Popular Problems

Last year marked the 80th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in comic books.  Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Man of Steel that eventually graced the cover of Action Comics #1 was actually the third iteration of the character.  It was a challenge for the character to find his way into print, but after failing to get into the newspapers as a comic strip he landed a home in the relatively new form of media called comic books.

It was a dream come true for Superman’s creators, although I doubt that even in their wildest fantasies that he would still be around in the year 2019.

Fun fact, The Retros takes place in the year 2438, 500 years after Action Comics #1.

Creating characters can be exciting as their personalities, traits, powers, and supporting cast are developed.  As time passes and other writers and artists add their take on a character, it’s not uncommon for inconsistencies to pop up.  Whether they are oversights or changes that are made intentionally, discrepancies will appear.  I have nothing but sympathy for the editor, writer, or artist as they craft stories for a character that has existed for decades.  It’s not easy to honor their legacy and stay within the established status quo and boundaries (if you will) of the character.  It’s tempting to shake things up, such as revealing a character’s secret identity or undoing something (like a marriage) but making such a drastic change can be a risk.

Some changes stick, some don’t.  Some should, some shouldn’t.

For the most part, most of the major superheros are pretty much the same as they were when they first appeared in comics.  For good or for bad, I suppose.  Superhero comics, for me anyway, are comforting, I guess.  I like that Batman is pretty much the same as he’s always been.  Sure, there have been changes but he is fundamentally the same.  It’s jarring to pick up a comic you haven’t read for a while and not being able to recognize anyone in it.

Of course, there is also the common problem of making a comic accessible to new readers but at the same time make it rewarding to the long term reader.  When I worked at a comic shop there would be people looking to start reading X-Men because they liked the movie but it was intimidating to pick up a monthly comic that almost required reading three other titles with years of continuity and story development.

Anyway.

When I was creating Uptown Girl comics I made an effort to make very small changes to the status quo and to make every issue standalone, for the most part.  I wanted each issue to be a good introduction the characters and their world.  Sure, there were little nods and the like to longtime readers but nothing that I felt that was essential to enjoying the issue.

The Retros would be different.  When the series launched on November 16th, 2015 I wanted to create a sprawling epic that had the feel of when I started to read the X-Men when I was 14.  I loved that the X-Men had years of stories and mythology to catch up on.  I loved that the team changed members constantly.  I loved that anything could happen in the book.

Comics were, and always will be (for better of for worse) a world that required patience and effort from the reader.  If you didn’t know who a character was, or why something was significant, the comic would rarely hold your hand or bring you up to speed.  These days it’s easy to Google something, but when I was 14 I had to ask my friends who Havok was or why Crisis on Infinite Earths was significant.

Continuity is a double-edge sword.  On one hand, it’s fun to have a series with years (or even decades) of history.  On the other, it can prevent someone from jumping onto a new series.  I enjoy this history in books I have been reading for a very long time.  But it also keeps me from picking up a book that has been going for a while.  It’s hard to have it both ways.

As a creator, I am aware of how this can keep someone from trying or sticking with a series.  When people ask where they can read The Retros, I cringe a little because I know what is happening currently in the series.  It’s not too easy to jump into where as Uptown Girl was very accessible for new readers.

I try to make it easier for new readers by breaking up the series into “seasons” that can be found by following a link on The Retros website.  The collected editions help as well.

The Retros is now about to start it’s fifth year and I am happy that the series is more or less what I had wanted to create.  It’s a sprawling epic where stuff happens, the team changes members and things happen to the characters that have last effects.  Some stuff has been planned, others happened organically.  In the third season the team fought a demon and the fight left Alie with severe burns all over her skin.  She was scarred and still is.  I never really planned for this happen… it just… kind of did.  The fact she hasn’t healed shows that when stuff happens, it’s permanent.

Doing things that don’t go back to the status quo really pushes me out of my comfort zone, but I think that’s a good thing.

When I write, I will often throw out an offhand comment about… something and I rarely think about it afterwards.  Sometimes this can paint me into a corner, though.  Early on in The Retros the characters were talking about previous team members and Alie had mentioned how many previous team members The Retros have had.

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When this line was written, I thought I would go back and tell stories about earlier incarnations of the team.  However, as the series progressed, the story veered into a different direction and it was determined that this number was too high.  As of this writing, I think Fly-Girl is the seventh person to join the team.  I think I tweaked this dialogue when this story was collected in a book.

It bugs me to see inconsistencies in what I write.  On one hand I could shrug it off and move on with my life, but when something clearly contradicts continuity, then I think it needs to be fixed, either by editing or through storytelling.

The example above demonstrates something called ‘laying pipe’, where something is sort of mentioned in a casual way but will lead to something bigger later on.  I do this often in The Retros, whether I know how it factors into something planned or just leaving the door open for something else.

