Monday, July 16, 2018

Heading to Comic-Con

In a couple of days, my daughters and I will be making our way to San Diego for Comic-Con International. Not Karen--she's been to a few Comic-Cons and that was plenty.

Although I'm not up for any awards this year, I have been asked to be a Special Guest, which is a big sweet deal. This is my second time Special Guesting; the first was after Mom's Cancer came out in 2006. They take very good care of their Special Guests, only asking in return that I do a Spotlight Panel in which I talk about myself for 45 minutes, and in general be a good, cooperative ambassador for comics.

I can do that.

Comic-Con offered me a table in Artists' Alley but I declined, having nothing left to show or sell. I'd much rather wander than sit anyway. My home away from home will be the Abrams booth (#1216). If you really want to reach me you could try leaving a note there, but no promises. When you drop by, be sure to look over all the amazing Abrams books.

Other than that, here's where I'll be:

Thursday, July 19, 4:00-5:00: I'll be drawing to help raise money for the Cartoon Art Museum (#1930). The idea is that people can drop by and, for a $10 donation, cartoonists will draw anything they want. I did it once before and discovered I'm terrible at it. Somewhere out there is a father and son to whom I owe $10 for a regrettable "Chewbacca playing basketball" I drew for them. In fact, I told CAM curator Andrew Farago I never wanted to do it again, but he put me on the schedule anyway. So I guess I'm doing it again. I promise to try my best.

Friday, July 20, Noon-1:00: I'll be part of a panel called "Peanuts Family Album," based on a book of the same name by moderator Andrew Farago (him again). The other panelists are my pal Lex Fajardo (Kid Beowulf and the Schulz Studio), Rachel Fellman (Schulz Museum), Nat Gertler (lots of stuff including About Comics), Lonnie Millsap (Bacรถn), and Jeff Pidgeon (Toy Story).  It'll be a fun excursion into the more obscure characters in the "Peanuts" pantheon. I plan to have some very interesting insights into Molly Volley. It's happening outside the Convention Center, in the Grand 9 room at the nearby Marriott.

Friday, July 20, 2:00-3:00: Spotlight on Brian Fies. My Main Event! I genuinely think this will be neat. I asked my friend and editor Charlie Kochman to sit and talk with me, which is a good format that avoids the awkwardness of me droning about myself. Astonishingly, he agreed. We'll take a look back at what I've done but mostly focus ahead on what I'm doing. We might even have some sort of cool collectible giveaway, although I've already said too much. It's in Room 4, which is one of the smaller rooms upstairs. It would be great to see you!

Those are my commitments. I've also been invited to a couple of professional parties, which is a first for me. You'll find me standing alone in the corner with a beer pretending to look at my phone. Otherwise, I'll likely be wandering the aisles, looking at old comics and art, buying books, and hunting down friends. If you're one of those friends and I don't find you, I apologize in advance but you know how it is: a hundred thousand people crammed into in a square mile with never enough time to do it all.

Comic-Con is a strange beast. It's been very good to me. It's also loud, crowded, and every year consumes more and more of its beautiful host city. Many of my cartoonist friends can't afford to go anymore. Just a few years ago, I could drop by a vendor's booth to pick up a convention exclusive (e.g., a special Hallmark ornament) for a friend; now the line forms at 5 a.m. and takes all day. The most common complaint is that Comic-Con doesn't really have much to do with comics anymore.

I sympathize but disagree. I like writer Mark Evanier's take: Comic-Com is really five or six big conventions rolled into one, and it's up to you to find your convention within it. I don't care about video games or board games, so I don't go there. I've never been in Hall H, where the big movie stars reveal sneak peeks (and the line to get in begins forming the night before).

However, I just went through the program and made a list of 32 panels or events I'd like to see, almost all related to graphic novels, comic books or comic strips. I know there'll be kids selling homemade zines and vendors selling original comic art. There'll be friends I never get to see anywhere else. There'll be Klingons. Everything's better with Klingons.

Comic-Con isn't what it used to be, and it isn't for everyone. But we're gonna have a good time.

One of my favorite photos I've taken at a San Diego Comic-Con. It reminds me what it's all about.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

It Lives!

My "Last Mechanical Monster" webcomic continues to be kind of a nice background hum in my life. It's still running three days per week on, the web presence of big-time comics syndicator Universal Press. In fact, we just began rerunning it when the first go-round finished after more than a year.

As I did when an earlier version of "Last Mechanical Monster" concluded on my own website, at the end of the GoComics run I offered loyal readers a chance to download a papercraft version of my giant robot protagonist. Loyal reader Curtis Hoffman did, and gave me permission to share photos of his result.

