Monday, December 24, 2018

Trolley Molly Don't Love Harold

We have a tradition in these parts, come fire or rain (Cliff: "Yes, my friends, I've seen fire and I've seen rain." Norm: "Cliffy, EVERYBODY'S seen fire and rain."): the annual singing of the greatest Christmas carol by, in my opinion, the greatest cartoonist of all time, Walt Kelly. You know the tune. Join in, with unctuous boisterity.

 My best wishes to you all.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Although A Fire Story won't be released until March 2019, many reviewers have received rough-draft galleys (black and white, with incomplete artwork and edits) and are starting to weigh in. So far, it augurs well.

Waiting for a book to be published is unnerving. My work is done, it's out of my hands and committed to print. Nothing more I can do. It's like standing backstage waiting for the curtain to rise on opening night--for four months.

Jittery, you look for signs. What are people saying? How are pre-orders going? Uncertainty gives early reviews a lot more weight than they might otherwise have. A bad one could be devastating; a good one electrifying.

It looks good so far.

My book's first review was a starred review from Kirkus, which is kind of a big deal. "Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck." Kirkus is very influential in the book trade and the "star" is a real plus.

Publishers Weekly lists "A Fire Story" as one of its Top Ten Comics & Graphic Novels of next spring. This isn't a full review, but PW's Calvin Reid had been a real supporter of my past work and his opinion means a lot to both me and people in the industry.

At Study Breaks, Sarah Brown listed the six "Most Anticipated Graphic Novels of 2019." One of them is mine. It's in good company, including books by the Hernandez Brothers and George Takei.

And back in October, my friend Paul Gravett, the UK's leading comics critic and scholar, highlighted A Fire Story in an article for The Bookseller magazine, calling it "urgent first-person journalism, encompassing the wider stories of fellow survivors and global climate change."

Steady as she goes . . .

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How To Be A Cartoonist, by Charles H. Kuhn

Karen and I like vintage and antiques shops, especially as we look for cool things to put into our eventual new home. It feels good to have something with history, even if it isn't our history. Last weekend we found this neat instructional book from 1936, How To Be A Cartoonist, by Charles H. Kuhn. I bought it hoping to pick up some pro tips.

Kuhn was a working cartoonist who created freelance illustrations, editorial cartoons, and a syndicated comic strip for half a century, from 1919 to 1969. His comic strip "Grandma," which I hadn't heard of, began in 1947 when he was 55 years old and ran until he retired in '69. He also wrote a few other instructional books like the one I found.

Kuhn was good! I like his style. I'd call it a typical early-20th century inkpen (as opposed to brush) cartooning style that is more accomplished than most. His work reminds me of "Skippy" by Percy Crosby as well as "Gasoline Alley" by Frank King, under whom he studied. Solid craftsmanship!

That said, I think his instructional book is a mixed bag. Each page provides examples, and plenty of blank space to practice drawing yourself, but no real underlying theory. He doesn't explain very much. An eager student could copy Kuhn's characters and get very good at copying those particular figures without learning to construct their own. He gives examples of cartoon dogs and wrinkly cloth without discussing how dogs are built or why drapery folds the way it does.

The book's biggest drawback, I think, is that it ignores the craft of storytelling: how to put one drawing in front of another to show something happening and produce an emotional reaction--usually a laugh--at the end. A comic is more than one pretty drawing; it's a series of drawings that move through time.

On the other hand, I really like Kuhn's emphasis on drawing from life, and sketching quickly. Not enough cartoonists are comfortable with life drawing. I often say (and it's true) that I've met kids who can draw a giant laser-mounted dragon fighting an intergalactic fleet of spaceships, but can't draw a woman in a business suit talking on the phone. And drawing quickly forces the artist to focus and select what's most important, which is the essence of cartooning.

Also, I've never heard a word balloon called a "breather" before. That's new to me.

I can't say that Kuhn's book really gave me a lot of tips I can use, but I have a lot of respect for its author and his career, it's a great artifact of its times, and I'm proud to add it to my (someday) library.