Recently in The Retros we flashed back to when Alie and Katrina were dating and what led to their break up.  I can’t help but see parallels between being a superhero and being dedicated to one’s job.  Sometimes duty and responsibility can impact a relationship.  Alie loves/loved Katrina, but she has an obligation to the team.

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This was foreshadowed years ago at the end of the first season.

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When I wrote this page, I thought it would be interesting to explore the personal life and relationships of the characters.  This page showed Alie’s commitment to the team, even if it meant losing someone she loved.  This is an example of laying pipe, but I had no idea who Alie was talking to.  I left the door open to telling this story, but I didn’t know what the story was.

I don’t recall at what point I realized the Alie and Katrina used to be a couple, but it happened naturally as I was writing the second season.  Alie and Katrina ran into each other and there was clearly some tension.  The tension was not intentional, it just… happened.  It didn’t take too long to figure out where that tension came from.

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I have forgotten how… almost vicious this scene was.  I think Katrina was originally meant to be a little scatterbrained or something?  Of all the characters in the comic she is the one who has changed the most.  These days she is one of my favorites to write.

Sometimes an offhand comment is just meant to be an offhand comment and I don’t plan on revisiting it.  I don’t reread my work too often.  I probably should to avoid contradictions and inconsistencies in the series, but I am usually too focused on what is happening next rather than looking back.

Early on in the first season, Lucky and Sputnik were talking to Fly-Girl about the team.  This little exchange was mean to be a casual conversation about something most people would think was pretty horrible.  I wanted to show that terrible things can happen to people who risk their lives for the world and for those in the line of duty, so to speak, they have become a little numb to it.  Gallows humor, I think it’s called.

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But when I reread this page it came across too harsh.  I wasn’t comfortable with it.  It made Lucky and Sputnik too uncaring.  It seemed callous and insensitive.  So, I wanted to address it, but the problem was how to fix it.  Who lost their head?  I decided it clearly could not be someone human, it couldn’t be someone alive.  That left only a handful of options.  I thought about a robot, but I wanted to do something different.  If I couldn’t use someone living, what about someone who wasn’t alive?

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So, that’s how Zom-B ended up becoming a Retro.  This is an example of a problematic moment, in this case an offhand comment leading to a solution that I think fixes the issue in a fun and surprising way.  I doubt anyone remembers this moment from all those years ago, but this is what I mean by rewarding a long time reader but not alienating a newer one.

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The members of the team are inspired by trends in comics over the years.  Skull Phantom is a nod to the ultra-violent/psychopathic characters from the 1990’s, for example.

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Zom-B is a wink to zombie/horror comics such as The Walking Dead or I, Zombie.  The challenge was coming up with a reason why Alie thought a zombie would be a good addition to the team so I hope I came up with interesting abilities for him.

The fun of cartooning is being surprised by what I am doing.  By keeping the writing spontaneous and organic I see stories go in different directions than I planned.  For example, in the current story arc Alie is headed to a different planet with Sybexa and Sputnik.  Originally Lucky was going to go with and leave Sybexa in command of the team.  But before I knew it Katrina became not only became a Retro, but the leader as well while Sybexa and Sputnik are off for an adventure.

Again, doing stuff that is different than what was planned can often lead to problems down the line, but sometimes the problems are fun to fix.

Okay bye.

-Bob

 

 

 

 

See You in the Funny Papers

For the fourth year in a row, I am doing Inktober, a daily cartoonist challenge that takes place in October.  Each day cartoonists are challenged to draw something and post it online.  I draw everyday but Inktober is meant to be a little different than what you normally do.

Some cartoonists go off of prompts and use a different word to inspire that day’s art.  For the last few years I have done themes.  The first year I did Inktober I drew characters from my favorite book, ‘The Hobbit’.  This was fun but I ran out of major characters after a bit was left with drawing elf butlers and birds.  Still, it was fun interpreting characters that were different than how the movies portrayed them.

Day 1-Bilbo

The second year I did characters from ‘The Fourth World’, a comic book story by Jack Kirby.  This was a challenge and I don’t think I did as well with it as I could have.  I think I either bit off more than I could chew or just didn’t put enough time into each drawing.  I wish I had worked harder on this theme.

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Realizing my mistake, the third year I decided to go much simpler and draw characters from the various Mario games.  This was a better fit considering how little spare time I have to add one more project onto my day.

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I bounced between a few different ideas for this year, but I ultimately decided on comic strip characters.  I loved the comics when I was a kid and still read them as much as I can.  I was excited to interpret these famous characters in my style, as opposed to copying the style by the cartoonist.  I chose strips that I loved, as well as strips that are iconic.

The first drawing is Hagar the Horrible and is still one of my favorite drawings for the month.

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Another of my favorite drawings was Popeye.  My goal was to have at least two characters in each drawing with the exception of Little Nemo as I felt the bed was a character in it of itself.P

I am posting these drawings to Twitter and Instagram, and it was a thrill for some of the original creators to respond to these little drawings.

