Swansea Find #2: Super Stupid Spidey Stickerbook

On another of my rambles through Swansea, that "ugly-lovely" town, I wandered through the Swansea Market, vaguely hunting for souvenirs. It's an odd institution, this indoor market. Their website says they were established in 1961, and some of the shops may not have changed since then. It gave me an overall feeling of updated Victoriana, rather than anything quite so modern as Six Flags, JFK's inauguration, or Hemingway's suicide. (You see, I can read Wikipedia, which also informs me that 1961 marked the demise of the farthing as British currency.)

Where was I? Right: at one of the market's dingy stalls, I saw a slim book that came with a sheet of fairly cool Spider-Man stickers. I like to put stickers on the occasional outbound piece of comics-related mail,* so I decided to pick these up:



You never know when you'll need a sticker of a camera or a thundercloud or a pair of balloons.

But part of the fun in this stickerbook is how egregiously off-model the characters are, in terms of their concerns and their abilities. The story makes no sense, even if you know nothing about Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus, but I have to assume that most of the book's target audience would know more than nothing. Here's what you get around your stickers:

Spider-Man is in New York, and a pleasant sunny day turns cloudy and stormy, so he figures something bad is happening. A garbage can flies by him while he's swinging toward the storm. Then he sees the storm is being caused by his old nemesis, Doctor Octopus:



Yep. Doc Ock is making lightning.



Many cephalopods are known for their weather-manipulation abilities. (Cuttlefish, for instance, can cause sleet.) So it's not surprising that the writer (uncredited) would make this mistake about good old Doctor Octopus. But in fact he's just a guy with extra mechanical tentacles. (Okay, I see the irony of using the phrase "in fact" to talk about Dr. Octopus. Sorry.) He doesn't have any mollusk powers at all! Why, he can't even change the color of his skin, or shoot out a cloud of ink!

I don't know why the writers didn't use Electro instead. He can't make storms, but he can at least make lightning; it's not a stretch. I've seen him on stickers here in the U.S. But maybe they figured Dr. Octopus was more recognizable, and they couldn't think of any way for him to be a menace other than making it rain on Manhattan.

Once he sees Spider-Man, he's in a hurry to get away, I guess, or to taunt Spidey from a safe disance:



Oh, yeah: did I mention that this guy could fly now?



Because, as everyone with a pool noodle knows, whirling a few flexible cylindrical tubes in the air is going to give you plenty of lift. Fortunately, Spider-Man realizes that there are only a couple of pages left in the book, so he snags his enemy on some webbing:



(I really like that look on Doc Ock's face, actually.) And that's the end. Never mind that none of those four mechanical arms are restrained in any way. Octavius's dignity is broken, and he surrenders meekly. The police come and take him away, for the heinous crime of weather manipulation, I guess. Or maybe there was a warrant out for a previous spree of cloud-seeding.

This reminds me all too much of the ending of another sitckerbook, Stick with Hulk, that I've been meaning to write about. The story's not important, although it's equally dumb. Here's the penultimate page:



Hulk wraps the Abomination in a chain-link fence and offers him a massage. Then, the stunning conclusion:



Hulk changes back to a fully-dressed Bruce Banner and effortlessly retrieves the radioactive macguffin from the snarling, super-strong Abomination, who is still struggling to free himself from his chain-link fence. It's for pleasures like this that I often linger in the toy aisle at the drugstore, or in shabby markets in little Welsh seaside burgs.

* This is the sort of postal goofery around that I'm talking about. See Spidey hop!

S.E. Minneapolis Mural

Jimmy's Car

Rain

This morning in my letter to Isaac, I told him how it is raining today. And then I told him that we needed the rain. What I meant was that the plants and the grass needed the rain because they have been having a hard time without it. I think God had a different intention about what He wanted me to hear and to know through those words this morning.

On my way in to work this morning, I thought about the rain... I thought about how wilted and withered things look without it, and about how the rain plays a huge role in allowing the grass, flowers, and trees to be vibrant and full of life.

And then I thought about how our hearts our so much like that.

Sometimes the rains come in a peaceful way... its touch gently affecting everything and bringing it life. In our lives, sometimes the rains are like that... almost cleansing in a way... refreshing.

Other times the rains come in full-force, harsh and chaotic. They can do a lot of destruction. I remember (stupidly) driving home last year in a thunderstorm and having to pull over because I couldn't see what was in front of me. Branches were falling off trees, and I am lucky one didn't go through my windshield. Some storms of life are like that, too... they feel chaotic and seem impossible to navigate. Yet somehow, on the other side, order is restored and beauty revealed.

