Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Miami Book Fair

Home from the Miami Book Fair, the largest of its type of thing in the country--bigger than the L.A. Times Festival of Books, which I attended in April and is set up very similarly. This was my second time at the Miami fair; my first was 10 years ago promoting Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow. I've gotten smarter in the intervening decade--primarily realizing that the purpose of going to the Miami Book Fair is to promote my book (duh!)--and think I made the most of it. Plus I had a blast!

I was invited to the fair to be on a panel titled "Comics! The Memory Hole: Your Life in Pictures." Moderated by Kristen Radtke with Hevin Huizenga, David Heatley, and writer Cecil Castellucci, the panel drew about three dozen people. I loved the theme. We talked about how memory and memoir work, how accurate memory really is, how you decide whose and which stories to tell, and how comics may be the ideal medium for stories like memoirs. Afterward, we all signed books, and also had opportunities to sign stock at booksellers' tents set up on the street.

A sneaky selfie of (L to R) Radtke, Heatley, Castellucci, Huizenga and me during our panel.
Signing books under a red canopy filtering Miami sunshine.

Miami Book Fair Highlights: spending enough time with cartooning greats Diane Noomin, Bill Griffith (Diane's husband), Patrick McDonnell and his wife Karen that I think I get to call them friends. Meeting cartoonist Chris Ware. Breathing the same air as Joyce Carol Oates. Wandering aimlessly among a couple hundred booksellers' booths. Spending time with cool cartoonists/book people like Jim Ottaviani, Leland Myrick, Paul Pope, Erin Williams, Joan Hilty, Andrea Beaty (Ada Twist, Scientist), too many others to mention. Pontificating on my panel. Enjoying an exclusive author's party overlooking still bay waters on a languid Miami night. Most of all, getting some quiet time with my friend and editor, Charlie Kochman, just to talk about life and stuff.

The great value of events like the Miami Book Fair is never the panels you do or the books you sell, which by themselves don't come close to making the trip worthwhile. It's what happens in the times and spaces between.

A fuzzy hotel lobby photo of Editor Charlie, Patrick McDonnell, Patrick's wife Karen, me, and writer/editor/designer Chip Kidd.

Enjoying a break the next day in the Author's Lounge with cartoonists Diane Noomin, Bill Griffith, and Patrick McDonnell.
Patrick interview by Editor Charlie on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Patrick's comic strip "Mutts," and a new Abrams book celebrating his art.

Sunday morning breakfast I stumbled upon (and joined) writer Jim Ottaviani, Editor Charlie, Bill Griffith, and artist Leland Myrick strategizing for their upcoming panel titled "Biography: Mind Over Body."

And here they are doing that panel! Jim and Leland have a new book on Stephen Hawking, while Bill did a book on circus sideshow performer Schlitzie, on whom his comic strip character "Zippy the Pinhead" was based. I have both books--very different but both great.

Chip Kidd (right) interviewing cartoonist Chris Ware. If you don't know who Chris Ware is, I can't explain him to you; if you do know, I don't have to explain him to you. I asked Chip to introduce me to Chris after the talk, and Chris and I had a very nice, brief conversation.

Also, why is everyone so afraid of sitting in the front row? This isn't grade school anymore, and you came here specifically to see these people. Sit in the front row!

Saturday morning I watched author Joyce Carol Oates be interviewed by writer/editor Chris Beha. She was brilliant and said some things that'll stick with me.

See? Sit in the front row!

I couldn't get to the front row for Sunday morning's talk by comedy writers Adam Mansbach, Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry, who discussed and read from their new book "A Field Guide to the Jewish People." Very funny.
You know it's true.

The Great Ape

Editor Charlie brought me a gift that requires explanation.

Waaay back in 2006, Mom's Cancer was nominated for a Quill Award. Never heard of it? The Quills were a short-lived attempt to create a fancy high-profile televised awards show for books. So I flew to New York City, and Charlie and I black-tied our way to the Museum of Natural History where we enjoyed an enormous banquet in an auditorium with a full-scale blue whale hanging from the ceiling.

We cleaned up good.

I wasn't kidding about the whale. Comics journalist Heidi MacDonald was there and said it was the perfect time for a supervillain to smash through the roof to threaten the pampered elite of Gotham City. She was right. 

One of the Quills' fatal flaws, in my opinion, was letting the public vote on the winners. The public has terrible taste. In a year in which people like Doris Kearns Goodwin, E.L. Doctorow, Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, and the Dalai Lama all published books, the Quill Book of the Year Award went to Tyler Perry's Madea character for Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings. That's my sour-grapes way of explaining why Mom's Cancer didn't win.

The Quill Awards' 2006 Book of the Year.

This is where I formulated Brian's First Law of Award Shows, which is that if the organizers seat you such that there's a huge staircase between you and the stage, you aren't winning an award.

Our view of the Quill Awards stage with, I believe, Lewis Black presenting. Note how far we are from the stage and reflect on Brian's First Rule of Award Shows.

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late), Charlie and I soothed our hurt feelings by stealing the plaster centerpieces. I took one, he took one, eleven years later mine burned up, and last night Charlie gave me his.

Despite losing the Quill, the night turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life. That was the night Charlie introduced me to Quill presenter Chip Kidd and his partner Sandy McClatchy, and we went back to Chip's astonishing apartment to sip brandy while sitting on his balcony overlooking the lights of Manhattan, planning a Batman opera that never got made.

BTW, that was also the night I passed Donald Trump going up a long marble staircase while I was going down, and I could have prevented this whole mess and made it look like an accident if I'd only known. Such is a world without time machines.

So Charlie's gift is a reminder of a night I lost an award and ended up not caring at all, and having a friend who understands how much a stupid red plaster chimp can mean.

The view from my Miami hotel room. Nice work if you can get it.

Monday, November 18, 2019

A Boy and His Tiger

Now it can be revealed: a few months ago my pal Andrew Farago asked if I'd do a drawing for an auction to raise money for the Cartoon Art Museum. I was happy and excited to, especially given the theme: "A Boy and His Tiger: A Tribute to Bill Watterson!"

I understood my charge to be celebrating the comic strip "Calvin & Hobbes" in my own style without actually using those characters. Here's what I did. It's about 11 x 14 inches, ink and watercolor on watercolor paper.

CAM has gotten contributions from cartoonists such as Patrick McDonnell, Harry Bliss, Mo Willems, Lynn Johnston and more. Early next year they'll all be exhibited at the museum, and sometime soon auctioned off on eBay. Visit HERE to see a few more, and watch for more to come!

And thanks to Andrew and CAM for letting me play with them.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Tom Spurgeon

With Tom at last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Like many in the comics world, I'm stunned to hear of the death of Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter--journalist, writer, editor and critic whom it seems everyone in the community knew and respected.

I can't claim Tom and I were close but he was an early champion of my work going back to Mom's Cancer, and his knowledge and passion for comics were unmatched. He loved to shine light on good work that deserved attention. Tough but fair and kind.

I think we'll hear a lot of stories in the next few days from people whose lives and careers Tom made better. I'm one of them.