Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mom's Cancer Notes: Page 5

I'm annotating individual pages from my book Mom's Cancer as they're posted on These are my notes on Page 5 (May 14). 

From a storytelling point of view, the game board metaphor does a couple of things.

It compresses time and delivers a lot of exposition. If I'd wanted to, I could have expanded any one of these "game squares" into a page or more of comic, but because a lot of the activity didn't directly involve Mom I wanted to get through it quickly.

It also stresses the role that random chance played in the quality of treatment Mom received. She ended up with very good care but could very easily not have. Remember, the osteopath at upper left was a quack . . . I mean, a giant duck. If Mom made any missteps at all, it was relying too much and too long on an incompetent primary care physician who (in my opinion) didn't know the first thing about cancer. I don't know if it made any difference.

This element of chance comes up again in the story. I thought it was a strong enough theme or motif that when it came time to design end papers for the print version of Mom's Cancer, I drew a token and a die (double meaning intended) pattern. Life is  a crapshoot.

The end paper pattern for the Mom's Cancer book, inspired by Page 5.

Starting today, Mom's Cancer will appear on twice a week instead of once. A week between pages was just too long, I thought (and some readers agreed with me). I'll see if  twice per week helps the pacing. I could post a new page every day, but would be done with the entire story in a few months! Happily, GoComics seems to be up for any way I want to do it, so we'll give it a try. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mom's Cancer Notes: Page 4

I'm annotating individual pages from my book Mom's Cancer as they are posted on These are my notes on Page 4 (May 11). 

Now I have to tell you about the Duck.

My original conceit for Mom's Cancer was that my family would look like people but everyone else would be depicted as animals or objects that somehow symbolized their personalities, as in Alice in Wonderland or Animal Farm. I first drew Mom's osteopath as a duck because she was . . . a quack. (Necessary disclaimer: I'm not insulting osteopathy in general; I'm sure there are some good osteopaths doing good work. Mom's was not one of them.)

Original on the left, published version on the right.
This was also one of the early pages where I had to
redraw Mom, as I described in my notes on Page 1.

The problem was that there weren't many other characters in the story, and my high-concept symbolism didn't seem appropriate for the next one. Or the next. After a while, the osteopath was the only non-human character in the whole thing, and people reading it for the first time online began to ask, "Uh, what's up with the giant duck?"

Later, when we began thinking about editing for print, I hinted online that I might change her into a human. Fans of the Duck who'd understood my intent in the first place erupted in outrage (i.e., politely voiced mild disagreement). I think I made the right decision, but I gave Mom's duck--er, doc--a little lapel pin as a nod to her history and her champions.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Mom's Cancer Notes: Page 3

I'm annotating individual pages from my book Mom's Cancer as they are posted on These are my notes on Page 3 (May 4). 

There's a convention that comics characters wear the same clothes all the time--Charlie Brown's striped shirt, Clark Kent's blue suit. The "pro" of this convention is that it keeps the characters recognizable: once the reader gets used to seeing the characters dressed in a particular way, they don't have to stop and figure out who they are when they show up later. A uniform helps identify them. The "con" is that it's unrealistic. Cartoonists beginning a long project need to think about which way they want to go. In Mom's Cancer the characters wear the same clothes most of the time; when they change clothes late in the story, it helps signal the reader that time has passed.

I admit I didn't put a lot of thought into my own pants and polo shirt ensemble when I began Mom's Cancer. I don't even wear polo shirts that often! However, I dressed Mom in a striped long-sleeve shirt because I knew the stripes would be graphically interesting and draw the eye to her, the story's protagonist. I wanted Mom to be the center of attention whenever she appeared.

Similarly, I gave Kid Sis a sweater with a big floppy collar to emphasize the slenderness of her neck. In cartooning shorthand, skinny necks = youth, and thick necks = age. Nurse Sis and I are older than Kid Sis, so we have thicker necks and rounder curves (and Mom, even older, has hardly any neck at all!).

Me: thick neck, round chin, high hairline, and a wrinkle or bag under one eye.
That all helps make me look older than....
Kid Sis, who has a thin neck, sharp chin, perky nose, unlined face, and alert eyes.

These are some of the things I think about when designing characters.

By the way, my college friend Tina recently told me that she remembers me sitting slouched exactly as I've drawn myself in today's page of Mom's Cancer (Page 3). So I got that right.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mom's Cancer Notes: Page 2

I'm annotating individual pages from my book Mom's Cancer as they are posted on These are my notes on Page 2 (April 27). 

