Categories
Blog

Lee Salem 1946-2019

The first famous person I ever saw at ComicCon was Lee Salem. It was my first year attending that convention, before I even had a table. One of my early stops was to the Universal Press Syndicate booth. To my complete shock I saw the man himself, talking with a few other editors. I approached him with the awe appropriate to kings and religious figures, and I think he was baffled by this young man’s recognition. I shook his hand, mumbled something about how great it was to meet him, then moved on. That moment stands as one of my all-time ComicCon highlights (and I’ve met the voice of SpongeBob).

As longtime readers of this here blog know, I wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist since I was a kid. Calvin and Hobbes has been my guiding light since around age 10. Through that strip, I’ve learned just about everything I know about making good comics. Of course there have been others, but Watterson’s work has become so ingrained I believe you can see some of the jokes written in my DNA.

At some point I learned that Lee Salem was Bill Watterson’s editor. I later learned he edited many of the greatest comics to ever grace the pages of newspapers. This was a man I needed to know. As any good writer knows, they are only as good as their editor (Salem’s suggestion on an early submission from Watterson, to focus on the younger brother of the main character, led to the creation of Calvin and Hobbes). When I was old enough to submit comics to syndicates, my first letter was always addressed to Mr. Lee Salem.

Though I never got to work with him (he was promoted to President of Universal Press Syndicate before his retirement) his legacy left a lasting impression on me.

Bill Watterson’s retirement gift to Lee Salem

It feels strange to miss a man whose work was, for the most part, invisible. He helped innumerable cartoonists be funnier. He led the industry to give creators more rights. He was president of a comics syndicate during a time of great uncertainty and change. He did all these things well. I am sorry to hear that he is no longer with us. I am grateful for the good work he did.

Categories
Blog

one thought podcast

I had the great honor of being interviewed by David Gardner of One Thought Podcast. We talked about my practice, influences, and a whole range of digressions. It was a lot of fun, and I think I don’t come off sounding completely incoherent. Have a listen! David is a great host.

Listen here.

(Or find it wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.)

Categories
Blog

comic-con 2014

This year I almost didn’t make it to San Diego ComicCon. In December I received a letter informing me that I was waitlisted. It hit me hard. ComicCon has become a highlight of the year and I’d hate to miss it. Fortunately I am tenacious, and in late May a cancellation got me into the show. A few very busy weekends later, I finished Falling Rock National Park #4 in time for its San Diego debut, hopped on a plane, and found myself once again in the Happiest Place on Earth.

The convention did not disappoint. Massive crowds, interesting (and sometimes inexplicable) installations, a Paul Rudd sighting, and of course many good friends stopping by my table in Small Press to say hello.

My neighbors were Alec Longstreth and Greg Means, two friends from way back. They played a game created at WonderCon called Cosplay Alphabet. You have to spot people dressed as characters in alphabetical order. The game made us extra aware of the people passing by on all sides. Sadly, we got all the way to Z but didn’t see a zombie or Zorro in the final half hour of the show. Still, it was a great way to fill the slow times (in Small Press, that does happen occasionally).

What marked this year apart from the past two were my meetings with two television networks. I can’t say much about it as of yet, but it was the most exciting thing to happen to me at any ComicCon. You can be sure I’ll have more to say as soon as there is something to say. What I will say now is that this feels like the right progression for me. I’m living that legend the old-timers tell, about the indie cartoonist who gets scooped up at ComicCon by a benevolent massive corporation. The American Dream is alive at ComicCon.

I did my first-ever convention signing, at the Uclick booth. When I was drawing a comic strip, I sent in a submission to the comic syndicates every year. Universal Press Syndicate was my favorite, partly because they seemed the most approachable and partly because they syndicated Calvin & Hobbes. So it was something of a dream come true when they asked to run my graphic novel, Tomb of the Zombies, on their website this fall. As part of the huge promotional push for my masterwork, they asked me to sit at their booth for an hour and sign Tomb of the Zombies prints. It was totally awesome.

This show would not have been possible for me to do alone. That is why I am grateful for my wife, who not only designed the nifty book ribbons for my Falling Rock 4-book collection, but overnighted copies of Falling Rock #3 after I had completely forgotten to pack a single one.

