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.