Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Tapas

Bite-sized morsels heading into the weekend.

Blogging's still sparse while I work hard on my day job (looks like I might get an important new client!) and thumbnailing Mystery Project X. I'm into the fun pages of the latter: the exciting conclusion when all secrets are revealed amid wall-to-wall pulse-pounding action. Yeah, let's go with that. I still have a ton of work to do before my sketches become a proposal, then who knows how many months of drawing afterward to turn it into a near-200-page graphic novel.

It's at this point that I always regain huge respect for anyone attempting a big creative project like this, even if it's an enormous steaming heap. After all, nobody sets out to make an enormous steaming heap, and it takes just as much time and energy. For all I know, that's what I'm doing. I worry about that.

My friend Jim O'Kane is down in Florida right now, waiting to watch the penultimate Space Shuttle launch. At this writing, the weather looks good. Jim actually invited me along and I wish I could've taken him up on it, but North America's a big continent that I'm on the other side of and shuttles aren't famous for launching on schedule. Endeavour looks good to go today, though. Godspeed, Jim.

BTW, Jim took a great photo yesterday that I'll post to my Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow Facebook Fan Page when I get a minute. If you haven't seen my album of "In the Wild" photos showing my book in various settings--including tombstones, rocket nozzles and Disneyland (isn't that a Lesley Gore song?)--you might enjoy that. Make my WHTTWOT page one of your "Favorites" while you're there, but only if you really feel that way deep in your heart.

I don't care much about the Royal Wedding but Will and Kate seem like swell kids and I wish them well. I do appreciate the sense of tradition and century-spanning continuity that the wedding evokes. We don't have much of that in the New World and especially in California, where the oldest structures are missions from the 1770s. In Britain, they'd call that "the new stuff we're still breaking in." One aspect of the wedding coverage I've enjoyed is that, after making my first visit to London last year, I have an internal map of the geography: "Oh, I've been there!" All these places--Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, Parliament--are like a 20-minute walk apart. That makes the grand pageantry a bit homier.

Karen and I showed up for the wedding 10 months early.

I didn't mean to make this "Britain Day," but cartoonist Dan Collins posted the video below that I decided to repost for no other reason than it made me happy. After years of mostly seeing the Beatles in scratchy black and white, it sometimes startles me that film like this (from the movie "Help") exists--essentially a music video a couple of decades before MTV was invented. But it wasn't really that long ago, was it? They (we) were so young and they, at least, were charming. I was eating paste.

Have a terrific weekend, everyone. It looks like spring around here. If you happen to look up at the stars tonight, take a second to marvel over the fact that we've got people up there.

Friday Mid-Morning UPDATE: Oh no! It looks like the Shuttle launch has been scrubbed for at least two days. I hope Jim can stick it out!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Call and Response

Two commercials with remarkable similarities. Enjoy, I did:

And have a nice Springy weekend, y'all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No One Told You When to Run, You Missed the Starting Gun

Begrudging blogging. I'm still chipping away at "Mystery Project X"; have thumbnailed (laid out, sketched, and placed dialog for) about 80% of it and built a related model that'll prove useful later (remember how I built a spaceship once? Like that). When completed, I'll print out the thumbnails, put together a little package, and ship it off to Editor Charlie to see if he's interested in publishing it. I alternate between confidence that I'm creating the greatest work I've ever done and terror that it totally sucks and my career is over. In other words, the usual.

* * *

I had a birthday last week. It was nice. My favorite gift was from my girls. I mentioned before that my daughter Laura is a part-time docent on the USS Hornet Museum, an aircraft carrier which was the recovery vessel for the Apollo 11 and 12 missions before being decommissioned in 1970. Her sister Robin has since started working there as well, helping chaperone the groups (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts) that sleep over on the ship most weekends.

Also docenting aboard the Hornet is a gentleman who actually served on it during the Apollo missions, and who during those recoveries slipped away to shoot his own Polaroids of the events. Which is how I ended up with a CD of 36 never-before-seen pictures of the Apollo 11 and 12 missions. To me, that's as good as finding a new photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg. The best part is knowing I raised kids thoughtful enough to come up with a gift like that.