(Clicking on the images should make them big enough to read.)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Unlikely Chain of Kindness

A Little Monday Story about Kindness . . .

In 2007, Karen and I toured a bit of New England, which included a stop at the then-studio of cartoonist Guy Gilchrist in Connecticut. Although we called on Guy on his day off, he couldn't have been more generous, meeting us at his place with pizzas and talking about comics for a couple of hours. He's a real raconteur, and the kind of guy who took a piece of art off his wall and handed it to me because I effused about how much I'd admired and studied the artist.

With Guy in his Connecticut studio in 2007.

We kept in touch online. In April 2010, Guy gave me a nod in his comic strip "Nancy" when he drew my book "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?" in the lap of Aunt Fritzi! I asked Guy about getting the original art but he said it had been damaged and wasn't available, so I framed that day's "Nancy" cut from the newspaper and displayed it proudly on my wall, until that wall and everything else burned down a year ago.

A few weeks ago it occurred to me that "Nancy," which in 2010 was syndicated by United Features, now somehow belongs to Andrews McMeel Syndicate (I don't follow the business shenanigans), the same folks who run, which currently hosts my "Mom's Cancer" and "Last Mechanical Monster" comics online. And that my editor, Shena Wolf, also edits "Nancy," which is now done by Olivia Jaimes after Guy left the strip earlier this year.

I wrote to Shena asking if her files went back eight years, and if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition, she might be able to dig up my old "Nancy." I hoped maybe she'd email me a decent-resolution JPG or TIF I could print out and frame. Instead she sent me this beautiful print on fine paper that will look awesome in my new someday-studio.

So today I'm the beneficiary of the original kindness of Guy, who shared his time with me, then a few years later put my book in his strip . . . and eight years later, the kindness of Shena and the Andrews McMeel print team, who found that strip in their archives and sent me a print of it. I appreciate that unlikely chain of kindnesses almost more than the strip itself.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Now Showing

I just dropped off some "Fire Story" artifacts at the Museum of Sonoma County for their upcoming exhibition "From the Fire" marking the wildfires' one-year anniversary. I'm loaning them the notebook I drew the original "Fire Story" webcomic in, along with the markers, pencil, etc. that I drew it with, which the museum folks seemed thrilled to get. Best part for me: they'll also display the pink plastic pencil case I stole from my daughters. Hey, girls, you're in a museum! (Not that Laura isn't in a museum every day, but....)

I'm also loaning them Emmy. We debated including her. The museum has the same sensitivity I have: our community's disaster is nothing to celebrate. "Hooray, I got an award, sorry everything burned down!" I told them that to me the Emmy represents the larger world honoring our stories (not unlike the exhibition itself), and I'd trade it for my house in a second if I could. So I think they're going to show it with a little placard that says exactly that.

From what I just saw in early set-up, it's going to be a great exhibition. Opening reception is this Saturday, and it'll run through January.

In addition, pages of original art from my forthcoming graphic novel are scattered in museums and galleries all over the northern San Francisco Bay Area:

--Petaluma Arts Center, “Renewal Through Art,” Sept 29-Nov. 17

--Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, “From Fire, Love Rises,” Sept. 29-Jan. 6

--Sonoma State University Library Gallery, “Reflections: After the Fire,” Aug. 20-Dec. 14

--First Street Napa Gallery, Napa, “Art Responds: The Wine Country Fires,” Oct. 10-Dec. 15.

All these places are run by talented people who are passionate about capturing our history and telling all our fire stories. Luckily, I had enough pages to go around, barely. If you're in the area, take a look sometime in the next couple of months.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Associating with Editorial Cartoonists

I had a wonderful weekend as a guest and speaker at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), which this year including big contingents from Canada and New Zealand. It was held in Sacramento, Calif., which is a convenient 2.5-hour drive for me, and the folks of the AAEC, none of whom I knew before I showed up for Thursday night's reception, welcomed me as family. Maybe a long-lost cousin with a shady past.

