Friday, February 8, 2019

Book Launch!

People have been asking (no, really!), and now it can be told: We're kicking off the release of "A Fire Story" with a talk and booksigning at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in my hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif. on March 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. I can't think of a more perfect place from which to launch, and Jeannie Schulz and the museum staff have been incredibly kind and gracious.

My publisher Abrams and I are planning several other appearances at bookstores and conventions in both the North Bay and farther afield. I think we'll be announcing that full schedule next week. It's gonna be a busy spring!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Publishers Weekly "Panel Mania" Preview

From time to time, Publishers Weekly--"the Bible of the book business"--previews an upcoming graphic novel in its "Panel Mania" feature. Today it's mine. If you want a sneak peek at nine pages of "A Fire Story" a month before it's released, here you go!

A couple of behind-the-scenes notes: Pages 68 and 69 are obviously a two-page spread that'll form a single big picture in the book. Yes, I drew all those dots, albeit digitally, in a little nod to comic book artist Jack Kirby. The text-heavy "Larry & Mary's Fire Story" is one of five interviews I did for the book, trying to tell a cross-section of OTHER people's fire stories in their own words, in addition to mine. Some of them are pretty dramatic.

This is the first time a big chunk of "A Fire Story" has been released to the wild. I'm nervous.

Monday, January 28, 2019

LumaCon 2019: The LumaConniest

I had my usual wonderful time Saturday at my favorite event on the comics convention circuit, LumaCon. Held in a sprawling community center in Petaluma, Calif., it's everything you want your con to be: low key, family friendly, free admission, and organized by librarians trying to spark and guide kids' passions for graphic literature. Guest artists get a gift basket and, if you know where to look, a free bottle of IPA donated by the excellent local brewery Lagunitas. They make us feel welcome.

I think my daughters Laura and Robin find LumaCon nearly as charming as I do, since this year they got roped into organizing the costume contest when they weren't watching my table. I didn't even have much to sell but sat at a table anyway, just for the opportunity to talk to enthusiastic kids about making comics.

My table set up, on a tablecloth borrowed from my girls. I've got copies of my books (just one each, not for sale). Front and center is a stack of double-sided posters of my original "Fire Story" that I sell for a few bucks to cover printing costs. Postcards advertising my forthcoming graphic novel (thanks, Abrams!). A portfolio of original art pages from the graphic novel so I can talk about how drawings get turned into books. On the little tablet I loop a slideshow about my various projects and how I made them (the photo that happens to be showing now is of my family in the early days of "Mom's Cancer").

It never fails: a kid comes up to the table with a parent or grandparent in tow. The kid and I are talking about comics, and I look up to see the realization dawning on their adult that, "Oh! Comics are a real thing that grown-up people actually do!" Sometimes you can see their faces shift from vague embarrassment to beaming pride. Their kid just got ten times cooler. That never happens at a bigger con.

Of course this year, like last, I talked to a lot of folks about the fire. I had one copy of my Fire Story graphic novel to show off, and wanted to let everyone know it comes out March 5 and I'll be doing a lot of local signings and such (to be announced soon!) to support it. I think I sold a few advance copies.

My other great reason for doing LumaCon is hanging out with my cartooning friends.

Pics and Captions:

One of LumaCon's heroic librarian organizers, Nathan Libecap of Casa Grande High School.

My pal Jason Whiton, whose 700-page book on Mort Walker is the finest biography and tribute the late cartooning legend could have hoped for.

Paige Braddock, whose new "Jane's World" collection I bought. Twenty years of Jane! Somehow I missed taking a photo of pal Lex Fajardo ("Kid Beowulf"), whose table was directly across from Paige's. 

Cartoonist Shaenon Garrity ("Skin Horse") and her husband Andrew Farago, author/editor and curator at the Cartoon Art Museum (CAM) in San Francisco. Their young son Robin was there, too, but dived under the table when he saw my camera. Andrew and I talked about a "Fire Story" exhibition we'll do at CAM in the spring, and then I bought the "Zombie Gnome" book Shaenon and Andrew did together because who wouldn't?

