Thursday, February 19, 2009

First anniversary

One year and 142 posts ago (starting with this one), I launched this blog.

As is my tendency, I was late in keeping up with a cultural shift. (I didn't get a cell phone till 2002, iPod till 2007, BlackBerry till late 2008. I still don't have a Wii.)

I might be pelted with pixels for admitting this, but I don't read any blogs regularly (though I do pop in on a few publishing ones as often as possible, including the fellow-author ones I link to from my blog). I felt writing a blog would take more time than I could justify for what I'd get out of it.

So taking an accounting a year in, here is what I have gotten out of it:
  • Promotion. Blogging introduces new potential readers to my work by creating an ever-growing body of possible search terms. It is also a means to regularly engage existing readers of my work in between new books, particularly by dropping hints about my future projects. I don't blog only for the people I write for but also the people I work for. Blogging is a platform to show editors the regular efforts I make to promote my work. Before, I'd have to try to convey this in short e-mails. Now the rundown of my marketing madness in the form of short, often photo-illustrated, easy-to-digest posts is running in the background at all times.
  • Networking. This is a subcategory of promotion. I have heard from many kind people who have found something of interest here and want to be informed of new books. They in turn help spread the word about my work.
  • Focus. Blogging can help me determine what is and is not important to do in the course of my career. If I come up with a marketing idea that I do not seeing myself blogging about, it's probably not worth doing. In a way, blogging may actually improve my marketing because it challenges me to maintain a steady stream of marketing so I can have a steady stream of blog content! Finally, blogging is good practice for my perpetual goal to write quickly yet constructively. I don't have time to take too much time for any one post so I try to work on expressing myself in short order.
  • Enjoyment. It is indeed fun to take a break from writing books, magazine content, and presentations to write something that has no restrictions.
Here are some things I've learned:
  • Some have seen this as a superhero blog. While the majority of my focus this year has been Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and my research on Batman co-creator Bill Finger, my next three nonfiction picture book manuscripts are not about superheroes. In fact, I probably won't write any other books on superhero creators (though I did poke around to see if there were any such stories I wanted to tell).
  • Simple, unemotional statements of fact can be interpreted as an attack.
  • More writers than I realized are doing nonfiction with a vision similar to mine, namely unconventional and often previously untold stories presented in picture book format but aimed at all ages. And all of the ones I've been in touch with have been so very nice.
  • A seemingly ordinary phrase I used in one post is a pornography term that inadvertently leads inappropriate people to my blog on a regular basis.
  • Despite what I wrote above, I often do spend too much time on a post...such as this one. But thanks for participating in this experiment this past year and hope you will stick around for Year Two.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A writer at an artists' museum

In November, I was one of eight honored guests (all either illustrators or author-illustrators) to give a talk at a weekend institute at the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books in Findlay, Ohio. Two spoke Friday night after dinner and the other six went back-to-back on Saturday. It was a challenging event for the audience's posteriors.

PBS filmed the presentations and posted them online. Here is mine.

A few disclaimers:
  • They labeled me a children's book artist, but that's mostly not true. I have drawn a book of cartoons for young people, but that's it.
  • The beginning of the video is cut off, making it look like I began with a stammer.
  • I have been working on speaking slower as I present. This particular talk is not a good example of my practice paying off.
  • The first PowerPoint remote they gave me barely worked, which is why at the beginning a few slides don't change, followed by awkward silence. Finally I mumbled about technical difficulties and someone kindly handed me (off-screen) a replacement remote.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kids Heart Authors Day

On Saturday, February 14, I will be one of 172 authors and author-illustrators participating in Kids Heart Authors Day. We will be spread among 44 independent bookstores in New York and New England to chat with readers and sign books for a couple of hours. The store I will be at, Books on the Common in Ridgefield, Connecticut, has done a stellar job communicating with us and promoting the event.

Love your loved ones on Valentine's Day (not to mention the rest of the year), but set aside a little love for books, too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yet more from Kansas

In January, I spoke at Mission Valley Middle School in Prairie Village, Kansas, and the experience continues to humble and impress me. I already posted a bit about it here and here and now I must take an opportunity to share more that has happened since then.

At every school visit, I leave a simple feedback form for both students and teachers to fill out. Their input has helped me improve my presentation. Some schools copy, distribute, and return them. Others don't.

Mission Valley did, and with distinction—the envelope was fatter than any other I've received in the five years I've been doing this. I think literally every person who saw me there completed the form.

After I spoke there, I had lunch with a small group of students/future authors. They sent me custom-made thank-yous decorated with photos of my visit:

I have to share a bit from the feedback forms, all from students between the ages of 12 and 14. It is always nice to be reminded how young a sharp mind can take form. And you can't beat the honesty.

Sizing up my presentation skills:

"In communications we are learning about public speaking and from what I know you are pretty good. Since your talk I have been more persistent."

"Your presentation skills are excellent and your message is inspiring."

