Sunday, October 08, 2017

The night before 'Breaking Cat News' was a comic....

In March 2014 I was up late one night, tossing and turning. I'd drawn a few funny jokes up, and people really liked them. I wanted to make more, but I didn't know if I'd have the time. Luke was 11 months old, I was home with him, the days were crazy as any stay at home parent can tell you. We were about to move across the country and the future was really uncertain. Could I commit what little free time I had to a new project? ANOTHER new project, when pretty much every project before had never gone too far or actually paid off for our family?
There are a lot of times now I remember that night I had a hard time sleeping. I think back to all the worries I had in the dark that night. About failing again, about wasting time, about stressing myself out, about taking a chance when a tidal wave of changes was bearing down on us. Ryan had lost his job, we had to sell our house, we were moving across the country so he could look for work and we could recover financially. I didn't know what the next three months would look like--and I wanted to add more to that? I wanted to add, essentially, a job I wouldn't get paid for? I wanted to take on a week's workload on the off chance that maybe people would laugh with me at some jokes about cats?
As I drifted off to sleep that night, I thought to myself, "Well, I'll check and see if the domain name is available. If it's not, then I can stop worrying. I'll put these roughs to the side, and maybe get back to them again some day. And if it is available, I'll make a site and give myself a reasonable schedule while we move, while Luke is a baby. Something like two strips a week to start. What are the chances 'Breaking Cat News' .com will be available, anyway?"
Can you imagine if I listened to all my worries that night? That thought haunts me sometimes; how close I came to deciding, "you know what? Never mind. This would be a lot to take on right now.... This would be everything I ever wanted if it worked out, but things have been going so badly lately--what's going to work out any time soon? I've written two comics already, should I even try a third? Especially now?"
I had a lot of reasons to doubt myself and it would have been safer, easier, and more comfortable to just set my new project aside, go back to sleep, and not give it another thought. Get up in the morning, make us breakfast, pack another box. Instead the next day, I woke up, found the domain was open, asked Ryan if he could take over while I hammered out a another new website, and rolled the dice once again. It took me two days, and I'm pretty sure I was up until about 3am both days. When we only had 2-3 weeks to pack up an entire house to move.
Over the next few months, I learned also had a lot of reasons to work harder than I ever had before, to watch for people's reactions to this project and lean in as hard as I could once the audience began to grow. The more eyes, the more encouragement, the more support from the readers, the more I felt like, "OH, WAIT, THIS MIGHT JUST BE MY CHANCE,--" and I poured more and more energy in.
But it all started off very quietly, staring up at the ceiling one night with 2-3 comic strips sketched out in a notebook in my desk, and wondering if I could silence all the worries and try another new idea.
I'm tremendously glad that I did.
I would say now, the next time you find yourself with an idea or a project or a dream, get through those long, worrisome nights the best you can. And then get up the next day, and try the big thing that feels impossible anyway. Get up and write the song. Get up and write another 50 pages. Get up and apply to college. Get up and start the first work out. Get up and tell them how you feel. Get up and propose. Get up and start driving, start over. Get up and get a sketchbook, start drawing. Whatever thing you've wanted to do, but feels big and impossible, start small, start somewhere, but get up and go do it.
Back then I felt like I had nothing to lose by giving up in that moment, just 2-3 rough drafts of a comic probably no one would read anyway--because I didn't know about everything I would have lost if I didn't go for it. None of these wonderful things--getting syndicated, getting published, getting into newspapers--had happened yet. And I had easily 40-50 projects (between comics, rough drafts, and rejected book pitches) that had all failed to hit the mark. I had a lot of reasons to say, "eh, not this time," and I would have had so much to lose. You could have a lot to lose by giving up this time, and never know it.
I got up and wrote a comic about my cats being news reporters. It doesn't get much weirder than that. Go embrace your weird! Go do the thing you're meant to do, however strange it might sound when you try to explain it out loud!
Just go do that thing. Keep casting that net until you catch something!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Roscoe; lover of bacon, fearless protector.

I've wanted to share some of the stories about cats in my life that have inspired 'Breaking Cat News', and with this strip on GoComics today, this felt like a good time to start!

Roscoe was my parents' Siamese cat. Outgoing, intelligent, and friendly, he'd been raised by my Mom and Dad since he was a kitten. My Dad fed him cat-food-on-a-finger style when it was discovered he was not properly weaned. He was their baby before I was their baby, the star of the family with a big personality. Once a hungry little kitten, he grew and grew until he was just about the biggest Siamese you've ever seen.

