Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lynne White

When I wrote and drew a story about cancer, put it on the Internet, and worked hard to get it published, I knew it would be read by people fighting cancer themselves. I wanted it to be read by them. So I was kind of prepared to get e-mails from readers telling me about their own experiences. For quite a while I felt bad that there was nothing I could do to help, until I realized most just wanted someone to listen. I could do that.

What I wasn't at all prepared for was the reality that when you write a book whose readers include cancer patients, some of your readers aren't going to survive long. The first time I heard that someone who'd read Mom's Cancer had died, I was startled. I don't know why. And now I've just learned of the passing of Lynne White, who was a long-time supporter of Mom's Cancer and frequent commenter on my blog. I knew she was a cancer survivor but, to coin a cliche, I didn't even know she was that sick.

Lynne struck me as a tireless engine of enthusiasm and delight. Some of her comments to my blog are nothing more than encouraging exclamations: "I am so thrilled for you!" "Brian, this is wonderful!" She corresponded with my mother and lifted her spirits tremendously. She was also an artist and cartoonist herself, and we passed some notes about technique. Her cartoon character was a dog named "Pogo," and she was kind enough to send Kid Sis a copy of a self-published Pogo book that was then passed on to me. Some of Lynne's other artwork is still available on her blog.

Here's a message Lynne sent to my Mom during a rough time in May 2005:

"Yes, dwell on what is good, whole and right. Live for this day.

Allow yourself your feelings; let the anger out, ask for what you need, and feel the sunshine.


Peace to Lynne and her family as well.

Blue Green Floral by Lynne White

P.S.: I sent a draft of this post to Lynne's daughter Jill for her approval and permission to use Lynne's art. Jill replied, in part:

"My mom once said to me that she never wanted anyone to say about her that 'she lost her battle with cancer' as this is a common phrase that is often uttered regarding someone's death. For this, to her, implied some sort of failure. She never failed, she just had to leave us a bit sooner than we all would have liked. So as you think of your mother and her disease, just remember that it takes an incredibly strong person to be knocked down time and time again, and still be able to pick themselves up repeatedly. No one would should ever consider that as loss, rather a strong spirit that won many times, they just walked away when they were ready."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Oddly Normal

Otis Frampton is one of the good guys in the world of comics and cartooning. We made Internet contact a while ago and met briefly at the San Diego Comic-Cons in 2005 and 2006. Otis was among the first and most encouraging of the friendly creative people I've met. I think his work shows a lot of talent and heart.

Lately, Otis has kept pretty busy drawing official trading cards of characters from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Marvel Comics. He's also the creator of the "Oddly Normal" series published by Viper Comics, the first four issues of which were recently collected in a trade paperback. Oddly is a 10-year-old half-witch, half-human misfit whose birthday wish goes horribly awry and sends her into a strange magical world, where she makes new friends and enemies. It's a little pre-teen angst, Wizard of Oz, Wendy and Casper, Harry Potter, plus a lot of Otis.

At any rate, in the back of his first Oddly Normal paperback collection, Otis published a few pages of artwork done by friends who interpreted his characters in their own styles. He extended the same invitation to me for his second Oddly book, which will be out sometime next year. I happily accepted.

Remember (and as Otis reminded me), the point of the guest art gallery isn't to copy Otis. When I started to sketch, I asked myself what Oddly would look like if I'd created her. With Otis's permission, here's my take:

The little yellow critter is her pet/pal Oopie. By the way, in light of my manifesto of August 25, you may be surprised to find that although I inked the black line art by hand, I did the colors in Photoshop. Conscious choice: Otis's art is all digital, very crisp and clean. Although my Oddly looks very different, I thought she should share that aesthetic. But it'd be interesting to see how she'd appear in watercolor, pastel, pencil, etc.

My thanks to Otis for letting me play in his universe for a moment. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Oh, The Humanity!

I haven't done the "You Tube" thing before and don't intend to make a habit of it, but I just came across one I couldn't resist.

