Friday, September 23, 2022

The Intellectual Life #14

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 14:

We get a postcard in the mail from an outfit called Five Star Landscaping.

Karen: "They must be a lot better than those losers at Four Star Landscaping."

Me: "We should start a company called 'Six Star Landscaping!'"

Karen: "We should be Ten Scar--I mean, Ten STAR--Landscaping!"

Me: "Ten Scar?"

Karen: "Yeah. Ten Scar Landscaping."

Me: "Ten Scar Landscaping: We're Not That Good With Power Tools."

Fist bump.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Travels with Phil Frank

Antique Shop Find of the Day--maybe the Year! An original comic strip by Phil Frank. Frank did a lot of work in comics before he died in 2007, including two syndicated strips--"Farley" and "The Elderberries"--and a rare arrangement in which he continued his "Farley" strip exclusively for the San Francisco Chronicle, making him probably the last single-paper strip cartoonist in the business.

I'm 99% sure that's what this is: one of the "Travels with Farley" strips he did for the Chronicle, both because of its date (2002 was two years before The Elderberries) and its San Francisco-based subject matter. 

You're gonna ask and I'm not embarrassed to say: $24. The frame and matte are worth more than that.

My favorite part is a sticky note on the back of the frame, in Frank's hand, reading "Found it!! Had to use a backhoe!" and affixed with a 37-cent postage stamp. I imagine that Frank dug up and sent the strip to a friend who'd asked for it, with the stamp's "Kansas" theme cleverly echoing the strip. It's also darned good provenance. 

I never met Frank but I was a fan of his loopy stories and characters, and his loose, confident linework. I think I can confidently say that this art could not have found a better home.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Temblor Ahoy!

We had what felt to us like a major earthquake two hours ago. Karen and I were walking the dog when we heard a loud boom, the ground moved a LOT, our knees buckled, and steel lamp posts started swaying back and forth like old-fashioned metronomes. Turned out it was "only" a magnitude 4.4, but pretty much right under us. 

We hurried home as neighbors rushed out, everyone asking if everyone else was OK. Got home, found that the earthquake had shaken our front door's deadbolt into place so I had to borrow a neighbor's ladder to hop our fence and get in through an open back door. What a mess. Most drawers had opened, pictures shook askew, objects slid or leaped several feet off of shelves. What you've got to be careful about is opening kitchen cabinets when glassware has slid up against the door from the other side.

We're all right. One neighbor's shower door shattered; another saw cracks in their walls. Stuff formerly on garage shelves put six or seven dents in our car hood. After we assessed our house we checked on the home of some neighbors who are on vacation. They broke a lamp.

Karen and I were here for the '89 Loma Prieta quake, which was truly a major temblor--I'll never forget seeing cars bobbing on a blacktop parking lot like boats on the ocean--but that epicenter was 120 miles away. This was the biggest one either of us remembered feeling ourselves. Gave me new respect for a mere 4.4.

This pendulum clock went wonky and stopped ticking at 6:40 p.m.

A bedroom lamp and some pictures took a hit.

My dresser drawers all jolted open, and family photos either jumped off the wall or rocked off level.

My Eisner Award--as you may recall, a replacement for the one destroyed in the fire (thanks Charlie!)--lost its globe. I think I can fix it, it looks like it just bent and popped off its pins. But this thing may be snakebit!


Straightening pictures, we found a scuff mark on the wall showing that one of them swung surprisingly violently. How it stayed on the wall at all we'll never know.

It looks like the corner of this print swung up and hit the thermostat. Wowee!

This morning we noticed that our stove had walked itself about three inches out from the wall. When you report your earthquake observations to the USGS, one of their questions is whether any major appliances moved. Last night Karen answered "No." She'd like to take that back now.

I fixed my Eisner Award. The globe is held on by two pins, the top one of which screws through the mount. I straightened the pins (which bent when the globe got knocked out), unscrewed the top pin, and Presto! A Major Award repaired better than the leg lamp in "A Christmas Story."

