Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A BCN Daily strip: From pencil to print!

Now that 'Breaking Cat News' is in newspapers, I thought it would be a great time to show how one of the daily strips comes together!

In the funny pages, there are "dailies" and "Sundays." Dailies are just what they sound like, strips that run Monday-Saturday. Sundays are exactly what they sound like; they're strips that run on Sundays and they're usually longer than dailies.

Traditionally, dailies have been in black and white and Sundays have been in color. A few of my favorite cartoonists, most notably Bill Watterson, hand painted their Sundays. Growing up in the 80s (I was born in 1981) this is how I saw most comics. Sundays felt really special. When the time came to decide how 'Breaking Cat News' was going to make the jump to newsprint, I requested to paint my Sundays. I take a lot of pride in picking up that brush to paint every Sunday.

(...Not that I paint them on Sundays, I paint them throughout the week as I work... You know what I mean!)

Right now I ink my dailies in black and white, and paint my Sundays in watercolors. That's what I hand in to my editor on Friday afternoons, at the end of my work week. Six inked dailies, and one Sunday painted in watercolors.

Most newspapers still print their daily comics in black and white. Readers see BCN very close to how it appears when I put my pen down. Minus the font I made using my handwriting; I type that out in the bubbles before I hand them in. (The font you see is actually my eight or ninth attempt at the font! Tweaking those little letters to get them just right is addictive!) Some newspapers print in color now, and so a great colorist at my syndicate--Universal Uclick (GoComics!)--colors my inked dailies for those papers. She knows the difference when it comes to what will print correctly and not better than I do.
I could have learned digital coloring and done an amateurish "new to digital coloring" job, or trusted a long time professional colorist who colors many of the comics we see and love everyday... And I admit--It was really hard for me at first to do that at first! I worried about that more than anything else when we were developing the strip for newspapers--Until I saw the finished strips and breathed a huge sigh of relief and loved them so much. I have a lot of gratitude to the GoComics' colorist, I love what she has done! We've worked together to create a palette of colors for the BCN dailies, so the apartment looks familiar to long time readers.

(Even though, remember--We're not in the Big Pink House yet! We're in the original apartment, before the move in the original run where the People made all those cool box forts. The Big Pink House is just around the corner!)

The colorized versions are distributed where you see the comic online, too. That's why the dailies look a little different online and in papers that print in color.

When it comes to the Sundays, not a lot has changed from the 'Our IX Lives' Christmas special to now. They will look like that. Right now, I draw the Sundays on paper, ink them, scan them, and then paint them. Then I scan them again, and lay the first inked scan over the painted scan digitally. This is so the lines will be dark and sharp enough for print. Believe it or not, until this past August, I drew the comic in sepia colored inks! (Look back--yes, I did). Drawing it in black ink and adding a layer that is just the inked lines has given the comic much of its new look.

Here is a peek at how a strip comes together! I'll use Lupin's introduction as an example!

To really see the beginning, I should be posting shots of my notes, but I can't do that without giving away some of the other strips. I keep a few notebooks around me, in my purse, in my pencil bag, on my nightstand, etc, and I scribble down ideas for headlines all the time. It might be an entire headline, or an observation about cat behavior, or just one random line of silly dialogue. When the time comes to write a new strip, I read through my arsenal of ideas, and pick one out.

Next, I do a pencil sketch of a strip. My pencil sketches are usually very close to a finished strip, because I lay out my boxes, bubbles, and text at this time too. Sometimes I mark a little box that says "live," and other times (like this time) I paste the "live" box on before I send it in. I keep a working file of all the BCN station identifiers, and add them to panels the way Burt might for a broadcast.

The penciling can be the longest part of my process, because this is when I do most of my writing. Lines change, poses need to be tweaked or tried differently a few times. Drawing is part of writing for me too. I might not write words like "excited" or "anxious;" instead I tell the story by making Lupin's ears leap straight up or Elvis' plaster back against his head. I'm writing the comic with words, gestures, the way a character stands, the clothes they're wearing, the time of day, etc--I write in pictures, and every inch of each panel needs to pack a thousand words.

Now that I have a penciled strip, it's time to send a quick scan to my editor! I usually wait until I have all six strips for the week written out. She looks them over, makes notes, and passes them on for one more look. I'm very proud to say, I don't get too many big notes! Sometimes my punctuation could be a little better though, and sometimes a suggestion is made to make a joke or a movement more clear. The big changes everyone feared are not coming. As time goes on, and I weave in more and more, (the same as in the original run) the strip will become more detailed and more nuanced (...the same as in the original run. Can you imagine if this had been the first strip, instead of this? I have to build the world back up, or nothing will make any sense!) My editor reached out to me originally because she was a fan of BCN too, and she knows the characters as well as any fan (also, can we all take a moment to appreciate what an awesome job that must be to have?) She has recently met the boys in real life, too! She loves this comic as it is, that's why she went to bat for us to get it into newspapers in the first place.

I look over the notes, and we talk about them. Most of the time, I agree with the notes, they're usually very solid, as you can see above! 

Now it's time to ink! I ink this strip, along with five others from its batch, and hand them all in! For newspapers that print in black and white--and for me,--the strip is done and on its way!

