What’s an Epiphany?

 

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The year isn’t even half over but I can’t recall a period of time where I worked harder than I have these past few months.  In addition to working on Uptown Girl and The Retros, I’ve also been working at my job and working on finding a new job.  In December I found out I was losing my job, but no one knew when.  In January I was told my last day was in June and I started the job search process.  Knowing I had six months to find something, I didn’t go hardcore into applying to places.  I used the time to write cover letters, revise my resume, practice interviewing and networking.

Looking for a job IS a job.

But I had time on my side.

On May 9th, I was told my last day was bumped up to May 20th.  Full on job search.  Panic mode.  Long story short, over the last few months, I talked to dozens of people, wrote a ton of cover letters and applied for over fifty jobs.  I went to interviews, marketed myself, networked and lost a lot of sleep.  I was lucky enough to get a job offer on my last day and I start my new job tomorrow.

I am very lucky.
My job provides many things, most of all a way to support my family and my art.  Superman doesn’t talk about Clark Kent’s life, and I usually don’t talk too much about my day job, but it’s necessary for my cartooning life to exist.  I learned a couple things over the last few months that I think are very relevant to my creative life, though.

I’ve talked about how I’ve always been bad at submitting my work to publishers and literary agents.  I hated doing stuff like that.  I would create something that I thought was publishable and sort of…did nothing with it.  Sure, I sent it to a few publishers but I stopped pretty quickly and moved onto the next creative project while the old one sat there.

I am not going to get into the quality of those projects, but ultimately they are/were not good enough to get published, anyway.  I was/wasn’t good enough, and neither was the project.  I’ll get into the OTHER thing I learned about all this next week, but I don’t think I have an amazing project sitting on my hard drive that book publishers or the Cartoon Network would die for.

What I learned from the job search was how to write letters, how to network, how to market myself, how not to give up, how to keep hammering away at something.  I know from experience that sometimes a drawing takes a few days to get right, how it needs endless revisions and despite my plans, a book can take longer to finish that I expected.  I learned that the hard, boring, non-creative work pays off and is necessary to get what I want…whether it is in a professional setting or creative.

You are likely reading this and thinking “well, yeah…” but so much of my life has been going about things in a non-traditional way.  I didn’t mean to set out to do comics, I just stumbled into them at the suggestion of a friend.  I found my most recent job through my wife’s sister.  The past few months I had to be an adult and I adulted pretty well.

But I get it.  I know what to do, I know how to do it and the cool thing is that I feel I am at a point where my creative life, drive, goals, skills and timing have synced up perfectly with this epiphany.

My next two projects are planned for the post-Uptown Girl life.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or what I wanted to do but I do now and I am excited.

Thank you to everyone who wished me luck on the job search, LinkedIn with me, gave me advice, provided connections, suggestions, job leads and support.  Really.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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Step Right Up

Next weekend is Micro-Con, Spring-Con MSP Comic-Con.  I’ve been a guest at this convention for a while, I think this will mark my 87th year at this show.

And I love the conventions the MCBA puts on.  I’ve been to a lot of conventions, but I am amazed at how big the MCBA shows are but still feel small.

This will also be the first spring convention in a few years where I won’t have a new Uptown Girl book.  I am still plugging away at it, I just scanned and lettered page 134 this morning.  And let me tell you, writing this book is killing me.  The one small grace is that I don’t have the pressure of the next Uptown Girl book this time.  I am pretty far behind on this book since ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’ took longer than I thought it would.  The challenges for this book are many.  When I write a story, I usually have a theme in mind.  Some stories are personal, some are funny, creepy, mysterious or action-y.  This book is trying to be all of them.  Balancing the right amount of all those elements is not easy…and I also have the task of creating a satisfying end to a series I’ve been doing since 2003.  I am looking forward to taking a long break from writing long, complicated stories for a while once this is all wrapped up.

This is different from The Retros, of course.  There is an overall story to The Retros but I break things down in terms of overall story, then scenes, then pages, then panels.  It helps to only have four panels per page to tell part of a larger story as I have to be more economical in what I draw and write and only do the important stuff.  I have to keep things moving but at the same time, I like moments like the final two panels in the page from May 6th because it’s a great character moment, it’s funny but doesn’t really move things anywhere:

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Anyway, although I won’t have a new book this year, I will have three new Retros one-shots/mini-comics with covers colored by Retros animator Brian Quarfoth.  I haven’t made a mini-comic for a while so it was fun to do these.

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All three will be available at the convention and I also reprinted all of the previous Uptown Girl books (the graphic novels, not the big, fat phonebooks from a while ago) so if you need a few books before the last Uptown Girl book comes out (spring 2017), this is your chance.

Anyway, I’ll step off my carnival barker box and I hope to see you at the convention.