Thom Yeates has drawn thousands of comics and characters in his distinguished career, and is now the artist for the comic strip "Prince Valiant," whose pedigree for top illustration talent is unmatched . . .

. . .  which is why I was thrilled to buy a page of "Prince Valiant" art from him, which will hang in a place of honor on my Wall O' Art, just as soon as I have a wall. 

Tom Beland, whose graceful liquid linework I admire and envy, gave a chalk talk. Tom recently transitioned from ink-on-paper to full digital drawing with greater ease and enthusiasm than anyone I've ever seen. Pixels or pens, his art and storytelling are beautiful.
It's not a comics convention without some Jedi and Rebel scum stinking up the place.
Craft tables. Lots of kids made and decorated cardboard shields and such.

Contestants line up on stage for the cosplay competition.

Younger cosplayers didn't compete, but took part in a costume parade that weaved throughout the convention.

Why I love LumaCon. BTW, I always ask parents' permission before photographing their kids. Unless, like, they're in a costume parade or something.

The man on the left is a hero because he stands for the best ideals of liberty and justice. The man on the right is a hero because he stands on two-foot-tall stilts.
One of the main purposes of LumaCon is to mix young people interested in comics with older people actually making comics. These girls' table was next to mine. They offered homemade stickers for $1 each, and they sold about a million of them. I could learn a lot about product development and marketing from them.
Out back, live-action role players (LARPers) chased each other around with swords and staffs, with supervision.

Cart of deadly (?) swords ready to fortify LARPing legions.

So went the fifth annual LumaCon, and the fifth I've attended. It occurred to me this year that the event is starting to build some history for itself. Nathan Libecap told me that some of the students who attended the first LumaCon as child fans are now coming back as high school teens selling work of their own. Maybe in another five years, some of those same kids will be tabling as published professionals! What a neat legacy that would be.

Meanwhile, I'll keep coming as long as they'll let me. It's a great day with people who love comics for all the right reasons.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Trolley Molly Don't Love Harold

We have a tradition in these parts, come fire or rain (Cliff: "Yes, my friends, I've seen fire and I've seen rain." Norm: "Cliffy, EVERYBODY'S seen fire and rain."): the annual singing of the greatest Christmas carol by, in my opinion, the greatest cartoonist of all time, Walt Kelly. You know the tune. Join in, with unctuous boisterity.

 My best wishes to you all.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Although A Fire Story won't be released until March 2019, many reviewers have received rough-draft galleys (black and white, with incomplete artwork and edits) and are starting to weigh in. So far, it augurs well.

Waiting for a book to be published is unnerving. My work is done, it's out of my hands and committed to print. Nothing more I can do. It's like standing backstage waiting for the curtain to rise on opening night--for four months.

Jittery, you look for signs. What are people saying? How are pre-orders going? Uncertainty gives early reviews a lot more weight than they might otherwise have. A bad one could be devastating; a good one electrifying.

It looks good so far.

My book's first review was a starred review from Kirkus, which is kind of a big deal. "Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck." Kirkus is very influential in the book trade and the "star" is a real plus.

Publishers Weekly lists "A Fire Story" as one of its Top Ten Comics & Graphic Novels of next spring. This isn't a full review, but PW's Calvin Reid had been a real supporter of my past work and his opinion means a lot to both me and people in the industry.

At Study Breaks, Sarah Brown listed the six "Most Anticipated Graphic Novels of 2019." One of them is mine. It's in good company, including books by the Hernandez Brothers and George Takei.

And back in October, my friend Paul Gravett, the UK's leading comics critic and scholar, highlighted A Fire Story in an article for The Bookseller magazine, calling it "urgent first-person journalism, encompassing the wider stories of fellow survivors and global climate change."

Steady as she goes . . .

