Careening in Full Speed

dThe way that I write is pretty unstructured and usually spontaneous.  Sometimes I wish I had the discipline to sit down and write out an entire scene or book with complete dialogue but that’s not how I roll.  I like to be surprised by what happens and my favorite moments are when all of a sudden a new scene, moment, plot point or even a whole new direction opens up and off I go.

This is exactly what is happening with The Retros right now.  I am about four weeks ahead of schedule and I am writing stuff that I am really happy with.  The scene requires some mystery, tension, uncertainty and love and I think I am really nailing it.  It’s turning out a little longer-and bigger-than I expected.  At first I thought this would be about ______ and then I thought of a way to add in _________ and then I decided this would be a perfect time to add in the first meeting between ________ and _________ and then touch on the origin of __________.  Everything was coming together.  Ideas are bouncing and careening off of each other at incredible speed.

Life is amazing, right?

aThe problem is that this little (well, getting bigger) story line is a pretty sharp turn from the main story and by the time I get back to the main story I am worried I will have lost some momentum, and the attention of the reader.  If I am reading a novel and then it flashes back to an earlier time in the character’s life I get pretty invested in those moments and when it jumps back to the ‘now’ part of the story, it takes me some time to remind myself what was happening.  I have that problem with some Stephen King books, but that’s not his fault.  This little turn off the main road was never planned.  I didn’t expect to tell this character’s backstory for a while but someone said something, someone reacted and if I read this scene from a reader’s perspective, I’d be annoyed that this bombshell was just left hanging.  So, I felt that I had to get into this a little.

bBut little is turning big, and that’s okay.  The thing I am thinking about is if I should rein myself in.  Right now I am 20 pages into this character’s backstory and I could easily double or triple it.  I am wondering if I should continue riding this momentum and keep telling this story or I should jump back to the main story and come back at a later time.  I have been doing comics for over ten years and for better or for worse and I have always just done what I wanted to do.  I wrote what I thought would be fun to draw, I taught myself how to draw cartooney instead of teaching myself how to draw realistic or stylish, I made books I thought would be fun to read.  This type of cartooning mindset likely didn’t do any favors in terms of my career.  Who knows?  Maybe if I did this instead of that I’d have a show on The Cartoon Network and have a million dollars but I am done wondering about the what-ifs and maybes.

cThe point is that I am having so much fun doing what I do and all the money and success in the world can’t make cartooning fun.

I suppose that following my instincts and letting the story tell itself is a big part of my cartooning career and has made my work fun, surprising and spontaneous.  I am lucky to be writing this backstory and having it unfold in my mind.  It’s effortless and almost a gift.

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Everything’s Coming Undone

Someone asked me a couple weeks ago what the next Retros story line is about.  I thought about it for a moment and told him so far that it was about food.

I like food.  I think about food a lot.  I think a lot of my day is spent thinking about my next meal.  I think more of our days are structured around food than we realize.  Whether it’s organizing an errand day and building the day around going out to lunch or talking about which restaurant we’re going to this Saturday or what we’re having for dinner.  I think my characters think the same way which is why I show Uptown Girl and her friends at restaurants a lot.  I don’t think that’s going to change by the time we get to the year that The Retros takes place in, and with the election results, who knows if we’ll make it another few years, let alone making it to the year 2438.

Yeah, another blog post about the election.

But let’s get back to The Retros for a moment.  The way I write and draw The Retros is a little different than how I write and draw Uptown Girl.  Since the series post five times a week, I write to that schedule.  On Sunday night I will write and pencil a week’s worth of strips.  With each four panel page, I try to make sure that the first panel sort of summarizes the previous page, and the fourth panel is either funny or a cliffhanger.  When I get to the fifth page, I either have resolved the scene or I have cranked up the action and end the page-and the week- on another cliffhanger.

When I write the strips for the week, I loosely plan for the next scene/week/whatever and who knows what happens between the Monday and Friday strip, but I do my best to get to setting up the next week’s worth of strips by the time I finish up the Friday strip.  I love the way I work because I usually surprise myself by what happens in the middle of the week.  I like working spontaneously and letting the ideas pop into my head.  I let the scenes unfold naturally and I love seeing where it goes.

I work really far ahead, usually about 3-4 weeks in advance.  A month or so ago, I was writing the pages that would eventually post the week of the election.  The scenes involved Alie and Red walking the streets of the city eating from food trucks.  Since Red is from the early 1990’s, she is not familiar with this wonderful thing.

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I knew where I needed to do a few things for this particular week of strips.  I needed to talk about what restaurants are like in the future and I needed the girls to bump into Mztik.  When I was writing the strip that I knew it would post the day after the election, and I couldn’t help but think about the comment someone made that if Hillary Clinton was elected that there would be a taco truck on every corner.  This would not be a bad thing.  I was very happy with the serendipity that the timing worked out this way.  Since I work so far ahead, I don’t bother referencing current events but I couldn’t resist the combination of a talk about taco trucks and the day after the election.  When I went to write the last two panels of this strip, I wrote two different versions that I labeled “18” and “18 bad”.  “18” was the Clinton win, the other was for hell freezing over.
Pleased with what appeared to be perfect timing, I finished the week’s worth of strips.  And then I did the math and I realized I was a couple weeks off.  “18” or “18 Bad” was actually scheduled to post two weeks before the election.

