Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: What Another Brian is Reading

Got a second mention in Comic Book Resources' "What Are You Reading?" column because evidently a second person there read me. This reader is Brian Cronin, who writes in part:

Brian Fies’ follow-up to Mom’s Cancer, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, was a worthy successor to the magnificent Mom’s Cancer. World of Tomorrow examines the relationship of a father and son through the years as America (and the relationship) becomes progressively more cynical . . . It’s a strong, poignant work by Fies.

Brian has read a lot of comics and been reviewing them a long time, which makes this very nice to see.

* * *

One of the nicer write-ups I've received so far is this little piece by Nat W., who considerately snapped a picture of my book on display in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Nat is a friend of my daughters and a smart and talented young man--the kind of kid you'd like your own kids to hang around with, a real Eagle Scout. Really, he's literally an Eagle Scout. Anyway, thanks Nat, you're welcome to crash in my living room anytime.

* * *

I feel like I've been posting a lot of reviews and stuff like that lately, and less personal and process material than usual. Partly that's because that's where my head's at: hoping WHTTWOT is well-received, talking to people about it, wondering how it'll do. Partly because I've been busy with other work and life activities that demand a lot of time.

These posts aren't entirely meant as self-aggrandizement. One of the purposes of my blog from the start was to describe the process and experience of writing and publishing a graphic novel. Together we drew pages, corresponded with editors and designers, sent files to the printer, got the first box of books delivered to the doorstep. Now my book-making experience involves reviews and interviews. As I see it, the "deal" I make with you that keeps this from being complete promotional fluff is that I'll be as honest as I can about it--disappointments and bad reviews (not much to report so far, fingers crossed) included.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Interview: Sci-Fi Talk

Sci-Fi Talk impresario Tony Tellado has posted a podcast of our conversation last week, and I think it turned out great. It runs about 20 minutes and, as far as I can recall, Tony didn't leave anything out. He came at my book from a little different angle that I thought made for a very enjoyable chat.

Many thanks to Tony for his time, talent and work. While you listen to the podcast, take a moment to poke around the rest of There's some cool stuff there.

Review: Broken Frontier

There's a new review of WHTTWOT up at Broken Frontier, a comics news and commentary site that looks to be very active, European, and previously unknown to me. Writer Bart Croonenborghs penned a thoughtful and balanced review--generally positive but not entirely gushing, I must say, which is fair and fine with me. Curiously, the piece opens by referring to me as a Canadian, which I've written Bart to correct (not that there's anything wrong with that). Edited to Add: It's fixed now.

Here's the concluding paragraph, which has an insight about graphic novels and my approach to writing them that I appreciated:

With Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? Brian Fies has created a true graphic novel. Graphic in the sense that the way the story is told can only be told by using the comic vocabulary and novel by intermingling the effects of real world technological achievements, human relations and the cultural landscape that happened during the fifties until the present in a nation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Article: Comic Book Resources

Shaun Manning of Comic Book Resources has posted an article for which I was interviewed last week, and I think it turned out swell. Shaun had more questions than usual about process, materials, and such, which was fun to talk about. We also touched on some of the themes of the book, and how the characters and the comics-within-the-comic help express them.
Thanks to Shaun and CBR for the opportunity, I appreciate it.

Review: Out of the Cradle

The opinion of Ken Murphy, who wrote a review of WHTTWOT for the website Out of the Cradle, carries unusual weight with me. Out of the Cradle is dedicated to the proposition that humanity belongs in space and should be working seriously toward that goal. These folks maintain a very active site and really know their space science and history, so when Ken writes things like:

I am beyond impressed with this one.


You owe it to yourself to check this one out.

it makes me very happy. Ken actually visited this blog and commented on my "Errata" post a few days ago, saying that he'd missed my mistake himself but was still happy to rate WHTTWOT a "Full Moon at Perigee," which is as big and bright as it gets. Thanks, Ken.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Sighting in the Wild

Forgot to mention . . . While we were in New York City, I had my first live sighting of my book in the wild. This was in a Borders bookstore on Broadway near Wall Street, and it was a small thrill.

Right now, it seems that some bookstores have WHTTWOT and others don't. One clerk gazed into her computer and told me to come back in July. Most good comic book shops seem to be on top of it. I dropped by my publisher's office unannounced Monday morning (Karen and I found ourselves with a few hours to kill in Manhattan) and had a nice impromptu meeting with Publicist Amy about timing, reviews, strategy, etc. Basically, I just need to chill. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and things are looking fine.

It did not occur to me until now that a book whose title starts with "Whatever" would end up on a shelf next to Watchmen, any more than I realized that a book titled Mom's Cancer would get shelved alphabetically next to Maus. A total but welcome coincidence. Just as coincidentally, my next book will be titled Diary of a Wimpy Kia (it's about an underpowered but lovable compact car).

