Monday, August 28, 2023

Go Go!

I'm pretty sure this is my sister. Honestly, she's looked better.

I've learned late in the day that this is National Power Rangers Day. No, really, you can look it up! I'll celebrate by bragging on my little sister, Elisabeth, whom some of you may know as "Kid Sis" and who, back in the day, was an actor and stunt performer on the early "Power Rangers!"

No, really!

Lis did a lot of work as an extra when she was a young woman in L.A. At one time, I had a sizzle reel of her appearances as a silent background player on a ton of network and syndicated programs. One thing led to another and she found herself on "Power Rangers."

I think most people know that "Power Rangers" originated in Japan. For the U.S. market, the Japanese programs were spliced with American actors, English dialog, etc. What's less well-known is that the Japanese production company also shipped the costumes to the U.S. so that additional action scenes with the Rangers and Monsters could be shot here, and that's where Lis came in.

For her, it was long hot days smothered in foam rubber under the southern California sun. For millions of American kids, it was magic. 

Happy Power Rangers Day, Lis! It's always Morphin' Time somewhere.

Lis taking a breather in half of the Stag Beetle costume, surrounded by her army of Putties.

One of my favorite photos because it tells a whole story in itself. This is Lis and her fellow performers, anonymously toiling on a rainy day with a barebones production crew almost literally in the shadow of the "Hollywood" sign. The glamour of showbiz, kids!

Gettin' Figgy

First figs of the season! Our fig tree is still small--about six feet high and wide--but looks to be putting out dozens of figs this year. People have a lot of good ideas and recipes for using figs, but we just like to eat 'em.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Peanuts Memories

Today's "Peanuts" strip, copyright 1976, brings up a couple of nice memories. Peppermint Patty muses about a shopping center with a bookstore and ice cream shop next door to each other. I remember that shopping center, bookstore, and ice cream shop, which were in Santa Rosa, Calif., the city Mr. Schulz and I both called home.

Schulz's studio is about half a mile from a mall called Coddingtown. In 1976, it had a Books Inc. shop next door to a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop, and the signs Peppermint Patty mentions were actually posted in their windows. Both shops are long gone, but in the '70s I spent a lot of time in both. In particular, Books Inc. was a terrific independent chain that's still around--just not in Coddingtown. Remember when malls used to have bookstores?

That reminisce brought up another memory in the same mall. Later, maybe in the late '80s, I was in a Hallmark store standing in line behind Mr. Schulz, who looked to be buying a few small gifts. He handed his credit card to the cashier, who looked at the name on the card, looked up at him, looked down at the card, looked up at him, and then pulled her eyeballs back into their sockets to ring him up. Neither of them said anything but, as I remember it, he just quietly sighed.

I haven't thought of any of those things in years. It was nice to have the Sunday paper bring them back to mind. And I can't explain the potato chip deal.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Steve Lieber's Portfolio Review


This advice is making the rounds of cartooning circles. Steve Lieber is a successful graphic novelist and comic book artist, mostly superheroes but also other genres. I'm sharing because I think it packs a lot of wisdom in one tight package and I don't disagree with any of it. 

A great deal of comics craft is similar to filmmaking, and I find it interesting that the art forms developed on parallel tracks at about the same time (origin in the late 19th century, explosion of artistic innovation in the 1920s and '30s, etc.). We pull from the same toolbox.

For example, the "180-degree rule" says that you draw a line through the scene or the characters, and the artist's point of view--the "camera," if you will--always stays on one side of that line to avoid radical changes of perspective that confuse the reader/viewer. 

Lieber's tips about composition, establishing shot (a wide view that shows the reader where they are and who's in the scene), and depth of field also apply to filmmaking. Making a comic is very similar to directing a movie, and a young cartoonist could learn a lot from a film studies course. 

The tip I would emphasize, and the one I always encourage young artists to do myself, is Number 6: Draw from Life. Cartoonists simplify and stylize, it's what we do, but that simplification and stylization should still be rooted in reality. My main complaint about the manga-flavored stylization I see MANY young cartoonists adopt is less about the style itself, which I have no real beef with, than the fact that they're drawing someone else's version of a car or a cat or a face, not their own. Sit down and draw a cat from life as accurately as you can, then simplify it and polish it until you can't possibly draw the cat with fewer lines, and that's a cartoon cat in YOUR style that I bet won't look like anyone else's.

Number 11 is important. Whenever a drawing isn't working for me, and I just can't figure out how to arrange the characters and background, often it's because I haven't defined where they are in space. Establish a horizon line, draw a grid if you have to, and everything usually falls into place.

Number 12 I would amend to advise cartoonists to place the lettering first. Then you don't have to worry about leaving enough room for the words, you're drawing the art around them. Text pulls the reader's eye through the page, it guides them and sets the pace. If a reader gets lost, very often it's because you've placed the text wrong (the other big reason readers get lost is because you've laid out the panels wrong). 

