Make the Jump

Our life is a lot different these days.  We’ve had two major life events in the last few months that have required us to adapt and change.  As things settle down and we adjust to new routines and reality in the big ways, we also find little things that we need to tweak as well.

As a cartoonist I make sure I have time to draw.  Drawing The Retros and updating the website five times a week demands that I draw all the time if I want to stay on schedule.  This requires that I draw in the parent waiting area while I take Sophie to dance class.  I lug my drawing stuff to the school where she practices, I draw, then lug it back home.  Of course, I’m making it sound like I am moving a grand piano across country, but I think you get the point.  Here’s what my set up looks like:

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I have my templates, my paper, pens, pencils and everything I need to draw.  After dance I scan in the art, clean it up in Photoshop, and over the next few mornings before work I color and letter.

I do this every week.

I love drawing ‘The Retros’ but I do want to work on other projects.  I got the idea for a new graphic novel called ‘Norah Locke and the Underground Kingdom’ a while ago and… I am not making a lot of progress on it.  I love working on it and it’s a lot of fun, but doing a webcomic that updates on a consistent schedule makes other projects challenging.

When I got my new job that required me to travel, I wondered how that would impact my art.  I have brought my gear on vacation and business trips before, but as I sit on airplanes or waiting for flights or dining alone I can’t help think that I could be drawing.

Now, I COULD set up my drawing stuff on a plane but it’s just not feasible.  Turbulence, for one, but all the stuff in the photo above will not fit on the seat trays.  So, just like the big events require significant life changes, I also need to make changes in how, when, and where I draw.

So, I bit the bullet and bought an iPencil so I could draw on my iPad while traveling.  This must be what Bob Dylan felt like when he switched to an electric guitar.

I resisted moving to digital for a while.  I loved what I saw other cartoonists were creating.  I really liked being able to skip erasing and scanning.  I was excited to learn new techniques.  However, it wasn’t easy.  I started with Procreate and I found it too cumbersome and wasn’t intuitive.   Other artists may pick up on this stuff much more easily than I did, but I struggled.

Of course, I think drawing programs peaked with MarioPaint, so I don’t think my opinion or experience carries much weight.

Zander Cannon uses Clip Studio so I thought I’d give that a spin.  Boy, am I glad I did.  I found it has a lot in common with Photoshop and although I think Photoshop is a little tricky (again, MarioPaint) but I’m familiar with it.  It wasn’t that much of a learning curve especially for my pretty simple art.   I don’t mess around a lot with layers or anything too crazy.  I just want a magic Etch-A-Sketch I can draw on while I am waiting for my flight.

I really love drawing digitally.  The ease of tweaking something, reworking a panel and laying out a page is amazing.

Alex Robinson is one of my favorite cartoonists who also made the jump recently and tweeted about his experience:

After a month of drawing on my iPad I’m already finding it hard to go back to paper & ink. It feels like when you step off the moving walkway at the airport and you suddenly are in slow motion

He’s absolutely right.

I still will draw ‘The Retros’ on paper but ‘Norah’ is all digital.  I got 51 pages into it before and I am about 20 pages into the redrawing.   I was afraid the difference between pen/paper and digital would look too different but I am pretty happy with how it looks.

Here’s a page I drew on paper:

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And the same scene digitally (I still need to letter it properly) :

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To be honest, I don’t see much difference.  And that’s exactly what I was going for.  A part of me wonders why I am using a digital program to create art that is not that different than what I can create on paper, but the reason I made the jump is so I can actually finish the book.  Drawing in hotels and airports will help me with that.  On my last trip I was able to redraw 11 pages in five days.  The book is about two years away, I think.  And even that’s ambitious because I am aiming for about 500 pages with this story.

I never know how to finish these blog posts so I am just going to say see you later.

-Bob

 

 

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Rebirth

And when they say
That you’re not good enough
Well the answer is
You’re not
But who are they
Or what is it
That eats at what you’ve got
With the hunger of ambition
For the change inside the purse
They are handcuffs on the soul, my friends
Handcuffs on the soul
And worse
-Paul Simon
I have been told ‘no’ a lot over the past year.  ‘No’ can mean a lot of things and what it means to you kind of depends on your perspective.  Sometimes it means you’re not good enough, not a good fit for the project or someone better came along.
There’s always someone better.  Which is kind of cool.  I like discovering a new cartoonist and being blown away or inspired by what they do.  It challenges me to do better.  You can’t let yourself be destroyed by the criticism, by the rejection, which is hard because so often these things do kill.  At least for a while.
Over the last year I submitted ‘The Retros’ to comic strip syndicates.  I ended up sending three different submission packets (and I am preparing a fourth) and was either met with a no or with nothing.
I also spent most of last year sending ‘Bear and Rabbit’ to literary agents and publishers.  I sent this project to close to 200 people.  There was some interest, a few promising emails but never found the elusive ‘yes’.
I was laid off in January and was lucky to find a new a few weeks ago.  I sent out dozens of resumes and had a lot of interviews before I found a yes.
It’s exhausting and emotionally draining sometimes to hear so no so many times.  Sometimes it got me down, sometimes it didn’t.  Sometimes it pushed me.  Sometimes it was a wake up call to up my game.
Please know that I am not bitter or angry or feeling sorry for myself or frustrated about any of this.  It feels like these rejections happened to someone else.  I feel like a different person than I was four months ago.
Life is very different than it was four months ago.  My wife is adjusting to life after her heart attack and there are many small and big changes as a result of that.  Brushes with death can do that to a family.  It might sound I am being flip but I’m not.  I went from commuting to an office to working from home and traveling for my job occasionally which is a change to the day-to-day and my routine.  Waiting in airports to board a flight for work is not something I am used to.
It feels like life was rebooted.
When a lot of things change, it forces you to have a new perspective.  Your feelings towards things change and everything that happened before these changes feel like a lifetime ago.
If I was stung by any criticism or rejection I have long shaken it off.  As always, I am looking to what is next.  It’s also time to move from trying to get published to creating more things so I have something new to submit to publishers.

