Monday, March 22, 2021

Virtual visit verdict

Well, a verdict, anyway: thumb’s up (whether the Zoom icon or your actual flesh-and-blood digit). 

In the shell-shocked early months of COVID-19, schools struggled simply to educate their students under difficult new conditions that felt sudden though epidemiologists (among others) knew such a situation was coming. 

Understandably for many schools, booking optional enrichment like author visits was not a priority—or, in some cases, a possibility. 

A year later, as the pandemic still rages, schools in general seem more open to the idea of piping in an author talk via the internet. (Granted, Skype author visits have existed almost as long as Skype has, but commonly as a backup, not the first choice.)

During COVID-19, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with students in a range of locales, from New Mexico to Hong Kong. While I am eager to return to in-person gatherings, I’ve found a lot to love about virtual visits and imagine they’ll remain a part of my portfolio past mass vaccination. 

Feedback on November presentations I gave for Michigan students in grades 1-6 (rescheduled as virtual after the virus torpedoed the originally planned in-person visit) helps explain why:

  • “Wonderful virtual presentation! Even from a distance, the author was able to connect and engage my class! Fantastic opportunity!”—teacher in New Buffalo, MI
  • “The opportunity to do something different was appreciated.”—teacher at F.C. Reed Middle School, Bridgman, MI
  • “The virtual author visit…was very cool. The students were excited to meet Marc Nobleman and were intrigued by his stories and how much time and effort went into creating his works. Definitely worth the time!”—Principal Patrick Zuccala, Three Oaks Elementary, Three Oaks, MI

Thanks again to the Tri-County Reading Council and a generous grant from the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians for making this experience a (virtual) reality.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Zack Snyder's Justice League" creator credits

I'm not here to weigh in on this four-hour grimdark Justice League (though I kind of just did) except in three non-spoiler ways:

  1. On one level I think it's great that the voices of fans carry so much weight and helped get this movie made. At the same time I hope if this film is a success, it doesn't further prioritize commerce over art.
  2. I was disappointed (but of course not surprised) that we did not get to see a backup team of Lois Lane, Commissioner Gordon, Mera, Iris West, Silas Stone, and the ghost of Steve Trevor, with Alfred as Oracle. 
  3. As always with DC movies, I'm almost as interested in the creator credits as the film itself. Here they are for ZSJL:



Notes:

  1. BILL FINGER.
  2. Similarly, three other names should be in the Wonder Woman credit line: Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne, and H.G. Peter. That's a Finger-level injustice that should be corrected.
  3. Aquaman and Cyborg both receive creator credit in comic books that those characters headline, but not here. Aquaman was created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger (though for some reason only Norris is in the official credit line). Cyborg was created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. All four of those creator names are on the "Special Thanks" list, but I don't know why they weren't credited specifically for their characters the way the creators of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were. 
  4. I also don't know why there is a huge gap between the credits for Justice League of America, Batman, and Wonder Woman and the credit for Fourth World. Yes, the former three are household names, but I don't recall such odd spacing in other DC film credits.
  5. So nice to see the names Jerry Robinson (co-creator of Dick Grayson/Robin and the Joker) and Carmine Infantino (co-creator of Barry Allen/Flash), both of whom were heroes of my Bill Finger research and neither of whom are officially credited in print.
  6. In print, the awkward "By special arrangement with the Jerry Siegel family" line immediately follows "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster." In this film, Superman is the only character whose creators are listed in the opening credits, and while I don't like the "arrangement" line, it seems even weirder so removed from its usual partner.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Comic book pages/panels that have stayed with me

Here are some of the comic book pages that lodged in my head when I was young (or sometimes simply younger) and have not left. I'm arbitrarily ending with the early 2000s.

Why these? Sometimes because of the words (if so, I've indicated), sometimes the art, sometimes both. Sometimes just one panel on the page. Though these are some of my favorite moments, not all of these are necessarily my favorite stories, nor are they all iconic stories.

If any more float to the surface of my nostalgia, I will add them.

Bold = last page of the story (added pressure to be memorable!).

