First World Problems

Perspective is important.  It’s important when it comes to drawing of course, and it’s also important when it comes to life.  Last week, both art and life came colliding together.

I use Photoshop a lot.  I am usually fiddling with it in the morning before I go to wok as I letter a page of Uptown Girl, and at the end of the day I am usually editing and coloring a page for The Retros.  Over the last few years, Photoshop has become an important tool in my art.  Before I looked at it as a way to scan and possibly do some light editing on a piece of art, then it became the tool I use to letter a comic.  Soon it was how I blacked in the night sky and clean up panel borders.  Now I rely on it more than I thought I ever could.  It’s true I only use about 10% of what Photoshop offers, but what I use it for is essential to my projects.

Last week Photoshop stopped working.  Not being a computer guy myself, I am not entirely sure what happened.  Dan, my best friend/website builder/IT guy thinks the software become corrupted somehow and I should uninstall it and re-install it.  Tried that, it did not work.  After trying a few free programs online for a temporary solution and considering switching to other options such as Manga Studio, I bit the bullet and purchased Photoshop again.

At Dan’s suggestion, I looked on eBay and found an older version of it and avoided paying $89 for the latest upgrade.  Three days and thirty dollars later, a newer and better Photoshop was back on my PC and working like a dream.

Untitled-1

In retrospect, this all seems very uneventful but in reality, I was very stressed out.  I wondered if my computer was on its way out (it’s five years old, it might be time for a laptop), or if I would have to learn a new software program and change the techniques I’ve been using for years or what I was going to do in terms of keeping up on lettering and editing comics so I can stay on schedule.

The reality is that I can afford a new laptop, I have friends who would be happy to sit down with me and show me how to do anything I needed to know about any artwork editing software I could buy, I could also drop by a friend’s house and use their Photoshop if I needed to touch up something before I had a long term solution.

This was very much a first world problem and I am embarrassed at how stressed out I was.  This was not a problem at any level.  I am far enough ahead on The Retros that the next few weeks of pages are already colored and lettered.  I had friends on Facebook recommending different programs and sending me links to different options to try.  I am very lucky to have the life that I have.

So, I am thankful for the lesson and the reminder that my problems aren’t problems.  I am lucky to have people in my life that can and did help.  Thanks to everyone who offered technical help and offered different solutions.  I will try to keep things in perspective the next time my world comes to end when I have a temporary set back.

 

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Flying Solo

As Uptown Girl nears the end, I can’t help but think about what my world will be like after I’ve drawn, inked, scanned and lettered the last page.  I can only imagine how weird it’s going to be to sit down at my desk and for the first time time in over 12 years, not work on an Uptown Girl story.  Sure, I’m excited about other projects, but I can’t even think about what an Uptown Girl-less world will be like.

As ‘The Lazarus Heart’ heads towards the end (up to page 169 as of this morning), it’s time to start the early stages of what I will do next.  In deciding what I wanted to, I felt like I had a lot of different options and it was exciting but instead of thinking of what I wanted to work on, I shifted my thought process to HOW I wanted to work.  I knew right away I did not want to do another series or even another graphic novel, especially a graphic novel that could turn into a series.  That seems to be an issue with me.  I can create a character and soon I have ideas for four different books for them and I want to do all of them.  That happened with The Retros, actually.  I have the next 5 years/storylines planned out and I am excited to do them.  And I will!  Once I think of what I want to do with a character/cast, I am determined to see it all the way through.

Actually, this is what happened with Uptown Girl.  After  I started the first Uptown Girl graphic novel, I thought about what kind of stories I wanted to do.  I eventually mapped out the next few books and the story for ‘The Lazarus Heart’ was always part of the plan.  I wasn’t going to think about what happened after ‘The Lazarus Heart’ until I was working on it as the planned books seemed like enough to do.  It just turned out to be a perfect place to walk away.  Perhaps if I decided what the next book would be all those years ago, I’d be continuing the series.  Of course, this is not to say that the Retros will end in five years.  There’s a lot I want to do with those guys.

Anyway, I decided on how I was going to work.  Besides not jumping into another huge project, I knew I wanted to collaborate with other talented, creative people.  I also wanted to not write anything too big and to focus on drawing.  I knew whatever I would do, it would be a logical and fun step towards making a living off my art (it’s a long shot but that’s okay).  I think I’ve all but set aside any plan to write and draw a children’s book for now.  I have a few ideas for them but I am not a writer.  The ideas I have for picture books seem too…weak and boring.  I know I can and do draw better than what I typically post online, so my strength is art and it’s probably a good idea to let someone else write and I can stick to the illustrations.