I took pictures. Assume every name I mention is preceded by the phrase "celebrated editorial cartoonist." The convention was a challenge for me in that, while I was very familiar with many of the cartoonists' work, I had no idea what they looked like. Luckily, we wore badges.

The view from my room at the Citizen Hotel, a grand old building which, being a block from the capitol, decorates in a political theme. For example, all the rooms have framed political cartoons, which made the venue a perfect headquarters for the event. 
I had FDR in my bathroom. Would he seek a fourth term? Time will tell.
The first person I ran into even before checking in was Daryl Cagle, who is a cartoonist himself as well as a big distributor of other people's cartoons.
A blurry pic overlooking the opening reception at the California Museum, a few blocks from the capitol. You know it's the California Museum because it has Mickey Mouse statues. There are probably four or five Pulitzer Prize winners in this shot.
I got a very warm welcome from outgoing AAEC President Pat Bagley, who hand-painted his jacket of many happy memories, and Tim Eagan. I had long, interesting, deep-delving conversations with both.

Cartoonist, illustrator, and game designer JP "Jape" Trostle, who blew me away by gifting me a terrific souvenir booklet from the 1964 World's Fair his parents had collected; and incoming AAEC President Kevin Siers, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner who introduced my talk.
Comics scholar, and author of about a thousand books, R.C. Harvey. I don't think Bob would argue if I said he has a reputation as something of a curmudgeon, but I found him delightful. 
Scott Johnston is a local editorial cartoonist in Canada. His wife Becky is patient. Terrific people!
During a break in Friday's sessions, I introduced myself to Zunar. Holy crap, it's Zunar! He's a free speech hero who faced 40 years of imprisonment for sedition in his home country of Malaysia. For drawing cartoons. We had a lovely conversation about the value we both find in putting ink on paper (as opposed to pixels on a computer screen) as a tactile way to transfer your soul to the page. After my talk on Saturday, he stopped me to talk about Mom's Cancer. Zunar gave a brief speech in which he said, “In a country with no media freedom, cartooning is the only medium we have.... No dictator can withstand laughter.” Beyond simply meeting an artist like that, having a couple of real conversations with him was a lifetime highlight for me.

I was invited to talk about "A Fire Story" in terms of writing and drawing comics under, let's say, extreme duress. I gave some quick background on myself, especially how Mom's Cancer made the idea of creating a nonfiction comic about a deadly serious topic not quite as big a leap as you might imagine. I talked about process, showed the KQED video, and shared some pages from my upcoming graphic novel.

Of course I have no photos of my talk--I was busy at the time--but I think it went very well. People said they were moved. I signed a couple dozen mini-posters I'd brought and handed out a couple of galleys. Nobody seemed to regret inviting me. Big-name award-winning cartoonists sought me out afterward to talk comics. No big deal.

My friend, Bay Area cartoonist Jonathan Lemon (left), showed up on Saturday. Jonathan will be the subject of a major cartooning announcement soon; he wouldn't even tell me what it is, but remember: you didn't hear it here first. I sat between him and Ward Sutton, who does very smart work and gave what I thought was the best talk of the day on Friday.
One of these things is not like the others.... At the closing gala Saturday night--for which I was woefully underdressed but no one seemed to mind--with three of the best of the best: Rob Rogers, my close personal friend Zunar, and Jen Sorensen. This wasn't just a photo op that I muscled my way into, we stood around a table and talked for quite a while. Hey, nobody told me to bring a blazer!
I thought this was one of the nicest moments of the whole weekend. Behind the lectern at right is Charis Jackson Barrios, winner of the Locher Prize for young aspiring cartoonists. She's done some good work for The Nib and other outlets, and warmly but pointedly noted that she was one of the few women or persons with brown skin in the room. She got an appreciative laugh calling them (us?) "the nicest group of old white guys" she'd ever met. What made this a great moment for me was the woman standing at left: Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, beaming as happily and proudly as if Charis were her own daughter.
With Matt Bors, creator of The Nib. The Nib is, I think, a big deal, as an outlet and business model for cartooning in the 21st Century. Matt was there with his wife and toddler daughter, who melted my heart when she lurched up behind me and clutched the back of my knee for balance, just the way my own little blonde babies did so many years...sniff...sorry, I got something in my eye..... Anyway, Matt's cool, too.

