Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Arnold Wagner

For several reasons, I'm sorry to follow my previous post with this one. I heard this morning that a good artist, cartoonist, historian and terrific friend of mine, Arnold Wagner, has entered hospice care after fighting cancer for a long time. His daughter Rachel posted the news at an Internet watering hole Arnold and I both frequent, and I've already replied privately to Arnold but wanted to say a bit about him here, too.

Arnold was one of the first professionals to read Mom's Cancer and encourage me strongly and frequently to pursue it, for which I was happy to mention him in my book's acknowledgements. He's an old-school cartoonist whose career goes back decades and who brought a lifetime of experience, authority, and real-world saavy to any discussion he entered. He co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cartooning, a how-to book I know he wasn't entirely happy with (lots of editorial interference, I gather) and which frankly isn't the best of its type but nevertheless captured some of his wisdom and wit.

His Amazon.com bio says this about him: "Arnold Wagner is a cartoonist, gag writer and cartoon scholar, whose work has been featured in many publications, including: IF Science Fiction, The Saturday Evening Post, Writer's Digest, Boys Life, Parade, Suburbia Today, The National Enquirer, Golf World, Broadway Laughs, and the New Yorker. In addition, a great deal of his work has appeared in the syndicated strip 'The Flintstones.' Arnold has always held an interest in historical, technical, and artistic subjects relating to cartooning, and has collected a great deal of material along those lines."

I got to know Arnold the same way I've gotten to know a lot of people in the past few years: online. Never met him in person. As I mentioned in my note to him this morning, I wish I'd had a chance to buy him lunch and run my fingers through his extensive collection of antique and exotic pen nibs. But I think you really can get to know a person well through writing--perhaps better than face to face--and I'm happy for the relationship we have and proud to have him as a friend.

Arnold is a great man and a great gentleman. We all face our ends someday and, if this is his, I hope it comes with all the ease, grace and love he deserves. My best to him, his wife Connie, and his family.

A card I drew for Arnold when he was in the hospital for
a short stay last year. I'm sure he's still giving 'em hell.

UPDATE: Arnold passed away the evening of August 31. I will miss him keenly for a long time.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to Mom

Wednesday, August 22 would have been Mom's 68th birthday. I can't let the day pass without many private thoughts and at least a public mention.

When I was being interviewed by the Rockwell Museum guys last week, the conversation turned to what Mom's Cancer means to me now that some time has passed since the events I wrote about. That's a hard question to answer. One surprising thing I realized is that my understanding of Mom's ordeal still changes and grows. For example, it was many months later, long after the book was published, that I looked back with astonishment at just how unbelievably brave Mom was. I wrote in Mom's Cancer that "it's amazing what you can get used to," and until everything was long over I didn't quite understand what a miserable situation she'd gotten used to--we'd all gotten used to--one sad and disspiriting setback after another, Mom trying to maintain hope for herself but mostly for her children. It was an amazingly graceful exhibition of love.
Here's to Mom, still teaching me stuff.

In the TB sanatorium as a child


School portrait


Dressed for prom


A brief turn as a model, around age 19. What a babe.


A young mother and ... er, ahem, well ... Me.


The day she married my (step)Dad


Her 64th birthday, when she received her pup, Hero.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Inside the Studio

I think my video interview with the guys from the Norman Rockwell Museum went well. Of course, all depends on which five minutes of our two-hour conversation they decide to use. I'm sure I provided plenty of "idiot blowhard" ammo if they look for it, but I trust Martin and Jeremy not to make me look too bad. After all, Martin paid for lunch afterward; how evil could he be? If you guys read this, thanks again for lunch and for coming all the way out here. I enjoyed it.

Jeremy, Martin, and the interior of my office closet. Jeremy had to open the mirrored door to eliminate a bad reflection from a 2000-watt light rig they brought with them. I'm sorry you had to see that.

That glimpse into my messy closet dovetails nicely with recent posts on a couple of other cartoonists' blogs in which they shared pictures of their "studios" and inspired me to show off mine. The word deserves quotes because many cartoonists' workspaces consist of a corner of the dining room table or patch of floor beside a couch. My set-up is a little better than that but still nothing I'd elevate to the status of "studio." It's a spare bedroom with a couple of desks, bookcases, computer and a filing cabinet. Not a big deal.