* * *

I laughed at this news story this morning about Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Grainger in the "Harry Potter" movies, dropping out of Brown University partly because her fellow students just weren't cool enough to handle having her there. Apparently she got tired of them shouting "Three points for Gryffindor!" whenever she got an answer right.

I'd like to think I wouldn't be one of those students, but at age 18 I probably would have.

* * *

A couple of nights ago, Karen and I went to see a friend of ours give a poetry reading. You heard me right: I know a professional poet. Ooooh, impressive! Karen and she became best friends when they met at age 13 and I wormed my way into the Circle of Trust when we all went to the same university. It was a good night that reminded me my life could use more fine poetry in it. Although, as Karen pointed out later, it's not as if I haven't dabbled a bit myself.

I was delighted to find that the bookstore hosting the reading had a copy of Mom's Cancer on its shelves. I've slowly gotten over my shyness about offering to sign books I find in the wild, but it's still a weird thing to do. And I was struck again by two things I've noticed before: 1) More often than not, the clerks seem totally indifferent--I mean, I wouldn't presume anyone would be impressed that one of their authors happened by, but maybe a smile to indicate I'd penetrated the montony of their day? I usually end up apologizing for bothering them. And 2), nobody ever asks for ID. I could be a crazy man vandalizing random books for all they know. Or care, evidently.

Anyway, read some poetry. It's good for your soul.

Now back to work.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chicago in June?

I hear it's lovely. Should be a terrific setting for an academic conference on the subject of Graphic Medicine. Nice poster art, too.

I've made my flight and hotel reservations, and am scheduled to give a 90-minute "how-to" workshop titled "See One, Do One, Teach One" (some people will get that) aimed at teaching participants some cartooning skills and, more importantly, giving them the confidence to encourage others to do it in a potentially therapeutic setting.

We've got a schedule of talks and panels roughed out, three top-flight keynote speakers, and panelists coming from around the world. It also looks like we'll be able to provide CME (continuing medical education) credit to healthcare professionals for whom that would be an attractive draw. Registration, a schedule, list of panelists, maps, links to accomodations and more are available now at (clicking on the poster above will work, too).

I'm getting very excited about this event which, if it's anything like the first one in London last year, will be a wonderful, intimate mix of a hundred or so writers, artists, academics, doctors, nurses who all take the potential of comics to reflect and affect healthcare seriously. .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2011 Eisner Award Nominations

No, I didn't get any, silly. I didn't put out anything last year (which is not to presume I'd have gotten nominated if I had). But I still care, and looked over the nominees announced yesterday with avid interest.

My first impression is how few of the nominated works I've read. Partly that's because I just don't read mainstream comic books anymore (that's maybe a subject for another post . . . short version: I didn't leave comics, comics left me). My second impression is how many of these works I've never even heard of. From that I draw two, not necessarily mutually exclusive, conclusions: 1) The comics industry is healthier and more diverse than ever, with a wide range of offerings to appeal to an expanding universe of readers; 2) My ignorance is vast.

Still, there are some books and creators I know and like, and am happy to see on the list:

For "Best Continuing Series" and "Best Writer/Artist" I like Echo by Terry Moore. Terry and his wife Robyn are good people making comics for all the right reasons, and Echo is gorgeous work. I like it and him.

In "Best Publication for Teens" I can recommend Raina Telgemeier's Smile and Barry Deutsch's Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Hereville is a great story and published by Amulet, an imprint of my publisher Abrams, but I'd really like to see Raina win this. Smile is very good, plus I first met her at the 2005 Eisner Award ceremony where she was up for "Best New Talent" and didn't get it. I think the universe owes her one.

In "Best Digital Comic" (my category!), the nominee I regularly read is "The Abominable Charles Christopher" by Karl Kerschl, whom I've never met. It is a charming strip about a mute Sasquatch lumbering through a vaguely medieval world filled with talking animals and some of the best artwork around. However, my girls wouldn't forgive me if I didn't point out that Tracy Butler's "Lackadaisy," an "anthropomorphic cats during Prohibition" favorite of some of their friends, is also nominated.

