It’s Easy to Say No


I finished the artwork for the still untitled book about a bear at the end of December.  The plan was to clean up the artwork and letter the text in Photoshop and have it ready to submit to publishers by the end of January.  Ladies and gentlemen, that did not happen.

Here’s why: I didn’t like the artwork.  I had a nagging feeling the entire time I was working on the book that the art style I was using wasn’t the right way to go.  From the early days of the book, I found that the more simple the book was, the better I liked it.  I wrote three drafts of the book and it kept getting simpler and smaller and more direct.  As I worked on sketches for the book, the simpler the art was, the more I liked it.  Once I settled on focusing on the characters, dropped all backgrounds and kept the artwork simple and bright and only drawing what was necessary, the more I felt I was on the right track.

So, what’s the problem?  Didn’t I do that?  Well, yes.  Last year I had committed to learning how to paint and falling back in love with it.  It was good to stretch my creative muscle and do something besides comics.  As I started work on the book, it felt like the most obvious thing in the world to do was to paint the book.  So, I got to work.  I penciled the characters, painting it, and then used a brush pen to define the characters.  And…it was okay.


As I neared the end of the book, I started to wonder if I made the right choice.  I felt like I was simply coloring the book, as opposed to painting it.  The characters, such as bear in the picture above, looks splotchy and uneven.  I should have used different tones of the colors and defined the characters with paint and not relied on the black ink so much.  In short, the art was not taking advantage of the strengths that paint can offer.  This ultimately lies in the fact that I am not a good enough painter to paint a book.  I painted a little almost every day last year, but I have some ways to go.

Another problem is that I needed to scan in the art and clean it up in Photoshop.  I looked into how to scan in watercolor art online but to be honest, my scanner isn’t a very good scanner.  If I need to scan in black and white line work for The Retros, sure, it works just fine, but this is a different level.  My Photoshop skills aren’t that hot, either.  Once I scanned in the artwork and started to mess around, I realized I was kinda…well, screwed.  The scanned artwork looked terrible, and after fiddling around with it in Photoshop, it still looked awful.  There’s no way a publisher would like this.  I knew that my skills as a painter weren’t up to snuff and my limited abilities in Photoshop were not strong enough to compensate for that.  Getting a book published is almost impossible.  An editor will look at the story, the characters and the art and the art needs to spark interest right away.  My book’s art was not very good.  No editor would give it a chance.

Here’s the first page, scanned, with no Photoshop magic:


I played around with it in Photoshop but ultimately felt that the artwork needed to have a better scan to work with.  Desperate, I took a photo of the art with an iPhone and tried fiddling with it that way:

new 1It looks…well, not bad, but you can’t even tell it was painted in the first place.  And if you can’t tell it was painted, then why paint it in the first place?  Again, the artwork is not taking advantage of what painting can do.

This was a new problem for me.  For the first time I felt that something I had written was better than something I had drawn.

I still believed in the story and was determined to finish the book.  I started to play around with simpler art and tried coloring with Photoshop, the way I color The Retros.

This felt…well, it felt like a turn in the right direction.  It was playing to my strengths and embracing the approach I had been using since the first few drafts of the book of simplifying.  Was this the right decision though?  What would an editor think?  When I was shopping The Retros as a newspaper strip I reached out to a few professional newspaper cartoonists I knew and asked for their advice.   I received some encouragement and advice and the best thing I was told was to not make it easy for an editor to say no.  I remembered that advice as I looked at the bear book and realized there was a lot of reasons for an editor to say no to this.  I’ve never been published before, the children’s book market is over saturated, and the artwork looked terrible.  I decided to play to my strengths and redo the book.

The creative process wasn’t that different, though.  I penciled the art, inked it with a brush pen, scanned it and colored it, just like I do with The Retros.  Here’s the new first page to compare to the artwork above:


After I did a few more pages, I realized that this was the way to go.  In order to keep sending a project out to hundreds of editors and agents you need to be confident and excited about it.  It needs to be the best thing you can create.  The previous painted version was not that.  Maybe in a few years painting a book might be the way to go, but not now.

Redoing the art also gave me a chance to rework a few things.  Here’s the first and second versions of one of the pages:

The bear is sill happy, the bunny is still singing but the banjo?  Man, that banjo sells it.

I am halfway through redoing the book and I should have it done and lettered by the end of the month.




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Square One

So, for better of for worse, the year is over.  Despite my hopes and efforts, ‘The Retros’ failed to find a publisher, whether as a comic strip or a book.  So that’s disappointing.  On the other hand, we have managed to get through the year without a nuclear war, although I suppose there’s still time.

I worked hard this year.  I finished and published the final ‘Uptown Girl’ book, finished the second year of ‘The Retros’, started the third year, did Inktober once again and started my children’s book.  So, that’s good.  I also submitted ‘The Retros’ to syndicates and publishers.  I always find time and energy to create, but writing letters and mailing book proposals out is not something I enjoy doing, so I am happy that I submitted as much as I did and to as many publishers as I could.

So, what’s next?  I wrote recently how my goal, in addition to the ongoing Retros, is to have one project to create and one project to submit to publishers going at all times.  This way I can have a balance of making art as well as getting my efforts in front of an editor or an agent.

I am happy to say that I have decided on what my projects for 2018, and beyond, will be.  In July my children’s book started to form and I started work on it in early November and I am finishing the last page today.  Once the art is done, I start the digital part of the project which will consist of Photoshopping out mistakes and putting the text on the page.  I expect this to take a month or so and begin submitting the book to agents in February.  Luckily, and dauntingly, there are hundreds of potential agents and publishers to shop this too.  It makes it intimidating to try to break into such a competitive world, but it’s nice there are so many options.   Sure, I say that now.