That's so much where I feel like we are right now. In the midst of heavy rains and harsh winds, things flying at us from every direction, and often not able to see but two inches in front of us.

I think of all sorts of passages in scripture where rains and storms are mentioned... like Noah and the flood, with Jesus and his disciples in the boat when He calms the storm. A passage I was drawn to this morning as I was thinking about all of this has nothing to do with a storm though. It comes from 2 Corinthians 4, verses 7-9 and then 16-18:

7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


So often I feel hard pressed, perplexed by the contradictions of our circumstances with who I know my Jesus to be, and often struck down by feelings of frustration, sadness, and sometimes even hopelessness. But I know that God doesn't abandon us even in the times we may feel as though he's silent, and I know that even though we may feel struck down, that we are not destroyed.

I don't know that I feel as though our troubles are light; in fact, I feel as though our burden is heavy. But I know that what I can see in front of me is temporary, and that the work that God is doing through Isaac's life and his story is eternal.

What a gift to know that my son is making an impact on eternity.

Pogo for President!

It so happens that the onset of the Democratic convention this year coincides with one of the most important holidays in my personal calendar: Walt Kelly's birthday. Today marks the ninety-fifth anniversary of Kelly's birth, so it seems appropriate to offer my endorsement of the perennial nominee possum:


The timing seems right to honor Kelly. Only yesterday, Eddie Campbell considered the remarkable coherence of Impollutable Pogo as a through-composed comic--remarkable given its origins in the daily papers over a period of many months. I remember that volume fondly as one of the earliest Pogo books I acquired, back in elementary school when you could still find newly-reprinted Pogo paperbacks for sale at Waldenbooks.

Over the years, my loving parents and friends have helped me to amass a pretty satisfying library of Pogo books, prints, and tchotchkes. Here's a glorious print of practically the whole Okefenokee gang gathering for a perloo (please excuse the reflected glare from the flash: without the flash, the picture was blurry, but I did try to position the glare in a blank area of the drawing):



A few years ago my parents gave me a color print of the most famous Kelly tag, used here (as in Impollutable Pogo) as a cry against pollution:



My most recent Pogo art acquisition was courtesy a friend of my brother. Here is what looks to be a color proof for a Pogo Sunday page--possibly with annotations by Kelly or one of his assistants?:



Still, my happiest acquisition came three years ago, when my parents came through with a copy of the final original Pogo book missing from my collection, Pogo à la Sundae. Here's a photo of that glorious moment when I unwrapped the prize (and the photo is flanked by a couple of plastic Pogo pals):



And having revealed just a snippet of my Pogo shelving, I owe it to Isaac--who challenged me to produce some "shelf pr0n" of my own to match his--to post one last Pogo picture:


That's all the original Pogo books, many in original editions; all the trade paperbacks collecting material from the Pogo fanzine The Okefenokee Star; several issues of Animal Comics and the Dell Pogo quarterly (including the Pogo Parade); a few non-Pogo Kelly projects; some souvenir cups; and figurines of Pogo and Howland Owl. And just in case you were wondering: yes, I've read all the books and comics. Most of them several times over since my impressionable youth. Which, if you know me, explains a lot of how my mind works...

Truth

I wanted to take a few minutes to address a comment on my previous post saying that I was being judgemental. Please know that was not my intention; our appointment was extremely frustrating, and I hope the following helps to clarify that.

I think it is important to realize that this post was a follow-up to a post from months ago, entitled "The Fourth." In that particular post, I explained that I had had an extensive conversation with this doctor about the issue of termination. Basically, so many doctors had brought up the option with us that I was beginning to wonder if our situation with Isaac was that bad, or if women terminate that easily. And so, I asked him.

In that conversation, the doctor shared that he only knew of 3 women in all of his years of practice that did NOT terminate their pregnancy when given a poor prenatal diagnosis. At that time, I made it very clear to the doctor that termination was not a consideration for us. Period. The only circumstance in which Spencer and I would even consider it is if my health had been in serious jeopardy. It hasn't been. In fact, physically, this pregnancy has been incredibly easy.

Here is what I know to be true, and it comes from Psalm 139:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.


All of Isaac's days have already been ordained for him. God is the giver of life, and He is the one who takes it away. It isn't up to me to decide. I have been entrusted with my son's sweet little life, as short or as long, as easy or as complicated, as it might be. That is an honor. It doesn't mean that it's easy; it's not. In fact at this point, it is often excruciatingly painful as my c-section looms in the not-too-distant future. But unconditional love isn't easy, is it?