For both "Best Reality-Based Work" and "Best Painter/Multimedia Artist" I can recommend Carol Tyler's You'll Never Know Book 2: Collateral Damage, Carol's continuing tale of her father's World War II experience and the long shadow it still casts on her family. I've met Carol a couple of times and I just flat-out love her. She's one of the most joyful, creative people I know and her work shows it.

In "Best Comics-Related Book," I have to go with Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal, by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear. This beautiful overview of the comics and merchandising career of the original Captain Marvel was published by Abrams ComicArts and edited by Editor Charlie, but that bias aside it's a very deserving book.

I have some favorites in other categories but those are the nominees I feel strongest about. I also feel some responsibility to give all the nominees a fair shake and not just vote for my pals, and will perform my due diligence. I already know I'll turn in my ballot with several categories unmarked because I just haven't seen enough of the work. But it's neat to have a small voice in the "Oscars of Comics" and I wish all the nominees the best. If you win, just remember the coolest part: the little globe on the trophy spins!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spurgeon at CCS

My friend Mike Peterson, whose Comic Strip of the Day blog provides some of the most thoughtful non-snarky comic strip criticism around, alerted me to this longish report by Comics Reporter Tom Spurgeon about his trip to moderate a panel at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in Vermont.

It's an interesting piece about something I don't have any experience with but am honestly a bit dubious about: schools dedicated to teaching people how to make comics. In my mind, the best way to make good comics is to learn a lot of stuff and have a lot of life experience that has nothing at all to do with comics and then tell stories about that. But that's a post for another time and I don't mean to disparage the sincere, hard-working people of CCS.

Mike sent me the link because one of the people on Tom's panel was my friend and editor Charlie Kochman. I laughed out loud (really!) at Tom's one-line observation that "Charlie Kochman is a note-taker" because I could just imagine him pulling out his well-worn paper notepad and scribbling intently with the pen he keeps clipped to the third buttonhole of his shirt. It's one of the qualities I admire about him. Also, I was at the New York Comic-Con the day Jeff Kinney brought Charlie his proposal for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and can vouch that it happened just as Charlie said.

Mike didn't know that I'm also casually familiar with another of the panelists, agent Bernadette Baker-Baughman. Bernadette and her former partner Gretchen introduced themselves in the early days of Mom's Cancer and for a while seemed to pop up everywhere. She exemplified the maxim that a big part of success is just showing up. At the time, Bernadette's small agency didn't have much reputation or a large client list, but she was there, she was interested, she was hustling--obviously looking for work, but in a friendly, low-key way that I appreciated. I remembered her and we've corresponded once or twice. I don't have an agent and haven't felt the need for one yet, but if I ever did she's one of a few people I'd call.

Anyway, Tom's CCS report is a nice read--a bit "inside baseball," as Mike told me, but worth a look if that's the kind of thing you might like to look at. Thanks, Mike and Tom.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

WonderCon 2011

A quick report on my trip to the WonderCon comics convention in San Francisco yesterday. As I mentioned on my Facebook page (why oh why won't you be my Friend?), I was accompanied by my staff of digital art assistants who helped color Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow--that is, my daughters Robin and Laura, and their friends Kelly and Kristen. Photoshop wizards all. For some reason, my wife Karen preferred to spend her day in downtown S.F. in places like Macy's. Yet somehow our marriage works.

WonderCon is a nicely scaled-down version of the San Diego Comic-Con International, run by the same people so you know it's done right. It takes up a lot less floor space--maybe one-fourth as much?--but, as the photos above and below suggest, can get every bit as crowded. Hollywood is a much smaller presence at WonderCon than Comic-Con, which is fine by me and a lot of other comics fans who in San Diego sometimes feel like gate-crashers at their own party. And of course WonderCon is on my home turf, about an hour away, making it a fun half-day getaway instead of an expensive multi-day odyssey. I think it has become my favorite comics-related event.

