Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

and a nod to a new comic strip.

Yesterday evening as I drove along the allee of American elms which marks the passage from US Route 1 to Einsteinville’s famous campus, I saw fireflies rising from the grass in the adjacent fields. On the eve of the summer solstice, here were the true harbingers of summer.

Fireflies at dusk invariably evoke the memories of my childhood summers. During the humid warm evenings of central Illinois Julys and Augusts, one could literally hear the corn grow as the fireflies blinked among the leaves and nascent tassels. Without the whiff of a breeze, rustles and the occasional “pop” would sound from the fields abutting our lawn as the corn plants rushed headlong through their V9 stage of growth. My late father, whose collegiate education included plenty of classes in agronomy and horticulture as well as bacteriology and organic chemistry, attributed the snap, crackles and pops in the dusky fields to leaves adjusting themselves as the stalk stretched.

It was true then. We rural Midwestern rubes really did listen to the corn grow. But the fireflies were the real draw for those hot summer nights. They rose from the fecund cornfields in their mating dance, flashing their sexual fires, as the neighbor kids and I scooped them up into our empty Mason jars. I wondered about the source of their cool flame, and my father and my older brother told me that it was “biological phosphorescence” without further explanaion. I tucked away that terminology to use later in my 6th grade science class, thus one-upping a couple of my pre-pubescent classroom competitors. Later in life, I learned about luciferase, and argued with my cell biology collaborators about the validity of nuclear hormone response elements coupled to luciferase expression if the process didn’t occur in the appropriate cellular background.

So what in the tarnation does this nostalgic reverie have to do with comic strips? Well, I’m a “funny papers” addict. I have always honed in on a newspaper’s comics, and have thereby judged the paper based on these. I’m amused by a variety of comics which may span from social satire to more familial fare although not the abysmal “Family Circus.” I’m praying for Billy to become an atheist. But I digress…

I enjoy reading the NYT, quite the august and proper Grey Lady, but it does not deign to publish comics other than a vaguely pretentious strip in the Sunday mag. So I get a fix of my more mainstream faves (The Boondocks, Doonesbury, Get Fuzzy) via GoComics and Comics.com. A fairly new comic, Lio, by Mark Tatulli, has appeared on the GoComics site. It’s a pantomime comic, meaning that it has no dialogue. I like this. I don’t like to be told when it’s time to laugh. Lio’s wordless humor is like a decent sit-com without an insipid laugh track. A couple of other things I dig about “Lio” is that one, it’s dark in its humor, reminiscent of the great Gahan Wilson, and two, Lio is a bit of the mad scientist. The St. Petersburg Times Floridian ran an article on Lio with the byline:

Think of our new comic as part Edgar Allan Poe, part Salvador Dali and part kid.

Gary Larson is perhaps the most notable icon of science and scientists in comic strip form, at least to the mainstream masses, and I daresay those of us in the cabals of science miss Larson’s take on our kind. After all, he is one of us. I don’t know that Tatulli’s Lio will be in Larson’s league. Tatulli’s references to science are more of the “Igor is my assistant” type, but they are popping up now and then. Check out his strip in the link above if you’re so inclined. I may be violating copyright by reposting the following image, but hey, Tartulli, I’m giving you a plug, man! Here is Tatulli’s June 21 fast follow-on to my fireflied thoughts.

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That’s a hell of a lot of luciferase.

Happy first day of Summer, all!