I Know What I Know

I am plugging away at Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart and just finished inking the 10th page yesterday.  I think that puts me at about…3% of the book being completed so I have quite a way to go.

Anyway, I penciled page 10 the other day and it took me two days to ink it until I was somewhat happy with it.  There’s a scene early on in the book with The Walrus throwing a bad guy into a window.  Here’s what the page looked like after I scanned it before I did Photoshop to it:

Untitled-3

It looks pretty rough.  I kept working at it until I sort of gave up on it and decided to scan it and let Photoshop do the rest.  I make it sound like I don’t like this page, but I actually do.  I know I can do a better drawing of the Walrus hitting a guy into a window, I mean, there’s no background, there’s no scenery, there’s nothing here that really indicates what is really happening…but I like the energy of the page.  I like the drawing of The Walrus…it’s a dramatic scene and I like how it plays out.

I like looking at original art, and although I am not always happy with my own art, I like seeing pages I’ve done years ago and seeing little notes I wrote to myself in the margins, or seeing what was there before the wizardry of Photoshop took over.

Yesterday morning I scanned this page and got to work.  It took about an hour of putzing around with it until I liked it.  Doing a page like this is similar to cleaning up after a huge party.

So, there’s how it looks now:

Untitled-4

So yeah.  That looks pretty sharp.  I like the crispness of the black, I like the panel layout, the way the cape breaks out of the page a little…

Like I said, I can do better when it comes to a scene where someone throws someone through a window, but it’s hard to recapture the energy that is in a first draft.  There have been many times when I liked a sketch better than the final piece, and this is like that.  Choosing energy over skill isn’t always an easy decision.

My Photoshop skills are rather lacking and I know maybe 10% of what I could do with Photoshop but I’d rather draw than fiddle with it.  I also want to avoid becoming too dependent on it.  I know what I need to know when it comes to what I need to do.

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Run That Body Down

This morning I was drawing and got to thinking that I should stop and write this week’s blog entry.  It hit me with how much…stuff I have going on in my life.  In addition to cartooning, I work full time, I volunteer on a regular basis and let’s not forget the whole being a husband and father thing.  I am always doing something.

I have a hard time relaxing.  I have a hard time doing nothing.  Perhaps it’s a little OCD but I like having the dishwasher emptied before I go to bed, or the laundry put away before I do anything else.

I take a lot of satisfaction in working, I like earning things.  I like being able to finish the week with a glass of wine and looking back at what I accomplished over the last seven days.  Maybe I finished a project at home, or had a productive week at the office or inked four pages of comics.  Maybe I have too many expectations for my life, or maybe my expectations of myself are too high, but it’s not always a good thing and not always a bad thing.  I think it’s good to have things I want to accomplish…not only in life but on a day to day basis.  Even after a 12 hour day and getting home at 9pm, I will still pencil a page or scan in some artwork.  I am always working towards something, although it’s in really small bursts sometimes.  On the downside I am always restless at home.  I have to be doing something.  When I wake up on Sunday morning, within five minutes of getting out of bed, I have laundry going and my scanner is scanning in artwork.  My wife is up every day before I am during the week so she can take care of her mom, so Sundays are her day to sleep and to relax.  She deserves it.  I work hard too, but until I hit some level of success or have accomplished…something (not sure what, but I’ll know when I do) I haven’t earned relaxing yet.  I think part of me thinks that I shouldn’t be watching a movie when I have 100 pages of the Retros to color or something.

Running at this pace will catch up to me.  My day job isn’t helping, but it’s not really supposed to.  I think having an office job motivates me even more to draw and to finish projects, so that’s good?  I’ve been working close to 50 hours a week since April, and I go into work almost every Saturday.  I’m tired.  I do worry about my health and my stress levels but for now, I’m okay.  Like Warren Zevon said, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.  I’ll keep pushing myself on every level that I work and play.

