Monday, February 27, 2006

The Book Launches

New York City from my hotel window (with Carnegie Hall across the street)

Well, that was extraordinary.

This is a long entry with many pictures; my apologies if they try your patience or connection speed. When possible (which means “when easy for me”), I provide links to more information about people or places you may not know. I’m sorry so many of these pictures are of me and other people standing stiffly and staring into the lens, but that’s how it goes.
ThursdayMy wife and I flew to New York in time to attend a party hosted by my publisher, Harry N. Abrams, at the Society of Illustrators. The society was formed in 1901 to promote and exhibit the best of commercial illustration, where members such as Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, James Montgomery Flagg, and J.C. Leydendecker hosted guests like Mark Twain. The walls of this beautiful building are covered with original works by great artists both old and new.
Paintings by Leydendecker and Rockwell. On the wall. Next to me.
It’s hard to gauge crowd size in cramped quarters, but I’d guess attendance easily topped 100, all there to help Abrams celebrate the publication of works by cartoonist Dan Piraro (“Bizarro”), Brom (“The Plucker”), Donny Miller (“Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings”) and, well, me.
Donny Miller, me, Dan Piraro, Abrams CEO Michael Jacobs, and Brom
The Abrams people invited their industry friends: writers, artists, editors, agents. I met comics writer and historian Brian Walker (“Hi and Lois” and “Beetle Bailey”), Al Jaffee (“MAD magazine”), cartoonist Isabella Bannerman (“Six Chix”), and artist Joe DeVito.
Joe DeVito
In addition, I met Abrams CEO Michael Jacobs and a host of Abrams people who for the past year have been little more than e-mail addresses that helped turn my story into a book. I’m glad we got to know each other at last. Also, I was completely charmed by the young woman who edited the German edition of Mom’s Cancer, with whom I had a nice conversation about conveying my American perspective to an overseas audience.
(One reason I’m withholding the names of some of Abrams’ behind-the-scenes people is that I later got a glimpse of all the would-be writers, artists, designers, promoters, and others who go to events just to hit them up for work. I’d hate to make their jobs harder by outing them in my blog.)

Four introductions really stood out for me:

Mike Lynch is a freelance cartoonist I’ve gotten to know through an Internet bulletin board we both frequent. He mentioned last week that he’d be at the event and said we’d have to be sure to find each other. Contrary to my expectations, Mike turned out to be sociable and well-groomed. Although we’d never really met, finding him there was like running into a friend 3,000 miles from home. I appreciated that.

Mike Lynch

Mort Gerberg has created great cartoons for The New Yorker and many others for many years, and is a friend of my editor, Charlie Kochman. He’s drawn syndicated comic strips, done more than three dozen books, and taught cartooning. I had a few opportunities to talk with Mort over the long weekend and came away hugely impressed with his knowledge and energy. Mort has a mind like a laser, never losing focus while cutting to the heart of a conversation. He understands the business of the business. Best of all, I felt like Mort welcomed me into his world like a peer.

I can’t describe what it meant to have Mort Gerberg thumb through my book and say, “this is great stuff.”

Another friend of Charlie’s I met at the party was
Irwin Hasen. Irwin began cartooning in the 1930s and worked on “The Shadow,” “Green Lantern” and “The Flash” (the original versions), and “Justice League of America.” He co-created the “Dondi” comic strip in 1955 and is a giant in the industry. And, like Mort Gerberg, he couldn’t have been warmer or kinder once Charlie made our introductions.

Charlie Kochman, me, Irwin Hasen

Finally, I wanted to mention Brom. Go take a quick look at Brom's art here or here or here and then come back. I’ll wait.

Now check out this photo:

Those red eyes aren't caused by my camera flash. They really do glow diabolically like that.

I joke. I got to talk to Brom while sharing rides from and to the airport with him, his wife, and two kids. Belying the evidence of his artwork, he is a great guy, very low-key and friendly, and I really appreciated the brief conversations we had about many aspects of his art and the business.

Best of all, my two sisters were able to attend. They’d been looking for an excuse to take a vacation and both love New York, so my invitation to an exclusive literary event was enough to lure them east. I think they had a wonderful time and got a bit of well-deserved attention. A few people who’d read the book seemed to really enjoy meeting the “characters.” If they give me their okay, I may post some photos of them later.

Day One of the New York Comic-Con, the first convention of its type in New York in several years. Comic-Con occupied half of the Javits Center’s main exhibition hall—I think a travel convention took the other half—and it was pleasantly crowded on Friday. That fact should have set off some alarm bells for anyone looking ahead to we will see. I took a two-hour shift signing books at the Abrams table and had plenty of time to wander around being a fan as well.

