I Don’t Want to be Funny Anymore

I make myself laugh, and that’s okay, I think.  It sounds really conceited but sometimes I’ll write a line or look back on something I wrote years ago and smile to myself.  I think by nature I have a tendency to write things that are lighthearted or funny.  I can write my characters say or do or experience serious stuff (such as in the next Uptown Girl book) but I can’t stay away from the funny for very long.  I  admire comics like Maus, Persepolis or even Blankets not only for their brutal honesty and beautiful artwork, but also because I just couldn’t write something so serious.

I am surprised The Retros is as funny as it is.  I mean, it’s not the funniest thing on the planet, but I expected it to be more…I don’t know, well, less funny.  More action, less humor, I suppose.  But as the series has progressed, it just got a little funnier.  I just couldn’t stop myself from breaking the tension of an action scene or a dramatic moment and adding in something silly.  I suppose the idea of being a superhero is a little absurd, and superheroes are still human (well most of them). I can imagine them getting annoyed that they have to stop having lunch to go chase down a bad guy or making a mistake when they are trying to do the right thing.  The Retros have destroyed at least one major city on accident.  Part of being human is making mistakes and saying funny things so I like to attribute these characteristics to the team.

Over the last few weeks we have seen executive actions and walls being ordered and gun ownership safety measures being lessened.  The world is changing and it’s scaring me.  My Twitter feed is filled with activism, protests, and fear.  Lately I just…don’t want to tweet about my comic.  Things are too serious right now, there’s too much at stake.  Last week I woke up early on Saturday and as is my routine, will drink coffee, listen to music and draw The Retros while my daughter draws next to me.  But I just couldn’t get into it.  After reading tweets and the news from the day before, I just couldn’t find it in me to be funny.

I draw The Retros weeks in advance.  I am about five weeks ahead of schedule so what I post is over a month old and rarely is it a reflection as to what is happening in the real world, especially when you are doing a year long story arc.  Last week as I was drinking my coffee and trying to write, I realized I just wanted to draw a jerk getting punched.  I thought it might make me feel better.  The problem with that is it would be tricky to make it fit within the story I was already doing.  I also didn’t want to break the flow of what was already happening so if I really wanted to draw someone getting punched, it would have to fit within the context of the story.  I came up with something and I think it shows a part of the world The Retros live in.

I established not too long ago that the leader of the team, Alie, is an alien, or at least not from Earth.  These days there is a lot of xenophobia and I am pessimistically  thinking that won’t change anytime soon.  I thought it might not be unusual for Alie to be confronted by someone who isn’t comfortable with someone who wasn’t born in the same town as them.

The trick is coming up with a way to further the story, add to the world of the characters, write what you feel needs to be written, not alienating your audience, and…well, just to keep writing.  Writer’s block is one thing, but feeling unmotivated and discouraged is also a tough thing.  I think I came up with something that more or less takes all those obstacles and objectives.  I think.

So, this is kind of a spoiler, but not really.  As this point in the story, the team is aware of and investigating a  weird, psychic energy that they are trying to determine the source of.  Here’s the scene I did:

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And that is that.  I felt better after I did this scene and I did a couple more pages after these three.  This morning I will tackle the next five pages in the story and then next weekend, the next five.  And so on.  Drawing does make me feel better, whether it is after a long week or when the world is ending.

 

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As the End Draws Near

‘Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart’ is about ten pages (or so) from wrapping up.  The conflict is over, life is returning to normal, rifts are being mended, dust is settling and their world is going to be funny again.

The end of Uptown Girl has never really hit me as I have been focusing on this individual story and on the pages I’ve been working on at the time.  I don’t get into a page thinking of the series as a whole, but rather what the current story needs.  It still hasn’t hit me and I don’t think it will until the first time I sit down at my table after finishing the book and realize that drawing her adventures are over and there’s nothing more to write for her.

I’ve never ended a series before so I don’t have any experience in terms of the right way to do it.  Some things end perfectly, some are disappointing and some can’t end any other way than they do.  I’ve completed a few books and many stories and I like how some end, and others I know I should have done differently.  I had a hard time wrapping up ‘The Long-Forgotten Fairy Tale’ and I knew early on it wasn’t going to be easy.  I never worried about it though.  I approach some things in life in a ‘we’ll figure it out when we get there’ attitude and I pass the the same line of thinking onto my characters.  For this story, I knew how the book would end from the start, but the middle has been all over the map.  Like ‘…Fairy Tale’, the characters get into a, well, let’s call it a jam, and real life needs to return.  When ‘…Fairy Tale’ ended, Uptown Girl, Ruby and Rocketman were stranded in the middle of nowhere and needed to return to Minneapolis.  I could have written and drawn them trudging back to their car through the forest I was really tired of drawing, but it didn’t add to the story and not only would it be boring to write and draw, it’d be boring to the reader.  Instead, I had the characters recap how they got back home through a conversation between Uptown Girl and her boss.  This is known as…

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‘The Lazarus Heart’ isn’t much different.  There is a lot of resolution (and some suspension of belief, to be honest) that needs to happen and it could have been ten pages of conversation but it would take away all the emotional impact that the scene had.  I had gotten to the end of the story and I had known how the conflict would end, I knew how the final pages would go, but the little bridge between the resolution and the last pages was a little unclear.