 

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Your Own Worst Enemy

A common theme in most comics is conflict between good and evil.  Whether Batman is fighting the Joker (or Superman, I guess) there’s almost always two forces working against each other.  Sometimes this is true when it comes to even just creating the comic.  I think many cartoonists have something they need to overcome to be as good as they want to be, or as good as they can be.  Last week I wrote about what I could do if I wasn’t always working on a timeline.  I think I can draw better than what most people usually see when I take my time and slow down.  That’s not to say deadlines are all bad.  Sometimes they help keep someone on track and motivated and actually finish something.  It’s too easy to put things off if you don’t have a deadline to finish a project…even if it’s a deadline you set yourself.  One of the few joys in self-publishing is not having a publisher breathing down my neck wondering when the book is done, but you’re also responsible for everything else.  And of course, if you take too long between projects, readers might forget you exist and might not be there or even care when you eventually finish something.

I like having deadlines and schedules.  It is a lot of work right now doing a webcomic that updates five times a week while trying to finish 15 pages for a graphic novel each month while working full time and raising a family.  I am looking forward to finishing Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart (it SHOULD be this year) and having more time for other art projects.

The problem, depending on how you look at it, is that I am very excited about drawing stuff.  And when I do something I am excited about, I tend to do it quickly.  If I am drawing something for fun that doesn’t need to be done at a particular time I still have a tendency to go too fast.  The enemy I struggle with is actually myself.  I draw too fast and I don’t know when to slow down or even take a break.  Sometimes it’s because I am having fun and I don’t want to stop.  The problem with that is eventually I’ll get tired, my hand gets tired and when this happens, I don’t do my best work.  I get lazy, I get sloppy.  There comes a point in some drawing where you know you need to take a break because you start making tiny, careless mistakes and of course this can lead to bigger mistakes and then the drawing is ruined.  You’ve got to know when to slow down, you’ve got to know when to take a break.

So, I am trying to overcome this enemy.  I am trying to slow down and take breaks.  Last week I showed a drawing that featured a character I created a few months ago.  I had a ton of fun drawing it and I thought it’d be fun to do another.  I penciled out a new scene and had a blast doing it.  I have forgotten how fun it is to just pencil and play in a new world.  Usually when I pencil comics it tends to be more gestured lines and simple layouts but this was different.  It was one of those drawings where you’re penciling it and you keep thinking how fun it’s going to be to ink.  After I penciled it I let it rest (and myself too) to give myself time to look it over.  Doing this can give me a chance to throw something new into the drawing or a new idea I hadn’t come up with.  After a day or so, it was time to ink.

Starting the inking process can be stressful.  If the first few moments of inking don’t work out right, it can set a tone for the rest of the drawing.  If you hate the first inked lines, it can turn into a very frustrating project.  But when it clicks, man, it’s the greatest thing in the world.  It’s like, I love the first line, I love the next and it just rolls on from there.  Soon you have a whole character inked and you love it and you move onto the next thing and you love that too.

Of course, the opposite is true.  If you hate something, you might work harder on the next thing and if you let the frustration get to you, you’ll likely continue to do poor work.  So the key is, at least for me, is to slow down and be careful.  Some people like the inking to be spontaneous and I do too, especially when I work on comics, but for a drawing this large and this detailed, I need to take it slow as it is a lot bigger and starting over is not as easy as redoing one panel.

So, here’s how it all shook out.  I started to ink and I did this for about 45 minutes and took a step back.  The work was going well, my hand felt good and I was energized by the drawing.  Normally I would’ve kept going and ride the momentum but I didn’t want to sabotage myself so it was time to take a break for a while.

1Again, I don’t have a scanner large enough for the drawing (it’s 11×17) but the iPhone does a halfway decent job of getting the job done for the purpose of the blog.  I started on the big stuff, the stuff that people need to notice.  The stuff that needs to be good because if the girl or the monster look kind of crummy, then no matter how good the background is, the big stuff looks terrible and dominates the drawing.  I was happy with the drawing, I was walking away feeling good about it as opposed to not liking it and hoping I could right the ship the next time I was back at the drawing table.  But this was good, I liked it and was excited to pick up where I left off.

I took a few hours off and came back to it.  After an hour or so, it was time to take a break and quit while I was ahead.

2So, the trees are coming along, I have a weird sea-monster inked and the bridge is done.  It’s coming along nicely.  But again, leave the party when it’s roaring.

A couple days later I did more.

3The drawing is progressing nicely and moving it’s way towards the right side of the page.  I got the hard stuff out of the way, I just need to do a little more with the background.  Now, this is kind of a trap because part of my brain is telling me that all I have left are some stupid trees so I should just plow through and wrap this up.  I normally listen to this but I also knew that would be a bad idea.  I don’t want to plow through anything.  So I put the pen down and decided to wrap it up the next day.

And I did!

