Thursday, March 30, 2023

National Pencil Day

Today is National Pencil Day. First thought: That's stupid. How important can a pencil be?

Second thought: I can actually think of a couple of pencils that are important to me.

The blue pencil is the one I use several hours each day to draw comics with. It's a mechanical pencil with "non-photo blue" lead. A quick note on making comics: traditionally, the art is drawn in pencil first, then gone over with black ink. When I scan my art for publication, the light blue lines get very faint and are easy to delete, so I don't need to erase them (in the old days, light blue was invisible in photocopies and photostats). This simple plastic pencil is probably my most essential tool.

The wooden pencil was made from a redwood tree that was in our yard before our 2017 fire. We know people who saved big sections of their downed trees to create beautiful tables and such, and we would have liked to do that, but at the time the logistics of cutting, moving, storing, slicing, drying, and crafting enormous pieces of wood were more than we could handle. We just needed the dead trees gone. 

However, Karen saved some chunks of our trees, and a woodworking coworker of hers turned them into a beautiful little bowl and this pencil for me. Honestly, I don't use it a lot because its graphite lead is thick, but every time I do it reminds me of a tree I loved and the kindness and skill of someone who knew how to make it into a pencil.

Happy National Pencil Day!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Two Things

Two unrelated things I did/will do:

This morning I preached the gospel of Graphic Medicine to a group of about 70 physicians and faculty of New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Rachel Kowalsky, who has more titles before and after her name than I can list, contacted her old friend, Editor Charlie, to ask if he knew anyone who could speak on the topic. Turns out, he did!

I was invited to Zoom in for 45 minutes during grand rounds, during which I gave a rousing overview of graphic medicine, with examples from "Mom's Cancer" and many others, as well as a quick comics-making workshop! It was a lot to cover in a short time, but the docs seemed very engaged and I think it went great. 

ALSO: On April 1, I'll be at the Schulz Museum talking about Popeye and Fleischer Brothers cartoons, on which I've become a bit of an expert what with making a graphic novel based on a Fleischer cartoon and all. I'm excited to be on a panel with film restorer Mauricio Alvarado, Max Fleischer's granddaughter Jane Fleischer Reid, and curator Benjamin Clark. How cool is that? (Answer: "Very.")

I'll be sure to mention that one again closer to the date!

Friday, March 17, 2023

I Had No Choice


Nearly two years ago, I pre-ordered a toy playset from an outfit called Mezco Toyz. Price was no object because I really had no choice: the set was from the Fleischer Brothers' 1941 "Superman" cartoon "The Mechanical Monsters." If anybody in the world had to have those toys . . .

There's probably a name for Mezco's business model but I don't know it. At least for this playset, they advertised for pre-orders and then (I guess) made as many sets as the promised funds allowed. If they get more orders, they make more toys. In any case, my set arrived today and I couldn't be more delighted. 

It's got Superman AND Clark Kent, plus a phone booth with a revolving platform so they can transform into each other (as the cognoscenti know, "The Mechanical Monsters" was the first time in history that Kent changed into Superman in a phone booth). Lois Lane with a little reporter's notebook. And the Robot! With detachable arms and propeller for flight or terrestrial modes, and optional flames for its flamethrowers! 

I could quibble with some of their proportions and design choices—I think the Robot in my Last Mechanical Monster book is maybe two feet taller—but chalk that up to "two different people looking at the same inconsistent source material and drawing different conclusions." They're great.

I don't expect anyone else to care, but I'm thrilled to have them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Celebrating the Ides of March

 Historically, the Ides of March were a Roman religious holiday, a deadline for settling debts, and a bad day to be Julius Caesar. To me, today will always be the date I became a Dad, a few weeks earlier than expected but not a moment too soon for Karen. Happy Birthday, Chiquitas. You were exhausting but exhilarating.