I knew the scene that I had to do write and draw next needed to accomplish a lot and I needed to do it right.  I had considered Uptown Girl and Mr. Mustard having another chat, but not only did I do that already in’…Fairy Tale’, it didn’t feel right.  I stared at the page I had drawn and wondered what was next.

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I think of my characters as very real and I try to write them realistically in terms of what they might need.  Ruby gets put through the wringer in this tale.  It starts early and gets worse.  I asked myself that if I were Ruby, what would I need or want after this was all over?  Sometimes we tell ourselves we need a drink or we need a vacation or we need something else.  I realized what Ruby needed and I gave it to her…and luckily it gave me a new way to resolve the lingering plot threads and explain how things settled.  It’s also one of the more emotionally and very real moments of the entire Uptown Girl series.

It’s safe to say I’ve been busy with a lot of life things since I started this book and I worried that things like job hunting, finishing my degree, launching The Retros and life itself would take away from this adventure.  However, as the end draws near I feel the book and the series is coming together in a fitting, appropriate way.

 

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First Week

A week ago I said I wanted to teach myself how to paint.  The best way to learn something is to just jump right in.  Sometimes.  It’s not good advice if you want to learn how to fly a plane, for example.   I ordered some new brushes and some gouache paint and got to work.  Learning how to do something in the art world is thankfully the same thing as playing, in my opinion.  I learned by doing and you learn not only how the materials and paper work, but also how the artist works.  For my part, I learned (again) that I work too fast and I get impatient but that doesn’t always work against you when you use watercolors.  Sometimes you make interesting mistakes and the colors run together and the end result is different but sometimes better than you expected or planned.

I am excited to see how something turns out so I sometimes usually will paint something over or next to a color before it properly dries and the colors run together and although it can create an interesting result, it doesn’t always and the painting is ruined.

It was a humbling week, trying to learn something new but I never felt discouraged or anything.  I was excited to show off what I did, for good or for bad.

Anyway, I wanted to do a quick run through of some of the art I did this week.

The first painting of the year was a fox.  It was this fox:

 


It’s okay.  I decided I didn’t like the mouth and when I tried to fix it I made it worse (I’ve had relationships like that) and the whole thing was a mess.  Before I could even try fixing the mouth I smudged it and tried to cover it with a gray box and then it just uuurrrgh.  I wanted to give it another try and it turned out a little better but it’s just…a little too cute.  The colors are better on the first crack but the mouth is better.  The two were done with acrylic on smooth bristol board with crappy brushes. Paint and smooth bristol board does not work.

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The next day was even a bigger mess as this was meant to be a kid leaning against a stegosaurus and I knew quickly this was not going to turn out well.  The idea was good, but this was not the right paint for this.  If I take another stab at this I’ll build layers of colors and use a different hue for the dinosaur.  I also worked too quickly on this and ended up sabotaging myself.  A disaster.  But that’s okay.

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So I painted Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service.  This, as well as the dino-saster were both acrylic and although this looks okay, there used to be a bright pink mouth here but I wasn’t patient and when I when I went to touch up the black around it, the colors ran together and blended together.  More black paint was added and the mouth was gone completely.

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Thankfully the next day my shipment from Amazon showed up and I got to play with my new paint.  The lessons I learned from the earlier paintings were applied and I slowed it down a little.  I waited until the orange was dried before adding the stripes to Hobbes here but the gouache dries faster and flatter than acrylic anyway.  This isn’t a great drawing but the colors are nice, bright and consistent.

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Princess Peach was next and I was excited to try a few different shades of pink.  It’s fun to blend and make new colors and I played around with the dress and the hair and I like how this turned out but until I get better (or slow down) I might need to use a pen for the black lines instead of a brush.  The black has some uneven weight lines and kind of ruins it.  But the colors are very pretty.

