Sunday, November 8, 2009

Eloise at the Library

Once there was a 6-year-old who lived not far from Central Park. She had a dog that looked like a cat and a turtle named Skipperdee. Her mother was mostly absent. Her nanny drank. She skibbled around New York like she owned the place. But there was one marble edifice whose door she was not allowed to darken: She was shut out of the New York Public Library.

That's why I was so delighted to see that the red carpet was rolled out this weekend at the NYPL for Hilary Knight, the man who created those perfect black, white, and red drawings of Eloise, the eternal bad girl. Hilary was named a NYPL Library Lion of 2009. He donated his papers -- the notes, sketches, and biographical outpourings of an artistic lifetime -- to the Library's collection on November 2 of this year, just a day after his 83rd birthday. When I opened the Style section of the New York Times today, there was Hilary in his impeccable black tie with a gorgeous crimson sash, taking up his rightful position as a Library Lion.

But where was Eloise? Oh, she's in the children's collection now, now that it's safe to have her there, nestled among Gossip Girl and Heather Has Two Mommies, fifty-four years after her conception. But when Eloise was first released by Simon & Schuster in 1955 Anne Carroll Moore, the redoubtable head of the library's Office of Work with Children, deemed her unworthy. Not because the book wasn't a good book, nor because it was "for precocious grown-ups," as Kay Thompson so brilliantly subtitled her work, but because it was a good book for bad children. And Miss Moore sanctioned only good books for good children. (Which is why Margaret Wise Brown's work didn't merit a place at the NYPL, either. Eloise, as always, was in the best company.)

All this I learned when I went on a hunt for original editions of Eloise, Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, and Eloise in Moscow in 1998. That was the year Kay Thompson died, and her heirs felt that it was time to reissue all the Eloise books -- three of which Kay had decided, pretty much on a whim, to put out of print. My job was to match the reissues as closely as possibly to the original printings. I thought, maybe, there might be a few first editions squirreled away in the annals of the library. But did I find a first edition? No. Did I find any edition? Not one.

The Library had never added Eloise to their collection. She did not exist in the card catalog, on the shelves, or skittering through the hallways. (The irony is that she was in the Brooklyn Public Library's collection, but could not be found in any Manhattan branch. I don't think Eloise ever set foot in Brooklyn in her six-year-old life.) I ended up buying first editions on eBay, and Hilary and I worked on matching the new printings to those (though he liked the second printings of most of the Eloise titles better, but that's another story).

It was only after the resurgence of Eloise in the late 1990's and early 2000's that the NYPL finally and added these seminal New York books to its shelves. And now, the library will have the Eloise archive, too. Lucky them!

Here's the thing of it:
Saying no to Eloise is not allowed.

Oooooh I absolutely love a happy ending.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poetry Friday: Disobedience

I have been intending to write about my semi-star-studded commute the other day, but that post is yet to be committed to this blog. But as it's poetry Friday, and in honor (?) of the new Winnie-the-Pooh book, which was published today, here is A. A. Milne's glorious "Disobedience," instead. It pounded through my head all the way home tonight, from 59th Street to the upper 100's.

It's an old favorite of mine -- I used to recite it to my daughter as I pushed her on the swings in Hippo Park. And I used it as a choral speaking exercise at the Vermont College of Fine Arts one summer (a young David Levithan was in the audience, I believe). So here's "Disobedience" for you. Try to keep it from lodging in your brain for just about ever.

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he;
"You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

James James
Morrison's Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison's Mother
Drove to the end of town.
James James Morrison's Mother
Said to herself, said she:
"I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea."

King John
Put up a notice,

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.
James James
Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me."

James James
Morrison's mother
Hasn't been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.
King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
"If people go down to the end of the town,
What can anyone do?"

(Now, then, very softly)
J. J.
M. M.
W. G. du P.
Took great c/o his M*****
Though he was only 3
J. J. said to his M******
"M*****," he said, said he,

-- A. A. Milne

Friday, September 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: This fall, it's all about Keats

Jane Campion's Bright Star releases today. It tells the fevered love story of Fanny Brawne and (doomed) Johnny Keats. I was as in love with Keats -- or possibly more -- than Fanny Brawne could ever have been, or at least that's what I believed when I was about thirteen. At one time I had almost all his sonnets by heart, including the one that lends its name to Campion's film. My sister and I used to recite together "When I Have Fears," and I spent many a biology class writing out "Ode to a Nightingale" so I would be able to memorize it. (Now I turn it over in my head when I'm in the dentist's chair. Very calming.)