There's this . . . thing . . . some writers do. When you find your book in a bookstore, you're supposed to ask the staff if they'd like you to sign it. Then they put a little sticker on the cover that reads "Signed by Author," supposedly making it a more attractive product. Some writers are gutsier than I am. For instance, you can't walk into a bookstore within 20 miles of my hometown without finding cartoonist Stephan Pastis's signature inside every Pearls Before Swine collection in the place. As viewers of my webcast learned, Mr. Pastis is not a shy man.

Me, I'm just afraid the clerks'd say, "Uh, no thanks." What do you do then? Could you imagine the humiliation of turning and slinking out the door after that? I can--everytime I find my book in a store.

A real temptation, of course, is to sign the thing anyway and slip it back onto the shelf, a happy surprise awaiting a lucky buyer. This is where the line between "autographing" and "vandalizing" eludes me. How would anyone know it was me and not some stupid jerk (but perhaps I repeat myself)? Could you go to jail for getting caught signing your own book?

What I often do is slip the book out of the shelf and leave the cover turned out into the aisle, like the one above. I imagine the next passer-by picking it up--"Hey, this looks good!"--and carrying it as if hypnotized to the cash register. Ka-ching! But even at that, I feel a little naughty. I feel bad for the clerk who bends down to put it away 10 minutes later. I feel bad for the books being covered by mine. What if I cost someone else a sale? The guilt nags long after I leave the building.

I'm pretty sure Hemingway had the same problem.

Congratulations to the Kochmans

I'm just catching up today after a long weekend in New York attending the wedding of Editor Charlie and the beautiful, intelligent, and talented Rachel. Karen and I took the opportunity to treat ourselves to a weekend in Manhattan, which we spent doing tourist stuff (one highlight of this trip: walking across the Brooklyn Bridge), blistering our feet, and carrying around umbrellas that we barely used. For all the forecasts and threats of severe thunderstorms, the weather was remarkably mild and cooperative.

Of the wedding itself, I don't really feel like it's my place to say much. I didn't ask permission to blog about it, and Charlie and Rachel deserve their privacy. It was a beautiful service in a beautiful
setting--even lavish, but not ostentatious. Warm, moving, joyful. It was also partly a business trip for me (as far as the IRS is concerned), as I had a chance to talk to Abrams CEO Michael Jacobs and Publisher Steve Tager, and meet their lovely and accomplished wives Sheridan and Mary.

Honestly--they really are lovely and accomplished. I wouldn't just say that because my career rests in their husbands' hands.

I'd actually drawn a cartoon of Charlie and Rachel that they used for the wedding invitation and, unknown to me, blew up into a poster for guests to sign. This gave me a rare and useful conversation starter all day, as even people who'd never heard of my books seemed happy to meet "the guy who drew the poster." I met a few people who'd been moved and helped by Mom's Cancer, which is deeply gratifying. I got the chance to reconnect with some friends and acquaintances both in and out of the comics and publishing worlds (hi, Other Brian and Karen!), and meet some new ones. And I was there to see my friend Charlie go through with the best decision of his life.

Plus I got my first yarmulke as a wedding favor, so that's cool. How I reached my age without a yarmulke I'll never know.

Here I'm talking Batman with two people who know him very well: Paul Dini (whom I'd never met before) and Chip Kidd. Paul was an Emmy-winning writer and producer of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, tons of other Warner Bros. cartoons and comic books, as well as a writer and story editor for the TV show Lost. Chip, in addition to being a top book designer and editor, is also a published Batman expert, with books including one he wrote with Paul on Mr. Wayne's animated adventures and his recent book Bat-Manga.

I name-drop because I can. I blame the fact that Paul looks like he's about to attack me while Chip looks bored into a coma on the luck of the camera shutter rather than something I said. But I may be wrong.

Karen and I spent most of our time with Joe DeVito (left) and his wife Mary Ellen, and Jeff Kinney (center) and his wife Julie. I've mentioned Jeff and his successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid series often. Joe is someone whose work you may not know but should. He's a great sculptor, painter, teacher and writer, an all-around artistic powerhouse who often works in a gorgeously lush pulp style. Check him out. I've had the chance to meet some very accomplished people through Charlie, conventions, interviews, and so forth (see name-dropping above), and they're all very nice, but I'd consider very few of them actual friends. Joe and Jeff are two of the few.

All our congratulations and love to the happy couple. Charlie, I'll save up all my professional gripes and problems until after the honeymoon.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interviews and Errata

I just finished a nice podcast interview with Tony Tellado of Sci-Fi Talk. I thought Tony asked some great questions and the 15 or 20 minutes flew by. It hasn't been posted yet but I'm sure it will be soon. Yesterday I also did an e-mail interview with Comic Book Resources, which, again, hasn't been posted yet but I expect is forthcoming.

