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

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

-J.R.R. Tolkien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 color

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

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

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

0 cover

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

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

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


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

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


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

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







Finally Hit Me

Well, I think it’s finally sunk in.  Uptown Girl’s adventures are over.

thumbnail_photo 2

When I finished the last book in February, I felt the same way that I felt whenever I finished a book.  Relieved, happy, proud and a little worn out.  Finishing ‘The Lazarus Heart’ didn’t have the emotional oomph of the conclusion of the series on top of it.  I prepped the book for printing with getting it proofread and made the corrections, brought it to the printer and then picked up the proof.

Paging through the proof was when it hit me.  About two months passed between drawing the final page and seeing the proof in my hand.  It’s not uncommon for me to take a little time off after finishing a book but I always would return to the world I left.  But with this, there was no going back.  Then I got depressed.

I am keeping myself busy with other artwork and I will be announcing the next project in the next couple of weeks, but it is very melancholy to feel the elation of having another book finished mixed with knowing I am not going back.

I am also feeling a little bewildered and stunned that the book itself is finished when a few months ago I never thought it would be completed.

After I picked up the book from the printer I put a copy on the shelf next to the others and just looked at them for a while.  Not counting the monthly series, this was the result of years of work, countless panels, hundreds of pens, over a thousand pieces of bristol board and an ocean of ink.

thumbnail_photo 1

Thank you to everyone who patiently waited for this book.  I am excited for you to read it when it goes on sale in 2 weeks at MSP ComicCon.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Although I finished the last page of Uptown Girl about six weeks ago, I don’t feel like it’s all over.  In the weeks since I’ve been prepping the book for printing.  This was a bit of a scramble as I needed to have the book back from the printer in early May in order for it to be ready for MSP ComicCon on May 20th and 21st.  The prep work is a group effort in reality.  I count on my friends for this.  I have been working with two really excellent proofreaders, Kristin and Antony, for the past few books and of course my friend Ben who has taken my drawings and turned them into beautiful covers.  I am very lucky to have such excellent friends with these talents.  They make my work better and I cannot possibly thank them enough.

After I finished the book, I sent the cover to Ben.  The cover took about five tries to get right.  It was hard to come up with an idea that really represented the feel of the book yet didn’t give away too much.  Normally I would post the earlier versions but I still think they are too spoilery.  I sent the cover to Ben and received the final version a week or so ago.  As usual, a expected, Ben did an amazing job.  Even after years of collaborating he never fails to make my jaw drop.  Gaze upon his work:


The idea here was to add stuff that would make people wonder what the heck is going on.  What’s with Rocketman’s helmet?  Who is that dashing photographer?  How does the mayor from the second book tie into this?  What is up with that fish?  What does the Walrus have to do with this story?  And why are all the main characters separated from each other..?

The final few pages of Uptown Girl – A Longforgotten Fairytale may provide some clues.

I love this cover and I am amazed at what Ben did with the original drawing:


While Ben worked his magic, I printed off the book and sent to Kristin and Antony.  This was nerve-wracking, to be honest.  I had worked on this story for over two years and now someone was going to have to read it.  Not only did I have the pressure of doing a good book, I also had the pressure of creating a satisfying end to 13 years of Uptown Girl’s adventures.  I was encouraged and relieved by Kristin’s initial feedback:

That was amazing! Thank you for taking us along for the ride. Love the ending so much.

Thank God.  The final scene and the conversation had there was really written about three years ago.  I was determined to use it and I as pleased that it was still appropriate for the story.

I soon received a fat packet in the mail with countless Post-It Notes pointing out typos, missing words and needed Oxford commas.  I got to work correcting these errors.  Any misspellings and grammatical errors are mine and mine alone as I may have missed a correction.  I printed off a second copy of the book with the corrections, double checked all the pages were in the right order and delivered it to the printer.  I should have the proof this week.  I’ll review this weekend and make revisions as needed and then approve the proof.  A week or so after the proof is approved, the final book will be ready.

