The New Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But whatever.

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

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

November…Bearvember?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stay Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

 

 

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Lord, I’m Discouraged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

How cool would that be?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RetrosS01

RetrosS02

RetrosS03

RetrosS04

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

 

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Look What I Made

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

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

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

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

-what the book is about

-who the intended audience is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can’t Finish What You Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

However.

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

strip 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, that’s that.

Smart lady, that Amy.

 

 

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Prob’ly Can’t Do No Better

All I do is draw comics, read comics and think about comics.

Well, it’s not all I do but it sure feels like it.  And all this drawing, reading and thinking is all done to hopefully create a life where all I do is draw comics.  You know, for money.

Money isn’t the only reason I do what I do but I’d sure like to be able to earn a living doing what I love.  I’m not ever going to ever quit trying to make this happen, I’ll never stop drawing comics even if I can’t make a career of it.  This is the hill I am going to do die on.

Except for the two weeks in first grade when I wanted to be a paleontologist, I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist.  When I discovered newspaper comic strips, specifically Peanuts and later Calvin and Hobbes, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I took a detour for about…13 years as I drew Uptown Girl comic boks and later Uptown Girl  graphic novels, but when The Retros launched a year and a half ago, it was the proper start of my attempt to be a comic strip cartoonist.  Drawing Uptown Girl taught me how to draw, to write, to structure a panel, The Retros taught me about time, pacing, working in small and tight constraints and how to commit to a daily strip.

Trial by fire, I suppose.  I learned what I know by doing.

Over the last two months I’ve been working on developing The Retros into a daily comic strip with the goal of submitting it to a newspaper syndicate.  A start from scratch approach and doing what I really feel is the best work of my life, a true accumulation of everything I have learned in the decades I have been drawing.  Learning from every mistake and learning from everything that worked.  I learned the most from my mistakes.

I really feel excited.  I think this is it.  It may not get picked up but it if doesn’t, then I will hold my head high because I really feel this is the best I can do.  There have been times where I was depressed because I felt like I was already doing the best that I was capable of…and it was just…not good.  At all.

But this time is different.  This is the best I’ve ever done and the best I think I can do.  Not only that, this is exactly what I want a Retros comic strip to look like.

This past week I finished the 20 daily strips most syndicates require for a submission.  I’ll post them as soon as I get them scanned and lettered.  I am currently working on four Sunday strips…strips that are longer, bigger and require much more work.  I have finished 3 of the 4 and I have to say that I think they’re really good.

Originally I started working on the Sunday strips about two weeks ago.  Here’s my first attempt:

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After I did this, I sat back and realized I broke one of my personal rules for Sunday strip: Don’t do a Sunday strip that could be a daily strip.

Sure, this is longer than a daily strip, but the joke of the strip could really be condensed to 4 panels or so.  The rest of the strip is chatty dialogue and it just…fills space.  It doesn’t add to the comic, it doesn’t really do anything but take up paper.  Kills time, so to speak.

I got frustrated a bit because I got to thinking that I’ve wanted to be a comic strip artist for a very long time and here it is, my first Sunday pitch submission and it was…lazy.   I didn’t even bother inking it.

I decided to hold off on the Sunday strips until the dailies were done.  I spent a lot of time thinking about them, though.  What does a Sunday strip offer a daily doesn’t?  Space.  A ton of it.  I could draw BIG.  I could draw a lot of panels.  So I started to think about BIG.  I looked at a lot of Jack Kirby art.  What would be fun to draw?  I thought about that and used that as what to structure a Sunday strip around.  What’s big and fun to draw?  Dinosaurs.  What kind of dinosaur fits into The Retros?  A steampunk dinosaur.

So, here are the pencils to next Sunday strip:

sunday 1

I love the cover that Kirby drew for Fantastic Four #1 and this is my homage to it.  After the pencils were done, I realized I was intimidated at the thought of inking something like this.  But that intimidation meant I was on the right path.

So I started to ink.  Here’s the page about halfway inked.

sunday 2

Yeah!  I was really loving how this was turning out.  Steampunk dinosaurs are not easy to draw, but they’re pretty fun.  My confidence was in high gear and I kept at it.

All in all, it took me about 4 hours to do this thing.  Here’s the final version:

sunday 3

Love how this turned out.  Probably the best comic art I’ve ever done.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  Well, nothing major.

The next day I started the second Sunday strip.  The thought was to create a continuous action scene built around the saying “this is why we can’t have nice things”.  Again, here are the pencils, in progress inking and finished inks:

2 sunday 12 sunday 22 sunday 3

Both of these strips started with the inking of the action parts as they are the trickier panels.  If they didn’t work, I’d hate to start over.

I will post better versions eventually as these are just iPhone photos.  I think both of these strips so far captured a comic that couldn’t be done in a daily strip.

