Running to Stand Still

I said hey hey workin’ man workin’ man like me
I ain’t never been on welfare and that’s one place I won’t be
I’ll be back workin’ as long as my two hands are fit to use

-Merle Haggard

I tend to be overly self-critical of my flaws and I tend to diminish my successes, but one of the few attributes that I will give myself credit for is a having a strong work ethic.  I think I am built for work, both physically and mentally, in a way.  I’m not Superman by any means, but I am fairly strong.  I don’t suffer from any lingering rugby injuries I sustained in high school or anything like that.  At 43 years old I think I am in pretty good shape.

I try to stay strong so I am capable of doing work, both at my job and at my drawing table.  My day job is how I take care of my family, my drawing is how I keep my sanity and dreams alive.  It’s important for me to be able to provide for my family and I think I am doing an okay job.

Amy and I do a good job in dividing up the things that need to be done for our family.  While I work at the office, Amy is taking care of her parents, our kids, our house, volunteering at the school, finding runaway dogs, and everything else.  It feels very 1950’s-ish and on the outside it looks like our roles are very gender-based in a stereotypical way.  Of course, that was not the intention.  Amy is better at juggling doctor visits, maintenance people, school stuff and anything that needs to be done.  I can bring home a paycheck.  We play to our strengths.  Not that Amy isn’t capable of taking care of us financially, of course.  When she was pregnant with Sophie her doctor put her on bed rest and she took a leave from her job.  After Sophie was born, we thought we’d try for as long as we could to give her a stay at home parent and Amy didn’t go back.  It’s not always easy, it rarely is, but we’ve been doing this since 2007 and we’re used to it.

This year has been an expensive year.  Among other things, we hired a math tutor for Sophie which has helped her quite a bit, but it’s…well, it’s expensive.  We see the value in it and we’re seeing better marks on her tests and homework.  It’s an expense I am happy to pay.

Well, maybe not happy, but you know what I mean.

And of course, this happened.

Money has always been tight for us but it’s gotten to a point where we simply needed more money.  I bit the bullet and took a second, seasonal job at Target.  It’s kind of hilarious and depressing at the same time, but to be honest I am thankful for an opportunity to make more money and I am thankful for a body that can endure a 60 hour work week.  As I said, I am built for work and we play to our strengths.  There’s no way I could do what Amy does, but working 26 days in a row?  That’s easy.

The extra income is good, the discount helps and as a bonus I am getting a ton of experience and inspiration that will eventually find it’s way into a comic, similar to how working at Burger King in high school provided material for a Retros storyline.


Taking on a second job was not something I did lightly.  I was worried about how long I could sustain such an intense schedule but it’s been two months and I haven’t lost my mind yet.  Not that I can tell, anyway.  It’s heartbreaking not being able to see my family as much as I want, but there’s comfort in knowing that I am doing this for them.  Amy is picking up more of the slack as I work, so she’s taking on more because of this, too.

But I’ve adapted to this new reality.  When I see my family we make the most of it.  I am less stressed that I thought I would be.  I think I was more stressed worrying about how we would pay our bills than I am working to pay them.  Working this much is exhausting.  It’s not easy to work this much, this often, this hard, to just stay current on our financial obligations.  I wish I could say that the extra money is going towards our debt, saving for a vacation, or even just setting more money aside for the next crisis.

But this is a blog about drawing, not therapy.  Or is it??  It’s not.  Is it?  No.

My productivity has only taken a small hit but I am keeping up.  On the plus side, I have learned to be more efficient when I do have time to draw, as well as finding time to draw.  I draw on the little tables the parents sit at when I take Sophie to dance, I write when I take Sophie to her tutor.  I started writing this entry on my lunch break when I normally write my blog on Sunday mornings, which I now use to get another hour or so in of drawing.  I come into the office a little early and send out my children’s book and art samples to agents and publishers.  I am keeping up on The Retros and still writing, drawing, inking, coloring and lettering five pages a week.  I’ve written before about the luxury of being so far ahead in my comic but thankfully I haven’t had to dig into that lead.  I am still working on my graphic novel and a few other things, such as a recent illustration for White Bear Lake Magazine:


I feel more productive than ever these days, in a way.  I think it’s because I have so little time to draw that I have adapted my habits and free time to become as efficient as possible.  A few years ago I read a book about being an artist where the author stated that those who work a 9-5 job are some of the most productive people he knows.  He thinks it’s because their day job has conditioned them to meet deadlines and get projects completed in a time crunch.  The day job created discipline which benefits them when they get off work and they only have a few hours a week to create something.

This struck me as the truest thing ever, and it’s something I think about a lot these days.




Generation Nintendo

Ah, Inktober.  The annual cartoonist holiday/challenge where artists will post a daily drawing throughout the entire month.  The rules are pretty loose but it’s usually expected that one will do an actual ink drawing on paper as opposed to something digital.  Some artists will use the prompts and do a drawing off that, but some don’t.


