The Last Mechanical Monster. A Fire Story. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? Mom's Cancer.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Like, I'm So Sure
The reason I'm writing about it and may need to frame the stub is the little note in the "Voucher Comments" field describing what the check is for.
It reads: "WHATEVER."
I'm not sure I like their attitude.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Although I'd love to have your business, ordering a copy now seems premature given that the entire book currently exists only as gigabytes on my computer and we're still editing it. It ain't going nowhere for a while yet. On the other hand, Amazon's offering a great price and maybe a few early orders would drum up some enthusiasm. Philosophically, I'd much rather urge you to support your local independent bookseller, but if you're one of those well-organized forward-thinking people who gets your Christmas shopping done by May then go for it.
Speaking of May, that's the month Amazon lists as our release date. That's a little pessimistic, I think--it'll more likely be March or April. But anything could happen and Amazon may know something I don't.
Another milestone on the journey....
Monday, September 22, 2008
Interview: Jeff Kinney
Anyway, here's a two-part interview with Jeff, produced by the fine booksellers at Borders. The first is a one-on-one interview, while the second shows Jeff giving a completely charming talk to a group of his young fans. I can honestly say he's one of the nicest, humblest, most appreciative people I know, which makes it very hard to sustain the festering boil of jealous bile roiling in my gut. Curse you, Kinney.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
1. A couple of days ago I got my first look at some pages from the catalog Abrams is putting together to promote its Spring 2009 books, including mine. This catalog goes primarily to booksellers who choose how many copies of which books they want in their stores. It's not ready to be unveiled publicly, but I liked the spread for WHTTWOT very much and couldn't be happier with the enthusiasm and support I'm feeling from my publisher. Even before the catalog comes out, we're getting early hints of healthy interest from key retailers. It's all encouraging.
I remember this from the last time: planning, anticipation, hope, dread. It's an interesting mix of emotions that somehow combines to make this little project I did in my spare bedroom and shared with about a dozen people seem much more real.
2. I shamefully neglected to mention a podcast interview that "Mr. Media" Bob Andelman did with my buddy Mike Lynch on Friday. Mike is a professional magazine cartoonist who's also involved in some shady dealings with the National Cartoonists Society. Anyway, that hour-long interview is now available at the Mr. Media website and I recommend it to anyone interested in the art and business of freelance cartooning, breaking in, finding markets, etc. I told Mike afterward that I was standing by my phone ready to call in with Star Trek trivia questions if the show bogged down, but there were plenty of real questions and Mike sailed through.
3. Tom Spurgeon was kind enough to mention my last two blog posts on his "Comics Reporter" website, bringing me some extra traffic. That's much appreciated, and I'm happy to return the favor by recommending his site as one of my regular stops for news and commentary on cartoons and comic books. Tom knows his stuff.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
How I Approach Cartooning #2: History
The story of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? covers more than three decades, from the late 1930s to the mid 1970s (plus a bit beyond). This raised a problem I'd never really dealt with before: doing historical research for a graphic novel.
Both the beauty and horror of writing a graphic novel is that nothing gets on the page by accident. If there's a person, car, rock, tree, trash can, or blade of grass in the picture, it's there because I wanted it there. This turns out to be a significant challenge when you go back in time. I struggled mightily to leave all my modern preconceptions behind and find references for everything I could. My characters drink soda pop in 1939; what shape and size were soda bottles then? What did a street light look like in 1945? When did kids start wearing high-top sneakers? What day and time did a particular TV show air, and what phase was the Moon in that day?
I collected probably a couple thousand pages of reference and read hundreds of pages more. I discovered that one problem with trying to get it right (and being terrified of getting it wrong) is potential paralysis: being afraid to do anything for fear that it isn't perfect. Eventually, I just figured I'd have to live with getting the big stuff as right as possible and minimize the risk of flubbing the small stuff as best I could. After absorbing all the research I could manage, I had to kind of relax, let it go, and just start to draw.