I started to think about the next two, and I decided that the first strip really shows the team as a whole and the second really put the spotlight on Alie and Red’s personality.  The next two would be built around showcasing Lucky, Zoo, and Sputnik.

So far I had a strip that was all about the big and one all about continuous action.  I thought a spy-type story that featured Lucky would be fun.  I wanted to do something different than the previous two strips and thought I would try to put in as many panels as I could to tell a story that really played up some fun back and forth dialogue.  Lucky is fun for that as he picks a fight and bickers with everyone.  I paired him with Sputnik because it’s fun to write the two of them together.

Again, pencils, in progress, and finished inks:

3 sunday 13 sunday 23 sunday 3There are 17 panels total in this comic.  Could have done 18 if I divided the first panel in two, but I’m happy with this.  I could have broken this into a few daily strips but I would have lost the momentum and the back and forth conversation.  I like the layout of the panels too.

I have one more Sunday strip left and it will feature Zoo in some way, maybe have it set in a forest to have a change of scenery as well.  Zoo in a forest makes sense.  I’ll work on it this week.  My goal is to have all the artwork scanned, lettered and cleaned up in Photoshop by the end of the month.  In August I’ll work on my pitch submission and start sending it out before August is over.  There are only a handful of syndicates to submit to, so this will not be a very long process.  I have faith in what I created,  however with so few syndicate options, I don’t have a lot of optimism when it comes to finding a home for The Retros in the funny pages.

At the very least, I will have tried, and I will have tried what I really believe in my heart is my best possible effort.

 

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All Killer, No Filler

A few weeks ago I announced I was working on a Retros comic strip with the ambition of getting it into newspapers.  I am well into the artwork part of the process, having inked the 15th of the daily 20 pages required for most syndicate submissions yesterday.  Some syndicates require samples of longer, fully colored Sunday strips, so once I am done with the last few daily strips I’ll jump into those.

One of the things I like about The Retros webcomic is the sometimes brutal restrictions of the format.  Trying to tell a portion of a story in four panels that are about 2 1/2 inches wide/long isn’t easy.  Four panels really demand concise pacing and storytelling, the square shape demands re-thinking layout and the size requires a lot of planning in terms of what to add and what to leave out.  Some cartoonists hate any sort of restrictions when it comes to creating but I really like them.  Most of the time.

Doing a newspaper strip also requires adhering to restrictions of a format.  I am working with a horizontal layout as opposed to squares, for example.  I think the biggest parameter I need to work with is creating a submission that walks the fine line of a strip I think an editor would like and a strip I would want to do.  Since I’ve been doing comics the only thing I focused on was having fun and not worrying what others thought.  I mean, I hoped that people who read what I was doing liked it, but I figured if I wasn’t having fun, it would show in the result and no one would like it.

But this is new territory for me.  I need to show that this concept can work in a newspaper comic format.  The strip is really a throwback to the popularity of adventure comic strips from the 30’s and 40’s where daily episodes told a bigger story, but I am working in more comedy elements since most current newspaper strips focus on jokes and gags.  I think I am doing a pretty job marrying these two genres and still staying true to the spirit of The Retros while doing a strip that I want to do.  I suppose I have the chops to do a gag-a-day strip about a family or a wacky animal but I just can’t see myself having a lot of fun doing something like that long term.

I’ve been told that daily adventure strips don’t sell.  I also know that the likelihood of actually selling this thing is a trillion to one.  Combine the two and my odds are astronomically incalculable.  But this is the strip I want to do and I’d rather get a rejection letter for a strip I love working on than a strip I’m kinda meh about it.

Working on the artwork is part of the process, the other part is the pitch itself.  I am terrible at describing my work but I know that I need to work on that.  I think I am close, though.  The summary of the The Retros is coming down to something like…having to save the world with your coworkers and ‘all killer, no filler’.  Having such limitations with the format is requiring me to cram as much storytelling and action into a daily strip.  I have some daily strips that have as many as six panels in them.  Again, this goes against what most strips have but it falls back into my ambition to do a strip I want to do, as opposed to what most strips look like.  The 20 pages are a single, self-contained story that I think shows what the strip would be.  I can’t believe how much happens in the finished 15 pages so far and I am almost intimidated by what needs to happen in the final 5 pages to wrap it up.  So far there’s a new villain named Tankface, two battles with vampires, shopping for groceries, an attack at a power plant, some science, typical Retros bickering and bantering and more.  Oh, and a missile.

Although this project requires more forethought and planning and wondering if an editor will like it or at least “get it”, I am having a blast with it.  I’ll post better pictures of the finished strips soon, once they are scanned and Photoshopped, but here’s some of the panels so far.