Monday, March 13, 2023

Behind the Story: The Last Mechanical Monster


Until this morning, my publisher Abrams and I were working with an overseas publisher to print a foreign-language edition of The Last Mechanical Monster. (I'm being deliberately cagey about the country and language.) It would have been a good book. In addition to reprinting the translated story, they wanted to include a ton of extra material in the back: sketches, early drafts, an interview, etc. Although most of the original artwork for The Last Mechanical Monster was lost when my house burned down in 2017, many digital scans and photos were on my computer back-up, which I grabbed on the way out. More survived than I'd thought.

Through no fault of mine or Abrams's--in fact, despite quite a bit of time and effort on our parts--the deal just fell apart. Frustrating and disappointing. However, since I had all this extra stuff pulled together, I thought I'd share it here. Lemons, meet lemonade.

First Draft
My very earliest draft of The Last Mechanical Monster goes back to about 2009, right after Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? I had always loved the Fleischer Superman cartoon, “The Mechanical Monsters,” and thought to create a sequel to it. Since the copyright to the cartoon expired in the 1960s, and I had no intention of using the characters of Superman or Lois Lane, I thought it was a story ripe to be continued. Whatever happened to the Inventor and his robots?


These are two preliminary animation drawings done by the Fleischer studios in 1941, in preparation for producing the “The Mechanical Monsters.” They show Superman fighting a group of loosely sketched robots in a scene that was never included in the final cartoon. I was lucky and grateful to acquire these pieces in a recent auction, and I am proud to hang them on my wall to inspire me.

My first draft of the story was very different from the published version. That draft featured a young journalist writing an article about the mechanical monsters. She had managed to find several robots that avoided destruction because they were absent from the inventor’s lair when Superman attacked. I made a list of every robot whose number appeared in the cartoon, and figured there were seven unaccounted for. 

In my story, one was later used during atomic bomb testing in the 1950s. One was turned into a carnival ride. Another was lost at sea while working on an oil rig. And one was in the barn of a retired engineer named Lillian, who was almost killed by the robot when she was a child and was now trying to restore it. The journalist interviewed the Inventor in prison. When she revealed that at least one of his robots had survived, he escaped and made his way to Lillian’s barn, where the three characters worked to bring the robot back to life.

I wrote and made rough-draft drawings (“thumbnails”) for the entire story, and had drawn about 100 pages of it, when I decided I needed to start over. I realized that the story I was telling was not actually the story I wanted to tell! I wanted to see the old Inventor back in his cavern lair, wearing his old tuxedo. I wanted him, not the journalist, to drive the story. I also wanted the story to be more fun! So I turned over those 100 pages and began drawing a new story on their backs. That became a webcomic that became the first draft of the book.  

These are some of the preliminary thumbnail drawings of the abandoned earliest draft.

Some of the nearly 200 pages I thumbnailed before realizing the story wanted to take me in a different direction.



In this draft, one of the surviving robots was used by the U.S. government during atomic bomb tests, leaving only the stubs of its legs fused to the desert floor. I would've worked in the poem "Ozymandias" somehow, because of course I would.


A two-page spread of the Robot doing training drills in the skies over Proto-Lillian's farmhouse.

The earliest draft of the story ended with Lillian's robot heroically destroyed, but another found rusting at the bottom of the ocean. The LAST Last Mechanical Monster?

Finished First-Draft Art
When working on the first-draft thumbnails, I did more-finished versions of some pages to see how they might look when done. At this point I thought they might be published in grayscale—shades of black, white and gray—and so prepared some pages that looked like this. This is still from the first abandoned draft featuring the journalist character that I later dropped.


Preparation
In preparation for doing The Last Mechanical Monster, I made a wood model of the robot so I could draw its proportions consistently and correctly. 


I also used a simple 3D rendering program (SketchUp) to make a digital model of the robot that I could pose and turn around in space. Here I used it to make an image of the robot that looks three dimensional when viewed through red-blue 3D glasses. I originally hoped to use a lot of 3D images in the story but later decided to tone it down to a couple of spots where it would have narrative impact.
 