I think when the book is placed on my shelf next to the others will be when I have that sense of finality.  There will be nothing more that needs to be done.  No typos to fix, no panels to redraw, no new stories to tell.

I’m not ready to say a final goodbye quite yet.  I’m sure once the book is next to the others on the shelf I’ll blog a little retrospective and look back on the years but I’m not ready to do that quite yet.

Where Do I Begin?

So I’ve been pretty quiet on here since I wrapped up Uptown Girl a few weeks ago.  There’s still some stuff that needs to be done, but the book is being proofread and the cover is wrapping up nicely.  I will bring the book to the printer hopefully this week and have it ready to go in time for MSP ComicCon in May.

I wrote how weird it was, and how weird I felt when I finished the book a few weeks back.  The first time I went to draw after completing the book was also weird.  I put my daughter to bed, went to my studio, sat down and…did nothing.  I didn’t want to jump into a big project, or an ongoing project for a few months and wanted to spend some time just…drawing, doing whatever and playing at my desk.  But that first night I sat there for about ten minutes just…staring at my desk.

What it comes down to is I didn’t have a plan about what to do once Uptown Girl was finished, and that was intentional.  But for the first time in over a dozen years, I didn’t have anything to work on.  Nothing that HAD to be done.  And it felt weird.  It was a little sad.  I felt a little lost.  Who am I now that I am not the Uptown Girl guy, as so many people have called me?

I knew that I would be embarking on new projects, new things to define who I am as a cartoonist and I was/am excited about that, but moving away from something that defined me for so long was…well, also weird, I suppose.  I suppose it’s not unlike a musician quitting a band to go solo.  It’s exciting, but you are also starting from the ground up, but with more experience than when you joined the band initially.

Am I the Retros guy now?  Mmm…not quite.  I’ve been doing the Retros for a almost a year and a half now and I can’t say if The Retros is as well known as Uptown Girl was after the same period of time.  But it’s not really possible to compare.  When Uptown Girl was around a year and a half old, this was before Twitter and Facebook and it was all in print.  I sold comics in stores and at conventions so it was easy to gauge her popularity, but The Retros is all online, so it’s hard to tell.  I suppose I could look at followers on social media as a measuring stick.  I currently have 119 followers on Twitter and 117 with Facebook.  Not exactly lighting the world on fire, but then again, I haven’t promoted The Retros as much as I had Uptown Girl back in the day.  I miss the optimism and enthusiasm that I had back then.  But I always planned on holding off on really promoting The Retros until Uptown Girl was done, lest I was consumed by it.

So now what?  What’s next?  Where do I start?  I’m kind of going through a lot right now, to be honest, and some of it is related to this rebirth of sorts as a cartoonist and deciding on a path, and some of it is general…well, I am not sure if it’s depression or what, but I’ve been feeling discouraged and hopeless on a few levels.  Nothing serious of course and it will pass, but I think I need a project to work on.  I know I am happy when I am working, especially when it’s something that has a definitive start and a definitive end.  I will always have The Retros but that is an ongoing project.  I am still painting everyday and building a portfolio to (hopefully) send to prospective publishers or art agents and this is also ongoing, in a sense.  It will take some time before I feel I have enough samples to show.  But I need something to start and something to finish.  You know, like a book.  I thought I’d be happy to not have anything to work on for a while and you know, playing a video game for a bit, but I’m happy when I am working.  I like projects, I like to start and finish things.

So, although they it is too early to announce formally, I am in the early stages of two projects.  Both very different, and both are collaborations.  I am a little exhausted when it comes to writing at the moment so I am pleased I am working with two talented writers.  Who knows what these projects will become, or if they will go anywhere, but I need to work on something.  Work makes me happy, especially when the work is so much like play.  I am excited about these projects and here’s a peek at what I am doing.  I am looking forward to talking about these in greater detail soon-ish, but for now, I am happy to show off this art.