This is my third year doing Inktober and I have a lot of fun doing it as I try to do something that is a little different than what I usually do.  I suppose I could do a Retros or an Uptown Girl character each day but I like having an excuse to draw something, or someone, I usually don’t.

The first year I did Inktober I drew characters from ‘The Hobbit’, my favorite novel.  This was a lot of fun and I loved taking the characters and drawing them as I saw them.  The book is a really simple, straightforward and small story and it was satisfying to go against the ultra-serious and epic-ness of the movie trilogy that was out at the time.

Day 1-BilboDay 2-BardDay 4 - Great GoblinDay 13 - GollumDay 19 - GandalfDay 30 - Smaug

It made me want to attempt illustrating the whole book, as evidenced by this drawing I did earlier this year.

ch 2 color

Last year I wanted to continue doing characters from stories I loved and I chose characters from Jack Kirby’s ‘The Fourth World’.  Although there was a ton of material to work fun, and drawing Kirby stuff is always fun, I thought, for the most part, it was not executed well.  Kirby’s stuff looks pretty simple at first but when you have to start drawing Mister Miracle or Steppenwolf, you really see how complex and detailed their costumes are.  My strength as a cartoonist comes from simplicity and Kirby’s characters go against that.  I did some stuff that month I liked, but for the most part I could have done better.


I wanted do Inktober again and I wanted to do more characters that I did not create.  Although I don’t make much time for video games these days, I enjoy watching mini-documentaries about them while I draw.  I am always impressed with how programmers, artists and composers were able to do so much while working with so little in the 1980’s.  Hard,ware and software limitations required so many compromises back in the 8-bit days but still managed to create really fun games.

Because of the limitations, character designs were simple and deliberate.  Mario had a mustache because it helped define where his nose was.  Mega Man is blue because there were more shades of that color than any other.

While thinking about this, I decided that this deliberate and necessary simplicity would be perfect for Inktober.  I thought it’d be fun to do characters mostly from the first few Super Mario Bros. games.  So, that’s what I did.  These drawings are much quicker than the Kirby stuff and between The Retros and the Norah book, I don’t have much drawing time to spare.  Growing up in the Nintendo generation these games and characters had a huge impact on my life.  There’s a reason why the Norah book is basically ‘The Legend of Zelda’ but set in the town I live in.


This has been a lot of fun and I think it fits my style and strengths better than last year.  I’m already thinking about next year’s Inktober.

You can see the entire month on my Instagram page or on Twitter.



I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Two weeks ago I posted about wondering, essentially, what the point was when it comes to trying.  I reiterated that I’ll never stop drawing and creating, but was there a point when it comes to trying to gain any sort of fan following online?  Is it even worth my time to try to find a publisher for my projects?

I mean, there’s always a chance something will click with someone, but I am not, and wasn’t, feeling optimistic.  Much of this perspective comes from making comics for as long as I have and, essentially, not getting anywhere.

But there’s actually a lot of very good reasons I have not been published.  Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

The first issue of ‘Uptown Girl’ came out in 2003.  It was the first comic I ever drew and it shows.  The art is terrible and inconsistent and was drawn in a single afternoon while I was at work.  The spirit and the humor was there, but the art was…well, it was my first comic.  I like to think it was obvious that I loved what I was doing and my enthusiasm for the characters came across in every issue but it was also obvious that I needed to draw better.

I submitted my comic to various publishers after a dozen issues or so.  I thought publishers would be impressed by the fact that I was making my comic monthly and would be charmed by the humor and characters.  And they were, I think.  But the feedback I got was the art needed a lot of help.  It stung a little but I knew they were right.  The art was getting better but not ready for a wider audience.

I kept at it and eventually I had finished the monthly series at 75 issues.  The art was much better but still not ready for a publisher.  I think.  I don’t know because I never submitted my comic to publishers after my first attempt years prior.  I was too busy and having too much fun with creating the comic to bother trying to find a publisher for it.

Part of the reason for stopping the monthly series and moving the characters to an annual graphic novel format was so I could spend more time on the art.  I like to think that the art took a huge leap forward when I allowed myself more time to draw it.  56

Once the first graphic novel was finished, I sent it off to maybe…five publishers.  This was back in 2008 or so when graphic novels were only published by comic publishers, not traditional mainstream publishers.  These days there are many more options to submit your work too, thankfully.

But it was turned down and I shrugged it off and went on to draw five more graphic novels.  But I never bothered to show those to a publisher.

The final ‘Uptown Girl’ graphic novel came out in 2017 and Uptown Girl’s adventures were over.  It’s not fair, and not realistic to be pessimistic about not being published if I only bothered to send my work to editors only twice in a 14 year span.  I may have been doing comics for 14 years but it’s not accurate to say that I have been trying to get published for 14 years.

