Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Story After the Storm Story

This feels weird.

Sunday night The Weather Channel broadcast an episode of "Storm Stories" that included me and others who made it through the northern California firestorms of October 2017. I liked the episode, although I chuckled at some of the melodrama, but that goes with the genre. As I said in my previous post, the producers and crew were very kind and considerate, and that goes a long way toward making me feel great about the whole experience.

I have a few notes . . .

First, the interview was not shot in my house. The camera crew of five set up shop in a large, semi-rural B&B about 20 miles south of Santa Rosa. Best I could tell, they also slept and ate there, and outfitted the big living room to be a TV studio.

The interview happened in late June, so high Covid season. The crew was careful and diligent. Everyone wore masks the entire time I was there. The camera crew was a good 10 or so feet away from me. When they dabbed a bit of make-up on my face, they had me put on a face shield and then reached under it with gloves on. I slipped off my mask when on camera, then put it right back on when we cut. It felt safe.

I sat on what looks like a log but was actually a sort of ceramic stool, because all the chairs had high backs and they didn't want them peeking over my shoulders. It got uncomfortable. Somewhere is an outtake of me standing up and shaking my butt to get blood back into it.

I took two shirts, blue and red. They had me change so that different footage would look like it had been shot on different days. Show-biz magic! I doubt anybody noticed. 

I was there a bit more than an hour. The field producer, Mario, was a good interviewer, and in fact got me so relaxed and conversational I said a few things that, upon reflection, I dreaded seeing on TV. So I emailed the producers, explained my worry, and they said "No problem, we don't want you to have any regrets about talking to us so we won't use it," which is extraordinary. They didn't have to do that; I'd already signed the release. That impressed me.

The view from my stool. Mario's on the left. Sorry I forgot the cameraman's name.

I was also impressed when the producers called me weeks later to fact-check their narration script. That almost never happens. 

After the interview was over and I was driving home, I got a frantic phone call. They'd forgotten a very important shot! Could they drive to my house to do it? It was quicker for me to turn around, so I went back. What was this critical footage they so desperately needed?!

It's the one-second intro where I'm looking away from the camera, then my gaze slowly turns to stare directly into the soul of the viewer at home. Which I thought was hilarious. "What'd you do today Brian?" "I turned my head. Dramatically." We did four or five takes on the front porch, and then I went home for real.

I think the episode was very well produced. It was dramatic, but so was the actual firestorm. 

I was happy to see my friends Mike Harkins--whose tale of trying to save his neighborhood with a garden hose you may remember from A Fire Story--and Melissa Geissinger, as well as the perspectives of the sheriff's deputy and firefighter. Mike's and Melissa's stories were really the heart of the episode.

I didn't know they would have actors portray Karen and me in dramatic re-enactments. I was disappointed that my actor was old, fat, and slept on the wrong side of the bed. I suppose Brad Pitt was unavailable.

The program broadened my own perspective on a disaster I was in the middle of. I was unexpectedly moved. I hadn't seen most of that fire footage in three years, and some I don't think I've ever seen. Both Karen and I felt a very strong sense of, "My God, we really were in the middle of an inconceivably large and violent disaster and survived it!" Three years of getting by day to day has dulled some of those raw nerves. "Storm Stories" reminded us. If you want to know what it was like, that's kind of it.

I'm happy I did the program, and very much appreciate The Weather Channel and "Storm Stories" coming to tell our story. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Sunday Storm Stories



Last June, I teased that I had done something cool and couldn't talk about it. Now I can.

This Sunday, October 11, I'll be appearing in an episode of The Weather Channel series "Storm Stories." The program usually tackles natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or blizzards, but this one is about firestorms and they're focusing on mine.

The episode's not all about me. They interviewed at least two other people that I know of--my friends Mike and Melissa--and probably others that I don't know about. 

I haven't seen the episode. Based on other "Storm Stories" I've watched, I expect it to be well crafted and maybe a bit dramatic. There will be spooky music and somber narration. I was very impressed with the crew I worked with here, as well as producers back at Storm Stories headquarters. They were kind and considerate.

It's probably coincidental that it airs so close to the third anniversary of the fire, which was the night of October 8-9: today. However, when the producers told me it'd likely air in October or November, I pointed that date out to them so maybe they took my hint. 