So, what is next?

First off is the long-awaited second collection of ‘The Retros’.  Like the first collection, this will be funded by a Kickstarter which launches tomorrow.  Links to the book will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, both found on the Retros website.

Here’s the cover, once again put together and colored by my friend Ben Mudek:
Retros Book 2 Final Front Cover
I plan on having the third book out this fall.
Like the first Kickstarter, the book will be printed regardless of the Kickstarter success, this is just a way to pre-order it.
Unfortunately I will not be at MSP ComicCon this May.  I will be traveling for work that weekend and it kills me to miss the show.  So, if you want this book, please consider reserving a copy though the Kickstarter.
Traveling for work does cause disruptions to life.  Time away from family, from friends, and from my routines.  Life is about adapting and change.  This change will require me to be more mobile in a few ways and one of those ways I need to adapt is how and where I draw and create.
More on that next time.
Bob

Things Happen

Let’s make a list of all things the world has put you through
Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to
I don’t know what else you wanted me to say to you
Things happen
That’s all they ever do

-Dawes

I’m tired of things happening.

Over the past few months our family has experienced the terrifying and the frustrating.

The third thing to complete this trilogy happened at the end of January when I was laid off, along with the rest of my team, at work.  This was (mostly) unexpected and really disappointing, to say the least.  I liked my job, I liked my team.  I’ve spent most of the last twelve years working for small, private colleges and I love working with students.  Losing that job and seeing the school decline and face closure is heartbreaking to me.

I jumped into the job search right away.  I haven’t had a period of unemployment for almost fifteen years and I was anxious to find something new.  It was total survival mode.  We are just starting to get the final bills from the hospital and emergency room visits from my wife’s heart attack and money is always tight for us anyway.

I went on interviews, sent out my resume and I am so lucky to have something so quickly.  I am happy that I will be working for another college and remaining in education.  The campus is located in Boulder, Colorado and I am going to be working from home, but will need to travel there every six weeks or so.

I am fortunate to have found a job.  I am excited about working from home and I have never been to Colorado before.

I do not know how I got so lucky.

I fly out tomorrow morning for training.

Again, I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Anything that upends your life in a significant way can make someone reconsider everything…your priorities and what they want to accomplish in life.  After Amy’s heart attack she spoke a lot about how everything else seems so small.  We are all lucky she is still with us and is doing as well as she is.  She is more fearless and optimistic and grateful than ever before.

Losing my job made me wonder, and worry, about how long I would be out of work.  How would we pay our mortgage?  How long would our savings last?  Where would I work?

I spent the next four weeks figuring that out.  Between filing for unemployment, applying for MNSure, creating a new budget and the job search itself, I was, in many ways, still working.

These are things I did as a husband, father, and provider.  These are the roles I consider myself lucky and privileged to have.

And I am a cartoonist.

I am lucky to have a passion, a hobby.  I was glad I could take a break from paperwork and cover letters and draw and paint.

Over the past few weeks I made art and worked on The Retros.   I was always pretty far ahead but I got even further.  I completed the fourth “season” of the series and started the fifth.  Each season of The Retros is 240 pages and I am ten pages into the fifth one.  I just posted the 140th page on March 1st so it’ll be about five months until the next story line starts.

I present to you the final panel of season four the first from season five.  Both presented without lettering or context:

 

I also did a painting for a friend:

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And a mock book cover:

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I did some other stuff, but it was mostly working on the Retros.  I didn’t want too many distractions from the job search so I stuck with mostly what I was already working on.

Losing my job was a blow, but I am excited about my new adventure.

I want to thank everyone for their support through the last few months.  It’s been a stressful and frightening time and we got through it because of you.  You helped with groceries, phone calls, a job lead, picking up the tab at lunch, visiting us at the hospital and many other small and big things.  We were humbled by the events in the last few months, and we were reminded how lucky and fortunate we are to have the life we have, regardless of what happens.

I have a hard time articulating how much you all mean to me.  Whether you are a family member, a friend or even a Retros fan, you all enrich our lives.

Thank you.