For newspapers that print their dailies in color, the process continues! I mentioned that I created a palette of colors for 'Breaking Cat News' and the colorist works with those colors. Most of the time this turns out GREAT! It's fun to look at the first tests, though, when a few things came out just a little different. This was one of the very first colorized strips I saw. 

My notes for this strip were that the couch is red and Lupin's pants and hat are the same color as his suit jacket. Lupin looks dapper in a little grey hat--but then the Indiana Jones jokes would be lost later. This batch of strips lead me to realize (because I had never quite put this thought into words before!) that the clothes and objects in the apartment are usually the same, with their own set look. I think this has always added to the feeling that the apartment in BCN is a familiar, friendly place to visit.

The big red couch, the green rimmed oval mirror in the bathroom, the grey flowered bedspread, the kitchen counter tops, the yellow fuzzy blanket, the "fancy" bowls that come out for potato salad on the 4th of July and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, the white laundry basket--You can see them in the background of many strips, even when they don't play a part. This began because many of these objects are actually real or at least based on real objects in our home. I wouldn't go as far as to say the People in BCN are poor, but there are limited resources in their home. Headlines like, "
There's a new scratching post in the living room," or "there's a new picture on the wall," wouldn't be as exciting if the backgrounds had an endless rotation of random lamps and pictures. It's new for everyone.

Even the boys each have a small, unchanging wardrobe. They all have their own pajamas, fitness attire for "the bi-monthly 2am running of the cats", and nice suits. On Thanksgiving they dress a little more casually, and we get glimpses into their personal off camera styles. Limited resources is the key here, though. Everyone in the apartment, cat and human alike, are all making due with what is available, and I think it makes the setting feel more cozy and like a real home for readers.

These were hundreds of decisions I made subconsciously, and never examined until it was time to bring a colorist in. Getting to think about the setting and why it looks the way it does was interesting, and I think it tightened up the look even more. The window frames are brown, the outside window frames on the Big Pink House (which the BCN family and crew will move into soon!) are green. The carpet is blue. Most of the walls are white, but the bathroom is light green. Many times long time readers know what room the boys are reporting from, even when they don't say. A lot of comics might just have any color in the background, and it works great, but green would signal "bathroom!" in BCN. If the Big Pink House was suddenly The Big Olive Green House, things would feel off. Deciding to keep the setting and the colors static was important to the storytelling, and having a chance to pause and think "why?" was cool. Working on the color palette was a lot of fun! If you're a cartoonist, you might want to take a night or two and think about what colors you'd like in your comic and if your background is going to shift and change and grow or if it's going to stick to a series of established settings.

Here is the revised strip!

And that is how the strip appeared online Tuesday on GoComics and in newspapers that print in color!

Here are a couple of more strips to look at, from start to finish!


Ink (there were no notes on this one,
but we decided to change the last line during our
weekly Skype call to discuss the comic!)


Revised coloring


Ink (Again, the last line changed during our Skype call).


Revised coloring

Once I have a published Sunday strip I can share, I'll make a second post on how the Sundays come together. Those are interesting, because many of the first Sundays are actually the first strips from the original run! I'll post comparisons between the two, and the sketching and inking between. There were no notes on the Sundays, they all went in as they had been--BCN classics, finally in newsprint!

And so, that's a behind-the-scenes peek at how daily strips come together! Now that I've written one of these posts, I'll try to remember to follow a strip from actual notes in a notebook to this point. I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the process!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Monday is the day!

Spring has been sneaking into our area of Washington, peeking in through short patches of blue skies. Luke and Gwen point them out during our walks with all of the confusion of two Seattle toddlers who have been away from California for six months. "The sky is blue! It's blue!"

We keep careful, dutiful observations of the daffodils stretching their necks and some lovely little puffy pink flower sleepily blinking its buds open. These are big happenings in the toddler world. Bubbles are remembered from last spring and requested every day. The rain--which comes and goes all day long--pops them before they go far, to Luke and Gwen's delight.

My days are filled with making peanut butter sandwiches and discussing ABCs. Counting every step, and cup, and goldfish cracker. I'm liberal with cartoons and laugh alongside the kids. Gwen brings book after book for me to read. Luke has learned about digestion and explains in great detail during every meal, putting us all off every meal. He loves science and the human body, particularly bones. He's discovered The Octonauts, and the past two months we've all learned a lot about the ocean.

At night, after the kids go to bed, I sit down and work on 'Breaking Cat News' and the ten commissions I recently took on. (The commission and original artwork sale went tremendously well, thank you so much! The commissions sold out in under two minutes, and the original 'Breaking Cat News' artwork sold out in under six minutes. I was amazed and overjoyed and humbled and shaking for most of the afternoon, ha!) My nighttime work is quiet and steady. Sometimes it's conducted downstairs at our kitchen table, over tea to the sound of British mystery shows. Other nights I join Ryan upstairs. He works on the video game he's creating with two of our friends at night. Many evenings we work together at our separate desks in our bedroom; me painting, him animating game graphics. We re-watch 'The Office' every year, and right now we've just hit season seven. We listen while we each toil away, pausing to look up at our favorite moments.

