Saturday, December 29, 2012


If you've been outside after dark the past month and had clear skies to the east, you must have noticed the planet Jupiter, the brightest nighttime "star" right now. It's near the red giant Aldebaran, which makes for a pretty pair. On Christmas day the Moon swept close to Jupiter in the sky, and in fact observers in South America could watch the Moon actually pass in front of the planet. Astronomer Rafael Defavari had his telescope set up to record it. The first part of the video shows Jupiter disappearing behind the Moon, while the second part shows it emerging from the other side.

This sort of alignment, called an "occultation," isn't especially rare. The Moon and planets lie on roughly the same plane in the sky so they line up occasionally (though not exactly the same plane, or similar occultations would happen several times a month). Still, I found this video unexpectedly beautiful and moving. For me it drives home the truth that we really are sitting on a round rock in space watching other rocks and balls of gas circle the Sun in a cosmic dance. Though the video is silent, I couldn't help but hear the soundtrack from "2001: A Space Odyssey" in my mind (specifically, Ligeti's Lux Aeterna, though another piece may pop into yours).

Look up once in a while and enjoy the dance.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Harum Scarum Five Alarum

Long-time readers of my blog know what's coming, a Christmas tradition here since ought-six. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and thanks for being my friends and reading my stuff.

And now, a reading from what for my money is, pound for pound, the best comic strip ever (yep, I'd even put it up against "Peanuts," and it'd be rude of you to argue with me during the holidays): "Pogo" by Walt Kelly:

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Collected Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian

It took longer than I hoped and more work than I expected, but at last I'm happy to offer a special, limited-edition collection of the Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian, the dopey webcomic I began posting to my blog last summer. That's the cover above.

This 20-page zine includes the six comics posted here, a seventh comic I made exclusively for the zine, plus some new art (I'm very proud of the title page!) and surprise bonus features. Its price is $5.95 for deliveries in the United States and $7.95 elsewhere (including postage) via the handy PayPal button below. If you can't or don't use PayPal, e-mail me privately and we'll work something out.

[LATER UPDATE: Sorry, the PayPal button's gone because the zine is all sold out! My thanks to everyone!]

Frankly, although I encourage you to use PayPal for both our convenience, putting that button there terrifies me. I've never tried it before. People who have employed the button reassure me it works fine and won't zap your money into outer space or drain my bank account to the Ukraine. Fingers crossed....

When I say "limited edition" I mean it. There are exactly 50 of these zines in existence. I'm keeping five for me and my family, leaving 45 that I've signed and numbered (in pencil, almost as if they were actual works of art!). There'll never be any more.

Zines are deliberately home-spun, rough-hewn, do-it-yourself publications, with varying levels of sophistication. I guess the prototypical zine consists of a stack of photocopied (or in the old days mimeographed) pages folded in half and stapled together. I tried to class mine up a bit. First, instead of standard 20# 8.5 x 11-inch printer paper, I used a very heavy (32#) legal-sized paper, making the completed dimensions 7 x 8.5 inches (~18 x 21.5 cm). I originally wanted to do the cover in a beefy watercolor paper with terrific texture; after an initial test printing went well I bought two big pads of the stuff, only to find that it didn't want to go through my printer anymore. Instead, I printed the cover on two-ply plate Bristol board, exactly the same paper I draw all my comics on, which seemed very appropriate. It looks sharp.

Anybody want two big pads of watercolor paper?

My zine-making Bible was a blog post by cartoonist Jim Rugg cryptically titled "How to Make a Zine." Jim did something I hadn't seriously considered until I read his post, which was printing the entire job on his home inkjet printer. I assumed that would be prohibitively expensive, but when I estimated the costs and took advantage of inexpensive off-brand ink like Jim did, it became pretty attractive. Best of all, doing my own printing let me use my own paper (which I also got at a close-out price) and maintain total quality control.

Which is not to say they're perfect. A few pages are crooked, a few spines stapled off-center. About 20 copies have extra holes where I had to pull out their staples, swap out pages and restaple them, because that's how many I made before I noticed I'd numbered a page incorrectly. I encourage you to regard such imperfections as "charm."

Zine-making in progress on my kitchen table. Papercutter, interior pages and cover, long-arm stapler. Elmer's glue on the seat back at right, above a few completed zines on the seat below. At lower right is a green 35-pound jug of kitty litter atop a drawing board that I used as a flattening press. And at the left is a roll of Christmas paper because as soon as I move my garbage out of the way this is also where we wrap gifts. It's a good table.