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We stay in the Nintendo world and move from the Mushroom Kingdom to Hyrule for Link here.  This is probably the best painting so far.  The colors are good and I think the black outlines are better than Peach.  I gave to my son who hung it in his room.  That was pretty cool.  1-6-link

After a week of playing around and learning the paint and getting comfortable and confident with the brushes, I wanted to try something a little different.  The below painting is a mess and it’s beautiful.   I wouldn’t change a brushstroke.  Well, except maybe the feet but whatever.

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So that was the first week.  Thanks for all the likes and kind words on Facebook.  I am happy with the progress and I’m having fun with this.

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What I Really Learned in College

graphic_ink_the_dc_comics_art_of_darwyn_cooke_hardcover_rawSo we begin another year.  I like that there is a New Years day.  I like that there is a cut off from one period of time from another.  I like the idea of being able to, in a sense, start over.  Or starting or stopping something.  2016 was a rough year for a lot of reasons and I have to say that besides he-who-must-not-be-named getting elected, the worst thing about 2016 was losing Darwyn Cooke.

2016 was supposed to be the year that I finished Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart.  And I didn’t.  I started penciling this book in February 2015 and I never thought that almost two years later I’d still be working on it.  There’s a good reason for it, though.  I simply didn’t have time.  In December 2015 I found out I was getting laid off in the spring of 2016.  I knew I’d need another job because I wasn’t sure if Cartoon Network would contact me before then to develop The Retros into an animated series.  They still haven’t.  At any rate,  there were a few things I needed to do.  I had to buy a suit for interviews, I had to update my resume and I had to finish college.  After high school, I was about halfway towards an associate degree before I, well, let’s be honest, dropped out.  I had gotten by without a degree for a long time but I’d be applying for jobs and I knew at a minimum I’d need some sort of degree.  I started part time online classes again in January of 2016 and worked very hard to complete my degree just a few weeks ago.

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I was stunned at how much I spent doing homework  and studying.  I had no idea it would take up that much of my day, weekend and life.  Almost every night I was doing homework or working on assignments.  I barely drew in 2016 and that was really depressing for me.  I kept up on The Retros but in the last half of the year hardly any work was done on Uptown Girl.  But I learned a lot by going to college.  Not only did I learn about permutations and event horizons, I learned how to work.  I pushed myself to write a paper better than I would have in the past.  I learned how to research, I learned how to pace myself…I learned how to fail, learn from that and then improve.  I threw myself into my studies and when it was all over, I felt like I was rejoining my life after being away from it for a year.

So, now what?  In some ways I felt I was going to be a better artist after going through this.  Earlier this year I wrote about my job search and how I did a lot of research and learned how to write cover letters, send emails and interview.  I knew that when it was time to start shopping a project to a publisher or whatever I’d benefit from that experience.    What college taught me was how to work, work and work some more to get something right.  If I pencil a panel and I don’t like it or I know I can do better, just start over.  Try again.  Try ten times if I need to.  Spend 45 minutes if I must to ink something the right way.  Of course, most cartoonists know this, but I was impatient.  I’d settle too quickly and would want to keep moving forward.  There’s something to be said about not spending too much on something but that is not a problem I have.  Yesterday I spent an hour and a half penciling and inking three pages of The Retros and later that afternoon I spent the same amount of time redoing those same pages.  The pages are better now.  I’ve written before how often I knew something was good enough and moved on and I’ve also written about how I wasn’t going to settle for that but it was obvious I didn’t mean it.  Or forgot.  Or chose to forget.

Last year I did Inktober and drew a lot of things I normally wouldn’t draw and really pushed myself to try new things.  I had a blast and after over a decade of over 90% of my creative output was Uptown Girl I was really energized to do more illustration and cartooning that wasn’t comics.  With Uptown Girl wrapping up, I will have more time to do stuff like this.  I have a few projects that I’ll be doing but I’ll also just be drawing a lot more and posting different stuff too.  I’m going to teach myself how to paint, I’m going to do more small, colorful drawings, similar to the art I do for my daughter’s lunch note each day.

I’ve committed to doing a drawing like this each day, whether it is with Copic marker, ink or even watercolor.  I’ll be posting these drawings to my long neglected Tumblr page as well as Facebook.  Today’s drawing is Superman and was inspired by art by Chris Jones.

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I am excited to see what this year brings.  I am excited to draw and draw some more.  I am excited to finish The Lazarus Heart.  I did ten pages of the book last month and I think I am about 30 pages until it’s all over.  I should have no problem having it completed by the end of February and out in May.  I also plan on publishing the first Retros collection sometime this year.  This summer, I think.

Anyway, thank you for your patience while I finished college and kind of dropped off the planet for much of the year.  I’ll be better.  In a lot of ways.