In answer to a question already posted on the page, Nurse Sis is my sister, and she's a registered nurse. You'll get to know the characters pretty well.

I think this page is a fair representation of the conversation Nurse Sis and I had that night. It was about this one-sided. I didn't quite know what to make of Mom's episode or how seriously to take it. We didn't realize it was just the start.

I was watching TV when my sister called, though I didn't remember exactly what. When it came time to portray it the comic, I wanted to draw myself watching some program I'd actually watch that would also say something about the "Brian" character.

I settled on the "Powerpuff Girls," which a clever cartoon series my daughters and I enjoyed together, and wouldn't have been out of character for me to enjoy by myself, either. I chose that particular image because I own it--that is to say, I bought the transparent layered cels the animators drew and painted to make that particular scene. They're framed and hanging on my wall. 

I'll let you conclude what that says about me.

By the way, owning the animation cels doesn't convey any particular right to reproduce them. The Powerpuff Girls are copyrighted and I respect other people's intellectual property as I'd hope they'd respect mine. But Fair Use allows the use of copyrighted material in transformative works of art (Warhol, Lichtenstein, etc.) and I was pretty sure that reproducing one frame of a cartoon in tiny black and white to reveal something about a character in a graphic novel about cancer was transformative enough to pass.

Just wanted you to know I gave that some thought . . .

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Last Mechanical Monster" an Eisner Nominee!

For the second year, "The Last Mechanical Monster" has been nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Webcomic!


For those unfamiliar, the Eisners are sort of the Oscars or Emmys of comics. A panel of industry experts nominates comics in several categories, which are then voted on by comics professionals. Handsome trophies with spinny globes are awarded during a banquet at Comic-Con International in San Diego in July.

This honor is unexpected. Each year's Eisner judging panel comprises completely different people, and I had no reason to hope that this year's panel would feel the same about my work as last year's did. Especially since the world of webcomics is so large and diverse. To be picked out of that enormous field of talent by people who know and love comics means a lot.

As always, I'll hold any thoughts on the competition or my odds of winning until the voting period expires. That just seems sporting.

Meanwhile, all my thanks to the Eisner judges and any new readers they've brought my way. If you're a reader I hope you enjoy the story, and if you're eligible to vote in the Eisner Awards I'd appreciate your consideration.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mom's Cancer Notes: Page 1

As I celebrated in my previous post, the first page of Mom's Cancer was posted to today (actually tomorrow, but I got a jump on it from the Pacific Time Zone). Let me introduce it to new readers:

Mom's Cancer is a true story about my mother's diagnosis and treatment for metastatic lung cancer, and how that affected our family. I first serialized it as a webcomic, posting a few pages at a time online. At first I posted anonymously; my family didn't even know. After a few months the comic went viral, I told my family, and they took the news pretty well. Fortunately, Mom loved it. If she hadn't, I would've killed the whole thing. The webcomic went on to win the first Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic and be acquired for print by Abrams Books. It's gotten some very gratifying recognition, brought me many new opportunities and good friends, and is remarkably still in print. Now, about a decade after I created it, Mom's Cancer returns to the Web.

When Universal's John Glynn and I first talked about putting Mom's Cancer online, one of his ideas was to annotate the story with sketches, drafts, and my reflections on its creation. Terrific! But given how the site is set up, it'd be difficult to add such material without interrupting the flow of the story.

So I'll try to do that here. My plan is to add a comment to each week's comic linking readers to these posts (although I don't expect to have something to say about every page). Anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes process stuff can find it here, those uninterested won't be bothered. We'll see how that works.

I briefly considered setting up a separate blog for the purpose, but already have more balls online than I can juggle. These posts will all be labeled "Mom's Cancer Notes" in the right-column index so that, as they accumulate, they'll be easy to corral with a click.

Page 1
The story begins with Mom and Kid Sis watching a bad movie. I always felt a little guilty naming the culprit (the 2002 "Time Machine" film) but that's what it was and it truly was a bad movie.

This page establishes one of Mom's Cancer's conceits from the start: the story's mostly black and white, but anything that is extraordinary, fantastic, subjective or unreal--in this case the little blue spots floating around Mom's head--appears in color.