Counting is hard.

So I had several choices.

-I could just say screw it and let the strip run ahead of time

-I could change the dialogue so it wasn’t referencing the current events at all

-I could go back and add in two weeks of strips

I decided I couldn’t let this wonderful little coincidence pass so I went back and added two weeks of story.  The first week that I added was the actual fight that Alie and Sputnik had off panel with a monster called Frankenwolfenstein.

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untitled-3Doing a straight up action scene would be simple enough as I didn’t need to make sure that it wouldn’t impact the story too much…there was no plot hole to fix or anything like that, I just needed to have a moment where Sputnik injuries his arm as I drew him in a sling earlier.  My luck was still running as this new week of strips allowed me to touch on the friction between Lucky and the rest of the team.  Lucky is still upset abut his friend Zoo retiring from the team and it gave me a chance to show him still reacting to this.  PLUS it gave me a chance to draw Frankenwolfenstein.

 

The other scene was a little trickier, what else could be happening in the story that I hadn’t shown yet?  The second week I needed to add was harder.  I kept coming back to Lucky and what he was going through.  He was angry and in his own way, very sad about his friend.  I had him walking the streets of the city in the first week I had to add, so I decided to go back and see what he was doing.  Although it took me a week or so to decide what to do and come up with an idea, when it came time to actually write and pencil the scene, it went very quickly.

I love moments that open up the Retros world and this new week was full of those moments.  The Retros are a superhero team, but in a way, they are also celebrities and not unlike a beloved, hometown sports team.  They are featured in everything from breaking news reports to gossip articles.  I added in a street vendor selling bootleg merchandise and this opened up the world a bit and touched on the celebrity status of the team a bit and it also gave me a chance to write a pretty sad scene that surprised me.

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The week also allowed me to introduce Mztik earlier than I had originally and add in a fun little team up against the greatest Retros villain of all time:

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Abracapoodle is the stupidest character I’ve ever created and never would’ve existed without me having to go back and add another five pages of story.

In the end, these two new week’s of strips didn’t come off as filler, they opened up the world a little and gave me a chance to draw a poodle.

I schedule the next day’s Retros strip around 9pm and on November 8th I stayed up and watched the election results and was ready to upload either “18” or “18 Bad”.  As the results came in, it was becoming clear that on November 9th, “18 Bad” was what I needed to upload.  I scheduled the page and went to bed before the results were finalized.

I still pray they aren’t finalized.

I can’t say I have much more to say that smarter people are already saying in more poignant and coherent ways, but I am pretty…devastated about this.  I am crushed so many people could vote for a candidate so unqualified and horrible.  I am nervous about what the next supreme court could look like.  The laws that could come out of this and the impact that they could over the next few…decades is pretty frightening.  The last 8 years I have seen amazing strides in things from economic recovery, marriage equality to healthcare options.  I’ve seen friends marry who they love and get treatment for medical conditions.  I saw our country elect a black man…twice.  I was starting to feel that maybe we’re on the right path.  Going forward, not backwards, and twirling, twirling towards freedom.  Maybe 2016 would be continuous of that.  But now I am not sure what will happen.  Every step of progress we’ve made could be undone.

Like I said, better people are posting about calls to action, the impact of the election and how things could play out. Right now I am thinking about the future, from everything from doing what I can do politically, as a father and as an artist.  My wife and I are talking about what we can do from an activist role, thinking about how I will talk to my daughter about how the country elected someone who admits to grabbing women to channeling my frustrations into a future Retros story line.  I have an idea for a story line that will be a few years from now (gotta finish the current food-themed story, then the Metroid-inspired story about internet chain letters and then touching on Alie’s backstory first) called ‘Death and the Maidens’ that now has a little bit of an edge that it didn’t have before.  It’ll be a few years before I get to this story line and God only knows what the world will be like then.

 

 

 

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Untold Obligations

Hello friends.  I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged but…I’ve been busy.  I know we’re all busy and really, it doesn’t take long to write an entry and let people know I’m still alive, but the lack of progress on different projects have made me less than excited about updating my blog.

It has been an interesting year.  Next week will be the one year anniversary of The Incredible Retros.  Next month is a different anniversary as it mark a year since I found out I’d be laid off sometime in 2016.  These two change to my life have really affected me in ways I didn’t anticipate and it’s caused some temporary shifting of priorities.

Let me explain.

In December of 2016 I was told I’d be laid off and my last day would be sometime this year.  May 20th ended up being my final day and I was lucky to find a new job and start a few days later.  I spent the first few months of the year interviewing and updating my resume and all that, but still making decent progress on Uptown Girl-The Lazarus Heart as well as keeping up on The Retros and the rest of my priorities.

Summer bounced along as usual but at the end of the summer a new job opportunity opened up and I was lucky enough to get it.  This new job is exhausting me in ways I’ve never thought possible.  It is now not unusual to leave the house at 5:45am and get home around 6pm.  This happens several times a week.  Now, I’m not complaining, I am lucky to have this, and really, any job, however this is wearing me out.

