Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Fresh Sense of Wonder

Space Times, the magazine of the American Astronautical Society (AAS), which awarded WHTTWOT the 2009 Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award (Young Adult), has published a review that I thought was so terrific I'm reprinting the entire thing here. Continued thanks to the AAS for its support, this review, and
the cool plaque hanging on the wall over my left shoulder. Earning such nice recognition from a group like this is the best.

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? answers the
question--if it still needs to be asked--of whether a graphic novel can be as educational and entertaining as a standard book. Yes it can--perhaps it can do even more.

This is a book that can be enjoyed on a number of levels. There are some wonderfully sly and ironic asides that only a careful reader will spot. But mostly the book takes us on an enjoyable ride through the imagination of a young child from the 1930s onward. The personal tales show how America's love of space sciences and the promise of the future rose on lofty national dreams of a bright future where science cured all problems, only to be slowed by a mixture of cynicism and reality. Its examination of futures past is fascinating, especially to comapre them so closely side-by-side.

It would be a pessimistic finale, to look at how many of the dreams of prior decades did not happen, if not for the book's ending, which says something very important that few books for adults or youth ever capture--and certainly not as well as this book. In short, it shows how not reaching the dreams of the past is not always a bad thing, as long as they are replaced by newer, smarter, better dreams, based on new ideas, new experience, and a fresh sense of wonder.

We can't imagine a better time for young people to hear this inspiring message, and this book delivers it with grace and style.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Sketching with Passion

Last September I blogged about the great time I had taking part in a Cartoonists Sketch-a-Thon at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. To help celebrate the 60th anniversary of "Peanuts," the museum gathered 18 or so cartoonists--all of whom had done previous "Cartoonist in Residence" gigs--and set us up at tables to draw for and talk to the public. It was a very nice event.

Also attending was videographer Jay Hamilton-Roth, who schlepped his camera from table to table interviewing many of us. Jay's subject is "Business with Passion," and if there's any group of people passionate about what they do it's cartoonists because there sure ain't much money in it. Anyway, Jay has now assembled his report and produced this trailer:

The full half-hour feature is posted at Jay's website (I don't see a way to embed it and I'm happy to direct traffic to him). My bit starts at about 13:20 but I think the whole thing's worth watching. Seeing it really makes me wish I'd had time to meet and talk to people like Lark Pien, Brent Anderson and Paul Madonna, but I never really had the chance. I already knew and got to at least say hello to Dan Piraro, Alexis Fajardo, Shaenon Garrity plus a couple of others who were there but weren't interviewed by Jay.

My first impression of the interview is that I brag too much, for which I have two excuses: first, Jay naturally had no idea who I was so I needed to establish my bona fides and explain what I was doing there very quickly; second, we talked for quite a while and those are the bits he went with.

I really wish I hadn't called Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow "a more personal project" than Mom's Cancer. Argh! I can't imagine anything more "personal" than the true story of how my family dealt with my mother's disease, and when I build my time machine I'll go back and stop myself from completing that sentence. What I meant--and how I've expressed it elsewhen--is that WHTTWOT is a book I could have done if Mom's Cancer had never happened. It's me. Its themes of futurism, Space Age utopianism, pop culture appreciation, and optimism are part of my personality and close to my heart. In that narrow sense it's a more personal work. But if I could only choose one book to put in the time capsule of my life, it's Mom's Cancer.

In any event, it's a nice feature and I appreciate Jay's time and effort very much.

I mentioned a while back that the cartoonists were all asked to provide a drawing commemorating the anniversary of "Peanuts" and that mine was one of a few chosen to go on display. That's now happened, and turned out much nicer than I expected! If you visit the Schulz Museum sometime in the next few weeks, you'll find my piece up the stairs directly across from the restrooms:

Mine's at the upper right (I posted a scan of it here). The other three are by Greg Knight, Lark Pien and Thien Pham. The group of four to the left are other pieces unrelated to the Sketch-a-Thon (I think one is an original of the comic strip "Pickles" by Brian Crane that mentions "Peanuts").

