Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?

My very first post on this blog was about winning the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic at the 2005 Comic-Con International in San Diego. So it seems somehow symmetrical and right that my very last post follows my report on the same event almost exactly three years later.

Today I'm closing up shop here and opening a new establishment right around the virtual corner at

It'll be the same old stuff from the same old guy, which raises the question: Why bother? Why force my six regular readers to change their bookmarks and links? Who do I think I am?

Well, I'll explain...

First: my site stats show me that a lot of people arrive here while searching for help and information about cancer. Mom died October 1, 2005, and the fact is that I left Cancer World that day and haven't tried too hard to keep up. I'm not an expert on anything except my family's experience. I know Mom's Cancer still helps readers facing the same dizzying, baffling, frustrating challenges we did--I hear all the time from readers who continue to discover it anew--but my blog hasn't had much to offer those folks in a long time and I feel bad about that.

Second, and the reason I made a last-minute trip to this year's Comic-Con after I hadn't planned to go at all: I'm writing a new book. It's a graphic novel titled Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? that I'm working on with my friend and Mom's Cancer editor Charlie Kochman to be published by Harry N. Abrams next spring. Charlie wanted me in San Diego to unveil it, along with other books being released under a new Abrams imprint named Abrams ComicArts, with Charlie as its newly promoted Executive Editor (Publishers Weekly ran a nice item about it here). There's some neat symmetry there as well: my first book was Charlie's first acquisition shortly after he arrived at Abrams; my next book will be his first original graphic novel under his new imprint.

Fact is, I've been working on this thing and keeping quiet about it for more than a year--maybe close to two--although I did let a few hints drop from time to time to time. Both Abrams and I had our reasons for playing our cards close to our vests, but 3 p.m. Saturday in San Diego we tipped our hand. Now that I can talk about my new book--just try to shut me up!--it makes no sense to do it on a blog named for my previous one. It makes even less sense to start a second blog for the new book and try to maintain two! So I decided to carry on with a new blog named after me, less out of ego than lack of imagination. Unless I change my name, I won't face this dilemma again.

This doesn't mean I'm moving past Mom's Cancer, or turning my back on it, or anything like that. I would have none of this without that book and my mother's great gift of allowing me to write it. As I said, I know new readers are still finding it all the time. In fact, Abrams has some new plans for Mom's Cancer I'm excited about. I'll continue to blog about it and Cancer World when I have reason to.

Same guy, same stuff--plus some new stuff.

I hope you'll follow me over to the new place to learn more about The World of Tomorrow but, if not, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Comic-Con '08

Overview of about 4% of Comic-Con's exhibition floor.

I'm home from my day-and-a-half whirlwind trip to San Diego for Comic-Con International, and wondering whether I'm going to write a little or a lot about it. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground. I'm gonna try to keep this brief; we'll see how I do.

I flew into town about 10 o'clock Saturday--traditionally the con's busiest day--took a taxi to the Convention Center and got my badge with no trouble. One big difference this year was that Comic-Con was completely sold out in advance, meaning there were no on-site ticket sales. That seemed to change the people-flow quite a bit and, with no enormous mobs milling around the front doors, my first impression was that it was less crowded than usual. That impression was recalibrated once I got inside.

My publisher Abrams had a booth featuring their fine line of high-quality comics-related books, where I met a few people who'd only been e-mail addresses to me before. It's always fun to put a face with the @, and they're all great people who work incredibly hard. Selling books at a convention is a tough job.

My editor, the recently betrothed Charlie Kochman (hi Rachel!), with writer Mark Evanier and me. I arrived at the Con just as Mark was finishing a signing session for his beautiful book on Jack Kirby. Mark is the busiest man at Comic-Con, moderating 17 panels this year, but we had a few minutes to talk before he had to jet off to panel number 7 or 8.

Later in the day, fellow Abrams author and MAD Magazine great Al Jaffee was signing at the booth and I had a chance to talk with him as well. He couldn't have been sweeter. This is what Comic-Con is like for me: meeting people I've admired my entire life, having conversations in which my lips move but no intelligent words emerge, and feeling regret a day later when I think of all the insightful and meaningful things I should have said. It's still pretty cool, though.