Also, as part of my drawing and coloring process, I made up detailed color palettes for each character and location in the story. Each has a distinct feel and personality that is partly expressed through color. I try to be very thoughtful about how I use color. It is a tool that can convey meaning or evoke emotions without a reader even realizing it. My challenge is understanding how to use that tool most effectively for the good of the story. I wrote quite a bit more about my approach to color in The Last Mechanical Monster in an earlier post.

Process
I make comics the old-fashioned way. Although many of my friends and colleagues have gone to digital art, I still take great joy in putting ink on paper. That’s the fun part for me. I don’t expect to ever stop. However, for The Last Mechanical Monster, I did letter and color the story using Photoshop and a typeface made from my own hand lettering. 

After I write and edit a script, and typically draw some very rough thumbnails, I pencil the artwork using light blue pencil on Bristol board paper. I use blue pencil because in the old days it did not photostat or photocopy, rendering it effectively invisible. It is still very easy to delete after scanning, which means I never have to erase the lines.

After penciling, I then go over the blue lines in black ink. I use a variety of brushes, nibs, pens, and brushpens. The small “X” marks are areas I plan to fill in with black.

After that, I scan the art at a high resolution (at least 600 dpi), delete the blue pencil lines, and color and letter it. Preparing art for press is technically complicated, but at this point the page is essentially ready to publish. 

***********

Back to me in the present: Wouldn't that have been neat material to include with the book? I was looking forward to what might have been the definitive "artist's edition" of The Last Mechanical Monster (albeit it in a language I don't understand).

Alas.

The Last Mechanical Monster taught me a couple of lessons that maybe others can learn from. First, the many months of work I did on the aborted first draft weren't wasted. I had to do that preliminary work, and draw those 100 pages, to get to the story that I really wanted to tell. It was kind of a sucky process and I wish I'd figured it out sooner, but it worked. 

So Lesson One: Don't fall for the Sunk Cost Fallacy: "Oh, I already put so much time and work into it, I can't start over." If you have a better idea, start over. I didn't regret it for a second.

Lesson Two: From initial idea to earliest draft to self-published webcomic to GoComics.com webcomic to published graphic novel took something like 14 years, constantly evolving as it went. I was doing other work at the same time (including A Fire Story, another book idea that it turns out is never gonna happen, and yet another book idea that might still happen), but The Last Mechanical Monster was always percolating on a back burner. 

I think there's a fine line: don't waste your whole life banging your head on the brick wall of one fruitless project, but if you think you've got a nugget of something good, grind and hone and polish and shine it for as long as it feels like you're making progress toward something better. There's a chance you'll end up with a pile of sand, but also a fair chance you'll produce a fine little gem. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

On the Same Page in Claremont

We arrived early, to find lawn signs ringing the community center! Yes, of course I took one (or three) home.

I'd say yesterday's talk and book signing capping off the Claremont (Calif.) Friends of the Library's "On the Same Page" program went great! The Friends chose "A Fire Story" as their community book of the year, and in the past several weeks hosted related events on fire safety and disaster preparedness. About 70 people came out on a lovely southern California Saturday to hear my story. Knowing that this was the first graphic novel many of them had read, I also made my best case for comics as a respectable literary medium. May have made a few converts.

A good overview of the room and crowd as my talk got started.


Explaining--maybe even evangelizing--about why on earth someone would tell the story of a firestorm in the form of a comic. I am passionate on the subject.

Signing books afterward. The library had distributed dozens of copies throughout the community in advance of my talk, so a lot of people brought theirs along to sign. The Friends also sold a few at the event.

My sisters Brenda and Lis live not too far from Claremont so they got to come, along with Lis's boyfriend Randy, which was very cool. It was also an opportunity to meet some Facebook friends in real life, including Susan Kullmann, who moved to Claremont after losing her home in the same fire I did, and comics writer and editor Barbara Randall Kesel, who I wish I'd had more time to talk shop with. Also got to know Chris Sayler and her husband Dave, who know my Dad! It was Chris who brought my book to the attention of the Claremont folks in the first place. All terrific.

