Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Brain Trust

My editor Charlie Kochman (right) and I: the Mom's Cancer Brain Trust.

I met Charlie and his girlfriend Rachel at the airport yesterday as planned (see October 25), and we spent a couple of hours getting to know each other better over lunch. Charlie shared some great behind-the-scenes stories and I very much enjoyed talking with Rachel, especially since one of my daughters is interested in pursuing her profession. I admit I was nervous going into my first face-to-face with my editor. I mean, it's probably too late to pull the plug on the book, but you never know....

I'm going to say some nice things about Charlie now that I'm sure will come back to haunt me when we're locked in bitter lawsuits in a few years. I really had no idea that people as caring and conscientious as Charlie existed in the publishing business, and I have no idea how he's managed to survive with those qualities intact. His contributions to the book version of Mom's Cancer are significant. Not so much in content--the words and pictures are all mine (though he suggested some edits and additions I was generally happy to adopt)--but in form, approach, strategy, production quality, and a lot of other things that matter greatly, Charlie's work has far exceeded any expectations I had. If Mom's Cancer is the success we hope, much of the credit will be his. If it's not, it won't be for lack of effort; I couldn't imagine how any editor or publisher could do any better. My book was lucky to land on his desk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Bald Spot

A few months ago, a reader wrote to ask if Mom had ever felt competitive with the other patients undergoing chemotherapy at the same time she was. His own mother had been through the same thing and obsessively measured her progress against that of her cohorts.

That wasn't something I'd noticed during Mom's treatment and I didn't address it in Mom's Cancer, but as I thought about it I realized my correspondent was right. Most patients' chemo was done on a regular schedule so you tended to see the same people every session. Mom's peers included an annoying loudmouth that Mom prayed wouldn't sit next to her and a young Hispanic woman who always switched the television to Spanish-language soap opera. In a situation so frightening and uncertain, it was impossible not to compare and compete: Who went bald first. Who got fat or thin. Who looked better or worse. Who stopped showing up at all. "Winning" meant living.

I thought this was a great insight and considered adding a new chapter to the book about it. But since I hadn't noticed it in my own family's experience I had a hard time writing about it, making it "real," and fitting it into the flow of the story around it. I couldn't figure out how to express this abstract, internalized concept in drawings. I couldn't make it work.

Instead, I drew a new spot illustration that I thought touched on the idea, and hoped that we might use it to fill out the book's page count. It turned out that 128 pages filled up faster than I expected and the new drawing wasn't needed. So that's the story behind this never-to-be-published piece:

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

O Canada

Terry replied to my post of October 22 to let me know that, in addition to being available on Amazon, Mom's Cancer can now be pre-ordered on Canada's Indigo Books. Thanks very much, Terry.

Friday will be an interesting day. I've been working with my editor at Abrams, Charlie Kochman, for more than half a year now. It's been a tremendous working relationship, and on occasion a personal one, but we've never met face to face. However, the day after tomorrow Charlie and his girlfriend are flying to California to attend a wedding and I'm planning to meet them at the airport, maybe treat them to lunch. I'm looking forward to it.

I have half a suspicion that Charlie just wants to make sure I actually exist. And I had half an inkling to send one of my daughters in my place to tell him the entire project was a hoax concocted by a 17-year-old girl. But no...I like Charlie too much to let all the blood drain from his face like that.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


That was my Amazon ranking yesterday. Right between a "Touchy Feely Board Book" titled That's Not My Lion and the memoirs of "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace. In your face, Mike Wallace.

I owe it all to Thursday's commenter Anonymous, who was probably the first person on Earth to buy Mom's Cancer. Thanks, Anon!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My brother-in-law just informed me that "Mom's Cancer" is now available for pre-order on


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Start of It All

I've told the story of how I decided to do "Mom's Cancer" before. I had driven Mom to a chemotherapy session early in the course of her treatment. Chemo takes a few hours and Mom typically slept through it. I'd brought along some paperwork to pass time but got bored, so I turned over a sheet of paper and drew a sketch of Mom reclining in the chair.