Justice League of America #144, 1977
writer Steve Englehart, penciler Dick Dillin

Showcase #100, 1978
writers Paul Levitz and Paul Kupperberg, penciler Joe Staton

Showcase #100

Super Friends #25, 1979
writer E. Nelson Bridwell, penciler Ramona Fradon

Super Friends #28, 1979
writer E. Nelson Bridwell, penciler Ramona Fradon

Justice League of America #200, 1981
writer Gerry Conway, penciler Pat Broderick

Justice League of America #200
penciler George Pérez

DC Special Series #27: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, 1981
writer Len Wein, penciler José Luis García-López

The Brave and the Bold #196, 1982
writer Bob Kanigher, penciler Jim Aparo

The Brave and the Bold #196

The Flash #327
writer Cary Bates, penciler Carmine Infantino
"This is my decision."

Justice League of America #223, 1983
writer Gerry Conway, penciler Chuck Patton
"The end, reptile."

Justice League of America #223

Crisis on Infinite Earths #2, 1985
writer Marv Wolfman, penciler George Pérez
"Dear God—what is happening?"

Crisis on Infinite Earths #5

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7
"But we...but we had a casualty."

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7
"And I grieve."

Superman Annual #11, 1985
writer Alan Moore, penciler Dave Gibbons

Superman Annual #11

Superman Annual #11
"Burn."

DC Comics Presents #85, 1985
writer Alan Moore, penciler Rick Veitch
"The Man of Tomorrow is heading south to die."

Batman #405 (Year One), 1987
writer Frank Miller, penciler Dave Mazzucchelli
"You have eaten well."

The Flash #54, 1991
writer William Messner-Loebs, penciler Greg LaRocque
"I can't fly. I'm just a guy who runs fast."

Aquaman: Time & Tide #1, 1993
writer Peter David, penciler Kirk Jarvinen

Batman Annual #18, 1995
writer Doug Moench, penciler Frederico Cueva
"Pentimento." 
(who says comics aren't educational?)

The Flash #107, 1995
writer Mark Waid, penciler Oscar Jimenez

Green Arrow #100, 1995
writer Chuck Dixon, penciler Jim Aparo

Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare #2, 1996
writers Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza, penciler Darick Robertson

Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare #2

JLA #3, 1996
writer Grant Morrison, penciler Howard Porter
"I know your secret."

Nightwing Annual #1, 1996
writer Devin Grayson, penciler Greg Land

JLA #6, 1997
writer Grant Morrison, penciler Howard Porter
"Katar?"

JLA #21, 1998
writer Mark Waid, penciler Arnie Jorgensen

JLA in Crisis: Secret Files & Origins, 1998
"Origin Story: The Flash's Infinite Crises"
writer Tom Peyer, penciler Rags Morales
"It's called the human condition, my friend...
and I don't get it either."

JLA Showcase 80-Page Giant, 1999
"Communications Error"
writer Dwayne McDuffie, penciler Gordon Purcell

Superman: War of the Worlds, 1999
writer Roy Thomas, penciler Michael Lark

The Titans #14, 2000
writer Devin Grayson and Brian K. Vaughan, penciler Cully Hamner

The Titans #14
"Thank you, fearless leader."

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity #3, 2003
writer/penciler Matt Wagner

Aquaman #13, 2003
writer John Ostrander, penciler Jim Fern

Friday, March 12, 2021

March 12: one year of COVID-19

The date will vary from person to person, but for almost everyone in the world, the world changed drastically sometime between March 9 and 13, 2020. WIRED says March 11. For me, it was one day later, which was one year ago today.

There was, of course, buildup to March 12.

I don’t remember when I first encountered the word “COVID,” which is not surprising, because you rarely know at first glance what is going to stick around and be significant. But mostly likely it crossed my radar the day it was announced, 2/11/20.


On 2/28, at a restaurant in Los Angeles, and at a time when “restaurants” and “travel” were unassailable parts of regular life for many, a friend asked me what I was doing to prepare. 

I actually asked “Prepare for what?”

He said the virus. I said “Nothing.” He (or rather his bewildered wife) said he’d been overstocking up on essentials. Like his wife, I thought that was extreme, but I generally trust my friends’ judgment to be sounder than mine, so when I got home, I bought more than the usual amount of water and (guilty) toilet paper. 

That was the start and end of my preparation.

On 3/10, I emailed several Michigan schools I was scheduled to speak at the following week: “Is there any talk of your schools/district closing because of the virus? As of now, I’m still prepared to come, but if closing is an imminent possibility there, then ASAP we should discuss rescheduling.”

That night, I spoke to teens (including my own) at a synagogue event, before which we ate—with an empty seat between us. The head of youth programming called it “social distancing.” That was the first time I’d heard the term.