I realize the price I'm asking isn't cheap for a zine but trust me--I ain't getting rich. Because I used such high-quality paper, these suckers are heavy and will cost a lot just to mail. There's a special thing in the book I had to buy 50 of (which helped me settle on the size of my print run). My wastage was unexpectedly high--not your problem, I realize, but the number of pages I recycled for poor print quality or stupid errors like incorrect numbering was large. If I sell every zine, I'll just about cover the cost of materials. My labor is free--my gift to you.

If it's not clear yet, I don't know what I'm doing. But this entire project has been a joy. If you'll permit me (just try to stop me), I'll close by quoting from a little essay I wrote to close the zine:

"In contrast to making a graphic novel, which can take years with little feedback or reward, I could write, draw, and post a new Adventure to the Web in a day. I think of these as 'good honest comics': funny words and pictures, no gatekeepers, no deep strategy or goal. They're sincere. Offering them as a zine is a natural extension of that aesthetic.

"Producing these silly little stories stretched new creative muscles and made me a better cartoonist, and I appreciate your indulence. It was fun."

THURSDAY NIGHT UPDATE: I've now mailed off all the orders I received (except for a few I'll be delivering in person--you know who you are), and they should fight their way through the holiday mail in a few days. If you think you ordered one and it hasn't arrived in a week or so (longer outside the U.S.), let me know. The response has been terrific. Still got a few left. Thanks again!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Graphic Meds: Brighton in July

Organizers of the Fourth (!) International Conference of Comics and Medicine have now set a time and place, and issued a Call for Papers. The date is July 5-7, 2013, the venue is Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the U.K., and anyone interested in presenting a paper or running a workshop needs to read the Call for Papers available here.

My six loyal readers will recall that I was a keynote speaker at the first Graphic Medicine Conference in London, then joined the committee that organized the second and third conferences in Chicago and Toronto, respectively. After each conference we worried that we'd be unable to recapture "lightning in a bottle," only to make the next one even bigger and better. Guest speakers have included Darryl Cunningham, Scott McCloud, Phoebe Gloeckner, David Small, Joyce Brabner, Joyce Farmer, and Paul Gravett, who's attended every one so far. They're pretty great events!

Which makes it hard to explain why I resigned from the organizing committee after Toronto. As I told the others on the group, each of whom is a great person and friend, it just seemed like the right time. The committee had grown to an unwieldy size--just try finding a good conference-call time across eight time zones!--and I thought I'd contributed all I could. When I first signed on, there'd only been one conference and nobody knew what they were doing; after three very successful conferences, the group had several people with invaluable on-the-ground experience, and I wasn't one of them. I had some personal reasons related to time and expense, including the unlikelihood I'd be able to make it to England next summer. Like I said, the time seemed right.

Notwithstanding our extremely amicable separation, I enthusiastically endorse these conferences as a terrific way to spend a few days, meet good people, and charge creative batteries. I'll continue to support them however I can, including an occasional news update here, and wish those still doing the heavy lifting nothing but the best.

Monday, December 10, 2012

For The Children

I've been remiss, and almost forgot to keep a promise.

Back in September I was a guest on Jordan Rich's late-night radio talk show on Boston's WBZ and the CBS Radio Network. I mentioned afterward that Jordan had asked me to contribute to his annual For the Children fundraising booklet, which he's produced for 13 years to benefit Boston Children's Hospital. It's a collection of recipes, inspirational essays, poems, artwork and such provided by Jordan's guests and friends. Jordan asked if he could reproduce a page from Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow. Instead, I put together a new piece that I think distills its optimistic message. Here's a teaser:

Actually, that's less a teaser than pretty much the whole thing. I stink at marketing. But the booklet's got 27 other pages of stuff from other people, too, and as you're distributing your holiday charity among various kettles and barrels please consider this good cause as well. For the Children 13 is now available here: $20, with all proceeds going to the Boston Children's Hospital.

Thanks again to Jordan for letting me be a part of it!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Amazon's Got My Number

Atop this morning's e-mail stack were some helpful recommendations for books that, based on my shopping and buying habits, Amazon thought I might like:

Yeah, I hear that Underwater Welder is pretty good.

Funny, having my own book recommended to me. Also a little spooky how well their computer algorithm knows me . . .