I have, after months of thinking about it, decided on three projects that I will be taking on once Uptown Girl has walked off into the sunset.  Two of them are collaborations and I’ll be talking about those projects soon, but the third is a solo thing.  The solo project is a Fly-Girl comic strip.  Fly-Girl is the newest member of my webcomic, The Retros.  I know I said I didn’t want to write anything or start a new series but this is not going to be an ongoing thing, at least not to start.  Fly-Girl was created by my friend Brian Bastian and I about ten years ago.  In our minds, we always had her world established and her character and personality pretty much set.  Once we put her into the future and she joined The Retros, she left a lot of that behind.  I knew I wanted to do more with her, but as a member of a team, I know I can’t focus on her too much but I do want to write about her more.  The idea of the comic strip is to focus on her adventures before she was transported to the year 2438.  I can avoid any continuity issues and readers do not have to read both series to follow her adventures solo or as part of the team.  This is going to give me a chance to do stories about her in high school, crappy part-time jobs and all that.  A chance to tell stories about the girl behind the mask.  Stuff that doesn’t seem to fit in the action packed adventures of The Retros.

FG

However, this is not going to be an on going series by any means.  Unless I get really, really lucky.  No, the plan for a post-Uptown Girl world is to work on stuff where I can submit to publishers and agents in an effort to make a living off my art.  What I plan on doing with Fly-Girl is to create a solid submission package to shop to different newspaper comic strip syndicates.  I’ve never been rejected by one of those before, so it’ll be a new thing for me.  Most syndicates want to see about 24-30 strips so get a feel for the art and the characters.  My plan is do enough daily strips and shop them to publishers.  If I get lucky and get picked up, then it will be an ongoing thing, but the way I see it, this is a project that will maybe take 2-3 months to create 24-30 really solid daily strips and spend the next months sending them out and waiting for rejection letters.

Despite expecting rejection letters, I am actually very excited and optimistic about this.  I feel that after over 200 Retros strips I’ve really nailed the timing a four panel strip requires.  Also working in a pretty small panel size has really pushed me to making the most of that space and laying out my art.  But my writing is where I feel the most confident.  I think I can do a really acceptable job of telling a larger story one four panel sequence at a time.  The Fly-Girl comic strip will be an adventure comic with a bigger focus on humor than The Retros.  I know The Retros is funny at times (at least I hope it is) but this will be even more so.

I am inspired by older adventure strips from the 30’s and 40’s, but also the Spider-Man comic strip that John Romita Sr. did in the late 70’s.  Of course, newspapers don’t seem to do a lot of adventure strips these days unless it’s something that has been running for decades like Mark Trail and Mary Worth so perhaps this isn’t the best idea to work on, but I am going to have a lot of fun with it and I am hoping that someone will give it a chance.

I will be blogging about the creation and progress of the strip once I start working on it.  I will be posting the pages as I finish them and if in the end I fail to get a publisher I will then print the strips so people can read them if they want.  I am excited about this and I have the storyline planned out already.  Here’s a really rough sketch of the first strip:

sample

The guys robbing the bank are a nod to how the first Uptown Girl graphic novel started where The Walrus stops a bank heist.  I thought it was a fun little Easter egg.

Anyway, more to come on this and the other two projects soon.  For now, it’s on to page 170.

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Hollow Man

Cartoonists are not famous for their happiness.  I have a quote by Charles Schulz pinned above my drawing desk that reads “Cartooning will destroy you, it will break your heart.”  God only knows why I’ve had that staring at me for so many years, but still it remains.  I think many of us wrestle with the cycle of wanting to be better, trying to be better and not getting better and then getting a little better and then always trying to be better and not always able to be better and then getting depressed about not being better especially when we know we could be better but we’re not.  I think that pretty much sums up my inner voice for the last few years.

But I have been getting better.  Not necessarily as a cartoonist, but better as a person.  The last few months have been important as I feel I’ve gotten over a few things and moved on from others.  These revelations, if you want to call them that have made me a better person and helped me wrestle a lot of my inner demons and doubts and by default, make me a happier person and a better cartoonist.  I am not as frustrated when I draw anymore.  I am redrawing panels and pages less than ever.  With previous books I was losing a day or so of work every week because I’d rush through a page or end up redrawing it.  Not this book.  I feel more confident when I draw a page and it shows.

This blog is as much therapy for me as it is a way for me to let you all know what’s going on when when stuff is coming out.  So, thanks.

I can defeat my inner demons and that’s all well and good but the thing that I can’t get more of is time.  I don’t do much besides work and draw and spend time with my family.  I rarely see movies or watch tv or play video games.  I don’t have that time-wasting thing that I do (except sleep) where I could be devoting that time to drawing, so I pretty much draw as much as I can.  When my family is out, I can sneak in some extra drawing time or some extra Photoshopping a Retros page time, but those moments are rare.  Not that my family won’t let me draw, but I like my family and I enjoy spending time with them and it’s hard to do that when Sophie suggests going swimming or riding bikes.  So, I wait to draw until she goes to bed.  However, I do wonder, from time to time, how much I could get done if I had the house to myself for a few days.

