Today is Earth Day, and in keeping with that theme we present this story about a team of six cartoon owl superheroes—the Whobuddies—whose job is to save the Earth from environmental disasters and encourage humans to become heroes themselves by conserving and protecting our precious natural resources.
Who Are the Whobuddies?
Each Whobuddy is named after the particular genus its owl species belongs to, and each has a special superpower, when put together, represent all the natural resources that contribute to a healthy environment. Here are their descriptions according to the NRCS Whobuddies Adventures webpage:
Bubo is a strong, powerful owl who really “digs” the soil. His main emphasis is to teach how soil conservation practices help in preventing soil erosion. Bubo relies on his awesome strength and power to move anything in his way. He is as powerful as a bulldozer and he doesn’t like it when soil is treated like dirt!
Otus really knows how to have fun in the water. He also deeply appreciates clean water. He likes to teach others how to conserve this precious resource. Otus can remarkably turn himself into a liquid form which has its advantages. He can maneuver himself in and around any obstacle.
Tyto can be a little flighty at times, but he is all business when it comes to air quality. He gives the importance of clean air his fullest attention. Not only can Tyto cause himself to float, but he has the incredible ability to cause other objects to become lighter than air, too.
Strix is a funloving and playful owl whose heart goes out to all animals. He teaches the importance of having an abundance of wildlife habitat. Strix has the ability to communicate with all animals, and the animals all love his childlike play. They would do anything for their dear friend.
Ninox specializes in science. He enjoys using his skills and intelligence in showing others how we all depend on plants every day. Ninox has a special talent with the elements of science. His customized formulas can animate any plant species.
Asio is a real dynamo who gets things done. She is very energetic in teaching others about the necessity of energy conservation and efficiency. Asio is lightening fast. Her super quickness is a huge benefit in helping her complete any difficult task.
Creators of the Whobuddies
Brad Harrison, Author
The Whobuddies were the brainchild of Brad Harrison, who for 36 years worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service as a district conservationist. NRCS is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers as well as to city planners, watershed groups, state and local governments, and civic organizations, helping all of them protect their soil, water, and other natural resources.
Harrison was a tireless and enthusiastic educator who was constantly dreaming up new ideas for promoting conservation. He coined the NRCS slogan “Helping People Help the Land,” launched the 1 Percent Challenge, which encourages local farmers to work towards a 1 percent increase in soil organic matter through soil health practices, and he even developed a rap song and music video to promote healthy soil called “Don’t Treat It Like Dirt.”
After coming up with the idea for a team of environmentally conscious cartoon superheroes, Harrison shopped his concept around to several movie companies and animation studios, but found no one interested in taking on the project. Perhaps some of them found the premise a little too close for comfort to Captain Planet and the Planeteers, a very popular animated television series that had been broadcast in the early to mid 1990s. In any case, when the animated cartoon idea did not work out, Harrison found an illustrator who was hired by NRCS to give visual form to his characters and create a series of comic books around them.
The comic books were drawn by a San Diego-based artist originally from Mexico City who goes by the name of Rodgon (short for Rodrigo Gonzalez).
Over the years, Rodgon has worked in comics, animation, and apparel, and as a freelance illustrator. He is also a teacher who has created tutorials for print publication as well as an extensive series of video tutorials on his own Rodgon the Artist YouTube channel. Some artists he has been inspired by are Frank Cho, Chris Sanders, and Scott Campbell, as well as Dave Guertin and Greg Baldwin of CreatureBox.
Together they created a series of three comics that each tell a story about the Whobuddies and the environmental problems they solve. The stories are very simple, but don’t shy away from specialized terminology that some teachers or parents might worry is over the heads of the children. The illustrations depict colorful, eye-catching fantasies, but also incorporate accurately drawn technical diagrams to clarify scientific concepts.
At the end of each volume are puzzles and games that test and reinforce knowledge of the concepts and vocabulary introduced in the story, and each issue concludes with an exhortation to “Be a Conservation Hero” by getting involved in protecting the environment and by sharing knowledge of conservation resources.
1. Mystery of the Sick Stream: In this story, the Whobuddies help Connor and his friends solve the mystery of why the animals in a nearby stream are becoming sick and why the water is so polluted.
2. The Great Soil Discovery: This story features Bubo, the Whobuddy dedicated to soil conservation, who teaches Connor and his friends how to improve soil health and reduce erosion, which in turn helps the plants, water, air, and energy.
3. Top Secret Field Trip: As a reward for all their hard work, Connor and his friends are invited on a special field trip to the Whobuddies’ secret headquarters, where they watch the strigine superheros working in their laboratory and even help them solve a natural resource emergency.
In addition to the comic books, NRCS has made available a large set of other teaching tools, including discussion question, activity sheets, a poster, a set of trading cards, and a YouTube video adaptation of each story. The videos are not nearly as slick as the professional productions the author had in mind originally.
The Legacy of Brad Harrison
Sadly, before he could create any more installments in the series of Whobuddy Adventures, Brad Harrison passed away from colon cancer at the age of 58.
The NRCS produced one more Whobuddies comic, with Brad’s characters and Rodgon’s illustrations, but authorship of the text was—like most government documents—attributed to the agency as a whole rather than to any personal author. In a moving tribute, Brad Harrison was written into the story and joined his beloved Whobuddies to became a character in his own comic book series.
4. The Plight of the Pollinators: In a story possibly inspired by Perilous Plight of the Pollinator—another NRCS document—Zoe the bee discovers a building where her food sources, such as flowers and fruit trees, used to be. She contacts the Whobuddies to get help for herself and her pollinator friends—bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Ninox provides some “special plant specimens” and calls Ralph the janitor and his friends to help. Ralph knows of a good spot in the schoolyard for a pollinator garden and calls “Mr. Brad,” Connor, and the other kids to help plant it. Ninox and Brad explain the crucial role that pollinators play in the life cycle of trees and flowers, and the complementary role those plants play in providing food for the pollinators. All of the Whobuddies play their distinct roles in helping Brad and the kids create a garden that will provide plenty of pollen and nectar for the pollinators, help build healthy soil, protect the school yard from erosion, and brighten everyone’s day with their beautiful blooms.
A dedication inside the front cover reads, “Dedicated to our friend, Brad Harrison. 1959–2017”
We hope this story inspires you to make the most of Earth Day and every day to be a conservation hero!
You can learn more about natural resources conservation at www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov.
To learn more about these and other government comics, contact the Eagle Commons Library at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Bobby Griffith.