Thursday, September 30, 2010

Memo to My Wife

Dear Karen,

Remember when I blogged about that USS Enterprise pizza cutter and jokingly hinted how much I'd enjoy finding one under the Christmas tree?

Remember a few days ago, when I tried to convince you that our next car really should be a refurbished DeLorean, and promised that if you agreed to get one I'd let you be the first to take it up to 88 mph?

Never mind.

I realize now I was being childish and silly. I owe you so much more than that. You deserve a husband who aspires to be more than an arrested adolescent desperately clinging to the nostalgic fantasy icons of his youth as he lurches uneasily into middle age. I'm sorry. I'll try to be a better man.
A better man who just found out that DC Comics has licensed a company called Fiberglass Freaks to build modern, street-legal reproductions of the Adam West Batmobile! Complete with real flames blasting from the rocket exhaust! And they only cost $150,000! Woo-hooooo!

Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed! Come on, baby, let's go for a spin! I'll let you pull the lever that releases the Bat-parachutes!

Love, Brian

Saturday, September 25, 2010

LitGraphics at the Michener

Google Alerts tells me that LitGraphics, a traveling museum exhibition of comic art including mine, opened today at the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. If you, like I, wonder what a museum named after Michener is doing in Pennsylvania, or indeed why it exists at all, the museum's website explains that it opened in 1988 and "was named for Doylestown's most famous son, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer and supporter of the arts who had first dreamed of a regional art museum in the early 1960s." There you go.

This is the exhibition whose opening at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts I attended in November 2007, and then followed to Ohio's Toledo Museum of Art in October 2009. It's worth seeing if you're nearby, notwithstanding my contribution. There's work by Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Peter Kuper, Harvey Kurtzman, Frank Miller, Steve Ditko, Jessica Abel, Terry Moore, and more. I loaned them eight pages of original art from Mom's Cancer that I figured would be more productive touring the country than sitting in a file under my desk.

My stuff at the Rockwell in Stockbridge . . .

. . . and at the TMA in Toledo. Both museums did a beautiful job of displaying everybody's work.

Both the Rockwell and Toledo museums set up their galleries to show videos of some of the artists (there's one playing in that picture immediately above) shot by videographer Jeremy Clowe and Rockwell curator Martin Mahoney, which I may as well take the excuse to show again. Martin and Jeremy actually flew across the country to interview me in my home. I'm ashamed to say that my rolltop desk, where I do my 'tooning, looks pretty much the same. I mean, some objects have literally not moved since 2007. I really should dust. Here's the video (apologies if you've already seen it once or thrice):

And here are Jeremy and Martin backed into a closet to shoot that video. It's not a large room.

It's a good show. If you're in the Doylestown neighborhood, or if you see LitGraphics coming to your neighborhood in months to come, check it out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tik Tok Spock

I like how life surprises you. I started the week thinking its theme was going to be foreign publishing, and now it's going out with "Star Trek." My daughter Robin sent me this and made me smile. That's good enough for me.

Have a nice weekend, y'all. I've been working hard and could use one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Slice: The Final Frontier, or Deep Dish Nine

I don't know what took somebody 45 years to think of this, but I want one:

A beautiful, gleaming, silvery chrome-plated USS Enterprise pizza cutter. Now that's a work of art.

sniff. Pardon me, I've got something in my eye. Must be a bit of . . . sniff . . . pepperoni. Or anti-matter.

Not sure it's worth $24.99, but Christmas is coming. You can find it here. Karen.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's a World of Laughter, a World of Tears . . .

. . . Now try to get that song out of your head the rest of the day.

Looks like I inadvertently stumbled into "International Week" on the ol' blog, following yesterday's post from France with today's from Germany: an article in the Sueddeutsche newspaper about cancer-themed comics, including mine--ein Comic ├╝ber Krebs.

This is more fallout from that paper in the British Medical Journal as well as the Graphic Medicine conference I mentioned yesterday. I was interviewed for this article a while ago, but had forgotten all about it until Ian Williams (also quoted in the article) sent me a link. Thanks, Ian!

When I saw that the article included a graphic of my comic in English, I was afraid the writer might not have realized that Mom's Cancer is also available in German. But reading down with my ossified high-school German, I see that Mutter hat Krebs is also mentioned, so all is well.

