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.)