When I started ‘The Retros’ I thought that this would be the better project to pitch.  I had…accepted?  Learned?  Realized? that if I wanted a publisher to look a my work I needed to show them my work.  I hoped that by posting my comic online it would generate some buzz and would catch the attention of someone, somewhere, but that didn’t, and isn’t, happening.  So, once the first story arc/season was over, I collected it and sent it off to about a dozen publishers.

I chose mostly comic publishers even though at this point non-comic publishers were doing graphic novels.  By the time the first book was printed, ‘The Retros’ had become too weird, too political and just too…quirky (how I hate that word) and didn’t really fit in anywhere.  I didn’t think it had a chance anywhere but my odds were better with a company that only did comics.

1 color

It didn’t go anywhere and I could see why.  Like the first issue of ‘Uptown Girl’ I was still learning.  I had gotten pretty good at doing comic books, but doing a four panel comic strip took some adjusting to.  It took a while to adapt to the format and I had to learn a lot about timing, pacing and layout.  Even in the early days of pitching it, I could see why a publisher would pass on it.

It’s tempting to redraw and resubmit the first story arc but I’d rather spend my time on moving forward and creating new stuff.

As ‘The Retros’ enters the third year, I suppose I could say that I’ve been doing this series for several years but have not found a publisher.  But again, that’s not accurate.  I haven’t been trying too hard.  The stuff I’m doing now is better than it’s ever been, but as this is an ongoing series it really doesn’t matter how good the third year is if the first year or so isn’t publishable.  So, like ‘Uptown Girl’, I haven’t found a publisher because, honestly, I am not trying too hard to find one.

0 cover

If I am being honest with myself, and with you I suppose, I really only have sufficiently tried to find a publisher for one project in the 15 years of trying to make a career out of drawing.  My picture book, ‘Bear and Rabbit’, was submitted to over 100 literary agents and almost 50 publishers and nothing yet.  The disappointment in this comes from two places.  The first is that I think this is a pretty good book.  I worked hard on it and I really feel it’s a strong story.  I learned a lot about picture books after reading so many of them to my daughter and I like to think that the book is a result of that.  The second reason is that I tried really hard to find a place for this project.

But it’s not done yet, something may come from it.  Not all hope is lost.  Even if the book never finds a home, I learned a lot about pitching and the publishing world.  As I researched editors and agents, I kept seeing a demand for more graphic novels.  As Sophie gets older, she has moved onto reading more comics and like many kids her age, she loves Raina Telgemeier‘s books.  Her interest in comics as helped introduce me to a ton of new books I never would have noticed otherwise.

The type of graphic novels she’s into and the type of graphic novels publishers want are keeping me optimistic about my next project.  I am impressed at the range of topics and level of maturity that are in the comics being published for the middle school/young adult audience these days.  I am also blown away by the art and the charm and talent of these cartoonists.  Discovering this new world makes me…hopeful and confident that perhaps this new graphic novel might have a better chance than Uptown Girl, The Retros and Bear had.


I am about fifty pages in and I think I am about a tenth of the way done.   I started lettering it about a week ago and I think once I am done with the scene I am doing now I’ll post what I have so far online.  The book’s inspiration and “hook” I suppose, is if ‘The Legend of Zelda’ took place in my hometown and starred a young girl.  I think I’m accomplishing that as evidenced in the flashback pages above.  I don’t want to say it’s darker than other things I’ve done but I think some stuff might be a surprise to people who are familiar with my work.

Anyway, the point of all this is to remind myself that yes, I’ve been drawing a lot.  But no, I haven’t drawing very well for that whole time.  I’ve had dreams of being published for a long time, but no, I haven’t been trying that hard to become published.


I may have not accomplished what I want to accomplish, but if I am being honest, there’s reasons for that:

  1. I needed time to become a better artist
  2. I need to show my work to more people as long as it’s good







Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party

Yesterday was FallCon, the comic convention put on by the fine people at the Midwest Comic Book Association.  FallCon takes place each October and was the first comic convention I attended as a guest which was waaaaay back in 2002-ish.  I remember working on Uptown Girl #7 at my table.  I’ve attended each year since then.

Except for this year.

Now, before we go any further, please know I am not bitter or angry or anything.  The volunteers who run the convention have always treated me, and all of their guests, with warmth, excitement, and kindness.  I’ve always been happy, and honored, to be at their shows and I am grateful for every appearance I’ve had at their conventions.

I actually think it’s a good thing to shake up the guest list at these shows.  Since there is no cost to be a guest or to apply for a spot, it’s a fantastic opportunity for an artist to get their work out there.  I doubt I’d be making comics today if not for the fans and friends I’ve made at these conventions.

So, I went to the show as a fan and I had a lot of fun.  I bought comics, saw some friends and had a great time.  It was a little weird to be on the other side of the table, but seeing the shows from an attendee’s perspective gave me the opportunity to see how well these shows are run for the guests as well as the artists.

Of course, I didn’t always had this mature reaction to not being a guest.  It wasn’t anger or anything like that, it was…I don’t know…fear, maybe?  Would this be the first step towards becoming obsolete?  When I stopped writing and drawing Uptown Girl as a monthly comic book and moved into annual graphic novels, I was worried that without having that monthly output I would become a little…irrelevant.  I wanted to stay on the radar of the local comics scene and consistent output was an effective way to do that.

