Monday, January 30, 2023

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Going aboard the Gray Ghost, with San Francisco in the background. The Hornet is berthed in Alameda, where they (used to) keep the nuclear wessels.

Karen and I spent the day at the USS Hornet Museum, and a nippy but unusually crystal-clear day it was. San Francisco, across the Bay, looked close enough to touch. 

THERE'S the City across the Bay! She's a beauty.

As I might have mentioned once or a hundred times, my daughter Laura is the COO of the Hornet, a retired aircraft carrier that is now the coolest museum in the Bay Area. Karen visited today because the Hornet is looking into what kind of services it could provide in a disaster, and Karen is an expert in that. Personally, I can't think of a safer disaster shelter than an aircraft carrier--immune to earthquake, firestorm, tidal waves, whatever you've got, plus hundreds of bunks already installed--and it's my personal zombie-apocalypse destination. 

I went today because years ago I built a "Gravity Box" for the Hornet's Apollo Mission exhibition. It has two handles visitors can pull to see what 24 pounds on Earth would feel like on the Moon. (I won't keep you in suspense: 4 pounds. Also, the Hornet has an Apollo exhibition because it's the ship that picked up Apollos 11 and 12 from the Pacific Ocean.) It was past time to refurbish the box, which has had a lot of love that, most notably, eroded away much of the trim that held the top of the box together. The first generation of trim was PVC, which didn't stand up well to thousands of legs and little bellies rubbing against it. Worse, when the PVC disintegrated, it left little finishing nails sticking out. The main goal of today's work, besides a general inspection and cleaning, was to replace the old trim with aluminum L-bracket that I expect to hold up better.

[Sidebar: designing stuff to hold up to thousands of uses, including some people abusing it in ways you can't imagine, is a real skill. I don't know how people at places like Disneyland do it. Respect.]

Part of the Apollo Mission exhibition, with the Gravity Box at lower center.

My Gravity Box pre-refurbishment. Notice especially how the bottom piece of trim has disappeared. The rest of the trim was no great shakes, either. There's also a fine powder of sawdust where the handles enter the box due to thousands of mighty piston strokes.

And post-refurbishment, cleaner and more durable, I hope.

Karen's work took a couple of hours more than mine, which left me a lot of time to explore the ship and lounge in the sun on the flight deck. It wasn't crowded; at one point, I had the whole deck to myself. You should go visit and make it more crowded. If you're lucky, you'll get a day as beautiful as mine.

The hangar deck's got planes and helicopters and spaceships and Airstream trailers, oh my!

Sunday, January 29, 2023

LumaCon 2023

My favorite event on the comics convention calendar did not disappoint! LumaCon 2023, the best free little con I know, put on by librarians in Petaluma, Calif., was a hoot. I'll dump some photos below, but short version: I had a good time with old friends, made a couple of new ones, talked to some very talented and driven kids about comics, and surprisingly sold more books than I think I have at any other con.

Seriously. I was telling Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum, how surprised I was to see my books selling out, and he pointed out that people attend an event like, say, Comic-Con International in San Diego for a lot of reasons: movies, TV shows, video games, cosplay, the grand spectacle of it all. Whereas people go to a convention run by librarians largely because they like to read. I don't do well with a crowd that's there for Wolverine, but with people looking for something kind of interesting and different, I can do all right. 

My spread. I had a couple of very creative and entrepreneurial kids sitting beside me and "Kid Beowulf" creator Lex Fajardo behind me. Surrounded by talent.

In addition to Andrew and his wife, cartoonist Shaenon Garrity, and their son Robin, other friends with tables included cartoonist Tom Beland, cartoonist/illustrator Emily C. Martin, and cartoonist Lex Fajardo, who sat right behind me. Everybody told me I had to meet Gio Benedetti, a cartoonist who also does workshops and puts together anthologies of teens' comics, so I did and he was great. Nathan Libecap, librarian at Casa Grande High School, and his team of colleagues and volunteers made all the pros feel very welcome and ran a smooth show. Other friends dropped by, including writer/teacher Jason Whiton, cartoonist Denis St. John, librarian/gallery wrangler Loretta Esparza, and friends Kathy Bottarini and Kristin Hendricks. Best of all, my daughters Laura and Robin helped staff my table for a couple of hours, which was wonderful because they're much better salespeople than I am. 

