Sunday, October 25, 2015

Peanuts at 65

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy invited a group of Nobel Prize winners to dinner and joked, "This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

I thought of that Saturday while sitting with 20 or so cartoonists helping the Charles M. Schulz Museum pay tribute to the 65th anniversary of "Peanuts." There was an extraordinary amount of talent in the building, which all together might have added up to a bit less than one Charles Schulz. The only problem with appropriating the JFK quote is that Schulz never set foot in his museum, which was built after he died. But he worked at the studio next door, and ate and played at the ice arena across the street, so I say close enough.

My full day at the museum started early, leading a three-hour workshop for Girl Scouts earning their Comic Artist merit badges. I've done a few of these and they're always fun. We make improvisational jam comics as a group, and I talk about the history and conventions of the art form. To earn their badges the girls have to complete a four-panel comic strip applying what they've learned. My wife Karen, who has 20 years' experience in Scouting, is my indispensable girl wrangler. She took most of the photos.

Me during a "blah blah" lecture part, which I try to keep short. We had 24 Scouts in this workshop.
After the participants make their comics, I ask for volunteers to share theirs with the group using the camera in my laptop to show them on the monitor. 

I liked this strip about a scarecrow who does its job too well. It's like a little poem.

The workshop went from 10 to 1 o'clock, so I missed the Sketch-A-Thon's kick-off event: a panel discussion of Peanuts' legacy in the museum's theater that began at 1 (by the time I got cleaned up and downstairs, the theater was full). I heard it went well. Instead, I set up for the Sketch-A-Thon itself, which went from 2 to 4. My daughter Robin surprised me with a visit (Laura had to work and couldn't make it) and was a big help managing my table.

Some of the names I'm about to drop may not be familiar, but they represent a diverse group of comics creators, many of them working at a very high and successful level.

The Museum's Great Hall. Cartoonists were seated at these zig-zag tables. I'm at center in the red plaid shirt. My friend Gabby Gamboa is watercoloring to my right. Directly in front of me (with the hat and pony tail) is the great "Astro City" artist Brent Anderson. I always enjoy talking to Brent's wife Shirley.

Gabby, me and Brent.
Lex Fajardo ("Kid Beowulf" and Schulz studio), Art Roche (Schulz studio), Eisner winner Shannon Watters ("Lumberjanes") and others held down the back wall.

Paige Braddock (Schulz studio, "Jane's World," "Stinky Cecil"), Frank Cammuso ("Salem Hyde"), Raina Telgemeier (half the New York Times bestseller list), and Terry Moore ("Strangers in Paradise," "Echo") were seated near the front so they could all sign the 65th Anniversary Tribute book they contributed to. Comic book artist Paul Pope ("Batman," "Battling Boy," many others) was usually at the far end of this table but somehow missed this pic.
Frank and Raina indulged me for this photo, which I really wanted to take because I met them a decade ago when we were all seated at the same table for the 2005 Eisner Awards (where "Mom's Cancer" won). This was a meaningful reunion for me.
My daughter Robin and I met Shannon Watters and talked about the production of "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow," which Robin helped color.
What made this a "Sketch-A-Thon" is that, in addition to talking to folks and selling our books and whatnot, everyone was supposed to draw some sort of tribute to "Peanuts." Here I am working on mine. Brian Kolm from Atomic Bear Press is in the red shirt behind me.
My tribute sketch. I actually had to bring it home to finish it, which gave me a chance to scan it, too. (The steps at upper left are from the very first "Peanuts" strip on Oct. 2, 1950.) If it feels a little melancholy, that's OK. So was "Peanuts."

After the Sketch-A-Thon we all walked over to the studio, where the museum folks had generously parked a fine food truck to feed us.

With Terry Moore in Schulz's studio. Notice the smattering of Eisner and other awards on the shelf behind us. These must be the ones that didn't fit into the museum, stuffed as it is with Emmy Awards and all.
Another angle on the studio: Karen and I talking with Terry Moore and his wife Robyn, who I'm pretty sure are two of the nicest people in comics. Photo by (my) Robin.
Scrutinizing Schulz's drawing board with comic book artist Paul Pope. I was pointing out that if you look at just the right angle, you can see Schulz's handwriting from his pen nib pressing through the paper into the wood. Photo by Robin.

