Saturday, November 26, 2005

Congratulations! It's a Book!

A few days ago I had one of the coolest experiences of my life: opening a package containing five advance copies of my book. Real books. Mine.

The first print run is done. Most of it is on a slow boat somewhere in the Pacific, but the printer flew a batch to Abrams to distribute to reviewers, major book buyers, heads of state and captains of industry, etc. And Abrams sent five to me. I'll get more later--although not as many as you might think. I understand that one problem authors face is everyone assumes they've got free books to pass out like candy. Not so. Luckily, I do get a pretty good discount.

I immediately mailed two of the five books to my sisters, which explains my delay in posting here--sometimes Kid Sis and Nurse Sis actually read this thing, and I wanted the books to be a surprise. They arrived yesterday. Surprise accomplished. I only wish I could have done the same for Mom.

After all the months of work, after actually living through the events depicted in Mom's Cancer, you may be able to imagine what it meant to finally hold this book in my hands. To feel the cloth binding. To smell the pages. Reading has always been a tactile experience for me anyway--there's something about the the physical sensation of reading a book that plugs directly into my brain--and when it's my own work... Wow.

I've inspected it cover to cover and am entirely thrilled with the result. Abrams is a classy publisher, most renowned for their quality art books, and I think they did a first-class job on mine. My thanks to Charlie, Isa, Brady, Mark, and all the editorial, production, and design people at Abrams who had a hand in this. I hope (and think) they can be proud of it.

Regarding Postcards: Several people wrote to ask for my promotional postcards (see November 22 below) and I've fulfilled all the requests I received. The offer still stands: anyone who wants a postcard as a memento or several to distribute is welcome to e-mail me and let me know how many, where to send them, signed or unsigned, whatever. Some of the cards I just mailed out will be going to cancer centers and clinics throughout North America, for which I'm extremely grateful. Others will just become tattered bookmarks and that's good, too. I've got plenty left.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Want a Postcard?

Let me tell you about this postcard:

Last July, shortly before Comic-Con International, editor Charlie thought it'd be a great idea to print up some promotional postcards for Mom's Cancer. Especially if I happened to win the Eisner Award, it would be nice to have something to pass out and perhaps sign. Even if I didn't win, I could distribute them at the freebie table and raise some awareness. As I recall, we were still designing the cover at that time; Abrams' art director quickly produced a semi-finished version, I approved the art and copy the same day, and they were off to the printer as a top-priority rush job.

So 500 postcards were supposed to be delivered to my hotel in San Diego the first day of the convention. Day One: no cards. Day Two: no cards. Day Three: no cards. Repeated phone calls to my hotel's Guest Packaging Department confirmed that they had nothing anywhere that looked like it might be a 500-postcard-capacity box addressed to anyone whose name was even vaguely similar to mine (with a name like "Fies" you adapt to misspellings). Editor Charlie was mystified, the printer said he shipped them; still, no cards. I won the Eisner, Comic-Con ended, my family and I went home...still no cards. A day or two later I got a call from the hotel: "Oh, yeah, they've been sitting here for a week. You should have called our Guest Packaging Department." Grrrrrr....

So since July I've been tripping over a box of 500 postcards sitting next to my desk, not quite sure what to do with them. A few of Kid Sis's correspondents asked for some to distribute among their friends and workplaces. When we get closer to the release date I think I'll mail some to selected booksellers. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the best use for these cards is probably to get them into the hands of people who want them.

So here's the deal: If you want a postcard, e-mail me your address and I'll send you one (I vow to never use your address for evil). If you want a bunch (within reason), tell me how many. I'll sign none, one, or all of them, whatever you want. Your end of the deal is if I send you a bunch you have to promise not to hoard them. Spread them around, help people find out about the book. That's what they're for. I'll be very grateful.

Monday, November 14, 2005

More Sadness for My Family

I spent the past few days in Reno, Nevada, where my Uncle Cal passed away yesterday. His wife and children, some of his grandchildren, and Nurse Sis and I were able to be there for him and he knew it, which I hope was helpful and comforting to him. Uncle Cal was Mom's big brother and only sibling, and his death so soon after hers is quite a blow.

