Changes

Okay, first of all, the new Uptown Girl book, Imitation of Life is done.  And I mean DONE.  There’s a box of the completed book in my garage.  They will go on sale on May 16th at SpringCon.

Imitation of Life is a collection of short stories with much variety, as demonstrated by my daughter Sophie, age 7:

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Some stories are funny…

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…some are sad…

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…others are exciting…

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…and some…might be kind of boring.

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I am very glad the book is done and it’s on my bookshelf.  I am working on the next one (The Lazarus Heart) and I imagine it will be even more taxing as the others.  This one if a big one.  I was pretty intimidated by the scope of The Lazarus Heart and was very happy when Brian Bastian, the writer of the first Uptown Girl graphic novel ‘Big City Mysteries’, said he’d write it.  But he withdrew from the project and I am scrambling a bit to write it.  I am not much of a writer and when I wrote ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’, the Uptown Girl book that came out last year I was running into plot holes and other challenges.  The book was close to 300 pages and I promised I’d never write anything that long myself…but here I am.

I decided to go another route this time and instead of working from an outline and writing/penciling/inking a page a day, I decided to write and pencil the whole thing before I started inking.  This change will help with the focus, energy and momentum.  It’s going well so far, I am close to 30 pages and at this pace I should hopefully be done with it by the fall.  Inking will probably take over a year and,  God willing, the book will be out in 2017.

The other change I made was bumping up the launch of The Retros, my new webcomic to November of this year.  It was scheduled for January 2016 but…I moved it up.  Yeah.

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Wrapped up in Books

imagesIt sometimes hits me how much of my life is consumed by books.  Whether it is a book I am reading (currently ‘The Devil in the White City’ by Erik Larson), the book(s) I am working on (Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart and The Retros v. 1), the books I want to work on or the books I’ve already finished, it seems that books are one of the most important things in my life.  Of course, there is also accumulating books, buying comic books or trying to figure out where I am going to put all these books.

Could be worse, I suppose.

3This past week I received the proof for Uptown Girl – Imitation of Life.  It looks great, the printer did an amazing job and looks better than I thought possible thanks to Ben’s brilliant cover work.  I haven’t had a chance to go through it and make sure it’s all in the right order but I’m getting to that this week.

The other thing I’m working on is a Retros minicomic one-shot featuring Fly-Girl for Free Comic Book Day.  I haven’t done a minicomic in like…five years so it’s weird to be back at Kinko’s gluesticking pages to paper and making hundreds of copies.

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Anyway, as for The Lazarus Heart, I just finished inking the prologue, which was about 20 pages.  The prologue was not a lot of fun to draw and it really challenged me.  I’m glad to be done with it and excited to work on the next part of the story.  Unfortunately Brian had to drop out of writing the book so I am going to be taking over.  I’ll be using bits and pieces of what he wrote.  This will slow down the book a bit but I don’t expect it to be delayed beyond what I already expected.

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Girl Who Could Fly

Early in my comics career I did a lot of events.  I did a lot of conventions, I gave a lot of lectures at libraries and colleges about comics, I did signings and taught comic classes.  It was a lot of fun.  I think my favorite thing was participating in Free Comic Book Day.  Most of the FCBD events I did were at Jimmy Jams Comics and Games.

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Here’s cartoonist David Tea and I in front of Mark’s store. This was in 2002, I think.

Untitled-2 copy

An action shot of me doing nothing while cartoonist Albert Nguyen draws.

Brian and I did about four FCBD events at the now closed Rochester store.  I think the last one we did was in 2005?  Once the Rochester store closed FCBD was always kind of bittersweet.  I loved the event but really missed Mark and his store.  Thank goodness I’m still friends with Mark and his wife, Susan.