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An Unexpected Journey

I had a different idea for this post that was going to be all about panels that suck but I decided to hold off a little bit because some of the panels that I wanted to feature are pretty spoiler-y and I decided to wait.  Not that I am in short supply of panels that suck, but I wanted to show the original version, explain why it sucked and then show the revised panel that doesn’t suck  as much, or at least sucks in a different way.

Instead we’ll talk about…

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coverI’ve mentioned before how this is my favorite book and it is pure comfort reading.  I reread it about twice a year and I know it pretty well at this point  I can’t say that I like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ very much, or at all, but I love this book.  As I get closer to wrapping up the last Uptown Girl book, I am starting to get excited about doing more projects that are simply for fun and Inktober is one of them.  Inktober is a month long challenge in October for cartoonists to draw a new picture every day for a month and post it on social media.  At the end of September this year many of my cartoonist friends were gearing up for the challenge.  I was rereading ‘the Hobbit’ around this time and was reading the annotated version that not only had footnotes that touched on more of the mythology of Middle Earth but also explained things like Bilbo reading his morning letters (apparently in England mail was delivered twice a day at one point).  The book also showed art from the illustrated versions of this book from around the world.  I loved seeing the differences but really fell in love with Tove Jansson’s drawings.  Look how cool these are.

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I think she captured the cartoony look of the characters that I always pictured them and the drawings themselves, regardless of the source material, are just beautiful.

At any rate, as I was reading this I started to think how fun it would be to draw some of my favorite scenes like Gandalf rescuing the dwarves from the trolls or Bilbo talking to Smaug.  I thought about how I would draw the characters and what they would look like.  The next day I was on the Stairmaster (I get a lot of ideas exercising) and decided Inktober was a perfect way to play with this idea.

Over the course of the month, I ended up drawing a different character from the novel.  It was fun and a challenge as the book doesn’t have that many characters in it.  In order to get through the whole month I ended up having to draw characters like Roac and the elf butler.  Actually, Roac ended up being one of my favorites.  I was also glad that there were so many dwarves but it wasn’t always easy to come up with a fun way to draw them.

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I put a lot of time into this challenge, more than I had planned . The appeal of Inktober for a lot of cartoonists is to draw something kind of quick and although these drawings aren’t too detailed, most of the drawings are the second or even third versions as I wasn’t happy with them the first time.  At first I was overthinking many of the drawings or not taking enough risks.  I wanted break away from my typical style and try new things.  It was hard.  The first time I drew Bilbo he was too…well, I would never describe my work as realistic but it wasn’t simple enough.  It was a bad drawing of someone that wouldn’t look too out of place in an Uptown Girl book in terms of how he was drawn.

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I didn’t get too far but I knew that this was wrong.  If the whole month was going to be this way there was no point in doing it.  I wanted to try something new and if I wasn’t going to break away from my typical style there was no reason doing this.  It would be just one more thing to distract me from my other projects.  The drawing also failed to capture the spirit of the character and the lightheartedness of the story.  So, I redrew it.day-1-bilbo

And I think I nailed it.  I am not saying it’s the best drawing in the world or anything but it captured how I think of the character and helped set the standard that I wanted to maintain for this little unplanned drawing adventure.

day-2-bardThe next day I drew Bard and again I ran into the same problem.  He looked like he belonged in the Uptown Girl book ‘The Long Forgotten Fairytale’.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I had drawn my share of characters like that already.  I wish I could find the first attempt but again, I was much happier when I broke from my normal drawing instincts and drew in a looser, simpler style.  I say simpler but this is still a pretty detailed drawing.  But I like it.  I thought that Bard and Bilbo were among the drawings I liked the most of all the art I’ve done in the last few years but not because they were amazing but because I was happy that was I able to draw a new style that I felt looked pretty good.  I was excited for the rest of the month.

The dwarves were fun and annoying at the same time but instead of just drawing 13 characters with beards I decided to draw different scenes from the book, whether it was hanging in a tree as they ran from the Wargs or eating or running in fear.

I liked Thorin because in a way I was taking him down a peg.  The entire book he’s described a fierce grim warrior but in reality he’s kind of a jerk.  Instead of portraying him in battle I decided to show him paying his harp.  Not that you can’t be a warrior and a harpist, of course.  Here’s the first attempt and the final version.  It’s not the best drawing of the month but it’s probably not how a lot of people think of him.

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I had a ton of fun on this challenge and I am excited for next year.  It also got me excited about having more time once Uptown Girl comes to a close to do stuff like this.  You can see the rest of the month by poking around my Twitter feed.

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Careening in Full Speed

dThe way that I write is pretty unstructured and usually spontaneous.  Sometimes I wish I had the discipline to sit down and write out an entire scene or book with complete dialogue but that’s not how I roll.  I like to be surprised by what happens and my favorite moments are when all of a sudden a new scene, moment, plot point or even a whole new direction opens up and off I go.

