Think You Have A Bad United Airlines Story? I Think I Can Top It

I just spent over 10 hours trapped inside a United plane at the Newark airport.

The list of reasons for the delay was, well, magnificent:

1) Food was not stocked on board

2) Needed de-icing

3) Needed de-icing again

4) Lost fuel from waiting for takeoff

5) Lost our captain

6) No new captain (stuck in traffic)

7) Lost our crew while waiting for new captain

8) Got new crew

9) Still no new captain (still stuck in traffic)

10) Got new captain

11) Lost new crew while waiting for new captain

I wish I could write comedy that well.

During the 10 hours, we got off the plane only once.

Wait, you may say, they have to let you off the plane after so many hours.  Well, not really.

They tell you that you can leave.  But if you do, they add, you need to remove all your luggage. Translation:  If this plane is ready to go, we will abandon you like a three-legged mule.

Result:  You don’t dare leave the plane.

Remember that guy United dragged off the plane not too long ago? We were longing to be him.

But United added to the experience by offering no WIFI, no water, and no food.  The food part was especially ironic given that the lack of food on the plane was the initial reason for the delay.  Turns out, they weren’t going to give it to us anyway.  Eventually, I walked to the back of the plane and snuck a glass of water from the flight attendant.  I traded away one of my children for it.

But it was all okay, because United kept me informed viatext, telling me in a series of texts that the flight would:

Depart at 3:30 pm (wrong)

Depart at 7:45 pm (wrong)

Depart at 8:45 pm (wrong)

Depart at 9:35 pm (wrong)

Depart at 10:35 pm (wrong)

Depart at 12:55 am (wrong)

Depart at 11:59 pm (wrong) (an odd shift back in time, as well)

Depart at 12:30 am (wrong)

Depart at 12:59 am (wrong)

Depart at 3:49 am (wrong)

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a stunning 0 for 10.  A monkey taking an algebra exam could do no worse.

In fact, their updates were so consistently wrong that I started texting back to update THEM, replying to each of their updates with:

Update:  We don’t have a pilot.

Update:  Crew just left.

Update:  You literally have no idea what’s going on.

And after ten hours on board, they finally cancelled the flight at 1:30 am.

But like a good firework show, United saved the best for last.   They told us all that we would have to go to the United service desk to reschedule.

And that’s where the bad math kicked in.

Number of employees at service desk:  4

Number of people waiting for service desk:  400

So the same people who got off the plane at 1:30 a.m. had the added joy of standing in line until 5:00 am (And beyond.  Line still had 225 people in it when I left at 5:00a.m.).

The good news is that I finally got a new flight by connecting to United on Twitter.  The bad news is that the flight is not until Saturday.  Which means I need a hotel. So I’m out a few hundred more dollars.

United will tell you it’s all because of the weather.  And that’s true.

But it’s sort of like building your next house out of cardboard and blaming the rain when it disintegrates.  

I now get the United slogan – “Fly the Friendly Skies.”  The skies are friendly.  It’s their planes that suck donkey ass.

So next time you have to fly, don’t fly the friendly skies.

Fly the friendly airplane.

Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did.

Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning.

He is legendary. He is reclusive. And like Bigfoot, there is really only one photo of him in existence. 

Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him.

In fact, legend has it that when Steven Spielberg called to see if he wanted to make a movie, Bill wouldn’t even take the call.

So it was with little hope of success that I set out to try and meet him last April.

I was traveling through Cleveland on a book tour, and I knew that he lived somewhere in the area. I also knew that he was working with Washington Post cartoonist Nick Galifianakis on a book about Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson’s art.

So I took a shot and wrote to Nick. And Nick in turn wrote to Watterson.

And the meeting didn’t happen.

Bill apparently had something to do.  Or more likely, wanted nothing to do with me.

Which is smart.

But Nick encouraged me to send an email to Bill anyways.   I said I didn’t want to bother him.

But a week or so later, this Pearls strip ran in the newspaper:

pb140411

And I figured this was as good of a time to write to him as any.