Jimmy Jams still has a location in Winona and the owner purchased another comic store in La Crosse, Wisconsin a little while back.  He invited Brian and his brother Dan and I to a signing last October.  It was a lot of fun.    I hadn’t done a lot of signings and lectures for a while…I took myself out of a lot of events after a few years and once my daughter was born.  I was burnt out and needed a break and wanted to focus on my comics.  This was a bad decision, in retrospect.  I was a fairly well know cartoonist in the Twin Cities thanks in part to my constant promoting and appearances.  I quickly slipped into obscurity and will likely never be as “famous” as I once was.  It was the right choice at the time but when I decided to get back into the game I realized that I was an unknown once again.  I made the realization that *I* will never be a famous cartoonist, but perhaps I could create something that is popular.  I used to have dreams of being a freelance artists and doing magazine covers for local publications or spot illustrations for the newspaper.  That’s not going to happen.  I wish I had time to promote myself as a freelancer and build a portfolio but I choose to spend my drawing time working on Uptown Girl and The Retros.

Anyway, at the October signing Mark asked if Brian, Dan and I wanted to do FCBD in 2015.  I haven’t done a FCBD in a very long time so I’m looking forward to it.  Usually at these events Brian and I would create something new to give away.  We thought it’d be fun to “remaster” a one-shot we did about ten years ago starring Fly-Girl of The Retros.

FlyGirl PBFly-Girl was the first character we can honestly say we created together.  Brian and I really liked her and had big plans for her but ended up creating only one comic with her in it.  As we started to work on the Retros we both felt there was something missing from it.  The early days of the Retros had a constantly changing cast of characters but the roster never seemed right.  Eventually one of us suggested adding Fly-Girl to the team and the other one of us said no.  Then a while later the other one of us suggested adding her again and presto, she was on the team.  Adding her to the team was really the moment we felt that the team was complete.  She was the final piece of the puzzle and really got us excited to work on the project.

I drew the one-shot about ten years ago and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.  I know I have a copy somewhere in the house but I haven’t a clue as to where.  Brian dug out his copy and I got to work.  The one-shot was drawn mini-comics style.  Splash pages, different layouts and varying panel sizes.  In order to be consistent with The Retros format (each page having a four panel grid layout) I decided to redraw it in that same layout.  Taking a 16 page comic and changing it to a 12 page, four panel layout wasn’t easy but I think it looks okay.

Here’s an exciting action sequence from the first comic compared to the new version:

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Yeah.  I like how this is turning out.

I’m looking forward to May 2nd!  And then MSP Comic-Con is two weeks later with the release of the next Uptown Girl book!  I’ll talk more about that next week.

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That Voice Again

So things have been pretty…boring and exciting and humbling and discouraging and pointless and full of endless potential all at the same time and its overwhelming to go from one sweeping extreme to another, often over the course of an hour or in the time it takes to ink one small panel.

So let’s take about what you came here to talk about: professional athletes.

Growing up, I wasn’t good at sports.  I was terrible.  I had a lot of friends who played sports and since I wanted to hang out with them, I played sports too.  In grade school so many of my friends dreamed of becoming a professional athlete.  I saw my friends play on little league teams, then on teams in junior high, and in high school and so on.  The careers of pro athletes start early.  There seems to be a finite time that one has to make that dream come true.  If you want to play for the Yankees (but why would you?) and you aren’t on a minor league time by the time you’re…what, 22?  It’s probably not going to happen.  And of course once you hit 30 that dream is probably unattainable.  And one dislocated ankle can derail all those dreams for the rest of your life no matter your age.

Growing up with dreams of my own, I could understand the drive that my friends had.  I could also sympathize with them knowing that there was such a short span of time to make that dream happen.  I listened to my friends when they were worried about getting hurt during practice and how that would affect their future career.

My dream was different.  I could hurt or lose all of my limbs except my right arm and still make a decent shot at my dream of being a cartoonist.  I didn’t have that age deadline or time limit either.  Of course, as I get older it seems more unlikely my dream will come true but up until recently that didn’t bother me too much.  “After all, Jack Kirby didn’t draw the first issue of ‘The Fantastic Four’ until he was 44 years old” I would tell myself.  That was encouraging.  But then that little voice pops up and reminds me that he was making a living off of comics before he was twenty years old.