So, that’s the submitting project.  The creative project is…well, it’s a comic.  Specifically a graphic novel series.  Yeah.  Earlier this year I wrote about how I’d have to find a new project to work on since Uptown Girl was finished, and I stated that I couldn’t imagine doing another graphic novel, especially a series.  But…things have changed.

I am not ready to reveal the project yet, but basically the project can be summed up as “what if ‘The Legend of Zelda’ took place in White Bear Lake?”

It’s incredibly exciting to be at square one, or panel one, of a new project.  I’ve been taking notes, researching, sketching, writing down ideas, plot outlines and more over the last few months and the series is coming together.  Believe me, I did not want, or intend to start another graphic novel series ever again.  But…well, I can’t shut off an idea.  You can also blame my wife for planting the seed for this series.

I have started the first book in the series and has a tentative name of “The Underground Kingdom”.  I am about a dozen pages in and now that the art for children’s book is almost complete, I am able commit to this book even more and my goal is to have the first book done by the end of next year and out  in 2019.

Here’s page 11.

11  I hope you all had a good year and that next year is better.  Thank you for reading my blog and my comics.  I really appreciate every reader, fan, follower and friend I have.  Knowing people like what I create is a really wonderful and affirming thing.  Thank you.


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If Not For You

Yeah.  It’s been a while, sorry about that.

Earlier this year I pledged to do a non-comic piece of artwork every day.  And it was going fine for a while.  Uptown Girl was wrapping up and I knew this year would be about trying new things, thinking of new art projects and getting out of my comfort zone.  In doing this, I had hoped I would stumble upon my next project.   Of course, I’d still be doing The Retros, but I need to something in addition to that.

I was keeping up just fine on this goal until Inktober rolled around this year.  Up until October, I had been doing little paintings and I was beginning to burn out.  Inktober gave me an excuse to take a break from painting and focus on just drawing each day for a month.  Stepping away from the paint was a nice change of pace and it recharged my painting batteries again.

Once Inktober wrapped up, I pretty much stopped, or at least posting, the daily non-comic artwork.  Normally when I fall short of a goal I get a little discouraged, but I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to…meaning I had stumbled on my next non-Uptown Girl project.

While doing one of the daily paintings this summer, I drew a bear with a rabbit on its head.  I liked the drawing and wondered what their story was.  Writers talk about how some stories just…open up to them and that is exactly what happened here.  I wrote down a very loose story about these two characters and really felt I had something.  Over the next few months I did a of drawings of these two as I tried to get a feel for their personalities, their world and what this story would look like.

It was a lot of fun and they went through a lot of revisions as I tried to get them right.  Eventually I settled on the last bear here.  I liked the shape and the little fur flourishes.  I also liked it looked different than my normal style.

Over the last few months, the story stayed with me as I worked on simplifying it and stripping the story down to its essentials.  Some of the art here shows the bear at a meeting and wearing clothes.  At one point the story was going to take place in a sort of animal city, similar to a Richard Scarry story.    But the more I thought about it, the smaller the world became and focusing on the bear and rabbit as much as possible, at least art-wise, felt right.

I had planned on starting the book in earnest in January.  Starting a new project in the new year felt like a good idea, but as Inktober wrapped up and my painting energy returned, I decided to take advantage of that momentum and jump right into the book.  I wrote a second draft of the book and got to work.

As of this writing, I am about two dozen pages in, and a third draft of the prose is being created as the “voice” is reacting to the artwork, adding a little more life and humor to the story.  I am happy to say that I am four pages away from wrapping up the artwork and I should have it done by the end of the month.  Once the artwork is done, I’ll touch it up and add the text through Photoshop and ta-da, my first version will be done. The hard part is next as I try to find an agent or a publisher.  If I a lucky enough to make it to the next step of getting it published, I am sure I’ll need to do further revisions and likely redo the whole book.  And that’s fine.  Knowing I may need to redo the whole book is actually helpful here as I am not agonizing over every word or brushstroke.  Instead what I’ve done will easily present what I am going for here.

That’s not to say that it’s been all lollipops and rainbows.  Once I started the book for real I started to feel discouraged and intimidated.  I considered giving up and walking away, but the truth is that Sophie has been very excited about the book since I showed her the first drawing and she helped with a lot of ideas.  Her enthusiasm pushed me to completing this project.


So, this book is for her.  It would have been anyway, but I likely would have abandoned this project if not for her.

I am excited to have this completed and I am looking forward to submitting it to agents and publishers.  There are more options than comic publishers, but it’s also a more competitive, tougher market to get into, but that’s okay.  I have to try.

Today is Sophie’s tenth birthday, and I couldn’t be prouder to call her my daughter.  We draw together, we explore the woods by our house together, we watch cartoons and go to bookstores and ride bikes.  I love being a dad, I love being her dad.  She has shaped my life in uncountable ways.



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I’d Rather Make Mistakes Than Nothing At All

I may not be the best cartoonist on the planet, but I think I am consistent in publishing stuff.  I never missed a month when Uptown Girl was a monthly comic book, the graphic novels came out on a regular basis and The Retros is approaching their third anniversary and I haven’t missed a day yet.

I keep myself on a pretty regular drawing/creating schedule in order to stay on top and stay ahead of my projects.  I am about a month ahead of schedule on The Retros which is helpful in case something comes up.  It also gives me the luxury if I need to redraw something as I am not up against a super close deadline.