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I like it.  I think it’s a good companion piece to the drawing I posted last week.  I had a lot of fun doing it and I think I want to do three more like it.  There’s a whole story I have in my mind for this character and what’s happening but I am trying not to think of this as a series or a new project. Like I said last week, I want to avoid some big projects and new books and new series for a while.

I also like this drawing because I feel like I overcame my biggest obstacle when it comes to drawing by slowing down and taking my time and listening to my instincts.  In your face, me.

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The Cave

The other day I got home late from work and went into my…well, it’s a room dedicated to my artwork and books but seems waaay too pretentious to call it “my studio”.  For years my family has referred this room as my “cave”.  I hate to call it the cave because a few years ago the term “man cave” entered the vernacular and has come to symbolize a space in a house, usually a basement where I hide from my family while I watch the sports and eat potato chips and dammit be a man.

No.

It’s the “cave” because when we lived in an apartment there was a large closet that did not have a door on it that was just wide enough for my drafting (cartooning?) table, my chair and a bookshelf.  My son nicknamed it the Batcave and because we’re all so busy these days it was simply shortened it to “The Cave”.

When we bought a house we were lucky enough to find a place that had another space that wasn’t quite a bedroom but much larger than the closet.  The nickname followed and it’s not something any of us give a second thought to.  I think my daughter assumes every house has a cave.  “Oh, on your left is the laundry room, down the hall is master bedroom and behind us is the cave”.

Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, I went to my cave and didn’t have the energy to start a new Uptown Girl page (I was at my page quota for the week anyway) but I wanted to draw for a bit.  I inked a few panels for The Retros but started to think that soon every night was going to be Uptown Girl-less.  I am up to 131 pages and I think I am comfortable and confident saying I am halfway done.  Usually being halfway done with a book is a good thing but this book has the extra gravity of it being the last and not just the latest Uptown Girl book.  I’ve told myself for a while now that I wouldn’t worry about what was next (besides The Retros of course) once Uptown Girl was all wrapped up.  But now that I think I’m halfway done, I can’t help but think of what’s next.  I’m like this with all parts of my life, though.  On Tuesdays I think about what’s going on Thursday, I’ll eat lunch and wonder what’s for dinner.

What will I do when Uptown Girl is done?  It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.  My biggest fear is that I would start another series or another comic or even just a one shot graphic novel.  I call it a fear because the idea of jumping into another long project exhausts me.  I’ve been drawing Uptown Girl for 13 years now and although I’ve had a blast, the thought of a year long (or longer) project freaks me out.  I don’t want to do that, but you can’t always control what your creative impulses pushes you to.  I’m terrible with this.  I’ll have an idea pop into my head and two hours later I’ve mapped out the entire story, character or series.  Usually the time Uptown Girl requires puts the brakes on anything like this, but I still get ideas.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading comics a little differently lately.  I’ve been reading a ton of stuff by Seth lately and by God I want to do something like this.  I love the simple yet not so simple style.

I’m tempted to do something like this in a new book but…again, thinking about a big project just exhausts me.  I might feel different when Uptown Girl is actually done, but the feeling of avoiding a big project (at least for a while) has been a pretty consistent feeling for a while now.

So what will I do?  I’ve said it before but it’s time to get serious about my art.  I know I’m better than what most people see.  This time it’s different because I’ll actually have time.  I won’t have the pressure to complete a 300 page book every year.  Not long ago I wanted to see if I was better than I was and I drew this picture of myself in my cave:

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It’s pretty good.  Imagine if I drew that way all the time.  Imagine if I had been drawing this way this whole time.  I left some room in case I wanted to add some captions or narration or something.  See?  I can’t even do one drawing without me thinking it could be a page in a bigger project.  Most people know I got started doing comics because I was trying to be a children’s book illustrator.  Over a dozen years ago, I wrote and poorly drew a book I was shopping to publishers.  While waiting for those rejection letters I decided to take a shot at doing comics.  13 years later my career has taken a different path and although I love comics, I want to do more than comics.  I feel I’ve done as much in comics as I can, and instead want to revisit my illustration goals.  Of course, I still will do The Retros which I consider a comic strip and there is a difference.

Instead of putting together an entire book, I’m thinking I should put together a portfolio.  What would I draw without having a deadline?  Well, like the cave drawing above it, I wanted to illustrate something and see what it looked like if I took my time.  I worked on this piece on and off over a course of ten days or so and I was surprised by how it turned out…and I was surprised that I liked it.

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This scene is from the world of a character I created not too long ago.  I love how it turned out.  I wish I had a scanner large enough to capture the whole thing better, but it is what it is.  The plan is (today’s plan anyway, but I think it will stick) is put together a sampling of a dozen or so drawings and send them to agents and publishers.  That’s how it’s done, anyway.  I suppose I should stop putting my faith of being “discovered” online.  That isn’t going to happen.  I used to think if I became a famous cartoonist and had a following it wouldn’t take long for a publisher or The Cartoon Network to call me up and offer me a contract.  I’ve always known that is as likely as…something that’s not likely but I’ve clung to that like someone who…clings to something.  I am hoping that with a little Energon and a lot of luck, I might get a chance to illustrate a book.

