Saturday, November 21, 2020

To Do

Cleaning up my studio today, I found a pad at the bottom of a pile of paper that was my "To Do" list on October 9, 2017, the day my house and a few thousand others burned down. I've advised survivors of subsequent fires that the best way to get your head straight is make a list, check items off of it, and make another list tomorrow. Repeat. That's how you get through the days with purpose.

This was mine. It's eclectic. The fundamentals: Find a place to stay (not yet checked off). Clothes and shoes. Dog food. Stop the mail so it doesn't get delivered to a melted mailbox. 

"Death binder" is what we called the file with our will and estate planning, which we needed to reconstruct. The "Tom" name blurred at the bottom is the financial guy who handles our retirement accounts. I figured he needed to know. (He didn't really.)

Pink tabs on the side mark pages with info on FEMA and the Small Business Administration, which offered low-interest loans to fire victims.

The one that really jumps out at me is "Girl Scout meeting." Why the heck were we worried about that?! I asked Karen, who has stayed involved with Scouting looong after our daughters aged out, and she pointed out that the fire was on a Monday: meeting night. She wanted me to make sure everyone knew she wouldn't be there. 

You want to know what goes through someone's mind when their house disappears? This is it. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Equilibrio Dificil

Very nice to wake up to on a Monday: the new Brazilian edition of "Mom's Cancer" is getting some press, which publisher DarkSide Books was kind enough to send me. I was going to write "good press" in that preceding sentence, but since I don't read Portuguese I don't actually know that. I may be mindlessly crowing about the worst reviews of my life. If so, please don't tell me.





Thursday, November 5, 2020

What We'll Get

IF Biden and Harris hang on to win, the United States isn’t just getting a new President and VP in January. We will also get:

A State Department that doesn’t insult our allies and suck up to tyrants.

A Secretary of Education who believes in public education.

An Environmental Protection Agency head who believes in protecting the environment.

A Department of Health and Human Services head who believes in providing health and human services.

A Secretary of the Interior who believes in conserving America’s public lands.

A Secretary of Energy who believes renewables should be a bigger part of the country’s energy mix, and who will restore the climate change information, research, and data that the current Administration purged.

A Secretary of Agriculture who won’t make U.S. farmers bear the brunt of the President’s trade wars and tariffs.

A Secretary of Labor who will help workers at least as much as CEOs.

A Secretary of Transportation who might actually advance next-generation technologies, as well as an infrastructure (“roads and bridges”) plan that’s been promised for four years and never materialized.

An Attorney General who works for the American people rather than as the President’s personal attorney.

A Postmaster General who regards mail as an essential public service and will try to deliver it instead of impede it. 

A NASA head who isn’t compelled to spend billions to stroke his boss’s ego (the only reason NASA’s Artemis program keeps pushing its deadline to return Americans to the Moon by 2024 is to give Trump a shiny crown with which to cap his second term).

Press secretaries whose literal first words to the press (“I will never lie to you”) won’t be lies.

Directors of the CDC, FDA, National Weather Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (remember the Sharpie hurricane path?) who aren’t afraid to tell their boss or the public the truth about science.

Directors of the CIA and FBI who aren’t afraid to tell their boss or the public the truth about intelligence.

Military officers who know they won’t be ordered to violate their services’ chains of command or discipline, or be pressured to violate their oaths to defend the Constitution, based on the whims of their Commander in Chief.

Aides who aren’t afraid to tell the President something he doesn’t want to hear.

Aides who aren’t immediately related to the President.

Aides who don’t need the President to pardon them or commute their sentences when they’re convicted of crimes that directly benefit the President.

A Secret Service Agency that won’t be billed to stay at properties the President owns, or ordered to drive him around in a closed limo when he has a deadly communicable disease.

Most likely, zero payouts to porn stars.

Fewer Tweets, with better spelling and grammar.

Peace and quiet.

All the people in this photo out of work.

And perhaps most importantly, a task force to reunite hundreds of children, who were kidnapped at the border by the United States, with their families.