The Friends of the Library seemed satisfied with my efforts and were as welcoming and kind as could be. Their hospitality extended to a wine bar after the event, which was a nice chance to wind down and get better acquainted. There are no better people on the planet than people who love books. Many thanks to them!

Later at the wine bar. A fine opportunity to relax and get to know people. A wonderful group of Friends.


Thursday, February 23, 2023

Rocketeering

My friends at the Cartoon Art Museum are holding an art auction this spring to celebrate the wonderful comic book (and Disney film but we're not talking about that) The Rocketeer and its creator, Dave Stevens. You may recall a similar auction three years ago featuring many cartoonists' tributes to Calvin & Hobbes. CAM is doing the auction in concert with an exhibition of Stevens's artwork this summer, and proceeds will go to both CAM and research on hairy-cell leukemia, from which Stevens died at the age of 52. 

And I get to contribute!

It occurred to me that this might make a good "process post" about how I make a comic, keeping in mind that this project is different from how I usually work. I'll point out how as I go.

The Rocketeer is an action-adventure story set in the Art Deco 1930s. Stevens mixed real-life people and places with his tales of barnstorming pilot Cliff Secord, who zips through the sky with a rocket on his back righting wrongs. Cliff is a young, dashing but reluctant hero, perfectly played in the movie by Billy Campbell. I joked about the 1991 Disney movie earlier; CAM told me that we had the Stevens family's blessing but not Disney's, so we could use material from the comics but not the film. Luckily, the film is such a close copy of the comics that almost everything in it showed up in the comics first.

As the guy who wrote two graphic novels called Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? and The Last Mechanical Monster, I thought this was right up my alley.

My first idea was to draw something tall and skinny, so I could show the Rocketeer blasting into the sky. I did this VERY small thumbnail on a sticky note just to check the proportions and composition. That's the only preliminary sketch I did.

It ain't much, but it did the job.

I drew on a piece of watercolor paper 1 foot wide and 3 feet tall. I don't have a drawing board that big, but I do have scrap pieces of wood left over from a bookshelf project, so I taped the paper onto that and began penciling, to be followed by inking over the pencil lines.

Watercolor paper taped to a melamine board, with the border lightly penciled.

In most of my comics work, I pencil with light "non-photo" blue pencil that readily disappears when it's scanned. That way I don't have to erase and risk dulling or smearing the ink. But since this is meant to be a finished piece of art that someone might want to hang on a wall, I penciled with a regular ol' Number 2 that I would erase once I inked over it.

Using reference to pencil the Bulldog Cafe, which was a real place in Los Angeles that Dave Stevens used in his Rocketeer comic book, as on the page at top left. I added palm trees because that says "L.A." to me.

The little man in the drawing is Cliff's mechanic buddy Peevy. The woman--well, that's a digression. In the comics, Stevens used the real-life pin-up model Bettie Page as the direct inspiration for Cliff's girlfriend, Betty, but that wasn't going to fly in a Disney film for more than one reason. In the movie her name is Jenny and she's played more demurely by Jennifer Connelly. My heroine isn't dressed like Betty, Bettie, or Jenny--I googled "1930s fashion" and picked a pretty dress--but she has Betty/Bettie's trademark bangs and jet-black hair.

After penciling the whole thing, I inked it using a brush and India ink, brush pens, and Micron pens, then gently erased my pencil lines with a soft kneaded eraser.

Inked.

I don't like making comics on watercolor paper. In fact, I recently had a bad and time-wasting experience with it. It's just not the right medium for fine ink lines. The standard paper for cartooning is Bristol board, which is like a real nice cardstock. But I went with it on this project because I planned to watercolor the picture, and Bristol board is lousy for watercolors. 

Watercoloring in progress. At top is a sheet I made showing what many of my watercolors actually look like on paper, which is important to know! The black plastic tray is to contain the paint and water in case I knock over the cup. (For the same reason, I keep my bottle of India ink in a ceramic potted-plant saucer. You don't make that mistake twice!) 

