Chris Naunton, walking with Tut and Akhenaten

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I was excited to interview Dr. Chris Naunton, Egyptologist, who I see all over tv. I tend to watch a lot of shows based on ancient Egypt, I guess that’s why that subject appears in a lot of my cartoons.

Egyptologist, Dr. Chris Naunton (photos courtesy Chris Naunton)

TOM: Hi Chris, thank you for doing this.

I see you have a new book out, “King Tutankamun Tells All,” I noticed the great cover right away. It looks like it’s a book for children. Is this the case?

CHRIS: It is a book for children! I have an academic grounding in Egyptology and most people making a living from the subject are academics, but that kind of work is very serious and doesn’t allow much room for jokes or light-heartedness. I had, for quite a long time, been bugged by this idea that, if the ancient Egyptians’ beliefs were right, then Tutankhamun’s spirit might still be around, dying to tell his own story and to tell us how wrong we had got everything! Writing for children allowed me to give Tutankhamun a voice (that of a slightly perturbed teenager), and to imagine his life, death and afterlife from his perspective, and also to make a few jokes too (as a serious Egyptologist I’m not really supposed to make light of the fact that his underpants were found in the tomb but come on…). It’s not a very serious book in that way, but actually, I think the process has helped me to try to get inside the mind of an Egyptian pharaoh and that’s a very interesting and helpful exercise and one I’d recommend to my colleagues!

TOM: You were appointed president of Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society recently, what is that all about?

CHRIS: We’re very lucky in the UK that there’s a rich culture of ‘local societies’ — groups around the country run by volunteers who invite people like along to give talks about heir research for local enthusiasts. It provides us with a platform and an opportunity to engage directly with audiences beyond our academic colleagues. Communicating with wider audiences is crucially important for any science, and every opportunity like this helps us to sharpen our skills, hear the very good questions that people want answered etc. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now and last year I was invited to become the President of one of the largest and best such groups — the Thames Valley group which serves a wide area to the west of London.

TOM: How did you begin your career as an Egyptologist?

CHRIS: Well, I went to university to study Ancient History and Archaeology — I was more interested in football and rock music than anything else at school but it was pretty obvious by then that I wasn’t going to become a professional athlete, and the bands I was in at school didn’t seem to be going anywhere. So I had no better ideas as to what to do at 18 than to get a degree and this seems like the most interesting way to do it. Once I got there I realized I loved it and my grades were good so I decided to have a go at making a career out of it — fully expecting it wouldn’t happen. After two degrees I started applying for every job and other opportunity going and to my great surprise I got a lowly admin job at the Egypt Exploration Society. I left 16 years later having been CEO for five years.

TOM: Are you just handed the keys to locked tombs and simply walk in with a cameraman?

CHRIS: Ha ha, not quite! All archaeological sites and monuments in Egypt are the responsibility of the Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism (MoTA) and they make sure all visits are closely controlled. TV work has taken me to lots of places that are not usually open to the public but months of application beforehand are required and we are then accompanied by MoTA officials and the local guardians who actually have the keys, and Egyptian facilitators who ensure we know exactly what we can and cannot do, what we can / cannot film etc, and how long we’ve got (usually not long enough!). Still, I feel incredibly lucky thatches line of work has taken me to the places it has. Be there at the moment the burial chamber of the pyramid is opened for the first time in 4,000 years? YES PLEASE.

TOM: Do you not fear the curse of Tut’s tomb when you enter?

CHRIS: I don’t know how many times I’ve been into the tomb now, behind the barriers, in the closed rooms, gurning for the cameras while standing next to the king’s mummy, and it’s all been OK… And having had a chance to imagine how the king himself feels about all this, I reckon I’ll be OK — he quite likes the publicity!

TOM: What song is the theme of your life?

Oh my goodness… It depends one my mood, what’s going on in life… Generally speaking I respond to music more than lyrics I think and a lot of my favorite songs have lyrics that don’t really fit. The lyricists that have — in the 25 years I’ve been listening to music quite intensely — given expression to what I’m thinking and feeling the best are probably Morrissey, who seemed like a disgruntled teenager as I was when I fist started listening to The Smiths, and more recently Matt Berninger of The National, who seems more like a disgruntled 40-something like I am now! (‘I wish that I believed in fate, I wish I didn’t sleep so late’ … ‘Goodbyes always take us half an hour, can’t we just go home’)

TOM: I could have sworn you would have said, “Walk like an Egyptian!”

