No Time to Think

Okay I need help with something.

I normally trust my instinct but this is something I can’t resolve.  Last year I wrote and drew a few sample pitches for a Retros newspaper comic strip.  I had a ton of fun doing this and I loved the restrictions of a traditional comic strip.  Most comic strips are 3 – 4 panels but I would cram up to 6 panels per strip.  I pushed it to the limit.


One of the reasons this was so fun it was a break from the traditional four square panel grid of a typical Retros page but still required me to work with some pretty set guidelines.

After four rounds of submissions, I eventually gave up.  It was a fun project and I’m disappointed it didn’t go anywhere.  The material was fun to do, and given the ever changing roster of the members of the team, these were stories that wouldn’t work within the the normal continuity of the webcomic.  I wanted to show off the work and I hate to see good stuff go to waste, so I had been thinking of a way to publish it.  I considered self-publishing it, but then I thought about reworking the material and shopping it to publishers as a graphic novel.  Once every publisher shoots it down, THEN I will self-publish it.

I kicked this idea around for a bit and I decided that the new year was a perfect excuse to work on this project.  By a twist of fate, I was also going on a work trip on January first and airplanes and hotels are a perfect time draw.  I draw with ink and paper at home, and on my iPad when I travel.  Bottles of ink and turbulence do not mix.  On this trip I reworked the first part of the original newspaper pitch (a total of 20 strips) and finished 8 pages of the new project.  I had a blast working on it.

After I got home, I compared the new pages to the original strips.  What I covered in 8 pages was the first 3 strips of the original version.  That wasn’t a surprise, I knew the new adaptation was fleshed out a little more since I wasn’t restricted to the traditional comic strip panel layout.  But pretty soon some doubt creeped in…

One of the fun parts about the comic strip version is that there is no paper to waste, no time to second guess, no time to think, every line, every panel has to count.  All killer, no filler, so to speak.  But the new version had some breathing room and it seemed to lose some momentum.  The new stuff was funny, but I am not sure if really adds anything to the story.  I mean, it does, but I feel the new stuff lacks the energy and the inertia that the original story had.  But then again, is the original material too rushed?

So.  I need your help.  Take a look at the original three strips below and compare them to the new stuff.  Please bear in mind a couple things:

-Even if the original stuff is better, I will still redraw the panels/pages to fit a traditional comics page instead of a comic strip format

-I didn’t do the lettering yet for the new stuff.  In a way, the dialogue isn’t important in this.  It all comes down to momentum and pacing.

Anyway, here’s the original stuff.  I apologize for the wonky formatting.




…and then new stuff:


Okay, thanks!


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.






















Popular Problems

Last year marked the 80th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in comic books.  Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Man of Steel that eventually graced the cover of Action Comics #1 was actually the third iteration of the character.  It was a challenge for the character to find his way into print, but after failing to get into the newspapers as a comic strip he landed a home in the relatively new form of media called comic books.

It was a dream come true for Superman’s creators, although I doubt that even in their wildest fantasies that he would still be around in the year 2019.

Fun fact, The Retros takes place in the year 2438, 500 years after Action Comics #1.

Creating characters can be exciting as their personalities, traits, powers, and supporting cast are developed.  As time passes and other writers and artists add their take on a character, it’s not uncommon for inconsistencies to pop up.  Whether they are oversights or changes that are made intentionally, discrepancies will appear.  I have nothing but sympathy for the editor, writer, or artist as they craft stories for a character that has existed for decades.  It’s not easy to honor their legacy and stay within the established status quo and boundaries (if you will) of the character.  It’s tempting to shake things up, such as revealing a character’s secret identity or undoing something (like a marriage) but making such a drastic change can be a risk.

Some changes stick, some don’t.  Some should, some shouldn’t.

For the most part, most of the major superheros are pretty much the same as they were when they first appeared in comics.  For good or for bad, I suppose.  Superhero comics, for me anyway, are comforting, I guess.  I like that Batman is pretty much the same as he’s always been.  Sure, there have been changes but he is fundamentally the same.  It’s jarring to pick up a comic you haven’t read for a while and not being able to recognize anyone in it.

Of course, there is also the common problem of making a comic accessible to new readers but at the same time make it rewarding to the long term reader.  When I worked at a comic shop there would be people looking to start reading X-Men because they liked the movie but it was intimidating to pick up a monthly comic that almost required reading three other titles with years of continuity and story development.