Seeing my work hanging on this wall in this building goes on my list of all-time personal lifetime highlights. Among the many extraordinary things that have happened to me in my cartooning semi-career, this one stands out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bark Us All Bow-Wows of Folly

Time for a bit of whimsy that's been a tradition on my blog every Christmas Eve since waaay back in 2005. My best wishes to you, thanks for reading my stuff.

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n' too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly
gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, 'lope with you!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

--Walt Kelly

Monday, December 13, 2010

Graphic Medicine: Call for Papers

Some of you may remember that I had the honor and fun of being a keynote speaker at a conference on Graphic Medicine in London last June. I must've looked like I had too much fun, because the organizers of that event asked me to help plan the next one and I said "yes."

It's scheduled for June 9-11, 2011 at Northwestern University in Chicago, and we're looking for interesting material to fill two days (expanded from the single day in London) of talks, workshops, panels, and general fol-de-rol. Stitches author David Small is a confirmed speaker and we're negotiating with other big-name creators to appear as well.

Some excerpts from our Call for Papers:

We invite proposals for scholarly papers (15 minutes), poster presentations, and panel discussions (60 minutes), focused on medicine and comics in any form (e.g., graphic novels, comic strips, graphic pathographies, manga, and/or web comics) . . . We also welcome workshops (120 minutes) by creators of comics on the process, rationale, methods, and general theories behind the use of comics to explore medical themes. These are intended to be “hands-on” interactive workshops for participants who wish to obtain particular skills with regard to the creation or teaching about comics in the medical context.

We envision this gathering as a collaboration among humanities scholars, comics scholars, comics creators, healthcare professionals, and comics enthusiasts.

300 word proposals should be submitted by Friday, 28 February 2011 to

The full Call for Papers is available at If I didn't think this was worth doing, I wouldn't be doing it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bookplates Roasting on an Open Fire

I posted this on my Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow Facebook Page but also wanted to mention it here:

Planning to buy that Space Age Baby Boomer or curious kid in your life WHTTWOT for Christmas? Want it signed? Better than going to the time and expense of mailing a book back and forth, just e-mail me (brianfies[at] your postal address and I'll mail you a bookplate--specially designed by me--inscribed however you want. Free! Then you can stick it in the book and smugly bask in their gratitude.

Sorry for the duplication, all six of you who read my blog and are also Facebook fans, but I've got stickers to unload and books to shill. 'Tis the season! And I do think it'd make a great gift for the right person. Why, I'll bet you're thinking of someone right now....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Plus I Can Cut Meat on It

My postal carrier briefly interrupted the stream of junk mail and Christmas catalogs that jam our mailbox this time of year to bring me something I actually wanted: a handsome plaque from the American Astronautical Society (AAS). My Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, Young Adult Category, for Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow.

You can tell I'm happy because of my totally relaxed and natural smile in the photo above. What a goober.

I've already written a bit about how much this honor means to me and don't want to belabor it. Just thought you might want to see the plaque. Since it's made of a luxurious rich dark wood that didn't photograph well when I held it, I scanned it and lightened it up a bit:

Pretty cool, huh? Thanks again to the AAS, not to mention (nor ever overlook) all the people who read and appreciated WHTTWOT in the first place. That's better than plaques.

Which I will still take.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Sentimental, I Know

We've got a local radio station that will broadcast Christmas songs non-stop between now and December 25. I guess they're angling for that lucrative "playing quietly in the background while people shop at the strip mall" market.

Since my slice of Northern California doesn't get snow or many other external reminders of the holiday (I don't count rain), it's pleasant to tune in occasionally. However, the small repertoire of songs gets awfully repetitive, which is why I'm always looking for new carols to add to the canon. I think maybe I found one:

Singer-songwriter Tim Minchin is Australian, which is why his happy Christmas memories sound like warm-weather ones. Now go shop. You're already behind everyone else!