Four Years Gone

Last month was the four year anniversary of The Retros launching.  The comic has been full of surprises, well, for me anyway.  The comic was always meant to be a pretty straight forward action story but it has veered off into different directions than I expected it to.  The comic touches on a lot of the political climate, the influence of social media, and has had it’s share of small, intimate moments as well.  Even though I never thought the comic would turn into the comic it has evolved into, the shift feels organic and natural.

The other big surprise is that I haven’t missed a day in over four years.  So that’s pretty cool.

So, in honor of four years of The Retros, I wanted to share four secrets of the comic.


Alie’s name LOOKS like it’s pronounced “Alley” but it’s actually “Ay-lee”.  She picks the name after crash landing on Earth and overhearing someone speculate that she is alien.



“Ay-lee” sounds like the first part of the word “alien”.  Another fun fact is that her name is an anagram of Leia, as in General Leia.



Lucky’s full name is Lucky Parker.


His name is a play on the phrase “Parker’s luck” in Spider-Man comics.  It’s a common theme for Peter Parker to have pretty lousy luck and ol’ web-head chalks it up to typical ‘Parker’s luck’.

Much of The Retros was inspired by silver age Marvel and 1980’s-era X-Men.  This inspiration is a bit of a surprise to me as I am more of a DC fan.


Zoo is the first Retro to retire.  He was one of the few team members who was happier before they joined the team.  Some of the team members don’t have the happiest endings, but Zoo did.  He got to go back to the time period he came from.


Zoo was the hardest of The Retros to decide on a personality.  I thought about him being super smart, a direct contradiction of his animal/beast appearance, similar to Hank McKoy from the X-Men.  I also considered him being monosyllabic, like the Hulk.  But my friend Brian, who co-created Fly-Girl and wrote the plot and dialogue for the first half of the first season said that Zoo should just be… cool.

As soon as he said that, I knew exactly who Zoo was.  I used to work with a guy named Tavis.  Tavis was soft-spoken, funny, kind, and patient.  I worked with him for a while and was just… a cool guy.  Everyone liked him,  He went onto a new job as a corporate trainer.  It was a perfect job for him.  He would be a great mentor.  The mentoring part of him inspired Zoo mentoring Fly-Girl after she joined the team.

I lost touch with Tavis once he moved to a new job, as is typical when it comes to work colleagues.  One day at work we received news that Tavis passed away and it just… broke our hearts.  We learned he took his own life and we just… couldn’t believe it.  He was always smiling.  He was always happy.  But he kept his pain hidden behind those smiles.  I miss Tavis.  I wish I could have known him better, I wish he were still here.  Seeing Zoo reminds me of him and I smile each time I draw him.


Finally, Fly-Girl’s real name, Red Reed, was inspired, again, by Marvel comics.  Of course, who knows what her real name is as she is an orphan, but she has always been Red Reed.  There’s no in-story reason as to why her name is Red Reed.  I like to think that the orphanage named her Red because of the color of her hair and couldn’t bother being more creative, but I don’t suppose it’s important.  ‘Red Reed’ is a nod to comics’ tradition of alliteration: Peter Parker, Lois Lane, and Reed Richards, the leader of the Fantastic Four.  I was on a huuuuge Kirby kick when Brian and I did the first Fly-Girl one-shot a million years ago.  Brian liked the name, and there we go.

It’s been a very fun four years.  Last week I finished coloring the last page of season five, the current story line.  Last night I finished writing and penciling pages 1 -5 of the sixth season.  I don’t see the series ending… ever, at this point and I am loving every panel of it.






















Out of the Woods

I am excited to be a guest at this year’s Fallcon in Saint Paul, MN.  The show is scheduled for Saturday, October 5th from 10am until 6pm.  This will be my first convention in almost two years.   I’ll have copies of Uptown Girl graphic novels and copies of the second volume of The Retros as well.  If you want a commissioned piece to pick up at the show, please let me know!

