I Believe in Miracles

Last week was an interesting week.

Since I found out in December that I’d be losing my job in June, everything has been interesting.  My job is a big part of me, it allows me the means to take care of my family, to finance my art and to publish my books.  This news really threw me for a loop.  I think so much of my life is up in the air right now that I’ve no choice but to be open to anything.  It’s a little unsettling to have that perspective but when everything is changing you’ve no choice but to roll with it, control and change what you can and believe in miracles, luck and hard work all equally and at the same time.  Lately I believe in taking more chances.

I believe in hard work more than miracles, more than luck.

Lately I’ve been thinking about this poem by Michael Stipe:

A shiver came quick,

grabbed me up by the back of the neck,

and shook me down to the floor,

through my shoes, through the floor,

to core of the earth.

I muttered something, swallowed some air.

Science, miracles, monkeys, or prayer,

I’ll believe in anything when I’m there

I’m certain I’ve said that before.

I’ll believe in anything when I’m there

I’m certain I’ve said that before.

I know this post sounds completely random and has nothing to do with art, but it does, I think.  I think I’ve gotten braver than I thought I could get.  Sure, there are times when I freeze up and get completely scared about how on earth I am going to pay the mortgage in the next few months and I wonder if I should be more freaked out than I am.  I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with people related to the job search world.  People who’ve helped me with my resume, connections, advisers and employers.  Last week I had a conversation with a retired CEO who asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  Since he had connections to a pretty reputable employer, I gave him the “I need to provide for my wife and family so I am going to tell you something about working hard and moving up the corporate ladder” answer.  He waved that answer aside and asked me what I really wanted to do.  I told him my dream job was to be a newspaper comic strip cartoonist.  I told him a little about The Retros and how I’d like to submit it to newspaper syndicates.  He asked why I hadn’t done that yet.  Why aren’t I doing that?  I didn’t really have a good answer for him.  To be honest, I am not ready to do that yet.  I think I am close to be overwhelmed with everything going on to tackle putting together a submission packet.  I am close to losing my mind but I’m doing just fine for now.  Although my job is winding down, my responsibilities are still hectic and between that, and looking for a new job and working on Uptown Girl-‘The Lazarus Heart’ I don’t feel I can devote any more energy or room in my brain to another project.  If anyone out there wants to put one together with me, drop me a line, though.  I will do something with The Retros, though.  The cartoon is still being worked on, in fact here’s a new screen shot:

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The conversation did put some things in perspective and for some reason things didn’t seem as impossible as I usually felt they were.  The plan is to finish up ‘The Lazarus Heart’ and then tackle the syndicate stuff.  Of course, I don’t think the Retros has a chance but it’s still worth a shot, right?  I’ve never received a rejection letter from a syndicate before.  I can add it to the collection.

Like I said, I believe in hard work and miracles.  You can have all the opportunities and connections in the world but without working hard on something, those connections will do you no good.  Last night, by chance, a potential miracle happened, but no reason to get my hopes up.  But still.  Earlier I said I believe in taking chances and it’s amazing what might happen by just taking one.  And I did.  Email addresses were exchanged and I remain hopeful.

I know I am being vague but the point is that my life is going to be different than it was in December.  I’ll have a new place to work, maybe my wife will return to full time employment (although as someone who takes care of our home, our kids and her own parents, I would say she already works full time.  With overtime.), maybe I’ll be selling my books so I can afford the electric bill.  I don’t know.

So, like the man said, I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m going.

Anyway, here’s some more artwork.  I like making cards for people and here’s three I made over the last two weeks:

 

 

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A Boring Story

I hate redoing entire pages but what I hate even more is a bad page.  It happens less than it used to (don’t worry, I still turn out really bad art) because I really have worked hard on slowing down and taking my time so I don’t have to redo anything but it still happens.

Some spoilers ahead, so keep that in mind.

I drew page 166 of The Retros a couple weeks ago.  In the scene Fly-Girl and Sputnik have a quick conversation before they are attacked by a giant robot snake.  Here’s the first attempt:166 first

Talk talk talk snake.  I know there needs to be room to have a conversation sometimes but I got to thinking…I have a scene with a superhero talking to a robot while a giant metallic space snake sneaks up on in them…in the year 2438.  So why is it so boring?

