Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Final Word - 2021


Dear Friends,

For the past five years, I have been conducting Quality Management System audits in the aerospace sector for a company called DNV. In the best of times, it’s a demanding job with frequent travel, long hours, and short weekends. The past two years have been especially challenging, given the worldwide pandemic and DNV’s overnight transition to conducting remote audits. Because of travel restrictions, we lost most of our billable travel time, and DNV informed us that if we had more than 4 hours of non-billable time in a week, we would need to use Personal Time Off – or take on an approved “project.” What DNV has never understood is the amount of time it takes on the front end to prepare for an audit, and on the back end to manage findings to closure – if they’re done right. Consequently, fulltime auditors work 7 days a week while DNV gripes that we have too much free time – because they don’t see it in our timecards – by design.

But I soldiered on, taking on special projects like editing and proofreading the Aerospace Auditors’ Handbook; hosting the popular webinar, “Root Cause and Corrective Action: First Pass Success”; and mentoring the new class of Aerospace Auditors In Training – all of which should have been the job of Chuck, my useless Manager. In addition, I passed my ANAB Witness Audit with zero findings and a raft of accolades. Given all that, when Chuck conducted my annual performance review from his home office in a ratty t-shirt with seemingly no preparation, he acknowledged none of my accomplishments, mumbled something about how “they” raised the bar on us, and gave me an Average rating. I decided then and there that it was time to leave DNV. 

Then all hell broke loose. My former manager Ronda, her manager Sherif, and Chuck’s manager Marta all called to try to talk me out of leaving. It was flattering, but none of them committed to getting rid of Chuck, offering timecard relief, or advancing my career. So I stood firm. Then my clients started calling. And emailing. And texting. They had all started receiving notifications from Scheduling that I would not be conducting their future audits, and they wanted to know why. The outpouring of appreciation was gratifying. Several of them even offered to hire me as a consultant.

But Cristek Interconnects, a Boston-area manufacturer of aerospace cables and harnesses, went a step further – inviting me to join them as their fulltime Quality Manager. I had audited Cristek several times in the past, starting in 2018, when I wrote major findings against issues that no one else had uncovered. They were upset at first, but by the time the audit was over, they were thanking me for helping them to find and fix real problems. I set them on an improvement path that led to their decision, in 2020, to relocate from a rotting warehouse in Lowell to a gleaming new space in North Billerica. When I performed their Special Audit in January to certify their relocation, I was impressed with the new space – and I could envision myself in one of their empty offices.


After a couple of Teams meetings with the General Manager and the President, they quickly made an offer, which I just as quickly accepted. Suddenly I had just four weeks to orchestrate a cross-country move for myself, my two cats, and Kurt, who decided to join me on this adventure. 

I hired the same moving company that had handled several of my past local moves. Turns out they were hopelessly unqualified to handle a long-distance move. They arrived late in a truck that was too small and not certified for long-distance moves, which they discovered halfway through the day. After a series of escalating negotiations, they decided to transfer all the items into a new, certified truck the following morning, before attaching my car to an auto transport to drag it across the country. So we lost a day to poor planning, and the cats sat in their cages for 12 hours, before we finally checked into a pet-friendly hotel, which if nothing else proved an excellent test of their resilience, plus the value of Gabapentin.

The cats and I were scheduled to fly on Alaska Airlines from San Diego to Boston on Thursday, April 22, with Kurt driving us to the airport before embarking on his own cross-country drive. In the meantime, we had a few more things to accomplish. Tuesday morning at 9am, I needed to deliver my car to the movers who were busy transferring all my items to a certified truck. By 9:15 I needed to be at the condo to let in the cleaning crew to ready the condo for sale. By 9:45 I needed to be at CVS for yet another COVID-19 test, because Massachusetts required a 10-day self-quarantine upon arrival, unless you could show a negative COVID result within 72 hours of arrival. 

On Wednesday at 9am we got our hair cut one last time from our favorite stylist, then at 10am we met the realtor at the condo to hand over the keys and clickers and to allow him to take photos for the listing, which was scheduled to go live on Thursday. We took the opportunity to clean the garage, which the cleaning crew did not touch because it was had been stuffed with leftover items until near the end of the day. In the process we bumped one of the sensors, causing the garage door opener to fail – because we couldn’t have enough things going wrong! The realtor agreed to fix it, as we did not have time.

