Sunday, November 19, 2023


End-of-season basil harvest and pesto-making day! We planted three basil plants (all the Emerald Tower variety, which we find doesn't flower as readily as others). While we've plucked their leaves for various purposes all summer, today we decided to chop them down and transform them into the green glop we love so much.

Basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts, all immersion-blended in a handy pitcher. We'll have some for dinner tonight, and freeze enough for six or seven meals to come. 

There are few things as satisfying as dining garden to table, even in our small, modest way. Very tasty, too.

Monday, November 13, 2023

A Literary Weekend

Patrick and our mutual editor Charles Kochman on stage at the Schulz Museum, talking about Patrick's new book, which is a charming look at what Marvel superheroes meant to Patrick when he was growing up and some deeper truths they can maybe teach the rest of us.

Editor Charlie is on his way back to Manhattan now, after a long and delightful weekend in town to mostly do an event at the Charles M. Schulz Museum with "Mutts" cartoonist Patrick McDonnell, whose new book The Super Hero's Journey has been published by Abrams ComicArts, and less mostly to sleep a few nights in Karen's and my guest room. 

Patrick signing books for a long line of folks at the Schulz Museum. He took the time to draw a little Marvel character for everyone, which slowed the line but nobody minded in the least.

Before the Schulz event, Patrick and his wife Karen joined Charlie and me for lunch.

What a nice weekend! I'd spent a little time with Patrick and his wife, Karen, at the Miami Book Fair a while back, but couldn't really claim to know them. We remedied that, having a couple of meals together and inviting them over to the house to take a look at my next comics project. They're both terrific, kind, interesting people. Really a treat to spend time with.

About that project: Charlie and I spent quite a bit of time talking shop, which is my favorite type of talk, and I don't want to jinx it because I don't yet have a deal on the table but I'd say the odds are very good that Charlie and Abrams and I are going to do another book together! I'll probably go radio-silent on that until I have something new and real to announce, but know that I'm working away on something I'm very excited about.

Charlie and I going over my next comic on my dining room table, with my editorial assistant napping at our feet.

Santa Rosa, Calif. is Charles Schulz's town, and you can hardly go anywhere without being reminded of it (in a nice way!). This statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy stands near the city's historic old train station, which had a big role in the Hitchcock film "Shadow of a Doubt." As I knew Charlie was a Hitch fan, I thought he'd appreciate that. I was right.

Nothing to do with the weekend's events, but Charlie took this photo of Karen and me and it's one of the better ones of us so here it is.

Pretty keen weekend!

Friday, November 10, 2023

Forbes on Wimpy World

Here's a terrific article about my friend Jeff Kinney on his current best-selling book tour. Jeff's sold about 300 million books--that's not hyperbole, it's the actual number--and I think writer Mitch Wallace captures just the right tone explaining why that is, what Jeff is like, and what it feels like to do these events. 

In fact, his article reminds me of blog posts I wrote in 2009 (!) and 2013 about earlier Wimpy Kid book tours, back when Jeff toured in a luxury rock star bus (IIRC, the previous tenant of his bus was Pink) that he's since simplified to a big van. I think the downsize suits him. I'll put a link to my post in the first comment. 

One other thought: Jeff works really, really hard. In fact, I'm lucky enough to know a few very successful authors, and the quality they have in common is they all work hard. Which isn't to say that less successful writers aren't working just as hard, but I don't know any who are sitting back and phoning it in. They all care, they want the next thing to be better, they sit down and grind. 

Life lesson. Do the best work you can, then learn and try to do better. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

Monsters Bash

I imagine I'm one of three people reading this who spent the weekend setting up and running a haunted house on an aircraft carrier. Anyone else? Show of hands?

Saturday night, the USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum, where my daughter Laura is COO, hosted an annual Halloween dinner-dance called "Monsters Bash," which includes a tour of the Hornet's historic and reputedly haunted sickbay. In past years, the frights have included dangling spiders and volunteers jumping up and yelling "Boo!" The Hornet wanted to improve their haunted house game this year; Laura said, "I know a guy." Me.

On Halloween night, my front yard becomes a G-rated phantasmagoria of swirling spectres, projected faces, Pepper's ghosts, and any other ideas I could lift from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. It's fun, but there's only so much I can do with the available space and lighting. Would I like to be turned loose on an aircraft carrier? Oh yes, please and thank you!

In past Bashes, the Hornet's haunted sickbay displayed a random assortment of store-bought props. My main contributions were helping develop a storyline to pull it together, setting up some commercial projections that the Hornet had bought, and adding some sound and lighting effects. The story: unexplained power surges aboard the ship have drawn spirits into our world. Lots of flickering lights and mournful moans. I also got to do some improvisational acting as a surgeon whose operation isn't going so well.