-Bob

Woman With The Strength Of 10,000 Men

From the moment I saw your face
I knew I could never take living for granted
I froze right in my place, as I became aware
of the ground on which my feet were planted

I owe you an apology
For all the days I just let slide right through my hands
You are the woman with the strength of 10,000 men

-Peter Himmelman

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Earlier this month my wife had a heart attack.  Please understand that in no way I am looking to trivialize such a serious event but I am not going to get into a lot of detail in this post.  Since this is a public blog I am a little reluctant to share a lot of personal information here but please know that Amy is recovering and is progressing as expected.

It’s impossible to experience something like this and not reflect on making changes in your day to day life or think about your plans for the future.  It also really reminds you of what is important.

So, big surprise, but family is the most important thing in my life.  I’m sure it is in yours too.  Sitting (well, pacing frantically) in the waiting room while the doctors put two stents into Amy’s arteries really put me through hell.  What Amy was experiencing was worse.  I remember stalking around the waiting room, gripping my phone and waiting for a call from the nurse who would check in with updates while Amy was in her procedure.  My phone dinged to let me know I received an email from a publisher passing on my picture book.  With everything going on, this email and the subject matter seemed like the silliest thing in the world.  Normally getting an email like that makes me cranky for anywhere between a couple hours to a few minutes but the idea of caring about anything else at that moment was ridiculous.

Over the next few days we spent a lot of time in her hospital room.  Amy was hooked up to machines that read her blood pressure and other vitals which would beep or send an alarm occasionally.  How Amy kept smiling and making sure that I knew what time Sophie needed to be at the bus stop is just a testament to how strong and resilient she is.  She would sleep and I would sit and just…think.  I would think about what her recovery would be like, what plans needed to change and how to move forward.  Mostly I reflected on how lucky we were.

After Amy got home and started her recovery and physical therapy and things returned to…well, not normal, but a new kind of normal, I was able to think a little about my art and what I wanted to accomplish.  I thought about what I wanted to work on in 2019.  But the thing I kept coming back to was why I ever thought being liked was important.

I’ve previously written about how to gain more Twitter followers for The Retros or gaining some buzz on Instagram for my artwork.  I wanted to have a big following because I thought it’d be cool to be discovered by a literary agent or to have The Retros gain a huge audience to attract the interest of a publisher.

Sure, that would be cool.  But let’s face it, either of those scenarios is so unlikely that I wonder why I ever thought there was even a remote chance of that happening.  Why did I even put any energy into hoping for that?  I may as well wish to win the lottery or seeing a dinosaur in front of my house.

What difference would it make if The Retros had 135 followers on Twitter or if they had a thousand?  Would it really matter?  Would I be happier?  Would I feel more validated?  Would that make me think that I was a better cartoonist?  When I put it like that…no.  It wouldn’t matter.  It wouldn’t change a thing.  It might even make things worse.  Between two jobs and actually writing and drawing the comic itself I can’t imagine trying to find time to be more active on social media.

I am not the best cartoonist, I am not the worst.  I don’t draw nearly as well as most of my artist friends but I’m not bad.  How I draw, however, is perfect for the type of comics I write.  Can you imagine Jim Lee drawing Uptown Girl?  Can you imagine what Frank Miller’s The Retros would look like?  I realized the other day that I would rather draw how I draw and have a small number of followers as opposed to having a huge fan base and not being happy with my art.

I post my stuff because I am proud of it.  I like how I draw, what I create.  If others like it, well, that’s a bonus.  When people ‘like’ or retweet something, that makes me happy.  But it doesn’t change anything.  If I lost every follower across Twitter/Instagram/Facebook I wouldn’t change anything.  I’d still post, I’d still upload The Retros each weekday.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I appreciate every comment, every like, every retweet and every fan I have.  I really do.  I like seeing people like my stuff.  What I am realizing is that it’s the art and the work that is important.  I honestly feel like a weight has been lifted and I’ve experienced a moment of clarity.  I don’t want to spend another second being frustrated about not growing a following.  I want to create art.

Brian Michael Bendis, the current writer of ‘Action Comics’ and ‘Superman’ recently did an interview where he talked about a health scare he himself had.  He stated that after surviving that, he wondered how he could spend a minute of his day doing anything but fathering and creating.  I know what he means.  After almost losing Amy (no exaggeration, half of heart attack victims do not survive), worrying about Twitter followers seems so…well, stupid.

It’s time to create, it’s time to be what it’s important.

 

 

 

Running to Stand Still

I said hey hey workin’ man workin’ man like me
I ain’t never been on welfare and that’s one place I won’t be
I’ll be back workin’ as long as my two hands are fit to use

-Merle Haggard

I tend to be overly self-critical of my flaws and I tend to diminish my successes, but one of the few attributes that I will give myself credit for is a having a strong work ethic.  I think I am built for work, both physically and mentally, in a way.  I’m not Superman by any means, but I am fairly strong.  I don’t suffer from any lingering rugby injuries I sustained in high school or anything like that.  At 43 years old I think I am in pretty good shape.