And do want to know why I haven’t done things the proper way?  I was afraid of the work.  Which is hilarious and sad to think for someone who has drawn five original graphic novels and over a hundred comics over the course of 13 years.  It’s going to be a lot of work to draw a dozen drawings like this, color them, print them, put together a submission packet and send them away.

But you know?  If I have half as much fun doing those twelve drawings as I did this one, it might not be so bad.  I think what my plan is to draw whatever I want, to draw pictures I like drawing, stuff that doesn’t fit into what Uptown Girl was or what The Retros is.  I’m excited about this for a number of reasons.  For starters, I’m looking forward to doing more stuff like this, and drawing in different styles.  I want to see if I am really better than I am.  Secondly, if I follow through with this, it would be me actually doing what I should’ve done in the first place.  But then again, I learned a ton about drawing over the last dozen years or so, so maybe the timing is perfect.

 

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Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

I did something I rarely do yesterday.  I just stood there and stared into the distance.

I mean, I do zone out from time to time, probably more than I realize, but yesterday I realized I was just looking at nothing and thought hard about the last Uptown Girl book, The Lazarus Heart.  I am always thinking about the book, but I am usually thinking about how to lay out the next page, character designs, panel structure, tweaking the dialogue, things like that.  I am also always worried about the book.  Is it any good?  Does it make sense?  Is is slow?  Is it boring?  But the most biggest thing I worry about is whether or not it’s…worthy of it being the last Uptown Girl book.

Finales are hard.  I think as fans of something we get nervous when a band says they’ll do a farewell album/tour or a television series is wrapping up and we worry and hope and pray that it ends on a high note.  They are almost never satisfying because once we know that this is it, the expectations and fear and apprehension hit an all-time high that almost nothing can live up to.

The point is that I want this to end on a satisfying note for everyone who has been reading Uptown Girl since the beginning.  I’ve been writing and drawing her adventures for over 12 years now and I want to do a good book for those readers.  I also want to do a good book for myself.  Something I can be proud of, something I am satisfied with because, man, this is it.  If this book isn’t very good there’s no follow up to redeem myself with.  No going back, this is the point of no return.

Anyway, so what was I thinking about yesterday?  I was thinking that this book is pretty good.  I think.  You might think something different and that’s okay but I feel that the story is a true, Uptown Girl-esque story, there’s enough nods to little jokes from the last few years, some characters return, the 3 main characters all have their own thing going on, there’s action, drama, shake ups in the status quo and some pretty funny scenes.  On Tuesday I drew probably the happiest panel in Uptown Girl history, the next night I drew the saddest.  The scenes are unrelated but it gives you an idea as to how much happens and changes in the book.

I do think as a reader a plot can fall a little short as long as the characters are true to themselves and in that regard, I think I am doing okay.  Better than okay.  There’s a lot I like here.  Yesterday I took a step back and just let my mind wander and think about the book.  I wasn’t doing anything besides standing outside waiting for a bookstore to open.  Usually when I am thinking about the book it’s because I am about to start drawing for the night, or I am drawing it or just finished drawing for the night or I am scanning and Photoshopping the pages…but yesterday I wasn’t anywhere near it.

And I’ll tell you that this feeling of the book being pretty good really made my day.  There’s a lot of expectations for this book (that I have anyway) and I think I am going to be happy with it when it’s all done.

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Speaking of that, when will it be done?  I just finished lettering page 124 on Friday.  I think I am about halfway through the first draft I finished last year.  I am doing 15 pages a month and at this rate, I should be done with the book by the end of the year.  Once I finish redrawing the first draft, I’ll go back and do a prologue, a flashback scene, add an action scene I haven’t gotten around to drawing yet, and the epilogue.  The stack of paper on the left in the picture above are the completed pages, the stack on the right are my notes, plot outlines, sketches for upcoming pages, etc.  It looks like I am further along than I am but the stack on the right has notes like “epic action scene” that will take, like, ten pages to do.

So am feeling pretty good about it.  I am sure once I start working on it again tonight my enthusiasm and optimism will go back to normal levels but right now, I am happy with it.

Over the last week or so I’ve also been thinking about what happens once this book is done.  I know I’ll have a lot more free time in terms of what I need to be working on so I am wondering what I will be doing.  I’ve had Uptown Girl has the front and center of my cartooning career for so long that I don’t remember life without working on her adventures.  I don’t want to think too hard about what happens next creatively (besides working on The Retros) because I want whatever I do to come naturally without forcing it.  That being said, two ideas are kind of winning the “what will Bob do next?” contest.  I posted images from both projects below.  I like them and I am excited to work on them.