In addition, we have wanted to leave the door open for God to intervene. This is the same God who raised Lazaurs from the dead, gave sight to a blind man, and who restored health to a hemorrhaging woman. He is the God of miracles. He may choose to intervene and heal our sweet Isaac; or He may not. We simply want to leave the door open for Him.

The primary reason that this appointment bothered me so much is because for us, there was no more conversation to be had about the issue of terminating my pregnancy. We had already made our stance perfectly clear, and at 30 weeks, the point is moot. My doctor's job is to provide the best medical care possible, and to be a support for my husband and I (which, most doctors we have seen have been).

I could certainly get into other issues surrounding this topic, but I think that the most important point is clear. I know that being given a poor or fatal diagnosis of your child is excruciating beyond words. I know that trying to figure out how to handle that is extremely difficult. But I also know that God's word is clear, and that it's true.

I hope that this provides a little more clarity to the context of my previous post so that it doesn't sound as judgemental, as that was never my intention.

SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE

Part 1 in my new series of highly educational short films.

Swansea Find #1: D.R. & Quinch

So: when I was in Wales last month, in a seaside town called Swansea, without much to do, I found myself poking around in the retail outlets, shopping absent-mindedly for comics and other random junk. I've got three of these posts planned, each focusing on a single piece of cultural flotsam. (You can picture me collecting them like driftwood or beach glass. Here is a picture of the beach in Swansea, to help you imagine:



... and to help you see why I was reduced to shopping.)

Anyway, on one of my idle perambulations, I stumbled upon an old shopping arcade—an indoor hallway with shops on either side of it—in which I found one Comix Shoppe. The guys working there turned out to be friendly and informative. When I asked what they might have that was local and interesting and hard to find in the States, they were stumped at first. There was one local minicomic that looked pretty clumsy; otherwise, the guy said, "You [Americans] pinch all our good writers," so pretty much everything recent was easier to get in the States.

... And then he realized that I wouldn't have seen the recent reprints of material from 2000 A.D.. He had a nice run of Judge Dredd reprints, and a near-complete run of Strontium Dog reprints, but I shied away from those, and even from Nemesis the Warlock, mainly because I wouldn't have much room in my suitcase to carry home several phone-book-sized collections. But I was willing to buy this little gem:



It's the most recent edition of The Complete D. R. & Quinch, and for those of you who didn't click on the image to enlarge it, let me point out that it's a sustained collaboration between Alan Moore and Alan Davis, who were also putting out their Captain Britain and Marvelman stories around this time. But this no deconstruction of the superhero genre: it's sci-fi teen-comedy surrealist mayhem of a fairly high order.

Waldo "D.R." Dobbs (the "D. R." is for "Diminished Responsibility") and Ernest Errol Quinch are teenaged aliens with short attention spans, devious plans, and tactical nuclear weaponry. They first appear in a slight "Time Twister" story that parodies the von Däniken / 2001 notion that human history was shaped by alien visitors.



D. R. and Quinch time-travel through human history, carefully arranging things so that when Earth people get a space program, make alien contact, and petition for membership in the League of Disadvantaged Planets, the visible coastlines of Earth's continents spell out a rude message directed at the dean of their college. It's a fun story with plenty of one-off gags, and the final plot twist isn't bad for a short piece of this type.

The hyperviolent, sneering, disaffected teens were popular with 2000 A.D.'s early-'80s fanbase (for some reason), so Moore and Davis brought them back several times, in longer and more convoluted stories that gradually turned one-joke caricatures into characters with a shadow of depth. Moore's humor leans away from anarchic sneering and into surrealist satire. He's not known as a comic writer (I mean, he writes comics, but not comically), but Moore is capable of putting together some pretty funny stuff, and his timing is good.

But I didn't plunk down nine pounds for Alan Moore's sense of humor. I bought the book because I like Alan Davis's creature designs. He does some innovative and interesting aliens. Here are D. R. and Quinch walking out of a photobooth they've just disintegrated, in an outer-space bus station.



The character designs in this book are a lot of fun.

The guy at the Comix Shoppe also strongly recommended "the joke about Marlon Brando," and a familiar-looking alien named Marlon does turn out to be a major plot point in "D. R. and Quinch Go to Hollywood." That's not the Hollywood on Earth, "which was, like, this completely worthless scumball planet that me and Quinch destroyed one time"; there's a planet Hollywood in this version of outer space. On that planet, Marlon is a big-name star who insists that he play the lead in D. R.'s movie, even though the title at that point is just "Something Something Oranges Something." Here's a script reading:



(Count those fingers: Marlon only looks human. Alan Davis has fun with alien appendages. I was most of the way through the book when I realized that D. R.'s girlfriend Crazy Chryssie has a thumb on either side of each palm.)

