What Lies Beneath

I am a pretty simple cartoonist.  A lot of artists draw on a tablet or right on a computer screen (sorcery!) but aside from touching things up and lettering in Photoshop, I stick with pencils, brushes, pens and paper.

And Whiteout.  I make a lot of mistakes.  Drawing is hard.

If you ever see my original artwork, there’s a really good chance it will have stuff glued to it.  If I make a mistake and I don’t want or need to redraw a panel or a page, I’ll simply glue paper over the offending image and redraw it.

I was working on a page for an upcoming project the other day and I needed to draw a super evil bad guy.  The intention was for him to look evil and kind of hunched over.  But I suck at drawing.  It was a terrible panel.

Here’s my “process” for when things go to hell:

photo 1

WHERE IS HIS NECK OH MY GOD

photo 2(1)

Some honest self critique

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Taking advantage of technology’s newest resources.

photo 4

It’s like the drawing of the guy with no neck never happened. Let’s hope we can all move on.

 

 

 

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Break It Down Again

This morning I finished inking page 3 of a story that will appear in the next Uptown Girl book.  The book was going to be called ‘Imitation of Life’ but now I am not so sure.  The story that was going to have that title was scrapped and won’t be in the book, so I might be coming up with a new title.

I’ve demonstrated before my approach for when it comes to drawing and inking and Photoshopping a page, but I thought I’d demonstrate how I write a page and break it down.  The way I write is…well, I’m used to how I write.  But it’s not the smartest way to write.  My style probably wouldn’t work for others.  I tend to come up with a plot and I write that down and then kind of go from there.  Once I have the beginning, the middle and the end worked out I can get started.  I don’t like writing full scripts, I prefer to be spontaneous and surprised by the dialogue when I create a comic.  Sometimes I get into trouble this way, but not often.

Anyway, spoilers, I guess.

One of the key parts of the story is that we find out that Rocketman is famous.  Not Robert Downey Jr. famous, more like…”That guy working at the gas station?  Wasn’t be part of Milli Vaniili?”  The story requires the reader and Uptown Girl finding this out at the same time.  So, in order for this to happened, I thought Rocketman needed to recognized while he was out and about.  So, I needed Rocketman to be outside.  now, sure, I could have Rocketman simply standing outside and have someone come up to and recognize him, but that seemed a little lazy.  So I thought Rocketman needs to be doing something Rocketman-ish which means he needs to be doing something kind of stupid and/or dangerous.  I thought something involving a pogo stick would be a good idea.  So, how does he get the pogo stick?  I decided he’d find while he was looking for something else.  But what?

As I mentioned, I needed Uptown Girl and the reader to find out about the sort of celebrity status at the same time, so I needed to get Uptown Girl over to Rocketman’s place…because…(and this was my thought process at the time) he borrowed something from her and….she went to his place to get it back.  He lost it and while he was trying to find, he stumbled across his old pogo stick.  So, in the story, she heads to his place to get her dictionary (there’s a reason) back.  And that is where we join the story.

When I sat down to write and draw the page (again, I don’t have a full script) I knew I needed to have Uptown Girl start the page by knocking on his door and asking for her book back,.  Of course, nothing with Rocketman can be that simple.
Here’s the page:

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So, let’s break this sucker down.

Rocketman has a history of opening his door and revealing what his life is like when the girls aren’t around.  Like here:

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Uh, in case you haven’t read this story, he was playing video games in his underwear.  Rocketman’s apartment is a place where you’ll never know what you’ll find when he opens the door, like here:

bein' green 6

Anyway, for this new page I knew I couldn’t do either one of these gags again, so I thought it’d be funny if Rocketman was trying to keep something from getting out.  Why rabbits?  No idea.

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The rabbits thing though, it’s one of the reasons I don’t like writing a full script.  I was feeling a little strange when I drew this page and the rabbits likely came out of that mood.  The next sequence of panels need to have Uptown Girl ask about them.  She has to react to what she sees, and as the writer, I do too.

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Now, as the writer, I have NO idea what is up with the rabbits.  I don’t think Rocketman does either, and he also informs us he doesn’t understand reproduction.  This begs the question of how long has he has these rabbits?  Although I prefer not writing a full script, this is when things can get a little frustrating.  Rocketman and an apartment full of rabbits is the kind of thing that can hijack a story.  Suddenly this story can go from the original idea to Rocketman opening a petting zoo.  Despite the bunnies, the story must go on.  And Uptown Girl helps me out with this.