I try to stay strong so I am capable of doing work, both at my job and at my drawing table.  My day job is how I take care of my family, my drawing is how I keep my sanity and dreams alive.  It’s important for me to be able to provide for my family and I think I am doing an okay job.

Amy and I do a good job in dividing up the things that need to be done for our family.  While I work at the office, Amy is taking care of her parents, our kids, our house, volunteering at the school, finding runaway dogs, and everything else.  It feels very 1950’s-ish and on the outside it looks like our roles are very gender-based in a stereotypical way.  Of course, that was not the intention.  Amy is better at juggling doctor visits, maintenance people, school stuff and anything that needs to be done.  I can bring home a paycheck.  We play to our strengths.  Not that Amy isn’t capable of taking care of us financially, of course.  When she was pregnant with Sophie her doctor put her on bed rest and she took a leave from her job.  After Sophie was born, we thought we’d try for as long as we could to give her a stay at home parent and Amy didn’t go back.  It’s not always easy, it rarely is, but we’ve been doing this since 2007 and we’re used to it.

This year has been an expensive year.  Among other things, we hired a math tutor for Sophie which has helped her quite a bit, but it’s…well, it’s expensive.  We see the value in it and we’re seeing better marks on her tests and homework.  It’s an expense I am happy to pay.

Well, maybe not happy, but you know what I mean.

And of course, this happened.

Money has always been tight for us but it’s gotten to a point where we simply needed more money.  I bit the bullet and took a second, seasonal job at Target.  It’s kind of hilarious and depressing at the same time, but to be honest I am thankful for an opportunity to make more money and I am thankful for a body that can endure a 60 hour work week.  As I said, I am built for work and we play to our strengths.  There’s no way I could do what Amy does, but working 26 days in a row?  That’s easy.

The extra income is good, the discount helps and as a bonus I am getting a ton of experience and inspiration that will eventually find it’s way into a comic, similar to how working at Burger King in high school provided material for a Retros storyline.

Capture

Taking on a second job was not something I did lightly.  I was worried about how long I could sustain such an intense schedule but it’s been two months and I haven’t lost my mind yet.  Not that I can tell, anyway.  It’s heartbreaking not being able to see my family as much as I want, but there’s comfort in knowing that I am doing this for them.  Amy is picking up more of the slack as I work, so she’s taking on more because of this, too.

But I’ve adapted to this new reality.  When I see my family we make the most of it.  I am less stressed that I thought I would be.  I think I was more stressed worrying about how we would pay our bills than I am working to pay them.  Working this much is exhausting.  It’s not easy to work this much, this often, this hard, to just stay current on our financial obligations.  I wish I could say that the extra money is going towards our debt, saving for a vacation, or even just setting more money aside for the next crisis.

But this is a blog about drawing, not therapy.  Or is it??  It’s not.  Is it?  No.

My productivity has only taken a small hit but I am keeping up.  On the plus side, I have learned to be more efficient when I do have time to draw, as well as finding time to draw.  I draw on the little tables the parents sit at when I take Sophie to dance, I write when I take Sophie to her tutor.  I started writing this entry on my lunch break when I normally write my blog on Sunday mornings, which I now use to get another hour or so in of drawing.  I come into the office a little early and send out my children’s book and art samples to agents and publishers.  I am keeping up on The Retros and still writing, drawing, inking, coloring and lettering five pages a week.  I’ve written before about the luxury of being so far ahead in my comic but thankfully I haven’t had to dig into that lead.  I am still working on my graphic novel and a few other things, such as a recent illustration for White Bear Lake Magazine:

Capture

I feel more productive than ever these days, in a way.  I think it’s because I have so little time to draw that I have adapted my habits and free time to become as efficient as possible.  A few years ago I read a book about being an artist where the author stated that those who work a 9-5 job are some of the most productive people he knows.  He thinks it’s because their day job has conditioned them to meet deadlines and get projects completed in a time crunch.  The day job created discipline which benefits them when they get off work and they only have a few hours a week to create something.

This struck me as the truest thing ever, and it’s something I think about a lot these days.

-Bob

 

 

Generation Nintendo

Ah, Inktober.  The annual cartoonist holiday/challenge where artists will post a daily drawing throughout the entire month.  The rules are pretty loose but it’s usually expected that one will do an actual ink drawing on paper as opposed to something digital.  Some artists will use the prompts and do a drawing off that, but some don’t.

2018promptlist

This is my third year doing Inktober and I have a lot of fun doing it as I try to do something that is a little different than what I usually do.  I suppose I could do a Retros or an Uptown Girl character each day but I like having an excuse to draw something, or someone, I usually don’t.

The first year I did Inktober I drew characters from ‘The Hobbit’, my favorite novel.  This was a lot of fun and I loved taking the characters and drawing them as I saw them.  The book is a really simple, straightforward and small story and it was satisfying to go against the ultra-serious and epic-ness of the movie trilogy that was out at the time.