TOM: What bores you (besides my questions)?

CHRIS: I’m not easily bored. I found out a few years, a little to my surprise, that I’m very much an introvert and part of that is that I don’t need a lot of external stimulation to occupy me, and internal thoughts come easily. Pointless meetings are boring and I’ve been in plenty of those!

TOM: Who is your favorite superhero?

CHRIS: This is not something I often think about. Maybe Bananaman? This was a cartoon on British TV in the 80s, which began: This is 29 Acacia Road, and this is Eric, an ordinary little boy. But when Eric eats a banana, an extraordinary transformation occurs: Eric… is, BANANAMAN! Ever alert to the call to action!”

TOM: Winter, spring, summer or fall?

CHRIS: Spring and Fall — the light is beautiful — gentle and raking — at these times of year. Winter in England is far too dar and gloomy, and summer is too hot. If I had to choose one, I’d perhaps choose Spring as it’s the time when all the time when nature reawakens and everywhere explodes with green. Autumn (Fall!) is tinged with melancholy, as we all know the gloom is coming…

TOM: Who would you like to hang out with for the day — Akhenaten, Tutankhamun or Cleopatra? And why?

CHRIS: Wow, great question! I think Akhenaten. Although we don’t know to what extent it was his project, his reign was one of the most interesting times in Egyptian history, when so much of Egyptian culture was reinvented. I’d love to know if he really was this great, driven intellectual with the imagination to envision an entirely new Egypt, or if he just had revolutionary advisors. And I’d love to know what he really looked like. I’d meet any of them though, especially if I could bunk off for an hour or so and just take a look round!

TOM: Thanks, Chris! Hoping to take one of your tours soon. Until then, I’ll look for you on tv!

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More of my comics at TomFalco.com

A delightful train ride

Photo courtesy Railroad Museum of New England

I made my plans for my usual train ride from Boston to NYC in the fall. It’s been a regular thing every few years. I start out in Boston and end up in NY for Thanksgiving via train, traveling through the colorful autumn leave covered terrain of New England along the way. One of my favorite things.

A couple of years ago, I sat in front of two older ladies and enjoyed hearing their conversation through the whole ride. Rather than being annoying, it was quite enjoyable. Here’s the story, I had posted it before, but here it is again.

On Thanksgiving week, I took a four hour train trip from Boston to New York. Sitting behind me were two older ladies. They didn’t know each other and they just ended up sitting together and they talked and talked for that four hours. I know their whole stories, I know their names, I know about their kids and I loved every minute of it. I almost wish I had taped it.

One lady is 82 and one is 83. One is from Manchester, England one is from Rhode Island, they both had lived in New Jersey at one time and both were on their way back to New Jersey to be with family for Thanksgiving.

This video is 23 seconds through Connecticut, and you can hear the ladies speaking behind me. It’s low, but listen . . . It’s amazing, when I hear them it brings me right back to that moment.

The lady from Rhode Island talked like Cyndi Lauper. Exactly. The lady from Manchester had that refined English accent and you can imagine these two accents going back and forth sharing their lives with each other. Cyndi Lauper was nosy and nervy, she asked a lot of personal questions, and Manchester calmly answered them.

Manchester has two children, one in Washington DC and one in New Jersey, I think she said she lives in Boston now. Cyndi Lauper has five children and nine grandchildren, they live all over and I don’t remember where she lives now.

They spoke about their husbands who have both passed, Manchester’s husband passed 10 years ago, Cyndi Lauper’s husband passed nine years ago to the exact day we were on the train. Cyndi Lauper was very into her husband’s life, it was more about him than her, and it seemed to be a man’s world according to her questions. She asked Manchester what her husband did for a living, rather than asking Manchester what she did. Manchester’s husband did many things, including real estate, to which Cyndi Lauper said, “Oh you must have made a lot of money!” to which Manchester calmly said, “No, just enough to live on.”

Cyndi Lauper’s husband was a highly regarded college professor. It was a hectic life being a professor’s wife, according to Cyndi Lauper.

They spoke of World War II and of all of the places they have been and lived. They spoke of the Royal Family. Neither of them like Camila, Cyndi Lauper doesn’t like Charles, but Manchester says he is not a bad sort.