As it turns out, the script is illegible, but Marlon is unintelligible and illiterate to boot. (The illiteracy might be a sort of garbled joke about Brando's insistence on reading from cue cards rather than memorizing his lines, but I think it's probably just a riff on the way he mumbles.) So unable to read is our lead actor that he cannot see the warning sign about not pulling an orange from the pyramid of sixteen thousand oranges on the soundstage. The result turns out to be the defining moment in a chaotic mishmash that D. R. markets as a film:



And that's why the movie winds up being called Mind the Oranges, Marlon.

Digression: The joke about Marlon Brando's elocution isn't a new one, of course. When I was looking over that script-reading scene, it occurred to me that the timing was almost Kurtzmanian; then I remembered that Kurtzman and Elder's Goodman Beaver take a similar shot at Brando, in the era when On the Waterfront made him a heartthrob. Goodman Beaver puts on Brando's mannerisms in order to catch the eye of a woman who is ignoring him:



Anyway, D. R. & Quinch is certainly not Moore's finest work; it's not even his finest work of the period. (This is roughly the same era when V for Vendetta and Marvelman were appearing in Warrior.) I don't even think it's his funniest material of this era. (That laurel wreath goes to the Bojeffries Saga strips.) But it does have more than its share of interesting moments, and Alan Davis's space-alien cartooning looks very good to me. In light of the last few years in movies-made-from-comics, however, it might be interesting to revisit "D. R. & Quinch Go to Hollywood," for Moore's take on hollow, know-nothing movie culture written almost two decades before LXG.

The Fourth, part 2

If you've been keeping up with this blog for a while, you may remember a post entitled "The Fourth." That post was all about a long conversation I had with one of the doctors in my OB's practice where he was explaining all the reasons why women terminate their pregnancies. When I asked him how many women he had seen NOT terminate a pregnancy when given a poor prenatal diagnosis, he told me three. And I resolved to be the fourth.

Last Wednesday, we had an appointment and the OB I typically see wasn't in. So, we saw him instead. My "regular" prenatal appointments are typically uneventful... just taking my weight, blood pressure, listening to Isaac's heartbeat, and discussing my questions. Isaac's heart was beating strong in the 150's!

At this partiular appointment, I didn't have a lot of questions. Most of the ones that can be answered at this point, have been. We discussed the findings from my most recent ultrasound, in particular the short umbilical cord. I also asked how all of the doctors were going to be made aware of the details of my delivery should I go into labor before the date of my c-section. This is where things turned interesting.

While discussing how to handle this, the doctor wouldn't drop the fact that, "most pregnancies like this wouldn't have gotten this far" and how "the first thing the doctor on call is going to wonder is, 'How is she still pregnant?'" Truthfully, if that's the first thing they're wondering rather than how to get the right medical staff at the right place at the right time so that my delievery is safe and Isaac is well card for, then I am beginning to wonder. Let's just say that :)

Anyhow, he talked about how most women would have already terminated the pregnancy as soon as they found out about the cystic hygroma or the omphalocele(which, I already knew from our previous discussion). He then asked me point blank why we didn't. And I froze. I was caught so off guard and to be honest was a little intimidated by his strong mindset. I didn't give the answer I wanted to... I wanted to tell him about my faith and about how it's God's decision and not ours. Instead, I told him that we simply don't believe that's a viable option unless my health was in serious jeopardy.

He discussed, anonymously of course, other patients he's seen who are alcohol and drug abusers and how he wishes those patients wouln't continue their pregnancies because of the horrible situation in which those children will then be raised. I did press the choice of adoption, and he simply wrote it off by saying that "these women would never give up their babies." There was one consolation in the conversation and that was this: he said that he's talked to many pregnant women who have said, in theory, that they would make this same choice that we've made, but when push comes to shove, they don't. He said that he noticed that we are actually doing what we said we would do. I was glad that he at least noticed that our conviction isn't empty.

In the end, I just felt incredibly persecuted by this doctor... like I was being belittled for my choice and receiving an "I told you so." No one likes an "I told you so," and it is excruciating in this particular context.