I do most of my artwork at a rolltop desk I got when I graduated from college. Drawers hold supplies and I draw on a large board propped between my lap and the desk. The picture below shows a lot of brushes. In fact, I generally only use two or three at a time; I just can't ever throw anything away. Likewise pen nibs. I've got about three good ones and 57 bad ones that keep getting mixed in with the good ones.

So here--not posed or dressed up in any way, captured in its entirely natural state--is my "studio" with a key to its contents (I know some of the green numbers are hard to see. Sorry.):

1. Etch-a-Sketches (one small, one large)
2. Watercolors
3. Charcoal pencils
4. Conte crayons, tempera. I forgot to number it, but the wide drawer below drawers 2-4 holds acrylic paints.
5. Colored pencils
6. Gouache, oil pastels, oil paints
7. Felt-tip and technical pens, non-photo blue pencils
8. Electronic parts and doo-dads
9. Legos!
10. T-shirt I've used as an art rag since I was 16
11. Acid-free artist's tape
12. Triangle, templates for drawing circles and ellipses
13. Heap o' sketch books, secret projects
14. One-quart Baskin-Robbins bucket of old brushes, magnifying glass
15. Linseed oil, plastic cement, old nibs, deck of magic trick cards
16. Bigger brushes, more pens, compass and X-acto blades
17. Electric pencil sharpener
18. White-out, Sharpie, kneaded eraser
19. India ink that I keep in a ceramic saucer ever since I spilled a bottle and ruined a carpet 25 years ago
20. Active pens, brushes, pencils, erasers, etc.
21. Drawing board
22. Paper

This is, by the way, the same desk I depicted in Mom's Cancer:

I may have tidied it up a bit for the book. I haven't actually seen that much clear desktop since at least 1992.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ends and Odds

I neglected to mention that I recently received copies of the Italian edition of Mom's Cancer--titled, oddly enough, Mom's Cancer. The last time I mentioned the Italian edition, I said I was surprised they didn't translate the title. Editor Lorenzo from my Italian publisher Double Shot-Bottero Edizioni was kind enough to reply that they "talked very much between us if we had to translate the title or not. At the end, we decided for the original title, because the word CANCRO still (frightens) people, and because the book was famous with its original title." That's a nice explanation.

Now that I have it in my hands, I'm happy to report that Lorenzo and his partners did a terrific job. I'm very happy with the look, feel, and quality of their work. Again, my thanks to them; I appreciate the risk they took and hope it's a success for them.
I think I've decided, with regret, to miss the Baltimore Comic-Con next month. It's not an easy decision. I'm honored, humbled, amazed to have my work nominated for three Harvey Awards, and believe that if someone pays you that kind of respect you should reciprocate by showing up. It seems like the least you could do. But the fact is I live on the other side of the country, the date conflicts with other commitments, and the cost of what would be a cross-continent hit-and-run round trip is pretty high. Editor Charlie is planning to attend and can represent me if I improbably win. I just don't want to leave any impression I take the nominations for granted, because I don't.
Wednesday should be interesting. A curator from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts is coming to my home with a cameraman to film an interview that will, as I understand it, accompany the "LitGraphic" exhibition I'm participating in later this year. A couple of weeks ago I sent the museum nine of my favorite original pages from Mom's Cancer, which they'll display with the work of several other writer-cartoonist types. Although "sent" isn't quite the right word; the Rockwell people constructed a specially padded portfolio just the right size for my pages and dispatched an 18-wheel truck to pick it up. (To be fair, the truck was also picking up a lot of other art for other museum customers on its way cross country. But I'm greatly pleased to imagine they sent it just for my nine sheets of paper.) In short, the Norman Rockwell Museum is obviously a first-class professional organization used to working with a much better class of exhibitor than me. But I could get used to it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Free to Breathe

The National Lung Cancer Partnership is a non-profit lung cancer advocacy organization founded by physicians and researchers to increase understanding of how the disease affects women and men differently. Its mission is to decrease lung cancer deaths and help patients live longer and healthier lives through research, awareness and advocacy.

