Monday, August 31, 2009

Doing the Old Man Proud

I've already taken up too much of my blog and your attention lately bragging on my kids, to their dismay. I'm going to torture them once more by posting two photos, then leave them alone a while. Unless they do something to deserve more bragging. It's up to them.

In the context of blogging about my daughter Robin's sick cat, I mentioned a while back that she spent six weeks of her summer at archeology field school. The cat survived for their reunion and is still doing pretty well, while Robin survived camping in the Sierra Nevada foothills and digging holes in rock-hard soil in 100-plus-degree heat every day. It was genuinely tough physical labor that I think drew on some previously untapped reserves of fortitude. Anyway, we sent along a disposable film camera (an electronic digital camera would not have survived), and just got the photos back this morning:

Archeologists coated in the dust of ancient civilizations prepare to break through the roof of the hidden Map Room and use the crystal headpiece atop the Staff of Ra to locate the Well of Souls where the Ark resides.

I also just got a picture of my daughter Laura's booksigning at the SacAnime manga and anime convention last Saturday. It sounds like she, her sister, and a small group of their friends had a great time at a nice little convention. My wife Karen and I made sure she set aside enough copies of her first published work, sure to become a future rare first-edition collectible, to allow us to retire in comfort.

My one-time assistants Laura (left) and Kristen, the first- and second-place winners in the convention's manga contest, ready to sign their opus for fans. A third former assistant, Kristen's sister Kelly, won an art contest at the same event. Unfortunately, I'll never be able to afford their services again.
There. I think I've done enough damage for one day.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Editors, Proposals, and Other Unpleasantness

Some of my blog posts get written because two things just happen to find their way into my brain at the same time and make a connection. This is one of those.

A friend who does very good comics and is looking to approach graphic novel publishers recently asked me what a successful book proposal looks like. As if I had a clue. Mom's Cancer was essentially finished by the time Abrams took it on. My proposal consisted of printing it out and mailing it to them. For WHTTWOT, my relationship with Editor Charlie was such that we could just talk it over. I did send him a package of stuff that I called a "proposal" early on, and in retrospect can only imagine how mystified he must have been by the handful of drawings plus print-outs about the World's Fair, Popular Mechanics, and old comic books. "I want to do THIS!" I declared, and I remain grateful he nevertheless continued to take my calls.

With that on my mind, I just read this interview at "Comics Comics" in which cartoonist Dash Shaw interviews cartoonist Hope Larson (never met either of them) about her experience with editors. It's pretty "inside baseball," but if you're interested in the process of publishing you might find it worthwhile. Larson describes a range of editorial encounters, a few of which match my own and others that don't. I found it interesting that she seems eager for editorial guidance and feedback, which is different than the usual artistic attitude that editing equals meddling, interference and censorship. She values the second set of eyes. I do too--as long as I trust and respect them. If you can relax your ego and concentrate on the goal of doing the best work possible, a good editor will always make it better.

I expect I'll have more to say on this subject sometime.

Interview: Graphic Novel Reporter

The Graphic Novel Reporter has posted a swell interview with me about my book. Interviewer John Hogan and I had a very relaxed, friendly conversation a couple of weeks ago, and I think some of that comes across. John knows and loves comics--he brought up the obscure but apt point that writer Roy Thomas used the Trylon and Perisphere from the 1939 World's Fair as the headquarters of his "All-Star Squadron" superhero group--and seemed to share some of my passion for the themes of WHTTWOT. It was a good chat and I'm happy with the result.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In the Wild with Goddard

Over on my book's new Facebook Fan Page, I've been having an unexpectedly good time compiling photos people send me of WHTTWOT "in the wild"--that is, pictures of my book perched on people's bookshelves, propped up next to indifferent cats, etc. (send me yours!). Although there are only eight photos so far, and one of them is mine, it's cool to see some of the places the book has gotten to.

The consensus seems to be that the photo below is the best of the bunch, and, with utmost appreciation for the others, I agree with the consensus.