Anyway, wow.  I didn’t know I’d be writing this but there you go.  The point is I am busy and I am happy and tired.  My studio is filled with piles with stuff I am working on.  Rather than list them (boring) I thought I’d show you.

studio

  1. Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart.  The small stack to the left are the six pages I’ve penciled and inked.  They are also scanned/Photoshopped/lettered.  The stack on the right is the first draft that I am revising and reworking.  As the left stack gets taller, the right stack will get smaller.  Six pages isn’t a lot, but I have over a year to finish.  My target is 12 pages a month until the end of the year, and then 20 pages a month in January.  Considering I didn’t think I’d be ready to ink until October, I am happy with my progress.  I’m glad I’m scanning and lettering as a I go because once a page is done, it is DONE.
  2. The Retros strips that I need to scan/Photoshop/letter/color.  There’s about…oh, 20 strips in that pile.  These pages don’t need to be done until spring 2016 or so, so I have some time.  The Retros will update online five times a week starting on November 16th and I have about 100 pages scanned in (that I still need to letter/color) but I am comfortable with where this project is at this time.
  3.  More Retros stuff.  These are the 100 pages or so I’ve already scanned that need to be lettered and colored.  I’ll pick up the pace once the comic strip launches.  Coloring the strips takes longer than I thought it would.  I suppose I should start setting a goal for myself to letter/color a page a day in addition to drawing the strip itself and working on Uptown Girl.  I would much rather spend my time drawing than doing computer stuff.
  4. Storyboarding the first Retros animated short.  I’ve never storyboarded anything before so I am teaching myself how to do it.  I also need to write the script.  I decided to take a crack at both the script and storyboarding by doing a mini comic and then adapting the comic into script form.  It might be a little extra work, but it’s more fun this way and plus I’ll have a mini comic to print.  The plan is to write and pencil the comic, and then write the full script and then ink the comic.

So, that’s what’s going on.  How are you?

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Time To End The Story

photo 1

Well, it’s done.  Sort of.  I mean, it’s the first draft but the first draft is finished.  I am about 2 months ahead of schedule and I am just as surprised as you are.  I was hoping to be at this point in October but last week was really productive.  I started to see how each character’s stories were winding up and they were all nearing a natural conclusion at the same time.  Uptown Girl made some pretty bad decisions and she was at rock bottom, Ruby’s frustration got to a tipping point and Rocketman’s bubble burst.  And of course, the bad guys were ready to move in for the kill.  Time to wrap things up.  I hated seeing my beloved characters miserable.  The end of the second act killed me.

I knew where I wanted the ending to take place but I didn’t know how to get there.  And I mean how to get the characters there physically, they were all at different parts of the city.

And then like digging up a dinosaur bone, I saw a flash of an ending.  I started to brush away the dirt and dig a little deeper, gently and slowly but with a purpose.  Soon the ending was in my mind and I knew how to wrap things up.

My confidence also grew.  I had started the draft by penciling/laying out the story with dialogue and making notes and revisions (often times writing right on top of the artwork) along the way.  But as the ending started to take shape, I wrote an outline for the third and final act, skipping the layout stage altogether.  It’s time to start working on the finished story.

Over the next year I will jump right into the book, taking my notes, script, revisions and layouts and turning it into the final Uptown Girl book.  I am really excited to start this.  I have the story out of the way and I feel I can just spend the next year or so on making the book look as good as I can.  I’m happy I am about two months ahead of schedule, I certainly don’t want to rush this.

I’ll update the blog with artwork here and there but here is a comparison between the first page (after the prologue) in the layout phase and the final pencils.  Warning, there’s a spoiler here…if you can read my slopping handwriting.

photo 2

I thought I’d stick with the smaller page size that is on the left, but I decided to go back to the size I’ve been using for most of the Uptown Girl stories.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when it was time to get started on this step, but I am excited and charged up and ready for this story.  I’m looking forward to getting back into Uptown Girl’s world for one more comic.  I’m exited to draw them again…besides penciling and some quick gesture drawings, I haven’t drawn these characters fully inked for months.  I miss them.

I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when this is all done.  I can guess, though.

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Where is my Mind?

I realized this morning that my brain is all over the place today, so I thought I’d write a little about all the things I am thinking about lately.  Writing tends to help me sort stuff out so we’ll see if I feel better after.

So here goes:

I wondered when this was going to happen but I thought of two new Uptown Girl stories over the last few days.  What’s funny is that they are perfect Uptown Girl stories.  Perfect for the characters and for their world.  I really want to write them, but what would I do with them?  The next Uptown Girl book is the last one.  I suppose I could try to work them into the larger story but I can’t see that working out.  Another idea is to just do two shorter stories and just collect them in the next book as bonus material.