The first half of this clip is the funniest 2½ minutes of television I ever saw in my life, while its final line stands as the Gold Standard of well-intentioned befuddled futility. Of course your mileage may vary, and maybe you had to be there... If you're not as entertained as I am, that's all right. Sometimes I post as much for me as you.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Color Experiment 1

In anticipation of my next project, I've been experimenting with different ways of handling color. Coloring black-and-white line art is a challenge in digital media. Cartoonists spend a lot of time debating and sharing the best ways to achieve the look they want and have it appear in print as intended.

Of course, one approach is to simply color the original with inks, watercolors, markers, etc., then scan it as a single work of art the same way you would a photograph. The main drawback is that you only get one shot at that; mess up the coloring and you're starting over from scratch. A more subtle drawback is that printed blacks come out much cleaner and blacker if they can be printed by themselves. It's good to keep blacks and colors separate if possible.

Another approach is to scan the line art and then color it digitally with Photoshop or similar software. That's what I did on Mom's Cancer. Once you learn to do that right, it works pretty well. Some artists (not me) are Photoshop masters who can use different techniques and effects to create beautiful work. But unless you're really good (again, not me), I think Photoshopped work has a sterile quality I dislike.

A similar approach is to do the entire project digitally, line art included. Increasing numbers of artists work entirely on the computer, start to finish. Without igniting a heated "Digital/Paper" debate, I'll just say I don't have the equipment to do that and wouldn't want to if I did.

In fact, I feel pretty strongly that I'd like to go the other direction, making my work as hand-crafted as possible. It's more fun and shows more life and personality. Today's experiment was aimed at finding a new way of doing a black-and-white drawing on one piece of paper, watercolor on another piece of paper, and combining them in Photoshop.

Here's my line art:

This is india ink on bristol board, about 5.5 x 8.5 inches, done with a brush. To start, I scanned this at a very high resolution (1200 dpi) in bitmap mode to capture nothing but pure black and white--no grays.

In Photoshop, I flopped (reversed right-to-left) the image. I then printed this reversed version onto an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of watercolor paper. This became the back of the surface I painted; I used a lightbox to see the drawing through the paper and painted on the other side. The result looked like this:

Remember, the flopped line art is printed on the other side and I could see it while I painted. I could have simply put a piece of watercolor paper over the original drawing and, with light shining through both sheets, painted it that way. But everytime I try that I can never keep the two sheets lined up, even with registration marks and tape. By printing the line art on the back of the actual watercolor paper, I made sure it didn't go anywhere. Also, I want the option of doing the line art and coloring at two very different scales. For example, with this technique I could draw my line art huge, shrink it down, and color it with tiny of splashes of paint to create a particular look. In this case, the painted image is just a little smaller than the corresponding line art.

Then I scanned the watercolor, selected the black line art from the original, pasted it on top of the color, matched them up, and cropped. Only the blue sky is colored digitally. The composite picture looks like this:

Not my neatest paint job ever, and if I were doing this for real I'd probably do quite a bit of supplemental touch-up and color detailing in Photoshop. But this is basically the look I was going for and I got a few ideas to try next time. All-in-all, a pretty successful experiment.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Quill Award Nomination: Go VOTE!

So in light of my previous post, it somehow seems an apt day to discover I've been nominated for a Quill Book Award in the category of Best Graphic Novel.

The Quill Awards were established in 2005 to "celebrate excellence in writing and publishing, recognize and praise the creators of important books and great literature, interest more consumers in acquiring books and reading, and act as a bellwether for literacy initiatives." According to the Quill's website, "the Quill Awards pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz and have become the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of the group that matters most in publishing: readers."

Books are nominated for Quill Awards by a committee of 6,000 invited booksellers and librarians after meeting some qualifying criteria, including earning a starred review in Publishers Weekly (check) or being one of Borders' Original Voices (check). Readers vote on the five nominees in each category between now and September 30. Winners are announced and prizes awarded October 10. The polls are open now!

This is very cool. Very, very cool. It will be an honor to lose to Alison Bechdel.