He lived with my parents and a younger grey lady kitty named Mouse who hated everyone, save Roscoe and my Mom. If you've read BCN for a while, you know Mouse as Baba Mouse.

All was right in Roscoe's world for five years, and then my parents brought home a baby. (This is where I come into the story). I was in the hospital for just over a week when I was born. My Dad brought home one of my itty bitty shirts for Roscoe to smell. As the story goes, he took a deep sniff and turned his back on my father, flattening his ears. Friendly, outgoing Roscoe was giving the cold shoulder for the first time.

(I don't know if Mouse smelled my shirt. There was no chance Mouse would like me, she could barely stand my father or anyone else. She fought every cat who wasn't her beloved Roscoe and regularly chased dogs out of our yard. I'll share some Mouse stories another day. The first Christmas special is loosely based on the reluctant heroics of Mouse).

Baby Roscoe, being finger fed by my Dad in 1976

Roscoe peeking out of a paper bag.

He grew into a big, strong crossed eyed son of a gun.

Roscoe's cold shoulder continued once I came home. As my Mom tells it, he was beside himself. In 'Breaking Cat News,' Elvis' reaction to the Baby is based on a mix of his own actual reaction when our son was born and Roscoe's behavior when I came home. In real life, Elvis and Roscoe could not be more different. Roscoe loved people and was the center of attention at house parties (think Lupin). House guests would ask him to tell a story, and he'd give a few long meows and send the room into laughter. Elvis dislikes most people aside from our family and guards our home against dangerous outsiders like my dear sister or our closest friends. Nevertheless, both Elvis and Roscoe had a hard time sharing the spotlight with a new squirming bundle of joy.

Time softened the betrayal, and Roscoe returned to spending time with my Mom, while stoically tolerating me. Mom kept the door to the nursery closed when I napped and slept, to keep me safe from the cats and no doubt keep the cats safe from a curious grabby baby.

Growing up, my house was on the edge of a swamp in the New England woods. We lived in a neighborhood, but our house was in the last cul-de-sac with a backyard that rolled away from the neat rows of houses and into the tall pines beyond. Many spots in New England are like this; mixes of suburbia and nature, (with an old historical cemetery sprinkled here and there). Between our house and those pines was a little swampy stretch filled with bugs and frogs and turtles. It sung with peep toads and sparkled with lightning bugs in the summer. Our screens were forever buzzing with greetings from June bugs and Japanese beetles. While Puck dreams through the window in the comic, Roscoe and Mouse truly were mighty hunters. The last of our cats that would be allowed outside. And occasionally, their work found its way indoors.   

As a baby, I was a good sleeper. Mom says I woke up only a handful of times before I was three (lucky Mom!) I loved my sleep. However, one night just before I turned one, I kept screaming hysterically from my room. My Mom would go in, turn on the lights, pick me up, and I'd stop. She'd rock me, and lay me back in the crib. Moments after turning off the lights, closing my door, and walking away, I'd start shrieking again.

What was even stranger she said, was that Roscoe was right at her heels, pawing and meowing to get into the nursery. She had to struggle to keep him out, holding him back and quickly closing the door. 

Roscoe was quick and determined though, and finally he broke past her and leapt into my crib. Before Mom could stop him, he pounced--

On the big, dark swamp spider in the crib that only moved each time the lights had gone out. 

Spider dispatched, I stopped crying. And Roscoe protectively curled up beside me. Things were different between us from then on. Mom let him stay, and he slept in my crib and later on my bed many nights until he passed away at the ripe old age of 17 when I was in sixth grade.

Roscoe guarding his baby. (Note the Garfield toy behind him!
This was my second Christmas--I was born in November).

Roscoe and I, when I was about 5-6.

Roscoe and I, when I was in Kindergarten.

That's only one of many Roscoe stories. He was a terrific cat. We had a rocky start, but by the time I could remember my own stories, he was my best bud and greatest guardian. Gentle, affectionate, and smart, he was a chatty companion with a deep, croaking meow. He was patient enough to let me put doll sweaters on him and clever enough to sleep in my doll beds. (One eventually became his. He spent many elderly afternoons snoozing away in a little wooden prairie cradle).

The bacon strip in BCN is based 100% on how Roscoe used to behave when Mom cooked bacon. And the investigative report on water in people glasses is based on him, too. He preferred it so much that Mom started keeping a people glass filled with ice water just for him on a table behind the couch.

Roscoe and his People glass.