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How To Be A Cartoonist, by Charles H. Kuhn

Karen and I like vintage and antiques shops, especially as we look for cool things to put into our eventual new home. It feels good to have something with history, even if it isn't our history. Last weekend we found this neat instructional book from 1936, How To Be A Cartoonist, by Charles H. Kuhn. I bought it hoping to pick up some pro tips.

Kuhn was a working cartoonist who created freelance illustrations, editorial cartoons, and a syndicated comic strip for half a century, from 1919 to 1969. His comic strip "Grandma," which I hadn't heard of, began in 1947 when he was 55 years old and ran until he retired in '69. He also wrote a few other instructional books like the one I found.

Kuhn was good! I like his style. I'd call it a typical early-20th century inkpen (as opposed to brush) cartooning style that is more accomplished than most. His work reminds me of "Skippy" by Percy Crosby as well as "Gasoline Alley" by Frank King, under whom he studied. Solid craftsmanship!

That said, I think his instructional book is a mixed bag. Each page provides examples, and plenty of blank space to practice drawing yourself, but no real underlying theory. He doesn't explain very much. An eager student could copy Kuhn's characters and get very good at copying those particular figures without learning to construct their own. He gives examples of cartoon dogs and wrinkly cloth without discussing how dogs are built or why drapery folds the way it does.

The book's biggest drawback, I think, is that it ignores the craft of storytelling: how to put one drawing in front of another to show something happening and produce an emotional reaction--usually a laugh--at the end. A comic is more than one pretty drawing; it's a series of drawings that move through time.

On the other hand, I really like Kuhn's emphasis on drawing from life, and sketching quickly. Not enough cartoonists are comfortable with life drawing. I often say (and it's true) that I've met kids who can draw a giant laser-mounted dragon fighting an intergalactic fleet of spaceships, but can't draw a woman in a business suit talking on the phone. And drawing quickly forces the artist to focus and select what's most important, which is the essence of cartooning.

Also, I've never heard a word balloon called a "breather" before. That's new to me.

I can't say that Kuhn's book really gave me a lot of tips I can use, but I have a lot of respect for its author and his career, it's a great artifact of its times, and I'm proud to add it to my (someday) library.

(Clicking on the images should make them big enough to read.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Unlikely Chain of Kindness

A Little Monday Story about Kindness . . .

In 2007, Karen and I toured a bit of New England, which included a stop at the then-studio of cartoonist Guy Gilchrist in Connecticut. Although we called on Guy on his day off, he couldn't have been more generous, meeting us at his place with pizzas and talking about comics for a couple of hours. He's a real raconteur, and the kind of guy who took a piece of art off his wall and handed it to me because I effused about how much I'd admired and studied the artist.

With Guy in his Connecticut studio in 2007.

We kept in touch online. In April 2010, Guy gave me a nod in his comic strip "Nancy" when he drew my book "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?" in the lap of Aunt Fritzi! I asked Guy about getting the original art but he said it had been damaged and wasn't available, so I framed that day's "Nancy" cut from the newspaper and displayed it proudly on my wall, until that wall and everything else burned down a year ago.

A few weeks ago it occurred to me that "Nancy," which in 2010 was syndicated by United Features, now somehow belongs to Andrews McMeel Syndicate (I don't follow the business shenanigans), the same folks who run, which currently hosts my "Mom's Cancer" and "Last Mechanical Monster" comics online. And that my editor, Shena Wolf, also edits "Nancy," which is now done by Olivia Jaimes after Guy left the strip earlier this year.

I wrote to Shena asking if her files went back eight years, and if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition, she might be able to dig up my old "Nancy." I hoped maybe she'd email me a decent-resolution JPG or TIF I could print out and frame. Instead she sent me this beautiful print on fine paper that will look awesome in my new someday-studio.

