Saturday, December 24, 2022

Donkey Bonny Brays a Carol

As long as I've been writing this blog, and the blog before this blog, which dates back to 2005, I've marked Christmas Eve by posting the best Christmas carol ever by one of the best cartoonists ever, Walt Kelly, the creator of "Pogo." It is my gift to you, or perhaps a curse, because now it's in your head.

All my best for the little fiddly tail end of this year and all of the next.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Intellectual Life #15

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 15:

Me: "I just found something interesting. For the past couple of days I've felt something scratching my leg. Turned out I had a nail sticking through the bottom of my jeans pocket."

Karen: "How could you not know you had a nail in your pocket?"

Me: "Only the head was in my pocket. The rest of it was poking out the bottom, scratching my leg."

Karen: "And you felt it for days and didn't investigate?"

Me: "I scratched the itch, it went away."

Karen: "I'm going to start experimenting by putting things in your pockets and seeing how long it takes you to notice them."

Me: "Like a live possum?"

Karen: "Like a dry bean."

Me: "Oh, I'd never notice that."

Karen: "You need to change your pants more often."

This has been another peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Occult

Photo by Ethan Chappel, used with permission because asking is the right thing to do.

Last night the Moon glided between Earth and Mars, an event called an "occultation." Lunar occultations of planets are kind of rare but not really significant, except as a reminder of what my astronomer friend Sherwood called the "beautiful, graceful minuet they've been practicing for billions of years." I have thoughts.

My neighbor Mari took these photos before and after the occultation, with a regular camera. Mars is the speck at lower left (left) and upper right (right).

Photos by Mari Haber

I was trying to explain the Moon's motion to Mari's husband Ron, and said something like, "The Moon actually moves from right to left (west to east), and it's going to pass Mars pretty fast." It occurred to me later how confusing that is, because the Moon obviously rises in the east and sets in the west (left to right in the Northern Hemisphere), just like the Sun and stars, so how can it also move from west to east?

It does both at the same time.

Because Earth spins once a day, everything rises in the east and sets in the west. But on a slower time scale, from day to day or week to week, the Moon and outer planets meander in the opposite direction, from west to east (the word "planet" means "wanderer")*. 

The Moon's motion is actually incredibly complex. Since its orbit isn't a perfect circle, from our point of view the Moon gets slightly larger and smaller, and moves slightly faster and slower, over time. Its orbit is also tilted with respect to Earth, so from month to month it bobs north or south, similar to how the Sun moves higher or lower from season to season.

All these different motions--wheels within wheels within wheels--repeat in a 19-year rhythm called the Metonic cycle (or the slightly more accurate 76-year Callippic cycle). Whatever spot and phase the Moon is in today, it'll be in that exact same spot and phase 19 years from today. Ancient astronomers knew all about it. The Babylonians, Hebrews, Celts, and perhaps Polynesians all built calendars around it. 

The Metonic cycle depicted in a 9th century manuscript from St. Emmeram's Abbey in Bavaria.

Here I'm approaching something like my point: marvel at how smart they were! Ancient astronomers didn't have Newtonian physics or what we'd call modern scientific discipline, but they were careful and brilliant observers. A civilization that can watch, track, document, and mathematically express the motions of lights in the sky over decades is working at a very high level. It was somebody's job to do that, and probably one they passed down to generations of apprentices because some celestial cycles last longer than one astronomer's lifetime.

Never underestimate the intelligence of ancient peoples. They had the same physical brains, the same cleverness and insight and genius, that we do. They had their Newtons and Einsteins. Could you observe the Moon every day for 19 years and discover the Metonic cycle? I couldn't. But people did, thousands of years ago, in many cultures independently throughout the world.

The Metonic cycle is an example of why I hate any ideas of "ancient astronauts"--for example, that the Egyptian pyramids are too perfect and complex to have been built without the help of aliens. Baloney. We are very clever apes who excel at finding patterns. We use language, writing, and mathematics to describe the patterns to others, who can then build on them. What an insult to all those ancient geniuses to claim they were too stupid to do it without outside help.

Related: here's a page from a book-length science comic I was working on before my 2017 fire destroyed my research and documentation for it. We hadn't come up with a title yet, but the working title in my head was Don't Be A Dumbass. I think the project is dead, and some of it is already obsolete anyway, but don't be surprised to see bits and pieces of it float up in my stuff from time to time.