Usually when I redo a page it’s because there’s something off about.  The proportions, the drawing itself but this page screamed ‘redo’ because it was so boring.
So I redrew it yesterday:

166

I like it much better than before.  There’s some backgrounds, the snake in panel 3 looks a little more intimidating and I love the way it coils around Fly-Girl in the final panel.  It should be fun to color.

It’s weird showing off stuff that won’t be online for like 6 months, but there you have it.

On the Uptown Girl side I am up to 89 pages, inked and lettered.  I am still on pace to complete 20 pages a month.  I’m guessing I am about a third of the way complete.  I fully expect to be done by the end of the year.  I don’t want to talk too much about what’s happening in the book at this point but rest assured, everything is falling apart for our heroes.

 

 

 

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Digital Magic

For a long time, I didn’t want to use Photoshop with my comics because I didn’t want to rely on it too much.

But a few years ago I fell in love with how nice computer lettering looked.  I also liked how I could simply click on the paint bucket icon and fill in the night sky without having to spend 15 minutes painstakingly using a brush to get the same effect.  I know it’s not *really* the same effect, there’s nothing like inking with a brush, but still.

Then I started to draw the panel borders with Photoshop.  Soon I stopped using Wite-Out altogether (almost) because I could just clean up the panel after I scanned in.  These days I spend almost the same amount of time Photoshopping a page as it took to ink it in the first place.

But that’s…okay.  I’ve come to peace with this…demon in a box that makes life and comics easier.  It’s not as much fun to look at my original art anymore because part of me knows that I can be a little lazy (well, maybe lazy isn’t the right word) because I can, as my film friends would say, fix it in post.

I haven’t done one of these posts for a while, so I thought it’d be fun to show the life of a panel from pencils to coloring.

Our volunteer for this week’s blog is panel 2 from page 159.

But before I get started, I want to give credit to the artist who inspired this panel.  Frank Quietly drew this awesome panel in Batman & Robin #1:

B&RI love this panel.  I love the layout, I love the perspective and I love that it’s a silent panel.  It’s so great.  When I saw this for the first time years ago, I knew I wanted to draw something like this.

So here’s the penciled panel:

159 final pencils

POW!  This will also be silent panel, except for the POW!  If you read The Retros, you’ll know how rare it is there is a panel without dialogue.  After I penciled this page, I couldn’t wait to ink it.

And here’s the inked panel:

159 final inks

So yeah.  It’s not as nice as I thought it’d be.  Fly-Girl’s neck looks weird, the first attempt at her right arm wasn’t was cool as I thought it’d be so I added a new one a little higher than the first arm.  Also, her hair doesn’t lay on her head the right way.  This panel is a bit of a mess.  I COULD redraw it but I don’t know if I could recreate the energy the first attempt had.  But I knew I could fix this stuff in Photoshop so I decided to see how it looked after it was scanned.  When I have things to fix in Photoshop, I’ll scribble little notes to myself next to the panel such as the note you see here.

I scanned it and played around with this panel for a while and I liked how it turned out.

159 final b&w

I erased the bad arm, fixed her hair and fixed her neck.  One thing I really like in this panel is seeing the robot getting destroyed.  The side of the robot Fly-Girl hits isn’t really damaged, but the side Zoo hits is destroyed.  There’s a huge piece missing from the robot’s torso, there’s parts flying everywhere…it’s awesome.

And finally, the colored version:

159 final color

I like working in color.  After over ten years doing black and white comics with Uptown Girl, it’s fun to do something a little brighter.  After I colored the panel, I touched up the POW a bit.  I didn’t realize the O wasn’t finished.  If I didn’t color this panel, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that until I spent a lot of money printing copies of the book and having this panel annoy me for the rest of my life.

So, that’s that.  The page this panel is from won’t be online for like six months, so..spoiler alert?  In six months Fly-Girl and Zoo punch a robot.