Keeping a regular drawing schedule and committing to it has been the key to staying on top of my projects.  Since The Retros is my biggest project right now and it needs to be updated five times a week, my schedule is built around that.  It used to be I’d write, pencil and ink five pages on the weekend, but my job requires working some Saturdays so it’s not always possible.  So, my Retros time has shifted a bit.  Luckily since my daughter, Sophie, started dance for the school year again, I have built in drawing time.

These days I do my Retros writing and penciling on Sunday night after Sophie goes to bed.  I use the phrase ‘penciling’ loosely as the pencils are very light.  I don’t write a script, rather I take the four panel template, write the dialogue and layout where the characters will be in order to ensure I have enough room for both words and characters.  Doing things this loosely helps making sure the pacing and timing works.

Monday nights I do any rewriting I need to and tighten up the pencils and tweak the layout and gesturing as needed.  I find that taking the time to pencil as much as possible helps make the inking go quicker.  I also find I am penciling more the older I get.  I think I see the value in it more than I used to.

Sophie has dance Tuesday and Thursday nights, so while she dances, I ink while sitting in the other room.  I scan the five pages in over the weekend, and do the Photoshop magic and clean up on Sunday morning.  The coloring for the five pages happens throughout the following week.  Before I go to work, I’ll color for about 20 minutes each morning.  I don’t do the lettering until the weekend before the strips run.  For example, yesterday I lettered the pages that will run starting tomorrow, even though they were drawn and colored a month ago.

I scan, color and letter in separate steps instead of in one sitting.  Doing it this way allows me to review the page three times before I post which gives me a chance to make sure I don’t miss anything, such as something I missed while coloring or something that needs to be edited.

So, that’s the process.

A cartoonist tends to work in a bubble.  Feedback, such as comments after a page is posted, are wonderful.  It’s good to know if something I wrote was funny or if a scene is exciting or connecting with the person reading it.  It’s also helpful to know if something sucks or if readers hate a character.  But this bubble is not limited to the final product.  There’s also a bubble that surrounds the creation of a page as well.

The other night I was at dance and Abby, a friend of of mine who also has a daughter in dance, was watching me draw while we chatted and asked why on Earth I was drawing huge x’s through panels.  I draw an x through a panel when I don’t think I can fix the various mistakes through Photoshop and I decide to redo it from scratch.

Drawing around people gives me a perspective that I usually don’t think about very much these days.  Sophie and some of her friends will watch me draw for a few minutes before they get bored and run along to do something else before dance class begins.  I like to show her friends what I’m working on and then show them on my phone what a final page looks like once it is colored and lettered.  It usually is pretty surprising to them, to see the disaster of the original artwork get transformed into the final version.

I wanted to show what the artwork looks like before and after Photoshop is involved in the process.

Warning, I will be showing future pages (without final lettering), so if you want to avoid seeing what’s coming up, you may want to come back in a month or so as the pages I am going to show will post around mid-December.

And away we go!

When I draw The Retros, I usually draw two pages on a single sheet of 9×12 (smooth) bristol board.  It saves paper and there’s less scanning involved as I can can two pages at a time.  Since I do five pages a week, I will end up with three sheets to scan.  Normally.  If I need to redraw a page or two, there might be more.

At any rate, here are the first two pages I drew from last week:

1and 2

As you can see, the lettering is very roughed in.  It’s almost unreadable but it allows me to make sure the word bubble is large enough to accommodate the dialogue but not going to be too big for the characters in the panel.

A few things too point out:

It looks like the first page here is six panels long but two of those panels are redrawn.  The top two panels are the revised panels, and the originals are right below that.

The second and fourth panels of the first page are x’d out and have been redrawn above the original four.  Once the page is scanned I will rearrange the page and delete the x’d out panels.  Thank God for Photoshop.

I will also use Photoshop for things that need to be blacked, such as Sputnik’s monitor and Lucky’s hair and shirt.

The second page has instructions to myself that read “erase” and “fix skirt”.  Reminders for myself that I need to tweak a few things once I scan in the artwork.

The drawing of Lucky above the second page was intended to replace another drawing of him in a different page.  Let’s take a look.

3 and 4

This page is a mess.

The Lucky was intended to be in the final panel of the second page posted here, but it got the big x.  Just couldn’t get his hand gestures right.  I redrew him above the page as well as on the previous page but I decided to redraw the whole panel.

Alie is also x’d in the third panel because I needed to replace her but not the whole panel.  I screwed up on her left arm and hand, likely due to not penciling her as much as I probably needed to.  The top of these pages show various Alies that didn’t work, either because Sophie and her friends kept bumping the table (the hazards of drawing around nine year olds) or because I was having an off night.

Also notice the instructions of “thin arm” under panel two in the second page.  I also wrote “clean up” under the third panel before I decided to redraw Alie as opposed to editing her in Photoshop.

Finally, we have the fifth page that I did last week:


The page here has another x’d out panel and was redrawn because Alie and Red were roughly the same height and I normally have Alie as the taller of the two.  The revised panel isn’t much different, but there’s enough of a difference to me.  Most people probably wouldn’t notice or care, but it would bug me, especially because there’s a noticeable height difference in the third panel and I didn’t want to have that inconsistency between the two panels.

My note to myself reads “lower head” which normally would instruct me to use Photoshop to move her noggin, but then the word balloon would be lower and wouldn’t be large enough for the dialogue.

Finally, we have the redrawn panel from the previous page.

