Friday, July 29, 2022

Mr. McFly! Mr. McFly!

Just dropped on my porch: one (1) copy of my forthcoming The Last Mechanical Monster, flown from the printer with a brief detour to New York City. It is strange to see this thing, which until now has been pieces of paper scattered around my desk and electrons glowing on my computer monitor, as a finished physical object. It's heavier than I expected. As I just joked to Editor Charlie, he must have used the good thick paper on this one.

Here's a quick peek at my life: my wife Karen took this photo, and emailed it to me so I could post it here. The subject line of that email is "Mr. McFly!" because at the end of "Back to the Future," Biff runs into the house yelling, "Mr. McFly! Mr. McFly! This just arrived! I think it's your new book!" My family has actually said that to me when previous books arrived, and it's a tradition I enjoy. George McFly and I may be more alike than I care to admit.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

More Sketch-A-Thonning

In addition to hosting an in-person Sketch-A-Thon at Comic-Con, the Cartoon Art Museum does a virtual Sketch-A-Thon in which patrons can commission art from artists for $15 and up, depending on complexity, size, etc. So in addition to drawing live last week, I'm back home drawing . . . well, I'm still drawing live, but nobody's hovering over me watching.

The idea is to get your favorite character drawn in a given artist's style, and the bigger the mismatch between those two the more interesting, I think. Honestly, the virtual Sketch-A-Thon is a better deal, because at a con I have to get a drawing done in 15 or 20 minutes, while at home I take a ri-DIC-ulous amount of time. Apparently I don't know how to half-ass it, and sometimes I wish I did.

I got five requests through regular channels, plus two back-door requests from people who contacted me privately after donating to CAM. I trust them. Here are the first five. Ink (brush pen and Micron pen) with colored pencil on paper.

Request was for Batman. Whenever you get a chance to draw Batman, draw Batman.

The request was for Superman villain Brainiac, the 1980s robot version (Brainiac has had a lot of different looks over the years. Yeah, I had to look this one up.)

Request was for the Marvel villain Cobra, who's been around for decades but was new to me. I don't think he gets through too many revolving doors with that tail-cape, but it's a cool design.

Request was for the character Kassandra from the Assassins Creed: Odyssey video game. I had to write my daughters for help on this one; since references turned up a few different looks for her and Robin and Laura play the game, I had to ask "Is this what she looks like?"

I think this was my favorite: the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, a Disney deep dive from 1963. This guy was a sort of Robin Hood type, stealing from the rich to pay the King's exorbitant taxes upon innocent townspeople. Disney made three "World of Disney" episodes that were later edited into a movie. The lead character was played by the great Patrick McGoohan! I like the off-beat requests.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Comic-Con 2022

Comic-Con Photo Dump! We had fun. I saw some friends but not all I'd hoped to. On Thursday, I had nice conversations with Tom Richmond, Dave Kellett, Chip Kidd, Peter Maresca and others. Had a howdy/handshake/hug with many more, including Karen Green, Stu Rees, Andrew Farago, Shaenon K. Garrity, and was especially happy to meet Johanna Draper Carlson in real life after a decade-long virtual relationship. Did a panel for Abrams Books, drew some sketches in exchange for donations to the Cartoon Art Museum, ate some pasta. 

Home away from home, the Abrams Books booth. It's not just the little counter in the foreground, but the booth in back that's twice as big. The smaller counter is for book signings; I'll be there later.

Editor Charlie! We slipped our masks off for just a moment for this shot. Otherwise, attendees are being very mask-diligent.

Two of the comics that started it all: the actual first appearance Spider-Man and first issue of Superman, going for "if you have to ask you can't afford it" amounts.

Two Lokis (Lokii?). In general, it feels to me like there's a lot less cosplay this year, and less elaborate.

For the Cartoon Art Museum's Sketch-A-Thon, cartoonists sit for an hour and draw anything a patron wants for $15. It's a good time for a good cause. As you look at the following drawings, keep in mind these are sketches done fast, not finished pieces.

One of my sketches. This was for a patron I didn't actually meet who had a standing order for mermaids in a variety of costumes and themes. He provided several pages of examples of the sorts of costumes he had in mind. One of his themes was "St. Patrick's Day" so I went with that.

Another patron saw me drawing Captain America and said, "Hey, can you do the Hulk smashing?" and I could and did.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a classy display of comics that have been banned in various places, including books by my friends Maia Kobabe, Raina Telgemeier and virtual pal Jerry Craft. Just a reminder that this is the 21st Century.

A terrific Doctor Octopus.

Here's a nice summary of our Abrams ComicArts panel at Comic-Con (with my name misspelled only once, so that's a win) from Nancy Powell at The Beat. 

What the article doesn't say--and would have no reason to--is that I went out of my way to praise Abrams's design team, including Pam Notarantonio and Charice Silverman, who worked on "Last Mechanical Monster." Abrams designs books better than just about anybody, and they enhanced my book immeasurably. As I said on the panel, I bring them raw meat and they turn it into a gourmet meal.

I also encouraged the audience to build their own robot army by buying 30 copies of my book and gluing together the paper robot dolls in the back. To be used for good or evil, no judgment on my part.

