Monday, December 20, 2010

My 5 favorite Christmas albums

Have you ever noticed how a lot of Christmas music -- if not most of it -- totally sucks?

Admit it, out of the five thousand, one hundred and twenty thee Christmas albums recorded every year, maybe six will make the cut to be worthy of immortality. And even then, only half the songs are any good.

But knowing this doesn't stop me from listening to non-stop Xmas music at this time of year. It's fun, it gets me into the spirit, and it just makes the whole house feel Christmasy.

So in the spirit of the season, here are my top five Christmas albums, full of songs that give me that good old Yuletide spirit:

This is the newest -- and least awesome -- album on my list, but hey, it's 99 pretty darn good classical music Christmas songs, and Amazon sells it for just $1.99. What's not to love?

Yule Be Struttin gets some playtime throughout the year. There are some fantastic jazzy compositions on this disk, and I never tire of it. Plus that's one sexy cover photo.

John Denver and the Muppets... ah, this takes me back to my childhood every time I listen to it. How sad that we've lost both Mr. Denver and Mr. Henson. Bittersweet but beautiful.

More than just a slice of childhood, more than just good Christmas music, most of this is just plain old good music, period. I dance like Shermy every time I listen to it.

My all-time favorite. Ray Charles is at his absolute best here. His vocals are perfection and the arrangements are genius. Every song is a gem, and some are worth keeping on the rotation long after the season is complete.

So do any of these make your cut? What are your favorites? Feel free to share!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Word map of Extinction Countdown

Wordle: Extinction 

This isn't perfect, but it's a pretty good snapshot of what I write about.

Click through to see it larger.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Big batch of new sketch cards

Click through to:

a) see them bigger
b) see the little notes I have embedded in the photo
c) see the other two new photos full of new sketch cards

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Talking Tigers on the Brian Lehrer Show

My interview about tiger conservation aired this morning on New York's WNYC. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can now listen to it here.

I had a great time, and I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Talking Tigers on the Radio

Tomorrow morning, I'll be talking with WNYC's Brian Lehrer about tiger conservation, based on my coverage of this week's big Tiger Forum in Russia. I should be coming on about 11:25 am (EST), with the interview lasting around 15 minutes, and you can listen online here. The show will also be archived online, so I'll post a link to that when it's available.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sketchy sketchy

More new sketch cards
Originally uploaded by JohnPlatt
I'm trying draw every day, both to stretch my artistic abilities and just to have fun. These cards are the latest result. Drawn on the backs of business cards, because (1) I like the paper and the size, and (2) I never go anywhere where I need to hand out business cards these days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sometimes you have to change the world to make art.

Ripples in the reflection
Originally uploaded by JohnPlatt
Funny story about this photo.

Yesterday, while taking a quick lunch-hour walk, I came across some amazing fall foliage down at the nearby lake. The lake, meanwhile, was as still as glass. Not the slightest ripple as far as the eye could see. Looking out across the water, the trees on the other shore melded into their reflections so perfectly you could barely make out the water line.

I took about 50 photos of what I dubbed Lake Reflecto (click through to see some of the best), but then I got bored.

I wanted some variety. Something more artistic.

So I stood on the edge of the dock and gently flexed my knees a couple of times.

Just me. Just one 10x10 dock. The barest exertion of my muscles. And within 60 seconds, the entire lake was covered in ripples.

Did I feel guilty about disturbing the peaceful serenity? Heck no. I just took more photographs. And then I came home and posted them online.

We make our own art. Sometimes art makes ripples. Sometimes our lives make ripples. And sometimes the ripples make the art.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Royalties are good (aka, the Great Die Laughing Experiment, Part II) sent along the first royalties for the e-book version of Die Laughing the other day. Not bad. I won't get rich off this book, but then again, I never expected to. I will, however, be able to get a nice burger and a beer, which is pretty good for an eight-year-old book.

(Truth in terminology: "royalties" isn't quite the word here, since I'm getting the lion's share of the "cover price," but I can live with it.)

To continue the Die Laughing experiment, I have now lowered the price of the e-book by a buck, to $2.99. This seems to be a popular price point for Kindle books. Maybe it will increase sales a bit. We'll see.