Work in progress. Don't know if the mug is a permanent addition but, as Curtis wrote, "The world runs on Dunkin'."
Finished. A good, clean build, very nice!
And then, Curtis composed this, which may be the best thing I've seen in the 21st Century:

Curtis titled it "Dreaming Mechanical Monster dreams in the land of Godzilla."

If you'd like to build your own giant robot (warning: giant robot not actual size), you can download the plans here. All it takes is seven sheets of cardstock, scissors and glue, and infinite patience.

Incidentally, Curtis runs a website called "Basket Case" that reviews webcomics, so I'm answering some questions for him and will add a note when he posts them.

Thanks to Curtis for showing me what Mechanical Monsters dream of.

EDITED TO ADD: Here's that interview! Thanks again, Curtis.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Son of a Gun. We Won.

Karen and I just got home from the 47th Northern California Area (which also includes Nevada and Hawaii) Emmy Awards in San Francisco, where I was surprised and thrilled to take this lady home.

The entire thing has been pretty surreal, topped by hearing my name announced as a winner for an Emmy Award for Best Public/Current/Community Affairs-Feature/Segment for KQED's video version of my "Fire Story." KQED Arts Editor (and former Santa Rosan) Gabe Meline contacted me shortly after I posted my "Fire Story" comic online and asked if they could try to animate it. Sure, I shrugged; what the hell. Producer/director Kelly Whalen came to my daughters' apartment, where Karen and I lived for a month after the fire, to record us reciting scripted lines from our own lives. Back at the station, Farrin Abbott edited and animated. I couldn't have been happier with the result:

More than two million people watched that video after NPR linked to it. Weeks later, Kelly told me she was submitting it for Emmy consideration. That was nice and flattering. A while after that, Kelly told me it had made the cut and been nominated. That was nicer and flatteringer. But ours was still one of seven nominees in our category. I hadn't seen the other six but had no reason to believe a jury would find ours the best of the bunch.

Until last night.

We clean up pretty good.

Karen at our seats looming over the stage at the SFJazz Center, a nice concert venue in the San Francisco Civic Center that probably holds a couple thousand people.

These are regional Emmy Awards given for local news and programming, not the Hollywood Emmys for network TV series, but it's still the same organization, rules and standards. They awarded several Emmys in related categories all at once. It was a bit confusing. Also, to save time, they had all the nominees come down just before their categories were announced and wait off-stage--which happened to be right below where Karen and I were sitting, and from where she shot this video. In the first part of the video, after our win is announced, Karen pans down and you can see my gray head celebrating and getting ready to go on stage.

I know the sound quality on that isn't great. I just found this version from the Emmy folks themselves. If I've embedded it right, it should start at the right spot:

BTW, the Emmy they hand you on stage is a prop. You pick up your real one after signing for it backstage, right after which they whisk you away for an interview. If you think I look a little shell-shocked, I applaud your perceptiveness.

Me, Kelly and Farrin. I hadn't actually met Farrin before Emmy night, although we'd corresponded by email. That alone was a real treat.

What a neat, extraordinary night! Mom would have loved it. Thanks again to Kelly Whalen, Farrin Abbott, and Gabe Meline at KQED who made it happen.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Emmy Nominated?!

Well, THIS is different.

Nominations for the 47th Annual Northern California EMMY Awards are out, and in the category Public/Current/Community Affairs-Feature/Segment I find: "A Santa Rosa Cartoonist's Fire Story Comes to Life," KQED 9, Brian Fies, Kelly Whalen and Farrin Abbott. Here's a link to it if you missed it the first time.

To explain more than necessary: these are regional Emmy awards, not the big-time Hollywood Emmys, although the organizations are affiliated and the statues are (I think) the same. If you've ever toured a TV station and seen an Emmy on the news anchor's desk, that's what these are. Which is pretty darn cool!

I really enjoyed working with Kelly and Farrin, as well as KQED Arts Editor Gabe Meline, who approached me with the idea of animating "A Fire Story" in the first place. They couldn't have been more sensitive, considerate and respectful, and their piece brought my story to literally millions of more people. Doesn't matter if I get a statue, I already won.

Although I'd take a statue if they gave me one.

Winners will be announced at a black-tie gala in San Francisco on June 2.

Now I've gotta find a black tie.

Friday, April 20, 2018


MK had these beautiful color prints made of four pages from Mom's Cancer for the gallery show. She assembled a great range of contributors, including Sarah Leavitt, Roz Chast, Joyce Farmer, and many more.