So I emailed him the strip and thanked him for all his great work and the influence he’d had on me. And never expected to get a reply.

And what do you know, he wrote back.

Let me tell you. Just getting an email from Bill Watterson is one of the most mind-blowing, surreal experiences I have ever had. Bill Watterson really exists? And he sends email? And he’s communicating with me?

But he was. And he had a great sense of humor about the strip I had done, and was very funny, and oh yeah….

…He had a comic strip idea he wanted to run by me.

Now if you had asked me the odds of Bill Watterson ever saying that line to me, I’d say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff. And yes, I’m aware Hendrix is dead.

So I wrote back to Bill.

“Dear Bill,

I will do whatever you want, including setting my hair on fire.”

So he wrote back and explained his idea.

He said he knew that in my strip, I frequently make fun of my own art skills. And that he thought it would be funny to have me get hit on the head or something and suddenly be able to draw. Then he’d step in and draw my comic strip for a few days.

That’s right.

The cartoonist who last drew Calvin and Hobbes riding their sled into history would return to the comics page.

To draw Pearls Before Swine.

What followed was a series of back-and-forth emails where we discussed what the strips would be about, and how we would do them. He was confident. I was frightened.

Frightened because it’s one thing to write a strip read by millions of people. But it’s another thing to propose an idea to Bill Watterson.

The idea I proposed was that instead of having me get hit on the head, I would pretend that Pearls was being drawn by a precocious second grader who thought my art was crap. I named her “Libby,” which I then shorted to “Lib.” (Hint, hint: It’s almost “Bill” backwards.)

(The introduction of Libby can be found HERE and HERE).

At every point in the process, I feared I would say something wrong. And that Bill would disappear back into the ether. And that the whole thing would seem like a wisp of my imagination.

But it wasn’t that way.

Throughout the process, Bill was funny and flexible and easy to work with.

Like at one point when I wanted to change a line of dialogue he wrote, I prefaced it by saying, “I feel like a street urchin telling Michelangelo that David’s hands are too big.” But he liked the change. And that alone was probably the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.

I don’t want to say any more about our exchange because to do so would probably be to compromise the privacy he so zealously guards. But I will offer you this one biographical tidbit:

Technology is not his friend.

I found that out when it came to the logistics of the artwork.   I drew my part first and then shipped him the strips. I wanted him to fill in the panels I left blank, and simply scan and email me back the finished strips.

I asked him to do this because I did not want to be responsible for handling his finished artwork. Partly because I knew it would be worth thousands of dollars. Partly because I knew he wanted to auction it off for charity. And partly because my UPS driver has a tendency to leave my packages in the dirt at the end of our driveway. (I could just imagine the email I’d have to write the next day: “Dear Mr. Watterson – The first comic strip you’ve drawn in 20 years was ravaged by a squirrel.”)

So this left doing it my way. Digitally.

And this is when I found out that Bill Watterson is not comfortable with scanners or Photoshop or large email attachments. In fact, by the end of the process, I was left with the distinct impression that he works in a log cabin lit by whale oil and hands his finished artwork to a man on a pony.

So I proposed working out our technological issues over the phone. But he didn’t want to.

At first I thought it was because he didn’t own one. Or have electricity. But then I remembered we were emailing.

And so I soon came to the sad realization that he probably just didn’t want me to have his phone number. Which was smart. Because I would have called that man once a week for the rest of his life.

And so we worked through the technological problems via email.

And unlike every other technological problem I’ve ever had, it was not frustrating.

It was the highlight of my career.

The only thing Bill ever asked of me was that I not reveal he had worked on Pearls until all three of his strips had run. (And if you haven’t yet seen those three strips, they can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

And so I did not reveal his participation until now.   And it was the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep.

Because I knew I had seen something rare.

A glimpse of Bigfoot.

Dilbert Creator Scott Adams and Me Go Head-to-Head, and It Does Not End Well for One of Us

As some of you might know, I owe my whole career to Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who way back in 2000 told all of his fans to go read Pearls.  It was at that point that Pearls took off.