The Abrams ComicArts panel, with Editor Charlie at the podium, then Abrams editor Charlotte Greenbaum, me, comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, and Chip Kidd. I hadn't met Bendis, who is famous in comics circles, and I was a bit intimidated, but he was very nice and gracious. Charlie is introducing me.

A selfie with me, Other Brian, and Chip.

Photo nicked from website "The Beat" (

After the panel, Brian, Chip and I went down to the Abrams booth to sign our books. Brian Michael Bendis had a line that wound around the booth, down the aisle and around the corner. Chip and I did not. But a few very nice people did want signed copies of "A Fire Story," including the cosplaying couple in this photo and a wonderful woman who dragged six hardcopies to the Con for me to sign to her relatives who'd lost homes in fires. Readerwise, what I lack in quantity I make up for in quality.

On Friday, I did another hour at the Cartoon Art Museum's Sketch-A-Thon, this time with my cartoonist friend Alexis Fajardo. The next photo is a drawing I did for a CAM patron who requested "Captain America and Pokemon," resulting in the ultimate team-up. (I originally thought to have them battling, but realized there's no way that Cap and Pikachu, who represent the heroic ideal in their respective universes, would ever fight each other.)

In addition to his own comic, "Kid Beowulf," Lex Fajardo works for the Schulz Studio in my hometown. So he liked my shirt.

Captain America teams up with Pikachu! Villains have no chance.

Next, a story about someone whose name I'll keep to myself. This person came to do a Comic-Con panel after spending a full day and night in a San Diego hospital with IVs, antibiotics, the whole enchilada (not infectious or Covid-related). They showed up having been released from the hospital just a few hours before, did a great job on their panel, and no one would have guessed how weak and awful they felt. Knowing full well that a convention panel is one of life's least pressing obligations and everyone would have forgiven their absence, they still kept their commitment. It was one of the greatest examples of "The show must go on" I've ever seen, and kind of awesome.

Finally, a word about how much I love going to Comic-Con with my daughters, Laura and Robin. To be able to share it with them--to have interests and passions that overlap in the giant Venn diagram that is Comic-Con--is one of the great pleasures in my life. We had a swell time, especially when they pulled me to things I never would have done by myself. Thanks, girls!

Robin and Laura and I ended Thursday gorging on gluten at Buca di Beppo.

Obligatory photo of the Con floor from the mezzanine window....

....and the same thing looking the other direction. This is just a fraction of it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

It Lives!!!!

Editor Charles Kochman teases me just before I go to join him at Comic-Con with photos of "The Last Mechanical Monster" in print! Hey, look, it's a real book! The first couple show the case--the hardcover beneath the paper dust jacket--and I especially love those big robot eyes because Karen thought of that. Charlie and I couldn't figure out what to do with the case and Karen said, "How about a big robot eye?" And that's what we did. An angry red eye on one side and a happy green eye on the other. Can't wait to hold it in my hands someday soon. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Pre-Comic-Con 2022


Seems like I'll only be home from Chicago for about 15 minutes before turning around and heading to San Diego for Comic-Con International on Wednesday! This'll be a quick trip for me: all day Thursday and maybe a few hours on Friday, depending on how it goes. My daughters Robin and Laura are coming along, just like they did when we took this pic in 2018! What about Karen? She went to Comic-Con twice and that was plenty. 

My schedule: Thursday 1-2 p.m. I'll be drawing for Andrew Farago and the Cartoon Art Museum at booth #1634. Cartoonists volunteer to draw whatever patrons want for, I think, a $10 donation. I have packed my brush-pen and sharpened my colored pencils.

Thursday 4-5 p.m. I'm in Room 25ABC talking about The Last Mechanical Monster at the "What's New From Abrams ComicArts" panel. I'll be sharing the stage with my editor Charles Kochman, Abrams editor Charlotte Greenbaum, writer/editor/designer Chip Kidd, and writer Brian Michael Bendis. I know Chip but have never met Greenbaum or Bendis, so that'll be fun. 

After that panel, I get a few minutes to run downstairs before signing books at the Abrams booth (#1216-1217) from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

I have a few friends I hope to catch up with. If you'd like to catch up with me, find me as above or leave a note at the Abrams booth, which I tend to loop back to as my home base. No promises! Comic-Con is nuts and there's always more to do than any human can. That's part of its appeal.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Graphic Medicine Chicago 2022

Here's a photo dump from the 2022 Graphic Medicine Conference in Chicago. I haven't made it to the conference every year, but I've been to many since I was invited to the first in London in 2010. Since then, the field has grown enormously--to the point that we OG GMers joke that we don't even know everybody doing it anymore--and the level of academic and creative work being done is impressive. 

These are extraordinary events for me. I love 'em. The talks and panels are always interesting. I took two hands-on workshops--one by Mita Mahato on using color expressively and another by Sarah Leavitt on grief--that will stick with me. 

With all conferences, all the best stuff happens in the hallways between formal events. And immodestly, the number of people who told me they got into graphic medicine because of Mom's Cancer, including a family who started a scholarship in the name of their late son, was large enough to leave me blushing. When you tell a story, you never know the splash and ripples it'll make.