This past week, I found out.

Amy’s sister does contract work for a company in Colorado and travels there a few times a month.  She thought it’d be fun to drive out there sometime and asked Amy and Sophie to come with and make a road trip out of it.  Ryan passed on the trip.  I suppose when you’re 17 being in a car for hours and hours and hours on end isn’t very appealing.  They planned on stopping at Mount Rushmore and a few other places along the way and then spend a few days in Colorado and then head home.  It sounded like a lot of fun for Sophie and Amy deserved a vacation so off they went.  They left on a Friday and since Ryan spent most of the following week either at work or with friends, when I came home from work each day, I walked into an empty house.

Over the next 6 days, I went to work, to the Y, took the dog on a million walks, ate dinner, and drew.  And drew and drew.  I was able to start making some progress in catching up from falling behind on my 15 pages a month goal from June.  While I walked the dog or inked panels, I thought to myself that this is what it’d be like to be single.  And it SUCKED.  It was depressing.  I didn’t like this.  At all.  I missed my family.  I knew I would but I really, really missed them.

I knew that, years ago, I chose having a family over having a cartooning career.  Not that I can’t have one EVER, but I knew it’d be harder with kids.  I never looked back on that choice.  I fell in love hard with Amy and I couldn’t not love her even if I tried.  But what would life be like if I was still single?  I found out and it sucked and I felt empty and hollow.  Just as I need to draw to be who I am, I realized that the bigger part of me is being a husband and a dad.  Drawing will always be waiting for me, tucked into a little room on the top floor of my townhouse, but in a year or so, Ryan will be off to a college, Sophie will ask me less and less over time to go for a bike ride and I’ll still have my comics to draw.

When Amy and Sophie came home a few days ago, it was one of those rare days when Ryan wasn’t at work and the four of us were all home for dinner.  We ordered pizza and I looked around the table and was reminded of a quote from a Superman comic that Alan Moore wrote: “His weariness lifts.  The man has his family about him.  He is content.”

What does this have to do with cartooning?  Very little, but this has much to do with the cartoonist.

So, that’s that.

As I said, I drew a lot but not as much as I had thought or hoped.  I thought I’d get more than one page of Uptown Girl in each day, but I stuck with a page day and worked on The Retros at other times.  The Uptown Girl book is the first book where I wrote a rough draft and the scene I’m working on now, a HUGE action sequence that has been building for a while is really taking off.  The draft of this scene was a little more than a paragraph since it was mostly things like “Uptown Girl is chased by ______ and an exciting action scene follows where there is much destruction.  Uptown Girl fights back and is helped by ______ and the day is saved”.  The rough draft then continues with what happens next.  As I got started on this scene while Amy was gone, it was like all the drama in the story was just building and building and like a shaken bottle of soda, this scene is exploding with action.  There’s been a lot of talk, tears, shake ups, laughs and drama over the last 160 pages or so, but this is the first real action scene and I am having a ball drawing it.

Untitled-1Every few pages I’ll draw a character and think to myself that this is the last time I’ll ever draw this person.  Or I’ll be writing a scene and think of a funny joke or moment I could add that will add a few pages that I hadn’t planned (and get a little further behind than I already am) on but knowing that I’ll never have this opportunity again to have that scene, I usually end up adding it.  The point is that I am going all out on this book.  In this action scene, Uptown Girl calls for help as she is in over her head.  After she makes that call, I thought that she can either keep stalling and fleeing until this person shows up, OR that she should really call _______.  That person needs to be in this scene because not only this is the last time I will draw ___________, but this is the last time that ________ and _________ will ever be in the same panel.  So, Uptown Girl calls ___________.  And it’s a funny scene when she does.  It added two extra pages that I hadn’t expected.  When Uptown Girl hangs up, I thought about how this character gets to where the action is going down.  Sure, I could have them walk there off panel and that would be that but then I realized that it would be hilarious if _______ did….something and this character, in turn, needed to ask yet another character for a favor.  Knowing I’d NEVER have this opportunity again, and knowing that this was funny and a much needed humor break from all the character drama that had been happening so far, I knew I should add another funny moment.

So I did.  And again, I added a couple more pages that I hadn’t expected, or “budgeted” for time-wise.  And the ensuing scene that will follow before I get back to the part of the story where I wrote in the draft will add even more pages to the book.  It will be worth it but I am starting to worry about if I am still on pace to this book done before my April 1st deadline.

Ultimately these setbacks are making this into a better book.  I apologize for the vagueness above but I want this book to surprise you.  Trust me, it will be worth it if you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while.