A Day to Remember

I'm not fishing for unnecessary sympathy, but I didn't want August 22 to pass without noting that it would have been Mom's 67th birthday. If you find yourself with a glass of something tasty in your hand today, it would be nice to send a little toast her way.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Cancer Did Not Make Miriam a Shallower Person

I've written about my erstwhile competitor Miriam Engelberg, author of Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, a couple of times (for example, when we were profiled together in USA Today and when we were interviewed together on NPR). Miriam wrote a cartoon collection ("graphic novel," whatever) about her experience fighting breast cancer that came out a month after Mom's Cancer.

Frankly, I don't think my publisher and I were overjoyed to find unexpected competition in the "cancer comics" market. My petty, pouty, envious attitude changed as I read Miriam's book, corresponded with her, and spent a little time with her in person. I thought her work was genuinely honest and insightful, darkly funny, and I liked her a lot. It also became clear to both Miriam and me that we got more press attention together than either of us would have alone. As I once wrote, it was like being in an arranged marriage neither of us volunteered for, but we were good together.

You may suspect where I'm going with this. A couple of days ago Miriam told her mailing list and blog readers that new tests have found cancer growing in her brain. I don't think the news was a surprise; Miriam has now entered a home hospice program. For readers not sure what that means (and I do get an occasional e-mail asking, "my father just went into hospice, when do you think he'll get better?"), hospice is about pain management, familiar surroundings, comfort and dignity. It's not about treatment, although if a miracle happens I don't think anybody objects.

I'm sad for my friend Miriam, her husband and her son. Although I hope everyone buys a copy of my book if you haven't already, I wouldn't mind terribly if you bought Miriam's as well ( even makes it easy to buy both at the same time). It would be for the best cause I can think of.

Friday, August 18, 2006

More Inking Life

Cartoonist Mike Lynch has posted some great pictures of the cartoon art exhibit he helped put together in Long Island, N.Y. called "This Inking Life: The Essential Cartoonist." As I wrote on August 6, Mike asked me to contribute a couple of pieces, and he was kind enough to take a photo of one of them hanging in the gallery.

I stole this picture from Mike's blog. Come and get me, coppers!

I don't part with my originals easily. Right now, everything I drew for Mom's Cancer, minus the two pages in New York, is sitting in an accordian file beside my desk. If I had to, I could recreate the entire book (although it'd probably be quicker and easier to redraw it from scratch...). A lot of cartoonists aren't very sentimental about their work, and can often earn more by selling their originals than they did from their publication. I suppose I might feel different if I had their output. After you've drawn a few thousand comic strips, I imagine you start looking for constructive, profitable ways to get rid of them. But I can't foresee ever letting the bits and pieces of Mom's Cancer out of my sight for very long.

Take good care of my babies, Mike. I know where you live.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Extended Coverage

Comics expert, historian and Web buddy D.D. Degg commented on yesterday's post that he tried to click on my cover montage to view individual thumbnails up-close. No dice, I'm afraid. But below are the two to which I think he referred:

This was the cover concept I proposed at first, with my "Mom in the Chemo Chair" art flopped. The colors are pretty arbitrary, but I wanted to use strong primary red-blue-yellows to communicate "Comics!" while at the same time use muted browns and grays to communicate "But not funny!" I think the result was a fairly unattractive palette that would have surely changed if we'd gone this direction. If I recall correctly, some on the cover committee found this image too clinical, distressing, and depressing.

This cover evolved a bit later in the process, when I somehow got it in my head that "oak tree" would evoke a contemplative, sunrise-sunset, circle-of-life theme. I dunno what I was thinking. But I spent the better part of a morning driving around taking photos of real oak trees, intending to find one standing by itself in an open field that I could Photoshop into a silhouette, under which I could insert a drawing of Mom. It wasn't until I'd shot a couple dozen pictures (it turns out to be unexpectedly hard to find an elegantly proportioned oak standing by itself in an open field) and brought them home that I realized the scale was all wrong: Mom would be completely dwarfed by these giant trees. So in the end I just drew a little one instead. The drawing of Mom sitting on the bench was a real quick sketch I did with a brush-pen, a new tool I was trying out. If we'd gone this direction I would have redrawn it, although I really like the spontaneity and quality of line I achieved here. The panel separating Mom from the background is supposed to communicate "Comics!" and also symbolize...I don't know what. Being trapped in her own world, seeing life from a limited perspective, having her world close in on her? You decide.