On Thursday morning we rose at 4am to tranquilize the cats and head to San Diego airport. The part I was most nervous about, meeting all the requirements to place the cats successfully onto the plane, turned out to be a breeze. Alaska Airlines personnel were great and made the process seamless and pleasant. Nora traveled in the cargo hold and Neely sat under the seat in front of me. The only problem I encountered was at Security, when I placed Neely’s carrier onto the conveyor belt, as prescribed, and carried her through the scanner, which promptly went off. Since I always use TSA PreCheck, I do not normally need to remove my jacket, belt, or shoes. But TSA asked me to remove my jacket and belt before passing through the scanner again. Imagine trying to do that while holding a cat! It wasn’t easy, but I succeeded in passing the screening on my third attempt. I promptly shoved Neely back into her carrier and raced off to gate, leaving my belt behind – a small sacrifice to keep this process moving. 

The flight was uneventful and, due to tailwinds, ended a half hour earlier than scheduled, a godsend. I collected my bags, located Nora outside the Oversized Baggage door, and made contact with a Cristek employee who volunteered to pick us up and drive us to the car rental counter – saving me the trouble of loading two cat carriers and all my travel bags on to a shuttle bus. I drove the rental car to a pet-friendly hotel in Waltham, about halfway between Boston and Billerica, to wait for the arrival of my furniture and car. 

On Friday morning I drove up to Billerica to receive the keys from the rental office and to tour my new apartment for the first time. It was breathtaking! I took a six-month lease, to give me sufficient time to settle into my new job and hunt for a house. Then I met with a local realtor, who informed me that housing inventory was at historic lows due to COVID and other factors, as people were fleeing cities like Boston to the relative space of suburbs, and suburbanites were sheltering in place with no intention of moving. Horror stories abounded of buyers offering $100K above asking price, waiving inspection – and still losing out on properties they loved. 

Then I met with an insurance broker to initiate the process of transferring my driver’s license, auto insurance and registration from California to Massachusetts. The helpful broker completed all the necessary forms for me and scheduled an appearance at the Lawrence Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) for the following Thursday at 10:30am. Then I bought a new belt at Burlington Coat Factory. 

On Sunday morning, the day the movers promised to arrive, I drove up early from the Waltham hotel to the Billerica apartment. And waited. And waited. I slept on the carpet while I waited. Finally the lead mover texted me that they would arrive at 1:30pm. They did not actually arrive until 3:00pm. And when they did, my car looked like it had been through a mud bath. The unload dragged on until 1:00am. The poor cats must have felt abandoned! 

On Monday morning I checked out of the Waltham hotel, moved the cats into the Billerica apartment, returned the rental car to the Waltham Enterprise location, and took an Uber back to Billerica. Then I began the long, methodical, occasionally painful process of unpacking and arranging just enough stuff to function. The entire dining room remained filled with boxes that would not be opened until I moved again, to a house. That evening, Kurt arrived from his cross-country drive, and I got him situated.

On May 3rd, I started my new job as the Quality Manager for Cristek Interconnects – Massachusetts Division. I hit the ground running, as so much had been neglected or delayed without a Quality Manager in place. I have a staff of six, responsible for Inspection, Test, Material Review Board, and First Article Inspection reports. I am directly responsible for Internal Audits, Nonconforming Material Reports, Root Cause Corrective Action, and Quality Management System improvements. I have my own office and parking space, luxuries not afforded to me by either DNV or Boeing. From the start I felt welcome and needed. 

Meanwhile, there were 35 showings of my Murrieta condo, resulting in five offers, four of them above asking. We accepted the highest offer, which conveniently came with no contingencies. While I waited for sale to go through, I started house hunting. I figured that the further north of Boston I went, the better my odds. I worked my way north to the charming town of Haverhill, near the New Hampshire border, where I discovered a lovingly renovated 3-bedroom Colonial with a deck, a finished basement, and a partially finished attic. The seller did not want to close until the end of July, because she was not yet ready to move out. This was a sticking point for some of the other bidders, but not for me! I had just survived the move from hell, so I was happy to chill for a few months while I settled into my job, tied up my remaining loose ends, and planned my next move at a sensible pace. I ended up winning this bid without waiving any contingencies, and took ownership on July 26. 


