Archive for ‘Family’

On the Drawing Board: Visual Communication and Beyond

International breastfeeding symbol, designed by cartoonist Matt Daigle. Photo taken at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Yeah, yeah, nobody reads site blogs anymore, but I have a lot to talk about—more than can fit in a tweet—and this seemed as good a place as any to put it all into words…

I’m still working feverishly on my massive book about visual communication. The second draft of my (neurotically-tight) layouts ran 571 pages, and I’m determined, as I plow through my third—and hopefully final—draft, to make it substantially shorter and less rambling. Wish me luck!

The book has taken me years so far, but I sincerely believe it’ll be worth it. It’s a preposterously ambitious full color project covering the evolution and biology of vision; principles of visual perception; demonstrations of how visual elements behave in the mind’s eye; best practices for clarity, explanation, and effective rhetoric; and some personal reflections on our family’s experiences with blindness.

Oh, and I’m also working on a big secret project we hope to announce in the coming months!

I still haven’t gotten Covid as of this writing—fingers crossed!—but the pandemic at large did keep us home for big stretches of 2020-2022. Nevertheless, I’ve continued to do my lectures and workshops, albeit virtually in some cases. Swing by the presentations page for more info.

New for this month: We’re happy to announce a gorgeous new edition of my 2015 graphic novel The Sculptor (speaking of five hundred page books that took years). 

As of this writing, there’s still a chance that it will be a movie, by the way. We’ll see! Not counting any eggs before they’re hatched, but you never know…

We passed some milestones in the last couple of years. I’m now officially OLD, having received the Eisner Awards’ Hall of Fame award last year. The globe design was based on a page from my 1993 book Understanding Comics so it was kinda nice to finally get my hands on one.

But we also passed a kind of milestone no one can ever be prepared for… 

On April 28 of this year, Ivy died in a car accident on her way to bring our youngest, Winter, home from the University of Michigan where she had just gotten her masters degree. Ivy was 61 years old. We had been married for 34 years.

I’ve written about Ivy’s death only sparsely so far, because such a bottomless loss can’t be summed up in words, but I’ll do my best to at least relay the essentials here.

I met Ivy during my first weeks of college in 1978. I fell in love with her the following year, but I carried that love for the next seven years secretly as she had been otherwise engaged in one way or another throughout that time. 

But when the stars finally aligned in my favor, I seized my chance, and on December 23, 1986, I told Ivy that I loved her, and one year, one month, and one day later, we were married.

Ivy was funny, kind, creative, endlessly talkative, sexy, and smarter than me in oh so many ways—but she was also prey to fits of depression. The highs and the lows of living with her were exhilarating and exhausting. 

She was my “muse” in the old, romantic sense; a force of life and love, an inspiration. She inspired characters in my work (especially and explicitly Meg in The Sculptor), and she was also a muse for the hundreds of young actors she taught and directed over the years in local children’s theatre productions.

Ivy and I battled infertility for four years before having our first child, Sky; a pregnacy that began with in vitro fertilization (IVF) and ended with a cesarean. But when Sky’s little sister, Winter, was conceived the old-fashioned way two years later, Ivy battled just as hard to have as little intervention as possible and succeeded there too. 

Ivy was the most dedicated and loving mother I’ve ever known. Our life together as a family was filled with laughter, rapid-fire conversations, arguments, creativity, and so, so many long road trips, including a year-long 50 state tour from 2006 to 2007. And dogs. Always dogs. And moving, we were always moving from place to place; always renting, never owning… Always waiting on the next check.

Ivy was my best friend. We never ran out of things to talk about. We never ran out of ways to say “I love you.” 

I told our grief counselor how my time with Ivy always felt like I was getting away with something; how life with her always felt new; how I always got the same rush of endorphins or whatever that lovers get when they’re young; a feeling that’s supposed to wear off in time; how it always felt as if we had just eloped, as if we had just met. 

And the counselor laughed and told me we were “freaks”; that what we had was not remotely normal. And I believe it. 

I loved her then, I love her now, I will love her for the rest of my life.

And I will never stop giving thanks for the time we had.