We won’t get everything we might have hoped for, but we’ll get a hell of a lot.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mamae esta com Cancer


I just replied to an extremely long and detailed e-mail interview for Folha de São Paulo, which I'm told is one of the leading newspapers in Brazil, about the forthcoming Portuguese edition of Mom's Cancer.

Also: there is a forthcoming Portuguese edition of Mom's Cancer! Talk about burying the lede . . .

This was one of the most exhaustive interview of any sort I've done: 24 questions that took me nearly seven pages to answer. I hope they use some of it.

That's the Portuguese cover above. I did not design it, and Editor Charlie was very dubious when he first saw it. But I kinda like it, and the pink color ties in with Brazil's nationwide anti-cancer campaigns. Bottom line: I trust the Brazilian publishers know their market better than I do, and if they think hot pink will sell the book, it's OK with me!

This will be the eighth language for Mom's Cancer. In addition to English we've got German, French, Italian and Japanese already out, with Spanish and Slovenian (!) in the works. 

Seriously, when I began all this, I had no idea.

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


Monday, June 1, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 56: My Daughters

My daughters don't always appreciate it when I post photos of them, but they never said I couldn't draw them. Ah ha! The Doodle Loophole! Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is of two important characters in "A Fire Story" and in my life.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 55: Figure Drawing Inks

Resolving the cliff-hanger we left on yesterday, today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle talks about the often-misunderstood art/craft of inking, an important part of the traditional cartooning process.




And here's the completed doodle:



Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 54: Figure Drawing Pencils

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is part one of a two-parter, describing the two-part process of penciling and inking. It's also a two-parter because there are some things that even I just can't finish in a minute.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 53: A Brick Wall

It's been said* that some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple adventure story; others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe. Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle looks at a brick wall.

*By Lex Luthor


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 52: Chewbacca

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle asks two important questions: who's the best copilot in the entire universe, and who owes some kid out there $10 for selling him a terrible drawing? Answer: Chewbacca and me.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 51: Snow

What better to doodle at the unofficial start of summer than snow? As I try to show in today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle, sometimes the best way to draw something is to draw nothing at all.




Snow by Bill Watterson. Notice how he omits even the panel borders to make the snow extend beyond the edges of the page. Wonderful.



Snow by Walt Kelly:



Snow by Charles Schulz:


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Twain in the Sandwich Islands


Longtime friends and readers know I love Twain (Mark, not Shania, although she's OK too). I just finished reading his Letters from Hawaii, a series of reports he wrote for the Sacramento Union in his early thirties before he'd become a literary big shot.

Twain was about as fair-minded and humanitarian a writer as you'd find in the mid-19th century, but read from 150 years later he's still pretty racist. Not a criticism--he was a man of his time, not ours--just an observation. He's quite pro-colonialism and pro-missionary, seeing them as having saved the native Hawaiians from their benighted savage ways. Even when he's complimentary to native people or culture, it's in terms of their simple innocent naivete.

At the same time, he acknowledges that something very precious has been lost, and mourns the ancient paradise corrupted by commerce and Christianity. I was reminded of present-day people who moan, "Oh, Hawaii is ruined now, you should have seen it in the 1960s!" According to Twain, it was already mostly ruined by the 1860s (just as Italians have been complaining that tourists have ruined Venice since at least the 1700s).

Still, Twain is Twain. Nobody else would write: "At noon I observed a bevy of nude native young ladies bathing in the sea, and went down and sat on their clothes to keep them from being stolen." Or: "...the red sun looked across the placid ocean through the tall, clean stems of the cocoanut trees, like a blooming whiskey bloat through the bars of a city prison..." That's good stuff.

A note on the edition I read, pictured here. I bought it cheap: cover price $5.95 marked down to $3, and I barely got my money's worth. It was bad, with transcription errors and chopped-up paragraphs. This particular book was poorly put together and I don't recommend it, which is too bad. One of the beauties of old public-domain work is that it can be republished inexpensively, but it still ought to be done right.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 50: Iron Man

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is Tony Stark's bodyguard, the Golden Avenger, old Shellhead (as comic-book Hawkeye called him) himself: Iron Man.