The day before that I did a phone interview with Brigid Alverson of Publishers Weekly. I thought that interview was particularly extraordinary because Brigid and I discovered that we shared very similar interests, educations, work histories, life experience, and memories. I hope some of that gets reflected in the interview because it was a pretty cool connection. I'll be sure to mention when it appears.

Shame on Me

Reader Jim has caught my first substantive error in WHTTWOT. I knew it was coming--wouldn't be surprised to learn of more--but am still deeply abashed.

I intend to be completely upfront about corrections and errors, and collect and discuss them here in my blog. It's the scientist/journalist in me; I try to show as much integrity in these things as I can. I also think if I want my book to be taken seriously as a piece of historical fiction despite its graphic novelness (novelty?), I need to document my mistakes. Plus, I can just direct the next person who finds the same mistake to this post.

It still hurts.

On Page 169, my Kid character reflects on the Apollo program and narrates, ". . . the twenty-seven men who'd orbited the Moon on Apollos 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 had traveled as far from home as anyone would for decades." Jim reminded me that three Apollo astronauts--John Young, Jim Lovell, and Gene Cernan--flew to the Moon twice (although no one landed on the Moon twice). Only 24 men made the trip out and back, not 27.

I have no explanation or defense. It was just a brain fart--one of those things I knew but didn't recall when I needed it. As they say in journalism, we regret the error.

But the second edition of this book is gonna be great!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Stunning Effect

Got a brief mention on one of my favorite bookmarked websites,, as part of a round-up of "New Comics We Crave":

"For those with more money to spare, however, there's a trilogy of books vying for your attention: Brian Fies' Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow uses futurism and comic books to explore a character's relationship with his father to stunning effect . . ."

That's the whole thing. Told you it was brief. But appreciated!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Standout Book of Her Week

Brigid Alverson at Comic Book Resources called WHTTWOT "the standout book for me this week," complimenting its high production quality and extra design touches, for which I give much credit to Editor Charlie, Designer Neil, and the Abrams folks.

Brigid had one complaint about my book being "a bit didactic," which I think is a fair cop. It is didactic--that's part of its purpose. If I could've crammed in another fact, I would've. In the end, even that seemed to work for Brigid, who thought the text's earnestness reflected the tone of the eras depicted. I appreciate her thoughtful review very much.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Two Nice Mentions

For your consideration, two web pieces about me and my book:

1. A little feature in Blast, an online magazine based in Boston, written by Anthony Geehan. Anthony interviewed me a few days ago and said he liked the book, so I wasn't surprised to see this swell article turn up. An excerpt:

The story of “Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?” is interspliced with a sub story, following the son’s favorite comic book “Space Age Adventures with Commander Cap Crater and his young aide Cosmic Kid.” As the father and son see the actual world change, Cap and the Cosmic Kid go through their own metamorphosis. From carefree defenders of the city of tomorrow to Commie-bashing patriots to socially concerned sci-fi characters, the comic within the comic sees the effects of the changing attitude of the world almost as much as the father and son do.

2. A gracious blog post by my friend Sherwood Harrington. As I explained in my webcast, I got to know Sherwood through the Internet and our mutual interest in comic strips. Sherwood is also one of the handful of people I trusted to read an early draft of the book and provide some honest feedback. There's a chapter in WHTTWOT in which my father and son characters take a road trip to Florida in 1965. Days before I sat down to draw that sequence, Sherwood posted an old family snapshot on his blog of he and his mother eating lunch in a Florida diner in 1961. It was perfect! Exactly where I wanted my characters to be! I asked Sherwood if I could use it, he said yes, and that's what his post's about.

I've got a couple more interviews scheduled early next week. Haven't seen any real book reviews yet; still anticipating/dreading those.

A few friends, including Sherwood, have told me their Internet-ordered books have arrived in the mail. I haven't been in any bookstores lately to see if they're available in the wild yet. If you happen to spot my book in an actual physical bookstore, I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bookplates, Get'cher Bookplates

I may be jumping the gun a little here, but wanted to extend an offer I made during my webcast to any and all readers of my blog.

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow should start showing up in bookstores in a week or two. My publisher Abrams and I are lining up a few book signings, but I don't think they'll be numerous or widespread.

I'm always happy to inscribe and sign anyone's book as long as they cover the round-trip postage. Just e-mail me to get my address. However, an alternative to all that expensive back-and-forth mailing is a bookplate: essentially a very nice sticker that I can sign and mail to you, which you can then place in your book. You get all the fun (!) and prestige (?) of a signed book without enduring the ordeal of actually meeting me, so it's a win-win for everyone.