Of course, this sounds depressing and fatalistic and I have moved on from this, but if I am being honest this was what I went through.  And I got over it.  Promise.  I am very close to accepting that I will never get a book published or anything amazing like that, but deep down I’ve always felt that if I was lucky enough to write and draw and self-publish books and have a local convention where I can sell them, well, that’s more than I ever expected or deserved.

I tend to go to extremes within the heat of a moment and I started to wonder if my days at these conventions were over.  Of course, this is just one convention and I have no reason to think I won’t be a guest at the next one, but this is the life of a cartoonist, particularly one that is trying to grow their readership and fan base.  I am always thinking about my comics and everything that comes with it.  Where will my career take me?  Will the impossible happen and I make a living off of my art?  Will everything come to a screeching halt?  Is this the piece of art that somehow goes viral and catches the attention of someone who could open the door to an amazing opportunity?  Will my Twitter followers ever exceed 140?

I am grateful when my friends, family and fans comment, retweet and ‘like’ my art.  I am lucky to have people who subscribe and support my books.  Thank you.  I see the notifications and I smile when I see you sharing and promoting my stuff.  These small things are more helpful than you might think.

Some cartoonists worry about running out of ideas or breaking their hands or something along those lines.  I don’t really worry about those things.  I think about the small audience that I have.  The Retros aren’t making the splash I hoped they would, my Instragram page isn’t growing in terms of followers…I want people to read my work and it’s fun to get a new follower.  I don’t think that’s uncommon for a cartoonist to want.  Please note that I am not complaining or feeling sorry for myself or anything like that.  At the end of the day, I am creating comics and I love my work and that’s the important thing.  One of the things I try to do with this blog is to pull back the curtain a little on the reality of someone trying to make a career with their art.  Sometimes it’s exciting and stuff is happening, sometimes it’s a little introspective and discouraging.

Again, this sound more fatalistic than I feel.  A cartoonist creates their work ultimately for themselves but there’s always the hope that the work connects with others.  I like my stuff and it’s always fun when others do too.  Although I don’t have the followers and readers that I hoped to have after almost three years of The Retros, I think it might bother me if I had zero.  Please know that my self-esteem is not tied to the number of people who read and “like” my work online.  I don’t think I suck or anything.  I’m sure many people think that I do, and that’s okay, but my point is that I am happy with my work, I like how I draw…I like my stuff.  I do think about the fan base that I have, not only wondering what they think of the stuff I create, but also how to grow it.  I’ll be the first to admit that I can promote my work more, but to be honest I am not really sure how.  I know there are other conventions that are out of state that I could go to, but finances are a concern, especially these days.  A big, local convention such as FallCon is a godsend.

On the opposite side of things, not only do I think about how to grow my readership, but I also wonder why I’m not making a bigger impression than I am.  Is my work just not appealing?  Is it not universal enough?  Is it too weird?  Is it not clicking with a larger audience?   As the rejection emails come in for my picture book, the common response was that the work isn’t bad, but agents and editors just didn’t…connect with it.  I think the most important thing a cartoonist to do is create the work that they themselves want to do.  It’s more sincere and a reader can see the enthusiasm in the work.  Right now The Retros is exactly what I want to do and I think it shows.  I have a lot of fun creating it and I am always excited to work on it.  I used to think The Retros would have a little more universal appeal and friendlier to new readers but it’s turned into a sprawling epic that I think is almost inaccessible to new readers.  Maybe that’s it..?

As long as we’re being fatalistic and extreme (and perhaps a little depressing), I often wonder when I should call it a day.  When is it going to become clear that there’s no blood in that stone?  How many more agents and publishers will I submit my picture book to until I throw in the towel?  When does it become obvious that I need to stop beating a dead horse?   How many more similes can this paragraph take?  Nothing will stop me from drawing, but I imagine there will be a day where I stop making comics and turning my attention to illustrating.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not quitting anytime soon.  I have at least six more years of story lines planned for The Retros and I am about 50 pages in for the Norah Locke book and a long way to go on it.  Here’s one of the pages I finished this weekend:


Maybe I think too much.  Perhaps I look for significance in things that aren’t there.  But I am constantly thinking about everything that goes with being a cartoonist all the time, whether it is the creative work, the fans or the impossible dreams.

Hope to see you at the spring show.




Things are Really Great Here, Sort of

Sometimes things go just swell.  The day job is going well and the stress and obligations that go with it are stressful but manageable.  The family’s routine is chaotic but at this point we’ve been doing what we do for so long it becomes, well, maybe not easy but you know what I mean.  And although you’re not going to be rich anytime soon…or ever, the money coming in is covering not only your bills but maybe a little extra to take the family out for dinner once in a while.

And then everything just collapses.