This may sound excruciatingly dull to many folks, but it's a great secret to the success of our relationship. We both were people who needed a lot of solitary time to work on our own projects. We each had a lot of old flames who did not always understand this, or eventually saw our work as a rival to their attentions. We were each somewhat selfish in past relationships, saving up alone time and shutting people out to work. Early on in our romance, our nightly work patterns fell beautifully into sync. Each night--for the most part--around 8:30 pm, it's popcorn and tea time. We sit down to our desks, put the popcorn between us, get to work and take turns throughout the night refreshing the tea water with a hot kettle. (Ryan proposed to me St. Patrick's Day 2011 this way. When I came back with a fresh kettle, he was in the middle of our candlelit living room on one knee). We take breaks to request critiques ("Does this arm look weird?") or watch funny YouTube videos. We have both worked on art and stories (in book or comic or game form) since we were kids, and we'd be working every night regardless. It's a big reason why we get along so well.

Some nights friends come over and they work on projects too. Working on their video game, or podcasts, or test runs for the game marathon Ryan runs around Halloween. My work is still solitary, though, just by the nature of it. I paint and ink, and pause to visit over snacks or share a joke. When my comics are done, I email them to my editor. ...Then I make more comics.

I'm taking you through my daily routine so that you might understand how incredibly surreal and spectacular and completely unbelievable it feels that on Monday people all over the country will open their newspapers and the comic I work on every night will be there, waiting to be read. So much of my work is created alone, or happily in a quiet sort of shared home office space. And how I work has changed so little, only now there is an audience, beyond friends and family.

Monday is the day!! I don't think I will believe it until I have a newspaper with the comic in my hand. On Monday, 'Breaking Cat News' will launch in newspapers around the country. The strips will run on GoComics, too. The original site still experiences trouble when there is a lot of traffic, and for all the reasons I explained a few months ago, we're looking into a way to add a button to the menu that says "Comic," probably to the left of the "Meet Our Reporters/Past Reports/etc" buttons. That button would bring anyone to the daily strip on GoComics.

As of tonight, 'Breaking Cat News' in around 100 newspapers, which I'm told is a great, solid start for a launch. I'm very hopeful it will continue to grow, and the sales reps for my syndicate have told me newspaper orders are still coming in!

If you open your paper on Monday and BCN is not in the funny pages, just let the editor know you would like them to add the comic! This is the best way to get the comic into your newspaper. If enough people ask for it, newspapers will add it, that's how any comic gets in, and I have strong hopes that people will enjoy it enough to keep asking.

As Burt explains today, in the world of BCN he's finished editing the footage the studio had lying around. What does this mean for the start of the newspaper comics? What is changing? What is 'Breaking Cat News' going to be like now?

Burt remarks to Elvis that a lot of video never made it to air, and that's how I treated writing for newspapers. I began writing for newspapers in November 2014, about six months after the comic began. I wrote the web strips and the newspaper strips at the same time. When it came to recreating the world of the Big Pink House for newspapers, I wanted to carry it over whole. The best way I could think to do this, so that new and old readers alike would experience the same history and meet the same characters in a way that was not maddeningly repetitive, was to create a split in the station between "old technology" and "new technology," (ironically to exchange the new tech of web comics for the old tech of newspapers. ...Stay with me).

And so I thought to add an AV Cat, and asked my lovely and gracious friend Christine if I could model him after her laid back, sweet farm kitty Burt. Burt would bring in new cameras (to explain the drawing style tightening up for print) take over the scroll (hence, the scroll began getting a little cheekier, as Burt wrote out headlines to amuse himself during broadcasts) and someone would be able to operate Camera One more frequently, and outside more too. Burt would add more station identifiers, and basically create everything for the station that I was adding to the newspaper strips.

Now that I've gathered you all here to this blog post like Hecule Poirot explaining a suspect's motives, let me continue my reveal... By establishing that Burt worked with video and loved soap operas and drama, it's easy to think that he would enjoy sneaking peeks at the old archives from time to time. It was only a matter of time before he would offer to edit all of the old footage to get at more of the good stuff. I prepared to time it to a hiatus, as BCN took a break for station updates. (I hoped that this suggestion would subtly make the newspaper comics an expected kind of different, vs a jarring kind of different).

Burt would discover a ton of headlines and stories that happened during the original run of the comic and never made it to air. It's not hard to imagine an overwhelmed Elvis skimming tons of video for a few soundbites, there was no time to air everything! Lupin goes with the flow and Puck would be too concerned about Elvis' blood pressure to push it. They did the best they could with cheap cameras and little editing knowledge. As Burt edited the archives, old classics like "The Woman is Making Bacon" (or as I call it, "the bacon strip") would be enhanced through all of his know how and green room technology. Kind of like taking an old movie and converting it to high definition tv, was my thought process. And as old classics were edited, he went through the previously unseen headlines and added them in.

Many of these were likely tossed onto the BCN cutting room floor because Elvis felt he didn't look dignified enough in them, so yeah, seriously, I promise: You're going to enjoy the new stories.