Prepping for the Monsters Bash on the Hornet's hangar deck. How many dinner-dances have you been to that are decorated with fighter jets, a boilerplate Mercury space capsule, and Apollo 14's mobile quarantine unit? Photo courtesy of Russell from the USS Hornet.

Reverse angle on the hangar deck, looking toward the dance floor and bandstand. Amazing how some lighting and decor can transform a gray steel military-industrial space. Our haunted sickbay was one deck directly below. This photo also nicked from Russell/USS Hornet.

Laura, her sister Robin, and I spent the afternoon setting up (following earlier visits to plan and dry-run), then manned sickbay from about 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. More than 600 happy, dancing, costumed people came to the Bash and we figure between 100 and 200 of them toured sickbay. Some came more than once, which we took as a good review. 

Most people seemed to have a terrific time: lots of screams and laughs. I was surprised by how terrified some people were of what seemed to me a very tame and low-key haunted house. One of our big set pieces was a room of bunks filled with blankets stuffed to look like bodies--not very sophisticated! Still, a few folks only got a couple of turns past the start before they "Noped" right back out the front door. 

I confess to a couple of jumps myself. First, when we were setting up in the afternoon, and I was alone in the dark twisting corridors of sickbay, I felt some claustrophobic shivers. All by itself, being below deck in low light is inherently spooky. Second, when I was playing a surgeon, I turned around just as a flash of light illuminated a plastic head on a meat hook behind me. It had been there ALL DAY, but in that hundredth of a second it gave me a real start. I got myself!

My operating room was one of the first things visitors saw when then entered sickbay. I had fun bantering with folks. Tying into our electrical surge story, I asked them if they were the electricians I'd sent for. "Because this operation is frankly not going very well. Sure, I graduated last in my class, but I still have an M.D. after my name, and I refuse to operate under these conditions! This started as a simple root canal, and NOW look at him! Honestly, it's not my best work." That's the meat hook head that scared me on the left.

Because we finished up so late, Laura, Robin and I spent the night aboard the Hornet in Laura's stateroom, which back in the day would have belonged to a senior officer. Very fun! In the morning I took a little walk around the ship before it opened to the public, then we had breakfast and went home.

Just in time to get ready for Halloween..... 

The skyline of San Francisco around midnight, seen from the fantail of the USS Hornet. Downtown is to the left, with the Bay Bridge spanning off to the right.

Early morning, before any visitors came, I had the flight deck all to myself, with San Francisco beckoning across the Bay. A lovely end to a fun weekend.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Intellectual Life #19

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 19:

(I am in the garage using a handsaw to cut through a board when the wood unexpectedly gives way and the saw cuts parallel slices across my wrist, a couple of them deep and bloody.)

Brian: Karen? I need help with a wound.

Karen: I'll get the Band-Aids. (Takes a look.) I'll get the bandages and tape.

Karen (while cleaning and dressing the wound with skill and compassion): This could be a peek into the intellectual life of a long-married couple!

Brian: I don't think so.

Karen: Why not?

Brian: It's not very funny.

Karen: It's not very intellectual, either. 

Brian: Right.

Karen: Kind of stupid, actually.

Brian: I get it.

(Hours later, we're walking the dog around the block when we see a teenage boy on a skateboard barely avoid deadly collisions with cross-traffic.)

Brian: Idiot! He almost got killed!

Karen: At least he didn't try to cut off his own hand.

(I try to think of something to say to that.)

Brian: I have nothing to say to that.

Karen: Boys. It's a miracle that any of you make it to adulthood.

Brian: With both hands.

Karen: NOW it's a peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple!

This has been a peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple.

(P.S.: I am O.K.)

Thursday, October 19, 2023

MyShake Awake

MyShake is an app designed to warn users an earthquake's coming. It can't predict the future; rather, it relies on the fact that shock waves through the ground move much slower than the speed of light--similar to how the sound of thunder trails the flash of lightning--so that if a temblor happens a fair distance away, a cell phone signal can outrun the quake and give you a few seconds to drop and cover. 

It seems a prudent app to have here in California earthquake country. It seemed less prudent last night when a system test meant to go off at 10:19 a.m. this morning went off at 3:19 a.m. instead. By 3:25 a.m., I had fired off the following email to the MyShake people:

"I understand the need to test your system. Two notes:

"1. What good is a test without some way for us to tell you that we received it? 

"2. You don’t test a system designed to jolt users out of bed full of adrenaline IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!

"Unintended Consequence: I will be deleting the app in the morning."

