 Kickstarter!

You can hear me talk about my comic and see previews of the other five great books in the video:

I’ve been working on this series of comics since 2009 when I drew “The Floating Crystal Witch ATTACKS the Miizzzard of the Year 2978.” Since then I’ve drawn comics in a similar size and format off and on. You can see some of the comics on the “Tales of the Hyperverse” page on my site.

The Retrofit published collection will be 40 pages and include 16 pages of comics that I haven’t posted anywhere. I’ve also asked my friend and frequent collaborator Josh Burggraf to add his painterly colors to five of the pages and I’ll color the other ones that were originally black and white. I’ll post more details throughout the Kickstarter campaign which ends on the night of May 11th.

February 21st, 2017

Yarn-Ball Future Earth

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: , — William Cardini @ 8:01 am

I decided to continue my journey in the Dying Earth sub-genre by following up As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson with Earth in Twilight by Doris Piserchia. Compared to the other two Piserchia books I’ve read, Spaceling and Doomtime, Earth in Twilight is pretty straightforward.

The protagonist, Ferrer, travels from the planet Laredo to Earth. It’s far in the future. Earth has been overrun by an enormous jungle. The vast forest is punctured by tall space elevators that are connected by bridges and thick threads of spider web extruded by elephant-sized insects. All the human-built structures are in disrepair. I’ll let Piserchia’s own words from the first page describe her vision:

Earth looked like a big ball of yarn with a great many knitting needles sticking out of it. Loose yarn seemed to be strung from needle to needle, some of the strands so loose they nearly touched the land while others were so tight they were many thousands of miles up in the sky. Creatures great and greater made their nests on the bridges…

Everyone on Laredo thinks that humanity vacated the Earth and left it to nature centuries ago.

The setting is very similar to Hothouse by Brian Aldiss. Unfortunately I’ve only read the abridged version of that novel, published in the US as The Long Afternoon of Earth. The Earth has become tidally locked with the sun, only showing it one side which is covered in a giant banyan tree. I liked the abridged version but I want to read the full novel.

Earth in Twilight by Doris Piserchia, cover by Wayne Barlowe
Earth in Twilight by Doris Piserchia, cover by Wayne Barlowe.

In Earth in Twilight, Ferrer’s mission is to prepare the way for spaceships from Laredo that will spray the Earth with a chemical called Deep Green that will defoliate it (an ironic name in reference to the defoliant chemical Agent Orange from the Vietnam war) and make it ready for humans to repopulate. But Ferrer discovers people, strange human-plant hybrids who disgust and then charm him.

Because this book was written by Piserchia, the prose is slightly stream of consciousness and there’s lots of weird monsters, inexplicable events, and mind mergers. I won’t spoil it but the first chapter has a great twist that sets the theme for the whole book. Piserchia explores what it means to be human while showing us another one of her weird, vital visions of the future.

February 14th, 2017

Space is the Place by Sun Ra

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: — William Cardini @ 9:40 am

This month I’ve been ripping all my Sun Ra CDs onto my computer, correcting the metadata, splitting the LPs that were combined onto one CD, and adding missing album artwork. One of the first Sun Ra CDs I ever bought was the album Space is the Place (which is different from the soundtrack for the movie Space is the Place).


Screenprint cover by House of Traps for the three 7″ record set The Shadows Cast by Tomorrow by Sun Ra, put out on Jazzman Records.

The first track is one long 21 minute session of the Arkestra playing “Space is the Place.” There is a solid loop of horn playing and June Tyson’s signing that keeps the rhythm going while the other instruments go off on their own journeys. One of my favorite details is when Sun Ra produces the sound effect of someone being beamed up by a UFO on his space organ. Listening to this song is a spiritual experience for me. I was in tears after hearing it for the first time in many years.

Jazz in Silhouette by Sun Ra & His Arkestra
Cover for the CD Jazz in Silhouette by Sun Ra & His Arkestra, a reissue put out on the Impulse! label. Photo by Jim McCrary. Jazz in Silhouette is one of Sun Ra’s most critically acclaimed albums but I only listened to for the first time recently.

Sun Ra believed he had visited Saturn by way of astral projection. Space is a place, a state of the mind, that can be reached without technology. In this place of pure bliss, of enlightenment, there are no worries or limits. You can finally be free.

February 10th, 2017

Buy Comics from Birdcage Books and Support the ACLU

Filed under: Events — Tags: — William Cardini @ 8:51 am

For the month of February, the following cartoonists and publishers, including me, will donate half of our sales through the Birdcage Bottom Books site to the ACLU!

Birdcage Bottom Books ACLU donation flyer for February 2017

Of course donating directly to the ACLU is great, but if you were considering buying any of these comics anyway, head on over to the Birdcage Bottom Books site!