I thought about posting "Bright Star" here today, but I have to say it was never one of my favorites. So here's a little ditty that I have long loved, and that I'm even now working with a most-admired artist to turn into a picture book. It was written with a different kind of love by Keats for another Fanny, his younger sister, Fanny Keats. Now, in my dotage, this might be my most beloved Keats poem of all.


There was a naughty Boy,
A naughty boy was he,
He would not stop at home,
He could not quiet be --
He took
In his Knapsack
A Book
Full of vowels
And a shirt
With some towels --
A slight cap
For night cap --
A hair brush,
Comb ditto,
New Stockings
For old ones
Would split O!
This Knapsack
Tight at's back
He rivetted close
And followed his Nose
To the North,
To the North,
And follow'd his nose
To the North.


There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
For nothing would he do
But scribble poetry --
He took
An ink stand
In his hand
And a pen
Big as ten
In the other,
And away
In a Pother
He ran
To the mountains
And fountains
And ghostes
And Postes
And witches
And ditches
And wrote
In his coat
When the weather
Was cool,
Fear of gout,
And without
When the weather
Was warm --
Och the charm
When we choose
To follow one's nose
To the north,
To the north,
To follow one's nose
To the north!


There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good-
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early
And go
By hook or crook
To the brook
And bring home
Miller's thumb,
Not over fat,
Minnows small
As the stall
Of a glove,
Not above
The size
Of a nice
Little Baby's
Little fingers --
O he made
'Twas his trade
Of Fish a pretty Kettle
A Kettle --
A Kettle
Of Fish a pretty Kettle
A Kettle!


There was a naughty Boy,
And a naughty Boy was he,
He ran away to Scotland
The people for to see -
There he found
That the ground
Was as hard,
That a yard
Was as long,
That a song
Was as merry,
That a cherry
Was as red --
That lead
Was as weighty,
That fourscore
Was as eighty,
That a door
Was as wooden
As in England --
So he stood in his shoes
And he wonder'd,
He wonder'd,
He stood in his shoes
And he wonder'd.

-- John Keats, 1816

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shaving My Legs for Dan Brown

When I was growing up, shaving your legs was a political act. Shaving was one of the things we were liberating ourselves from. If we shaved our legs, we were on the side of the Establishment. Our consciousness was not raised. We had bought in.

Of course, I was picking up all this sloganeering from my older sisters, and was torn, so terribly torn. I wanted to shave my legs. Desperately. I remember convincing myself that I had super-hairy legs and that I couldn't be grown up until I had permission to savage them with a sharp object. This was back when we had parents who monitored these kinds of things.

A sweet little pink ladies' razor won out over politics: a harbinger of my later life. (My sister's the labor union president; my brother is the policy wonk.) I loved that little razor so much. I got it as a present for my 12th birthday. And I must have shaved my legs at least eight times before I realized what a sap I was for buying into this particular aspect of personal grooming. Shaving your legs wasn't political for me. It was just hard work (those cuts!) and relentless (it grew back!) and time consuming (I could have been reading Little Women!).

This morning, I forgot to shave my legs in the shower. I usually don't -- turns out I don't have such hairy legs and I have pretty much reduced shaving to Memorial Day and 4th of July. But tonight I was headed to the publication party for Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol, which is represented by our agency. I thought that shaving my legs was the least I could do. That's when the little pink razor came back to me.

The party was elegant; the cake was fanciful (a replica of the Capitol); the speeches were polished; and nobody noticed what shape my legs were in, except me. We all got a copy of the book, signed, and I was home in time to start reading. Tonight, my politics will take the form of chasing around D.C. with Robert Langdon. Tomorrow, I'll air-kiss the razor goodbye till next summer.

And at some point, I'll tell you where I stand on lipstick.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why SCBWI is like the changing room at Forever 21

My daughter got home from camp "desperate" for new clothes. And in fact, it was true: The camp decided, at the last minute, to ship her trunk back, which resulted in her having only two t-shirts and one pair of shorts until the cargo arrives. So today we made a date to go shopping at Forever 21, a store whose doors I had not previously darkened. I am not their demo: I don't like their music, I don't fit into their sizes, and I don't need a pair of black sequined track shorts. This season, anyway.