Knowing my time was short, I pursued a focused strategy of finding the people I wanted to see and buying the stuff I wanted to buy, getting done in three hours what usually takes three days. I found Raina Telgemeier and had a really nice talk with her about upcoming projects, business strategy, and the terrors that wake us screaming in the night--although I think that last part was just me. There aren't a lot of people I get to talk shop with, and Raina was the first I'd seen for a while so I'm afraid she got the brunt of it. Her husband Dave Roman, who works for Nickelodeon when not doing his own projects, wasn't at the booth then but I caught up with him Sunday morning. I think they're both terrific talents who do great work.

Another talented pair I like is Otis Frampton and his wife Leigh, whom I've considered friends for a while but never really had time to sit down and get to know better until this weekend. Otis created the Oddly Normal series and has several other projects in the works, while Leigh is an expert at Adobe software and graphic design. Together, they're a perfectly complementary creative team, each filling the other's gaps and working together toward some very ambitious goals. Otis and Leigh generously invited me to a dinner party they hosted Saturday night where I met some of their friends and collaborators, including artist Jessica Hickman (illustrator of Oddly Normal Volume 3 and now working for Disney) and Grant Gould. Grant has a book coming out soon called "Wolves of Odin," and when I tell you what it's about you'll probably do the same thing I did when I first heard about it a few months ago: smack yourself in the head and say "Of course! Why didn't I think of that?" Here it is. Ready? Vikings versus Werewolves. As far as I'm concerned, that is your entire successful pitch right there. They should just back the money truck up to his door now.

Otis and Leigh, good people

This is also what Comic-Con is like for me: "Brian, this is Jessica and Grant." "Hi, great to meet you." Smalltalk smalltalk smalltalk, 20 minutes goes by, during which we start to share who we are and why we're there. Light bulbs switch on over our heads. "Ohhh, you're JESSICA!" "Ohhh, you're GRANT!" "Ohhh, you're BRIAN!" Then the real conversations begin. I can't tell you how often that happens, when you suddenly realize the nice person you're talking to is the same person who did that great thing you really liked last year. "Ohhh!"

Comic books and comic strips co-exist peaceably at Comic-Con, not quite overlapping or sure what to make of the other. But like a lot of fans I love both, and appreciate the chance to seek out comic strip art and creators. For example, there are always a couple of vendors displaying original art from Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo" comic strip from the early 1900s. If you go to Comic-Con and see a guy standing in front of those booths just staring at the artwork for 20 minutes, that's me. Long-time readers may recall that I have a small collection of original comic and cartoon art, most by friends and all very meaningful to me. This year I was thrilled to pick up an original daily "Pogo" by Walt Kelly, who occupies three spots in my personal list of All-Time Top Ten Cartoonists. August 11, 1965 is now mine, and I can cross one item off my Bucket List. My kids can finish college later.

The National Cartoonists Society set up its usual impressive booth, manned everytime I passed it by "Luann" cartoonist Greg Evans, with whom I had a nice talk about solar power and other things. Dan Piraro also put in a stint at the booth, and I unfortunately had just a few minutes to chat with Craig Boldman, who does "Archie" and with whom I've talked online before, when he had to race off to take part in a panel.

The NCS booth, with Greg Evans at the helm. This picture's for D.D. Degg.

"Mother Goose & Grimm" cartoonist Mike Peters was the subject of a spotlight panel, which gives creators a forum to talk about their careers or anything they want. It was probably the single most entertaining event I've ever attended at Comic-Con, and impossible to describe afterward. Moderator Mark Evanier played an excellent straight man, asking Mike a question and then pretending to be exasperated as Mike took hilarious 15-minute detours into his childhood or his mother's old television program in St. Louis or his Catholic military school education (wearing scapulas with Jesus's portrait on one side and Patton's on the other), only to end with Mark asking the exact same question and setting off another great story that barely addressed it. What an expressive, affectionate, free-associating, flamboyant personality! I left amazed that he could focus on anything long enough to actually sit down and draw a comic strip every day. It was the most fun I had all weekend.