For example, my drawing of Cathy was commented on by her creator, Cathy Guisewite.

My drawing of Harley from Hey! Harley was liked by creator Dan Thompson.

Michael Jantze commented on my drawing of The Norm.

And finally, Will Henry retweeted my drawing of his characters from Wallace the Brave.

I’m glad I picked this theme and I’m excited for the last couple weeks.

-Bob

Out of the Woods

I am excited to be a guest at this year’s Fallcon in Saint Paul, MN.  The show is scheduled for Saturday, October 5th from 10am until 6pm.  This will be my first convention in almost two years.   I’ll have copies of Uptown Girl graphic novels and copies of the second volume of The Retros as well.  If you want a commissioned piece to pick up at the show, please let me know!

Other than that, I am plugging away at Norah Locke.  For a while I kept going back and forth about whether it was going to be three 200ish page books or one big book.  Ultimately I decided to go with one big book.  I thought it would be a lot of fun (and insane) to do a giant 500-600 page novel.  This is a massive undertaking but I am around… 75 pages into it.  I hope to be at 100 pages before the end of the year.  Traveling for work does allow plenty of dedicated time to work on it as I draw on the plane, at airports, at the hotel, restaurants…

Sometimes I think this book is too ambitions, not only in page count but also in terms of research.  I am doing a lot of field research, in a way.  Since the book takes place in White Bear Lake, where I live, I am using my town for reference.  Norah walks down the same streets I do, she gets ice cream where I take my kids, and lives in the woods by my home.  Although no one will probably notice (or care), I am taking photos to use as inspiration for the book.  For example, here’s a picture of a neat little bridge in the woods:

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And here’s a scene from the book:

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Forgive the sloppy word balloons, I haven’t gotten around to properly lettering it yet.  The drawing isn’t as detailed as the photo and I’ve taken some liberties, but the art is a lot more detailed than I originally set out it to be.  When I started to redraw this book on my iPad, I thought I would simplify the art a lot more.  I am a fan of James Kochalka and I really like his book ‘Elf Cat in Love’, which takes place in a forest.  I like his simple black and white line work, without much embellishment.

But I couldn’t nail it, so I stuck with the original style and look.

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It did get a little boring drawing trees, but using photos as a reference helped inspire different things to add, such as the log and different types of trees.  Thankfully the part of the book I am drawing now has moved out of the woods and into a labyrinth of sorts.  I’m sure it will get boring drawing stone walls and hidden passageways soon enough, but for now it’s refreshing to draw something new.

-Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sick of Myself

Yes, this blog still functions.

Where have I been?  What have I been doing?

I have been back and forth between Minnesota and Denver for work.  A lot. I had two trips in August and another two this month.

The travel is a little wearing, but I am getting a lot of work on Norah Locke done, so that is a plus.  I think I am about 65 pages into the book and it’s going pretty well.  When I am home I am working on The Retros.  The fifth “season” just started a couple months ago and I am about 180 pages in on what will be a 240 page story arc, so I have a comfortable lead on that.

So, that’s where I have been, and that is what I have been doing.

I have also been having somewhat of an existential crisis and I have been aware of it for some time.  The reason I haven’t written on the blog for a few months was because I was tired of myself.  No, not tired of myself and wanting to end it at all (in any sense), but I was exhausted and a little embarrassed at these wild and extreme mood swings.  One week I would be on top of the world and full of optimism, the next I was frustrated beyond belief.  There is no middle ground.  I know life is about ups and downs, but the severity of both of these feelings, and how quickly I could move from to another, became pretty alarming when I looked at some of my previous posts.

This became impossible to ignore on two different occasions.  I started to write an entry a few weeks ago that was full of despair and gloom and wanting to give up on this art dream.  Not give up on drawing, but perhaps thinking that I would ever hit one of my goals.  The entry was depressing and I never posted it.  I felt that I had crossed a line and I was worried about myself.  Again, I am not tired of life or anything, but speculating about why I even bothered to create and send whatever I wrote and drew to publishers and that it was hopeless seemed like it was just… too far.  Did I really feel that way?

The second moment was just feeling something wasn’t quite right.  I woke up one Sunday to see an email from work about how something went a different direction than I would have preferred and for some reason, this sent me spiraling into a level of sadness and anxiety that I had never felt before.  One minute I was bullet proof, the next I was a puddle on the ground.  This was not the first time I had this sudden, extreme change of self-worth.  Neither feeling invincible or feeling worthless is not healthy.  It is not healthy to feel either extreme.

I knew that it is not normal to feel this way.  I knew I was tired of feeling this way.

