Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Has It Really Been Ten Years? No, Really?!

I just realized 20 seconds ago that I've been blogging for a bit over 10 years. I began my previous blog, the "Mom's Cancer Blog," on July 26, 2005 after returning from my first San Diego Comic-Con. That's 1072 posts, not counting this.

A decade ago, in September 2005, I was writing about reviewing printer's proofs, doing spot drawings, and designing endpapers for the book version of Mom's Cancer. That's also the month I received my "Gertie the Dinosaur" animation cel by Winsor McCay, which was my first (and to date only) splurge purchase with my new "cartooning money." Gertie passed her 100th birthday in my care.

Still my pride and joy.

What I didn't blog about was the fact that Mom was miserably ill in Los Angeles and, unknown to us then, living the last of her days. The end was quick--up to a couple of days before, we were planning to take her home from the hospital. She died on October 1.

Ten years is a lot of "blah blah blah" under the bridge. I was a more diligent correspondent then. I used to think I had interesting things to say and some obligation to say them. I felt a responsibility to not somehow disappoint my mostly imaginary readers. Over the decade I've lightened up considerably--some combination of feeling like I've pretty much gotten everything off my chest, having Facebook to express some of the lighter thoughts I once would have turned into posts, and realizing nobody cares. I take the whole thing, and I think myself, less seriously than I used to.

I do like leaving a record, however ephemeral the Web turns out to be. Someone reading my archives would know me much better than people who've been real-life friends for 30 or 40 years. I like having a soapbox, even if I don't feel compelled to step up on it as often. It's there when I need it.

Some old posts still get a lot of hits, particularly those related to the technical side of making comics and publishing books. In general, my "process" posts do well long term. A few folks still look up my tutorial on Photoshopping the four-color dot effect I used in Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow every day.

This kinda thing.

Posts that I work very hard on and expect to raise a big ruckus get nothing, while tossed-off brain farts bring down the roof. Weird posts get hits. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a set of encyclopedias we had when I was a child that had a big influence on me. Every so often, somebody Googles "Richard's Topical Encyclopedia," finds that post, and writes to tell me how much they loved it too. Google also brings migraine sufferers to my post on that topic.

Posts that drew the most comments include that darned encyclopedia article, a quippy piece on writing style and grammar, reflections on a recent birthday, two "ask me anything" Q&As (#1 and #2), and of course my announcement that Mom had passed.

My favorite pieces to write are probably my "on-the-scene" reports. I like sharing something interesting I've seen or done with (ideally) some insight and wit. Brings out the old journalist in me. People who can't get to comics conventions or graphic medicine conferences seem to enjoy my posts on those. Two of my very favorite posts were about time I spent in the orbit of Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney, Two Hours in WimpyWorld and its sequel, Nine Hours in WimpyWorld, because being on a bestselling book tour is something most people never experience and I think I captured their strangeness pretty well.

My blogging ebbs and flows. With luck, I'll have some new projects to write about soon, with all new "how to" process posts and on-the-scene reports to come. If you've read some of my posts, thanks for that; if you've read all of them, may God have mercy on your soul.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Opportune Moment

I feel guilty.

Nine years ago, I had a shot at preventing this Donald Trump nonsense and didn't take it. Now it's all my fault.

In October 2006 I attended the Quill Awards at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The Quills were a short-lived attempt to bring glamour and star power to book publishing, with a red carpet gala televised live on one of NBC's higher-numbered cable subsidiaries. Mom's Cancer was nominated for Best Graphic Novel so I flew out to the big city, Editor Charlie and I put on our good duds, and off we went.

Charlie Kochman and me, unusually snazzy.

The ceremony was held in the museum's Milstein Hall, whose signature feature, impossible to miss or ignore, is a full-scale blue whale hanging from the ceiling. Round dining tables covered the floor and ringed the balcony, where we sat, and moody blue lighting gave the effect of being underwater. As comics journalist Heidi MacDonald pointed out, the setting was one supervillain away from being a Batman movie. Specifically, the neon-colored Schumacher one with Clooney. Food was good, wine flowed freely.

My view from the balcony. Did you notice the whale? Beneath its snout are teleprompters.

By the time the TV cameras blinked on and the ceremony began, half the room--including many of the award presenters--was fully toasted. Some slurred and giggled their way through their banter. Actor Judd Hirsch went way off-script (I know because I could read his teleprompter from my seat) to recite a long book passage from memory, then dared anyone in the audience to tell him what it was from since we were all so goddam literary. I was pretty sure it was from Herman Melville's Billy Budd but decided not to leap to my feet and shout it from 50 yards away. However, I've been a big Judd Hirsch fan ever since.

CNN's Anderson Cooper and, I think, Caroline Kennedy handing out something or other.

The problem with the Quill Awards, and one reason I don't think they lasted long (three years; mine was the second) was that, after books were nominated by an expert committee, winners were determined by popular Internet vote. Thus it came to pass that, in a year in which nominees included E.L. Doctorow, Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, Doris Kearns Goodwin and the Dalai Lama, the big Quill Award for Book of the Year went to Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings by Tyler Perry.

Did not repeat at the Pulitzers.

At one point during the long evening, I left Milstein Hall to take a restroom break (I think the underwater lighting had an unintended side-effect). I walked down a very long, very wide, very hard marble staircase. Walking up toward me were Quill Award presenter Donald Trump, his wife Melania, and his TV "Apprentice" flunky George Ross.

Remember George?

Nobody else. No entourage. No security. No witnesses. Just me headed down, and Donald, Melania and George headed up.

I could've done it. I could've even made it look like an accident. A "stumble," a push.

Like the staircase massacre scene in "The Untouchables," but tidier.

Instead I nodded and continued down. I don't remember if Trump acknowledged me but I'd bet not.

I don't want to overstate my importance, but it's possible that was one of the great deflection points in history, when one man made a decision that changed the entire course of civilization. Dare I say: the survival of the world?

Only time will tell whether I chose wisely.

As for the rest of my night at the Quills, I lost to Naruto, Volume 7, and learned an important life lesson: if you're nominated for an award and they seat you in the balcony, you're not winning the award. The sting was significantly lessened when Charlie's friend, book designer/author/editor and inebriated Quill Award presenter Chip Kidd, invited us to his apartment, stripped down to his boxers, and poured sherry that we sipped on his apartment balcony overlooking the breathtaking Manhattan skyline.

Wounded and seeking justice, Charlie and I stole the cheap plaster centerpieces.
I labeled the chimp with Sharpie marker and still have it sitting proudly on my bookshelf.

I am sorry.

[Some of these words and pictures are repeated from a 9-year-old blog post, but I didn't think anybody would mind.]