I had a swell time last night with my graphic medicine pal MK Czerwiec attending an art exhibition/reception and panel discussion on the topic of, basically, Comics and Death. Or, more broadly, how we create and tell stories about illness and death. Heavy--but also useful and thought-provoking, I think.

The events were hosted by the California College of the Arts in San Francisco as part of a week-long conference organized by ReImagine End of Life (that's "Re-Imagine"; I always read the capital I as an L). A couple dozen people came to the panel discussion, including friendly familiar faces Nina Taylor Kester and Jonathan Lemon.

The CCA library parked this cart outside the panel's lecture hall with a nice representation of medically themed graphic novels.

Then on the drive back north I made a quick stop at the vista point on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Most days and weekends it's jampacked with tourists, but on this beautiful starlit night I had it almost to myself. Great end to a good day.

Fire Update: Not that anyone could tell from looking at our empty lot, but rebuilding proceeds. Karen and I just got a look at our final plans that will be soon submitted to the county planning department for permits. Then: shovels in the ground. Meanwhile, I'm working hard and fast to expand "A Fire Story" to graphic novel size, and have good reason to think it might find a home. 

We're all right.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Cartoonist Studio Shortlist

Just found this: "A Fire Story" had been shortlisted for the 2018 Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Webcomic by Slate Book Review and the Center for Cartoon Studies. That's a real nice honor. I appreciate it! Winners to be announced March 30.

UPDATE: Didn't win. But still a nice recognition. Congratulations to Michael De Forge for "Leaving Richard's Valley," which I look forward to reading.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

On Display at the NLM

The National Library of Medicine opened its Graphic Medicine art exhibition today with a panel featuring three smart people I know and like, Michael Green, MK Czerwiec and Ellen Forney. I just learned the panel was webcasted and am sorry I missed it, but it sounds like it was recorded for later viewing.

I found this Twitter feed photo of the event by Samarth Swarup, who I hope won't mind me borrowing it because it shows my stuff. I believe this is one of three pages of original art from Mom's Cancer still in existence; the other two are in friends' good hands. I will get it back someday when the museum is done with it, and my page and I will toast its survival.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Second Light

The story of this photo might be the best thing you read today.

When our twin daughters were born, Karen and I joined a “Mothers Of Multiples” club. Fathers were welcome, too, but that would have ruined the acronym. It was a while ago; our girls are all grown up now.

Parenting more than one same-aged kid at a time is hard, and the club was a great source of support, commiseration, and what today would be called “life hacks.” Once in a while we’d all get together for a picnic. When Laura and Robin were about 18 months old, a reporter and photographer from our local newspaper, the Press Democrat, joined the party to do a feature story.

No big deal. The club included a family of baby quadruplets, and we figured the article would focus on them. So we were surprised to wake up the next morning and see a photo of us taking up half the front page above the fold. We enjoyed being celebrities for a day and bought an 8-by-10 print of that photo from the PD, which we hung happily in our family room until it burned down last October 9.

After the fire, my daughter Robin tried to find the photo for us. As an archaeologist, she has access to a nationwide database of old newspapers and found the right date, but of course the quality of the digital copy was far too poor to reproduce. She emailed the PD but didn’t hear back. Roadblock.

Meanwhile, I wrote and drew “A Fire Story,” which the PD published in a beautiful two-page spread. So when Robin told me what she’d done and where she’d gotten stuck, and asked if I knew anyone at the PD, I sent Features Editor Corinne an email with the subject line “A Favor.”

Corinne replied that she had very little hope a photo that old had survived. Not only had the paper changed hands since then, resulting in a thorough housecleaning, but the entire field of photography had transitioned from film to digital. But she said she’d try.

The staff photographers told her there was no chance. As a last resort, Corinne sent administrative aide Dominique down to the archives. And in an envelope in a folder in a file cabinet in a dungeon entombed in lead type and pulp-paper dust, she found a strip of negatives shot that day at the picnic.

Corinne called it “an overdue karma payback.” We agreed that some archivist back in the day must have taken one look and decided it was just too adorable to throw away. I think the universe decided it owed us one. This photo will look great on our new wall someday.

However, our happy story has an ironic twist ending.

The photo above is NOT the picture published in the paper. It’s almost the same, snapped moments before, but not quite. The negative for the published picture is still missing. I think I know what happened to it.

My theory is that our negative wasn’t in the envelope with the others from that shoot for one reason: because all those years ago, we bought a print of it. The photographer took the negative out of that very envelope to make our copy and didn’t put it back. We can't have it in the present because we already had it in the past. I lived in an O. Henry time-loop paradox for decades and never knew it.

