Cartooning is a solitary thing thing. I can work on a story for weeks, months or even years with very little response from anyone. I have no idea if what I am working on is good or lousy. By the time people do read it, I’ve already moved onto the next thing and I don’t always remember the story I did. This can be dangerous. Earlier this year, the new Uptown Girl book, ‘The Long Forgotten Fairytale” came out. I worked on this book for two years, and it remains the longest thing I have ever written alone. The other Uptown Girl books were written by Brian Bastian (Big City Secrets) or were collections of short stories (Little Adventures and the upcoming Imitation of Life) written by Brian and myself. But ‘Fairytale’ was all me. When working on ‘Secrets’ it was helpful for the pair of us to be looking for plot holes or tweaking things that needed tweaking.
‘Fairytale’ was written in a bubble. I wrote it and drew it and published it with very little feedback from anyone. Also, I am not a writer. I say that I am not a writer because…well, I’m a cartoonist. I only took a stab at writing so I could draw stories I wanted to draw. The first few years of the mini-comic were fairly simplistic and straightforward, but as the years went by I got a little better at writing and my confidence as a writer went up a little. It still boggles my mind that I wrote a BOOK. A real, honest-to-God book. Writing comics and short stories isn’t that big of a deal to me anymore as those are usually around 20 pages or so, but ‘Fairytale’ was over 250 pages. If I am writing a short story and I need to change something or I notice a plot hole or something doesn’t make sense, it’s likely not a big story and it’s not that big of a deal to go back or redo a few pages or even start over. But 250 pages is a different story. This BOOK needed all those things Mr. Youngberg in 10th grade literature talked about. Foreshadowing! Plot! Character development! Other stuff! Stuff I wasn’t used to worrying about. My biggest fear was people reading the book and point out a huge plot hole I didn’t see. I had so many doubts about the book as I was writing it. It has been a relief that now six months after the book has come out, no one has pointed out any flaws to me. Maybe you all are too polite to do so.
Anyway, it’s always interesting to get feedback about this kind of stuff. It’s also interesting when the feedback I get matches up with either what I intended or what I feared. Case in point, ‘Little Adventures’ was recently reviewed by Comics Bulletin. I liked the review. Not because it didn’t include the words “burn this book, burn it with fire” but Jason Sacks understood what I am going for with Uptown Girl. Look, I am not trying to do Maus here, at best I am trying to do something that maybe Scott Pilgrim or Archie readers might enjoy. Jason writes ” Those longer stories take on sitcom sorts of plots, as silly lines follow absurd twists, one after the next until the reader is smirking wide at the pure fun of it all. The art by Lipski is just right for this type of cartoony wackiness – light, quick, loose linework that delivers just the right amount of detail next to just the right amount of character design.” And yep, that’s what I am going for. I like doing fun, sitcom-y stories. Uptown Girl might not be the BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD, and that’s fine, because I am doing the stories I like doing and it’s important to me that people “get” what I am going for. So, that’s good.
But back to ‘Fairytale’. When I was writing the book I noticed I had a kind of…hit you over the head with stuff approach. I tended to repeat myself or reiterate key points multiple times in the story. Subtle I am not. I wanted to make sure the characters were expressing something important so they expressed it…several times. I knew what I was doing, and I knew I was a little redundant but I was so paranoid about readers not picking up on something that I repeated important things. Not long after the book came out, a reader sent me his review. From his review: “The freestyling script is a minor–not fatal, but noticeable–weakness in the 2nd act. The Visitor’s story is rehashed a little too often, and the script seems to double-back on itself, re-explaining the premise” And yep, he’s exactly right. Sometimes criticism can sting, but this didn’t…for two reasons.
1) It’s constructive. If he said BOB YOU ARE STUPID AND SO IS YOUR BOOK then there’s really no point to the criticism except to make me curl up in a ball and drink.
2) He pointed out what I also thought was the biggest flaw of the book. I liked that he and I knew exactly what was wrong with the book. My instincts were 100% spot on. I know that if I ever write anything this big again that I need to trust myself more.
I don’t plan on writing anything as long as ‘Fairytale’ ever again, and thankfully Brian is writing the next Uptown Girl book (The Lazarus Heart) which I should be starting to draw in early 2015.
Anyway, you too can own your very own copy of these and other books here.
Look at these words. Here, have a look at a page from ‘Imitation of Life’: