Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Fiendish Q&A

As promised a couple of posts ago, The Cartoon Fiend has published his interview with me, done by e-mail about a week ago. The premise of The Fiend's blog is simple: he asks cartoonists with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience a similar list of questions, then publishes their answers. It's interesting to see how different people take the same questions in different directions. Fiendishly brilliant.

A cartoonist himself, The Fiend has only been blogging a short while and already amassed an impressive roster of interviews, mine notwithstanding: Chris Browne, Randy Glasbergen, Stephanie Piro, Peter Bagge, Rick Kirkman, my friend Patricia Storms, and many more. If those names mean anything to you or you're just curious about people who've figured out how to write and draw for a living, check it out.

I'm also expecting to see mentions of Mom's Cancer in at least two nationally distributed news outlets shortly. In fact, I'm surprised they haven't shown up yet. If anyone spots one, feel free to drop me a line. Thanks!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

University Researcher Wants Your Help

Speaking of academic legitimacy....

University of Kentucky communications professor Deborah Chung left a comment in my previous post about a survey she and a colleague are doing to figure out who's using cancer-related blogs, how they're using them, and why. I'm posting a note here because I wouldn't expect a casual visitor to find her comment, plus I owe her one because she wrote me a long time ago and I put off following up until I forgot about it. My apologies to her.

I checked out Dr. Chung and her survey, and both appear entirely legitimate to me. If you're a cancer patient or a relative of one, are over 18, and want to contribute to a such a study, take a look at her comment in the previous post or go to

Postcard from the Edge

It's been a year of many "firsts" for me, but I don't think I'll soon forget this one: a student at an East Coast university wrote a few days ago saying that he/she (his/her sex isn't evident from his/her name) is taking an "International Graphic Novel" class and is writing a final paper on Mom's Cancer. The student plans to focus on "the art of your work and how your artistic decisions and the different styles you take up have allowed the reader to understand and sympathize with the characters."

The student asked a few questions about how and why I drew what I drew. Being a sucker for both flattery and academic legitimacy, I spilled my guts and told him/her about nearly every jot of style, symbolism, metaphor, foreshadowing, and any other literary or artistic device I remembered employing (although I kept a few secrets to myself). It was fun.

I hope I get to see the result. In any case, it provided my most recent jolting reminder of the impact my story has had among so many people I'll never know. It's a bit unsettling to realize my book's out there with a life of its own, and it's nice when it sends home a postcard from Germany, Australia, Brazil, or an East Coast university to let me know it's doing fine.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Artistic Influences?

Two threads today that I'm going to try to braid into one....

Thread One: I'm back from a week's vacation, and my family and I had a good and productive time. What I didn't reveal in my last post is that some of that time was spent in Hollywood with my sisters wrapping up the last of Mom's life. Deciding, dividing, disposing. Of course as you dig through your parent's life you inevitably excavate your own, and I was surprised by some of the treasures that turned up. We found the beaded blue hospital bracelet tied round my wrist when I was born; I had no idea it still existed. Mom also saved a lot of my art--even had some of it framed--and I retook possession of doodles and school projects I last saw years ago.

Thread Two: Cartoonist Rod McKie recently started a blog titled
The Cartoon Fiend, in which he asks several cartoonists a series of similar questions and posts their replies. Rod has invited me to participate, and one of his questions asks me to name my major artistic influences. On the list of Questions I Find Impossible To Answer, that is very near the top. All I can say is "no one and everyone." I understand how unsatisfying an answer that is, but it's the only honest one I've got.

I've never consciously mimicked or borrowed anyone's writing or drawing style. I never tried to develop a style per se at all; I just try to convey information as accurately as I can while at the same time simplifying it to its essence. To me that's cartooning. I've read a few analyses of my work that tried to pin me down: "He's clearly derivative of Smith mixed with a little bit of Jones." Almost always, the creators whose work so obviously shaped mine are people I've never heard of who were babies when I started writing and drawing the way I do. It's pretty funny.

There are many creators whose work I've admired and studied, mostly old-school: Walt Kelly, Hal Foster, Charles Schulz, Winsor McCay, Cliff Sterrett, Milt Caniff, Will Eisner, James Thurber, Bud Blake, Stan Drake, Neal Adams, Gus Arriola, everyone who worked at DC Comics in the 1960s and Marvel in the '70s. I suppose they all influenced me, but when I really ponder the question I come up with names that have nothing to do with cartoons or comics.

