Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who'd Ever Want to Escape Such a Cool Place?

I spent last night with my daughter Laura on the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Hornet, working on a neat special project I may blog about someday. Not comics related, but definitely up my alley.

I've written about the Hornet and my girls before (most recently here). Both Laura and Robin have volunteered on the floating museum in Alameda* for quite a while, and Laura more recently earned a paid staff position as the museum's official Archival and Collections Manager. Commissioned in 1943, the Hornet served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam before ending its career as the recovery vessel that plucked Apollos 11 and 12 out of the Pacific. Due mainly to a dearth of funding, it's only been gracefully preserved without being tastelessly tarted up, a fate I hear has befallen other old ships. A tight budget may be the best thing that ever happened to it. Most of the ship feels like the crew just left yesterday.

Anyway, because my girls often chaperone groups that stay aboard overnight, they have their own officers stateroom. And because Laura is an important staffer who sometimes needs to come and go at odd hours, she has a key to the front door.

I just want to repeat that because it's so cool: my daughter has a key to the front door of an aircraft carrier. In other words, the potential to start World War III now rests in the hands of a 24-year-old grad student.

All this is prelude to a word picture I'd like to paint. It's a beautiful evening on San Francisco Bay. A stiff westerly breeze chills the air but doesn't penetrate the ship's sheltered fantail (a small deck at the stern beneath the overhanging flight deck). Across the bay, the sun angles down a deep blue sky to set behind the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge, Coit Tower, the skyline of San Francisco. A blimp hovers on the horizon, probably covering a Giants baseball game. The ship is closed, the public gone. There's no one aboard but me and my kid (not literally true; there may have been four or five others--maintenance, security, an administrator--but on a vessel the size of a small skyscraper lying on its side, close enough).

But what am I thinking?! Why paint a word picture when I took real ones?

Sunset behind the City by the Bay

Casually stretching my arm for the stealth self-portrait, with Laura's grim smirk indicating that I've been detected.

All ours.

IF YOU WANT a closer look at the Hornet, check out the new TNT series "The Great Escape" next Sunday night, July 1. The premise of the show is that three teams of two people are imprisoned in a strange, foreboding environment and must find clues and solve puzzles planted by the TV crew to escape. Guards can catch them and send them back to the start. Last week's premiere was set on Alcatraz. Next week's episode is on the Hornet.

Both my girls helped with the planning and production of this episode several weeks ago. One of their roles was to guide camera crews through the maze of ship's passages and short cuts so they could race ahead of the contestants. They never appear on camera but saw a lot of the program's "B-roll" (background and atmospheric) material being shot, and had a great time. Here's a commercial, which mixes footage from the Alcatraz, Hornet, and future episodes:

It seems like kind of a dopey show, but you can bet I'll be watching the next one.

I love having an aircraft carrier in the family.

* Where they keep the nuclear wessels.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian Part 5

Thought of this one while waking up this morning. That's the joy of these things for me: get an idea in the morning, broadcast it to the world that afternoon. Astounding when you think about it.

Don't worry if this installment's in-jokes whoosh overhead; sometimes I write to amuse no one but myself. I'm not even sure this one makes sense. I'm also probably overly optimistic about my future hairline in Panel 2 but, since I'm time traveling anyway, I figure why not hope for the best.

I have no doubt that when I eventually gain the ability to time travel, I will be my own worst enemy.

Next Day Edit: Changed a few details, including the final punch line. I like Crazy Old Coot Brian. Might see him again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hey Mister UPS Man

Look and see what came in the big brown truck for me:

Original hardcover on the left, new paperback on the right.
Photo by Karen, who deserves a better-looking husband.

Fresh off the boat from Editor Charlie, the first copy of the paperback Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow! This is my first real look at the silver foil cover, which is very hard to get a feel for on a computer layout, and it is gorgeous. This photo doesn't do it justice, you've gotta see it in person (my suggestion: buy a copy). My compliments again to designer Sara Corbett and Art Director Chad W. Beckerman, who worked with Editor Charlie and me to get this cover just right. I'll always love the original hardcover design but I think we topped it. Also thanks to Charlie and Abrams for releasing the book in paperback at all; they didn't have to. I couldn't be happier with the entire thing.

I don't know exactly when the book will be available in stores. Amazon has a release date of August 1, which is as authoritative as anything.