After I finished watercoloring, I let it dry a bit and then scanned it so CAM could see what I was burdening them with. Since this is the scan that'll also advertise the eventual auction on eBay, I hardly fiddled with it at all, as I might with something meant for publication. What you see is what you'll get.

Peevy, Betty (?), and the Bulldog. I don't know why "Tamale" is singular, but it was like that on the actual cafe. Maybe they only had one.

Cliff and a wingman. BTW, the airplane is also historically accurate, a whimsical design called a "Gee Bee" that Stevens loved and used in his comic.


Done! Now I'll just give it a while to thoroughly dry before getting it to CAM. Somehow.

And that's pretty much it! Start to finish, the whole thing might have taken me six or seven hours spread over two days, though some of that time was spent literally watching paint dry.

I'm gratified that I can do something unique to support a great museum and pay tribute to a comics creator who did terrific work and died far too young. There's also something satisfying in starting with a blank sheet of paper and in a few hours creating something that never existed before and nobody but me could have done in quite the same way. I always like that.

I'll be sure to shout out when the CAM auctions begin, and shout louder when mine goes on the block. Happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Powerhouse!

If you watched as many Warner Bros. cartoons growing up as I did, the song "Powerhouse" by Raymond Scott is embedded in your DNA and you never even knew it. Here's the original version by the artist; if you don't have the patience to sit through 3 minutes, forward to about 1:25 and wait for the "A-ha!" moment. 

BTW, you may notice that the Raymond Scott Quintet has SIX musicians. The article explains that Mr. Scott feared the word "sextet" was so racy it'd distract listeners' minds from the music.

Here's a link to a great Cartoon Brew article about this remarkable composition and its decades of dedicated service to more entertainment than you can imagine, and below is a compilation of a few places you may have heard it. These Looney Tunes excerpts are just a small sampling. Composed in 1937, the tune is still being used in cartoons today!


Monday, February 6, 2023

A Magic Lantern

My magic lantern, with its orange-bordered glass slide in place. You just slide it sideways by hand to change the image.

I have a fascination with pre-electric home entertainment that people enjoyed before they could flip a switch. For example, I love old-timey spring-cranked phonographs and 3-D stereo viewers. With that in mind, last weekend's antique-store find was a charming old magic lantern--basically a flame-illuminated slide projector--plus 12 glass slides in their original box!

This magic lantern isn't marked so I don't know much about it. Some people's parlors had fancy ones, gleaming with fine wood cases and brass fittings, but I think mine is more on the cheap-children's-toy end of the scale. The slide box has no date clues. Magic lanterns have a long history, dating from the 1600s through the 1920s or so. Folks used to go to magic lantern shows in theaters. Just based on the style of the slides' artwork and some context clues--i.e., drawings of ships and bicycles but no autos or aircraft--I think I'm looking at late 19th or very early 20th century. Hard to tell.

Ten of my twelve slides laid out on my lightbox. The slide second down on the right shows both a penny-farthing bicycle, invented around 1870, and a more modern "safety" bicycle, which supplanted penny-farthings in the late 1880s. So my best guess for the age of the slides--which I suspect but can't prove were bought with the lantern--is 1890 to 1900ish.

Light was provided by an oil- or alcohol-burning wick inside a lensed cone, which is nested inside a housing that holds the slides and a second lens. A chimney (still quite sooty inside) carried away heat and smoke. Not wanting to set my house on fire (again), I hung a small LED inside the chimney where the flame would have been, which works great! I just tried it out in a dark closet, and projected a nicely focused image maybe 6 feet. Farther = dimmer. 

The magic lantern disassembled. At right is a burner with its wick poking out. The middle tapered cylinder fits on top of that, with a fat round lens focusing the flame's light. Then the housing at left fits over the cylinder, with the second brass-lined lens sliding in and out to focus the image. Like I say: clever!