3.16 cecilia

I like both of these pieces a lot, and I like working on two very different things right now.  I am excited to start the work on both of these projects in earnest.  Work makes me happy and I think it will help snap me out of this funk I’m in right now.

Something Weird I Wrote Whilst Feeling Weird

After almost 13 years and almost 4000 pages, I have finished writing and drawing Uptown Girl.


It feels as weird as I thought it would.

After I finished the penultimate scene a few weeks ago, I knew I would need an epilogue with some exposition, a short flashback and the final scene.  As I worked on those parts, my progress slowed down incredibly.  It’s not that I didn’t want to finish, I just…thought hard and heavy about the scenes and the dialogue and the tone.  It had to be perfect, of course.  Perfection is not something to necessarily shoot for, but getting something just right is.  Everything had to be just right.

Last week the characters I needed for the final scene were all where I needed them to be and the scene was going to take place where I envisioned over two years ago.  This scene would be short, more than two pages, but less than five.  It had to reflect on the adventure itself, a little tip of the hat to the end of the series, a little humor and optimism.  I decided a few days ago I would need three pages for this.  Each page had to do something a little different but still flow.  I knew on Friday that this was the weekend to finish.

Like I said earlier, I wasn’t putting off writing the final pages, I just needed to be sure of what I wanted to say.

I took Sophie swimming yesterday, we had lunch as a family, Amy took Ryan to work and while my daughter was drawing, I knew it was time.  I was as ready as I thought I could be.  I didn’t know exactly what the characters would say, but I knew they would tell me.  You see, it sounds weird, but when you’ve written your characters for a while, you never have to think about what they’ll say.  The words and dialogue just come.    I sat down in my dining room and 45 minutes later, I was finished.  Amy came home, asked what I was doing and I told her that it had finally happened, the final page was drawn.

At first it felt like simply finishing another book.  Amy and I took Sophie to Target and out to dinner, I scanned and lettered the final pages, read Sophie her bedtime stories and went into my studio and for the first time in over a decade, I didn’t have anything else to do for Uptown Girl.  No new page to pencil, no new story to begin.

There’s still stuff that needs to be done, of course.  Ben Mudek, the wizard behind the previous Uptown Girl book covers is working on this cover, I will print off a copy of the book and send it to my friends to proofread, and then it goes to the printer.  I imagine once the book is back from the printer and I have it on my shelf, then it will truly feel finished.

It felt…weird yesterday, a different kind of weird last night, a different kind of weird this morning and I imagine there will more moments of different weirdness for a while.

More reflections and weird thoughts to come over the next few months, I’m sure.




As the End Draws Near

‘Uptown Girl – The Lazarus Heart’ is about ten pages (or so) from wrapping up.  The conflict is over, life is returning to normal, rifts are being mended, dust is settling and their world is going to be funny again.

The end of Uptown Girl has never really hit me as I have been focusing on this individual story and on the pages I’ve been working on at the time.  I don’t get into a page thinking of the series as a whole, but rather what the current story needs.  It still hasn’t hit me and I don’t think it will until the first time I sit down at my table after finishing the book and realize that drawing her adventures are over and there’s nothing more to write for her.

I’ve never ended a series before so I don’t have any experience in terms of the right way to do it.  Some things end perfectly, some are disappointing and some can’t end any other way than they do.  I’ve completed a few books and many stories and I like how some end, and others I know I should have done differently.  I had a hard time wrapping up ‘The Long-Forgotten Fairy Tale’ and I knew early on it wasn’t going to be easy.  I never worried about it though.  I approach some things in life in a ‘we’ll figure it out when we get there’ attitude and I pass the the same line of thinking onto my characters.  For this story, I knew how the book would end from the start, but the middle has been all over the map.  Like ‘…Fairy Tale’, the characters get into a, well, let’s call it a jam, and real life needs to return.  When ‘…Fairy Tale’ ended, Uptown Girl, Ruby and Rocketman were stranded in the middle of nowhere and needed to return to Minneapolis.  I could have written and drawn them trudging back to their car through the forest I was really tired of drawing, but it didn’t add to the story and not only would it be boring to write and draw, it’d be boring to the reader.  Instead, I had the characters recap how they got back home through a conversation between Uptown Girl and her boss.  This is known as…


