Thursday, October 29, 2009

Inking with Tennapel

The video below is a neat 10-minute interview/tutorial with writer-artist Doug Tennapel on how he approaches inking. There's some good practical cartooning advice, but also some creative and philosophical musing that I really appreciated. I especially liked his opening expression of passion for the sensuality of working with actual paper and ink rather than digitally, an opinion that carries some weight because he's good at both. I feel the same way. Which is not to say I do everything the same way he does:
  • I use a smaller brush. On Mom's Cancer and WHTTWOT I used a much smaller brush, but am now trying a bigger one for what I hope will be my next project. It's still half the size of his.
  • In addition to brush, I use crowquill nibs and Micron pens. I don't know if Tennapel does, we don't see him use them in the video. In general, my work is a lot tighter and cleaner than his, which isn't necessarily a positive. It's just different. I do envy his casual confidence and inky spontaneity. He's really good.
  • I share his opinion of the quality of Higgins Black Magic ink but still use it anyway. However, I've gotten into the habit of leaving the cap off a new bottle for a few days to thicken and darken it, which seems to help.
  • He's a much more diligent brush cleaner than I am. I don't suck the ink out of the bristles with my mouth and then look at the color of my spit to see if it's clean. However, I do finish off my rinsing regimen with a little spit spin through my fingertips. (TMI?)
  • His goal of putting out one graphic novel per year for the rest of his productive life strikes me as nuts, or at least overly ambitious. But I appreciate the spirit of the goal, which has occurred to me as well: You've only got so much time on the planet, how will you portion it to accomplish everything you want? If I could cartoon for another 30 years, and had a willing publisher and readers, how much could I do? How much would I want to? Five books? Ten? Thirty? I don't know, but thinking in those terms helps concentrate the mind wonderfully, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson.
And I, too, like seeing ink stains on my fingers at the end of a good day at the drawing board.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In the Wild

I see I haven't mentioned my Facebook presence in a while, and wanted to remind anyone who might care that I have both a Personal Page and a Fan Page for WHTTWOT. Between them and this blog, I'm more web-connected than I honestly ever expected to be, with the pros and cons that implies.

Each venue serves a particular purpose in my mind, and I try not to duplicate everything everywhere although there's obviously some spillover. One feature I've unexpectedly enjoyed is my Fan Page's
"In the Wild" Photo Album, where I post pictures of WHTTWOT wherever readers find it. I've written before that publishing a book is kind of like sending an adult child into the world, never really knowing where it is or what it's up to except for quick and cryptic messages home. The "In the Wild" photos are like picture postcards that my book sends me of its really great travels.

Here are a few recent ones:

Marion Deeds sent this photo of WHTTWOT enthralling an unusually literate cat in Gualala, Calif. This continued a strange yet somehow appropriate theme of "WHTTWOT + Cats" begun by my friends Ronnie and Sherwood. I don't know what it is about cats, but I like it.

Cartoonist Sarah Leavitt posed with WHTTWOT during a book fair in Vancouver, BC, Canada recently. She's a terrific person who has a book coming out soon about losing her mother (in more ways than one) to Alzheimer's Disease. Brian Nicol took the picture.

Jim O'Kane and Nancy Gleason staged this picture to make WHTTWOT look as tall as a rocket next to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Jim has been so great about schlepping my book around the country and photographing it at one amazing site after another that I finally forgave him for pointing out the only error anyone has found in WHTTWOT to date. Not that I want everyone to start looking.

I think the main reason I have fun with "In the Wild" pictures is that my friends and readers have had fun with them. They are definitely one of the big "pros" of being web-connected. Send more!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sequential Tart Interview

Sequential Tart, a webzine about comics that was an important and generous supporter of Mom's Cancer, has posted Part One of a two-part interview that MK Czerwiec did with me several weeks ago. MK is "Comic Nurse," a registered nurse who loves and makes comics. We've stayed in touch for a few years now, and she worked hard preparing, transcribing, and editing our conversation into this interview.

I think it turned out very nice, and look forward to seeing what I said in Part Two next week. I don't remember; maybe I'll learn something! MK's transcription is faithful, so anything you don't like about it is my fault, not hers.

Thanks a lot, MK, I really appreciate it.

Four-Eyed Frog

Had a very nice weekend in the Northern California coastal town of Gualala, ostensibly to give a talk and sign books at a store called Four-Eyed Frog Books but also just to get a quick vacation that I could partially write off. The shop is owned by brothers Joel and Jeremy Crockett, who were very enthusiastic about WHTTWOT and couldn't have been better hosts.

Joel (left) and Jeremy (right) with some hack

As we'd kind of expected, the audience was small (Gualala has about 500 people total and there's not much else around) but, honestly, was probably the most engaged and interested group per capita that I've ever spoken to. I especially enjoyed meeting a high school cartoonist named Nick and local newspaper editor Steve, as well as rendezvousing with our friends Marion and Dave.

Explaining how the drawing on the easel ended up on the cover

The talk was Saturday at 4. That left Karen and I most of Saturday and half of Sunday to enjoy our environs. We did.

This is how you do a booksigning.

Many thanks to Joel and Jeremy, and everyone who spent part of their Saturday with me. We had a great time, and even managed to sell a couple of books. Bonus!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two Hours in WimpyWorld

Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, had a signing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore about an hour from my home yesterday, and invited me down for a late lunch beforehand. I really didn't intend to mention it here. Spending time with a friend and then breathlessly blogging about it seems very uncool. However, I found the experience so unique and interesting I couldn't resist. Plus, as you'll see, Jeff knew I'd write about it. My rationalization: very little of this post--just one tiny story--is actually about Jeff. Mostly, it's about the world around Jeff. WimpyWorld.

Here's what you need to know: Jeff is on a book tour to support his new book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, which is currently the bestselling book in the United States. Not kid's book, not graphic novel--the bestselling book, more than Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer or Sarah Palin. This is the fourth book in the Wimpy Kid series. The first three books remain numbers 23, 24 and 29 on USA Today's list of the Top 150 Bestsellers. Altogether, they've sold tens of millions. A movie is coming out next spring. It's not quite Harry Potter territory, but it's close.

I know Jeff because we have the same editor and publisher. I was at the New York Comic-Con the day Jeff brought his book idea to Editor Charlie, and Jeff has been gracious enough to mention that he did so because he knew Abrams had published Mom's Cancer. So I witnessed Wimpy Kid's publishing birth, and gave Jeff some early advice that he remembers fondly even though he doesn't need it anymore, and we've stayed in touch. Let's just agree that he owes it all to me.

Jeff's signing yesterday was due to start at 5 p.m. We arranged to meet in front of the bookstore at 3 p.m. I arrived early to find a few hundred people already waiting in a line that meandered around the perimeter of the parking lot. They weren't waiting to see Jeff; they were waiting to get a ticket to see Jeff. Mall security looked like it was already overwhelmed and frantically called in reinforcements. A policeman cruised through to figure out why a line of pedestrians was backing up onto the city sidewalk a block away. I called Jeff's cell.

The line along the parking lot when I arrived. It quickly grew to turn right down the lane in the distance and spill out onto the city streets.

"Jeff, I'm in front of the store. I don't think you want to meet me here." I described the scene. He was surprised; apparently crowds have been more modest elsewhere.

"All right," he said. "When you see the bus, just knock on the door. We'll let you in and find somewhere to eat."

"The bus?"

"You didn't know about the bus?"

"No. You have a bus? A bus bus?"

Jeff laughed. "You'll know it when you see it."

A few minutes later, I knew it when I saw it:

The bus. It's usually rented by rock bands on tour. Its previous occupant was the singer Pink. I offered the driver $100 to drive it down my block. He didn't.

The crowd roared. Well, since most of the crowd was younger than 12, it more squealed than roared. Either way, it got excited and loud. I jogged to intercept the bus some distance from the bookstore. Instead of letting me on, Jeff got off, and we ducked into a restaurant while the bus continued to the store, a giant yellow decoy. We had a very nice, quiet time to relax and talk over a pizza, which I ate most of because Jeff has learned not to tackle a marathon booksigning on a full stomach. I let him pick up the check anyway. Two big, loud families of Wimpy Kid fans came in and sat behind us; Jeff kept his head down. We finished and walked over to the bookstore, where the line had vanished because folks had gotten their tickets and either gone inside or left to return later.

Jeff inside the bus. Big-screen TV and entertainment center, full bath, a big master bedroom in the back and six bunks for roadies (which he doesn't have). Evidently, driving around the country in one of these costs about the same as flying from city to city, with a lot more comfort and less hassle. Jeff invited me to stay aboard and ride to Los Angeles with him last night. I may kick myself the rest of my life for declining.