Other than that, I am plugging away at Norah Locke.  For a while I kept going back and forth about whether it was going to be three 200ish page books or one big book.  Ultimately I decided to go with one big book.  I thought it would be a lot of fun (and insane) to do a giant 500-600 page novel.  This is a massive undertaking but I am around… 75 pages into it.  I hope to be at 100 pages before the end of the year.  Traveling for work does allow plenty of dedicated time to work on it as I draw on the plane, at airports, at the hotel, restaurants…

Sometimes I think this book is too ambitions, not only in page count but also in terms of research.  I am doing a lot of field research, in a way.  Since the book takes place in White Bear Lake, where I live, I am using my town for reference.  Norah walks down the same streets I do, she gets ice cream where I take my kids, and lives in the woods by my home.  Although no one will probably notice (or care), I am taking photos to use as inspiration for the book.  For example, here’s a picture of a neat little bridge in the woods:


And here’s a scene from the book:

Norah 1


Forgive the sloppy word balloons, I haven’t gotten around to properly lettering it yet.  The drawing isn’t as detailed as the photo and I’ve taken some liberties, but the art is a lot more detailed than I originally set out it to be.  When I started to redraw this book on my iPad, I thought I would simplify the art a lot more.  I am a fan of James Kochalka and I really like his book ‘Elf Cat in Love’, which takes place in a forest.  I like his simple black and white line work, without much embellishment.

But I couldn’t nail it, so I stuck with the original style and look.

Norah 2

It did get a little boring drawing trees, but using photos as a reference helped inspire different things to add, such as the log and different types of trees.  Thankfully the part of the book I am drawing now has moved out of the woods and into a labyrinth of sorts.  I’m sure it will get boring drawing stone walls and hidden passageways soon enough, but for now it’s refreshing to draw something new.








Cover to Cover

A while ago, I put up early designs for the cover of ‘Big City Secrets’.  The cover is now done, hooray!  I drew the cover, but my friend Ben Mudek did the coloring and lettering and all the Photoshop stuff.  I took pictures of the creation of the cover and I thought I’d show them.

Uptown Girl was the first thing I drew.  Since she’s the title character, I had to make sure I got her right so I wanted to get her done before anything else.  I didn’t want to have to restart if she turned out weird.  Believe it or not, even though I’ve drawn her for almost ten years, I still make a lot of mistakes drawing her.

Then came the Walrus.

I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to put Ruby and Rocketman on the cover, I thought I’d just focus on Uptown Girl, the Walrus and Mr. Roboto, but I decided the cover needed them.  So, Ruby was next.

And then Rocketman.

And finally Mr. Roboto looming over everyone.

I roughed in the logo knowing Ben would use the real logo on it, but I wanted to make sure there was enough room.  I also added some buildings, hitting home the ‘big city’ idea.

And then it was done!

I sent it off to Ben so he could work his magic.  He sent back his first attempt.

This was done before the characters were done, and before the highlighting/shadowing and stuff was done.  I really liked how this was coming together.  A few days later, he sent on this revised version.

And here’s the final cover!

Pretty cool, huh?  It’s amazing what Ben was able to do with my simple drawing.

Ben also chronicled the steps he took in creating this amazing cover:

Incredible stuff.  I can’t wait till this is out and people can actually read it.

Ben also did an awesome job on the back cover, which is a homage to the great Will Eisner. I discovered ‘The Spirit‘ about ten years ago and I was really struck by this page:

So I thought it’d be fun to do my own version of it.  Here’s my final inked version:

And the final:


‘Big City Secrets’ will be released in May.

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

Cartoonists absorb a lot of what they see and often file it away in their brains and subconscious.  Sometimes this stuff inspires new ideas down the line, and my work on ‘Uptown Girl’ is no exception.  The looks of some of the characters are a combination of my own design as well as being drawn from many different inspirations.  I thought it’d be fun to reveal some of the secrets of Uptown Girl and her friends.

First let’s take a look at our hero, Uptown Girl herself.

Her perfectly round head and parted hair was inspired by Roger Hargreaves’s ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, of the ‘Mr. Men and Little Miss‘ book series.

Rocketman has pretty wild hair, as we can see here:

The way his wild orange hair juts out of his helmet and sticks out was inspired by Josh Cain, the guitarist for one of my favorite bands ‘Motion City Soundtrack‘.  When I was younger and a lot more fun I’d go see them play and Josh would usually wear a baseball cap and his hair would stick out from under it.  I don’t know why that had an impression on me but like I said, cartoonists absorb a lot.

Uptown Girl’s boss, Mean Mr. Mustard first appeared in issue 2 of the monthly series, but he only appeared as a voice.  After that, we never saw his face, only his arm.  Only seeing him from the back of his chair was something that was inspired by Dr. Claw of ‘Inspector Gadget’.