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Retroactive

A while ago (I want to say it was a few months ago but I think it’s been over a year), I drew a ten page action sequence for the Retros that didn’t take place in the scenes I was drawing at the time, but I intended to fit in later on.  Recently I got to the point in the story where I can use that scene and was excited to tie both parts of the story together.

Ran into a couple problems, however…

The first problem is that I drew the action sequence a loooong time ago.  The characters looks a little different, particularly Zoo.  The look of a character, especially when they first appear, will likely evolve over time.  Zoo is very different than most characters I draw so the learning curve was pretty high.  The action scene Zoo is in the style I drew him when I first created him:

zoo 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a few months and dozens of pages, he evolved and looks more like this:

zoo2

When the readers get to the action scene, Zoo is going to look a little different than the Zoo they’ve gotten used to.  It’s a little jarring but I’m going to keep these pages as is.  I should go and redraw them, but the action scene as a certain energy in them that I don’t think I could capture again.  When I started this scene, it was in the early days and the excitement of starting a new series was huge and the enthusiasm really shows in this scene.  Of course I’m still super excited about the Retros, but nothing beats the first few weeks of a new project.

The other problem is filling in the gaps.  The action scene is snippets of the bigger story.  Not only did I have to make these ten pages fit within the bigger story, but when I got to these scenes, I realized I needed to add new pages to make these ten pages make sense.  I needed to avoid some potential continuity mistakes.  I think I’ve got the big ones covered, and I need to go back and put in some new pages between some of the old pages to have a more coherent story.  It’s a little funny I need to retroactively change some stuff for the Retros.  Well, maybe not that funny.

It’s the little continuity ones that I still need to tweak.

Little continuity mistakes bug the daylights out of me.  I know they shouldn’t but they do, especially when they are so easy to avoid.  One thing I ran into was I drew Lucky with a communicator device on his wrist.  A few pages later, it’s on his other wrist.  No big deal but man, it bugs me.  I am trying to fix these little mistakes the best I can in Photoshop.

So, that’s what’s up with the Retros.  It’s an interesting problem that forces me to spend more time at the drawing board (literally).  Luckily that’s where I love to be.

 

 

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The Future Freaks Me Out

Sometimes my comics imitate life on purpose, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a comic that predicted the future.

When ‘Uptown Girl’ was a comic book, I did a new story every month.  I did funny stories, I did action stuff, I did whatever I wanted.  It was fun.  I felt that I could do any type of story I wanted.  I felt, and still feel the characters and the world I created could accommodate (almost) anything I wanted to write about.

When I was single and falling in love with the girl I’d eventually marry, I wrote a comic about Ruby falling in love with someone.  After being single for so long, I felt a little nervous about getting back into a relationship so I sorted out my feelings by having Ruby go through the same things.  Spoiler alert, I stay married, Ruby’s relationship lasted about a year.  On the same note, having a baby also creates a billion different types of emotions…excitement, nervousness and many, many others.  I felt very compelled to write about all this right before Sophie (who just turned 8) was born.  I expressed a lot of what I was thinking and feeling through a story where Jack and Diane, two supporting cast members had a baby named Rose.

I’ve mentioned that one reason for wrapping up Uptown Girl’s adventures is that I feel my life is too different than it was when I started their stories and having a hard relating to these characters that I love.  My life and theirs are very different.  I worry about paying the mortgage and Rocketman worries about finding the entrance to the Wizard’s Tower in the video game he is playing.  My life is in a good place.  When what you write is rooted in your own life, a lack of conflict makes for a pretty boring story.

A slight spoiler ahead…

At any rate, in the next/last Uptown Girl book, a character loses their job.  In writing these scenes, I reached back to when I was laid off back in 2006.  I remembered how we were told, what I thought at the time and what the whole experience was like.  I used these experiences to write this part of the book.  I do remember when I was writing these parts that part of me wondered if I was courting fate.  It’s been feared for years that where I work would someday be closing.

On December 16th these fears were realized.  I learned that day I’d soon be out of a job.