I also have to acknowledge Rachael, who I met at ComicCon four years ago. She’s been at my table for the past two years, giving me all-important breaks for food, nature, and a chance to visit friends at tables all over the convention center. If not for her, I’d be one of the walking dead by the end of Thursday.

Some cool things I saw that are not Paul Rudd:
Tom Kenny exited an elevator I was about to enter. I smiled, recognizing him as both the voice of SpongeBob and a player on Mr. Show. He looked at my badge and said, “Oh, hi Josh! Sorry I didn’t recognize you.” We shook hands. I couldn’t do anything but grin. I met SpongeBob! He’s so nice! Why did he apologize to me?

Jim Lee was giving clues to fans as to the whereabouts of sketches he’d hidden all around the hotel next to the convention center. Although I didn’t find any, I spent a good ten minutes looking under tables and around ferns.

The original Bill Watterson/Stephan Pastis Pearls Before Swine comics. They are being auctioned to benefit Parkinson’s research. This was the second time in my life I’d been able to see original art by Mr. Watterson, and it was just as thrilling as the first. A woman beside me was nearly in tears. Standing there on the convention floor was more spiritually moving than being at a museum in front of a Picasso or Monet. (Those guys are fine, don’t get me wrong.)

Scott McCloud stopped to talk to Alec and Greg, and I waylaid him before he scurried off. He and I both were pretty frazzled on Sunday afternoon, but I was able to communicate how much I liked his interview for the documentary Stripped. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and I’m glad we got to chat for a few minutes.

Near the end of the day on Sunday, Matt Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, walked by my table. Not recognizing him (he’s actually much better looking than his comic suggests), I gave him a postcard. He looked at my books for a few minutes and asked what tools I use. He’s exclusively digital, so I don’t think my suggestions were much help to him. Then he asked me if I did sketches. I said, Sure, why not? He wanted me draw his lady friend as a zombie. We were all laughing pretty hard at the absurdity of this whole exchange. She was understandably embarrassed, not knowing what kind of hideous creature I’d turn her into. I think I did right by her, though, and he was suitably impressed with my on-the-spot sketch. This was the best-case scenario for convention sketches. I can now retire from them forever.

There was more, of course, but this post has gotten unwieldy enough. I hope it has given you a taste of ComicCon. Until next year, when I get to learn about pop culture all over again.

Categories
Blog

the cartoonist at his desk

After the iconic Bill Watterson photo.
josh-watterson

Categories
Blog Uncategorized

Bill Watterson in Pearls Before Swine

Yet another hint that our dear friend Bill Watterson might be planning some kind of return. In what is possibly an homage to my April Fools Day Falling Rock strips, Bill ghost-drew a few panels in Pearls Before Swine. Read Stephan Pastis’ full story here. The behind-the-scenes story is almost as good as the finished product.

watterson pastis 1

watterson pastis 2

watterson pastis 3

The best part about this is these strips will be sold at Heroes Con with proceeds going to charity. If only I had a couple grand to spare, I’d snap these up.

Let me use this space to cordially invite Mr. Watterson to San Diego ComicCon next month. Mr. Watterson: no one will recognize you, unless you look exactly like that 30 year old photo, so you won’t be mobbed. San Diego has some very nice bike paths, so you can get some rides in while you’re there. And if you stop by my table (Small Press K-05) I will give you free comics and a beer (or whiskey if that’s your drink).

Categories
Blog comic

Bill Watterson STRIPPED

This is not a cheap ploy to increase my web traffic. Bill Watterson is not involved in anything untoward. Stripped refers to comic strips, as in newspaper funnies, as in the only part of the paper I read as a kid.
Bill Watterson Stripped
Yesterday I received an email from the makers of a film I backed on Kickstarter. Stripped is a documentary about comic strips and the anonymous elves who make them. The two filmmakers, Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder, interviewed over 70 of those elves (“cartoonists”), Bill Watterson included. Bill must’ve liked talking to Dave and Fred, because he agreed to draw the poster art.