Jim O'Kane was searching for the grave of rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard in Worcester, Mass., and I guess happened to have WHTTWOT in the car with him when he found it. Goddard has been a scientific hero of mine since I did a report on him in junior high school. He was both a solid theoretician and old-fashioned hands-on experimentalist who built liquid-fueled rockets in the 1910s through '30s long before anyone else saw any reason to.

Goddard also took a memorably unfair beating in the press. In a scientific paper published in 1920, Goddard described a design for a rocket and, as an aside, speculated that someday such devices might be able to travel to the Moon. Well. The New York Times mocked him mercilessly for not knowing that a rocket couldn't travel in the vacuum of space because its exhaust would have nothing to push against--an exactly backwards misunderstanding of Newton's law of action and reaction--and concluded that he lacked the most basic scientific education "ladled out daily in high schools." Although anyone who mattered knew that Goddard was right and the Times wrong, he never really got over that insult (and plenty of others like it from reporters eager to make fun of the Moon Man) and withdrew from public view while continuing to develop the science and engineering of rockets. The Times' cute apology to Goddard after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon came 24 years too late. He died in 1945.

As I mentioned on the photo's Facebook caption, opening this picture from Jim took my breath away for a second. I don't mention Goddard in WHTTWOT--his real pioneering work was done before my story opens in 1939--but his influence runs all the way through it. We can add my book to the long, long list of things that wouldn't have been possible without him. Jim's picture means a lot to me.

Probably the most famous photo of Goddard, with
a rocket fueled by gasoline and liquid oxygen in 1926.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On My Mind Today:

Mom's birthday. She would have been 70 years old today.
Of course I still miss her, and dream about her once in a while, and wish I could pick up the phone and call her. Even with her awful final months, most of my memories are good ones. When I think of her, I smile.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Assistant Wrangling

Yesterday's post about the young women who helped me color WHTTWOT reminded me of a topic I wanted to tackle at the time but didn't (and which I thought might make nice fodder for my book's Facebook Fan Page as well). Robin, Laura, Kelly and Kristen were the first assistants I'd ever used for . . . well, anything, really. They did a great job and it was a very good experience for me (and, I hope, them). But it took some effort to make it go as well as it did.
The decision to use assistants in the first place wasn't trivial. I have a lot of respect for the do-it-all-yourself auteur approach, it's hard to give up any control of your baby, and there's always the impulse that it's just easier and quicker to do the job yourself. But coloring 200 pages of art simply would have taken more time than I had. Cold mathematics told me I needed help.
I had a kick-off meeting with the girls, where as I recall we talked about both the technical and artistic requirements of the job. Technical topics included the resolution we needed to work at, the difference between red-green-blue (RGB) and cyan-magenta-yellow-black (CMYK), trapping, and file formats. Artistic topics probably touched on my approach to using color in the book, how and why I constructed the palettes for each chapter, and the general look I was going for (e.g., flat colors with minimal shading or modeling). Fortunately, I didn't have to give any Photoshop tutorials; I wasn't kidding when I said they're all better at it than I am.
That meeting probably lasted no more than a half hour, but it was important for getting us all started on the same foot. I assigned work by giving them each a jump drive with the appropriate palette and the pages they were supposed to color, along with hardcopies of those pages with hand-written notes from me. Each girl got four or five pages at a time and brought me her jump drive when she was done. (Kelly and Kristen were at our house all the time anyway, so it was no inconvenience.) I downloaded the colored pages, uploaded the next assignment, and off they went. I tried to maintain continuity by assigning blocks of pages, so that something on page 43 would be colored the same on page 44, but I also tried to even out the workload so no one got all the hard or easy pages. Several pages I kept for myself.

Here are some examples of our working materials:

Above is a simple model sheet for the characters circa 1965 to 1975. It's sketchy, because all I really needed to do was show which colors went in which places. The nice thing about doing this digitally is that the colorist could open this page in Photoshop and sample the colors directly from the models, so there's no eyeballing or guesswork. They'll always match precisely.