And yes, I know that almost every mistake here wouldn’t be an issue if I drew digitally, but I am not ready, financially or artistically, to make that leap.,

Looking at original artwork usually triggers feelings of accomplishment or depression, depending on how they turned out.  But mostly the original artwork represents more work ahead, specifically the clean up work that comes in Photoshop.  But mistakes don’t get me down the way they used to.  My self-esteem used to take a hit if I had a bad night or week of drawing.  But mistakes come with life and I do my best learn from them, whether they are artistic or life mistakes.

To be honest, the clean up in Photoshop is my favorite part of the process.  I love taking artwork like this and turning it into something presentable.

Below are the final pages, before the lettering and coloring.  This is the result of about an hour or so of editing and erasing and cutting and pasting:

final 1 and 2final 3 and 4final 5


Not bad.

Starting tomorrow I’ll begin coloring these pages and in a few weeks I’ll letter them.

And tonight the process begins again.

But what am I doing the rest of the week?  Well, we’re out of time and I’ve rambled long enough.


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The New Age

220px-New_Gods_1971_1October is half-over and that means we are at the mid-point of Inktober, the month long, well, let’s call it a challenge, to create an original ink drawing each day throughout the month.  This is my second year participating and this time I am drawing characters that appeared for the first time in what is now known as ‘The Fourth World’ series by comics legend Jack Kirby.  Last year I did characters from ‘The Hobbit’ and I think I know what I might do next year.

When Kirby left Marvel Comics for DC in 1970, he envisioned a story that would have a beginning, middle and definitive end that would be spread across four different titles.  The original name for this epic was titled ‘The New Gods’ but that name ended up being used for 220px-Mister_miracle_(1971)_1the title of one of the books and the story line was dubbed ‘The Fourth World’ by fans.  Creating a comic with the intention of ending it was unheard of at the time.  That, coupled with the often bombastic storytelling and sometimes underwhelmed reaction from readers made DC really hesitant with this idea.  Over a course of a year and a half, the titles started to get cancelled, but not before DC stepping in with some editorial…suggestions.

Eventually Kirby was allowed to return to the 4th World to finish his story…but not really.  He was given a chance to wrap up the tale in a graphic novel but it proved to be impossible to wrap up such a sprawling story in only 48 foreverpeople1pages.  Since the original publication, ‘The 4th World’ has gone on to be recognized as pure Kirby, the chance (for a while, anyway) to create a comic his way.

I love reading this sage.  It’s…insane at times.  It moves along at a breakneck speed, storylines are dropped, characters are never seen again and the connection to the proper DC universe is often tenuous.  The dialogue is wordy and almost every single sentence ends with at last two exclamation marks.  I can totally see why it left a lot of readers and editors scratching their heads.  It went against expectations and didn’t fit the convention of a typical comic.  It was a new era of comics, but nobody knew it at the time.

But it’s pure, unleashed Kirby.  The energy and imagination just jumps off the page and continues to jimmyolsen133blow me away whenever I reread it.  It’s far from perfect, but I love the flaws, too.  Even if you’re not a Kirby fan, I think it’s pretty essential reading as even now it feels ahead of its time.

I am having a lot of fun with these characters.  Unlike last year when I tried to avoid drawing the characters too close to the Uptown Girl style, I am approaching these characters as what they would look like if they were in The Retros.

But I suppose this intention is kind of irrelevant as I have pretty much only one style.

But whatever.

The month started strong with ‘Mister Miracle’.  I am posting the drawings on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, and before Inktober I had about 120 followers and having a tweet re-tweeted or liked by more than two people was not very common.  But something…miraculous (sorry) happened on the first day.  Tom King, the writer of the current Mister Miracle series, stumbled across my drawing and retweeted it.  And over the course of an hour, I watched the drawing get retweeted and liked at a pace I’ve never seen before.  When the dust settled, that drawing was retweeted 30 times and liked 161 times.  I picked up a few followers and it felt…well, it was pretty incredible.  The next day (Barda) got 3 retweets and 9 likes and that was the end of that.  It was a fun ride while it lasted and gave me a much needed boost of encouragement.


I am looking forward to finishing up this challenge and moving onto my regular and new projects.  My recent freak-outs and spirals of frustration have dissipated and I think I know what I am working on come November 1st.








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Stay Positive

Like a nomad, I was all over the map last week.  I was still feeling discouraged about finding a publisher and a syndicate for my work, but I was also heartened by this whole thing as well.

I know that getting published takes years, and although I have making comics for almost fifteen years, I have to remind myself that I have been pitching to publishers for only a few months.  I tell myself there’s a long road ahead.  Which in it of itself is daunting, but that’s what it takes.

51n2oEIWNQL._SX495_BO1,204,203,200_Early in the week I read that the children’s book ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers was rejected by every publisher in the field for over six years before it found a home and sold over a million and a half copies.  This cheered me up for a bit, and then the negative part of me took over and I wondered if a book like that, a book that I’ve read to Sophie and really liked, took that long to find a publisher, what chance do I have?

Last week I also heard from a syndicated newspaper cartoonist that I really admire, someone I met at a convention a few years ago at a convention that I’ve stayed in touch with.  I asked him if he’d take a look at my newspaper pitch for The Retros and he got back to me the other day.  He said some very nice things and also (gently) reiterated the reality that syndicates don’t really want what you would call a continuity strip, a strip that tells a bigger story over the course of a few weeks.  Most papers want a gag-a-day strip where the characters say something funny in three panels and that’s it for the day.  The kind words really made my day and the confirmation of the reality of what the syndicates want wasn’t that discouraging because I knew that even before I put ink to paper.  He suggested maybe scaling back the number of characters on the team and slowly introducing them over time.