Finally making myself useful, I found Publicist Jason (who travels with Jeff) and helped smuggle Jeff through a side door into a back room of the store. It was now about 4 p.m., and the store had begun a scavenger hunt and other games to keep hundreds of little rascals busy, happy, and non-destructive. Jeff really wanted to start signing early so the kids wouldn't have to wait, but the ticket system made that hard to do. People who had stood in line longest to get the first tickets might not come back until the scheduled start at 5 p.m., and beginning early wouldn't be fair to them. Jeff reluctantly agreed to stick to the plan, and instead sat down to sign every Wimpy Kid book the store had in stock that hadn't already been bought by fans waiting outside. He autographed probably 400 or 500 books before he even began the actual booksigning.

Jeff taking a call in the back room. Publicist Jason is at left and bookstore employees at right. I earned my keep by helping uncrate and stack books for Jeff to sign. Each box holds 40 books.

Here's the one story I'm going to tell about Jeff. I was distracted doing something else when Publicist Jason started to hand me his credit card. Jeff waved him off.

"What?" I asked.

"Would you mind getting Jeff a Jamba Juice?" Jason asked.

"No no," protested Jeff. "You don't have to."

"I'd be happy to get you a Jamba Juice," I said.

"No, it's fine."

"Really. No problem."

"It wouldn't be right," said Jeff. "Besides, you'd put it in your blog and make me look like a jerk."

Looks like I put it in my blog anyway, Jeff. You should've taken the Jamba Juice. (Luckily, Publicist Jason later had a chance to get the Jamba Juice himself.)

With boxes of books autographed and stacked, signing time rolled around. Announcements were made, lines formed throughout the store, a path was cleared between the back room and the signing table near the registers. Knowing I'd have no chance later, I said goodbye to Jeff and we lined up to pierce the throng, a phalanx of bookstore employees, Publicist Jason, Jeff, then me, with a couple of clerks guarding our rear. The door opened; we charged. Children squealed, women wept, and I think a blind man may have touched the hem of Jeff's garment and regained his sight.

A few feet before we reached the table I peeled out of formation and POP! in an instant I was out of the WimpyWorld bubble, just another member of the mob that security wouldn't let stand around taking pictures. (The problem isn't the pictures, it's the standing. Gotta keep things clear and moving.) I signed the store's one copy of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? and left for home.

Jeff at work. Barnes & Noble counted 2,800 people last night. Insane.

Brian Epstein managed The Beatles. He couldn't play an instrument and no one knew who he was, but everywhere The Beatles went Brian Epstein went, standing behind them or just outside the shot. For two hours yesterday, I got as close I will probably ever get to being Brian Epstein, and it was strange and fun. But I don't think I'd want to be Brian Epstein full time. And I know for sure I wouldn't want to be The Beatles.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Booksigning at Four-Eyed Frog

Just wanted to remind anyone in the neighborhood that I'll be speaking and signing books at a great bookshop called Four-Eyed Frog Books in Gualala, California next Saturday at 4 p.m.

Now, frankly, I don't expect anyone reading this to be in the neighborhood. Almost nobody is in the neighborhood. When I was a kid my family vacationed in the area quite a bit, and Gualala is a tiny town on a remote stretch of classic Northern California Coast: rugged cliffs, pounding surf, minimal beach, gorgeous. Did I mention remote? Karen and I are using the event as a good excuse for a weekend getaway. Four-Eyed Frog looks to be a lovingly run shop engaged in its community, and I'm looking forward to it a lot.

I'd love to see you. I don't expect to see you, but I'd love to.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Martian Confederacy

A fitting follow-up to my previous post . . .

What happens after “Boldly going where no man has gone before” becomes “Been there, done that?” Set on a future post-colonial Mars, The Martian Confederacy by Jason McNamara and Paige Braddock offers a fun and imaginative take on the question.

Braddock is the creator of the comic strip Jane’s World, branching out here with a story she conceived and drew, and McNamara plotted and wrote. After living in the same area as Paige for years and knowing people who know her, I finally got to meet her a few weeks ago at a class on graphic novel writing that she and McNamara taught at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. I signed up and got my money’s worth. She was nice enough to give me a copy of The Martian Confederacy on the condition (joking, I think) that I review it, and since I never turned in my evaluation form for their course (sorry) I figured I owed them some feedback.