Which…sucks.  It sucks on so many levels.  My job provides many things.  Paying my bills, keeping the house and being able to print new books.  Most importantly, it allows Amy to be a stay at home mom for our kids.  I was always proud that I had the kind of income that allowed this.  I don’t earn a huge salary, but with a few sacrifices and strict budgeting, we were able to have a life where she’s home to see the kids on to school.  It’s a good life.

When I turned 40, I had a revelation.  It was an important one.  I realized that I needed to stop beating myself up mentally.  I had been doing it for 15 years.  When I first started doing comics, the only goal I ad in life was to be a full time cartoonist.  To be able to earn enough to support myself by doing comics and art.  I hated having a job.  As the years went by, my resolve to make this happen grew stronger and soon took over my life.  I was so focused on this that I became very frustrated as time passed and I still wasn’t there (“yet”, I would tell myself).  I wasn’t enjoying my life.  At times this would create negative thoughts towards myself.  I wasn’t a good enough artist, I wasted too much time, I should’ve gone to art school…that kind of stuff.  I didn’t consider this unhealthy, if you can believe it.  I thought it was motivating me.  Because, you know, getting beat up is motivating.
As my family grew I felt that my time was passing, if it didn’t pass already.

But then I turned 40 and everything seem to come together.  I realized I was successful.  I had a life where I not only had a family, I was able to support all four of us by doing a job that is/was(?) very difficult and challenging.  I felt (and still do) very excited about The Retros.  I felt that it was a new beginning and there was a lot of opportunities…I realized I had a lot of life left.  I felt lucky.  How many times did I avoid a layoff a workforce reduction because I was really good at what I do?  When I turned 40 I felt at peace with everything in my life.  I was at peace with having a job.  The truth is, I like my job, despite the challenges.  Losing my job will make my future very uncertain on a lot of levels but it’s also losing something that I feel I was successful at.

I am not sure when my last day will be, which makes my planning my next steps a little challenging.  It could be next month, it could be this summer, it could be next year.  I don’t know when I will know either.  I do know there are going to be some changes this year.  Will Amy go back to work?  Should I go and finish my degree to become more marketable?  Will I find a job in a different field altogether?  Should I agree to go on that quest with that wizard to the town of Dale and fight that dragon?  I don’t know.

In the past three weeks, I’ve gone through a huge range of emotions.  Right now I am a little excited about the year, two hours ago I was a nervous wreck.

What does all this have to do with comics?

Well, when you’re nervous about something, it helps to look for a bright side.  I’m nervous about the future, but I am also a little excited for it.  No, I’m not excited to update my resume or worry about how I’ll pay for Sophie’s dance class, I’m excited for what’s ahead with my comics.  I like the work I’ve done so far on the Uptown Girl book.  I’m 76 pages in and on track to finish by the end of the year.  I’m also excited for The Retros.  Over the past year or so, I’ve done a lot of character designs, written a lot of story ideas, jotted down a lot of new character names.  I started to get a little nervous that I’d lose that scrap of paper I wrote down a new character name or lose an email that I wrote to myself that outlined a story idea.  I decided it was time to gather every tiny idea I’ve had about The Retros and put them all in one place.  It was arts and crafts time as I taped sketches and story ideas into a journal.

photo 1photo 2photo 3

Some of these character designs have popped up on my Twitter account but it’s nice to have them and the future story ideas all in one place.  Now I don’t have to worry about losing a lot of emails and sketches, I just have to worry about losing one book.  I have enough in this book to keep this comic going for ten years, maybe longer.  I’m pretty excited.

At any rate, I am not sure what will happen.  I’m nervous and scared and excited.  Sometimes all at once, sometimes not.  I am okay for now, but it sure would be nice if the Cartoon Network would offer me an cartoon deal.

 

 

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Some Pig!

Christmas has come and gone.  I like the holidays but I also like it when the holidays are over and things have settled down a bit.  I think my favorite part of Christmas is painting presents for others.  It gives me a chance to work outside my normal body of work and do something new and non-comic booky.
Last year I did a kind of cool Wizard of Oz painting for my mom.  I liked how that turned out and was itching to do something like it again.