So today I'm the beneficiary of the original kindness of Guy, who shared his time with me, then a few years later put my book in his strip . . . and eight years later, the kindness of Shena and the Andrews McMeel print team, who found that strip in their archives and sent me a print of it. I appreciate that unlikely chain of kindnesses almost more than the strip itself.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Now Showing

I just dropped off some "Fire Story" artifacts at the Museum of Sonoma County for their upcoming exhibition "From the Fire" marking the wildfires' one-year anniversary. I'm loaning them the notebook I drew the original "Fire Story" webcomic in, along with the markers, pencil, etc. that I drew it with, which the museum folks seemed thrilled to get. Best part for me: they'll also display the pink plastic pencil case I stole from my daughters. Hey, girls, you're in a museum! (Not that Laura isn't in a museum every day, but....)

I'm also loaning them Emmy. We debated including her. The museum has the same sensitivity I have: our community's disaster is nothing to celebrate. "Hooray, I got an award, sorry everything burned down!" I told them that to me the Emmy represents the larger world honoring our stories (not unlike the exhibition itself), and I'd trade it for my house in a second if I could. So I think they're going to show it with a little placard that says exactly that.

From what I just saw in early set-up, it's going to be a great exhibition. Opening reception is this Saturday, and it'll run through January.

In addition, pages of original art from my forthcoming graphic novel are scattered in museums and galleries all over the northern San Francisco Bay Area:

--Petaluma Arts Center, “Renewal Through Art,” Sept 29-Nov. 17

--Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, “From Fire, Love Rises,” Sept. 29-Jan. 6

--Sonoma State University Library Gallery, “Reflections: After the Fire,” Aug. 20-Dec. 14

--First Street Napa Gallery, Napa, “Art Responds: The Wine Country Fires,” Oct. 10-Dec. 15.

All these places are run by talented people who are passionate about capturing our history and telling all our fire stories. Luckily, I had enough pages to go around, barely. If you're in the area, take a look sometime in the next couple of months.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Associating with Editorial Cartoonists

I had a wonderful weekend as a guest and speaker at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), which this year including big contingents from Canada and New Zealand. It was held in Sacramento, Calif., which is a convenient 2.5-hour drive for me, and the folks of the AAEC, none of whom I knew before I showed up for Thursday night's reception, welcomed me as family. Maybe a long-lost cousin with a shady past.

I took pictures. Assume every name I mention is preceded by the phrase "celebrated editorial cartoonist." The convention was a challenge for me in that, while I was very familiar with many of the cartoonists' work, I had no idea what they looked like. Luckily, we wore badges.

The view from my room at the Citizen Hotel, a grand old building which, being a block from the capitol, decorates in a political theme. For example, all the rooms have framed political cartoons, which made the venue a perfect headquarters for the event. 
I had FDR in my bathroom. Would he seek a fourth term? Time will tell.
The first person I ran into even before checking in was Daryl Cagle, who is a cartoonist himself as well as a big distributor of other people's cartoons.
A blurry pic overlooking the opening reception at the California Museum, a few blocks from the capitol. You know it's the California Museum because it has Mickey Mouse statues. There are probably four or five Pulitzer Prize winners in this shot.
I got a very warm welcome from outgoing AAEC President Pat Bagley, who hand-painted his jacket of many happy memories, and Tim Eagan. I had long, interesting, deep-delving conversations with both.

Cartoonist, illustrator, and game designer JP "Jape" Trostle, who blew me away by gifting me a terrific souvenir booklet from the 1964 World's Fair his parents had collected; and incoming AAEC President Kevin Siers, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner who introduced my talk.
Comics scholar, and author of about a thousand books, R.C. Harvey. I don't think Bob would argue if I said he has a reputation as something of a curmudgeon, but I found him delightful. 
Scott Johnston is a local editorial cartoonist in Canada. His wife Becky is patient. Terrific people!
During a break in Friday's sessions, I introduced myself to Zunar. Holy crap, it's Zunar! He's a free speech hero who faced 40 years of imprisonment for sedition in his home country of Malaysia. For drawing cartoons. We had a lovely conversation about the value we both find in putting ink on paper (as opposed to pixels on a computer screen) as a tactile way to transfer your soul to the page. After my talk on Saturday, he stopped me to talk about Mom's Cancer. Zunar gave a brief speech in which he said, “In a country with no media freedom, cartooning is the only medium we have.... No dictator can withstand laughter.” Beyond simply meeting an artist like that, having a couple of real conversations with him was a lifetime highlight for me.