Looking Back: A Strange, Wonderful 2014

[Above: Ivy and a Shanghai skyline from last month’s two-week trip to China]

2014 was the year that I finally finished my giant graphic novel The Sculptor after five years in hibernation, but even though the book was completely out of my hands by June, the rest of the year has been a weird limbo-like waiting game, since the thing doesn’t actually hit the shelves until February 3.

Still, my idea of “limbo” (like my idea of “hibernation”) isn’t entirely normal. To outward appearances, I’ve actually been quite active. Here’s a quick rundown of some of our 2014 adventures, in roughly chronological order…

January: Flying to Tennessee to meet the 36 students I’d be teaching at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville from late February through the beginning of May. I’m joined by fellow teacher Kell Black, set to teach the first half of the class while I head back to California to frantically work on both The Sculptor and my edition of Best American Comics (with series editor Bill Kartalopoulos). Meanwhile, we frantically start putting all our worldly possessions in boxes in preparation for a move. Sky and Winter head back north to UC Santa Cruz and San Francisco State respectively.

February: “The busiest month of our lives” held that title for only two months since May was probably busier, but it was an impressive month just the same. First, we continued packing like crazy. Next, I flew to Amsterdam for an IxDA conference in a giant converted gas factory. Then back to Southern California, arriving at the apartment at 2:30 am to get ready for the movers who would be arriving at 8:00 am (Surprise—they were early, haha). 90% of our stuff goes into storage, and we drop a bed at Ivy’s parents’ house. Then, we drive up the coast to Marin Academy for two lectures and about ten class visits, then back “home” to pack the little stuff that we can move ourselves, then fly to Orlando for the InControl conference and a side trip to Disney World. Ivy flies home to finish getting the apartment cleaned despite feeling sick as a dog, and I fly to Tennessee to teach my first classes, plus a public lecture, while taking up residence at a local La Quinta.

March: I teach my class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A massive snowstorm and spring break gives me space to really concentrate on the book and I finally finish principal art on The Sculptor. At this point, all that’s left is corrections—oh, and completely restructuring and rewriting the first 50 pages or so, because I didn’t think they were good enough anymore. Ivy and our neurotic rescue dog Bucky join me and we have lots of magnificent, fattening local food. We’re also joined by Pendleton Ward, who I’ve invited to give a guest lecture during my residency. Bucky growls at Pen every time he gets in the car, but Pen vows to pet the dog before he leaves, and this he does without incident on the last day. Bucky is all growl no bite as Pen suspected.

April: My students continue to be delightful, curious, funny, and attentive. We do a ton of lectures, exercises, and critiques, and they brilliantly dissect City of Glass during a book club segment, teaching me things even I didn’t know about the book. We have two more guest speakers: Ryan Germick, head of the Google Doodle team (and a former one-time student of mine at a one-week workshop at MCAD 12 years prior—as was Pen Ward), and all-ages comics superstar and friend Raina Telgemeier. We also take a side trip to Philadelphia to teach a weekend workshop and lecture at University of the Arts.

May: Ivy and I bid a fond farewell to Kell and my students in Clarksville and begin our drive home to Southern California (starting with a three-hour drive in the wrong direction to visit an awesome family in Knoxville, but that’s another story). On the way home, I’m still unpacking my massive desktop computer and Cintiq at every hotel as I put the finishing touches on the corrected final art for The Sculptor. Or maybe it was the cover? There were a lot of different finish lines to cross. Anyway, we get home, drop off Bucky, then drive north to San Francisco where I’m keynoting a Google conference in a San Francisco Marriott (with no url apparently, ’cause it was internal), then we park the car in San Jose, fly to Manhattan, I deliver a lecture at Bloomberg, then another lecture the very next day for New York-based IxDA members. Then we fly back to San Jose, hop in the car, drive to Houston for a lecture at the Contemporary Art Museum, as well as a panel at a local convention featuring artist Trenton Doyle Hancock and me in conversation, then a drive to Atlanta where I deliver yet another lecture, this time for the good folks at MailChimp. We’re joined by Winter, who’s out of school now, get some awesome MailChimp swag, then borrow their Pantone swatch book (a favor for which I will be eternally grateful), select the all-important second color for the book, and drive home by way of the Grand Canyon, which I get to experience for the first time (it was big and impressive and I want to go back).