When I was creating Uptown Girl comics I made an effort to make very small changes to the status quo and to make every issue standalone, for the most part.  I wanted each issue to be a good introduction the characters and their world.  Sure, there were little nods and the like to longtime readers but nothing that I felt that was essential to enjoying the issue.

The Retros would be different.  When the series launched on November 16th, 2015 I wanted to create a sprawling epic that had the feel of when I started to read the X-Men when I was 14.  I loved that the X-Men had years of stories and mythology to catch up on.  I loved that the team changed members constantly.  I loved that anything could happen in the book.

Comics were, and always will be (for better of for worse) a world that required patience and effort from the reader.  If you didn’t know who a character was, or why something was significant, the comic would rarely hold your hand or bring you up to speed.  These days it’s easy to Google something, but when I was 14 I had to ask my friends who Havok was or why Crisis on Infinite Earths was significant.

Continuity is a double-edge sword.  On one hand, it’s fun to have a series with years (or even decades) of history.  On the other, it can prevent someone from jumping onto a new series.  I enjoy this history in books I have been reading for a very long time.  But it also keeps me from picking up a book that has been going for a while.  It’s hard to have it both ways.

As a creator, I am aware of how this can keep someone from trying or sticking with a series.  When people ask where they can read The Retros, I cringe a little because I know what is happening currently in the series.  It’s not too easy to jump into where as Uptown Girl was very accessible for new readers.

I try to make it easier for new readers by breaking up the series into “seasons” that can be found by following a link on The Retros website.  The collected editions help as well.

The Retros is now about to start it’s fifth year and I am happy that the series is more or less what I had wanted to create.  It’s a sprawling epic where stuff happens, the team changes members and things happen to the characters that have last effects.  Some stuff has been planned, others happened organically.  In the third season the team fought a demon and the fight left Alie with severe burns all over her skin.  She was scarred and still is.  I never really planned for this happen… it just… kind of did.  The fact she hasn’t healed shows that when stuff happens, it’s permanent.

Doing things that don’t go back to the status quo really pushes me out of my comfort zone, but I think that’s a good thing.

When I write, I will often throw out an offhand comment about… something and I rarely think about it afterwards.  Sometimes this can paint me into a corner, though.  Early on in The Retros the characters were talking about previous team members and Alie had mentioned how many previous team members The Retros have had.


When this line was written, I thought I would go back and tell stories about earlier incarnations of the team.  However, as the series progressed, the story veered into a different direction and it was determined that this number was too high.  As of this writing, I think Fly-Girl is the seventh person to join the team.  I think I tweaked this dialogue when this story was collected in a book.

It bugs me to see inconsistencies in what I write.  On one hand I could shrug it off and move on with my life, but when something clearly contradicts continuity, then I think it needs to be fixed, either by editing or through storytelling.

The example above demonstrates something called ‘laying pipe’, where something is sort of mentioned in a casual way but will lead to something bigger later on.  I do this often in The Retros, whether I know how it factors into something planned or just leaving the door open for something else.

Recently in The Retros we flashed back to when Alie and Katrina were dating and what led to their break up.  I can’t help but see parallels between being a superhero and being dedicated to one’s job.  Sometimes duty and responsibility can impact a relationship.  Alie loves/loved Katrina, but she has an obligation to the team.


This was foreshadowed years ago at the end of the first season.


When I wrote this page, I thought it would be interesting to explore the personal life and relationships of the characters.  This page showed Alie’s commitment to the team, even if it meant losing someone she loved.  This is an example of laying pipe, but I had no idea who Alie was talking to.  I left the door open to telling this story, but I didn’t know what the story was.

I don’t recall at what point I realized the Alie and Katrina used to be a couple, but it happened naturally as I was writing the second season.  Alie and Katrina ran into each other and there was clearly some tension.  The tension was not intentional, it just… happened.  It didn’t take too long to figure out where that tension came from.


I have forgotten how… almost vicious this scene was.  I think Katrina was originally meant to be a little scatterbrained or something?  Of all the characters in the comic she is the one who has changed the most.  These days she is one of my favorites to write.

Sometimes an offhand comment is just meant to be an offhand comment and I don’t plan on revisiting it.  I don’t reread my work too often.  I probably should to avoid contradictions and inconsistencies in the series, but I am usually too focused on what is happening next rather than looking back.