When I was a kid, THIS was the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 49: Golden Poppy

Yeah, the color marker smudges up the ink at the end. Please enjoy this Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle anyway! And if you have Golden Poppies in your yard like I do, please enjoy them, too.






Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 48: A Rocketship

Ad astra per aspera! Every space hero needs a spaceship, preferably one trailing sparks and smoke. This is mine. From Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is an old-timey rocketship.



Here's a photo of the physical model I built when I was working on the book. Just noticed now that I drew the tail wrong. Such is the nature of doodles.

And here it is on the cover of the paperback. This drawing took more than sixty seconds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 47: SpongeBob

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is admittedly rough. Sketchy. Unfinished. Such is the nature of a doodle. That's why it's called a "doodle" instead of "oil painting that I carried around Renaissance Europe for 20 years while I finished it." Are you ready, kids?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 46: A Pirate

Avast! Want to become a famous artist and get rich drawing turtles in turtlenecks, partying mice and fierce pirates? Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle shows you how, and I won't even charge you $5000 for it. Arrrrr!


Friday, May 15, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 45: Two-Point Skyscrapers

Ending Perspective Week (not a moment too soon!) on the Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle drawing some skyscrapers, with a glimpse at the end of how crazy this stuff can make you if you're not careful. Thanks for hanging in there, we'll be back to normal doodles next week!




Here's a look at the pencil sketch for that futuristic city drawing, which shows my construction lines for three-point perspective a little more clearly.


This is the finished version, with ink drawn over the pencil lines:


And these are the two places I used it in Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow....




Thursday, May 14, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 44: A Chair in Perspective

OK, time to get serious. A few people have told me that they or their kids have been following along with my Sixty-Second Sticky Doodles trying to draw what I draw. They send me photos of their versions of daffodils and Gerties. THANK YOU! That's wonderful and makes me very happy!

But some of those same people say that they're frustrated because I go so fast and their drawings don't look like mine. Perspective Week is being especially tough for them.

This may sound odd, but I never meant the doodles to be tutorials. If I were really teaching you how to draw things, they'd be 10 or 20 minutes long instead of 1. Also, some of these are hard for ME, too! You just don't see all of my practice and failed attempts.

If you're serious about drawing what I draw, don't even try to go as fast. Take your time! If it's not fun, skip it! And if you really want to learn perspective, consider these doodles a quick introduction and go find better resources. Here are two I found online from Hello Artsy and Rapid Fire Art. Also, my friend Mike Cope has a wonderful series of how-to videos for younger artists.

And thanks again!


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 43: Two-Point Perspective

Perspective Week continues on the SSSD! Now that we've all mastered one-point perspective, it's time to take our game to the next level: TWO-point perspective! Ka-pew! I can hear minds blowing all across the Internet.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 42: People in Perspective

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle actually runs about sixty-five seconds. I just couldn't do it any faster. But I'm terrified of "mission creep": soon they'll be two minutes, then ten, and pretty soon a Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle'll take an hour. To make me feel better, you can quit this one five seconds early.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 41: One-Point Perspective

Today, as demanded by absolutely nobody, I begin "Perspective Week" on the Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle! If that doesn't sound like a good investment of one minute per day, come back next Monday. Everyone else will be drawing like Leonardo daVinci by Friday.


Friday, May 8, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 40: Garfield

Kids love Garfield, and he's a great example of solid character modeling and design. I try to explain why on today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle.


Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 39: A Mountain

Kind of a companion piece to my earlier doodle of trees, today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is a mountain. Look, they can't ALL be adorable copyright violations!


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Karen is All the Agent I Need


Here's a story I meant to tell a long time ago, with a possible follow-up that happened just this morning....

Last July, my wife Karen was one of many California county officials who met in Sacramento to talk about disaster preparedness. On her way out the door, almost as a joke, I handed her a signed copy of A Fire Story and said, “Give this to the most important person you see.”

Later that day, it’s announced that Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to meet with a small group of those county officials to hear their disaster stories. A list is prepared; Karen isn’t on it. She walks up to the aide and says, “I need to be on that list.” The aide says, “Sorry, the governor only has time to hear from a few people.” “I don’t need to tell him my story,” says Karen. “This book is my story.” The aide looks at A Fire Story and says, “That’s YOU?!” and adds her to the list. And that’s how she handed my book to Newsom, who thanked her sincerely and promised to read it.