But I hadn't seen my daughter for weeks, so I couldn't think of a more happy-making way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime today helping her find clothes and than telling her she looked adorable (she did!) and waiting in long dressing-room lines so she didn't have to.

Not a lot of people know that I was a shop-girl in another life, at the Laura Ashley that once existed on Bow Street in Covent Garden in London. I measured fabric, calculated yardage for curtaining (must take into account the drop!), hung smocklike dresses on hangers, and monitored the communal changing room.

That last was the job nobody wanted. The communal changing room, on the lower floor of the shop, was low-ceilinged, hot, and often smelly. We had to watch and abet as the women -- some sliding, some struggling-- wrangled the buttons and belts of Laura Ashley's signature Victorian-style wear. And today, sure enough, there was a beleagured (Dutch?) 20-year-old trying to keep some order in the Forever 21 dressing room, which was awash in discarded clothing.

But there is something very wonderful about a women's dressing room, especially in a place as chaotic as Forever 21 at lunch-hour, or Laura Ashley during the January sales. Women are extraordinarily generous to each other. They comment freely, and frankly, on each other's choices: Wow, what a great color on you! Or, Honestly, I think it pulls a little across the back. They zip one another's zippers. They pass garments from one person to the next. Friends make trips out onto the floor to find different sizes. And people come out of the rooms to look at themselves in the mirror in the most risky dishabille. Sometimes it's a little giddy. Brastraps are pushed down, pants are hiked up, jeans don't button, shirts are baggy or too tight. It's not sexual, it's not show-offy; it's the only way to get the job done.

Occasionally, a man braves his way in, either to try on things for himself (Forever 21 is multi-gender) or to advise on his girlfriend's efforts (brave, brave man!). And curiously, the climate in the dressing room does not change one iota when a man is around. If you're down in the trenches, Comrade, the women seem to say, you're going to fight the war with us.

And this is why the dressing room at Forever 21 today was like the 2009 Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in LA last week. In attendance were eight-hundred women and one hundred-forty men. People blogged, partied, gossiped, analyzed. The women were extraordinarily supportive, telling one another, in the kindest possible way, that a certain book idea was like a skirt that made you look hippy; or brimming with praise when another was like an LBD that turned you into a siren. And the men were bemused, indulgent, engaged, and surely getting something out of the conference that the women could only guess at.

Sherman Alexie made the observation that while adult-book authors circle one another at such events with the aggression of a cannibal, teeth bared for the kill, children's book writers greet one another with only the tiniest bit of self-preserving competition, nibbling away, at worst, a little toe.

So it is at Forever 21 and the SCBWI. I left each place with toes intact, happier for the communal experience, knowing that out of the racks of tangled hangers and crumpled sketches and piled dresses and sequined query letters, almost everybody unearthed a treasure.

Sidewalk art

Just a quickie tonight, so that the blog does not feel completely unloved.

There's a sidewalk artist who works in our neighborhood. His subjects so far have been Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (during the election), and Michael Jackson, after June 25 of this year. Today, I passed his handiwork, and am still guessing the identity thereof. I have an idea, but what say you?

And here's an easy one: Who'll be the first to make the connection to a children's book?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sunday Table: The Well of Loneliness

You never know what the Sunday Table is going to turn up. This time, it's a surprising edition -- bound in leather & marbled paper binding -- of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness. In Danish. (With a typo on the spine.)

Have I read The Well of Loneliness? I have not. I started trudging through it many years ago, but never got to the end. Will I ever read it in Danish? I would say no.

But it gives me an excuse to tell a story, maybe apocryphal, maybe not, of how Loneliness fared in Hollywood. The book was a hot property in 1928, when it was published. It was banned in Boston, so there was much scandal around it, and many headlines, and no publicity is bad publicity, as Oprah herself would admit. Thus Radclyffe Hall's painful story of a woman who loves a woman came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn, who had been recently forced out of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and had hung out a shingle of his own. (A shingle that would later produce Wuthering Heights, The Little Foxes, and The Best Years of Our Lives.)

From what I understand, Goldwyn wanted to snap up the rights to Hall's book before any of his competitors could get to it.