I discovered the group when Mom was diagnosed and it was called Women Against Lung Cancer, and found it to be a tremendous source of reliable, useful information. Somehow my sister Brenda ("Nurse Sis") got involved with them and recently, almost to her surprise, found herself helping organize one of several "Free to Breathe" walk/runs the group is holding across the country this fall: Glastonbury, Connecticut on September 23, Raleigh, North Carolina on November 3, Philadelphia on November 4, and Los Angeles on November 11. Brenda's working on the L.A. one.

Right now, she needs two things: volunteers to help put on the event, and corporate sponsors to help pay for it. If you have some time or funds to give to a good cause, please e-mail the National Lung Cancer Partnership at info@NationalLungCancerPartnership.org or call them at 608-233-7905. Smaller donations and pledges are also welcome.

I usually avoid endorsing particular groups or organizations. I don't feel I have the expertise or time to make sure all of their information and services are legit, and I'd hate to steer anyone wrong. However, I'm happy to vouch for the National Lung Cancer Partnership and the work they do, and think the "Free to Breathe" campaign is a good way to contribute. Besides, Nurse Sis could use the assist.

Monday, August 06, 2007

How to be a Successful Comic Artist

I stole this from Eddie Campbell's blog and guarantee that cartoonist and friend Mike Lynch will steal it for his blog before the week is over. It's an invaluable guide to the nuts and bolts of cartooning, done by George Storm in 1923.
Click on the top image to see it at a readable size. For those not so inclined, I blew up a couple of panels I liked below.

The keys to the kingdom are yours. Best of luck in your new career!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Coin of the Realm

I only asked my daughters to bring me back one souvenir from their trip to the U.K., if they were able to find it without too much effort. They were.

It's a 2-pound coin, worth about $4 U.S. I wanted this coin for two reasons: first, because the rings of gears and stylized circuit board make it an unusual tribute to technology, capturing progress from the early Industrial Age to the Electronic Era. I further learn online that the innermost circle's subtle pattern of whorls around a rudimentary wheel is meant to symbolize the Iron Age, while the outermost ring of criss-crossed lines is meant to symbolize the Internet. Neither is obvious to me but I appreciate the effort. An inscription on the edge of the coin quotes Isaac Newton: "Standing on the shoulders of giants." (The "heads" side is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth.) Not many governments acknowledge the importance of science and technology on their money like that.

Second, there is something about the coin I find irresistible. I'll say no more for now; I leave the reason for my fascination as a puzzle for the reader. All the necessary clues are in the image above. I'll update this post in a couple of days to explain.

UPDATE, August 7: Thanks for commenting and playing along. Your answers are better than mine, which I hope isn't too disappointing.

What I love about the two-pound coin--the quality that made me have to have it--are the 19 interlocked gears in that ring. Any odd number of gears arranged like that would be unable to turn (the size of the gears is irrelevant, assuming their teeth mesh up). Every gear turns adjacent gears in the opposite direction, alternating clockwise, counter-clockwise, etc.:

Turning the top gear clockwise (red) moves the gears next to it counter-clockwise (blue)....

Go all the way 'round the ring and, with an odd number of gears, you hit a point where two adjacent gears want to turn the same direction. Won't work. The whole thing is locked up.

Examples of true irony (as opposed to the Alanis Morissette kind) are hard to find in life and I treasure them when I do. I think the government of the United Kingdom commemorating the formidable triumph of the Industrial Age with a machine that can't possibly
work--can't even move--qualifies as ironic. At least, it's the most fun I've had for $4 lately.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Return to Hearth, Home & Paranoia

For the interested regulars, my daughters have returned home safely from their month in Scotland. They brought back a few souvenirs and 1300 photos, most of which look a lot like this:

What's not to love? Happily, they received A's and full credit for their Medieval Warfare classwork. More importantly, they also seem to have picked up all the intangible benefits of youthful international travel--independence, confidence, new perspectives and friends--that my wife and I could have wished for. A tremendously successful trip on all accounts.

What's funny is that they just drove off to visit a friend seven miles away and I asked them to call me when they arrived. I'm fine when they're eight time zones from home but turn into neurotic Dad when they're under my roof. I trust them; it's just all those other drivers I worry about. And hey, it's a narrow winding road. Anything could happen.

Parenting = Always envisioning the worst-case scenario.