Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Tapas

It's quiet in the blog. Almost too quiet.

I often compare my freelance science-writing day job to farming. I can work months with little to show for it, then suddenly all the crops ripen (or the deadlines converge) and it's harvest season. Here in the California Wine Country they call it "Crush," mostly for what happens to the grapes but also, I think, for how the vintners feel during those few weeks when the grapes have to be picked not too soon RIGHT NOW oh no too late. I'm just coming out the other side of my Crush now, and BAM there's Christmas, its jolly elven face smirking at me. Thanks a lot, Christmas.

On top of that, I'm grabbing every spare moment I can to pencil pages for Mystery Project X. Always achingly slow but it adds up.

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A recent post by film critic Roger Ebert on Things He Knows About Writing: "I really only know one: If you don't start it, you'll never finish it."

Yes yes yes. I've said before that the hardest, gutsiest part of creating a graphic novel (or anything) is sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and making the first mark on Page One knowing you've got hundreds of more pages to go. What a seemingly insurmountable goal! I feel innate respect and kinship for anyone who does it, even if they do it badly. Most people excel at finding excuses not to start. There's always a reason. They don't have the time or the resources or the right equipment or every detail of their story worked out as well as they'd like.

I think that last one is semi-legit; even now, I'm still finding new ideas I want to explore in Mystery Project X. The basic plot's been set for months, but the motives and relationships of my characters--the themes and subtext--continue to change. If I'd drawn it a year ago, it wouldn't have been as good. A story needs time to ripen but not so much that it rots. Did you ever have a peach that's rock hard in the morning and brown mush in the afternoon? I don't know how you tell when that moment of perfect freshness arrives. Maybe you know it when you see it. Then start. Page One. Better too soon than too late, I think, because just the act of doing it will give you new ideas for improving it.

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Today is evidently "Agricultural Metaphor Day" at the Fies Files.

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Following the recent deaths of comics greats Jerry Robinson and Joe Simon (co-creator of Captain America in the '40s), the New York Times seemed determined to profile the oldest living Golden Age cartoonist they could. Luckily, they found a real gem in Irwin Hasen, who did quality comic-book work in the 1940s and '50s (including the original "Flash" and "Justice Society of America") and drew the popular-in-its-day comic strip "Dondi."

I've had the honor of meeting the 93-year-old Mr. Hasen a few times, not that he'd recall them. Punks like me are a dime a dozen to him. But what a smart, charming man. What the NYT piece only hints at is his saltiness: he is a short, sharp, profane, no-BS kinda guy who'll give it to you straight with a twinkle in his eye. He reminded me of my grandfather (who once greeted me by looking me up and down and exclaiming, "Jesus, you got old!"). The last time I saw Mr. Hasen was in Artists Alley at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con. As I wrote then:

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, when I looked over his table and noticed 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."

On my wall.

With Irwin Hasen, February 2006

The NYT piece is accompanied by a short video profile of Mr. Hasen. I don't see a way to embed it here, but I think this may be worth 3:29 of your life.

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I considered editing out one of the two references to Mr. Hasen's twinkling eyes in the above grafs but liked them both. If this blog were a paying gig, that's a redundancy I'd fix. But here, today, I'm a writing outlaw. Chicks dig bad boys.

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I am heartened knowing that no matter how I live out the rest of my life, I've done more good in the world and contributed more to the universe than Kim Jong Il ever did.

Dot dot dot.


Namowal said...

Hasen is quite a character. I'm glad to see he's still drawing, even though he retired the strip in the 1980s.
Was he one of your cartoon influences? I seem to remember reviewers of WHTWOT suggesting you were influenced by a few different cartoonists, but I always thought your characters looked a bit like Dondi- the doll eyes, prominent ears, the smile etc.. (I'm not accusing you of ripping off anything- as your characters are distinct on their own.)

Brian Fies said...

Interesting observation, but I don't think so. I didn't really become aware of Dondi and Hasen until I was an adult looking back at the history of comics, by which time my style (such as it is) had pretty much settled. But I'm complimented by the comparison. Influences are strange things...hard to trace, sometimes, except for those that are glaringly obvious. Some reviewers have said my work looks like that of other people's in ways I don't see at all.

Jim O'Kane said...

Brian, you may have covered this in a previous blog, but what comic strips did you follow as a child?

My family were stalwart consumers of the NY Sunday News on weekends - - a Chicago Tribune paper, which meant strong doses of Dondi, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Gasoline Alley, Moon Mullins, and Terry and the Pirates. These were additions to the less compelling gag-a-day strips carried in the rival Newark Star-Ledger.

New York's only other paper carrying comic strips, the New York Herald Tribune, perished just as I was learning to read, so I had only a brief taste of The Little King, Pogo, and a series of strips whose names escape me. And now I feel really old to think about that long-gone NY paper. Sigh.

Brian Fies said...

See my next post!