Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Ten Most Important Eisner Award Winners

Here's a nice surprise: John Dodge of Comic Book Resources (CBR) calls Mom's Cancer one of the "Ten Most Important Eisner Award Winners" of all time! That's ten drawn from 35 years of awards given to hundreds of comics in many, many categories. I'm on a list with Watchmen, Bone, and Calvin & Hobbes.


Dodge wrote, "Apart from helping to lay the foundation for digital comics as a relevant branch of the wider medium, this win also shined a spotlight on Mom's Cancer as a testament to the kind of heartfelt, deeply moving interpersonal drama that is so often lacking in other, more action centric titles that are themselves indicative of the type of stories that have long dominated the world of comics."

Mom's Cancer won as a webcomic in 2005 before it was published as a book by Charles Kochman at Abrams ComicArts in 2006, and was indeed the first webcomic to win an Eisner in the brand-new category of "Best Digital Comic." At the time, there was considerable debate about whether online comics were actually comics at all. As I recall, Will Eisner himself settled the issue. Since his name was on the trophy, his opinion carried considerable weight.

(I never met Mr. Eisner. He loved handing out his namesake awards in person, but died in January 2005 before I won mine.)

Mom's Cancer is still in print. I give a couple of talks every year to medical students who study it in their medical humanities curricula. I'm always welcome at the annual international graphic medicine conference, some of whose organizers got into the field because they read it. And once in a while I get a royalty check worth enough to buy a real nice dinner.

I couldn't be prouder of a story or more gratified by the astonishingly long life it's had, coming up on 20 years now. I know my friend, Editor Charlie, feels the same. It's truly nice to see that acknowledged by CBR.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Tall Tales by Jaffee

Recently bought at a fair price from a reputable auction: original art for the Feb. 12, 1962 syndicated comic strip "Tall Tales" by the great Al Jaffee.

Jaffee's idea for "Tall Tales" was to turn comics convention on its side--literally 90 degrees. Each strip was tall and skinny, with gags composed to suit the space. Jaffee is much better known for his work for MAD Magazine than a short-lived newspaper comic, so why was I eager to have this? 

First, because I doubt I could afford a Jaffee MAD piece. But also: anyone who's heard me talk or write about my small collection of original comic art knows that I have one rule: everything has to come with a story. I don't just collect to collect. Every piece is by a friend, or acquired from the artist directly, or was drawn by a cartooning hero whose influence I can effuse about for longer than you can bear to hear it.

As I mentioned when Al Jaffee died in April, I met him at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008, when I was scheduled to sign books at the Abrams booth immediately after him. We had a half hour to chat, and Mr. Jaffee was as interesting, charming, and twinkly as you'd want him to be. The book he'd come to sign was a "Tall Tales" collection by Abrams. Ah ha! There's the connection! I treasured my signed copy until it and my house disappeared. 

When I won the auction, I emailed Editor Charlie, friend and editor to both Jaffee and me, and asked if my strip happened to be in the book. Charlie said "No" and gave me an interesting explanation for it. I had forgotten that "Tall Tales" began as a pantomime strip--no words--which made it popular internationally. A syndicate executive insisted that Jaffee add captions because, he said, "Americans don't like wordless cartoons." In the preface to his book, Jaffee wrote, "I reluctantly acquiesced and, as a result, the words went in and my foreign clients went away," as did the strip shortly after.

I think that background gives the piece some interesting history and texture. Mr. Jaffee would have preferred his strip to remain wordless but it's still a great gag, beautifully drawn. And it comes preloaded with a story.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Ex Libris

How We Spent Our Weekend: Building a bookcase wall for our daughters. I designed it. Saturday was sawing, nailing, gluing and screwing it together; Sunday was trimming, spackling, painting, and sitting back and admiring. We didn't install the two light fixtures, they were already on the wall and we worked around them. I plussed it with a color-changing LED strip on top. 

While I worked on this project, Karen set up an herb-drying facility (mostly a clothes line in a basement, but it's cool!) and did a ton of landscaping. Robin and Laura worked everywhere needed. In the end, it took all of us to polish off the library. 