I've been in Mr. Schulz's studio with other cartoonists a couple of times, and many of them do the same thing I did the first time. They eye the board and the chair. Then they look around. They really want to sit down at the board but they're afraid to. Somebody says, "Sure, go ahead!" so they reluctantly sit. Then a little electric shiver goes through them, as if they feel Schulz's aura emanating from the wood. If there's magic in the world, that's it.

Dinner is almost served.
Tacos with Jonathan Lemon, Lucas Turnbloom, Lex Fajardo, Stephan Pastis (who didn't do the
Sketch-A-Thon but just sort of shows up for free food), me and my daughter Robin.
I met Judd Winick! I told him about graphic medicine and our international conferences, where his "Pedro and Me" is frequently cited as an important early AIDS graphic narrative. He seemed intrigued.
Talking about large-format scanners with Raina and Pastis. I don't know why Stephan's wearing a Stanford cap, he's a UC Berkeley grad who hates those guys.

Rocking the plaid with Lucas Turnbloom, who's illustrating a new book series called "Dream Jumper" for Scholastic, written with "Heroes" actor Greg Grunberg. 

This was a long, very nice day for me. I reconnected with some friends who don't normally come out this way, made a couple of new ones, sold a few books, taught 24 Girl Scouts how to make comics, and ate a pretty darn good taco combo plate. I need to mention cartoonist Shaenon Garrity and Cartoon Art Museum curator Andrew Farago, who did me the honor of asking me to draw a picture in a sketchbook they're compiling for their little boy Robin, who gives good high-fives. I didn't get any photos but it was terrific to see them.

Also great to see my unphotographed pal Justin Thompson (Schulz studio and the comic "Mythtickle"); ray of sunshine Rosie McDaniel; the museum's Education Director Jessica Ruskin, who took care of everything and everyone all day; plus lots of other people, including a few personal friends who stopped by.

I'm already looking forward to Peanuts' 70th.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Great Minds

An Internet friend brought to my attention a new graphic novel being published in the U.K. titled The Inflatable Woman, in which cartoonist Rachael Ball writes about cancer. It sounds like it's a work of fiction based on Ball's own experience with breast cancer. The cover looks like this:

My friend thought I'd be interested because in Mom's Cancer, my graphic novel about my mother's experience with lung cancer, I drew two pages that looked like this:

So there you go.

For the record, and to put my friend's mind at ease, I've got no problem with that.

I don't know Ball and don't know if she read Mom's Cancer. I doubt it. I think she probably stumbled onto the same "Operation" metaphor I did. It's a good one! The identical red and gold color palette is easily explained: those are the colors of the game.

One thing I've learned over a long time of trying to be a creative person is that ideas--even ideas that seem strange and unique--are surprisingly common. It's what you do with those ideas that distinguishes them.

For example, I had opportunities to pitch story ideas to the producers of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (then later "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager"). I never sold them anything so the experience was a failure, but I learned a lot. I once got two sentences into a pitch when the story editor stopped me and said, "We started filming that last week." I was flabbergasted: I thought my idea was dazzlingly original. I was flabbergasted again when the episode aired and I saw that he was right. It was my story, including the parts I hadn't had a chance to tell him. If he hadn't stopped me, I'd have been absolutely certain that "Star Trek" had stolen it.

I think there are a lot of creative people nursing grudges against other creators or companies they're certain ripped them off but probably didn't. I know a few of them.

Even if Ball did read Mom's Cancer years ago and consciously or subconsciously filed away the "Operation" metaphor, so what? It's one image among hundreds in both of our books. Her use of it does me no harm. Besides, you can't copyright an idea, only the specific expression of it, and hers is totally different.

Ball doesn't need my blessing but she has it anyway. I'd like to meet her someday because I think we'd have a lot to talk about. I like the look of her cartooning style and wish her all the best with her book.