As I write this, my house sounds like a factory due to the four industrial blowers scattered throughout my home, not to mention this…thing in my garage.


Let’s back things up to last week.  Long story short, a faucet in our bathroom was left running for, oh, six or seven hours last Saturday.  The bathroom in question is directly above our garage.  When I got home it was raining in my garage.  It was…terrifying.  Over the next few hours we cleaned up the puddles and, like Thor, I got to use a hammer to punch holes in the garage ceiling to air it out to lessen the risk of mold.  Our neighbors, my sister-in-law and best friend were invaluable with their help and support.

The insurance people came out and soon our flooring in our lower level was torn up and huge humidifiers and dryers were placed around the home to suck up the moisture under the floor and everywhere else.  There are these giant mats in the kitchen that are designed to absorb the water under the floor there, too.  The ceiling in the garage was ripped out and the damage is going to exceed 10k.  Insurance will cover some of it and that’s all we know for sure at this point.

It’s all I can do to keep myself from laughing and crying at the same time.

This will all be…fixed somehow.  Things work out and it’s hard to see HOW they will when you’re in the moment but once things settle down you can look back to see how it was resolved.  At the moment though it’s a little heartbreaking to come home to see your floors and ceiling torn up and trying to fall asleep while a half dozen machines do their thing gets a little old.

Work has gotten more stressful and our budget suddenly got tighter.  When it rains it pours, I guess.  Literally.

But on the plus side, my projects are going well.  My new graphic novel that I started last year underwent some rewrites and redesigns and I almost caught up with the pages I needed to redraw.

The two pages below are the same scene but the second is the new version.  The differences are clear, not only with the design of the cat-fox character, but also to the overall page.



When I drew the first version, I could tell I wasn’t happy with it and my displeasure is evident with the lazy crosshatching and backgrounds.  It was obvious to me that I wanted to finish the page and move on.  Hopefully the cat-fox character would look better on the next page.

It didn’t.  I just couldn’t get the hang of it.

But when I did the second version, it’s obvious I was happy with how things were going.  I can’t quite describe it, but you can tell whoever drew the second version put in a lot of…joy into it.  It took twice as long to draw it but it’s clear they loved every moment of it.

I am happy with the new design, I am happy with the revisions and I look forward to continuing work on it.

But that’s the silver lining right now.  Right now it’s enough.  Thank God it’s enough.


Constructive Summer

I always feel a sense of…newness when the next season starts.  I get excited for different things, depending on the time of the year.  On the opposite side of that, I also dread and get anxious about other things that are associated with a new season.  Right now I am excited about cooler weather, but I am also stressed about how I will afford Christmas presents for my kids this year.

But things somehow always work out.

Have you noticed that summers go by faster each year?  Most people I know say that, but for different reasons, I think, than I do.  Most people I know spend their summers on vacations or fun summer activities and before you know it, BAM, it’s September.

I’ve worked for a college for the past eleven years and my summers are usually dominated by preparing my students for the upcoming fall semester.  It seems there is never enough time to get my students ready for class and most of my summer is spent at work as the days lead up to the first day of class.  Of course, I also have to get my own two kids ready for their first day of their own schools, too.  By the time August ends, I start looking forward to things settling down a bit.

When a new season starts, I think about what I want to accomplish over the next few months art-wise.  I rarely look back about what I did in the previous season as I am so focused on what I am going to do, that looking at what I did is forgotten.  I had a pretty productive summer, though.  Most of what I did involved my picture book and The Retros.

Last summer I came upon an idea for a picture book that was ultimately titled “Bear and Rabbit”.  The first part of this year I spent writing, rewriting, rewriting again and drawing and redrawing it.  This summer was all about submitting it to the agents and publishers.  At this point I think I am finally done with trying to find a publisher or representation…at least for now.  I have done a massive amount of research and querying to try to get this book out there.  I have done more than I thought I would.  As of this morning, I have submitted it to 109 literary agents and 25 publishers.  That’s a lot of emails and letters.  I think I can honestly say I gave it a decent shot.  You’d think I’d be discouraged, but I am content with the effort I put into it.  There’s still a chance, there’s always a chance, but it’s almost time to move on.  Note that I said almost.

Most of the creative work I did this year involved The Retros on two different projects.  I work ahead on the webcomic for two reasons.  The first is that if a new project or opportunity comes up, I don’t want to have to choose between working on that and staying current with The Retros.  If something comes up, I have worked far enough where I could take a little time off from it and still post five times a week.  The second reason is that…well, I like drawing The Retros.  I love the comic and it’s hard to stay away.

The fourth season just started and the 11th page will post tomorrow.  In terms of how far ahead I am, I just scanned in the 80th page making me 14 weeks ahead of schedule.  The pages I scanned yesterday will post right around Christmas.