"Mr. Goldwyn," says his factotum, "it's a real sad story."
"That's okay," says Goldwyn.
"Sir," says his flunky, "it was banned in Boston."
"I don't care," says Goldwyn.
"Sam," says his flack, "it's about a lesbian."
"So," says Goldwyn, "in the movie, we'll make her American."

If only he had made her a Dane!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why BEA should be more like Comic-con

Here's what strikes me about Comic-con -- besides the fact that it is a riotous celebration of visual arts, design, gaming, movies, TV, outsiders, and, oh right, comics. What strikes me is that it's also a riotous celebration of books. Johnny Depp makes headlines around the world when he appears on behalf of Alice in Wonderland. Pixar teases the masses with footage from The Princess and the Frog. Twilight's Robert Pattinson walks into a room and strong women faint. Even Ursula the Sea Witch got her start in a book. All while Harry Potter 6 opens worldwide.

What's wrong with us?

Why isn't BEA like this, for Gandalf's sake? When did we fall asleep at the wheel?

People have fun at Comic-con. They don't take themselves too seriously, even though it is Big Business. I found, the times the I went -- not this year, alas! -- that people were unfailingly generous to each other. Of course it's work and it's hot and crowded and sometimes the masks are scary. But mostly, it's a let-your-purple-hair-down fest of fun things to play with, look at, and read.

As BEA feels more and more dull, Comic-con feels more and more alive. Maybe it's time to open the gates to the Javits Center, and see where the crowds lead us. Can 125,000 story-loving people really be wrong?
PS: Thanks to Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi for the photos of themselves, the Ursulas, and Eoin Colfer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Sunday Table

Today is Monday, but I'm a bit of a tardy person, so Monday is a perfect day to introduce a new feature on the Bunny Eat Bunny blog: The Sunday Table.

I live in a building -- we can call it 1455 West End Avenue -- that's filled with bookish people. A poet lives underneath us. An editor lives upstairs and down the hall. There are a couple of leftist journalists and bloggers, one on each elevator bank. And so, like many buildings in New York, 1455 has a book depository: a ponderous old walnut table in the hall where volumes that are unwanted by one apartment's denizens are happily -- even greedily -- snapped up by another's.

It entertains me to see what stays, what goes. And Sundays are a particularly good day to rifle through the table, because people are always making resolutions to clean and pare down and edit on the weekends, so the table fills up. (I have already found Steve Martini's The Judge on our own kitchen table, courtesy of my husband's very very bad book habit.)

If you look very carefully you can see that The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks is covering up a Dick Francis volume, though I can't see which one. I tend to date my career in publishing by volumes like The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks. In 1988 I was working at Scholastic's Apple imprint, editing books very like this one. We all went in for those photo-real images back then: covers that screamed,"Oh my gosh, what wacky things are happening in this story?!?" I'm glad that trend is past, but I know a lot of kids who still love that look. And note the success St. Martin's had with Ted Bell's Nick of Time just last year.

What do you bet that John Grisham's The Chamber is gone next Sunday, if not sooner, and that Time's Great People of the 20th Century will have trouble finding a home. High Blood Pressure for Dummies seems like too silly a title for anyone to pick up ("It's the salt, stupid!"), but there are niche markets in every building, so I won't bet on it.

My own contribution to the table this week, E. Lockhart's Dramarama, of which I owned two copies, disappeared between taking these photos in the early afternoon and coming home in the early evening. Maybe it was the sexy cover or the title or the author's excellent name. Or maybe the Sunday Table is too hard to pass by without taking a bite.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Men Who Read

Is there anything hotter than a man who reads? ALA was in Chicago this past week, and I was able to spend a few hours at the Art Institute. I steered myself away from their astonishing collection of Impressionist paintings, and headed for my faves, the Northern Renaissance masters, but on the way, I turned into a small gallery and beheld....HIM.

Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino. He's usually in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for those of you who follow such things. But there he was, in his intellectual and impatient and dark-eyed glory, waiting for me in Chicago.

Don't you just love that El Greco caught him looking up from not one book -- but two! I picture it this way: El Greco walks into Fray H's cell, says, You have to have your picture painted. Abbot's orders. And Fray Hortensio is like: I'll give you a minute to paint me, because yes, I am absolutely gorgeous, but I have got higher things on my mind. I am a 17th-century priest, after all. I am composing sonnets! Writing music! I am reading two books -- at the same time! I'm comparing texts! I am cross-referencing!