June: Back home and in the studio. Send out the final final final final final final files for The Sculptor and go over proofreading, pagination stuff, etc. Otherwise, enjoy some much needed rest.

July: Comic-Con! Great panel with Gene Luen Yang, and a last-minute panel about my graphic novel that won’t be out for a million years at that point.

August: I teach my annual two-day workshop in Los Angeles. Most of the rest of the month is spent sitting around feeling frustrated that my book won’t be out for a million years.

September: Ivy, Winter and I attend Seeing Knowing, a conference at Berkeley, as research for my next book on the subject of visual communication. Winter heads back to school, I fly cross-country for a lecture at Georgia Southern University, then back home, then Ivy and I drive to San Diego again, this time for an event at their gorgeous new library, co-sponsored by Comic-Con, where Larry Marder, Charles Brownstein and I discuss the history of “dangerous” comics in commemoration of Banned Books Week.

October: Off to the NAM Festival in Palencia, Spain for a lecture, a three-day workshop, and lots of great food and adventures with new and old friends. Then, only a few days later, Best American Comics 2014 hits the shelves, and we fly (inappropriately enough) to the Lakes Festival in England, where we have even more wonderful adventures, and meet even more new and old friends. Flying back to LAX, we check into a hotel in Los Angeles, and meet professor Henry Jenkins for an onstage conversation for USC/Annenberg.

November: Home for a week, then it’s back on the road. Ivy and I drive to Kansas State University for a lecture, then Kansas City Missouri for lectures at Universal UClick and Hallmark headquarters respectively. Then we park the car at Kansas City airport, fly to Los Angeles for just one day (gotta do laundry sometime!) and off to Shanghai. Our trip to China lasts for two weeks, and includes four different international schools with lectures and class visits for over a thousand kids. After that, we fly back to LA and return to Kansas City to fetch the car, driving west once again.

December: Ivy and I swing by Comic Arts Los Angeles, a brand-new show that everybody enjoyed tremendously. Then, a few days later, it’s off to Santiago, Chile for a literature festival and more great food (most of it Peruvian, admittedly) and new friends, then back home for the last time this year. Then Hanukkah, Christmas, Ivy’s birthday, and here we are.

Happy New Year!

25 Years Ago Today

Our first date.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Boxes, Boxes, Boxes…

Lucy Knisley knows how it feels.

My family and I are still unpacking from our recent move. I’ve spent a big chunk of my adult life in a sea of partially unpacked boxes. And worst of all is my email inbox.

I’m going to be updating this blog a bit more infrequently moving forward as I chip away at that inbox and continue work on my GN, but you can always follow me via rss, and be sure to keep an eye on my Google+ and Twitter accounts.

They’re from Where??

Okay, this has nothing to do with comics, but it’s on my mind, so…

Sky and I have noticed a difference between bands of my generation, and more recent bands we like.

Whereas old bands like Boston, Chicago, and Kansas all formed in the city or state they’re named for, check out these geographically baffling examples from recent years…

Of Montreal: From Athens, Georgia.

Architecture in Helsinki: From Australia.

The Middle East: Also from Australia!

Beirut: From Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I’m From Barcelona: From Sweden.

So what’s up, global music scene? Why are you messing with our heads??

Berkeley vs Santa Cruz?

Here’s a question that has nothing to do with comics (or sports, for that matter*). It’s a family dilemma.

Sky just got accepted into two universities she likes and is having a tough time deciding between them.

The choice is between two University of California schools; UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz.

We have plenty of basic information. We know their rankings (edge to Berkeley) and Ivy and Sky have visited both and will make return visits soon.

Sky likes both schools for a lot of reasons, but every time she starts leaning toward one, the other starts gaining on it again. It’s driving her bananas.

So, I figured I’d risk embarrassing her and crowd-source this one a bit. What do YOU think? Any experience or opinions about these two schools?

Sky is visually impaired (pretty significantly, though her peripheral vision is good, so she can get around well). She’s a socially-lefty nerd (like her parents), a vegan (unlike her parents — sorry), and would like to study film and video with an eye toward making same in the long run (possibly after two years of post-grad at a place like USC).