The other Retros project was working on my third submission for a potential newspaper comic strip.  As I am still waiting for the rejection letters for the second round I submitted, it doesn’t really make sense to do this.  I’m sure there are other more productive things to do, but I love drawing these strips.  I had an idea for a story I couldn’t let go that wouldn’t really work in the normal continuity so I had to do it.  I did twenty new “daily” strips and four new “Sunday” strips.

s3 sunday 2 colors3 sunday 3 colors3 sunday 4 colors3 sunday color

I love how these turned out and I had a lot of fun working on them.  I have ideas for three more rounds of submissions if it came to it and I’ll probably end up drawing them even if no one wants them.  I’ll also likely self-publish this stuff as I’m very proud of it and I think Retros fans will like it.

I also designed a logo for a vlogger.  This was a lot of fun.

Logo retouched

I did a few pieces in a weird books+art thing.  I’d love to do the entire ‘Hobbit’ like this:

oz finalch 2 colorcw finalfinal

So, that’s it.  This fall will consist of more Retros, a new collaboration with a friend, preparing the second and third volume of ‘The Retros’….and who knows?



This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

We own a home in White Bear Lake and as I mentioned before, I love where we live.  We’re kind of tucked away, off of a side road that is off of another side road.  It feels kind of isolated here but I like that.

Nothing too exciting happens around here which is a good thing.  Well, a few years ago someone got real drunk on Memorial Day and took out some mailboxes with their truck and we talked about that for months but for the most part it’s pretty quiet around here.

I’m not going to get into the specifics, but two weeks ago my bike got stolen and the next day, my wife’s bike, Ryan’s bike and Sophie’s bike were stolen as well.  My bike was kept outside, tucked in between our house and our neighbor’s house, so I was kind of courting fate by doing that, but the other bikes were taken by someone entering into the garage.

Which was…just unsettling.  It felt violating and suddenly paranoia just spiked.  Did they try to get into the house?  Was someone watching our home?  Will they return?

We filed a police report, Sophie’s grandpa bought her a new bike and things settled back into normal.

But I was angry.  I always felt safe here and I still do, but more than bikes were taken.  A sense of security was taken.  I’m paranoid and my heart jumps at every sound at night, but it’s always the stupid cats getting into trouble as opposed to someone trying to get in. Thank God.

What does this have to do with comics?  After I took in the news about the bikes, I instantly remembered the story line that Bill Watterson did in ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ where someone broke into their house.


The above panel completely summarized my thoughts at the time.  I was amazed at how this panel, a panel I hadn’t thought about in decades popped into my head as clearly as it did.

As the next few days played out, more strips from this story line swam back into my head.  The strip below nails my thought process as I tried to fall asleep that night.


Once things calmed down we realized how lucky we were that it wasn’t worse than it was.  This moment was a good reminder of how fortunate we are.  One of the final strips in this story line did a perfect job of capturing this.


I took a lot of comfort in the strips Watterson did as we sorted through this event.  From the first thoughts as we processed what happened, the aftermath and ultimately the acceptance and moving on.

These strips are a testament to the power of comics, particularly to ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and ‘Peanuts’.   When I was a kid I laughed at the silly things Calvin and Snoopy did, but as an adult I relate to different themes of these two comic strips.  I knew ‘Peanuts’ was funny, but melancholy was not a word I knew then.

Anyway, I don’t know if anyone else has comic strips pop into their head for the first time time in years when something in real life happens, but that’s what my brain is like.  It’s kind of annoying but this time it was a comfort.


My Little Town

Late last year, I “announced” my next graphic novel series.  I have barely mentioned it here because I have barely worked on it.  I think about it all the time, but I honestly thought I would have more time to draw it than I have.  In addition to ‘The Retros’ webcomic, this year has been busy with trying to find an agent/publisher for ‘Bear and Rabbit’ and working on submission pitches for a Retros newspaper strip.

But the new series was always on my mind, especially when I was running errands or spending time in downtown White Bear Lake.

A little history:

In 2006 I started to date Amy.  At the time we started to date, I was living in Northeast Minneapolis.  When we met, I was living in Uptown.   When we decided to move in together, she wanted to stay in White Bear Lake as that is where her son Ryan was attending grade school.  I knew I’d miss living in the city, but I figured we could always move back sometime if we wanted to.

In March 2007 we found a little apartment across the street from Ryan’s school.  Not long after, we found out we’d be having a baby and Sophie was born in December of that year.  We were married in June of 2008 and our little family was complete.

And through all this, I found myself falling in love with where we live, particularly downtown White Bear Lake.  There are quite a few restaurants and shops we visit there.  We watch the annual parade in town each June, we meet up with friends, visit the library, go out for ice cream and just…enjoy where we live.  We own a townhouse and right our our front door is an amazing wooded area where we explore and hike and get lost on purpose.

We made friends, we joined the Y, we became active in Sophie’s school.  Long story short, we started to develop our roots.  I felt a connection to where we lived that I didn’t quite feel when I lived anywhere else.  I started to learn about the history of the area ranging from everything from the Native American history to the now closed amusement park not far from our home.  In my mind, I romanticized the history and mythology of the town.