I thought a while about what made his reaction so difficult for me, and I think it's this: the outcome could be different. God could, and maybe still might, choose to intervene and make Isaac healthy and whole on this side of heaven. And I can't help but wrestle with the fact there are people, like this doctor, who would be witness to God's work and couldn't help but think more about Him and who He is. Yet right now, I feel like the answer is no.

And so it's tempting to ask the "why" question... Why are You letting this happen? Why are you not choosing to intervene, when all of these people watching would bear witness to it? Why did You choose us to be the ones to bear this cross?

I try not to go there too often, because I may never know.

I've mentioned before that I've found a lot of comfort and strength in corresponding with Angie Smith (whose husband, Todd, sings in Selah) and in reading her blog. Angie and Todd found out when Angie was 20 weeks pregnant that their daughter, Audrey, had several medical conditions that were fetal. She was born in early April, and passed away a few hours after birth.

Recently, Angie wrote this in her blog:

And because I know Who, I am willfully unconcerned with why. I know that God will use this for good, regardless of who may have intended it for evil.

This just spoke to my heart, mostly because of that word willfully. In a situation like this, you can't help but ask why. And I believe that a certain level of that is healthy, because we need to be able to wrestle that out with God. He can take it. But, there's a point where there has to be a conscious, willfull decision to let God be who He is, and to simply trust in His decisions even if we never know why.

So as we continue to press on, we thank you for continuing to walk with us and pray for us. Would you please pray for this doctor, that he would not be so desensitized that he sees these babies as so disposeable? Would you please pray that God would convict his heart of the fact that when he is talking about a fetus, what he is really talking about is a person... designed and created by God?

Thank you for continuing to pray for a miracle for Isaac, for our strength as we go back to work and deal with the added stress of middle school students, and for our hearts as we wrestle out our questions with God, but learn what it means to be willfully unconcerned with why as we seek to just trust in Him.

The Grind

It's been a while since I've posted any real updates, and I have missed sharing with you all here. Spencer and I are both back to the grind now that school has started (for teachers, anyway... kids come back on Tuesday). I am working at a new school, with a new staff, a new curriculum, and a new schedule. Ordinarily, this is something that would excite me; it can be easy to become complacent and it's always good to shake things up a bit once in a while. The fact that my commute was cut in more than half doesn't hurt either.

However, this year, all of these changes are coming at a hard time, and I miss the comfort and familiarity with the school at which I had been working. I miss the ease with which I could work through the curriculum because I knew it well, I miss the depth of relationships with my co-workers... I guess just the security of it all. On Monday night (the eve of going back to work) I didn't sleep well. I literally tossed and turned all night, and woke up feeling sick to my stomach. I don't know if it was the anticipation of meeting a new (and very large) staff, or if was the anxiety of not knowing how I was going to emotionally handle the stress of going back to work. Perhaps it was both.

The folks at my new school have been exceptionally welcoming, friendly, and supportive. I know that it will take some time to become familiar with this school's routines, the new schedule, the new curriculum... and as it was pointed out to me, I need to somehow learn to give myself the grace to simply be just "good enough" right now. That's hard for me because, as the people who know be best would tell you, I can be a total "type A" perfectionist sort of person. "Good enough" was never okay with me. But now it is, because there's a greater thing at stake... a greater thing that needs my time and attention.

And so, we're back to the grind. In all honesty, it is taking its toll. Spencer has less time to golf, which may sound funny, but it has really been a great outlet for him this summer. For me, I already had been feeling like I was in this constant countdown of how many days I had left with Isaac. Now, those days are flying faster and I know I can't get them back. That's been a difficult thing for me, and I am fearful that mid-October is going to be here all too soon.

We could really use your prayers. Would you please pray with us that God would give us the capacity to handle the stress that a new school year and middle schoolers bring? Would you please pray that we would learn to really prioritize in the coming weeks what is non-negotiable at work, and what it is we can let go for the sake of slowing time and enjoying these last 7 or 8 weeks with Isaac? Would you please pray as October continues to draw near, that God would guard our hearts, grant us His peace, and give us the strength to still do a good job a work? And would you continue to please pray with us that He would do a miracle and heal our sweet Isaac?

Thanks for continuing to encourage us and pray for us. We need it, and it means mroe to us than you know.

Maternity Pictures

I've been waiting to update so that I could share some maternity pictures with you. We met up with a wonderful photographer from the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation who took some photos for us at a park near our house. Bill did a fabulous job, and I am in awe that such a service for parents in our position exists.

I will update on doctors appointments and such in a few days. But for now, enjoy...