My sister is pregnant and the baby is due in May.  At one time, she had mentioned that ‘Charlotte’s Web’ by E.B. White was her favorite children’s book.  I thought that it would be a good story to illustrate as I did for my mom’s Wizard of Oz piece.  It was also a great gift idea for my future niece or nephew.  Everyone is thinking boy but she’ll find out in a few weeks.

So I bought a used copy of the book and got to work.

1I picked out three key moments of the book and started to do sketches of the characters.  First up is Fern.  I sketched her out on Bristol board before I drew on the page itself.  The used copies I pick up for projects like these are so loved and reread and worn that the paper is usually very fragile and would tear if I erase too much.  I assume I only get one crack at a page so I try to be extra careful.  I also can’t really make a mistake as I choose the pages specifically for the scene.

A side note:  When I go to the used book store, I choose the copy of the book that is almost falling apart, a copy that is not long for the world and will likely be tossed soon.  The way I see it, using a copy like that will allow the book to live on and be preserved.  Any story that was read and reread that much should be immortalized in some way.

3As for Wilbur, I draw pigs a lot but I wanted Wilbur to look different than other pigs I’ve drawn.

Uh, another side note.  I have NO idea why WordPress is displaying these pictures sideways.  I’ve been putzing with it for 30 minutes and changing it in Photoshop but WordPress keeps rotating them.

Anyway, I drew a few different designs and settled on one I really liked.

Once the three scenes were penciled and inked (Micron), it was time to paint.  I used a combination of bottled ink and Copic markers to color the scenes and I really liked how they turned out.

456

 

Stupid WordPress.

Anyway, here’s what it looks like altogether and framed:

7

Oh, so this one is the correct orientation.

Whatever.

Anyway, I like how this turned out, I like how the Wizard of Oz one turned out…I think I’m onto something here…

Oh, and before I forget, The Incredible Retros are now on Tapastic.

 

 

 

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Live Forever

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard there’s a new Star Wars movie opening this week.  Normally I link to things I reference but if you didn’t know Star Wars is opening this week, you probably don’t go online, so there’s no point in linking it.

The anticipation for Star Wars isn’t limited to the internet, it’s everywhere.  The cereal isle, commercials, toy advertisements…the other day I saw an ad with Jawas talking about the benefits of setting up an E*Trade account.

It’s a little weird to see something that was created almost 40 years so (still?) popular again.  It’s strange to go to pick up my daughter from second grade and see kids with Boba Fett backpacks.  She was even Princess Leia for Halloween this year.  I wonder if George Lucas ever dreamed that this whole thing would still be popular decades later.

Let’s shift the conversation from a galaxy from far, far away to the sewers of New York.  Even weirder than Star Wars still being popular is seeing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles everywhere.  I didn’t care much for Star Wars when I was younger but I loved the Turtles.  I didn’t discover the comic until I saw the cartoon but it was a gateway to the world of independent comics which lead to a lifetime love of Stan Sakai’s ‘Usagi Yojimbo’, probably my favorite comic of all time.
It’s weird the Turtles are so popular because the whole thing was so unlikely.  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were just goofing around and drawing and eventually self-published a comic that was heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s work on ‘Daredevil’ as well as the crazy popularity of ‘The X-Men’ at the time.  And teenagers.  Everyone loves teenagers.  How anyone gave this idea a chance and created a toy line and animated series is beyond me but I’m happy they did.  I mean, the comic was about four giant turtles who were trained in the martial arts.  How did this catch on?  Why did this become popular but Bucky O’Hare was thrown to the clearance isle?

The Turtles have been popular off and on for years and will probably be tooling around in their Party Wagon long after I’m dead.  Same with Star Wars.  These characters will live forever.  I wonder what it’s like to be the creator of something that everyone under the age of ten knows.  I think about the characters I’ve created and co-created and I wonder if anything I’ve done could live beyond myself.  I suppose it’s a combination of simply creating something that is just really, really great and the right person seeing it.  You can have all the connections you need at Cartoon Network but if you don’t have an interesting concept it doesn’t do you any good.  People will tell you it’s not what you know but who you know but that’s half true, you need to have something that people love.