I spend the evenings and weekends catching up on being a dad, a husband, a friend and a cartoonist.  With the time and energy I do have, I have to prioritize what I do.  Sure, the trim needs to be painted but I haven’t gone on a hike with Sophie in weeks, so out the door we go.  I haven’t seen a friend in a month but it’d be nice to go out to lunch with my wife.  I have an hour to draw and I really want to wrap up the Uptown Girl book, but I need to get ahead on The Retros.  The Retros takes priority because it is updated daily and requires more work, like coloring, than an Uptown Girl page.

All of this got me thinking about obligations and priorities.  I think anyone would understand why I would spend time with my family over drawing given the little free time that I have because we know what it’s like to have family obligations (I say obligations like its a bad thing, I really do love my family).  But does a cartoonist have obligations to their audience?

Well, sure.  Of course.

Neil Gaiman once defended George R.R. Martin on the topic of the length of time it’s been since new books have come out in his Game of Thrones series. “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch”, he famously and accurately writes.  Click on the link, it’s an interesting read and I agree with it.  I also agree with what Shigeru Miyamoto said about late video games.  “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”.  Another fair point.  But for me, I have a little (a lot) of guilt about not making much progress on ‘The Lazarus Heart’ as I would like.  I feel if people are waiting for something, you as the creator have an obligation to be working on it.  Even a little bit of progress.

I also feel that a creator has an obligation to stay faithful to the spirit of a book or a series.  Uptown Girl has been pretty consistently rated PG since the the first issue and I feel that it would be a disservice to her readers if suddenly the tone of the book changed and was no longer appropriate for an all-ages audience.

This slow down of progress hasn’t been all bad, though.  Having some time away from a project allows you to see it an think of it in a different light.  There was a six page (or so) sequence I needed to go back and add but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it didn’t really add anything to the book and took the focus away from the main story and characters.  So, out it goes.  Not only does editing out this part save a week or so of drawing, but it really slowed the momentum of what else is happening at the point of the story.

It’s been depressing not making the progress that I ‘d like to be making.  I had hoped I’d be wrapping the book up by the end of the year but that is not happening.  However, my personal deadline of March 1st is still realistic.  My life will slow down around Thanksgiving and even more so at the beginning of December.  I will be back on track this time next month.  Promise.

After rereading this post I realized that I might be missing my point.  I guess the long and short of it is that I still fully expect the book to be out in May of 2017 and it’s likely no one would know about this temporary lack of progress but I want you to know that I appreciate everyone who reads what I create.  I don’t have a ton of fans but I don’t take you for granted.  I feel it’s my job to create the best work possible if you’re going to spend money on it or spend time reading it.  I never feel that the book will be done when it’s done.  I know what it’s like to wait for something to come out and I am lucky to have people in my life that are excited about the next book or page of anything that I do.  You as a reader are a priority.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life Would Suck Without You

I’ve been going to comic conventions as a guest for a long time now.  The first one I attended was Fallcon back in…2005?  I remember working on Uptown Girl #7 at the convention and met my pal Albert Nguyen there.  To my surprise I actually sold some comics that day.  Actually, that surprise doesn’t change much…I am still surprised when I sell comics.  At any rate, after my first convention I started to get emails from people who read the comic and wrote in to say they liked it.

My first fans.

But to be honest, I have never been comfortable calling anyone who buys, reads or likes my comic my fan.  I am not entirely sure why…maybe because I have a rampant ego (I really do) and wanted to keep it in check and if I started thinking that I had fans that I would start…I don’t know, buying into it and elevating myself above others.  I don’t think I’m wrong in worrying about this as I did let my ego get the best of me years ago.

But I suppose if I am being honest, I do have fans.  I compromise with saying that I personally don’t have fans, but Uptown Girl does.

At any rate, yesterday was Fallcon.  I can’t say it was a great convention year if I measure it by sales.  Having the next Uptown Girl book delayed certainly isn’t helping and I’ve been too busy with trying to wrap that up, keep up on The Retros and the rest of life to try to put out a new one-shot.  But if I look at the conventions in other ways, this was a great convention season.  I spent more time sketching in notebooks than selling books, more time talking to people abut comics than making money off of them.  I sent my days talking not to fans, but to friends.  I realized that the real reason I am not comfortable with the term is that I can’t call anyone my fan.  I think of you as my friend.  I have thought of you that way for a long time.  I’ve known many of you for years and years.  It was at my second convention when I met Susan and Mark.  That was ten years ago.  I’ve seen your kids grow up and go from stroller to cosplay.  You share with me the other sketches you’ve gotten from other artists at the convention.  We talk about our families, our lives, almost anything but comics.  But we do talk about comics, don’t we?  Everything from what is happening in Wonder Woman to what the next Retros story arc will be like and the epic-ness of the last Uptown Girl story. Spoiler: the epilogue of it will be titled “My Life Would Suck Without You”.