Part of what so grips me about these technologies is how clever they were, and how much fun they were, without electricity. I also like to imagine someone having the first phonograph or stereo viewer or magic lantern in the neighborhood. What a thrilling thunderclap it must have been to suddenly have recorded music, or 3D photos of exotic locales, or drawings glowing on the wall! What a world-expanding eye-opener!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Going aboard the Gray Ghost, with San Francisco in the background. The Hornet is berthed in Alameda, where they (used to) keep the nuclear wessels.

Karen and I spent the day at the USS Hornet Museum, and a nippy but unusually crystal-clear day it was. San Francisco, across the Bay, looked close enough to touch. 

THERE'S the City across the Bay! She's a beauty.

As I might have mentioned once or a hundred times, my daughter Laura is the COO of the Hornet, a retired aircraft carrier that is now the coolest museum in the Bay Area. Karen visited today because the Hornet is looking into what kind of services it could provide in a disaster, and Karen is an expert in that. Personally, I can't think of a safer disaster shelter than an aircraft carrier--immune to earthquake, firestorm, tidal waves, whatever you've got, plus hundreds of bunks already installed--and it's my personal zombie-apocalypse destination. 

I went today because years ago I built a "Gravity Box" for the Hornet's Apollo Mission exhibition. It has two handles visitors can pull to see what 24 pounds on Earth would feel like on the Moon. (I won't keep you in suspense: 4 pounds. Also, the Hornet has an Apollo exhibition because it's the ship that picked up Apollos 11 and 12 from the Pacific Ocean.) It was past time to refurbish the box, which has had a lot of love that, most notably, eroded away much of the trim that held the top of the box together. The first generation of trim was PVC, which didn't stand up well to thousands of legs and little bellies rubbing against it. Worse, when the PVC disintegrated, it left little finishing nails sticking out. The main goal of today's work, besides a general inspection and cleaning, was to replace the old trim with aluminum L-bracket that I expect to hold up better.

[Sidebar: designing stuff to hold up to thousands of uses, including some people abusing it in ways you can't imagine, is a real skill. I don't know how people at places like Disneyland do it. Respect.]

Part of the Apollo Mission exhibition, with the Gravity Box at lower center.

My Gravity Box pre-refurbishment. Notice especially how the bottom piece of trim has disappeared. The rest of the trim was no great shakes, either. There's also a fine powder of sawdust where the handles enter the box due to thousands of mighty piston strokes.

And post-refurbishment, cleaner and more durable, I hope.

Karen's work took a couple of hours more than mine, which left me a lot of time to explore the ship and lounge in the sun on the flight deck. It wasn't crowded; at one point, I had the whole deck to myself. You should go visit and make it more crowded. If you're lucky, you'll get a day as beautiful as mine.

The hangar deck's got planes and helicopters and spaceships and Airstream trailers, oh my!


Sunday, January 29, 2023

LumaCon 2023

My favorite event on the comics convention calendar did not disappoint! LumaCon 2023, the best free little con I know, put on by librarians in Petaluma, Calif., was a hoot. I'll dump some photos below, but short version: I had a good time with old friends, made a couple of new ones, talked to some very talented and driven kids about comics, and surprisingly sold more books than I think I have at any other con.

Seriously. I was telling Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum, how surprised I was to see my books selling out, and he pointed out that people attend an event like, say, Comic-Con International in San Diego for a lot of reasons: movies, TV shows, video games, cosplay, the grand spectacle of it all. Whereas people go to a convention run by librarians largely because they like to read. I don't do well with a crowd that's there for Wolverine, but with people looking for something kind of interesting and different, I can do all right. 

My spread. I had a couple of very creative and entrepreneurial kids sitting beside me and "Kid Beowulf" creator Lex Fajardo behind me. Surrounded by talent.