As I wrote the web strips I saved a lot of material and wrote it within the newspaper timeline. Vet visits, take out night, Elvis confronting trick-or-treaters through the window, mythical creatures visiting the mailbox, litter boxes out of commission due to routine cleaning... While I wanted to acquaint new readers with the characters and the timeline, I wanted there to be plenty of new headlines for long time readers. And I wanted them to see moments missed before, or add in things they only caught partial glimpses of the first time around. (Like the greater rivalry with the vacuum cleaner that Burt hints at today...)

"What did you take away?"


"Who are you leaving out?"

No one. Even Louie the skunk is coming back (just not right away!) NO. BCN. CRITTER. LEFT. BEHIND.

I hate when things I love change, and I especially hate when stuff is left out. (I could write a book of essays on movie adaptations of 'Jane Eyre,' titled "You Left Out the Fortune Telling Scene and I'll Never Forgive You.")

My greatest goal has been "elaborate and expand." The comic will be daily now, so you will see more. And my guidance from my editors has been, "don't change what you're doing. Keep the details, keep the unexpected punchlines, keep every weird chart." I've done it. I've kept every weird chart, and added so many more. GET READY FOR NEW WEIRD CHARTS, EVERYONE.

Long time readers will see the intros Burt is about to whip up this week--and of course, you don't need them. You know everyone--but understand that I tried to write jokes that would be funny for new readers, and hysterical for long time readers, knowing the cat's personalities so well. You're going to see a lot of classic strips early on, especially the Sundays, as I re-establish the world for newspaper readers too. New moments will be woven in right from the get-go.

It's late and I've eaten the bowl of leftover spaghetti I bravely resisted the first two thirds of this blog post, so I'll end with one more thought on the transition into newspaper strips.

As my editor and I pieced together the newspaper strips and the web strips, and I began to tinker the timeline for the first six weeks, I realized something kind of awesomely sweet. 'Breaking Cat News' is not quite 'Breaking Cat News' until Tommy joins us. The news desk is there, the microphones are wired, the coffee is hot. The cameras are rolling and the headlines are hitting the page. Elvis, Puck, and Lupin are there and they're as serious and dedicated as ever... Hilariously, a little too serious and dedicated.

I came to realize that the story of 'Breaking Cat News' truly began with the appearance of Tommy at the window. He shakes up the serious little world on the other side of the glass, and nothing's quite the same after he begins to visit. All of the cats are ultimately better for meeting Tommy (as we all know, one Siamese in particular...) The first few strips of BCN's original run are funny, but Tommy carried his heart in with him. And it's as big as his fluff.

What if we could be there the first time Elvis spots him?

...Well, Burt's got you covered. ;)

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I can't wait. It feels a lot like waiting for Christmas morning.

Here's to Monday!! If you do see it in your newspaper, I would love to see a photo! Please, please feel free to post photos of your newspaper on Monday, seeing them in different newspapers would be amazing!!

Okay, wow, now it's way too late. Goodnight, everyone!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ten commission spots opening up! And some originals for sale, as well!

In my last blog post I mentioned that Ryan and I are trying to concentrate on paying down some of the debts we've picked up the last few years. We want 2017 to be the year we knock these out, so we can continue rebuilding everything we lost when Ryan was laid off in 2012. 2013 we sunk further and further into debt. 2014 we crashed and had to sell our home. 2015 we stabilized and saved and stopped the financial bleeding at last. 2016 we managed to tread water and successfully (incredibly) made our way back to Washington. Back to the starting point. Now we're here and we're ready to buckle down and get to work crushing the debts weighing us down.

After mentioning that, the thought stayed with me. Blogging (and journaling, which I also love to do) is kind of great like that. For me, once I've declared something and put it into writing, the words have more weight. If only because I've transcribed them from sound to sight. In sight, in mind. And so, after writing my last post, I thought about our goal while making dinner. I thought about it while Ryan gave the kids a bath and I cleaned up the table. It stayed close while we read stories and kissed the kiddos goodnight, and by the time we were sitting down on the couch and pulling out our respective sketchbooks, I felt ready to say, "I think I'm going to open up commissions."

"Oh?" Ryan asked. "Is there time for that?"

"There's time for a few, if I work in my usual size and style. Maybe that's even a plus now? I can't tell. Anyway, I think I could do ten 5x7s over two months, and that's what I'm thinking about offering."

(I work small, in real life. I actually draw most of the strips at the size you would see them in a newspaper!)

The next day I put some feelers out on social media, to see if there would be an interest. People seemed to be excited about the idea, so I started making plans. And tomorrow at noon Pacific time I'm going to open the Etsy shop and offer ten commission spots! Each for a 5x7 original watercolor and ink painting of up to four pets dressed as BCN sitting at a news desk. Each will be priced $200.00, plus shipping and handling. For almost three years now (can you believe 'Breaking Cat News' will be three years old March 12??) readers have written to me nearly weekly requesting that I paint their pets as BCN reporters. It seemed like a good idea to offer that as the subject of the commissions.

They will take me about two months to paint, and so the time frame on these paintings is eight weeks.

If you are interested, go to my Etsy page tomorrow at noon Pacific time. The shop is closed right now, but you can find the page HERE. I will also post the link on the studio Facebook page, Twitter, the original site, and the GoComics BCN page tomorrow.