‘The Lazarus Heart’ isn’t much different.  There is a lot of resolution (and some suspension of belief, to be honest) that needs to happen and it could have been ten pages of conversation but it would take away all the emotional impact that the scene had.  I had gotten to the end of the story and I had known how the conflict would end, I knew how the final pages would go, but the little bridge between the resolution and the last pages was a little unclear.

I knew the scene that I had to do write and draw next needed to accomplish a lot and I needed to do it right.  I had considered Uptown Girl and Mr. Mustard having another chat, but not only did I do that already in’…Fairy Tale’, it didn’t feel right.  I stared at the page I had drawn and wondered what was next.


I think of my characters as very real and I try to write them realistically in terms of what they might need.  Ruby gets put through the wringer in this tale.  It starts early and gets worse.  I asked myself that if I were Ruby, what would I need or want after this was all over?  Sometimes we tell ourselves we need a drink or we need a vacation or we need something else.  I realized what Ruby needed and I gave it to her…and luckily it gave me a new way to resolve the lingering plot threads and explain how things settled.  It’s also one of the more emotionally and very real moments of the entire Uptown Girl series.

It’s safe to say I’ve been busy with a lot of life things since I started this book and I worried that things like job hunting, finishing my degree, launching The Retros and life itself would take away from this adventure.  However, as the end draws near I feel the book and the series is coming together in a fitting, appropriate way.


Too Many Feelings at the Same Time


Let’s have a chat about feelings.

Emotions are all over Uptown Girl ‘The Lazarus Heart’.  The characters (and not just the main three) are all having feelings of betrayal, loss, jealousy, love, confusion, angry and sadness.  I probably missed a few, as well.

If you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while, you know that I put a lot of myself in the books.  The three main characters reflect parts of me.  Rocketman is the impulsive, never-thinking-things-out part of my personality, Ruby is the cynical, sarcastic side, and Uptown Girl is the more even keel, reasonable part of my life.  Often I wrestle with these sides throughout the day so it’s cathartic to work things out that I think about in my comics.  Doing this has helped me become very attached to my characters and I think my love and respect for them shows through in stories.  This attachment made it very difficult to make the decision to end the series but in the end, I think readers need to know the writer loves the characters too.  I fully understand why J.K. Rowling got very emotional when she killed off characters in the Harry Potter books.

As the book reaches the end, tensions are high, feelings are at their most intense and things are coming to a head before their ultimate resolution.  Some of the characters are acting selfishly, some are hurting others, and some, well some are just furious like our friend Ruby up there.

Ruby gets angry in this book.  She is dealing with a lot in this book and something puts her over the edge.  The something is a very big thing, but her anger has been bottling up for a while and she just…rips into someone.  The character she is furious with just…backs down.  Truly sorry, the character is moved to tears and shows a vulnerable side to them we haven’t see in…well, ever.

It’s almost…painful to write my characters like this.  Every character means every word they say, for good and for bad.  Lately the book is taking a lot out of me and it’s been hard to go back each night and write more.  Two characters got into a fight a while ago and it was challenging to keep going and keep writing that scene.  These days I finish a page and I am emotionally exhausted.  I know it might sound kind of stupid but I think we’ve all emotionally connected to a fictional character and they become very real to us.  Getting emotionally connected to a character that you’ve created and that you write is all of those emotions plus more.