Making comics involves a surprising depth of craft that, when it works, should be invisible. Almost everybody learns by doing it wrong. I still do it wrong, just less than I used to.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Intellectual Life #17

A Peek into the Intimate Intellectual Life of a Long-Married Couple, Part 17:

(I made pancakes for breakfast today. Later this morning, Karen and I will visit friends, a wife and husband who both happen to be Superior Court judges.)

Karen: What's that white powder on your shirt?

Brian: Cocaine.

Karen: (Unamused glare.)

Brian: I probably shouldn't wear my cocaine shirt to a judge's house.

Karen: TWO judges!

Brian: It could be pancake flour.

Karen: That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Karen (Looking over a griddle full of flapjacks): This is when my mom would put a pat of butter on each pancake.

Brian: I always liked the idea. Didn't love the execution.

Karen: You didn't like melted butter on your pancakes?

Brian: It just makes a wet puddle in the middle of your pancake.

Karen: A wet puddle of BUTTER!

Brian: My mom didn't do that.

Karen: If she really loved you, she would have.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2023


My heart's breaking for victims of the Maui firestorm, which at this writing has killed at least 36. I didn't post earlier because I didn't think I had anything novel or interesting to say about it. This morning I decided I did.

I chose this photo, from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, of flames racing over the hills toward houses below because it could have been taken of my neighborhood in 2017. I was them. Right now, those people don't know what hit them. As I described in A Fire Story, they're living in a tiny bubble, focusing on themselves and their families, trying to meet their immediate needs for shelter and food. They're trying to figure out this afternoon, not next month. In time they'll look up and their focus will expand to other people and longer goals, but not yet. 

If I could advise them, I'd say: Set your priorities. Structure helps. Wake up every day and make a list. Check off what you can, then get up the next day and make another list. Put one foot in front of the other. You will breathe and even laugh again.

Don't be too embarrassed or proud to accept help. I can't tell you how many people I saw who had literally nothing but still declined aid, saying "Give it to someone who needs it more." Right now, that's you. Later on you can pay it forward. Take the help.

If I could advise their relatives and friends, I'd say: ask the victims what they need and really listen. They probably don't need piles of clothes, or teddy bears, or pots and pans, or canned food from the back of your pantry. For the next few weeks they'll be living on a cot or a friend's couch and have nowhere to put that stuff anyway. 

Honestly, for all the good intentions and generosity of people who tried their best, what we really appreciated and used were gift cards to places like Walmart, Target and Safeway (all stores that I see Maui has). Say what you want about big-box superstores, but in our disaster they were the only businesses that stayed open and had everything we needed in one place.

Don't fret about getting back to normal because you never will. The old normal is gone. But you will make a new normal; in fact, you're already making it without even realizing it. Someday, I hope, you'll be able to gather with the people who pulled you through, and who you helped pull through, and say, "Can you believe we did that?" It will feel like a different lifetime ago because it was. Look forward to that.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Robbie Robertson

Singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson died at the age of 80. I was a casual fan who knew his greatest hits, was aware of some of the drama that broke up The Band, and had a lot of respect for his artistic integrity. Safe to say he never sold out. 

I never spoke to, corresponded with, or breathed the same air as Robertson, but I did have an opportunity to work with him a while back. He wanted to write a graphic novel--an insider's history of rock-and-roll kinda thing--and needed an artist. I was asked if I wanted to pitch. As I recall, I doggedly sketched and doodled and drew through a long weekend, and on Monday reported back that I had nuthin'. I couldn't crack the nut. Robertson's concept was fine, I just wasn't the right person for the job, and said so. 

I guess his graphic novel never happened. I don't regret declining. The prospect of committing to 200 pages of art you have no idea how to do would be a special kind of torture, plus I had ideas of my own I wanted to focus on. But sometimes I think it would've been very cool. I bet Robertson would have told a hell of a story.

EDITED TO ADD: My editor, Charlie Kochman, tells the rest of the story on Facebook, much of it new to me. It's better than I told it. Click on that embedded link to read it.

Yeah, the story I tried to develop art for was Robertson's Billy and Mojo idea. I'd forgotten that it was meant to be a children's book, probably because I don't really write or draw differently for children and adults. Deciding which shelf it goes on is someone else's job. 

The nut I couldn't crack was integrating Billy and his cat Mojo into the story. I couldn't just draw Billy meandering through history saying, "Gee, Mojo, here we are at Sun Records!" "Golly, we're on Abbey Road, do you think we'll see any Beatles?" That would have been a terrible comic. But I couldn't think of any other way to do it. Maybe nobody else could, either, and that's why it didn't happen in that form, although Charlie describes how it morphed into a later and very different Robertson book.

To hear Charlie tell it, I never really had a shot anyway. Which is fine. I had fun playing in Robertson's sandbox for a couple of days, which is all it was meant to be.