February 7th, 2017

As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: , , — William Cardini @ 8:17 am

Every time my family visits our relatives in Riverside, CA, we stop at Renaissance Books. They have a great selection of old SF. This past trip I picked up a random DAW paperback with an intriguing cover and blurb, As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson.

As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson
As the Curtain Falls by Robert Chilson, cover art by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder.

In this short novel, Chilson explores a doomed civilization that haunts ruins of technological wonder in the far future, long after humanity has explored the stars, given up on that dream, and now struggles to survive on a dying, resource-depleted Earth.

As the Curtain Falls was published in 1974, a couple years after two of the greatest books in the dying earth sub-genre: An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock (the first part of The Dancers at the End of Time trilogy which I reviewed on this blog) and The Pastel City by M John Harrison. I see the influence of both Moorcock and Harrison on Chilson’s book, Moorcock in the sardonic attitude of the anti-hero Trebor, and Harrison in the imagery and language. On the whole, As the Curtain Falls might not reach the heights of those two books, but Chilson does outdo them both in his evocative setting: the oceans have dried out and the continents are uninhabitable; the remnants of humanity live in the ocean bottoms, the amount of arable land shrinking each generation as the salted deserts encroach.

Traitor to the Living by Philip Jose Farmer
Traitor to the Living by Philip José Farmer, another cover by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder.

Chilson has done extensive world-building for this future that he only uses in this one 174-page book. The forests are phosphorescent trees and colorful coral. Starfish and lobsters are the predators. People move across the salt flats in giant sleds with sails. Insects and bacteria have evolved to eat plastic. Gems are polished chunks of a mysterious substance manufactured by the lost civilizations of the Dawn. We get glimpses of a long history of empires and conflicts without dwelling too much on specifics. This long history has thematic resonance – We feel the weight of this history, the hundreds of millions of years of humanity that has lead to this moment near the end, the vast impersonal hate of time. This theme is common to the best books of the dying Earth sub-genre.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed is the focus on art. Many SF books are so focused on technology that they devalue or ignore the non-functional products of civilization. But the title of As the Curtain Falls is probably a reference to the curtain falling over the play of humanity on the Earth. And there’s a complete play within the novel that is cut from an inexplicable theatrical tradition with no explanation of its meaning by the narrator. Finally there’s the eccentric immortal that our protagonists meet while they’re running through the giant midden heaps of the Dawn age, an immortal who proclaims to them that “art is longer than any life.” The endurance of art is the only weak hope that Chilson offers us.

Painting by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder for the cover of Flow my Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K Dick
A painting by Hans Ulrich and Ute Osterwalder for the cover of Flow my Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K Dick.

I hadn’t heard of Chilson before I bought As the Curtain Falls on a whim. He hasn’t written much but I’m going to look for his other original novels.

January 31st, 2017

Tom Grindberg’s Thick Lined, Bulky Superheroes in 1993 and 1994

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: , — William Cardini @ 9:41 am

In 1993 when I was a kid, Tom Grindberg was a guest penciler for two issues of my favorite Marvel superhero series: Silver Surfer #84 and Spider-Man 2099 #14. I hated his artwork then because it was such a radical departure from the thin lines of Ron Lim and Rick Leonardi.

Spider-Man 2099 #14 by Tom Grindberg
A splash page from Spider-Man #2099 #14. Artwork by Tom Grindberg, penciler; Don Hudson, inker; Eva Grindberg, colorist; and Rick Parker, letterer.

But now I love it! It’s amazingly ugly. His figures are impossibly bulky and stretch in weird, fluid ways. They just seem so big and imposing and in your face which is great for bruisers like Thanos, Thor, and Drax.

Secret Defenders #9 cover pencils by Tom Grindberg
The cover of Secret Defenders #9. Artwork by Tom Grindberg, penciler; Don Hudson, inker; John Kalisz, colorist; and John Costanza, letterer.

It looks weird for someone who’s usually more svelte like the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Dr Strange, or Adam Warlock, but I like weird.

Silver Surfer #84 original artwork by Tom Grindberg
The original art for a splash page from Silver Surfer #84. Artwork by Tom Grindberg, penciler; Tom Christopher, inker; and Ken Bruzenak, letterer.

Overall his renditions of characters look more alive than the stiff figures of more popular artists like Lim and Rob Liefeld. The thick, wavy black lines are out of this world. But what’s strange is that, as far as I can tell, Grindberg only drew this way in 1993 and the first half of 1994. By his next issues of Silver Surfer and Spider-Man 2099, #93 and #25 respectively, he’s much closer to early 90’s Marvel house style. And it didn’t matter whom his inker was – Don Hudson inked Spider-Man 2099 #14, Secret Defenders #9, and Grindberg’s short story in Spider-Man 2099 #25. Someone must have told him to rein it in, which is a bummer.

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