As November and my 40th birthday gets closer I admit I am getting more and more discouraged with my creative life.  That little voice gets louder and more annoying and in addition to reminding me about Jack Kirby, that voice also starts telling me that the likelihood of me moving my family to New York and living in a loft while I work on The Retros comic strip (syndicated in over one billion newspapers) or moving out to Los Angeles for my career as the producer of the Uptown Girl animated series (and the basis for several box office blockbuster movies and Broadway smash) is dwindling rapidly by the minute.

When I start to listen, or believe that voice, drawing comics becomes a lot less fun.  Not necessarily because the dream won’t come true, but WHY the dream won’t come true.  “You’re not good enough” the voice says.  “And you know why you aren’t good enough?  You cared more quantity that quality when you were publishing Uptown Girl as a mini-comic.  If you spent more time working on your art and weren’t trying to hit an arbitrary deadline of getting a comic out once every four weeks, you’d be a better cartoonist”.  The voice also reminds me that I should’ve drawn a little longer last night instead of playing Smash Bros.  Or going for a run.  Or working on my blog.  Or a million other things.  I hate that voice, and I hate that the voice is right.

The voice can’t really be reasoned with.  It’s pure passion and drive.  The voice is encouraging me in its own way.  It works sometimes but I’ve other responsibilities and there are other things I like to do.  Sure, playing Nintendo with my kids isn’t going to get me an animation deal but it’s fun.  Spending time with them is important for them and for me.  King Features might be more interested in syndicating The Retros comic strip if I worked on it last night instead of having wine with my wife last night.  And of course, I bet I’d be a much better cartoonist if I wasn’t at work for 50 hours a week.

The voice was pretty loud the past two weeks but a few things have gotten it to shut up a little.  Some things I can talk about, some I can’t.

Here’s what I can talk about:
1) Uptown Girl – Imitation of Life goes to the printer on Friday

2) I am going to be at Jimmy Jams Comics in Winona for Free Comic Book Day in May

Here’s what I can’t talk about:

1) That thing

2) The other thing

Making progress on stuff, validation for my creative work helps with that voice.  When good things happen, the voice is a little nicer to me.

And before anyone gets too worried, yes, I know the voice isn’t real.  It isn’t telling me to burn things or that there are government agents tapping my phone line.

Also, just so you know that my life isn’t all conversations with imaginary voices and video games, here’s some recent art from Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart and The Retros.

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Working on a Dream

Last week I worked on Uptown Girl and The Retros.  It is a little unusual to have two comics projects going at the same time.  It feels a little like…dating, I suppose, drawing two different comics.  Comics-wise, I’ve done almost nothing but Uptown Girl for over ten years.  I’ve done two one-shots (one starring now Retros team member Fly-Girl, and the other based on my brother-in-law rock star called ‘Time Avenger’.  Both of these one-shots were written by Brian Bastian, who also wrote the other comics project I did besides Uptown Girl in the last ten years, a 12 issue series called ‘Tommy Chicago’.

I’m not used to having two projects that have equal weight in terms of deadline and productivity.  But I suppose Uptown Girl will always edge everything else out, even slightly.  When I did have other comics projects going besides Uptown Girl I found myself getting a little burnt out, especially during most of that ten years I was on a monthly schedule for Uptown Girl.  I’ve wanted to do a second comic for a little while now, once it was clear Uptown Girl wasn’t ever going to be a hit animated series or achieve Scott Pilgrim-like success.  Make no question about it, I love Uptown Girl, I love comics, I love drawing, but man, the dream is to make a living off of my comics.  I decided it was time to add another project onto the pile.  Maybe something else could take off, perhaps?  I’ve done as much as I can with Uptown Girl…I’ve talked to movie agents, animation studios, dozens of comic book publishers…even Cartoon Network but Uptown Girl is, and will forever be a labor of love that is read by a few dozen people.  In it’s heyday there was more potential, and looking back there were things I should’ve done differently and would do another way if I could go back, but that’s not possible.  I was younger then, I had more time, I was single and childless.  Perhaps I was more optimistic?  Naive?  At any rate, it’s time to create something new, a new dream, but I had no interest in doing two comic books, I wanted to other projects if there were different from Uptown Girl, so I suppose that’s why I’ve dabbled in children’s books off and on over the last few years.  A children’s book takes a lot of time commitment and since Uptown Girl came first in terms of creative projects I didn’t have time to work on one.  Having a self-imposed deadline also is attractive to me as it really pushes productivity, which is helpful when life offers other distractions.  Doing a monthly comic really helped with quantity but not quality.  Releasing a new Uptown Girl graphic novel annually was ideal.  I had a whole year to do a 250/300 page book which gave me time to make the book look as good as I possibly could, but it also gave me a deadline.