(You may want to go there on your own a little early and refresh the page a few times--it will take me a couple of minutes to scroll through the websites and post the links).

When the shop opens, you'll see this image for the commission sale:

It will have a quantity of "10." This will be first come, first serve and I ask that people please only purchase one. If they do not sell out, I may allow people to purchase more if they wish, but I'd like to give folks a chance to get at least one.

Once you purchase the commission, I will need to email you (or you can email me). Please leave your email in the notes at checkout so I can contact you to get the details I will need to paint your pets. If you forget, don't worry! Etsy has ways for us to contact each other. To paint your commission I will need 1-5 photos of each pet you'd like in the painting, and descriptions of their personalities. I've said "up to four," to keep the desk from getting crowded. However, I may be able to slip in a fifth or sixth pet in a portrait on the wall or a news screen above the desk, etc... It's possible. Please don't count on it--but we can talk.

When I asked people if they'd be interested in these commissions, some readers requested that I offer some of my BCN paintings. There aren't many of my originals out and about wandering the Earth right now. Readers write me with requests to auction them or offer them up for sale. I've wanted to! With the kids and the comic to write, it's been one more thing that kept boiling over on the back burner. But this is 2017, the year of crushing our debt! And I want to help. So, this week I dug through some boxes and looked through what I still have kicking around.

(Spoiler alert: It's a lot. I still have many of my originals. That pot as been boiling over for some time! I got very used to creating paintings for more affordable prints and then safely tucking the actual painted works of art aside).

Here are some of the originals that will be for sale tomorrow:

"The Water Cooler"
(This painting is on the smaller side, take a look
at it in the photo of the paintings laid out together).

"Tommy at the Window"
Painted way back in 2014, (IS ANYONE EVEN
STILL ALIVE FROM BACK THEN?) in the original style.

Pucky bravely boxing the Man's electric razor.

"Beatrix Has a System!"
Boy, does she ever!

"Boxes Are Never Empty"
...Because they are always filled with adventure.

Four of the paintings for next year's 'Breaking Cat News' calendar will be for sale too! When I opened up the box I had a moment of, "OH YEAH, THESE!" (2016 was a crazy year). Each of the calendar paintings are about 5 x 6 inches, but three months have three inches of additional notes/error corrections/and tiny bonus paintings. I very nearly trimmed these notes off, but then I realized maybe readers would enjoy having them whole. Or at least, readers could decide for themselves and possibly frame them whole or cut them and frame them separately... In any case, I left the notes on.

The December month did not have notes, and so it was trimmed already. It will be a little more affordable than the other three. 


The actual piece, including notes.


The actual piece, including notes.

The actual piece, including notes.

The actual piece: Please note the cellphone screen is blank,
as I added the "photo" of Sophie, Tabitha, and Puck digitally later.

A photograph of the 'Breaking Cat News' watercolor paintings
laid out, so you can see their scale, colors, etc. They're all painted
on heavy cardstock, the same paper I use for the actual comic.

Some readers have requested that I offer 'Breaking Cat News' paintings on Ebay in auctions. They'd like a chance to keep bidding to win a painting, instead of the 'first come, first served' approach. I did this with an 8 x 10 inch watercolor painting in 2015, and it sold for around $650.00 at the time. Tomorrow I will be offering set prices on these pieces in the Etsy shop. However, please know that I've heard you and as I went through my originals, I did put a few aside for the "auction-requesting-readers." Including the April calendar page which is a painting from "Today has been canceled due to rain," and the September page which depicts Pucky fighting off the autumn leaves from the window. I still have the original painting from "Reading Kitties," too, where the boys are gathered around late at night reading with tea. And CRAZILY, I still have the original painting from the first limited edition print, the BCN office meeting?? (I was surprised to find that one! The second one is the painting that sold in the Ebay auction, and I think my mind somehow mentally cataloged the first as sold, too? ...I did have a brand new baby at the time. Much was set aside and forgotten). I will likely offer these in auctions in the future, if folks are interested, but right now I need to get through these Etsy sales and see how they go.

Folks who have followed me for a long time asked if I'd offer any non-'Breaking Cat News' originals, and here is where I went pretty wild pulling paintings out of boxes. I suspect these will stick around in the shop for a while, but I've meant to put them up for sale for years, and since I was on a roll...

I was surprised I still had some of these! If you've followed my work for a long time, you'll recognize a bunch of these paintings! I included the year they were painted in each of their Etsy listings. They range from 2010-2015. Most are about 9 x 11 inches or so (I never measured as I masked their edges off, I eyeball everything. I don't measure out the BCN panels or use rulers to draw the boxes either, ha! That's why they all have a slightly honest wobbly feel). I've priced these according to the level of detail and amount of time put into them. Some took much longer to paint than others. The most expensive are 'Gnome Home' and 'Noah's Ark'; they're packed with details and each were some of my longest paintings to create.

"Bear Maiden"

"Bear on the Moon"

"Fox Sweethearts"

"Garbage Heist"
(Their look is somewhat familiar, right BCN readers?
I painted these crafty little thieves back in 2011!
I love the gag of raccoons stealing trash. That still may
definitely make its way into the BCN headlines one day).

