Sunday, May 19, 2024

Rocketeer Catalog Launch

The cover of the exhibition catalog. It was a great show! Although all the auction pieces have been sent to their winning bidders' homes, CAM still has a fantastic exhibition of Stevens's original art.

I had a nice afternoon and evening in San Francisco yesterday, participating in the Cartoon Art Museum's launch party for its Rocketeer Exhibition Catalog, which commemorates an exhibition of "Rocketeer" cartoonist Dave Stevens's original art as well as tribute pieces drawn by other artists, including me, which were later auctioned off. Proceeds from the auction benefited both CAM and the Hairy Cell Leukemia Foundation in Stevens's memory. About a dozen contributors came to meet fans and sign catalogs assembly-line-style. 

I arrived more than an hour early just so I could walk around the waterfront and play tourist in San Francisco, because Why Not? The brown lumps in the foreground are hundreds of sea lions that have taken over some docks in San Francisco Bay. The multicolored lumps in the background are hundreds of people on Pier 39 watching them bark and bellow. I'm on Pier 41, which I had pretty much to myself.

I love the Musee Mecanique, tucked into a warehouse in the back corner of Fisherman's Wharf. It's a haphazard collection of old arcade machines ranging from the 1800s to Pac-Man. Admission is free, most of the games cost 25 cents to play. I spent $2 and had a wonderful time. Highly recommended!

Dave Stevens's sister, Jennifer Stevens-Bawcum, who oversees his archives and creative legacy, blessed the project and attended last night as well. She was lovely. I got to touch base with some friends (including the generous Scott Burns) and meet a couple of new ones, which was lovely too. CAM hosts Andrew Farago, Summerlea Kashar, and Ron Evans made us feel welcome. 

An unfortunate shot of Jennifer Stevens-Bawcum, for which I apologize, but I'm posting it because it's one of only two photos I took of the evening and it provides a nice overview of the signing set-up. Next to Jennifer is syndicated cartoonist Jonathan Lemon. Next to him is the space where I sat, and beside me was Denis St. John from Charles Schulz's Creative Associates. Behind Denis are Tom Beland and Jon Bean Hastings, and the ponytail behind Jennifer's shoulder belongs to Brent Anderson.

Cartoonists Jon Bean Hastings and Tom Beland held down the end of the horseshoe of tables. The gent standing in the background to the right of the "Gorey" sign is artist Steve Leialoha.

Here's a photo of me, Jonathan Lemon, and Jennifer Stevens-Bawcum taken by my friend Scott Burns, with cartoonist Chuck Whelon and Tina Whelon standing at right in the background.

My page--37, for anyone who's curious.

We signed a LOT of catalogs, which CAM is selling online and on site. The museum itself is worth a visit if you enjoy the graphic narrative arts. A great event in a great institution!

Alcatraz and a gull who had no fear of, or really any interest in, me. A fine day on the Bay.

EDITED TO ADD: Here's a new group photo from CAM that I'm parking here so I'll know where to find it later. Thanks!

Friday, May 17, 2024

Amazing Adventures

Lifetime Goal Unlocked!

In 2023, the Amulet imprint of my publisher, Abrams Books, put out a book titled Marvel Super Stories, an anthology of short stories about Marvel superheroes done for middle-grade readers by cartoonists who don't usually do superhero comics, such as Jerry Craft, Nathan Hale, Lincoln Peirce, Maria Scrivan. You may not know all those names, but 8- to 12-year-old kids devour their graphic novels. 

Shortly after that book was announced, it came up in conversation with my editor at Abrams, Charlie Kochman. I said I thought it was a great idea, and it would be a real thrill for me to do something like that someday. I was a Marvel comics reader from the age of 10, and at one time I'd collected every Avengers comic in print, going back to issue #1 from 1963. In my late teens and early twenties I wanted to draw superheroes professionally, and submitted work to both DC and Marvel. I got some encouraging replies and even a tryout, but nothing came of it. It would be a lifetime bucket-list achievement for me, I told Charlie, if I ever got to write and draw an Avengers comic.

"Well, we're doing a Volume 2," Charlie said. 

"Oh?" I replied, slow on the uptake.

"Send me a proposal," said Charlie, "and we'll see what John (Jennings, Amulet's editor) and Marvel say."

"But I'm not a middle-grade author," I said, arguing myself out of a gig.

"You actually are," Charlie said, pointing out that Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? won an award for best astronautical literature for young adults and was picked up by Scholastic. The Last Mechanical Monster made the American Library Association's best graphic novel list. Even Mom's Cancer won a youth literature prize. 

"Oh!" I replied, still slow.

Each of the 15 Marvel Super Stories is six pages long, plus a couple of pages introducing the character. I drafted a script, drew finished black-and-white art for the first three pages, and hit "Send." A while later, I got word: I was in!