In his comment, D.D. also complimented the cover typography. I heartily agree. All the type in my samples was intended as placeholders only. I think Abrams designer Brady McNamara came up with the font we used--though art director Mark LaRiviere may have had a hand in it too, I just don't remember--but I thought it was terrific. Big, fat, Deco-evocative sans serif letters that managed to say "comics" and "classy" at the same time.

No one remembers who came up with the bit for the back cover involving the six panels of Mom with the words stripped out (probably Brady again). It wasn't me but I loved it. Charlie surprised me by adding my drawing of the Eisner Award, which I'd sent him as a lark, to my bio.

George Lucas once said that the only aspect of the original "Star Wars" movie that exceeded his hopes and expectations was John Williams' score; I felt that way when I saw the my book's cover coming together. It's not at all what I pictured when I was writing and drawing Mom's Cancer, but once it was done I couldn't imagine it being anything else.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Exhaustive Coverage

It's been longer than I'd've liked since my last post. Sorry. My book life is kind of slow right now, while my real life is not.

Part of my Comic-Con Spotlight Panel slide show described how Abrams and I designed the cover for Mom's Cancer. One thing I learned about the publishing business was that, unlike almost every other book-related decision that involved only Editor Charlie and me, picking a cover involves everyone. Marketing, sales, management: covers (at least at Abrams) are chosen by a committee of people whose expertise and interests don't always overlap.

Here's Charlie's very first rough of how he thought the cover should look. He just printed a copy of one of my story's pages, blacked out the captions, added the title, and indicated how the colors might look. Charlie liked the "iconography" of this image--the sense the panels simultaneously communicated that this was a comic and at the same time suggested looking into Mom's life through a window. It really spoke to him.

I wasn't immediately sold. I understood why he liked it, but I wanted to build the cover around my drawing of Mom sitting in the chemo chair. That was the very first picture I sketched when I conceived the idea of telling our family's story as a comic and it meant a lot to me. If I recall correctly, members of the cover committee found it too bleak and busy. I reluctantly moved on.

Over the next several weeks, Charlie and I batted dozens of ideas back and forth--generally beginning with an overarching concept and then playing with color, font, layout, etc. to get different takes on the idea. One time it was "cartoon panels," another time "trees." These were all my brainstorms that Charlie was genuinely happy to consider and pass on if he liked them. The image below summarizes just a few of the variations we went through.

No one liked any of my alternatives as much as Charlie's concept; in the end, neither did I. The last one in the lower right corner was my last-ditch attempt to find a cover guaranteed to please my editor, who'd spent 12 years at DC Comics working with talent like Alex Ross, Roger Stern, Chip Kidd, etc. I don't recall Charlie sounding as amused as I'd hoped when I called him to discuss it, but the Comic-Con audience loved it:

Anyway, after weeks of sketching, drawing, coloring and e-mailing, we at last arrived at the cover we did. I was happy, my editor was happy, the committee was happy. Most of all, my most important and potentially harshest critic, Mom, was happy. And Charlie called it pretty much from the start. Also note that on his mock-up, Charlie inserted a little caption box reading "Eisner Award Winner" when at the time I had not yet won it. Right again. This was not my last opportunity to learn to trust his judgment.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Friend Ronnie

I have a best friend in Canada I've never met. "Ronniecat" was one of the very first readers of Mom's Cancer on the Web and one of its greatest supporters since. She's talked it up to friends, cancer clinics, hospitals, and bookstores throughout two or three eastern provinces. She corresponded with Mom before she got too sick to write. I cited Ronnie in my book's dedications and wish I could've done more to acknowledge her friendship to my family.