Cartooning is a lonely thing.  I am never entirely sure what people will enjoy or what’s working or which characters people like.  It’s really, really awesome to hear what you are saying about the comics I make.  What did you like?  What’s funny?  Was it surprising when (fill in the blank) happened?  Your reactions, opinions and feedback help tremendously.  When you worry about a character it tells me that  those characters are connecting with you…that they’re working for you.  When you asked for that drawing of Volcanix it made me realize that people actually liked/like him.  When you suggested the title for the upcoming Retros print collection it told me that yes, you do read the comic.  When you gave my friend an aspirin for their headache it felt like you two knew each other for years.

Part of me thought about skipping Fallcon (not really) this year because I knew I’d end up buying more than I sold.  And that’s exactly what happened.  But I wanted to go.  I wanted to see you.  And you were there.  It was awesome.  Like I said, drawing is lonely and I appreciate your friendship, your reading my comic and stopping by to visit.  It would have been a lonely day if you weren’t there.  Without you, I really don’t know if I’d still be doing comics.  I love drawing comics but I think if people weren’t reading my stuff, it’d be hard to keep at this.

And just to add some art into this wordy post, here’s a panel I inked at the convention for the upcoming Retros arc.

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Too Many Feelings at the Same Time

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Let’s have a chat about feelings.

Emotions are all over Uptown Girl ‘The Lazarus Heart’.  The characters (and not just the main three) are all having feelings of betrayal, loss, jealousy, love, confusion, angry and sadness.  I probably missed a few, as well.

If you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while, you know that I put a lot of myself in the books.  The three main characters reflect parts of me.  Rocketman is the impulsive, never-thinking-things-out part of my personality, Ruby is the cynical, sarcastic side, and Uptown Girl is the more even keel, reasonable part of my life.  Often I wrestle with these sides throughout the day so it’s cathartic to work things out that I think about in my comics.  Doing this has helped me become very attached to my characters and I think my love and respect for them shows through in stories.  This attachment made it very difficult to make the decision to end the series but in the end, I think readers need to know the writer loves the characters too.  I fully understand why J.K. Rowling got very emotional when she killed off characters in the Harry Potter books.

As the book reaches the end, tensions are high, feelings are at their most intense and things are coming to a head before their ultimate resolution.  Some of the characters are acting selfishly, some are hurting others, and some, well some are just furious like our friend Ruby up there.

Ruby gets angry in this book.  She is dealing with a lot in this book and something puts her over the edge.  The something is a very big thing, but her anger has been bottling up for a while and she just…rips into someone.  The character she is furious with just…backs down.  Truly sorry, the character is moved to tears and shows a vulnerable side to them we haven’t see in…well, ever.

It’s almost…painful to write my characters like this.  Every character means every word they say, for good and for bad.  Lately the book is taking a lot out of me and it’s been hard to go back each night and write more.  Two characters got into a fight a while ago and it was challenging to keep going and keep writing that scene.  These days I finish a page and I am emotionally exhausted.  I know it might sound kind of stupid but I think we’ve all emotionally connected to a fictional character and they become very real to us.  Getting emotionally connected to a character that you’ve created and that you write is all of those emotions plus more.

I look forward to wrapping up the book for many reasons.  One reason has to do with the normal stress or writing a book and hoping that you wrote a good story and that it makes sense with no plot holes.  The stress of drawing the book is also part of it.  I have…concerns that the book is not as well drawn as I hoped it would be, but since the book is very emotionally driven and filled with drama, I think the art might be all right after all.  But the main reason is that I am looking forward to resolving a lot of the issues the characters have with each other right now.  I look forward to writing the scenes where they can hug it out.

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Fast Forward

Yesterday I started coloring the last five pages of the first Retros story line.  The arc wrapped up in 240 pages and will be collected in a book to be published in 2017.  Thanks to my pal  Joe, the book has a name…The Retros: Fast Forward.  I have the last few pages to color and about 25 pages to letter and of course the cover, but the book is pretty much done.  I am about 20 pages ahead of schedule in terms of posting a new page each day, but I need to be working ahead in case of computer problems or just…life taking up time and not having a chance to draw when I need or want to.

I pushed myself the last week or so to get some more pages done as I noticed I was no longer as far ahead as I wanted to be, which means I had less time to work on Uptown Girl.  But that isn’t a bad thing.  I was able to plot out the last act of her book and tighten it up a little.  I still feel confident that it will be done by the end of the year or, if it comes to it, by my March 1st deadline.

It feels weird to have completed something that is not Uptown Girl.  I was worried that after wrapping up the first Retros book I wouldn’t have the enthusiasm to keep going but thankfully that is not the case.  I am excited to get going on the next story for these characters.

Whenever I finished an Uptown Girl book, I’d think about what I learned.  With ‘Big City Secrets’ I learned the importance of scanning the page as I finished drawing it to avoid having to scan over 250 pages all at once over the course of a few weeks.  Much better to pace it out over the creation of the book.  With ‘The Long Forgotten Fairytale’ I learned that I need to work with a paper size that is best for the artwork as opposed to working a smaller size just to work a little faster.

With ‘Fast Forward’ I learned a lot.

untitled-1From an artistic perspective, I learned that black on black coloring looks a little…wonky.  For example, Fly-Girl wears black, finger-less gloves.  When she gestures and her hands are in front of her, her hands are harder to see since she wears a black costume.  I like drawing hands that are expressive and this design kind of muddles that up.  Now that this arc is over, I decided to ditch the gloves.  Working as small as I do with each panel less than 3 inches wide or long, it is important to simplify.