This is a model sheet and palette for the chapter "March 1955," showing how I wanted the main characters colored. The palette labeled "Sepia" provides the range of tones used to color almost everything else in the chapter (I know that blue-gray color isn't "sepia" . . . that's just what I called it when I made up the palette for the 1939 chapter, which was sepia, and the label stuck). Again, providing this sheet as a digital file allowed the colorists to sample directly from it and keep the colors consistent.
Above is the palette for the "Space Age Adventures" comic book pages, which was very different than that for the Pop and Buddy pages. The top half of the sheet provides all the colors, while the bottom half specifies which of those colors go with which characters. This was based on the actual comic book practice of coloring with shades of cyan, magenta, and yellow at concentrations of 25%, 50% and 100% (and, by the 1970s, 75%). Combinations and permutations of those colors were all they had to work with. I only cheated once or twice.

In working with my assistants, I had two goals: get everything colored the way I wanted, but give them some freedom to be creative and have fun. I didn't just want coloring robots. Consequently, my coloring guide would often consist of a dozen or so specific directions and then a note like "Go crazy here" or "Surprise me." I was very happy when I'd look at the results and think, "Gee, I sure wouldn't have done it like that myself, but it looks great!" I didn't need to correct much.

With four people on the job, the work went amazingly quickly. I had a hard time keeping up with them. Although I went into it with some trepidation--would they be fast enough, would they perform to my standards, would I have to redo everything, would it be easier to do it myself?--working with these particular artists turned out to be one of the best parts of doing WHTTWOT. I'd do it again anytime.
(BTW, I'm not saying this is the only or best way. Someone who actually knows what they're doing would probably look at this and say, "What th--?" But it worked for us.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Wife Blames Me

A cartoonist named Fies has a booksigning coming up August 29, and it's not me.
I've blogged about the four young women who assisted me on WHTTWOT: my daughters Robin and Laura, and their friends Kelly and Kristen. I also mentioned them in my book's Acknowledgments. All are excellent artists better at Photoshop than I am, and they did a great job of digital coloring for me.

So the four girls* made plans to attend the Sac-Anime manga and anime convention in Sacramento the weekend after next. As many conventions do, Sac-Anime hosts various art contests, including one for original 12-page manga stories (is "manga stories" redundant? I don't know). The top three finishers get their stories printed in an anthology sold at the convention. In addition, the first-place winner gets a table at the con.

Laura, Kelly and Kristen set to work and each turned out a 12-page story in about a week (Robin was away at her archeology dig while this was going on). That's hard! Of course, their dream result was to finish first, second and third, but the odds of that happening would be ridiculously, impossibly--

Well, they came close. Laura placed first, Kristen second, and someone else third, unfortunately knocking Kelly out of the running. Still! Not bad! Laura and Kristen will spend an hour with the third-place artist signing their book, and all four girls are figuring out what to do with their table.

Cover of the book, illustrated by Laura

To head off an easy question, I had nothing to do with it. They never asked me for help or advice, I never gave any, and I didn't even read Laura's story until after she submitted it. In fact, I still haven't seen Kristen's or Kelly's. They did it entirely on their own.

Me? Proud? Maybe just a little, and of all of them. I take it as vindication of my ability to spot talent. Now I just have to live with Laura's sassing that I was twice her age before anyone asked me to sign a book (don't get cocky, kid). As for my wife Karen, she just kind of looks at us all and shakes her head. (She's proud, too.)

Kelly, Laura, Robin and Kristen, WHTTWOT, p. 123.

* Forgive my referring to adult women as "girls." I expect they'll still be girls to me when they're all 50 years old.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Mediocre Review and My Defense

Comics reviewer Don MacPherson took a look at WHTTWOT on his "Eye on Comics" blog and didn't entirely like what he saw. While complimenting some aspects of the art, story, and production design in particular, he didn't find it as personal and engaging as he would've liked, and rated the book 6/10. In a paragraph I found most stinging, and one that's going to inspire the rest of this sure-to-be-too-long post, he wrote:

"Just as Fies is about to sweep the reader away with the excitement of a pivotal moment in human achievement, he obstructs that hopeful feeling somewhat by trying to focus the audience’s attention on the facts and people that made up that moment. He diverts from the feeling to the footnotes. At times, Fies’s script reads (more) like a Wikipedia page than a component of a story."

First, the comparison to Wikipedia is just capriciously cruel. But more seriously, another reviewer made a similar point as part of a much more positive review, mentioning that she found the book a bit "didactic." I've mulled that over a while and figured I'd face it head on.