I felt better when I decided I was tired of feeling this.  I used to think that feeling frustrated was a good motivation to draw more, draw better, finish projects, and send them to publishers.  But that day I decided that it wasn’t helping.  I didn’t need to be frustrated, to beat myself up to motivate me to make art.  I loved making art, that’s all the motivation I need.

That evening my wife and I sat on the deck as the sun set.  I told Amy what was going on, and the next day I made an appointment with a psychiatrist.  I had my first visit a few weeks ago and they prescribed some Prozac but it took me about two weeks to actually begin it.  I kept the prescription bottle on my desk so I would see it often and it would help remind why it was prescribed to me.  I was a little nervous to begin taking it, to be honest.  I am not comfortable with things altering my….well, anything.  That fear was one of the primary reasons I quit drinking almost three years ago.  Keeping the medication within eyesight helped me make peace with it and I started it on the first of the month.

One of the side effects in some people was bizarre dreams and the first night I dreamed I called Tom Petty and tried to talk him into doing an album of Grateful Dead songs.  So, we can check that box.

Otherwise I haven’t noticed much change, but perhaps that is the purpose.  I didn’t want to all of a sudden feel AMAZING and MANIC and INVINCIBLE.   Amy said I seem calmer, more balanced, more present.  When I saw my coworkers on my last trip to Colorado I was told I seemed more positive and had a calmer energy.

This is good.  I feel good.  I feel calmer.  Over the last few weeks I have had moments where previously I would feel crushed and defeated, moments that I would dwell on for hours, even for days.  But they bounced off me.

I have also had great things happen, things that would have caused my self-esteem to soar beyond what is normal but I felt…. happy, but not deliriously so.

I feel…. just great, to be honest.  I feel normal.

So, I guess I wanted to apologize for the whining, the despair, the seemingly endless blog of complaining that I am not a published cartoonist.  I’m excited to be better.  In every sense.

I almost deleted this whole blog and started over, but I decided not to.  The path to anything, success, mental health, happiness, is littered with bumps and setbacks.  I guess this is part of that.  Instead of starting over I gave the blog a face lift to reflect what I hope is a new direction.

Going forward I promise to talk more about art instead of my frustrations.  Thanks for reading this.

And just to lighten things up, here’s a drawing I did of my daughter’s cat.

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-Bob

 

 

 

 

Make the Jump

Our life is a lot different these days.  We’ve had two major life events in the last few months that have required us to adapt and change.  As things settle down and we adjust to new routines and reality in the big ways, we also find little things that we need to tweak as well.

As a cartoonist I make sure I have time to draw.  Drawing The Retros and updating the website five times a week demands that I draw all the time if I want to stay on schedule.  This requires that I draw in the parent waiting area while I take Sophie to dance class.  I lug my drawing stuff to the school where she practices, I draw, then lug it back home.  Of course, I’m making it sound like I am moving a grand piano across country, but I think you get the point.  Here’s what my set up looks like:

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I have my templates, my paper, pens, pencils and everything I need to draw.  After dance I scan in the art, clean it up in Photoshop, and over the next few mornings before work I color and letter.

I do this every week.

I love drawing ‘The Retros’ but I do want to work on other projects.  I got the idea for a new graphic novel called ‘Norah Locke and the Underground Kingdom’ a while ago and… I am not making a lot of progress on it.  I love working on it and it’s a lot of fun, but doing a webcomic that updates on a consistent schedule makes other projects challenging.

When I got my new job that required me to travel, I wondered how that would impact my art.  I have brought my gear on vacation and business trips before, but as I sit on airplanes or waiting for flights or dining alone I can’t help think that I could be drawing.

Now, I COULD set up my drawing stuff on a plane but it’s just not feasible.  Turbulence, for one, but all the stuff in the photo above will not fit on the seat trays.  So, just like the big events require significant life changes, I also need to make changes in how, when, and where I draw.

So, I bit the bullet and bought an iPencil so I could draw on my iPad while traveling.  This must be what Bob Dylan felt like when he switched to an electric guitar.

I resisted moving to digital for a while.  I loved what I saw other cartoonists were creating.  I really liked being able to skip erasing and scanning.  I was excited to learn new techniques.  However, it wasn’t easy.  I started with Procreate and I found it too cumbersome and wasn’t intuitive.   Other artists may pick up on this stuff much more easily than I did, but I struggled.

Of course, I think drawing programs peaked with MarioPaint, so I don’t think my opinion or experience carries much weight.

Zander Cannon uses Clip Studio so I thought I’d give that a spin.  Boy, am I glad I did.  I found it has a lot in common with Photoshop and although I think Photoshop is a little tricky (again, MarioPaint) but I’m familiar with it.  It wasn’t that much of a learning curve especially for my pretty simple art.   I don’t mess around a lot with layers or anything too crazy.  I just want a magic Etch-A-Sketch I can draw on while I am waiting for my flight.

I really love drawing digitally.  The ease of tweaking something, reworking a panel and laying out a page is amazing.

