Put the Book Back on the Shelf

Well, after years of work, rewrites and complaining, Uptown Girl – A Long Forgotten Fairytale is finally in print.  I can’t believe it.

Because I am a geek, I couldn’t wait to see it on my shelf next to the other books.  And I bet you want to see that too, so here it is:

photo 1Ben Mudek always does a great job on these books, and I think my favorite part of these books are the spines.  The previous Uptown Girl books were all very simple and the spines were bright white with simple black lettering on them.  Very boring to look at compared to these.





The book is almost exactly the same size as ‘Big City Secrets’.  Here’s the book compared to the original GameBoy because why not:

photo 2

And the whole library so far:

photo 3

So, yeah.  I am pretty proud of finishing the book and I am excited to get the next one wrapped up. I have about 100 pages to go on the next book.

Oh, you can FINALLY purchase the books online.  You’ll also be able to purchase books at SpringCon on May 17th and 18th.

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Don’t Call it a Comeback

11 years ago, the first issue of Uptown Girl hit the stands of DreamHaven, a great comic book store in Minneapolis.

I was 27, single, broke and had recently re-discovered independent comics.  I was making new friends with the local mini-comics scene and was reading almost anything I came across.  I discovered Alex Robinson, Jeffrey Brown, Jessica Abel, and especially James Kochalka.  All these cartoonists and others had lit a fire in me and was excited about making comics.  I had ideas for the characters Uptown Girl and her friends for a while prior to this, and under the encouragement and guidance of local cartoonist David Tea, I created my first comic book.

I was excited about creating comics and had a lot of ideas right out of the gate.  I felt like I was on fire with creativity and potential.  Uptown Girl started to get some attention, not only from people buying it, but from the local cartoonists as well.  I had started to put out a mini-comic once a month, and by the time the 7th issue came out, I started to get some buzz as the the guy who was putting out an issue every 3o days or so.  Obviously the quality of the issue was open to debate, but I still had something new each month.  I loved my comic and wanted others to read it.  I did a lot of conventions those days, and happily called people over to my table to talk to them about my book.  I felt I had something special.  It was a mini-comic but it was different than what others were doing.  At the time, and even now, there were a lot of great comics being made by the local cartoonist community.  Some were auto-biographical, some were very strange and some were very R-rated.  But Uptown Girl was different.  It was an all-ages comic, bereft of swearing or adult-material.  I created a comic that anyone could read and not worry about the content.  That was one of the things that really helped Uptown Girl stand out.

Over the next year and a half, Uptown Girl slowly gained steam.  I had started to get fan mail, started submitting Uptown Girl to publishers, made new friends, contributed to local art shows, and became more established in the local comics scene.  Uptown Girl was featured on comic websites, I was doing interviews and had comics in various anthologies.  I thought I was getting famous.  I wasn’t, but that’s how it felt.  I was very cocky those days.

Things really took off when I was contacted by a local film maker who wanted to turn the comic into a movie.  Suddenly I wasn’t the guy who was putting out a comic each month, I was the guy who had a comic that was being turned into a movie.  The movie elevated my comic to a new level.  Uptown Girl was getting attention not just from the local comics scene, but now from the local film scene.  I was doing a lot of interviews, press, photo shoots and marketing.  Those were strange days.  I don’t like a lot of attention on me, but I loved the attention something I created was getting.  The movie took up about a year of my life.  I am thankful for the movie since I had made great friends as a result of it, particularly the director Ben Mudek who colors and designs the Uptown Girl book covers.

After the dust had settled on the movie and the premier and the DVD release party, Brian Bastian and I started to work with a local animation company to develop Uptown Girl into an animated series.  This was a long and interesting process.  This also took up a large amount of my time and after a year and a half or so, in the summer of 2007, we all threw in the towel on the cartoon before all of us hated each other…and Uptown Girl.

There were other things I was doing in addition to the movie and the cartoon.  I was doing a lot of lectures at libraries and schools, from kindergarten to colleges about comics and drawing.  I was teaching classes, the collected editions of the comic were being sold on Amazon and in comic shops and could be found in libraries.  At the peak I think my comic was being sold in over two dozen comic shops across the country.