For a limited time only (until my supplies run low, it gets too expensive, or I don't feel like it anymore), I will mail a signed bookplate, custom designed by me, to anyone who requests one at no cost. Free! I'm certain everybody reading my blog is a good enough sport to play fair--please don't ask for one unless you've actually bought the book, and don't ask for a whole bunch (unless you bought a whole bunch of books, in which case you're my new best friend). I guarantee these will have no value as collectibles and you'll get nothing for them on eBay.

If you're interested, e-mail your postal address along with any inscription you'd like to brianfies[at]comcast[dot]net. It would help me out if you'd mention "Bookplate" in the subject line. Of course, anyone who wants me to sign your actual book is still welcome to go to the trouble; just e-mail me at the same address and I'll tell you where to ship it.

Or you could just print out this one and glue it into your book yourself . . .

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pre-Release Jitters

A key reason I began blogging long ago was to offer an honest account of what goes into getting a book published (first with Mom's Cancer, now with WHTTWOT) and what that experience is like. With that mission in mind, I feel honor-bound to report that I'm a little anxious right now.

Some advance copies of WHTTWOT have gone out to reviewers at newspapers, magazines, websites and other media, and more are on their way. Of course, you just hope your book makes enough of an impression that someone thinks it's worth reviewing in the first place. No reactions yet, but Editor Charlie reports hearing hints of good things through the sensitive network of nerves he has snaking throughout the book and comics worlds. I feel like Jodie Foster in the movie "Contact," intently listening to white noise through my headphones, trying to pick patterns of meaning out of the remorseless interstellar static.
Some actors say they never watch their own movies or read their own reviews. I totally get that. I rarely open either of my books because I tend to focus on flaws I can no longer fix (in fact, I found my first mistake in WHTTWOT during my webcast--just a maddening little art error, nothing substantive or factual, we'll see if anyone notices). Although there's no real downside to a good review, the problem with a bad review is that, even if the reviewer is right, there's nothing I can do about it. I can't say, "You know, you make a very good point, I'll fix that immediately." For better or worse, I'm stuck with it. I'm semi-seriously thinking of just flagging reviews as they come and asking my wife Karen to read them first. Let her decide if I can take it.
Luckily, I have an actual adult life to put everything into proper perspective and enough work to keep me distracted. In the big scheme of things--even in the little scheme of my immediate life, family and livelihood--how my next book is received is not very important. And I'm actually very confident I produced a book that at least some readers will find well worth their time and money. Once in a while, though, I can't help but wallow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Old College Try

This was cool. Last week, a reporter from my old college newspaper contacted me for an "alumnus makes good" feature. My daughters both attend my alma mater, and the one who does a comic strip for the paper mentioned my upcoming book to her editor.

Notice how carefully I'm treading to avoid embarrassing anyone who might later find herself in a position to exact revenge.

Clicking on the thumbnail below should open a PDF large enough to read. I thought the writer, Zack Frederick, did a nice job. I'd only correct one misquote: in the middle of the second column, right next to my photo, I said "transistor," not "resistor." An understandable mistake, though not one I want any of my old Physics professors to see.
I think I need to put my kids on the publicity payroll.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Launch Party Hangover

Up top are the two pictures I drew and gave away to viewers as part of my Virtual Launch Party webcast. The lefthand drawing of my characters Pop and his little buddy was won by "Futureboy." The righthand drawing of the Cosmic Kid is on its way to "Changeling," who I subsequently discovered is someone who really deserves it in one of those cosmic "Circle of Life" ways. As I explained during the party, I drew these with a brush pen instead of my usual brush and ink. As much as I love dipping bristles into real India ink, I kinda liked the pen. It made my line a little looser and livelier than usual. I may have to reassess my prejudices.
I mentioned that there was only one thing I regretted not getting to during the webcast, and that's directly below. My girls made it for me out of cloth and fake leather, whatever fake leather's made of. They composed the facial features in Photoshop, printed them onto transparent iron-on transfer paper, and ironed them to the face. It's my Cosmic Kid, and it couldn't be any cooler.
If a miracle happens and the book really takes off and the toymakers come around and ask to license my characters for plushes, I'll just show them this and say, "Here's your prototype, fellas."


I just figured out how to embed my Virtual Launch Party webcast in this here blog. Here's Part One, followed by Part Two (again, for Stephan Pastis fans, he shows up a few minutes into Part Two; be sure to watch until he leaves the second time):

Looking back, I only make myself cringe in painful embarrassment a couple of times, which is pretty good for me. There's just one thing I didn't have time to show on the webcast that I really regret omitting; I'll tell you what that is in the next blog post.

Thanks again to all who watched it live and continue to check out the recordings. It was fun.