Anyway, Ronnie was nice enough to mention Mom's Cancer in a recent post on her own blog, which I thought provided a nice excuse to return the favor and point it out to anyone interested. Ronnie began her blog when she suddenly went deaf at the age of 39. She wrote movingly and fascinatingly about her experience trying to find her way into the deaf community while at the same time seeking a medical solution for her condition. She eventually received a cochlear implant that restored some of her hearing and, in the months since, her writing has moved away from that topic to address anything that catches this smart, opinionated woman's attention. It's a daily stop for me.

I don't think I say "thanks" enough, so thanks, Ronnie.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

This Inking Life

Mike Lynch is a professional freelance magazine cartoonist who actually makes a living at it, a strange and wonderful enough accomplishment on its own. In addition, he's the co-chair of the Long Island Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society, a man I got to know first online and then in person, and a well-connected extrovert who seems determined to drag me kicking and screaming into the brother/sisterhood of cartoonists. I hope it's not too presumptuous to also call him a friend.

Mike wrote a couple of months ago to tell me about an exhibit of cartoon art he's helping put together for the Great Neck Arts Center of Long Island, N.Y. He lathered me up with enough flattery (it didn't take much) to convince me to contribute two pieces of original art from Mom's Cancer for the show that, as you can read on the postcard above, runs from August 12 to October 1. I gleaned from my conversations with Mike that a big part of the center's mission is understanding the artistic process. With that in mind, I also sent along the preliminary sketch and finished printed version of each page, all matted together in the same frame. I think they turned out kind of cool. I wish I had pictures of the finished pieces to share, but last week my girls took the camera to summer camp, where they worked as adult volunteer counselors. So instead, here's a picture of their camp:

They're gonna kill me for that. Anyway, Mike has many, many other friends and/or blackmail materials. Among the artists contributing are Isabella Bannerman (Six Chix, Funny Times), Sy Barry (The Phantom), Mort Drucker (Mad Magazine), Nick Downes (The New Yorker), Joe Giella (Mary Worth, Batman), Guy Gilchrist (Nancy), Irwin Hasen (Dondi--hey, I know him!), Bunny Hoest (The Lockhorns), Dan Piraro (Bizarro), Stephanie Piro (Six Chix), Frank Springer (Phoebe Zeit-Geist, Terry and the Pirates), Rick Stromoski (Soup to Nutz), Carla Ventresca (Six Chix, On a Claire Day), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), and Mr. Lynch himself.

The center is also planning a reception and two cartoonists' panels to mark the exhibit, and I don't think I'll be able to fly cross-country to get to any of them. But if you're anywhere near Long Island, please check it out.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ich Liebe Annik Rubens

Many visitors are finding me today from a German podcast by Annik Rubens via her website Schlaflos in M√ľnchen ("Sleepless in Munich," I guess). If you understand German and can download and play an MP3, give it a listen. I think she said nice things. Even if she didn't, she said them in such a velvet-smooth sultry radio voice that I don't care. In any event, my thanks to Ms. Rubens.

And if anyone is actually interested in reading my book in German, it's available from Danke!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sell Sheet

Today, Editor Charlie sent me a new "sell sheet" Abrams has put together to further promote Mom's Cancer to booksellers. I think it's intended as a reminder and update: "You saw this book back in March, but look at all the great reviews and press it's gotten. Maybe you'd like to order a few copies?" Kind of building on what we've accomplished so far--which, when you see it all listed in one place like this, is pretty remarkable I think.

Click on the image above to open
a larger PDF of the Sell Sheet

Keeping in mind that Abrams is a smallish publisher with fewer resources than, say, a giant like Random House, I've been pretty satisfied with their promotional efforts for my book. They can't afford to fly me around the country, but then I'd rather not do that anyway. When opportunities such as my recent Tucson speaking engagement come up, Abrams helps make them happen. I know Mom's Cancer is getting more support than many (most?) of their other books, and Charlie assures me that even though the fall season of shiny exciting new releases is just around the corner, they'll keep doing all they can for mine. Sounds more than fair to me.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Final Frontier

Along with retail booths, exhibits, panels, sneak peeks and other attractions, Comic-Con International offers every attendee a Souvenir Book. It's a nice, perfect-bound, 128-page publication separate from the Program Guide that profiles the Con's special guests and provides artists and writers a chance to reflect on appropriate subjects. Themes for 2006 included Dick Tracy's 75th anniversary, Captain America's 65th anniversary, Gumby's 50th anniversary ... and Star Trek's 40th anniversary.