So, want to help me buy another burger? You can read this e-book on a Kindle, your PC or a smart phone. (Or if you'd like, I still have copies of the old-fashioned paperback edition of the book. Drop me a line.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

M***s Davis

What a weird world we live in. One the one hand, iTunes is advertising the great Miles Davis album Bitches Brew (in an edition packed with bonus material) like so:

 A trumpeter, composer, jazz genius, and American icon, the late Miles Davis created several seminal albums. Bitches Brew, from 1970, is a pioneering fusion album, merging jazz, funk, and rock elements. The iTunes LP @  includes rare live performance footage, a flipbook and more. The Legacy Edition features the original six tracks, two alternate takes, and four previously promotional-only single versions/edits. 

But when you go actually go to iTunes, you get this:

It's awesome to have all of this great material available, but dudes, why the censor hate?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hand pain and the working writer

It's no secret that my hands are often in a lot of pain. Writing may look all glamorous, but it's a physically demanding job. If you're not careful, you can actually cripple yourself by spending too much time at the computer.

I came pretty close to reaching that point. Sitting and typing all day, every day, did a lot of damage to my hands, wrists and shoulders, and it took several months with a physical therapist to all but save my life.

I still experience hand pain on an almost daily basis, but I do what I can to minimize it and ensure that I can keep working as a freelance writer.

(A quick aside: Although I often use the words "carpal tunnel" to describe my pain, that's a bit of a shortcut. What I suffer from are repetitive stress injuries, but people understand "carpal tunnel" better than "RSI," so I go with that.)

Constant experimentation has helped me to come up with a few good tips to help keep my hand pain as low as possible. Hopefully these ideas can help some of you as well.

1. Posture. I found out that most of the pain in my wrists and hands actually started in my shoulders. By rounding my shoulders, I was pinching nerves that caused problems all the way down my arms. You mother was right, sit up straight. It will save you a lot of pain in the long run.

2. The right equipment. I use a split keyboard, that allows me to put my hands at a more natural angle than a regular keyboard. My desk has a keyboard tray, so I can keep my elbows at 90 degree angles. I also use a vertical mouse, which I hold as if I were about to shake someone's hand. Normal mice require you to twist the bones in your arm, which is not healthy.

(I actually have two mice hooked up to my computer so I can switch hands once in a while. I'm not quite ambidextrous, so it's not a perfect solution, but it helps.)

(I've also used non-mouse input devices like trackballs and Wacom tablets. Your mileage may vary, and I think it's worth trying them all until you find the one that works best for you.)

3. Stretch. Just like exercise, it's best if you can loosen your muscles up before beginning a long period of time at the computer. A "warm down" set of exercises also helps. These exercises and stretches have been invaluable to me.

Working your core back muscles is also important. A tired back is a sagging back, which will hurt your hands.

4. Take breaks. If the writing isn't flowing, get the hell away from the computer. Don't surf the web. Get those hands off the keyboard and mouse and do something else for a while.

5. Speak. Although it doesn't always fit into my work-flow, I sometimes use voice recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. It's a lifesaver.

6. Let others do the work for you. Transcribing audio interviews can be a pain (literally). Sometimes I upload the files to a company in India that will transcribe them for me for a very modest fee.

7. Work smart. I often have a story halfway written in my head before I start typing. This saves on edit time, and gives my hands a rest. I am also fairly confident in my skills, so I don't do a lot of second-guessing. My first drafts are frequently my final drafts, minus a few minor corrections.

I carry this over to my style of writing, which is fairly lean and mean. I could go more complex and flowery, but that would require more editing, so I keep it simple in the name of efficiency.

I also pick my assignments carefully. Too little pay for too much typing? Sorry, can't do it for you. Big paycheck with minimal computer time? I'm your guy.

8. Know when to quit. Right now, my fingers are beginning to ache, so I know it's time to step away from the computer and this blog entry. I could go on, but my body is telling me to stop, and I'm listening.

I hope his helps. If you have other tips, feel free to share them in the comments section!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Know your process

The other day, a friend of mine complained that he was only able to write 200 words of fiction at a time. After that, he was hitting a block he could not pass.

Here's my response:

Celebrate those 200 words! If that's the burst you write in, so be it. Make it part of your process. Write 200 words, then get up and give your family hugs or do 20 sit-ups. Then come back to the keyboard and write 200 more. Repeat.