The move from the Billerica apartment to the Haverhill house went much more smoothly – although it threatened to go south before sunrise, as the 20-foot truck I rented from U-Haul, and confirmed twice, was not available when I went to pick it up. I settled for a 15-foot truck, which meant making three trips back and forth instead of two, adding time and cost to the move. But we got it done thanks to a competent team of movers and Kurt at the wheel. Despite heading into rush hour traffic on the third and final trip, we were able to complete the move in time to return the truck to U-Haul before 8pm. While Kurt returned the truck, the movers reassembled the beds and I started unboxing things. Six months later, I feel like I’m still unboxing things. But the house is mostly settled and I’m delighted with my purchase. 

Beyond work, I have rarely ventured out since moving into my house, due to lack of time and fear of COVID – even though I am fully vaccinated and always wear a mask. Every day during my commute to and from work, I listen to Boston’s local NPR station on the radio, where one day I learned that Haverhill has a Museum of Printing. It is only open on Saturdays, other than special events. A few years ago I visited the Druckmuseum in Mainz, Germany, so I was excited to visit our local museum. It did not disappoint. They have a vast collection, from the origin of the printing press and moveable type to the digital revolution and desktop publishing. I became a member and plan to attend their next special event on the history of phototypesetting in December.


About 90 miles north of Haverhill, Massachusetts is Haverhill, New Hampshire, the birthplace of Bob Montana, the artist who designed the Archie Comics characters and drew the Archie newspaper strip from 1946 until his death in 1975. In the neighboring town of Meredith, where Bob Montana lived for most of his productive years, an Archie statue has been erected in his honor. Kurt and I drove up there in the pouring rain to visit the statue and take some photos.

Halloween is big around here, due to the history of Salem and its role in the witch trials. We visited Salem in early October, before things got too crazy, and took a personalized ghost tour. On Halloween night we served up Ziploc bags filled with candy and comic books to the neighborhood kids, which was also my first opportunity to meet many of the neighbors. 


On October 13th my mother celebrated her 95th birthday. I could not attend in person due to COVID and time constraints, but my brothers took her out to lunch and texted me photos. 

While they were celebrating, I was busy preparing Cristek for its AS9100 Recertification audit, which occurs every three years. My knowledge of the AS9100 Standard and its application was a big reason Cristek wanted to hire me. So I’m relieved to report that we concluded our audit with zero findings, a first for the division. 

In November I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner in my new dining room, a small affair catered by Hello Fresh and served on a folding table draped with a festive tablecloth. Yesterday I pulled my pencil tree out of the attic and stuck it in the f¬¬ront window. I contemplated buying a real tree this year, since I finally have the room for it. But due to supply chain issues, trees are scarce and needlessly expensive, along with heating oil and natural gas. This morning we woke up to our first dusting of snow. And so we are bundling up for the long winter ahead – we’re not in California anymore. 


Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Final Word - 2020

 


Dear Friends,

This year started innocently enough with my company's annual training convention in Houston. After the convention I stuck around for a few extra days of "management development," in search of a promotion that has yet to materialize. I was still supporting Mayor Pete -- who went on to achieve TikTok fame as Slayer Pete after a series of epic takedowns on Fox News -- and the only Corona being imported was a second-rate Mexican beer. I was auditing in Seattle at the end of February when Patient Zero died there. I was auditing on the California-Mexico border in mid-March when the border closed and California issued its first Stay At Home order. Like many, my company didn't take the virus seriously at first; but that changed as reality set in, and they adjusted the operating rules to allow us to conduct audits 100% remotely -- which I've been doing since the end of March, through a combination of Zoom meetings, FaceTime interviews, and offsite document reviews. I venture out at 6am on Sunday mornings to do my weekly grocery shopping at Ralphs with the over-60 crowd; wear a mask and maintain social distance the way any sane person of any political persuasion should; and otherwise leave the house only to empty my mailbox, which began filling up more slowly this autumn in one of many White House gambits to prevent citizens from voting, or at least to make sure their votes didn't count -- which, when all the legally cast votes were tallied, failed as a campaign strategy. Through it all, I have managed to stay positive and remain negative. 

