John Hampton Barnes III

My dad was loaded with a pretty big name, but everyone knew him as Tony. I certainly appreciate that he declined to make me number IV.

His career in investment banking (and later executive search) took me and my sisters around the world. We lived in New York, Hong Kong, Lagos, and London, and touristed even more widely, collecting some really interesting art along the way. He spoke fluent Chinese and loved music with every cell of his body. He could play some harmonica and recorder, but I think he was amazed when I started singing and performing. He loved history, an addiction he passed on to me.

He loved people and seemed to find them all equally interesting. This is what made him so good at his job. It certainly wasn’t any great facility with numbers. He was exceptionally open-minded and tolerant when it came to people of different backgrounds (starting, I guess, with my Jewish mom). He also loved business, loved talking about the different ways companies make money, and now I do too.

My dad didn’t entirely get me, but he loved me. I began missing him about seven or eight years ago when Alzheimer’s started slowly stealing him from us. His memory had never been great, but ever-larger gaps started opening up, and he was plagued by increasingly pronounced mood swings. Finally his body gave out, and none of us could care for him. He spent the last years of his life in a nursing home (we were lucky enough to place him at one of Seattle’s best).

After a steady decline, something happened last week. Maybe a stroke, it doesn’t matter. We had enough notice to get my older sister from New Orleans, and lost him early Saturday morning, just a few hours after his brother arrived.

It’s only been a couple of days, but it really feels like we lost him a long time ago. Now it’s just official. That cold body I visited yesterday wasn’t him, it was just a place he used to live a while back.

Goodbye, Dad. I love you.

gotylerburgess asked: What did you name these things

The children named the trailer Cuddles, and after much discussion we all agreed to name the Suburban Applejack, because she has a lot of horsepower.

The Decision Tree

Once we decided to take a long family Roadtrip we needed to walk a rather long decision tree about exactly how to do it.

Hotel, AirBnB, Tent, or RV? RV

Staying in hotels is neither economical nor supports our need to deal with our family’s many food restrictions. We met a homeschool family traveling the country by renting apartments for a few weeks at a time, which is more economical, but we really wanted to camp.

We spent the last few years experimenting with tent camping. We got pretty good at it, but all in all the overhead of tent camping is just too high for us. Hours to set up and unpack, hours to break down and pack up, very very sensitive to bad weather. And my ability to work on the road would be restricted to finding cafes.

The truth is that we loved our previous RV trip and we never seriously considered doing it any other way.

Motorhome, Camper, or Trailer? Trailer

Before we bought our previous RV setup we rented a motorhome. It didn’t suit us. Aside from disliking hearing everything rattle around in the kitchen while we drove, it’s just inefficient. Getting an RV parked and plugged in is faster than setting up a tent, but it’s still a commitment, and it is a pain to undo it all just to shop for groceries or go touring around. Some folks get around this by towing a car, but that means caring for two separate engines.

To our way of thinking, trailering is the only way to go.

(A camper is an interesting compromise, basically a trailer you carry on your truck. This makes for a satisfyingly compact unit, but it’s really not big enough for two adults, two growing kids, and a large dog to live, school, and work in for two years.)

Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer? Travel Trailer

Last time around we got a fifth wheel. It’s much more compact that a travel trailer because the trailer overhangs the truck. And it’s much safer to drive than a standard travel trailer, because the pivot point lies between the front and rear truck axles. Basically this is the setup that tractor trailers use to haul tens of thousand of pounds, and for good reason.

But you need a pickup. And even a crew cab pickup is a tight squeeze for (once again) two adults, two growing kids, and a large dog. We wanted room to stretch out a bit, and we also suspected we’d need more storage space. Our dog, for one, currently needs to be crated to keep him well behaved.

Even so we’d still have chosen a fifth wheel because of safety considerations, if it wasn’t for a magical piece of engineering. Some years back a man named Jim Hensley invented a hitch that allowed a travel trailer to tow like a fifth wheel. Better, really, because with a travel trailer the center of gravity is lower and the wind resistance is smaller. Everyone who’s every gotten a Hensley Arrow or ProPride 3P has loved it and swears by it. So we settled on an SUV pulling a travel trailer with a ProPride (because it has a newer and slightly more refined design).

New trailer or used? New

We wanted to buy used, we really did. Trailers depreciated incredibly fast, and the technology doesn’t change very quickly. Even a two or three year-old model would have saved us a lot of dough.