I tried to be thoughtful about my sources. For example, researching period clothing yields a lot of old magazine fashion spreads. But everyday people don't dress like fashion models then or now. Better are actual news or candid photos of the time showing real people living real lives. It's also tempting to look up "1945 automobiles" or "1965 business suits" and use the first examples you find. But nobody buys a new car or wardrobe every year. People drive 10-year-old cars and wear 5-year-old clothes. Few houses have all-new furnishings; right now in my living room I've got a 10-year-old couch and a 90-year-old record player. The people and places I draw should look that real and lived in.
Two examples of how that works in WHTTWOT: One panel is a big overhead shot of a kid's bedroom in 1965. Now, kid's bedrooms are often furnished with family hand-me-downs, so when I put a radio near the kid's bed I made it a small tube-powered model built in the mid 1950s (the same one I have in my bedroom passed down from my father-in-law). A chair in the corner of the kid's room--you know, that extra chair that doesn't fit around the dining room table so you stash it in the bedroom--is from a set made in the 1950s.
Also in the 1965 chapter, I put my characters in a '57 Chevy. That was a risk. First, as I've written before, I don't draw cars well, nor do I enjoy it. Not sure what I was thinking when I scripted a road trip. Second, the '57 Chevy is an all-time great classic car with legions of fans who know every bolt. (Digression: I was recently admiring a '57 Chevy in a parking lot when my wife Karen remarked that she'd had a friend in high school who'd owned one. "Oh, was he a classic car guy?" I innocently asked. "Not really," she answered. "Back then it wasn't really classic. It was just old." Ouch. Since Karen is younger than I am, I instantly felt positively antique.)
Despite the peril, I had both practical and creative reasons for picking the '57 Chevy. Practically, it was easy to find a good toy model and tons of reference photos for it (period photos only, since modern examples of the car often have subtle modifications I wouldn't want to accidentally include). Creatively, the car is strongly evocative of its time. And putting my 1965 characters in a 1957 Chevy said something about them: they had an eye for style and couldn't afford a newer car. They're middle or lower-middle class; an 8-year-old car is the best they could do, but they picked a good one.
I don't know if any of this will come across to the reader. I suspect not, but hope it accumulates into a kind of verisimilitude that makes the world of WHTTWOT seem more real than if I hadn't gone to the effort and just made it all up. I'm also positive that as soon as the book comes out I'll start hearing from readers telling me what I got wrong. I expect to know the anguish experienced by Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier when he discovered he'd made his Civil-War-era hero eat a variety of apple that hadn't been hybridized yet.
All I can answer is that I honestly did my best and if I tried any harder I wouldn't have been able to produce the book at all.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
How I Approach Cartooning #1
because I lack the time to make it short."
I tend to overwrite. I learned that about myself a long time ago--probably in my first real job out of college as a reporter for a small daily newspaper--and also learned to use it to my advantage. I made it part of my writing process. For example, when I write a first draft and check my word count, I'm very happy if it comes out 10% to 20% over. I know I can go through it a few times, tighten it up, release some gas, and polish it into a nice lean piece that clearly says what it needs to and nothing else. That's my goal.
I have a friend who wrote a novel. When he finished and started showing it to agents, they told him it was too long to be marketable in his genre. He'd have to cut it by a quarter. This seemed a daunting, despairing task: go through and slice out every fourth word? Impossible! His finely drawn characters would become caricatures, his carefully balanced plot would fall apart. Yet he did it, and when he finished cutting he was amazed by how much it'd improved his book. Yes, he'd lost some favorite bits, but the novel had a new flow and energy that made it a better story.
Cartooning is that to an extreme. Back when I fruitlessly submitted comic strip ideas to newspaper syndicates, I made up a rule that if the text for a daily strip didn't fit on a 3-by-5-inch index card, it was too wordy. That worked pretty well. I wrote both Mom's Cancer and WHTTWOT as pages of script accompanied by doodles and thumbnail sketches that captured the visuals I imagined--the screenplay for the movie playing in my head. Then I cut.