To buoy our spirits, 77-year-old Barry Manilow released "When the Good Times Come Again," a 30-year-old album track that rose to #12 on the Billboard AC Chart, scoring him a sixth decade on the pop charts and invitations to appear everywhere from Rosie O'Donnell to A Capitol Fourth -- all remotely, of course.

Neely & Nora

As my self-quarantine began, so did Nora's. My eldest cat, now 15, had been suffering from hyperthyroidism, which I was trying to counteract with medication, to no avail. The next recommended level of treatment was radioiodine exposure, which requires three weeks in isolation, which she endured in San Diego in April. Happily, the treatment was successful and Nora's veterinarian is pleased with her lab results.

DNV GL, the company I work for, is a Certification Body, which is accredited by an Accreditation Body, called ANAB. Put another way, auditors get audited. A lot. This year it was my turn, after three years as a fulltime aerospace auditor, to be subjected to an ANAB Witness Audit. Unlike past audits, however, this one was going to be conducted remotely due to COVID, adding an extra layer of difficulty. Luckily, this audit did not include production, which is the most difficult to conduct remotely, and I had visited this client last year, ironically as a Witness for one of DNV GL's new auditors who was the Acting Lead. My weeklong Witness Audit was very stressful, in part because the client's quality management system was in worse shape than I had anticipated, so I kept finding things that I had to write up, despite the remarkable patience they were demonstrating. I have never worked so hard in my life! My reward, in the end, was that my Witness wrote zero findings, a fact that will not be lost during my next performance evaluation. 

My Witness Audit landed on my birthday, so between that and COVID and other nonsense, I did not get to celebrate my 61st birthday until two weeks later, when my housemate Kurt treated me to lunch at the Ponte Winery Restaurant in Temecula, which has remained open due to its outdoor seating arrangements. 

Arena Stage

Autumn was consumed with the election and COVID, about which too much ink has already been spilled. Before we knew it, Thanksgiving was upon us, and with it my first week off since the pandemic began. This break allowed me to finally make headway on my next graphic novel, "Arena Takes Manhattan," a spinoff of my main Jayson strip starring his roommate Arena Stage, which is now completely written, half drawn, and full storyboarded. Needless to say, there have been no in-person comic book conventions this year. But with a vaccine on the horizon, hope springs eternal that conventions will return in 2021, when I plan to debut this long-gestating tribute to career girl comics and to the woman who inspired Arena: the late, great, Andrea Jartman.

Andrea Jartman circa 1983

Please stay safe while you enjoy the Holiday Season. 


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Sex and the City 3: Bringing Down the House

Thanks to COVID-19, I have now re-watched the entire 6-season run of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” plus the two movies that continue the story. The series still holds up, for the most part, although the second movie gets a little wobbly.

For years now, there’s been talk of a third movie, and everyone seems to be on board – everyone, that is, except Kim Cattrall, a.k.a. Samantha Jones. She has stated emphatically and at great length, to anyone who will listen, that she has no interest in reprising her role, largely due to her strained relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker, a.k.a. Carrie Bradshaw. When pressed, Cattrall will only offer that she wishes SJP had been “nicer.” Really? Anyone who has worked with SJP will tell you that she is one of the nicest and hardest working people in show business. Anyone who has worked with Cattrall – not so much.

Which brings us to the third movie, which needs to get off the ground before COVID-19 kills us all. Luckily, I have the solution. Fade in:

“Sex and the City 3” opens with an over-the-credits montage in which each of the returning characters receives an invitation from Samantha Jones Public Relations, promoting an open-air event to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Cut to the dawn of the event, with minions scurrying around putting the final touches on the reception, whose centerpiece is a pasteboard house. As our lead characters enter the scene, a gale-force wind begins to blow, sending hats and skirts, brochures and cocktails flying. The house teeters and crashes onto its side. The wind abates. Guests start flocking to the upended house and buzzing about what they see. Reveal a pair of stylish red shoes, with a pair of feet still in them. As the lead characters make their way to the scene, an off-screen voice shrieks, “WHO KILLED MY SISTER?!!” Reveal Serena Jones, Samantha’s never-before-mentioned sister, as the final credit rolls: AND INTRODUCING JEAN SMART AS SERENA JONES.