My short Avengers story features the Beast, a furry blue mutant who began as an X-Man but later joined Earth's Mightiest Heroes. I set the story in the era of MY Avengers, which the Marvel folks told me I needed to address because the Avengers' roster and headquarters have changed a lot since I was young. A caption box on Page 1, explaining that this was a tale from the team's past, did the trick.

Two Avengers covers featuring the Beast from back in my day.

I won't say more, except that a couple of other Avengers also show up and I didn't get to use my first choice of villain because someone else had already claimed it. Luckily, the Marvel editors suggested a substitute villain, a deep cut from the Avengers' earliest days, who worked out even better! 

It was an interesting challenge capturing the proper tone. Light, lean, clear. The Marvel editors had a few notes that helped me find it. I also realized I'd have to draw smaller than I intended to achieve the right balance of detail in the art and legibility in the lettering. These were easy but necessary adjustments. An invigorating creative stretch! I also drew a couple of panels that I think may be the best artwork I've ever published.

Although the story is meant for young readers and I aimed for that, I didn't condescend. I wrote and drew an Avengers tale I would have done if Marvel had hired me when I was 24 and said, "Brian, we need to fill six pages in the back of the next issue, what've you got?" As far as I'm concerned, my story really happened. It fits with the chronology and mythology. To me, it's canon.

I did these renderings of the Beast for the cover above, which unites all the superheroes appearing in the book drawn by the artists who did their stories. The cover designer gave me a rough idea of the pose they needed and I returned two slightly different options that I thought would fill the space well. Part of the Beast's arm is missing because I knew it would be hidden by the "E" in "Adventures." 

Marvel Super Stories: Amazing Adventures comes out October 22. I can't express how delighted I was to contribute to it. Comics can be serious nonfiction adult literature. They're a medium like film, TV, theater, print, radio, etc. that can tell any type of story those other media can. You can't do books like mine if you don't believe that.

But sometimes comics can and should just be fun for kids! There's nothing wrong with that, either. Especially if it checks a big item off your bucket list!

Thursday, May 16, 2024


In today's installment of "People Who Have No Clue How the World Works," meet billionaire Gina Rinehart (right), the richest person in Australia, who is leaning on the National Gallery of Australia to remove a portrait of her (left) by indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira.

If she'd kept her mouth shut, the painting might have been seen by a few thousand people in Canberra instead of millions around the world, and she wouldn't have revealed herself to be a thin-skinned humorless bully.

I've never heard of Ms. Rinehart but can't help but think Namatjira captured the essence of her soul. 

I love it when people who deserve it get hoist with their own petard.

See also: The Streisand Effect.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Star Wars

May the Fourth.... 

Quiet rainy Saturday, so Karen and I sat down and watched "Star Wars" this afternoon (at her suggestion!). The original REAL Star Wars, that is. It's the first time I've actually seen the whole thing in many years. I have thoughts:

It's delightful! The first film had a lightness of spirit that later films--and certainly Episodes 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9--lacked. I kept coming back to the word "whimsy" and what a careful touch it takes to pull off. Whimsy isn't about jokes and funny characters; other Star Wars movies and series had jokes and funny characters, but remained as self-serious as a dirge. The tone of the first one was unique. I miss it. 

Everyone was so young. In three years, Star Wars will be 50 years old. Fifty years before 1977 was 1927, the black-and-white silent era of "Metropolis" and Charlie Chaplin. I'll just let you sit with that a bit.

Carrie Fisher was amazing. 

The first 30 seconds of Star Wars remains one of my greatest cinematic moments and memories. It's impossible to convey to someone younger what a thunderclap the Star Destroyer soaring overhead and going and going and going and going was. We'd never seen anything like it. Movies would never be the same. Narratively, those first shots also tell you a lot: we see a small spaceship desperately running from an enormous, angular, brutalist gray spear tip. Before we meet a single character, we know who the underdog good guys and tyrannical bad guys are, and which ship to root for.

In retrospect, the sequels and prequels (such as "Rogue One") just don't fit together with this story. To the extent they do, they depend on the subtle, nuanced performance of Alec Guinness. He was working on another plane than the other actors, and entire movies were wedged into a single sideways glance of his. When Kenobi says "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid" or tells Luke about his brave betrayed Jedi father, he gives a look that suggests there's more to the story. At the time, there was NOT more to the story. That's all Guinness.

Half the look and feel of the Star Wars universe comes from its thoughtful sound design. This viewing I was especially struck by the sound of the Death Star, a kind of echoing thrumming mechanical heartbeat that makes it sound like you're in a moon-sized space station even though you only actually see little bits of it. The new Star Wars rides at Disneyland smartly use those same sounds to great effect, building whole environments around them, knowing that they're embedded in our collective subconscious. No other universe sounds like the Star Wars universe.

I really enjoyed my revisit to that universe. Although we watched the "Special Edition" with some modern effects, there was enough of the original look and charm left to take me back nearly 50 years. It's been a fun ride.