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b3   Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about, what have you been thinking about?

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Seven Days

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WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO GET TO THE FIREWORKS FACTORY? demanded Milhouse.

I thought of that quote from ‘The Simpsons’ last week when I was working on The Retros.  I work on The Retros in three different stages due to having a pretty tight, set schedule over the week for them as well as Uptown Girl.  Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night I draw a page of Uptown Girl.  Thursday is my late night at work and I usually don’t have time to draw.  Friday I pencil three pages of the Retros and Saturday morning I ink them.  Saturday night I scan and letter everything I did during the week.  In addition to this, I also color a page of the Retros after I draw each night.

I don’t do the normal thing of drawing a page, coloring it and then posting it the next day.  I am pretty far ahead compared to what gets posted each day.  I worked on The Retros for about 9 months off and on before I started posting pages in November.  I needed to get far ahead since I knew I’d be working on the last Uptown Girl book at the same time and didn’t want to be crunched for time.  Right now my drawing, coloring and posting are all at different parts of the first Retros story arc.

For example, on Saturday morning I inked pages 187 through 189:

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I just finished coloring (but still need to ink) page 120.  I usually am about 4 weeks ahead when it comes to coloring compared to what gets posted.  120 color

…and tomorrow I am posting page 101:

 

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As you can see from these three pages, they are all pretty different from each other but they are still part of the same story.  That’s to be expected; there should be a lot happening over the course of 80 pages or so of any story but it’s a little weird that, in a way, they still haven’t made it to the fireworks factory.

I guess what I’m saying is this story arc is long.  Longer than I expected it go.  I thought as I approached the 200th page I’d be close to wrapping it up but the story is twisting in different ways and I see little opportunities for new scenes that are either funny, important to the story or fun to draw…or even all three.  I am going by instinct here and I am hoping it pays off.

I am still learning the daily comic thing.  I do try to keep the pages pretty self-contained by  having a first panel that kind of sets things up and a final panel that either ends in a funny way or in a way the reader will (hopefully) want to check back the next day to see what is happening.  Also, I am trying to make sure the page that gets posted on Friday follows the same rules (on a bigger scale though) so readers will come back on Monday.

At this point I am not sure if I am doing a daily comic strip or simply posting five pages a week of a graphic novel.  I guess I don’t know if The Retros will read better when it is collected or if it’s fun to read on a daily basis.  What I am trying to do is recreate the adventures comic strips that were popular in the 1940’s but in a way that’s (hopefully) funnier.  God knows if I’m succeeding on any level but I am sure having fun.

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Any Colour You Like

By the time Uptown Girl ended as a monthly series a few years ago, I had done around 100 mini-comics, and each comic had a cover, of course.  I always did the cover after the story was finished and usually by that time I was looking forward to a little break or moving onto the next story.  Because of this, I usually liked doing the covers the least.  It was hard to come up with a great gag, a funny illustration or an image that really summed up the issue.  Also, since the covers were colored, that brought along another challenge as I wasn’t really skilled at Photoshop.  My coloring skills haven’t improved much but back then they pretty rudimentary.

I was very happy when my friend Ben Mudek stepped in and colored the covers from time to time.  To this day, some of my favorite things I’ve done were colored and enhanced by Ben’s skills.  Ben has colored every cover of the graphic novels and makes the books look better than I could have hoped for.  I like working with Ben because he just does whatever he wants and if I do give him an idea or let him know what I was thinking he just runs with it and make it better than I could have dreamed.  Take a look!

I can’t wait to see what he does with the final Uptown Girl book.  I love his stuff.  I should work with him more often on other projects.
At any rate, as the series was winding down, I realized that I wouldn’t be doing a cover every month and that I should really up my game when it came to doing them and stop looking at them as a chore.  As I look back at the final covers, a few of the covers I did solo really stand out:

The first cover is from an issue where Uptown Girl is missing and Sulky Girl kind of takes over the story.  She, along with Ruby, are on a mission to find and rescue our hero.  I took the cover of the first issue and did my best to make it look like a drawing of Sulky Girl was cut and taped over the spot that Uptown Girl occupied.

The second cover is from an issue that was never released.  There’s a story in the second book titled “Girl’s Room”.  I was going to release it as a one-shot for a convention but never got around to it in time.  I like this cover a lot.

The third cover is also unreleased.  If I remember correctly, I was also going to print a one-shot for a story that eventually wound up in the the second book as well.  I THINK the story was “Ten Thousand Questions”.  I think.

Anyway, at this year’s SpringCon, MSP Comic-Con, I will not have a new Uptown Girl book for the first time in like five years.  Instead I am going to have three Retros mini-comics.  Two of them are the stories that the first two animated shorts are based on, and the third is the Fly-Girl one-shot that was out last year with a new cover.  Although I like the original cover, I wanted to redo it after I did the covers for the other two.

