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?"
"PENGO. WHY? 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.
DO NOT PANIC... LIKE I DID
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!|
|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.
|TINY WONDER WOMAN!|
|Lupin, sleeping sitting up. As always!|
|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!