The next day, one of the Michigan schools replied: “As of now we are planning to be in session, but our county is closely monitoring the situation. We will contact immediately if we hear plans of closing. For now, let’s stick to the plan, unless you need to adjust plans on your end.”

Then I flew to Ohio without knowing—or considering—that this would be my last in-person school visit for more than a year (and counting). 

I did take a precaution. I wore my thin running gloves on the flight. I felt a bit silly, but let my belief in science overrule my self-consciousness. I don’t remember noticing many others also gloved and, of course, no one was wearing a mask.

That night, I went to multiple local stores to buy wipes, and even in rural Ohio, where the alarm bells were not as loud, the shelves were already picked clean. 

My wife and I had invited friends to our house for my birthday that weekend, but I erred on the side of caution and called it off. One of my friends said that was ridiculous—“we can just bring hand sanitizer.” Three other friends thought it was sensible. 

At the 3/12 visit at Champion Middle School in Warren, Ohio, I politely declined handshakes (and I’d already switched from high-fives to fist bumps years earlier). For the book signing, I asked that the kids stay on the other side of the table from where I sat. Some adults may have thought these actions were standoffish or hysterical. 

I always savor my time on stage and my interaction with audiences. Looking back, I wish I knew I should savor 3/12 on a whole other level while it was happening.

That afternoon at the hotel, I got the email some friends around the country had already posted about: school closing. My kids’ district would be on hold for the next two weeks.

Two weeks sounded like a long time. How quaint, now.

That’s when it got real for me.

Optimistically and also foolishly, I followed this revelation by emailing my high school class to announce the 30th reunion several of us had been planning for October. I acknowledged the virus in the first line, but the assumption was it would be long gone by summer, let alone fall. Only slightly surprisingly, not one of my 225+ classmates replied to the email. (Hopefully, the reunion will be rescheduled for this fall.)

I woke up to emails from schools in Michigan and probably elsewhere saying they, too, were closing effective immediately. Thus began a frantic hourslong odyssey to change or cancel a slew of school visit/conference flights, rental cars, and hotels. A Delta Air Lines recording said the wait time would be more than six hours. The customer service reps I did reach were already frazzled, understandably so. And it was only just beginning.

Soon I would be indefinitely postponing speaking engagements in Delaware, Connecticut, California, Oregon, New York, North Carolina, Taiwan. Not to mention trips to local friends’ houses, the library, the comic book store.

I told my wife I didn’t think it was a good idea for our kids to hang out with other kids for the time being. She’s usually the more cautious about such things, and she thought I was overreacting. For the time being.

Soon more than two weeks’ worth of our kids’ precious rites of passage would be canceled or transformed. They were reborn as Generation R (Resilient). 

At the airport, before flying home, I posed with my favorite flier: Superman. His invulnerability sure would come in handy for what was looming. Though that was impossible, he embodies something else that was within our grasp: hope. 


I asked the gate agent for a seat that was not next to anyone else. She said “You already have one”—without asking for my seat number or even looking at the screen.

Everyone was given an island seat. No request needed.

My hometown airport didn’t seem less crowded until I got to rideshare pickup area, which is usually mobbed but that night was almost empty.

I got up in (or stayed up till, don’t remember) the middle of the night to try to reach some of the travel-related companies whose phone lines were down earlier that day, and that way I got through.

In the coming days, weeks, months, we’d all have to find a way to get through. 

The next day was my 48th birthday and the unofficial start of everyone’s first pandemic.

I did errands. I did what would be the first of scores of Zooms—a virtual birthday party. Soon there would be virtual happy hours, mini-reunions, keynotes, bar mitzvahs, seders, shivas, fundraisers, meetings, doctor’s appointments, and more. I knew I didn’t have to wear pants for them, but we all have our coping mechanisms to maintain a connection to life as we knew it.

On 3/15, we told our kids we wouldn’t be gathering with others for a while. They already sensed that, and they accepted it without resistance. 

Upon the public recommendation of my friend Raina Telgemeier, I began a “coronavirus journal” on 3/16—only four days but also a lifetime since my Zero Hour date of 3/12. As of this writing, that journal is 46 pages in Word. Some of the memories shared here come from there. Many of the memories are for another moment.