To this I say, a scant 400 years later: Let me interrupt your studies, Fray Hortensio! Please!

I flatter myself to think that if I'd encountered guy at the Hungarian Pastry Shop when I was in my salad days...well, he might not have hearkened to his calling. Actually, in that scenario, he would have ignored me for beautifully-proportioned lithe earth-mother of a waitress who would quickly have taken his order. But enough.

The point of this is that men who read are sexy. Especially if they have a Chicago connection. Like this guy...

...and my husband. But that's a blog for another day.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The agent's hat

My first day at the office at Sanford J. Greenburger. What I did today: solved a contractual problem and signed a visionary and innovative client; waited for the computer to recognize that I was a bona fide member of the company; bravely called a publisher to make a deal; happily received flowers from good friends. Read some good unsolicited material, too. All in all, an excellent day.

So today the agent's hat definitely looks like this.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Little Red Lighthouse

My husband has a sailboat, which we keep in the Hudson River. I have long wanted to take the boat up the Hudson to catch a glimpse of the Little Red Lighthouse from "at sea." So on Tuesday, we took the boat out.

It was a glorious day. Sunny skies, not a cloud in sight. Current was heading in and the winds were favorable. We zoomed up the river and took some glorious shots of the lighthouse.

We also saw this curious Quonset hut, decorated with the image of naked Neptune, a half-naked mermaid, and the Brooklyn Bridge (clad in steel). Also a random angel fish. It's truly wonderful what you can see from the water that you can never see from the shore.

Then, within three minutes, the weather changed dramatically. The wind was fierce. Thunder was rumbling. The sky was black. Lightning split the horizon. The Coast Guard advised "small crafts to seek shelter and put down anchor immediately. If you can hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning."


But there's no sheltered cover on the Hudson River, and as the rain beat down on us and we fought to the wind to get the boat anchored, I thought: Wow, what I won't do for my blog.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ben

Who else remembers this paean to a rat as tenderly as I do? I wish I could post the video but I am defeated by technology. It's worth cutting and pasting the link below, though.

I never saw Willard (too young at the time and I have always hated horror movies) but I did love this love song to a rodent. Could be why I settled in New York.

Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found what we were looking for

With a friend to call my own

I'll never be alone
And you, my friend, will see
You've got a friend in me (you've got a friend in me)
Ben, you're always running here and there
You feel you're not wanted anywhere
If you ever look behind
And don't like what you find

There's one thing you should know

You've got a place to go (you've got a place to go)

I used to say "I" and "me"
Now it's "us", now it's "we"
I used to say "I" and "me"
Now it's "us", now it's "we"

Ben, most people would turn you away

I don't listen to a word they say

They don't see you as I do I wish they would try to
I'm sure they'd think again
If they had a friend like Ben (a friend)
Like Ben
(like Ben)
Like Ben

-- "Ben," by Don Black & Walter Scharf, 1972

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958 - 2009

It's hard not to have your heart break a little for Michael Jackson. Remember the utter joy he displayed in his early performances? As if singing and dancing were the most happy-making thing in the world.

Here's just one more thing to add to his legend. You know who told him to wear the light-colored socks? To draw attention to his feet?

Fred Astaire.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: Ted Geisel

My brother's little daughter is almost two years old, and of course impossibly adorable. I babysat her not too long ago. Her favorite tape (she's still analog) is a recording of "The Cat in the Hat," by Dr. Suess, of course, read by David Hyde Pierce. I was only with her for 36 hours but I heard it at least 9 or 10 times. Easy.

On the way to the train station, at the end of my stay, the tape was on in the car. My brother (David) and I got to talking about how very subversive the whole poem is. Suppression of ego in favor of id. Sexual desire as personified by the Cat. Abandonment issues. Confessional narratives. Goldfish as Chorus. Et al.

Which led us to ask each other (as the adorable niece dozed in the car seat): What is the BEST line in that book? What's the single most daring idea, most challenging to the status quo?