Early on in the first season, Lucky and Sputnik were talking to Fly-Girl about the team.  This little exchange was mean to be a casual conversation about something most people would think was pretty horrible.  I wanted to show that terrible things can happen to people who risk their lives for the world and for those in the line of duty, so to speak, they have become a little numb to it.  Gallows humor, I think it’s called.


But when I reread this page it came across too harsh.  I wasn’t comfortable with it.  It made Lucky and Sputnik too uncaring.  It seemed callous and insensitive.  So, I wanted to address it, but the problem was how to fix it.  Who lost their head?  I decided it clearly could not be someone human, it couldn’t be someone alive.  That left only a handful of options.  I thought about a robot, but I wanted to do something different.  If I couldn’t use someone living, what about someone who wasn’t alive?


So, that’s how Zom-B ended up becoming a Retro.  This is an example of a problematic moment, in this case an offhand comment leading to a solution that I think fixes the issue in a fun and surprising way.  I doubt anyone remembers this moment from all those years ago, but this is what I mean by rewarding a long time reader but not alienating a newer one.


The members of the team are inspired by trends in comics over the years.  Skull Phantom is a nod to the ultra-violent/psychopathic characters from the 1990’s, for example.


Zom-B is a wink to zombie/horror comics such as The Walking Dead or I, Zombie.  The challenge was coming up with a reason why Alie thought a zombie would be a good addition to the team so I hope I came up with interesting abilities for him.

The fun of cartooning is being surprised by what I am doing.  By keeping the writing spontaneous and organic I see stories go in different directions than I planned.  For example, in the current story arc Alie is headed to a different planet with Sybexa and Sputnik.  Originally Lucky was going to go with and leave Sybexa in command of the team.  But before I knew it Katrina became not only became a Retro, but the leader as well while Sybexa and Sputnik are off for an adventure.

Again, doing stuff that is different than what was planned can often lead to problems down the line, but sometimes the problems are fun to fix.

Okay bye.






Make the Jump

Our life is a lot different these days.  We’ve had two major life events in the last few months that have required us to adapt and change.  As things settle down and we adjust to new routines and reality in the big ways, we also find little things that we need to tweak as well.

As a cartoonist I make sure I have time to draw.  Drawing The Retros and updating the website five times a week demands that I draw all the time if I want to stay on schedule.  This requires that I draw in the parent waiting area while I take Sophie to dance class.  I lug my drawing stuff to the school where she practices, I draw, then lug it back home.  Of course, I’m making it sound like I am moving a grand piano across country, but I think you get the point.  Here’s what my set up looks like:


I have my templates, my paper, pens, pencils and everything I need to draw.  After dance I scan in the art, clean it up in Photoshop, and over the next few mornings before work I color and letter.

I do this every week.

I love drawing ‘The Retros’ but I do want to work on other projects.  I got the idea for a new graphic novel called ‘Norah Locke and the Underground Kingdom’ a while ago and… I am not making a lot of progress on it.  I love working on it and it’s a lot of fun, but doing a webcomic that updates on a consistent schedule makes other projects challenging.

When I got my new job that required me to travel, I wondered how that would impact my art.  I have brought my gear on vacation and business trips before, but as I sit on airplanes or waiting for flights or dining alone I can’t help think that I could be drawing.

Now, I COULD set up my drawing stuff on a plane but it’s just not feasible.  Turbulence, for one, but all the stuff in the photo above will not fit on the seat trays.  So, just like the big events require significant life changes, I also need to make changes in how, when, and where I draw.

So, I bit the bullet and bought an iPencil so I could draw on my iPad while traveling.  This must be what Bob Dylan felt like when he switched to an electric guitar.

I resisted moving to digital for a while.  I loved what I saw other cartoonists were creating.  I really liked being able to skip erasing and scanning.  I was excited to learn new techniques.  However, it wasn’t easy.  I started with Procreate and I found it too cumbersome and wasn’t intuitive.   Other artists may pick up on this stuff much more easily than I did, but I struggled.

Of course, I think drawing programs peaked with MarioPaint, so I don’t think my opinion or experience carries much weight.

Zander Cannon uses Clip Studio so I thought I’d give that a spin.  Boy, am I glad I did.  I found it has a lot in common with Photoshop and although I think Photoshop is a little tricky (again, MarioPaint) but I’m familiar with it.  It wasn’t that much of a learning curve especially for my pretty simple art.   I don’t mess around a lot with layers or anything too crazy.  I just want a magic Etch-A-Sketch I can draw on while I am waiting for my flight.