That afternoon, Karen called me and said, "Guess who I gave your book to."

Today I'm told that the California State Libraries, in cooperation with the Governor's Office, is putting together an exhibition of books about California by California authors, which will be displayed in the Governor's Mansion and then added to the library's permanent collection. They'd like A Fire Story to be part of it.

I can only wonder, and will never know, if Karen's chutzpah back in July had anything to do with this neat recognition now.

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 38: Helen the Librarian

Today I'm doodling Helen the librarian, my favorite redheaded action hero (no offense Jimmy Olsen), from my webcomic "The Last Mechanical Monster."


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Sixty-Second Doodle 37: A Glass of Water

Weird subject today, but I thought it might be interesting to doodle something simple, like a glass of water. I'm not saying this is the only way or right way, just that drawing the most ordinary things can still give you a lot to think about.


Monday, May 4, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 36: An Ewok

Today, in celebration of Star Wars Day (May the Fourth...be with you), I doodle an Ewok, those murderous teddy bears from a galaxy far far away, and talk about a girl I used to know.



Friday, May 1, 2020

Good News/Bad News

I have good and less-good publishing news today.

GOOD: A Spanish-language edition of "Mom's Cancer" is forthcoming! I've seen the pages and it looks like the translators and designers did a beautiful job, particularly with the graphic elements where text is integrated with the art. I'm honestly surprised there wasn't a Spanish version years ago, but am astonished and gratified that a book that's now about 15 years old still has a lot of life left in her. That's incredibly rare.



LESS-GOOD: My publisher, Abrams, and I have been working on a paperback version of "A Fire Story," with 32 new pages of art describing our rebuilding process and fleeing yet another wildfire, to be released in the fall. It now looks like Covid-19 has pushed that release into spring 2021.

Here's the deal: the publishing industry releases books in two seasons, spring and fall. Because bookstores are closed, authors can't tour, etc., many of the books that were supposed to be released this spring--right now--are being pushed into the fall. Editor Charlie felt that it would be better to delay my paperback's launch so it doesn't get drowned in the glut of books gushing from the pipeline after the clog is cleared. Besides, there's no guarantee that bookstores will be open by this fall, either!

Compared to everything else the pandemic has screwed up, my book launch is trivial. Abrams's strategy makes sense. But I'm still disappointed.

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 35: Gertie the Dinosaur

Today's doodle is an animation pioneer you may have never heard of, Gertie the Dinosaur, by the man that many (me) consider one of the three or four greatest cartoonists who ever lived, Winsor McCay. McCay made a short film with Gertie in 1914, for which he and an assistant did more than 10,000 drawings of Gertie and a full background on sheets of rice paper (since animators hadn't yet thought of using transparent cels over background art). I'm lucky enough to own one of those drawings.



Here's McCay's film, including a little prelude setting up the premise of McCay making the cartoon on a bet.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 34: Wimpy Kid

Today's doodle is Greg Heffley, the Wimpy Kid, created by Jeff Kinney. Jeff and I have the same book editor, and very early in his career I gave him the worst, most wrong-headed career advice possible. He hasn't held it against me.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 33: Moon Phases

Today's doodle pokes at a personal peeve. Artists, especially cartoonists, often draw a crescent Moon to signify "night time." Almost as often, they draw it in the wrong place or facing the wrong direction. Only one person out of a hundred would ever notice or care. I am that one person.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Authors Uncovered Podcast

I was scheduled to do two public book talks with Sacramento Public Libraries in April. Didn't happen. Instead, the library graciously offered to do a podcast with me for its "Authors Uncovered" series, which I was happy to record several days ago and was just released.

Host Casey Manno and I had a good chat, lightly edited here to 35 minutes. If you've seen or heard me speak before, you've heard some of these stories (I'm always aware that every time is most listeners' first time), but Casey also asked some new and good questions I haven't been asked before. Thanks to Sacramento Public Libraries, which I hope to visit in person soon!