WHAAAAAAAAAT

Should we begin calling Bill Watterson formerly reclusive? In the past few years we’ve heard more and more from him.

Let me begin by saying, I love the poster. It’s nice to see Watterson draw something that isn’t Calvin and Hobbes. There are so few examples of his art before the comic strip (many of them cataloged here), and even fewer post-Calvin. The drawing is obviously his – the style is so familiar. It is full of life, with details that make you want to linger in the theater lobby (or, in my case, the iPad screen). Is it the best poster that I’ve ever seen? Yes, I think so.

Hyperbole aside, this poster is kind of a tease. If Bill is doing these little one-off projects, does this mean there’s more to come? I hate to think after verifying that he’s still very capable of wielding a brush that he’ll re-submerge in Ohio for another twenty years. He clearly cares about comics, and I imagine he has more to say.

I’ll make this plea once more, in case Bill scours the internet late at night in search of himself: Please come back. You don’t have to do Calvin and Hobbes. Write a graphic novel about dueling stamp collectors. Write a sci-fi cookbook. Make a foldy comic! The format and characters don’t matter to me. Reading new material from a master does.

I haven’t seen Stripped yet – it will be released soon on iTunes – so you can expect a lengthy and highly digressive review on this here blog just as soon as I do.

Categories
Blog comic reviews

Bill Watterson at Angouleme

Good news came Sunday morning with this tweet from The Comics Reporter:
comicsreportertweetI had to wait a little while for an article to confirm, and when it did come, it came in French.

Then, later, in English.

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, huge inspiration to this here blogger, first cartoonist to win the Tour de France, received the prestigious Grand Prix at one of the biggest comics festivals in the world.

It seems as less of a surprise than it would have been a few years ago. Lately it seems ol Bill’s work is getting more of the attention it deserves. In 2005 we got The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a hardbound three volume set that collects the run of the strip in its entirety. Better still, it included a preface by the author. Clocking in at about 20 pages, it was the most autobiography I’d ever seen from Watterson.

In 2009, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes popped up as a sort of meta-article on the elusive cartoonist. Although Nevin Martell interviewed just about everyone associated with Watterson, he was unable to speak with the man himself. On the record, at least.

Last year came Dear Mr. Watterson, a documentary on the lasting legacy of Calvin and Hobbes. This was not another biography of the man but a love letter to his work. I am proud to have been included in such a nice tribute to my favorite work of art.

With all these publications, Bill Watterson has been thrust once again into the spotlight. Let us hope he is not too angry at us for loving him so much. I doubt he is too bothered by it, as he has voluntarily taken part in two projects of late: one, a book called The Art of Richard Thompson, will feature an interview between Watterson and Thompson. In March, an exhibit of both Thompson and Watterson’s art will go up at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University.

Amid all this renewed interest, it makes sense that the judges at Angouleme to award Watterson their highest honor.
billwatterson-grandprix

Everyone wants to know: will Bill Watterson attend Angouleme next year? According to his editor Lee Salem (a superstar of the comics scene himself), “I’ll try to talk him into it.” I don’t know about you, but if I was in Ohio in late January a trip to France would sound pretty darn good.

Categories
Blog comic

New Bill Watterson interview

Via Mental Floss

I’m not quite sure this is for real; it’s kind of like a Bigfoot sighting that way.

Categories
Blog comic con

SPX 2013

Literally hundreds of cartoonists descended on the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center last weekend. This imposing portrait of the Marriott Brothers hung near the ballroom like a stained glass portrait of Jesus and Mary in a cathedral.

I still had a few Dear Mr. Watterson postcards, which were a great conversation starter. It was a great joy telling people that there is a movie about Bill Watterson coming out soon. Everybody loves Calvin and Hobbes. If you happen upon this post during your nightly Googling of your name, Mr. Watterson, take note: you would be welcome at SPX any year. If noted misanthropes Seth and Chris Ware made it out, you can too.

By far the coolest thing to happen was my inclusion in the Library of Congress. Three of my Falling Rock comic strip collections (Great Wave of Falling Rock, Scenic Byways, and Falling Rock National Park 2012) will live forever in the LoC until the Psychlos have driven us from our cities and strip-mined our planet for precious gold.