I had good conversations (but no photographic proof) with Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer Prize Winner Jack Ohman, Pulitzer Prize Winner Mark Fiore, and even some people without Pulitzer Prizes.

An undercurrent running through the convention was diversification. A few panels touched on what editorial cartoonists can do with their skills as newspapers cut, shrink, and die out from under them. New markets. Matt Bors's The Nib is one successful online model. A few folks buttonholed me to ask about graphic novels, and I took a couple of minutes at the end of my talk to encourage them to consider it--they have the skills!--compare and contrast the forms, and describe the state of GN publishing as I understand it. I told them it's where the big money is; hope I didn't steer them wrong!

As I said in my talk's opening remarks, editorial cartoonists intimidate the hell out of me. They're smart, opinionated and fast. On a good day, I'd only claim to be maybe one-third of that. But it turns out they're also kind and generous, which I've found to be true of most cartoonists everywhere. I had a great time.

I took this picture driving home from Sacramento on Interstate 80 because the "Milk Farm" neon sign is visible from the roof of the UC Davis Physics Building about 5 miles away. I happen to know that because when I TAed astronomy labs in college, we'd aim a telescope at the sign and shine its light through a diffraction grating, producing a nice neon spectrum that perfectly illustrated how astronomers know what stars are made of. So I'm just happy it's still there. For science. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


One of my favorite parts of the book-publishing process is getting proofs back from the printer. This is my first chance to see what my pages actually look like as they'll be printed on paper (sometimes VERY different than they look on a monitor), and my last chance to make corrections before they're bound into books. The magnifying glass isn't for show, I really am scouring for flaws almost too small to see. After my first pass through, my verdict is: looking pretty good!

I'm not the only inspector. Editor Charlie and Art Director Pam are giving it a thorough once-over, and maybe others at Abrams I don't even know about. And after all these months, and dozens of pairs of eyes scrutinizing every jot and dot a hundred times, I can almost guarantee that when a box of these books hits my doorstep next March, and I open the top book to any random page, the first thing I'll see will be a typo.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Talking Mort Walker

A friend has a book coming out I want to plug. Talking Mort Walker: A Life in Comics (716 pages!) is an eight-year passion project for Jason Whiton, who grew up in that legendary place and time when all the best cartoonists lived in one Connecticut county a quick train ride from New York City. Jason knew the families of Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey, Sam's Strip, Hi and Lois), Dik Browne (Hagar the Horrible, also Hi and Lois), and dozens of other lower-profile workaday inkslingers who helped make comics and cartoon illustration an important mid-century art and business. Mort died in January 2018 at the age of 94.

Talking Mort Walker contains "interviews, articles, letters, unpublished photographs, and drawings (that) reveal insights about the child prodigy who grew up to become the Dean of American cartooning." It builds on another book Jason wrote/edited a few years ago, Mort Walker: Conversations, which collected many Walker interviews. The new book includes reminisces and reflections of Walker's work from peers who knew him, as well as those who were only influenced by him from a distance, including, full disclosure, me.

Walker is a large but polarizing figure among cartoonists. He wrote and drew Beetle Bailey for 67 years but, I think it's fair to say, isn't regarded with the same reverence as, say, Charles Schulz, who started Peanuts the same year (1950) and did it for nearly half a century. The big difference: Schulz was an auteur who wrote, drew, and even lettered every Peanuts strip himself. Every panel was pure 200-proof Schulz, expressing his personality and angst. 

In contrast, Walker employed the studio or bullpen model, which was much more common at the time, particularly for creators who came out of the worlds of advertising, as Browne did, or greeting cards, as Walker did. While Walker and Beetle shared the experience of serving in the Army, Mort didn't use his comics to explore his private philosophies and anxieties. That wasn't his job. Walker's name was on his strips but he relied on a small corps of gag men and assistants to get the job done (although, Jason tells me, Walker penciled every Beetle Bailey strip himself). That was a much more common arrangement back in the days when a comic strip could earn enough money to support a team. It was a good system that gave generations of cartoonists a break into the business working for established creators, and is still around today (e.g., Garfield).