Big questions center on the relative quality of their film departments and related media studies, academic culture, disability services, neighborhoods, local art and culture, faculty strengths and weaknesses, equipment, housing and food services, and anything else you might have an opinion on.

(And feel free to email me instead if you’d like to share your thoughts in a less public way.)

Thanks for your help, The Internet! Back to our regularly-scheduled comics blogging tomorrow.


*’Cause that would be just sad.

The Plot Thickens…

Okay, it’s a bit short on details, but why do I get the feeling that things are about to get very interesting out there?

Back home from our first-ever visit to New Zealand and the family (Ivy, Sky, and I, with the role of Winter being played by Sky’s friend Kendra) had a fantastic time.

Webstock was top notch. Hung out with and loved performances by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley, met great brains like David McCandless, Peter Sunde, and Tom Coates, played Werewolf for the first time (Go, Villagers!), and had lots of good food and good conversations.

Wellington is a beautiful city. We’re so adding it to The List (our friends will know what I mean).

Big shout out to the 40 or so wonderful cartoonists we met this weekend in both Wellington and Auckland. You guys rock.

And thanks of course to Dylan Horrocks, ambassador for the Kiwi comics nation, our host in Auckland with his adorable family, and one of our favorite people in all of comics.

Back to the drawing board!

My Ames is True

I’m off to Ames, Iowa this afternoon for my Thursday night lecture at Iowa State University. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll make the drive down to say Hi.

The family and I had a strange, magical evening in Ames during the 50 State Tour in 2007. Looking forward to visiting again.

Back to blogging Monday. Have a great week & weekend.

Back on Dry Land

Ivy holding a baby alligator on the Everglades Saturday, after her birthday cruise.

For years, Ivy and I have wanted to celebrate her birthday with a Cruise, and for her 50th last week we did just that. Luckily for us, one of the nerdiest cruises to ever sail the seas came along just in time.

The JoCo Cruise Crazy was a great week of on-ship entertainment featuring Jonathan Coulton and several other nerd demi-gods including John Hodgman, Peter Sagal, Molly Lewis, Wil WheatonBill Corbett & Kevin MurphyPaul and StormMike Phirman and others. Over 24 hours of programming and never a dull moment.

I was already indebted to Jonathan and John for taking time out at Neil Gaiman’s 50th birthday party in New Orleans last month to comfort Ivy when I was rushed off to the hospital. They both remembered her as well on the cruise, and we got to spend some extra time talking to John, Bill and Kevin, who are comics fans in addition to being all around nice guys, and incredibly funny.

Also on the ship were two webcartoonists, David Willis (who was celebrating his honeymoon with the lovely Maggie) and evil genius David Rees. Rees’ comedy was a thing of wonder. As our hero Peter Sagal put it: “I don’t know what he does, but he does it really well.”

(Willis was wearing an Axe Cop shirt when he met Sagal, btw, and Sagal recognized it right away. NERD! <3 )

Watch for Ivy’s two part write-up on the cruise at her blog later in the day. She’ll have a lot more detail than me.

I’m returning to blogging today after an extended winter break. A lot has happened in the world of comics in the last couple of weeks, some of which I hope to get to in the next few days, but for now, I hope you all had a great New Year celebration—and will have a great year to go with it.

Winter Break

This blog will be taking a break until January 10 to make up for my health-related lost time and holiday craziness (and a 50th birthday cruise for Ivy).

I’m actually pretty healthy overall. This whole episode was probably the result of nothing more than a little calcium build-up, resulting in a kidney stone which led to pain, which led to blood pressure spikes, which (most likely) led to the dissection of my celiac artery.

This week we finally put in (and took out—OUCH) a stent for the kidney stone, and today, a small but permanent stent goes in for the artery.

With luck that’ll be it, and I’ll be back to 100% shortly.

Like a lot of guys my age, I need to lose about 30 pounds, but unlike most guys my age, my blood pressure has been pretty low over the years. “I love my job,” I’d tell them whenever they’d take my readings, and it’s true.

I’ll be working 10 hours a day, seven days a week again soon. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m looking forward to it.

One last link before the break: Here’s an anthology worth getting for the cover alone. Will 2011 be the year that mobile comics start sucking less? We’ll see.

Enjoy Christmas and the New Year!