But we couldn’t find anything that was light enough to tow with a 1/2 ton tow vehicle and we didn’t want to tow the extra weight, and we especially didn’t want to get a 3/4 ton tow vehicle because they are more expensive, heavier, and get worse mileage. With gas prices as high as they are (and assuming they’ll only get worse) we decided we’d save more money by buying a brand new ultralight.

Which RV brand? Shadow Cruiser

When we bought our first trailer sixteen years ago we were in a golden era for choosing RVs. That’s because a man named J.D. Gallant had started the RV Consumer Group, which aimed to be the Consumer Union of RV’s. He got off to a good start, with tours of factories and frequent feedback from customers. J.D. personally listened to our requirements and recommended two fifth wheel brands to us: Nash and Sunnybrook. We ended up buying a 1998 Sunnybrook 27rkfs. (Sadly Sunnybrook went out of business and was acquired by Winnebago)

Sadly J.D. died and the RVCG is a shadow its former self. I did buy their latest database, but it was mostly useful for general guidance on brand history and historical quality.

At the Seattle RV show we found two manufacturers we liked, which the RVCG confirmed were likely to be basically well constructed and reliable: Cruiser RV (makers of Shadow Cruiser) and Outdoors RV (owned by Nash). I truly fell hard for the Outdoors RV units, especially the Creek Side. They are super well-made and thoroughly insulated, and the appointments feel high-quality without being ostentatious. Sadly the Outdoors RV units, carrying the amount of belongings we anticipate taking on our adventure, were just too heavy. So I had some tears and we settled on the Shadow Cruiser.

Which model? Shadow Cruiser S-290DBS

There were three floorplans we liked:

The BQS was the early favorite. That rear kid’s room looked awesome, and I could use the dinette as a little office. But bit by bit we drifted towards the DBS. We thought our older kids would like a little more personal space than the tiny bunks allowed. I started to doubt that I would enjoy working in that space. And the bar in the DBS gave us either a place to put the dog crate or a place for me to work, or both. At the last minute we looked hard at the BHS when we thought it might be small enough to fit in our driveway, which would be a huge win once we returned home from our trip. But it didn’t, so we bought the DBS. It will arrive at the end of the month.

Which tow vehicle? Chevy Suburban

Of all the vehicles that can tow in the high 7000/low 8000 pounds the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon and Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon XL have the highest safety ratings. Even with a magic hitch trailering is dangerous, so this was an easy decision, made easier by the fact that our beloved pickup was a Chevy.

We looked at the Tahoe and Suburban, and we really liked the extra capacity of the Suburban. And frankly there isn’t much downside - it’s not much heavier and gets the same mileage.

The key thing to know, if you plan to tow this much, is that you absolutely must get the Heavy Duty Trailering Package, which adds a higher gear ratio, extra transmission and engine coolers, and a heftier suspension. Fun fact! One dealer outright lied to me about whether a particular unit had this package (it didn’t).

New tow vehicle or Used? New

We wanted to buy used, we really did. A 2014 Chevy Suburban is basically the same as what they were selling in 2009. And our experience buying a “certified” used Honda minivan five years ago was excellent.


It’s one thing to buy a used family car. It’s quite another to buy a used trailering vehicle. Towing is extremely stressful on almost all aspects of a vehicle, and there’s no way to know if the previous owners consistantly exceeded the rated tow capacity. The more I looked into the potential downside the more worried I got, and the more I wanted the full factory warranty. So we readjusted our expectations and started looking for a new one.

2014 or 2015? 2014

Right now it’s the twilight of the 2014 model year. You can hardly find any more. And the 2015 Suburbans are all-new. They’ve got a new engine that is more efficient, one of those things that could pay off over a trip of our magnitude.

Fortunately we managed to find a 2014 Suburban LS, the simplest, cheapest model. The only option it had was the trailering package. And that was perfect, because we didn’t want to pay for any of the other features like entertainment (no movies for our kids), navigation (we have iPhone), or leather (cloth is more comfortable in both cold and hot weather). And the price (under invoice) was right, so we got it. Favorite standard feature: a backup camera over the rear license plate, perfect for hitching up!

Even so, I was having some buyer’s remorse. The 2015 is prettier and that engine could really save us some money. Then I remembered that you never want to get the first year of a new car. “New design” is engineer for “Let’s try out a bunch of stuff and see what breaks!” I experienced this with a BMW X5 many years back. That thing never did work right.