The word "didactic" means "educational" and, I think, carries a connotation of being too teachy-preachy. Of course, two of the main reasons books were invented were to teach and preach. Fictional works with stories and plots and characters can do it too, but they're not supposed to get caught at it. In particular, it's not something readers are used to finding in a graphic novel. (Although such exist. For example, I've got a neat graphic novel atop my heap o' books titled Suspended in Language by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis about the life and work of physicist Niels Bohr that's intensely, deliciously didactic.)

And yet, other works of fiction do it all the time. In Moby-Dick, Melville provided an advanced curriculum on operating a whaling ship. You can't open a James Michener book without finding a chapter that basically begins, "First, the Earth's crust cooled . . ." Tom Clancy goes to great lengths to explain how his military hardware works. Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" books are seminars on medieval art, architecture and legend.

Those guys weren't just showing off. They went to the effort because they wanted to give their readers a common foundation of knowledge needed to inhabit their fictional worlds. The vessels, geology, weapons and history they painstakingly described are more than sets and props. They're integral to their stories, with behaviors and moods, almost characters themselves.

Likewise, to pick an example from WHTTWOT, the progression from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits isn't just techno-geek filler or background for the story; it is the story, at least part of it. The context is important. Transistors helped fuel teen rebellion because they gave kids control of the radio dial for the first time. No transistors = no rock and roll, and my character Buddy wouldn't have been half as independent and surly. I can't assume everyone (or anyone) comes to the book with the same knowledge, so I need to build that common ground.

Part of the answer to the question "Whatever happened to the World of Tomorrow?" is revealed through the characters, part through the "Space Age Adventure" comic books, part through the narrative. Everything in the book serves a purpose and is meant to have a payoff. Nothing is extraneous.

All right, not "nothing." I admit I threw in a few bits that weren't strictly necessary just because I thought they were fun or cool. But not many.

So I'll own up to being didactic. To me the more interesting critical question is, did I do a good or bad job of it? On that point, I expect reasonable people will disagree. Some readers are enthralled by material that makes others' eyes glaze over. It's a tough balance, and impossible to satisfy everyone. I think the tale of technology that runs from the 1939 World's Fair through Flash Gordon, World War II, Von Braun, Chesley Bonestell, the Atomic Age, Walt Disney and the Apollo Program is fascinating, and tried to convey why. MacPherson locked into the gentle, low-key story of Pop and Buddy and found it unsatisfying, particularly compared to the drama of Mom's Cancer. I understand that.

My reply is that Pop and Buddy are just two of the characters in WHTTWOT. Equally important are the character arcs of Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid, and the "character" arc followed by science and technology through the middle of the 20th Century. Those three threads are meant to braid together to tell one story, and tie together in the end. None stands alone. My own opinion of how well I accomplished that varies day to day (I tend to be hard on myself), so I'm not surprised when critical opinions diverge. Especially if the book a reader expects isn't the book I wrote.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Which Reminds Me . . .

This week's "Tom the Dancing Bug" comic by Ruben Bolling, which takes a look at how things might (or might not) had been different if Van Gogh had Facebook and Twitter, did not escape my notice:

Just a small excerpt; click to read it all.

And yet there I am.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Will You Be My Friend?


I know that must be a photo of Hell because I just joined Facebook. My friend Marion, a writer and one of a few people I trusted to review an early draft of WHTTWOT, convinced me that Facebook is where all the really cool bestselling authors hang out and that I was a fool--A FOOL!--not to be one of them.

I harumphed loudly, but didn't really need a ton of convincing. One of the frustrations of writing any book is just getting it in front of the people you know would appreciate it, letting them know it exists. That was true of Mom's Cancer as well as WHTTWOT. And one of the strengths of Facebook, as I understand it, is linking people who have the same interests and like the same things. In short, networking.

So right now I'm figuring this thing out--how the Facebook features work (I don't find the controls very intuitive), what all it can do. I've taken it for a test spin and linked to a couple of my favorite reviews. I even have a few friends--not all of them relatives!