I was seated at table A1. This, I thought, must have meaning. While I searched for this elusive meaning, I stared across the aisle at Jeff Smith, who signed approximately 5,482 books during the course of the weekend.

A large part of my success at SPX is due to one man: Nick Offerman. In addition to being the genius actor who portrays Ron Swanson on the genius show Parks and Recreation, he built his own canoe and filmed an instructional video so any of us non-Offermans can join him on the lake. BYO Scotch.

I was given a very cool foldy comic about the age-old question of chicken/egg. Which came first? You’ll have to decide.

The day after SPX I made my way into our nation’s capitol, where I saw but was unable to ride one of the Wright brothers’ custom-made bicycles. I think it says something that the guys who built the first airplane were also bike mechanics.

Thanks to the SPX team who put together another great show. A big thanks to my comic book buddies, including (but not limited to) Kenan & Cate, Neil, Tyrell, Jason, Cara, Kevin, Alec, Greg, as well as the new friends I made. Your energy and bone-deep enthusiasm literally took my breath away. Literally, it took my breath. I can’t wait to have a similar yet refreshingly unique experience at the Bethesda Marriott next year.

Categories
Blog comic con

SDCC 2013


My second year exhibiting at the Greatest Show on Earth was a raging success. I did my best sales ever, beating last year’s record. I saw lots of old friends and met a few new ones. I wasn’t devoured by zombies. I’ve already applied to next year’s show, so with luck you can find me back in Small Press, row O, same time next July.

View this post on Instagram

Are You There Thor? It's Me, Margaret #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Frequent table-mate Reid decided to take a year off, so I had a whole table to fill.

View this post on Instagram

Are we ready? Yes we are. #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Although I was technically tabling alone, I had plenty of help. My friend Rachael, a San Diegan and a biology student, was my official assistant for the show. She gave me lunch breaks and allowed me to get away to see cartoonists and illustrators I’ve long admired. William Stout was back – I think he’s been attending every ComicCon since the beginning – and he drew me a stegosaurus and told me of the new discoveries regarding its famous plates. Rachael rode her motorcycle to the convention center, which was bar none the coolest thing anyone did that whole week.

View this post on Instagram

Trek Otter #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on

View this post on Instagram

Portrait of #grumpycat #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Once again my neighbors made the show for me. Four full days plus one evening is a marathon. You’re handing out cards, shouting greetings to strangers, rattling off the same pithy phrases about your books over and over again until you lose your voice. Without the good humor and support of those tabling around me, I’d never make it.

View this post on Instagram

Neighbors #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Jeff was my neighbor for the second year in a row. Although we didn’t get into a heated Twitter battle like we did in ’12, we joked around plenty. I also got to meet Jeff’s mom and sister. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jeff’s mom, who stood behind my table when I needed to take bathroom breaks. She became as good, if not better, at selling my books than me.

View this post on Instagram

Neighbors #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Corey and Yomi were new to ComicCon but you’d never know. They are naturally friendly; every time I looked over they were surrounded by a new and exciting mix of people. I can’t wait to read the books I traded them for.

View this post on Instagram

Homemade #beemo #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on

View this post on Instagram

Sweeping out the mouth. #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Ben was once again on my right. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of Ben, but trust me, no photograph would do that man justice. He came with the second volume of his mighty work Pang: The Wandering Shaolin Monk. If you are unfamiliar with Ben’s work, I would highly suggest tracking down his zine about a boy who grows a cloaca when he hits puberty.

View this post on Instagram

#tmnt #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Occasionally the river of people running in front of my table yielded a familiar face. Palle Schmidt, my friend from a country where the government supports the arts, was back in San Diego. This time he was plugging his latest graphic novel for the English-speaking market. Palle interviewed me for his podcast. He grouped me with Nate Powell, which is as huge a compliment for me as it must be a dubious distinction for Nate. Listen if you want to hear me expound on self-publishing for three minutes.