A couple of fashion notes: you may notice I got new glasses. I was looking to modernize from my traditional wireframes without overshooting all the way to hipster d-bag. Hope I hit it. If not, please don't say anything or you'll hurt my feelings. Second, I'm coincidentally wearing the shirt I drew myself wearing in The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian Part 3. If that doesn't prove these stories are taken directly and faithfully from my actual life, nothing will.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Books Books & Books

In the past few weeks I've read three books that have nothing in common except they were all produced by friends of mine, they all have drawings in them, and their cover dimensions are similar. Oddly, it's that last quality--"Hey, the top three books on my stack are all about the same size!"--that inspired me to think about combining them in a blog post--proving, I guess, that I can judge a book by its cover. You won't find any of these books at your local bookstore, but if their subjects appeal to you I think they're worth seeking out.

Disrepute (100 pages) is a collection of comics by Thom Ferrier, the nom de plume of Ian Williams (I always wonder if it's all right to rat out his secret identity like that but he's not shy about revealing it himself). Ian is a physician, artist and cartoonist in the U.K. who invited me to speak at the first International Graphic Medicine Conference in London in 2010. We've since worked together organizing the 2011 conference in Chicago and next July's in Toronto. He also has the prettiest penmanship of anyone I've ever known. It's like getting a letter from Hogwarts.

Me and Ian in 2010.
The comics in Disrepute include fiction, nonfiction and cartoon fantasy drawn in a variety of styles, but all informed by his hands-on medical practice (with great pains taken to preserve patient confidentiality). Consequently, they deliver insights that no one but a doctor could--sometimes stark and startling, but always honest. His most affecting stories capture very human moments that laymen may not realize their physicians experience: a doctor called upon to dispassionately treat his hated boyhood bully decades later, or his own admission that he's squeamish at the sight of blood, which he hopefully regards as a residue of empathy. My favorite piece of his is a single panel that captures the anguish and self-doubt that anyone in a life-or-death job must confront from time to time:

Much of Ian's work, including some pieces collected in Disrepute, may be read at his website (under the tabs "Strips" and "More Strips"); the book is available at that site or Ian has a unique, wide-ranging, restless creative voice offering a perspective I've never seen before. Disrepute is very smart, often darkly funny storytelling.

In the best tradition of "Hey gang, let's put on a show in the barn," my cartooning pal Mike Lynch and three of his friends have self-published Raconteur (16 pages), billed as "true stories from cartoonists who don't usually do this type of thing." This mini-comic (i.e., 8.5 x 11-inch sheets folded over and stapled) gathers four four-page pieces by Lynch, David Jacobson, John Klossner and Jeff Pert, all successful single-panel magazine cartoonists. They created Raconteur to stretch their narrative muscles, as Mike actually describes in his tale:

It's an eclectic collection. David Jacobson's "The Perfect Game" tells a story about childhood, the National Pastime, and the fate of a baseball autographed by the 1961 Yankees that broke my heart. John Klossner's untitled story about his son, who is so hyperstimulated by visual and auditory media that he finds it impossible to sit through a movie, broke my heart in a deeper way, as an expression of unconditional parental love. Mike Lynch's "The Petty Indignities That Run My Life" is an observantly witty overview of his days as an artist, including a great anecdote about being rejected by The New Yorker. And Jeff Pert's "When I Was a Kid" captures the joys and terrors of childhood so specifically they achieve universality.

It's a nice little collection that I think anyone interested in supporting independent creative efforts would appreciate, especially if they'd like to see an Issue #2 someday. Preview and ordering information are available here.

Mike Lynch and I at the Overlook Lounge in NYC, where Mike arranged for me to draw on the wall in 2006 (geez, I need some newer photos). Photo stolen from Mike's blog.

Mike Peterson is a journalist, editor and freelance writer based in New England who was one of the first and strongest supporters of Mom's Cancer. Although we've never met in person, he's a friend whose opinions about writing and comics I value very highly, so much so that he was one of a very few people I asked for early feedback on a rough draft of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? (and I probably should have taken more of his advice).

One of Mike's vocations and avocations is using newspapers to educate via published serials accompanied by teacher's guides. Students read the stories and teachers offer depth and context that Mike also provides. He's produced several, on topics ranging from pioneering journalist Nellie Bly to Native American legends to the Greek myths and constellations (for which I provided some early feedback to him). His latest, Freehand (38 pages), illustrated by cartoonist Christopher Baldwin, is the story of young Caleb MacCrimmons, for whom the War of 1812 offers escape from a harsh home life and a unique outlet for his drawing talents.