* Footnote: Yes, I know about retrograde motion. Go soak yer head.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Shocking Secrets Revealed!

Comics friend Tom Heintjes reminds us that "The Mechanical Monsters," the Superman cartoon on which my new book The Last Mechanical Monster is based, premiered on this date in 1941. To mark the anniversary, I'm sharing A SECRET I DIDN'T TELL MY EDITOR!

As Editor Charlie and I gave our presentation at the Miami Book Fair, there were a couple of times he said, "I didn't know that," or "You never told me that." One example: even though our book couldn't mention Superman, I gave considerable thought to what a world that had had Superman in it would be like. For instance, I figured he, and whatever other superheroes existed, would influence fashion. People would dress like their heroes.

There's a convention in comics that heroes wear primary colors--blue, red, yellow--while villains wear secondary colors--green, purple, orange. There are exceptions--Green Lantern springs to mind--but it's a guide. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four: primaries. The Joker, Lex Luthor, Galactus, Doctor Doom: secondaries. One of the smart things Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did to define the Hulk as an anti-hero was make him green and purple, a hero in the colors of a villain. [Edited to add: In a comment on Facebook, Editor Charlie attributed the Hulk's palette to Stan Goldberg and offered more insight into Marvel's creative process in the early '60s.]

In my book, the inventor Sparky's tuxedo has purple highlights and his cavern lair is green and purple (as it was in the cartoon). Lillian wears Superman's colors: blue jeans, yellow t-shirt, red shirt. (Superman Blue isn't 100% cyan ink, by the way; it has a bit of magenta in it, which leans it toward purple). Helen the librarian wears Batman's colors: blue, gray, yellow. The boy in the library, who was unnamed in the webcomic but whom I called Dwayne in the book after the late African-American comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie, wears Green Lantern's green, gray and white.

So near the end of the book, when Sparky trades his tattered purple tuxedo for a blue (with a bit of magenta), red, and yellow sweatsuit, it's a subtle signal that a change is afoot. Similarly at the end, Lillian adopts a version of Sparky's purple suit--not meant to hint that she's turned evil, but maybe a little of him has rubbed off on her.

I try to be thoughtful about how I use color. Every book I've done has a different "color philosophy." Honestly, I don't know if it makes a difference, but I have to believe these choices have a cumulative effect on the reader, even if they're not aware of it. Color is a tool that can convey meaning or evoke emotions subtextually. My challenge is to understand that subtext and use it with purpose.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Miami Book Fair

I'm home from the Miami Book Fair with a quick photo dump. It was a good trip! 

My panel with my editor Charles Kochman of Abrams Books went all right. We've known each other for 17 years (!), and have that history and comfortable telepathic patter that leads to an interesting discussion, I think. I was especially happy to meet a husband-wife pair of writers who seemed like they got some practical value out of it. 

I always count on meeting someone great completely out of the blue, thanks largely to Charlie, who knows everyone. This year's highlights included writer Brad Meltzer, whose work I know and admire; and WAY out of left field, Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore and his partner Eva Prinz, a book editor who's a good friend of Charlie's. 

But I think my favorite new acquaintance was photographer James Hamilton, who shot the New York creative scene in the '70s and '80s for magazines like Rolling Stone, Harper's Bazaar and Vanity Fair, and who casually begins stories with sentences like, "When I spent the afternoon with Alfred Hitchcock, I walked into the room and his wife Alma poured me tea." A very low-key, friendly, and self-effacing man who was genuinely interested in my work as well.

So I went to a book fair and wound up hanging out with a celebrated photographer and a rock star. Go figure. When I left at crack-o-dawn Sunday, it had begun to monsoon. Rain in Florida; go figure that, too. I hope the rest of the day went well for everyone. Many thanks to Mitchell Kaplan and the Miami Book Fair for inviting me!

An overview of a bit of the Fair, with a large stage at the end of the street lined with colorful vendor tents. Most of those tents held small publishers, self-publishers, second-hand booksellers, and such.

Charlie and I found a quiet corner in the library to strategize our "spontaneous conversation." We work hard to make it look easy.