All better now. I think it flew extra far because it's top heavy. Really launched it off the shelf into the middle of the room.

The proper big-picture way to look at an earthquake like ours is gratitude. By releasing pent-up energy in relatively little temblors that cause no deaths and minor damage, the faults beneath our feet stave off larger and more destructive quakes. Much better to have ten magnitude 4s than one magnitude 8. 

At least that's what I told myself as I sat awake at 2 a.m. listening to every creak and squeak in my house.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Intellectual Life #13

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 13:

There's a rock in our neighborhood that all the dogs like to pee on that we call "Pee Rock" because we're clever like that. This morning Riley took her turn.

Me: "Do you know Pee Rock's real name?"

Karen: "What."

Me: "Drain Johnson."

Karen: "What?"

Me: Because The Rock's real name is Dwayne Johnson. And dogs drain themselves on Pee Rock."

Karen (knowing where this is going): "This is NOT a peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple."

Me: "It could be."

Karen: "It definitely is not."

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

(The Internet tells me that the photo is of a fifth-grader's science project. It fits.)

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Made Local

A locally made magazine called "Made Local" interviewed me for an issue on the good and bad aspects of fire, as the five-year anniversary (!) of our firestorm approaches. Editor Jess Taylor and I exchanged questions and answers by e-mail (that's routine these days) and she published my replies like a first-person essay, which is unusual and I like it! Good or bad, what she printed is exactly what I wrote, so I can't complain about the reporting. Plus it's a big, attractive spread. 

Thanks, Jess!

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Pre-Order Savings at B&N

My friends at Abrams Books tell me that Barnes & Noble is offering a 25% discount on pre-ordered books through Friday, and suggest that "The Last Mechanical Monster" would be a very fine book to pre-order! Who am I to argue with my publisher? Check this link and be sure to use the code PREORDER25.

I always urge readers to support their local heroic independent bookstores, but not everyone has one of those anymore. And, honestly, my local B&N has been very good to me so I'm happy to steer the company some business. Plus, 25% is 25%! What a deal!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Veni, Vidi, Cartooni

I had a swell time at Saturday's Cartoon-A-Thon at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. Special thanks to museum education director Jessica Ruskin, who worked very hard to pull it off. I got to hang out with friends, many of whom I haven't seen in at least a few years, sell some books, and best of all talk to folks about comics and storytelling and their lives. I think in whole it was a fine celebration of the art, craft, entertainment and importance of cartooning, which I gather was the point. A good day! Here's some pictures.

Practically the first two people I ran into were Jeannie Schulz and Raina Telgemeier. It was a great day already and I'd just gotten there!

My daughters Laura and Robin came by with Karen, who took many of these pictures, to support their old man. A local bookstore had copies of A Fire Story to sell so I didn't offer that book, but sold some copies of Mom's Cancer and Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? When I can, I like to bring pages of original art so I can talk shop with people interested in how comics are made. A lot of people really like seeing how a drawing on paper gets turned into a page in a book, and I love talking about it!

An overview of the museum's Great Hall, lined with a gauntlet of cartoonists. My chair is the empty one at the left; I'm at bottom center, circling around the table to tackle the nice startled lady in the purple shirt, who is local historian and journalist Gaye LeBaron. We're acquainted and I just had to say "Hi."

Heroic local independent bookseller Copperfield's had many of the participating cartoonists' books for sale, including mine.

On my side of the hall, I sat beside Schulz Studio artist Bryan Stone, "Gender Queer" creator Maia Kobabe, bestselling "Hazardous Tales" creator Nathan Hale, and "Poorly Drawn Lines" cartoonist Reza Farazmand.

Across the way were (from right) one of my favorite cartoonists Tom Beland, Schulz Studio editor and "Kid Beowulf" creator Lex Fajardo, Schulz Studio writer Jason Cooper, and way back in the green shirt, cartoonist Denis St. John. More cartoonists were farther to the left, including "Prince Valiant" artist Thomas Yeates. 