I was very burnt out at this point in my life.  I had grown tired of working on non-comics projects, tired of meetings, tired of lawyers and contracts, tired of giving interviews and wanted to hide from everyone and get back to putting my energies into creating comics.  I was frustrated with how much time was taken up by all those things and wanted to spend time making my comic look as good as I could make it.  So I made a decision to, as they put it, take myself off the grid.

God, I sound so arrogant here.

Anyway, the timing worked out well because that December Sophia Lorraine Lipski was born and I knew life would never be the same.  My life had changed a lot since I was 27, broke and single.  Life with children was not going to allow me to spend 4 hours a day making comics and I was afraid the monthly grind was going to be impossible.  So in 2009 the last issue of Uptown Girl came out and I decided to focus on doing original graphic novels once a year.  I was a little nervous about doing this.  I knew I wanted to spend more time drawing my comic and making it look as good as I possibly could.  I knew why publishers had passed on Uptown Girl in the last, and I wanted to make it look better and hopefully find a publisher.  What I was nervous about was taking myself off the grid even further.  Even when I had hid from the world I was still putting out a comic each month and still on the radar of the local comics scene.  I had planned on promoting the first graphic novel when it came out in 2010.  I would have a new book, the first new Uptown Girl material in a year.  The book would look better than the comic looked and would be easier to promote that a whole comic series.  I had planned on sending review copies out to press, getting in contact with some journalists I had met during the movie days and trying to get interviews set up and setting up book signings.  I was ready to show off my new book.

But these things did not happen.

I should have done these things then, but I didn’t.  I wanted to keep drawing.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone yet.  I wasn’t famous by any means in the early days, but I wasn’t ready to get back out there.  Over the next few years I put out a couple more books but still didn’t do anything to promote them.  I kept on kicking the “comeback can” down the road, and soon years had passed.  I knew I needed to get things started again, and I thought that 2013 would be the year.  It would be the tenth anniversary of Uptown Girl and I was putting out a retrospective of the series.  Perfect timing.  I had a few offers from comic shops for a signing but I turned them down.  I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do to promote my books.  Instead of copies of my books on book shelves or on the rejection pile of publishers, they sit in a box ready for the next convention in May.
But lately I’ve been getting the urge to get back out there.  To be a cartoonist again.  I mean, I’ve been a cartoonist all my life, especially the last 13 years, but I am starting to miss showing people what I’m working on.  Over the last few years I’ve been reluctant to show my artwork, but I am starting to post things on Facebook and just started a tumblr page, about five years after I should have started one.  I thought the tumblr page would be a good way to show what I’m working on and getting inspired by other cartoonists.  Basically I am hoping it gives me a kick in the pants.  In the early days I was inspired by other cartoonists and I want to be inspired again.  There’s some great stuff out there.  I want my work to get noticed, I guess.  In the days of the mini-comic there was that hope and drive to create something that would allow me to support myself, and now my family on something I created.  I had dreamed of Uptown Girl getting published and by some crazy means being able to make enough money doing comics to pay the mortgage and all that.  I haven’t had that dream for a while.

So, it’s time to get serious.  It’s time to do other stuff in addition to Uptown Girl.  Over the next few months I’ll start showing off the new project Brian and I are working, revamping my blog and website and having a way people can buy my books online.

I don’t miss the lawyers and contracts and arguing, but I do miss showing off artwork.  That dream of being able to support myself off my art is coming around again.  I had a lot of success (for a local comic) back in the day and I miss that crazy optimism the 27 year old me had.  So, I don’t want to call it a comeback, but I don’t know what else to call it.


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Your Mind is on Vacation

Something very interesting happened yesterday.  Also, something very gross.

Brian and I are still hard at work on our TOP SECRET project.  I am having a ton o’ fun with it and I am drawing the story faster than Brian can write it.  What I’ve been running into is that I am often finished with what Brian wrote before he has finished writing the next part and I am constantly asking him for more.  I imagine for him it’s a little like trying to keep a toddler preoccupied.