Alex Robinson is one of my favorite cartoonists who also made the jump recently and tweeted about his experience:

After a month of drawing on my iPad I’m already finding it hard to go back to paper & ink. It feels like when you step off the moving walkway at the airport and you suddenly are in slow motion

He’s absolutely right.

I still will draw ‘The Retros’ on paper but ‘Norah’ is all digital.  I got 51 pages into it before and I am about 20 pages into the redrawing.   I was afraid the difference between pen/paper and digital would look too different but I am pretty happy with how it looks.

Here’s a page I drew on paper:

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And the same scene digitally (I still need to letter it properly) :

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To be honest, I don’t see much difference.  And that’s exactly what I was going for.  A part of me wonders why I am using a digital program to create art that is not that different than what I can create on paper, but the reason I made the jump is so I can actually finish the book.  Drawing in hotels and airports will help me with that.  On my last trip I was able to redraw 11 pages in five days.  The book is about two years away, I think.  And even that’s ambitious because I am aiming for about 500 pages with this story.

I never know how to finish these blog posts so I am just going to say see you later.

-Bob

 

 

Rebirth

And when they say
That you’re not good enough
Well the answer is
You’re not
But who are they
Or what is it
That eats at what you’ve got
With the hunger of ambition
For the change inside the purse
They are handcuffs on the soul, my friends
Handcuffs on the soul
And worse
-Paul Simon
I have been told ‘no’ a lot over the past year.  ‘No’ can mean a lot of things and what it means to you kind of depends on your perspective.  Sometimes it means you’re not good enough, not a good fit for the project or someone better came along.
There’s always someone better.  Which is kind of cool.  I like discovering a new cartoonist and being blown away or inspired by what they do.  It challenges me to do better.  You can’t let yourself be destroyed by the criticism, by the rejection, which is hard because so often these things do kill.  At least for a while.
Over the last year I submitted ‘The Retros’ to comic strip syndicates.  I ended up sending three different submission packets (and I am preparing a fourth) and was either met with a no or with nothing.
I also spent most of last year sending ‘Bear and Rabbit’ to literary agents and publishers.  I sent this project to close to 200 people.  There was some interest, a few promising emails but never found the elusive ‘yes’.
I was laid off in January and was lucky to find a new a few weeks ago.  I sent out dozens of resumes and had a lot of interviews before I found a yes.
It’s exhausting and emotionally draining sometimes to hear so no so many times.  Sometimes it got me down, sometimes it didn’t.  Sometimes it pushed me.  Sometimes it was a wake up call to up my game.
Please know that I am not bitter or angry or feeling sorry for myself or frustrated about any of this.  It feels like these rejections happened to someone else.  I feel like a different person than I was four months ago.
Life is very different than it was four months ago.  My wife is adjusting to life after her heart attack and there are many small and big changes as a result of that.  Brushes with death can do that to a family.  It might sound I am being flip but I’m not.  I went from commuting to an office to working from home and traveling for my job occasionally which is a change to the day-to-day and my routine.  Waiting in airports to board a flight for work is not something I am used to.
It feels like life was rebooted.
When a lot of things change, it forces you to have a new perspective.  Your feelings towards things change and everything that happened before these changes feel like a lifetime ago.
If I was stung by any criticism or rejection I have long shaken it off.  As always, I am looking to what is next.  It’s also time to move from trying to get published to creating more things so I have something new to submit to publishers.

So, what is next?

First off is the long-awaited second collection of ‘The Retros’.  Like the first collection, this will be funded by a Kickstarter which launches tomorrow.  Links to the book will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, both found on the Retros website.

Here’s the cover, once again put together and colored by my friend Ben Mudek:
Retros Book 2 Final Front Cover
I plan on having the third book out this fall.
Like the first Kickstarter, the book will be printed regardless of the Kickstarter success, this is just a way to pre-order it.
Unfortunately I will not be at MSP ComicCon this May.  I will be traveling for work that weekend and it kills me to miss the show.  So, if you want this book, please consider reserving a copy though the Kickstarter.
Traveling for work does cause disruptions to life.  Time away from family, from friends, and from my routines.  Life is about adapting and change.  This change will require me to be more mobile in a few ways and one of those ways I need to adapt is how and where I draw and create.
More on that next time.
Bob

Things Happen

Let’s make a list of all things the world has put you through
Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to
I don’t know what else you wanted me to say to you
Things happen
That’s all they ever do

-Dawes

I’m tired of things happening.

Over the past few months our family has experienced the terrifying and the frustrating.

The third thing to complete this trilogy happened at the end of January when I was laid off, along with the rest of my team, at work.  This was (mostly) unexpected and really disappointing, to say the least.  I liked my job, I liked my team.  I’ve spent most of the last twelve years working for small, private colleges and I love working with students.  Losing that job and seeing the school decline and face closure is heartbreaking to me.