Once again, I can only imagine what Mom would have made of all this, but I imagine she'd be pretty proud.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In the Wild, Old World Style

My friend MK Czerwiec, a Chicago nurse who makes comics under the name Comic Nurse (go figure), was in a Paris bookstore recently when she saw some familiar artwork and took a photo:

That's the French edition of Mom's Cancer, and it was very cool of MK to take the shot and send it to me. Once in a while, I'm still brought up short when I realize people in different parts of the world read my words and pictures in languages I don't even understand.

I got to know MK via e-mail before we finally met in person in London, where we both attended the Graphic Medicine conference at which I was honored to give a keynote speech. (Look, it's another sentence I never could have imagined writing a few years ago!) MK had been thinking about organizing a similar conference in the United States even before the one in London, and I suspect she may yet get her chance. I hope so.

I came home from London feeling like I'd been part of the start of something with the potential to be important. I don't know quite what or how, but there's untapped potential in this intersection of comics and medicine that seems useful and worth exploring, and a lot of other people agree. It'd be great to see that potential realized.

With MK in London.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Higher Than a Kite and Some Aircraft

I don't usually pass on stuff like this, but I found this video fascinating. Think your job is tough? This guy's not hooked up right, and I'm not just referring to the safety line he seldom uses.

Enjoy your weekend--I'm sure that tower-climbing guy enjoys his.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Saturday at the Museum, Now with Music!

Good pal Mike Lynch alerted me to this short video of last Saturday's Sketch-a-Thon at the Charles Schulz Museum celebrating the 60th anniversary of "Peanuts." I'm in it, about 31 seconds in. And solely to embarrass my wife (never a good idea but I'm a thrill-seeker), I'll note that there's a quick shot of Karen standing behind me at 54 sec.

I was surprised to see this video, even though I obviously knew I was being taped. There were a couple of videographers running around and I forgot about this guy (cartoonist Mike Capozzola). Here's how big a sap I am: watching myself draw Linus's pumpkin patch accompanied by Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" theme puts a little shiver down my spine. What a dope.

The video definitely captures the spirit of the day. Thanks to Mike Capozzola and thanks (again) to the museum for letting me in the door.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Sketchy Report

I had a great time at the Schulz Museum's Cartoonist Sketch-a-Thon this afternoon. The event drew a nice turnout, with a steady, comfortable flow of nice people interested in watching a bunch of cartoonists draw and talk (sometimes simultaneously!).

An overview of the museum's Great Hall, with cartoonists lined up against the wall. I'm down by the man in the pink shirt. This is early; the crowd got heavier. All photos by Karen Fies (thanks, Sweetie!)

A closer look. Sharing my table in the blue Hawaiian shirt was cartoonist, teacher and actor Brian Narelle, whom I'd met before and was pleased to see again. Sitting to my left (the photo's right) are animator Mike Gray and cartoonist Jonathan Lemon. The guy in the green shirt to whom I'm talking is Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. I was especially happy to reconnect with Andrew and his wife, cartoonist and writer Shaenon K. Garrity, who was one of the tooning participants (in the top photo, she's at the far left next to the guy in the green shirt--hey, there he is again!). I cannot believe how gray my hair is. It's positively luminescent.

Being interviewed for a local television program. That's my "cogent and insightful" face. Seriously, when did I get so gray?
Dan the Man Piraro, award-winning syndicated cartoonist and international bon vivant. I've never seen a cartoonist who looks more like one of his own drawings, and not just because Dan frequently draws himself into his strip "Bizarro." As I mentioned a few days ago, Dan and I have met before and had a few minutes to get reacquainted today. His table was packed all afternoon, and his follow-up lecture/comedy act filled the museum's theater.
All the participants were asked to contribute a drawing celebrating the 60th anniversary of "Peanuts," and I cleverly got a head start by penciling mine at home before I showed up. I assumed I could ink one simple drawing in a few hours. I assumed wrong. People kept me busy enough that the hours passed in a flash and I had to take it home to finish.
Some of the crap--er, materials and tools--I brought to draw with. A couple of artists wandered by and marveled that I still use brush and ink. I guess for them it was kind of like visiting a Renaissance Faire to watch an artisan make chain mail.

Getting started on my 60th Anniversary Sketch for the museum.
And . . .
Finished at home later. (Click to see it bigger.) I planned to do some shading with a light gray wash, and actually had it diluted out to just the tone I wanted, but decided to leave well enough alone. I liked this fine. Also, the museum plans to collect the drawings into a little souvenir book of the event, and I wasn't sure they'd be able to reproduce the graytones. So I stopped.
Karen and I had a really good afternoon. We sold a few books and talked to some nice people, including cartoonists, museum volunteers, Jeannie Schulz, and even some kids I remembered from my cartoonist-in-residence gig last January. Afterward we crossed the street to the ice arena's cafe and sat in the sun slurping root beer floats. My only regret is that I was so busy I didn't have a chance to meet a couple of people I really wanted to, including comic book artist Brent Anderson and cartoonist/colorist Lark Pien. I sat 20 paces away and never had a moment to say "hello." Maybe someday.