View this post on Instagram

The night I tried to steal Neil from @amandapalmer

A post shared by Henry Barajas (@henryjbarajas) on


Henry Barajas. This guy. We first met at last year’s Con, but he’s from Tucson. We tabled next to each other at last year’s Tucson ComicCon, where I realized that he is the most outgoing, networkingist cartoonist I’ve met. He is quite literally a Renaissance Man. He does stand-up, writes for the daily paper in Tucson, writes comics, and knows just about everyone in the business. For some reason, he took time out of hanging with Neil Gaiman to help me sell books at my table. Henry gave me the energy boost I badly needed on Friday afternoon. I was in a bit of a rut, caffeine loosing its effectiveness, and he shook off my cobwebs and got me back in the game. Can I throw any more metaphors in there? He was my con coach.

View this post on Instagram

Ask me about my involvement in #DearMrWatterson #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


Joel Schroeder, director of the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson. If you asked me what sort of movie I most wanted to be a part of, I would have said, duh, a movie about Bill Watterson. Well kids, I’m here to tell you that dreams really do come true. Joel emailed me last fall, requesting permission to use a Falling Rock strip in his documentary. I held off responding for a good ten minutes before mashing all the keys on my keyboard until I typed YES OF COURSE. Now the film is complete and Joel is preparing for a nationwide theatrical release in November. He sent me a poster for my table and stopped by on Saturday to deliver a stack of postcards. Turns out, everybody at ComicCon loves Calvin and Hobbes. People walking quickly by my table would stop in their tracks when I handed them a card to ask about Dear Mr. Watterson.

Mr. Watterson, if you happen upon this blog, I want you to know that people dressed as zombies, people in capes, women, men, young, old…every single person who goes to ComicCon loves Calvin and Hobbes dearly. There is no other single comic (or movie, or TV show, or viral video) as universally loved as that strip. If you ever want to come to ComicCon, even in disguise so nobody will bug you for a snowman drawing or whatever, I think you will have a great time.

Also, I think you should make a Spaceman Spiff graphic novel. Think about it, get back to me later.

View this post on Instagram

Hello old friend #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


I figured out that people on panels had a special badge, so I began asking everyone with a Panel Badge what they did. It always yielded interesting answers. I met a scientist who works at Jet Propulsion Labs. He is a consultant on an upcoming film about a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. I hadn’t heard of Europa Report before, but based on his description I am 100% going to see this movie – especially given my longstanding dream that NASA will devote a mission to the ocean moon.

I also saw Lawrence from Office Space! I had no idea what to say to him as he walked by. I just said “Heyyyy!” He turned, smiled, and said “Hello!”

View this post on Instagram

#sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on


There was, inevitably, talk among cartoonists about the watering-down of ComicCon. I’ve only been attending for the past five years so the crazy crowds are all I know. With the movie and television and video game and toy companies comes a much broader audience. The people who are there to see Game of Thrones or Hunger Games are not necessarily going to spend any time at Small Press or Artist Alley looking at self-published minicomics. I understand the need to sell well at this show. It is expensive to stay for five days, it is difficult to stand up all day shouting the same pitch to passerby. It can get tiring even if you do well. I come back exhausted. If you don’t do as well as you’d like, it can be disheartening. That’s true for any show. But I disagree that ComicCon is less good because of all the hoopla. If anything, people can get exposed to more pop culture than they ever would have anticipated. I have personally sold comics to people who say they don’t read comics. At ComicCon, it’s all about discovery.

For me, ComicCon is more than just another show. The jarring cocktail of pop culture produces something bigger than any of us. Fans, cartoonists, Stormtroopers, publishers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers all share space in the sprawling convention center. I’m certainly glad I’ve done we’ll the two years I’ve exhibited; it has made it worth coming back. But more importantly, it exposes me to a phenomenon. ComicCon is the epicenter of popular culture. We come out knowing what the trends will be for the next year. We are part of the zeitgeist, a moving target that perches in the Gaslamp Quarter for a week before heading for parts unknown. It feels good to know that my work can fit into that huge swirling mass.

Until next year, ComicCon.

View this post on Instagram

#lego Iron-Man #sdcc

A post shared by Josh Shalek (@kidshaycomics) on