Roscoe and our cat Daisy in the background, when she was just a kitten.
A grocery bag for perspective; he was GIGANTIC.

I miss Roscoe all the time, even now. Mom and I used to call, "Right, Roscoe?" and wherever he was in the house, he'd meow his agreement. There are still times I'll say something to myself, and murmur, "Right, Roscoe?" He used to meow if you sneezed, his own little God-bless-you! Mom would have him answer yes or no questions, and it was hysterical how conversational he could be. He was one hell of a good boy.

No surprise, Roscoe has made an appearance in 'Breaking Cat News!' In the 2016 Christmas special he was depicted as 'Cat,' the name the kitties evoke all the time in the comic. I couldn't think of a better way to honor him. And I couldn't resist giving him a sash that reads "Good Boy."

This is actually very close to a drawing I did of Roscoe
shortly after he passed away when I was 12.

Many cats have contributed to the stories in 'Breaking Cat News.' While the real life stories are often very different from how they pop up in the comic (the story I mentioned about Mouse, that inspired the Christmas special? It took place in summer, for example... I'll share it soon, I promise! Maybe closer to Christmas!) the cats I've known often inspire the headlines over at the BCN news desk.

Every cat I've ever met has had its own personality. They're as different as we are. Dogs too! And pet rats! Birds, iguanas, all pets, I'm sure. We're all a one of a kind. Cats aren't out to steal anyone's breath. Cheese? Sometimes. Bacon? Usually. Not breath, though. Cats are members of our family. And like any member of any family, sometimes they can feel pushed to the side or sad when a baby is born. You know who had the hardest time when my daughter was born? My son. And I wasn't about to drop him off at the orphanage just because "there's a new baby in the house and he's having a tough time adjusting!" Families go through changes, that's the nature of living at all. And time, patience, and being stuck in the same small space can go along way to foster love and acceptance. Now my son is crazy about my daughter, they're best friends. They pause in their play to tell each other they love each other (and they pause in their peace to elbow drop each other on the couch, because hey, it can't be the Waltons all the time). Families go through changes and hard times, but they stick together.

I told this story about Roscoe each time a well meaning advice-pusher tried to tell me I'd have to give up the cats because I was pregnant. I promise, a spider is much more likely to bite a baby than a cat is likely to steal its breath. To this day, I usually get a hive the size of a half dollar if a spider bites me. Now imagine that on a baby! UH, GROSS. THANK YOU, ROSCOE. A cat is a good thing to have in a house, if you've got a little person to protect. There are no documented cases of a cat stealing a baby's breath, but heck, ants bite kids every day. Puck doesn't let ants in our home, full stop. He's NOT. HAVING. IT. The ants go marching two by NONE around these parts! He has dispatched many spiders too. I feel very safe having Puck around. And when Luke or Gwen is worried about "monsters," we say, "Do you think Elvis would let ANYONE into this house?" And they shake their heads; sweet dreams, goodbye worries! They know. And we do too. A cat is a great protector to have in your home. You should always supervise a baby and any animal, but don't sit up fearing that a cat is going to go all vampire on your baby.

I hope you liked this story about Roscoe! I'll try to break out my old photo albums and share some more stories in the future. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

All watercolors, all the time!

I have some exciting news to share, if you've been missing the original look of 'Breaking Cat News'! Starting next week, (on July 24th, I believe!) the daily Monday-Saturday strips will be in watercolor too, just like the Sunday strips! If your local paper is in color, they will be in full color. If your local newspaper prints in black and white, you may notice a few soft gray washes added into the mix!

"But, Georgia, in your last post you said the strips would be digitally colored going forward!"

I did, and at the time I felt like that would be a good balance for me. When I was creating the web strips 2014-2016, I was painting at least 4-5 full pages a week. During specials, I was sometimes painting between full 5-10 pages a week. I have two small children and having a colorist sounded like a great way to free up some time.

And it did! I worked hard on creating a schedule with my editor. I cut my workload way down. Now I was writing and inking two pages of dailies a week. I went from painting 4-5 full pages to painting just about a half a page a week; the Sunday strip!

And boy... I was miserable. Don't get me wrong, I was SO HAPPY to finally be in newspapers! And the colorist was doing terrific work, the comic looked great! I should have had no complaints! Only a crazy person would complain, right? It's just... I love painting. More than anything else, I love to paint. I missed watercoloring all of the comic so much. It's my favorite step. And we discovered pretty quick, painting is actually a huge part of my writing process. It clears my head. It's a sort of colorful meditation. While my hand works, my mind empties, and new jokes and stories for the comic start popping into my head. I've always kept notebooks next to me to write out quick ideas--and somehow never connected what a big role painting played in brainstorming for me. Now, with one night of painting a week, my creative gears ground to a halt. I was still chugging along, but it felt like I was driving uphill in the sand.