Thanks to the museum and especially Jessica Ruskin for inviting me and pulling the Sketch-a-Thon together. I promise I'll turn in my drawing in tomorrow.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Sketch-A-Thon Saturday

Just a reminder: I'll be at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., tomorrow between 1 and 3 p.m. taking part in a
16-cartoonist "Sketch-a-Thon" to help celebrate the 60th anniverary of "Peanuts." The event's headliner is syndicated cartoonist Dan Piraro, who'll be speaking in the museum's theater at 3:30.

We've all been asked to draw something for the museum's collection to honor "Peanuts" while we're there. When I showed my wife Karen a sketch of my idea, she found it way too depressing. I tried to defend myself: one quality that made "Peanuts" great was its melancholy. She didn't buy it. "It's supposed to be a celebration!" So I happied it up a bit, to the point that I expect the number of people who will feel suicidal after seeing my drawing to be quite small. So much for artistic vision.

Come on by, meet some cartoonists, watch us draw, buy some books, tour the museum, listen to Piraro. Sounds like a nice afternoon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Colleen Doran Puts a Burr Under My Saddle

Mark Evanier posted this interview with writer and artist Colleen Doran. I don't know Ms. Doran and have only passing familiarity with her work, but she says two or three things in this short piece I found very interesting. If you've got five minutes, take a look then come back . . .

Mark described Colleen as an artist with unusual business acumen, which I think comes across. One of her points is the importance of a creative person understanding that his or her work has value. People who recognize that value more than the artist does will try to take advantage of it. It happens all the time. I know people who've made bad agreements in good faith and lost money, opportunities, or the right to work on or profit from their own creations.

A corallary of knowing your rights and what your work is worth is being willing to walk away from a bad deal. I think that can be tremendously hard to do. This may be the only offer you get! You'll rationalize that a bad deal is better than none--that getting your work into the world in any fashion is better than having it sit unseen in your drawer. I don't think so. Nothing will make you more miserable later than being stuck in a bad contract with exploitive jerks. (I emphasize I'm drawing lessons from the experience of friends, and haven't felt exploited myself. My dealings with my publisher and freelance clients have been respectful and fair.)

Colleen also touches on the economics of the Digital Age, our glorious "Information Should Be Free" era in which people would rather read Doran's work pirated on BitTorrent than on her website--where the content is already available free!--thus denying her the pennies in advertising revenue she would've gotten. I can't tell you how much this mindset of entitlement sticks in my craw, and the harm I foresee it doing to the creative arts.

Here's where I stand on that: Creators' rights are important. Copyright is important. I created something. It was hard work. It took a lot of time. Without me, it wouldn't exist. I get to decide if my work is best presented on paper, pixels, shadow puppets, or theater-in-the-round. If I want to give it away free, fine. If my publisher and I set a cover price of $14.95 or $24.95, you can pay it or not if you think it's worth it or not. Those are your only ethical choices. Downloading a copy that someone scanned without my permission is not an ethical choice. It is not the behavior of someone who professes to be a fan.

It's not about the money. I'm thrilled when people loan my books to friends or check them out of libraries. I think "Great, another reader!" not "Rats, another lost sale!" It's about respect. When you take my stuff, you're telling me it's literally worthless. I disagree. We may have a legitimate argument about whether it's worth $14.95 or $24.95, but it's not worthless.

A peripheral discussion comes up a lot in webcomic circles, where many cartoonists offer their comics for free and earn their living through advertising and product sales, sometimes derided as "selling mousepads and t-shirts." This is championed as the 21st-century business model that we'd better darn well get used to. Get on board or get left behind. It works for some people and I'm happy for them. What irks me is its fundamental assumption that the work itself--the writing and art that lures readers to the site so their eyeballs can be captured by ads--has no intrinsic value except as bait. There's something wrong with that.

What has more value than an idea no one has ever expressed in quite the same way? A story no one has told before? A character you'll never forget? Information you didn't know but which will enrich the rest of your life? A genuine laugh or tear? How much more valuable are "Macbeth" or "Starry Night" than a t-shirt or mug of the same?

It's an upside-down world, brother.