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I really like this page.  I feel it really captures the spirit of the comic.  We have the randomness of Rocketman, we have Uptown Girl keeping the story moving forward and hopefully the reader is entertained.  But most of all, I like this page because I was surprised by how this scene went.  Drawing comics can be very boring, so it’s nice to be surprised once in a while.

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Local Hero

nickHe was a big guy because he had a big heart.  He was larger than life and this past Friday I read he passed away.

If you read or create comics and live in Minnesota or come to visit for the excellent conventions the MCBA  runs you have seen Nick.

Nick was the brains behind so much of the local comics scene but he was also the heart.  He ran the conventions and he also help run the Source, a fantastic comic book store.  Seeing his wide grin was one of the reasons I liked visiting there.  I first met Nick a little over ten years ago when I did my first comic convention.  He made me feel welcome and important even though I only had six poorly drawn mini-comics.  But Nick treated me like a pro, he was excited I was there.  Over the years I was lucky to get to know him better.  When the Uptown Girl movie was finished, he arranged for Fallcon to host the premiere.  He invited the cast and crew to the convention and we held the screening in a huge room to fans and convention guests.  I remember looking out from the stage and seeing his big grin.  That was a good day.

He always went out of his way to make sure the convention guests were happy, were fed and were having a good time.  He was sincere and genuine and wanted the conventions to be a big party.  The man loved comics.  He believed they could bring people together.  He was right.  At the last convention he was a part of I wandered the floor looking at the big comic professionals, guys like me, comic book retailers from all over the country, video game players, cosplayers, LEGO enthusiasts, even a rescue shelter for greyhounds.  Over the years I met a lot of amazing people that I am still friends with.  I think it’s safe to say that without Nick I wouldn’t have gotten Uptown Girl into the hands of readers.  His store carried my books and you can find them on the shelves of the Source, right next to the Umbrella Academy.

Nick made me feel like what I was doing was important.  He made everyone feel that.  He created a community that is so strong that it will carry on without him…but it won’t be the same.  I took Sophie to the Source yesterday to buy some comics.  Normally the Source is robust and loud and charged with an amazing, geeky energy.  Not yesterday.  The store was packed but somber.  I saw people drying their eyes, embracing and comforting each other.  I saw people I’ve known for years because of Nick.

I hope Nick knew how important he was to so many people.  I wish he could have lived forever so he could see the community he united grow.  I could write forever about Nick and what he did.  I have many stories and memories and I am sure we all do.  Fallcon this year won’t be the same.  Not much will.

As far as I know, Nick wasn’t from Krypton or didn’t get bit by a radioactive spider but he was still our hero.

The service will be held on Tuesday, August 12th at:
Cornerstone Bible Church

735 10th St. E., Hastings, MN, 55033

 


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What if No One’s Watching

b&nThis picture is from two weeks ago when I did a Q&A/signing with many other fantastic local cartoonists at Barnes and Noble.  My lovely daughter Sophie is standing next to a sign promoting the event.  She is happy to have her picture taken because she is very excited about showing off her new shark tooth necklace.

To say the event was moderately attended would be generous.  It was pretty dead.  It was pretty humbling, to say the least.  I was pretty nervous and conflicted about this signing, but still excited about it.  A few months ago I blogged about ‘making a comeback’ on the local comics scene and thought this would be a good event to get back out there and see if people still…ah, liked me, I guess.  I used to do events like this quite often and were usually pretty successful.  Successful as in “people showed up”.  I was interested to see if people would show up.  They mostly didn’t.  I sulked about the event for most of the weekend, sitting in the basement, wearing black clothes, listening to the Cure and writing in my journal about how no one understands me.  My wife was pretty awesome when it came to talking me out of my mood.   Here’s the thing: when someone tries to cheer you up you can listen to them and let them bring you out of your current mood or you can linger there.  She said it was a pretty nice day, there wasn’t a lot of time to promote the event and considering the other talented people at the event (freaking Eisner-nominated Zander Cannon!) it was still a pretty sparsely attended signing.  People weren’t specifically ignoring me, there were ignoring all of us.  So that cheered me up, if that makes sense.

5As a writer, you should write for yourself.  Write what you want to write.  And I agree with that.  But I think you also need to keep your audience in mind.  I can absolutely tell you that many stories were shaped the way they were with my readers in mind.  When I sat down the day after the “event” I asked myself what kind of Uptown Girl story would I write if no one read it?  I started at the blank page for a while thinking about that.  At the time I was (and still am) working on a story called “Learning How to Smile”.  I knew what the next scene would be and I started to write it in a little more…well, I don’t want to say darker but a little more honest.  I wasn’t pulling any punches or softening it at all.  Without giving too much away, Ruby is talking about something that is happening in her life.  I could have easily written the scene without the emotional depth and detail that I did, but this felt….well, it felt right.  It really captured the complexities and the conflicting emotions of Ruby’s situation.  It still fits within the world of Uptown Girl, but it’s a little weird to write this scene when only a couple weeks ago I drew a comic with Uptown Girl getting chased by a dinosaur.