Exhibit A: In college I devoured everything I could find by E.B. White. Many of his old New Yorker essays in particular are brilliant little gems. For months afterward, everything I wrote sounded like him and it took me a long time to shake his voice. In fact, I'm not sure I ever really did. Fortunately, I could have absorbed much worse. White was an economical writer who believed in getting to the point with speed, clarity, and grace. That is a good trait for a cartoonist to develop.

Exhibit B, recovered from Mom's closet last week:

I was about 14 when I did this pointilism exercise in art class. It is 100 percent pure Chesley Bonestell, or as near as I could get as a kid. (It's also very bad, but I'm learning to cut the younger me some slack.) For decades through the middle of the 20th century, Bonestell was the leading illustrator of outer space: the man who showed us what it would be like out there before any robots had actually made the trip. Mom had a couple of old Bonestell books I read repeatedly, my imagination alighted by the wonders I'd surely see myself in the 21st century, when spaceships would be as common as flying cars. I lived for years on worlds he created.

So who were my major artistic influences?

E.B. White and Chesley Bonestell. Plus many others. No one and everyone. That's the best I can do.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Down Time

My blogging will be sparse for the next week or so, as my family and I take some time off, visit relatives, and tour potential universities for my kids. They got accepted to some good ones; now all they need to do is make one of the most important decisions of their lives by May 1. I hear book sales are going well and I anticipate that Mom's Cancer will be showing up in some interesting reviews and articles soon. If you see one, please let me know!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Interview at The Pulse

I forgot to mention this new interview by Jen Contino posted at's "The Pulse" a few days ago. A follow-up to another interview Jen did with me last year, this one has some additional poignancy because Jen's grandmother died of cancer in the interim. It may not show in the interview itself, but I know from corresponding with Jen beforehand that her family's experience gave her a new perspective on my book.

I'm pointing out these two interviews in particular because Jen always asks thoughtful questions and dedicates plenty of space to the answers. Between them, I think just about anything anyone would want to know about me or Mom's Cancer gets addressed. We did these interviews by e-mail, by the way, which is a method I like; I'm a much better writer than speaker. Jen has been a real supporter of my work and I appreciate it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

APE, San Francisco

We had a nice time at the Alternative Press Expo held in San Francisco this weekend. I hadn't been to APE before but, as I expected, found it to be a nice, low-key, less-frantic version of the other conventions I've been to. Many small and independent creators displaying a wide range of abilities from seasoned professional to, frankly, stuff my high school kids could do (and I mean that partly as a compliment to my kids; they're pretty good). My wife and girls came along and I think we all had a fine time.

Program director Gary Sassaman, who also does the same job for the brobdingnagian Comic-Con International in San Diego, invited me to take part in a Saturday panel called "Hey, Kids! Graphic Novels!" The other panelists were Justin Green ("Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary"), Alex Robinson ("Tricked"), Raina Telgemeier ("Smile" and "The Baby-Sitters Club"), Rick Geary ("The Murder of Abraham Lincoln" and other historical horrors), and Linda Medley ("Castle Waiting"). I'd only ever met Raina (who attended with her fiance, Dave Roman) and was really looking forward to meeting some of the others whom I admired as well as others I'd never heard of. No, I won't embarrass myself by admitting which were which.

Left to right: Green, Robinson, Telgemeier, Medley, Geary
and me. About 75 people attended the panel (I remembered
to count this time!) and asked some good questions. Fun.

Justin Green in particular was a real trip. Almost literally. At one point he explained how in his next book he intends to take the same drugs his character takes and draw the story while under their influence. You've gotta admire that kind of dedication. Rick Geary stood out as one of the most easy-going, down-to-earth creators I've ever met. In response to a question about working digitally, I was surprised that we all replied we prefer the experience of putting ink on paper and wouldn't want to work any other way. I think that's an increasingly rare aesthetic. Linda Medley coined a new word, "meditativeness," to capture what she experiences sitting at the drawing board as opposed to the keyboard, and I think we all agreed with her.

APE also provided an opportunity for me to meet up with my Abrams editor Charlie Kochman, who flew out from New York for the event. Charlie took part in a Sunday panel on the topic of how to pitch a story to a publisher. My kids hadn't met him before and he was kind enough to bring me a copy of the soundtrack from the George Reeves "Adventures of Superman" series, which soaked into my DNA through repeated viewings decades ago. Just hearing some of those themes and musical stings conjured a host of happy childhood images.

Possibly the least flattering photo ever taken of either
Raina or me, but it's the only one I've got. I really like her work.
In the background, Linda Medley talks with Charlie Kochman.

I signed a few books, met a few people (including cartoonist Keith Knight), picked up some business cards, and thought APE was a great way to spend some time in my favorite big city in the world.