I jumped into the job search right away.  I haven’t had a period of unemployment for almost fifteen years and I was anxious to find something new.  It was total survival mode.  We are just starting to get the final bills from the hospital and emergency room visits from my wife’s heart attack and money is always tight for us anyway.

I went on interviews, sent out my resume and I am so lucky to have something so quickly.  I am happy that I will be working for another college and remaining in education.  The campus is located in Boulder, Colorado and I am going to be working from home, but will need to travel there every six weeks or so.

I am fortunate to have found a job.  I am excited about working from home and I have never been to Colorado before.

I do not know how I got so lucky.

I fly out tomorrow morning for training.

Again, I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Anything that upends your life in a significant way can make someone reconsider everything…your priorities and what they want to accomplish in life.  After Amy’s heart attack she spoke a lot about how everything else seems so small.  We are all lucky she is still with us and is doing as well as she is.  She is more fearless and optimistic and grateful than ever before.

Losing my job made me wonder, and worry, about how long I would be out of work.  How would we pay our mortgage?  How long would our savings last?  Where would I work?

I spent the next four weeks figuring that out.  Between filing for unemployment, applying for MNSure, creating a new budget and the job search itself, I was, in many ways, still working.

These are things I did as a husband, father, and provider.  These are the roles I consider myself lucky and privileged to have.

And I am a cartoonist.

I am lucky to have a passion, a hobby.  I was glad I could take a break from paperwork and cover letters and draw and paint.

Over the past few weeks I made art and worked on The Retros.   I was always pretty far ahead but I got even further.  I completed the fourth “season” of the series and started the fifth.  Each season of The Retros is 240 pages and I am ten pages into the fifth one.  I just posted the 140th page on March 1st so it’ll be about five months until the next story line starts.

I present to you the final panel of season four the first from season five.  Both presented without lettering or context:

 

I also did a painting for a friend:

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And a mock book cover:

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I did some other stuff, but it was mostly working on the Retros.  I didn’t want too many distractions from the job search so I stuck with mostly what I was already working on.

Losing my job was a blow, but I am excited about my new adventure.

I want to thank everyone for their support through the last few months.  It’s been a stressful and frightening time and we got through it because of you.  You helped with groceries, phone calls, a job lead, picking up the tab at lunch, visiting us at the hospital and many other small and big things.  We were humbled by the events in the last few months, and we were reminded how lucky and fortunate we are to have the life we have, regardless of what happens.

I have a hard time articulating how much you all mean to me.  Whether you are a family member, a friend or even a Retros fan, you all enrich our lives.

Thank you.

-Bob

Woman With The Strength Of 10,000 Men

From the moment I saw your face
I knew I could never take living for granted
I froze right in my place, as I became aware
of the ground on which my feet were planted

I owe you an apology
For all the days I just let slide right through my hands
You are the woman with the strength of 10,000 men

-Peter Himmelman

picture

Earlier this month my wife had a heart attack.  Please understand that in no way I am looking to trivialize such a serious event but I am not going to get into a lot of detail in this post.  Since this is a public blog I am a little reluctant to share a lot of personal information here but please know that Amy is recovering and is progressing as expected.

It’s impossible to experience something like this and not reflect on making changes in your day to day life or think about your plans for the future.  It also really reminds you of what is important.

So, big surprise, but family is the most important thing in my life.  I’m sure it is in yours too.  Sitting (well, pacing frantically) in the waiting room while the doctors put two stents into Amy’s arteries really put me through hell.  What Amy was experiencing was worse.  I remember stalking around the waiting room, gripping my phone and waiting for a call from the nurse who would check in with updates while Amy was in her procedure.  My phone dinged to let me know I received an email from a publisher passing on my picture book.  With everything going on, this email and the subject matter seemed like the silliest thing in the world.  Normally getting an email like that makes me cranky for anywhere between a couple hours to a few minutes but the idea of caring about anything else at that moment was ridiculous.

Over the next few days we spent a lot of time in her hospital room.  Amy was hooked up to machines that read her blood pressure and other vitals which would beep or send an alarm occasionally.  How Amy kept smiling and making sure that I knew what time Sophie needed to be at the bus stop is just a testament to how strong and resilient she is.  She would sleep and I would sit and just…think.  I would think about what her recovery would be like, what plans needed to change and how to move forward.  Mostly I reflected on how lucky we were.

After Amy got home and started her recovery and physical therapy and things returned to…well, not normal, but a new kind of normal, I was able to think a little about my art and what I wanted to accomplish.  I thought about what I wanted to work on in 2019.  But the thing I kept coming back to was why I ever thought being liked was important.

I’ve previously written about how to gain more Twitter followers for The Retros or gaining some buzz on Instagram for my artwork.  I wanted to have a big following because I thought it’d be cool to be discovered by a literary agent or to have The Retros gain a huge audience to attract the interest of a publisher.