If you'd like to be my friend, my personal Facebook page is here. Even better, if you wouldn't mind helping spread the word about my book, I'd sure appreciate it if you'd become a Fan of WHTTWOT. Thanks!

(A funny thing I noticed: Facebook allows users to set up Fan Pages for movies, TV shows, bands, businesses, games, sports teams, actors, athletes, comedians, critics, and pharmaceuticals. It seems you can be a fan of just about anything on Facebook . . . except books. I had to list WHTTWOT as a generic "product." I mean, are books already such obscure antiquities they don't even rate a category?)

Sigh. The things a guy's got to do these days . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Waaaaaaaay Advance Notice

Just a note that I've signed up to be a "Cartoonist in Residence" at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., on January 9, 2010.

Every second Saturday of the month, the museum has a writer/artist set up shop in a little classroom upstairs so that anyone who wants to can drop by and poke a real live cartoonist with a pointy stick. As a member of the museum since it opened, I've visited some Cartoonists in Residence myself (Jimmy Gownley, Shannon Garrity, a few others) and found the events to be agreeably low-key, with small numbers of people wandering in and out while the cartoonist pretends to work. You talk to nice people, show off some original art, draw some sketches, maybe sell a couple of books. It's cool to be asked and it should be fun.

Mark your calendar! I know I will--sometime in late December when I buy a new one. (Will a Post-It note stick to the side of my monitor for five months? Let's find out!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Newbie Follow-Up

As a sequel to yesterday's post, my pal Mike Lynch offers some very practical advice for aspiring cartoonists on his blog today. Mike writes about how to submit cartoons, develop a style, and break into top markets.

I don't know much about the type of single-panel magazine cartooning Mike does, except that the few times I tried it I learned I'm not good at it. But Mike actually makes a living at it, so anyone interested in doing the same would be real smart to read his blog cover to cover. His thoughts on the business and craft of making cartoons are first-rate.

Plus, Mike was nice enough to link to my post on his blog, so I'm returning the favor. I'm just afraid we might create an infinite feedback loop that could destroy the Internet. If your ISP crashes today, my bad.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newbie Advice

I like to hang out at a couple of Internet watering holes dedicated to cartooning. The discussions are often interesting even when I don't have much to contribute. At one such site, a self-described total newbie just popped in to ask, "What does it take to sell your comic strip?" He/she has "no drawing skills" but "a funny take on the world," and wants to see his/her comics in the newspaper. Not all the replies were warmly encouraging. I was happy enough with mine to repeat some of it here:

Enthusiasm is important and I don't want to crush it. Nevertheless, you have a lot to learn (and you know that, and you have the guts to ask, so good for you).

The further I get in my own cartooning career, the more I'm convinced it's one of those situations where "when the student is ready, the master will appear." In other words, when you're ready to learn something, it'll happen. It sounds a little mystical mumbo-jumbo, but I've experienced it too much to dismiss it. So my first advice would be to just start cartooning knowing you don't have all the answers and see what turns up.

In brief, I'd encourage you to develop your own drawing skills that will express your unique perspective in a way that no one else could possibly duplicate . . . Besides, the fact is that you don't have to be a great artist to be a very good and successful cartoonist. That used to be a prerequisite, and I'm often sad it isn't anymore, but it's a fact of the modern market. Cathy, The Far Side, Dilbert, and Pearls Before Swine are examples of great comics by people who (no disrespect intended, really) aren't great artists but whose styles work perfectly for the tone and subject of their strips. So my advice is, don't wuss out on the art.

Regarding possible avenues to selling your strip, if you're talking newspaper comics there is only one avenue: draw a bunch of samples and submit them to a newspaper syndicate--along with thousands of other people hoping for the one or two opportunities available every year.

Here are some things I think you're missing: The competition to syndicate a comic strip to newspapers is enormous, and you'd be up against professionals who've been doing it for decades; the odds are very long. Newspaper syndication is only one outlet for your cartooning, and some would argue it's not even the most important or rewarding one anymore. You didn't mention, but must be aware of, webcomics. If I were you, I'd look seriously at the possibility of doing a webcomic. You'd learn a ton and get your work in front of an audience, which is important. The magazine market has shrunken enormously, but I know people who make a decent living selling single-panel cartoons to periodicals. There are graphic novels, which I've written two of. All kinds of ways to get your funny take out into the world and maybe make a buck or two.