In addition to Andrew and his wife, cartoonist Shaenon Garrity, and their son Robin, other friends with tables included cartoonist Tom Beland, cartoonist/illustrator Emily C. Martin, and cartoonist Lex Fajardo, who sat right behind me. Everybody told me I had to meet Gio Benedetti, a cartoonist who also does workshops and puts together anthologies of teens' comics, so I did and he was great. Nathan Libecap, librarian at Casa Grande High School, and his team of colleagues and volunteers made all the pros feel very welcome and ran a smooth show. Other friends dropped by, including writer/teacher Jason Whiton, cartoonist Denis St. John, librarian/gallery wrangler Loretta Esparza, and friends Kathy Bottarini and Kristin Hendricks. Best of all, my daughters Laura and Robin helped staff my table for a couple of hours, which was wonderful because they're much better salespeople than I am. 

Plus LumaCon still has its bake sale. If your comics convention doesn't have a bake sale, you're doing it wrong.

The Bake Sale. Oh yeah.

In some press promoting LumaCon, Nathan had made the point that its focus is on young creators and the pros are pretty much invited as bait to lure people in (he put it nicer than that). I teased him a bit about that, and he reassured me that I would always be welcome but also told me something very interesting: since the first LumaCon in 2015, some of the artists who started out on the amateur kids' side of the room have begun to migrate over to the professional adult side. As they aged, at least a few of them kept their passion, grew their skills, and are now getting real pay and recognition for their creative work!

Holy Moley! How wonderful is that? I can only imagine how gratifying it must be for the LumaCon organizers to see the seeds they planted with their first mini-convention years ago begin to bloom like that. Nathan also confirmed that LumaCon has become a model that other cities, libraries and schools are looking to emulate, which I can confirm because I've been invited to one of them later this year.

Nathan was easy to find because he was everywhere all at once.

Most years I can count on having an "Only at LumaCon" moment, and this is this year's:

One of the tables was selling work from Alchemia, a local program to "nuture the creative expression of individual with disabilities as a vehicle for personal growth and accomplishment," says their website. One of their artists, Justin, came by my table with his staff supporter Andy, and was absorbed by a couple pages of original artwork I'd brought because I like to talk to young artists about the process of turning drawings on paper into pages in a book. These particular pages were the two-page spread of skyscrapers on the title page of The Last Mechanical Monster, and Andy asked Justin if he'd like to talk to his art mentor about drawing something like that himself. I had an idea.

Those pages.

I figured that if they went to Justin's art mentor, they wouldn't even know what to ask for. I also figured I couldn't teach Justin how to draw skyscrapers in two-point perspective in just a few minutes. But if I could sketch it out for Justin and Andy, and then if they took that sketch to Justin's art mentor, it might be something they could work on together and really master. So I took a piece of paper and drew a line down the middle of it, then put two dots on the line, then drew a bunch of lines radiating from those dots, then drew a box and drew some windows on it and said, "That's exactly how I made those drawings, and you can, too."

Justin leaned in real close, gave me a warm, firm, two-handed handshake, and said, "You're the best artist on Earth."

I didn't argue the point.

Here's some pictures.


An overview of about half the Artists' Alley room, which was the heart of LumaCon. There were several vendors set up out in the lobby, and different activity rooms scattered around the Petaluma Community Center.

The other side of the room, showing me with my daughter, Robin, so I deduce this photo is by my other daughter, Laura.

Andrew Farago, Shaenon Garrity, and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Lex Fajardo

Emily C. Martin

One of my favorite art stylists, Tom Beland

Alchemia, with Justin and Andy

The Schulz Museum came, too!

Separate rooms were dedicated to playing with Legos as well as just sitting and drawing. I love that.

A stage in the Artists' Alley room was set up for crafts. This was very early in the day, they were swarmed later.

Kids outside lopped off each other's limbs with deadly swords. I'm surprised it didn't make the news.


I believe this brave young Jedi single-handedly captured an Empire outpost.

Like I said in my last post, LumaCon is just about the sincerest little con I know. They promise to keep having them, so if you're in the neighborhood next year I recommend it. Chances are good I'll be there, too.