I don't know if that helped him, but it's how I work (not that I write much fiction anymore, but it still applies). 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Timing is everything

I typically complete about 10-12 articles a week, plus various other projects. That amazes some folks, who  ask me, "John, how the heck do you get so much done?"

The truth is that there isn't an easy answer for that question, but there are several related answers.

1. I don't have much of a choice. If I'm going to make a living as a freelance writer, I need to get a certain amount of work done every month, every week, every day. I don't get the work done, I don't get paid, and then I don't get to be a freelance writer any more. I like being a freelance writer, so I work very hard at it.

2. I do make the right choices. I know that if a job pays me a certain amount, I can translate that into the amount of hours I should spend working on it. For example, if I'm just doing a quickie blog post for a few bucks, it needs to be completely finished in under half an hour. If I have a big assignment, and it's going to take me days if not weeks to complete, I start right away and put time in every day until it's done. I don't have time to get stressed out over late work, or to spend too long working on something that isn't going to pay.

3. I plan ahead. Changing gears is very difficult. If your head is deep in one project, it's almost impossible to quickly switch gears to work on a different project. Getting interrupted is worse; it totally breaks down the mental system that I need to work. In order to place limits on the distractions in my life, I like to know what they are ahead of time. Even going to the post office every day can be a pain if I'm in the middle of something, so I use those tasks as my "changing gears" moments. I finish a project, then I run an errand or take care of something in the house. When that task is complete, my mind is clear and I'm ready to start the next job.

4. I plan further ahead. I don't want to waste time worrying about what assignments I'm going to have to scramble together next week. I find them and then I have them on the books. I like to have ongoing assignments and relationships with editors and clients so I know I have work from them next month as well as this month. Meanwhile, I am constantly looking for new work. Maybe one in ten pitches works out, but I take the time to fill my pipeline.

5. I never miss a deadline. When I act like a professional, clients want to keep doing business with me. And that helps me keep the words flowing.

I could probably go on a lot more about all of this, but that next project is calling my name...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Today I shall write, draw, think, feel, experience, and not die.

Sounds like a good plan.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Wow! It's my second win (actually a four-way tie) in Eli Stein's caption cartoon contest!

Winner of Eli’s Cartoon Caption Contest No. 10

Friday, August 13, 2010

Comics Workshop photos!

I've posted a few dozen photos from this month's comics workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies. This should hold you over until I get a chance to write more about this great event!

Center for Cartoon Studies 2010 - a set on Flickr

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cartoon Campers

Originally uploaded by Center for Cartoon Studies
Here's a great shot of the talented crew at this summer's Cartoon Workshop.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cartoon Camp Day 5

Sad good-byes this evening as three-quarters of the class heads for home. Only 9 of us are staying for the "extended studio" portion, which officially begins on Monday. But my god, what an amazing amount of creativity on display from these 37 wonderful artists. But lifetime friendships have been forged and at least 250 pages of comics have been drawn. What a week!

Huge thanks to the Center for Cartoon Studies and its amazing teachers!

Tomorrow I start thinking about what I'll write and draw this weekend and next week. Tonight will be a satisfying sleep.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Center for Cartoon Studies, Day 2

I'm two days into the Summer Workshop. Here's a sampling of what I've created so far.

(This just scratches the surface, to be honest. More photos and maybe actual scans soon.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cartoon Camp Day Zero - Off to the races

I'm back in White River Junction, Vermont, for another summer workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and things are already off to a great start.

For one thing, the drive here was almost too easy. I didn't hit any traffic the entire trip. It made me worry a bit -- did the Armageddon start while I wasn't looking? -- but now that I'm here, nobody else seems worried, so I guess the world remains unexploded.

For another, CCS held a nice little reception for this year's workshop participants. Actually, CCS didn't do too much -- just put out some cheese and punch and told us where to be -- but that was enough to get us started. I met several cool people tonight, and I'm already feeling creatively charged for classes tomorrow.

And finally, my hotel room is air conditioned and the bed is comfortable. Not only that, it is calling my name. So I'm going to call it a night and wake up bright and early tomorrow, ready to start a whole week of cartooning.

More updates as the week progresses!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Looking backward/forward

As I have been preparing myself for this year's Summer Workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies, a certain dread began to crawl inside of me. I started beating myself up for not accomplishing more since last summer's workshop. In fact, for a few moments there, I convinced myself that I haven't done a single cartooning-related thing in the past year.