Manchester came to the US in the 1960s. She said that period of time was a “brain drain” where all the good minds from England moved to the states. She eventually became a citizen with her husband in Elizabeth, New Jersey, they lived in that county at the time and that was the county seat and the location for the citizenship ceremony

The conversation was fascinating. And the thought of these two older grandmas traveling alone together was nice. When they first met, Cyndi Lauper told Manchester that she was nervous about traveling alone, getting on the wrong train and all but Manchester said, “We’ll you’re on the train now and the only thing to do is get off when it’s time. That’s it.”

Cyndi Lauper had her son picking her up at the train station and Manchester had her daughter-in-law picking her up at the train station. Manchester said the first thing she wanted to do once she was settled at her son’s and daughter-in-law’s house was to have a hot cup of tea. She said, “When she asks if I want anything [meaning her daughter-in-law], I will say ‘yes,’ a hot cup of tea!”

I did not look back at them the whole time, I didn’t want to spoil the image I had in my head of them. But when my stop came, NYC, I had to get up and leave, so I looked back and there they were, sitting and staring at me. I just stared back, I didn’t want to be rude but I wanted to take them in. Neither was what I had pictured in my head and I almost wish I had not looked.

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At the right place at the right time

I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon by Ellis Rosen today, not just because it’s funny, but because I was thinking of this very situation at the moment I saw this on Instagram. My friend jak would say that’s a case of being in the right place at the right time.

I was talking to one of my neighbors about a delivery that was missing. Amazon delivered it, but she couldn’t find it.

I live in a small condo and deliveries are always left on a table down by the elevator, but her package was missing. What happened was, the delivery guy brought the packages up the stairwell, rather than leave them downstairs. Basically, no one uses the stairwell here, it’s an emergency exit, people use the elevator. I do use the stairwell, as I like to take the stairs for exercise, so I had seen the packages yesterday.

The elevator opens up into our units. There is no hallway or corridor. We use key fobs and each unit has its own code/fob and the elevator opens up right in your living room, which sounds cool, but it does get old after a week.

Anyway, there have always been screw ups with the elevator, the door would just open randomly, or the key fob doesn’t work and all the units are left unlocked, etc. So that’s where the cartoon comes in. I was thinking of the Amazon delivery and also of the time I came into my living room to find the FedEx delivery guy standing there with my package. He got into the elevator, because the fob system was not working, he pushed my unit button and there he was – in the living room.

I could not get mad at him or the Amazon guy, since they both went out of their ways to bring the deliveries up where they could have just left them down on the table in the lobby.

As I was thinking this, I saw the cartoon above pop up – a case of being in the right place at the right time. jak always said that when you hear a word on tv or radio or hear someone say it as you are reading it at the same time – that’s a case of being in the right place at the right time. Same thing when you say a word or phrase and someone else says it at the same time in person or on tv.

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In the Heights

In the Heights

I saw “In the Heights” the other night. Loved it.

I think it is probably the movie of the summer – it’s got everything – singing, dancing, a big presence and it’s fun.

I’ve been all over NYC, but never to Washington Heights, I always plan to go to see one thing – the Little Red Lighthouse at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, but I never seem to make it. You just take the A train or the #1 and you are there.

I’ve seen it from the Hudson River many times, from the Circle Line (the lighthouse and Washington Heights).

The Little Red Lighthouse



I’ve been to Spanish Harlem many times – by accident the first time. There’s a museum up that way, the Museum of the City of New York. Every time I’m in the city, I go to the museum. I take the #6 train and get off at 103rd Street and walk through the Spanish Harlem neighborhood and end up at Central Park, where the museum is, across from the park on 5th Avenue. But along the way, you are immersed in a great culture – the food, the murals, the bodegas, the schools and hospitals, there are many hospitals up that way.

The first time I went to the Museum of the City of New York, it was to see the Roz Chast exhibit. I figured out how to get to the area and I’ve gone back dozens of times since.

I’ll be in NYC soon and of course I’ll visit the Museum of the City of New York, Spanish Harlem, and Washington Heights. New York is back, as is most of the country, and I’ll be enjoying so much of it, having not been there for such a long time. The last time I was there I had to leave a little early because a nor’easter was coming!