Outside the room where our panel was held, the Fair set up a table to sell speakers' books. They even had some copies of "A Fire Story," which was a nice surprise. Of course they all got signed before I left. Sorry I didn't catch the bookseller's name, but he was a cool kid.

At a signing table with Charlie after our talk. I don't have any pics of the talk because I was in it, but take my word for it: we were amazing.

Met writer Brad Meltzer and his wife Cori in the authors' lounge. We had a good long conversation. I also saw humor writer Dave Barry hovering over a chafing dish, but did not pester him.

At a late Friday panel on the Velvet Underground with Thurston Moore of "Sonic Youth," photographer James Hamilton, and actor Michael Imperioli, who all have books related to the band and its leader, Lou Reed.

Looks like I picked the wrong day to wear a rival book fair’s hat. People are cursing me in five languages and hurling half-eaten empanadas at me. Nobody ever talks about the ugly side of literature.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Toon Talking at the CAM

Hey, look who's doing a Toon Talk and book signing at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco next Saturday! Spoiler: me! At 1 p.m. I'll be speaking about The Last Mechanical Monster, then hanging around talking to folks and signing books until 3 p.m. 

Best of all, it's free and open to the public, so if you just want to say "Howdy!" it won't cost you a dime. However, an ice cream sundae at the nearby Ghirardelli Chocolate shop will set you back $14 or $15, so keep that in mind as you budget for the trip.

CAM is a great institution that's been very good to me, and is always worth a stop even when I'm not sitting in it. Which I will be, next Saturday.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Professional

This story will probably reveal more about me than I intend.

Yesterday I went to a terrific local art supply store that offers a professional discount. I don't bother with it for my usual small purchases but yesterday I spent a chunk of change, so I approached the counter and said these exact words, verbatim:

"I would appreciate the professional discount, please. Because that is what I am."

A 17-year-old buying a six-pack with a fake I.D. would not have sounded shadier.

I'm not insecure about my bona fides. Although I have the usual neurotic share of Imposter Syndrome, I do consider myself a confident professional cartoonist. I'm just terrified that someday they'll ask for proof. Nobody issued me a license. What am I going to do, Google myself while standing at the register? How pathetic. And what are they gonna say?

"You call yourself a professional? Your color sense is pedestrian at best."

"Is that a figure drawing or a crime scene?"

"Sir, when we say 'professional' we're really thinking of oil painters, sculptors, printmakers, kindergarten teachers . . . you know, real artists."

Anyway, the clerk said "Sure" and rang me up without a grilling or even, really, a glance. So if you're looking for art supplies in the North Bay, I recommend Rileystreet. Because they get me.

(Photo nicked from the Sonoma State Star.)

Friday, October 21, 2022

A Gorgeous Love Letter

"A family-friendly adventure with a surprising amount of heart and timeless themes..."

A new review here from Sam Stone at Comic Book Resources, a leading online source for comics news. It's a very good one.

"After crafting numerous tales that ventured headfirst into considerably different subjects, Fies’ The Last Mechanical Monster is a refreshing read without coming off as overly lightweight. A gorgeous love letter to the Golden Age of superhero comics and animation, Fies uses the genre to touch on themes of friendship and legacy borne from a lifetime of cynicism and spurned ambition. A solid collection of the original webcomic in a gorgeous format, Abrams ComicArts continues its recent high-profile winning streak with its publication of Fies' Eisner-nominated graphic novel."

I'm especially happy to see that nod to my publisher, Abrams ComicArts, which I think has put out a tremendous body of work I'm proud to be a part of.

The cool-kid writers aren't supposed to care about reviews, but I guess I'm not that cool. One person's opinion doesn't carry a lot of weight with me, but one good or bad review can translate to a lot of people who do or don't buy your book, and that matters. It's also true that one bad review seems to outweigh a hundred good ones, and stick in your brain a lot longer. At the same time, not everything is for everyone, and you've got to be OK with that. I am.

Anyway. Here's a good review.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Real Mechanical Monsters

I recently came across an online auction at a reputable site, and bought two pieces of art I knew I had to have. In fact, immodestly, I can't think of anyone who deserves them more.

These are two drawings done at Fleischer Studios during the 1941 production of "The Mechanical Monsters," the 8-minute Superman short that inspired my new graphic novel, The Last Mechanical Monster

I worded that carefully, because I don't know exactly what they are.