Day 1-BilboDay 2-BardDay 4 - Great GoblinDay 13 - GollumDay 19 - GandalfDay 30 - Smaug

It made me want to attempt illustrating the whole book, as evidenced by this drawing I did earlier this year.

ch 2 color

Last year I wanted to continue doing characters from stories I loved and I chose characters from Jack Kirby’s ‘The Fourth World’.  Although there was a ton of material to work fun, and drawing Kirby stuff is always fun, I thought, for the most part, it was not executed well.  Kirby’s stuff looks pretty simple at first but when you have to start drawing Mister Miracle or Steppenwolf, you really see how complex and detailed their costumes are.  My strength as a cartoonist comes from simplicity and Kirby’s characters go against that.  I did some stuff that month I liked, but for the most part I could have done better.

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I wanted do Inktober again and I wanted to do more characters that I did not create.  Although I don’t make much time for video games these days, I enjoy watching mini-documentaries about them while I draw.  I am always impressed with how programmers, artists and composers were able to do so much while working with so little in the 1980’s.  Hard,ware and software limitations required so many compromises back in the 8-bit days but still managed to create really fun games.

Because of the limitations, character designs were simple and deliberate.  Mario had a mustache because it helped define where his nose was.  Mega Man is blue because there were more shades of that color than any other.

While thinking about this, I decided that this deliberate and necessary simplicity would be perfect for Inktober.  I thought it’d be fun to do characters mostly from the first few Super Mario Bros. games.  So, that’s what I did.  These drawings are much quicker than the Kirby stuff and between The Retros and the Norah book, I don’t have much drawing time to spare.  Growing up in the Nintendo generation these games and characters had a huge impact on my life.  There’s a reason why the Norah book is basically ‘The Legend of Zelda’ but set in the town I live in.

DodTBaJUUAEkCNGDp_R7qwU0AAv40fDo6jCpfUYAQiurlDpW-J7eU8AA67s8DqesTpaX0AAmJoLDqiuR2CXgAA-PjTDqUOhAaU4AAsqUb

This has been a lot of fun and I think it fits my style and strengths better than last year.  I’m already thinking about next year’s Inktober.

You can see the entire month on my Instagram page or on Twitter.

-Bob

 

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Two weeks ago I posted about wondering, essentially, what the point was when it comes to trying.  I reiterated that I’ll never stop drawing and creating, but was there a point when it comes to trying to gain any sort of fan following online?  Is it even worth my time to try to find a publisher for my projects?

I mean, there’s always a chance something will click with someone, but I am not, and wasn’t, feeling optimistic.  Much of this perspective comes from making comics for as long as I have and, essentially, not getting anywhere.

But there’s actually a lot of very good reasons I have not been published.  Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

The first issue of ‘Uptown Girl’ came out in 2003.  It was the first comic I ever drew and it shows.  The art is terrible and inconsistent and was drawn in a single afternoon while I was at work.  The spirit and the humor was there, but the art was…well, it was my first comic.  I like to think it was obvious that I loved what I was doing and my enthusiasm for the characters came across in every issue but it was also obvious that I needed to draw better.

I submitted my comic to various publishers after a dozen issues or so.  I thought publishers would be impressed by the fact that I was making my comic monthly and would be charmed by the humor and characters.  And they were, I think.  But the feedback I got was the art needed a lot of help.  It stung a little but I knew they were right.  The art was getting better but not ready for a wider audience.

I kept at it and eventually I had finished the monthly series at 75 issues.  The art was much better but still not ready for a publisher.  I think.  I don’t know because I never submitted my comic to publishers after my first attempt years prior.  I was too busy and having too much fun with creating the comic to bother trying to find a publisher for it.

Part of the reason for stopping the monthly series and moving the characters to an annual graphic novel format was so I could spend more time on the art.  I like to think that the art took a huge leap forward when I allowed myself more time to draw it.  56

Once the first graphic novel was finished, I sent it off to maybe…five publishers.  This was back in 2008 or so when graphic novels were only published by comic publishers, not traditional mainstream publishers.  These days there are many more options to submit your work too, thankfully.

But it was turned down and I shrugged it off and went on to draw five more graphic novels.  But I never bothered to show those to a publisher.

The final ‘Uptown Girl’ graphic novel came out in 2017 and Uptown Girl’s adventures were over.  It’s not fair, and not realistic to be pessimistic about not being published if I only bothered to send my work to editors only twice in a 14 year span.  I may have been doing comics for 14 years but it’s not accurate to say that I have been trying to get published for 14 years.

When I started ‘The Retros’ I thought that this would be the better project to pitch.  I had…accepted?  Learned?  Realized? that if I wanted a publisher to look a my work I needed to show them my work.  I hoped that by posting my comic online it would generate some buzz and would catch the attention of someone, somewhere, but that didn’t, and isn’t, happening.  So, once the first story arc/season was over, I collected it and sent it off to about a dozen publishers.

I chose mostly comic publishers even though at this point non-comic publishers were doing graphic novels.  By the time the first book was printed, ‘The Retros’ had become too weird, too political and just too…quirky (how I hate that word) and didn’t really fit in anywhere.  I didn’t think it had a chance anywhere but my odds were better with a company that only did comics.