Here’s the original and the new one:

Thanks to Ryan Dow for the title of the story.  The new cover still needs to be colored and needs to have the Retros logo slapped on but I am happy to say that the Retros toon animator Brian Q will be handling those tasks.  The cover will have the Retros logo as opposed to the Fly-Girl logo just to have some consistency.

Here are the covers to the other two one-shots:

 

I had a lot of fun doing these covers and I realized how much I missed doing them.  I can’t wait to see them once Brian Q jazzes them up.  I am lucky to have such talented friends and one thing I hope to do more of once Uptown Girl is wrapped up is to collaborate more with other talented people.

 

 

 

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Unmistakable Inspiration

This week I am doing something a little different.  I am starting this post on Tuesday, March 8th.  I am going to write something I am thinking about a lot lately and I am going to just…run with it, okay?  I’ll take a second look at what I’ve written later this week and update.  A lot of what I think about changes.  Well, that’s not necessarily true.  I still think about stuff, but how I feel about it can shift.  Sometimes the feeling grows stronger, sometimes it fades, sometimes a different perspective can influence everything.

That being said, I am thinking about my heroes.

box_office_poison_cover_3d_sm_lgI think a lot of cartoonists get their start by copying and imitating the cartoonists they admire.  I know that’s how I got hooked on drawing.  I devoured the comics when I was a kid.  I loved Peanuts, Archie, all the Harvey stuff and of course, Calvin and Hobbes.  When I got older and started to draw comics, I started with an autobiographic webcomic called ‘Fake Farm Landscape’.  I was really inspired by Julie Doucet, James Kochalka and Adrian Tomine.  After reading Alex Robinson’s ‘Box Office Poison’ I was inspired to do something longer and more fictional which helped jumpstart Uptown Girl.

 

 

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Over my career, I’ve really gone nuts with reading comics and picking out little things from so many other creators.  Things like how a cartoonist will crosshatch or lay out a page or frame an action sequence or add in sound effects or… a million little things.  I’ve copied and borrowed little things and looking at my work I see how my heroes inspired and shaped my artwork and comics.  I can pick out how Stan Sakai inspired a background or how Kevin Cannon inspired a sound effect.  I used to try to stop getting inspired and borrowing from other cartoonists but after a few conversations with other artists and writers I’ve realized that inspiration is inevitable.  No one is an island.

But on the flip side, sometimes reading a comic by someone you admire kills your confidence.  When I got to work on the Uptown Girl book ‘Long Forgotten Fairytale’ I avoided rereading ‘Bone’ by Jeff Smith and ‘Castle Waiting’ by Linda Medley.  Both of those books take place in a similar setting and I wanted to shut myself off from those worlds to avoid subconsciously borrowing too much.

I have respect for other cartoonists and I don’t want to borrow more than I should.  It’s a tricky line.  However, another reason I wanted to avoid them was because I knew how much better their books are.  Their worst page beats my best page any day of the week.  Seeing over a thousand pages reminding me of that is not something I could handle.  Even though ‘…Fairytale’ was completed years ago, I still can’t bring myself to rereading these books, even though I love them a lot.

I have the same problem with anything by Aaron Reiner, Lupi McGinty, Lucy Knisley and probably a dozen others.  Their work is so good that it depresses me.

They say you should never meet your heroes and I’ve been thinking lately you could also say that one should never read your heroes, either.  Seeing work by cartoonists you admire can inspire you on a good day, but can also humble and maybe even depress you on a bad day.  As I write this, it is a bad day.

I know I need to not pay attention to what others are doing and to focus on what I’m doing but that is easier said than done.  Right now I am juggling the last Uptown Girl book and doing the Retros.  The work load between those two isn’t that much but adding in a full time, not to mention looking for a new job, having a family and sleeping it does get a little overwhelming.  Lately I am doing work I am not exactly thrilled with and I end up usually redrawing it.    It’s all really getting to me because I know I am better than what I draw.  I can always do better.  I know I can.

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Shanks_PrettyinDrink_preview_006But you can’t avoid your heroes for very long.  And you shouldn’t.  You shouldn’t cut yourself off from those that inspire you.  I recently re-read a few comics that I absolutely love that just really killed me.  I read (for probably the 100th time) the absolute amazing ‘New Frontier’ by Darwyn Cooke and ‘Far Arden’ and Crater XV by Kevin Cannon.  Although these books got me energized about drawing again, reading these incredible books really remind me of how good I could be and how good I want to be.  It’s also incredibly humbling when I realize that Cooke and Cannon were both younger than I am now when they created these books.  I love these books but they also make me rethink and second guess everything.  Like maybe I should rethink the four panel comic strip grid for The Retros.  Maybe I should keep it in black and white.  Maybe I should do one more Uptown Girl and do it better than ever.