I may not have mentioned it, but it may be no surprise that I'm a Trekkie. (Some Trekkies insist on being called "Trekkers" because they find "Trekkie" demeaning. I think those Trekkies take themselves too seriously.) Star Trek was important to me. As an adult, I realize it's not tremendously deep or any kind of profound blueprint for life or society; nevertheless, it hit me at the right time in my life and made a difference. So when I read that Comic-Con planned to commemorate its 40th anniversary, I wrote and submitted an essay that they were kind enough to include in the Souvenir Book.

In point of fact, I doubt many of the 100,000-plus Con attendees read it. No one mentioned it to me in the three days I was there. It's kind of long and not the best thing I ever wrote. However, it's from the heart and I wanted to post it here. By the way, the first sentence is now inaccurate; I had a birthday since I wrote this several months ago.

The Ages of Man: An Appreciation of “Star Trek”
I am 45 years old: old enough to claim Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) cred. I was there when Earth’s molten crust cooled, simple molecules linked to form complex proteins, and my family bought its first color television in time for me to feel the electric primary colors of “Star Trek” burn from ember-orange vacuum tubes through my retinas into my brain.

After 40 years, the thematic depth of the McCoy-Spock-Kirk trio has been well plumbed and hardly bears repeating. McCoy is emotion, Spock is reason, and Kirk is the balance between emotion and reason that draws on both to inform decisive action. Id, ego, superego. However, as I age, I’ve been surprised to find I gain new appreciation for these three characters as my understanding of them evolves. Their velour-bloused TOS incarnations haven’t changed since 1969. But I have.

When I was a child and teen, Spock was It: the apotheosis of alienated intelligence. His tools were logic, quiet confidence, and bone-dry wit. He defeated his enemies with brainpower. His weapons were numbers and words. Yet beneath that cool facade roiled overpowering emotions and superhuman strength barely contained. On the rare occasions Spock lost control, the results were unpredictable and frightening.

Adolescence never had a better metaphor.

Spock was important to me. He valued things I valued—reason, science, knowledge—and wasn’t embarrassed by it. I had a temper as a child; watching Spock struggle to maintain his self-control helped me tame it. He taught me grace under pressure. When a junior high bully twice my size picked me up and threatened to drench me under an overflowing rainspout, I replied with cold Nimoyan indifference, “I would actually prefer it if you didn’t,” and he released me with a laugh and enough respect to never bother me again. Being cool worked.

Spock was about restraint, temperance, placid courage, and the triumph of the intellect. He guided me through many rough passages as I matured, and got me safely to the other side.

Where I was met by James T. Kirk.

It’s always been easy to mock the flamboyant Kirk, yet I believe—in all sincerity and without a trace of condescending sarcasm—that Captain Kirk is one of the great characters of twentieth-century American fiction. Kirk was twentieth-century America, or at least the best of how twentieth-century America saw itself: bold, confident, powerful, ambitious, thoughtful, resourceful, loyal, compassionate. Had a twinkle in his eye. Did all right with the ladies. Always found a way to win. Shatner made him that.

For the past couple of decades, Kirk has gotten a bad rap as a trigger-happy gunslinger. Slander! Not this man who agonized over decisions that sent crewmen to their deaths. Who knew Shakespeare and quoted Masefield. Who once had a Gorn by the throat (felled by a cannon Kirk fashioned from dirt and twigs, and I’d like to see you try it) and showed the impressively advanced trait of mercy.

Spock may have been superhumanly smart and strong but, like an adolescent, he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. Kirk knew who he was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it. He was a man.