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It didn’t go anywhere and I could see why.  Like the first issue of ‘Uptown Girl’ I was still learning.  I had gotten pretty good at doing comic books, but doing a four panel comic strip took some adjusting to.  It took a while to adapt to the format and I had to learn a lot about timing, pacing and layout.  Even in the early days of pitching it, I could see why a publisher would pass on it.

It’s tempting to redraw and resubmit the first story arc but I’d rather spend my time on moving forward and creating new stuff.

As ‘The Retros’ enters the third year, I suppose I could say that I’ve been doing this series for several years but have not found a publisher.  But again, that’s not accurate.  I haven’t been trying too hard.  The stuff I’m doing now is better than it’s ever been, but as this is an ongoing series it really doesn’t matter how good the third year is if the first year or so isn’t publishable.  So, like ‘Uptown Girl’, I haven’t found a publisher because, honestly, I am not trying too hard to find one.

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If I am being honest with myself, and with you I suppose, I really only have sufficiently tried to find a publisher for one project in the 15 years of trying to make a career out of drawing.  My picture book, ‘Bear and Rabbit’, was submitted to over 100 literary agents and almost 50 publishers and nothing yet.  The disappointment in this comes from two places.  The first is that I think this is a pretty good book.  I worked hard on it and I really feel it’s a strong story.  I learned a lot about picture books after reading so many of them to my daughter and I like to think that the book is a result of that.  The second reason is that I tried really hard to find a place for this project.

But it’s not done yet, something may come from it.  Not all hope is lost.  Even if the book never finds a home, I learned a lot about pitching and the publishing world.  As I researched editors and agents, I kept seeing a demand for more graphic novels.  As Sophie gets older, she has moved onto reading more comics and like many kids her age, she loves Raina Telgemeier‘s books.  Her interest in comics as helped introduce me to a ton of new books I never would have noticed otherwise.

The type of graphic novels she’s into and the type of graphic novels publishers want are keeping me optimistic about my next project.  I am impressed at the range of topics and level of maturity that are in the comics being published for the middle school/young adult audience these days.  I am also blown away by the art and the charm and talent of these cartoonists.  Discovering this new world makes me…hopeful and confident that perhaps this new graphic novel might have a better chance than Uptown Girl, The Retros and Bear had.

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I am about fifty pages in and I think I am about a tenth of the way done.   I started lettering it about a week ago and I think once I am done with the scene I am doing now I’ll post what I have so far online.  The book’s inspiration and “hook” I suppose, is if ‘The Legend of Zelda’ took place in my hometown and starred a young girl.  I think I’m accomplishing that as evidenced in the flashback pages above.  I don’t want to say it’s darker than other things I’ve done but I think some stuff might be a surprise to people who are familiar with my work.

Anyway, the point of all this is to remind myself that yes, I’ve been drawing a lot.  But no, I haven’t drawing very well for that whole time.  I’ve had dreams of being published for a long time, but no, I haven’t been trying that hard to become published.

TL/DR:

I may have not accomplished what I want to accomplish, but if I am being honest, there’s reasons for that:

  1. I needed time to become a better artist
  2. I need to show my work to more people as long as it’s good

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party

Yesterday was FallCon, the comic convention put on by the fine people at the Midwest Comic Book Association.  FallCon takes place each October and was the first comic convention I attended as a guest which was waaaaay back in 2002-ish.  I remember working on Uptown Girl #7 at my table.  I’ve attended each year since then.

Except for this year.

Now, before we go any further, please know I am not bitter or angry or anything.  The volunteers who run the convention have always treated me, and all of their guests, with warmth, excitement, and kindness.  I’ve always been happy, and honored, to be at their shows and I am grateful for every appearance I’ve had at their conventions.

I actually think it’s a good thing to shake up the guest list at these shows.  Since there is no cost to be a guest or to apply for a spot, it’s a fantastic opportunity for an artist to get their work out there.  I doubt I’d be making comics today if not for the fans and friends I’ve made at these conventions.

So, I went to the show as a fan and I had a lot of fun.  I bought comics, saw some friends and had a great time.  It was a little weird to be on the other side of the table, but seeing the shows from an attendee’s perspective gave me the opportunity to see how well these shows are run for the guests as well as the artists.

Of course, I didn’t always had this mature reaction to not being a guest.  It wasn’t anger or anything like that, it was…I don’t know…fear, maybe?  Would this be the first step towards becoming obsolete?  When I stopped writing and drawing Uptown Girl as a monthly comic book and moved into annual graphic novels, I was worried that without having that monthly output I would become a little…irrelevant.  I wanted to stay on the radar of the local comics scene and consistent output was an effective way to do that.

Of course, this sounds depressing and fatalistic and I have moved on from this, but if I am being honest this was what I went through.  And I got over it.  Promise.  I am very close to accepting that I will never get a book published or anything amazing like that, but deep down I’ve always felt that if I was lucky enough to write and draw and self-publish books and have a local convention where I can sell them, well, that’s more than I ever expected or deserved.