"Your visit was very meaningful. You taught a good life lesson of never giving up, which will one day, if not already, contribute to our lives. You were a very good speaker, with effective voice and great examples."

Exceeding expectations:

"You had a strong voice and I actually listened."

"It was cool how I had never heard about you before Friday, and now I really want to read more."

Just plain nice:

"You're really funny and that got the crowd going."

"I would listen to you speak again in a heartbeat."

"I loved your enthusiasm and how you were comfortable in front of our crowd. Your story and message were inspiring. I learned not only about perseverance but also about empathy and how hard it is to be an author."

A favorite in a class by itself:

"You put more enthusiasm into [your presentation] than most people would have. It seems you've learned to laugh at yourself. Also, have you heard of Barnes and Noble? Is that named after you?"

Finally, one that especially inspires me. In fact, this pretty much blew me away:

"Thank you so much for coming! I am ABSOLUTELY INSPIRED! When you told us about your mom telling you to write to the newspaper, but you thought if you were good, they would come to you...I am just like that! I want to act and my parents told me things to do, but I always thought they would come to me. But you showed me that I have to get out there, show off, and be seen! In fact, right now, I am trying to think of ideas for a TV show to show my mom's friend director. So far, the people I have told believe in me. But one or two think it's a bit far-fetched. And it is, but I don't care. I am going to try my hardest to be seen. All I need is support, which I have, and to believe it can be done. I can do anything I set my mind to. I truly believe. All the signs are there! I even got a fortune (continues on back) cookie that says 'Your unique talent will find its way to success.' I know most people don't believe in fortune cookies, but I asked for a sign and got one!"

Interview on Comix 411

I gave this interview in August and it was not posted until January, by which time a couple of tidbits had become outdated (for example, I have now met the illustrator of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman). However, mixed among those tidbits are a couple other tidbits that haven't been covered in other interviews.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kind folks in Ohio

In November 2008, I spoke at (then blogged about) the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books. The way this place runs an event is as close to magic as I've experienced as an author.

A mother and father I met that day also blogged about the event. When mentioning me, they used more than kind words (and a photo of me with their son):
Marc was SO incredible with Hayden. He spent a great deal of time speaking with Hayden, and encouraging him to write and draw a lot. They even posed for a picture too (you can see the cover art of the book behind them - it is a very cool story, and a neat way to introduce younger kids to biographies).
Next was story time, and during the presentation Marc included some audience interaction. While doing so, he called on Hayden BY NAME a few times, and you could just see Hayden beam! It was a wonderful day and we're looking forward to Marc's next book; another biography, this time about the man who created Batman - Bill Finger.
What the parent bloggers modestly didn't mention is that Hayden was incredible with me! There was a reason I remembered his name.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was one of 75 children's books (out of an estimated 6,000 published last year) to be named an American Library Association Notable Book of 2009.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bill Finger's 95th birthday

Bill Finger died at 59. Had he lived, he would have turned 95 today.

Finger was meagerly documented in his own life. The extent of his actual words that have been published (meaning quotations, not stories he wrote) is as follows:
  • A transcription (published in Alter Ego #20) of a comics creators panel including Finger from the 1965 New York Comicon
  • A Finger statement or two in a brief New Yorker piece about that Comicon
  • Excerpts from Steranko's interview with Finger for his 1970 book History of Comics
At least two other never-published sources of actual Finger words were lost—an interview he gave to professional fan Tom Fagan in 1965 that was allegedly still among the massive heaps of paper at Fagan's house in Vermont and an interview he gave in the early 1970s that was allegedly misfiled somewhere in the archives of a California university.

I write "were lost" because as of today, both are found. And sitting right here.

The print version of the California interview is still lost, but in November 2008 the interviewer (while packing for a transcontinental move) stumbled upon the original audio recording! In early December, he digitized the 28-minute interview and e-mailed it to me—the first time I had heard Bill Finger's voice. (It's on my iPod
—but only because it is hard to make out and I thought I could hear it more clearly that way.)

And today—Finger's birthday—I got a copy in the mail of the Vermont piece. (It actually came yesterday, but I didn't check the mail until this morning.) Fagan died in October 2008. Last week, one of his friends told me that in cleaning out Fagan's house, they had found an article that Fagan wrote on Finger, stemming from his interview.

I had begun to chase down these interviews in 2006 (Vermont) and 2007 (California). Now, thanks to busy, kind people with good memories, I got both of them within two months of each other more than two years after the initial quest began.

Eerily, the Fagan piece that I got on Finger's birthday mentions Finger's birthday: "Those with a sense of romanticism will immediately note Finger was born under the sign of Aquarius
—the keynote Zodiac sign of those influenced by dreams of high adventure and devil-may-care leanings rather than acceptance of mundane routineness of everyday life."

Bill Finger shared his dream of high adventure with the world, and the world continues to enjoy it seventy years on. It is time to give back.