I do think of new stories all the time, but as my creative energy will shift from Uptown Girl to The Retros over the next year or so, I try to make the idea work in the Retros world and so far I’ve been able to do it, but not these two ideas.

As I was driving home the other night I was thinking about the next scene I was going to work on for the book that evening.  I just wrapped up what feels like the second act so I think I am on the home stretch.  The book is really…ah, taking everyone out of their elements for good and for bad.  Rocketman gets what he always wanted, and Uptown Girl gets what she didn’t know she wanted until she got it but who knows if it’s the right thing for her and Ruby’s life is just a disaster right now.  It does bother me that Ruby is in such distress for most of the book but this does feel like a Ruby story.  She will have a happy ending of course.

Anyway, with so much happening to the characters I started to think about how readers will react to the book.  After 10 plus years and thousands of pages of comics, I felt obligated to give Uptown Girl and her friends the ending they deserve with a story.  It’s an epic, funny story with action and drama.  I hope readers will like it and will feel satisfied, especially those readers who’ve been there from the start.

But then, what if the book is lousy?  What if it sucks?  What if people see it as a jumbled, inconsistent mess?  What if I go out on a bad note?  What if there are plot holes that I don’t see?  What if the motivations for the characters are weak?  What if…a billion other things?  I am worried about this these days, I hope I can give Uptown Girl a final story that the characters are worthy of.

So yeah, that’s the Uptown Girl stuff.

Onto The Incredible Retros!

5 colorOn Sunday morning I wake up early and work on The Retros.  I usually don’t do any drawing, just scanning, lettering and coloring.  I get excited seeing this come together and I am really happy with how this turning out.  I think this will be a great project in the post-Uptown Girl days.  I feel pretty confident that people will like it, which is not something I felt when I started Uptown Girl.  I knew I liked Uptown Girl, but I didn’t know if anyone else would, which is why I’ve always been surprised and grateful by her fans.  With The Retros I feel there’s a lot to like, the characters are fun to write and to draw and I think that energy comes through the work.  I can usually tell when a cartoonist has their heart into their work or when they’re just phoning it it.  I think the comic will surprise a lot of people but still feels like something I’d do.  Think of it like how Futurama is similar yet different than The Simpsons and still feels like the creation of the same cartoonist.

7 colorAnyway, fueled by coffee and optimism, I am tempted to start pitching it to publishers and editors.  I probably won’t, I want The Retros to find an audience and see what happens.  But all morning long I’ve been tempted to email Disney and ask how to pitch to them.  And here’s the thing: I know that is a stupid, improbable and impossible thing to do.  Disney does not have a section on their website that reads “Click Here to Solicit a Project”.  That is not how Disney rolls…in fact, that is not how any studio rolls.  But when you’re fueled by optimism and you are confident of a project’s potential, you just want to get something going.  I thought about just emailing Disney through their generic contact page just to see what happens.  I’ve never been turned down by Disney before and it’d be fun to get shot down even before I even launch the comic.  Bottom line, I think The Retros has a lot of potential and I think you guys will really like it.

So yeah, that’s what’s up with me today.  What’s up with you?

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Rough Draft

I haven’t been writing about the upcoming Uptown Girl book, ‘The Lazarus Heart’ much because it’s…well, it’s a new exercise for me and I’m still wrapping my head around it, in a way.  When Uptown Girl was a monthly comic, I would write and pencil all 24 pages over the course of a week, and spend the next couple weeks inking it.  When Uptown Girl shifted to annual graphic novels, I moved to writing/penciling a page and then inking it.  I got into this routine because Brian Bastian wrote a full script for the first graphic novel, ‘Big City Secrets’, and to keep myself on pace, I penciled/lettered/inked a page a day.  For future books, I kept this same pattern even when I was writing the story or book, which is fine when you have a full script but I’ve never written a full script before.  I am not a writer by trade and I wasn’t comfortable writing one and then penciling it.  This way to work can create a lot of problems when it comes to pacing and repeating myself and writing oneself into corners.  I think I got a lot of things right with ‘Long Forgotten Fairytale’ but there are definitely some pacing and repetition issues with it.

