Keep the Line Moving

“I’m still searching for that wonderful pen line that comes down — when you are drawing Linus standing there, and you start with the pen up near the back of his neck and you bring it down and bring it out, and the pen point fans out a little bit, and you come down here and draw the lines this way for the marks on his sweater and all of that. This is what it’s all about — to get feelings of depth and roundness, and the pen line is the best pen line you can make. That’s what it’s all about. If there’s somebody who is trying to be a cartoonist or thinks he is a cartoonist, and has not discovered the joy of making those perfect pen lines, I think he is robbing himself — or herself — of what it is all about. Because this is what it is! The time you make these wonderful pen lines and make them come alive.”

-Charles Schulz, 1994

I’ve been thinking that quote a lot lately.  As I transition from Uptown Girl as my main comics project to The Retros, I am realizing there is a day, and it’s coming soon, that I will stop drawing Uptown Girl and her friends altogether.  Right now I am lost in the beginning pages of her new adventure and the final pages seem very far off.  I have hundreds of pages to go until the day when her story is over.  It hasn’t hit me yet, and it probably won’t for a while.  I’ve been drawing these guys for over a decade.  Drawing them is second nature to me.  In fact, unless it’s a tricky pose, I don’t even pencil them anymore, I just jump right to inking the main three.

As Uptown Girl and her adventures come to end, The Retros are starting their adventures and it’s a whole new cast of characters to draw.  Drawing Alie, Fly-Girl, Lucky and Sputnik are all pretty easy, but Zoo is the problem…

Like Sparky said, I am also looking for that perfect line, or sequence of line to get Zoo right.  Drawing him is intimidating and often humbling.  I ran into a frustrating moment the other day when I drew him for an action sequence.  Usually for the Retros I pencil and write three pages at once and ink in any sound effects at this time.  I’ll return to the page a few days later to ink and I often forget what I wrote and needed to happen in the panel.  Usually this isn’t an issue but sometimes I forget to add in a small but important detail, or something the characters are referring to that I neglect to add in.

For example, without spoiling anything too much, Zoo and Fly-Girl are conducting a raid on the bad guy hideout.  Here’s the first attempt of Zoo barging into a room of robots:

z1Not a bad panel, I still haven’t gotten the hang of Zoo’s hand as you can see here.  The problem is I wrote the RRRRRRIP because when I penciled the page I intended to have Zoo ripping off the head of the robot here.  But when I inked it, I somehow missed the HUGE sound effect and just drew him barreling into the room.

Not a page that can be saved unless it’s Zoo’s pants that are ripping and although the Comics Code isn’t around to mandate this type of action, we still don’t want to see that.

z2So, I redrew it and it was a disaster.  Man, will you look at that?  His left arm is like…crazy huge and long and his right arm looks like a flipper.

At this point I thought about chucking this whole comics idea and just dedicate my life to my cubicle.  Almost 15 years of drawing comics and I produce this?

But I somehow carried on.  I quit for the night and gave it another go in the morning.  I think it turned out okay.

z4Yep, “okay” is the nicest I am going to be to this panel and to myself.  Zoo is a monster and very large and doesn’t always fit into the panel size I am working with.  It’s not perfect but I think I am moving on from this scene.

I am hoping that as the years progress I can find my perfect groove when it comes to drawing Zoo and the new characters.  I just need to keep the pen moving and I need to keep making mistakes and learning from them.

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Being a Geek

I guess there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out?  Did you hear about this?  I am not a big Star Wars fan, but I like the movies well enough.  I think there are quite a few things everyone needs to see and read, and the first Star Wars movie is one of them.  And not because I’m a ‘geek dad’.  Not necessarily a label I like (I’ll get to that in a moment) but seeing Star Wars, or The Wizard of Oz, or reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, listening to R.E.M.’s ‘Automatic for the People’ or ‘Little Earthquakes’ by Tori Amos, playing the original Super Mario Bros. and dipping french fries in ranch dressing are some things everyone needs to experience.  As a dad I try to show Sophie everything that is out there and let her decide what she is into.  From the start I introduced her to Superman and Alice in Wonderland to The Little Mermaid to Legos and everything else.  I’m not big into stuff that is “for boys” or “for girls”, I just let her figure out what she’s drawn to.  In her room she has dragon figurines, Barbies, Pokemon toys, a million stuffed animals and a drawing desk.  You know, stuff a kid would have.  As the song says “everything she owns I bought her”.

