11 years ago, the first issue of Uptown Girl hit the stands of DreamHaven, a great comic book store in Minneapolis.
I was 27, single, broke and had recently re-discovered independent comics. I was making new friends with the local mini-comics scene and was reading almost anything I came across. I discovered Alex Robinson, Jeffrey Brown, Jessica Abel, and especially James Kochalka. All these cartoonists and others had lit a fire in me and was excited about making comics. I had ideas for the characters Uptown Girl and her friends for a while prior to this, and under the encouragement and guidance of local cartoonist David Tea, I created my first comic book.
I was excited about creating comics and had a lot of ideas right out of the gate. I felt like I was on fire with creativity and potential. Uptown Girl started to get some attention, not only from people buying it, but from the local cartoonists as well. I had started to put out a mini-comic once a month, and by the time the 7th issue came out, I started to get some buzz as the the guy who was putting out an issue every 3o days or so. Obviously the quality of the issue was open to debate, but I still had something new each month. I loved my comic and wanted others to read it. I did a lot of conventions those days, and happily called people over to my table to talk to them about my book. I felt I had something special. It was a mini-comic but it was different than what others were doing. At the time, and even now, there were a lot of great comics being made by the local cartoonist community. Some were auto-biographical, some were very strange and some were very R-rated. But Uptown Girl was different. It was an all-ages comic, bereft of swearing or adult-material. I created a comic that anyone could read and not worry about the content. That was one of the things that really helped Uptown Girl stand out.
Over the next year and a half, Uptown Girl slowly gained steam. I had started to get fan mail, started submitting Uptown Girl to publishers, made new friends, contributed to local art shows, and became more established in the local comics scene. Uptown Girl was featured on comic websites, I was doing interviews and had comics in various anthologies. I thought I was getting famous. I wasn’t, but that’s how it felt. I was very cocky those days.
Things really took off when I was contacted by a local film maker who wanted to turn the comic into a movie. Suddenly I wasn’t the guy who was putting out a comic each month, I was the guy who had a comic that was being turned into a movie. The movie elevated my comic to a new level. Uptown Girl was getting attention not just from the local comics scene, but now from the local film scene. I was doing a lot of interviews, press, photo shoots and marketing. Those were strange days. I don’t like a lot of attention on me, but I loved the attention something I created was getting. The movie took up about a year of my life. I am thankful for the movie since I had made great friends as a result of it, particularly the director Ben Mudek who colors and designs the Uptown Girl book covers.
After the dust had settled on the movie and the premier and the DVD release party, Brian Bastian and I started to work with a local animation company to develop Uptown Girl into an animated series. This was a long and interesting process. This also took up a large amount of my time and after a year and a half or so, in the summer of 2007, we all threw in the towel on the cartoon before all of us hated each other…and Uptown Girl.
There were other things I was doing in addition to the movie and the cartoon. I was doing a lot of lectures at libraries and schools, from kindergarten to colleges about comics and drawing. I was teaching classes, the collected editions of the comic were being sold on Amazon and in comic shops and could be found in libraries. At the peak I think my comic was being sold in over two dozen comic shops across the country.
I was very burnt out at this point in my life. I had grown tired of working on non-comics projects, tired of meetings, tired of lawyers and contracts, tired of giving interviews and wanted to hide from everyone and get back to putting my energies into creating comics. I was frustrated with how much time was taken up by all those things and wanted to spend time making my comic look as good as I could make it. So I made a decision to, as they put it, take myself off the grid.
God, I sound so arrogant here.
Anyway, the timing worked out well because that December Sophia Lorraine Lipski was born and I knew life would never be the same. My life had changed a lot since I was 27, broke and single. Life with children was not going to allow me to spend 4 hours a day making comics and I was afraid the monthly grind was going to be impossible. So in 2009 the last issue of Uptown Girl came out and I decided to focus on doing original graphic novels once a year. I was a little nervous about doing this. I knew I wanted to spend more time drawing my comic and making it look as good as I possibly could. I knew why publishers had passed on Uptown Girl in the last, and I wanted to make it look better and hopefully find a publisher. What I was nervous about was taking myself off the grid even further. Even when I had hid from the world I was still putting out a comic each month and still on the radar of the local comics scene. I had planned on promoting the first graphic novel when it came out in 2010. I would have a new book, the first new Uptown Girl material in a year. The book would look better than the comic looked and would be easier to promote that a whole comic series. I had planned on sending review copies out to press, getting in contact with some journalists I had met during the movie days and trying to get interviews set up and setting up book signings. I was ready to show off my new book.
But these things did not happen.
I should have done these things then, but I didn’t. I wanted to keep drawing. I didn’t want to talk to anyone yet. I wasn’t famous by any means in the early days, but I wasn’t ready to get back out there. Over the next few years I put out a couple more books but still didn’t do anything to promote them. I kept on kicking the “comeback can” down the road, and soon years had passed. I knew I needed to get things started again, and I thought that 2013 would be the year. It would be the tenth anniversary of Uptown Girl and I was putting out a retrospective of the series. Perfect timing. I had a few offers from comic shops for a signing but I turned them down. I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do to promote my books. Instead of copies of my books on book shelves or on the rejection pile of publishers, they sit in a box ready for the next convention in May.
But lately I’ve been getting the urge to get back out there. To be a cartoonist again. I mean, I’ve been a cartoonist all my life, especially the last 13 years, but I am starting to miss showing people what I’m working on. Over the last few years I’ve been reluctant to show my artwork, but I am starting to post things on Facebook and just started a tumblr page, about five years after I should have started one. I thought the tumblr page would be a good way to show what I’m working on and getting inspired by other cartoonists. Basically I am hoping it gives me a kick in the pants. In the early days I was inspired by other cartoonists and I want to be inspired again. There’s some great stuff out there. I want my work to get noticed, I guess. In the days of the mini-comic there was that hope and drive to create something that would allow me to support myself, and now my family on something I created. I had dreamed of Uptown Girl getting published and by some crazy means being able to make enough money doing comics to pay the mortgage and all that. I haven’t had that dream for a while.
So, it’s time to get serious. It’s time to do other stuff in addition to Uptown Girl. Over the next few months I’ll start showing off the new project Brian and I are working, revamping my blog and website and having a way people can buy my books online.
I don’t miss the lawyers and contracts and arguing, but I do miss showing off artwork. That dream of being able to support myself off my art is coming around again. I had a lot of success (for a local comic) back in the day and I miss that crazy optimism the 27 year old me had. So, I don’t want to call it a comeback, but I don’t know what else to call it.