Out of respect for his family, I don't feel free (or inclined) to share many details about his passing, which had both horrific and transcendant moments. I was constantly conscious of the fact that all decisions were up to my Aunt Norma and their children; I figured my role was to listen, support, and advise when asked, and to try to make sure that, whatever happened, they'd have no regrets. With Mom's experience so fresh in our minds, I think Nurse Sis and I were able to help our family navigate some rough waters. Only time will tell if we succeeded.

Uncle Cal at Mom's birthday party in Mom's Cancer.

Uncle Cal was a huge influence on me. He and my aunt took in Mom when she was a young single mother with two brats in tow and made a warm home for us. Until I was 10, he was the father figure in my life. His two sons, both younger than me, went on to become pretty good baseball players; I joked that he was so good at teaching them because he made all his mistakes first on me. He was a great man who will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How I Cartoon

All quiet on the literary front. As far as I know, printers in Asia are churning away, chunkity-chunking out copies of Mom's Cancer while I sleep peacefully through the night half a world away. I look forward to getting one in my hands. Meanwhile...

On my main site ( I used to have a "How To" page describing how I drew Mom's Cancer. I took it down after a while--don't remember why, maybe it occurred to me that no one cared. But what is a blog if not a repository for material about which no one but its author might care?

My method is very "old-school" cartooning, with a bit of computerization thrown in at the end. Increasing numbers of cartoonists work entirely on computer and love the results. I haven't yet found a technology that gives me the same versatility and control I enjoy with a brush. Plus, for me, the act of putting pencil and ink on paper is the most satisfying part. Why would I want to give it up? In some circles, this makes me a dinosaur.

I begin with a script and a blank sheet of 9-by-12-inch 2-ply vellum bristol board. Following a rough thumbnail sketch on scratch paper, I rule in borders and lettering guides in light pencil, then rough in the captions and word balloons:

The words go first because it's critical that they have enough room and the eye follows them around the page as intended. Then I pencil the art. It's still pretty loose at this point:

I rule borders and other straight lines using a fountain pen, and letter with waterproof black India ink using Speedball nibs B-6 and B-5 (for bold).

Art is also inked with black India ink using a variety of small sable or synthetic brushes. Fine details and lines (like those on Mom's shirt or the pattern on her hat) are done with a crow-quill nib.

After erasing pencil lines with a kneaded eraser, I scan the art into Photoshop to add shading and any color needed. I also do a fair amount of editing at this stage...fixing mistakes, erasing blemishes, and sometimes rewriting entire bits of dialogue by cutting and pasting words or even individual letters. A few years ago, this would've been done with X-Acto knives, rubber cement and White Out. Computers are much better.

When I had the time to sit down and work non-stop, I could finish two or three pages per day. However, I very rarely got such time and did the best I could, when I could. The hardest part? Laying down Line One on Day One, knowing that I had more than 100 pages and many months to go. Anne Lamott tells a story about her 10-year-old brother struggling to complete a huge report on birds the night before it was due. Overwhelmed and immobilized, he asked his father how he could possibly get it done. Dad answered, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." That's how I did Mom's Cancer: bird by bird.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Where I Will Be

We're starting to put together some plans for promoting Mom's Cancer early next year, including a multi-city book tour at some point. Right now I have just two firm dates:

New York Comic-Con, February 24-26, 2006, New York City. This will be my book's big coming-out party. Abrams is hosting a booth at which I'll spend some time signing, and we'll also take the opportunity to meet some booksellers and media people.

Comic-Con International, July 20-23, 2006, San Diego, Calif. These are the nice people who gave me an Eisner Award last July. I've been invited to take part in a spotlight panel and I'm sure I'll sign some books.

I've started a page on my main website where I'll post events and appearances as my schedule fills in. Right now, the list of cities involved in my multi-city tour is a mystery. As excited as I am to have my book coming out soon, this is a fairly daunting and intimidating prospect. It's all new to me (aw, poor baby). Still, I'm grateful that Abrams is so dedicated to promoting Mom's Cancer; I realize how unusual it is to receive such support. Luckily, I've got a few months to practice becoming witty and charming. I'll need it.