Anyway, as you can probably imagine, the story I am working on doesn’t have a lot of action in it, just a lot of talking, as seen in the picture above.  Drawing a story that is built on dialogue is a challenge.  It needs to be visually interesting to keep the reader’s attention, but careful not to be distracting.  The story also needs to be interesting to draw.  Too many pages like the above page get boring really fast.

 

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Living with the Awful Truth that We’re Not as Cool as We’d Like Other People to Think We Are

So.  I’ll be doing a book signing/panel with Zander Cannon, Andy Singer and Tom Kaczynski at Barnes and Noble at Har Mar Mall at 2pm.

I am a little conflicted about stuff like this.  On one hand, stuff like this is usually fun.  On the other hand, nothing makes you feel more like a loser than being a guest somewhere ( a book signing, a convention) where no one pays you any attention.  I want people to come, but then again, if people come, then they might see that no one is there and therefore will realize that I suck.  Thank goodness I’ll be there with three very talented people.  I am sure people will come see them and maybe by proxy people might think I am less lame.

Cartooning and positive self esteem don’t always go hand in hand.  I constantly think I suck.  If I draw a lousy page, I am convinced I am terrible and should just give up.  When I read a comic by a cartoonist that I like, I really want to give up.  Some people feel that if they did they’re very best and tried as hard as they could, well, they did all they could.  But for myself I wonder if I am as good as I could be.  I’m not the best out there, not by far, but could I be better?  Am I capable of more?  Should I take another art class?  Should I pencil more?  Should I ink with a brush?  Should I draw more realistic?  I don’t know.

Anyway, I don’t expect to ever know if I am as good as I could be.  When ‘Big City Secrets’ came out, I was convinced that it was the best work of my career.   I was convinced that I couldn’t do better than that.  But looking at it, there are parts where I know I could do better.  I hope I get better with each book, but I am not sure.  I think I think too much about this.  Or maybe I don’t think enough about this?

I don’t know.  Sorry for the rambling.  I don’t want you to think I am going through a personal crisis or anything.  I’m having a really good day, to be honest.

So, here’s a picture from the current story I am working on, currently titled ‘Learning How to Smile’.  It promises to be the most depressing Uptown Girl story ever.  Again, I really am having a good day.  In fact, this whole weekend has been awesome.

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Both Sides of the Story

When I start thinking about something and I have a strong opinion about it, I try to write an Uptown Girl story about it.  I find this very helpful especially when I can see multiple perspectives of something.  It does get a little difficult when I can see both sides of the story.

I’ve been writing Uptown Girl for over ten years now, and the characters are so clearly defined and real to me that writing their dialogue is a breeze.  I usually don’t even have to think about what they will say…the words just appear on the paper.  It sounds great, right?  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes the characters say something and makes the story or scene go in a different direction that I had originally planned and all of a sudden the story goes into unplanned territory and it takes on a life of it’s own.  When this happens, it can be exciting and I am just as excited to see what happens as anyone else.  But it can also go terribly wrong.

“But Bob!  Aren’t you the writer?  Can’t you control the story and the characters?”

Well, sure.  I can…but I can’t ignore their personalities and their motivations.  Take this unlettered page for example:

13Here we have Uptown Girl talking to her friend Diane at Diane’s daughter’s birthday party.  Uptown Girl is talking about something I’ve been thinking about lately.  My daughter is six and a half years old and plays with Barbie dolls.  We all know what Barbie looks like and what she wears.  I sometimes wonder if she should be playing with these dolls.  She also likes to read Betty and Veronica comics, and they are also very…ah, shapely.  As her dad, I am aware that she is going to be shown certain…perspectives of beauty and appearances and wonder if these toys and comics will have an influence on Sophie’s own expectations of herself and her own self-esteem.

Anyway, in this story Uptown Girl wonders the same thing.  The idea for the story was Uptown Girl using her powers as a newspaper writer to start an open dialogue about toys/self esteem.  Uptown Girl’s opinion would start to gain some traction and influencing others and creating a bit of a movement.  Eventually her cause would gain national attention and ultimately the attention of the toy maker.  And then the ending I had planned was going to be pretty funny.  (And yes I am aware that there was a ‘Simpsons’ episode with Malibu Stacy that sounds like this but trust me, this was going to be different.)  Anyway, after visiting a toy store, she and Ruby stumble upon Candy, the Barbie doll of Uptown Girl’s universe.