Three years. Wow.

On Monday I'll share a couple of anecdotes about the shoot. My "Storm Stories" segment is scheduled to air Sunday at 8:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET (5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time). But check your local TV listings to be sure.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

PBS NewsHour (again?!)


Add to the list of things I didn't know I'd be doing when I woke up this morning: appearing on the PBS NewsHour tonight. I just got off a Skype call with producer Jason Kane (left) and correspondent Stephanie Sy, who wanted some perspective about the new fires from a survivor of an old one. You may recall that the NewsHour and correspondent John Yang came to town last year and did a terrific piece on A Fire Story the very day Karen and I moved into our rebuilt home. 

I don't know when in the NewsHour I'll appear or how much they'll edit me down (and of course I may not appear at all depending on how the day's news goes), but we talked for a good while. I was impressed again by the professionalism and compassion of the NewsHour folks. Funny: while Stephanie was interviewing me, I got a text from Kira Wakeam, who co-produced last year's story but doesn't even work there anymore. She just wanted to see how we're doing. 

PBS NewsHour hires good storytellers and better people.

EDITED TO ADD: Just watched it online. I think they used three quotes of mine. It's a good piece that unexpectedly used some video from last year's story, which included Karen. Nice!

The story starts at about the 39:14 mark. I show up around 42:24. You can watch it at the link, or catch it on your local PBS station tonight!

I appreciate being included.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Flashback Friday!


Flashback Friday! Karen was cleaning out her office when she found this notepad in the bottom of a box. It's from my days as a newspaper reporter for a small California daily. The first two pages look like notes from a City Council meeting about allocating $292,398 to build a transit garage. The next several pages look like notes Karen took while she was in training to be an entry-level social worker. I imagine I handed it to her when she was heading to work and didn't have anything to write on.

It's circa 1985. Today, Karen is preparing to retire from her 35-year career in social services, capped by leading a department with 900 people and a budget of $300 million. I've written a lot more stuff and had a few books published. This notepad is a physical artifact of when we'd barely started on those paths together. It kind of symbolizes . . . everything.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Pop Culture Classroom Summer Book Club

 A couple of days ago, I did a live web thingy with the Pop Culture Classroom, the nice people who are affiliated with the Denver Pop Culture Con and gave A Fire Story the prestigious Excellence in Graphic Literature Award for Best Adult Nonfiction. What I most appreciate about Pop Culture Classroom is its focus on using graphic novels in libraries and classrooms. They're almost unique in that respect.

If you watch, it's almost exactly an hour; skip over the opening 5 minute countdown. I opened with a presentation about how I made "A Fire Story," from the photos and notes I took the day my house burned down to webcomic to print. And then we had a nice conversation about trauma, grief, empathy, comics as a storytelling medium, and such. Thanks to Matt, Mathew, Faith, and Pop Culture Classroom for naming my book the best adult nonfiction graphic novel of 2019, I appreciate it a lot!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Comic-Con Post-Mortem


This article in Variety may be the stupidest piece of journalism I've read in a long time. It concludes that Comic-Con@Home, the San Diego con organizers' valiant attempt to salvage something good from the plague flames, failed because the YouTube panels didn't draw millions of hits.

What the article misses is that Comic-Con International is a lot more than what happens in Hall H, the large auditorium that hosts the major movie panels and such. I've been to Comic-Con many times and never once set foot in Hall H. What *I* see is that the panel I did, "Comics During Clampdown," has been viewed 1288 times. I guarantee you that the same panel live in San Diego wouldn't have drawn one-tenth that. I've seen and done panels that had more people on stage than in the audience. I also hear that the Cartoon Art Museum's "Sketch-a-Thon" fundraiser I participated in did as well or better than it would have live.

My takeaway is that Comic-Con@Home was an admirable success. In a couple of months they put together not just 350-plus Zoom panels but long-distance versions of art exhibitions, cosplay displays, vendor outlets, the Eisner Awards, and everything they could short of the $5 rubbery pretzels. It was free and open to all, and the videos are online to view at your leisure.