The way Brian and I work is a little odd, but I think all creative teams have their own creative process.  For Uptown Girl projects, Brian will usually give me a very loose idea as to what needs to happen in a scene (artistically).  For example, he might write:

“Uptown Girl and Ruby are at a cafe, in the background there is a very suspicious tiger”.

Well, he’s never written anything like that, but you get the idea.  After this direction, he will then write out the dialogue and I will break down the script into pages and panels.  It give me a lot of freedom to pace it out and play around with the layout.  For this TOP SECRET project, we’re working with what is commonly called ‘The Marvel Method’.  This was a common way to create comics in the 60′s where Stan Lee would give an artist a general idea as to what happened in the issue, such as “Spider-Man is tracking down the Rhino who was responsible for destroying a yarn store.  Meanwhile, Peter Parker is doing a story for the Daily Bugle about a suspicious tiger”.  The artist would then develop a story around this idea and when the art was finished, Lee would go and write the dialogue for the comic.

Of course, this is a very general description as to how this worked.  There is MUCH speculation as to how much Stan Lee actually did and what the artists contributed.

As for Brian and I, he gave me three paragraphs of the story, and I went and drew about 30 pages.  Soon Brian will go and write in the dialogue passed on what I drew.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.  I have random panels of two people talking and I am looking forward to seeing what Brain will have them say.

Anyway, this weekend Amy and I were going to have a little stay-cation with the kids.  Nothing too major, we had a hotel room lined up and we were going to take the kids to the Mall of America and go to Camp Snoopy  the amusement park.  Since I can never relax, I asked Brian for the next part of the story and I planned on working on the project at the hotel.  The next part of the story is supposed to have a lot of exposition in it, so Brian is going to write a full script for it.  It’s taking a little longer than the usual outline and it’s not ready.  Instead (and again, this is like keeping a toddler distracted) he said “oh, just draw an action sequence and we’ll hold onto it and I’m sure we can write a story around it and use it.”

Challenge accepted.

Back to the stay-cation.  Sophie had said her tummy hurt that morning but said she was fine.  A six year old is not going to admit to being sick when she has the chance to go on rides and swim.  But she was sick.  In my car.  And again when we stopped to use the bathroom.  So, back home we went.  Compared to other vacations I’ve been on, this was one of the better ones.

Evening rolled around and Sophie was better, but exhausted.  She and my wife went to bed early and I was still pretty awake.  I worked on an Uptown Girl page and then decided to take a crack at the random action page.  The pages for the project are simple, four panel grids.  The strict limitations of the layout took some getting used to at first, but now I love it.  I seem to do my best work when I have limits.  If someone asks me to draw a story about anything I want, I’ll stare at the paper for hours.  If someone asks me to draw a story about a missing diamond ring, a sarcastic snake and a lazy Girl Scout, though?  Watch out.  For me, making a story work with very firm parameters is a challenge, but one that I love.  With this layout, I have to tweak my pacing, storytelling and artwork.  I’m used to working on Uptown Girl and letting the characters do whatever they want and giving them pages and pages to do what they need to do.  I’ll play with the layout, panel structure, panel size and shape, but with this, I don’t have the freedom.  Also, each page must be more or less self-contained.  The first panel sets the page up, and the fourth panel has to either be a cliffhanger or wrap up the page.
Again, this will make sense when we roll out the project.

I sat down the draw the random action page and first drew the third panel.  Then the fourth.  Neither of these two panels had anything to do with each other.  Then I drew the first, and finished the page with the second panel.  I just drew and drew and tried not to think about what what was going on and avoiding trying to find a common thread in them.  And here’s what I drew.  I did block out the characters to avoid giving away the project itself, but also to avoid spoiling the story when the page is finally used.

edited random pageWow, the character in the third panel looks pretty weird, huh?  Don’t worry, he does have a head.  OR DOES HE?  At any rate, after I drew the page, my brain started to tie these images together and…well, I know exactly what happens in the story that leads all these characters to these situations.  Ever since I finished the page, I’ve been writing the story in my head.

