Thursday, January 24, 2008

MoCCA Exhibit Extended

Forgot to mention.... I got an e-mail a few days ago from Jennifer Babcock, curator for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) in New York City, asking if she could hold onto my Mom's Cancer originals a little longer. Their exhibit, "Infinite Canvas: The Art of Webcomics," was supposed to wrap up more than a week ago, but now they'd like to extend its run through March. I guess it's going well.

Flattered, I replied "Hell, no!"

Aw, not really. As I remarked while dining with the folks from the Norman Rockwell Museum, my stuff looks a lot better hanging on their walls than sitting in an accordian folder beside my desk.

I'd still love to hear from anyone who's seen the MoCCA exhibit, since I'm not planning to get to New York in the next couple of months. It sounds like a great show for any comics fan.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Rockwell Interview

Back in August I blogged about recording a video interview to go along with the "LitGraphic: Art of the Graphic Novel" exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum, which is currently showing eight pages of original art from Mom's Cancer along with scores of more interesting works from better artists. As I mentioned in my report from the exhibit opening, the museum is playing these interviews of me and several others in a continuous loop on two monitors near the galleries.
Anyway, museum curator Martin Mahoney--who flew to my home with Jeremy Clowe to tape the interview--just sent me a copy of the DVD and gave me permission to post my piece of it. Here it is, courtesy and copyright of the Norman Rockwell Museum:
Subjectively, I think I'm hideous. (My wife: "No, really, that's how you actually look and sound." Me: "Good lord, why did you ever marry me?!") Objectively, I think it's a nice piece of interviewing with terrific production values.
Backstage trivia: the rolltop desk I'm sitting at is where I actually do most of my artwork. My Eisner Award is on the desk beside me but I don't normally keep it there; the guys wanted it in the shot. The two plaster masks on the wall behind me are the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo, made by my children in art class several years ago. The big poster on the wall at upper left is an uncut sheet of 16 pages of Mom's Cancer as they rolled off the press, which I think is really cool. Mom made the stained-glass shade for the desk lamp behind me. And the outdoor footage near the end is my backyard, where I never actually sit around sketching but which I think looked particularly green and flowery that day.
"LitGraphic" will be on exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. through May 26, and after that could be coming to a museum near you. I think it's worth a visit.

Jeremy and Martin: the view
from MY side of the camera

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wow, Should'a Seen That Coming

"We regret to announce that due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, the publication of The Astrological Magazine will cease with the December 2007 issue."

True irony is such a rare and precious gift.....

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Messenger to Mercury

I know no one visits my blog for the latest news and opinion on space exploration, but a probe named Messenger just blew past Mercury and took some great photos I think are very exciting. My interests, my blog, my rules.
Nobody's visited Mercury since the single Mariner 10 mission more than 30 years ago, and that machine photographed less than half the planet. Messenger will eventually go into orbit around Mercury and shoot the entire thing in high resolution. This pass is just a rendevous to begin to slow it down. Launched in August 2004, Messenger already flew by Venus once, Earth once, and Venus again, using those planets' gravity to change speed and direction, and it'll fly past Mercury again in October 2008 and September 2009 before parking itself in orbit in March 2011.
No doubt some interesting science will come out of Messenger, but to me the excitement of a mission like this is more visceral: we are seeing things that literally no one has ever seen before. How often can you say that? Until today, we didn't know what more than half of an entire planet in our solar system looked like. The beauty of modern technology and communication is that everyone on the planet can find out nearly as quickly as scientists download pictures from the probe. And a few minutes later, I can post them on my blog for you.
That amazes me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interview: The McGill Tribune

Mom's Cancer is mentioned in an article published today in the McGill Tribune, which I take to be the student newspaper of McGill University in Montreal. The story by Carolyn Yates is headlined "The Death of the Sunday Comics" and is pretty good despite showing some of the hallmarks of college journalism. I think Ms. Yates bit off a bit more than she could chew, trying to cover the rise of webcomics and the fate of print in a brief feature. My name is misspelled "Flies" a couple of times but I don't feel picked on; Scott McCloud got renamed "McLeod." That's the "student" part of "student newspaper."