My friend MK Czerwiec, "Comic Nurse," one of the originators of graphic medicine--not just the conferences, but the entire field. She wrote her own graphic novel, "Taking Turns," on her experience in a Chicago AIDS ward, and edited the very well-received anthology "Menopause." Also, MK is not wearing a tiny sideways cap, I just timed our selfie poorly.

Physician Michael Green, British physician and graphic novelist Ian Williams, and a guy without an MD. Ian, with MK, is the other originator of graphic medicine and the inventor of the term. Not surprisingly for a conference with a lot of doctors and nurses, the event is extremely COVID-conscious. Masks always on indoors, and often on outdoors as well.

Four of my favorite people on the planet, truly: artist, author and teacher Mita Mahato; professor Juliet McMullin; graphic novelist and teacher Sarah Leavitt; and public health professional Meredith Li-Vollmer. Together they represent a good cross-section of the types of people and expertise that go to a graphic medicine conference.

The conference is hosted by the University of Chicago, where the library has a very large exhibition dedicated to the history of graphic medicine, of which my work is a small part. In the display case is one of three surviving pages of original art from my book "Mom's Cancer," which I gifted to MK several years ago. It couldn't have a better home.

What a typical panel looks like sitting in the middle of the audience. Dr. Theresa Maatman is in the foreground, and I wish I remembered the name of the guy behind her because I had a couple of nice chats with him, but I don't. Sorry.

The face of conferencing in the modern era. Many, many people participated via Zoom, which introduced some tech problems, especially when presentations had to be shared and so forth. There were some hiccups but on the whole I think it went well. But I really took this photo because the guy at lower left used a page from my book as his digital background, and I was honored.

This large foam-core board was left out all weekend for participants to draw their self-portraits or avatars. I'm at bottom center.

After the last event on Saturday, a small group of us went out to dinner. Clockwise from left: Professor Susan Squier, Dr. Ian Williams, Harvard medical librarian Matthew Noe, professor Shelley Wall, me, and Dr. Michael Green. I include honorifics not to impress but to indicate the breadth of experience and interests people bring to these conferences. It's the best thing about them. Also, most of those people have authored or co-authored books. Photo by Susan's partner Gowen Roper.

After the dinner, we joined others at an outdoor patio for refreshments and happy conversation. A nice wind-down.

I made a little pilgrimage to this statue commemorating the University of Chicago's role in the Nuclear Era. Near this spot in 1942, Enrico Fermi and his team carried out what was surely one of the most reckless and dangerous scientific experiments in history by piling a heap of uranium-laced graphite bricks under the stands of a football stadium, making the world's first nuclear reactor and potential dirty bomb that could have wiped out half of Chicago. It didn't, so 25 years later they built a monument to it.

 I always say I know I'm back east when I see brick buildings. We don't have brick buildings in California. Ours fell down in 1906. I get the willies walking into them.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

First Light

I realize nobody's clamoring for a graphic novelist's take on the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope. Nevertheless.... I was also a physics major and science writer and amateur astronomer, and wanted to offer a straight take on why this is damn cool.

First, JWST is simply the best telescope in history, and sees farther--and therefore further back in time--than any scope ever has. Hubble couldn't get this view.

Second, JWST operates in infrared, the invisible redder-than-red wavelengths humans can't see. Earth's atmosphere is especially good at blocking infrared--hence global warming--so, except for a few smaller space telescopes, we've never really seen the universe in these colors before (the colors in the image are false colors made to look approximately how we'd see them if we could see them). That alone opens up a whole new universe to us.

Third, everything in this image, except the bright stars with six spikes, is a galaxy formed shortly after the Big Bang. (The stars have six spikes because JWST is made of hexagonal mirrors!). 

You've noticed that some of the galaxies look curved and stretched, arcing around the center of the image. That's gravitational lensing. The little galaxies are so far away that their light is bent by the gravity of other galaxies between them and us. The in-between gravity distorts their images like a funhouse mirror. In fact, it's possible that one distant galaxy is responsible for multiple distorted galaxy images as its light is bent in different directions on its way to us. That's something astronomers will be looking for: are two or three or four of those smears actually pictures of the same galaxy?

There's no intuitive reason that gravity should bend a beam of light. Light--a photon--has no mass, and only objects with mass attract each other gravitationally. But Einstein's General Theory of Relativity says that gravity bends SPACE. Not light, but the space that light travels through. In a strong enough gravity field, the shortest distance between two points isn't a line, it's a curve. 

So this image is a couple of things: it's proof (yet again) that Einstein was right. And it's an actual, honest-to-goodness photo of a space warp. 

There've been many other photos of gravitational lensing; this isn't a first. But it's the prettiest, cleanest, clearest one I've seen, and the SCALE of this photo is stunning. The farthest galaxies are just about as far away as it's theoretically possible for us to see, while the galaxies whose gravity is warping space are somewhere between that frontier and our little telescope, a mere million miles out, bobbing on the far side of the Moon.

And here's a high-res version from NASA!