Some of the memories are universally understood even when unspoken. The virus vernacular became the world’s script. The ultimate ensemble with heartbreaking twists on an unprecedented scale. The greatest of the great equalizers (not to be confused with the great equity-izer, which doesn’t yet exist).

The lives lost. 

The living heartbroken.

The stress intensified. The education interrupted. The jobs jettisoned. The future questioned. The priorities reexamined. The creativity challenged. The pollution reduced. The traffic absent. The outdoors rediscovered. The family dinners unrushed. The alarm unset. The game nights. The (home) movie nights. The movie days. The hair clippers, patio heater, bidet. The living-room-cum-ballet-studio. The vacant-school-parking-lot-cum-soccer-practice-for-one. The go-go-go gone gone gone. 

The very very bad punctuated, with no predictability or consistency, by pockets of good. The worst of virology countered by the best of humanity.

There will be no happy ending to COVID-19. Technically, there will be no concrete ending, either. But there will be an end to the new variant of life that started on 3/12. We will always remember the scares and carry the scars but we will no longer be confused and confined. 

COVID-19 forced us all into a new kind of virtual reality. What comes next will also be new for us, but new on our own terms to the best of our ability. Though hardship will remain, and in some cases grow, we will be a different kind of free than anyone in our lifetimes has ever been. We will see toothy smiles again. We will catch up on hugs.

We will return to the stage. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

New addition to the Maryland Arts Directory

Thank you again to the Maryland State Arts Council for adding me to the Maryland Arts Directory as a Touring Artist. I’m also under consideration to be added as a Teaching Artist.

Maryland Arts Directory is a free online platform that showcases the high-caliber, diverse, and relevant work of Maryland’s artists and arts organizations. If the previous sentence sounds to you like a direct quotation from their site, you are astute.



My Artist’s Statement: “My goal is to inspire people to persist. My presentations are brimming with wit and twists.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

School visit 2019 vs. now

school visit 2019:

  • email contract to school
  • ensure school signs and returns contract 
  • make travel plans/reset forgotten passwords
  • make sure certain clothes are washed
  • pack those clothes
  • pack flash drive
  • pack clicker
  • pack wipes (I was doing this long before COVID)
  • check if state you are going to uses EZ-Pass
  • if so, pack EZ-Pass
  • forget to pack something (headphones? portable charger? socks?)
  • get in as much family time as you can before you leave
  • check in online for flight
  • doublecheck that your airline rewards number is on the reservation 
  • travel
  • doublecheck that your hotel rewards number is on the reservation 
  • enter school address into GPS night before to determine when to leave hotel
  • catch up on the work you couldn’t do while in transit
  • place towel on floor so you won’t touch hotel carpet when doing a workout
  • (if it snowed overnight but school was not canceled) build in 5 extra minutes to clean off rental car (10 if it does not have ice scraper)
  • figure out breakfast place on the way with food more edible than what the hotel serves 
  • accidentally run over cone kindly reserving your parking space
  • scan license in school office
  • meet host 
  • check tech 
  • fill water bottle
  • smile at the audience
  • do your thing
  • sign books
  • eat Panera with kids in library
  • fist-bump your way out (I was doing this long before COVID; have not high-fived since 2014)
  • return to get flash drive you forgot in the school laptop
  • fill up rental car gas tank
  • say hi to fellow school-visiting author you bump into at airport
  • go home

school visit now:

  • email contract to school
  • ensure school signs and returns contract 
  • remind family not to vacuum or drop anything for the next little bit
  • walk downstairs to home office
  • (optional) raise standing desk
  • turn on computer
  • smile at the dot
  • do your thing
  • go back upstairs

Both have advantages. Both have disadvantages. I love both ways. But, of course, I cannot wait to be back in a school in person.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Proving people wrong

Friend and fellow writer and illustrator and superb presenter and other things Mike Rex recently reached out to suggest an especially eclectic topic for a picture book. I thought it sounded really fun and I can see kids loving it. Both of us are loaded up with other projects so neither of us is planning to pursue the idea at the moment, but in case Mike ever chooses to, I’ll be vague: its about a creature. And it’s a true story. 

I was flattered Mike thought of me for this (I am generally flattered anytime anyone thinks of me for anything). He explained why (and allowed me to quote him here): 

“Not sure if it’s picture book material...but then again you’ve made a career of proving people wrong with that!”

Though I probably shouldn’t lead with that in pitches, I’m again flattered.
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