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If I Should Fall Behind

Not too long ago I had reached a milestone with drawing the final Uptown Girl book.  I had started penciling and inking it in August 2015 and set myself on a pace to finish 15 pages a month.  15 pages may not seem like a lot but I had to take into account my full time job, The Retros and being a dad so I needed to set a goal that wasn’t unrealistic.  I wasn’t sure I could commit to more than 15 because if I should fall behind and not hit that number each month, I’d either get discouraged or try to rush through a page and produce work that I wasn’t happy with which would also be discouraging.
At any rate, I was happy to hit the 150th page not long ago because 150 paqes is pretty significant and I was at about 2/3 of the way through the book.  But it also meant I was keeping the pace I set for myself.

Well, all that went out the window last month.  Between my job and family life and trying to stay up to date on The Retros, I fell behind.  Not that The Retros takes a higher priority, but The Retros is a series that updates 5 times a week and I need to stay on that schedule.  I am luckily pretty far ahead on it that I am not in danger of missing a deadline but I need to keep it up.  For example:

Page 165 was posted on Friday, July 2nd.

Pages 166-170 are lettered and are ready to be posted for the week.

I have finished coloring up to page 180 and I pace myself to color five pages a week.

I have scanned/Photoshopped up to page 195 and I will letter/color as the weeks progress.

I have penciled and inked up to page 214 and 215/216 should be inked today.

So, I am doing fine and not too concerned about falling behind on The Retros but the past month was nuts and I am not as far ahead as I normally am.  I think the first story arc will wrap up on page 240.  I am trying to make that happen because that would finish a year after the strip launched and I am trying to pace it so each collected book will be a year’s worth of action but…it might go longer than 240 pages.  It easily could.

But back to Uptown Girl.  I finished scanning/Photoshopping/lettering page 159 this morning.  I wanted to be at 165 pages by the end of June and that didn’t happen.  I should be able to get sort of caught up this month as July is looking less crazy than June was.  I knew June was going to be busy but I didn’t think I would get this far behind.  I am not beating myself up too badly though (because it does me no good).  I think it’s because the last few pages have been turning out really well.  So far the book is all about drama and mystery and setting things up.  Now the action has really started and all the energy and tension is just exploding into the action scene I’m drawing.  It’s a lot of fun.  The scene involves a character that is appearing in the series for the final time so I am just letting myself go nuts on the action.  No holds-barred fun.  I was going to post a panel but I think it might give something away so here’s Uptown Girl’s reaction to what’s going down.

OH CRAPI still think I can wrap this book up by the end of the year especially since I thought I needed to redraw the prologue but after looking at it again a few weeks ago I decided that the prologue looks good and I’m happy with it.  How did it go from something I needed to redo to something I am happy with?  Well, I drew the prologue about a year ago and decided to redraw it using a smaller size paper.  I didn’t like the first attempt but I liked the smaller version and thought I would draw the whole book on a smaller scale.  I decided against it and intended to go back and redraw the prologue for the third time.  But after looking at the second/smaller pages I decided to keep them and I am wrapping up the lettering this weekend.  I was very happy that I was able to salvage this scene as it saved me at least a month’s worth of work.  This kind of evened out the discouragement of falling a little behind in June in terms of page productivity.

So yeah.  I realized I probably could have finished another page in the time it took to write about it, but…well, there you have it.

 

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Let It Go

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve occasionally beat myself up for not getting serious about my art when I was younger.  The theme of wasting time and goofing off and not working hard enough has been a theme that has popped up more often than I probably realize.  I used to believe that this…well, self-hatred might be too strong of a term but let’s go with it, was fueling me and keeping me driven to do great comics now and to work hard and be the best cartoonist possible to maybe make up for lost time.  I’ve lamented that if I had taken this route twenty years ago, I might have a different life and maybe I’d have…oh, I don’t know, a book deal, a comic strip, a cartoon maybe.

I was thinking about this the other day and thought “well, that’s stupid.”  I realized that I don’t need to waste that mental energy hating on myself.  I am driven anyway.  I am committed to doing good comics regardless of whether or not I hating on myself.  I realized that this frustration doesn’t benefit me.  At all.  Not even a little.  So, I need to let it go.

And I did.  It was easy.

I started to think about why I thought I wasted all these years.  I tried to think about just exactly what I was doing over the last two decades and what, exactly, I wasted.

Today I am forty.  Twenty years ago I was living in Alaska.  I moved back the year after.  It was an adventure.  I’ve had a lot of jobs and experiences that shaped me and my work, particularly Uptown Girl.  I drew a lot of pictures and taught myself how to draw by drawing a million horrible drawings.  I fell in love, had my heart broken and fell in love again.  I made a lot of friends.  I got married, had kids and bought a house.  I played video games, read books, got inspired to make comics after reading comics, got in shape, went to Asia and Europe and Iowa, started making comics, met fans who became my friends, submitted a cartoon to Cartoon Network, got rejected by Cartoon Network and dozens of book publishers.  Learned how to not make a children’s book, how not to make a comic book by making a hundred of them, how to make a comic book by making a hundred of them, how to make a graphic novel by making a hundred comic books and how to be a dad.

sophie painting

I did other stuff but that’s the bulk of it.  I think of all the drawing stuff I learned and how it has lead to what I do now and how that work and those lessons learned are paying off with the final Uptown Girl book and The Retros.  I think of the family stuff and being a dad and how that’s the most important part of my life.