I was invited to talk about "A Fire Story" in terms of writing and drawing comics under, let's say, extreme duress. I gave some quick background on myself, especially how Mom's Cancer made the idea of creating a nonfiction comic about a deadly serious topic not quite as big a leap as you might imagine. I talked about process, showed the KQED video, and shared some pages from my upcoming graphic novel.

Of course I have no photos of my talk--I was busy at the time--but I think it went very well. People said they were moved. I signed a couple dozen mini-posters I'd brought and handed out a couple of galleys. Nobody seemed to regret inviting me. Big-name award-winning cartoonists sought me out afterward to talk comics. No big deal.

My friend, Bay Area cartoonist Jonathan Lemon (left), showed up on Saturday. Jonathan will be the subject of a major cartooning announcement soon; he wouldn't even tell me what it is, but remember: you didn't hear it here first. I sat between him and Ward Sutton, who does very smart work and gave what I thought was the best talk of the day on Friday.
One of these things is not like the others.... At the closing gala Saturday night--for which I was woefully underdressed but no one seemed to mind--with three of the best of the best: Rob Rogers, my close personal friend Zunar, and Jen Sorensen. This wasn't just a photo op that I muscled my way into, we stood around a table and talked for quite a while. Hey, nobody told me to bring a blazer!
I thought this was one of the nicest moments of the whole weekend. Behind the lectern at right is Charis Jackson Barrios, winner of the Locher Prize for young aspiring cartoonists. She's done some good work for The Nib and other outlets, and warmly but pointedly noted that she was one of the few women or persons with brown skin in the room. She got an appreciative laugh calling them (us?) "the nicest group of old white guys" she'd ever met. What made this a great moment for me was the woman standing at left: Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, beaming as happily and proudly as if Charis were her own daughter.
With Matt Bors, creator of The Nib. The Nib is, I think, a big deal, as an outlet and business model for cartooning in the 21st Century. Matt was there with his wife and toddler daughter, who melted my heart when she lurched up behind me and clutched the back of my knee for balance, just the way my own little blonde babies did so many years...sniff...sorry, I got something in my eye..... Anyway, Matt's cool, too.

I had good conversations (but no photographic proof) with Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer Prize Winner Jack Ohman, Pulitzer Prize Winner Mark Fiore, and even some people without Pulitzer Prizes.

An undercurrent running through the convention was diversification. A few panels touched on what editorial cartoonists can do with their skills as newspapers cut, shrink, and die out from under them. New markets. Matt Bors's The Nib is one successful online model. A few folks buttonholed me to ask about graphic novels, and I took a couple of minutes at the end of my talk to encourage them to consider it--they have the skills!--compare and contrast the forms, and describe the state of GN publishing as I understand it. I told them it's where the big money is; hope I didn't steer them wrong!

As I said in my talk's opening remarks, editorial cartoonists intimidate the hell out of me. They're smart, opinionated and fast. On a good day, I'd only claim to be maybe one-third of that. But it turns out they're also kind and generous, which I've found to be true of most cartoonists everywhere. I had a great time.

I took this picture driving home from Sacramento on Interstate 80 because the "Milk Farm" neon sign is visible from the roof of the UC Davis Physics Building about 5 miles away. I happen to know that because when I TAed astronomy labs in college, we'd aim a telescope at the sign and shine its light through a diffraction grating, producing a nice neon spectrum that perfectly illustrated how astronomers know what stars are made of. So I'm just happy it's still there. For science.