So today is my birthday. I am 39. One more year until I am FORTY. When I was younger, 40 seemed ancient. Every age seems ancient when you’re younger, but thanks to the hilarious merchandise at Spencer’s Gifts, I had figured that once you hit 40 you may as well start picking out your tombstone ’cause man, life was OVER. It was instilled early on that you had better accomplish all your goals and make your dreams come true by then because if they don’t happen by then, they won’t.
But as life happens to me, I don’t think 40 is *that* old. Sure, easy to say when you’re 39, but I think age is measured by other things than how old you are. I am married with two kids, I drive a Saturn and live in the suburbs. My best friend lives in New York and childless. We are less than 3 months apart in age, but I think I am decades older than he is. But I don’t think I am knocking on heaven’s door anytime soon. I am still doing the things I did when I was ten. I draw, I read comics, I play video games. This afternoon I will go sledding with Sophie. I do things I did when I was younger, but I also have a mortgage, a (dwindling) 401k and other grown up stuff. So, being almost 40 doesn’t feel like one foot in the grave as I was led to believe.
However, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little…I dunno, pressure about certain goals that I have. When I was in my 20’s, I had a goal of being published by the time I was 30. I thought I’d be a world famous children’s book illustrator by then. Then my attention shifted to comics and I thought I’d be a world famous cartoonist by then. As I got closer to 30, my expectations were…well, I realized I was not going to be Bryan Lee O’Malley, so my expectations scaled back a bit. I just wanted SOMETHING published. I had been self-publishing for a while at that time, but I didn’t think that really counted. I had a few stories pop up in anthologies and I did a short story for an independent one-shot, but nothing else. When I did turn 30, I supposed I had been published and considered my achievement unlocked. I guess I should have been more specific and set a goal to be published by Top Shelf or Random House.
“I’ll be famous and making a living doing comics by the time I’m 40, easily” I said the day after I turned 30. I had ten whole years to make that happen. I was single, childless and making comics. And then life happened. I fell in love, and here I am, cruising around White Bear Lake with my family in a sensible vehicle. I love my life, but it’s not a life I thought I’d have. Truth is, I didn’t think I’d be THIS lucky. When Sophie was born, I realized I needed to get serious about comics. The era of mini-comics were coming to an end, and the original graphic novel was king. I shifted Uptown Girl from the world of 24 page hand-stapled comics to the world of 250 page books. I slowed down, and drew better than I ever did. When the first Uptown Girl original graphic novel came out, I knew it was the best I could do. I knew if I couldn’t find a publisher for this book, I knew Uptown Girl would never find a publisher. The book was sent to the half-dozen or so comic publishers I thought might be interested. There isn’t a lot of options for Uptown Girl, to be honest. Maybe Top Shelf? Slave Labor Graphics? Oni? Image? There were a few others I submitted to, and they all passed for various reasons. The main reason, I think anyway, is that Uptown Girl isn’t good enough. I love the comic, the characters, the world she lives in…but as I said, it’s the best I can do. I keep plugging away at the comic and it has truly become a labor of love. I know if Uptown Girl is going to be published, it’s because I am publishing it. I love doing the comic more than ever, and I am excited about the book I am working on, and for what is coming next.
After a couple years of Uptown Girl comics, I was so sure that her adventures were my ticket out of the 9am-5pm (or in some cases, the 8am-8pm) workday. I know now that ain’t happening. Unless the next 365 days are just unimaginable days of luck, hard work and opportunity, I’ll be in a cubicle in a year. But that’s okay, I am thankful for my job.
So, what next? I haven’t given up my goal of making a living off of comics, but it won’t be because of Uptown Girl. Over the last six months, I’ve mentioned a project Brian Bastian and I have been working on in secret, and I might as well announce today. Brian and I are working on a new comic called “The Incredible Retros”. This is an idea we’ve been working on for a couple years and it’s really something we’ve been very careful about. We didn’t want to just make it up as we went along. We have the world crafted, the format set, the characters and their personalities and dynamics set. We have a plan as to how and when we will make it available, but we’re not ready to reveal anything specific quite yet. Needless to say I am excited about this. The art style is a little different but still my own. The format is challenging and restrictive but I am having a blast with it. As I said, we’re not ready to reveal very much as this point, but I think you’d be surprised by how much we’ve already finished.
You can’t have a birthday without presents, so here’s a present for you. Let’s meet the team and see some art. The art posted below is presented without explanation or context (and in some cases, without lettering), so just go with it:
First up, we have Alie. Alie is the leader of the team.
This guy’s name is Lucky:
The big guy’s name is Zoo:
And last but not least…a character Brian and I created, like 10 years ago…FlyGirl:
The comic will stick with the four panel format. I have no intention of changing the layout, I like this restrictive. It challenges me as a cartoonist, and I am forced to work differently and more creatively.
To me, The Retros will offer endless opportunities in terms of story and fun. It’s going to be a little…weirder and looser than Uptown Girl is. I am having a blast with it, and I hope you like it too. Of course, working on this with one of my best friends is also a plus.