CCC_wallace_promo3-328x450He also suggested I reach out to another syndicated cartoonist for some guidance.  The cartoonist he recommended was someone that I’ve liked for a while now, and in fact, his strip is the closest thing to what The Retros newspaper strip is…a funny adventure strip that tells a bigger story over the course of a few weeks.  When I discovered this strip, I was excited that a strip similar to what I waned to create found a home.  I reached out to the cartoonist and we had a great chat over Facebook about the world of syndicates and getting a newspaper spot.  We got to chatting about current strips we liked and we discussed ‘Wallace the Brace‘ by Will Henry.  It’s a wonderful strip that feels like a combination of ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ with a touch of ‘Cul de Sac’ thrown in.  I’ve read this strip online on gocomics, the online platform for Andrews McMeel, one of the newspaper syndicates I’ve submitted my strip to.  The cartoonist mentioned that this amazingly charming isn’t in papers and of course my thought was that if THAT strip isn’t in the papers, what chance do I have?

So that was a reality check that my week ended on.

Most of Saturday I was feeling a little lost and spent a lot of time thinking and wondering what my next step was.   Should I retool the strip and take a stab at maybe starting off with Alie recruiting the Retros one by one?  Should I create a completely different strip?  Should I retool the Retros graphic novel and redraw it?  Throughout the weekend I was swinging back and forth wildly with feeling encouraged and excited to feeling exhausted and hopeless.  It was a tiring day.

So where I am now?  I’ve submitted the strip as it exists now to two more syndicates, up to a total of three, with one more to pitch it to.  Although it’s likely pointless I still need to try.  Besides, I knew it was a long shot before I even created it.  I found six more publishers to send the graphic novel to which was cool as I thought I had exhausted the potential publishers out there.  I also decided to take a stab and trying to find an agent for the graphic novel because, hey, it can’t hurt to try.  I also started to think about how The Retros could work as a newspaper strip if I did indeed rework it with it featuring Alie and over time forming the team.

The strip reworking is becoming more appealing to me as it would give me a chance to draw a story that I really didn’t plan on doing in the webcomic, with the exception of flashbacks here and there.  At the very least, I could do twenty strips (the minimum a syndicate wants to see) of the beginning of how the team came together.  And hey, if it got syndicated I could tell the entire story over time.

I also plan on starting my children’s picture book in January and I am still sketching out character designs.  The book will likely take the whole year to develop, flesh out and paint.  But that’s okay.

I’ve got this weird sense of urgency that is telling me to work, pitch, draw, email, paint, and submit at a breakneck speed.  I need to rein this in.  I cannot rush through a project either creatively and I need to give a project a chance to find a publisher.  I am not feeling this urgency due to age.  I’m not dying, not that I know of, anyway.  I mean, Jack Kirby was 44 when the first issue of ‘The Fantastic Four’ was published.  Not that I am even on the same talent planet as Kirby but it is encouraging to remind myself that a cartoonist’s most creative point of their life isn’t always in one’s twenties.  No, this urgency is coming from me feeling that I am really doing my best work right now and I feel that I’ve never been more prepared artistically to make this happen.  What I need to do is slow down, create and paint and draw and write and not take on too many creative projects.  I think a balance of creating/writing/drawing one project and pitching one or two completed projects is the plan.  One project to keep me at my drawing table, the other(s) to keep me going back to the post office.

So, what do I do next?  I think between now and the end of the year I will work on submitting The Retros graphic novel to any new publishers I discover and research and pitch the project to agents, as well as that lone remaining newspaper syndicate.  I will also take a stab at reworking the strip project with Alie as the solo character for now as she recruits the others.  Twenty strips isn’t a lot of pages to tell a story where an alien superhero travels back in time to build a team of crimefighters, so we’ll see how it goes.

And of course, I’ll still work on the Retros webcomic.  That’s where all this started, after all.

The new newspaper strip project will take a few months to create, likely taking me to the end of the year which works out fine with my plan to start the real work on my picture book.

That’s the plan, anyway.  On one hand it looks like the puzzle pieces of what the heck should I do next are falling into place…only until the cat jumps up onto the table and swats the pieces onto the floor.


I will be a guest at Fallcon on Saturday, October 7th.  Come see me!

I will also be participating in Inktober for the second year in a row.  Last year I did daily drawings of characters from ‘The Hobbit’ and this year I’ll be doing daily drawings of characters from Jack Kirby’s 4th World epic.  I’m excited to get started.  I’ll be posting the pictures on my Twitter account.



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Lord, I’m Discouraged

For a few weeks, every notification of an email or checking the real mail brought a thrill of “what if this is an email from a publisher interested in ‘The Retros’?  There’s a sense of excitement once you have submitted a project to a publisher that at any moment, a miracle could happen.  When I received the notification of an email or had a voicemail, I jumped on checking it as soon as I could.  A week ago I was in a meeting and my phone was buzzing like crazy.  I could tell from the vibrations I had received a few emails and a voicemail.  Of course, my mind raced with excitement as I daydreamed through the meeting about hearing from a publisher.  In the end, the emails were nothing exciting and the voicemail was from my dentist reminding me of my upcoming appointment.

I have submitted ‘The Retros’ to twelve publishers and most of them have passed the “if you haven’t heard from us within ________ weeks, then you should assume your project is not right for us at this moment” time frame.  I try not to let my hopes get up when it comes to stuff like this, but I have to admit I had that…a sliver of hope, of optimism, of possibility.

So, I am reminded of Jack Nicholson’s character from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ when he says “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddammit, at least I did that.”

Now I move on.  I will start submitting my next project this week, a newspaper comic strip of ‘The Retros’.  As excited I am about my submission, I know the odds are against me even more so.  Even though I feel the newspaper pitch is stronger than the book I shopped, there are fewer editors to send it to.