You’re welcome, Sex fans.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Final Word - 2019




Vincent Ingala
Twelve short months ago in Seal Beach, CA, I rang in the New Year at Spaghettini with my housemate Kurt Mossler and our host for the evening, saxophonist Vincent Ingala. Just before the show started, I won a Spaghettini hat. Just after the show ended, I ran into Vincent in the men’s room. A few months later, I ran into him again at Denver airport. Welcome to my magical life.

After rubbing elbows with Vincent Ingala – literally, because my hands were wet – I drove home to Murrieta and started packing up my house, my housemate, and my cats, to prepare for a contractor to come in and rip out the aging wall-to-wall carpets, replacing them with engineered wood. While we whiled away the hours at the local Extended Stay America, it rained buckets, driving the crew into the garage to cut the wood. Still, they managed to finish early and right on budget. And the transformation is breathtaking.



Barry Manilow
I celebrated by checking out Barry Manilow’s new residency at the Westgate in Las Vegas. Considering he is 76, I pretty much expected a swirl of dancers and pyrotechnics while he stood still, or worse, sat in a wheelchair. But it was a high-energy show that was heavy on hits and light on pyrotechnics. “Manilow” has been extended through 2020, so check it out if your travel plans include Las Vegas.

In June, I marched for the first time in the San Diego Pride Parade, in support of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential bid. 2020 may well turn out to be the most consequential election of our lives, and I’m not about to sit it out. To learn more, visit https://peteforamerica.com/

I’ve spent most of the past year toiling away at my day job, conducting aerospace audits for DNV GL in various North American cities. This year I have been doing far more driving than flying, but given the state of traffic, I think I’d rather be on a plane. In October I finally got to conduct an audit in Germany, just outside of Frankfurt, which was an enjoyable challenge. I hung around for the weekend to practice my German and see what a well-run city with world-class public transportation looks like. I’ve also traveled to Montreal and Mexico, but mostly I’m confined to Southern California and Seattle. 

Jayson Comics #7
One of my Seattle-based clients offered me a job as a Quality Engineer; but after eight months of foot-dragging and heralding each new hurdle as the “final step” in the process, they finally made an offer that wasn’t very good, didn’t present a clear path to management, and would have required me to move. So I turned it down and resolved instead to honor my current commitments through mid-year, then rededicate myself to my languishing creative endeavors. I’ve got two new graphic novels in the hopper, and many more projects I’m itching to start.

Despite my workload, I did manage to publish a new issue of Jayson Comics this year, which I debuted at San Diego Comic-Con in July. In Jayson Comics #7, a new lead story sets the stage for the return of Ed Rosenblatt, ex-lover of both Jayson and Arena, followed by a retrospective of pivotal Jayson stories that feature the series’ most notorious heartbreaker. Blessed with brains, beauty, and charisma, Ed adapts easily to whatever situation he finds himself in – prompting the eternal question, “Who is Ed Rosenblatt?” Jayson Comics are available for digital download and print-on-demand at IndyPlanet: https://indyplanet.com/?s=Jeff+Krell

I also made appearances at Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon; Anaheim’s WonderCon; Santa Monica’s Hi De Ho Comics for PrideCon; New York’s Queers & Comics Conference, where I moderated an SRO panel on Serialized Comics; and New York Comic Con, where I also attended a performance of Aaron Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” with old friend Giulia Hamacher, and finally got an answer from Archie Comics regarding last year’s pitch for the miniseries “Kevin in the Army” – they turned it down. But I will keep on pitching them until the right project lands.

The Murrieta Fire
Back home in Murrieta, we’ve been having our share of natural disasters. In January, flash flooding led to mandatory evacuations just to our north. In July, two earthquakes hit close to home. In September, the Murrieta wildfire prompted another mandatory evacuation; the air was thick with smoke for days. Yet somehow we carry on. 

