Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ex Libris

Acquired! When it comes to reconstructing my pre-fire library, I've decided not to try. Mostly I'll pick up new books I'm interested in and let my collection grow organically. But there are a few old must-haves--books that were especially important or useful to me--that I'll go out of my way to find.

These were my freshman university astronomy and physics books. The market in 40-year-old textbooks isn't as robust as you might imagine, but they were relatively cheap and easy to find. I'm not one of those people who scoff that they never use the math they learned in school; I use it every day! Sure, I haven't solved a partial differential equation in a while, but algebra, geometry and trigonometry are fundamental to how I see and interact with with the world.

Similarly with these books: I used to pull them off the shelf all the time! Some of the astronomy's out of date, but the workings of gravity, light and energy haven't changed much in a hundred years. For me, these were references as basic as a dictionary or thesaurus (which, I know, "online," yadda yadda). I feel like I've been reunited with old, warm friends.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ask Mr. Science Cartoonist: Clean Coal

First of what I hope will be an unnecessary series explaining how things work.

We've been hearing a lot about "Clean Coal" lately, most recently in the president's State of the Union address lauding America's "beautiful Clean Coal." I realized that neither he, nor most people with very strong opinions about it, had any idea what it means. What the world needs is more learnin' from cartoonists, especially one who also spent 20 years working as a science writer for the energy industry.

That's me.

Clean Coal is not a type of extra-special coal. It's a way to burn coal more cleanly.

Coal is a hydrocarbon. So are oil, gasoline, natural gas, propane and methane.

They're called "hydrocarbons" because they're made of hydrogen (H) and carbon (C).

When you add oxygen (O) and burn them in a car engine or power plant, you release energy and recombine all the H's, C's and O's in new ways. For example, you make H2O (water), which is why you see water dripping from a car's tailpipe. You make carbon monoxide (CO), which is why you don't leave your car running in a closed garage. And you make carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a greenhouse gas that traps infrared radiation and helps drive global warming.

It doesn't matter if you believe global warming is real. It's happening whether or not you believe in it.

So burning coal blows carbon out your power plant's smokestack into the air. Clean Coal is a general term for catching it before it gets away. The Department of Energy (DOE) has spent decades researching different techniques and technologies to do it. In recent years, they reached one solid conclusion:

All Clean Coal methods raise the cost of generating electricity and hurt the energy efficiency of their power plants. While some of them look good technologically, none of them make the least sense economically. Depending on where you are in the country, other energy sources--even solar--are already cheaper than regular coal power. Adding the cost of capturing coal's carbon exhaust makes it one of the most expensive fuel sources around. Given that, DOE cut research on Clean Coal a few years ago.

Clean Coal has nothing to do with political philosophies, the specialness of American coal, or the hopes and dreams of our noble coal miners. It's an approach to burning coal cleanly that for now--with our current economy and technology--just doesn't work.

I'll bet it took less than two minutes to read this post, and now you know more about Clean Coal than the president of the United States and most of Congress. Take the rest of the day off.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

LumaCon 4, Supervillainy 0

I looked back through my previous three LumaCon posts to try to avoid reusing any superlatives for my favorite comics-related event of the year, and decided to use them anyway. Yesterday was the fourth annual comics convention organized by librarians in Petaluma, Calif., and I had a great time. I hung out with old friends, met a lot of young artists and comics fans, got a nifty gift basket, and even sold a few books and miniposters. After spending all my earnings buying other people's books and art, I felt pretty good walking away even.

I love LumaCon because it's small and sincere. Admission is free. They have a bake sale. It's aimed at, and I think to some extent organized by, kids. One of its big attractions for me is walking in and finding a pro who's been making comics for 20 years sitting beside a 12-year-old showing off their first homemade comic. LumaCon has a very different feel than any other convention I've attended. It's gentle, encouraging, entirely positive. Everybody's just there to have fun.

There's something else about LumaCon that I haven't quite been able to put into words before: because it's free, it's easy for folks to just drop by and check out. Curious people who might have been driving past and happened in, or parents whose kids love comics and want to find out what it's all about. There's an outreach aspect to it that encourages everyone to be on their best behavior.

I didn't have much to show this year. The fire destroyed all of my original art and my stock of Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow books. However, I have replenished my supply of Mom's Cancer. I printed up a miniposter of A Fire Story. Best of all, my daughters Laura and Robin dropped by to help, and brought their pinback button-making machine. For $1 they'd turn any quarter-sized drawing you brought them into a button. They also sold a few with my drawings on them. It was the hit of the day.