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 32: Teenage Brian

For today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle I travel back in time to when I was 16 or so, to draw teenage me from a little zine I self-published in 2012, "The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian."

(I only made 50 and they're gone, so you can't have one, sorry. However, you can read some of the comics by clicking the "Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian label in the column to the right).

The only inaccurate part of this drawing is there aren't enough zits.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 31: Batman

On today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle: the second most famous orphan in comics, Thomas and Martha Wayne's implacable baby boy, and a clear copyright violation on my part: Batman.


Friday, April 24, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 30: A Hummingbird

I didn't grow up with hummingbirds. We didn't have them in my part of South Dakota. So when we moved to California when I was 10, I thought they were the most magical creatures in the world. Still do. Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is that hovering fluorescent fairy-flyer, the hummingbird.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 29: Snoopy

On today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle, my friends at the Charles M. Schulz Museum teach me how to draw Snoopy.

The museum offers a lot of fun homebound activities like this on its "Schulz Museum at Home" webpage. Check 'em out!


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 28: Trees

The joy of drawing happy little trees, on today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle. Happy Earth Day!


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 27: Dr. Xandra

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is one of my favorite evil geniuses. No, not that one, the other one.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 26: USS Enterprise

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is a tall ship with a star to steer her by: the best make-believe vehicle this side of a Tardis, the USS Enterprise. Second star to the right and straight on til morning.




In today’s doodle, I call the Enterprise’s design “iconic” and say that a child could draw it. I want to explain that better. I don’t mean that a child could get the tricky perspective right, nor get all the fiddly spaceship bits in their proper places. I mean that any sketch of three cylinders and a disk arranged in about the right way will instantly read as “Enterprise” to a lot of people around the world.

Here’s an example I cropped from an old “New Yorker” cartoon by Jack Ziegler (no need to show the whole thing; suffice to say the gag’s set in a sci-fi fan’s room). That’s the Enterprise, everybody knows it, and a child could draw it. Iconic.



Friday, April 17, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 25: A Minion

Juvenile, always cheerful, with the sense of humor of a 6-year-old boy. What's not to love? Today for your Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle: a Minion.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 24: Mom

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is a drawing of the person without whom I would literally not be here today.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 23: A Superhero

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is a bust--you know, a drawing of someone's head and shoulders. In this case, a superhero's.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 22: More Cartoon Expressions

You thought yesterday's doodle faces were expressive, just wait until we add mouths! Again, feel free to try this yourself: draw some simple circle faces with different combinations and permutations of eyes, eyebrows, mouths and other features, and see what emotions they suggest.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 21: Cartoon Expressions

The doodles are a bit more "How To" than usual today and tomorrow. If you're at all interested in cartooning, I'd encourage you to do this yourself: draw a bunch of circles on a piece of paper, add two dots to each circle for eyes, draw a bunch of eyebrows over the eyes in different positions and angles, and see what emotion that "face" looks like it's expressing. You'll probably surprise yourself.

 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 20: The Easter Bunny

(A conversation with my wife, exaggerated for humorous effect.)
Karen: You should draw the Easter Bunny next Friday.
Me: I already have something planned for Friday.
Karen: But it's the Friday before Easter!
Me: Yes it is.
Karen: And it's the Easter Bunny!
Me: Curse your infernal Vulcan logic.


Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 19: A Daffodil

In case you've lost all track of time, it's spring! Which means the return of one of my favorite flowers, not least because it's a bulb that pops up year after year with no effort on my part: daffodils! Right now our yard is full of daffodils that we dug up after the fire and replanted around our new home. That's another reason they're one of my favorites.


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 18: Karen

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle: my wife Karen, as seen in my graphic novel "A Fire Story" and not necessarily real life. Watch the one-minute doodle to see what I mean by that.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 17: Return of the Robot

Today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle continues yesterday's appreciation of the Robot from my webcomic "The Last Mechanical Monster," a sequel to a classic Fleischer Brothers cartoon from 1941, which is still considered one of the most beautifully drawn and lushly produced cartoon shorts ever.