 

untitled-5I learned to stick to my guns and make storytelling choices that go against my routine.  Over the 12 plus years of Uptown Girl, the status quo has remained comfortably stable.  My vision for the Retros was a rotating team, similar to the X-Men or the Justice League.  I envisioned characters quitting, getting fired of even dying.  In order to have a rotating team and to show people (especially myself) that no one is a Retro forever, I wanted to have a different team at the end of the first arc than there was at the beginning.  I knew who’d be gone pretty early in the story but…I really liked this character.  I liked them more than I did when I started drawing the book.  For a while the character’s fate was changed and saved and wouldn’t be going away.  But in the end, I decided that if I didn’t make the change now, I never would make status quo changes.  I had to do it to push myself out of that comfort zone.   I stuck to my original idea (which is usually the best idea) and made the change.  Will the character return like every character did in the X-Men or Justice League?  I suppose they could, there’s certainly a way.

untitled-2I learned to let the story and scene become alive and give into my instincts.  There were plenty of times when I would be drawing and writing an action scene and think about what the characters were doing and if I were in that situation I’d make a joke or comment on what as happening.  I would have the team take a moment to crack a joke, make fun of Sputnik or bicker with each other.  These moments were my favorite to write.  These scenes allow character development, shed a little light on their personalities and show a little about team dynamics.

untitled-3I learned that it’s okay to tell a non-linear story.  The readers are dropped into the Retros world.  The series didn’t start with how the team got together or why they did.  I know how they did, and I might tell the story someday but for the moment, we’re seeing what is happening now.  There’s a lot that happened before Fly-Girl joined the team and I like that the characters talk about stuff that happened before the series started or have questions that won’t be answered for a long time.

 

untitled-4I learned to take risks with the characters.  A big risk was drawing Zoo who is tricky to get right and different from any character I’ve drawn before.  It required a lot of penciling, erasing and starting over.  It wasn’t always easy but I love the big guy.  I love seeing the difference in size between him and Fly-Girl.  The risks are more than just visual.  The characters will have lives that are a little more complex than anything I’ve done with Uptown Girl.  They all have histories…personal, traumatic and romantic.  I am excited to push myself into new directions and try new things I haven’t done before.

Finally, I learned that I need to get the series in front of people.  I can’t let people discover The Retros by just word of mouth.  I saw the website traffic stats and is was pretty dismal.  I started to post pages on the Facebook page as well as Tapastic.  Once Uptown Girl wraps up I’ll be spending more time promoting The Retros in different ways.  I learned that I can’t do two different series at once.  Right now I am focusing on just writing and drawing Uptown Girl and The Retros.  Once Uptown Girl is done, I’ll start to reach out to different ways to promote The Retros.  I suppose I am feeling guilty for not spending as much time on Uptown Girl’s final book as it deserves and don’t want to spend any more time way from her as I have.

I hope to learn more as I continue to draw The Retros and anything else I create.  I appreciate anyone who is a fan of what I do and I thank you for your advice, enthusiasm and the book titles.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Whole New You

I am wrapping up the first Retros story line soon.  I just scanned in page 230 the other day and page 206 is getting posted tomorrow.  I wanted the first story line to wrap up at 240 pages and I think it’ll work out.  If I did my math right (which is entirely possible I didn’t) , the 240th page should post in mid-November, roughly a year after the series started.

I’ve been working on the Retros for a long time.  Like…8 years now.  The team (both creative and the series itself) has gone through a few changes, but I am amazed that I’ve stuck with it for so long and the first book is almost done.  I haven’t finished anything that wasn’t Uptown Girl in…well, over ten years.

Uptown Girl has been my primary creative project, and part of my life and pat of me for a long, long time.  As the series gets closer to ending, I am realizing how weird life will be when it ends, and how much Uptown Girl has been a part of my life for so long.  Over the years people would refer to me as ‘The Uptown Girl Guy’.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s good that people knew who she was.  I suppose soon I’ll be ‘The Retros Guy’.  There are worse things to be.  I’ll be a new me, I guess.  Uptown Girl was never the well known, popular series I had hoped it would be, but it was nice knowing that people were familiar with her.  I can only hope The Retros has the success she had.  In the end, sure, it would have been nice if Uptown Girl had been a little more famous but knowing that people read her adventures, care about her and are sad that the series is ending tells me that people do love her and can a cartoonist ask for more?

The Retros will be collected in book form, along with the one-shots I’ve done over the last year sometime next year.  The book, which doesn’t have a title yet (suggestions would be appreciated) will either be out in the spring or fall of 2017.  IF the last Uptown Girl isn’t done by the first of March, I’ll put out the Retros.  If Uptown Girl stays on track, then the Retros will get bumped to the fall.  I want the Uptown Girl book out in May and finishing by March 1st will give me time to have it proofread, edited and the cover completed.  Wrapping up after March 1st is pushing it.