I don't remember what David said, but for me it has got to be this one:

You sank our toy boat,
Sank it deep in the cake,

"Sank it deep in the cake"!!! That is just THE most anarchic line a writer could write. The pathos of "You sank our toy boat." (The poignancy of "toy boat.") The sadness of the realization that a toy boat can be sunk! AND AS IF THAT IS NOT ENOUGH -- where did the Cat sink it? DEEP IN THE CAKE! The madness that suggests! How can a cake and a toy boat even be in the same place? And if it's deep in the cake, then the cake must be a layer cake. The effort it takes to make one of those (and in 1957, yet -- no mixes). And to frost it. All ruined in a moment. In two lines of handsome dactyls, we understand the enormity of the havoc the Cat has wreaked. Toy: demystified; boat: sunk; cake: ruined; home: violable; thin membrane that holds society together: DESTROYED.

And the niecelet: she may be only two, but as you can see, she was not missing a thing.

If there's another candidate for best Dr. Seuss line, bring it on.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Poetry Friday: Dylan Thomas

In April, I went to the Antiquarian Book Fair here in New York. I love going to this event. The books are beautiful, old, and lavish. MoCCA is Bizarro Antiquarian Book Fair, in fact.

At Ursus Rare Books I spent too long leaning over the glass counter reading a tight-packed letter from Dylan Thomas. There is nothing like a letter from a genius in his own hand. He doesn't count this as his own poetry; it was something sung -- over and over -- by his then-mistresss, Wyn Henderson, whom he described as "not quite my cup of night custard." Maybe it's not up to the standards of "Do not go gentle into that good night," but it sure counts for Poetry Friday.

There was a bloody sparrow
Flew up a bloody spout
Came up a bloody thunderstorm
And blew the bugger out.

-- As recorded by Dylan Thomas, April, 1936

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why I like MoCCA

So it was a little disorganized. And hot. But because they opened the doors an hour late, I got to stand in line with a great mom who was bouncing with enthusiasm and restrained pride for her son (booth #608). And I met a man who had long ties in the children's book world. And behind me was a young comic book artist who was carting in 100 copies of her latest work, heavy as it was, so she could barter with others just like her.

The people at MoCCA understand something about books. Books are permanent. Books mean work is final. Books are to be passed along, read, re-read. Of course all these artists and writers are web-savvy -- even that term is way too naive for them. It's like saying artists 50 years ago were pencil-savvy. But savvy as they are, they love print. They love its limitations, they love the tooth of paper, they like to sew up seams and fold paper and figure out how to use color on color. They like to see how they can make things look old even when they are shockingly new.

If something deserves to be printed, I heard them saying with their gorgeous tiny hand-printed volumes, then it deserves to be a beautiful object. Even if it's a few pieces of stapled Xerox paper, there is thought in every panel. The effort it takes to make books -- after work, late at night, whenever the muse strikes and when it doesn't, and all with very little money -- that effort is worth nothing unless the book itself is a work of art. And you are so right, MoCCA folk. Why print unless you can't do anything else?

Maybe I'm romanticizing a little. So what. I love the raw unstoppable passion of these artists. I am filled with deep admiration at their willingness to help one another. Honestly, with country's biggest publishers heading further and further down the virtual road, I'm glad there is a vanguard of new artists who believe in printed books. Because, dudes, I believe in you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vegetarians: Stop reading now

This was the slightly surreal scene at Madison Square Park, just a couple of blocks from MoCCA this past weekend. Imagine my surprise when I got out of a cab to find a suckling pig laid out on a park bench. The piggie was about to be carved without sentiment of any kind by a short woman with a long knife. A really long knife.

Just the perfect entry into the world of cartoonists and comicbook writers.

More about them soon, truly.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Today was my day to post about MoCCA but I didn't get a chance to do it. As an opening salvo, here's the best quote from the 2-day fair.

The scene: A very small table, being shared by 3 aspiring comic book writer/artists. One person's work particularly catches my eye. I stop to talk to the open-faced young artist about her delicate, wryly funny drawings:

ME: Have you ever thought of doing a children's book?

ARTIST: Only in my dreams.

Which reminds me: Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Separated at birth?

Jack Nicholson.

Mo Willems.

Can you believe I had never actually seen Easy Rider before this Friday night? A disgrace, I know. And when I at last did view this trippy movie, all I could think of was Mo Willems. NOT because it was trippy, no no. But every time I looked at Jack, I thought...Mo. Whoa.