Now, after too many nights spent in hotels and too many weekends spent writing audit reports, I plan to hole up for the holidays and rest up for the year ahead. Mark my words, 2020’s gonna be a doozy.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Ed Rosenblatt Returns to Jayson



In Jayson Comics #7, a brand-new lead story sets the stage for the return of Ed Rosenblatt, ex-lover of both Jayson and Arena, followed by a retrospective of pivotal Jayson stories that featured the series’ most notorious heartbreaker.

 

Unlike the main characters in the early Jayson strips, Ed Rosenblatt was not based on a real person. For a while he was the Jenny Piccolo* of the strip, often mentioned but never seen. Andrea Jartman, the inspiration for Arena Stage, did have a sometime boyfriend named Ed, who we agreed was slovenly and obnoxious, and bore no resemblance to the character who finally emerged as Robyn’s discovery and Arena’s high school sweetheart in the pages of Meatmen Vol. 6.

Ed was established as a porn star trying to pay his way through medical school. With the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, he justified his choice as a way to promote safer sex. Then again, over the years Ed has justified many dubious choices: tossing Jayson aside for the allure of Hollywood; knocking up Arena’s sister for the sake of appearances; and returning to medical school when all else failed. With a Jewish father and a Venezuelan mother, the duality of Ed’s nature  Ed Rosenblatt vs. Eduardo Rivera, gay vs. straight, Jew vs. Gentile  was established early on. Blessed with brains, beauty, and charisma, Ed adapts easily to whatever situation he finds himself in – prompting the eternal question, WHO IS ED ROSENBLATT?

Jayson Comics are available for digital download and print-on-demand at IndyPlanet.

*Google it.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Final Word - 2018



Last October, after a year of training and testing, I finally earned my Aerospace Experience Auditor (AEA) certification. To commemorate this event, the Scheduler for DNV GL Business Assurance snarled, “Are you ready to get busy?!” Truer words have never been spoken. All of our clients needed to transition from AS9100C to AS9100D by September 14, 2018, or risk losing their certifications. At the same time, record numbers of Aerospace auditors exited the business, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t pass the qualifying exams. As a full-time employee, I was enlisted to fill every hole – flying to a different city every week. My girls Nora and Neely appear to miss me when I’m gone, but they’re in good hands with my housemate Kurt Mossler.

Neely with caregiver Kurt
I won’t bore you with my entire travelogue, but here are some of the highlights of life on the road these past twelve months:

In early March I conducted an audit in Virginia Beach that coincided with a “bomb cyclone” that pounded the Eastern seaboard. I was scheduled to fly home on Friday, March 2, but all the flights out of Norfolk were cancelled and the first flight I could get was on Monday. Since I needed to start another audit in Valencia, CA on Monday morning, that was simply not going to work. So I found a flight out of Richmond, VA on Sunday and took a 100-mile Uber ride, holed up in a hotel with a free shuttle to Richmond airport, and caught up on audit reports while waiting to depart. The flight out of Richmond was way oversold and departed late, but I managed to get the last seat in the last row and make it to San Diego by 9:30pm. Then I still had to Uber home, repack my bag, and drive 2 hours to Valencia. I didn’t get to bed until 2:30am, but managed to show up on time to start the audit on Monday morning.

In June, following an audit in Indianapolis, I drove my rental car to Rockford, IL, not knowing that Route 90 to Rockford has its own, privately controlled tollway system. If you don’t have their I-Pass, which I didn’t, you need to pull over every few miles and pay a toll; and some exits are unmanned, requiring exact change in coins to pass through. At the conclusion of the audit, as I was driving from Rockford to Midway Airport, I ran low on gas, had to pull off, and didn’t have $1.10 in coins. There’s a way to pay after-the-fact on line, but it is very complicated and you need to know the exit by name and the time you exited in order to use it. I knew the time and the town based on the gas station receipt, but there are several exits in that town, so I ended up having to phone the I-Pass help line and waste an hour figuring out how to pay $1.10 so I wouldn’t get a ticket.