-Bob

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Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to chat and pick up books at MSP ComicCon last week.  I have known so many of you since Uptown Girl was in its infancy, long before even the first trade paperback came out…and here we are, at the end of her adventures, together.  Talking to so many people about the final book and the last 13 years (or so) is very bittersweet and rewarding at the same time.  Thank you for coming and for being there for so many stories.

I am also thankful to have gotten a few emails from those who have read the last book.  I am so glad people liked it.  In some ways it is a darker book.  Some unsettling things happen, a lot changes and…well, characters died.  I have never written a death before and it wasn’t easy.  How George R.R. Martin does it I’ll never know.

But what’s next?  It’s all about The Retros for a while.  Of course, the webcomic will continue, God willing, for a long time.  I have the next four to five years planned and the seeds for future story lines are all over the current arc, especially the five pages I did last weekend.  Things get weird and dark pretty soon.

I have three projects I am working on.  One I’ll chat about now, the other two at a later date.  One thing I will state is that the goal of these projects is publication.  Uptown Girl was a very personal work on many levels and I was always hesitant to shop the books to publishers.  Whether or not Uptown Girl was good enough to be published is another story, but that’s neither here or there.  I love The Retros, however it is not as personal of a comic that Uptown Girl was.  I’ve written before how Uptown Girl stories often mirrored my own life, whether it was falling in love with my wife and giving Ruby a boyfriend or the birth of my daughter and Jack and Diane having their own baby.  The Retros isn’t like that.  It’s action, satire, humor and to my surprise, social commentary on a few levels.  I think The Retros is ripe for other mediums that Uptown Girl wouldn’t work well in.

For example, comic strips.  I love comic strips and I was often asked why not try to adapt Uptown Girl to that format.  The truth is that it wouldn’t work.  If a story was a personal story, I needed the flexibility and space that a comic page would give me.  It wasn’t odd to have pages of Uptown Girl and Ruby wandering around a mall for a few pages talking about something that I was thinking about.  A four panel comic strip can’t do that.  Comic strips are supposed to be funny and/or tell part of a story in just a few panels.  I didn’t want to restrict Uptown Girl to a format like that.  However, almost two years of The Retros have taught me how to tell parts of a story (and hopefully be funny at the same time) in four panels.

So, my first project in my post-Uptown Girl world is a Retros comic strip.  More specifically I am working on a Retros comic strip that I will shop to newspaper syndicates with a goal of getting it into the funny pages.  This is a separate project from the current series, however.  I am writing and drawing a new, self-contained story that I will use to show editors what this comic strip would be like.  I have been reviewing submission guidelines for the major syndicates and most are looking for 20 “daily strips” and some ask for 2 – 4 “Sunday” strips.  The Sunday strips are usually a separate storyline from the daily strips since some newspapers purchase the daily strips and not the Sunday strips or vice-versa.

For the past two weeks I have been working on my 20 strips.  If nothing comes out of this, I will have a new Retros one-shot to print and sell at conventions, but make no mistake, the goal of this project is to get syndicated,  If anyone has any advice, suggestions or recommendations, please let me know.

In terms of the creative side of this project, I am having a blast.  It takes place outside of the continuity of the webcomic and features Alie, Lucky, Fly-Girl, Zoo and Sputnik.  Even though the team in the webcomic will change members, in my heart these five are the original and I love writing them together.  The story is about vampires and will include this little panel I drew years ago:

the heart of the sun

I am halfway through inking the fifth strip and I am having so much fun.  I thought I’d share some pencils and some finished and unfinished panels.  Let me know what you think!

strip 1strip 2strip 3strip 4

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See You Next Weekend

I first attended what is now called MSP ComicCon back when it was a one day event called SpringCon and held at the Maplewood Community Center over ten years ago.  That first show was a lot of fun and I sold a few comics which was a much needed confidence boost in the early days of comic booking.  I also met Mark and Susan who invited me to my first in-store signing and I have been lucky enough to call them friends to this day.

But things change and evolve and the show has a new name, venue and has grown to a two day extravaganza.  I have been fortunate to have been invited back throughout the years and I am excited to be back at the show this upcoming weekend.

It’s hard not to think about those early days when I go to conventions.  I didn’t even have enough comics to collect in a trade, I was single and renting a room in my friend’s basement.  I am sure this show will also be a little wistful as the final Uptown Girl book goes on sale and I see people this weekend that have followed her stories for years.  There’s so many people I know because of her, so many friends made, so many adventures of my own that I have had because of her…

I’ll have the new book and the previous volumes on sale along with some original art. I’ve been painting a lot this year and I will have some of my recent efforts at my table this year.  If you would like me to set aside a painting or if you have a request, please email me: gravitybob@hotmail.com or message me on Facebook.

I’ll be tucked away in a corner this weekend, so if you’re looking for me, use this handy map.  If you’re not looking for me, then beware the green star.

map

See you soon!

Bob

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