As a cartoonist, I am asked where I get my ideas.  Well, sometimes they come when you’re trying not to think of an idea.  Shut off your brain and see what happens.  Even though I wasn’t on a vacation, I sent my mind on one.  In this case, I was trying very hard to NOT come up with an idea.  But I did anyway.  I am not complaining, story ideas can be elusive and I’ll never know when I will have my last one.



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Look at What I Found

I have a few favorite bands, but there are probably just two that I am obsessed with.  R.E.M. is one of those bands.  I try to track down as much of their music as I can.  Sure, I have all their studio albums, live albums and all that, but I love tracking down random songs that popped up on soundtracks, b-sides, demos and alternate versions of songs.  I have a ton of R.E.M. stuff.  I love finding a “new” song that was left off an album.  Some of those outtakes are some of my favorite songs by them.

As a cartoonist, I’ve always identified with musicians about the creative process and how they look at their work.  I felt very much like a musician this past week when I unearthed an Uptown Girl “outtake”.  In 2012, I published ‘Uptown Girl – Little Adventures’.  It collected about 30 short stories.  Some of the stories were a page long, some were much longer.  I had a lot of fun working on it but I was excited to start the next book, which would become ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’, which is out this May.

I had started a story that I expected to be around 40 pages or so.  I had completed 9 pages of it before I set it aside and moved onto the next book.  The other day I was going through some older artwork and I stumbled upon it.  I was struck by how different the artwork was when I compared it to the page I had finished the night before.

This drawing is taken from the book I am working on now, which should be out in May of 2015.

48And this is a page from the story I found:

3The difference in the pages are pretty extreme.  I had started to play around with a new page format, and the older story stuck to the standard panel format.  I also did the older page on a smaller scale than what I work with now.  The older story’s original artwork is about half the size I work with currently.  There was also more crosshatching and I wasn’t doing a highlight in Uptown Girl’s boot (see the first panel in the first drawing).  I was also using a brush for the spots that would be all black, whereas these days I rely on Photoshop.

I thought about redrawing these pages (or re-recording them if I were a musician) but I decided to keep them as is.  I’ll finish the story using the same techniques, style and size as I did a couple years ago.  I think it might be fun.  I am probably wrong.

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Joining the Dots

The proof for ‘Uptown Girl – A Long Forgotten Fairytale’ arrived on Friday.  My lovely daughter Sophie is showing you the cover proof:

photo 1This is going to sound super geeky, but I can’t wait to have the finished book on my shelf.  Not only because this was a difficult book to create, and by placing it on my shelf will finally mark the completion of the story, but, well, the spine of the book is so cool.  The last three Uptown Girl books all had kind of boring color schemes, black, white, silver, and now…BAM!  Maroon.

The proof comes unglued, and gives me a chance to review it make sure the pages are in the right order.  Again, this is displayed by Sophie:

photo 2I love seeing proofs of books and comparing them to the original artwork.  When I look at the very tall pile of pages of original art, I can almost feel the weight of time it spent in creating it, as shown here:












But when I compare it to the proof, it’s a little underwhelming since the finished book will be small and very light compared to the original artwork.  Again, Sophie is showing the difference:

photo 3

















As you might tell, Sophie was on spring break this week and had some free time.  Normally she is too busy drawing or playing Legos to indulge her daddy’s blog.

Anyway, as this book winds down, it’s time to think about the future and time for me to start talking about the next Uptown Girl, and the one after that, and the one after that…

When I started doing original graphic novels, I imagined they would all be stand alone books, meaning you would not have to read them in order to follow the story.  And I kept that intention…for about a year or so.  I had created a character that appeared in the second book (Little Adventures) that I thought I could use later on.  An Easter egg, I suppose.  As ‘Long Forgotten Fairytale’ was nearing its completion, I struggled to come up with the right way to end the book.  The book, I hope, has a creepy, foreboding tone, and I wanted the book to end like that as well.  When I finally thought of the ending I decided to go with, I realized I was opening a door that I wouldn’t be able to close.  Basically, my intention of creating stand alone books was no longer possible.