In the light of day, I probably won't delete the app. If/when I ever really need it, it could save my life, and that's worth a few false alarms. But last night, I was steamed.

My best guess is that somebody screwed up and set the alert time for the wrong time zone. 3:19 a.m. PDT is 10:19 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time (aka Greenwich Mean Time), which a lot of software defaults to. I would still appreciate an explanation and apology. MyShake owes me an hour of sleep.

Monday, October 9, 2023

AAEC and an Old, New Friend

Alcatraz glimpsed through some cypress (?) trees. There may be more photogenic cities in the world, but none that I live within an hour's drive of.

Busy weekend. Friday I went into San Francisco for a couple of reasons, mainly a public reception at the Cartoon Art Museum kicking off the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' 2023 conference. I gave a talk about A Fire Story at the AAEC's 2018 conference in Sacramento, and couldn't have been received more warmly then. Turns out that many of them remembered that talk, and me, and we renewed our acquaintances as if no time had passed. 

At the Sacramento conference, I'd found myself talking with a group when I suddenly realized everyone but me had won a Pulitzer Prize. As they said on Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the others..." Well, that happened again on Friday, as I had good conversations with Pulitzer Prize winners Ann Telnaes, Matt Davies, Matt Wuerker, and especially Jack Ohman, who's working on a (secret?) project very near my heart that I know he and I will be talking about. Also had nice talks with Pulitzer finalist and Herblock Award winner Jen Sorensen, AAEC parliamentarian (!) Scott Burns and his sister, my friend Jonathan Lemon ("Rabbits Against Magic" and the new "Alley Oop") and comics greats Trina Robbins and Steve Leialoha. Met some nice cartoonists from Canada and New Zealand. And of course caught up with our hosts from CAM, Andrew Farago and Summerlea Kashar, many thanks to them!

Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Ohman, late of the Sacramento Bee and just signed as a cartoonist and columnist by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Celebrated comic book creators Steve Leialoha and the delightful Trina Robbins, plus the thumb of the New Zealand cartoonist who couldn't figure out how to not block my camera lens.

I have no idea how I fit all that between the hours of 6 and 8:30 p.m. Sorry if I forgot to mention someone, you were wonderful, too.

But my main reason for going at all was Mike Peterson. Mike is a comics fan and journalist who lives in New England. He's written the online column "Comic Strip of the Day" for years, except for a very brief stretch when I took it on while he recovered from surgery, and on Saturday he accepted an Ink Bottle Award from the AAEC on behalf of The Daily Cartoonist website, where he's one of two main writers. We've been very good friends for 20 years, ever since he was one of the first people to encourage me to continue my "Mom's Cancer" webcomic . . .  

. . . and until Friday, we'd never met in person.

Funny how that happens.

Finally, after 20 years, it's Mike Peterson and me!

First thing Mike said to me after we broke from our warm embrace: "You're taller than I expected." We could have talked all night but of course we didn't get that chance, since one or the other of us was frequently pulled into other conversations. Mike knew more cartoonists than I did, and they seemed to like him better, too. I hope we do get to have that all-night in-person talk soon.

Before the AAEC event, I met up with my daughter Laura, whose USS Hornet - Sea, Air and Space Museum set up a booth and jet cockpit on San Francisco's Marina Green for Fleet Week. The green was only a half-hour walk from CAM, so I hoofed it there and back to say "Hi" to her. That explains why I'm red-faced and sweaty in the photos; it was an unusually hot and clear day for the City and I got some sun!

Walking over a hill overlooking the decommissioned Fort Mason toward the Marina Green, which is the patch of grass at center left. The Golden Gate Bridge is in the background. Beautiful day.

Walking from the Marina Green toward CAM along the Bay. Ghirardelli Square is well marked; the white ship-shaped building is the Maritime Museum. Lots of folks took to the narrow strip of beach at center left to swim and sun. CAM is in the brick building to the left of the CVS.

Hornet CEO Mark Epperson, COO Laura Fies, and Director of Events and Outreach Russell Moore, with their cockpit in the background. I didn't take this photo but I stole it fair and squre.

The rest of the weekend was family stuff. All good but I won't bore you with that. Nothing as exciting as meeting a 20-year friend for the first time. Did not disappoint!

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Intellectual Life #18

Photo is not from this occasion, but it is of us.

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 18:

Karen: You have a brown spot on your shirt.

Brian: Could be chocolate.

Karen: Could be.

Brian: Could be blood.

Karen: Maybe.

Brian (dabbing it with my finger): It's moist.

(I lick my finger. Karen is repulsed and horrified.)

Karen: I would never ever do that.

Brian: Soy sauce!