It’s no secret I’d love to see something turned into an animated series or an action figure.  Star Wars doesn’t belong to Lucas anymore.  Not because he sold it to Disney but because he created something bigger than he is.  Star Wars belongs to the world.  How cool is that?  Star Wars will exist forever.  I’d love to create something like that.  It’d be cool to live forever.

 

 

 

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Planning Spontaneity

Sophie, my soon to be eight year old daughter woke me up at 5am because she was ready to go and do everything we have planned for the day.  She was raring to go.  After I got out of bed and woke up a little, I came back to find she fell back asleep…so here I am.  I’m raring to go.  Once I wake up, I can’t go back to bed.  So I started to think about comics because it’s pretty much all I think about.

The third week of The Incredible Retros starts up tomorrow.  I was looking at the pages I’ll post this week and then compare them to the pages I just penciled the other day.  Page 11 goes up tomorrow but I penciled page 145 on Thursday.  It’ll be about 7 months before page 145 is online.  I look back at everything that happens between page 11 and 145 and there’s so much going on.  I can’t wait to post them and I can’t wait to draw all the other stories I have planned.  I have some epic stuff coming up…in the next half decade.

55 blankI am 59 finished pages into Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart.  I should be up to 80 pages by the end of the year.  Working off the script and layouts I did earlier this year, I am at page 100 of the script.  The reason why I am not at a 1 script page to 1 finished page ratio is that when I did the layouts I worked on a smaller scale  and when I do the finished pages I have more room to put in panels.  Also, working on a smaller scale with the Retros has carried over to Uptown Girl and how I complete a page.  The finished pages have smaller panels than what I’ve done in the past.  I think there’s a (very, very, very) small chance the book could be done by the fall of 2016 but I’m not counting on it.  Right now I am pacing myself for 15 pages a month but starting in January I’ll bump it up to 20 a month.

I haven’t decided what I am going to do once Uptown Girl is wrapped up besides feel sad.  I might work on a Fly-Girl graphic novel, I might take a crack at this idea I had not too long ago, or I might just see what I feel like doing.  Too much of my life is planned too far ahead and I could do with a little more spontaneity.

Anyway, I better wrap this up.  Sophie just woke up (for real this time) and I need to get her ready to go so we can go and drop my son off at work, and then go to the Y, then to lunch, then to the movies and then to pick him up from work.  See?  Everything is planned.  Ask me what I’m doing in December.  I am doing all the things.

 

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First Week

I’ve been working on The Retros for a very long time.  Like…years.  The first drawing I did of the characters that would eventually become the team was done about 7 years ago.  Since then, the team has changed a lot in terms of the roster.  Even the characters on the team have changed a lot.  Lucky was originally named ‘Macho McAdams’, for example.  Fly-girl wasn’t always on the team, Alie wasn’t always the leader.

The first iteration of the team (that we see, anyway) won’t be the same team throughout the whole series.  The members will change, their roles will change and the dynamics will change.  I’m excited to bring in new members and change up the cast from time to time.  The Retros has a huge backstory that I will be exploring.  The team members also have their own individual histories, too.  Sputnik’s is probably the craziest.

Writing the Retros is also a little different than what I am used to.  Since the comic is done in a four panel comic strip form, I have to be more concise than what I’m used to on a page-to-page format, but I am also telling a larger story, too.  Each page has to tell a tiny part of a big story and each page has to keep the story moving.  Also, since only one page is posted at a time, I need to make sure the reader’s daily visit is a satisfying one.  There’s a lot of action in The Retros but I can’t do four days in a row with just a fight scene (unless there’s something else going on).

Ultimately, I think the strip will read better once it is collected, especially over the course of several years.  A major inspiration of The Retros is The X-Men.  I started reading X-Men in 8th grade which was the perfect time to read the comic.  This was in the Claremont era, arguably the most defining run of the series.  I loved seeing the huge cast of characters and the ever changing team line up.  I liked reading about the dynamics of the team…how they didn’t always liked each other but always fought for each other.  I took this concept and adapted it a little for The Retros.  In my mind, The Retros are a team, but they are more like co-workers.  They quibble on the battlefield and argue about who’s turn it is to clean the break room fridge.