I think I’m doing an okay job, Sophie loves drawing and building and creating and exploring.  There’s not much she’s into “because she’s a girl”, you know?  Early on she was into glitter and unicorn and a lot of people thought that she was into that “because she’s a girl” but come on, what kid doesn’t like shiny things and mythical creatures?

11219083_10153716597334789_8800766148213391449_nAnyway, a couple weeks ago she asked a question about Star Wars and I asked her if she wanted to watch the movie.  She shrugged which is her way of saying “yes, I think so but I don’t want to say yes yet”.  We ended up watching it a few days later.  I explained some stuff along the way and brought her up to speed what Princess Leia was doing and what the droids were up to.  She watched the first half hour or so and then decided to draw.  Yep, she’s my daughter.  We kept the movie on while she drew a few characters and decided to be Princess Leia for Halloween.  It was a fun night and I think she liked the movie well enough, but she was more drawn (ha ha) to the characters.


The next day at work I was meeting with someone who pointed out the Superman Lego figure on my computer.  I keep little things at work to remind me of life on the outside and to help me remember the other things in my world besides paperwork and budgets.  I have dozens of pictures of the kids, little toys and some of my artwork scattered around.  Just as I am not super big on talking about work outside of work, I am likewise not super big talking about my personal life at work.  I remember trying to change the subject by saying “yeah, I like Superman, I’m a big geek, but let’s get back to…” whatever we were doing.  I later posted the above drawing Sophie did online and a few friends commented that I’m such a geek dad and that Sophie will grow up to be a geek.  Nothing malicious was intended at all, and I agree with them, but these two instances got me thinking why we as comic fans, cartoonists, movie goers and science fiction readers always qualify everything we like as being geeky or nerdy?

Why do I say that I’m a comic nerd?  Why can’t I just say that I read comic books?  Why does Sophie have to be a Star Wars geek?  Can’t she just like Star Wars?  I’m not big into labels or words that can quickly define who someone is anymore than I introduce things to Sophie that is “for girls” and steer her from things that are “for boys”.  I read comics and poetry, I watch cartoons and documentaries.  Labeling someone as a geek can really limit what people are really like.  I don’t really like the word anymore.  I used to wear it as a badge of honor and embracing it after years of high school and being ridiculed because of what I’m into.

Sorry about the…well, it’s really a rant, just something I’ve been thinking about.  Tune in next week for a chat about hipsters.

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Good Advices

Hey Ursula, can you give the young cartoonists out there some important advice when it comes to drawing?


Hey!  That’s great advice, thanks!

Today we’re going to talk about something kind of different, instead of me complaining about my artistic limitations and frustrations, let’s chat about something that I feel is one of my strengths: body language.  Body language and how a character stands really need to match up with what is being said and what the characters are feeling and I think this is something I am good at.  What are the characters saying without speaking?

I was inking a page from the upcoming Uptown Girl book and realized that I really liked the page I was working on.  Usually I don’t like what I am working on at the moment.  Most of the time I reserve my opinion on something until I’m done with scanning and working Photoshop magic on it.

The page takes place early on in the book and it’s a scene between our hero and her rival Suzie Lighting, a news reporter for Channel 8.

Here’s the page without the dialogue:


The page looks pretty good, I think.  What do you think?  Really?  Okay!  I’ll do that next time.  Anyway, let’s break this sucker down.




A lot of Uptown Girl stories consist of standing around and talking so I try to make the drawings interesting not only to look at it but to draw as well.  I rarely stop moving in real life and tend to gesture a lot when I talk so drawing the characters the same way comes pretty natural for me.