It took about a year and a half to complete Mom's Cancer. In that time, the way I drew the characters drifted and evolved, Mom most of all. That's pretty common in comic strips: Snoopy and Garfield changed a lot over the years. In Mom's case, the change was so noticeable that when it came time to turn my webcomic into a book, I had to go back and redraw her to match how she'd look later:

Original Mom at left, redrawn Mom at right.

Thank you for reading Mom's Cancer. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments here or at and I'll respond as best I can.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mom's Cancer on!

I've been waiting a long time to announce this....

Beginning next Monday, April 20, Mom's Cancer returns to the Internet on Universal Uclick's Free.

I'll parse that sentence: Universal is one of the largest press syndicates in the world, providing comics and columnists for newspapers worldwide. They're the syndicate of Garfield, Dilbert, Calvin & Hobbes, Dear Abby, and my secret crush Miss Manners. Universal Uclick is their online arm, and is the bit of that arm (ulna?) that provides their comic strips online. Folks can set up an account to read all their favorite comics for free. They get a million visits per day.

That doesn't mean that a million people are going to read Mom's Cancer. Readers have to choose it from a list and add it to their subscriptions. I hope some will. We'll see. Even a few new readers I never would've had otherwise would be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

This means a lot to me.

Mom's Cancer started as a free webcomic, on a primitive site I hosted myself. When I signed my book contract with Abrams, they quite reasonably asked me to take it down so my free version wouldn't compete with something they were going to ask people to pay for. I was happy to do that.

Time passed. Except for a few perennial sellers, the life of a book has an ebb and flow. If you're lucky, there's a small flurry of reviews and events when the book comes out (if you're not lucky, it's just another raindrop in the lake that nobody notices). It stays on the bookstore shelves a while, then it's pulled from the shelves to make room for new books.

(This was something about the book business I was shocked to learn: say a bookstore orders X copies of your book and sells them all. You, Joe Author, think "Great, now they'll order more copies!" But Bev Bookseller thinks "Great, now I have space to put all these new books!" Unless you're To Kill a Mockingbird, bookstores really don't want you hanging around.)

As Mom's Cancer slid into the tail end of that curve, I occasionally broached to Abrams the idea of putting it back online. One of the paradoxical discoveries of the new webcomic era is that readers actually will pay money for a collection of work they can read online for nothing, and I thought that might help boost sales for the print Mom's Cancer. But mostly, as the book became harder to find or order in stores, I wanted the story to stay available to people who might benefit from it.

Well, that broaching never went far until Universal's President and Editorial Director John Glynn contacted me out of the blue many months ago asking if I were interested in adding Mom's Cancer to Why, yes indeed, I was. Acutely! I talked to Abrams, Abrams and Universal talked to each other, lawyers got involved, somewhere deep in space a hydrogen nebula condensed into a star, and at last Mom's Cancer debuts on next week.

I think of this as Mom's Cancer's return home.

We'll post a page a week, so it'll take about two years to publish the whole book. We're trying to figure out ways to add notes, annotations, sketches, etc. without interrupting the flow of the story. I have some behind-the-scenes material, plus several years of perspective, that I think some readers will appreciate.

Thanks to John Glynn and Shena Wolf at Universal, and Charlie Kochman and Lindy Humphreys at Abrams. This part's going to sound sappy but it's sincere: all I want is for people who need the story to find it, and they made it happen.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Research vs. Writing

I liked this thought-provoking essay, "Mistaking Researching for Writing," by comic book writer Ron Marz. I'd recommend it for anyone working on a creative project and wondering whether they're doing so much research they'll never get around to writing, or so little research their writing will sound false and lack conviction.

Some money quotes:

"How much research is enough? After two decades of writing fiction, I've come to believe the answer is 'Enough to fool the audience into thinking you did a lot more research.'"


"No one wants a book report. They want a story."


"Depending too heavily upon research can be the death of imagination, or at least the submersion of it. One of the gifts of writing fiction is making it up. Revel in it."

You all know a writer who's spent months or years building a fictional world--drawing maps, diagramming family trees, classifying exotic flora and fauna--but never quite getting around to setting a story there. Maybe that writer is you. Research can become a bottomless pit if you let it.

It's an issue I've faced on all my projects to different extents.

On Mom's Cancer, most of the story was taken from my family's real lives. However, I also took a lot of notes as events happened, and researched a lot about cancers, treatments, prognoses, etc. (which of course I was doing anyway).

On Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, I researched my butt off. The book covers four decades of Space Age history that I was determined to get right. For each decade I pulled together facts, figures, reference images, and original source material totaling about 3000 pages worth for a 208-page book.

Always uppermost in my mind was the fact that (as Marz said) "nobody wants a book report." If I drew a lamp post in 1939 or a fallout shelter in 1955, you can be certain I had references for it. But I tried to never rub the reader's nose in it. Instead, I hoped the cumulative effect of a thousand unconscious correct details would lend the whole book some credibility and verisimilitude. A few folks have told me that's what they like about it.

I learned to resist the urge to include material just because I'd done a lot of research on it. Yeah, it took me three days to dig up that nugget, but if it doesn't contribute to the story it has to go.

I'm working on some new projects now that also demand pretty deep research, both historical and scientific. Again, my goal is to fold all of that in so it helps the story without drawing attention to itself. I badly want to get it right. I also want to get it done.

Sometimes I think that's where Melville went wrong with Moby-Dick. Dedicating three chapters to how sailors tie knots is just showing off. More seriously and recently, I've read a couple of epically long graphic novels that I think could have profitably been cut in half if their authors had been less interested in telling us all they'd learned and more interested in their stories.

In my experience, writing and research go together. Often, you don't realize what you need to know until you begin to write. In turn, research sometimes suggests directions you could take your story you may never have considered.

In the course of writing Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, it amazed me how often I needed some bit of information only to have it miraculously appear days later. Like, I'm writing about the most obscure incident or factoid imaginable, and BOOM the New York Times or NASA prints an article about it. I didn't even have to hunt for it; it found me! The same thing is happening on my new projects. The universe provides. It's almost eerie.

Do your research. Do your world building. Keep it in mind as you craft your story, but don't let it become the story. And if you story gets to a point that requires contradicting your research, and you think you can get away with it, err on the side of telling a good story. That doesn't mean you can say the first Moon landing happened in 1944 (unless you're doing a sci-fi Moon Nazi tale, then go for it!), but if you always thought your Realm of the Dragons was in the North and it suddenly makes more sense for your hero to find it in the South, make the change. It's not supposed to be a straitjacket.

"One of the gifts of writing fiction is making it up. Revel in it."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sittin' and Thinkin'

Karen and I enjoyed a pre-Anniversary getaway last weekend. I won't bore you with the details or a droning travelogue, but I did want to share one photo that I found particularly thought-provoking:

That's the tile in the floor of our hotel bathroom. As I had the opportunity to contemplate it, I got to thinking about that extra filler tile (marked in green in the photo below), and wondering how you'd lay out tiles to avoid that awkwardness. As a result, I figured out something that I imagine every professional tile layer learns their first day on the job, but it was news to me.

Or it's possible I totally knew this before, forgot it, and rediscovered it. That seems likely. Doesn't matter; forgetfulness keeps things fresh.

The square tiles are all the same size. Those on the inside of the pattern are turned 45 degrees from those on the outside (while others are cut in half or quarters to fill the gaps). They don't space out evenly because the diagonal of a square is (naturally) longer than the length of its sides. In fact, as we all remember from Pythagoras, they're wider by the length of their side times the square root of two.

Since the square root of two is an irrational number whose decimals never repeat or end, the straight and diagonal tiles can never come out exactly even. However, we craftsmen in the tile-laying trade know that a little extra grout covers a lot of sins. How close can we get?

Because the square root of 2 is about 1.414, the first obvious answer is that if you laid out 141 straight tiles next to 100 diagonal tiles, you'd be off by four-tenths (0.4) of a tile. Increasing the separation between each of the 100 straight tiles by only 0.004 of a tile--just a skosh--would fill in the difference.

But we can do better.

Reduce the fraction from 141.4/100 to 14.14/10. How's that look? Pretty good!

You're left with just a little piece of diagonal tile hanging over the edge--again, a pretty easy imbalance to fix simply by spreading out the 14 straight tiles a bit.

Now the thrill of discovery was making me light-headed. Could I do even better? Dare I try?!

Simplify 14.14/10 to 7.07/5. What have we got?

If anything, that's even better! It's . . . it's so elegant! So beautiful! I began to weep. Luckily I had two-ply nearby.