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10 things you didn’t know about Stephan Pastis

10 With Tom
10 questions in 10 minutes

I got the chance to ask Stephan Pastis, creator of the comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, my Ten With Tom questions. Stephan has one of the most popular comic strips around, his tipping point was when Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, noticed his work and mentioned it in a blog post. The rest is history. His online readership went through the roof overnight.

He won the 2015 Reuben Award for best newspaper comic strip.

Do people mistake you for Seth Macfarlane?

I’ve heard that before, but the one I hear more is Robert Downey, Jr.  I even had a restaurant owner in Dublin, Ireland tell me what an honor it was to have Robert Downey, Jr. in her restaurant. I told her that I appreciated it, but that I didn’t like to be disturbed while dining.

Why do you create your comics 7 months in advance, why so far ahead?
I’m anal retentive.  I need to relax.
Are you recognized on the street?
Almost never. Except as Robert Downey Jr. in Dublin.

What are a few of your favorite classic newspaper comics from your childhood?

Far Side
Calvin and Hobbes
Peanuts
Bloom County

Stephan at NY Comic Con, 2019

Flintstones or Scooby Do?
Scooby. There’s always someone trying to scare away prospective house buyers by filling it with fake ghosts and/or monsters. Knowing that the ghost thing is a sham, I could probably get a great deal on real estate.

Which comic strip would you like to crawl into and spend the day?
Krazy Kat. Lots of peyote and throwing bricks at others.

Dick Tracy or Little Orphan Annie?
It wouldn’t be Annie. Her lack of pupils would be disturbing, particularly if you fell in love. You could never look into her eyes.

What section of the printed daily newspaper today should be eliminated to add more comics?
Many of the comics.

Without looking, what color is Olive Oyl’s dress?
Top half of her is red. Bottom half of her is black.  Both halves are probably stained by spinach.

Do you think you’ll ever go digital in creating Pearls Before Swine? Why?
No. Too lazy to learn. Plus, it doesn’t seem like something Robert Downey Jr. would do.

Thank you Stephan!

Drawing styles

Today’s comic looks a bit different than my usual work. Why? Because it’s old! It’s one of my old ones.

Recently I’ve been redrawing old art, but I liked the look of this one, so I didn’t change it and a reader noticed. He commented, “This comic doesn’t have your touch. Like, you have a separate way of art and this toon doesn’t have your common art sense. But it’s funny.”

I really appreciated that comment. I like that he notices my usual style and the fact that I ever have one and I like that he mentioned it.

It’s always interesting to see how people’s drawing style changes over the years. This was my Far Side period, I did a lot of weird stuff. I have published some of them lately, but since they were redrawn, they fit in with the rest of the cartoons.

I like my line work better these days, it’s evolved, and I don’t use as much background if any, these days. In the past, I filled in the whole panel with background. But now I find it cleaner to use less background. I may put one image to set the scene – sort of like a black box theater where there isn’t much scenery on stage, just maybe table and chair.

For instance, in the snake scene above, I would have used the sign of course, but maybe just have the stage door with the star on it, where the voice is coming from. I doubt I would have used the dressing table or even the pipe up at the ceiling. And I don’t think I would have used a lot of color, I think mostly white would be the background.

Cartoonist Jason Chatfield said, “Don’t curate your art to what gets likes. Curate it to what you like.” And I’ve tried to live by that. Not so much the drawing, but the whole comic and gag. Sometimes I feel that the audience won’t get the gag or think something is funny, but I go with my gut feeling, and it seems to work out.

The lemonade comic had many comments – people were dissecting it on one website and on another, there were about 150 comments where people described similar incidents at their places of work or shopping! So you never know what is going to work, so it’s true, go with your gut and see where it falls. I wasn’t sure about that one, but I liked it so I published it.

I wasn’t sure about yesterday’s cartoon – this office one. It didn’t have a gag and I felt that people would be looking for the gag, but people got it. It was just a slice of life – a period of time where people are returning to the office and the happiness (I guess on most parts) of people seeing their co-workers and friends in person again. People liked this cartoon. So another gut reaction on my part that was right.

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Borrowing

Yes, today’s cartoon does take part of a previous cartoon. You can see the two here. The top is today’s and here below is a cartoon I ran about a year ago.

There is also another change. Before I ran the black and white one a year ago, the people did not have masks on, and then I added the masks, and that was was published! You can see the original here.


I know there are many ways to have done this – the “wholesale” could have said, “organic” or “free range” or something else, but I try to be “organic” myself when coming up with ideas and I got the idea from one of my own businesses.