No, Comic-Con@Home wasn't the same as being there. That's obvious. But I think it did a lot to keep the spirit and community of Comic-Con alive.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Comic-Con 2020: Virtually Like Being There

It's Comic-Con Week! In some parallel non-plague universe, 100,000 people are gathering in San Diego to celebrate comics. Just not in this one.

BUT! The Comic-Con folks are doing their best to throw a virtual convention, including literally hundreds of panels with hundreds of comics experts talking about hundreds of topics, including one that I'm on! Andrew Farago invited me to join a panel on "Comics During Clampdown: Creativity in the Time of Covid," with Keith Knight, Mari Naomi, Ajuan Mance, Thien Pham, Jason Shiga and Gene Luen Yang! We recorded it a couple of weeks ago and it went live on Thursday at noon.



What a line up! Despite all of us orbiting the San Francisco Bay Area, the only one I'd met before was Keith (comics people don't actually all know each other, it only seems that way). But I like and admire all their work so this was very cool for me. I also think we had smart and interesting things to say, but I'm biased.

Check it out, or one of the other 350 or so (no kidding!) panels available online HERE. Thanks Andrew!

Friday, July 17, 2020

A Matter of Perspective

"Beats Digging Ditches" Work in Progress: Some of my "Sixty-Second Sticky Doodles" that got the most feedback were on Perspective. Here's an example of two-point perspective that I did this morning. It'll be a nighttime cityscape in stark black and white.


The photo below shows the page on my drawing board with the two vanishing points, the dots on the pieces of white tape to the left and the right. Except for the lines that go straight up and down, every line in the drawing leads to one of those two vanishing points.



This is the pencil drawing. Next I'll ink it in black ink. I pencil in light blue pencil so I don't have to bother erasing; when I scan the art after inking, it's easy to make the blue color disappear, leaving only the clean black lines.

I really enjoy drawing perspective like this. It's a pretty mechanical--almost meditative--process, but it looks cool when done.

Here it is inked. This isn't finished: I'll add color (mostly shades of yellow in the windows), I plan to blacken many windows in a "crossword puzzle" look, and there's something in the sky I can't show you.


I wanted every building's structure and window pattern to be slightly different, like they were designed by different architects. I also wasn't too particular about every line being perfect. If you scrutinize, you'll find a lot of wonky lines. That's OK! I don't go out of my way to mess up, but I do think art should look like it was done by a human and not a CAD program. Little imperfections give art subliminal warmth.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 60: Lettering

Lettering used to be a core part of every commercial artist's and cartoonist's training. Technology has made it obsolete--everywhere except comics. Today's supersized Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is about the lost art of letters.



Also: if you're a fan of my doodles, please don't miss the last half of this one. All 60 of the Sixty-Second Sticky Doodles can be accessed by clicking on the "Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle" link under "Labels" in the column to the right. Thanks!

For my money, nobody did more to stretch the limits of lettering than "Pogo" cartoonist Walt Kelly. His lettering gave characters voices that you could hear clearly in your head. This is P.T. Bridgeport, a blustery barker who spoke entirely in circus poster script.

Also in "Pogo," Deacon Mushrat's Gothic lettering gave him the voice of an old stone cathedral, if old stone cathedrals had voices.
And I just like this simple example of "Pogo" chugging down a railroad track because the variation of size and weight in his lettering tells you exactly how this sounds. Imagine how much less interesting and informative this text would be if it were typed out in 16-point Comic Sans.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

My Robot Army Grows

This makes me very happy! Got an email from Cameron Jones, who just found and read "The Last Mechanical Monster" after seeing the Superman cartoon it was based on, and took me up on my invitation to build a papercraft Robot using the pattern I created. Cameron not only did a fine construction job, but also set up a little tableau putting my Robot face to face with his nemesis. Check out these pics (posted with permission)!




Wonderful! Made my week! Thanks, Cameron.

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 59: A Flour Sack

Cartoonists give ink lines the illusion of life, sometimes even if the things they draw were never alive at all. Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle sees what it can do with a sack of flour.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 58: Pikachu

There are bigger, stronger, faster, fiercer and more powerful Pokemon than him, but when push comes to shove he's the one indispensable member of your squad. Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is Pikachu.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 57: Rain

Like the good book says, "Rain falls on the just and the unjust" in today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle. I'm rooting for the just.



Rain by Will Eisner
Rain by Charles Schulz