Here is that original cartoon, "The Mechanical Monsters," still considered one of the most beautifully animated and lushly produced cartoons ever. Among their other good qualities, these Fleischer shorts are credited with giving Superman the power of flight. In the comic books to this point, Superman could only jump great distances, but the animators couldn't figure out how to show him doing that without looking ridiculous. Very influential on generations of creators...



...including the animators who did beautiful work like this in the 1990s...



...and the filmmakers who made movies like "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and other retrofuturistic fare.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 16: The Robot

From my webcomic "The Last Mechanical Monster," based on a classic Fleischer Brothers cartoon from 1941, today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is a deadly engine of destruction (or unexpected compassion): the Robot.


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Future Memories


A few friends have done something I really liked: they've written Facebook posts describing how they're doing, with the idea that in one or two or ten years, when Facebook suggests that post as a "Memory," they'll reflect back on what this whole pandemic/quarantine experience was like.

Here's a status report for posterity from the Fies Bunker.

We're fine. I've worked from home for 20 years and am used to solitude. Karen's an "essential worker" but still able to work from home about four days out of five. We walk the dog. Our daughters are hunkered down at their place, one of them very busy working and the other furloughed. They'll be all right.

We eat well. In the Crock Pot this morning I put a chicken breast, crushed tomatoes, white wine, bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic and spices. It smells fantastic. We'll throw in some spinach at the end, spoon that over rice, and probably get two meals out of it.

I miss going out to lunch.

To inject a little color into the day, I am trying to wear the most colorful, gaudy shirts I own. Today it's rainy so I put on a robot sweater. I smile every time I catch it in a mirror.

I don't know anyone who's died from COVID-19, but I know people who know people who have. I expect that degree of separation will shrink from two to one in the coming months.

I have posted videos for 15 "Sixty-Second Sticky Doodles" and recorded another five for next week. We'll see what happens after that. They're a lot of fun to do, although they take more time than you'd think.

I am not planning to make a graphic novel about COVID-19.

I sliced the tip of my finger with a kitchen knife a few days ago. It's healing fine but I wonder if the little divot will be permanent.

We're getting a lot of reading done. I read David Sedaris's "Naked," and while his darkly funny essays with heart are usually right in my wheelhouse, this book wasn't entirely satisfying. "Darkly funny with heart" didn't mesh with my mood. I'm currently reading Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking," a memoir of her grief and mourning after her husband died while her daughter was gravely ill, and wondering if I made a terrible mistake. I think after this I'll go back to "darkly funny with heart."

I've had to cancel three book-related appearances but pulled off one, a keynote speech for a graphic medicine conference, via Zoom. Funny how we've all become overnight experts at Zoom.

I'm impressed that our local grocery store has taped off the floor to keep customers six feet apart as they line up at the register. I hear they're installing plastic shields to protect the cashiers from us.

Karen and I wore face masks to the supermarket for the first time yesterday. We have a small stock of N-95s left over from the fire. I've been joking that COVID-19 is not the scariest thing I've ever faced; it's not even the scariest thing I've faced in the past two and a half years. But I think that joke is tired now and I should retire it.

Spring is coming. The roses are budding and the hummingbirds are humming. I'm looking forward to sitting in the sun and watching the flowers and birds find each other. Maybe next week.

Take care. Wash your hands!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 15: Feet

Nobody asked for it. Nobody wanted it. Well, that's not true, one person did ask for it, but I think they were being sarcastic. The subject of today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle: feet!


Thursday, April 2, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 14: Superheroine Part 2

Finishing the superheroine I began yesterday on today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle. Plus some additional references below! (No, I'm not giving you homework.)



Here's a superheroine I recently drew. She took more than one minute.



An illustration of what I was talking about re: heroic proportions. On the left is Christopher Reeve, about 7.5 heads tall. On the right is Superman, more than 8 heads tall. No matter how good the costume, it's hard for real people to look like superheroes because superheroes don't look like real people.


The ancient Greeks gave their gods disproportionately large bodies and small heads.