This is exactly what is happening with The Retros right now.  I am about four weeks ahead of schedule and I am writing stuff that I am really happy with.  The scene requires some mystery, tension, uncertainty and love and I think I am really nailing it.  It’s turning out a little longer-and bigger-than I expected.  At first I thought this would be about ______ and then I thought of a way to add in _________ and then I decided this would be a perfect time to add in the first meeting between ________ and _________ and then touch on the origin of __________.  Everything was coming together.  Ideas are bouncing and careening off of each other at incredible speed.

Life is amazing, right?

aThe problem is that this little (well, getting bigger) story line is a pretty sharp turn from the main story and by the time I get back to the main story I am worried I will have lost some momentum, and the attention of the reader.  If I am reading a novel and then it flashes back to an earlier time in the character’s life I get pretty invested in those moments and when it jumps back to the ‘now’ part of the story, it takes me some time to remind myself what was happening.  I have that problem with some Stephen King books, but that’s not his fault.  This little turn off the main road was never planned.  I didn’t expect to tell this character’s backstory for a while but someone said something, someone reacted and if I read this scene from a reader’s perspective, I’d be annoyed that this bombshell was just left hanging.  So, I felt that I had to get into this a little.

bBut little is turning big, and that’s okay.  The thing I am thinking about is if I should rein myself in.  Right now I am 20 pages into this character’s backstory and I could easily double or triple it.  I am wondering if I should continue riding this momentum and keep telling this story or I should jump back to the main story and come back at a later time.  I have been doing comics for over ten years and for better or for worse and I have always just done what I wanted to do.  I wrote what I thought would be fun to draw, I taught myself how to draw cartooney instead of teaching myself how to draw realistic or stylish, I made books I thought would be fun to read.  This type of cartooning mindset likely didn’t do any favors in terms of my career.  Who knows?  Maybe if I did this instead of that I’d have a show on The Cartoon Network and have a million dollars but I am done wondering about the what-ifs and maybes.

cThe point is that I am having so much fun doing what I do and all the money and success in the world can’t make cartooning fun.

I suppose that following my instincts and letting the story tell itself is a big part of my cartooning career and has made my work fun, surprising and spontaneous.  I am lucky to be writing this backstory and having it unfold in my mind.  It’s effortless and almost a gift.

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Everything’s Coming Undone

Someone asked me a couple weeks ago what the next Retros story line is about.  I thought about it for a moment and told him so far that it was about food.

I like food.  I think about food a lot.  I think a lot of my day is spent thinking about my next meal.  I think more of our days are structured around food than we realize.  Whether it’s organizing an errand day and building the day around going out to lunch or talking about which restaurant we’re going to this Saturday or what we’re having for dinner.  I think my characters think the same way which is why I show Uptown Girl and her friends at restaurants a lot.  I don’t think that’s going to change by the time we get to the year that The Retros takes place in, and with the election results, who knows if we’ll make it another few years, let alone making it to the year 2438.

Yeah, another blog post about the election.

But let’s get back to The Retros for a moment.  The way I write and draw The Retros is a little different than how I write and draw Uptown Girl.  Since the series post five times a week, I write to that schedule.  On Sunday night I will write and pencil a week’s worth of strips.  With each four panel page, I try to make sure that the first panel sort of summarizes the previous page, and the fourth panel is either funny or a cliffhanger.  When I get to the fifth page, I either have resolved the scene or I have cranked up the action and end the page-and the week- on another cliffhanger.

When I write the strips for the week, I loosely plan for the next scene/week/whatever and who knows what happens between the Monday and Friday strip, but I do my best to get to setting up the next week’s worth of strips by the time I finish up the Friday strip.  I love the way I work because I usually surprise myself by what happens in the middle of the week.  I like working spontaneously and letting the ideas pop into my head.  I let the scenes unfold naturally and I love seeing where it goes.

I work really far ahead, usually about 3-4 weeks in advance.  A month or so ago, I was writing the pages that would eventually post the week of the election.  The scenes involved Alie and Red walking the streets of the city eating from food trucks.  Since Red is from the early 1990’s, she is not familiar with this wonderful thing.

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I knew where I needed to do a few things for this particular week of strips.  I needed to talk about what restaurants are like in the future and I needed the girls to bump into Mztik.  When I was writing the strip that I knew it would post the day after the election, and I couldn’t help but think about the comment someone made that if Hillary Clinton was elected that there would be a taco truck on every corner.  This would not be a bad thing.  I was very happy with the serendipity that the timing worked out this way.  Since I work so far ahead, I don’t bother referencing current events but I couldn’t resist the combination of a talk about taco trucks and the day after the election.  When I went to write the last two panels of this strip, I wrote two different versions that I labeled “18” and “18 bad”.  “18” was the Clinton win, the other was for hell freezing over.
Pleased with what appeared to be perfect timing, I finished the week’s worth of strips.  And then I did the math and I realized I was a couple weeks off.  “18” or “18 Bad” was actually scheduled to post two weeks before the election.