But dread and fear often hide the truth. As I slowed down to think about it, I realized just how much cartooning-related work I have actually accomplished over the last 12 months:

  • I came up with at least 100 ideas for gag cartoons (single-panel cartoons like you see in The New Yorker), and drew at least 20 of them.
  • I scripted and thumbnailed at least 30 one-page comic stories.
  • I attended the Maine Comic Arts Festival, my first show behind the table as an artist.
  • I produced a new mini-comic.
  • I participated in this year's International Drawing Day.
  • I had two of my single-page comics stories appear in a book. (An amateur collection, but it's got covers and a spine, so it counts.)
  • I drew hundreds of illustrations in my sketchbooks.
  • I posted at least 20 or 30 cartoons to my webcomic.
  • I started scripting a graphic novel. (Well, really a work of journalism in comics form, so the term "graphic novel" isn't quite right, but you get the idea.)
  • I tried a whole bunch of different types of pens and papers as I experimented with different line and drawing styles.
  • I focused my creative goals (a very key piece of the puzzle).
  • and I had fun while doing all of the above.
Remembering / realizing / reflecting on all of that has totally pushed the dread aside and left me creatively charged for this workshop. I wish I could hit the road right now, but that wouldn't really do me any good, would it?

Anyway, I anticipate this being a life-changing experience, and I plan on making the most of it. Don't worry, I won't leave you behind -- expect some updates from the road next week.

See you in the funny pages.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Great Die Laughing Experiment

My short story collection DIE LAUGHING came out from Medium Rare Books back in 2002. It was a pretty darned good book, and people seemed to like it, but business issues plagued it from day one. Ultimately, having my own book wasn't the world's best experience if just because so many things went wrong with its publication.

Some day I'll expand upon what happened, but for now, let me just way, if you want something done right, leave yourself enough room to control your own destiny.

Which brings me to DIE LAUGHING 2.0.

That's right, what was once dead is now returned. I made the ebook version of DIE LAUGHING available a few weeks ago, thanks to Amazon's super-easy Kindle publishing platform.

My dreams for this ebook version are modest. I hope it will sell 100 copies. That's not much, but hey, I'm taking baby steps back into the fiction world, so I'm not shooting for the moon.

So how's it doing? Die Laughing sold 6 copies in its first few weeks of resurrected life. I'm happy with that.

I'll keep filling you in on sales as the experiment continues. In the mean time, if you want to give the book a try yourself, here's the link:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How I'll spend my summer vacation

A few days from now, I'll be packing up the car and heading south, west, left, right, and a few other directions until I get to the delightful little town of White River Junction, Vermont. There, I'll be participating in my second Summer Workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies, as cool a place as you can possibly imagine.

Last summer's workshop was incredible, but it came at a really terrible time in my life (just a few weeks after the untimely death of my father). This year I hope to go in with a clearer head and heart so I can learn and draw and draw and learn.

I have a few pretty clear goals for this year's workshop, including drawing and producing at least one brand-new mini-comic. I also want to experiment with a few new inking techniques and tools, learn more about pacing scripts, prep a graphic novel idea for possible submission, and meet a bunch of cool people.

But the most important goal is to relax, have fun, and recharge. I need this creative break, and I'm going to work like hell to make it the best break it can be.

Of course, before I can leave, I need to tie up a few dozen writing assignments and line up the work I'm going to tackle as soon as I get back. Taking a vacation isn't easy for a freelancer, but I haven't taken any real time off for myself in more than a year, so it's worth the effort.

Expect updates from CCS starting early next week.

So, what do you do to recharge and relax? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Welcome to the new blog!

After what feels like 87 years over at LiveJournal, it's time for this blog to make a clean break and start fresh.

I resisted this for a long time -- half out of laziness, half out of sticking with the tried and true.

But all of my other blogs are here on Blogger, which offers greater flexibility, better RSS feeds, more features, and more chances to have fun with it.

Plus, my old LJ blog was started to promote my fiction. I almost never write fiction anymore, so why not start something fresh?

My old blog will remain archived here, and I'll probably still post on it from time to time, but basically, this is where I'll be from now on.

Hope you'll stick around for the ride!