Friday, October 30, 2009

Uncle Fester runs a marathon

And so we finish off Halloween week in Frazz -- hopefully as a lot of people run out to the bookstore or library and begin reading Catch-22. Today's Frazz trivia, or arcana or whatever, deals with his shirt. Frazz's shirts often add an extra twist because they'll feature the logo or name of some race or event somewhere, or the manufacturer of some kind of gear that I like (or that somehow meshes with the theme of the strip, however slightly, or that somehow did their logo in a shape that lends itself to showing up between the lapels of a janitor's coveralls) or a musician I'm enjoying, or whatever. Today, though, Frazz is in costume for Halloween, and he's wearing a clerical collar. That's in honor of the chaplain in Catch-22. True, the chaplain is an Anabaptist, whose clergy may or may not wear that kind of shirt, but whatever hell I catch for that will seem pretty mild compared to the Auto De Fe invitations I received from a few angry Catholics after a strip I drew a couple of Sundays ago about Galileo and leisurely apologies. Oops. Didn't mean to offend. I should apologize now, before some nerd does a strip about me in another 400 years. I probably won't have as many fans around to defend me.

In less controversial correspondence, Chas asks why Frazz strips are showing up truncated at the top of the blog page. That would be because somehow the strips don't fit into the way I've got the page laid out, and the format just chops them off instead of resizing them. Until I get this figured out and fixed, you can click on a strip and see the whole thing.

Reed writes in to say that my earlier comment in The Peter Principle, Oct. 29, regarding Peter Sagal's and my inability to nail down modeling contracts while running, is dead on. At least about me. I'm not sure if he's seen Peter run or not, though he might Sunday, since the New York Marathon passes not too far from his home. Reed, I'll interrupt myself to say, is my editor at United Media, which is to say Frazz Central. It's his job to make sure my strips get where they're going on time (no small feat with me these days), with no errors, and offensive to as few Catholics and Anabaptists as possible. Let me say right here that Reed is to editing what Rich is to swim coaching. And that Reed's comics eye and his running-photo eye are equally keen. I'll show you those photos later when I write about my Grand Rapids Marathon adventure. You'll see enough scary images Halloween weekend anyway.

And speaking of my swim coach, "Anonymous" asks if Rich has a Web site. He does not. I've seen him and his sons swim, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if they all have webbed fingers and toes, if that counts. And who is "Anonymous" today? Why, it's none other than the director of one of Rich's favorite movies. Which Rich was honoring today by wearing a Humboldt Water Dogs sweatshirt, which is still a good 7 hours from Salinas, but they look close enough together from Michigan.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Peter principle

My friend Rich bought and read Trizophrenia (now, that's a friend) and brought up a good question:
The foreword by Peter Sagal is pretty funny. How does foreword writing go? Does the foreword writer get a portion of sales too? How does that work? Don't answer that question, but it has always perplexed me a bit. What's the point of spending say 10 hours writing something that perhaps no one will read and there is no "pay-back" except that they may be your Friend. Now, I've agonized for 5 hours or more in writing a eulogy, but that is sort of an epilogue not a foreword, eh?
 Nobody gets paid to write a foreword as far as I can tell, which is amazing. Especially when a serious somebody like Peter Sagal writes one for a relative nobody like me. This is more stress than you'd think. I was up nights -- no joke -- wondering if I'd missed a memo somewhere and that one of my heroes, now a friend, would eventually get sick of waiting for his check, rue the day he answered that first e-mail, shift my name from one sort of list to another (after becoming the kind of person who keeps such lists) and start deliberately spelling my first name with two Fs and pronouncing my last name like it rhymes with "shallot" instead of ".net" (these last two are benign and forgivable and common as gnats in May, but would have to be taken as some sort of message from a friend).

I did do a few things for Peter. We first met, via e-mail (the way just about anybody meets anymore), after I slipped him into a Frazz strip. It turns out he's a runner and a marathoner, so we hit it off well, and he was getting ready to race his first triathlon, which he did with, whatever they're worth, a bunch of my guidance and advice and my 5-year-old wetsuit. But the scale is still way off-balance.

But I think somebodies writing for nobodies is the real point of it all. Excellent writers and good people (Peter is both, in spades) are quite familiar with the concepts of giving back and paying forward, because most of them have benefited from it themselves. Since I can't possibly thank Peter enough even if I did pay him money, or lend him a nicer wetsuit, I will instead do my best to become a somebody myself and continue the tradition. It could happen. Trizophrenia has a really good foreword in the front and a really impressive name on the cover.

Rich already understood, I think, even if he didn't put it together before he asked his question. He's a world-class swim coach who has taken me on and is helping me immeasurably for, as far as I can tell, no tangible benefit to himself. Unless you can put a figure on the entertainment value of watching me attempt the butterfly stroke. But the MasterCard commercials have a word for that.
Note: Peter Sagal is running the New York Marathon this weekend. I am impressed and envious, and I cannot wait to see pictures. Because he's almost as non-photogenic when he's running as I am.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Frazz saves Halloween




I had lost interest in Halloween for a while. It’s not so much that I outgrew it, but more that too many other adults refused to. We forced trick-or-treaters into the background with nebulous-to-dubious accounts of sabotaged treats and furthered the job with all too real subdivisions that were all about cars and dangerous to walkers. And then we took over, buying our own costumes and treats and turning Halloween into one of the biggest party events of the year, trailing only Super Bowl Sunday or New Year’s Eve (depending, I suppose, on who’s counting, who’s playing, and who’s in rehab).