I tend to go to extremes within the heat of a moment and I started to wonder if my days at these conventions were over.  Of course, this is just one convention and I have no reason to think I won’t be a guest at the next one, but this is the life of a cartoonist, particularly one that is trying to grow their readership and fan base.  I am always thinking about my comics and everything that comes with it.  Where will my career take me?  Will the impossible happen and I make a living off of my art?  Will everything come to a screeching halt?  Is this the piece of art that somehow goes viral and catches the attention of someone who could open the door to an amazing opportunity?  Will my Twitter followers ever exceed 140?

I am grateful when my friends, family and fans comment, retweet and ‘like’ my art.  I am lucky to have people who subscribe and support my books.  Thank you.  I see the notifications and I smile when I see you sharing and promoting my stuff.  These small things are more helpful than you might think.

Some cartoonists worry about running out of ideas or breaking their hands or something along those lines.  I don’t really worry about those things.  I think about the small audience that I have.  The Retros aren’t making the splash I hoped they would, my Instragram page isn’t growing in terms of followers…I want people to read my work and it’s fun to get a new follower.  I don’t think that’s uncommon for a cartoonist to want.  Please note that I am not complaining or feeling sorry for myself or anything like that.  At the end of the day, I am creating comics and I love my work and that’s the important thing.  One of the things I try to do with this blog is to pull back the curtain a little on the reality of someone trying to make a career with their art.  Sometimes it’s exciting and stuff is happening, sometimes it’s a little introspective and discouraging.

Again, this sound more fatalistic than I feel.  A cartoonist creates their work ultimately for themselves but there’s always the hope that the work connects with others.  I like my stuff and it’s always fun when others do too.  Although I don’t have the followers and readers that I hoped to have after almost three years of The Retros, I think it might bother me if I had zero.  Please know that my self-esteem is not tied to the number of people who read and “like” my work online.  I don’t think I suck or anything.  I’m sure many people think that I do, and that’s okay, but my point is that I am happy with my work, I like how I draw…I like my stuff.  I do think about the fan base that I have, not only wondering what they think of the stuff I create, but also how to grow it.  I’ll be the first to admit that I can promote my work more, but to be honest I am not really sure how.  I know there are other conventions that are out of state that I could go to, but finances are a concern, especially these days.  A big, local convention such as FallCon is a godsend.

On the opposite side of things, not only do I think about how to grow my readership, but I also wonder why I’m not making a bigger impression than I am.  Is my work just not appealing?  Is it not universal enough?  Is it too weird?  Is it not clicking with a larger audience?   As the rejection emails come in for my picture book, the common response was that the work isn’t bad, but agents and editors just didn’t…connect with it.  I think the most important thing a cartoonist to do is create the work that they themselves want to do.  It’s more sincere and a reader can see the enthusiasm in the work.  Right now The Retros is exactly what I want to do and I think it shows.  I have a lot of fun creating it and I am always excited to work on it.  I used to think The Retros would have a little more universal appeal and friendlier to new readers but it’s turned into a sprawling epic that I think is almost inaccessible to new readers.  Maybe that’s it..?

As long as we’re being fatalistic and extreme (and perhaps a little depressing), I often wonder when I should call it a day.  When is it going to become clear that there’s no blood in that stone?  How many more agents and publishers will I submit my picture book to until I throw in the towel?  When does it become obvious that I need to stop beating a dead horse?   How many more similes can this paragraph take?  Nothing will stop me from drawing, but I imagine there will be a day where I stop making comics and turning my attention to illustrating.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not quitting anytime soon.  I have at least six more years of story lines planned for The Retros and I am about 50 pages in for the Norah Locke book and a long way to go on it.  Here’s one of the pages I finished this weekend:

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Maybe I think too much.  Perhaps I look for significance in things that aren’t there.  But I am constantly thinking about everything that goes with being a cartoonist all the time, whether it is the creative work, the fans or the impossible dreams.

Hope to see you at the spring show.

-Bob

 

 

Things are Really Great Here, Sort of

Sometimes things go just swell.  The day job is going well and the stress and obligations that go with it are stressful but manageable.  The family’s routine is chaotic but at this point we’ve been doing what we do for so long it becomes, well, maybe not easy but you know what I mean.  And although you’re not going to be rich anytime soon…or ever, the money coming in is covering not only your bills but maybe a little extra to take the family out for dinner once in a while.

And then everything just collapses.

As I write this, my house sounds like a factory due to the four industrial blowers scattered throughout my home, not to mention this…thing in my garage.

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Let’s back things up to last week.  Long story short, a faucet in our bathroom was left running for, oh, six or seven hours last Saturday.  The bathroom in question is directly above our garage.  When I got home it was raining in my garage.  It was…terrifying.  Over the next few hours we cleaned up the puddles and, like Thor, I got to use a hammer to punch holes in the garage ceiling to air it out to lessen the risk of mold.  Our neighbors, my sister-in-law and best friend were invaluable with their help and support.

The insurance people came out and soon our flooring in our lower level was torn up and huge humidifiers and dryers were placed around the home to suck up the moisture under the floor and everywhere else.  There are these giant mats in the kitchen that are designed to absorb the water under the floor there, too.  The ceiling in the garage was ripped out and the damage is going to exceed 10k.  Insurance will cover some of it and that’s all we know for sure at this point.

