Cartoonists are not famous for their happiness. I have a quote by Charles Schulz pinned above my drawing desk that reads “Cartooning will destroy you, it will break your heart.” God only knows why I’ve had that staring at me for so many years, but still it remains. I think many of us wrestle with the cycle of wanting to be better, trying to be better and not getting better and then getting a little better and then always trying to be better and not always able to be better and then getting depressed about not being better especially when we know we could be better but we’re not. I think that pretty much sums up my inner voice for the last few years.
But I have been getting better. Not necessarily as a cartoonist, but better as a person. The last few months have been important as I feel I’ve gotten over a few things and moved on from others. These revelations, if you want to call them that have made me a better person and helped me wrestle a lot of my inner demons and doubts and by default, make me a happier person and a better cartoonist. I am not as frustrated when I draw anymore. I am redrawing panels and pages less than ever. With previous books I was losing a day or so of work every week because I’d rush through a page or end up redrawing it. Not this book. I feel more confident when I draw a page and it shows.
This blog is as much therapy for me as it is a way for me to let you all know what’s going on when when stuff is coming out. So, thanks.
I can defeat my inner demons and that’s all well and good but the thing that I can’t get more of is time. I don’t do much besides work and draw and spend time with my family. I rarely see movies or watch tv or play video games. I don’t have that time-wasting thing that I do (except sleep) where I could be devoting that time to drawing, so I pretty much draw as much as I can. When my family is out, I can sneak in some extra drawing time or some extra Photoshopping a Retros page time, but those moments are rare. Not that my family won’t let me draw, but I like my family and I enjoy spending time with them and it’s hard to do that when Sophie suggests going swimming or riding bikes. So, I wait to draw until she goes to bed. However, I do wonder, from time to time, how much I could get done if I had the house to myself for a few days.
This past week, I found out.
Amy’s sister does contract work for a company in Colorado and travels there a few times a month. She thought it’d be fun to drive out there sometime and asked Amy and Sophie to come with and make a road trip out of it. Ryan passed on the trip. I suppose when you’re 17 being in a car for hours and hours and hours on end isn’t very appealing. They planned on stopping at Mount Rushmore and a few other places along the way and then spend a few days in Colorado and then head home. It sounded like a lot of fun for Sophie and Amy deserved a vacation so off they went. They left on a Friday and since Ryan spent most of the following week either at work or with friends, when I came home from work each day, I walked into an empty house.
Over the next 6 days, I went to work, to the Y, took the dog on a million walks, ate dinner, and drew. And drew and drew. I was able to start making some progress in catching up from falling behind on my 15 pages a month goal from June. While I walked the dog or inked panels, I thought to myself that this is what it’d be like to be single. And it SUCKED. It was depressing. I didn’t like this. At all. I missed my family. I knew I would but I really, really missed them.
I knew that, years ago, I chose having a family over having a cartooning career. Not that I can’t have one EVER, but I knew it’d be harder with kids. I never looked back on that choice. I fell in love hard with Amy and I couldn’t not love her even if I tried. But what would life be like if I was still single? I found out and it sucked and I felt empty and hollow. Just as I need to draw to be who I am, I realized that the bigger part of me is being a husband and a dad. Drawing will always be waiting for me, tucked into a little room on the top floor of my townhouse, but in a year or so, Ryan will be off to a college, Sophie will ask me less and less over time to go for a bike ride and I’ll still have my comics to draw.
When Amy and Sophie came home a few days ago, it was one of those rare days when Ryan wasn’t at work and the four of us were all home for dinner. We ordered pizza and I looked around the table and was reminded of a quote from a Superman comic that Alan Moore wrote: “His weariness lifts. The man has his family about him. He is content.”
What does this have to do with cartooning? Very little, but this has much to do with the cartoonist.
So, that’s that.
As I said, I drew a lot but not as much as I had thought or hoped. I thought I’d get more than one page of Uptown Girl in each day, but I stuck with a page day and worked on The Retros at other times. The Uptown Girl book is the first book where I wrote a rough draft and the scene I’m working on now, a HUGE action sequence that has been building for a while is really taking off. The draft of this scene was a little more than a paragraph since it was mostly things like “Uptown Girl is chased by ______ and an exciting action scene follows where there is much destruction. Uptown Girl fights back and is helped by ______ and the day is saved”. The rough draft then continues with what happens next. As I got started on this scene while Amy was gone, it was like all the drama in the story was just building and building and like a shaken bottle of soda, this scene is exploding with action. There’s been a lot of talk, tears, shake ups, laughs and drama over the last 160 pages or so, but this is the first real action scene and I am having a ball drawing it.
Every few pages I’ll draw a character and think to myself that this is the last time I’ll ever draw this person. Or I’ll be writing a scene and think of a funny joke or moment I could add that will add a few pages that I hadn’t planned (and get a little further behind than I already am) on but knowing that I’ll never have this opportunity again to have that scene, I usually end up adding it. The point is that I am going all out on this book. In this action scene, Uptown Girl calls for help as she is in over her head. After she makes that call, I thought that she can either keep stalling and fleeing until this person shows up, OR that she should really call _______. That person needs to be in this scene because not only this is the last time I will draw ___________, but this is the last time that ________ and _________ will ever be in the same panel. So, Uptown Girl calls ___________. And it’s a funny scene when she does. It added two extra pages that I hadn’t expected. When Uptown Girl hangs up, I thought about how this character gets to where the action is going down. Sure, I could have them walk there off panel and that would be that but then I realized that it would be hilarious if _______ did….something and this character, in turn, needed to ask yet another character for a favor. Knowing I’d NEVER have this opportunity again, and knowing that this was funny and a much needed humor break from all the character drama that had been happening so far, I knew I should add another funny moment.
So I did. And again, I added a couple more pages that I hadn’t expected, or “budgeted” for time-wise. And the ensuing scene that will follow before I get back to the part of the story where I wrote in the draft will add even more pages to the book. It will be worth it but I am starting to worry about if I am still on pace to this book done before my April 1st deadline.
Ultimately these setbacks are making this into a better book. I apologize for the vagueness above but I want this book to surprise you. Trust me, it will be worth it if you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while.