I don’t have the power to just hand Halloween back to the kids, but maybe I can distract the adults a little. So I do, and now Halloween is fun again. Every year in Frazz, Caulfield dresses up as a character from a great book, and I make my readers guess which book. My smarter readers, which is most of them – in my circle of friends as in Garrison Keillor’s world, everyone is above average – love it, and the smart but perhaps less patient ones seem to forgive me for it. I think I lost one newspaper because of it, when they chose Halloween week to test-run the strip and decided their readers found it a wee confusing. Which I imagine they did.

Since it’s my strip, and I have to have control over something in this life (I clearly can’t control when editors test-run Frazz), I don’t feel a need to feature books I don’t like. But this week, this year, I’m featuring one of my absolute favorite books, one of the few very nearly perfect books. I think I’m making it easier than usual to guess which one, but, as is typical, I’m lousy at guessing. Some people nailed it right away and some people remain baffled. See where you stand. But guess quickly, because tomorrow is the big reveal. Sort of.

Enjoy. It's my treat.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The secret cameo license

How about that? My blog is up less than 24 hours, and with two comments already. One is from "Anonymous," who could, of course, be anyone (I'll decide more specifically in a moment). The other is from "Karl," and even though I know a number of Karls, all cool, I'm running with the idea that this one is my friend Karl Gude.

Why? Partly because it came in about 5:30 a.m., and he's the most likely Karl to still be up at that hour. But mostly because of his cameo. While I was posting my first blog entry on, the mailman was posting my latest issue of VeloNews in the box at the end of my driveway. VeloNews is a magazine about bicycle racing; I draw a cartoon every month for their print edition. The cartoon in this month's issue -- and at the top of this page -- shows a character who is perhaps highly caffeinated, relentlessly inventive, questionably practical, and dressed in a jersey emblazoned with the sponsor "Gude."

One of the best parts of this job is that the authorities secretly (oops!) issue you a cameo license. I can drop names and images in there whenever it's called for, and I do. Just in VeloNews, we've got Karl this month. Last month, I doubled up and put my friend Rich in the office of a Dr. Noftz for a cartoon about cyclocross. The month before that, a golfing Jamie showed up. That would be Jamie Smith, author of the outstanding (and somewhat competently illustrated) bicycle-racing guide Roadie. In a cartoon this summer about mountain biking, a character was somehow dressed in the team kit of my friends Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger of the Subaru-Fisher racing team. (Apparently the cameo license comes with a name-dropping license.) Before that, Ardis Schwab ran a fruit stand. And those are just the VeloNews ones, and the ones popping straight to mind at this moment.

Frazz has its own collection of cameos, and even its own division: The Janitor's T-Shirt. Which we'll save for another post. Right now, you have to get to work, and so do I. And I have to figure out who today's "Anonymous" is. In a perfect world, it would be someone I can link to that somehow trips a logarithm in search engines and gooses my level of credibility and cool by a millipoint or two. Today, "Anonymous" is Edward Hopper, whose use of light is as simple and elegant as it is haunting. Thanks, Ed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ready, set, wade in

The longest journey starts with a single cliché. This one almost did, anyway.

Thank God I could hold off until the second paragraph. If it’s true about the single step, then maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to join the modern world and start a blog. I’m a triathlete, after all, and we have things to take care of before that first step. Like the swim. The bike. Comic strip deadlines, magazine work, training, racing, life in general and now a book, "Trizophrenia: Inside the Minds of a Triathlete,” published by Velo Press and available in bookstores and online now.

While all these things were distracting me from starting a blog, they were making it all the more appropriate that I start one. It turns out that while all those things make for a rich and rewarding life, they take time away from friends and family and – dare I say it – fans just as surely as they take time away from more new projects.

So here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish with this blog: I’ll share a few thoughts with the world a few times a week, ideally, eventually, on something resembling a dependable schedule. I’ll try to share thoughts that are worthwhile and only thoughts that are worthwhile. (Note: I will fail at this.) Maybe I’ll elaborate on what’s happening in today’s Frazz episode. Or in Trizophrenia, or in my Triathlete magazine column or my VeloNews cartoon. Maybe I’ll subtly draw attention to those products like I just did, or maybe I’ll announce new products like the upcoming cover art for The Bob and Tom Show’s annual (and wonderful) comedy CD, distributed via the USO exclusively for the enjoyment of our overseas troops.

I do these things anyway, in the form of e-mails to friends. Which brings me to this: I have a lot more friends than I have outgoing e-mails. People are getting missed. So here’s my chance to apologize to those people, en masse (how personal), and maybe start over in a format that sees me less likely to fall behind.

While I’m streamlining the outbound stuff, I’ll try and make it easy for people to write back with their own. This blog is open to comments and questions, inevitably heckling, and definitely correction. Please, join in. I was always better at conversation than monologue.

So here I am. I’m taking that first, clichéd step. It’s not so hard after all. It’s just a new way of sharing the same old stories and thoughts. And occasional, not terribly subtle, reminders that !!TrizophreniaFrazzTriathleteVelonewsBobAndTom!! I have the occasional ulterior motive and product to move just like anyone else.