Karen: You're such a BOY!

Brian: Hey, it worked.

This has been a peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Farm to Table, Part 2

Second Harvest. We planted four tomatoes this year--Roma, Sungold, Sweet 100, and Little Napoli varieties--as well as three basil plants. We did a big harvest to make a batch of tomato sauce in late August. Although we of course grazed on tomatoes throughout the summer, we did our second big harvest this morning. There are still a lot of green tomatoes on the vines but we'll have to see if they ripen. The sunny days grow short. It's a race to the first frost.

We really liked how the August batch turned out, so we did the same on this one. We stewed the tomatoes with onion and garlic in a big pot for a few hours, then added basil and hit it with an immersion blender. As I said last time, we don't bother removing the skins or seeds; they add body and flavor, and besides that would be insane with hundreds of cherry tomatoes. 


We don't always add ground beef but this time we did. Appropriate seasoning, then let it percolate all day long. 

It's good. "Farm to Table" is very gratifying and satisfying. Now we just need to find freezer space for enough sauce to probably tide us over until next summer.

Everybody in the pool!

A few hours and an immersion blending later...

Delicious on the plate.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

After The Fire USA

Yesterday I had the honor and fun of being the opening keynote speaker at the three-day 2023 After The Fire USA Wildfire Leadership Summit, a national (and even international) gathering of fire prevention and recovery experts that happened to be held less than an hour from my home! I didn't promote it ahead of time because it was invitation only, and an impressive group it was.

Photo of me in my red work shirt waaaay up on the stage, taken by and stolen from Jennifer Gray Thompson, who I hope won't mind. My talk mostly comprised readings from A Fire Story, chosen to set the stage for the rest of the three-day conference.

I read from A Fire Story, trying to tie into some themes such as resilience and "who cares for the caregivers?" that I knew would be addressed later in the conference. Organizer Jennifer Gray Thompson opened the event with a quote from Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark: "Inside the word 'emergency' is 'emerge'; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters."

That seemed apt.

People said I did a good job. The speakers and panels that followed me were interesting and even important. Maui was on a lot of minds. I knew a few of the attendees, as either fire survivors or fire experts or both--and it was good to see them again. Made a couple of new friends. A great afternoon.

A reverse angle on the room, also by Jennifer. This was at the Hanna Center in Glen Ellen, Calif., and the back of the room opened up onto a patio where vendors set up tables. Perfect weather for it.

Later today, I'll be Zooming into a graphic medicine class at San Francisco State University to talk about Mom's Cancer. Yes, there are now classes in graphic medicine, a whole burgeoning field of medical humanities that didn't exist before 2010 (and I was there!). And yes, it can be difficult shifting gears from Fire Story yesterday to Mom's Cancer today. I'm not complaining--it's a privilege that anyone wants to hear from me at all--but I've got to get into the right headspace lest I start babbling about world's fairs or giant robots.

Monday, September 25, 2023

National Comic Book Daughters Day!

I am reliably informed that today, Monday, Sept. 25, is National Daughters Day! As you may know, I have two of them. Also, in another twofer for me, it is also National Comic Book Day! WOW! 

I am in the rare position of being able to celebrate both events simultaneously by sharing examples of my daughters appearing in comic books--not coincidentally, mine. Happy Comic Book Daughters Day, Robin and Laura! You've already been drawn into the next one, too.

Celebrating Mom's birthday in Mom's Cancer.

Inside the Perisphere at the 1939 World's Fair, in Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow.

Swooning over the Cosmic Kid with the rest of my coloring team, Kelly and Kristen, in Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow.

Providing refuge in A Fire Story.

Gaping at the magnificence of Sparky the Mad Inventor (in his dreams) in The Last Mechanical Monster.

Sunday, September 24, 2023


The Disneyland train station at the entrance to the park, with two tunnels to the left and right separating the real world from "the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy."

The family and I are home from a trip to Disneyland and California Adventure (aka "the old parking lot"). No apologies for being a Disney fan. I understand how the world works: I realize I have been conditioned since birth to feel nostalgia for corporate properties designed to take my money in exchange for a warm fuzzy glow. I have no problem with that deal. Warm fuzzy glows are hard to come by and, in my opinion, Disney delivers them better than most.

We had a very nice time.

It had been eight years since our last visit, and both we and the parks have changed. They added some rides and rejiggered some lands, including the new Avengers Campus, a fairly sterile and unengaging chunk of California Adventure even for a lifelong Avengers fan like me; and Galaxy's Edge in the back corner of Disneyland, which everyone calls "Star Wars Land." The latter is a brilliant and immersive environment that I still think was put in the wrong park. But nobody asked me, so I'll enjoy it where it is.

