Things Happen

Let’s make a list of all things the world has put you through
Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to
I don’t know what else you wanted me to say to you
Things happen
That’s all they ever do


I’m tired of things happening.

Over the past few months our family has experienced the terrifying and the frustrating.

The third thing to complete this trilogy happened at the end of January when I was laid off, along with the rest of my team, at work.  This was (mostly) unexpected and really disappointing, to say the least.  I liked my job, I liked my team.  I’ve spent most of the last twelve years working for small, private colleges and I love working with students.  Losing that job and seeing the school decline and face closure is heartbreaking to me.

I jumped into the job search right away.  I haven’t had a period of unemployment for almost fifteen years and I was anxious to find something new.  It was total survival mode.  We are just starting to get the final bills from the hospital and emergency room visits from my wife’s heart attack and money is always tight for us anyway.

I went on interviews, sent out my resume and I am so lucky to have something so quickly.  I am happy that I will be working for another college and remaining in education.  The campus is located in Boulder, Colorado and I am going to be working from home, but will need to travel there every six weeks or so.

I am fortunate to have found a job.  I am excited about working from home and I have never been to Colorado before.

I do not know how I got so lucky.

I fly out tomorrow morning for training.

Again, I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Anything that upends your life in a significant way can make someone reconsider everything…your priorities and what they want to accomplish in life.  After Amy’s heart attack she spoke a lot about how everything else seems so small.  We are all lucky she is still with us and is doing as well as she is.  She is more fearless and optimistic and grateful than ever before.

Losing my job made me wonder, and worry, about how long I would be out of work.  How would we pay our mortgage?  How long would our savings last?  Where would I work?

I spent the next four weeks figuring that out.  Between filing for unemployment, applying for MNSure, creating a new budget and the job search itself, I was, in many ways, still working.

These are things I did as a husband, father, and provider.  These are the roles I consider myself lucky and privileged to have.

And I am a cartoonist.

I am lucky to have a passion, a hobby.  I was glad I could take a break from paperwork and cover letters and draw and paint.

Over the past few weeks I made art and worked on The Retros.   I was always pretty far ahead but I got even further.  I completed the fourth “season” of the series and started the fifth.  Each season of The Retros is 240 pages and I am ten pages into the fifth one.  I just posted the 140th page on March 1st so it’ll be about five months until the next story line starts.

I present to you the final panel of season four the first from season five.  Both presented without lettering or context:


I also did a painting for a friend:


And a mock book cover:

hobbit 2

I did some other stuff, but it was mostly working on the Retros.  I didn’t want too many distractions from the job search so I stuck with mostly what I was already working on.

Losing my job was a blow, but I am excited about my new adventure.

I want to thank everyone for their support through the last few months.  It’s been a stressful and frightening time and we got through it because of you.  You helped with groceries, phone calls, a job lead, picking up the tab at lunch, visiting us at the hospital and many other small and big things.  We were humbled by the events in the last few months, and we were reminded how lucky and fortunate we are to have the life we have, regardless of what happens.

I have a hard time articulating how much you all mean to me.  Whether you are a family member, a friend or even a Retros fan, you all enrich our lives.

Thank you.


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.




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?




I get requests for commissioned art from time to time.  It’s a fun break from the normal comic book grind, and I usually get a chance to do something I likely never would do otherwise.

I recently completed a piece for someone and although I normally never do licensed characters, I just couldn’t turn down doing a Superman painting for a boy about to turn three years old.

I thought about what to do for a while and I thought it’d be fun to do a painting that looked like it was from a comic book.  Before I started on this, I thought it’d be fun to take pictures and chronicle the process.

Since I was doing a comic book page, I figured I may as well use comic book paper.  Most professionals use 11 x 17 (or so) bristol board.  I normally use bristol board so the paper itself was something I was used to but the dimensions were not as familiar.

Next up were the tools I’d use: Micron pens, brush, and of course White Out.  I really should switch to white tempra paint since it’s difficult to paint or ink over stuff that was whited-out.

I also normally use a non-photo blue pencil to sketch out the drawing but for this I used a 5H pencil.

I did a few thumbnails and settled on a three panel page.  I wanted to show the transformation of Clark Kent into Superman and see if I could boil the essence of Superman into three simple frames.  This is the second panel where Clark rips open his shirt to reveal the iconic “S”.

And then I penciled the top panel, where Clark Kent hears a cry for help.

Then I started to ink the second panel.  I tend to jump around a lot on a page.  Sometimes I start with inking the hardest part (that way I do not have to waste a lot of time if I screw up and have to start over, but sometimes I also start with the most fun part.  This time was the former.  It’s hard getting that pose right.

At this point I was pretty sure I hated the drawing so far, but I kept moving forward to see if I could turn it around.  I was pretty sure this would end up in the trash, mostly because his head looks way too tiny, and just not heroic enough.  Despite my hatred of the the panel, I moved onto other parts of the drawing and inked the word balloon and exclamation mark in the top panel…

And then I got to penciling the third panel.  I love how this turned out and started to think about how I could save the page despite the horrible second panel.  Re-energized by the third panel, I got to inking the first panel again.  But doubt started to creep in again, Clark seemed too different in the first and second panels….

I wrapped up inking the top panel and although it looked okay…I realized that the crosshatching probably wouldn’t look good when I would paint it.  I guess I’m too used to working in only black and white.

By now the differences in the top two panels really started to bug me especially the tiny head on Clark Kent in the second panel.  I thought I’d black in the background behind him and try to reduce his body to make his head a little more proportioned.

But it was no use.  I decided to bite the bullet and start over.

I was disappointed to start over since I liked the third panel so much so I decided to start with penciling and inking the third panel first, and make Superman/Clark Kent a little more stylized and cartoony.  I think I nailed it.

Yeah!  I loved how this was turning out now.  I got working on the second panel as it was probably going to be tricky.  Superman’s “S” is actually really hard to get right but I chose to go with the Golden Age version because it looks so cool.

And then onto the top panel.

It’s tricky for me to draw people with glasses, which is why Uptown Girl and everyone she knows has either 20/20 vision, wears contacts or has had Lasik.  But this time around I left Clark’s glasses free of pupils.  His left arm looks kind of awkward here but I thought there needed to be something to balance the panel out a bit so I threw a copy of “The Daily Plane” in there.

All right, I was finally finished with the drawing, I just had the painting left.

But before I’d start the painting, a side by side comparison to make sure that I still hated the first version compared to the second.  Yep, still hate it.

I actually use colored ink to color most of my projects that aren’t in black and white.  I like using ink since it dries quickly and you get a lot of variance with watering it down and mixing it.

I’m not Alex Ross, so I can’t afford to hire a model to pose for me so I can make sure I can the details right, so I have a Superman action figure to make sure I get everything perfect.

When I color I always start with a dominant color, like red, and color everything on the page that is supposed to be red.  Man, that red really pops.

Then I moved onto yellow since I like working with bright colors and was excited to see how it would look with the red.  Looks pretty good, I think.

Then my daughter Sophie came to see what I was doing.

After she ran off to play with her brother, I wrapped up the rest of the page.

I was loving the painting and I thought it was as close to the painting in my mind as I was going to get.  I needed to thicken some of the black lines and re-ink the lines that got a little washed out in the coloring process.  For the word balloons and lettering I used a thick Sharpie marker.  A little crude but it worked.

The final top two panels….

And the last panel.

So that’s the process.  From first version to final, this took about three hours.  It was a nice break from comics and I had a lot of working on it.