I noticed that one of my businesses is popular when searched using the word “wholesale” on google. What I mean is when you type in the product and put “wholesale” as part of the search, I come up high in the searches. But the thing is, all of us who sell the same products sell wholesale. So by just putting the word there, it brings eyes and customers. So that’s what made me think of using that word rather than “organic” or “sale” or whatever .

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What a difference a year makes

A recent cartoon made me laugh before I even drew it. It wasn’t the cartoon or subject matter itself. It’s the fact that as I sat down to draw, I said out loud, “Let’s get this scene done!” I guess I think I’m shooting a movie or something these days. And possibly I am. I am the writer, director, cameraman and so on. So maybe it is a scene being shot.

I like the juxtaposition of this cartoon with one I did about a year ago, around the beginning of the pandemic. This one below.

They are both confusing due to the masks. In the last case above, masks are becoming a thing of the past, but the bank robber wants to keep his on. In the earlier one below, the bank robber is sort of infringed upon by everyone wearing masks, which struck me quite funny the first time I walked into a bank and saw everyone, including myself, wearing masks.

Here’s a little secret – they were both done around the same time – a year or so ago. The top one originally was the lady banker telling the man banker, to “calm down, it’s ok to wear masks in the bank today.” And the customer didn’t have a gun. He was just a customer with a mask. But it sat for a year and eventually, I changed the wording, added a gun and there you have it.

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Birthdays, kayaks and getting back to normal

For the past week my life has been kayaks and birthday lunches.

I’ve never been one for birthdays, I don’t see any reason to celebrate getting older, and of course my mother always cries when I say that and she thinks I wish I never was born, which of course is not the case. I just don’t like to make a fuss over it.

So usually my birthday comes and goes and my family does something, usually a cake on pizza night or something, but I guess because of the pandemic coming to an end, people want to get out, so I’ve been having lunches almost daily with different people, who are asking to take me out for my birthday, which was almost a week ago – yet the lunches keep going on and I’m loving it. I have a lot of Gemini friends, so there are lots of other birthdays during this period, so we have been celebrating those, too. So it’s been one big Gemini party lately.

For years I went out to lunch almost daily with different friends, and family, on different days and it was just the norm, but over time it seemed to stop, but it’s back and I’m loving it.

One of the local restaurant owners saw me on the street and started complaining about the fate of restaurants these days and he said I look so relaxed and happy and don’t have a wrinkle on my face, which he meant as a put down, but of course, I took it as a compliment, especially on my birthday, the day he actually said that to me. I had to remind him that the pandemic affected everyone, not just him.

As for the kayak/canoe saga, my kayak friend traded in that blow-up thing for an actual canoe. He had some guy with a trailer bring it over to my house to store here so we can easily take it out on the water, but haven’t yet. The bay has been choppy, maybe due that big beautiful full moon. Did you see it?

He came over to try it out, to see if it worked in the water without any leaks. It’s an old, ugly canoe, and therein lies the rub. One of my neighbors objected to it being on the property. “I’m trying to make the place look nice and you have that piece of crap hanging on the wall?” He offered to buy a nice new wooden one for us all to use, something he called “Hamptons-style.”

So I told him to just wait it out, my friend will get bored and get rid of the canoe, although he didn’t take it well when I told him it had to go.

I normally would fight it and say that I live here too, I have rights. But the thing is ugly, it is not going to be used, and my neighbor always does things for me – like buy me a brand new canoe, which I am going to decline. It makes no sense for him to do that.

So between that and lunches with friends (he was one of them that took me out), that’s what’s been going on around here. Business has been picking up, so that’s great and I’m getting ready for summer travel, so that is great, too. Little by little things are returning to normal, let’s hope they stay that way.

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The waiter and the water

After this cartoon was published today, it reminded me of a priest we used to have. Some years ago, Father Eddie was one of our priests. He was from a Latin country I think, but his accent sounded like Dracula. I loved it!

One time he was preaching and he was talking about Jesus turning water into wine, but he kept getting the words “waiter” and “water” mixed up.

He would said, “The water brought the waiter and then Jesus stunned the water by turning the waiter into wine.” Ha, I laugh when I think about it – he turned the waiter into wine.

I haven’t thought of Father Eddie in years, but again, I used to love his Dracula accent.

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