‘Of Dust and Blood”

‘Of Dust and Blood p 59” (2016)
by Val Mayerik (1950 -)
17.5 x 11.5 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

“Of Dust and Blood” is an original graphic novel, developed through a Kickstarter campaign by writer Jim Berry and featuring veteran illustrator, Val Mayerik. The story details the day of The Battle At The Little Big Horn through the eyes of Greenhaw, a 7th Cavalry scout on one side of the battlefield, and Slow Hawk, a young Lakota warrior on the other.

The story is a compelling drama while being as historically accurate as possible. Although the two protagonists are fictional, there are plenty of featured appearances by the famous characters of the day – G.A. Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse – all highlighting what it might have been like on a hot afternoon in 1876. The 96 page hardcover book is 11.5 x 7.5 in., and has a limited first edition run.

Search on eBay for the author’s store. As of this writing, the book costs $30.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to the Lakota and other Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass (and commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand) was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The battle, which occurred June 25–26, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, was the most prominent action of the Great Sioux War of 1876.

The fight was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho, led by several major war leaders, including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall, inspired by the visions of Sitting Bull. The U.S. 7th Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by George Armstrong Custer, suffered a major defeat. Five of the 7th Cavalry’s twelve companies were annihilated; Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law. The total U.S. casualty count included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded.

Custer underestimated the size of the tribal communities present, and had no strategically defensible position. By almost all accounts, the Lakota annihilated Custer’s force within an hour of engagement.

P.S. As part of the Kickstarter reward level that I contributed to, a character was drawn into the book based on any picture of me that I sent to Val. And I got the page and the hand-colored version of the page in return. This is the page. Here is the picture I sent him (figuring a soldier would not be 60…) and “my” character in the book. I got to be in a parallel panel placement with Custer!

“Oppenheimer’s Dharma”

I have been buying (and making modest suggestions for the design of) jewelry from an awesome Neo-Modernist named Daniel Macchiarini (1954-) since the late 1990s. Danny is the son of Peter Macchiarini, who was a key fixture in the San Francisco artist scene in the North Beach area of San Francisco from the 1930s to the time of his death in the 1990s. Feel free to visit Danny (virtually or in person) at:

Macchiarini Design
1554 Grant Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Phone: 415.982.2229
Email: danny1mac@sbcglobal.net

Store web site: http://www.macreativedesign.com

anYhOw… thanks to my pent-up desire to do 3D art, which I had never done, and my respect for Danny, and his own pent-up desire to begin to think about offering workshops, we agreed to set a time to see how we might resolve this clearly mutual creative interest. And we did, over the weekend of March 20-21, 2005.


Oppenheimer’s Dharma” (2005)
by Brian P Coppola
assisted by Ian Stewart
directed by Daniel Macchiarini

Materials: Ebony, Ivory, Mahogany, Copper, Brass, Stainless Steel, Mild Steel

Created in a Sculpture Workshop (20-21 March 2005) conducted by Daniel Macchiarini @ Macchiarini Creative Design Studio, San Francisco, CA

The Story

Former UM undergrad and Berkeley PhD Ian Stewart, who has been known to drop a peso or two at Macchiarini’s place, joined in the fun on that March 20.

Day One (noon): A brief lesson from Danny, on his computer, about space, shape, texture, balance, and other fundamental art ideas, using images and examples of his and his father’s pieces as a resource. Then, Ian and I got a user’s tour of the workshop, and a big old blank spot at a workbench… a large sheet of newsprint, some pencils, and lots of metal and wooden objects to think about as we played “the game of the sculpture.” This is a fun game and takes at least two players: laying out shapes and developing a single drawing as you talk out loud about your ideas. On another day, maybe, I will give a more detailed version of the process. But, once the ideas began to converge as an array of objects whose relationship started to be fixed (around 2-3 pm), Danny (who was just hanging back and mainly answering questions) showed us how to cut and solder different types of metals, and to deal with the other technques that we needed to learn.

In the Neo-Modernist tradition, the plan evolves through iteration: you do not always know the whole story first – it emerges. Most of the basic story emerged for me by the time we started soldering (although I did not share it), and the sculpture itself continued to emerge as the story refined itself in my mind. Yeah – you will be hearing about it soon enough. We worked until about 6 pm.

Day Two (10 am): Just me and Danny. I worked on my sculpture, learned to work with ivory and ebony, and bantered around with Danny while he worked on a large fountain/sculpture that was to be installed in someone’s backyard garden. By about 4 pm, the sculpture was done (except for polishing) and being hung on the wall. I went over to the newsprint design and wrote the title next to the drawing: “Oppenheimer’s dharma.” A client of Danny’s came into the store, and Danny was all “Look what Brian did at this workshop we just finished.” And the client was all “Nice, interesting, whatever.” And I was all “You guys want to know the title and the story of this piece?”

Heh heh heh – Danny tends to sculpt and design in large sweeping ideas and motion, rather than in descriptive narrative, so I think he was at least a little surprised when I had this story to tell.


“Oppenheimer’s dharma”
by Brian P Coppola

San Francisco, CA; 03/21/05

To a Hindu, one’s dharma is the “law” or “job” of your position in life: the responsibilities you have as a member of your caste. In contrast with your karma, which is the report card of how well (or not) you did in fulfilling your dharma. One of the reasons why Robert Oppenheimer might have become enamored with Hindu texts, particularly the Bhagavad Gita, was that it helped him reconcile his scientist’s dharma (to discover and always push forward) when faced with the moral dilemma of helping to create a device (the Bomb) that he understood to be morally indefensible and reprehensible. When seeing the flash and the mushroom cloud at the Trinity test site, Oppenheimer is reported to have quoted from the Gita: “I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”

In “Oppenheimer’s Dharma” I have depicted a classic creation/death/resurrection cycle.