Of course, I won’t be doing anymore Uptown Girl books and I probably won’t redo the format of The Retros, but it’s hard to not get influenced by good comics.  Whatever I end up doing once Uptown Girl wraps up (because I’ll do something else besides the Retros), I know it’s work by cartoonists like my heroes and a dozen others will shape what I do.

…Which, I suppose, is the definition of inspiration.

Huh.

Okay, now it’s Thursday, March 10th.  Let’s see how I’m doing. 

(rereads post)

Okay.  Well, it’s still been a rough week but I think I am feeling a little better.  And I think it’s because of two things.

-I realized (for the 100th time) that I need to play to my strengths.  I tend to draw better when I am drawing smaller.  I think this strength comes from drawing almost 200 pages of The Retros where each panel is 2.5 inches by 2.5 inches.  Tiny.  Drawing a panel that is a third the size of the page works against my strengths.  Depending on what it is, of course.  An action scene would be perfect for a third of the page.  It would work great for The Retros if I decided (which I won’t) to change up the format.  But Uptown Girl is filled with talk.  I redrew a page the other night where originally it was only three panels, each panel a conversation between two people.  I prefer drawing small-ish.  I think the simplicity of Uptown Girl and her world works better on a smaller scale.  A drawing of Rocketman’s head taking up a third of the page doesn’t really work.  The new version of the page I crammed in 8 panels and you know?  It looks better.  Compare them below (I’ve edited out the character the mayor talks to in the interest of avoiding spoilers).

 

Of course, this doesn’t mean I shouldn’t push myself artistically.  I do change up my style on non-Uptown Girl projects, mostly stuff no one sees but I think after over ten years on Uptown Girl changing my style wouldn’t be a good idea.  I suppose it’s more appropriate to say that I need to play to the strengths of the comic maybe?  Although similar on a surface level, what works for Uptown Girl doesn’t work for the Retros.  For example if Uptown Girl and Ruby need to have a chat about something, having them sit and have a cup of a coffee works best for these two.  They’re best friends, they’ll take the time to sit and talk.  It fits the sensibility of the comic.  If I need Alie and Lucky to have a talk about something, it doesn’t work if they are just standing there.  I need them to talk and fight a robot at the same time.  That works better in the spirit of that comic.

And to make sure that I was onto something, I drew the next page in a similar format.  This time a conversation between Uptown Girl and another employee of the newspaper she works at have a chat about a story they are both covering and again, it’s just a conversation.  A nine panel grid worked perfectly since the scene required the conversation to be a little quicker and more urgent.  It’s not as interesting to look at art-wise as it is nine panels of talking heads but the point of the page is the conversation.

-The other thing I did this week was read 10 Rules for Drawing Comics.  It’s a site where other cartoonists give ten tips for drawing.  A few stuck out to me:

Don’t compare yourself and your work to others. Don’t feel like you’re a failure because you’re 5 years older than such-and-such cartoonist was when they got their six digit book deal. Or because your work never comes close to being as good as that of your idol. There will always be someone better and some other work that will always be better than anything you ever make in your entire life. Chances are, those people are different from you, and the work you make is different, and none of that makes your work any less worthwhile.   –Jeffrey Brown

Take from sources. A more polite way of recommending you steal. Not plagiarize, but don’t be afraid of being derivative. Kliban begat the Far Side, Doonesbury begat Bloom County, Simpsons begat Family Guy, the influences may be blatant but whether you like them or not they’re original in their own right. Kirby is derived from Shakespeare which is derived from Greek tragedies which are in turn based on tales told by cavemen, and on and on. There’s no such thing as an original idea when it comes down to it, so you don’t have to be a major innovator to be considered unique.  -Sam Henderson

NEVER forget how much you love making comic books. When a deadline is crushing in, remind yourself that you started drawing comics for free and for fun. Getting paid to behave professionally is just a sweet bonus. When you love doing something, you do it often with passion. The more you do something the better you get at it. The better you get at something the more fun it is, which increases the passion, etc., and so on.  –Michael Allred

Keep Moving. Your work will have flaws. Make each page as good as you can, but don’t let the quest for perfection ruin your momentum. Figure out what mistakes you made and try to make your next page better. I vividly recall being unhappy with a page I once drew and told myself that once I completed the book I would go back and redraw that page if I had the time. I did wind up having time, but couldn’t remember which page it was I wanted to change. Keep moving.  –Alex Robinson

So yeah.  I guess I still feel intimidated and inspired at the same time.  But the last half of the week…man, you can’t discredit how much a different perspective can help.

 

 

 

 

 

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Drive my Car

The first animated short of the Retros is online!

You can watch it here!

It was written and animated by my friend Brian Quarfoth.  I’ve known Brian for around ten years and met him when the Uptown Girl movie was filmed.  Brian and his studio partner Jerry did the animation for the movie and we’ve been friends since.