They're not production drawings, which is what they'd be if these scenes appeared in the cartoon. They didn't. The robot designs aren't complete, and in the second drawing you can see what must be the robots' inventor (Sparky!) slumped over his control console, which never happens in the cartoon. Also, a production drawing probably wouldn't include both Superman and the robots, or Superman and the inventor, in the same piece. They'd be drawn separately so they could move independently. 

The auction house said they were "believed to be" preliminary drawings made to promote the film, but I don't think I buy that either. Frankly, any ad or lobby card promoting a Superman cartoon would focus on his face and chest insignia instead of his butt. 

What feels right to me is that these were animation drawings done at an early stage of the filmmaking process. Then the directors went in a different direction, the script was revised, and new production drawings were done for the cartoon that got made.

I'm confident they're the real deal. They're drawn on large animation paper with three registration holes and a watermark that reads "Management Bond/A Hammermill Product," which is correct for the era. Superman is clearly fighting robots, which he doesn't do in any other cartoon of the time. The figure-drawing style (smooth, round, bulky) is exactly right. They're from Fleischers' "The Mechanical Monsters," no doubt about it.

Regardless of what they were then, what they are to me now is a physical connection to those filmmaking geniuses of 81 years ago who created an animation masterpiece that inspired generations of animators and cartoonists, including me.

I'm honored to be their steward through history for a while.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

We Have Liftoff!

My daughters Laura and Robin drove up for the event, which meant a lot to me.

The Last Mechanical Monster got a terrific launch last night at Copperfield's Books in Santa Rosa! About two dozen people came--many friends, of course, but also some other fans and curious readers. I think we nearly sold out the store's stock, plus a smaller stack of Fire Story copies. 

For my first time giving this particular talk, I think it went very well! Very good questions about the story and process of creating a graphic novel. I did a reading, during which I discovered a print error that had snuck through, which I thought was hilarious. It doesn't really hurt the story but I'll fix it in the second edition, if there is one, which will make this first edition *unbelievably* valuable. Better buy it now!

My friend and Kid Beowulf cartoonist Lex Fajardo came, much to the delight of a young fan who ran and bought two of Lex's book so he could sign them for him. Man, that kid was happy!

Explaining how original art gets turned into a book. Apparently I had to shout to get my point across.

Good turnout, nice people. What more could you ask?

Thanks to Copperfield's and to all my neighbors and friends from many jobs and times in my life, as well as the complete strangers, who showed up. You gave my book a very happy birthday.

(Photos by Karen.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Bookplates! Hot Buttered Bookplates!


My new book, The Last Mechanical Monster, launches today. To mark the date, and because I don't expect to do a ton of book signings around the country and planet, I'll renew an offer I made on previous books: I will send a free, signed bookplate to anyone who asks. Stick it in your book and POOF! instant signed book! Here's what you need to do:

1. Buy my book. No proof required, I'll take your word for it because I know you'd never lie to me. But I don't have an infinite supply of bookplates so I'd like them to go to proper homes.

2. Email me at brianfies(at)gmail(dot)com. Put "Bookplate" in the subject line.

3. Give me your mailing address. I can't mail it to you if you don't. I promise I won't add you to a mailing list. That would be more work than I care to do.

4. Tell me how you want it inscribed: to you, to a relative, to your dog, to the pixie who lives in your shed. I don't care. If you don't tell me anything, I'll sign it with no inscription.

ALSO: I have some "Fire Story" bookplates left, so same offer applies.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 17, 2022

An Absolute Wonder

My day is made! "This one's an absolute wonder," says Publishers Weekly in its Starred Review of "The Last Mechanical Monster." A star from PW is a big deal: they're stingy with them, and bookstores and libraries make purchasing decisions based on PW's opinion. A star tells industry buyers it's worth a look.

"This touching, delight-filled fable . . .  tackles classic themes: the drive to be remembered, the battle against aging and failing, and friendship."

They got it. Couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I may steal that.

Space, the VR Frontier


My daughters treated me to an extraordinary experience yesterday. "Space Explorers: The Infinite" is a pop-up virtual reality trip to the International Space Station that, as far as I can tell, is only available in Richmond, California through the end of November (a previous installation in Tacoma is over). I've wanted to be an astronaut my entire life. This is as close as I will get.

