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.

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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







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.

22 final

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.

s2 s2 color.jpg

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.







Out of the Blue

It’s funny to think that just a few months ago I was a little…lost and unsure of what I would work on now that Uptown Girl’s graphic novel adventures had finished.

Right now I feel a little overwhelmed but luckier than ever with the projects I have going on.  Yes, The Retros is ongoing and will be for a long time, but I also started a new graphic novel series as well as a children’s book titled ‘Bear and Rabbit’.  I thought I fell into a happy little world with working on The Retros, the new series and trying to find a publisher for Bear.

But a little secret project presented itself that I had a hard time saying no to.  More on that in the coming weeks.  I wasn’t sure if I could squeeze in anything else, but I never want to pass up an opportunity.  But what has hit me out of the blue was something else I hadn’t expected.  I don’t want to talk about it yet, but it’s pretty amazing.  The longest shot in the history of long shots, but dammit, it’s a shot.

Sorry to be vague but rest assured there’s been a reason for lack of content here lately.

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At any rate, the bear book is done and you can read it online.  I do not intend on self-publishing this thing and since there’s a zillion to one chance of it finding a publisher I wanted people to read it.  So, please read it here!

The long shot project has put the publisher search for Bear and his rabbit pal on hold for a bit but I hope to start researching publishers and agents by the end of the month.

I am almost finished with the first Retros collection as well.  It’s being proofread by my friends Susan and Mark and the cover was colored and assembled and magicked by my friend Ben.  I am lucky to know such talented, generous people and luckier to call them friends.

Here’s the amazing cover!

front cover

The Retros-Fast Forward should be at the printer by the end of the month and ready to go for MSP ComicCon in May.  I would love to have the second collection out this fall, but we’ll see.

Anyway, I can’t wait to show you what I’ve been working on.  Soon.  🙂



It’s Easy to Say No


I finished the artwork for the still untitled book about a bear at the end of December.  The plan was to clean up the artwork and letter the text in Photoshop and have it ready to submit to publishers by the end of January.  Ladies and gentlemen, that did not happen.

Here’s why: I didn’t like the artwork.  I had a nagging feeling the entire time I was working on the book that the art style I was using wasn’t the right way to go.  From the early days of the book, I found that the more simple the book was, the better I liked it.  I wrote three drafts of the book and it kept getting simpler and smaller and more direct.  As I worked on sketches for the book, the simpler the art was, the more I liked it.  Once I settled on focusing on the characters, dropped all backgrounds and kept the artwork simple and bright and only drawing what was necessary, the more I felt I was on the right track.

So, what’s the problem?  Didn’t I do that?  Well, yes.  Last year I had committed to learning how to paint and falling back in love with it.  It was good to stretch my creative muscle and do something besides comics.  As I started work on the book, it felt like the most obvious thing in the world to do was to paint the book.  So, I got to work.  I penciled the characters, painting it, and then used a brush pen to define the characters.  And…it was okay.


As I neared the end of the book, I started to wonder if I made the right choice.  I felt like I was simply coloring the book, as opposed to painting it.  The characters, such as bear in the picture above, looks splotchy and uneven.  I should have used different tones of the colors and defined the characters with paint and not relied on the black ink so much.  In short, the art was not taking advantage of the strengths that paint can offer.  This ultimately lies in the fact that I am not a good enough painter to paint a book.  I painted a little almost every day last year, but I have some ways to go.

Another problem is that I needed to scan in the art and clean it up in Photoshop.  I looked into how to scan in watercolor art online but to be honest, my scanner isn’t a very good scanner.  If I need to scan in black and white line work for The Retros, sure, it works just fine, but this is a different level.  My Photoshop skills aren’t that hot, either.  Once I scanned in the artwork and started to mess around, I realized I was kinda…well, screwed.  The scanned artwork looked terrible, and after fiddling around with it in Photoshop, it still looked awful.  There’s no way a publisher would like this.  I knew that my skills as a painter weren’t up to snuff and my limited abilities in Photoshop were not strong enough to compensate for that.  Getting a book published is almost impossible.  An editor will look at the story, the characters and the art and the art needs to spark interest right away.  My book’s art was not very good.  No editor would give it a chance.

Here’s the first page, scanned, with no Photoshop magic:


I played around with it in Photoshop but ultimately felt that the artwork needed to have a better scan to work with.  Desperate, I took a photo of the art with an iPhone and tried fiddling with it that way:

new 1It looks…well, not bad, but you can’t even tell it was painted in the first place.  And if you can’t tell it was painted, then why paint it in the first place?  Again, the artwork is not taking advantage of what painting can do.

This was a new problem for me.  For the first time I felt that something I had written was better than something I had drawn.

I still believed in the story and was determined to finish the book.  I started to play around with simpler art and tried coloring with Photoshop, the way I color The Retros.