If so, that’s almost a better story than finding the right negative would have been.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ex Libris

Acquired! When it comes to reconstructing my pre-fire library, I've decided not to try. Mostly I'll pick up new books I'm interested in and let my collection grow organically. But there are a few old must-haves--books that were especially important or useful to me--that I'll go out of my way to find.

These were my freshman university astronomy and physics books. The market in 40-year-old textbooks isn't as robust as you might imagine, but they were relatively cheap and easy to find. I'm not one of those people who scoff that they never use the math they learned in school; I use it every day! Sure, I haven't solved a partial differential equation in a while, but algebra, geometry and trigonometry are fundamental to how I see and interact with with the world.

Similarly with these books: I used to pull them off the shelf all the time! Some of the astronomy's out of date, but the workings of gravity, light and energy haven't changed much in a hundred years. For me, these were references as basic as a dictionary or thesaurus (which, I know, "online," yadda yadda). I feel like I've been reunited with old, warm friends.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ask Mr. Science Cartoonist: Clean Coal

First of what I hope will be an unnecessary series explaining how things work.

We've been hearing a lot about "Clean Coal" lately, most recently in the president's State of the Union address lauding America's "beautiful Clean Coal." I realized that neither he, nor most people with very strong opinions about it, had any idea what it means. What the world needs is more learnin' from cartoonists, especially one who also spent 20 years working as a science writer for the energy industry.

That's me.

Clean Coal is not a type of extra-special coal. It's a way to burn coal more cleanly.

Coal is a hydrocarbon. So are oil, gasoline, natural gas, propane and methane.

They're called "hydrocarbons" because they're made of hydrogen (H) and carbon (C).

When you add oxygen (O) and burn them in a car engine or power plant, you release energy and recombine all the H's, C's and O's in new ways. For example, you make H2O (water), which is why you see water dripping from a car's tailpipe. You make carbon monoxide (CO), which is why you don't leave your car running in a closed garage. And you make carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a greenhouse gas that traps infrared radiation and helps drive global warming.

It doesn't matter if you believe global warming is real. It's happening whether or not you believe in it.

So burning coal blows carbon out your power plant's smokestack into the air. Clean Coal is a general term for catching it before it gets away. The Department of Energy (DOE) has spent decades researching different techniques and technologies to do it. In recent years, they reached one solid conclusion:

All Clean Coal methods raise the cost of generating electricity and hurt the energy efficiency of their power plants. While some of them look good technologically, none of them make the least sense economically. Depending on where you are in the country, other energy sources--even solar--are already cheaper than regular coal power. Adding the cost of capturing coal's carbon exhaust makes it one of the most expensive fuel sources around. Given that, DOE cut research on Clean Coal a few years ago.

Clean Coal has nothing to do with political philosophies, the specialness of American coal, or the hopes and dreams of our noble coal miners. It's an approach to burning coal cleanly that for now--with our current economy and technology--just doesn't work.

I'll bet it took less than two minutes to read this post, and now you know more about Clean Coal than the president of the United States and most of Congress. Take the rest of the day off.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

LumaCon 4, Supervillainy 0

I looked back through my previous three LumaCon posts to try to avoid reusing any superlatives for my favorite comics-related event of the year, and decided to use them anyway. Yesterday was the fourth annual comics convention organized by librarians in Petaluma, Calif., and I had a great time. I hung out with old friends, met a lot of young artists and comics fans, got a nifty gift basket, and even sold a few books and miniposters. After spending all my earnings buying other people's books and art, I felt pretty good walking away even.

I love LumaCon because it's small and sincere. Admission is free. They have a bake sale. It's aimed at, and I think to some extent organized by, kids. One of its big attractions for me is walking in and finding a pro who's been making comics for 20 years sitting beside a 12-year-old showing off their first homemade comic. LumaCon has a very different feel than any other convention I've attended. It's gentle, encouraging, entirely positive. Everybody's just there to have fun.

There's something else about LumaCon that I haven't quite been able to put into words before: because it's free, it's easy for folks to just drop by and check out. Curious people who might have been driving past and happened in, or parents whose kids love comics and want to find out what it's all about. There's an outreach aspect to it that encourages everyone to be on their best behavior.

I didn't have much to show this year. The fire destroyed all of my original art and my stock of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow books. However, I have replenished my supply of Mom's Cancer. I printed up a miniposter of A Fire Story. Best of all, my daughters Laura and Robin dropped by to help, and brought their pinback button-making machine. For $1 they'd turn any quarter-sized drawing you brought them into a button. They also sold a few with my drawings on them. It was the hit of the day.