Counting is hard.

So I had several choices.

-I could just say screw it and let the strip run ahead of time

-I could change the dialogue so it wasn’t referencing the current events at all

-I could go back and add in two weeks of strips

I decided I couldn’t let this wonderful little coincidence pass so I went back and added two weeks of story.  The first week that I added was the actual fight that Alie and Sputnik had off panel with a monster called Frankenwolfenstein.

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untitled-3Doing a straight up action scene would be simple enough as I didn’t need to make sure that it wouldn’t impact the story too much…there was no plot hole to fix or anything like that, I just needed to have a moment where Sputnik injuries his arm as I drew him in a sling earlier.  My luck was still running as this new week of strips allowed me to touch on the friction between Lucky and the rest of the team.  Lucky is still upset abut his friend Zoo retiring from the team and it gave me a chance to show him still reacting to this.  PLUS it gave me a chance to draw Frankenwolfenstein.

 

The other scene was a little trickier, what else could be happening in the story that I hadn’t shown yet?  The second week I needed to add was harder.  I kept coming back to Lucky and what he was going through.  He was angry and in his own way, very sad about his friend.  I had him walking the streets of the city in the first week I had to add, so I decided to go back and see what he was doing.  Although it took me a week or so to decide what to do and come up with an idea, when it came time to actually write and pencil the scene, it went very quickly.

I love moments that open up the Retros world and this new week was full of those moments.  The Retros are a superhero team, but in a way, they are also celebrities and not unlike a beloved, hometown sports team.  They are featured in everything from breaking news reports to gossip articles.  I added in a street vendor selling bootleg merchandise and this opened up the world a bit and touched on the celebrity status of the team a bit and it also gave me a chance to write a pretty sad scene that surprised me.

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The week also allowed me to introduce Mztik earlier than I had originally and add in a fun little team up against the greatest Retros villain of all time:

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Abracapoodle is the stupidest character I’ve ever created and never would’ve existed without me having to go back and add another five pages of story.

In the end, these two new week’s of strips didn’t come off as filler, they opened up the world a little and gave me a chance to draw a poodle.

I schedule the next day’s Retros strip around 9pm and on November 8th I stayed up and watched the election results and was ready to upload either “18” or “18 Bad”.  As the results came in, it was becoming clear that on November 9th, “18 Bad” was what I needed to upload.  I scheduled the page and went to bed before the results were finalized.

I still pray they aren’t finalized.

I can’t say I have much more to say that smarter people are already saying in more poignant and coherent ways, but I am pretty…devastated about this.  I am crushed so many people could vote for a candidate so unqualified and horrible.  I am nervous about what the next supreme court could look like.  The laws that could come out of this and the impact that they could over the next few…decades is pretty frightening.  The last 8 years I have seen amazing strides in things from economic recovery, marriage equality to healthcare options.  I’ve seen friends marry who they love and get treatment for medical conditions.  I saw our country elect a black man…twice.  I was starting to feel that maybe we’re on the right path.  Going forward, not backwards, and twirling, twirling towards freedom.  Maybe 2016 would be continuous of that.  But now I am not sure what will happen.  Every step of progress we’ve made could be undone.

Like I said, better people are posting about calls to action, the impact of the election and how things could play out. Right now I am thinking about the future, from everything from doing what I can do politically, as a father and as an artist.  My wife and I are talking about what we can do from an activist role, thinking about how I will talk to my daughter about how the country elected someone who admits to grabbing women to channeling my frustrations into a future Retros story line.  I have an idea for a story line that will be a few years from now (gotta finish the current food-themed story, then the Metroid-inspired story about internet chain letters and then touching on Alie’s backstory first) called ‘Death and the Maidens’ that now has a little bit of an edge that it didn’t have before.  It’ll be a few years before I get to this story line and God only knows what the world will be like then.

 

 

 

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Untold Obligations

Hello friends.  I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged but…I’ve been busy.  I know we’re all busy and really, it doesn’t take long to write an entry and let people know I’m still alive, but the lack of progress on different projects have made me less than excited about updating my blog.

It has been an interesting year.  Next week will be the one year anniversary of The Incredible Retros.  Next month is a different anniversary as it mark a year since I found out I’d be laid off sometime in 2016.  These two change to my life have really affected me in ways I didn’t anticipate and it’s caused some temporary shifting of priorities.

