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.)