Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Brush With Greatness

In a complete betrayal of journalistic ethics and public trust, TIME magazine just named my friend Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World."

Ha hahahahaha HA HA ha hahahaha!

(Hold on, let me catch my breath . . .)

In. The. World.

Heeheehee hee hee ha ha!

Jeff (left), me (right), and our mutual editor Charlie Kochman a couple years back. Touching Jeff is like kissing the Pope's ring, only saltier.

Hey Jeff, next time I'm in Boston, could you use your globe-spanning influence to find me a parking space?

Among all the "Best Conceivable Outcomes" a person might imagine when sitting down to write a book, would anyone ever in their wildest dreams think, "Hey, if this goes well, maybe I'll be named one of the world's 100 most influential people?" Ever?! The only thing better than teasing Jeff about TIME's recognition is knowing how uncomfortable it must be making him right now. I hope the day that he actually gets used to this kind of thing never arrives. In the meantime, may he enjoy it and accept the congratulations of a friend in the spirit it's intended.


EDITED TO ADD: Jeff e-mails: "My first thought was, I can't even influence my wife to buy name-brand peanut butter."

Funny guy! And wise.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Huh. I Guess It's Real After All.

Back on April 6, I teased that I expected to soon have "something fun to blog about." Good things always take longer than you hope . . .

Hey look! I wrote a book!

This special copy was handbound by the printer, sent to my publisher Abrams, and then flown directly to me. Literally one of the first off the press. I'll get more copies later, but right now this is the only specimen roaming free in the wild.

Holding it in my hands is weird. Indescribably thrilling, but weird. For a couple of years I've seen it as India ink on sheets of paper, pixels on my monitor, streaky inkjet printouts clipped into a three-ring binder, uncut proof sheets. All working toward this . . . this thing it was meant to be but which now seems strangely unfamiliar.

I need to get used to this new look. It's somehow thicker than I expected. More substantial. It feels like a real 208-page book.

Man. What a rush!

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I'm told that Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? will be in bookstores no later than June 9. Quite possibly sooner. I'll let you know if that date changes (which wouldn't surprise me).

It's easier to play the game when you know how far you are from the goal line.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Welcome Courtney Mortimer!

In early March, I mentioned a commercial for the California lottery that has a quick shot of a house I was startled to recognize--the house in Hollywood that Mom and my sisters bought and moved to at the end of Mom's Cancer. I caught the commercial on TV last night, which inspired me to search for it again online today. And, well, this time I found it:

It's the home of the "happy homemaker from Sunnyvale," with two white wicker chairs on a brick front porch. Mom spent a lot of time rocking in those chairs watching the neighbors go by, strolling their babies and walking their dogs. When Mom's brain tumor affected her ability to walk, I spent a long, very hot weekend building a wheelchair ramp down those steps and across the yard.

After Mom died my sisters eventually sold the house, which was too much for them to keep up and not really compatible with their lifestyles. Despite the fact that Mom spent the last months of her life there, I have warm memories of the place because I know it made her happy. And every once in a while, it pops up on my TV and makes me smile.

Mom helping me build her ramp. I don't think she
got too far pounding a 4 x 4 post into solid brick.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stop and Be Amazed

Highly recommended viewing: spectacular new views of Saturn and its rings taken by the Cassini spacecraft and compiled by "The Big Picture" at

I am constantly astonished by what we take for granted. When I was born, the only views we had of other planets came from Earthbound telescopes. I was 5 when Mariner IV flew by Mars and shot the first successful photos of another world (not coincidentally, I write about Mariner IV in WHTTWOT). I remember when Pioneer and Voyager were launched toward Jupiter and beyond, remember Viking landing on Mars, Venera landing on Venus. Man I loved that stuff. Each picture as precious as gold (probably literally, on a cost-per-image basis), I absorbed them all. Even now, when I see photos returned from space, I get a tingle in my spine that means "no one else in the history of forever has seen that before now."

Today we've got near-permanent satellites orbiting Mars and Saturn, rovers crawling over Mars, a European probe (Rosetta) due to land on a comet in 2014. It's all too much for anyone to absorb now. But once in a while, something like The Big Picture comes along to smack me in the face and remind me what an amazing time we live in.

(All photos from NASA/JPL/SSI)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Party Planning Committee Minutes

Just a quick note to say that the Virtual Book Launch Party is on! Well, 94% on; I reserve the right to change my mind. But the technology works fine and a test run went great.

As we discussed a month ago, the idea is to do a live Webcast to celebrate the release of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? I'd talk about the book, spill some secrets, draw some pictures, show off some originals, do a quick pan around my studio, enjoy some drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Viewers could type questions, comments, or conversations to which I'd respond via video. I think we could bring together an interesting mix of people and have fun.

I'm not sure when yet. Sometime before the end of May, I'd think. There are two variables: the date of my book's release, which I don't know; and the availability of a potential special guest, who is even now the subject of tense negotiations involving sensitive talks at the highest levels.

I'll be sure to keep you posted. Thanks for the earlier public and private enthusiasm for the idea, which prodded me on. I'm really looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just When You Thought I Couldn't Be Creepier

. . . along comes this little Internet widget that turns me Vulcan.

[EDIT: I realized after I embedded the thing that it would automatically start everytime someone visited my blog, even weeks from now when this entry's at the bottom of the page. I hate that. Instead, I linked the screen capture below to a URL that plays my very special and deeply creepy message to you.]