Uptown Girl SHOULD stay on schedule.  I just finished page 182 last night, wrapping up an action scene that spanned over 20 pages.  Spoiler alert, a character died, making this the second death in the book.  I think I’ll be able to wrap up the bulk of the story this year and spend a few weeks next year on a few pages I need to go back and add in.  Barring any major setbacks and if I get the story done by March 1st, I fully expect the book be out in May of next year.

The good news is that I can see how I can wrap this book in about 40-50 pages.  The concern for a while was all about timing and how many pages I could complete by my deadline of March 1st but the story itself is all coming together.  Bad guys are going down, alliances are being formed, hatchets will soon be buried but there are broken hearts, betrayals and reunions still to come.  Here’s an edited page 182:

Untitled-1

I can see how things will end and although the story itself is turning out differently than I had expected it, the epic-ness and the drama are holding up.  I wanted some big character moments for Uptown Girl, Ruby and Rocketman and they each are going through some big things.  I wanted to see what would happen if they had to face challenges and life events but not necessarily be able to go through them with help from others.  Usually in Uptown Girl stories one of the characters goes through something and the others are helping them but in this story everyone has something big happening and are pretty wrapped up in their own lives.  I suppose in a way, this is a story about not taking people in your life for granted.  It’s about not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

It’s about the power of friendship.

And I suppose that’s been the theme of Uptown Girl as a whole for the last thirteen years.

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First World Problems

Perspective is important.  It’s important when it comes to drawing of course, and it’s also important when it comes to life.  Last week, both art and life came colliding together.

I use Photoshop a lot.  I am usually fiddling with it in the morning before I go to wok as I letter a page of Uptown Girl, and at the end of the day I am usually editing and coloring a page for The Retros.  Over the last few years, Photoshop has become an important tool in my art.  Before I looked at it as a way to scan and possibly do some light editing on a piece of art, then it became the tool I use to letter a comic.  Soon it was how I blacked in the night sky and clean up panel borders.  Now I rely on it more than I thought I ever could.  It’s true I only use about 10% of what Photoshop offers, but what I use it for is essential to my projects.

Last week Photoshop stopped working.  Not being a computer guy myself, I am not entirely sure what happened.  Dan, my best friend/website builder/IT guy thinks the software become corrupted somehow and I should uninstall it and re-install it.  Tried that, it did not work.  After trying a few free programs online for a temporary solution and considering switching to other options such as Manga Studio, I bit the bullet and purchased Photoshop again.

At Dan’s suggestion, I looked on eBay and found an older version of it and avoided paying $89 for the latest upgrade.  Three days and thirty dollars later, a newer and better Photoshop was back on my PC and working like a dream.

Untitled-1

In retrospect, this all seems very uneventful but in reality, I was very stressed out.  I wondered if my computer was on its way out (it’s five years old, it might be time for a laptop), or if I would have to learn a new software program and change the techniques I’ve been using for years or what I was going to do in terms of keeping up on lettering and editing comics so I can stay on schedule.

The reality is that I can afford a new laptop, I have friends who would be happy to sit down with me and show me how to do anything I needed to know about any artwork editing software I could buy, I could also drop by a friend’s house and use their Photoshop if I needed to touch up something before I had a long term solution.

This was very much a first world problem and I am embarrassed at how stressed out I was.  This was not a problem at any level.  I am far enough ahead on The Retros that the next few weeks of pages are already colored and lettered.  I had friends on Facebook recommending different programs and sending me links to different options to try.  I am very lucky to have the life that I have.

So, I am thankful for the lesson and the reminder that my problems aren’t problems.  I am lucky to have people in my life that can and did help.  Thanks to everyone who offered technical help and offered different solutions.  I will try to keep things in perspective the next time my world comes to end when I have a temporary set back.

 

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Flying Solo

As Uptown Girl nears the end, I can’t help but think about what my world will be like after I’ve drawn, inked, scanned and lettered the last page.  I can only imagine how weird it’s going to be to sit down at my desk and for the first time time in over 12 years, not work on an Uptown Girl story.  Sure, I’m excited about other projects, but I can’t even think about what an Uptown Girl-less world will be like.

As ‘The Lazarus Heart’ heads towards the end (up to page 169 as of this morning), it’s time to start the early stages of what I will do next.  In deciding what I wanted to, I felt like I had a lot of different options and it was exciting but instead of thinking of what I wanted to work on, I shifted my thought process to HOW I wanted to work.  I knew right away I did not want to do another series or even another graphic novel, especially a graphic novel that could turn into a series.  That seems to be an issue with me.  I can create a character and soon I have ideas for four different books for them and I want to do all of them.  That happened with The Retros, actually.  I have the next 5 years/storylines planned out and I am excited to do them.  And I will!  Once I think of what I want to do with a character/cast, I am determined to see it all the way through.

Actually, this is what happened with Uptown Girl.  After  I started the first Uptown Girl graphic novel, I thought about what kind of stories I wanted to do.  I eventually mapped out the next few books and the story for ‘The Lazarus Heart’ was always part of the plan.  I wasn’t going to think about what happened after ‘The Lazarus Heart’ until I was working on it as the planned books seemed like enough to do.  It just turned out to be a perfect place to walk away.  Perhaps if I decided what the next book would be all those years ago, I’d be continuing the series.  Of course, this is not to say that the Retros will end in five years.  There’s a lot I want to do with those guys.