I look forward to wrapping up the book for many reasons.  One reason has to do with the normal stress or writing a book and hoping that you wrote a good story and that it makes sense with no plot holes.  The stress of drawing the book is also part of it.  I have…concerns that the book is not as well drawn as I hoped it would be, but since the book is very emotionally driven and filled with drama, I think the art might be all right after all.  But the main reason is that I am looking forward to resolving a lot of the issues the characters have with each other right now.  I look forward to writing the scenes where they can hug it out.

A Whole New You

I am wrapping up the first Retros story line soon.  I just scanned in page 230 the other day and page 206 is getting posted tomorrow.  I wanted the first story line to wrap up at 240 pages and I think it’ll work out.  If I did my math right (which is entirely possible I didn’t) , the 240th page should post in mid-November, roughly a year after the series started.

I’ve been working on the Retros for a long time.  Like…8 years now.  The team (both creative and the series itself) has gone through a few changes, but I am amazed that I’ve stuck with it for so long and the first book is almost done.  I haven’t finished anything that wasn’t Uptown Girl in…well, over ten years.

Uptown Girl has been my primary creative project, and part of my life and pat of me for a long, long time.  As the series gets closer to ending, I am realizing how weird life will be when it ends, and how much Uptown Girl has been a part of my life for so long.  Over the years people would refer to me as ‘The Uptown Girl Guy’.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s good that people knew who she was.  I suppose soon I’ll be ‘The Retros Guy’.  There are worse things to be.  I’ll be a new me, I guess.  Uptown Girl was never the well known, popular series I had hoped it would be, but it was nice knowing that people were familiar with her.  I can only hope The Retros has the success she had.  In the end, sure, it would have been nice if Uptown Girl had been a little more famous but knowing that people read her adventures, care about her and are sad that the series is ending tells me that people do love her and can a cartoonist ask for more?

The Retros will be collected in book form, along with the one-shots I’ve done over the last year sometime next year.  The book, which doesn’t have a title yet (suggestions would be appreciated) will either be out in the spring or fall of 2017.  IF the last Uptown Girl isn’t done by the first of March, I’ll put out the Retros.  If Uptown Girl stays on track, then the Retros will get bumped to the fall.  I want the Uptown Girl book out in May and finishing by March 1st will give me time to have it proofread, edited and the cover completed.  Wrapping up after March 1st is pushing it.

Uptown Girl SHOULD stay on schedule.  I just finished page 182 last night, wrapping up an action scene that spanned over 20 pages.  Spoiler alert, a character died, making this the second death in the book.  I think I’ll be able to wrap up the bulk of the story this year and spend a few weeks next year on a few pages I need to go back and add in.  Barring any major setbacks and if I get the story done by March 1st, I fully expect the book be out in May of next year.

The good news is that I can see how I can wrap this book in about 40-50 pages.  The concern for a while was all about timing and how many pages I could complete by my deadline of March 1st but the story itself is all coming together.  Bad guys are going down, alliances are being formed, hatchets will soon be buried but there are broken hearts, betrayals and reunions still to come.  Here’s an edited page 182:


I can see how things will end and although the story itself is turning out differently than I had expected it, the epic-ness and the drama are holding up.  I wanted some big character moments for Uptown Girl, Ruby and Rocketman and they each are going through some big things.  I wanted to see what would happen if they had to face challenges and life events but not necessarily be able to go through them with help from others.  Usually in Uptown Girl stories one of the characters goes through something and the others are helping them but in this story everyone has something big happening and are pretty wrapped up in their own lives.  I suppose in a way, this is a story about not taking people in your life for granted.  It’s about not knowing what you have until it’s gone.

It’s about the power of friendship.

And I suppose that’s been the theme of Uptown Girl as a whole for the last thirteen years.

Flying Solo

As Uptown Girl nears the end, I can’t help but think about what my world will be like after I’ve drawn, inked, scanned and lettered the last page.  I can only imagine how weird it’s going to be to sit down at my desk and for the first time time in over 12 years, not work on an Uptown Girl story.  Sure, I’m excited about other projects, but I can’t even think about what an Uptown Girl-less world will be like.

