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.