A very tiny number of people become very successful, but fair warning: even if you beat the odds and get a syndicate contract or book deal, you probably won't be able to quit your day job. The money truck will not back up to your front door and fill your living room with gold coins like Uncle Scrooge's money vault. If you don't do it for love, don't do it.

But if you love it, go for it. Everybody starts somewhere, and some of the best stuff gets done by people who didn't know what they were up against but just went ahead and did it anyway.

* * *

Back again. I just wanted to add a couple of thoughts on the above. This "when the student is ready, the master will appear" thing got me thinking. I'm the most reductive rationalist I know, but I can't tell you how often I had a question or hit a problem while doing Mom's Cancer and WHTTWOT only to have the solution magically materialize within a day or two. I remember trying to figure out a technical issue with CMYK printing when BOOM! someone posted the answer on one of my Internet watering holes. I had just started coloring the Cap Crater comic book pages in WHTTWOT when BOOM! veteran comic book letterer Todd Klein wrote an amazingly detailed essay about the techniques and palettes the old colorists used. It was uncanny!

I think this is similar to the idea that "luck" mostly means being prepared for opportunities that others aren't ready for or don't recognize. I was lucky that my proposal for Mom's Cancer landed on Editor Charlie's desk and he wanted to publish it, but it was luck backed up by a lifetime of practice drawing and writing. I was lucky that solutions to my CMYK and comic book coloring problems arrived when they did, but I was also ready to hear them. If they'd come two weeks earlier, I probably would've paid no attention.

What I take away is that the hurdles faced by "total newbies" aren't there to deliberately thwart their ambitions, destroy their dreams, or protect the lucky few who succeeded ahead of them. Not all the hurdles, anyway. Most of the time, they're just things you need to learn and put behind you, and if you're "lucky" you'll look back someday and wonder how such an insignificant bump in the track ever slowed you down.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ein Fantastisches Comic

A busy, busy, busy week for me. How busy? This busy:


My book got a nice review on a German website called "Nerdcore," courtesy of Rene. As Rene so aptly concluded his review:

Ich glaube, an der Stelle ist es mir zum ersten mal beim Lesen eines Comics kalt den Rücken runtergelaufen, wahnsinn! Ein absolut fantastisches Comic, das anhand der realen Geschichte die fiktive Geschichte eines Vaters und seines Sohnes erzählt, dabei psychologische Untertöne nicht vergisst und die realen Vorgänge subtil und wunderbar einbindet. Wenn Ihr was mit Space Age, Retrofuturismus und Raumfahrt anfangen könnt (und welcher Nerdcore-Leser kann das nicht!): Unbedingt kaufen, bestes Comic dieses Jahr bisher.

Who could argue with that? If you couldn't quite follow, here's the reliably humorous BabelFish translation:

I believe, at the place it to me for the first time during the reading of a Comics coldly the backs down-ran, insanity! An absolutely fantastisches Comic, which tells the fictitious history of a father and its son on the basis material history, psychological undertones does not forget and the material procedures subtly and marvelously merges. If your which with space Age, Retrofuturismus and space can begin (and which Nerdcore reader can do that not!): Absolutely buy, best Comic this year so far.

Danke, Rene.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Camel Back Straw Broke

Just a glimpse into the joy that is my day job. I was recently hired by an organization in France to edit a white paper on clean energy originally written by a Japanese scientist who, bless his heart, did his best to get it into English. The task demands that I not only clean up the English, but understand the technical discussion well enough to edit that as well. And I just came across this sentence:

"The system is a single part production, even if 110 MW
and 290 MW plants above two constructions operated."

It doesn't matter if you don't know anything about energy; it still makes no sense. Now do a hundred pages of that. I've been working on it all week and have been lucky to finish 10 pages a day. I've started talking like Yoda. I've started looking like Yoda.