Signing books after the panel. You can tell I'm at the
Alternative Press Expo because I'm wearing jeans.
That makes me hip and edgy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New Mentions Online

In the past few days, Mom's Cancer got a few new cites I wanted to mention and thank their authors for:

Comics writer Brian K. Vaughan named the book one of his Top Five new comics for the week on his message board, saying he thought it was "pretty great." It's also pretty great to get a nod from Mr. Vaughan.

Graphic artist Bill Dawson mentioned Mom's Cancer on his blog "Woof!" "So much in this book rings true in a way only someone who has experienced this would know," he wrote. "This is a beautiful little book. Go buy it." Thanks, Bill.

Cartoonist Bill LaRocque wrote a lovely little entry on Mom's Cancer in his blog, "Am I There Yet?" My path has not yet crossed "Boomer Bill's" but I hope we get a chance to meet someday.

Last but far from least, Lance Eaton wrote a full-on review of Mom's Cancer for the site Bookloons, an impressive online resource of more than 6,000 book reviews. Lance called the story "touching and endearing," and wrote, "the book can prove therapeutic on many levels for people who have had to deal with cancer, either directly or indirectly." He also had some interesting thoughts on the symbolism of the pawn-and-die image we used for the endpapers. Good catch.

I truly appreciate them all, thanks.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meme Me

I viscerally dislike those e-mail chain-letter Internet meme things: "answer these questions and forward to ten friends to show you care." Ugh. But this one caught my eye and, since my sister sent it to me, I thought I'd unclench long enough to play along.

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. TV cameraman and director.
2. Double-decker bus driver.
3. Newspaper reporter.
4. Environmental chemist.

I drove these. Weird clutches.

Four movies I would watch over and over:
1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the whale movie)
2. The Pink Panther Strikes Again
3. The Shawshank Redemption (I don't own it, but it's on TV a lot and everytime I flip past it I get hooked. Not sure I've ever seen the whole thing in one sitting.)
4. The General (Buster Keaton; I admit I listed this mostly to score obscurity cred, but it truly is an irresistible charmer.)

Buster Keaton in "The General"

Four places I have lived:
1. Rapid City, South Dakota
2. San Jose, California
3. Davis, California
4. None of your business

Four TV shows I love to watch:
1. Monk
2. House
3. Most Star Treks
4. Iron Chef (original Japanese is best, but American is O.K.)
4.1. Mythbusters
4.2. American Chopper (I'm not proud, just honest)
4.3. The episode of Fairly Odd-Parents where Timmy, Cosmo and Wanda are cornered by an angry mob in a dead-end alley and Cosmo says to Timmy: "Well, you lived a good life." Timmy: "I'm only ten!" Cosmo: I said good, not long!"
4.4. None of those Trading Spaces people is ever getting anywhere near my house.

Four places I have been on vacation:
1. Kauai and Maui
2. Puerto Vallarta
3. The Mediterranean
4. Fresno

Four websites I visit daily:
1. Mark Evanier
2. Bad Astronomy
3. The Straight Dope
4. The Comics Curmudgeon

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Poached eggs on buttered English muffins
2. Baby back ribs
3. Reuben sandwich
4. The perfect peach

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Piazza San Marco, Venice
2. Disneyland
3. The International Space Station
4. Columbia River, autumn of 1805, canoeing toward the Pacific with Lewis and Clark.

Monday, April 03, 2006

London Calling

I awoke this morning to find quite a surge of hits from the U.K. thanks to this article in The Daily Telegraph. If you're new here, welcome and thanks. I hope you find something worthwhile.

The Telegraph article, titled "Ease Your Pain and Share Your Worries on the Web," looks at the therapeutic value of sharing stories such as my family's on the Internet. I did this interview with Barbara Lantin a couple of weeks ago and I think the story turned out great. Of course, like most Americans, I'm a sucker for a British accent. If you have one, I promise to find you twice as attractive, charming, and intelligent as you actually are.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Entertainment Weekly

I picked up this week's Entertainment Weekly (the April 7 issue with Howard Stern on the cover; on my first try, I bought the wrong one) and on Page 66 found this:

This is a very good review by Hannah Tucker. It did not escape my notice that three other graphic novels reviewed in the same issue received better grades of "A" or "A-minus." However, since those books' creators are Harvey Pekar, Julie Doucet and Jessica Abel, I'm satisfied with a "B-plus." That's a fine grade by EW standards. And I have a feeling that no one's going to base a purchase decision on my book's cumulative GPA (grade point average).