This felt…well, it felt like a turn in the right direction.  It was playing to my strengths and embracing the approach I had been using since the first few drafts of the book of simplifying.  Was this the right decision though?  What would an editor think?  When I was shopping The Retros as a newspaper strip I reached out to a few professional newspaper cartoonists I knew and asked for their advice.   I received some encouragement and advice and the best thing I was told was to not make it easy for an editor to say no.  I remembered that advice as I looked at the bear book and realized there was a lot of reasons for an editor to say no to this.  I’ve never been published before, the children’s book market is over saturated, and the artwork looked terrible.  I decided to play to my strengths and redo the book.

The creative process wasn’t that different, though.  I penciled the art, inked it with a brush pen, scanned it and colored it, just like I do with The Retros.  Here’s the new first page to compare to the artwork above:


After I did a few more pages, I realized that this was the way to go.  In order to keep sending a project out to hundreds of editors and agents you need to be confident and excited about it.  It needs to be the best thing you can create.  The previous painted version was not that.  Maybe in a few years painting a book might be the way to go, but not now.

Redoing the art also gave me a chance to rework a few things.  Here’s the first and second versions of one of the pages:

The bear is sill happy, the bunny is still singing but the banjo?  Man, that banjo sells it.

I am halfway through redoing the book and I should have it done and lettered by the end of the month.



If Not For You

Yeah.  It’s been a while, sorry about that.

Earlier this year I pledged to do a non-comic piece of artwork every day.  And it was going fine for a while.  Uptown Girl was wrapping up and I knew this year would be about trying new things, thinking of new art projects and getting out of my comfort zone.  In doing this, I had hoped I would stumble upon my next project.   Of course, I’d still be doing The Retros, but I need to something in addition to that.

I was keeping up just fine on this goal until Inktober rolled around this year.  Up until October, I had been doing little paintings and I was beginning to burn out.  Inktober gave me an excuse to take a break from painting and focus on just drawing each day for a month.  Stepping away from the paint was a nice change of pace and it recharged my painting batteries again.

Once Inktober wrapped up, I pretty much stopped, or at least posting, the daily non-comic artwork.  Normally when I fall short of a goal I get a little discouraged, but I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to…meaning I had stumbled on my next non-Uptown Girl project.

While doing one of the daily paintings this summer, I drew a bear with a rabbit on its head.  I liked the drawing and wondered what their story was.  Writers talk about how some stories just…open up to them and that is exactly what happened here.  I wrote down a very loose story about these two characters and really felt I had something.  Over the next few months I did a of drawings of these two as I tried to get a feel for their personalities, their world and what this story would look like.

It was a lot of fun and they went through a lot of revisions as I tried to get them right.  Eventually I settled on the last bear here.  I liked the shape and the little fur flourishes.  I also liked it looked different than my normal style.

Over the last few months, the story stayed with me as I worked on simplifying it and stripping the story down to its essentials.  Some of the art here shows the bear at a meeting and wearing clothes.  At one point the story was going to take place in a sort of animal city, similar to a Richard Scarry story.    But the more I thought about it, the smaller the world became and focusing on the bear and rabbit as much as possible, at least art-wise, felt right.

I had planned on starting the book in earnest in January.  Starting a new project in the new year felt like a good idea, but as Inktober wrapped up and my painting energy returned, I decided to take advantage of that momentum and jump right into the book.  I wrote a second draft of the book and got to work.

As of this writing, I am about two dozen pages in, and a third draft of the prose is being created as the “voice” is reacting to the artwork, adding a little more life and humor to the story.  I am happy to say that I am four pages away from wrapping up the artwork and I should have it done by the end of the month.  Once the artwork is done, I’ll touch it up and add the text through Photoshop and ta-da, my first version will be done. The hard part is next as I try to find an agent or a publisher.  If I a lucky enough to make it to the next step of getting it published, I am sure I’ll need to do further revisions and likely redo the whole book.  And that’s fine.  Knowing I may need to redo the whole book is actually helpful here as I am not agonizing over every word or brushstroke.  Instead what I’ve done will easily present what I am going for here.

That’s not to say that it’s been all lollipops and rainbows.  Once I started the book for real I started to feel discouraged and intimidated.  I considered giving up and walking away, but the truth is that Sophie has been very excited about the book since I showed her the first drawing and she helped with a lot of ideas.  Her enthusiasm pushed me to completing this project.


So, this book is for her.  It would have been anyway, but I likely would have abandoned this project if not for her.

I am excited to have this completed and I am looking forward to submitting it to agents and publishers.  There are more options than comic publishers, but it’s also a more competitive, tougher market to get into, but that’s okay.  I have to try.

Today is Sophie’s tenth birthday, and I couldn’t be prouder to call her my daughter.  We draw together, we explore the woods by our house together, we watch cartoons and go to bookstores and ride bikes.  I love being a dad, I love being her dad.  She has shaped my life in uncountable ways.