My "Fire Story" miniposter, printed on the front and back of 11x17 glossy cardstock. I made them mostly so I'd have something to put on my table. I sold a lot of these at $3, just enough to cover my costs.
A good look at my table manned by Laura and Robin, with their button-making apparatus on the table in front of them. Laura's styling a Captain America dress, while Robin favored an Iron Man dress under a "Stark Industries" jacket. Every day is a Civil War with those two. The boy in green is poking at my little "Best of Brian" slide show. Miniposters are to the left behind his head, Mom's Cancer peeks in at lower right. I only realized when I walked in to set up that I don't own a tablecloth anymore.

Behind Robin in that photo above is my friend Jason Whiton, a teacher and writer who sells a great range of mid-Century pop artifacts: secret agent adventures, mod styling, Thunderbirds, etc. Our mood dampened mid-afternoon when Jason got a text telling him that cartoonist Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey") had died. Jason grew up knowing the Walkers and other great cartooning families in Connecticut, so the news was quite a blow. For my money, Mort's 1970s book Backstage at the Strips is still the best description of the cartooning life in its Golden Age.

A Pokemon family, all at appropriate scale.

He was a lot less intimidating without the helmet.

My pal Art Roche and his wife Elizabeth sat across from me. In addition to publishing his Knights of Boo'Gar with Andrews-McMeel, Art works at the Schulz Studio.

More cartoony friends: Donna Almendrala, Paige Braddock, Paige's wife Evelyn, and Lex Fajardo. I also reconnected with creators like Maia Kobabe, Izzy Ehnes, and a few civilian friends who came around. 
I bought this charming little watercolor of Paige Braddock's "Stinky Cecil."
These girls insisted that I take their picture. Their dads said it was OK.

There was a Doctor in the house. Three or four, in fact.

Cosplay parade underway.

This is why I love LumaCon. They had an entire room set aside just for people to sit and draw. No talks, nobody buying or selling anything. Just drawing.

My friend Brian Narelle. Brian is a cartoonist, teacher, writer, filmmaker, and something of a gentle roving philosopher of life.
You might have seen Brian a while back as Lt. Doolittle (left) in the cult sci-fi film "Dark Star," which is worth a look if you don't know it.
I didn't take any photos of cartoonist Tom Beland this time around, but I did buy this neat piece of original art from him. Tom has a beautiful, expressive, economical, graceful ink line that I really envy. 
Another stiffly posed portrait with Nathan Libecap, one of LumaCon's main organizers. He's a high school librarian who does it all for the love of kids and comics, and I think that attitude suffuses the entire event. 
Nathan (in orange cape) also moderated a panel that Lex and I did in the afternoon, attended by a couple dozen interested and/or sleepy attendees. The pony-tailed gent sitting right in front of me is comic book artist Brent Anderson, who was soon cajoled to join the discussion because when the guy who draws "Astro City" is sitting in the front row, it'd be stupid not to use him.
Finally, an overview of part of the exhibit hall. Laura and Robin are manning (personing?) my table at center, with Jason behind them. There were also activities happening on the stage behind me, in the lobby outside, and in smaller rooms throughout the Petaluma Community Center and even outdoors.

After four years of LumaCon, organizer Nathan told me he finally felt like he was getting the hang of it. Everything seemed to go all right. I advised him that the only thing I feared was that it would get too big and ruin everything I love about it. He agreed. They'll fight to keep it right-sized.

Somewhere around 3000 people came the last couple of years. As far as I could tell, they were the right people coming for the right reasons.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Query: What Rhymes with "Monomethylhydrazine?"

I once did a book titled Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, and fake comic books I created within that book featured the Space Age hero Cap Crater and his young ward the Cosmic Kid. Cap and the Kid personified the popular interests of the various decades their adventures were published in: mechanization in the 1930s, the Red Menace and nuclear energy in the 1950s, etc.

Anyway, in 2010 I drew and posted the bit of silliness below. With apologies to friend of the blog and "Comic Strip of the Day" proprietor Mike Peterson, who hates pastiches of "T'was the Night Before Christmas," I wanted to run it again. It makes me happy. If it makes you happy, too, consider it a Christmas gift.

If that doesn't do it for you, check the end for something else that might.

Finally, I can't let Christmas pass without my annual tribute to the man that, depending on the day you ask me, I consider the first-, second-, or third-greatest cartoonist of all time, Walt Kelly, and his great strip "Pogo."

Thanks, my friends. See you in 2018.