Let me explain.

In December of 2016 I was told I’d be laid off and my last day would be sometime this year.  May 20th ended up being my final day and I was lucky to find a new job and start a few days later.  I spent the first few months of the year interviewing and updating my resume and all that, but still making decent progress on Uptown Girl-The Lazarus Heart as well as keeping up on The Retros and the rest of my priorities.

Summer bounced along as usual but at the end of the summer a new job opportunity opened up and I was lucky enough to get it.  This new job is exhausting me in ways I’ve never thought possible.  It is now not unusual to leave the house at 5:45am and get home around 6pm.  This happens several times a week.  Now, I’m not complaining, I am lucky to have this, and really, any job, however this is wearing me out.

I spend the evenings and weekends catching up on being a dad, a husband, a friend and a cartoonist.  With the time and energy I do have, I have to prioritize what I do.  Sure, the trim needs to be painted but I haven’t gone on a hike with Sophie in weeks, so out the door we go.  I haven’t seen a friend in a month but it’d be nice to go out to lunch with my wife.  I have an hour to draw and I really want to wrap up the Uptown Girl book, but I need to get ahead on The Retros.  The Retros takes priority because it is updated daily and requires more work, like coloring, than an Uptown Girl page.

All of this got me thinking about obligations and priorities.  I think anyone would understand why I would spend time with my family over drawing given the little free time that I have because we know what it’s like to have family obligations (I say obligations like its a bad thing, I really do love my family).  But does a cartoonist have obligations to their audience?

Well, sure.  Of course.

Neil Gaiman once defended George R.R. Martin on the topic of the length of time it’s been since new books have come out in his Game of Thrones series. “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch”, he famously and accurately writes.  Click on the link, it’s an interesting read and I agree with it.  I also agree with what Shigeru Miyamoto said about late video games.  “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”.  Another fair point.  But for me, I have a little (a lot) of guilt about not making much progress on ‘The Lazarus Heart’ as I would like.  I feel if people are waiting for something, you as the creator have an obligation to be working on it.  Even a little bit of progress.

I also feel that a creator has an obligation to stay faithful to the spirit of a book or a series.  Uptown Girl has been pretty consistently rated PG since the the first issue and I feel that it would be a disservice to her readers if suddenly the tone of the book changed and was no longer appropriate for an all-ages audience.

This slow down of progress hasn’t been all bad, though.  Having some time away from a project allows you to see it an think of it in a different light.  There was a six page (or so) sequence I needed to go back and add but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it didn’t really add anything to the book and took the focus away from the main story and characters.  So, out it goes.  Not only does editing out this part save a week or so of drawing, but it really slowed the momentum of what else is happening at the point of the story.

It’s been depressing not making the progress that I ‘d like to be making.  I had hoped I’d be wrapping the book up by the end of the year but that is not happening.  However, my personal deadline of March 1st is still realistic.  My life will slow down around Thanksgiving and even more so at the beginning of December.  I will be back on track this time next month.  Promise.

After rereading this post I realized that I might be missing my point.  I guess the long and short of it is that I still fully expect the book to be out in May of 2017 and it’s likely no one would know about this temporary lack of progress but I want you to know that I appreciate everyone who reads what I create.  I don’t have a ton of fans but I don’t take you for granted.  I feel it’s my job to create the best work possible if you’re going to spend money on it or spend time reading it.  I never feel that the book will be done when it’s done.  I know what it’s like to wait for something to come out and I am lucky to have people in my life that are excited about the next book or page of anything that I do.  You as a reader are a priority.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life Would Suck Without You

I’ve been going to comic conventions as a guest for a long time now.  The first one I attended was Fallcon back in…2005?  I remember working on Uptown Girl #7 at the convention and met my pal Albert Nguyen there.  To my surprise I actually sold some comics that day.  Actually, that surprise doesn’t change much…I am still surprised when I sell comics.  At any rate, after my first convention I started to get emails from people who read the comic and wrote in to say they liked it.

My first fans.

But to be honest, I have never been comfortable calling anyone who buys, reads or likes my comic my fan.  I am not entirely sure why…maybe because I have a rampant ego (I really do) and wanted to keep it in check and if I started thinking that I had fans that I would start…I don’t know, buying into it and elevating myself above others.  I don’t think I’m wrong in worrying about this as I did let my ego get the best of me years ago.

But I suppose if I am being honest, I do have fans.  I compromise with saying that I personally don’t have fans, but Uptown Girl does.