Meanwhile, editor Charlie dedicated himself throughout the weekend to scouring the floor for friends of his I needed to meet. People like Kyle Baker, Gary Sassaman, long-time DC Comics editor Paul Kupperberg, comics creator Walt Simonson, agent Judith Hansen, Publishers Weekly editor Calvin Reid, and too many others to list.

Calvin Reid and Mort Gerberg
Walt Simonson

Friday night, Abrams had arranged a signing at St. Mark’s Comics in Greenwich Village, a great shop with staff I really enjoyed spending time with (Matt and Matt). The signing was set to run from 8 to 10 p.m., which to a guy from the ‘burbs sounded a little absurd. Who goes to a comic book store at 10 p.m.? But of course the City That Never Sleeps is full of Readers Who Never Sleep and, in the street-fair milieu of the clubs and shops lining St. Mark’s St., we actually drew a bigger crowd the later it got. And by “crowd” I mean one person wandering by the table every 10 minutes or so, but that was fine and some of them were extraordinary people who’d gone out of their way to be there to meet me, so that meant a lot. Since no one minded or had anything better to do, we stayed until 11 p.m. and had a fine time.

Setting up at St. Mark's Comics

Digression: St. Mark's had scheduled me to sign on Friday night and Brom on Saturday night. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the arrival of a fan: mid-twenties, sandy-red hair, an eager and excited glow suffusing his face. He rushed the table with his eyes locked on me as if drawn by a magnet.

“Are you Brom?”

I said Yes, signed Brom’s book, and sent him on his way.

No, I didn’t do that. In fact I broke the guy’s heart by advising him to come back on Saturday. I actually asked Brom later if his fan had shown up, but he didn’t remember one matching my description. I hope he made it.

Comic-Con Bedlam. I hear the organizers planned conservatively, not sure how many people would turn out and not wanting to oversell the event in its first year. They had some 10,000 pre-registrations, which I gather was a healthy number, and on Friday had another 5,000 or 6,000 (rumor has it) show up at the door. Although the ticket lines were long, I think most of those people got in.

Not so on Saturday, when countless thousands MORE showed up. Lines snaked throughout the immense convention hall. Facility staff and security were completely overwhelmed and rapidly lost patience. Finally, around 11 a.m., the fire marshal closed the door. If you left the main floor--even to get a snack, use the bathroom, or attend a speakers’ panel down the hall--you couldn’t get back in. People who wanted to buy tickets that day were turned away. People who’d ALREADY PAID FOR TICKETS IN ADVANCE were turned away. Press and professionals were turned away. Rumor had it that movie director Kevin Smith, who was scheduled to speak as the convention’s star attraction, couldn’t even get in the door. The floor itself was packed tighter than a summer Saturday at Disneyland. It was not a good scene.

With Charlie and Abrams publicist Melody

The only people able to enter and leave the hall with impunity were those with Exhibitors badges. The Abrams people, including me, had those magic golden tickets. In mid-afternoon, editor Charlie got word from a security guard that Mort Gerberg was trapped outside and asking for him. Charlie was pretty distraught: he’d already lost one argument with a guard over getting someone through the door, yet the idea of Mort Gerberg being locked out of a comics convention was absurd. I handed Charlie my badge and he took off. Fifteen minutes later, Charlie and Mort appeared at the table; Mort unclipped my badge from his lapel and handed it back with a grin so big you’d think I pulled a thorn from his paw.

Saturday at 1 p.m. I took part in a panel on “The Future of the Graphic Novel” with
Jessica Abel (“La Perdida,” “Artbabe,” and much more), Grady Klein (“The Lost Colony”), R. Kikuo Johnson (“Night Fisher”) and moderator Douglas Wolk from Publishers Weekly. Douglas had corresponded with us by e-mail and had some questions lined up, and we began by introducing our work. It’s hard for me to judge how many people attended--several dozen at least. It was a big room.

This was the first time I’d taken part in anything like it and, though I don’t particularly fear public speaking, I was a little anxious because I didn’t know what to expect. I was heartened to arrive and find that some of my fellow panelists were as unsure as I was. A couple of us had some notes prepared, we took our best shots at Douglas’s questions, Grady showed a short animation, we did some Q&A, and 50 minutes flew by. I think it went pretty well. I learned that sometimes ideas that seem clear in my head don’t always come out as clearly when I speak them. I don’t want to develop a repertoire of rote responses, but at the same time I realize the same types of questions will always come up and I’d like to have clear, effective replies on the tip of my brain. I’ll work on that.