GO TIME

Page 75, panel 4 of ‘The Incredible Retros’.

At any rate, The Retros is the perfect other comic.  It’s very different from Uptown Girl since it’s a team book, more science fiction-y, and a four panel layout as opposed to Uptown Girl’s anything goes layout.  Uptown Girl can get away with multiple pages in a row of Uptown Girl and Ruby chatting and walking through a mall, but the Retros is all about action and exposition while fighting a robot King Tut.  Uptown Girl can work with a few panels in a row that look similar if the emphasis of the scene is what is being said, as opposed to what is happening.  But with only four panels per page, I don’t have that luxury of space/time so it forces me to re-think a page or a scene.  Each panel in The Retros has to count.  Sometimes the Uptown Girl stories I like the best are her just doing every day stuff so I can take a more leisurely approach to a page but each panel in the Retros has to have exposition or explosions or action or something to move the story along.  I am going to set myself a deadline/schedule for The Retros since it will be a webcomic (launching January 2016 I hope), and I am flirting with the idea of a daily comic (Monday through Friday schedule).  It might be more than I can handle but I am over 75 pages of the series so far so I am pretty far ahead.  It’s also a comic that I think could get a way with being daily in terms of content.  Each page is part of a larger story and some pages are just a fight scene which is fine in terms of a 300 page book, but doesn’t really work when you have to wait 2-3 days to read what happens next.

Anyway, an example of the leisurely pace that Uptown Girl can do that the Retros can’t pops up in Uptown Girl ‘Big City Secrets’, she and Rocketman are discussing an exciting event that happened but Rocketman interrupts her:

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Yep, right in the middle of moving the story along we have a conversation about tea.  I love this page, I love this moment.  It exemplifies the characters perfectly.  It is a quintessential Uptown Girl moment.  I can’t imagine this scene working in The Retros.  This page really shows how different the two comics are which allows me to stay excited about both projects.

Anyway, accountability update.  I know I’ve been quiet on the ol’ blog often, but I promise I am working.  Uptown Girl-Imitation of Life is all proofread and corrected, I am finishing the back cover of the book today and should be at the printer by the end of the month.  I am up to ten pages of the next Uptown Girl book, ‘The Lazarus Heart’ and all ten pages are scanned and cleaned up in Photoshop.

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Let’s Try This Again

So this is the first page of Uptown Girl-The Lazarus Heart:

1st draft

No wait, this is:

2nd attempt

Sure, they look pretty similar, but here’s the major difference:

side by sideYep, the first page is bigger.  I got four pages into the book and I realized something was…off.  I couldn’t figure it out and wasn’t really excited about working on it.  So I took a few days off and worked on The Retros for a bit.  Artistically the big difference between Uptown Girl and The Retros is the layout.  When I started The Retros, I knew I didn’t want to do two different comics in the same way.  Uptown Girl’s layout can be anything I want, big splash pages, three long vertical panels, nine panels on a page…but The Retros is a strict four panel page, like this:

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Working this way forces me to think about layout and page design.  It teaches me about page economy, making the most out of a panel, and ultimately out of a page.  I try to have each page show a beginning, middle and end, in a way, similar to a daily comic strip.  I won’t have a conversation start on the third panel of a page and continue onto the next page.  Each page is meant to have a cliffhanger, I suppose.  It is an intentional design, to have each page stand alone in a way, but also a part of a larger story.  I am also working smaller.  This is also intentional so I can learn a new way to draw and again, it forces me to think about a panel layout more.  It’s a very frustrating but fun thing to try and work in several characters in a single panel, or convey a sense of scale for things in the background for example.  Also, The Retros has nothing but square shaped panels, so rectangle shaped panels are not an option.  Here’s a comparison between a typical Uptown Girl panel and a panel from The Retros:

side by side 2Not a big difference, but big enough.