Some bullet-list highlights for me:

* I've joked in previous trip reports that no matter where or what size the convention, you can always count on seeing two people: Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca, and Lou Ferrigno, TV's Incredible Hulk. It was true again yesterday. Both showed up to sell photos and autographs, and for ten or twenty bucks you could have your picture taken with them--an opportunity I have never had any interest in availing myself of. However, I happened to be walking down their aisle when Mr. Ferrigno himself thrust a Polaroid camera into my hands and very politely asked if I would take a photo of him with a fan. Mr. Ferrigno is still in very good, very imposing physical condition. When Mr. Ferrigno asks you to do something, the word "No" flees your brain to enter orbit around a distant star. I still do not have a photo of Lou Ferrigno and me; however, some fan out there has a photo of Lou Ferrigno and her taken by me. Which to my mind is just as good.

"Just push the button."

* I've also said in other trip reports that I can always count on meeting at least one really cool person I had no idea I was going to. Yesterday's was Kathy Garver, who played Cissy on the old TV program "Family Affair." She was sitting at a booth (just down the aisle from Ferrigno, I think), said "Hi" as I passed, and we had a nice, genuine conversation that lasted several minutes. We talked about graphic novels--she wasn't quite sure what they were but had heard from a business consulting expert that they were the next hot thing, and I explained why I was particularly happy to hear that. It was a little strange to unexpectedly meet someone I had a small boy's crush on 40 years ago, but it was neat and she was very gracious (Jim O'Kane, you should interview her for TV Single Dads).

Back in the day: Garver as Cissy on the left. Even as a child, I had good taste.

* I went to one panel, a free-wheeling exchange by writer Mark Evanier (whose blog is a daily stop of mine) and cartoonist Sergio Aragones. Mark and Sergio have worked together for 40 years, most notably on a funny barbarian character named "Groo," and through countless convention appearances have polished their comedy act to laid-back brilliance. I've met Mark a few times but believe I am the only person remotely connected to cartooning, comic books, comic strips, or crayon eating who is not a close personal friend of Sergio's. Everybody knows him, everybody loves him. Someday, Sergio. Someday.

The blurry comedy stylings of Evanier and Aragones. Yes, that young woman had green hair. Why do you ask?

* I was happy to see some people I knew manning a booth for the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center. I think they were happier to see my daughter Laura, who volunteered there a while back and evidently left a good impression.

* I said hello to Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, whose very good and clever book Boilerplate is slated to be made into a movie by J.J. Abrams. I'd introduced myself to them at last year's San Diego Comic-Con and we have the same publisher, so had that to talk about. Nice people and I'm very excited for them.

* I almost bought a lot of things but actually walked out the door with only two purchases, both books. One was The Looney Tunes Treasury by Andrew Farago, curator at San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum (just down the street from the convention) and a friendly acquaintance. It is an absolutely gorgeous book that belongs on the shelf of anyone who can't help singing "Kill Da Wabbit!" whenever they hear Wagner. Get it even if you're not lucky enough to buy it autographed from the author himself, as I was.

* Finally, the highlight of the con for me was finding Richard and Wendy Pini, who in 1978 created the pioneering self-published series Elfquest and have continued to build that fantasy universe and create others ever since. My second purchase of the day was Wendy's Masque of the Red Death, based very loosely on the Poe story. I look forward to reading it.

I started corresponding with Richard when he read and liked WHTTWOT, met them in person at last year's WonderCon, and reconnected this year as friends. We talked books, movies, business, our future projects . . . Very nice people, very generous sharing their time and experience. I also got to watch them interact with some of their fans, and its hard to imagine any fans being more respected or appreciated. We also talked about their efforts to drum up enthusiasm to get an Elfquest movie made by Warner Brothers, which optioned the film rights. Seems like a no-brainer to me . . . .

Wendy and Richard Pini. Coolest of the cool.

Also saw a lot of other people, comics, original art, merchandise and cosplayers, but I promised quick; that's about it. Good people, good stuff, good day.