When it was time to start ‘The Lazarus Project’, Brian stepped up to write it and I was really happy about that.  Since this would be the last Uptown Girl book, I wanted it to be a strong finish and I knew he would be a better writer for it.  I wanted to avoid some of the things that ‘Fairytale’ ran into.  He wrote the first dozen pages or so and then backed out, he just couldn’t get a feel for it.  Which is fair, one shouldn’t write something they aren’t connecting with.  Having no other choice, I set out to write it.

This set me into a bit of a mild panic but I went straight for it…kinda like walking down the hall of a dentist office for a massive root canal.  I penciled and inked the first few pages, working right from Brian’s script, which had only covered the first dozen pages.  The next parts were up to me.  I knew this was going to be a massive, sprawling story with a lot of stuff happening and I was freaking out a little.  The book needed to wrap up a few loose ends from previous books, there were going to be some life changes for some of the characters, relationships would be affected, some action stuff, some subtle stuff…basically a lot was going to happen.  Writing the book page by page would not work for this so I decided to do something I’d never done before and write a first draft.  I am not a writer so I wrote my first draft the only way I know how to write: comic book style.  At first I thought I’d pencil the pages and write it, and then once I was happy with the book, I’d go back and edit the pages as needed, take stuff out and add stuff in.

This was, and is the right choice for a book like this.  I like being able to quickly put the scene in my head to paper and keep the story moving.  I can tell this is the right format for me and for the book when I compare the pages so far.
I suppose there may be some spoilers here, so heads up.  This first picture is the first panel of the first page:

1Look at how well the characters are penciled.  The little details, like Ruby balancing the wine glass on her knee, the stem between her fingers.  At this point, I thought I was penciling it to be inked later, but as the story progressed, I penciled a lot quicker and the characters became less detailed and defined.  Some later scenes had a lot of energy to them as I found my groove and worked faster to get the scene written and the ideas to paper.

For example, compare the above panel to the most recent panel:

2Yikes.  Here we have what looks like the Walrus talking to a beach ball floating in mid-air.  As I mentioned, the penciling is a lot less detailed because I am trying to get my hands to work as quickly as the story was unfolding in my mind but the penciling is a lot looser because when it is time to ink, I will actually re-pencil the book.

This book is a lot more than I expected it to be.  The page number there says 221 but in truth, there’s more to it than 221 pages.  There are entire scenes I haven’t done yet but simply have a description to them like ‘Exciting rooftop battle occurs’ that I will go back and do when it’s time to do the final draft.  In terms of pacing, each of the characters has their own thing going on.  Uptown Girl’s story is going well, Ruby’s is also going well but man, do I feel bad for her.  Rocketman’s…well, stuff is happening with him like…well, I shouldn’t say but I need his story to pick up the pace a little.  I have a plan where everyone needs to be by the end of the story and the girls are on track but Rocketman is so far behind.  Typical Rocketman.

Working this way is frustrating at times and at times I hate it.  Right now I am …okay with the book.  I know I will go back and redo the villain’s scenes as the motivation seems a little wonky, and I am trying not to get tooooo down on myself.  I can’t afford to be negative right now.  I am also reminding myself that this is the first draft and the purpose of a first draft is to get it to simply exist.  Once the first draft is finished, then I go back and edit as needed.

Anyway, I thought this book would be about 300 pages, but I am thinking the first draft might be closer to 350.  Once I jump into the next, and hopefully final draft, I can tighten it up a little.  Ideally I’d like the book to be around 300 pages when it’s all said and done, but we’ll see how it shakes out.  That ‘Exciting rooftop battle’ that will occur might bump up the page count a little.

Right now I am guessing I’ll be done by the end of September.  I’ll take a short break and then start the next draft and hopefully final draft by the end of October.  I plan on working at a page a day pace.  I really need the book to be done by the end of 2016 to give me time for working on the cover and fixing any mistakes my amazing proofreaders find.  The book will be out in spring of 2017.

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Newspaper Blues

I used to love newspaper comics.  These days, not so much…and it’s probably a combination of getting older and crankier and thinking everything was better dickety-years ago and the thought that they’re simply not as good as they were or as good as they could be.