We have a saying in our family: It's not a real project until Brian bleeds. This was a real project. Luckily, I kept my trivial sanguinary drips off the fresh paint and carpet. I love doing something real that's going to be around a while. Good productive weekend.

No, you can't afford me.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Rocketeer Update

After weeks of wrestling with the unhelpful tech wizards at eBay, the Cartoon Art Museum has kicked off its big summer tribute to the Rocketeer by Dave Stevens with an art auction. You may recall that I inked and watercolored a large (12 x 36 inches!) drawing to raise funds for CAM and the Hairy Cell Leukemia Foundation, which researches the disease that killed Stevens. 

CAM is auctioning off a few pieces per week and I've been told that mine will go under the hammer (that's auction talk!) in late August. Obviously they're saving the best for last. Meanwhile, look at the work being auctioned now and in coming weeks, including some by famous syndicated and comic book cartoonists. Other events will include art exhibitions and guest speakers. 

I'll be sure to let everyone know when mine comes around. Just try to shut me up. 

This is mine. Ink and watercolor on watercolor paper, 12 x 36 inches (30 x 91 cm).

Wednesday, July 12, 2023


My friend Denis St. John and his pal David Yoder do a podcast called "Supermansplaining," and for its big 50th episode they asked me on to talk about The Last Mechanical Monster. So I did.

The idea of the podcast is that Denis is a cartoonist who hasn't really read much Superman, so each week David (who's also a cartoonist) describes a Superman comic to Denis and they discuss it. I think it's a fun idea, especially since some of the old Superman comics got pretty weird. "Well, in this issue, Jimmy Olson turns into a giant turtle-man...." My visit stretched the format a bit.

If 67 minutes of me blabbing isn't too much--and I understand if it is--I think we had a good talk about The Last Mechanical Monster, my work and approach to comics in general, how I decided my story was fantasy rather than science fiction, character development, worldbuilding, and much more, and I recommend a listen. 

Denis and David are smart and fun, and we had a good time. Thanks for the invitation, guys!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

The Dial of Destiny

Last night we saw "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" with our daughters. Safe to say that Indy was a huge influence on our girls when they were kids--one went into archaeology and the other into museum studies; they joke that they grew up to be Indy and his museum pal Brody. Good news: we all liked it a lot.

What struck me from a storytelling perspective is that it's ABOUT something. To avoid spoilers, I'll illustrate with an example from what most people consider one of the best "Star Trek" movies, "Wrath of Khan." IMO, what makes that movie beloved is that it's not really about a space battle, it's about Kirk feeling old and obsolete, finding that he still has a purpose, and learning that you can be good and clever but still lose. Despite the sci-fi setting and trappings, that's real. It's a subtext that resonates.

Similarly, "The Wizard of Oz" isn't really a story about a girl who gets whisked by a tornado to a magical land. It's about a farm kid in the middle of nowhere who yearns to experience the wider world and eventually masters it with the guidance of new mentors and friends. So is "Star Wars." *

(* Obligatory "Hero's Journey" footnote to save you the trouble of pointing it out.)

Not every story needs a subtext. Some provide fine entertainment being no more than exactly what they appear to be. But "Dial of Destiny" is about more than it appears to be about, which I think makes it deeper, richer, and kind of a standout among current movies in general. Other movies have as much action and chases and CGI spectacle. I thought "Dial" had an unusual amount of heart. 

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Cartooning Corner

Cartoonists' Pro Tip: Keep your bottle of indelible waterproof India ink in a ceramic planter saucer or similar wide, shallow container in anticipation of the day you inevitably knock it over.

I learned that lesson at some expense many years ago, when I ruined a wall-to-wall carpet. I don't recall knocking over a bottle of ink since--until today, when my saucer saved a very large piece of art, a table, my pants, and the floor below us from permanent emblackening and eternal ruin. Note the shiny puddle drying in the saucer.

If you're a cartoonist who has gone all-digital, feel free to ignore this tip, although I would still suggest positioning a medium-size neodymium magnet beneath your computer monitor to capture any excess electrons that spill out of it.