I guess looking back it’s hard to think of the last twenty years as wasted time.  I am happy I can live and draw without beating myself up and really enjoy drawing without that voice getting to me.

 

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It Just Might be a One Shot Deal

Last week I penciled and inked page 150 of Uptown Girl-The Lazarus Heart.  It was a psychological milestone.  I started the first draft of the book in February 2015 and got started on the final draft in August 2015.  I set out to pace myself at 15 inked/scanned/lettered pages a month and I’m happy that I’ve stuck to that schedule.  I wanted to push that up to 20 pages but between The Retros and everything else going on, I decided that the quality would suffer if I pushed myself more.

Here’s an unlettered page 150 just to show some artwork.  I took out the wording to avoid spoilers.

150

At this point, I a pretty confident I am at 2/3 done with the story.  There are three segments I still need to go back and do (prologue, an action scene and an exposition scene) that need to be drawn and added in, but in terms of the main part of the book I am closer to the end than the beginning.

So, how is the book so far?  Heavy.  Looking back at the other books, each story seems to have a theme.  Humor, action, adventure, mystery,…this book is all about drama.  There’s a lot of dialogue and drama.  Stuff happens, people’s relationships change, shifts to the status quo and all that.  It still FEELS like an Uptown Girl book, though.  If you’re a fan, I assure you that you’ll finish the book and like it.  I’m proud of how it’s going.

Although it’s pretty epic, it doesn’t feel like the end.  I mean, it does, but right now I am so deep into the book as a book that I am not giving much consideration that it’s the LAST book.  Well, that’s not true.  I am ramping up the epicness of it but still remaining true to the characters and the spirit of the book but I also know that if there’s anything I want to explore or do with these characters (in terms of exploring their relationships and dynamics) that this is my chance and I am doing what I can.

That’s not to say I am throwing everything at the wall just to see what sticks.  There’s a lot of stories that I have about these characters that will likely never be told.  I didn’t want to walk away from these characters if I was out of ideas…I feel there’s so much more that can be done with Uptown Girl and her friends but we’ll leave those adventures to our imaginations.

I don’t look back too much but with this book I find myself flipping back and forth between the 150 pages I’ve done for consistency in character designs, couch patterns and things like that.  There is a new supporting cast member that we saw on the page I posted earlier in the post.  He first appears on page 27 and when I looked back the other day I realized his character design has changed quite a bit over the book so far.  Again, here’s an unlettered/spoiler-free page:

27

So, yeah.  He looks a LOT different.  I am thinking he looks different enough that I should go back and redo some of the earlier panels.

Anyway, that’s where things are with the book so far.  My plan is to keep plowing ahead with the story and once the story is done, go back and add in those three missing sequences and then the epilogue.
When will the book be done?  When the story is finished.  But seriously, I expect to have the book done by the end of the year and at a pace of 15 pages a month, that would be 75 more pages between now and the end of the year.  I think that will bring me very close to the end of the book.  If I need the extra time or pages, I can go a few months into next year but the book HAS to be at the printer by mid-April to be out in time for the release date of May 2017.  I hope I don’t go that close to the deadline but I’ll happily do it if the book needs it.  I have just one shot at doing the final Uptown Girl book and I want to make it as good as possible.

 

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What’s an Epiphany?

 

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The year isn’t even half over but I can’t recall a period of time where I worked harder than I have these past few months.  In addition to working on Uptown Girl and The Retros, I’ve also been working at my job and working on finding a new job.  In December I found out I was losing my job, but no one knew when.  In January I was told my last day was in June and I started the job search process.  Knowing I had six months to find something, I didn’t go hardcore into applying to places.  I used the time to write cover letters, revise my resume, practice interviewing and networking.

Looking for a job IS a job.

But I had time on my side.

On May 9th, I was told my last day was bumped up to May 20th.  Full on job search.  Panic mode.  Long story short, over the last few months, I talked to dozens of people, wrote a ton of cover letters and applied for over fifty jobs.  I went to interviews, marketed myself, networked and lost a lot of sleep.  I was lucky enough to get a job offer on my last day and I start my new job tomorrow.

I am very lucky.
My job provides many things, most of all a way to support my family and my art.  Superman doesn’t talk about Clark Kent’s life, and I usually don’t talk too much about my day job, but it’s necessary for my cartooning life to exist.  I learned a couple things over the last few months that I think are very relevant to my creative life, though.