A few months ago before I started to submit the book and the strip, I knew that it was unlikely that either would be picked up.  I knew that.  God, I knew that.  I dove into creating what I thought was a fun pitch package and creating the comic strip knowing that it would likely not go anywhere.  But I love, love, love drawing and I love working on ‘The Retros’.  I happily created these things knowing they wouldn’t go anywhere.  I suppose this is one of those ‘the destination is the journey’ type of thing.

However, when I told myself that the pitch and the strip wouldn’t go anywhere, i shrugged it off and told myself that I would just need to create something else and try that.  But the other day I realized that I don’t see myself creating another comic project.  I do plan on working on ‘The Retros’ for a long time (I just plotted out the next five-six years), but I don’t think I’ll ever do another comic project.  ‘The Retros’ was born partially out of a desire to write stories and create characters that didn’t fit within Uptown Girl’s world.  With ‘The Retros’ I feel that I can do anything I want and still fit within the sensibilities of the book.

So, if ‘The Retros’ doesn’t make it, I…well, I don’t see myself being published in the comic book/strip world.  And that sucks.  Because I want to.  I want to make comics and see them in the newspaper or on the shelves of bookstores without self-publishing them.  I suppose I could try to create another comic series and give that a shot, but I don’t see that happening.  I suppose I could try redoing ‘The Retros’ into a different format as perhaps the four panel grid isn’t attractive to a publisher, but it’s more likely the way I draw and how I write just isn’t marketable.

And that’s fine, nothing is going to stop me from doing what I love, and I love what I do, I love how I draw and write.  The likelihood of me not being good enough in the eyes of the comics publishing world won’t stop me from working on ‘The Retros’.  I just need to work on something else that has a shot.  Something that isn’t comics.

But again, that sucks.  I am right now kind of grumbling about this right now and I will for another week or so and I will move on.  This all sounds more dire than I intend it to be, but I feel that writing this down helps with accepting this.

So, what’s next?  I wrote previously about how I wanted to focus on comics as opposed to a non-comics project specifically a picture book, as I didn’t feel I was ready for such a thing.  But my mind is swinging back to maybe giving it a shot.  I have spent most of the year painting and falling back in love with it.  I have been trying different styles and techniques for most of 2017 but haven’t always been posting what I have been doing.  I’m having fun with it, it’s fun to expand your horizon.  I think starting in January that I will take a crack at this bear book and just try like hell on creating it.  Over the last few weeks I’ve done a few different page layouts and played around with style, design and things like that and I think I’ve touched on how I want to the book to look.  The drawing on the left was my first design, the one on the right is the new design I am going to go with.


Whenever I’ve thought about the book, I wrestled with details, such as should the animals in the book wear clothes?  Should they live in a city or the forest?  Should they have jobs?  Should I do simple layouts or cram as much detail as I can into the page?  Should I have a strong outline (such as the bear on the left) or use a feather effect with a brush (on the right) to suggest fur?  How stupid looking should the rabbit look?  Should this be painted or digitally colored?

Making a decision on one often affected another question.  For example, if I decided to cram as much as I could into a page, then coloring it digitally would look better.  If I set the book in a forest, then could I still have non-forest animals in the book?

Over time I slowly and methodically decided on most of these things.  I did it by not thinking too hard about it.  I did it by looking at other picture books and saw what I liked and what I didn’t.  I think I know what I want to do.

So, why wait until January?  I want a little time off, to be honest.   Right now I am feeling the…well, everything that goes with the frustration and acceptance with everything written about in this post.  I want to take a little time, paint more, think (and not think) about the bear and rabbit and not jump into anything else right now.  I want to spend a lot of time on the book and not have other projects (besides ‘The Retros’) going on, such as the daily paintings I’ve been doing, next month’s Inktober and the upcoming holidays.  A new year, a new project.

So, that’s that.  I’m going to Kinkos today to print off the newspaper submission and will have that sent to syndicates and editors this week, but I am prepared for this to not go anywhere but…you know, I really hope it does.

How cool would that be?




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Now All We Need is a Little Energon, and a Lot of Luck

‘Fast Forward’ is the title of the first ‘Retros’ collection which prints the first 240 pages of the webcomic in handy, easy to carry book form.  I really, really, really want this book to be published.  I have attempted to get ‘Uptown Girl’ published in the past, but my efforts were extremely halfhearted.   After the first graphic novel came out in 2010, I sent it to probably a half-dozen publishers and that was it.  I never shopped the books that came after, either.  With The Retros, I wanted to get serious about it.

I spent a lot of time creating what I think is an attractive and fun pitch package and researched a lot of publishers.  I asked some friends to take a look and offer feedback and I actually listened to them and made changes that they felt would make it stronger.  I made many revisions over many months until I was finally ready.

I identified twelve publishers that I would submit to.  There are many more comic publishers, but some don’t take superhero comics, for example.  Reading guidelines for a publisher is a must, and it helps narrow the potential publishers down as well.  Over the course of the last four weeks, I sent my book to all of them.

This morning I submitted ‘Fast Forward’ to the last of them.  So, that’s it.  In the words of Optimus Prime, “now all we need is a little energon, and a lot of luck”.

I will keep submitting this book as I hear of other publishers, but for now, I’ve done what I can.  All that’s left is to wait for the rejection letters or, if I am feeling optimistic, a bite.  Or nothing, nothing is an option, too.  Many publishers will only respond if there is an interest, so it’s likely I won’t hear anything from anyone.