The front door.

Wearing VR headsets, you and your party walk into a room the size of a basketball court with about 20 other people. But of course it doesn't look like that to you--as far as you can tell, you're floating through space into a kind of translucent CGI model of the ISS. Your own body sparkles like you're beaming up to the Enterprise. You can walk through the ISS layout while other visitors fade in and out around you as glowing avatars. That's all well and good, and kind of what I expected. Fine, fun, neat.

Heading in. It was not crowded yesterday.

But the experience gets dialed up to infinity (and beyond!) when you touch one of the many glowing orbs floating through the model. Suddenly you're aboard the actual ISS, standing right beside real astronauts doing tasks, greeting newly arriving colleagues, getting a haircut, throwing a football. SpaceX sent VR cameras to the ISS in 2019 to get this immersive footage. It's amazing. Breathtaking.

I can't emphasize this enough: YOU ARE THERE. IN SPACE. Full-scale 3-D, 360 degrees around. Floating weightlessly beside real astronauts who are the same size as you. You look up, the space station modules extend for dozens of meters away. You look down, another corridor stretches beneath your feet. 

That's what really got me: the SCALE of the thing. I know the dimensions of the ISS, but to be inside these modules that each feels about as big as a railroad freight car or a transit bus, was stunning. It's the difference between knowing and experiencing.

A good overview of how the experience is laid out.

Better: toward the end, you're directed to a chair for more VR, and I think the reason they need you to sit down is that most people would find floating freely in open space so disorienting they'd flop to the floor like a carp. You look to your left, and an astronaut opens the ISS cupola windows to peer out at you. You look up, and two astronauts back slowly out of a hatch to do a spacewalk. You look down, left, right, and the disk of the Earth covers nearly half the universe as you fly over Italy and across the Mediterranean. The ISS is an enormous, complex machine stretching away in every direction around you, and YOU ARE THERE.

I confess, I may have shed a tear inside my VR kit. It moved me. I could've spent an hour just flying over the Earth like Superman.

The whole thing takes 35-40 minutes to go through. I see that an adult ticket costs $44 (less for children and students). It's worth it. In addition, there are more floating orbs than anyone could touch in one visit, so everyone gets a different experience and I'm sure repeat visits would be different every time.

I don't know if other versions of this are or will be available elsewhere. They must be. If you're a space nut who gets the opportunity, take it. I can't promise it'll change your life, but you'll never forget it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Daily Heller

Steven Heller is a highly regarded designer, art direction, journalist, critic, writer and editor who writes the "Daily Heller" blog for Print magazine, and a few days ago he asked me some questions about The Last Mechanical Monster. It's an unusually deep and thoughtful interview; could be the best one I'll do about this book! Many thanks to Mr. Heller and Print.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Intellectual Life #14

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 14:

We get a postcard in the mail from an outfit called Five Star Landscaping.

Karen: "They must be a lot better than those losers at Four Star Landscaping."

Me: "We should start a company called 'Six Star Landscaping!'"

Karen: "We should be Ten Scar--I mean, Ten STAR--Landscaping!"

Me: "Ten Scar?"

Karen: "Yeah. Ten Scar Landscaping."

Me: "Ten Scar Landscaping: We're Not That Good With Power Tools."

Fist bump.

This has been another peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Travels with Phil Frank

Antique Shop Find of the Day--maybe the Year! An original comic strip by Phil Frank. Frank did a lot of work in comics before he died in 2007, including two syndicated strips--"Farley" and "The Elderberries"--and a rare arrangement in which he continued his "Farley" strip exclusively for the San Francisco Chronicle, making him probably the last single-paper strip cartoonist in the business.

I'm 99% sure that's what this is: one of the "Travels with Farley" strips he did for the Chronicle, both because of its date (2002 was two years before The Elderberries) and its San Francisco-based subject matter. 

You're gonna ask and I'm not embarrassed to say: $24. The frame and matte are worth more than that.

My favorite part is a sticky note on the back of the frame, in Frank's hand, reading "Found it!! Had to use a backhoe!" and affixed with a 37-cent postage stamp. I imagine that Frank dug up and sent the strip to a friend who'd asked for it, with the stamp's "Kansas" theme cleverly echoing the strip. It's also darned good provenance. 