Which is a nice segue into tomorrow's blog post about the Musem of Comics and Cartoon Art festival in NYC this weekend. (Mo Willems is on the MoCCA Advisory Board.) For tonight let's just say there is a future to publishing, and it was in exhilarating evidence at the Lexington Avenue Armory this weekend. More anon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Poetry Friday: Alternate Side of the Street Parking

This week, here in Gotham, I had a horrible run-in with a fellow New Yorker. The reason for the altercation was alternate side of the street parking. I won't go into it, except to say that it made me realize how lucky we are in this town not to have to rely on a car. And in honor of my 1999 Subaru Outback Wagon, and of the four winters I spent at college in Maine, here is a poem for a cold Friday:

Starting the Subaru at Five Below

Ater 6 Maine winters and 100,000 miles,
when I take it to be inspected

I search for gas stations where they
just say beep the horn and don't ask me to

put it on the lift, exposing its soft
rusted underbelly. Inside is the record

of commuting: apple cores, a bag from
McDonald's, crushed Dunkin Donuts cups,

a flashlight that doesn't work and one
that does, gas receipts blurred beyond

recognition. Finger tips numb, nose
hair frozen, I pump the accelerator

and turn the key. The battery cranks,
the engine gives 2 or 3 low groans and

starts. My God it starts. And unlike
my family in the house, the job I'm

headed towards, the poems in my briefcase,
the dreams I had last night, there is

no question about what makes sense.
White exhaust billowing from the tail pipe,

heater blowing, this car is going to
move me, it's going to take me places.

-- Stuart Kestenbaum
Pilgrimage, (c) 1990, Coyote Love Press

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

You know it's a quiet BEA when... don't run into any of your former office-romances at the Javits Center. Granted, I was not at the fair the whole three days, but I did not have to avoid a single past significant other. For a moment I thought I'd spotted an ex- in the line at the coffee place right at Exhibitor Registration, but it was just another darkly handsome broody brainy guy in his convention suit and badge.

How to fix that? Let the public come in. Richard Nash on his PW blog says it eloquently and passionately. I would point to Comic-con as an example of how people -- masses of people -- can be intellectually ignited by what publishers have to offer. People read at Comic-con. And they'd read at BEA, too -- in the hallways, on the floor, on the buses, in line -- if only we asked them in. Then there'd be plenty of exes to avoid.

I taught a class this weekend at the Little Airplane Academy. Part of the weekend was spent at BEA. Afterwards, one of the students, who by day designs board games, said that he couldn't really tell what anyone was pushing. I told him it was a trade fair, so the pushes were different, and not necessarily discernible in the booths. He raised an eyebrow. "Missed opportunity," he said.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poetry Friday: Emily Dickinson

Not too long ago, on my way to Brattleboro, VT, I pulled off the highway so I could stop at Emily Dickinson's house. I had never been there before. It was a beautiful late-spring day, and as I drove into Amherst I was hearing the children's children's children's children of the birds Emily might have heard, seeing the branches' branches' branches of the branches Emily sat under for shade.

The museum had just opened and the volunteer at the ticket desk was very kind. She recommended a tour, and I signed up. The docent who was assigned to the small group who had assembled that morning was knowledgable, so knowledgable! But oh, she did not fit with my expectations of what my pilgrimage to Emily's house would be!

Thankfully, I had already told our host that I might have to leave early, so after the first half hour -- spent in the sitting room, narrated with a history of the Dickinson family -- I excused myself, and spirited away.

A very young woman, with a straight backbone and a plain and friendly face, was seated at the base of the stairs to Emily's bedroom. She offered to lead me up to the second floor. Quietly, we climbed the stairs together. Then she walked down the hall, said "This is where Emily wrote," and led me to the open door. There was the small bed, with Emily's own shawl draped over it. There was the tiny, tiny, modest writing desk. And there were two photographs of women over the dresser. Emily's own heroes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.

The silent guide left me alone to weep on the threshold. I mean it -- tears poured down my face. (They're welling up now, even.) It was the two other writers' faces that did it to me. The continuum of women writers. The idea that Emily had her own idols. That she didn't know she would prove to be an idol of so many writers herself. That she couldn't be sure.

After a couple of minutes I took a breath and said, "Is everyone overwhelmed when they come in here?" And my lovely guide said, "I am, every time."

Wild Nights -- Wild Nights! 
Were I with thee

Wild Nights should be

Our luxury!

Futile -- the Winds --

To a Heart in port --

Done with the Compass --

Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden --
Ah, the Sea!

Might I but moor -- Tonight --
In Thee!

--Emily Dickinson