Lord, I’m Discouraged

For a few weeks, every notification of an email or checking the real mail brought a thrill of “what if this is an email from a publisher interested in ‘The Retros’?  There’s a sense of excitement once you have submitted a project to a publisher that at any moment, a miracle could happen.  When I received the notification of an email or had a voicemail, I jumped on checking it as soon as I could.  A week ago I was in a meeting and my phone was buzzing like crazy.  I could tell from the vibrations I had received a few emails and a voicemail.  Of course, my mind raced with excitement as I daydreamed through the meeting about hearing from a publisher.  In the end, the emails were nothing exciting and the voicemail was from my dentist reminding me of my upcoming appointment.

I have submitted ‘The Retros’ to twelve publishers and most of them have passed the “if you haven’t heard from us within ________ weeks, then you should assume your project is not right for us at this moment” time frame.  I try not to let my hopes get up when it comes to stuff like this, but I have to admit I had that…a sliver of hope, of optimism, of possibility.

So, I am reminded of Jack Nicholson’s character from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ when he says “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddammit, at least I did that.”

Now I move on.  I will start submitting my next project this week, a newspaper comic strip of ‘The Retros’.  As excited I am about my submission, I know the odds are against me even more so.  Even though I feel the newspaper pitch is stronger than the book I shopped, there are fewer editors to send it to.

A few months ago before I started to submit the book and the strip, I knew that it was unlikely that either would be picked up.  I knew that.  God, I knew that.  I dove into creating what I thought was a fun pitch package and creating the comic strip knowing that it would likely not go anywhere.  But I love, love, love drawing and I love working on ‘The Retros’.  I happily created these things knowing they wouldn’t go anywhere.  I suppose this is one of those ‘the destination is the journey’ type of thing.

However, when I told myself that the pitch and the strip wouldn’t go anywhere, i shrugged it off and told myself that I would just need to create something else and try that.  But the other day I realized that I don’t see myself creating another comic project.  I do plan on working on ‘The Retros’ for a long time (I just plotted out the next five-six years), but I don’t think I’ll ever do another comic project.  ‘The Retros’ was born partially out of a desire to write stories and create characters that didn’t fit within Uptown Girl’s world.  With ‘The Retros’ I feel that I can do anything I want and still fit within the sensibilities of the book.

So, if ‘The Retros’ doesn’t make it, I…well, I don’t see myself being published in the comic book/strip world.  And that sucks.  Because I want to.  I want to make comics and see them in the newspaper or on the shelves of bookstores without self-publishing them.  I suppose I could try to create another comic series and give that a shot, but I don’t see that happening.  I suppose I could try redoing ‘The Retros’ into a different format as perhaps the four panel grid isn’t attractive to a publisher, but it’s more likely the way I draw and how I write just isn’t marketable.

And that’s fine, nothing is going to stop me from doing what I love, and I love what I do, I love how I draw and write.  The likelihood of me not being good enough in the eyes of the comics publishing world won’t stop me from working on ‘The Retros’.  I just need to work on something else that has a shot.  Something that isn’t comics.

But again, that sucks.  I am right now kind of grumbling about this right now and I will for another week or so and I will move on.  This all sounds more dire than I intend it to be, but I feel that writing this down helps with accepting this.

So, what’s next?  I wrote previously about how I wanted to focus on comics as opposed to a non-comics project specifically a picture book, as I didn’t feel I was ready for such a thing.  But my mind is swinging back to maybe giving it a shot.  I have spent most of the year painting and falling back in love with it.  I have been trying different styles and techniques for most of 2017 but haven’t always been posting what I have been doing.  I’m having fun with it, it’s fun to expand your horizon.  I think starting in January that I will take a crack at this bear book and just try like hell on creating it.  Over the last few weeks I’ve done a few different page layouts and played around with style, design and things like that and I think I’ve touched on how I want to the book to look.  The drawing on the left was my first design, the one on the right is the new design I am going to go with.


Whenever I’ve thought about the book, I wrestled with details, such as should the animals in the book wear clothes?  Should they live in a city or the forest?  Should they have jobs?  Should I do simple layouts or cram as much detail as I can into the page?  Should I have a strong outline (such as the bear on the left) or use a feather effect with a brush (on the right) to suggest fur?  How stupid looking should the rabbit look?  Should this be painted or digitally colored?

Making a decision on one often affected another question.  For example, if I decided to cram as much as I could into a page, then coloring it digitally would look better.  If I set the book in a forest, then could I still have non-forest animals in the book?

Over time I slowly and methodically decided on most of these things.  I did it by not thinking too hard about it.  I did it by looking at other picture books and saw what I liked and what I didn’t.  I think I know what I want to do.

So, why wait until January?  I want a little time off, to be honest.   Right now I am feeling the…well, everything that goes with the frustration and acceptance with everything written about in this post.  I want to take a little time, paint more, think (and not think) about the bear and rabbit and not jump into anything else right now.  I want to spend a lot of time on the book and not have other projects (besides ‘The Retros’) going on, such as the daily paintings I’ve been doing, next month’s Inktober and the upcoming holidays.  A new year, a new project.

So, that’s that.  I’m going to Kinkos today to print off the newspaper submission and will have that sent to syndicates and editors this week, but I am prepared for this to not go anywhere but…you know, I really hope it does.

How cool would that be?