It's a different business model that, critics argue, produces comics that are more committee-made commerce than deeply personal art (or "Art").

My opinion? I think Walker's gotten a bum rap. The way he worked was how almost everybody (except Schulz) worked in 1950, if they could afford to. He was very good at it. His strips were published in thousands of papers around the world and his characters became iconic. Modern comics since, say, Doonesbury in the seventies came to value what an individual artist had to say more than the skill with which they said it. Which is a fancy way of saying that a lot of cartoonists became very successful despite not being great artists. Walker went to work every day and hit his deadlines; his work was always polished and professional. It's not his fault that those qualities went out of style.

Walker's greatest influence on me was his 1975 book, Backstage at the Strips (which is what I wrote about for Jason's book). At a time when real information about how to make comics was scarce, and I was a kid starving for real information about how to make comics, Backstage was a godsend. 

This is the edition I had. Newer editions are available pretty cheap.

It wasn't a "how to" manual, but rather insight into a frame of mind and creative process. Walker wrote about a Mad Men era of cartooning that, though I didn't realize it at the time, had already passed. He was an eyewitness describing the easy camaraderie among cartoonists, the early days of the National Cartoonists Society, and his own, ultimately frustrated, efforts to launch a permanent comics museum. I always wanted to be a cartoonist, but Backstage made me want to be a cartoonist sipping martinis with Rube Goldberg and Walt Kelly on Milt Caniff's back porch.

I haven't seen Jason's new book, but know it will be worth a look regardless of one's feelings about Walker. Mort was there, in the center of cartooning's Golden Age, and for seven decades one of its most successful practitioners. I once told Jason I didn't think we'd really appreciate Mort Walker until he was gone. Jason's book, which will doubtless be the most comprehensive memorial Walker will ever receive, expresses the appreciation and respect that many in his oddball line of work held for him, including me.

Jason Whiton at LumaCon in 2016, with his earlier Mort Walker book front and center.

EDITED TO ADD: Jason has written his own blog post about Mort Walker, partly in response to this post and a private e-conversation we've been having since. Check it out, then go read the rest of Jason's Spy Vibe site while you're there!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Ignatz Nominated!

I just learned a minute ago that "A Fire Story" has been nominated for a 2018 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Online Comic by the Small Press Expo (SPX). SPX is the largest fest of its kind in the U.S. and a major showcase for independent, alternative comic voices. It's a nice honor.

With due respect to your Eisners, Harveys or what have you, the Ignatz trophy itself is pretty sweet--it's a brick. Not a lucite or gold-plated brick, just a plain ol' red brick, like Ignatz Mouse used to bean Krazy Kat with in George Herriman's great comic strip. I'll find out if I won a brick or need to go buy my own at a hardware store on Sept. 16. (I could actually really use a brick right now.)

NOTE: Anybody following a link to this post can read "A Fire Story" here. Thanks!

EDITED TO ADD (Sept. 15): Didn't win. Still very nice to be nominated! Could also still use a brick.

Friday, August 24, 2018

On Its Way

I turned in my final digital files for the book-length "Fire Story" yesterday. Abrams works fast--they had the book laid out and on its way to the printer by the end of the day. I'll have one more opportunity to make small corrections when I get proofs (pages as they'll actually appear in print), but the book I turned in is more or less the one that'll be published next March. Abrams seems to think we've got a winner, and is giving it unprecedented  (for me) support. I'm of course anxious but also sanguine; there's nothing I could have done to make it any better, so no regrets whatever happens.