I really love drawing digitally.  The ease of tweaking something, reworking a panel and laying out a page is amazing.

Alex Robinson is one of my favorite cartoonists who also made the jump recently and tweeted about his experience:

After a month of drawing on my iPad I’m already finding it hard to go back to paper & ink. It feels like when you step off the moving walkway at the airport and you suddenly are in slow motion

He’s absolutely right.

I still will draw ‘The Retros’ on paper but ‘Norah’ is all digital.  I got 51 pages into it before and I am about 20 pages into the redrawing.   I was afraid the difference between pen/paper and digital would look too different but I am pretty happy with how it looks.

Here’s a page I drew on paper:


And the same scene digitally (I still need to letter it properly) :


To be honest, I don’t see much difference.  And that’s exactly what I was going for.  A part of me wonders why I am using a digital program to create art that is not that different than what I can create on paper, but the reason I made the jump is so I can actually finish the book.  Drawing in hotels and airports will help me with that.  On my last trip I was able to redraw 11 pages in five days.  The book is about two years away, I think.  And even that’s ambitious because I am aiming for about 500 pages with this story.

I never know how to finish these blog posts so I am just going to say see you later.





And when they say
That you’re not good enough
Well the answer is
You’re not
But who are they
Or what is it
That eats at what you’ve got
With the hunger of ambition
For the change inside the purse
They are handcuffs on the soul, my friends
Handcuffs on the soul
And worse
-Paul Simon
I have been told ‘no’ a lot over the past year.  ‘No’ can mean a lot of things and what it means to you kind of depends on your perspective.  Sometimes it means you’re not good enough, not a good fit for the project or someone better came along.
There’s always someone better.  Which is kind of cool.  I like discovering a new cartoonist and being blown away or inspired by what they do.  It challenges me to do better.  You can’t let yourself be destroyed by the criticism, by the rejection, which is hard because so often these things do kill.  At least for a while.
Over the last year I submitted ‘The Retros’ to comic strip syndicates.  I ended up sending three different submission packets (and I am preparing a fourth) and was either met with a no or with nothing.
I also spent most of last year sending ‘Bear and Rabbit’ to literary agents and publishers.  I sent this project to close to 200 people.  There was some interest, a few promising emails but never found the elusive ‘yes’.
I was laid off in January and was lucky to find a new a few weeks ago.  I sent out dozens of resumes and had a lot of interviews before I found a yes.
It’s exhausting and emotionally draining sometimes to hear so no so many times.  Sometimes it got me down, sometimes it didn’t.  Sometimes it pushed me.  Sometimes it was a wake up call to up my game.
Please know that I am not bitter or angry or feeling sorry for myself or frustrated about any of this.  It feels like these rejections happened to someone else.  I feel like a different person than I was four months ago.
Life is very different than it was four months ago.  My wife is adjusting to life after her heart attack and there are many small and big changes as a result of that.  Brushes with death can do that to a family.  It might sound I am being flip but I’m not.  I went from commuting to an office to working from home and traveling for my job occasionally which is a change to the day-to-day and my routine.  Waiting in airports to board a flight for work is not something I am used to.
It feels like life was rebooted.
When a lot of things change, it forces you to have a new perspective.  Your feelings towards things change and everything that happened before these changes feel like a lifetime ago.
If I was stung by any criticism or rejection I have long shaken it off.  As always, I am looking to what is next.  It’s also time to move from trying to get published to creating more things so I have something new to submit to publishers.

So, what is next?

First off is the long-awaited second collection of ‘The Retros’.  Like the first collection, this will be funded by a Kickstarter which launches tomorrow.  Links to the book will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, both found on the Retros website.

Here’s the cover, once again put together and colored by my friend Ben Mudek:
Retros Book 2 Final Front Cover
I plan on having the third book out this fall.
Like the first Kickstarter, the book will be printed regardless of the Kickstarter success, this is just a way to pre-order it.
Unfortunately I will not be at MSP ComicCon this May.  I will be traveling for work that weekend and it kills me to miss the show.  So, if you want this book, please consider reserving a copy though the Kickstarter.
Traveling for work does cause disruptions to life.  Time away from family, from friends, and from my routines.  Life is about adapting and change.  This change will require me to be more mobile in a few ways and one of those ways I need to adapt is how and where I draw and create.
More on that next time.

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.




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.

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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







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?



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.







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:

15 color


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.

65 color


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.

103 color.jpg

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:

47 color.jpg

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

108 color

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.