Almost everything about The Retros is a new way to write comics from what I am used to, especially the characters themselves.  With Uptown Girl and her friends, there’s so much of ME in each of them, it makes her adventures easy to write since each of them is a part of myself.  Uptown Girl is the more down to earth part of me, Rocketman is the more impulsive, fun loving side of me, and Ruby is the sarcastic, cynical part of me.  With The Retros, each character is at the top of their game.  Rocketman is fun to write as he’s a little lazy and a little…not smart.  With The Retros we have a team of smart, skilled superheroes…but not without their quirks and neurosis.

Thanks to everyone who read the first week of their adventures!  This week the action gets kicked up a notch.

-Bob

 

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Sunday (The Day Before my Birthday)

There is a calm I haven’t come to yet
I spent half my life figuring what comes next

-Michael Stipe

You cannot walk with the holy if you’re just a halfway decent man
I don’t pretend that I’m a mastermind with a genius marketing plan
I’m trying to tap into some wisdom
Even a little drop will do
I want to rid my heart of envy
And cleanse my soul of rage before I’m through

-Paul Simon

So, tomorrow I turn 40.  I had no idea how I would feel the day before my 40th before and I am surprised by how okay I am with it.  I feel like I’m ready for it, I feel I am in a good place mentally, creatively and physically right now, much more than I was earlier this year.  I feel like I’ve come a long way in all three of those things.  Think of it as my Triforce.

I think the mental part was the hardest in all of this.  I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and beating myself up a lot about not having certain things accomplished in my life yet.  For a while I thought the pressure was good.  I thought it was helping me work harder and keep me focused on my art and my goals but it was…not benefiting me.  I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t sit still, I was never calm.  I’d look at what other cartoonists were doing and what they had accomplished and it made me feel like I was behind, a failure and that I’d never get there.  This was hard when I’d look at cartoonists who were my age like Craig Thompson who had achieved worldwide acclaim with his excellent book ‘Blankets’, published when he was 28.  I was just getting started in comics when I was 28.  It’s even harder when I look at guys like Pendleton Ward who created ‘Adventure Time’ and debuted on Cartoon Network when he was 28.

Huh.  If 27 is a bad age for musicians, maybe 28 is a good age for cartoonists.

At any rate, in the back of my head I kept telling myself that Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four when he was 44.  I do cheerfully ignore the fact that Kirby had more comic accomplishments by the time he was 25 then most of us will ever have over the course of an entire lifetime.  I am not comparing myself to the King, I just tell myself that just because I’m 40 it doesn’t mean my most creative days are behind me.

Your mental attitude shapes your creative life.  Like I said, I used to think putting pressure on myself helped drive me, but I realized it’s the creativity that keeps me drawing.  Creating new characters, thinking of new stories is what helps keeps me going.  Earlier this week I thought of a character that I created about 15 years ago, predating Uptown Girl.  I thought of a way to bring her back and include her in The Retros comic.  She’s a perfect fit for a storyline that is years off.  I keep notes and story outlines and I have the next 5 or 6 years of stories planned out and I can’t wait to draw them.  I think know the pressure I was putting on myself to achieve certain milestones was creating a lot of anger, frustration and rage in myself.  It certainly didn’t help my self-esteem.  I feel I have come out through the other side and feel I can focus on creating and letting things fall where they may as opposed to hating myself for not being what I want to be yet.  I can’t be calm, I cannot be at peace if I am constantly thinking about what happens next.

With The Retros launching TOMORROW, I’ve worked to keep my expectations realistic.  Part of me used to think “I’ve been doing comics for over ten years and this is my first new project since Uptown Girl and The Retros will be an amazing success and will get ten million page views and I’ll have a movie deal by Thanksgiving” but of course I know that I need to work hard, have fun, keep my head down and not think about what might come next.  The Retros is super fun to draw and to write and I think will surprise a lot of people.  If you like Uptown Girl then I think you’ll like this.  It’s not a departure from my work in terms of the potential audience, it’s still funny, the characters love and hate each other and have fun adventures.  It’s still an all ages comic.