My "Fire Story" miniposter, printed on the front and back of 11x17 glossy cardstock. I made them mostly so I'd have something to put on my table. I sold a lot of these at $3, just enough to cover my costs.
A good look at my table manned by Laura and Robin, with their button-making apparatus on the table in front of them. Laura's styling a Captain America dress, while Robin favored an Iron Man dress under a "Stark Industries" jacket. Every day is a Civil War with those two. The boy in green is poking at my little "Best of Brian" slide show. Miniposters are to the left behind his head, Mom's Cancer peeks in at lower right. I only realized when I walked in to set up that I don't own a tablecloth anymore.

Behind Robin in that photo above is my friend Jason Whiton, a teacher and writer who sells a great range of mid-Century pop artifacts: secret agent adventures, mod styling, Thunderbirds, etc. Our mood dampened mid-afternoon when Jason got a text telling him that cartoonist Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey") had died. Jason grew up knowing the Walkers and other great cartooning families in Connecticut, so the news was quite a blow. For my money, Mort's 1970s book Backstage at the Strips is still the best description of the cartooning life in its Golden Age.

A Pokemon family, all at appropriate scale.

He was a lot less intimidating without the helmet.

My pal Art Roche and his wife Elizabeth sat across from me. In addition to publishing his Knights of Boo'Gar with Andrews-McMeel, Art works at the Schulz Studio.

More cartoony friends: Donna Almendrala, Paige Braddock, Paige's wife Evelyn, and Lex Fajardo. I also reconnected with creators like Maia Kobabe, Izzy Ehnes, and a few civilian friends who came around. 
I bought this charming little watercolor of Paige Braddock's "Stinky Cecil."
These girls insisted that I take their picture. Their dads said it was OK.

There was a Doctor in the house. Three or four, in fact.

Cosplay parade underway.

This is why I love LumaCon. They had an entire room set aside just for people to sit and draw. No talks, nobody buying or selling anything. Just drawing.

My friend Brian Narelle. Brian is a cartoonist, teacher, writer, filmmaker, and something of a gentle roving philosopher of life.
You might have seen Brian a while back as Lt. Doolittle (left) in the cult sci-fi film "Dark Star," which is worth a look if you don't know it.
I didn't take any photos of cartoonist Tom Beland this time around, but I did buy this neat piece of original art from him. Tom has a beautiful, expressive, economical, graceful ink line that I really envy. 
Another stiffly posed portrait with Nathan Libecap, one of LumaCon's main organizers. He's a high school librarian who does it all for the love of kids and comics, and I think that attitude suffuses the entire event. 
Nathan (in orange cape) also moderated a panel that Lex and I did in the afternoon, attended by a couple dozen interested and/or sleepy attendees. The pony-tailed gent sitting right in front of me is comic book artist Brent Anderson, who was soon cajoled to join the discussion because when the guy who draws "Astro City" is sitting in the front row, it'd be stupid not to use him.
Finally, an overview of part of the exhibit hall. Laura and Robin are manning (personing?) my table at center, with Jason behind them. There were also activities happening on the stage behind me, in the lobby outside, and in smaller rooms throughout the Petaluma Community Center and even outdoors.

After four years of LumaCon, organizer Nathan told me he finally felt like he was getting the hang of it. Everything seemed to go all right. I advised him that the only thing I feared was that it would get too big and ruin everything I love about it. He agreed. They'll fight to keep it right-sized.

Somewhere around 3000 people came the last couple of years. As far as I could tell, they were the right people coming for the right reasons.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Query: What Rhymes with "Monomethylhydrazine?"

I once did a book titled Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, and fake comic books I created within that book featured the Space Age hero Cap Crater and his young ward the Cosmic Kid. Cap and the Kid personified the popular interests of the various decades their adventures were published in: mechanization in the 1930s, the Red Menace and nuclear energy in the 1950s, etc.

Anyway, in 2010 I drew and posted the bit of silliness below. With apologies to friend of the blog and "Comic Strip of the Day" proprietor Mike Peterson, who hates pastiches of "T'was the Night Before Christmas," I wanted to run it again. It makes me happy. If it makes you happy, too, consider it a Christmas gift.

If that doesn't do it for you, check the end for something else that might.

Finally, I can't let Christmas pass without my annual tribute to the man that, depending on the day you ask me, I consider the first-, second-, or third-greatest cartoonist of all time, Walt Kelly, and his great strip "Pogo."