The photo shows a 150-page stack of hand-drawn artwork, topped by the drawing I did for the cover (inset). These are all ink on 11 x 14 inch Bristol board. In the age of Photoshop, there's often a big difference between original and published art. No need for me to waste a bottle of ink filling in all those black areas when I can do it later with the push of a button. New ways are practical and efficient, but sometimes I miss the old ways, and there are pages on which I did more work than necessary just because I wanted to create a pretty piece of art.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Hometown Boy Makes Good

I received a very nice honor this afternoon, a Gold Resolution from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for my "contributions to the arts and literature" of the county, specifically "A Fire Story." It's a "key to the city" kinda thing except no keys exchanged hands. What was especially nice was that the supervisors genuinely appreciated my work and were very happy to recognize me for it. Smiles, handshakes, and quiet words of encouragement all around.

Karen made me bring the Emmy. It got a good laugh when Chairman James Gore read that part of the citation and I pulled it out of a bag and thumped it down on the lectern.

Karen got a Gold Resolution years ago for her superior service to the county, which makes us a rare (unique?) spousal "his-and-her" GR double-threat.

I really appreciated this. It means a lot coming from your own hometown.

Sonoma County supervisors Lynda Hopkins, David Rabbitt (top), James Gore, and Susan Gorin (who also lost her house in the fire), with Karen and me. Supervisor Shirlee Zane was absent today. Like I said, Karen made me bring the bling, which everyone had fun passing around.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Comic-Con 2018, Brian 3+

I'm home from an extraordinary Comic-Con International in San Diego, with its usual mix of crushing crowds, overpriced food, overpacked panels, power-mad security, wonderfully creative people, old friends, new friends, and exhilaration, spiced with a bit more heat stroke than usual for this mildest of climates. It was great.

As I explained last Monday, the Comic-Con folks asked me to be a Special Guest this year, and they treat their guests well. I took along my daughters Laura and Robin--my wife Karen has been to a few Comic-Cons and thought that was plenty, thanks. I had three commitments: draw to help raise funds for the Cartoon Art Museum on Thursday afternoon, take part in a "Peanuts Family Album" panel Friday at noon, and race to another building to do my Spotlight Panel an hour later. In addition, I had a list of about 30 other activities and people of varied priorities to get to if I could.

I memorialize every Comic-Con I attend with a much-too-long photo essay. Gotta keep up tradition. The short version: it all went splendidly. Even better.

Unto the breach. Me, Laura, Robin.
An overview of a little tiny slice of the Comic-Con exhibition floor. This is just a fraction of it.
Early Thursday morning Starbucks line, I was welcomed to Comic-Con by a Dinothor. Or perhaps a Tyrannothorus Rex. I didn't ask.
The Rocketeer's helmet, Indiana Jones's whip and hat. Real ones.
My first stop was my publisher Abrams's booth, where I found my friend and editor Charlie Kochman (right) deep in conversation with an unfamiliar man (left). "Hi, I'm Brian Fies," I said. "I know," said the mysterious stranger. "I'm your attorney." And that's how I found out what lawyer Stu Rees looks like after only phoning and e-mailing him for the past few years.
Believe it or not, this is a serious business meeting. Almost every important conversation I’ve had at Comic-Con has happened tucked into a quiet corner sitting on the floor.
For just a moment, I held the universal power of life and death in my grasp. Then it was a 5-year-old kid's turn.
I drew for about an hour and a half to support the Cartoon Art Museum and its curator, my pal Andrew Farago. Two or three cartoonists took turns drawing whatever folks asked for in exchange for a donation to the museum. I did a few drawings I was actually pretty happy with, including this one for my friend and former comic book shop owner Kathy Bottarini. She said I could draw whatever I wanted and I knew she liked my Last Mechanical Monster webcomic, so I drew the epic throwdown that my enormous respect for copyright law (and enormous fear of DC Comics lawyers) prevented me from doing in my own story.
I did this for a girl who wanted a drawing of a photo she had on her phone. It's not her cat, she just thinks it's cute and her favorite picture of all time. She liked my interpretation.
I lost a lot of original cartoon art when my house burned down. Comic-Con helped me replace some of it. On the left is a Sunday page of the comic strip "Gordo" by one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, Gus Arriola. And it's astronomy-themed! On the right is a daily "Dondi" by Irwin Hasen, a short, profane, Golden Age cartoonist I was honored to meet a few times before he died. When I bought my first "Dondi" directly from him, I flipped through the short stack in his portfolio before making my selection. Irwin's eyes glinted as he scowled up at me. "You've got a good eye, you son of a bitch," he said. "You picked the best one." Being called an SOB by Irwin Hasen was one of the greatest compliments I've ever received. This page wasn't the same, but it was another good one. 
Friday noon I took part in Andrew Farago's panel on obscure "Peanuts" characters. My exhaustive analysis of Charlie Brown's "Mr. Sack" persona, as seen through the lens of The Great Gatsby and Citizen Kane, was met with thunderous applause inside my head. Here's Andrew; friend, cartoonist, and Schulz Studio editor Lex Fajardo; and Schulz Museum archivist Rachel Fellman. Sitting to my left were writer Nat Gertler, cartoonist Lonnie Millsap, and Pixar Studios' Jeff Pidgeon. Anyway, we were going on about Shermy, Charlotte Braun, Tapioca Pudding, 5, and other forgotten characters when . . . 

