Teleportal Readings 2.1
Experiment with Pano on iPhone + hand drawing — see it much bigger!

I doodled the most recent Teleportal Reading for the folks at Electric Literature.

Teleportal Readings is a multi-media reading series in Austin, TX, which really shakes up the reading. Their most recent event featured Jennifer Egan and Maira Kalman reading live, with a video reading by Doug Dorst, as well as an EL Single Sentence Animation by Joanna Neborsky, and synthy sounds from Silent Diane.

It was so great to meet Maira in person. Her work is amazing.

Maira Kalman

Silent Diane

Doug Dorst

Jennifer Egan

Funny note: it was so dark where I was drawing that I didn’t notice I was drawing with a red Sharpie! Had to fix in Photoshop after I scanned them.

drawing in the dark


mike judge master class sketchnotes
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Mike Judge, creator of Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, Office Space, and Idiocracy, visited the University of Texas tonight for an RTF “Master Class” with John Pierson. I told John I was a huge fan, and he was nice enough to invite me. Of course, I brought my sketchbook.

Note: if you want to cartoon someone, don’t sit front row. Distance = better abstraction.

sketch of john pierson
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sketch of mike judge
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Mike lives right here in Austin, Texas, and came off as a really smart, down-to-earth and unpretentious guy. He was even nice enough to make a Sharpie doodle of Butthead in my sketchbook!

sketch of butthead by mike judge

Last night there was a party in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Office Space (I missed it, but heard it was great.)

You can read some good quotes and watch some of my favorite clips by him over on my tumblelog.


matt madden and jessica abel at austin books and comics

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden were in town this weekend to promote Jessica’s La Perdida and Life Sucks, and their brand-new comics textbook collaboration, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures (great title). Yesterday they talked about the books (in that order) at Austin Books and Comics. There was a small crowd, not much A/C, and a keg of beer!

hot technical details

The biggest treat was that we got to buy a copy of the new textbook, which doesn’t officially come out for a week or so:

Some things I took away from their talk:

  • Jessica’s early stuff was drawn with a pen very realistically, with tons of detail, so for La Perdida, she went for a sketchy, brush drawn look, which she thought turned out to be more realistic, because readers could fill in the world around the significant, selected details. This came out as sort of an off-the-cuff remark, but as Meg pointed out to me, it’s one of the most important lessons of comics: less is sometimes more, and since every comic drawing is a visual metaphor, there’s a balancing act when it comes to the level of abstraction in your drawings (see McCloud).

After she said that, when I was flipping through the book I found this cool example:

Can't draw? Read this

  • Meg mentioned how much the technical skills (pencilling, layout, inking) of comics resemble architecture. That got me thinking: someone who wanted to study comics in a traditional academic setting would likely first think to seek out say, life-drawing and creative writing classes, which are fine, but they might be better served by design (typography, page layout, the grid), screenwriting (dialogue, visual storytelling), or poetry (economy of words, laying them out in space).
  • Their book is aimed at three different types of comics creators:
    1. Students in the classroom
    2. Ronin — lone warriors out on their own
    3. Nomads — small groups (i.e. a writing group that meets once a week at a coffee shop)

    The book is formatted so that each type of creator can benefit from the lessons.

  • Men seem to like the idea of having a separate studio space away from the house, while women seem to prefer a room at home. (At least it’s the same for Meg and me. Discuss.)
  • Matt and Jessica have a new baby, and Meg noted that people always seem to ask “male-oriented” questions at those events—she wanted to ask how you keep a house running and still find time to create (but didn’t…and it would’ve been a great question, too!)
  • Comics is a language, people!
  • Jessica’s #1 productivity tip: get a calendar, and stick to it! (More details)

productivity tip

Since both Matt and Jessica are teachers at SVA, I asked them if they saw any pitfalls, teaching comics in the academy. Is there a chance that comics programs could turn out like MFA writing programs, with students turning out uniform, quiet, lit’ry, “workshopped” New Yorker types of short stories?