The story is set on Mars in the year 3535. The red planet has been terraformed to the extent that humans (and bear-people, bug-people, and assorted mutants) can survive with a simple feed of supplemental oxygen, whose supply is controlled by a corporate monopoly. In the 15 centuries between now and then, Mars has gone through a boom and bust cycle of colonization, exploitation, and abandonment. Stripped of its natural resources and bypassed for more attractive destinations elsewhere in the galaxy, the planet is populated by a ragtag bunch of backwater scoundrels, scavengers, and schemers. This is a Mars that might be familiar to those who remember the movie “Total Recall,” with echoes of Mos Eisley, spaghetti Westerns, and “Dukes of Hazzard." McNamara said his story was inspired by the Monroe Doctrine and its effect on Latin America, particularly the exploitation and commoditization of resources such as water. That’s interesting subtext that adds a layer of depth, but isn't necessary to the enjoyment of the book.

The heroes are Boone, a thief and lady’s man with a heart of gold; Lou, an acerbic android fortuitously built to resemble a sexy woman; and Spinner, Boone’s man-bear buddy whose equanimity is a thin veneer covering animal savagery (don’t make him angry; you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry). The villains are the Alcade, who is the only lawman on Mars (think crooked sheriff), and his assistant Sally, whose loyalties depend on whether she’s standing on her hands or feet and who made me think harder than I maybe should've about how her intestinal plumbing works.

The plot is easily described: good guys discover a way to break the oxygen monopoly and bad guys try to stop them. I’m not giving much away, we learn this in the first few pages. The fun of The Martian Confederacy is less in the plot than the environment McNamara and Braddock create and the style with which they do it. To their credit, I think, they don’t really make a serious attempt to forecast the world of 3535 (any more than someone from A.D. 500 could’ve anticipated ours). Spaceships have tailfins like ’59 Cadillacs and shelters look like old Gulfstream trailers. “Planet of the Apes” is studied as actual history and the unit of currency is a “shatner.” Neat bits of world-building flavor and texture are dropped for the reader to piece together. There’s no need to explain why bears can walk upright and talk—the characters accept it, so we do.

McNamara and Braddock tread a thin line between drama and farce pretty well for the most part. I cared about the characters, even if it wasn’t always clear to me if or when I should take their jeopardy seriously. Spinner the man-bear and Lou the android were stand-out characters for me, showing more humanity than the humans. Braddock’s artwork is loose and confident, with a level of detail that clearly establishes characters and place without being fussy, and fits the setting. Mars is mostly a featureless desert; lack of fiddly background detail conveys a sense of big empty spaces. The book is colored throughout in a pinkish-orange palette perfect for the red planet. (Is that a special Pantone color? If so, kudos to Paige for going to the trouble.) I found a couple of typos and stumbled over a plot point or two that downshifted my brain to "Wait, what?" but I won’t point out theirs if they don’t point out mine. And the final few pages of particularly dark humor left me laughing out loud.

The Martian Confederacy is a rollicking light adventure in an intriguing sci-fi universe populated by characters I look forward to seeing developed in sequels, which are in the works. It's a good book by people who teach a good class. More of both would be swell.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bestest Coolest Picture Ever

From time to time I find and post the "Coolest Picture Ever," usually having something to do with outer space. Got a new one today. This was shot by the HiRISE orbiter that's been circling Mars for months, transmitting images of incredible resolution and quality. Some of my previous "Coolest Picture Ever" candidates were also shot by HiRISE, and that little probe is quickly becoming one of my favorites of all time. (What, doesn't everybody have favorite space probes?)

What we're looking at are sand dunes on Mars. The fine orange-peely texture is the same kind of wind-driven ripples you'd see in an Earth desert, nothing special. But the dark swirls! Those are caused by dust devils--the little tornado-like vortexes you often see scooting through a field--skipping across the Martian soil. As the dust devils spin, they pick up the fine orange dust, exposing heavier volcanic sand beneath. They do their little dances and die out, leaving these delicate tendril trails in their wake.

[Edited to Add: An anonymous reader who happens to live with me said I should explain what the lighter diagonal band is. That's a steeper slope or cliff face cutting across the terrain, and the parallel gray hashmarks are little landslides that rolled down the side.]