I’ve talked about how I’ve always been bad at submitting my work to publishers and literary agents.  I hated doing stuff like that.  I would create something that I thought was publishable and sort of…did nothing with it.  Sure, I sent it to a few publishers but I stopped pretty quickly and moved onto the next creative project while the old one sat there.

I am not going to get into the quality of those projects, but ultimately they are/were not good enough to get published, anyway.  I was/wasn’t good enough, and neither was the project.  I’ll get into the OTHER thing I learned about all this next week, but I don’t think I have an amazing project sitting on my hard drive that book publishers or the Cartoon Network would die for.

What I learned from the job search was how to write letters, how to network, how to market myself, how not to give up, how to keep hammering away at something.  I know from experience that sometimes a drawing takes a few days to get right, how it needs endless revisions and despite my plans, a book can take longer to finish that I expected.  I learned that the hard, boring, non-creative work pays off and is necessary to get what I want…whether it is in a professional setting or creative.

You are likely reading this and thinking “well, yeah…” but so much of my life has been going about things in a non-traditional way.  I didn’t mean to set out to do comics, I just stumbled into them at the suggestion of a friend.  I found my most recent job through my wife’s sister.  The past few months I had to be an adult and I adulted pretty well.

But I get it.  I know what to do, I know how to do it and the cool thing is that I feel I am at a point where my creative life, drive, goals, skills and timing have synced up perfectly with this epiphany.

My next two projects are planned for the post-Uptown Girl life.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or what I wanted to do but I do now and I am excited.

Thank you to everyone who wished me luck on the job search, LinkedIn with me, gave me advice, provided connections, suggestions, job leads and support.  Really.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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Step Right Up

Next weekend is Micro-Con, Spring-Con MSP Comic-Con.  I’ve been a guest at this convention for a while, I think this will mark my 87th year at this show.

And I love the conventions the MCBA puts on.  I’ve been to a lot of conventions, but I am amazed at how big the MCBA shows are but still feel small.

This will also be the first spring convention in a few years where I won’t have a new Uptown Girl book.  I am still plugging away at it, I just scanned and lettered page 134 this morning.  And let me tell you, writing this book is killing me.  The one small grace is that I don’t have the pressure of the next Uptown Girl book this time.  I am pretty far behind on this book since ‘A Long Forgotten Fairytale’ took longer than I thought it would.  The challenges for this book are many.  When I write a story, I usually have a theme in mind.  Some stories are personal, some are funny, creepy, mysterious or action-y.  This book is trying to be all of them.  Balancing the right amount of all those elements is not easy…and I also have the task of creating a satisfying end to a series I’ve been doing since 2003.  I am looking forward to taking a long break from writing long, complicated stories for a while once this is all wrapped up.

This is different from The Retros, of course.  There is an overall story to The Retros but I break things down in terms of overall story, then scenes, then pages, then panels.  It helps to only have four panels per page to tell part of a larger story as I have to be more economical in what I draw and write and only do the important stuff.  I have to keep things moving but at the same time, I like moments like the final two panels in the page from May 6th because it’s a great character moment, it’s funny but doesn’t really move things anywhere:

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Anyway, although I won’t have a new book this year, I will have three new Retros one-shots/mini-comics with covers colored by Retros animator Brian Quarfoth.  I haven’t made a mini-comic for a while so it was fun to do these.

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All three will be available at the convention and I also reprinted all of the previous Uptown Girl books (the graphic novels, not the big, fat phonebooks from a while ago) so if you need a few books before the last Uptown Girl book comes out (spring 2017), this is your chance.

Anyway, I’ll step off my carnival barker box and I hope to see you at the convention.

 

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Your Own Worst Enemy

A common theme in most comics is conflict between good and evil.  Whether Batman is fighting the Joker (or Superman, I guess) there’s almost always two forces working against each other.  Sometimes this is true when it comes to even just creating the comic.  I think many cartoonists have something they need to overcome to be as good as they want to be, or as good as they can be.  Last week I wrote about what I could do if I wasn’t always working on a timeline.  I think I can draw better than what most people usually see when I take my time and slow down.  That’s not to say deadlines are all bad.  Sometimes they help keep someone on track and motivated and actually finish something.  It’s too easy to put things off if you don’t have a deadline to finish a project…even if it’s a deadline you set yourself.  One of the few joys in self-publishing is not having a publisher breathing down my neck wondering when the book is done, but you’re also responsible for everything else.  And of course, if you take too long between projects, readers might forget you exist and might not be there or even care when you eventually finish something.

I like having deadlines and schedules.  It is a lot of work right now doing a webcomic that updates five times a week while trying to finish 15 pages for a graphic novel each month while working full time and raising a family.  I am looking forward to finishing Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart (it SHOULD be this year) and having more time for other art projects.