So when Scott called a few weeks ago and asked if I’d film a video with him, I jumped at the chance.  I got to spend the entire day at his house filming, and afterwards, I drank every bottle of vodka he had.  So it was a win-win for me.  Plus, I got to say, “F#ck you, Scott” in the video.

Behold, the result of that fine day:

 

My Old Kentucky Home

I am returning to my Old Kentucky Home for two book signings.  (Actually, I never lived there. I just couldn’t think of another song with Kentucky in the title).

 Thursday, 11/8, Louisville, KY

  • 7:00pm, Barnes & Noble, 4100 Summit Plaza Drive, Louisville, KY 40241

Saturday, 11/10, Frankfort, KY

  • 10:30 am, Kentucky Book Fair, Frankfort Convention Center, 405 Mero St., Frankfort, KY

So come out and see me and make me feel at home anyways.

And please, this being Kentucky, bring Bourbon.

The Freak Show Tour Dates

I’ve updated the Freak Show Tour information.  Here is the latest.

Saturday, 9/29, Kenosha, Wisconsin

  • 3:45 pm, DaimlerChrysler Hall, Kenosha Public Museum, 5500 1st Avenue, Kenosha, WI

Monday, 10/1 Milwaukee

  • 7:00 pm, Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53211

 Thursday, 10/4 Chicago

  • 7:00 pm, Barnes and Noble Old Orchard, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL 60077

Friday, 10/5 St. Louis

  • 7:00 pm, Left Bank Books Downtown, 321 N. 10th St., St. Louis, MO 63101

Saturday, 10/6 Washington DC

  • 1:00 pm, Politics & Prose, Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016

Monday, 10/8  Raleigh, NC

  • 7:30 pm, Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave, Raleigh, NC 27607

Tuesday, 10/9 Atlanta

  • 7:00 pm, A Cappella Books, event to be held offsite at Manuel’s Tavern, 602 N Highland Avenue Northeast Atlanta, GA 30307

 Thursday, 10/11 New Orleans

  • 5:30pm, Garden District Book Shop, 2727 Prytania St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Friday, 10/19 Corte Madera, CA

  • 7:00pm, Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925

Wednesday, 10/24, Alameda, CA

  • 7:30pm, Books Inc., 1344 Park Street, Alameda, CA 94501

 Thursday, 11/8, Louisville, KY

  • 7:00pm, Barnes & Noble, 4100 Summit Plaza Drive, Louisville, KY 40241

Saturday, 11/10, Frankfort, KY

  • 10:30 am, Kentucky Book Fair, Frankfort Convention Center, 405 Mero St., Frankfort, KY

 

Hope to see you at one of these dates.

Stephan

P.S.  Beer makes me draw better.  So if you bring some, it’s a win/win for everyone.

Pittsburgh — One Show Added (or, as I wanted to title this blog post — Boy Oh Boy Am I Popular)

My Friday talk at the Toonseum is now officially sold out.  So the Toonseum has added a SECOND SHOW on Saturday, June 23 at noon.

Hear the story of how I went from being a pathetic lawyer to a pathetic cartoonist.

Watch as I show fan favorite strips and better yet, the not-so-favorite strips.

Gawk at the wonderfully furious complaints people send me.

In all, a night that is just slightly better than doing nothing.

Click HERE for tickets.

Own an Original Pearls Strip (and Give to a Great Cause)

I’m often asked if I sell original Pearls strips.  I don’t, but twice a year or so, I auction one off for charity.  And this is one of those times.

The genesis of this auction is cartoonist Richard Thompson (Cul De Sac), who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In honor of Richard, a bunch of us cartoonists (including Bill Watterson) donated art to be auctioned off for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  So if you want to own an original Pearls and contribute to a great cause, click HERE.

And if you’re interested in buying the book collection of all the great art that was donated (which is pretty much a who’s who of all the best cartoonists from the past 30 years), go HERE.