There's more information here and a much larger version here for the truly curious. Images like these constantly renew my amazement at what science can do, and has done in just my lifetime. When I was born, we'd barely managed to loft stuff into orbit, and the best views anyone had of anything off this planet came from Earthbound telescopes. What a world! What worlds!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Love Physics

That's why I majored in it. Not because I wanted to work as a physicist; I just liked learning physics.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's biggest particle accelerator that, when it finally goes into operation, will smash atoms together with unprecedented energy to see what they're made of. The most exotic target is the Higgs boson, a particle predicted by theory that probably maybe oughtta exist but nobody has yet seen one. Some call it "The God Particle." The LHC should be powerful enough to find it.

Unfortunately, when scientists flipped the "on" switch in September 2008, part of the LHC went kablooey. They hope to try again by the end of this year. However, two physicists have a theory for why the collider misfired in 2008 and, indeed, why it may never work right at all: time travel. Or as an essay in the New York Times explains:

". . . it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."

Now, I'm sure the scientists, Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya, are just having a goof. Pretty sure. But at the same time, they've devised some experiments to test their theory--which, to their credit, they began noodling before the LHC went kablooey--and if the collider never quite gets up to speed for various statistically improbable reasons, well . . . we'll see if they win a Nobel Prize (in Physics) for purely theoretical potential future accomplishments. But that would be silly.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Harveys &c

It escaped my notice that Harvey Awards were bestowed at the Baltimore Comic-con over the weekend. Sorry I dropped the ball. The Harveys are an autumnal counterpoint to the summer's Eisner Awards. They're also the nice people who named me "Best New Talent" two years ago, to their increasing chagrin.*

In any case, looking over the list of winners (which I had to find at Tom Spurgeon's invaluable Comics Reporter because I don't see them on the official site that doesn't look like it's been updated in weeks), I noticed how many of the winners share my publisher, Abrams. Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics won two Harvey Awards, Al Jaffee's Tall Tales won two, and Kyle Baker's Nat Turner won one. In addition, Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid was nominated in several categories but sadly shut out, leaving Jeff's cash-stuffed pillowcase stained with his tears I'm sure.

That's a big impact for a smallish publisher that first dipped its toe into comics just a few years ago. Congrats to Editor Charlie (who edited Kirby, Tall Tales and Wimpy Kid, don't know about Nat Turner) and everyone at Abrams on being recognized for their good work. I feel like a kicker playing on Joe Montana's 1984 San Francisco 49ers.** It's good to be with a winning team.

*Mandatory Joke Whenever I Mention This Honor: When my wife found out about it she said, "You look like the same old talent to me." True story. She's funny.

** Ray Wersching
* * *

I discovered a great new word today: "fissiparous" (fi-SIP-er-us), referring to something that tends to split. Next goal: work it naturally into a conversation.

I always wanted to keep a little notebook in which to jot new words as I found them. I never did, and kind of regret it. A lot of good words have gotten away from me because I didn't hook them when I had the chance. Then it occurred to me: I have a blog!
* * *
I found two things to pass on courtesy of Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who's actually a very good astronomer if bad at returning e-mails. First is a really cool chart from National Geographic that graphically illustrates every space mission to date. Each colorful track represents one mission, with bodies receiving the most missions (e.g., the Moon with 73) getting the most spirals around them. Nifty!

Second is a 1:48 video that I thought was a fun little art project/social experiment/Volkswagen commercial. Well-conceived, modestly insightful, but mostly just something I would definitely go out of my way to enjoy if someone installed one around me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hefty Run for Wimpy Kid

The latest installment of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series drops Monday, amid high security and special events planned for more than 2000 bookstores. According to this article at ICV2, Abrams' Amulet Books imprint has increased the first printing of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days from 3 million to 4 million, making it the biggest initial print run for a kids' book in 2009. I predict they will sell, and suggest Abrams keep the printing presses warm.

What a triumph for my friend Jeff and our mutual Editor Charlie! I am so excited for both those guys. Nothing vindicates an editor's judgment, experience, and skill like a bestseller. As for Jeff: he works incredibly hard to make Wimpy Kid look as light and effortless as it does. He writes genuinely good, funny, heartfelt, well-crafted stories, and Abrams' designers and printers makes them look great. Everyone involved earned their success.

(The ICV2 article also says Jeff is scheduled to appear on "The View." That's unbearably hilarious.)

Because my universe revolves around me (not unlike Jeff's hero Greg Heffley), I find Wimpy Kid's success both encouraging and bracing. It means I've got an editor and publisher with the proven potential to make an author's most audacious ambitions come true. Lucky me. It also negates the traditional excuse of having an editor or publisher who don't know what they're doing. Clearly, if there's anyone who doesn't know what he's doing, it's me. Fortunately, I can work on that.