Ms. Yates offered me a choice of being interviewed over the phone or via e-mail, and for some of the reasons I discussed a while back--mostly the fact that I write a lot smarter than I speak--I chose e-mail. She sent me some good questions, I replied, and the best stuff got cut (that's not a particular criticism of Ms. Yates--it always happens). I genuinely appreciate being asked.

I always agree to do interviews and such, but knew I had to respond to Ms. Yates's request in particular when I saw that the offices of the McGill Tribune are housed in the Shatner University Centre, named after esteemed McGill graduate and noted thespian William Centre.* Some forces of the universe are not to be trifled with.
*This joke adapted from Disneyland's Jungle Cruise Ride, where guests view the lovely Schweitzer Falls, named after famed African explorer Dr. Albert Falls. All humor content of this post copyright 1955 by The Walt Disney Co.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Return to the Lopsided Universe

Back in early December I wrote about the Galaxy Zoo project, in which millions of regular folks (including me) help astronomers classify the shapes of galaxies. Our effort yielded the profoundly surprising result that, as seen from our nothing-special galaxy in a nowhere-special corner of the cosmos, the universe seems to have more galaxies that spiral counter-clockwise than clockwise. By all rights, they should be 50-50; any other ratio is insanely inexplicable. At the time, I guessed it probably said less about the universe than those observing it. Maybe, when faced with a faint fuzzy image and asked to detect a structure, more people somehow perceive a counter-clockwise one. That would be weird, but a lot less weird than a crooked cosmos.

Turns out I got it about right. To figure out what was going on, the Galaxy Zoo people did something very simple and clever: they flopped a bunch of their galaxy photos into mirror images of themselves, shuffled them back into the deck, and let us classify them again. And we beefwitted classifiers still thought we were seeing more counter-clockwise spirals than clockwise, and in about the same proportion (52-48). This post explains the statistics in numbing detail, but the essense is that if there's something screwy in the human-universe interaction, it ain't the universe's fault.

Galaxy Zoo can't explain why the observational bias exists, just that it does. Still sounds like a pretty interesting question for some psychologist or neurologist to look into. But not an astronomer.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seminar: Navigating Cancer

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail asking if I would pass along the information below, concerning an informational seminar in Washington D.C. later this month. Happy to do it, this looks good. Here's the press release:

Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center invites you to the first in our series of free Living Well with Cancer seminars to be held throughout 2008. The first event, Navigating Life after Cancer: A Road Map for the “New Normal,” will feature two speakers, both well-respected experts in working with cancer patients and the challenges they face. Brenda Hubbard, RN, an oncology nurse and patient educator at Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center, will address some of the physical, psychological and spiritual issues that come with a cancer diagnosis. Patricia Smith, an attorney, will focus on navigating employment and insurance issues.

The event will be held on Saturday, January 26, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at the National Rehabilitation Hospital Auditorium located on the Washington Hospital Center campus, 102 Irving St., NW, Washington, DC 20010. To register, please call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or register online at

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In Which My Drawings Lead a More Exciting Life than I Do

A few days ago, I received a very nice letter from the Norman Rockwell Museum asking if they could hold onto the eight pages of Mom's Cancer artwork they're exhibiting a bit longer than planned.

Curator Stephanie Plunkett wrote that the show, "LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel," has been a big success--enough so that after it closes in May, they'd like to make it a traveling exhibition and loan it to other museums. Not every exhibition is so honored; apparently they've already gotten a lot of interest from big-time institutions.

Since Stephanie bribed me by enclosing a great book full of Rockwellian arty goodness, I said "yes."

If all goes as planned, I won't be reunited with my artwork until June 2010--unless I go visit it, and even then they probably won't let me take it out of the frame and mess around with it ("it's all right, I'm just fixing a little mistake...."). My drawings will visit parts of the country I've never seen. I'll be an old man by the time they come home. Still, as I mentioned to my wife, I guess if I miss them that much I can always redraw them.