As ‘The Lazarus Heart’ heads towards the end (up to page 169 as of this morning), it’s time to start the early stages of what I will do next.  In deciding what I wanted to, I felt like I had a lot of different options and it was exciting but instead of thinking of what I wanted to work on, I shifted my thought process to HOW I wanted to work.  I knew right away I did not want to do another series or even another graphic novel, especially a graphic novel that could turn into a series.  That seems to be an issue with me.  I can create a character and soon I have ideas for four different books for them and I want to do all of them.  That happened with The Retros, actually.  I have the next 5 years/storylines planned out and I am excited to do them.  And I will!  Once I think of what I want to do with a character/cast, I am determined to see it all the way through.

Actually, this is what happened with Uptown Girl.  After  I started the first Uptown Girl graphic novel, I thought about what kind of stories I wanted to do.  I eventually mapped out the next few books and the story for ‘The Lazarus Heart’ was always part of the plan.  I wasn’t going to think about what happened after ‘The Lazarus Heart’ until I was working on it as the planned books seemed like enough to do.  It just turned out to be a perfect place to walk away.  Perhaps if I decided what the next book would be all those years ago, I’d be continuing the series.  Of course, this is not to say that the Retros will end in five years.  There’s a lot I want to do with those guys.

Anyway, I decided on how I was going to work.  Besides not jumping into another huge project, I knew I wanted to collaborate with other talented, creative people.  I also wanted to not write anything too big and to focus on drawing.  I knew whatever I would do, it would be a logical and fun step towards making a living off my art (it’s a long shot but that’s okay).  I think I’ve all but set aside any plan to write and draw a children’s book for now.  I have a few ideas for them but I am not a writer.  The ideas I have for picture books seem too…weak and boring.  I know I can and do draw better than what I typically post online, so my strength is art and it’s probably a good idea to let someone else write and I can stick to the illustrations.

I have, after months of thinking about it, decided on three projects that I will be taking on once Uptown Girl has walked off into the sunset.  Two of them are collaborations and I’ll be talking about those projects soon, but the third is a solo thing.  The solo project is a Fly-Girl comic strip.  Fly-Girl is the newest member of my webcomic, The Retros.  I know I said I didn’t want to write anything or start a new series but this is not going to be an ongoing thing, at least not to start.  Fly-Girl was created by my friend Brian Bastian and I about ten years ago.  In our minds, we always had her world established and her character and personality pretty much set.  Once we put her into the future and she joined The Retros, she left a lot of that behind.  I knew I wanted to do more with her, but as a member of a team, I know I can’t focus on her too much but I do want to write about her more.  The idea of the comic strip is to focus on her adventures before she was transported to the year 2438.  I can avoid any continuity issues and readers do not have to read both series to follow her adventures solo or as part of the team.  This is going to give me a chance to do stories about her in high school, crappy part-time jobs and all that.  A chance to tell stories about the girl behind the mask.  Stuff that doesn’t seem to fit in the action packed adventures of The Retros.


However, this is not going to be an on going series by any means.  Unless I get really, really lucky.  No, the plan for a post-Uptown Girl world is to work on stuff where I can submit to publishers and agents in an effort to make a living off my art.  What I plan on doing with Fly-Girl is to create a solid submission package to shop to different newspaper comic strip syndicates.  I’ve never been rejected by one of those before, so it’ll be a new thing for me.  Most syndicates want to see about 24-30 strips so get a feel for the art and the characters.  My plan is do enough daily strips and shop them to publishers.  If I get lucky and get picked up, then it will be an ongoing thing, but the way I see it, this is a project that will maybe take 2-3 months to create 24-30 really solid daily strips and spend the next months sending them out and waiting for rejection letters.