"Gnome Home"

"Happy Monster"

"Knitting Narwhals"

"Lady Riding Hood"

"A Kindly Lumberjack"

"Monster Parade"

"Merry Music Makers"

"Noah's Ark"

"Otter on a Laptop"

"Baby Owl"

"Pirate Princess"

"Friendly Snow Monster"

These paintings, laid out. They're all painted in watercolors and ink
on coldpress watercolor paper.

And so, that's everything you'll be able to find in the shop tomorrow! Plus one or two small surprises! Ten commission spots for 5 x 7 inch original watercolor paintings of up to four pets at a BCN news desk. A good offering of 'Breaking Cat News' original paintings and some of my watercolor illustrations as well! At noon Pacific time tomorrow, Friday February 17th, I'll be opening up the Etsy shop! I hope you'll join me to take a look! Have goodnight!

Monday, February 06, 2017

An encouraging word on crossing mountains! What's been going on since August....

Last I wrote, we were still living in southern California and I was preparing to get 'Breaking Cat News' ready for newspapers. It's almost six months later and here I am typing this on a snowy morning just outside Seattle, WA. Big, fluffy flakes are falling through pines outside our window. I've got a mug of hot, black coffee beside me. Gwen is napping and Luke is watching his new obsession, 'Octonauts.'

"Girl, did you say WASHINGTON?"


So, what happened in between?!!

Days after my last post something pretty spectacular happened--Ryan got a job offer in Washington!

If you've followed this blog for a while, read the comment threads on 'Breaking Cat News', or know us in real life, you know that we had dreamed of returning to Washington. (Especially before the kids were in school). Ryan and I lived in Washington when we were first married. We had built a life and owned a home there, but had to sell our house and return to Rhode Island after he was laid off. A job in California came along, and we were very happy for it, but Washington felt like home and we missed it very much.

Pretty much immediately after Ryan got the job offer, we threw ourselves into "packing" mode. This was our fourth time moving across the country since 2010 (three times horizontal, and now a vertical crossing!) and our second time moving across the country in 2016. We had only been in California for eight months. Almost a quarter of our belongings were still packed. Our moving boxes were still in a big, flattened pile in the garage. It's like we had been training for this moment for years. The road was cleared, and the compass pointed north. We were getting back to Washington, and we found the will to pack everything we owned AGAIN in just under two weeks!

I put 'Breaking Cat News' on a hiatus. I had planned to go on break in the autumn, to work on the sales pitch for newspapers with my editor. With the move and all the chaos it would bring, I decided to go on break early. (As it would turn out, I needed the extra time more than I knew!)

The movers came, we bid our things and our beloved Big Red Couch a temporary goodbye, and spent a night camping in our empty apartment on pillows and fluffy blankets. On the morning of August 23rd, we rose early, loaded up the car, got Elvis, Puck, and Lupin into their carriers, and started the 1,000+ mile drive to Seattle.

I was overjoyed that we could all drive away together. Ryan and I taking turns in the driver's seat, the kids cuddled into their seats with toys and snacks and blankets, the cats snug in their carriers with treats in the way back. Even our Christmas cactus--a clipping from Ryan's late mother's cactus, lovingly reared by his aunt Anne--was along for the ride, nestled safely on the passenger side floor. When we left Washington and again when we left RI for California, we had to be separated. Both times Ryan drove away with the cats and I followed a few days later on a plane with our kiddos. The days apart were hard, as I feared for Ryan driving all alone (don't have too much sympathy for him, he loved it, lol) and felt the ache of the miles pulling us apart. To leave together this time felt incredibly freeing, casting off into the future we so desperately hoped for these past two years, and I felt amazing despite my strong phobia of mountain driving. ...Which, as the distance carried us away from southern California, began to grow in the pit of my stomach as the rocky peaks rose higher and higher over the horizon.

Ryan heroically took the wheel through the mountains, and I split my time between keeping my eyes closed, bargaining with God, hyperventilating, and clutching Luke's stuffed penguin Pengo. My editor and awesome friend Shena, knowing my love of wrestling and that I was anxious about the mountain stretch of the trip, had suggested I imagine a tiny Paul Heyman on the dashboard, giving me a pep talk. If you do not know who Paul Heyman is, he's a promoter/manager in pro-wrestling. (This link is a great short speech he gives, but I warn you, there's some salty language, so maybe do not let kiddos see the clip). I tried this coping tactic partway through the drive, during a particularly rattling descent, and I highly recommend it. Maybe it would not be Paul Heyman for you. It might be another inspiring person... Make the method your own! Pick someone who you would like to hear a pep talk from, and pretend they're with you, in your corner. Also, pretend they're pocket size. In your hardest moments in life, you deserve an adorable miniature invisible life coach.

As the car rolled downward from the peak endlessly until I felt the tires would surely drift off the road and the car would fall into the sky, tiny imaginary Paul Heyman caught my eye and told me, "Everything you want is on the other side of these mountains. Everything you lost is just down the road. Get across these mountains, and waiting on the other side is your future. Ryan's secure job. 'Breaking Cat News' in papers. A second chance at owning a home. Setting down roots. Feeling safe. Looking forward, instead of back. Clear these mountains, and never look over your shoulder again.