I have heard back from one publisher who passed on it, however.  When I compiled the list of potential publishers there were a few that would be a dream to work with, but not likely to pick it up.  The top of the list was the one who followed up with me, so it’s not surprising they passed on it.  Getting rejected stings a little, to be honest.  I received the email at work and it kind of put a cloud over the day…but it passed.  It did make me want to rethink everything about The Retros, though.  I looked at the format of the series and I wondered if it would be better as a comic book as opposed to the four panel, comic strip grid.  I considered redoing the book in a different format for about a week but decided to keep the series as it is.  Even if I changed formats, the likelihood of finding a publisher will still be nigh impossible, so I may as well keep the series in a format that I want to work in.  I like the four panel grid, it works well as a webcomic and the simple format allows the comic to be updated as often as it is.

Ultimately I will likely be self-publishing the book, and future books, unless there is interest from one of the other eleven publishers I sent the book too.

I am happy that I did this, though.  I followed through on submitting the book which was not something I’ve done in the past as thoroughly as I should have.

So, what’s next?  The timing worked out really well as I am now ready to start shopping The Retros newspaper comic strip.  My submission is completely written, drawn, inked, scanned (thank you Ben!) and lettered.  My pitch is finished and, like the ‘Fast Forward’ pitch, I have asked a few friends to take a look at it for their feedback.  I’ve identified six syndicates to send this to, and I hope to start sending this out by the end of September.

I feel that the strip is a stronger submission than the book, but it’s even more unlikely to find a syndicate than it is to find a publisher.  But in the words of Lyle Lovett, “What would you be if you didn’t even try?  You have to try.”

I did want to share the four ‘Sunday’ strips with you.  Let me know what you think:





After I have exhausted this list of syndicates?  I am not sure.  Possibly a Retros pitch to a animation studio?  Maybe.  Probably.  Again, that is even a longer shot than a publisher or a syndicate, but I keep targeting higher mountains, don’t I?  I’ve also started thinking about what I want to work on in 2018.  2017 was about daily paintings and honing my skills there, but will I do next year besides The Retros?  I’ve two ideas I am considering but I need to get through this year, first.


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Look What I Made

It was a pretty cool moment last week when I went to the post office last week and mailed my first round of pitches to different comic companies in an effort to find a publisher for the first Retros collection.  I am proud of what I sent, although I am keeping my expectations realistic.

I researched a ton of companies and identified twelve that might be a good fit.  It’s important to read submission guidelines carefully as each publisher is different with not only what they publish, but also what they want to see in a pitch.  There are some publishers who flat-out don’t publish superhero comics, so those are out, for example.  It won’t take long to send the book out to each of the publishers I identified since there are only a handful.  I remain optimistic, but I also know that there is a finite amount of avenue I can pursue in this.

So, what goes into a pitch?  What on earth am I sending to these publishers?  Each publisher is different, some want an author bio, some don’t.  Some want to see five pages of the story, some want to see ten.  One publisher wants to know how old I am.  I am not sure if they really care that I’m 41, but it might be a test in a way to see if I thoroughly read their guidelines.

For the most part, publishers want to know a few things:

-what the book is about

-who the intended audience is

Describing my work has never been easy for me, so it took a lot of revisions to concisely summarize The Retros.  Identifying the target audience has also been a challenge for me.  It’s easy to say that the book is for everyone, but no book is appealing to everyone.  It’s also easy to state the book is for kids since it’s bright, colorful, funny (I hope) and there isn’t any swearing in it, but the book doesn’t stray from issues of racism and has GLBTQ characters.  Hmm, this might be a good book for kids after all.  Diversity and representation is a big part of what I want The Retros to be and I know I want my kids to read about characters like that.

At any rate, it took a couple months to put this pitch together and I am pretty happy with what I am sending out.  I also have to thank my friends Zander, Antony and Ryan for their input, editing and advice while I worked on this.  I looked at a few other pitches other cartoonists posted online for guidance, and I thought I’d upload my pitch here.  Personally I think stuff like this is interesting and hopefully you will as well.

I created this pitch using Google Slides and then converted it into both a PDF format and a Powerpoint demonstration so I have multiple formats to send out.  Some publishers want a pitch mailed, some want a link, some want an email with an attachment, so I think I have my bases covered.  Google Slides makes it easy to edit this thing on the fly as some publishers want different things in a pitch and I can add in and take out pages as needed, depending on what the editor wants to see.

First up, the title page with my contact info (which I edited for this post).  These first pages summarize what the story and series is about, the intended audience and other, quick-to-the-point items.  I wanted to provide a lot of art in this pitch because I think it makes it more interesting to look at, but I also think the more someone sees of the book the more they will know what it’s about…for better or worse.1234

The next part of the pitch is showcasing the characters.  I highlight the five members of the team and some of the villains as well.


Each publisher wants to see a different number of pages in the pitch.  Some want twenty, some only want five.  I mentioned Google Slides makes editing this part pretty easy as I can simply customize this section depending the publisher’s submission guidelines.  This next part contains the first twenty pages of the book.  I like sending in as many pages as I can as I think the more someone reads of the book the more they get what I am trying to do.  Five pages doesn’t cover enough of the series, I think.  This is another reason I have included so much art in the pitch.  If a publisher only wants five pages, I can sneak in a few more panels here and there to really show what the series and book is about.  13141516171820192122

Finally, we wrap things up with some info on what the end of the book is about, social media stuff and my contact info once more.


So, that’s my pitch.  I am not sure if this is a successful pitch, however.  If a publisher picks it up, sure, then it’s successful.  But from another perspective, pitches are hard and I think these pages nail what the series is about, so in that sense it is successful.

