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Archive for the ‘Author’s Purpose’ Category




Privacy Policy

Written on Sunday, April 12th, 2020 [permanent link]

Self-isolating at home during a global pandemic doesn’t feel that odd to an author. Decades ago I wrote quickly, in busy and loud newsrooms, and after that I created Chester stories while my sons watched noisy Saturday morning cartoons in the next room over. But now, at 53, my best writing comes in a completely silent and private space. The silence helps me sort through years of personal experience and research. Sometimes there is even an afternoon 10-minute nap, and when I wake up, that little moment of quiet rest has produced a new clarity in the story I’m writing or a new visual joke for Chester to make.

Of course I feel the stress of this public health crisis like so many people do, and I miss visiting my sons and going out to socialize at fun spots in the city. But this a very quiet crisis, for me. Right now I don’t really live in Cleveland; I live in my apartment. (It helps when I imagine my apartment as a space station, and by those standards this silent space is quite comfortable and peaceful.)

Or maybe my apartment is a time machine? I am surrounded by history in the form of my beloved books, photos, and research documents. God put me on the planet to help modern people meet people of the past and thus draw inspiration and hope from them. I translate moments in time, from one era to another. I knew when I moved to take a job in Cleveland last summer that my new life would give me the most time and space to work on my history comix that I have ever had. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the work plan I have followed since August 2019. This time of isolation has given me more hours to do what I was already doing in the evenings and weekends after my day job at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

This spring’s private time has already produced two newly revised Chester stories. There will be more soon. I am thankful to all those who helped me over the past seven years to build a smartphone platform to publish these stories. It’s a perfect delivery system for a time of social distancing. And it’s a great deal. If you ever bought a printed Chester Comix at a museum store for $6.95, you got four stories of about 40 panels each. That’s 160 panels of colorful storytelling. If you spend that same amount of money in the Chester Comix smartphone app, you will get seven different stories of about 80 panels each, or 560 panels of storytelling! I keep giving more because that’s what I’m meant to do — MORE STORYTELLING. And these new comic panels go straight from my virus-free computer to the phone or tablet in your house.

This is a misty-eyed way for me to get to an official statement of the Chester Comix privacy policy, which some of my app store vendors say I need to have. The Chester Comix policy is simple: I am using the benefits of my private time in quarantine to help your family study history and government in yours. The Chester Comix app does not gather your personal information to report it to me or to any other company. The few pennies you spend on the stories in my library are all that I get out of this exchange. And once you buy a Chester story on the app, it’s yours. There are no ads, and there is no ticking clock that makes the content expire. Chester’s app is not a loud carnival game. It’s a library. You can feel safe when your children access this educational content.

I keep giving more in this exchange because I believe the saying: the best education is one that continues throughout life. We’re all experiencing the truth of that saying in a heightened way now. Families are learning new things together while in isolation. Learning doesn’t stop after you get your high school or college diploma. The world changes rapidly, and the challenges grow and mutate. Adults of 25 or 45 or 65 years have to stay on their toes and take in new information all the time. I hope that Chester’s historical content inspires people and gives a young person a solid foundation upon which to build that lifetime of learning.

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Cleveland Cartooning

Written on Sunday, October 13th, 2019 [permanent link]

There is a Hungarian Heritage Museum and the Dettrick Medical History Center and a firefighting museum and, smack in the middle of the modern city built by heavy manufacturing, the Dunham Tavern Museum to remember a couple who moved to the area in 1819.

You know about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already.

Did you know Cleveland is also the hometown of the two Jewish creators of Superman?

Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. They changed American pop culture. There’s no museum dedicated to them or to northeast Ohio’s knack for producing great artists in this very American art form, cartoon storytelling. Cleveland spawned memoirist Harvey Pekar and writer Brian Michael Bendis (if you love the first decade of Marvel movies, thank Bendis; Hollywood pulled a lot from his groundbreaking comic book stories). “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson is from a Cleveland suburb. “Funky Winkerbean” creator Tom Batiuk is from Akron, just down the road. There are many others who have drawn here or started here in the past 100 years of cartoon storytelling.