3Anyway, Uptown Girl starts to wonder if girls playing with these dolls is a good thing for them or not.  This is the part of the story where my own thoughts leak into the story…and where seeing things from multiple perspectives can paralyze my thinking and prevent me from ever forming an opinion.  Ruby disagrees with Uptown Girl and says that she played with dolls like this when she was younger and doesn’t feel that they influenced her.  Ruby has this opinion because both of my sisters played with Barbies and read Betty and Veronica and they are two of the smartest people I know.  One sister is a lawyer and the other teaches classes about gender and women’s rights.  Ruby’s opinion is her own and feels very much like Ruby would say.  So…great, right?  The problem is that as a writer I feel I HAVE to have Ruby say this.  It’s true to her character.  But it also pushes the story from moving forward.  If Ruby agreed with Uptown Girl, then the story would have more momentum.  But her opinion pushes the story back a bit.  And that’s okay.  Not everyone agrees with her. She sees her view, but doesn’t 100% agree with her, saying that it’s not the responsibility of the toy maker to build the self esteem of a person, it’s the parents’ job.  And I agree.  That’s my opinion finding its way into the story again.  If I think ‘Call of Duty’ is too violent, I shouldn’t complain to Infinity Ward, I should simply prevent my kids from playing it.

The next part of the story has Uptown Girl bouncing her story idea off of her editor, Mean Mr. Mustard.  Here we have another opinion that is different from Uptown Girl’s.    And again, that’s okay.  Now we have the perspective of a dad and he talks about his own daughter playing with these dolls.  He says that his daughter played with them, but he also took her fishing.  He talks about how a parent needs to get involved in shaping their kids and their interests.  This was kind of a funny scene and is true to both of their characters but again, kills the inertia of the story.  If Uptown Girl is going to influence people on a national level, she first needs to win the support of her boss and her best friend.  So far, nothing.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, back to the party.  Uptown Girl goes to the party and starts to talk about this to Diane.  Diane says that she totally thinks about the same thing that Uptown Girl is thinking about, but Diane says (trust me, even though there isn’t any lettering, she says this) if Candy dolls were the ONLY toy Rosie played with, then yes, she’d be a little more concerned but she also says she and Rosie’s dad wrestle, she draws, she rides her bike, she plays soccer and has a lot of other interests.  1901386_10152268652694789_54410928_n

And this is the same for Sophie.  Sophie draws more than I do.  Sophie can out-monkey bar, out-climb, outrun anyone I know.  She knows all the Disney princesses but also every member of the Justice League.

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Uptown Girl brings up self-esteem concerns and everything else she’s been thinking about and talking about to Ruby and her boss…and then BOOM.  Diane gently says “This is going to sound kinda…mean, but for someone without kids, you seem to know a lot about raising them”.

This is a HUGE line for a few reasons.  In the ten-plus years I’ve been writing these characters, no one has spoken to Uptown Girl like that.  The line sounds gentle, but trust me, there’s some bite to it.  As a parent, I get a lot of “advice” from those without kids and very little of it is helpful.  I know they mean well, but they usually have no idea what they are talking about.

Back to you, Diane.

Uptown Girl’s response?  “I…yeah.”.

The story comes to a screeching halt.  As a writer, I am delighted to see these characters and how well-formed their personalities are.  I am also happy to see so many different opinions about such a complicated issue.  But as a writer, I have no idea where to go next.  Uptown Girl’s story has not been met with a lot of enthusiasm.  I suppose I could go back and rewrite the scene and have Diane say “That’s a good point, Uptown Girl, tell me more” but I also feel that Diane has been raising her daughter for years and is pretty smart herself and she has thought about this kind of stuff before.

So, the story is dead.  It’s been a frustrating story all around and has been for years.  I started this story three years ago and was originally meant for the second Uptown Girl graphic novel, “Little Adventures”.  I got 9 pages into it and couldn’t make it work.  So I set it aside and found it again.  I tried to pick up where I left off but…again, it’s not working.  After only 13 pages I’ve had Uptown Girl bounce her thoughts off of three people and it’s not going anywhere.  As a writer, I am kind of tired of writing the same thing.  As an artist, I am struggling with the art.  The first 9 pages were drawn on a smaller size, back when I thought drawing smaller would mean more productivity.  But it’s hard for me to draw this small.  The pages are filled with mostly talking heads and there’s little room for action, gesturing, backgrounds and all that.  When the writing is falling a little flat, I try to draw better to hopefully carry the weight of the story a bit.  But there’s no room to really flex my drawing skills here.