Before the panel: Jessica Abel helps Grady Klein get a laptop communicating with a projector while Douglas Wolk meets R. Kikuo Johnson.

Talking with an audience member after the panel. I just included this photo because I think it captures the coolest hand gesture I've ever made.

My only regret is that I didn’t really get a chance to talk to the other panelists before or after. One happy surprise from the experience was that I reconnected with Raina Telgemeier, with whom I shared a table at the Eisner Awards when she was nominated as a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition. I spotted Raina in the audience and she’s landed a great job doing graphic adaptations of “The Baby-Sitters Club” series. I really like the clean look and thoughtfulness of her work and, though I can’t claim to know her, suspect she may be the nicest person who ever drew anything. I’m a fan.

After the panel I did another book signing at the booth, after which Charlie treated my wife and me to dinner at his favorite restaurant. We had enough free time on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings to play New York tourists, which we greatly enjoyed despite some pretty severe combinations of cold and wind. The less said about our flight home Sunday the better.

My wife and I touring Ellis Island

All in all, it was a pretty dazzling and heady few days, due largely to the efforts of Charlie and his Abrams colleagues. It meant a lot that my sisters and wife were able to share much of it with me. Thoughts of Mom—and how happy she would have been for all of us—were always close at hand.

I realize this write-up is overbrimming with sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops. All I can say is that I’m not naturally a hap-hap-happy Pollyanna and that if something had been disappointing or someone a jerk I probably would have written about that, too. But it was truly quite a launch.

I know at least one person who will appreciate this one.


Lynne said...

Brian, thank you for the great review of the events! I'm so so proud of you, and glad Brenda and Lis were able to go. They sure deserved to. I loved all the photos and will check out all the illustrators pages, and I too, appreciated your last photo, because I went to NYC last September, and THAT was one of the highlights I wanted to make, but didn't get to!

Otis Frampton said...

Congrats, Brian.

So jealous you met Walt. Loved his Thor growing up.

I can't wait for San Diego this year to say hello and pick up a copy.


Arnold Wagner said...

Brian, Sounds like a very positive experience, and a well deserved one.

You have also added support for a pet theory of mine, cartoonists tend to have very attractive spouses, supporting another of my theories, we're a very sexy group, or at least very lucky.

Anonymous said...

Brian, thanks for hitting the Hello Deli for me. I don't see myself making it out that way anyway soon, so I appreciate it. And of course, I can always use a new shirt, as the one shirt I own hasn't fit properly since the fifth grade. Did you guys eat while you were there?

Seeya on Christmas,

ur-Ru said...

Brian, I am a fellow blogger/retailer who attended on Friday. Sounds like you had a great time, and I was interested to see what the con was like from a creator's perspective. Where can I get the book? I am interested. PS I can appreciate the picture of Rupert, as I used to work across the street from there at DC Comics a long time ago.

BrianFies said...

Lynne: I think my sisters had a good time, though I think they were a little unsettled, too. Someone at the party told "Kid Sis" they recognized her from my drawings, which I think she found both cool and creepy. They brought the Hero doll prototype, which attracted all kinds of happy attention. All in all, everyone had a great time.

Otis: I really enjoyed meeting Walt and he couldn't have been nicer. In fact, I've got to say that while I'm sure the comic book and cartooning worlds have more than their share of egomaniacal jerks, I've yet to find someone whose skills and accomplishments I really respect--like Walt--who wasn't gracious and encouraging. See you in San Diego.

Arnold: You are as observant as you are wise, my friend. Now stay away from my wife.

Dave: Happy to make the stop. We discovered that the Ed Sullivan Theater was literally two blocks from our hotel and spent a nice few minutes chatting with Rupert. It was a little surreal. We considered buying a sandwich but it was mid-afternoon and we weren't really hungry. The Hello Deli is tiny, much smaller in life than it appears on television. I can't imagine how they cram a camera crew, two statuesque models, and a Helo Deli deli prize platter in there all the time. No promises that the shirt will fit--it looks kind of large--but we'll see you long before Christmas.

Ur-ru: My overarching impression of Comic-Con, especially on Saturday, was one of organizational confusion. Lines wandered without direction or purpose, and staffers who told you to go one direction were contradicted by other staffers who told you to turn around and go back. First-year growing pains I guess, and if they work it out for next year it should be a great event. Consider yourself very lucky you were there on Friday.

BrianFies said...

Oh, Ur-ru, I forgot to mention that the easiest way to get Mom's Cancer is probably via or Barnes and Noble ( I think both will begin shipping soon, or may have already done so.

Darrin Bell said...

Brian, congratulations! And that was, indeed, a very cool hand gesture.