Plus LumaCon still has its bake sale. If your comics convention doesn't have a bake sale, you're doing it wrong.

The Bake Sale. Oh yeah.

In some press promoting LumaCon, Nathan had made the point that its focus is on young creators and the pros are pretty much invited as bait to lure people in (he put it nicer than that). I teased him a bit about that, and he reassured me that I would always be welcome but also told me something very interesting: since the first LumaCon in 2015, some of the artists who started out on the amateur kids' side of the room have begun to migrate over to the professional adult side. As they aged, at least a few of them kept their passion, grew their skills, and are now getting real pay and recognition for their creative work!

Holy Moley! How wonderful is that? I can only imagine how gratifying it must be for the LumaCon organizers to see the seeds they planted with their first mini-convention years ago begin to bloom like that. Nathan also confirmed that LumaCon has become a model that other cities, libraries and schools are looking to emulate, which I can confirm because I've been invited to one of them later this year.

Nathan was easy to find because he was everywhere all at once.

Most years I can count on having an "Only at LumaCon" moment, and this is this year's:

One of the tables was selling work from Alchemia, a local program to "nuture the creative expression of individual with disabilities as a vehicle for personal growth and accomplishment," says their website. One of their artists, Justin, came by my table with his staff supporter Andy, and was absorbed by a couple pages of original artwork I'd brought because I like to talk to young artists about the process of turning drawings on paper into pages in a book. These particular pages were the two-page spread of skyscrapers on the title page of The Last Mechanical Monster, and Andy asked Justin if he'd like to talk to his art mentor about drawing something like that himself. I had an idea.

Those pages.

I figured that if they went to Justin's art mentor, they wouldn't even know what to ask for. I also figured I couldn't teach Justin how to draw skyscrapers in two-point perspective in just a few minutes. But if I could sketch it out for Justin and Andy, and then if they took that sketch to Justin's art mentor, it might be something they could work on together and really master. So I took a piece of paper and drew a line down the middle of it, then put two dots on the line, then drew a bunch of lines radiating from those dots, then drew a box and drew some windows on it and said, "That's exactly how I made those drawings, and you can, too."

Justin leaned in real close, gave me a warm, firm, two-handed handshake, and said, "You're the best artist on Earth."

I didn't argue the point.

Here's some pictures.

An overview of about half the Artists' Alley room, which was the heart of LumaCon. There were several vendors set up out in the lobby, and different activity rooms scattered around the Petaluma Community Center.

The other side of the room, showing me with my daughter, Robin, so I deduce this photo is by my other daughter, Laura.

Andrew Farago, Shaenon Garrity, and Robin the Boy Wonder.

Lex Fajardo

Emily C. Martin

One of my favorite art stylists, Tom Beland

Alchemia, with Justin and Andy

The Schulz Museum came, too!

Separate rooms were dedicated to playing with Legos as well as just sitting and drawing. I love that.

A stage in the Artists' Alley room was set up for crafts. This was very early in the day, they were swarmed later.

Kids outside lopped off each other's limbs with deadly swords. I'm surprised it didn't make the news.

I believe this brave young Jedi single-handedly captured an Empire outpost.

Like I said in my last post, LumaCon is just about the sincerest little con I know. They promise to keep having them, so if you're in the neighborhood next year I recommend it. Chances are good I'll be there, too.

Friday, January 27, 2023

LumaCon's A'Coming!

Sign at the front door in 2019.

Here's a nice article in the local paper about where I'll be tomorrow: LumaCon, my favorite comics convention of them all! That's because, like Linus's pumpkin patch, it's the most sincere comic-con in the world. It's tiny, organized entirely by volunteer school librarians, and free. It exists purely for the love of comics.

Best of all, and a point I appreciate the article making clearly, it's about young creators and their work. The con makes an effort to mix up the kids and pros, and some of my best conversations about comics have been with those kids, whose work occasionally astounds and educates me. There's freedom in the work of someone who doesn't yet know all the rules that encourages a little rule-breaking of my own. Inspiration goes both ways.

An overview of about half the Artists' Alley in 2018.