We finally got to see what he look liked in issue 75:

I never really knew what he looked like, but I would sketch out different designs off and on, and when I had nailed his final design, I realized that he looked a lot like Artie Valentine, a character in the book ‘Box Office Poison‘ by the awesome Alex Robinson.

The evil Mr. Roboto was inspired by a combination of two robots.

When I was designing him, I knew I wanted him to be slender and nimble as opposed to big and bulky.  Once his design was finalized, I thought he looked like a mash up of Rob Schrab’s Scud, the Disposable Assassin

…and Kerry Callen‘s Sprocket, from his series ‘Halo and Sprocket‘.

I probably could go on for hours about this kind of stuff, but I’ll leave at this for now.  If you’d like to see more posts about this let me know!

Supernatural Superserious

I wrapped up the monthly ‘Uptown Girl’ series about a year and half ago, and in the majority of the time since I’ve been working on the next ‘Uptown Girl’ book, a fast paced comic adventure called ‘Big City Secrets’.  But once in a while, I’d take a break from the book and bang out a short comic, anywhere from 1 to 40 pages for an anthology or an art show or something.  These shorter comics have been (hopefully) humorous and I had a lot of fun doing them.

So basically for the last almost two years I’ve been writing or drawing adventure, action or comedic stories starring Uptown Girl and her friends.

Action, supernatural, adventure and humor have played a big part in Uptown Girl’s comics for the past seven or so years, but stories with…heart, or serious, thoughtful stories have popped up from time to time as well.  When I write or draw a more contemplative tale it gives me a chance to sort things out in my head.  It’s been a very cathartic experience and I’ve been lucky to have characters that are pretty well rounded that I can put into a story about werewolves or a story about getting older.

The story I am working on now is a shorter story, it will probably end up being around 20 pages or so.  It’s called “Girl’s Room” and it’s sort of about growing apart from things that were once very important to us.

As I’ve been working on it, it’s reminded me a lot about another comic I did a few years ago that I refer to as ‘that R.E.M. comic’.  It was a comic that was done for a comics art show in 2007 (I think).  It’s one of my favorite comics I’ve done, mostly because the style I used to draw the issue is sort of a homage to comic legend Kevin Cannon.  Kevin’s work has influenced my own stuff for years, and when you see ‘Big City Secrets’ you’ll really see how much or an impact he’s had on me.

Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to post ‘that R.E.M. comic’.  This comic is also available in the fifth ‘Uptown Girl’ book “Inbetween Days”.

A couple things, Ruby’s comment in panel 2 on page 2 was written when George W. Bush was in office destroying diplomacy.  And despite what you might think from the story, I am a huge R.E.M. fan and I am looking forward to their next CD in March.

Hope you like the story!

Summer Turns to High

Yesterday was MIX, Minnesota’s first indie comic book convention, and man, was it fun.

It was also very hot.  Summer is still with us, despite my wishing it otherwise.

I got to the show early, around 8am or so.  I shared a table with Brian Bastian, who looks like he was still waking up.

I sat next to Paul Taylor, the cartoonists behind “Wapsi Square”.  I like Paul, he’s just a really nice guy.

And here’s Danno!

I didn’t have anything new to promote, so my set up was really boring.  I was selling ‘Uptown Girl’ trades and a few back issues.  The trades usually sell pretty good at conventions but the back issues barely move at all.  I don’t think I’ll be displaying them at future conventions anymore.

Anyway, the show started slow and really picked up as the day progressed.  It was really well run and it was in a really neat art gallery.  But it was hot.  I tried to draw but the heat and humidity made it kinda hard.  I brought along the story I’m currently working on but the humidity really affected the ink and my sweaty (gross) hand smudged the art.

I rarely buy anything at conventions these days but this time was a little different.  With so many cartoonists there that I liked I couldn’t help but buy some stuff.  The first thing I bought was a page of original art from Kevin Cannon’s book “Far Arden”.

I also bought the new book by Aaron Reiner called “The Unsinkable Walker Bean”.  His first book was “Spiral Bound” and is one of my favorite books.  Pick it up if you ever see it.  I met Aaron a few years ago at another convention so it was cool to see him again.  He did a sketch in his book.

I also met Jeremy Tinder who signed my copy of his book “Cry Yourself to Sleep”.

And I also met John Porcellino.  John was one of the first indie cartoonists I ever read.  His book “Perfect Example” really got me into indie comics and made me think I could do comics as well.