They both agreed that “it all comes down to the teachers,” and “if comics can’t withstand being taught in the academy, what kind of medium is it?”

I mentioned Lynda Barry’s new book as a great antidote to the “bad” kind of creative writing teaching, and Matt had a great reply:

remember that lynda barry learned her techniques at the academy

(He was referring to Lynda’s art teacher in college, Marilyn Frasca.)

Overall, I think this book is extremely well done and worth checking out by anyone who’s interested in making comics—it’s probably the first book I’ve ever seen that could actually serve as the lone textbook for a comics-making class. I think it will sell like hotcakes, and, as Jessica and Matt hinted, we’ll definitely see a sequel focusing on “advanced” topics such as coloring and webcomics.

My complete notes from the talk, if anyone’s interested:



Thanks to Matt and Jessica for swinging down to Austin!


Michael Chabon reading at Bookpeople in Austin, Texas

My buddy Tim and I went to see writer Michael Chabon (“Shea as in stadium, Bon as in Jovi”) at Bookpeople last night. There were at least 100 people there. I picked up a copy of his beautiful new non-fiction collection with a Jordan Crane-designed cover.

During the Q&A, Chabon remarked of one of his characters, “He was too verbose and too Jewish.”

When he signed my book to “Meg + Austin,” I said, “Meg is my wife—she really likes your stuff.”

And Chabon (who seems like a really nice guy, by the way) joked, “Oh, and you don’t think it’s so hot?”

And I blushed and restrained myself from quoting his Q&A.

(Brilliant storyteller, but dang, he can be long-winded!)

Here’s Tim and I hanging out beforehand:

Good times!

PS. Wonder Boys is one of the greatest movies ever made. Not joking. And it has a kick-ass soundtrack. Go watch it.

PPS: The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon.


Went to see John Pierson interview Matt Stone, co-creator of South Park last night at the Austin City Limits studio on campus here at the University of Texas. Here’s a little write-up. I took some crummy sketchbook notes—could not for the life of me figure out how to draw him, so I just drew him as Kyle.

Matt Stone at the University of Texas

I have a kind of sentimental attachment to South Park: it came out the summer after my parents divorced, and my dad and I used to sit around in his little apartment and watch it and laugh our heads off. Humor when we needed it.

So, it was a real pleasure to hear him speak about the show, and his collaboration with Trey Parker. His thoughts were funny and intelligent.

Some highlights for me:

  • The show was originally supposed to be a “X-Files set in the mountains” with all the townspeople seeing aliens, etc. That premise got quickly worn out, but they kept the small town setting, which would later serve as a little microcosm for America, keeping the show continually fresh.
  • Their method of cut-outs was born out of procrastination: they do each show in only a week, and the quickness of the whirlwind process keeps them from getting bored. Stone said he barely remembers the shows after they finish them. He quoted Danny DeVito as saying, “Movies are never finished, only abandoned.” (There’s a different origin to that quote, but it’s true for all art forms.)
  • Stone said they always used to start a project by making a trailer first, and they’d use that to shop it around.
  • He listed three things that make his job the best job in Hollywood:

    1. Complete creative control
    2. Working with friends
    3. Living five minutes away from work

    When you think about it, that’s the formula for any great job…

  • Speaking of formulas, here’s the formula to most South Park episodes:
    1. A controversial issue
    2. Two extreme sides screaming at each other
    3. Kids stuck in the middle

    And again, when you think about it, that pretty much describes America.

Lots of other topics were discussed: Youtube, the original “The Spirit of Christmas” short, the Scientology Episode, the Britney Spears Show, lawyers, the 80s, the writer’s strike, Cannibal: The Musical!, and the genius Universal Studios Employee video.

Great, great event. Thanks to Janet for inviting me!

Matt Stone at the University of Texas


david simon

Last night we went over to the Austin City Limits studio to see a Q&A with David Simon, former newspaper reporter and creator of the TV show The Wire. John Pierson was the moderator, and he did a really great job— he asked Simon intelligent questions and then sat and listened while Simon gave intelligent answers.