It’s all I can do to keep myself from laughing and crying at the same time.

This will all be…fixed somehow.  Things work out and it’s hard to see HOW they will when you’re in the moment but once things settle down you can look back to see how it was resolved.  At the moment though it’s a little heartbreaking to come home to see your floors and ceiling torn up and trying to fall asleep while a half dozen machines do their thing gets a little old.

Work has gotten more stressful and our budget suddenly got tighter.  When it rains it pours, I guess.  Literally.

But on the plus side, my projects are going well.  My new graphic novel that I started last year underwent some rewrites and redesigns and I almost caught up with the pages I needed to redraw.

The two pages below are the same scene but the second is the new version.  The differences are clear, not only with the design of the cat-fox character, but also to the overall page.

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When I drew the first version, I could tell I wasn’t happy with it and my displeasure is evident with the lazy crosshatching and backgrounds.  It was obvious to me that I wanted to finish the page and move on.  Hopefully the cat-fox character would look better on the next page.

It didn’t.  I just couldn’t get the hang of it.

But when I did the second version, it’s obvious I was happy with how things were going.  I can’t quite describe it, but you can tell whoever drew the second version put in a lot of…joy into it.  It took twice as long to draw it but it’s clear they loved every moment of it.

I am happy with the new design, I am happy with the revisions and I look forward to continuing work on it.

But that’s the silver lining right now.  Right now it’s enough.  Thank God it’s enough.

 

Constructive Summer

I always feel a sense of…newness when the next season starts.  I get excited for different things, depending on the time of the year.  On the opposite side of that, I also dread and get anxious about other things that are associated with a new season.  Right now I am excited about cooler weather, but I am also stressed about how I will afford Christmas presents for my kids this year.

But things somehow always work out.

Have you noticed that summers go by faster each year?  Most people I know say that, but for different reasons, I think, than I do.  Most people I know spend their summers on vacations or fun summer activities and before you know it, BAM, it’s September.

I’ve worked for a college for the past eleven years and my summers are usually dominated by preparing my students for the upcoming fall semester.  It seems there is never enough time to get my students ready for class and most of my summer is spent at work as the days lead up to the first day of class.  Of course, I also have to get my own two kids ready for their first day of their own schools, too.  By the time August ends, I start looking forward to things settling down a bit.

When a new season starts, I think about what I want to accomplish over the next few months art-wise.  I rarely look back about what I did in the previous season as I am so focused on what I am going to do, that looking at what I did is forgotten.  I had a pretty productive summer, though.  Most of what I did involved my picture book and The Retros.

Last summer I came upon an idea for a picture book that was ultimately titled “Bear and Rabbit”.  The first part of this year I spent writing, rewriting, rewriting again and drawing and redrawing it.  This summer was all about submitting it to the agents and publishers.  At this point I think I am finally done with trying to find a publisher or representation…at least for now.  I have done a massive amount of research and querying to try to get this book out there.  I have done more than I thought I would.  As of this morning, I have submitted it to 109 literary agents and 25 publishers.  That’s a lot of emails and letters.  I think I can honestly say I gave it a decent shot.  You’d think I’d be discouraged, but I am content with the effort I put into it.  There’s still a chance, there’s always a chance, but it’s almost time to move on.  Note that I said almost.

Most of the creative work I did this year involved The Retros on two different projects.  I work ahead on the webcomic for two reasons.  The first is that if a new project or opportunity comes up, I don’t want to have to choose between working on that and staying current with The Retros.  If something comes up, I have worked far enough where I could take a little time off from it and still post five times a week.  The second reason is that…well, I like drawing The Retros.  I love the comic and it’s hard to stay away.

The fourth season just started and the 11th page will post tomorrow.  In terms of how far ahead I am, I just scanned in the 80th page making me 14 weeks ahead of schedule.  The pages I scanned yesterday will post right around Christmas.

The other Retros project was working on my third submission for a potential newspaper comic strip.  As I am still waiting for the rejection letters for the second round I submitted, it doesn’t really make sense to do this.  I’m sure there are other more productive things to do, but I love drawing these strips.  I had an idea for a story I couldn’t let go that wouldn’t really work in the normal continuity so I had to do it.  I did twenty new “daily” strips and four new “Sunday” strips.

s3 sunday 2 colors3 sunday 3 colors3 sunday 4 colors3 sunday color

I love how these turned out and I had a lot of fun working on them.  I have ideas for three more rounds of submissions if it came to it and I’ll probably end up drawing them even if no one wants them.  I’ll also likely self-publish this stuff as I’m very proud of it and I think Retros fans will like it.

I also designed a logo for a vlogger.  This was a lot of fun.

Logo retouched

I did a few pieces in a weird books+art thing.  I’d love to do the entire ‘Hobbit’ like this:

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So, that’s it.  This fall will consist of more Retros, a new collaboration with a friend, preparing the second and third volume of ‘The Retros’….and who knows?