I never met Frank but I was a fan of his loopy stories and characters, and his loose, confident linework. I think I can confidently say that this art could not have found a better home.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Temblor Ahoy!

We had what felt to us like a major earthquake two hours ago. Karen and I were walking the dog when we heard a loud boom, the ground moved a LOT, our knees buckled, and steel lamp posts started swaying back and forth like old-fashioned metronomes. Turned out it was "only" a magnitude 4.4, but pretty much right under us. 

We hurried home as neighbors rushed out, everyone asking if everyone else was OK. Got home, found that the earthquake had shaken our front door's deadbolt into place so I had to borrow a neighbor's ladder to hop our fence and get in through an open back door. What a mess. Most drawers had opened, pictures shook askew, objects slid or leaped several feet off of shelves. What you've got to be careful about is opening kitchen cabinets when glassware has slid up against the door from the other side.

We're all right. One neighbor's shower door shattered; another saw cracks in their walls. Stuff formerly on garage shelves put six or seven dents in our car hood. After we assessed our house we checked on the home of some neighbors who are on vacation. They broke a lamp.

Karen and I were here for the '89 Loma Prieta quake, which was truly a major temblor--I'll never forget seeing cars bobbing on a blacktop parking lot like boats on the ocean--but that epicenter was 120 miles away. This was the biggest one either of us remembered feeling ourselves. Gave me new respect for a mere 4.4.

This pendulum clock went wonky and stopped ticking at 6:40 p.m.

A bedroom lamp and some pictures took a hit.

My dresser drawers all jolted open, and family photos either jumped off the wall or rocked off level.

My Eisner Award--as you may recall, a replacement for the one destroyed in the fire (thanks Charlie!)--lost its globe. I think I can fix it, it looks like it just bent and popped off its pins. But this thing may be snakebit!


Straightening pictures, we found a scuff mark on the wall showing that one of them swung surprisingly violently. How it stayed on the wall at all we'll never know.

It looks like the corner of this print swung up and hit the thermostat. Wowee!

This morning we noticed that our stove had walked itself about three inches out from the wall. When you report your earthquake observations to the USGS, one of their questions is whether any major appliances moved. Last night Karen answered "No." She'd like to take that back now.

I fixed my Eisner Award. The globe is held on by two pins, the top one of which screws through the mount. I straightened the pins (which bent when the globe got knocked out), unscrewed the top pin, and Presto! A Major Award repaired better than the leg lamp in "A Christmas Story."

All better now. I think it flew extra far because it's top heavy. Really launched it off the shelf into the middle of the room.

The proper big-picture way to look at an earthquake like ours is gratitude. By releasing pent-up energy in relatively little temblors that cause no deaths and minor damage, the faults beneath our feet stave off larger and more destructive quakes. Much better to have ten magnitude 4s than one magnitude 8. 

At least that's what I told myself as I sat awake at 2 a.m. listening to every creak and squeak in my house.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Intellectual Life #13

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 13:

There's a rock in our neighborhood that all the dogs like to pee on that we call "Pee Rock" because we're clever like that. This morning Riley took her turn.

Me: "Do you know Pee Rock's real name?"

Karen: "What."

Me: "Drain Johnson."

Karen: "What?"

Me: Because The Rock's real name is Dwayne Johnson. And dogs drain themselves on Pee Rock."

Karen (knowing where this is going): "This is NOT a peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple."

Me: "It could be."

Karen: "It definitely is not."

This has been another peek into the intimate intellectual life of a long-married couple.

(The Internet tells me that the photo is of a fifth-grader's science project. It fits.)

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Made Local

A locally made magazine called "Made Local" interviewed me for an issue on the good and bad aspects of fire, as the five-year anniversary (!) of our firestorm approaches. Editor Jess Taylor and I exchanged questions and answers by e-mail (that's routine these days) and she published my replies like a first-person essay, which is unusual and I like it! Good or bad, what she printed is exactly what I wrote, so I can't complain about the reporting. Plus it's a big, attractive spread. 

Thanks, Jess!

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Pre-Order Savings at B&N

My friends at Abrams Books tell me that Barnes & Noble is offering a 25% discount on pre-ordered books through Friday, and suggest that "The Last Mechanical Monster" would be a very fine book to pre-order! Who am I to argue with my publisher? Check this link and be sure to use the code PREORDER25.