Discussed topics: the decline of the newspaper industry, journalism and Homer Bigart (“his method: ‘Hi, I’m an idiot and I can’t talk…please help me'”), dumbass editors looking for lame stories about “Dickensian” children (“Pulitzer Sniffing”), Iraq, No Child Left Behind, stealing from Greek Tragedy, the drug war, jury nullification, creative writing students (“my god, you guys are an industry”), books he hasn’t read (Brothers Karamazov), the creative use of profanity, The America That Got Left Behind, and of course, Baltimore (“my favorite character”), and The Wire.

As usual, I doodled and took a lot of notes:



david simon

david simon

Really cool night, and awesome to finally see the Austin City Limits studio. Thanks to Janet for inviting us!



I wanted to point out Amanda Marcotte‘s post about the evening (relayed to me by Gerry Canavan):

Awards: A good excuse for fan wanking disguised as academic inquiry

It was a productive hour and a half of discussion, which is somewhat surprising, since they opened the floor to questions, which is usually an invitation for a bunch of assholes to pretend that everyone showed up to hear them talk instead of the speaker. There were a couple of people who asked questions where the question was a minor pretense for them to bloviate, but on the whole, the question askers were respectable and the questions were good.

It’s such a perfect, hilarious observation, a subject that Meg and I constantly complain about: too often Q&As are just a huge waste of time. This one wasn’t, but I drew a cartoon about it last night, anyways…I just didn’t post it. Here it is, now:




Tobias Wolff gave a fiction reading at UT tonight. He read from Old School, In Pharaoh’s Army, and a short story from a new collection, Our Story Begins, called “Her Dog,” in which a man has a conversation with his dead wife’s dog. I could not BELIEVE he read such a story, because Meg has been BEGGING me for a dog, and being the heartless bastard I am, I have refused her on logical grounds (they’re expensive, someone has to feed them, walk them, take care of them when you want to leave town, blah blah blah), the same positions the man in the story took with his wife, before she got a dog anyways, and he then declared the dog to be HER dog, and he would have nothing to do with caring for it, and then she dies, and then he’s stuck with this dog.

In other words, it was a story about a guilty man with his dead wife’s dog—read to a guilty man with a wife with no dog.

In other words, it hit close to home.

A good reading, only rivaled by the wonderful picnic dinner Meg fixed us to eat beforehand. Nice to finally get to see/hear him read, because he’s one of my favorite writers, and I’ve met a few of his students (Dan Chaon, George Saunders, Tom Perrotta), but never the man himself.

Afterwards, Meg came up with a new system for Q & A sessions: you submit questions on index cards before the reading, and then the writer pulls the questions out of a hat, reads them off, and answers them. This takes all the ego out of question-asking—you don’t get anyone trying to show off or flatter the writer, and people who might not feel comfortable asking a question in front of a live audience get a chance, too.


Crappy shot from my camera phone:

tobias wolff at ut fiction reading


Yesterday Meg and I went to the Texas Book Festival. We were hoping to catch Shalom Auslander at the book signing tent, but he didn’t show up, so we walked downtown and got some Jimmy Johns and ate it on the lawn of the capital. Beautiful day. We finished up lunch and went to the House Chamber (which is pimped out beyond belief with the most comfortable leather chairs I’ve ever sat in) to listen to Tom Perrotta read:


After that, we went to see the always-fantastic-certified-genius George Saunders:


That last panel is a response to a (kinda lengthy) question I asked in the Q & A: “You’ve written about Charles Schulz and Peanuts before. David Michaelis’s new biography questions whether Schulz was as good of a family man as we’ve been led to believe. You strike me as a genuine family man, and I detect the great theme of work vs. family in your writing. So what do you think is the relation between being a good artist and being a great family man, and which do you think is more important?”

That night, we walked downtown to see a screening of Little Children at the newly-reopened Alamo Ritz. I love Tom Perrotta, but he really seemed uncomfortable in the setting:


All in all, it was a great day.