Thanks, my friends. See you in 2018.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Drawing Strength

Although I've been active on Facebook, I haven't blogged in a while and feel bad for leaving any non-Facebookers who might check in here hanging. Karen and I are doing all right. The Army Corps of Engineers cleared our lot yesterday. There are no more artifacts to recover, no more wondering what I might find in the ashes if I just look one more time.... Now there's no going back; only forward.

People ask if I'll do more "Fire Story." I hope so, but not here and not soon. I'd like it to be published as a graphic novel, and have good reason to believe that could happen. I'm working on a book proposal now.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from last Saturday's "Drawing Strength" benefit at the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Research Center. Three people who worked hard to make the event happen were "Pearls Before Swine" cartoonist Stephan Pastis; Stephan's wife Staci, who really ran the show; and the museum's education director Jessica Ruskin. And of course it couldn't have happened without the enthusiastic support of Jeannie Schulz, whose home was destroyed in the firestorm as well.

The benefit began with a panel on healing through art, moderated by local journalist Chris Smith. It was intended to include me, Pastis, and author Christopher Moore, who called in at the last minute with a horrible case of food poisoning. Moore felt terrible about it, and dispatched his wife to drive boxes of signed books to the museum for anyone disappointed by his absence. Cartoonist, writer, and reality-TV pioneer Judd Winick stepped in at literally the last minute. Judd's terrific graphic novel Pedro and Me, about the death of his "Real World" co-star and friend Pedro Zamora, made him an ideal fit for the theme.

Before the event, Raina, Stephan and I enjoyed a nice dinner of pizza, pasta and salad provided by the museum.

I took along books for Raina, Judd, Dave Eggers, and Christopher Moore to sign. Hey, I have a library to rebuild! I'll catch Moore later.

Stephan, Judd and I waiting in the wings to be introduced before the panel.

I stepped on stage blinded by the light of my own drawing. The museum's Great Hall was packed with 250 to 300 people.

Judd started us off with an excellent impromptu talk about "Pedro and Me" as well as his new work "HiLo" while Stephan and I lurked in the shadows. Judd's done a lot of public speaking and stepped in confidently and smoothly.

The view from my seat as Stephan reads from his comic strips, including more serious ones about Middle East violence and gun deaths. He genuinely choked up. I was touched. Note the full house.

Doing my best. I touched on the fire, Mom's Cancer, graphic medicine, and the fact that when I evacuated my studio I grabbed pieces of original art by Charles Schulz, Walt Kelly and Winsor McCay but left my "Pearls Before Swine" behind. Stephan pretended to be peeved until I explained that I only saved dead guys' work.
Part of my talk included photos I took as I walked into my neighborhood that first morning and the comic panels they inspired/informed.

After the panel and coinciding with a wine and beer reception, the panelists were joined by author Dave Eggers, bestselling cartoonist (and my friend!) Raina Telgemeier, and Pixar animator Andrew Atteberry (who was added to the program too late to make the poster) to sign books and posters, and draw for fans. To help raise funds, people could pay $50 to have any artist draw whatever they wanted within the artist's ability and good nature.

Honestly, I don't like doing sketches for money. I've done it before and I'm not good at it. Too much pressure. Somewhere in the world are a father and son to whom I owe $10 because my drawing of "Chewbacca playing basketball" was so bad. To be fair, I had no reference images (this was inside San Diego Comic-Con, where my phone got no reception) and Chewbacca is really hard to draw. Even his bandolier is hard to draw. I think the basketball turned out OK. But for the Schulz event I stepped up and did my best, and everyone seemed happy with their drawings. 

Books for sale in the lobby, including Mom's Cancer.

I had a good busy line all night. The Schulz Museum printed up little posters of "A Fire Story" and gave them to everyone, which I thought was a real nice thing to do. I signed a lot of those.

Pastis and me at work.

Other signing lines: From foreground right to background left, that's Raina Telgemeier, Judd Winick, Andrew Atteberry, and, standing, Dave Eggers talking to Jeannie Schulz.

What's great about this photo is that someone had asked me to draw a picture of Linus and Snoopy cuddling under Linus's blanket (I'm using the image on her phone as a reference). I joked about this being the worst possible place and time to be caught committing a copyright violation and made a big show of looking over my shoulder. Seconds later, guess who showed up and caught me red-handed.

I really appreciated the chance to meet Andrew Atteberry, gush at Dave Eggers, get to know Judd Winick better, and spend some time with Raina Telegemeier and her dad. Also the many people who stood in line for signings and such, many of them old good friends.

Great people, full house, and overall a really nice night. Thanks to all!