When Uptown Girl was a monthly comic, I always had the next four to five issues planned out.  The graphic novels are also the same, I’ve always known what the next two or three books were.  And when you plan ahead, you kind of start to connect the dots a little.  In the story I am working on now, I introduce a new character named Techno Ted.  I didn’t have plans to bring him back once the story was over, but as I started to think about what book 6 was about, I thought of an interesting way for him, and someone else to return.  In book 5, Uptown Girl moves to _______.  I have a reason why she does this, but I needed a story as to what happens when she gets there.  I thought of a great way to tie what happens there with the overall plot to book 6.  See?  Connecting the dots.  The icing on the cake is when Brian Bastian, the writer for book 1 (Big City Secrets) emailed me saying he has an idea for a story starring _______ and _________.  Not only does it tie in perfectly to what book 6 is all about, but it stands a pretty good chance Brian will write book 6.  I’ve been trying to get Brian to write another Uptown Girl book since he finished the first book.

So, the plans for Uptown Girl are pretty much laid out for the next few years.  Thinking optimistically, book 4 (currently titled Imitation of Life) will be out in 2015, but I think that book 5 (currently untitled) and book 6 (The Lazarus Heart) will take a little longer.  I am not sure if book 5 will be out in 2016 or not, knowing what the story will be.  It’s going to take a long time to do book 5 and 6, but there will be something out each spring for the foreseeable future, even if it’s not an Uptown Girl book.



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Mr. Pessimist

I dropped off ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’ at the printer on Friday.  I started this book almost 3 years ago, so it’s very strange to know that the life of the book, in terms of creating it, is almost over it.  Soon people will read it and I really want to know what people think of it.  I have never second guessed myself about anything more in my life than this book.

Anyway, when I left the printer the other day, I remembered picking up the first Uptown Girl graphic novel ‘Big City Secrets’ in 2011 and I was so excited.  It looked so good, so much better than I had expected, and much better than what I was doing before.  It looked like how I always wanted Uptown Girl to look.  The comic finally looked good enough to submit to real publishers.

When Uptown Girl was a monthly comic book, I submitted it to a couple publishers.  This was early on in the series when the art was even worse than it was at the end of the series.  I’m being unfair to the younger me, but even then I knew the art could be better.  A monthly schedule and a full time job makes it hard to give the comic the attention I wanted to give it.  Which is why I moved to original graphic novels.  The idea was to take my time with the art and submit the book to publishers with the goal of it getting out there and maybe, maybe make a career out of comics.

Looking at the finished copy of the book, standing in the parking lot all those years ago, I felt I was at my peak.  This was the best I could do.  I still feel that way.  If this wasn’t good enough, well, I had tried my best.  I honestly felt that.  Still do.

I set aside a handful of the book to send to publishers.  The thing about ‘Uptown Girl’ is that it doesn’t really…fit in anywhere.  It’s not a superhero comic, so that eliminates a few options.  The comic isn’t a horror comic, or based off a license, and doesn’t have swearing in it.  The swearing thing surprised me.  What I heard from one publisher was that they don’t publish comics for kids.  If Uptown Girl dropped the occasional f-bomb, well, then things would be different I suppose.  I don’t look at the comic as a kids’ comic, it’s simply a comic anyone can read.  Another publisher said it was a girl comic, and girl comics don’t sell.  I know, right?  There was an editor who raved about Uptown Girl and really, really liked it, but passed on it because it didn’t fit in with the rest of their titles.  The feedback that I got from the other publishers were encouraging, they liked the art, the characters, whatever, but at the end of the day, the didn’t feel they could sell it.

Over the next two years, I had tried the publishers that I thought would be the best match, but even then, I didn’t think Uptown Girl didn’t fit in anywhere.  The publishers agreed with me.  It’s not off beat enough for Slave labor, not different enough for Top Shelf, not…I don’t know what for Image.

I would love to find a publisher for Uptown Girl.  But I don’t see that happening.  When the comic started, it was a labor of love.  It is once again.  With each book, I lose money with every copy I sell.  I start to make money on second and third printings but that takes a while.  If I was doing this to make money, I would’ve quit a long time ago.