Mark Evanier and Mike Peters. This picture is fuzzy because the lighting wasn't great, and I didn't intend to post it until I saw the expression on Mike's face. That expression pretty much sums up his entire talk.

Comic-Con would be nothing without several celebrity or near-celebrity sightings. Among mine: movie director John Landis, writer Ray Bradbury (in a wheelchair and honestly not looking real good, but hey! It's Ray Bradbury and he's a foot away from me!), Eric Estrada, Lou Ferrigno, Lindsay Wagner (still extremely rrowr!), Robert Culp (shook his hand and told him I enjoyed his work), others great and small. (Private note to Karen's brother: Tori Amos's book was all sold out and all tickets for her autograph session snapped up two days before I arrived. Sorry, man, I tried.) I had a very nice three-minute chat with writer-actor Wil Wheaton, who was a kid in the movie "Stand by Me," the teen-aged Wesley Crusher in "Star Trek," and now all grown up and writing a blog I like. Wil and I talked about being dads, a subject on which his depth of feeling matches my own.

"Star Trek" HQ, with Avery Brooks (Sisko from "Deep Space Nine"), Jonathan Frakes (Riker from "The Next Generation") and, behind them, Robert Picardo (the Doctor from "Voyager"). All three--and in fact every celebrity I saw at the con--were very gracious toward fans and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

I also want to mention a 17-year-old 'zine creator from Berkeley named Joseph Cotsirilos, who I met on the plane. Unfortunately, we didn't start talking until the plane's wheels touched down in San Diego. I ran into him a couple of times at the Con and wouldn't be surprised to hear his name again in a few years. Joseph, if you see this, your stories about the Marine recruitment center and the spilled drink in the subway in particular showed me you've got a nice eye for detail and observing life's telling moments. That's good stuff. Keep at it.

In addition, I had one cool ego-boosting moment I won't recount, as well as a fun moment with one of the facility security staff. On Saturday I asked a cute, young, petite brunette in a red "Staff" jacket where I could find something; as we were talking she apologized for her strong Irish accent and I reassured her she had absolutely nothing to apologize for. Next day as I walked into the Con she was manning the door, so as I passed by I pointed at her and said, "Hey, you're Irish!" as if I'd just figured it out, and she displayed the funniest mix of surprise, amazement, and bafflement I think I've ever seen in my life. Laughing, I told her we'd spoken the day before, and she said, "Thank God! I thought you could somehow see it in my face!" And that's all the flirting I did all weekend, honey, I promise.

Can you believe this is the short version? And I haven't even written anything about the real reason I was there. That's my next post....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Free to Breathe

Last year I wrote about a charity walk my sister Brenda ("Nurse Sis") helps organize to support the National Lung Cancer Partnership. The organization hosts several "Free to Breathe" run/walks around the country this time of year, including a 5K/1.5 mile event in Los Angeles on August 3. I don't vouch for much--for example, the reason I don't provide a long list of links to cancer-related sites on my blog or at momscancer.com is I don't feel I have the expertise to evaluate them or the time to keep them current--but the NLCP is a worthwhile organization that provided good information for me when Mom was diagnosed.

A few friends and readers were kind enough to donate last year and I thought I'd offer the same opportunity again. Brenda has set up a donation page for her fundraising team, "Barbara's Heroes," and if you're looking for a good cause to support please consider this one. Even small donations will be much appreciated.

I'll be flying off to Comic-Con International in San Diego early tomorrow morning. As I mentioned before, I wasn't planning to go this year, but something came up. I'll warn you right now: when I get back from the convention, things are going to be verrrry different around here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?

Voters in San Francisco have qualified an initiative for the November ballot that, if passed, would name a sewage treatment plant after President Bush. It's political theater meant as an insult. They think they're being cute and sarcastic--"ironic" in the current (wrong) usage of the term--by associating Bush with the dirty business of cleaning poo.

I come here today not to praise or condemn the president. Rather, I'd like to speak on behalf of sewage treatment.

In an earlier career, I spent many years working as an environmental chemist, a good deal of which involved water quality. I worked for and with engineers and chemists from water treatment plants, and still have friends in the sewage treatment business. And let me tell you: I am hard-pressed to think of much that is more basic to civilization. I'm serious. It's a cornerstone, right up there with roads and clean drinking water. Shut down the sewage treatment plants and see how long it takes diseases we don't even remember to charge back through our communities.