I’m not going to endlessly prattle on about how the newspaper industry has changed in 80 years (of course, what hasn’t?) and that comics simply aren’t a priority that they once were.  All you need to do is look at a Sunday comics feature from this year and compare it a comic feature from decades ago.  Comics were a vibrant, amazing art form then.  I loved the Sunday comics growing up but once I saw what Sunday comics used to be, I got a little bummed out that the strips used to be printed much larger and many getting a whole page each week.

I thought newspaper comic strip artists had the best job in the world…and I still think that.  I had always wanted to make a newspaper comic strip and have it ready by millions of people.  The Retros is my chance to do that.  Except of course my comic will likely be seen by less than 20 people and it won’t be in a newspaper.

I also love working with restrictions and limitations.  When I started the Retros, I wanted each page to be a simple, four panel grid.  This limits the layout, storytelling and flow in some ways, but it also forces me to economize.  Each panel has to count and no space is wasted.  Each panel is packed and it’s hard to do that without it looking cramped or too busy.  It’s taking everything I learned from ten years on Uptown Girl and turning it upside-down.  With Uptown Girl I could let a story wander and let the characters just talk and talk and that was fun, but when I started a second series, I wanted the Retros to be very different from Uptown Girl.  They are different in a lot of ways theme-wise, but also vary in storytelling, pace and humor.   The Retros forces me to innovate.  Sometimes too many layout options can get overwhelming but with only four, same sized panels, you only have so many ways to go.

I also decided to make the Retros a black and white comic.  I made this decision for a number of reasons.  Since I self-publish, it’s more affordable to print in black and white.  I’m also used to working with just black and white.  I create textures, I crosshatch and use different line weights.  I am not the best cartoonist in the world, or even on my block but I do okay.  But the main reason I am working in black and white is that I suck at coloring.  I am amazed at how many options Photoshop gives you not only with swatches but also effects and shading and everything else.  Again, this can be overwhelming having so many options.  I’ve tried to learn the more fun techniques but I can’t get the hang of it.  I didn’t want to color the Retros because I knew it wouldn’t look very good.

But lately I’ve been reconsidering.  I’ve also been playing around in color lately with some other projects and having a lot of fun with it.  I’ve been wondering what the Retros would look like in color.  I decided that if I could come up with a style that was interesting using a technique I could get the hang of, I’d give it a shot.

This is where wine comes into play.

I am brilliant after a couple glasses of wine.  Aren’t we all?  I don’t drink that often, and I’ve lost a little weight this year so my tolerance is like, zero.  Anyway, after a long and draining week, my wife and I had some wine and caught up with each other.  I know I am coming off as a total lightweight but I don’t care.  After two glasses of wine, I was tired and mmmmaybe a little drunk.  Shut up.  At any rate, I wasn’t ready to go to sleep and was in no shape to read the book I’m about halfway through.  I picked up a collection of old Superman newspaper comic strips from the 1930’s and started looking at that.  I’ve been reading a lot of newspaper comic strip collections lately, specifically superhero strips from the 30’s and 40’s.

The strips always amaze me.  I love what the cartoonists were able to do with the limits of such small panels and still be able to tell exciting stories.  Since I am drawn (ha ha) to limitations in comics, these strips really interest me.  Like I said earlier, I’ve been interested in color lately and noticed at how few color swatches these comic strips had back then.  This was due to limitations in newspaper printing so most strips were colored very simply with heavy black ink and bright colors.

I had a brilliant idea and decided to try using a very limited palette of color with the Retros.  The next day I woke up (and as you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well) and got to work.  Because that’s what people do, right?  They get up at 5:30am on Saturdays and work?

The first thing I did was scan in the very first Sunday Superman comic strip that originally ran on November 5th, 1939.  Here’s what I scanned and I apologize for the poor picture.  My scanner is smaller than the book the comic was printed in so this is a…ah, lopsided picture of the strip.  I swear I wasn’t having more wine when I took it:

photo

So yeah, lopsided city.  Once the page was scanned in Photoshop, I made new swatches from the comic.  I think I ended up bringing in about 15 different colors, a couple shades of yellow, red, blue and a few others.

Then I opened up a couple pages from the Retros.  Here they are in glorious black and white:

12 209

I know the second page doesn’t have dialogue, I’ll get to it.