There’s something liberating about walking away from a creative idea when it’s not working.  It’s kind of like quitting a job you hate or finally tearing yourself away from your village in ‘Animal Crossing’.  I am excited to get back to the drawing board – literally – and starting a new Uptown Girl story.

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Man in the Box

Collaboration is not easy.  It requires people to have the same creative vision and the same temperament and same work ethic.  I don’t work very well with other creative people.  And it’s pretty much my fault.  I think of myself as pretty creative, and I am usually pretty stubborn when it comes to admitting someone else came up with a better idea.  So I don’t work with other people on creative projects as much as I used to.

Beside Ben Mudek doing the book designing for the Uptown Girl graphic novels, I really only work with Brian Bastian.  I met Brian while working at Toys R Us back in…I don’t know, the early 90’s.  We worked well with each other, always bouncing ideas off of one another.  He’s really the only person I’ll run an idea past and will listen to his opinion.  Brian wrote about a third of the monthly issues of Uptown Girl and wrote the first original graphic novel and a few short stories since then.  I am happy to say that Brian will be coming back and writing a new Uptown Girl graphic novel, but he and I are also working on another project.  This new project is truly a collaboration.  With Uptown Girl, if he writes a story and there’s something that I think doesn’t quite work, in a way, I have veto power because Uptown Girl is “my” thing.  But that doesn’t happen often.  Brian is a better writer than me, he’s funnier and more clever, so he does just fine.  However this new project is something he and I created together.  It’s straight up 50/50.  We have to both agree on ideas, character developments and all that.  So far it’s working out.

The way we are working together on this project is quite unusual.  He’ll give me the script, I’ll draw it and then we work on the dialogue together.  It’s a throwback to the old Marvel method.  So far the story is about 30 pages in, and there’s been three different styles of the script.  The first part of the story the script was something like this:

Oh wait, since the project isn’t officially announced, I suppose I can’t really show the script.  But let’s pretend the script was for Uptown Girl.  The script went something like this:

Uptown Girl is at the music store.  She wanders around for a bit.  Suddenly the ghost of Beethoven appears in front of her.

So I would storyboard it and draw it leaving room for the dialogue and word balloons.  Brian would then come over and he’d write the dialogue to fit what I drew.  It’s a but of a risk to work this way, but a lot of fun.  We’ve been getting some really great lines just by being spontaneous when looking at the art.

A second script style we’re using is a fully scripted script with complete dialogue.  Neither of us particularly like this style, but for scenes where exposition is necessary, this method is pretty much required.

The third style is even more simpler than the first style and lends itself to the most creative and potentially dangerous work.  I say dangerous because I don’t want to draw 20 pages of something and then realize it’s not going to work.  The story requires a flashback, and in Brian’s script he wrote something like “we flash back to 1964 where (the character) is involved in a typical spy adventure”.  Now, for something like this I can do quite a bit.  I can use this direction to tell a character’s origin, to draw something really fun, to show the character’s personality, to introduce a new supporting cast member…the potential is endless.  I could turn that direction into a 5 pages sequence or a 50 page sequence.

So last night I drew the first page of the flashback.  I wasn’t 100% certain what this spy adventure would be, but I decided it would start with a little…ah, spying.  Here’s the page:

30When I got to the fourth panel, I realized that I had no idea what was in the boxes.  Are they smugglers?  Are they stealing the boxes?  Since I didn’t know, I decided that the character didn’t either, so I drew him contemplating the crates.  “I’ll let Brian figure out what’s in the boxes”, I thought.  But after I finished the page, I saw in the second panel there’s a guy walking away from the van, so obviously they are unloading the van, not stealing them.  So, theft is not the angle I can work with.  Then I thought there are two different ways I can go.

1) There’s something in the boxes that needs to be retrieved, such as they contain equipment to build a weapon

2) The boxes could be used for the main character to hide in in order to sneak into the building.

I looked at the the third panel and realized that there’s no way a guy looking that stupid would be entrusted to handle dangerous supplies, so by default, the character would use the boxes to hide in so he could get inside.

Suddenly a story that starts with a page drawn without any real idea as to where the story was going started to take shape.  I have some great ideas for the man in the box.

So, there’s an insight into the creative process.  It doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t always work for me, but I am very happy when it does.

 

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