I thought the drawing and its few captions captured something true about the experience in a way that words alone couldn't. Chemo's not dramatic, it's tedious. Ordinary comforts like a strawberry milkshake or a CD player contrast with the extraordinary medical technology and biochemistry employed. The unusual becomes the norm, to the point that Mom could sleep through procedures that might have terrified her weeks before. I'd been thinking about finding some way to communicate Mom's cancer experience, and this drawing convinced me that cartoons might work. I went home and started writing "Mom's Cancer."

Immediately below is that first sketch, followed by the finished art. This sketch is an important scrap of paper to me; it's where "Mom's Cancer" began.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Just a brief report on the memorial celebration we held for Mom yesterday, because I don't have energy for a long one. It turned out very well, with all the right people and just the right amount of them. Friends and relatives, some flying halfway across the country on short notice. A perfect amount of food (it's hard to order when you don't know whether to expect 30 or 300 guests). People even seemed to like my PowerPoint presentation, which many of them took home on CDs I'd burned as mementos. Pretty exhausting, and it's hard to turn it off Sunday night and get back to work Monday morning.

Just one more photo of Mom, this one from her days as a model around age 19. I'm afraid I cut this career short for her--by being born. My mistake. I love Mom's modeling pictures and it took my sisters a week to figure out where she had hidden them.

I guess one good thing about a memorial is you learn new things about someone you thought you knew about as well as anyone could. Mom inspired and even saved the lives of people I didn't even know. That was great to hear.

I'm going to try to keep this blog focused on the book and off the maudlin from now on. But I'm sure I'll write more about Mom from time to time. After all, she is the book. And it is my blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wonderful World of Color

I wanted to say a little more about the pictures I posted yesterday.

Each is a single poster-sized sheet of paper with 16 pages on it, with another 16 pages printed on the back. A book goes together like a complex jigsaw puzzle. It looks chaotic on these big sheets but, when the pages are cut, collated, and glued or stitched together in the right order, it all falls into place.

Those who saw "Mom's Cancer" online may remember that it's mostly black and white. I used color sparingly and deliberately to add extra meaning or punctuation to the narrative. I wanted the effect to be like the change from B&W to color in "The Wizard of Oz": a signal to the reader that something different was going on.

When "Mom's Cancer" was an online comic, I had complete freedom to use color or not as I chose. But in the physical world of ink and presses, Color = Cost. B&W printing takes one run through the press; color printing takes four. I don't know actual numbers, but conceptually color printing takes four times the ink, film, time, and labor as B&W (the only cost saving I can think of is that you only have to pay for the paper once). So from a publisher's perspective, it's evident why color is a big deal.

Look at the 16-page sheet above. Only two of the pages (at upper right) are full-color images. The rest are black and white. IF I had laid out the book so that those two pages were also B&W, this sheet could have been printed much less expensively. Now, I'm a cooperative guy, so when my editor and I first laid out our plan for this book--it's called a "book map"--we looked for ways to economize on color printing. He'd write me a note saying something like, "if we could keep the color to pages 7, 8, 17, 18, 55, 56, 111 and 112, that would be great." And I'd shuffle, slide and sort the pages as best I could, then reply something like, "well, I'd hate to give up my blue dots on page 6." And he'd sigh gently and go back to the map.

To my editor's and publisher's great credit, they never pressured me to compromise. We never found an ideal solution--my color pages were scattered and clumped all wrong, and no amount of shuffling worked without breaking up the story. So they bit the bullet and decided to print the entire book in four-color, even if 95% of a sheet was B&W. I find that amazing. There is one page in the book with a spot of color that I doubt most readers will even notice, but to me that one spot is a dramatic and thematic key to the story. If I'd had to change it to black and white I would have. But I'll always be grateful that I didn't.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Posted below is what 48 pages of book looks like on its way to the presses. And this is little more than a third of it. I enjoy everything about the printing process.