At any rate, yesterday was Fallcon.  I can’t say it was a great convention year if I measure it by sales.  Having the next Uptown Girl book delayed certainly isn’t helping and I’ve been too busy with trying to wrap that up, keep up on The Retros and the rest of life to try to put out a new one-shot.  But if I look at the conventions in other ways, this was a great convention season.  I spent more time sketching in notebooks than selling books, more time talking to people abut comics than making money off of them.  I sent my days talking not to fans, but to friends.  I realized that the real reason I am not comfortable with the term is that I can’t call anyone my fan.  I think of you as my friend.  I have thought of you that way for a long time.  I’ve known many of you for years and years.  It was at my second convention when I met Susan and Mark.  That was ten years ago.  I’ve seen your kids grow up and go from stroller to cosplay.  You share with me the other sketches you’ve gotten from other artists at the convention.  We talk about our families, our lives, almost anything but comics.  But we do talk about comics, don’t we?  Everything from what is happening in Wonder Woman to what the next Retros story arc will be like and the epic-ness of the last Uptown Girl story. Spoiler: the epilogue of it will be titled “My Life Would Suck Without You”.

Cartooning is a lonely thing.  I am never entirely sure what people will enjoy or what’s working or which characters people like.  It’s really, really awesome to hear what you are saying about the comics I make.  What did you like?  What’s funny?  Was it surprising when (fill in the blank) happened?  Your reactions, opinions and feedback help tremendously.  When you worry about a character it tells me that  those characters are connecting with you…that they’re working for you.  When you asked for that drawing of Volcanix it made me realize that people actually liked/like him.  When you suggested the title for the upcoming Retros print collection it told me that yes, you do read the comic.  When you gave my friend an aspirin for their headache it felt like you two knew each other for years.

Part of me thought about skipping Fallcon (not really) this year because I knew I’d end up buying more than I sold.  And that’s exactly what happened.  But I wanted to go.  I wanted to see you.  And you were there.  It was awesome.  Like I said, drawing is lonely and I appreciate your friendship, your reading my comic and stopping by to visit.  It would have been a lonely day if you weren’t there.  Without you, I really don’t know if I’d still be doing comics.  I love drawing comics but I think if people weren’t reading my stuff, it’d be hard to keep at this.

And just to add some art into this wordy post, here’s a panel I inked at the convention for the upcoming Retros arc.

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Too Many Feelings at the Same Time

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Let’s have a chat about feelings.

Emotions are all over Uptown Girl ‘The Lazarus Heart’.  The characters (and not just the main three) are all having feelings of betrayal, loss, jealousy, love, confusion, angry and sadness.  I probably missed a few, as well.

If you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while, you know that I put a lot of myself in the books.  The three main characters reflect parts of me.  Rocketman is the impulsive, never-thinking-things-out part of my personality, Ruby is the cynical, sarcastic side, and Uptown Girl is the more even keel, reasonable part of my life.  Often I wrestle with these sides throughout the day so it’s cathartic to work things out that I think about in my comics.  Doing this has helped me become very attached to my characters and I think my love and respect for them shows through in stories.  This attachment made it very difficult to make the decision to end the series but in the end, I think readers need to know the writer loves the characters too.  I fully understand why J.K. Rowling got very emotional when she killed off characters in the Harry Potter books.

As the book reaches the end, tensions are high, feelings are at their most intense and things are coming to a head before their ultimate resolution.  Some of the characters are acting selfishly, some are hurting others, and some, well some are just furious like our friend Ruby up there.

Ruby gets angry in this book.  She is dealing with a lot in this book and something puts her over the edge.  The something is a very big thing, but her anger has been bottling up for a while and she just…rips into someone.  The character she is furious with just…backs down.  Truly sorry, the character is moved to tears and shows a vulnerable side to them we haven’t see in…well, ever.

It’s almost…painful to write my characters like this.  Every character means every word they say, for good and for bad.  Lately the book is taking a lot out of me and it’s been hard to go back each night and write more.  Two characters got into a fight a while ago and it was challenging to keep going and keep writing that scene.  These days I finish a page and I am emotionally exhausted.  I know it might sound kind of stupid but I think we’ve all emotionally connected to a fictional character and they become very real to us.  Getting emotionally connected to a character that you’ve created and that you write is all of those emotions plus more.

I look forward to wrapping up the book for many reasons.  One reason has to do with the normal stress or writing a book and hoping that you wrote a good story and that it makes sense with no plot holes.  The stress of drawing the book is also part of it.  I have…concerns that the book is not as well drawn as I hoped it would be, but since the book is very emotionally driven and filled with drama, I think the art might be all right after all.  But the main reason is that I am looking forward to resolving a lot of the issues the characters have with each other right now.  I look forward to writing the scenes where they can hug it out.

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