I saw three neat innovations in ride technology. First, more sophisticated use of projectors in ways large and small, from giving characters completely animated faces to adding a bit of background visual interest to creating an entire universe (e.g., Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, which places riders into an animated world much like Toon Town in "Roger Rabbit").

Second, they've somehow figured out how to simulate a 3D environment without glasses. It's not quite full 3D but it's close: call it 2.5D, such that when you look out a spaceship window in Galaxy's Edge, you're not just watching a big TV screen. The other ships and planets and such have some dimension and distance from you. Kind of like those old lenticular bubble-gum cards? I don't know how they do it, but it's pretty keen.

Third and most impressive, they've got trackless ride vehicles that can travel anywhere within a space, giving each group of guests a unique experience. The tech was put to good use in both the Star Wars Rise of the Resistance ride, in which escape pods full of riders careen through an Imperial spaceship pursued by Kylo Ren, and Runaway Railway, in which what appears to be three linked train cars separate from the engine and cartoony hell breaks loose.

As I alluded to in my book "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow," I think Disney is important. I don't think you can understand 20th century America without grappling with Disney, both good and bad: risk-taking entrepreneurship, technological innovation, evolving labor relations, the invention of the teenager, historical myth-making (pro and con), TV and film history, futurism, culture, entertainment, intellectual property law. All of that is distilled into a few square miles of Anaheim, California, the only Disney park with Walt's fingerprints all over it. Or you can just forget about that and ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Haunted Mansion," still delightful gems of peak 1960s Disney. 

In addition, in our experience last week, Disney still earns its reputation for terrific customer service. Several cast members went above and beyond the call of duty to solve problems and make sure all our needs were met. There's a story that Walt Disney nearly fired an executive who told Walt he didn't need to pick up a piece of trash because a custodian would get around to it. Walt thought that park quality and guest experience were everyone's business. That work ethic and company culture still seems widespread.

Just a few representative photos that have no images of Karen, Robin or Laura because I think at least some of them would rather I left them out of it.

The Matterhorn in the background, submarines (recently re-themed to a Little Nemo ride), and a Monorail track circling to the right.

For a few months around Halloween, the Haunted Mansion gets a "Nightmare Before Christmas" overlay. It's fun, but I still prefer the classic 99 Ghosts and Paul Frees narration.

Walking through a tunnel into the immersive Galaxy's Edge, a hive of scum and villainy. The full-size Millennium Falcon (not in this pic) is stunning.

I got my first Avengers comic at age 10 and at one time had a collection of every issue of the Avengers starting with #1 (guess what happened to that collection?). So it actually meant something for me to pose as superheroically as I could muster wearing cargo shorts and my dork hat. One reaches an age when vanity is outweighed by the wisdom of preventing skin cancer, particularly when one is a pasty person with thinning gray (silver?!) hair.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Willingham Frees "Fables"

This is the most interesting and paradigm-shifting (by which I mean it changed the way I think) publishing-related news I've seen in a long time. 

Short version: Bill Willingham created a popular and successful comic book series called "Fables" 20 years ago. It was published by DC Comics but, unlike writers and artists who work on Superman and Batman, Willingham owned the intellectual property and copyright to his work. There's no dispute about that.

After years of being (as he describes it in the linked piece) frustrated, lied to, and cheated by his publisher, today he dropped a nuke and made "Fables" public domain. That means anyone in the world has the right to use "Fables" characters and tell "Fables" stories however they want--prose, comics, cartoons, movies, puppet shows--anyone but Willingham himself, ironically, who's still bound by his contract to only publish "Fables" with DC. "Fables" now belongs to the other 8-billion-minus-1 people on the planet.

Wow. Geez. I've never heard of a creator doing that,* but can't think of a reason it's not legal, ethical, and the biggest middle finger Willingham could possibly flip.

To me, it highlights the power creative people have and are often willing, even eager, to give up. My literary lawyer explained it to me like this: when you create something, you hold ALL the rights to it. If someone such as a publisher wants it, they will negotiate to pay you for YOUR rights. More rights should cost more money. YOU hold all the cards, even though it sure doesn't feel like it when you're desperate for your first book deal and it's the only offer on the table. It's hard to believe, but they really do need you more than you need them--as long as you're willing to walk away with nothing. It's even harder to believe, but no deal is better than a bad one, as I've learned from friends who've made bad deals.

A publisher isn't your boss. They're your business partner.

(*Tom Lehrer, whose smart, satirical songs were very popular in the 1950s and '60s, recently made his entire catalog public domain, but not because of a dispute with anyone. He's apparently just a really cool guy.)