OppenheimerYou can start reading this anywhere, but let’s start at the bottom. A drop of pure white (circular ivory) combines with the void, continuing (because starting has no meaning) the universal cycle (and it moves in the direction of the arrow, in case you need help). Time passes, as suggested by a pendulum swing, the action of a clock – of time. Eventually, worlds form. Inherently nihilistic, creation is accompanied by destruction. The creation (vertical) axis complements the destruction (horizontal) axis: they are not opposites; together they comprise the whole. Nearly at the horizontal, a world explodes.
It always happens: the Bomb. It’s a dirty dharma, but someone has to do it: the shock wave and the mushroom cloud appear. The explosion echoes along history’s path, and creation rises from destruction in the form of the phoenix – purifying and refining in the fires of creation and destruction. Worlds die, but the movement of history goes on (the arc continues), and new worlds arise in the eye of the phoenix. Destruction is cast out in the form of the blackness (in creation, sometimes destruction is destroyed), emerging from the same direction as the refined white teardrop of the phoenix. Darkness and light continue their Oppenheimerbattle in the body of the phoenix until at last there is only the void, again, along with the pure white tear (or is it the seed?) of the phoenix. Pure white combines with the void, continuing the universal cycle.

The creation/death/resurrection cycle requires all players to play their parts. Oppenheimer’s dharma is not merely that of a scientist; his dharma – and his uniqueness – is that of the scientist who must inevitably build the Bomb.

The destruction of destruction, after all, is creation.


You Just Never Know

You might recall this cartoon, from December 2012:
AuthorshipF2Late last year, I got this message:

Dear Prof. Coppola, 

I work at the “Platform Responsible Research and Innovation in Academic Practice” at the University of Vienna (Austria). Under the leadership of the head of the platform Prof. Ulrike Felt, our team has developed a card-based discussion method for reflecting issues of responsibility in research (https://rri.univie.ac.at). http://rri.univie.ac.at/aktivitaeten/series-of-group-discussions/ If you follow the link, you will read how we use the cartoons: we have included them into our method to ease the mood during discussion sessions to make the discussion fluid and open. See: Felt, U., Schumann, S., Schwarz, C. G., & Strassnig, M. (2014). Technology of imagination: a card-based public engagement method for debating emerging technologies. Qualitative Research, 14(2), 233-251.


Currently we consider using one of your hilarious cartoons as well. It is called: ‘All authors are equal… but some are more equal than others.’ In, Diane Scott-Lichter “Authorship disputes: me first, me equally, me too, not me” Learned Publications, 2012, 25, 83-85. We also want to publish the card-based method at a later point (open access) at our university (https://openaccess.univie.ac.at/en/home/) to make it available to others. For that purpose we kindly ask you for your permission to use the cartoon. I want to emphasize that we use the cartoons only to open up a reflection within the scientific community and for scientific purposes only!

Did I give permission?

You betchersweetass I did.

I got this in the mail recently:

“Blue and White”

bluewhiteOne of the things I like to do when I accompany tours in China, or anywhere else for that matter, is to practice my meager point-and-shoot skills with my Canon Digital Rebel camera. Some day, perhaps, I will bother to learn what more of those dials and buttons are about. For now, however, I am the master of instant decision-making and no-cropping-allowed composition, particularly in making candid portraits of people.

Earlier this year, the “Green Beijing” people held a photo contest: Green Beijing through the Eyes of Foreign Friends.

There were 3197 images submitted, so I was happy to be one of the 50 pictures awarded a cash prize.

This in from the other side of my brain

You might not have ever noticed, but my first authored publications were a set of cartoons that appeared in the Journal of Chemical Education in 1978 and 1979. Professor Paul Jones, then at the University of New Hampshire, had been collecting, in a little notebook, a set of quotes (and references) where chemists had, in his view, overly anthropomorphized chemicals, molecules, or whatever. You can go check these out in the “Publications” section of this site. You can also see there that I have been involved in a few other cartooning projects: “Under the Hood,” in The Chemical Intelligencer, and “Al Kemist,” for The Hexagon of Alpha Chi Sigma.

The right and left hand sides of my brain (for what it is worth to bifurcate the brain) get along pretty well. When I do art, it is reasonably analytical; when I do technical things, it is usually with broad and holistic brushstrokes. I can do details, but I am not good at them after a certain point because my brain just invents the fixes it needs to see to make things look right.

I like lots of different cartoon art, including the style of the classic editorial cartoonists of the late 19th Century, and of them, in particular, Frederick Burr Opper (01/02/1857 – 09/27/1937). Here is a single representative example of his work, some of which (including this one) I own:


In the last couple of years, I got two opportunities to do homage drawings in the style of Opper. The first one was for an anthology of alternative history fiction stories called “Columbia & Britannia,” in which my buddy Chris O’Neal has a chapter.


I won’t get into the details of it, but after reading Chris’ story, there was a moment where a group of rebels was hanged and the event was known as “A Christmas Gift for King George.” This struck me as the stuff of a political cartoon.

I’d be happier to have spent more time on it, but when I draw I get into the drawing-zone, and I just rush through. As an alternative history piece, the idea was to be completely in character, so I signed it as Opper. It’s in the book.


The second example was in 2008. Cornell’s Roald Hoffmann asked me to read and see what inspiration followed from a paper he was co-authoring, a rather more philosophical piece on the use and mis-use of the terms stable/unstable in chemistry, among other topics (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 200847, 2-6). This illustration accompanied the article.