Despite expecting rejection letters, I am actually very excited and optimistic about this.  I feel that after over 200 Retros strips I’ve really nailed the timing a four panel strip requires.  Also working in a pretty small panel size has really pushed me to making the most of that space and laying out my art.  But my writing is where I feel the most confident.  I think I can do a really acceptable job of telling a larger story one four panel sequence at a time.  The Fly-Girl comic strip will be an adventure comic with a bigger focus on humor than The Retros.  I know The Retros is funny at times (at least I hope it is) but this will be even more so.

I am inspired by older adventure strips from the 30’s and 40’s, but also the Spider-Man comic strip that John Romita Sr. did in the late 70’s.  Of course, newspapers don’t seem to do a lot of adventure strips these days unless it’s something that has been running for decades like Mark Trail and Mary Worth so perhaps this isn’t the best idea to work on, but I am going to have a lot of fun with it and I am hoping that someone will give it a chance.

I will be blogging about the creation and progress of the strip once I start working on it.  I will be posting the pages as I finish them and if in the end I fail to get a publisher I will then print the strips so people can read them if they want.  I am excited about this and I have the storyline planned out already.  Here’s a really rough sketch of the first strip:


The guys robbing the bank are a nod to how the first Uptown Girl graphic novel started where The Walrus stops a bank heist.  I thought it was a fun little Easter egg.

Anyway, more to come on this and the other two projects soon.  For now, it’s on to page 170.

Hollow Man

Cartoonists are not famous for their happiness.  I have a quote by Charles Schulz pinned above my drawing desk that reads “Cartooning will destroy you, it will break your heart.”  God only knows why I’ve had that staring at me for so many years, but still it remains.  I think many of us wrestle with the cycle of wanting to be better, trying to be better and not getting better and then getting a little better and then always trying to be better and not always able to be better and then getting depressed about not being better especially when we know we could be better but we’re not.  I think that pretty much sums up my inner voice for the last few years.

But I have been getting better.  Not necessarily as a cartoonist, but better as a person.  The last few months have been important as I feel I’ve gotten over a few things and moved on from others.  These revelations, if you want to call them that have made me a better person and helped me wrestle a lot of my inner demons and doubts and by default, make me a happier person and a better cartoonist.  I am not as frustrated when I draw anymore.  I am redrawing panels and pages less than ever.  With previous books I was losing a day or so of work every week because I’d rush through a page or end up redrawing it.  Not this book.  I feel more confident when I draw a page and it shows.

This blog is as much therapy for me as it is a way for me to let you all know what’s going on when when stuff is coming out.  So, thanks.

I can defeat my inner demons and that’s all well and good but the thing that I can’t get more of is time.  I don’t do much besides work and draw and spend time with my family.  I rarely see movies or watch tv or play video games.  I don’t have that time-wasting thing that I do (except sleep) where I could be devoting that time to drawing, so I pretty much draw as much as I can.  When my family is out, I can sneak in some extra drawing time or some extra Photoshopping a Retros page time, but those moments are rare.  Not that my family won’t let me draw, but I like my family and I enjoy spending time with them and it’s hard to do that when Sophie suggests going swimming or riding bikes.  So, I wait to draw until she goes to bed.  However, I do wonder, from time to time, how much I could get done if I had the house to myself for a few days.

This past week, I found out.

Amy’s sister does contract work for a company in Colorado and travels there a few times a month.  She thought it’d be fun to drive out there sometime and asked Amy and Sophie to come with and make a road trip out of it.  Ryan passed on the trip.  I suppose when you’re 17 being in a car for hours and hours and hours on end isn’t very appealing.  They planned on stopping at Mount Rushmore and a few other places along the way and then spend a few days in Colorado and then head home.  It sounded like a lot of fun for Sophie and Amy deserved a vacation so off they went.  They left on a Friday and since Ryan spent most of the following week either at work or with friends, when I came home from work each day, I walked into an empty house.