The day kicked off with a presentation in which former museum director Karen Johnson presented Jeannie Schulz with a book that had been secretly compiled to mark the museum's 20th anniversary. Jeannie seemed a bit nonplussed by the attention, maybe even annoyed, but remarked, "This makes up for a lot of things that burned in my house," which touched me. To create the book, museum staff asked many people to write or draw what the museum means to them. A drawing of mine is in there....

....and this is that drawing. I thought to myself, "Why does someone start a museum? What do they hope to achieve?" I think the answer is: They want it to continue long after they're gone. So I imagined a time two centuries from now, when our descendants are living in their Jetsons future and kids will still gather at the museum to read the first "Peanuts" comic strip.

Before Jeannie was given her book, Raina Telgemeier was given the Sparky Award, bestowed by the Schulz Museum and the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco for significant contributions to cartooning and "embodying the talent, innovation, and humanity of Schulz." Well deserved.

You'll notice that trophy doesn't have Raina's name on it. Because it arrived at the last minute, she later had the fun of applying the plaque herself.

Raina did two ticketed book signings that sold out.

Me, Raina, Lex.

After the main event, the museum hosted a taco party for Cartoon-A-Thon participants and guests. "Pearls Before Swine" cartoonist Stephan Pastis didn't take part in the event but showed up for the free food.

I'm not posting pictures of the taco party because I think everyone there understood it wasn't a public event. Instead, here's a picture I took of a bottle of the museum's house "Flying Ace" chardonnay, bottled by Jeannie, which I got signed by cartoonists Raina Telgemeier, Stephan Pastis, Paige Braddock, Bryan Stone, Lex Fajardo, Thien Pham, Reza Farazmand, Nathan Hale, Thomas Yeates, and Maia Kobabe. What I like best about these events is the "world's colliding" aspect of them--cartoonists whom you wouldn't expect to have much in common stylistically or thematically can always talk shop. You may recall I had a similar souvenir from the museum's 15th anniversary event that did not survive my fire, so this is a special memento for me. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Schulz Cartoon-A-Thon!

I'll be at the Charles M. Schulz Museum next Saturday, helping them commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mr. Schulz's birth and the 20th anniversary of the museum, which I've been a proud member of since it opened. There'll be special guests, fun activities, Snoopy, and more than a dozen cartoonists at tables arrayed through the museum's Great Hall, which is where I'll be. 

This photo's from the 15th anniversary event, to give you an idea of what I expect the Cartoon-A-Thon to look like. I'm near the right edge of the photo in a black t-shirt.

I've done similar events there before, most recently for the 15th anniversary, and they're fun for both participants and guests. A local bookstore will be selling copies of "A Fire Story" but I haven't decided if I'll sell copies of my other books. I like money as well as any red-blooded American capitalist, but I'd really rather just sit and draw and talk to people about comics than guard a cash box. Maybe I'll bring a few for credit card purchases. I dunno.

I love having this museum 10 minutes from my home. I think it's just the right size and design for its subject: classy, graceful, not too small or big or grandiose. The staff and volunteers are great. Plus it's set right in the middle of the places Schulz worked and loved, his studio and ice arena (although Schulz helped plan the museum, he died before it was built). You can still feel his spark in the place. I've told this story before: whenever I'm working on a story and get stuck, I go to the ice arena's Warm Puppy Cafe--the same place Schulz ate his daily English muffin--buy a basket of fries and a Coke, and sit in that comics cathedral until I figure it out. Hasn't failed me yet. 

I love the place and will always do anything I can for it. If you're in the area, check it out.

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Intellectual Life (#12)


A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 12:

Karen and I are driving through the countryside and see a large herd of cows.

Karen: "Cows."

Brian: "Mooooo."

Brian (louder and deeper): "MOOOOO!"

Brian (in a lovely tenor): "MOOeeeeuuuaaauuuoooOOO!"

Karen looks at Brian quizzically.

Brian: "That's a cow trying to sing 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning' from 'Oklahoma.'"