Please buy my book so I can afford to write nice stories and draw pretty pictures full time. Thank you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Best Review Ever

I don't expect everyone (or anyone) to check out every review of WHTTWOT I post here. I think a few people may be politely interested, others probably roll their eyes. Partly, I list them for my own benefit so I can easily find them later if they're needed for blurbs and what-not. But if you only ever read one review, please consider this one written by Richard Bruton for the Forbidden Planet International website.

Not just because it's a positive review, though that's an understandable bias on my part. Even better, Richard grasped my story, themes, characters, stylistic choices, and purpose in writing the book. He wrung just about everything out of it that I put into it, and explained it better than I usually manage to. He even gave a nod to the contributions of Designer Neil, which I know he'll appreciate.

Here's the review's opening paragraph:

Whatever Happened To The World Of Tomorrow is Brian Fies’ reaction to the oft-quoted cry of “where’s my flying car and jetpack?” that we’re all familiar with. But Fies just doesn’t agree with the idea that we’ve somehow lost the ideals and dreams of earlier generations. He believes, as his book goes on to show, that our collective future is still something bursting with potential, albeit considerably different from the one imagined in the technological fires of the last century. And Fies makes a sweet, nostalgic and heartfelt case for it in his book that’s all about not just the development of technology in new and unexpected directions but the ever so predictable growth and eventual separation between fathers and sons. Technology marches on and children grow older and leave. And both are handled perfectly in this book.

Stephen King calls the communication between writers and readers a type of telepathy; I don't know if I buy that, but I've found that sometimes it can be pretty cool.

* * *

Immediately after posting the above, I was Googlerted (thanks, Sligo!) to a review by Casey Jarman in the Orlando Weekly, who wrote:

Brian Fies is an incurable optimist. Even his previous book, Mom’s Cancer (guess what it’s about?), clung to strength in the face of adversity. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? is a reasonably meta collection of father-son stories that examine, with wide-eyed wonder, technological advances from America’s can-do last century. Most comic creators are outsiders by trade, but Fies seems remarkably well-adjusted, a trait a lot of comics readers will find jarring. But that upbeat perspective goes well with the author’s clean drawing style, and by the end of the book we just really hope Fies is right in predicting a non-dystopian future.

Heh! "Well-adjusted." Snerk! The thought--and accompanying nice review--are appreciated, though.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rough (Very) Character Design

I wasn't sure about posting this one, but experience has taught me that the crafty bits I'm uncertain about turn out to be some of my best-received posts, so here goes.

I mentioned a while ago that I was working on a new project. Don't know what it's going to be yet--or whether it'll be anything--but it's fun to toss around. The story has three main characters with very different objectives and personalities (as characters in a story should). They're thrown together. Fun and drama ensue.

Thinking about what these people should look like, I wanted to capture the essence of their differences in comic shorthand. Now, one of the most ancient tools in the Official Cartoonist's Toolkit is visual contrast. Mutt and Jeff, Maggie and Jiggs, Krazy and Ignatz. Outside of comics, think of Laurel and Hardy. The viewer can tell who's who, and even deduce something of their personalities, just by their sillhouettes.

Playing with that idea, I came up with these three figures, constructed of rectangles, circles, and triangles:

Now, I think even with those basic forms, you could surmise a bit about the characters' personalities. A man made of squares might be rigid and unyielding; a woman made of circles might be kind and nurturing; a younger woman made of triangles might be driven and jumpy. But clumps of geometric figures aren't characters. You need to round off the edges, imagine how a skeleton might work inside their flesh, make them organic. Here's a more intermediate step in the process of turning them into people:

That's just a beginning, not an end. I'll add features and spend some time living with these shapes, trying them in different poses, making sure they can do everything I need them to. I'll flesh them out and draw them until I feel like I've got them streamlined and polished. I'll give some thought to the rest of their universe, and the best tools and media I can use to depict it. Then--if I decide I've really got a story worth telling, which I haven't yet convinced myself--I'm ready to start drawing.

Like I said, I was hesitant to post this. First, because I'm not sure it'll amount to anything. Second, because I don't want to suggest this is the best or only way to do things; it's just mine. Third, because this is elementary Cartooning 101 kind of stuff, and I suspect many readers either won't care or already know it. But it's a start. Or not. Don't hold me to it.