Freehand illustration by Christopher Baldwin (this one cribbed from the web; illustrations in the book are black and white)

Freehand is a story for upper-elementary readers that packs a remarkable amount of plot and information into a brisk 10 chapters. Built around the real-life Battle of Sackets Harbor, which Mike researched exhaustively, the book creates a sympathetic hero in Caleb and gives him lively relatives, mentors, antagonists, and a satisfying character arc. I thought it achieved a tone similar to the classic Johnny Tremain, drawing kids into history via a character who thinks and reacts very much like they would. Freehand accomplishes a lot for its size.

A summary and some samples from the book are available here, and a look at Mike's interaction with his young readers and some of the teaching resources he provides (see especially the links in the left column) is available here. Finally, a catalog of all of Mike's serialized educational stories can be found here.

I don't reflect on it as much as I should, but I really like knowing creative people who are doing interesting things, even if they're a bit obscure. Maybe especially because they're a bit obscure.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Team Cul de Sac Raises $47K

The Team Cul de Sac auction of original comics artwork to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson's disease research ended last night. The result: 148 pieces of art brought in $47,107.07, a total that includes hefty buyer's premiums (the auction house's cut that's automatically added to bids). Heritage Auctions doesn't make it easy to find the actual bid totals minus the buyer's premium, but figuring that the premium adds about 20%* yields around $39,000 actually raised for the cause.

The top five sellers were Bill Watterson's oil painting of Petey ($13,145), Stephan Pastis's "Pearls Before Swine" tribute ($2,868), Richard Thompson's illustration for the cover of the Team Cul de Sac book ($2031.50), and two illustrations by Patrick McDonnell ($1912.50 and $1792.50). Again, those prices include a buyer's premium; to calculate the actual bids, divide by 1.195.

My drawing went for a bid of $130 ($155.35 with buyer's premium). I was happy with that! It's respectable enough that I wasn't tempted to bid it up myself. I actually bid on a couple of other pieces but was bested on both. That's all right. More money for research. That said, there were still a lot of bargains at the end of the night and I was genuinely surprised by how little some of the lots went for.

I have no idea who won my comic but, whoever you are, you're welcome to contact me if you want to say "Howdy" or have any questions (especially about those white spots I wrote about last week). I hope you enjoy it and thank you for your support of Team Cul de Sac.

If you missed the auction or got outbid, you can still always buy the book! Being part of Team Cul de Sac has been one of the nicest benefits of my cartooning semi-career and a real honor. Thanks again.

EDITED TO ADD: After posting this, I saw that my friend Mike Peterson did a superior write-up of the auction at his Comic Strip of the Day blog (where I also saw that Mike outbid me on one of the pieces I tried to win!). Go read that, and while you're there read Mike's other critiques and essays inspired by his good taste in comics. He's good.

[*Heritage Auction's buyer's premium (BP) is 19.5% or a minimum of $14, meaning (if I've done my math right) that the percentage doesn't kick in until a bid tops $72. Since many pieces sold for more than $72--some for MUCH more--but many others didn't (and therefore had BPs higher than 19.5%), 20% sounds like a fair estimate to me. One more math note: don't make the mistake of calculating 20% of $47,107 and subtracting that (or multiplying $47,107 by 0.8, which is the same thing). Rather, you've gotta ask, "What number added to 20% of itself totals $47,107?" That number is $47,107/1.2 = $39,256, which I rounded to two significant figures.]

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian Part 4

Back because Rachel and Ronnie demanded it! The Continuing Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian, Part 4! Here are Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 to catch you up.

I think this one should actually follow immediately after Part 1. Unfortunately, my brain doesn't conjure them up in order. Please rearrange your brains accordingly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian Part 3

All the background info you need (or are likely to get, anyway) is at Part 1 and Part 2. I swear, I could draw a million of these.

I'm not saying they'd be worth reading.

As you may suspect, I'm doing these not just for fun but as exercises to try out some different styles and tools (brushes, pens, wash), and work on distilling my work to the bare essentials needed to tell a little story. That's the challenge of cartooning.

But I can't lie. Mostly I'm doing them for fun.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Team Cul de Sac Shoots, Scores!

Team Cul de Sac, a collection of comic art by more than 100 cartoonists (including me) to help fund research on Parkinson's disease, arrived in my mailbox yesterday. The assignment was to offer your interpretation of the characters from the comic strip Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson, who has Parkinson's disease. Proceeds benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

WOW, what a beautiful book! I had no idea.