We drove out to Oberlin last night to see George Saunders read. I’d been looking forward to this for about a year, and I was praying to the weather gods that there wouldn’t be a giant snowstorm in Syracuse to keep him from getting to Cleveland. (He told us later that he was delayed, and missed a connecting flight, but it was an airline thing, not a weather thing.) Meg and I had a nice dinner at the Feve, and then we walked over to the Science Center. There weren’t any fun chemistry notes on the board in the lecture hall, but there was one of those little models with the wire and balls that you use to describe molecules…

Anyways. Big crowd. Lots of kiddies. First, he read the title story from In Persuasion Nation (here’s an MP3 from another reading). He said he wrote the story after watching a bunch of TV and realizing that a) advertising had began taking credit for everything good that happened in life (“Coke is Christ”) and b) that it had gotten really mean. Then he read from one of my favorites from Pastoralia, “The Barber’s Unhappiness” (here’s a hilarious MP3 of Tony Danza reading it). He said, “After you have daughters, you start realizing how misogynist the world is.” He wrote that story after watching a real old guy from the bus stop ogling women.

The readings were funny and warm and a little ornery. I think Meg laughed more than anybody, because up until that point, she’d only heard me read “Sea Oak” aloud to her in bed.

Then it was Q & A time. Somebody asked something about racial epithets. Somebody asked about motifs. He fielded questions like a patient, pro teacher, using them as springboards to talk about craft.

He joked that all the stories in CivilWarLand were the same: “Guy’s in a bad way. It gets worse.”

nicksaunders.gifHe joked about getting out from under the influence of Hemingway: “All my first stories went like this: Nick walked into the Wal-Mart.”

He did a hilarious high-voiced impression of Bill Buford’s method when he was fiction editor of the New Yorker: “Welll…I read a sentence…and then I like it…so I want to read another one!”

He said, “What you know is enough.”

He said good stories are “making language not suck.”

He plugged Don Barthelme’s great essay, “Not-Knowing.”

He described Joyce Carol Oates on her treadmill, thinking through her stories.

He recalled working in MS-DOS at his office, and using shift-F3 to avoid being caught writing on the job.

He outlined an editing method he uses with his students. First, he gives them 500 words of crap. Then they take a few minutes and cut 20 words. Then they take a few more minutes and cut 50 words. They do this a few more times until they have the crap whittled down to 200 words. The excercise is about finding voice in the appropriate “Prose Weight.”

Somebody asked, “What have you learned about the role of solitude in a writer’s life.” He said, “I never had any.”

Lucky me, I got the last question. I asked him, “What have you read lately that’s knocked you out?”

He said Susan Sontag and Joan Didion, two women he had never read before.

Then he started listing his old favorites. “Stuart Dybek?” I nodded. “Oh, you know him. How about Isaac Babel?” I nodded. “Stan Schwartz?” I shook my head. “Oh, no? That’s good, because I just made him up.” The room roared.

There was a long line outside to get books signed. We finally got to shake hands and say hello. “So, I take it you two are writers.” I said I was a cartoonist, and Meg was an architect. “Smart man!” he said. “You’re the guy who’s read everything.” I said, “No, only your reading list.”

Then we talked about Vonnegut. I mentioned the Amazon piece, and he said he’d re-worked the ending and that it would be in a new book soon. (I’m wondering if that new book is The Braindead Megaphone.) He said he just had a piece in the New York Observer proposing a National Vonnegut Day.

Then, we talked a little bit about Lynda Barry and how awesome she was. He said she came and taught at Syracuse and that she’d given him these really interesting articles on how the brain processes lyric poems, short stories, and jokes in the same way, as in, after you hear them, the brain runs back through them and gets its satisfaction from their shapeliness. She also told him about how they’d studied artists and creative people and figured out their patterns of childhood play. Next time I’m working, I’ll have to try to dig those up.

We said our goodbyes, and on the way home, Meg and I talked about how nice a guy he was, and how much we loved going to readings like this.