Now here's the part that blew my mind and convinced me this had to be a blog post. I counted how many tiles wide the actual bathroom was. Six. Six straight tiles wide, plus that filler tile. The poor blighters almost made it! But wait . . . There's that border of skinny tiles on the right. And the more I looked at that border, the more convinced I was that if they'd just omitted it, they could have laid a seventh tile and gone all the way:

NOOOOO! So close! They were headed for the end zone and fumbled on the 1-yard line!

Karen and I have been married long enough that she barely even rolled her eyes when she saw our photos uploading and asked why I'd taken a picture of tile. She muttered something about knowing what she was in for when she married me. And she married me anyway.

I'm a very lucky man.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Irwin Hasen

Aw. We lost another comics pioneer today, with the death of Irwin Hasen at nearly 97. He had a good run.

Mr. Hasen drew comic books almost as soon as the form existed, working on titles such as The Green Hornet, Green Lantern and The Flash beginning in 1940. He created the DC character Wildcat. After serving in World War II he returned to comic books, then began the work he may be best remembered for, the comic strip Dondi, in 1954.

I didn't know Mr. Hasen but I met him a few times, and he was always happy to share his wisdom and stories with anyone who asked. He was short, charmingly profane, and told great tales about the Depression Era gangsters and prostitutes he'd known growing up on the tough streets of New York City. Some of them might have been true.

Below is a blog post I wrote in July 2006, after running into Mr. Hasen at the San Diego Comic-Con. As I've mentioned elsewhere once or twice, being called an "S.O.B." by Irwin is a highlight of my comics career. He was one of the Golden Age greats. I'm sorry we've lost him but I'm glad we had him.

With Irwin Hasen at the Society of Illustrators in New York, 2006.
JULY 2006

I love the old guys.

The comics industry is famous for devouring its own. I know good, professional artists in their thirties forced out of the business for lack of work while thousands of eager teens line up with sketchbooks in hand ready to take their places. Short memories and fickle trends turn today's creative heroes into tomorrow's tired hacks. There's precious little appreciation or respect for the men and women who began and built the business--many of them still alive, some of them still working.

I've mentioned how I originally met Irwin Hasen in February at my book launch party at the Society of Illustrators in New York. I saw him again the next day at the New York Comic-Con, selling prints of the old DC characters he drew plus originals from his long-running comic strip "Dondi." I only took the time to greet him briefly, and left New York regretting that I'd let an opportunity slip through my fingers.

Last Thursday I saw Mr. Hasen again, set up in Comic-Con's Artists Alley. No one was at his table; in fact, I had to elbow my way through a line of fans queued up to meet the Hot Young Artist at the table next door to get to him. I reintroduced myself and we had a nice conversation.

I looked over his table and saw only prints. No originals.

"Oh, I remember you had some Dondi originals in New York," I said, disappointed. "I was really hoping to see them."

Mr. Hasen gave me a conspiratorial nod, pulled a portfolio from under the table, and slid out a dozen "Dondi" strips. We continued to talk as I flipped through them, figuring out which one I wanted to buy. At last I chose my prize.

"You've got a good eye, you S.O.B.," said Mr. Hasen, eyes twinkling. "You picked the best one."

My original "Dondi" strip from 1968 is huge, nearly two feet wide. No contemporary artist I know of works that large, mostly because the shrinking space newspapers devote to comic strips these days doesn't allow for the kind of detail Mr. Hasen drew, as in Panel 1 below.

They don't make 'em like that anymore.

EDITED TO ADD: Here's a very good profile of Mr. Hasen the New York Times did in 2011. Recommended reading.

EDITED TO ADD MORE: Mark Evanier posted this trailer for a documentary about Mr. Hasen. I haven't seen the film, but this trailer gives you a good sense of the gentleman and what it was like to talk to him for even a few minutes. I don't think they make characters like him anymore.

AND here is his obit in the New York Times.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Undiscovered Country

Today Leonard Nimoy died. He was 83 and had been ill, so it wasn't a surprise but still a stab in the heart.

I thought about writing about how much his work meant to me--and of course by "his work" I don't mean the hundreds of roles he played over his six-decade career but only one of them. Then I realized I already did it. In 2006, the San Diego Comic-Con celebrated the 40th anniversary of "Star Trek" by inviting essays on the subject for its souvenir book. I wrote one and they printed it.

It's all still true except for the part about me being 45 years old.