Editor/cartoonist wrangler Chris Sparks and publisher Andrews McMeel went all out: sturdy hardcover, glossly dust jacket, skillfully designed and printed in full color throughout (which I didn't know when I drew my b&w comic, or I'd have used some). Just as a physical printed object, it's a classy piece of work. Add to that the introductory profile taken from this feature by Michael Cavna in The Washington Post Magazine (if you don't know of Thompson or Cul de Sac, that's the piece to read), and it's a heck of a thing.

The roster of contributors says something about the esteem with which Richard and his strip are held. Big cartooning names: Sergio Aragones, Jim Borgman, Jim Davis, Cathy Guisewite, Lynn Johnston, Mell Lazarus, Patrick McDonnell, Pat Oliphant, Stephan Pastis, Tom Richmond, Garry Trudeau, Mo Willems, and the undisputed main attraction, "Calvin & Hobbes" creator Bill Watterson. Some, including me, think Cul de Sac is the best comic strip in newspapers right now, and by all accounts Richard is one of the kindest, gentlest souls on Earth (I've never met him but we've had a couple of online interactions and he types kindly and gently).

Petey by Watterson

Although the book stands on its own, it's also essentially a catlog of artwork that is being auctioned online through Sunday, June 10 at Heritage Auctions (which may also list some pieces that weren't included in the book, I'm not sure). HERE'S the link to all the lots up for bid and HERE'S a link to mine.

"Jungle Gym" by me, page 36. Hard to make heads or tails of it if you don't know the strip, but take my word that it reflects some of Richard's recurring motifs. Pangolins (the scaly critters at bottom left) are fun to draw.

At this writing, the current bid on Watterson's oil painting of the Cul de Sac character Petey is $5500. The current bid on mine is $42 (not placed by me!). That proportion is about right but both numbers are too low. Bid 'em up!

The way online bidding works, neither number likely represents what someone is actually willing to pay. Rather, you're asked to bid the maximum amount you're willing to pay, then the computer automatically raises your bid to top other bids until your secret maximum is surpassed. So say you're willing to pay $100 and enter that amount. If no one else bids, the "current bid" reads $1 and you could conceivably win it for that. If someone else bids $25, the "current bid" increases to $26 and you're still the high bidder. If someone else bids $200, the "current bid" increases to $101 and they're the new high bidder. Like that. Fair warning: I'm completely willing to bid on my own piece if necessary to save face. I'm nearly shameless.

The image of my page above is a cleaned-up scan of the original, and is pretty much how it looks in the book. The scan at the Heritage Auctions site is how it looks "in real life": blue-pencil under-drawing, brush marks, white-out corrections, etc. I like seeing the craft in original comic art and think others do, too, so I deliberately declined to pretty it up any more than if it were something I was doing for a book of my own.

I am irked to see some white blobs in the Heritage scan that I didn't put there. They look like this:

I don't know what those are. Thankfully, they're not in the book because the production people used a high-res scan I provided. My only guess is that the vellum paper I laid over the artwork to protect it during shipment may have stuck to some not-quite-dry ink underneath, although a couple of days passed between drawing and mailing. In any event, they're not part of the "artist's intent" and I'd encourage the winner to scrape them off if they're stuck pieces of paper, or blot them out if they're not. Or send it to me and I'll do it. Seriously.

I was already proud to be a tiny part of Team Cul de Sac, but seeing the quality of the resulting book has puffed me up considerably. It's a great book for a great cause and you should buy it. Furthermore, as Friend Of The Blog Mike Peterson has pointed out, it'll make a terrific autograph album as you hunt down the contributors and ask them to sign their pages. I may actually do that.

Thanks and compliments to Chris Sparks for his good work and for including me, and to Richard for being prodigiously talented in the first place.

Here's the book's Amazon listing. Currently #4783 (that's pretty good), the #3 bestseller among exhibition catalogs and the #9 bestseller among books about comic strips. Or you can buy it directly from Chris.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian Part 2

Yesterday's post provides an explanation, to the extent one is possible, for today's. This theme continues to haunt me. More exorcisms may be forthcoming.

With Special Guest Appearances by my sister Brenda ("Nurse Sis"), to whom I owe many apologies, and Mom, who it was an unexpected treat to draw again even in a silly farce.