Sure, that would be cool.  But let’s face it, either of those scenarios is so unlikely that I wonder why I ever thought there was even a remote chance of that happening.  Why did I even put any energy into hoping for that?  I may as well wish to win the lottery or seeing a dinosaur in front of my house.

What difference would it make if The Retros had 135 followers on Twitter or if they had a thousand?  Would it really matter?  Would I be happier?  Would I feel more validated?  Would that make me think that I was a better cartoonist?  When I put it like that…no.  It wouldn’t matter.  It wouldn’t change a thing.  It might even make things worse.  Between two jobs and actually writing and drawing the comic itself I can’t imagine trying to find time to be more active on social media.

I am not the best cartoonist, I am not the worst.  I don’t draw nearly as well as most of my artist friends but I’m not bad.  How I draw, however, is perfect for the type of comics I write.  Can you imagine Jim Lee drawing Uptown Girl?  Can you imagine what Frank Miller’s The Retros would look like?  I realized the other day that I would rather draw how I draw and have a small number of followers as opposed to having a huge fan base and not being happy with my art.

I post my stuff because I am proud of it.  I like how I draw, what I create.  If others like it, well, that’s a bonus.  When people ‘like’ or retweet something, that makes me happy.  But it doesn’t change anything.  If I lost every follower across Twitter/Instagram/Facebook I wouldn’t change anything.  I’d still post, I’d still upload The Retros each weekday.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I appreciate every comment, every like, every retweet and every fan I have.  I really do.  I like seeing people like my stuff.  What I am realizing is that it’s the art and the work that is important.  I honestly feel like a weight has been lifted and I’ve experienced a moment of clarity.  I don’t want to spend another second being frustrated about not growing a following.  I want to create art.

Brian Michael Bendis, the current writer of ‘Action Comics’ and ‘Superman’ recently did an interview where he talked about a health scare he himself had.  He stated that after surviving that, he wondered how he could spend a minute of his day doing anything but fathering and creating.  I know what he means.  After almost losing Amy (no exaggeration, half of heart attack victims do not survive), worrying about Twitter followers seems so…well, stupid.

It’s time to create, it’s time to be what it’s important.

 

 

 

Running to Stand Still

I said hey hey workin’ man workin’ man like me
I ain’t never been on welfare and that’s one place I won’t be
I’ll be back workin’ as long as my two hands are fit to use

-Merle Haggard

I tend to be overly self-critical of my flaws and I tend to diminish my successes, but one of the few attributes that I will give myself credit for is a having a strong work ethic.  I think I am built for work, both physically and mentally, in a way.  I’m not Superman by any means, but I am fairly strong.  I don’t suffer from any lingering rugby injuries I sustained in high school or anything like that.  At 43 years old I think I am in pretty good shape.

I try to stay strong so I am capable of doing work, both at my job and at my drawing table.  My day job is how I take care of my family, my drawing is how I keep my sanity and dreams alive.  It’s important for me to be able to provide for my family and I think I am doing an okay job.

Amy and I do a good job in dividing up the things that need to be done for our family.  While I work at the office, Amy is taking care of her parents, our kids, our house, volunteering at the school, finding runaway dogs, and everything else.  It feels very 1950’s-ish and on the outside it looks like our roles are very gender-based in a stereotypical way.  Of course, that was not the intention.  Amy is better at juggling doctor visits, maintenance people, school stuff and anything that needs to be done.  I can bring home a paycheck.  We play to our strengths.  Not that Amy isn’t capable of taking care of us financially, of course.  When she was pregnant with Sophie her doctor put her on bed rest and she took a leave from her job.  After Sophie was born, we thought we’d try for as long as we could to give her a stay at home parent and Amy didn’t go back.  It’s not always easy, it rarely is, but we’ve been doing this since 2007 and we’re used to it.

This year has been an expensive year.  Among other things, we hired a math tutor for Sophie which has helped her quite a bit, but it’s…well, it’s expensive.  We see the value in it and we’re seeing better marks on her tests and homework.  It’s an expense I am happy to pay.

Well, maybe not happy, but you know what I mean.

And of course, this happened.

Money has always been tight for us but it’s gotten to a point where we simply needed more money.  I bit the bullet and took a second, seasonal job at Target.  It’s kind of hilarious and depressing at the same time, but to be honest I am thankful for an opportunity to make more money and I am thankful for a body that can endure a 60 hour work week.  As I said, I am built for work and we play to our strengths.  There’s no way I could do what Amy does, but working 26 days in a row?  That’s easy.

The extra income is good, the discount helps and as a bonus I am getting a ton of experience and inspiration that will eventually find it’s way into a comic, similar to how working at Burger King in high school provided material for a Retros storyline.