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Working with Brian and Jerry went so well that we, along with writer Brian Bastian, gave an Uptown Girl animated series a crack.  It was not a success collaboration for a few reasons and I take the blame for it, to be honest.    One reason for the less than positive outcome was me being unwilling to compromise…anything.  The characters had to sound a certain way, they had to act a certain way, had to do certain things…I wasn’t willing to budge on much.  I wasn’t fun to work with.  On one hand, you need to protect your characters and maintain their integrity, they are your characters after all.  On the other hand, it’s easy to become too rigid and inflexible and not allowing the creative team to do what they want to do.  There needs to be give and take when you collaborate on anything and I wasn’t really willing to give on much.

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Looking back I realized that I was trying to protect Uptown Girl too much.  I, like many creators do, love my characters and wasn’t willing to let them go.  I had put too much of ME into the characters.  I was and am very emotionally connected to these guys and I was freaked out about the idea of the characters changing in any way.  I wish I had let the Brians and Jerry do their thing and stayed out of their way, but I didn’t.

In fact, I was so nervous about letting go that the night before another meeting with Brian and Jerry I quickly redesigned and renamed the three main characters, making them as different from the trio as I could.  I think the “new” Uptown Girl worked in a coffee shop?  I wonder if I still have those drawings.  In the end, we moved forward with the creation of the series as it was.  Giving someone creative control is like trusting someone with your car.  Sure, I handed the keys to Brian and Jerry but I still sat in the passenger’s seat and kept one hand on the wheel.  I should’ve let them drive.

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After a year it was clear the series wasn’t working and we killed the project.

When Brian (Bastian, this time) and I developed The Retros promised myself I wouldn’t get too connected to these characters.  Not that I don’t love them or care about them, but they are not…ME, not in the same way Uptown Girl and Ruby and Rocketman are aspects of myself.  The plan for The Retros is to have a rotating group of characters, similar to how the Justice League or the X-Men do.  Over the course of the series, characters will quit the team, new members will join, some will even be killed off.  In fact, one of the five main characters will not be on the team by the time the current story arc is over.  I am holding myself to this plan and I think if I can avoid getting too emotionally connected to them, I can stick to this idea.

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At any rate, this mentality is key to giving Brian Q the keys and letting him do this thing.  As far as I am concerned the cartoon and the comic have different continuities from each other which will allow Brian to do what he wants without sticking to what I am doing.  The cartoon already contradicts the comic (you’ll see why soon-ish) and that is my fault, not Brian’s.  The cartoon is funny.  It’s about five minutes and Brian adapted it from an original Retros story that I will likely publish as a one-shot later this year.  He wasn’t a slave to the comic I did and that makes it a better story and I think more enjoyable for Brian to work on.  I think it gives him a sense of ownership, too.

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Think Too Much

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I inked page 100 of Uptown Girl-The Lazarus Heart a few days ago.  I think I am a little more than a third of the way through the book.  The stack on the left is the finished art, the stack on the right is my working draft.  The right stack looks smaller and suggests I am more than a third of the way through but some of the draft pages are layed out with such vague descriptions of “________ fights __________” so I know that scene will go on for a half dozen pages or so.  I am very happy I am still on track with my 15 pages a month.  It’s not always easy to meet that but so far so I’ve been able to.  The goal is to finish it by the end of the year and I think that’s doable.  Even if it takes me a couple extra months into 2017, I should be able to have it out by next spring.  Thankfully I’ve been scanning/Photoshopping/lettering as I go.

I’ve been interviewing for new real jobs and it’s going well.  I am excited about some new opportunities.  The two opportunities I am most excited about are very different from each other and both will create a pretty big change in my life.  Since I analyze and over-analyze everything, I started to think about how either job would affect the rest of my life.  One thing I think about is how either opportunity will affect the time I have to draw.  One opportunity would require some travel which would really impact drawing Uptown Girl.  Working on The Retros seems to be a little more portable.  Can you imagine lugging around those two stacks in the photo above from the airport to the hotel?  Uptown Girl’s stories use bigger paper and I usually need to look at other pages I’ve already drawn for character designs and things like that.  Often I’ll draw a key character and then need to redraw them 50 pages later and I have no recollection what they look like and need to look back.  The Retros are a little more spontaneous and quicker to draw.

I’ve said that I wanted to draw Uptown Girl until real life proved that to be impossible.  I never wanted to walk away from her because I had to so I made the decision to wrap things up before life required me to.  If I get this new job that requires travel, it’s likely that it would really make doing Uptown Girl comics much harder and I’d have to quit doing them.  I’m glad I am wrapping things up on my own terms.  It’s the perfect time, and the perfect story for her.

I also realized that I am wrapping things up while I still love the characters.  I wrote a line of dialogue between Ruby and Rocketman that was very funny and I’m glad I got a chance to write it.  These guys still make me laugh and smile.  I’ll miss them.

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