It was a really fun day.  Thanks to everyone who came and made the show a success!

MIXed Up

I used to do a lot of comic conventions.  I used to go to Iowa, Chicago, San Francisco and stuff for conventions.  Now I stick closer to home when it comes to shows because it allows me to follow my number one rule: Never Leave Minnesota.  Anyway, the conventions (Springcon and Fallcon) around here are very well run and are a really good mix between the indie crowd and the superhero fans, but this Saturday will be the first independent cartoonists convention in Minnesota.  Ever.  For reals.

It’s called MIX and it stands for Minneapolis Indie Xpo and is taking place at the Soapbox Factory in Northeast Minneapolis.  It’s going to be really fun, a few of my favorite cartoonists are going to be like Aaron Reiner, John Porcellino and Jeremy Tinder.  A lot of the cartoonists from the Cartoonists Conspiracy are going to be there as well.  I’ll be sitting with Brian Bastian who will be selling the first trade paperback of “Tommy Chicago” which was illustrated by Danno. 

More information can be found here:

The Magical Mystery Tour

I’ve always been fascinated by a cartoonist’s work space.  I love seeing what stuff they have there, how their drafting table is set up, the books on their shelves.  I was lucky enough years ago to visit the Charles Schulz museum and there was a replication of his studio.  It was pretty cool.

So I thought I’d throw some pictures up of what my studio looks like.  I’m lucky enough to have enough room in my house to have my own studio, but for various reasons I call it “the cave”.

This first picture is what my cave looks like when standing in the doorway.  It’s not a very large room, but it’s large enough.

This is the view when I sit at my table.  On the board there I usually have the page I am working on, or just finished.  The pages propped up are the previous few pages.  I refer to previous pages quite a lot so I make sure I get little details right for the sake of continuity.

Some tools to point out: on the left of the board I have various templates.  I use straight edges a lot but I also a lot of circle templates.  Where do you think Uptown Girl gets that perfectly round head?  There’s my iPod, my DSi and a couple books I refer to constantly: a dictionary and ‘Far Arden’ by Kevin Cannon.  He’s a hero of mine and I love what he does with textures.

On the right there’s various Micron pens (sizes 5 and 1, mostly).  Some cheap Flair pens, scissors and a glue stick (I am constantly replacing panels and cutting and pasting revisions right onto the page), Speedball ink, two different brushes, a white-out pen and other tools.

Right above my desk is this:

A couple lamps, some framed Kevin Cannon art (I told you he was a hero of mine), the artwork for the back of ‘Uptown Girl’ volume…3(?) and some little drawings of Uptown Girl dancing that I thought would be fun to animate…if I knew how to animate.

Drawing is such a solitary thing that I need to listen to something while I draw.  When I am tired of music I play a movie I’ve seen a thousand times or listen to commentaries on DVDs.

Yep, that’s Optimus Prime guarding my DVD player, alongside some little plaster statues and wooden heart my daughter Sophie painted for me.

To the left of my table is all this stuff:

All the stuff on the shelving thing on the right is all the artwork I’ve done over the past several years.  I have boxes and boxes of more artwork in the basement.   On top of the shelf thing are all the ‘Uptown Girl’ comics, collections and other stuff.  The shelf on the left is filled with books by Will Eisner and Jack Kirby.

Many cartoonists have a pretty extensive book collection, and here’s most of mine:

And that’s not everything.  There’s still boxes of stuff in the garage.   The shelf thing on the left side of the picture is where I have CDs, DVDs and DS games.

Above the shelves of books is more framed art.  Strangely enough I have only one piece of my own art hanging in my house.  Anyway, here’s some artwork by Kerry Callen (Halo and Sprocket) and Craig Thompson (Blankets, Goodbye, Chunky Rice, etc).  I met both of those guys years ago and I was lucky to get some original art by them.  Under the art are the books I am working on.  The big stack on the left is the completed ‘Big City Secrets’, all 264 pages waiting to be scanned.  To the right is what I have so far for the second original ‘Uptown Girl’ graphic novel.

And right next to that are a couple pages from ‘Batman’ by Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen from the “Under the Hood” storyline.  These two pages are the first pieces of original art I ever owned.  Right next to that is an original drawing by James Kochalka (American Elf, etc).

So…that’s my cave.  I’m lucky to have the space, and I’m lucky to have the books and the art that I crammed in there.