Tune in next week when I’m sure we’ll be back to me complaining that I’m not Alex Robinson or Bryan Lee O’Malley or Kevin Cannon.


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I Know What I Know

I am plugging away at Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart and just finished inking the 10th page yesterday.  I think that puts me at about…3% of the book being completed so I have quite a way to go.

Anyway, I penciled page 10 the other day and it took me two days to ink it until I was somewhat happy with it.  There’s a scene early on in the book with The Walrus throwing a bad guy into a window.  Here’s what the page looked like after I scanned it before I did Photoshop to it:


It looks pretty rough.  I kept working at it until I sort of gave up on it and decided to scan it and let Photoshop do the rest.  I make it sound like I don’t like this page, but I actually do.  I know I can do a better drawing of the Walrus hitting a guy into a window, I mean, there’s no background, there’s no scenery, there’s nothing here that really indicates what is really happening…but I like the energy of the page.  I like the drawing of The Walrus…it’s a dramatic scene and I like how it plays out.

I like looking at original art, and although I am not always happy with my own art, I like seeing pages I’ve done years ago and seeing little notes I wrote to myself in the margins, or seeing what was there before the wizardry of Photoshop took over.

Yesterday morning I scanned this page and got to work.  It took about an hour of putzing around with it until I liked it.  Doing a page like this is similar to cleaning up after a huge party.

So, there’s how it looks now:


So yeah.  That looks pretty sharp.  I like the crispness of the black, I like the panel layout, the way the cape breaks out of the page a little…

Like I said, I can do better when it comes to a scene where someone throws someone through a window, but it’s hard to recapture the energy that is in a first draft.  There have been many times when I liked a sketch better than the final piece, and this is like that.  Choosing energy over skill isn’t always an easy decision.

My Photoshop skills are rather lacking and I know maybe 10% of what I could do with Photoshop but I’d rather draw than fiddle with it.  I also want to avoid becoming too dependent on it.  I know what I need to know when it comes to what I need to do.

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Run That Body Down

This morning I was drawing and got to thinking that I should stop and write this week’s blog entry.  It hit me with how much…stuff I have going on in my life.  In addition to cartooning, I work full time, I volunteer on a regular basis and let’s not forget the whole being a husband and father thing.  I am always doing something.

I have a hard time relaxing.  I have a hard time doing nothing.  Perhaps it’s a little OCD but I like having the dishwasher emptied before I go to bed, or the laundry put away before I do anything else.

I take a lot of satisfaction in working, I like earning things.  I like being able to finish the week with a glass of wine and looking back at what I accomplished over the last seven days.  Maybe I finished a project at home, or had a productive week at the office or inked four pages of comics.  Maybe I have too many expectations for my life, or maybe my expectations of myself are too high, but it’s not always a good thing and not always a bad thing.  I think it’s good to have things I want to accomplish…not only in life but on a day to day basis.  Even after a 12 hour day and getting home at 9pm, I will still pencil a page or scan in some artwork.  I am always working towards something, although it’s in really small bursts sometimes.  On the downside I am always restless at home.  I have to be doing something.  When I wake up on Sunday morning, within five minutes of getting out of bed, I have laundry going and my scanner is scanning in artwork.  My wife is up every day before I am during the week so she can take care of her mom, so Sundays are her day to sleep and to relax.  She deserves it.  I work hard too, but until I hit some level of success or have accomplished…something (not sure what, but I’ll know when I do) I haven’t earned relaxing yet.  I think part of me thinks that I shouldn’t be watching a movie when I have 100 pages of the Retros to color or something.

Running at this pace will catch up to me.  My day job isn’t helping, but it’s not really supposed to.  I think having an office job motivates me even more to draw and to finish projects, so that’s good?  I’ve been working close to 50 hours a week since April, and I go into work almost every Saturday.  I’m tired.  I do worry about my health and my stress levels but for now, I’m okay.  Like Warren Zevon said, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.  I’ll keep pushing myself on every level that I work and play.