Anyway, I started coloring them and playing around with using ONLY the swatches from the Superman comic.  I realized that I would have to keep using some of the existing colors from Photoshop for skin tones, but for everything else I used Superman’s hues.

So, here they are:

12 color 209 color

So, I like how these look.  I also think it’s appropriate to use coloring swatches from 1939 for a series called The Retros.

This does add a lot of time onto the comic, I think the pages took an hour or so each.  But now that I see it in color, I don’t think I can go back to black and white.  When I do print collections for the strip, I’ll probably still print in black and white unless I can afford to do color or raise money through Kickstarter or something.

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Old Friends

In 1982, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel attempted to record a new studio album.  They had done reunion concerts here and there but this would have been the first new album since they broke up in 1970.  The recording sessions did not go well and the project was never completed as intended.  The story goes that Simon erased Garfunkel’s contributions and released the album as a solo album titled ‘Hearts and Bones’.

Collaborations are difficult.  When there are two creative people working on something they are both passionate about, they tend to have ideas as to how things should go.  I don’t team up with others often, but I’ve always felt that I’ve done my strongest work with my friend Brian Bastian.  We’ve known each other for over 20 years and have done dozens of comics together.  We did about…20 issues of Uptown Girl, a few other one-shots, 12 issues of Tommy Chicago and he wrote the first Uptown Girl graphic novel.

We were both excited to work on The Retros together.  This was going to be a fun comic but for various reasons, Brian left the project.  We’re still great friends, but I think Brian just…wasn’t feeling it.  And that’s cool.  The Retros will still continue and I am still very excited to launch it this November.

The problem is what happens with what we’ve already created.  We had the “legal talk” which is a necessary but unpleasant conversation.  If The Retros ever got picked by Cartoon Network or whatever (yes, I’m dreaming here) Brian and I need to make sure that there will not be any hard feelings or legal action.  But Brian and I were friends first, before we ever did comics together, and will be after I turn 80 and I’ve given up on all this.  Neither of us wants to turn into Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Working with Brian was…well, it was a lot of fun.  Brian brings something to a project that I never would’ve thought of or would’ve done.  We worked in a style that is commonly referred to ‘The Marvel Method’.  For example, Brian would give me an outline that would go something like this:

Red is on a field trip at an art museum and a big angry guy starts smashing up the place.  Red ducks away from the group and changes into Fly-Girl  and fights him.

And so on.

I would draw the sequence and lay out the word balloons.  After a few dozen pages he would come over and he’d write the dialogue.  It was fun seeing what Brian would come with and seeing what he’d react to.  In another scene he wrote that Lucky was spying on some smugglers at a warehouse.  Here’s what I drew:

30

Now, if I was writing the dialogue, it’d be something kind of generic and cliched, but Brian really liked the third panel, especially the mustached guy and just ran with it.  Here’s what he wrote:

30

I think this page, and the pages that follow are hilarious.  Definitely want to keep these pages as they are.  It’s a sequence like this that really bums me out about not working with Brian on this.  The big story arcs and the big picture I can handle but it’s the little stuff like this I can never do.

Another thing Brian does is bring a certain…well, edge to what I do.  The first comic we ever did together (that actually was released) was Uptown Girl #9, which introduced Sulky Girl, who has gone on to become a favorite supporting cast member.  Sulky Girl is the anti-Uptown Girl, Brian’s response to the overly optimistic and good-natured spirit of the comic.  Sulky Girl is not a character I could’ve, or would’ve created.  Brian doesn’t really push the envelope but he pushes mine.  He brought The Retros from what I saw as a pretty hard PG world to a PG-13 world.

For example:

samplesample 2

Two panels that are hilarious and perfect for Lucky’s character.  Sure, they’re not super racy or anything, but neither panel is a panel I would’ve written.  The dilemma now is keeping these panels as they are.  I don’t want to pull a Paul Simon and erase what Brian contributed, but on the other hand, with me writing everything, the comic will settle back into a PG world.  These panels would stick out, like the way an F-bomb would stick out in a Disney movie.

So, I am not sure what I will do.  My guess is I will rewrite these lines, and if I do, I want to make sure his original, funnier lines had a chance to be seen.

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