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Wildfires, Sumo Wrestlers and My New Graphic Novel

I’ve been a journalist and editorial illustrator for much of my life and have always wanted to intermingle the two. Sounds easy, right? Just offer to illustrate your own stories. Problem is that editorial and art departments are two autonomous entities in newspapers and magazines. Editors don’t want to step on the toes of their art director colleagues by suggesting illustrators and vise versa. I did have one Wall Street Journal editor who briefly allowed me to illustrate a career column that was included in a syndicated special section called WSJ Sunday. At it’s peak, Sunday was run in 84 partner newspapers throughout the country and was read by nearly 11 million readers. The section was retired in 2015 <sigh> so the paper could focus on newer digital programs.

Anyways, I’ve always thought comics would be a more natural storytelling platform for me. I grew up reading and drawing my own comics and have watched them evolve into an accepted literary form. I’m elated that graphic novels like John Lewis’ March are now winning national book awards!

I’ve been reading many new graphic novels during COVID downtimes and have been filling out my already swelling bookshelves with some amazing trade paperbacks. A few notable creators I’m into include Adrian Tomine, Craig Thompson, Richard Sala, Ted McKeever, Charles Burns and Alejandro Jodorowsky. I’m currently reading and loving the Blacksad series, which is a European noir that features a feline protagonist in a trench coat, of course, working as a detective in 1950s America. Juan Diaz Canales and Junajo Guarnido are the authors. Their genius has inspired me to start on my own graphic novel that is entitled Sage Cake. It’s a western horror epic about a pandemic that delays the Civil War. I actually came up with the idea long before our present day COVID-19 existence but have worked in a few ideas inspired by our current crisis.

I’m collaborating with a terrific illustrator named Aya Morton who is far more skilled than I am. She did the art for His Dream of the Skyland: The Walled City Trilogy and recently illustrated a graphic novel adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. What makes her work so interesting is her use of repeating patterns that are influenced by period design. The detail offers a compelling richness to each frame. The artwork for Sage Cake is still in development but I’ll post samples once we have finalized some of the art.

I’ve included a sketch from an earlier collaboration that Aya and I did together. It’s a 1940’s murder mystery set within a Japanese-American community in San Jose, Calif. The story is fictional but draws from real historical events that take place during World War II, the Japanese-American internment and the post-war recovery. I’m currently reworking that story, which spans over a four book arc.

Artwork by Aya Morton

Finally

I’m working on my long overdue collection of essays. Friends will be thrilled that I’m finally following through with their advice. The book will include my essay about becoming a samurai horseman in a major motion picture as well as my laughable attempt to get to New Zealand as a horse archer. Yes, it’s that movie with Tom Cruise. More on that later.

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