Anyway, I decided on how I was going to work.  Besides not jumping into another huge project, I knew I wanted to collaborate with other talented, creative people.  I also wanted to not write anything too big and to focus on drawing.  I knew whatever I would do, it would be a logical and fun step towards making a living off my art (it’s a long shot but that’s okay).  I think I’ve all but set aside any plan to write and draw a children’s book for now.  I have a few ideas for them but I am not a writer.  The ideas I have for picture books seem too…weak and boring.  I know I can and do draw better than what I typically post online, so my strength is art and it’s probably a good idea to let someone else write and I can stick to the illustrations.

I have, after months of thinking about it, decided on three projects that I will be taking on once Uptown Girl has walked off into the sunset.  Two of them are collaborations and I’ll be talking about those projects soon, but the third is a solo thing.  The solo project is a Fly-Girl comic strip.  Fly-Girl is the newest member of my webcomic, The Retros.  I know I said I didn’t want to write anything or start a new series but this is not going to be an ongoing thing, at least not to start.  Fly-Girl was created by my friend Brian Bastian and I about ten years ago.  In our minds, we always had her world established and her character and personality pretty much set.  Once we put her into the future and she joined The Retros, she left a lot of that behind.  I knew I wanted to do more with her, but as a member of a team, I know I can’t focus on her too much but I do want to write about her more.  The idea of the comic strip is to focus on her adventures before she was transported to the year 2438.  I can avoid any continuity issues and readers do not have to read both series to follow her adventures solo or as part of the team.  This is going to give me a chance to do stories about her in high school, crappy part-time jobs and all that.  A chance to tell stories about the girl behind the mask.  Stuff that doesn’t seem to fit in the action packed adventures of The Retros.

FG

However, this is not going to be an on going series by any means.  Unless I get really, really lucky.  No, the plan for a post-Uptown Girl world is to work on stuff where I can submit to publishers and agents in an effort to make a living off my art.  What I plan on doing with Fly-Girl is to create a solid submission package to shop to different newspaper comic strip syndicates.  I’ve never been rejected by one of those before, so it’ll be a new thing for me.  Most syndicates want to see about 24-30 strips so get a feel for the art and the characters.  My plan is do enough daily strips and shop them to publishers.  If I get lucky and get picked up, then it will be an ongoing thing, but the way I see it, this is a project that will maybe take 2-3 months to create 24-30 really solid daily strips and spend the next months sending them out and waiting for rejection letters.

Despite expecting rejection letters, I am actually very excited and optimistic about this.  I feel that after over 200 Retros strips I’ve really nailed the timing a four panel strip requires.  Also working in a pretty small panel size has really pushed me to making the most of that space and laying out my art.  But my writing is where I feel the most confident.  I think I can do a really acceptable job of telling a larger story one four panel sequence at a time.  The Fly-Girl comic strip will be an adventure comic with a bigger focus on humor than The Retros.  I know The Retros is funny at times (at least I hope it is) but this will be even more so.

I am inspired by older adventure strips from the 30’s and 40’s, but also the Spider-Man comic strip that John Romita Sr. did in the late 70’s.  Of course, newspapers don’t seem to do a lot of adventure strips these days unless it’s something that has been running for decades like Mark Trail and Mary Worth so perhaps this isn’t the best idea to work on, but I am going to have a lot of fun with it and I am hoping that someone will give it a chance.

I will be blogging about the creation and progress of the strip once I start working on it.  I will be posting the pages as I finish them and if in the end I fail to get a publisher I will then print the strips so people can read them if they want.  I am excited about this and I have the storyline planned out already.  Here’s a really rough sketch of the first strip:

sample

The guys robbing the bank are a nod to how the first Uptown Girl graphic novel started where The Walrus stops a bank heist.  I thought it was a fun little Easter egg.

Anyway, more to come on this and the other two projects soon.  For now, it’s on to page 170.

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Hollow Man

Cartoonists are not famous for their happiness.  I have a quote by Charles Schulz pinned above my drawing desk that reads “Cartooning will destroy you, it will break your heart.”  God only knows why I’ve had that staring at me for so many years, but still it remains.  I think many of us wrestle with the cycle of wanting to be better, trying to be better and not getting better and then getting a little better and then always trying to be better and not always able to be better and then getting depressed about not being better especially when we know we could be better but we’re not.  I think that pretty much sums up my inner voice for the last few years.

But I have been getting better.  Not necessarily as a cartoonist, but better as a person.  The last few months have been important as I feel I’ve gotten over a few things and moved on from others.  These revelations, if you want to call them that have made me a better person and helped me wrestle a lot of my inner demons and doubts and by default, make me a happier person and a better cartoonist.  I am not as frustrated when I draw anymore.  I am redrawing panels and pages less than ever.  With previous books I was losing a day or so of work every week because I’d rush through a page or end up redrawing it.  Not this book.  I feel more confident when I draw a page and it shows.

This blog is as much therapy for me as it is a way for me to let you all know what’s going on when when stuff is coming out.  So, thanks.