So look for LitGraphic, coming soon to a museum near you (tour details will follow as I learn them). If you see my stuff, say "Hi" for me.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ah, Reddy Kilowatt, My Old Nemesis

A severe winter storm swept through the West Coast at the end of last week, splitting trees, loosening mudslides, and knocking out power to 2 million people between central California and Oregon. Unfortunately, I couldn't blog about it until now because my electricity's been out since 9 a.m. Friday.
Now, there's a stretch of time after the power goes out that's kind of fun. You slip a flashlight into your pocket, light candles, break out the camping lantern, start a fire in the fireplace, dance to 78s on the antique hand-cranked phonograph, play "Clue." When the lights flicker back on everyone groans a disappointed "Awww!" because they were having a neat little adventure without them.
This weekend I learned that "fun time" lasts about 12 hours. After 67 hours, it gets really old. You run out of "Little House on the Prairie" and Donner Party jokes on Day Two.
Part of our back fence blew over. We lost much of the food in the fridge and freezer, which wasn't actually a lot. Some of it made for an excellent barbeque Saturday night. I don't usually barbeque in the rain, but this was a special occasion. Like well-prepared Boy and Girl Scouts, we took stock of our resources. What worked: the fireplace, gas water heater, gas stove top, laptop computers (but no wireless Internet in range). What didn't work: lights, heat, refrigerator, oven, Dance Dance Revolution, the computer with all my good stuff. Fortunately, we had sufficient firewood, blankets, sleeping bags, and cats to prevent hypothermia.
Also fortunately, our children were home from college for winter break. They were delicious.
It was both a blessing and a curse that our neighborhood was a little island of darkness surrounded by otherwise normal, fully electrified homes and businesses. All our usual supermarkets, restaurants, shopping centers and movie theaters worked fine. Sunday night my wife and I went to see a movie in which we had no interest just to sit somewhere warm and distracting for two hours ("The Waterhorse," which was not bad). That was the blessing part; the curse part was that because our outage affected a small number of people in the middle of a functioning civilization, we were a very low priority for repair work. At night, we could see the lights of homes around us--twinkling, mocking, bragging about all the electrons flowing through their wires--and fantasize about long extension cords that would deliver us sweet relief at last.
Everything clicked on at 4 a.m. today, and all is nearly forgiven. The inside temperature of our house has risen 20 degrees. My wife is at the supermarket restocking our larder. And we have vowed to never take electricity for granted again, in a spirit of thankfulness and appreciation I expect to last at least another hour.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

All The World Seems In Tune

Little by little, the industrious (or even lazy) blogger reveals more about himself than he realizes or intends. My few long-time readers may recall mentions of the roles Star Trek, Monty Python, Victor Borge, Carl Sagan, Walt Kelly, Disney, NASA, comic books, comic strips, and many other influences played in forming little me. However, I have never mentioned the towering influence of Tom Lehrer.

Mr. Lehrer is a musical satirist who came to prominence in the late 1950s and '60s, a proto-Weird Al who composed and performed little piano ditties on best-selling comedy albums and, occasionally, on stage. His songs were smart, sharp, funny, wry, very dark and a little naughty--the perfect combination to appeal to 14-year-old Brian. His heyday was before my time but we got acquainted through a local radio comedy hour that played him regularly, and he perfectly captured the dry, sarcastic, mocking, too-cool-for-school attitude that comprises the mandatory uniform of adolescence. Song titles include "The Old Dope Peddler," "The Vatican Rag," "I Got It From Agnes" (a saucily subtle ode to VD), and "Lobachevsky," a jaunty tribute to the Russian mathematician. Luckily, and unlike many favorites from my youth, Mr. Lehrer still turned out to be pretty cool even after I grew up.

Mr. Lehrer left entertainment to teach math at the University of California, Santa Cruz, cementing his nerd credibility forever. He became something of the Salinger of Satire (or perhaps the Watterson of Wit) and rarely performed in public after the 1960s, although he did surface briefly in 1980 when a Broadway show titled "Tomfoolery" revived his songs in a well-reviewed revue. He is also reputed to have invented the Jell-O shot. I won't go so far as to say Tom Lehrer was an important intellectual influence in my life, but he sure was a fun one.

That's my introduction to these videos that capture the magic of Mr. Lehrer. My favorite is the last, which not only features one of my favorite Lehrer songs but shows a rare later performance in 1998 to honor the producer of "Tomfoolery," who also did a little show called "Cats." If you're inclined to watch, I hope you enjoy.

Extra Bonus Video: Something else by Mr. Lehrer that those slightly younger may remember from "The Electric Company":