The Hulk is really, really, really strong. Look how small his head is. His fists are twice the size of his head! It can get pretty ridiculous when you learn to look for it.



Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 13: Superheroine Part 1

Honestly, what I usually doodle when I'm bored and my hand is mindlessly sketching whatever it wants are superheroes. If you looked into my recycling can, you'd see a dozen little scraps of paper that look just like today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 12: Cap Crater

On today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle: the Galactic Guardian, the Boy Scout from Betelgeuse, your spacey best buddy--Cap Crater, from my book "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?


Monday, March 30, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 11: Lillian

Not a hand in sight today, as my Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle features Lillian, from my webcomic "The Last Mechanical Monster" and one of my favorite characters ever.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 10: Hands Finale

If you're new to the blog after reading about it in the Press Democrat or elsewhere, welcome! I'd suggest scrolling down to the earlier, more entertaining Sixty-Second Sticky Doodles further down (they're numbered), then working your way back up. And thanks.




Today is the last day of Hands Week (Karen: "Thank goodness")! All I'd add is that if you want to get better at drawing hands, most of us have the perfect model sitting right at the end of our non-drawing arm. No excuses.

 Also, I end this Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle with my fundamental advice for any artistic challenge: do whatever works for you.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 9: Hands and Other Useful Appendages

I'll be honest: today's Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle is my favorite of the week. I just think the subject matter is really cool. Hope you do, too!


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

An Excellent Finalist

Neat! "A Fire Story" has been named a finalist for Pop Culture Classroom's Excellence in Graphic Literature (EGL) award in the category of "adult nonfiction." I share the category with excellent creators, including my former friends and now hated nemeses Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick for their book "Hawking" about some obscure math professor.

This nomination is particularly sweet because I was a guest of Pop Culture Classroom at last year's Denver Pop Culture Con and had a great time. It's a unique combination of educational non-profit and flamboyant comics convention that I found pretty interesting.

Winning titles will be announced in early April and honored with a beautiful trophy the evening of Saturday, July 4, assuming the con isn't canceled or postponed. The nomination is a great honor, thanks!

EDITED MUCH LATER TO ADD: Son of a gun, I won!

Above, the EGL Saga trophy for Excellence in Graphic Literature.
Below, some photos I took at the 2019 Pop Culture Con.





On a panel with Schulz Museum Education Director Jessica Ruskin
and very popular young adult graphic novelist Nathan Hale.


Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 8: Hands, Balloons and Mittens

A conversation I had with Karen, exaggerated for humorous effect:

Her: How many days are you going to draw hands?
Me: Every day this week!
Her: Why?
Me: It's Hands Week!
Her: I mean, Why? Nobody wants that.
Me: Viewer request?
Her: They didn't request it every day!
Me: It's cool?
Her: (facepalm, sigh)


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 7: Hands and Hot Dog Fingers

Man, whoever asked me to talk about drawing hands is probably really starting to regret it now! Here's another one. No regrets.

BTW, "hot dog fingers" is a call-back to an episode of The Office (US) in which the Dunder-Mifflin employees list it among the mock diseases they want covered by their new health plan. My comics are full of little references meant to amuse no one but myself.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 6: Hands

By viewer request, here's a Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle about drawing hands! If you don't like this one, come back tomorrow. Spoiler Alert: you won't like tomorrow's, either.

Warning: do not take anatomical advice from cartoonists, unless they also happen to be MDs or RNs or something like that. I am not.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 5: More of My Dog Riley

One more one-minute distracting doodle before the weekend, this one a light-hearted precis on canine osteology (that'll draw a crowd!).

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 4: My Dog Riley

Y'know, I'm burning through sticky notes like crazy. Each of these doodles consumes 15 or 20 Post-Its--you just don't see the outtakes. It's hard to draw and talk at the same time, make a drawing I'm not ashamed of, and finish in exactly a minute!

Luckily, sticky notes are a lot easier to find than toilet paper. HEY...!!


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sixty-Second Sticky Doodle 3: The Inventor

"Again?!" I hear you sigh. "What is wrong with this guy?" Evidently I had a minute to kill so I did another doodle. I may not be hooked up right in the head.