I can defeat my inner demons and that’s all well and good but the thing that I can’t get more of is time.  I don’t do much besides work and draw and spend time with my family.  I rarely see movies or watch tv or play video games.  I don’t have that time-wasting thing that I do (except sleep) where I could be devoting that time to drawing, so I pretty much draw as much as I can.  When my family is out, I can sneak in some extra drawing time or some extra Photoshopping a Retros page time, but those moments are rare.  Not that my family won’t let me draw, but I like my family and I enjoy spending time with them and it’s hard to do that when Sophie suggests going swimming or riding bikes.  So, I wait to draw until she goes to bed.  However, I do wonder, from time to time, how much I could get done if I had the house to myself for a few days.

This past week, I found out.

Amy’s sister does contract work for a company in Colorado and travels there a few times a month.  She thought it’d be fun to drive out there sometime and asked Amy and Sophie to come with and make a road trip out of it.  Ryan passed on the trip.  I suppose when you’re 17 being in a car for hours and hours and hours on end isn’t very appealing.  They planned on stopping at Mount Rushmore and a few other places along the way and then spend a few days in Colorado and then head home.  It sounded like a lot of fun for Sophie and Amy deserved a vacation so off they went.  They left on a Friday and since Ryan spent most of the following week either at work or with friends, when I came home from work each day, I walked into an empty house.

Over the next 6 days, I went to work, to the Y, took the dog on a million walks, ate dinner, and drew.  And drew and drew.  I was able to start making some progress in catching up from falling behind on my 15 pages a month goal from June.  While I walked the dog or inked panels, I thought to myself that this is what it’d be like to be single.  And it SUCKED.  It was depressing.  I didn’t like this.  At all.  I missed my family.  I knew I would but I really, really missed them.

I knew that, years ago, I chose having a family over having a cartooning career.  Not that I can’t have one EVER, but I knew it’d be harder with kids.  I never looked back on that choice.  I fell in love hard with Amy and I couldn’t not love her even if I tried.  But what would life be like if I was still single?  I found out and it sucked and I felt empty and hollow.  Just as I need to draw to be who I am, I realized that the bigger part of me is being a husband and a dad.  Drawing will always be waiting for me, tucked into a little room on the top floor of my townhouse, but in a year or so, Ryan will be off to a college, Sophie will ask me less and less over time to go for a bike ride and I’ll still have my comics to draw.

When Amy and Sophie came home a few days ago, it was one of those rare days when Ryan wasn’t at work and the four of us were all home for dinner.  We ordered pizza and I looked around the table and was reminded of a quote from a Superman comic that Alan Moore wrote: “His weariness lifts.  The man has his family about him.  He is content.”

What does this have to do with cartooning?  Very little, but this has much to do with the cartoonist.

So, that’s that.

As I said, I drew a lot but not as much as I had thought or hoped.  I thought I’d get more than one page of Uptown Girl in each day, but I stuck with a page day and worked on The Retros at other times.  The Uptown Girl book is the first book where I wrote a rough draft and the scene I’m working on now, a HUGE action sequence that has been building for a while is really taking off.  The draft of this scene was a little more than a paragraph since it was mostly things like “Uptown Girl is chased by ______ and an exciting action scene follows where there is much destruction.  Uptown Girl fights back and is helped by ______ and the day is saved”.  The rough draft then continues with what happens next.  As I got started on this scene while Amy was gone, it was like all the drama in the story was just building and building and like a shaken bottle of soda, this scene is exploding with action.  There’s been a lot of talk, tears, shake ups, laughs and drama over the last 160 pages or so, but this is the first real action scene and I am having a ball drawing it.

Untitled-1Every few pages I’ll draw a character and think to myself that this is the last time I’ll ever draw this person.  Or I’ll be writing a scene and think of a funny joke or moment I could add that will add a few pages that I hadn’t planned (and get a little further behind than I already am) on but knowing that I’ll never have this opportunity again to have that scene, I usually end up adding it.  The point is that I am going all out on this book.  In this action scene, Uptown Girl calls for help as she is in over her head.  After she makes that call, I thought that she can either keep stalling and fleeing until this person shows up, OR that she should really call _______.  That person needs to be in this scene because not only this is the last time I will draw ___________, but this is the last time that ________ and _________ will ever be in the same panel.  So, Uptown Girl calls ___________.  And it’s a funny scene when she does.  It added two extra pages that I hadn’t expected.  When Uptown Girl hangs up, I thought about how this character gets to where the action is going down.  Sure, I could have them walk there off panel and that would be that but then I realized that it would be hilarious if _______ did….something and this character, in turn, needed to ask yet another character for a favor.  Knowing I’d NEVER have this opportunity again, and knowing that this was funny and a much needed humor break from all the character drama that had been happening so far, I knew I should add another funny moment.

So I did.  And again, I added a couple more pages that I hadn’t expected, or “budgeted” for time-wise.  And the ensuing scene that will follow before I get back to the part of the story where I wrote in the draft will add even more pages to the book.  It will be worth it but I am starting to worry about if I am still on pace to this book done before my April 1st deadline.

Ultimately these setbacks are making this into a better book.  I apologize for the vagueness above but I want this book to surprise you.  Trust me, it will be worth it if you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while.

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