The problem, depending on how you look at it, is that I am very excited about drawing stuff.  And when I do something I am excited about, I tend to do it quickly.  If I am drawing something for fun that doesn’t need to be done at a particular time I still have a tendency to go too fast.  The enemy I struggle with is actually myself.  I draw too fast and I don’t know when to slow down or even take a break.  Sometimes it’s because I am having fun and I don’t want to stop.  The problem with that is eventually I’ll get tired, my hand gets tired and when this happens, I don’t do my best work.  I get lazy, I get sloppy.  There comes a point in some drawing where you know you need to take a break because you start making tiny, careless mistakes and of course this can lead to bigger mistakes and then the drawing is ruined.  You’ve got to know when to slow down, you’ve got to know when to take a break.

So, I am trying to overcome this enemy.  I am trying to slow down and take breaks.  Last week I showed a drawing that featured a character I created a few months ago.  I had a ton of fun drawing it and I thought it’d be fun to do another.  I penciled out a new scene and had a blast doing it.  I have forgotten how fun it is to just pencil and play in a new world.  Usually when I pencil comics it tends to be more gestured lines and simple layouts but this was different.  It was one of those drawings where you’re penciling it and you keep thinking how fun it’s going to be to ink.  After I penciled it I let it rest (and myself too) to give myself time to look it over.  Doing this can give me a chance to throw something new into the drawing or a new idea I hadn’t come up with.  After a day or so, it was time to ink.

Starting the inking process can be stressful.  If the first few moments of inking don’t work out right, it can set a tone for the rest of the drawing.  If you hate the first inked lines, it can turn into a very frustrating project.  But when it clicks, man, it’s the greatest thing in the world.  It’s like, I love the first line, I love the next and it just rolls on from there.  Soon you have a whole character inked and you love it and you move onto the next thing and you love that too.

Of course, the opposite is true.  If you hate something, you might work harder on the next thing and if you let the frustration get to you, you’ll likely continue to do poor work.  So the key is, at least for me, is to slow down and be careful.  Some people like the inking to be spontaneous and I do too, especially when I work on comics, but for a drawing this large and this detailed, I need to take it slow as it is a lot bigger and starting over is not as easy as redoing one panel.

So, here’s how it all shook out.  I started to ink and I did this for about 45 minutes and took a step back.  The work was going well, my hand felt good and I was energized by the drawing.  Normally I would’ve kept going and ride the momentum but I didn’t want to sabotage myself so it was time to take a break for a while.

1Again, I don’t have a scanner large enough for the drawing (it’s 11×17) but the iPhone does a halfway decent job of getting the job done for the purpose of the blog.  I started on the big stuff, the stuff that people need to notice.  The stuff that needs to be good because if the girl or the monster look kind of crummy, then no matter how good the background is, the big stuff looks terrible and dominates the drawing.  I was happy with the drawing, I was walking away feeling good about it as opposed to not liking it and hoping I could right the ship the next time I was back at the drawing table.  But this was good, I liked it and was excited to pick up where I left off.

I took a few hours off and came back to it.  After an hour or so, it was time to take a break and quit while I was ahead.

2So, the trees are coming along, I have a weird sea-monster inked and the bridge is done.  It’s coming along nicely.  But again, leave the party when it’s roaring.

A couple days later I did more.

3The drawing is progressing nicely and moving it’s way towards the right side of the page.  I got the hard stuff out of the way, I just need to do a little more with the background.  Now, this is kind of a trap because part of my brain is telling me that all I have left are some stupid trees so I should just plow through and wrap this up.  I normally listen to this but I also knew that would be a bad idea.  I don’t want to plow through anything.  So I put the pen down and decided to wrap it up the next day.

And I did!

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I like it.  I think it’s a good companion piece to the drawing I posted last week.  I had a lot of fun doing it and I think I want to do three more like it.  There’s a whole story I have in my mind for this character and what’s happening but I am trying not to think of this as a series or a new project. Like I said last week, I want to avoid some big projects and new books and new series for a while.

I also like this drawing because I feel like I overcame my biggest obstacle when it comes to drawing by slowing down and taking my time and listening to my instincts.  In your face, me.

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The Cave

The other day I got home late from work and went into my…well, it’s a room dedicated to my artwork and books but seems waaay too pretentious to call it “my studio”.  For years my family has referred this room as my “cave”.  I hate to call it the cave because a few years ago the term “man cave” entered the vernacular and has come to symbolize a space in a house, usually a basement where I hide from my family while I watch the sports and eat potato chips and dammit be a man.

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It’s the “cave” because when we lived in an apartment there was a large closet that did not have a door on it that was just wide enough for my drafting (cartooning?) table, my chair and a bookshelf.  My son nicknamed it the Batcave and because we’re all so busy these days it was simply shortened it to “The Cave”.