By the time this was realized, the Sunday strips had been printing without issue. I talked to my editor about how hard it was for me to not paint the daily strips. She knew I had worried about this a bit, and had assured me before that if it did not feel right, I could always return to painting the comic again. The Sundays had gone well enough that we had reason to believe the dailies would print very much the same. I was working on the last full week in July. I watercolored those strips to see how much time it would take. It fell back into my routine very naturally, so I kept going. I'm still working a much more balanced schedule than when I was making the web strips. Now I write the roughs for a new week, and ink and paint the roughs for the week before. I'm writing, I'm inking/painting, and it's always something new! I'm almost into October, and I love this new schedule. It's a little more work, but it works for me. I have the time I need to write with an empty mind, so to speak, and that auto-pilot mode somehow pulls ideas to the surface. I can't explain it. I don't want to examine it. It just works, and it feels great.

I'm really grateful that I work with people who would try to think of ways to save me time, and equally grateful that I can be honest with them when I'm struggling and why. Every creative person works very differently. You may need to work against a deadline in the middle of the night. You may need to plot out each step and give yourself a few extra weeks. Stress may fuel you, or you need to not feel pressured. Maybe you skip penciling altogether, maybe you love a non-photo blue pencil, maybe you live for the way a digital stylus feels in your hand. We're all different, and if it works for us--it works! The first 150 so BCN strips, I had to paint the news desk first, before I did anything else. Do you know why? I have no idea. It worked. It felt like a ritual and I needed that little first step then. It was steadying and comfortable.

And for some reason, it was really hard for me to find myself painting less. My whole routine felt off. I'm really excited the dailies will be in watercolors now too.

So, let's take a look at how the new dailies come together, and catch a peek at what a black and white daily will look like!

Here are two sample panels from a BCN strip coming up in September! Long time readers will immediately recognize this story line, I hope. :) I'm thrilled I had a chance to revisit this one. When I first wrote it, I was exhausted. I had the idea and created it the best I could, but I was so, so tired. The idea was bigger than my energy that night, but I was working against a deadline. (I know now that I was pregnant with Gwen then. It would be a few weeks still before we found out :) ) I did not save the penciling rough for these new panels, alas, so let's begin with the ink phase:

I ink the panels and the artwork, scan it, and darken the lines in Photoshop.

Then, I paint watercolors over the inked artwork and scan the page a second time.

Next, I line up the inked scan and the painted scan. Honestly,
this step is the biggest pain in the tail of the whole process, lol!
However--here they are, and they lined up right! HUZZAH!!

Next, I add the text, any station identifiers/live signs, and the copyright and
web address info. The font was created using my own handwriting, and yes,
it feels really surreal every time I type my own handwriting, haha! We
created this so that if I misspell or leave out a word, my editor can
go in and fix it easily. THE FUTURE IS NOW!

After that, I save the strips and send them off to my editor! These are examples of what the painted dailies will look like in color. When I began painting them, I played around with how to keep the watercolor washes for the newspapers that print in black and white. I love the soft look of watercolors, and the black and white lines-only strips have looked a little stark to me, but I wasn't sure how to balance them. One of the artwork editors at GoComics gave me advice on how to keep my lines crisp and how dark/light the black and white washes should be for print. I'm very thankful I can ask someone in the GoComics office these things, because that part of the process does not come very easily to me.

This is how the strip will look in black and white!

There you have it! Watercolors are coming, get ready! Hopefully this is good news, I hope you're excited! They should begin on July 24th, if I have remembered correctly. If I have not, they begin the the last full week of July, I'm certain.

I'll write up a more personal blog post soon about some of the things going on in our lives. It's been an eventful summer! Good things, all good things! For now, I wanted to announce the return of the watercolored dailies--before I forgot and they changed one day and everyone was left scratching their heads!

I hope everyone is having a great July! If you see any June bugs whizzing by, you know it's just a certain fellow buzzing by to say hello!

Sophie enjoying her painting time and waving hello to the July bug.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A BCN Daily strip: From pencil to print! How the March -July 2017 strips were created!

Edit: Starting July 24, 2017 all of the 'Breaking Cat News' strips are now painted in watercolors again. This is how the strips were done between March 2017 and July 2017.

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!