The Ages of Man: An Appreciation of “Star Trek”

I am 45 years old: old enough to claim Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) cred. I was there when Earth’s molten crust cooled, simple molecules linked to form complex proteins, and my family bought its first color television in time for me to feel the electric primary colors of “Star Trek” burn from ember-orange vacuum tubes through my retinas into my brain.

After 40 years, the thematic depth of the McCoy-Spock-Kirk trio has been well plumbed and hardly bears repeating. McCoy is emotion, Spock is reason, and Kirk is the balance between emotion and reason that draws on both to inform decisive action. Id, ego, superego. However, as I age, I’ve been surprised to find I gain new appreciation for these three characters as my understanding of them evolves. Their velour-bloused TOS incarnations haven’t changed since 1969. But I have.

When I was a child and teen, Leonard Nimoy's Spock was It: the apotheosis of alienated intelligence. His tools were logic, quiet confidence, and bone-dry wit. He defeated his enemies with brainpower. His weapons were numbers and words. Yet beneath that cool facade roiled overpowering emotions and superhuman strength barely contained. On the rare occasions Spock lost control, the results were unpredictable and frightening.

Adolescence never had a better metaphor.

Spock was important to me. He valued things I valued—reason, science, knowledge—and wasn’t embarrassed by it. I had a temper as a child; watching Spock struggle to maintain his self-control helped me tame it. He taught me grace under pressure. When a junior high bully twice my size picked me up and threatened to drench me under an overflowing rainspout, I replied with cold Nimoyan indifference, “I would actually prefer it if you didn’t,” and he released me with a laugh and enough respect to never bother me again. Being cool worked.

Spock was about restraint, temperance, placid courage, and the triumph of the intellect. He guided me through many rough passages as I matured, and got me safely to the other side.

Where I was met by James T. Kirk.

It’s always been easy to mock the flamboyant Kirk, yet I believe—in all sincerity and without a trace of condescending sarcasm—that Captain Kirk is one of the great characters of twentieth-century American fiction. Kirk was twentieth-century America, or at least the best of how twentieth-century America saw itself: bold, confident, powerful, ambitious, thoughtful, resourceful, loyal, compassionate. Had a twinkle in his eye. Did all right with the ladies. Always found a way to win. Shatner made him that.

For the past couple of decades, Kirk has gotten a bad rap as a trigger-happy gunslinger. Slander! Not this man who agonized over decisions that sent crewmen to their deaths. Who knew Shakespeare and quoted Masefield. Who once had a Gorn by the throat (felled by a cannon Kirk fashioned from dirt and twigs, and I’d like to see you try it) and showed the impressively advanced trait of mercy.

Spock may have been superhumanly smart and strong but, like an adolescent, he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. Kirk knew who he was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it. He was a man.

Of course, part of being a man is that you quit looking to fictional role models to show you how to be one. Unlike Spock in my youth, I can’t pinpoint aspects of my adult life consciously patterned after Kirk, unless you count his purposeful stride as he leaves the Enterprise’s chapel headed for the bridge at the end of “Balance of Terror.” Sometimes I walk like that. I like to think I’ve internalized some of his courage and cleverness, but until I actually have to face down a rock-melting Horta or drive a computer mad with illogic, how would I know? Nevertheless, if anyone had asked me between the ages of 20 and 40 to name the best character in the “Star Trek” canon, I would have said Kirk.

Perhaps I still would. But when I watch TOS lately I find myself powerfully drawn to Leonard McCoy and the understated performance of DeForest Kelley. I never cared for Bones when I was younger. He was a few years older than Kirk and a few watts dimmer than Spock. Distrustful of technology and contemptuous of trivial rules. Cranky. Jaded. Jowly. Maybe a little weary.

Maybe I’m beginning to relate.

McCoy trusted the ship to Kirk and Spock while he calmly commanded Sickbay, comfortable in his mastery, as much a man of science in his element as Spock was in his. If you needed someone to brew a telekinesis serum or reinstall a brain, there was no one better in the galaxy. He faced down a scalpel-wielding Khan and, in my favorite McCoy moment, knocked out Kirk and Spock to take their places in an alien torture chamber. McCoy had paid his dues and didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. Despite his occasional bluster, he was probably the most laid-back person on the ship.