Two stories about why I love LumaCon:

Because it's free, people who wouldn't normally go to a comics convention drop by just to check it out. Invariably, a kid comes up to the table with a parent or grandparent in tow. While the kid and I talk comics, you see Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa realize that, "Oh, comics are a real thing that adults actually DO!" Their whole attitude shifts from vague embarrassment to beaming pride. That never happens at bigger cons.

This is my favorite con story of all. A boy about 14 came to my table with his father and grandfather. The boy had autism, and I don't recall him speaking to me. But he had a book on "How to Draw Dragonball Z" and had gone through all the exercises, meticulously mimicking their manga style as well as doing some original drawings of his own, and wanted to show me his work. I gently critiqued his pile of loose pages and encouraged him to create more characters and stories of his own. He left happy. Later, his father circled back to thank me and explain that he feared his son would never talk, until one day he discovered comics. His very first words, at something like the age of 8 or 9, were "Superman's cape is red." For that family, comics became more than a fun pastime. They were the key to unlocking and engaging the boy's mind.

Again, that doesn't happen amid a crush of a hundred thousand people at San Diego Comic-Con. "Superman's cape is red." Damn.

In addition, I'm sure to reconnect with cartooning friends. I know Alexis Fajardo, Andrew Farago, Tom Beland, Thom Yeates, Donna Almendrala, the Schulz Museum, and Jason Whiton will be there, and I suspect others may turn up.

I've missed a few LumaCons, what with pandemics and other obligations, and am looking forward to getting back. If you're around Petaluma, Calif. Saturday between 10 and 4, come say Hello.

My favorite LumaCon photo, 2015.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Trump of Doom!

Friday the 13th actually falls on a Friday this month, which was a recurring gag in my favorite comic strip of all time (with apologies to my friends who work for "Peanuts"), "Pogo" by Walt Kelly. Sometimes Friday the 13th fell on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which was bad enough, but when it fell on a Friday HOO BOY you were in for some trouble!

Several years ago I indulged myself by adding this "Pogo" strip to my small collection of original comics art. When I saw its theme, I just couldn't pass it up. This was one of three pieces of art I saved from our fire in 2017; I didn't think to grab any of my own, but I grabbed my Walt Kelly.

(The actual strip isn't stacked 2 x 2, but it fits better on Blogger that way.)

I discovered "Pogo" by reading my Dad's paperback collections from the 1950s. As a pre-teen I didn't get all the topical and political references, but the characters and their world were terrific, Kelly's wordplay and playfulness with the comic strip format were astounding, and his artwork was just about as good as comics could be drawn. If I could ink like anyone, it'd be Kelly (or his contemporary, Gus Arriola). 

If you want to know where I come from as a cartoonist, I'd say my DNA is at least a quarter Kelly. 

Happy Friday the 13th (on a Friday!).

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Orange Chimera

A slice of mutant orange on a light box.

Hey, kids, it's Mutant Monday! 

While working at the food bank last Friday, Karen and I found an orange that was colored half orange, half yellow. I demanded an explanation from the Facebook hive mind, and we settled on two leading possibilities: a botched dye job, occurring when oranges are sometimes dyed a deeper color to make them more attractive for market; or a chimera, a rare mutation in which an organism (it happens in both plants and animals) contains two distinct genotypes--basically, two different critters mushed into one.

Today we cut it open and . . .  it's a chimera! The color contrast goes all the way through to the core. It's a more subtle difference than the skin, but four segments are lighter orange and six segments are darker.

Unfortunately, if Professor Xavier calls asking if our orange can join the X-Men, we will have to decline on account of we ate it. In our final experiment, the two colors of flesh tasted the same.

As an indicator of how exciting my life is, this orange is the most fun I've had in quite a while.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Intellectual Life #16

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 16:

We had pancakes for breakfast this morning. Karen started to get a bit peckish around 1 p.m.

Karen: "Pancakes just aren't very filling."

Me: "What you you mean? They're delicious and hearty and full of magical fairy wings."

Karen: "Fairy wings aren't filling."

Me: "You have to eat about 3000 of them."

Karen: "Are they mostly protein or carbs?"

Me: "I suppose they're really meat, so . . ."

Karen: "Ugh."

Me: "But I always figured they were made of spun sugar."

Karen: "So pure carbs. No wonder I'm hungry."

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