I always urge readers to support their local heroic independent bookstores, but not everyone has one of those anymore. And, honestly, my local B&N has been very good to me so I'm happy to steer the company some business. Plus, 25% is 25%! What a deal!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Veni, Vidi, Cartooni

I had a swell time at Saturday's Cartoon-A-Thon at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. Special thanks to museum education director Jessica Ruskin, who worked very hard to pull it off. I got to hang out with friends, many of whom I haven't seen in at least a few years, sell some books, and best of all talk to folks about comics and storytelling and their lives. I think in whole it was a fine celebration of the art, craft, entertainment and importance of cartooning, which I gather was the point. A good day! Here's some pictures.

Practically the first two people I ran into were Jeannie Schulz and Raina Telgemeier. It was a great day already and I'd just gotten there!

My daughters Laura and Robin came by with Karen, who took many of these pictures, to support their old man. A local bookstore had copies of A Fire Story to sell so I didn't offer that book, but sold some copies of Mom's Cancer and Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? When I can, I like to bring pages of original art so I can talk shop with people interested in how comics are made. A lot of people really like seeing how a drawing on paper gets turned into a page in a book, and I love talking about it!

An overview of the museum's Great Hall, lined with a gauntlet of cartoonists. My chair is the empty one at the left; I'm at bottom center, circling around the table to tackle the nice startled lady in the purple shirt, who is local historian and journalist Gaye LeBaron. We're acquainted and I just had to say "Hi."

Heroic local independent bookseller Copperfield's had many of the participating cartoonists' books for sale, including mine.

On my side of the hall, I sat beside Schulz Studio artist Bryan Stone, "Gender Queer" creator Maia Kobabe, bestselling "Hazardous Tales" creator Nathan Hale, and "Poorly Drawn Lines" cartoonist Reza Farazmand.

Across the way were (from right) one of my favorite cartoonists Tom Beland, Schulz Studio editor and "Kid Beowulf" creator Lex Fajardo, Schulz Studio writer Jason Cooper, and way back in the green shirt, cartoonist Denis St. John. More cartoonists were farther to the left, including "Prince Valiant" artist Thomas Yeates. 

The day kicked off with a presentation in which former museum director Karen Johnson presented Jeannie Schulz with a book that had been secretly compiled to mark the museum's 20th anniversary. Jeannie seemed a bit nonplussed by the attention, maybe even annoyed, but remarked, "This makes up for a lot of things that burned in my house," which touched me. To create the book, museum staff asked many people to write or draw what the museum means to them. A drawing of mine is in there....

....and this is that drawing. I thought to myself, "Why does someone start a museum? What do they hope to achieve?" I think the answer is: They want it to continue long after they're gone. So I imagined a time two centuries from now, when our descendants are living in their Jetsons future and kids will still gather at the museum to read the first "Peanuts" comic strip.

Before Jeannie was given her book, Raina Telgemeier was given the Sparky Award, bestowed by the Schulz Museum and the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco for significant contributions to cartooning and "embodying the talent, innovation, and humanity of Schulz." Well deserved.

You'll notice that trophy doesn't have Raina's name on it. Because it arrived at the last minute, she later had the fun of applying the plaque herself.

Raina did two ticketed book signings that sold out.

Me, Raina, Lex.

After the main event, the museum hosted a taco party for Cartoon-A-Thon participants and guests. "Pearls Before Swine" cartoonist Stephan Pastis didn't take part in the event but showed up for the free food.

I'm not posting pictures of the taco party because I think everyone there understood it wasn't a public event. Instead, here's a picture I took of a bottle of the museum's house "Flying Ace" chardonnay, bottled by Jeannie, which I got signed by cartoonists Raina Telgemeier, Stephan Pastis, Paige Braddock, Bryan Stone, Lex Fajardo, Thien Pham, Reza Farazmand, Nathan Hale, Thomas Yeates, and Maia Kobabe. What I like best about these events is the "world's colliding" aspect of them--cartoonists whom you wouldn't expect to have much in common stylistically or thematically can always talk shop. You may recall I had a similar souvenir from the museum's 15th anniversary event that did not survive my fire, so this is a special memento for me.