I hope this was interesting to the non-comic people who read my blog, and helpful to other cartoonists who are trying to figure out this part of the process.


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Can’t Finish What You Started

When I finished the last page of the final Uptown Girl graphic novel in February, I was excited about doing multiple creative projects, as well as playing ‘The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild’.

I thought the same thing when I finished the last page of the monthly comic series almost ten years ago, though.  Projects take talent, passion, commitment and a dedication to follow through and finish.  Once Uptown Girl started as a graphic novel series, I realized that if I ever wanted to finish the books, as well as work full-time and be a father and husband, I really didn’t have time to do anything except work on the book.

Life after Uptown Girl has been more drawing and less Nintendo than I had expected, but that’s fine.  I love drawing and I am energized and optimistic about what I am creating.  But the lack of structure that Uptown Girl books demanded affects my output and planning.  I thought it would freeing and exciting to not really know what I’d be drawing or working on a day to day basis.  And it was at first, but things have changed.

A few weeks ago, I sat down at my drawing table and realized I didn’t know what to work on.  In the Uptown Girl days, I always knew what I was doing that night and that week.  Usually my to-do list consisted of “pencil page 165 on Monday, ink it on Tuesday, scan/photoshop/letter on Wednesday, pencil page 166 on Thursday…” and soon page by page, drop by drop, the book was finished.  A journey of a thousand steps, if you will.

Sure, I always have The Retros to work on, but my schedule for the Retros webcomic is that I think about the next part of the story all week and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, fueled by a pot of coffee and music, write and pencil and ink and scan the next five pages.

But that particular day I didn’t know what to do.  I did my little daily painting and…well, didn’t know what else to do.  I have an idea for a new picture book, and unlike my earlier ideas, I think this one is really solid.  It has a solid start, middle and a really great ending.  I am having a ball with it.


I had a realization the the other day as I was looking at the artwork for the Retros newspaper comic strip pitch.  I realized that I was doing the best work of my comics… well, let’s call it a career.  The work I am doing now is the result of fifteen years of drawing, erasing, inking, studying, reading comics, talking to other cartoonists, failing and trying again.  Cutting my teeth, if you will.  Here’s the art for the first strip:

strip 1

I then looked at the art I was doing for the picture book and although it’s not bad and not the final work, I haven’t put in the time that I have with my comics.  And it shows.  Doing a painting each day is a great start, but I’m not ready artistically to do such a project.  Trying to write and illustrate and then shop a picture book is a huge undertaking…especially when you haven’t established yourself in the creative world.  I need to step back from this project for now.  It requires a commitment that I just can’t work into my life right now as long as I am working full-time and working on The Retros.

I also realized that I am falling into what I had hoped to avoid.  I was drawing and researching publishers and working on my pitch to potential publishers, but not doing anything with it.  I have a really solid Retros pitch that I will use to shop the first collection of the webcomic to publishers, but it sits on my computer (well, Google docs) not doing anything.  To be honest, why I don’t print it off and throw it in the mail is beyond me.  I am not afraid of a rejection letter and the prospect of that is not turning me off.  I don’t feel it’s pointless at all.  It’s good stuff, the type of comic I would love to do for a long time and I am proud of it.

No.  My problem is that I love to draw and after spending 10 hours a day at work and 3 hours in traffic (I hate my commute), the last thing my brain has the ability to do is write a letter and do anything on a computer.  I just want to draw each night and that’s it.  I know I need to do non-creative work if I want to get published, but I just avoid it and ope it somehow gets done but…it doesn’t get done.

I talked to my wife yesterday about all this.  I told her I don’t know what project to work anymore.  I told her about a post I saw on ‘Humans of New York’ that kind of was a wake up call to me:

“My English is not good. Spoken English is very difficult. But I want to study at Columbia so I am trying to improve. I decided to come to America because of Forrest Gump. I’ve watched the movie five times. I like Forrest very much. Forrest is very simple. He picks one thing, and he keeps going. When I was young, I thought Forrest was stupid. But now I have a different view. I think people are too complicated. They complain about everything. Forrest never complains. Forrest chooses one thing and he keeps going. I watched the movie last month to encourage me. My life is hard because people don’t ever know what I’m saying. But I just think of Forrest. Forrest figured everything out because he just kept going.”

I realized that he touched on something that is the root of my problem.  A complete (and willing) lack of focus of my own doing.  I need to choose one thing, finish it, and then start something different.  Currently I am working on wrapping up the second arc of The Retros, researching publishers for the first Retros collection, my newspaper pitch, an unannounced Fly-Girl project (this doesn’t count as an announcement) and the now sort of…well, not abandoned, more like…set aside for now, picture book.  Some projects are creative, some are not.  It’s the creative projects that get my time, energy and attention.  Amy pointed out that I need to come up with a schedule ahead of time.  She said I spend too much time working at being a cartoonist and not enough time being a published cartoonist.

That’s a damn good perspective.  And she’s right.

If I want to do this, I need to do the non-creative work.  I need to spend my evenings writing letters, printing the pitch package and mailing it.  This realization and perspective really energized me, to be honest.  No one is going to come to me, I need to go to them.  I have projects I believe in, I have projects I am excited about but I need to tell people about them.  I need to finish what I start.  Drawing the last page of a book is not the end of it.  I need to do the pitching too.  It’s part of the project.  Although the book is completed, its not finished.

So, my goal is to send out three Retros (the book collection, the newspaper strip submission is still in the Photoshop stage) submissions each week until I have exhausted all potential publishers (currently I have twelve that I am targeting) or have a publisher.

So, that’s that.

Smart lady, that Amy.




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