I realized that after a few pages of Uptown Girl and then a few pages of The Retros that I wasn’t comfortable working big.  I got so used to working on a smaller scale over the last year or so with The Retros.  I decided to go back and redraw the Uptown Girl pages smaller.  I liked these new pages very much.

Long time readers of this blog will probably remember me getting 40 pages into a previous Uptown Girl book (The Long-Forgotten Fairytale) and then going back to redraw it on a smaller scale and then getting 80 pages into it…only to go back and continue to draw (and redraw) the book in the original size.  Yeah.  That sucked.  I don’t anticipate that happening this time.  Over the last two years I’ve learned a lot about cartooning which made me happy and surprised.  I didn’t realized I learned anything new until about a week ago.  Since ‘Fairytale’  I’ve gotten better working smaller…it really comes down to knowing what to leave out.
As of today I am up to 7 pages of ‘The Lazarus Heart’.  It’s going slowly but I expect to be back on track soon.

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Wasting Time on the Internet

I suck at the internet.

Well, I know how to use it, I don’t even use Internet Explorer unless I have to, but when it comes to gathering a following or an audience I am in pretty unfamiliar territory.

It seems I am always a few steps behind self promotion from where I should be.  When I started doing mini comics, my peers were doing perfect bound trades.  By the time I was doing trades, everyone was doing webcomics.  By the time I had a website, everyone was doing blogs.  Everyone was using Twitter by the time I started a blog.

Truth is, I’d rather draw than go online.  I also feel kind of awkward when it comes to promoting myself.  I don’t think I am good enough to be on the same internet as some of my heroes.  I have a blog (surprise, you’re reading it) and I set up a Twitter account to promote and draw attention to The Retros, but the followers and blog stats aren’t very impressive.  Normally I wouldn’t care, but it is a way to see if people like you or your work.  These days your Twitter followers are more important than ever.  It’s something that a prospective publisher will look at when it comes to deciding if they will publish your work.  It makes sense and I’m not criticizing the idea, but my 23 followers (who I love very much) will not convince Top Shelf or anyone to publish The Retros.

In a way I wish I didn’t have a Twitter account or a blog.  I can tell how many people like/follow me by looking at my stats.  Before I didn’t know if people liked my work, but now I do.  It’s like in the early days of caller ID.  15 years ago people had something called ‘landlines’ and having caller ID cost extra.  I could see who called while I was out.  If nobody called in the 10 hours I was gone, sometimes it stung.  Like ‘no one called, so everyone in the world hates me’.  But if I didn’t have caller ID, I could be all delusional and pretend I was the most popular person on the planet and my phone was ringing off the hook while I was gone.  Having caller ID settled that mystery once and for all.

I don’t really know how to use Twitter to gain followers.  Should I keep my account limited to just posting art?  Should I try to…I dunno, post funny thoughts and links?  How much of ME should be tweeting?  I suppose if people like someone, they might be willing to give their creative work a shot.

This doesn’t have much to do with comics, but in some ways this has everything to do with comics.  I’d love to make a living off my comics and be able to spend more time making them, but I need to be famous before that happens, I think.  I suppose I’ll just stick to making the best comics I can, and let my work speak for me and see what happens.

I mean, look at this page from the Retros.

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Is it the best page in the world?  Could someone else do it better?  Is it even the best page I’ll ever do?  No, yes and no.  But it’s the best I can do of a giant swamp monster lunging towards an evil time-traveling robot…guy.  Plus it was super fun to draw.  And comics that are super fun to draw are kind of important.

But if you feel like following me, I won’t stop you.

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