Then I flew to Ottawa, Canada. Everyone else on my flight breezed through Customs, but I was last in line because I couldn’t get the kiosk to scan my passport. So the agent decided to interrogate me with questions about why I was there, what is this standard I’m auditing to, is it a U.S. standard or an International standard, was I there to solicit U.S. business, etc. – at least 15 questions! And that was nothing compared to the return trip. At Ottawa airport, you pass through U.S. Customs on your way down a flight of stairs to a small terminal where U.S.-bound flights depart, and they have decreed this area “U.S. Soil.” I was supposed to board a United flight to Dulles with a connection to San Diego. The Dulles-bound flight was 4 hours late (every other flight was on time) so I was going to miss my connection. I asked the gate agent what I should do. She said she was not a United agent, and I needed to speak to a United agent to get rerouted, which meant I had to go back upstairs and out through Customs to the United counter. I did what she said and was halted by a border guard who barked that this was not an exit, I needed to turn around and go back downstairs to see a gate agent. I informed him that it was the gate agent who sent me upstairs, but he didn’t care. I headed back downstairs wondering if I would ever get out of Ottawa. But then a United agent appeared out of nowhere brandishing 3 new tickets for my new route: Ottawa to Boston on an Air Canada flight, Boston to Houston on United, Houston to San Diego on United. Oh, and the Air Canada flight was boarding right now. I got home 6 hours later than planned, but at least it was the same day.

RIP Andrea Jartman
Jayson Comics #6
On one of these many flights, I was catching up on the Pennsylvania Gazette – my alumni magazine – and was shocked to learn that Andrea Jartman, who was the inspiration for the character Arena Stage in my Jayson comic strip, died in February. I was scheduled to debut Arena’s solo comic at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) in July, but suddenly it turned into a tribute issue. I wrote a blog post to pay tribute to her:  If you’re interested in reading the comic book, it is available for both digital download and print-on-demand at IndyPlanet.

Hawking my wares at Comic Con Palm Springs
Just before SDCC, things got quiet – too quiet. Kurt left on July 4 for his annual two-week family reunion in New England, and I coincidentally had a series of local audits that I could drive to, so I didn’t need to worry about a sitter for the girls. But my driver’s license was about to expire. The California DMV has a new process that allows you to apply on line or by mail, and receive your license by return mail, thereby avoiding the long lines at the DMV office. I applied on June 16; my check did not clear until June 29; and as of a week before my birthday, I still didn’t have my new license. I can’t fly, rent a car, reserve a hotel room, or even enter some of my clients’ buildings without a valid driver’s license – in other words, I can’t do my job. I had July 10 off, and I spent the whole afternoon on the phone – mostly on hold – trying to find out when I would get my license. I talked to two different agents, who both confirmed that there were no issues with my application, but that my license wouldn’t mail for another week, so I should just go to my local DMV office to get a temporary license – defeating the whole purpose of the new process! My next free day was July 18, the day after my birthday, and I was supposed to retrieve Kurt from Riverside train station that morning, which was also the first day of Comic-Con. Fortunately, both agents I spoke with were mistaken, and I received my license in the mail on July 12. Good thing too, because on the last day of Comic-Con, I flew to Boston for a weeklong audit that involved planes, trains, and automobiles.
Kurt promoting my comics

Other comic book conventions I attended this year were: Geek Out Day (Feb. 17) at UC Riverside; WonderCon (March 23-25), where I appeared on the “Making Queer Comics” panel; Free Comic Book Day (May 5) at Pine Ave. Comics in Long Beach, CA; and Comic Con Palm Springs (Aug. 24-25).