. . . a distinguished lady entered the room to wait for the following panel and sat beside Laura and Robin in the front row. Which is how I met Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols. My daughters said they saw my eyes bug out of my head like a cartoon character's when she sat down.

What do you say when your childhood dream unexpectedly materializes before your eyes? I thanked her for coming to Comic-Con and said that her work was very important to me and had made a big difference in my life. We shook hands, she looked into my eyes, and said something like "How lovely, thank you very much!" but that may have been angels singing, I couldn't tell the difference.  

I asked Charlie to interview me for my Spotlight Panel, a format that works very well because it keeps me from droning on about myself for an hour. 

Before my Spotlight Panel got started, Comic-Con organizer Gary Sassaman took the podium to present me an Inkpot Award, which was a complete dumbfounding surprise. It's basically Comic-Con's lifetime achievement award for excellence in comics, science fiction, or entertainment. So now Steven Spielberg and I have that in common. They like to surprise awardees with them, and though I've seen it done to others I had no idea it was about to be done to me. Luckily, my daughter Robin had been tipped off and captured the moment.

So Charlie and I did our panel and I thought it was going very well, when he pulled out boxes. Uh oh. Unknown to me, he'd conspired with a lot of people to replace various trophies that were destroyed in the fire. My 2005 Eisner Award for Mom's Cancer. My 2009 Emme Award from the National Astronautical Society for Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow. Next to that is my jaunty new Inkpot Award, followed by Charlie's own contribution, the golden (and plastic) Bob Ross Award, which I take as a reminder to draw happy little clouds and trees every chance I get. And he says more replacements are coming.
The big news of my Spotlight Panel: as I said in my previous post, Abrams ComicArts will publish a full-length, full-color hardcover of my Fire Story graphic novel in March 2019. I'm working on it now. I think it could be special.

I saw some old friends and met some new ones. Some I was happy to see but just didn't get a photo of (hi, cartoonist Dave Kellett!) I also missed some people I'd hoped to see, but was just never in the same place at the same time. My apologies if I missed you (sorry, cartoonist Carol Tyler!), but that's how Comic-Con is.

Two of the first people I ran into were Richard and Wendy Pini, who have been doing the groundbreaking fantasy series ElfQuest for 40 years (!). They're the best. Richard has been especially kind and generous to me, in ways I won't embarrass him by recounting, but trust me: I owe him a lot even though he'd insist I don't. So I made and brought a drawing for him, of my characters Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid from Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow facing off against The Last Mechanical Monster at the 1939 World's Fair. I figured that'd be right in Richard's wheelhouse. I was right. I later had the pleasure of watching them receive the well-deserved love of their fans during their ElfQuest panel.
MAD magazine caricaturist Tom Richmond and his wife Anna.

Sunday Press publisher Peter Maresca, who prints the prettiest books this side of Abrams (which is an in-joke because his booth is right beside Abrams's).