Now I’m here. Jerry Siegel’s childhood house is two miles from where I now work, the Cleveland Museum of Art. I’m thrilled to be doing philanthropy communications in my day job, helping to raise support for spectacular shows such as the current Michelangelo: Mind of the Master, in which you can see the famous artist doodling his ideas on scraps of paper (like a cartoonist). I draw inspiration from working among the world’s great art every weekday. It’s easy to see how my Chester Comix education and marketing work transects my work to promote the museum. There is artistic synergy everywhere: the CMA was founded at the same time American newspaper comic strips were roaring to life a century ago.

Cleveland’s culture was really stamped in the American Century. It makes sense that a city of blue collar manufacturing also produced cartoon writers and artists, because cartooning is a democratic art form, printed on cheap paper and requiring no formal training to get to the moment of creativity. Cartooning is an easy vehicle for the children of immigrants or factory workers to express their American dreams.

Being in Cleveland inspires me. Williamsburg, Virginia, was a wonderful incubator for history comix in the 23 years I lived there, but it was a bit false to my art form. The mishmash was the idea: I was applying a modern, popular form of storytelling to the formal, distant and not-very-visual lives of colonial Americans. And I drew a LOT of those stories, digging in to all the details provided by the work of the historians and archaeologists who were my neighbors. But Patrick Henry himself would not have understood my storytelling. I was applying one American culture to another.

Being a cartoonist in Cleveland feels much more organic. And I’m short on my storytelling about 20th century America anyway. I’m looking forward to drawing in my evening and weekend hours in my Cleveland apartment, like so many of my predecessors have done. And when I need inspiration, I’ll drive by Jerry’s house on the East Side. It isn’t open to the public, but American folklore magic was created there. And maybe part of my work in the coming years will be to find a space where we can honor these American storytellers.

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Zombie Abe Lincoln!

Written on Saturday, July 28th, 2018 [permanent link]

I have some awesome shelved projects.

That rough draft for a whole comic about Ancient India got approval from every educator I showed it to – right up to college professors who study that culture saturated with history and myth. I planned to pay for this book myself because I would sell a LOT of copies to a giant Virginia school district that mandated the teaching of Ancient India. But the draft made district officials too nervous, I lost the main customer, and I never touched the draft again.

Once a museum director asked me to make a pitch for a comic book biography of General George Marshall. It would have been hard to draw a whole book about Marshall, since his genius was in PLANNING (lots of drawings of MEETINGS!!}, but I was willing to try because he was a major force in the World War II era. The money people wouldn’t pay for even a draft to test this idea.

I voluntarily drew and colored two pages to demonstrate a comic version of a high school textbook about the core debates that have echoed through our politics for more than two centuries. I was excited to use color flow to show how two basic viewpoints on an issue (big vs. small government!} collided in a historical era. Those two pages came out beautifully. The textbook maker decided NAAAAAAH.

A lot of good ideas get stuck on the chit-chat side of the money contract. One woman’s vision to have me tell the history of her cute little Virginia town never got to the money stage. There are countless party conversations where someone gets a light bulb about matching my art to their favorite history, and then no one ever follows up.

Sometimes we get past the contract phase. Last year a major retelling of the Lewis and Clark expedition from the viewpoint of the Native American nations fell apart because the ambitious rough draft showed what the Native Americans thought — too dangerous. The buyers bailed.

When the Lewis and Clark project vanished, I got a clear view of my landscape of half-finished ideas. And there was Abe.

I rough drafted a whole book about Abraham Lincoln a decade ago, hoping to get some sales off of the bicentennial celebration of his birth. I . . . uhhhhh. . . missed that window. Other projects came along with checks attached to them, and I took those to pay the mortgage. Doing a book purely for myself, paid for by only me, is a great risk.

Of course, Abe is worth the risk. But I also couldn’t begin on the final drawings for the Abe book until I confronted the truth: I let Abe sit on the shelf so long because I am intimidated by him. I’ve always loved Abe Lincoln, and he’s a towering figure who is hard to sum up in one comic. HUNDREDS of books have been written about him. And my dad loved Lincoln, too. He made sculptures and paintings of Abe for me. Returning to Abe this year would mean I would have to go back into the tunnel where I left the Abe draft years ago and carry it forward in the chill air left after my dad’s passing in 2015. Could I finally get Abe all the way through, out into the light? Could I stay focused for three months, or would I nibble awhile and then leave him behind in the dark again?

I hope you like new book.

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