I finally took a real vacation during the first week of October, for my annual trip to New York. My company was kind enough to schedule me on a one-day audit in Troy, NY on Monday, October 1 so that my flights would be paid for. I performed the audit and then braved severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch to drive to Lehighton, PA to celebrate my mother’s 92nd birthday, before heading into Manhattan for the start of New York Comic Con (NYCC) on Thursday, October 4. On the first day of NYCC, I accomplished two major goals: I pitched Archie Comics a new Kevin Keller mini-series, “Kevin in the Army,” which they got excited about and asked me to submit in writing; and I lined up a signing slot at the GeeksOUT booth for Sunday afternoon. Early Friday morning I wrote the pitch for “Kevin in the Army,” which picks up where the Dan Parent-penned “Kevin in the City” left off, and builds a bridge to older Kevin’s storyline in “Life with Archie” that made news a few years back because he married his medic husband in the pages of issue 16. I checked with Dan Parent to make sure he was on board with the proposal. Now we wait to find out whether Archie will greenlight it for 2019.
Back on Broadway with Giulia Hamacher
Friday afternoon I took the train out to Central Islip, Long Island, to visit old friend Lenny Giarraputo; but made sure to board an early train back on Saturday morning to return to NYCC in time for the Archie Comics panel at 11am. In the evening I met old friend and former co-worker Giulia Hamacher for our annual dinner and a Broadway show; this year’s choice was “Mean Girls – The Musical” which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Sunday morning I headed over to the convention hall to prepare for my signing. I had packed 16 books – 2 of each of my titles – and a stack of Arena Stage comic books. 3 hours later I had nearly sold out of everything; I only brought 3 books home.

My first published work
While in the midst of my whirlwind Northeastern tour, Joanne Kulp Daugirda reached out to let me know that she had located her long-lost copy of the comic book we published to raise money for the Lehighton High School German Club’s trip to Germany in 1976. As many of you know, all my original art went missing in 2003, including the art for this book and the book itself. Joanne kindly delivered it to my mother so that I could pick it up while visiting her. After she did so, my mother revealed that she kept her own copy all these years, along with an article from the high school newspaper about our trip. So I now have two copies of that long-lost comic book, and a newspaper clipping that I forgot ever existed.  

Thanksgiving was once again celebrated with Christine Loudon, my former Boeing co-worker who always serves a meal to her “stray gays.” I have been attending for the past four years, and Kurt has joined me for the past two. We bring wine.

Christmas should prove to be a quiet affair, which is precisely the gift I need after the year I’ve had. New Year’s Eve will be spent at Spaghettini Seal Beach with Kurt and the insanely talented saxophonist Vincent Ingala. Then on New Year’s Day, I fly to Houston for DNV GL’s annual training convention. And it begins again.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Jayson’s Pal Arena Takes Manhattan


In the comics, Jayson’s roommate Arena Stage was always a scene-stealer. She stood beside Jayson from the very first strip I drew in 1982, doling out advice and cheering Jayson on when no one else believed in him. In real life, my friend Andrea Jartman played the same role, and inspired this unforgettable character. 

As the 1980s drew to a close, I concluded that Arena was ready for her close-up. She had the distinct advantage of being heterosexual, a prerequisite for success in the mainstream newspapers of the day.

I had written myself into a corner with a story called “Jayson Gets Engaged,” which meant that Jayson would soon have to marry Arena — or at least he would have to try. I knew he wouldn’t go through with it, but in the run-up to “Jayson Gets Married” I found the opportunity to introduce the rest of Arena’s family and create a backdoor pilot.

After Jayson rejected Arena at the altar, she stormed off to Manhattan and into the embrace of her family’s advertising agency. Thus was born “Arena Stage,” a daily newspaper strip that I shopped to syndicates in 1988. Although I received some very encouraging rejections, I never found a champion, and Arena returned to Jayson a few stories later in “Jayson’s New Lease on Life.”


Jayson Comics #6 publishes, for the first time ever, the five weeks of daily and Sunday strips I created to establish the world of “Arena Stage” for mainstream consumption.

Just after this issue went to press, I learned that Andrea Jartman passed away in February. I didn’t intend for this issue to be a tribute, but now it is. My plan is to conclude the story arc from the daily strip, and tell several more tales from Arena’s time in Manhattan, in the forthcoming graphic novel “Arena Takes Manhattan,” which will truly be the tribute Andrea deserves, with reminiscences and photographs aplenty.

Meanwhile, I have the bittersweet honor of debuting Jayson Comics #6 at San Diego Comic-Con this July. If you can’t make it there or to the other conventions I attend this year, Jayson Comics #6 is also available for print-on-demand and digital download at IndyPlanet, along with the other 5 issues of Jayson Comics.