Memorial services Sunday. A process I expect to enjoy less.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More Photos

Just a few more pictures of Mom. I'm preparing a PowerPoint slide show to present at a memorial service this weekend and these are some of the photos I've scanned for it. PowerPoint can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, and I'm doing my best not to make it an interminable bore. For me, this project is a real nice way to recapture the scope of Mom's life. I'm burning several copies as keepsakes for family and close friends, and I think they'll make a fine way to remember her by.

This is one of my favorite photos from my entire life. Mom, Nurse Sis and I dressed for Easter. Incidentally, those green gloves of Mom's are the pair I borrowed when I dressed up as Robin the Boy Wonder (I also had the requisite red vest). Stylin'!

Just a nice shot of Mom.

Mom and I during her chemo. Her hair later grew back very well and she looked great. Me, not so great.

Friday, October 07, 2005

About the Book...

Somebody asked me about the book. Understandably not my highest priority right now, but I've still got responsibilities and a job to do....

"Mom's Cancer" has been put to bed and is on its way to the printer. In a coincidence I can only compare to Charles Schulz dying on the day his last "Peanuts" strip ran, Mom passed away hours before my book's final deadline. Next question: will the book address Mom's death? Yes. I had time to write a page, very much like what I posted here on October 3, and add it to the last page of the book as a kind of coda.

I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do. My editor said it was my call but argued that it needed to be addressed. Other people I respect and love argued against it. After thinking it over for a couple of days--days during which I knew I wasn't thinking straight anyway--I went with my first instinct and decided I had to do it. When I created "Mom's Cancer" I resolved to be as honest as possible about the experience, and hiding the fact of Mom's death would've violated the spirit and purpose of the story. What clinched the decision for me was recalling that back when I began writing and drawing "Mom's Cancer," I didn't know whether Mom was going to live or die in days, weeks, or years. In any case, I set out to report the story. And so I have.

We'll see how that works out....

Photographs and Memories

I've been going through old photos in roughly chronological order to prepare a slide show summarizing Mom's life for what I'm calling her "memorial celebration." I thought I'd share some favorites here, and may post more as I work through the decades.

The top photo is Mom with her older brother Cal. The bottom is her junior prom in 1957. What a babe.

Monday, October 03, 2005


I’m sorry to have to write that Mom passed away the afternoon of Saturday, October 1. She died peacefully and painlessly with family and friends, including my sisters and me. She was 66.

It seems odd to say that Mom’s death came as a surprise but, until even hours before the end, we and her physicians always saw a reasonable path to recovery. In fact, I’d flown to southern California just three days earlier to help move furniture in preparation for her return home from the hospital. But her body had simply had enough.

As far as we know, Mom died free of cancer. She beat it. However, she took steroids to control brain inflammation caused by the brain tumor and its radiation treatment. Administered in high doses over a long time, they were as damaging to her body as cancer would have been. The steroids had to be reduced, renewed inflammation put pressure on unexpected parts of her brain, and the end came quickly.

Mom never regretted moving to Hollywood. Despite her struggle in recent months, I don’t think I ever saw her happier living anywhere else. She loved her new neighborhood: the brilliant bougainvillea spilling over her back fence, the giant avocado tree next door that dropped guacamole hailstones into her yard, the towering palm at the curb, the yellow curry dish from the Thai restaurant around the corner. This was where she needed to be.

The publication of “Mom’s Cancer” will go ahead. Mom always sought purpose in her life and, in recent months, her suffering. She shared in the production of “Mom’s Cancer”: the drafts, proofs, correspondence with my publisher and the public. She wrote the book’s Afterword. Nothing made Mom more proud or happy than hearing from readers who said her story had helped them or that they’d quit smoking because of her. She told me she thought she’d found her purpose after all. I didn’t disagree.

She lived and died well. I will miss making new memories with her.