So when I heard about this initiative, my first thought was that it was less an insult to Bush than to all the engineers, chemists and technicians working at that plant who've just been told their jobs are a joke. I think the initiative's a stupid misstep that just reinforces the "elitist" reputation of its backers--evidently happy to use flush toilets as long as someone else gets their hands dirty--that could and should backfire on them. If I were President Bush, I'd proclaim it a sincere honor to have a sewage treatment plant named for me. Heck, if I were Bush, I might even fly into SFO to campaign for the initiative's passage.

More irrefutable evidence that water treatment plants are cool: they can teach you how to drive a starship. Or at least the producers of "Star Trek" thought so; when they needed a location to double for the 24th-century Starfleet Academy, they shot at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys, California.

I wonder if the ballot initiative's proponents realize that Starfleet Academy will someday be located in San Francisco? We'll see who's laughing then.

Tillman Water Reclamation Facility (top)
and Starfleet Academy (below).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Where in the World Are My Drawings?

The six of you who've followed my blog a while may remember me mentioning in January that the Norman Rockwell Museum, which borrowed eight pages of original art from Mom's Cancer for its "LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel" exhibition, hoped to loan the show to other museums after it closed. The Rockwell curators tell me it's unusual for an exhibition of theirs to travel, but this one drew a lot of interest and was a real success for them.

Now I've received a letter with some details, including word that, if I agree to extend my loan (I will), I won't see my pages again until 2011. That makes me a little wistful. I'll miss them. However, as I told the Rockwell folks when I attended the exhibition's opening, they're better off hanging on their walls than sitting in a file folder under my desk.

Right now, museums interested in the show include the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois; the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia; and the James A. Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I don't have any dates yet, and am told that other venues may be added to the list.

Notwithstanding my own contribution, this is a terrific show with amazing art I'd encourage you to see if you get the chance. I have no idea which works will comprise the traveling exhibition, but at the Rockwell Museum it included original art by Will Eisner, R. Crumb, Howard Cruse, Steve Ditko, Milt Gross, Peter Kuper, Harvey Kurtzman, Frank Miller, Terry Moore, Dave Sim, Art Spiegelman, and many more. All together, it made up a real nice cross section of comic history and art.

I can't express enough what an honor and thrill it's been to have my drawings hanging in a museum. It's other-worldly. And I couldn't have greater respect for or confidence in the Rockwell staff that will be handling the travel arrangements and babysitting my pages for the next few years. They are a first-class group of professionals. Also, very nice. A lot of other people I would've said "no" to.

At the Rockwell opening last November.
That's about as good as I clean up.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Chalk Talk

I've never made a big deal about the fact that a big-time syndicated cartoonist lives in my neighborhood. In fact, out of a high-minded notion of being cool and respecting his privacy, I don't think I've mentioned it at all. Out of that same sense of respect, I won't tell you who he is; I'll just show you two pictures I took of his driveway.

Karen and I noticed these on an after-dinner walk a couple of nights ago. I figure if he's going to out himself so shamelessly and publicly, I could at least share the charming results with you.

Sorry again for the dearth of posts. I'm on a tough deadline for at least the next few weeks and can't remember when I last worked so hard. It's good busy, even fun, but tough to sustain for so long. It's only temporary, I promise. Unless it kills me.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I am so busy riding the deadline rocket sled that I can't even tell you. Can't tell you now, anyway, but in about a month you won't be able to shut me up.
I wasn't planning to attend the San Diego Comic-Con this year, but it looks like I'm going to be in town for a day after all. Saturday, to be specific, so I should be able to take a nice, leisurely stroll through the exhibition hall and not worry about overcrowding at all (that's a joke, son). I mention it now because I know some of my writer and artist buddies read the blog occasionally and Comic-Con is one of the few chances we get to meet. Don't be surprised to see me popping up at your table mid-Saturday. In fact, you probably shouldn't even take a lunch or bathroom break.
More later. Happy Canada Day (just past) and Independence Day (upcoming) to everyone who celebrates one of them.