Not everyone works that way. Some find inspiration in starting with the drawing, brainstorming visually and then building a story from that. Although an image sometimes comes to me full-blown, I usually start with words and then consciously seek opportunities for pictures to take their place, add meaning, and carry as much of the narrative load as possible. A graphic novel should be more than an illustrated prose novel. In my ideal graphic novel, both the words and art convey equal meaning and neither is complete without the other.
For example, in Mom's Cancer I wrote about the ordeal of managing Mom's many medications (pp. 59-61). In my first-draft script, I'd written something about it being like "walking a tightrope." Now, aside from that being a lazy, obvious simile I didn't like, I couldn't figure out how to illustrate it. What do you draw, Mom sitting around taking medications? Rows of pill bottles? Boring. I wanted to capture the precarious uncertainty of this experience and, at the same time, fix the clunky metaphor. My solution was to draw the metaphor: The pictures show Mom actually walking on a tightrope surrounded by danger while everything goes wrong around her, freeing the words from having to mention it at all. It also gave me a chance to play some absurd dark humor against Mom's grim situation. Cartooningwise, I was very satisified with how this bit turned out.
I looked for similar opportunities in WHTTWOT. I'm very aware of how my words and pictures balance, and which is pulling more weight through different passages. For example, the first chapter of WHTTWOT is exposition-heavy, so I deliberately followed it with a chapter that's almost pantomime with hardly any text at all. My aim was to give readers a break and exercise a different part of their brains that interprets visual rather than verbal information. The last chapter is again light on words and heavy on visuals, which reads quicker and I hope creates some momentum that pulls readers through. In addition, as the book nears the end, each page provides less visual information than the page before, prodding readers to pick up their pace as they barrel toward what I hope is a satisfying climax.
That's how I'm trying to manipulate you, anyway. Don't know if I pulled it off.
Monday, September 15, 2008
In Which My Family Calls My Bluff
Although part of the movie "National Treasure 2" was filmed
there, we did not find a secret cave leading to a lost city
of gold. Very disappointing.
geological laboratory. Look at those strata!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Interview with Editor Charlie
The interview reveals details about jobs Charlie has had and people he's worked with that I didn't know (though just try to get him to shut up about Alex Ross...). He was kind enough to mention Mom's Cancer in the piece. I was happy to see the interview hit on a couple of points I know to be absolutely true: Charlie's respect for the experience and knowledge of industry veterans, and the importance to his work of building relationships. It is an amazing thing to stroll around a comic convention floor with Charlie: he knows everyone, and can hardly walk twenty steps without introducing you to a legendary writer or artist. When Charlie vouches for you, you're in the club. More than one person has compared the experience to hanging with The Godfather, and I mean that in the very best possible sense. The number of people Charlie has actually had whacked is probably very small.
I have boundless respect and affection for Charlie, and I was fortunate my work found its way to his desk (this is why I never have good advice for people asking how to get published; "be lucky enough to send it to the right person" isn't very constructive). Aside from the biographical information, I think the interview provides a good look at the publishing industry as it follows Charlie's career arc from writing coloring books (really?) to heading an imprint at a respected house. Good stuff.
The "hiatus" I mentioned in my last post was cover for a long family vacation from which we've just returned (in fact, the last post was written in advance and autoposted after we left). When we told people where we were going, almost all of them asked, "Why would you go there?" And yet we did, and I think we all had a great time. I'll tell you all about it as soon as I catch up on some e-mails and work. More soon!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
("There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Now, mostly dead--he's slightly alive. All dead--well, with all dead, there's usually only one thing that you can do: go through his clothes and look for loose change." Miracle Max, The Princess Bride.)
I'm going to take a week or so to catch up on some things and enjoy a little computer-free family time. Unless something comes up that I'm irresistably compelled to blog about, I'm taking a brief late-summer hiatus until sometime around Sept. 12. More then. And thanks!