Anyway, wow.  I didn’t know I’d be writing this but there you go.  The point is I am busy and I am happy and tired.  My studio is filled with piles with stuff I am working on.  Rather than list them (boring) I thought I’d show you.


  1. Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart.  The small stack to the left are the six pages I’ve penciled and inked.  They are also scanned/Photoshopped/lettered.  The stack on the right is the first draft that I am revising and reworking.  As the left stack gets taller, the right stack will get smaller.  Six pages isn’t a lot, but I have over a year to finish.  My target is 12 pages a month until the end of the year, and then 20 pages a month in January.  Considering I didn’t think I’d be ready to ink until October, I am happy with my progress.  I’m glad I’m scanning and lettering as a I go because once a page is done, it is DONE.
  2. The Retros strips that I need to scan/Photoshop/letter/color.  There’s about…oh, 20 strips in that pile.  These pages don’t need to be done until spring 2016 or so, so I have some time.  The Retros will update online five times a week starting on November 16th and I have about 100 pages scanned in (that I still need to letter/color) but I am comfortable with where this project is at this time.
  3.  More Retros stuff.  These are the 100 pages or so I’ve already scanned that need to be lettered and colored.  I’ll pick up the pace once the comic strip launches.  Coloring the strips takes longer than I thought it would.  I suppose I should start setting a goal for myself to letter/color a page a day in addition to drawing the strip itself and working on Uptown Girl.  I would much rather spend my time drawing than doing computer stuff.
  4. Storyboarding the first Retros animated short.  I’ve never storyboarded anything before so I am teaching myself how to do it.  I also need to write the script.  I decided to take a crack at both the script and storyboarding by doing a mini comic and then adapting the comic into script form.  It might be a little extra work, but it’s more fun this way and plus I’ll have a mini comic to print.  The plan is to write and pencil the comic, and then write the full script and then ink the comic.

So, that’s what’s going on.  How are you?

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Time To End The Story

photo 1

Well, it’s done.  Sort of.  I mean, it’s the first draft but the first draft is finished.  I am about 2 months ahead of schedule and I am just as surprised as you are.  I was hoping to be at this point in October but last week was really productive.  I started to see how each character’s stories were winding up and they were all nearing a natural conclusion at the same time.  Uptown Girl made some pretty bad decisions and she was at rock bottom, Ruby’s frustration got to a tipping point and Rocketman’s bubble burst.  And of course, the bad guys were ready to move in for the kill.  Time to wrap things up.  I hated seeing my beloved characters miserable.  The end of the second act killed me.

I knew where I wanted the ending to take place but I didn’t know how to get there.  And I mean how to get the characters there physically, they were all at different parts of the city.

And then like digging up a dinosaur bone, I saw a flash of an ending.  I started to brush away the dirt and dig a little deeper, gently and slowly but with a purpose.  Soon the ending was in my mind and I knew how to wrap things up.

My confidence also grew.  I had started the draft by penciling/laying out the story with dialogue and making notes and revisions (often times writing right on top of the artwork) along the way.  But as the ending started to take shape, I wrote an outline for the third and final act, skipping the layout stage altogether.  It’s time to start working on the finished story.

Over the next year I will jump right into the book, taking my notes, script, revisions and layouts and turning it into the final Uptown Girl book.  I am really excited to start this.  I have the story out of the way and I feel I can just spend the next year or so on making the book look as good as I can.  I’m happy I am about two months ahead of schedule, I certainly don’t want to rush this.

I’ll update the blog with artwork here and there but here is a comparison between the first page (after the prologue) in the layout phase and the final pencils.  Warning, there’s a spoiler here…if you can read my slopping handwriting.

photo 2

I thought I’d stick with the smaller page size that is on the left, but I decided to go back to the size I’ve been using for most of the Uptown Girl stories.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when it was time to get started on this step, but I am excited and charged up and ready for this story.  I’m looking forward to getting back into Uptown Girl’s world for one more comic.  I’m exited to draw them again…besides penciling and some quick gesture drawings, I haven’t drawn these characters fully inked for months.  I miss them.