Karen: "That's oddly specific."

A minute passes.

Brian: "The real question is how a cow would have heard the soundtrack to 'Oklahoma.'"

Another minute passes.

Karen: "MooTube."

Celebratory high fives and fist bumps all around.

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

(Cartoon is "The Far Side" by Gary Larson. duh.)

Friday, July 29, 2022

Mr. McFly! Mr. McFly!

Just dropped on my porch: one (1) copy of my forthcoming The Last Mechanical Monster, flown from the printer with a brief detour to New York City. It is strange to see this thing, which until now has been pieces of paper scattered around my desk and electrons glowing on my computer monitor, as a finished physical object. It's heavier than I expected. As I just joked to Editor Charlie, he must have used the good thick paper on this one.

Here's a quick peek at my life: my wife Karen took this photo, and emailed it to me so I could post it here. The subject line of that email is "Mr. McFly!" because at the end of "Back to the Future," Biff runs into the house yelling, "Mr. McFly! Mr. McFly! This just arrived! I think it's your new book!" My family has actually said that to me when previous books arrived, and it's a tradition I enjoy. George McFly and I may be more alike than I care to admit.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

More Sketch-A-Thonning

In addition to hosting an in-person Sketch-A-Thon at Comic-Con, the Cartoon Art Museum does a virtual Sketch-A-Thon in which patrons can commission art from artists for $15 and up, depending on complexity, size, etc. So in addition to drawing live last week, I'm back home drawing . . . well, I'm still drawing live, but nobody's hovering over me watching.

The idea is to get your favorite character drawn in a given artist's style, and the bigger the mismatch between those two the more interesting, I think. Honestly, the virtual Sketch-A-Thon is a better deal, because at a con I have to get a drawing done in 15 or 20 minutes, while at home I take a ri-DIC-ulous amount of time. Apparently I don't know how to half-ass it, and sometimes I wish I did.

I got five requests through regular channels, plus two back-door requests from people who contacted me privately after donating to CAM. I trust them. Here are the first five. Ink (brush pen and Micron pen) with colored pencil on paper.

Request was for Batman. Whenever you get a chance to draw Batman, draw Batman.

The request was for Superman villain Brainiac, the 1980s robot version (Brainiac has had a lot of different looks over the years. Yeah, I had to look this one up.)

Request was for the Marvel villain Cobra, who's been around for decades but was new to me. I don't think he gets through too many revolving doors with that tail-cape, but it's a cool design.

Request was for the character Kassandra from the Assassins Creed: Odyssey video game. I had to write my daughters for help on this one; since references turned up a few different looks for her and Robin and Laura play the game, I had to ask "Is this what she looks like?"

I think this was my favorite: the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, a Disney deep dive from 1963. This guy was a sort of Robin Hood type, stealing from the rich to pay the King's exorbitant taxes upon innocent townspeople. Disney made three "World of Disney" episodes that were later edited into a movie. The lead character was played by the great Patrick McGoohan! I like the off-beat requests.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Comic-Con 2022

Comic-Con Photo Dump! We had fun. I saw some friends but not all I'd hoped to. On Thursday, I had nice conversations with Tom Richmond, Dave Kellett, Chip Kidd, Peter Maresca and others. Had a howdy/handshake/hug with many more, including Karen Green, Stu Rees, Andrew Farago, Shaenon K. Garrity, and was especially happy to meet Johanna Draper Carlson in real life after a decade-long virtual relationship. Did a panel for Abrams Books, drew some sketches in exchange for donations to the Cartoon Art Museum, ate some pasta. 

Home away from home, the Abrams Books booth. It's not just the little counter in the foreground, but the booth in back that's twice as big. The smaller counter is for book signings; I'll be there later.

Editor Charlie! We slipped our masks off for just a moment for this shot. Otherwise, attendees are being very mask-diligent.

Two of the comics that started it all: the actual first appearance Spider-Man and first issue of Superman, going for "if you have to ask you can't afford it" amounts.

