Thursday, May 12, 2022


One of my very favorite parts of the publishing process: checking proofs. These are pages of a book printed on the actual paper and press the book will be printed on, mailed to the publisher and author for their approval. 

I gather that the industry is moving toward digital (PDF) proofs, which I think are useless. Especially for a graphic novel, you need to see how the images and ink will look on the page, which is very different from how they look on a monitor. You need to inspect the quality of the publishing process itself--are the colors in register (lined up right), are there flecks and specks on the printing plate? A PDF doesn't tell you any of that. As it is, I only got physical proofs for 12 spreads, or 24 pages, so we picked pages that might reveal problems or answer questions, e.g., how does my white lettering on a black background look (the answer: just fine!). 

I love proofs because I'm a process geek and because now my book is real. Aside from one hand-bound copy of Last Mechanical Monster I made for Karen, it hasn't been a physical object. Until now. That's neat.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Hood River Reads

Majestic Mount Hood.

Karen and I are home from a very busy, beautiful long weekend in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge as guests of Hood River Reads, an annual program by the Friends of the Hood River County Public Library that encourages the community to read and discuss a book. This year, they chose mine. The group purchased enough copies of A Fire Story--nearly a thousand!--to distribute them free to the middle school, high school, and anybody who asked. Their one condition: I had to come and talk.

In the weeks before I arrived, Hood River Reads had kicked off the campaign with book club readings, mayoral proclamations, a poster contest, and creative classroom assignments built around A Fire Story. By the time I arrived on Friday, pretty much everyone I encountered had read the book. That's . . . unusual. I've never seen anything like it. The beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, the passion and kindness of the Friends of the Library, and the library and town of Hood River itself made for an exhilarating few days.

Here's all you need to know about the place and people: when we arrived, they had a gift box waiting in our hotel room, and among the many books and snacks in the box was a jar of homemade jam. 

The Friends chose A Fire Story partly because the area has faced terrifying wildfires itself, most recently the Eagle Creek Fire which, like our Tubbs Fire, hit in the fall of 2017. We saw its scars on the drive east from Portland. No lives were lost and property damage was light, but the 48,000-acre fire burned for three months. The kids remember it, the adults will never forget it.

I gave three talks on Friday: a workshop for a library full of middle school students, a lecture for an auditorium full (200-plus) of high school students, and a workshop for a combined art and creative-writing class at the high school. My last three talks happened at the downtown library. I gave two on Saturday: a workshop for the community, attended by about 15 prospective (or at least curious) writers and cartoonists, and a community lecture on graphic medicine suggested by a Friend who'd read Mom's Cancer. On Sunday afternoon, I gave a concluding community lecture in which I made the case for literary graphic novels and tied my fire experience to theirs to talk about readiness and resilience.

Six talks in three days is a packed schedule, but between events Karen and I were treated to convivial meals and had time to explore the area, including a drive to the snow at the foot of majestic Mount Hood an hour away. 

As is my way, I'll tell the rest of the story with pictures. Many thanks to our hosts--Laurie, Bonnie, Bill, Helen and others--as well as the librarians, teachers, and spouses involved in making us feel as welcome as could be. They're wonderful book-loving people (the best kind!) who live in a wonderful place. Thank you for inviting us up.

A selfie at historic and scenic Multnomah Falls along the way. Of course we hiked up to that bridge! The volume of water rolling over the rocks into the mighty Columbia everywhere we looked was stunning to these drought-addled Californians.

Karen found this sticker in a copy of A Fire Story: "Please read this book and pass it along or return it to the library." Isn't that terrific?

They were ready for me.

Students at the middle school had drawn pages combining images and quotes from the book that struck them. It was interesting to see what they picked up on. This isn't even half of them; they were all over. Karen took most of these photos while I was talking to people and figuring out how to get projectors working.

It is profoundly surreal to walk into a school hundreds of miles from my home and see an accurate rendering of my backyard. Notice how this artist used quotes from the book as the melted iron bars in the gate. I wish I'd thought of that.

Before we got started, a teacher introduced me to a boy with obvious neurological issues who had drawn a beautiful 12-page comic featuring Dav Pilkey's "Captain Underpants." He had storytelling skills and color sense beyond his years, and I was happy to tell him that. For some people, it's easier to communicate in words plus pictures than words alone, and I'm proud to be part of a medium that offers that outlet.

Rappin' with the yoots. I made them draw some comics themselves.

Talking to a couple hundred high schoolers in their professional-grade theater. Hood River High School is an extraordinarily well-equipped campus, with shop classes (haven't seen those in California since the '70s), a large greenhouse supporting an agricultural program, a student health center, and students who were unfailingly smart and polite. Maybe I just missed the duds, but the kids I met convinced me that the future is all right.

An hour in teacher Matthew Gerlick's art class flashed me back to high school and college. I was not prepared. Paint splattered everywhere, half-finished projects clipped to drawing boards and drying in flat files, silk-screening frames lying in racks, bins of supplies stacked to the ceiling. I felt at home in a way I haven't in decades. Some interesting young writers and artists, too.

The high school students held a Fire Story poster contest. As with the middle schoolers, I was fascinated to see how they processed and interpreted my story.

Many entered, three won. I was very happy I wasn't asked to judge.

Saturday morning I did a writing workshop for a small but motivated group. This is an exercise where I draw an oval with two eyes and a nose, then have brave volunteers come up to add eyebrows, mouths, etc. and ascribe an emotion to the expression they created. The idea is to show the tremendous variety of complex and subtle emotions that can be conveyed with the simplest of graphics. Photo by Bonnie Withers (thanks Bonnie).

Sunday's community lecture in the library's great room, attended by 50 or so. Librarians Rachael and Mo were great and helpful hosts. I'm wearing my red shirt so you know I'm serious.

At liberty on Sunday morning, Karen and I headed south toward Mount Hood for some beautiful scenery and a snowball fight that Karen did not let me start. A shame. It would have been glorious.