"These aren't the mountains," Tiny Paul Heyman said, no bigger than a mouse, standing bold and brave on the dashboard as it rolled side to side with every hairpin turn. "Being sick, no one knowing what the answer was...Your benign tumors and the operations to remove them--those were the mountains.

"Working for years in a vacuum, no one reading your work. Painting until two in the morning and getting up early for your shift at the bank, going home, doing it all again. The rejection letters from publishers--those were the mountains.

"Ryan losing his job. Watching everything he'd earned fall away. Selling your house. Driving out of that garage for the last time and getting on that plane--those were the mountains.

"Everyone has mountains," tiny Paul Heyman assured, gesturing to the landscape outside the windshield with a sweep of his itty bitty make believe arm. "These? These are just some hills You. Have. To. Get. Over. You can do this."

"Yes, tiny Paul Heyman," I whispered. "I can."

Ryan shifted in his seat. "Who are you talking to?"


We stayed in pet friendly hotels and ate take out from diners, very similar to the trip Ryan and I took in 2010 when I was first moving out west to be with him.

We arrived in Washington on the 25th, our old radio station presets coming into audio-focus through the static one by one as we got closer to Seattle.

Just like that, so strangely, so awesomely, we were back! And it wasn't long until we were reunited with loved ones and found an apartment and were sliding the Big Red Couch into place in a new living room.

In corporate housing and while we unpacked in the new apartment, I worked on the sales pitch strips for newspapers. We had a deadline of the second week of November. That's when the sales folks would meet to learn all about this new comic strip they'd be peddling to newspapers across the country. They needed to meet the characters, get a feel for the humor, "visit the station," so to speak. We needed six weeks of strips, and they needed to be good, the best of the best. Some of them you've read and some were brand new. Shena gave the presentation in November, and I got the go ahead to let readers know: Now is the time to ask your newspaper to carry 'Breaking Cat News!'

(It's still that time! Give your local paper a call and see if they're running 'Breaking Cat News' in their comics section this March!)

Ryan started his new job in September and he has been so happy there. It's been great. He's worked so hard the past few years--one of these days I should write a post just about these past two years from his point of view. I'm so proud of him! We settled into life back in Washington, reconnecting with friends, spending time with Grace and Preston, and looking for a preschool for Luke. We unpacked more in two months here than we did eight months in California. We're saving our pennies with an eye to pay off our debts and start saving for a new house down the road. We're rebuilding, "one step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time." (Yes, to quote the movie, "Creed." We love the Rocky movies, and that one in particular is outstanding).

It feels good.

'Breaking Cat News' will be returning the last week of March, online at GoComics and in newspapers throughout the country. We're working on a way to reroute the "daily" page of the original site to show the new strip on GoComics each day. I want to keep the original site up so that folks there can talk to each other, see where the comic got its start, and have some fun extras like the freebies page. It just may not update daily, and that's why we're working on the reroute. (When I say we, I mean Ryan).

When I made the switch to daily strips on the original site, the traffic slowed the pages down considerably. That's a good problem to have, it means a lot of folks are reading the comic, but a problem nonetheless. I'm not a web person, I'm not tech savy, I don't want to manage anyone, or worry about something going wrong technology-wise. I can draw and I can write; that's where my education is, that's what I can do. I want to be able to write, draw, and be done in time to actually spend time with my family. (Rather than staying up until 1-2am regularly to swear at my laptop and cry about a link not getting sent out right or a strip randomly posting at the wrong resolution). I'm looking forward to not being responsible for the tech end of things.

If you're good at computers, you're very lucky and may not understand my hesitation, that's okay! If you're not good at computers, hopefully you are nodding knowingly with me right now.

Balancing my schedule with six daily strips and one Sunday (as opposed to two GIANT strips a week, that break down to about 10-12 strips total, HOLY CAT HOW WAS I DOING THAT?!) has been amazing. I did not realize how ragged I was running myself, and I understand now how close to burning out I may have been. When you look at this summer's "Golden Mouse" special, I was writing, inking, and painting many of those strips over just two days at a time each. The final strip in that special was something like 5-7 full pages (about 15-20 strips, no joke). I am incredibly proud that I was able to churn out that much work! ...I am also very happy to be finding a realistic balance.

It has been great fun working on the daily strips. I've been going over the original material (for new readers) and adding in new material (for long time readers) and expanding upon certain headlines and stories. After the sales meeting, I got to work building my backlog. Currently I am writing strips for July! I plan to keep building at a steady pace. I never had a buffer during the original run, and that's why the comic was late sometimes. With two toddlers, I've been very lucky. I want to build enough of a buffer that if either one gets a cold or needs me, I can be there for a few days without it affecting the comic. (I want to be... *puts on fake glasses and a mustache* professional). The daily strips are going to be in black and white in many newspapers, and will be colored by a colorist for online and the few newspapers that print daily strips in color.