Last year I was trying to think of what other projects I wanted to work on besides The Retros.  Amy suggested I write something around Sophie as I like telling stories about her.  I didn’t want to do a project about a cute kid and the shenanigans that kids do.  It felt a little cliched but I started to think about an idea from a few years ago about a girl who fought monsters in the woods.  I even drew a few scenes for it.

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The enthusiasm for the project was killed by other stuff that was happening in my life at the time but I always liked the idea.  The girl in the story was based on Sophie, however she was now a few years older and I didn’t feel the connection to the character that I did when I drew this orignally.

But Amy’s suggestion made me think about this idea again.  What if the girl was older?  What if the woods were the same woods right outside my front door?  Things started to gain traction.  But there was something missing.

As Sophie ages, I introduce her to more things.  Like most kids, she looks for characters she can relate to in the books, movies and video games we play.  Not surprisingly, she prefers her entertainment to star women.  She plays as Peach in ‘Super Smash Bros.’ and ‘Mario Kart’.  She prefers ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ to Harry Potter.  She showed zero interest in playing ‘The Legend of Zelda’ when she learned she had to play as a boy.

Now, I can’t make video games but I can write and draw.  “What if ‘The Legend of Zelda’ took place in White Bear Lake?  What if it took place now?  What if the merchants in the game had stores in downtown White Bear Lake instead of in caves?”

What if the story starred a girl?

Things just fell together at this point.  I found the missing piece.

I thought about what I wanted to incorporate into the story.  I thought about what locations and history in my town I wanted to include, whether it was the cemetery, the local bookstore or Sophie’s school.  I wrote down quite a few notes, did research, did many character sketches and my enthusiasm grew.  I couldn’t wait to get started.


I started drawing what I thought would be the first book at the beginning of this year.  Soon I was pulled away from it by the other projects I mentioned earlier.  I got about 30 pages done before all creative work on it came screeching to a halt.

This depressed me.  I loved the project and I was reminded of it whenever I went into town.  Sophie was excited for it and told her friends.  Earlier this summer we went out for ice cream and ran into her friend Libby.  Libby’s first question to me was when the book was coming out.

Lack of progress on the book frustrated me.  Even after the newspaper pitches and the book submission projects were done, I wondered when I would have time to work on it. In addition to the time needed to make the book, I felt really intimidated by what I imagined was a six volume series.  By the time I’d be done with, Sophie would be in college.

It didn’t help my enthusiasm that I didn’t care for the last dozen or so pages I had completed for the book.  I introduced a main character that didn’t look right.  The model changed from page to page and I hated it.

We’ve spent a lot of time in town this summer and I resolved to find a way to work on this book in addition to the Retros.  I started to rethink the book and instead of doing a series I would do one big, 500 page story.  I redid the outline,  redesigned the new character and I committed myself to working on the book again in October and not work on anything else besides The Retros in 2019.

This cheered me up.  I am excited to get back into this little world.  I am excited to do one big fat book.

So, that’s what’s been going on with me.  What’s up with you?


Burning with Optimism’s Flames

Lost in thought and lost in time
While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted
Outside the rain fell dark and slow
While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime
I took a heavenly ride through our silence
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life
-David Gilmour


Yeah, it’s been a while.

I’ll never get used to the roller coaster of high spikes of optimism and the gradual, steady and inevitable reappearance of reality as I push my life (in what feels like a Sisyphus level of effort and futility) into the world of professional cartooning.  It wasn’t that long ago when I was asked to submit more samples of a proposed Retros comic strip to a certain newspaper syndicate, but it was back in March.  I haven’t heard back, one way or the other, but it took about six months for this syndicate to review and respond to the proposal the first time around, so I remain optimistic but the manic thrill of POSSIBILITY and MAYBE, JUST MAYBE has settled.

But that, ultimately, is a good thing.  If I lived my day constantly checking my email for messages, of any sort, I would lose my mind.

I’ve been submitting my picture book ‘Bear and Rabbit’ to agents and publishers on a steady basis for the past few months.  Like, a LOT of agents and publishers.   There’s been some interest and I’ve chatted with a few agencies and I am committed to exhausting every resource and opportunity that I can, but there will be a time where I will have sent my book to every prospective agent and publisher that I could find.

I started with trying to find an agent and will continue to do so, but at this point I’ve either been passed on or the “if you haven’t heard from us in six months, please assume that this book isn’t the right fit for us” time frame.  So I started moving onto prospective publishers.  You’d think there were a lot of opportunities with different publishers, but based on the research I’m doing, there’s about half as many publishers as there are agents that accept unsolicited, unrepresented/unagented picture book proposals.  I have about ten more publishers to send my book to, and I’ll continue to look for more opportunities and editors to send my book to, but I expect the bulk of shopping the book around to be done by the end of July.  Most publishers have about a six month review period before one can make the conclusion that they have passed on it.