Over the next 6 days, I went to work, to the Y, took the dog on a million walks, ate dinner, and drew.  And drew and drew.  I was able to start making some progress in catching up from falling behind on my 15 pages a month goal from June.  While I walked the dog or inked panels, I thought to myself that this is what it’d be like to be single.  And it SUCKED.  It was depressing.  I didn’t like this.  At all.  I missed my family.  I knew I would but I really, really missed them.

I knew that, years ago, I chose having a family over having a cartooning career.  Not that I can’t have one EVER, but I knew it’d be harder with kids.  I never looked back on that choice.  I fell in love hard with Amy and I couldn’t not love her even if I tried.  But what would life be like if I was still single?  I found out and it sucked and I felt empty and hollow.  Just as I need to draw to be who I am, I realized that the bigger part of me is being a husband and a dad.  Drawing will always be waiting for me, tucked into a little room on the top floor of my townhouse, but in a year or so, Ryan will be off to a college, Sophie will ask me less and less over time to go for a bike ride and I’ll still have my comics to draw.

When Amy and Sophie came home a few days ago, it was one of those rare days when Ryan wasn’t at work and the four of us were all home for dinner.  We ordered pizza and I looked around the table and was reminded of a quote from a Superman comic that Alan Moore wrote: “His weariness lifts.  The man has his family about him.  He is content.”

What does this have to do with cartooning?  Very little, but this has much to do with the cartoonist.

So, that’s that.

As I said, I drew a lot but not as much as I had thought or hoped.  I thought I’d get more than one page of Uptown Girl in each day, but I stuck with a page day and worked on The Retros at other times.  The Uptown Girl book is the first book where I wrote a rough draft and the scene I’m working on now, a HUGE action sequence that has been building for a while is really taking off.  The draft of this scene was a little more than a paragraph since it was mostly things like “Uptown Girl is chased by ______ and an exciting action scene follows where there is much destruction.  Uptown Girl fights back and is helped by ______ and the day is saved”.  The rough draft then continues with what happens next.  As I got started on this scene while Amy was gone, it was like all the drama in the story was just building and building and like a shaken bottle of soda, this scene is exploding with action.  There’s been a lot of talk, tears, shake ups, laughs and drama over the last 160 pages or so, but this is the first real action scene and I am having a ball drawing it.

Untitled-1Every few pages I’ll draw a character and think to myself that this is the last time I’ll ever draw this person.  Or I’ll be writing a scene and think of a funny joke or moment I could add that will add a few pages that I hadn’t planned (and get a little further behind than I already am) on but knowing that I’ll never have this opportunity again to have that scene, I usually end up adding it.  The point is that I am going all out on this book.  In this action scene, Uptown Girl calls for help as she is in over her head.  After she makes that call, I thought that she can either keep stalling and fleeing until this person shows up, OR that she should really call _______.  That person needs to be in this scene because not only this is the last time I will draw ___________, but this is the last time that ________ and _________ will ever be in the same panel.  So, Uptown Girl calls ___________.  And it’s a funny scene when she does.  It added two extra pages that I hadn’t expected.  When Uptown Girl hangs up, I thought about how this character gets to where the action is going down.  Sure, I could have them walk there off panel and that would be that but then I realized that it would be hilarious if _______ did….something and this character, in turn, needed to ask yet another character for a favor.  Knowing I’d NEVER have this opportunity again, and knowing that this was funny and a much needed humor break from all the character drama that had been happening so far, I knew I should add another funny moment.

So I did.  And again, I added a couple more pages that I hadn’t expected, or “budgeted” for time-wise.  And the ensuing scene that will follow before I get back to the part of the story where I wrote in the draft will add even more pages to the book.  It will be worth it but I am starting to worry about if I am still on pace to this book done before my April 1st deadline.

Ultimately these setbacks are making this into a better book.  I apologize for the vagueness above but I want this book to surprise you.  Trust me, it will be worth it if you’ve been reading Uptown Girl for a while.