No, seriously, that was the biggest hurdle I personally faced in getting the strip ready for newspapers. (Cue tiny Paul Heyman with another pep talk). I wanted to paint every single strip, each week, forever, and why not? That's how I've always done it, after all. My editor talked me through many anxious fears. What if I let someone else color it and it didn't come out right? What if I painted them all myself and I got overwhelmed and burnt out early? She assured me I could do whatever I wanted--and if I changed my mind down the road, that was okay too. Delicately, I began to come around to the idea of trying it, but so weirdly, it was kind of terrifying opening up the first files for review? That lurching, dizzy feeling I'd had rolling down the mountains, swirled over me again. This was different from anything I'd done to get the comic ready for papers...

Somehow this was much more real.

I opened up a file of colored samples... And they were beautiful. The colorist did an awesome job. My anxious anticipation broke from a tightness in the back of my arms to a grateful weepiness. (It had been a crazy few months, ya'll). They would show up in newsprint fabulously (for all my knowledge of watercolor, I've had a learning curve when it comes to readying files for print. Everyone at my syndicate has been incredibly patient and kind and helpful, answering my questions and giving advice).

I am still painting the Sundays in watercolors myself. When I thought about all of my favorite cartoons, it seemed that the Sundays had often had a special personal touch of actual paints and this is why I requested to continue to do the Sundays in watercolors, at my own kitchen table, as I have all this time.

The newspaper numbers have been rolling in, and with them the knowledge that my work will suddenly be delivered to so many readers across the country. This is both really thrilling and seriously scary--I try not to think about it too much. I feel absolutely blessed for the opportunity, and concentrate on that, with thanks. I think about the people who will enjoy the comic and be happy to see my little drawings each day, and I block out as much else as I can. Feeling the audience grow makes my stomach roll with stage fright jitters--but when I think only about someone who likes cats and has never seen BCN and doesn't know what to expect from a new comic from a young (ish) cartoonist, I feel very happy. I get so excited for them to find it.

I write like that, too. I'm only ever writing for about 4-5 people. I block everything else out. Waiting eyes, expectations, negative comments--I shut it all out, and sit down to write a strip that would crack up 4-5 people I know. A couple of them I've been writing for since I was a kid. That works for me. That keeps my writing pretty grounded and focused, whatever is happening in my life.. If you're nervous about sharing your work or don't know where to start, I recommend writing something for one person you know. Chances are, if you write it faithfully enough to one trusted person, other people will find a lot to enjoy too. I write things with only a few people in mind, because if I think about a lot of people reading my work, I get tripped up.

When I think about you, I am happy. When I think of all of you at once, I feel a little dizzy. It's a mix of unexpected, very excited feelings. Dizzy, happy, whichever--I'm looking forward to March so much, I hope you are too!

Now the snow has stopped, and it's almost time for dinner here. I've made a chicken-potato-quinoa chili, healthy enough to be a gag in the comic. Here are some photos of what's been happening since the last post! Starting off right when we began to pack:

Lupin assisting in packing up the Man's office.

Elvis oversaw packing in the kitchen. ...And everywhere else.

Puck guarding the Christmas decorations.

Luke and Gwen playing in the empty living room,
on our last day in the apartment.

Puck, Elvis, and Lupin in their carriers and ready for the road!

The boys enjoying a RARE treat of tuna in one of our
hotel rooms! (My cat Mouse developed a tuna allergy
when I was a kid, and so the boys get it very rarely).

Gwen, days after we returned to Washington. That was Luke's
onesie, I bought it days before we had to leave, so we wouldn't forget.

Ryan making some new friends.

The kiddos, hanging out at the park one of our first days back!

Ryan, Elvis, and Lupin napping on the Big Red Couch shortly
after we moved into the new apartment. 

The new apartment all decked out for Halloween!

Lupin enjoying the view.

Elvis getting some well deserved nap time.

Lupin is ridiculous.

Reuniting with our friends!

Puck joining us for the annual gourd sacrifice!

Pucky throwing a wink while I autograph some more
books for GoComics!

Lupin found the fireplace... Sigh.

Gwen's first snow!

My sweet little monsters!

Christmas Eve!

It was a pretty great Christmas!

Luke and I, in front of our Christmas star.

Luke and Gwen walking around.

Luke, Blankie, and Pengo, napping.

Out and about!

On New Year's Eve we stayed in and dressed up fancy.

Gwen was a big fan of the cheese plate!

Luke eating a cracker and holding a pine cone.
(Yup. Toddler life!)

Ryan and I!

Gwen strangling Mommy!

Ryan and I, at midnight 2017!

Luke and Pengo watching cartoons.
"I want to be cozy," he said minutes before.


Lupin, sleeping sitting up. As always!

Luke painting.

Lupin, Elvis, and Puck, our little kitty rolls!

The current Valentine's Day view over our mantle!

Here are a few sketches from random panels to give you an idea of what I've been working on!

I took a break to dish out dinner and put the kiddos down for bedtime!

We've been enjoying life in Washington these past months, and it feels great to be back. I'll write more soon, and yes--YES, this will be the year I finally share Gwen's birth story, lol! I've only been promising it since 2014. Better late than never, and I think it will be a nice thing to think back on closer to her second birthday. How on Earth is she already almost two?

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Any questions about us or the cats? Let me know in the comments, and maybe it'll inspire a blog post!