Congratulations to Jeff and Charlie for what I'm sure will be a great launch and another wildly successful book.

Jeff, Editor Charlie, Me. This photo's a few years old and I've posted it before, but it fits the topic and it's the only one I've got of the three of us together. Two of these men have achieved literary and commercial success of which few dare dream. The third is devastatingly handsome. It's a fair trade.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Putting Together a Press Kit

I finally got around to doing something I should've done about six months ago: putting together a little press kit about myself and the book. It's nothing special--the official Abrams press release, a few pages of good reviews, plus some images--but if you're interested, it's available here and via a new link I just added to the sidebar at the right.

The purpose of my press kit is to give writers or reviewers on deadline everything they need to do their jobs. A description of the book, a little biography, some choice quotes, a picture to cut and paste. Of course Publicist Amy and I have been doing that as needed until now, but I just had occasion to pull it all together and figured I might as well put it online. If anyone needs it in the future, I'll just send them the link.

Like I said, should've done it long ago.

The secret of journalism--and I say this as a former and still occasional practitioner--is that journalists are lazy. Or if that's too strong, let's say they're very busy and like to work as efficiently as possible. The easier you, the potential subject of their piece, can make their job, the better. However, contrary to the hopes of PR flacks everywhere, no journalist with a gram of self respect prints a press release verbatim. (I can't guess how many hundreds of press releases I've seen that read like, "Fies Pharmaceuticals, a worldwide industry leader in the science of flea dip formulations, announces an exciting new product!" Does that ever work? What are they thinking?) I try to give journalists what I want when I'm in their shoes: enough background to answer the basics (what's the name of the book, who published it, what's it about, what's the reaction been, where are you from, what have you done before?) and breathing room to write the rest as they want.

As I pasted this together today, it did warm my heart to see WHTTWOT's good reviews all collected in one place. A bad review definitely sticks in my brain more stubbornly than a dozen good ones; on the other hand, seeing a dozen good ones --especially from people I respect--is a nice reminder that I must've done something right.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ode Lo Toledo

Look, I invented a palindrome ("Ode Lo Toledo")! It doesn't make sense, but it's close!

To recap: I flew from San Francisco to Ohio on Thursday for the opening of the LitGraphic exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art on Friday, and then flew back to San Francisco on Saturday. About the flights: just imagine sitting in an airplane for four hours, sitting in O'Hare International Airport for three hours, sitting in a much tinier airplane for one hour, then doing it in reverse two days later. Then add delays and thunderstorms over the Midwest. We hit some weather coming into Chicago on Thursday, which made for a long and bumpy flight but repaid me with pictures like this:

The Moon, floating above it all.

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is a very impressive jewel. The legacy of Edward Libbey, who came to Toledo to make his fortune in glass, TMA opened in 1901 and has one of the most eclectic collections I've ever seen, ranging from ancient Egyptian to contemporary art, with many household names (Rubens, Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso, Cezanne) represented. Program Coordinator Judy Weinberg, who picked me up at the airport at midnight and took outstanding care of me the entire time, explained that TMA's philosophy is quality over quantity, acquiring the best available examples of an artist's work rather than a lot of them.

The front of TMA. Behind me as I shot this photo is a separate museum building dedicated just to works made of glass, honoring the institution's origin.

The museum lobby, with the LitGraphic exhibition
through the doors dead ahead (behind the bouquet).

One of the best parts of the Libbey legacy is that admission to TMA is free. Although all museums wish they had more community involvement and support, from what I could see this joint was jumpin'. The same night as my talk, they had a wine bar with live music going on in one gallery and a weekly glassblowing demonstration happening in the Glass Pavilion across the street.

My gracious host and babysitter, Judy Weinberg . . .

. . . who then turned the camera on me.

Judy arranged for me to have lunch on Friday with Michael Walker, a comic artist and graduate of the Kubert School. That was great! Michael and I must have walked six miles through historic Toledo and downtown, talking shop. It added a lot to my trip to have a local show me around; it added a lot to my professional life to hear stories about comic art legends like Irwin Hasen (whom I've met and Michael took classes from) and Joe Kubert. He was generous with his time and I appreciated it a lot.