Of course, part of being a man is that you quit looking to fictional role models to show you how to be one. Unlike Spock in my youth, I can’t pinpoint aspects of my adult life consciously patterned after Kirk, unless you count his purposeful stride as he leaves the Enterprise’s chapel headed for the bridge at the end of “Balance of Terror.” Sometimes I walk like that. I like to think I’ve internalized some of his courage and cleverness, but until I actually have to face down a rock-melting Horta or drive a computer mad with illogic, how would I know? Nevertheless, if anyone had asked me between the ages of 20 and 40 to name the best character in the “Star Trek” canon, I would have said Kirk.

Perhaps I still would. But when I watch TOS lately I find myself powerfully drawn to Leonard McCoy and the understated performance of DeForest Kelley. I never cared for Bones when I was younger. He was a few years older than Kirk and a few watts dimmer than Spock. Distrustful of technology and contemptuous of trivial rules. Cranky. Jaded. Jowly. Maybe a little weary.

Maybe I’m beginning to relate.

McCoy trusted the ship to Kirk and Spock while he calmly commanded Sickbay, comfortable in his mastery, as much a man of science in his element as Spock was in his. If you needed someone to brew a telekinesis serum or reinstall a brain, there was no one better in the galaxy. He faced down a scalpel-wielding Khan and, in my favorite McCoy moment, knocked out Kirk and Spock to take their places in an alien torture chamber. McCoy had paid his dues and didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. Despite his occasional bluster, he was probably the most laid-back person on the ship.

Until recently, I might not have recognized the quiet heroism of a genuine mature adult who could be counted on to keep his cool and do the right thing. By now I’ve seen enough of the opposite in the real world to treasure those qualities wherever I find them.

Smart and Stylish
TOS was a sophisticated program for sophisticated viewers, and even before I finish typing this sentence I imagine scoffers pointing to its sometimes laughable effects and props, day-glo sets and costumes, outdated sexism, and overwrought melodramas with ham-handed morals as proof of my lunacy.


On the other hand, audiences in the 1960s didn’t need to have everything spelled out for them. They understood the art of allegory in ways that seem to escape modern viewers. TOS charmers like “A Piece of the Action” or “Bread and Circuses” would be impossible in later decades because more modern audiences, blinded by literalism, know for a fact that when we eventually travel the galaxy we will not find strange new worlds populated by Chicago gangsters or twentieth-century Romans.

Guess what: we won’t find pointy-eared Vulcans or blue-hued Andorians, either. Guess what again: people knew that in the sixties, too.

Nor would modern audiences accept such highly stylized episodes as “The Empath” or “Spectre of the Gun” that deliberately screamed out, “This is a make-believe story filmed on a soundstage for your entertainment!” Today we applaud ourselves for seeing the mirrors and wires that sustain the illusion, not realizing that perhaps the greater skill lies in ignoring them. We’re not holding up our end of the artist-audience bargain.

(A similar erosion of sophistication killed the movie musical, I think. Audiences of the nineteen-thirties, forties and fifties knew as well as we do that overjoyed or heartbroken people don’t actually break into song and dance. They were just able to wrap their minds around it. We apparently cannot, and more’s the pity for us.)

TOS was a smart, stylish program of its time. The fact that many viewers and fans moved on to newer, flashier, darker, or grittier Trek incarnations that abandoned metaphor and humor, and felt compelled to actually explain why everyone in the galaxy spoke English and looked like an L.A. starlet, reflects worse on them than on the original “Star Trek.” If you’d rather watch an hour explaining how Klingons got bumpy foreheads than exploring why a half-black half-white man hates a half-white half-black man, I won’t argue. Everyone’s entitled to their taste and opinion. We can both call ourselves “Star Trek” fans, even if it turns out we don’t have all that much to talk about.

But you may be surprised to discover which Treks grow on you—and with you—in the long run.

Brian Fies is a writer and cartoonist whose webcomic, Mom’s Cancer, won the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic and is now available in print as a graphic novel published by Abrams Image.