I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when this is all done.  I can guess, though.

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Where is my Mind?

I realized this morning that my brain is all over the place today, so I thought I’d write a little about all the things I am thinking about lately.  Writing tends to help me sort stuff out so we’ll see if I feel better after.

So here goes:

I wondered when this was going to happen but I thought of two new Uptown Girl stories over the last few days.  What’s funny is that they are perfect Uptown Girl stories.  Perfect for the characters and for their world.  I really want to write them, but what would I do with them?  The next Uptown Girl book is the last one.  I suppose I could try to work them into the larger story but I can’t see that working out.  Another idea is to just do two shorter stories and just collect them in the next book as bonus material.

I do think of new stories all the time, but as my creative energy will shift from Uptown Girl to The Retros over the next year or so, I try to make the idea work in the Retros world and so far I’ve been able to do it, but not these two ideas.

As I was driving home the other night I was thinking about the next scene I was going to work on for the book that evening.  I just wrapped up what feels like the second act so I think I am on the home stretch.  The book is really…ah, taking everyone out of their elements for good and for bad.  Rocketman gets what he always wanted, and Uptown Girl gets what she didn’t know she wanted until she got it but who knows if it’s the right thing for her and Ruby’s life is just a disaster right now.  It does bother me that Ruby is in such distress for most of the book but this does feel like a Ruby story.  She will have a happy ending of course.

Anyway, with so much happening to the characters I started to think about how readers will react to the book.  After 10 plus years and thousands of pages of comics, I felt obligated to give Uptown Girl and her friends the ending they deserve with a story.  It’s an epic, funny story with action and drama.  I hope readers will like it and will feel satisfied, especially those readers who’ve been there from the start.

But then, what if the book is lousy?  What if it sucks?  What if people see it as a jumbled, inconsistent mess?  What if I go out on a bad note?  What if there are plot holes that I don’t see?  What if the motivations for the characters are weak?  What if…a billion other things?  I am worried about this these days, I hope I can give Uptown Girl a final story that the characters are worthy of.

So yeah, that’s the Uptown Girl stuff.

Onto The Incredible Retros!

5 colorOn Sunday morning I wake up early and work on The Retros.  I usually don’t do any drawing, just scanning, lettering and coloring.  I get excited seeing this come together and I am really happy with how this turning out.  I think this will be a great project in the post-Uptown Girl days.  I feel pretty confident that people will like it, which is not something I felt when I started Uptown Girl.  I knew I liked Uptown Girl, but I didn’t know if anyone else would, which is why I’ve always been surprised and grateful by her fans.  With The Retros I feel there’s a lot to like, the characters are fun to write and to draw and I think that energy comes through the work.  I can usually tell when a cartoonist has their heart into their work or when they’re just phoning it it.  I think the comic will surprise a lot of people but still feels like something I’d do.  Think of it like how Futurama is similar yet different than The Simpsons and still feels like the creation of the same cartoonist.

7 colorAnyway, fueled by coffee and optimism, I am tempted to start pitching it to publishers and editors.  I probably won’t, I want The Retros to find an audience and see what happens.  But all morning long I’ve been tempted to email Disney and ask how to pitch to them.  And here’s the thing: I know that is a stupid, improbable and impossible thing to do.  Disney does not have a section on their website that reads “Click Here to Solicit a Project”.  That is not how Disney rolls…in fact, that is not how any studio rolls.  But when you’re fueled by optimism and you are confident of a project’s potential, you just want to get something going.  I thought about just emailing Disney through their generic contact page just to see what happens.  I’ve never been turned down by Disney before and it’d be fun to get shot down even before I even launch the comic.  Bottom line, I think The Retros has a lot of potential and I think you guys will really like it.

So yeah, that’s what’s up with me today.  What’s up with you?

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