Until now I was the only comics-adjacent person in the world who wasn't MAD cartoonist Sergio Aragones's best friend. Until now. Sergio is holding an ashcan edition of my original Fire Story webcomic that Abrams printed up as a Comic-Con exclusive. Only 500 numbered copies in existence, handed out at my Spotlight Panel and the Abrams booth! If you're Sergio Aragones, I bring one to you.

Maggie Thompson, editor of the late and lamented Comics Buyer's Guide.

Stacey Bell, cartoonist and podcaster Tom Racine, cartoonist Lucas Turnbloom (Dream Jumper), and writer/humorist Ces Marciuliano (Sally Forth), who is Stacey's significant other. I saw these same people the next day at a "Drink and Draw" event Tom organizes to raise money for Parkinson's disease research and other good causes, but mostly to drink beer and laugh. However, this event was a social organized by Andrews-McMeel/Universal/GoComics, to which editor Shena Wolf invited me because GoComics runs my webcomics.

Which is also where I had a nice conversation with "The Comics Reporter" Tom Spurgeon . . .

. . . and screwed up the nerve to introduce myself to cartooning great Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse). We talked about process and inspiration and Charles Schulz, and she was as nice as you'd want her to be. By the way, that's not my hair doing something weird on top. I don't have that much hair on top. It's just something unfocused in the background.

Edison Lee cartoonist John Hambrock's wife Anne is a Facebook friend of mine and told us both that we had to meet. I wish I'd had more time to talk, but next time. See, Anne, we did it. 

I've been a big admirer of cartoonist Eddie Campbell (From Hell and much more) for years. His book The Fate of the Artist is one of my all-time favorites. Eddie and his wife, bestselling author Audrey Niffenegger, seemed singularly unimpressed.

I turned a corner on the floor and literally ran into my friend Joyce Farmer, an Underground Comics great whose Special Exits is a very special book about her parents' aging and deaths. 

This is Karen Green, librarian extraordinaire. A comic strip about her by my pal Nick Sousanis won an Eisner Award this year.
I also just happened to run into Juliet McMullin, a professor at UC Riverside and leading light in graphic medicine. She's one of my favorite people.
I only had a moment to say hello to my friend Raina Telgemeier before she was mobbed by girls and their parents, but the real treat of attending her panel on kids’ graphic novel series was unexpectedly meeting editor Traci Todd, whom I’d heard a lot about (and who used to work for my publisher Abrams) but never met. That’s the great value of Comic-Con to me.

My daughters and I agreed we didn't see as many people in elaborate costumes as in past years. There are still a lot of them, but as a proportion of total attendance their numbers seemed low to us. Robin and Laura theorized that tighter ticket policies are discouraging cosplayers who in years past might have been able to hang out in front of the Convention Center or in the Lobby. Now you need a badge to even get on the same block. Could be. In any event, here's to the creative dreamers who add a little color and whimsy to life.

Avengers avenging while the Grandmaster grandmasters.

Doc Brown just hit his head on the toilet.

The Vision was more than a sentient android; he was also an omnipresent videographer.

Impressive Hawkwoman and Hawkman costumes, but I hope they never tried to go through the Exhibition Hall.

This Scarlet Witch rode up the escalator behind me and I asked her to pose when we got to the top. 

The Less-Than-Infinity Gauntlet

I've seen Tall Spock at just about every Comic-Con I've been to, but never paired with Portly Kirk before. Tall Spock is really tall, well over 7 feet. I thought they looked great together.
Happy, Tired Dad and Daughters.

What an extraordinary several days! I know that's a metric ton of photos but I didn't even talk about the great people of Abrams who took me out to dinner on Saturday, or the giant Sta-Puf Marshmallow Man and giant Nathan Fillion, or our excursion to Old Town San Diego, which I'd recommend. Sometimes Comic-Con is a little much; sometimes it's a LOT much. I lost my voice on Day Three, and my toe blisters will take days to heal. But there's nothing else like it. Thanks to everyone for hosting me so graciously and showing us such a great time!