Two Lokis (Lokii?). In general, it feels to me like there's a lot less cosplay this year, and less elaborate.

For the Cartoon Art Museum's Sketch-A-Thon, cartoonists sit for an hour and draw anything a patron wants for $15. It's a good time for a good cause. As you look at the following drawings, keep in mind these are sketches done fast, not finished pieces.

One of my sketches. This was for a patron I didn't actually meet who had a standing order for mermaids in a variety of costumes and themes. He provided several pages of examples of the sorts of costumes he had in mind. One of his themes was "St. Patrick's Day" so I went with that.

Another patron saw me drawing Captain America and said, "Hey, can you do the Hulk smashing?" and I could and did.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a classy display of comics that have been banned in various places, including books by my friends Maia Kobabe, Raina Telgemeier and virtual pal Jerry Craft. Just a reminder that this is the 21st Century.

A terrific Doctor Octopus.

Here's a nice summary of our Abrams ComicArts panel at Comic-Con (with my name misspelled only once, so that's a win) from Nancy Powell at The Beat. 

What the article doesn't say--and would have no reason to--is that I went out of my way to praise Abrams's design team, including Pam Notarantonio and Charice Silverman, who worked on "Last Mechanical Monster." Abrams designs books better than just about anybody, and they enhanced my book immeasurably. As I said on the panel, I bring them raw meat and they turn it into a gourmet meal.

I also encouraged the audience to build their own robot army by buying 30 copies of my book and gluing together the paper robot dolls in the back. To be used for good or evil, no judgment on my part.

The Abrams ComicArts panel, with Editor Charlie at the podium, then Abrams editor Charlotte Greenbaum, me, comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, and Chip Kidd. I hadn't met Bendis, who is famous in comics circles, and I was a bit intimidated, but he was very nice and gracious. Charlie is introducing me.

A selfie with me, Other Brian, and Chip.

Photo nicked from website "The Beat" (

After the panel, Brian, Chip and I went down to the Abrams booth to sign our books. Brian Michael Bendis had a line that wound around the booth, down the aisle and around the corner. Chip and I did not. But a few very nice people did want signed copies of "A Fire Story," including the cosplaying couple in this photo and a wonderful woman who dragged six hardcopies to the Con for me to sign to her relatives who'd lost homes in fires. Readerwise, what I lack in quantity I make up for in quality.

On Friday, I did another hour at the Cartoon Art Museum's Sketch-A-Thon, this time with my cartoonist friend Alexis Fajardo. The next photo is a drawing I did for a CAM patron who requested "Captain America and Pokemon," resulting in the ultimate team-up. (I originally thought to have them battling, but realized there's no way that Cap and Pikachu, who represent the heroic ideal in their respective universes, would ever fight each other.)

In addition to his own comic, "Kid Beowulf," Lex Fajardo works for the Schulz Studio in my hometown. So he liked my shirt.

Captain America teams up with Pikachu! Villains have no chance.

Next, a story about someone whose name I'll keep to myself. This person came to do a Comic-Con panel after spending a full day and night in a San Diego hospital with IVs, antibiotics, the whole enchilada (not infectious or Covid-related). They showed up having been released from the hospital just a few hours before, did a great job on their panel, and no one would have guessed how weak and awful they felt. Knowing full well that a convention panel is one of life's least pressing obligations and everyone would have forgiven their absence, they still kept their commitment. It was one of the greatest examples of "The show must go on" I've ever seen, and kind of awesome.

Finally, a word about how much I love going to Comic-Con with my daughters, Laura and Robin. To be able to share it with them--to have interests and passions that overlap in the giant Venn diagram that is Comic-Con--is one of the great pleasures in my life. We had a swell time, especially when they pulled me to things I never would have done by myself. Thanks, girls!

Robin and Laura and I ended Thursday gorging on gluten at Buca di Beppo.

Obligatory photo of the Con floor from the mezzanine window....

....and the same thing looking the other direction. This is just a fraction of it.