When we bought a house we were lucky enough to find a place that had another space that wasn’t quite a bedroom but much larger than the closet.  The nickname followed and it’s not something any of us give a second thought to.  I think my daughter assumes every house has a cave.  “Oh, on your left is the laundry room, down the hall is master bedroom and behind us is the cave”.

Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, I went to my cave and didn’t have the energy to start a new Uptown Girl page (I was at my page quota for the week anyway) but I wanted to draw for a bit.  I inked a few panels for The Retros but started to think that soon every night was going to be Uptown Girl-less.  I am up to 131 pages and I think I am comfortable and confident saying I am halfway done.  Usually being halfway done with a book is a good thing but this book has the extra gravity of it being the last and not just the latest Uptown Girl book.  I’ve told myself for a while now that I wouldn’t worry about what was next (besides The Retros of course) once Uptown Girl was all wrapped up.  But now that I think I’m halfway done, I can’t help but think of what’s next.  I’m like this with all parts of my life, though.  On Tuesdays I think about what’s going on Thursday, I’ll eat lunch and wonder what’s for dinner.

What will I do when Uptown Girl is done?  It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.  My biggest fear is that I would start another series or another comic or even just a one shot graphic novel.  I call it a fear because the idea of jumping into another long project exhausts me.  I’ve been drawing Uptown Girl for 13 years now and although I’ve had a blast, the thought of a year long (or longer) project freaks me out.  I don’t want to do that, but you can’t always control what your creative impulses pushes you to.  I’m terrible with this.  I’ll have an idea pop into my head and two hours later I’ve mapped out the entire story, character or series.  Usually the time Uptown Girl requires puts the brakes on anything like this, but I still get ideas.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading comics a little differently lately.  I’ve been reading a ton of stuff by Seth lately and by God I want to do something like this.  I love the simple yet not so simple style.

I’m tempted to do something like this in a new book but…again, thinking about a big project just exhausts me.  I might feel different when Uptown Girl is actually done, but the feeling of avoiding a big project (at least for a while) has been a pretty consistent feeling for a while now.

So what will I do?  I’ve said it before but it’s time to get serious about my art.  I know I’m better than what most people see.  This time it’s different because I’ll actually have time.  I won’t have the pressure to complete a 300 page book every year.  Not long ago I wanted to see if I was better than I was and I drew this picture of myself in my cave:

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It’s pretty good.  Imagine if I drew that way all the time.  Imagine if I had been drawing this way this whole time.  I left some room in case I wanted to add some captions or narration or something.  See?  I can’t even do one drawing without me thinking it could be a page in a bigger project.  Most people know I got started doing comics because I was trying to be a children’s book illustrator.  Over a dozen years ago, I wrote and poorly drew a book I was shopping to publishers.  While waiting for those rejection letters I decided to take a shot at doing comics.  13 years later my career has taken a different path and although I love comics, I want to do more than comics.  I feel I’ve done as much in comics as I can, and instead want to revisit my illustration goals.  Of course, I still will do The Retros which I consider a comic strip and there is a difference.

Instead of putting together an entire book, I’m thinking I should put together a portfolio.  What would I draw without having a deadline?  Well, like the cave drawing above it, I wanted to illustrate something and see what it looked like if I took my time.  I worked on this piece on and off over a course of ten days or so and I was surprised by how it turned out…and I was surprised that I liked it.

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This scene is from the world of a character I created not too long ago.  I love how it turned out.  I wish I had a scanner large enough to capture the whole thing better, but it is what it is.  The plan is (today’s plan anyway, but I think it will stick) is put together a sampling of a dozen or so drawings and send them to agents and publishers.  That’s how it’s done, anyway.  I suppose I should stop putting my faith of being “discovered” online.  That isn’t going to happen.  I used to think if I became a famous cartoonist and had a following it wouldn’t take long for a publisher or The Cartoon Network to call me up and offer me a contract.  I’ve always known that is as likely as…something that’s not likely but I’ve clung to that like someone who…clings to something.  I am hoping that with a little Energon and a lot of luck, I might get a chance to illustrate a book.

And do want to know why I haven’t done things the proper way?  I was afraid of the work.  Which is hilarious and sad to think for someone who has drawn five original graphic novels and over a hundred comics over the course of 13 years.  It’s going to be a lot of work to draw a dozen drawings like this, color them, print them, put together a submission packet and send them away.

But you know?  If I have half as much fun doing those twelve drawings as I did this one, it might not be so bad.  I think what my plan is to draw whatever I want, to draw pictures I like drawing, stuff that doesn’t fit into what Uptown Girl was or what The Retros is.  I’m excited about this for a number of reasons.  For starters, I’m looking forward to doing more stuff like this, and drawing in different styles.  I want to see if I am really better than I am.  Secondly, if I follow through with this, it would be me actually doing what I should’ve done in the first place.  But then again, I learned a ton about drawing over the last dozen years or so, so maybe the timing is perfect.

 

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