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Page 22 of ‘Bear and Rabbit’

I’ll continue to look for more agents and publishers, and attend the Rain Taxi Book Festival this October and hopefully chat with potential agents and publishers there, but unless something happens by the end of the year, Bear and his pal Rabbit will remain nomadic.

To quote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that”.

No matter what happens, I’m proud (and a little surprised) at how I haven’t given up.  I did my research, I wrote and rewrote and redrew my book, I wrote a good proposal, I read submission guidelines carefully and I followed through on my goal of trying.

I sound bitter and frustrated, but I’m really not.  Yes, I would like to find a publisher, but I know that I am doing the equivalent of trying to reach the moon by building a rocket made out of Lego and hope.

The key (at least for me) to not getting too discouraged is keeping busy with other projects.  I am about to start the third round of samples for the Retros newspaper strip.  No one asked for it (at least not yet), but I have an idea for the next round and since it doesn’t really fit in with the regular webcomic continuity, I figure why the hell not?  I know once I start penciling that story, all of my optimism and excitement will be channeled into that.  And off I go in that direction.

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Sunday strip from the second round of samples

This is my irresistible past time.  I can’t stop drawing, I can’t stop being hopeful, I can’t stop sending art samples and book proposal to editors, agents and publishers.  Too optimistic or too naive to quit.  It’s one and the same.







History Lesson

I started drawing what would become the first story arc/season of The Incredible Retros in 2014.  Fly-Girl was created by my friend Brian Bastian and myself around 2005, give or take, and some of the other characters were created around 2010.  Lucky and Alie were the first, and Zoo and Sputnik came later.  It took a while for the series to come together but finally launched on November 16, 2015.


Doodle that I did in a hotel room. I forgot that Lucky used to have an eye patch.

The series was originally done in what was dubbed “The Marvel Style”, referring to the style Marvel Comics used to use, starting in the 1960’s.  It was when when a writer (usually Stan Lee) would give the artist (usually Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) a general outline of a story, the artist would draw it and then the writer would fill in the dialogue once it was drawn.  To this day there is a lot of disagreement as to how much credit the writer and artist should get for writing, but I am not going to get into that.

30 color.jpgBrian came up with the outline, I drew it, scanned it, colored it in Photoshop and then he and I would get together and he would write the dialogue.  We learned a lot working this way.  Unfortunately, working in this method wasn’t sustainable.  Brian wrote most of the dialogue until around page 50 and handed the writing duties to me.  I always wonder how different (and better) the series would be if he stayed on.  Brian is a great writer and he’s hilarious.  The dialogue he wrote for Lucky’s flashback scene is still the funniest thing I’ve ever read.

Doing a comic that updates five days a week is a pretty intense schedule, considering I wok about fifty hours a week and still need to find time to see my family and to sleep.  I don’t have time to look back on my work but getting a book printed kind of forces me to do that.

I was amazed at how the series looked.  On almost every page I could see myself learning how to draw, and later, write The Retros.  Some of the word balloons are ridiculously large as I wanted to leave room for whatever Brian would write for the dialogue.  I should have fixed this in Photoshop but it usually looked kinda clunky when I would do that.  If I drew on a tablet it would have been a snap.

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Man, look at the size of those word balloons.  All that empty space taking up the panel.

One of the biggest things I learned was streamlining the character designs.  Sputnik for example:

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Sputnik used to have little lines around his antennas but I thought they were unnecessary so I got rid of them. His display screen was also used a lot more.

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Alie’s uniform used to have a white zipper but I simplified it with just one line.

I take a lot of liberties with Fly-Girl’s costume.  For the record, her wings pop out of a backpack, not her actual back.

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But I kept forgetting to draw the backpack., but I assure you it’s there.  Streamlining her looks better.


I also ditched the fingerless gloves.  I like the way they look, but would become distracting if her hands were against a black background:

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Lucky pretty much remained the same, but eventually I settled how his hair looked.

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Lucky sporting the popular ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ look in panel three.

Of course, the drawing itself gets better as the series progresses.  I learned how to work with a four panel grid, I learned how to work with a square panel that is less than three by three inches.  I learned how to pace, how to balance humor and action.  It’d be hard to not learn something after 700 pages of comics.  Looking back becomes a sort of history lesson.

So, there are panels and pages that make me cringe a little, there are panels in the book that surprise me, there are parts that I completely forgot about, and pages that make me laugh (Brian wrote those).

But I am happy with the book.  I’m proud that it exists.  I am excited to do more books, I am excited to draw more, I am excited for what’s next.

For you Kickstarter backers, the book is printed and I am wrapping up your rewards.  I expect to have them mailed out by the end of the week.  For the fans who are attending MSP Comicon and requested you pick up your copy there, I’ll have your books ready for you.

Thank you for your support.  Thank you to everyone who backed the Kickstarter, who retweeted the project and joined in the celebration of hitting the goal.  Creating comics is lonely work and you wonder if anyone is reading or if anyone cares.  This was a wonderful way to find out that people do like this weird little comic.