Until recently, I might not have recognized the quiet heroism of a mature adult who could be counted on to keep his cool and do the right thing. By now I’ve seen enough of the opposite in the real world to treasure those qualities wherever I find them.

Smart and Stylish
TOS was a sophisticated program for sophisticated viewers, and even before I finish typing this sentence I imagine scoffers pointing to its sometimes laughable effects and props, day-glo sets and costumes, outdated sexism, and overwrought melodramas with ham-handed morals.


On the other hand, audiences in the 1960s didn’t need to have everything spelled out for them. They understood the art of allegory in ways that seem to escape modern viewers. TOS charmers like “A Piece of the Action” or “Bread and Circuses” would be impossible in later decades because more modern audiences, blinded by literalism, know for a fact that when we eventually travel the galaxy we will not find strange new worlds populated by Chicago gangsters or twentieth-century Romans.

Guess what: we won’t find pointy-eared Vulcans or blue-skinned Andorians, either. Guess what again: people knew that in the '60s, too.

Nor would modern audiences accept such highly stylized episodes as “The Empath” or “Spectre of the Gun” that deliberately screamed out, “This is a make-believe story filmed on a soundstage for your entertainment!” Today we applaud ourselves for seeing the mirrors and wires that sustain the illusion, not realizing that perhaps the greater skill lies in ignoring them. We’re not holding up our end of the artist-audience bargain.

(A similar erosion of sophistication killed the movie musical, I think. Audiences of the 1930s, '40s and '50s knew as well as we do that overjoyed or heartbroken people don’t actually break into song and dance. They were just able to wrap their minds around it. We apparently cannot, and more’s the pity for us.)

TOS was a smart, stylish program of its time. The fact that many viewers and fans moved on to newer, flashier, darker, or grittier Trek incarnations that abandoned metaphor and humor, and felt compelled to actually explain why everyone in the galaxy spoke English and looked like an L.A. starlet, reflects worse on them than on the original “Star Trek.” If you’d rather watch an hour explaining how Klingons got bumpy foreheads than exploring why a half-black half-white man hates a half-white half-black man, I won’t argue. Everyone’s entitled to their taste and opinion. We can both call ourselves “Star Trek” fans, even if it turns out we don’t have all that much to talk about.

But you may be surprised to discover which Treks grow on you—and with you—in the long run.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dr. Gibbs

Watching TV recently, I saw a face in a commercial that brought my brain to a needle-scratching stop:

"Wait a second, I know her!"

Given the commercial's subject matter, it didn't take me long to figure out how I knew her. Here's the ad:

And here's what she looked like 10 years ago when I drew her in Mom's Cancer.

What, you thought I made those people up?

One of my mother's physicians is still out there getting it done. She's a great doc and I think that's terrific.

Weird to just have her pop up on my TV screen, though.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


I'm spending some time this weekend developing a new hand-lettered font for upcoming comics projects. I'm happy with how it's turning out and wanted to show it off.

I've talked about lettering before, explaining how I hand-lettered all the pages of Mom's Cancer directly on the original art, the way God intended, but learned that it made it very difficult to edit and prepare foreign-language editions (which is a nice problem to have). For Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow I sampled letters from Mom's Cancer and used them to build a computer font using a program called Font Creator.

Now, there are websites that'll turn your handwriting into a computer font for free--you just print your letters on a template, upload it to them, and download your font a minute later--and I initially tried one of them. The quality wasn't good enough. A lot goes into making a real font, including how the letters are spaced (kerning, leading) and all work together. I needed more horsepower, and Font Creator had it.

So for the past several years I've used a computer font I created based on my original hand lettering, and it works swell. There are some trade-offs, including a loss of hand-crafted authenticity that I regret, but the benefits are just too great. Editing is a snap; I can change or delete text without having to redraw an entire page. When it comes time for non-English editions, I simply delete all the text (if you know Photoshop, it's on its own layer) and send them wordless files. There's no going back to the old ways for me.

However, traditional comic book lettering, including mine, is all upper-case capital letters. Now I need lower case, partly because some projects I'm working on will be text-heavy and it's hard to read paragraphs of upper-case narrative. IT LOOKS LIKE SOMEBODY'S SHOUTING AT YOU ALL THE TIME! I still wanted a font that looked handcrafted and was legitimately mine, but easier on the eyes.

Meet Brian Comix LC 2015:

It needs some tweaking but I'm pretty pleased with it. Hope you get to see it in something soon.