One might think I have become a pessimistic bitter man, but I haven’t.  I made the best book that I could, sent it to publishers and, well, I am not saying I’ve given up, but I know that the chance of finding a publisher is pretty slim.  But you know?  When ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’ arrives in that big brown box in a couple weeks, all those ambitions and dreams will come back, and I’ll think that maybe, just maybe this book has a chance…


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Pigs, Sheeps and Wolves

36I have three art projects in my life.  The first, of course, is Uptown Girl.  I haven’t shown much of her lately as I’ve been working on a new story and prepping ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’ for publishing.  I am bringing it to the printer on Friday and should have the proof about a week after that.  But in case you miss her, here’s a page from the story I am working on.

I still need to add the lettering, but it’s a pretty funny page.  To be honest, it’s kind of a boring story so far.  I mean, the story idea is good, the writing is funny, but it’s kind of boring to draw.  It’ll change soon, the bad guys have just hatched their evil plan and it’ll get more fun to draw soon.  I hope.

The second project is my secret project that I might have a preview for at SpringCon in1 May.  I’ll call it SECRET COMIC for now.   Here’s some artwork from that.

When Brian and I decided to finally do this project, I had anticipated more progress on it by now, but on the other hand, it’s looking better than I thought it would.  The format is a lot of fun, and it’s really challenging me as a cartoonist.  I am penciling more, which is not something I am used to.  For Uptown Girl, since I am so used to drawing her (11 years and counting…), I usually just rough in the characters and let the inking do the work.

The third project is redoing ‘This Little Piggy’ that I mentioned in the previous post.  I didn’t think I would ever revisit this project after the rejection letters, but what the heck, a good idea is a good idea.  I didn’t really want to seek out a new project since Uptown Girl and Secret Comic take up the little free time I have, but I think the key to staying interested in drawing and avoiding writer’s block is having multiple things to work on.  If I have a couple hours to draw, I’ll work on Uptown Girl.  If I have a half hour, Secret Comic is what I’ll work on.  If I pass by my studio while doing house stuff and I have a couple minutes, I’ll add a few things to the page I am working on for ‘This Little Piggy’.  I am really digging the pig book now, it’s a lot different and a lot more fun to draw.  I am not that far into it, I’d say about halfway through the first page.  It’s not the first page of the book, just the first one I am doing.  It was meant to be a test page, to be honest.  Just to get a feel for the new format and to revisit an art style I used to use all the time called “cramming”.  I am trying to cram as much as I can into a drawing.  Cramming came from being inspired by the ‘Muppets Take Manhattan’, one of my favorite movies from when I was a kid.  A while ago, I was working on another project that I thought would be a children’s book.  The art was okay, but it was missing something.  In the movie, the Muppets put on a big broadway show, but Kermit also felt that his project was missing something.  Fozzie asks Kermit if his friends can watch the show from backstage.  Struck my inspiration, Kermit says:

“What? No! No, they cannot watch the show from backstage. That’s it! That’s what’s been missing from the show! That’s what we need! More frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and… and whatever! You’re not gonna watch the show, you’re gonna be in the show! Come on, everyone!”

The other Muppets rush the stage and the show is a big success.  On a Post-It note, I wrote ‘That’s what we need!  More frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and… and whatever!’  I used that quote as a guide for the book.  When the page was lacking and boring, I went and crammed as much as I could into the drawing.  I’d add more people, made the backgrounds more interesting and it was a lot more fun to look at.  Took a long time to draw, but it was worth it.

I no longer have the Post-It, but the quote is more relevant than ever since the book needs frogs, dogs, bears, chickens, pigs, raccoons, skunks, wolves, alligators, giraffes, sheep and whatever.  Here’s a very bad scan of the page-in-progress:

pig in a carI have a lot more to do on this page.  The original is about 11 x 17, which is a lot bigger than I am used to working.  Anyway, with the rate I am working and the multiple projects I am juggling, the book should be done just in time for my kids to read it to their kids.

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