Capture

Taking on a second job was not something I did lightly.  I was worried about how long I could sustain such an intense schedule but it’s been two months and I haven’t lost my mind yet.  Not that I can tell, anyway.  It’s heartbreaking not being able to see my family as much as I want, but there’s comfort in knowing that I am doing this for them.  Amy is picking up more of the slack as I work, so she’s taking on more because of this, too.

But I’ve adapted to this new reality.  When I see my family we make the most of it.  I am less stressed that I thought I would be.  I think I was more stressed worrying about how we would pay our bills than I am working to pay them.  Working this much is exhausting.  It’s not easy to work this much, this often, this hard, to just stay current on our financial obligations.  I wish I could say that the extra money is going towards our debt, saving for a vacation, or even just setting more money aside for the next crisis.

But this is a blog about drawing, not therapy.  Or is it??  It’s not.  Is it?  No.

My productivity has only taken a small hit but I am keeping up.  On the plus side, I have learned to be more efficient when I do have time to draw, as well as finding time to draw.  I draw on the little tables the parents sit at when I take Sophie to dance, I write when I take Sophie to her tutor.  I started writing this entry on my lunch break when I normally write my blog on Sunday mornings, which I now use to get another hour or so in of drawing.  I come into the office a little early and send out my children’s book and art samples to agents and publishers.  I am keeping up on The Retros and still writing, drawing, inking, coloring and lettering five pages a week.  I’ve written before about the luxury of being so far ahead in my comic but thankfully I haven’t had to dig into that lead.  I am still working on my graphic novel and a few other things, such as a recent illustration for White Bear Lake Magazine:

Capture

I feel more productive than ever these days, in a way.  I think it’s because I have so little time to draw that I have adapted my habits and free time to become as efficient as possible.  A few years ago I read a book about being an artist where the author stated that those who work a 9-5 job are some of the most productive people he knows.  He thinks it’s because their day job has conditioned them to meet deadlines and get projects completed in a time crunch.  The day job created discipline which benefits them when they get off work and they only have a few hours a week to create something.

This struck me as the truest thing ever, and it’s something I think about a lot these days.

-Bob

 

 

Generation Nintendo

Ah, Inktober.  The annual cartoonist holiday/challenge where artists will post a daily drawing throughout the entire month.  The rules are pretty loose but it’s usually expected that one will do an actual ink drawing on paper as opposed to something digital.  Some artists will use the prompts and do a drawing off that, but some don’t.

2018promptlist

This is my third year doing Inktober and I have a lot of fun doing it as I try to do something that is a little different than what I usually do.  I suppose I could do a Retros or an Uptown Girl character each day but I like having an excuse to draw something, or someone, I usually don’t.

The first year I did Inktober I drew characters from ‘The Hobbit’, my favorite novel.  This was a lot of fun and I loved taking the characters and drawing them as I saw them.  The book is a really simple, straightforward and small story and it was satisfying to go against the ultra-serious and epic-ness of the movie trilogy that was out at the time.

Day 1-BilboDay 2-BardDay 4 - Great GoblinDay 13 - GollumDay 19 - GandalfDay 30 - Smaug

It made me want to attempt illustrating the whole book, as evidenced by this drawing I did earlier this year.

ch 2 color

Last year I wanted to continue doing characters from stories I loved and I chose characters from Jack Kirby’s ‘The Fourth World’.  Although there was a ton of material to work fun, and drawing Kirby stuff is always fun, I thought, for the most part, it was not executed well.  Kirby’s stuff looks pretty simple at first but when you have to start drawing Mister Miracle or Steppenwolf, you really see how complex and detailed their costumes are.  My strength as a cartoonist comes from simplicity and Kirby’s characters go against that.  I did some stuff that month I liked, but for the most part I could have done better.

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I wanted do Inktober again and I wanted to do more characters that I did not create.  Although I don’t make much time for video games these days, I enjoy watching mini-documentaries about them while I draw.  I am always impressed with how programmers, artists and composers were able to do so much while working with so little in the 1980’s.  Hard,ware and software limitations required so many compromises back in the 8-bit days but still managed to create really fun games.

Because of the limitations, character designs were simple and deliberate.  Mario had a mustache because it helped define where his nose was.  Mega Man is blue because there were more shades of that color than any other.

While thinking about this, I decided that this deliberate and necessary simplicity would be perfect for Inktober.  I thought it’d be fun to do characters mostly from the first few Super Mario Bros. games.  So, that’s what I did.  These drawings are much quicker than the Kirby stuff and between The Retros and the Norah book, I don’t have much drawing time to spare.  Growing up in the Nintendo generation these games and characters had a huge impact on my life.  There’s a reason why the Norah book is basically ‘The Legend of Zelda’ but set in the town I live in.

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This has been a lot of fun and I think it fits my style and strengths better than last year.  I’m already thinking about next year’s Inktober.

You can see the entire month on my Instagram page or on Twitter.

-Bob