So after a several-month-long process we have purchased a tow vehicle and trailer we think will serve us well, even if the loans are a bit higher than we originally budgeted. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about our process!

Tags: roadtrip rv

Bill’s USA Roadtrip

Bill's USA Roadtrip

Sixteen years ago my wife and I bought a pickup truck and a trailer, packed up our belongings and our dog, and embarked on a nine month tour around the USA (and a little bit of Canada). It had high points and low points but all in all it was a blast, and remains one of our greatest memories. (For a taste, here’s the four-day diary I wrote for Slate: 1 2 3 4)

Now that we are parents of a teen and a preteen, it’s time to do it again! We will leave Seattle on August 1 and circumnavigate the country clockwise, returning home about a year after we started. We have lots of ideas about where we’ll go, but so far only a few milestones (including a few talks I’m already committed to). We’ll fill in the rest as we go.

While on the road I will continue to draw Unshelved, and write Not Invented Here, and my wife Sara will continue to homeschool our two kids Theo and Rosie, with a strong emphasis on American history. We will all be blogging our adventures, starting with the preparations in which we are currently knee-deep. Of course you may feel free to ask questions.

While I’m in your neighborhood, perhaps you’d like to hire me to talk about this crazy thing I do for a living. I have created a new workshop aimed at the public called Cartooning in the Digital Age that I am offering to libraries around the country. It’s a fun two-hour workshop that will attempt to cover everything I know about creating comic strips, publishing them to the Web, and making money.

If we’ll be in your area anyway the cost is just $500, otherwise there might be some extra expenses. Email me if you’re interested, and tell us why your town will make a great stop on our family’s homeschool adventure.

We hope to see you on the road!


I keep complaining about it but keep forgetting to hit the “unsubscribe” button.

Doing it now.  OH!  BONUS!  They let me tell them why I unsubscribed!

I agree. I drew that ten years ago when I was younger and stupider. I’m not going to strike it from our archive completely, but I’ve replaced that “repeat” with a different strip.

We still have a few VIP passes available for librarians to attend BookExpo America for free!

We still have a few VIP passes available for librarians to attend BookExpo America for free!

Tags: unshelved bea


And sometimes, I love the world.


And sometimes, I love the world.

(Source: chaoticaddict, via kate-mcgill)


Cindy Clark, a Pennsylvania-based dog breeder decided to share these images of her then 3-month-old nephew with a few 3-week-old French bulldog puppies.

(via kate-mcgill)

shoshililly asked: Hello! You said you occasionally do your comics on your iPad. Would you please tell me what program you use? I was thinking of trying to do my sketches on mine but have no idea what programs to begin with.

For sketches and “painting” I use Procreate (best app name ever). I do strip postproduction (mostly coloring) using Photoshop via Air Display, which treats my iPad as a sort of small wireless pressure-insensitive Cintiq connected to my MacBook Air. But I don’t yet have a comprehensive iPad-only solution for drawing strips end-to-end. Hope springs eternal.

The iPad Air

I hadn’t intended to upgrade my iPad this time around. But that’s because I didn’t know what Apple had planned, and I hadn’t considered the tax implications of a successful Kickstarter.

Coming from an iPad 2, the biggest changes to my experience so far are:

  • The Smart Cover is vastly improved. The old metal hinge was noisy, dirty, and discolored the iPad. Mine was leather, and it was shredding into pieces. So far I’m agnostic on the switch from four folds to three. Mine’s a super-sexy lipstick red, goes great with the Space Grey.
  • The speaker is much louder and is now stereo. The days of having to hook up an external speaker to watch a movie with my kids may be over.
  • Back to sharing a charging cable with my iPhone.
  • Retina display is pretty. I expected it to change everything, but it’s just… nicer. So glad I waited until this model to upgrade, as the display alone wouldn’t have been worth it. That said, I can now read a full comic page without zooming, and that’s a big win.
  • I also look forward to using it as a personal hotspot, but I haven’t tried that yet.

I didn’t get the Mini because I occasionally draw via iPad and 9.7” is already on the small side. Plus the comic thing mentioned above. Plus the movie thing mentioned above. Love the form factor, not a good fit for how I roll. And so the main win from the Air’s svelter self is that I don’t resent how tiny the Mini is. Well, not as much, anyway.