I think my talk went pretty well. I wish I were a little smoother speaker, but then again you don't want to be so smooth you're slick. I do think I achieved my goal of giving the 75 or so people who attended some things to look for as they toured LitGraphic and maybe some appreciation for comics as art/literature. I also met Chris Marshall, who interviewed me for his Collected Comics Library podcast a couple weeks ago and drove down from Michigan for the event. Great guy, and it was very nice to see a familiar face even if I'd never really seen it before.

The LitGraphic exhibition itself was beautifully done. TMA seemed to have quite a bit more room to display the works than the Rockwell Museum did, and I thought the extra breathing space helped. Monitors showed the same video profiles of some of the artists (including me) produced by the Rockwell Museum. Decorative banners and interpretive text were very nicely done. The whole thing was first rate.

Eight pages of original art from Mom's Cancer. I got in trouble taking this photo when a security guard nicely but firmly ordered "Sir, no pictures." "But I drew those!" I protested. "How do I know you drew those?" she reasonably asked. "Look!" I said, pointing to my self-portrait on one of the pages, "That's me!" She was unmoved and unconvinced. Luckily, Judy appeared just in time to prevent my ejection.

Another niche of the exhibition. Let's say I took
this photo before I knew I wasn't supposed to.

My entire literary oeuvre available in the TMA
giftshop. I signed most of these after my talk.

As for Toledo itself, I thought it was a great city whose citizens seemed a little too eager to apologize for it. I say no apologies are needed. While it's obviously a distressed industrial town, there's also obviously a lot of good work going on to revive it, and terrific architectural bones to build on. Michael and I ended up discussing house prices and property values, and my California ears could hardly believe what they heard. For what I'm paying right now for my two daughters' college tuition, I could buy mansions--actual historic mansions--in Toledo. Watch yourselves, girls.

Toledo skyline from a bridge overlooking the
Maumee River. Nothing wrong with that town.

The bed and breakfast a short walk from TMA in which I was put up for my stay. Toledo is lousy with great old residential and commercial buildings like this.

Altogether, I had a wonderful time in Toledo, think I performed ably and learned some things I hope to do better next time, and would love to go back again sometime. If you're in the neighborhood, check out the Toledo Museum of Art; definitely worth the trip and it won't cost you a dime. My sincerest thanks to Judy and everyone who made me feel so welcome.

Hey, "Ode Lo Toledo" isn't just a bad palindrome: It's a yodel!

EDITED TO ADD: Here's that video put together by Jeremy Clowe for the Norman Rockwell Museum and now showing on one of the monitors in LitGraphic. My desk still looks about the same.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

If "Waking Up In Toledo" Isn't a Song Title, It Should Be

Waking up in Toledo, Ohio and getting ready to catch a flight home in a few hours. That'll take the rest of the day.

I think my talk at the Toledo Museum of Art went well. I'd guess about 100 people showed up. I'm always my worst critic, and went to sleep last night thinking of all the things I wish I'd said, or said differently, but the very nice people who paid to bring me out here seemed to think they got their money's worth. The LitGraphic exhibition is wonderfully staged. I couldn't have been treated more graciously, I happily spent a few hours yesterday walking Toledo with a local and think it's a fine city, and the museum itself is a very impressive gem.

More later, with a few photos.

Thanks to the friends and strangers who left kind comments on my previous post. I was feeling more reflective than melancholy when I wrote it, and I'm afraid it came off sadder than I intended. I think of Mom often, some days more than others, and Oct. 1 will always be one of the "more" days. But most of my memories are happy ones, and when I think of her, I usually smile.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Four Years On

Mom died four years ago today. I know I just wrote a little memorial on the occasion of her birthday in August, but I couldn't let the day go without mentioning it.

It strikes me as--I can't choose the right word: neat? cool? significant? appropriate?--that in a few minutes I'm heading to the airport to fly across the country and share her story with people who haven't heard it yet. That's powerful. Mom's Cancer was never a bestseller, but the fact that it has life after four years (five since I put the first installment online) is really extraordinary. Mom would've been proud.

Rather than blather, I thought I'd just post a few links to my old blog from the days following October 1, 2005. The context is that Mom passed away just as Abrams was submitting the final files for Mom's Cancer to the printer, and Editor Charlie and I weren't quite sure what to do. And then we did the right thing, or at least the best we could.

Mom (Oct. 3, 2005)

Photographs & Memories (Oct. 7, 2005)

About The Book (Oct. 7, 2005)

More Photos (Oct. 11, 2005)