A year ago I realized I’d turn 40 on a Monday and that kind of sucks.  So I decided to give myself two birthday presents.  I am not the type of person that feels I deserve presents, in fact I feel very conflicted about getting them, but I’ve no problem giving myself a gift if I think it’s good for me.  My creative gift to myself is a new comic.  It’s not a coincidence The Retros starts on my 40th birthday.  I want to wake up tomorrow excited for something and not many people are excited about turning 40 on a Monday.

The other present is the third part of my Triforce.  My physical self.  A year ago I wondered what it would be like to wake up on a Monday and go to work and turn 40 all in one day.  I would then wonder what it would be like to do all that and be hungover because I knew I would be.

I used to drink a lot.  I didn’t think it was a lot but looking back, it was.  I drank a lot and I drank often.  It started slow, as it usually does.  It started with a glass of wine on the weekends, then a glass a night, then almost a bottle of wine a night, every night.  This went on for almost ten years.  At first a glass (or three) was a great way to unwind after a long day.  I’d draw, read, whatever and have a drink.  It was a slippery slope.  I’d try to cut back and it would last a few days but I’d always be right back to where I was.  I didn’t like doing this.  I didn’t like how I felt.  I was worried about myself.  As I got older, having this much wine this often was really taking a toll on me.  It got harder to bounce back each morning.

I was gaining weight and feeling very depressed about myself.    I belong to the Y and work out 4 times a week but I was still gaining weight.  I could justify it all I wanted to…I was getting older, my metabolism was slowing down, this was normal.  But earlier this year I took Sophie swimming at the Y and hopped on the scale and was 218 pounds.  I had gained about 20 pounds in 6 months.  Not good.  I felt frustrated, I felt embarrassed and I didn’t want to take her to the pool.  This is when I knew I had to make a change.

So I stopped drinking during the week.  I stopped the next day.  I also stopped eating potato chips.  Those were the only two dietary habits I changed and I started to see a difference right away.  Without drinking I slept better, had more energy during the day and had longer, more effective work outs.  I liked how I felt, I liked how I looked.  I felt I had overcome a difficult obstacle.  I felt like I was pulling myself back from the abyss.  I didn’t need to have a drink each night.  In the last two months or so, I cut back on wine on the weekends as well.  I don’t know if I will ever stop drinking completely but I feel for the first time in ten years I could.  Not drinking has made so many positive changes in my life.  Mentally I am more present, I enjoy…everything more.  I sleep better, and I feel better and I look better.  This morning I weigh 170 pounds.  I lost 48 pounds in 6 months and I’ve maintained it since.  I know some people were concerned about the pretty dramatic weight loss but in honestly I only made those two dietary changes to my life.  I haven’t lost any more weight since July and I’m not trying to.  I’m okay, I promise.

Tomorrow I wake up to a new world.  I know that sounds grandiose and a little dramatic, but I feel like it’s a new day, a new start.  I’ve changed a lot this year, mentally, physically and creatively but I needed to, and I’ve needed to for a long time…I just did it all really fast.  Looking over my blog and the entries in the last few years I see a lot of frustration over not having achieved what I wanted to achieve yet.  I think I’ve moved on from that and my vacation last month helped with this new perspective.  Tomorrow is also launch day for the Retros.  I am so excited for this.  I’ve been working on this comic for a very long time and has gone through so many versions and changes and I am so psyched to get rolling on this.  I look at what I’ve done with Uptown Girl over the last 12 years and how many stories I’ve told and characters introduced and I am excited to see what happens to Alie, Lucky, Fly-Girl, Zoo and Sputnik as well as the other dozens of new faces you’ll meet over the coming years.  I feel that everything I’ve learned from cartooning, whether it’s from reading comics, listening to other cartoonists and drawing itself is all coming together.

I feel I am leaving one part of my life behind and another one starts tomorrow.  I am so excited for tomorrow you guys.

Alie, why don’t you wrap things up?

GO TIME

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