That's not my voice; the program has text-to-voice capabilities that turns typed text into speech--and does it pretty well, I think. Although it's based on a photo I uploaded, I don't think it looks much like me, either. The mouth, nose and glasses are definitely mine. The hair and ears definitely aren't. And the eyes . . .

Those eyes are soulless black voids that swallow all expression and emotion, returning nothing but the disturbing digital dispassion of a computer. In other words, Vulcan. So job well done, I guess.

And if you move your cursor around the screen, I'll follow it like a green-blooded sehlat (i.e., a live Vulcan teddy bear with six-inch fangs) scrutinizing a housefly. So that's fun.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Serial in 15 Thrilling Chapters

I guarantee that this post contains the most mortifying, embarrassing thing I will ever reveal about myself in this blog.

In Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, my young hero goes to a movie matinee in 1945 to watch an old-time serial featuring the exploits of his fictional heroes, Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid. Since a movie needs a movie poster, I set out to create one that had a pulpy retro feel. I also wanted to capture how material adapted from other media often changed dramatically when it was made into movies. Serials didn't spend much on costumes, sets, props, or effects. The characters on the poster needed to sort-of-but-not-really look like the comic book characters they were supposedly based on:

Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid in the comics, circa 1939

So, partly to lend the poster some verisimilitude and partly to set the art apart from the style of the rest of the book, I wanted to do an actual painting. For that I wanted models. Since I don't know any models, and since I already had the appropriate clothing in my closet and knew the poses I wanted, I set up an auto-timed camera in my backyard and started shooting.

Sigh . . . This next part really hurts . . .

Modeling Cap Crater...

...and the Cosmic Kid

I shot a couple dozen photos, picked my two favorites, and cropped and combined them in Photoshop:

The Very-Much-Less-Than-Dynamic Duo

That became the basis for a big (approx. 12 x 18 inches) watercolor painting I did, seen in progress here:

When I finished that, the next step was compositing the titles and fake stills (there's that spaceship again) from my fake movie into the fake poster art. Finally, I popped it into a separate drawing of the poster frame and boy's head:

Incidentally, when I designed the poster, I went to quite a bit of effort to research actors who did serials and would have been the right age at the time, and "cast" them in the roles. I didn't foresee that my hero's giant ginger melon-head would cut off the names and make that effort moot. For the record, Kane Richmond played Cap Crater, Douglas Croft played the Cosmic Kid (he was also Robin in the 1943 Batman serial), and Charles Middleton played the villain. I just wanted someone to know that.

Honestly, most of the other 199 pages weren't quite as demanding. And I'm . . . really . . . sorry you had to see that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Three Things Worth A Look

1. Something that frustrates/puzzles me about digital comics is how formally unimaginative many of them are. So many webcomics adhere to traditional print methods and dimensions: black line art with flat color laid out in panels like a newspaper strip or the pages of a comic book. It's the Web! You're not limited by 100-year-old print technology! Go wild!

(I'm guilty of the charge myself, of course. Mom's Cancer was a webcomic done as a very traditional print comic for two reasons: I enjoy the medium of ink-on-paper, and I hoped it would be published one day. And I'm sure many webcomics creators feel the same.)

Some artists try to jazz up their webcomics with flash animation, which rarely works for me. First, it's usually an unnecessary distraction that contributes nothing to the story. Second, it makes their comics into cartoons, which is a different thing. I think that a big reason people enjoy comics is that their brains have to fill in gaps of time, motion, and meaning; it's a mini-mental workout. Reading is active, watching is passive.

What I'm looking for is the growth of digital comics as a unique medium with a language independent of print comics or animated cartoons--an experience that works the brain in a way they don't. Which is a long introduction to the piece below, which I think is a step in the right direction: (Edited to add: I see this comic doesn't really get imbedded, just linked, so that clicking on it will take you to another website. Also, there's some bad language.)

about DIGITAL COMICS by ~Balak01 on deviantART

2. I blog. I don't Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, or Twitter. My life isn't that interesting, neither is yours, and we should both be too busy actually living our lives to set up imaginary parallel lives or offer constant color commentaries on them. My joke is that I'm always looking for new, innovative, exciting, socially interactive web-based ways for people to leave me alone. I realize that makes me unusual these days.

With that in mind, the video below, about the new social network application "Flutter" for people lacking the attention span for Twitter, hit a home run with me:

3. It's no secret that animators in later Disney cartoons often raided the vaults to re-use the breakdowns of earlier masters. I think Disney itself has shown in some of its "How To" featurettes how a bit of action or comedic business from one movie might be repurposed for a later one. The video below compiles several examples, some of which I knew of and others that only became blindingly obvious to me once they were pointed out.

I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with this practice (although it is pretty damning of "Robin Hood"). If a Disney artist in 1940 figured out a great way animate a bit, why re-invent the wheel? I also think some examples in recent years, like the "Beauty and the Beast" waltz lifted from "Sleeping Beauty," were meant as deliberate homages. Mostly I just enjoyed this:

None of these is the fun thing I hinted at in my last post. That hasn't happened yet.

Happy Easter/Passover/Just Another April Weekend, everyone.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Deadlines . . .

Just a note to say how much I appreciate the loyalty of the six readers who check in here semi-regularly. I'm working hard on my day job these days, getting through some deadlines, and don't have much to say about book writin' right now. That may change soon; why, I wouldn't be surprised if I had something fun to blog about toward the end of this week or the beginning of next.

I've got to beg off for now, though, and promise to be more attentive soon.