I've got no beef with someone who wants to give away their work, for whatever reason. When I serialized my Mom's Cancer webcomic it was free, with no advertising or product placement. I wanted my story to be read, and the Internet offered the easiest, cheapest way to present it to the world. I trusted that if readers thought the story was good, then good things would come from it. I was lucky; they did. That was an emotional and artistic choice rather than a business decision (it almost by definition couldn't have been a business decision, since no money was involved). The key is that it was my choice.

But I'm a writer, not a t-shirt salesman. I want to make words and pictures and stories that other people think are worth $14.95 or $24.95 or whatever price might earn enough that I can afford to make more. If I can't come up with material that's worth something to someone, I don't deserve to be in the business. Why would anybody with an ounce of self respect set out to create stuff they believe is worthless? Why would anybody read it?


Friday, September 3, 2010

...And The Emme (not "Emmy") Goes to WHTTWOT

Very exciting news: Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow has won the American Astronautical Society's 2009 Eugene M. Emme Award for Astronautical Literature!

Since 1983, the AAS has bestowed the Emme Award (named after NASA's first historian) to "outstanding books that advance public understanding of astronautics." This year, for the first time, the society established separate Emme Awards called "Emme Juniors" for young adult books, which is what I won, and children's books. I don't yet see the announcement on the AAS website, but a press release was published on so I guess I'm free to talk about it.

The winner of the (adult) Emme Award is Ambassadors From Earth: Pioneering Explorations with Unmanned Spacecraft by Jay Gallentine, while the children's Emme Junior goes to If I Were An Astronaut by Eric Braun.

I've known about this honor for a couple of weeks but waited for the AAS to make it public. I can't tell you how tickled I am! First: I didn't know I'd been nominated, so it was a terrific surprise. When I was first notified by the AAS, I wondered if I was being punked.

Second: as I joked when Mom's Cancer earned some recognition as children's literature, I didn't realize I'd made a kids' book. I thought I'd written WHTTWOT for Space Age Baby Boomers. Basically, me. But, like Mom's Cancer, WHTTWOT was deliberately written and drawn for an all-ages audience, which certainly includes young adults. So that's fine by me.

Third: while I'm proud and appreciative of recognition like Eisner and Harvey award nominations from within the comics community, I didn't write WHTTWOT exclusively--or even primarily--for that audience. Achieving this kind of crossover, where people outside of comics see the value of graphic novels to tell stories and deliver information in ways that other books or media can't, is important to me.

Especially because it's SPACE people! AAS was formed in 1954 as an independent scientific and technical group dedicated to the advancement of space science and exploration. It holds serious scientific conferences, and its officers and members are leaders in aerospace industry, research, and academia. They're the real deal.

I'll have more to say about this, and why I find it especially moving (if you've read WHTTWOT or this long-ago blog post of mine, you may imagine what being recognized for writing a quality book about space exploration might mean to me). Just wanted to get the word out, and thank the AAS, at the earliest opportunity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Two's Company, Seventeen's a Crowd

I just got some exciting new information about the Sketch-A-Thon I'll be doing on Saturday, Sept. 11 at the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center in honor of the 60th anniversary of "Peanuts." [NOTE: this post originally read "next Saturday," which was wrong. The event is Sept. 11, not Sept. 4. Sorry for any confusion.]

Not only has the roster of cartoonists gathering to draw in the museum's light and spacious Great Hall grown to 17 (!), but we'll be headlined by Dan Piraro, creator of the comic strip "Bizarro" and winner of this year's National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award for Best Cartoonist! The Sketch-A-Thon will take place from 1 to 3 p.m., after which Dan will speak in the museum's small theater at 3:30.

I've met Dan a couple of times and also seen him speak. He's an entertaining, engaging guy--well worth the nominal price of admission on his own. In addition to Dan, artists scheduled to appear are Brent Anderson, Michael Capozzola, Rhoda Draws, Alexis Fajardo, Shaenon Garrity, Mike Gray, Debbie Huey, Greg Knight, Jonathan Lemon, Paul Madonna, Brian Narelle, Thien Pham, Lark Pien, and Frank Roberson. And me. I must be missing one because that doesn't add up to 17. But it's a bunch. Honestly, I don't know who all those people are or what they do, but I'm looking forward to finding out. In addition to sitting at tables doing whatever the heck we want, we're all being asked to draw a picture in honor of Peanuts' 60th. I've got something in mind.

Come by and keep me company. Or use me to get to Dan, I don't mind.

Proof that Dan Piraro and I have been in the same place at the same time, neither of us evidently very happy about it.