Friday, April 27, 2018

Creating Peter & Ernesto!

I thought I'd take a moment and reflect. I'm not the best at reviewing and analyzing my process but I get asked enough about how did I make a graphic novel that I figured it may be wise to just write it all down here. As best as I remember it!

How did Peter & Ernesto come to be an early reader's graphic novel published by the wonderful people at First Second?

Well, it started with Goldilocks and the Three Bears I believe. I did a silent take on that classic story for the anthology title "Fairy Tale Comics" edited by Chris Duffy. It was published by First Second and so I lot of folks there quickly became familiar with my work and style. I suppose it also helped that I had been doing indie comics for the last decade or so before that too under the title of Grickle.

When I first set out to tell a story for younger readers I initially thought I would do a completely visual, wordless book. But I soon found that concept a bit daunting and in struggling with different ideas my thoughts became focused on Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. The Frog and Toad stories are absolute classics in the kid lit world and rightly so. Their brilliant simplicity and complete sincerity are a wonder to behold. I wanted to see if I could create something in a comic format that would come even close to how good those books made me feel when I read them to my kids.

That is how Peter & Ernesto began. Two friends, much like Frog and Toad, working through problems together. I wanted a story that showed the differences in their approaches but emphasized an equal value in those different outlooks.

When I start to create a comic I usually build it up with little sketches and a lot of notes written around them. Stuff that pretty much only I could decipher.

Once I've got a general idea of a beginning, middle and end I doodle out really loose, tiny page layouts and try and push the story forward from start to finish. Usually a couple hours a night where I'll hammer out 3-4 page layouts and that's it. It's like eating a meal very slowly. Just small bites, then put down the fork and think about how that bit tasted. Wait a little bit and then begin a new bite until after a month or two and you've finished the meal.

These doodle layouts are done on paper with either pencil or pen (whatever is nearest to me). Once that stage feels complete I'll use my paper layouts as a guide and recreate them in Photoshop, drawing on a Cintiq monitor. At this point many little changes will occur as I've had further time to refine thoughts and get a grip on how the whole story is flowing. When I've got the entire book up on the computer and generally feel okay with it, I'll bundle it into a pdf file and send it off to trusted friends, my editor, and agent and get feedback.

People send me notes and I gather them all up and mull over which things make the most sense to me. I tweak the stuff that my editor and I agree needs to change and then it's time to ink the book! Oh! And do the lettering! Actually, the lettering comes first.

It used to be that lettering was the most tedious part of making a comic for me. I understood it's obvious necessity but I really had no interest in wasting valuable artistic energy on writing words in my story. I wanted to focus on expressions and characters, not spend time dotting i's and crossing t's. I'm happy to say that these days lettering is but a blip in the overall process now thanks to John Martz! A fellow cartoonist who masterfully created my own personal font file of my lettering for me to use. Now lettering just involves typing in the words and drawing balloons up! It goes so quick and with the clever way that John designed the font file it looks every bit as natural and varied as it would've if I had painstakingly lettered it all out by hand. Total game changer for me.

So, yeah, lettering is done in a matter of days now and then it's onto inking.

Calling it inking is a bit misleading in this case. There is no ink involved actually. I do the final line work on the Cintiq monitor once again so maybe I'd be better to call it the "final line work" stage. This is definitely the longest and slowest part of the process for me! It's akin to walking a long path that I've already hiked before but now I've got to travel it again and go at a careful, meticulous pace. One foot in front of the other. Page by page, carving out the rough doodles and turning them into clear, concise images but not losing the 'life' of the original sketch underneath. This is the part where I definitely procrastinate the most.

When the line work is done I usually send out another PDF to the editor and make certain that everything is feeling good before hopping into color. The color stage has the potential to be as tedious as the line work stage but it isn't for me. It's the final step and it's like putting the icing on the cake! You have to go slow and be methodical but now you are seeing the completed image with each page you do. It stays exciting all the way through for me!

And then that's it! All done!

Well, sort of. Actually, not really.

The final art files are sent off. And then there is a bit of time waiting. Then notes from editors and design staff start showing up in your inbox. Also the planning for the cover image, extra interior pages, and book flaps happens. Lots of discussion occurs at this point as we all try and determine what the most effective cover image would be and there's a bit of fussing over all the peripheral imagery.

Then things get quiet again.

And you wait.

Then you receive a digital proof of the layout of the interior pages and everyone gives one last comb over to make certain we haven't missed any visual mistakes or grammatical errors. Once that stage is signed off you wait a little longer until one day a package arrives on your doorstep. The physical proofs of the book! Printed on the actual paper the book will be printed on! Woo! It's the absolute last point there can be any tweaks or changes made and it's super exciting to see the story in a nearly book like format!

Then things get quiet yet again.

Really quiet. And you wait. Again.

Then another magical day happens where you get a few comp copies of the book! It's hard to breathe at this stage because you've waited so long for this to happen that most of your major organs stop functioning as you page through the book. It's terrifyingly exhilarating. In the most awful best way.

Then you wait for awhile again. And suddenly it's your book release day! You visit schools and talk to kids about your process and story! You do interviews and tweet, facebook, and instagram your face off about the new book! People email you about it! Dioramas are built! Kids do drawings of your characters! You obsessively look at Goodreads to see how it's doing out there! It's all glorious and overwhelming.

You return home exhausted and sit down with your book. And as you leaf through it you realize that it's probably time to start making a new one again.

And that's how I create graphic novels! Whew! Thanks for reading everybody!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Win a naked turtle! Original Grickle art giveaway!

There's never been a better time to become a Grickle patron than now! Beginning this March I will be giving away a piece of original Grickle art (as seen on my Instagram) on a monthly basis to patrons at the $5 level or higher! Each month a raffle will be held and I will select one winner! Come join the fun!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Grickle Television!

With the demise of Vine as we know it I've decided to give my Grickle loops a place to live on Youtube. Take a break from the madness of headlines and enjoy the madness of Grickle Television! A place where Vines are preserved and new bits of Grickle oddness are added in!

Volume 1

And Volume 2

And don't forget to support Grickle and enjoy sneak previews at the Grickle Patron Channel!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

10 years of Grickle Halloween cartoons!

I'm happy to announce there is a long play collection of ALL the Halloween-themed Grickle shorts from the past decade on Youtube! There is even a little NEW material added via a spooky intermission located in between the cartoons!

Relive the nightmares on the Grickle Channel!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Monday, October 03, 2016


I've got a NEW cartoon up on the Grickle Channel! It's titled "Lunch".

Perhaps it will serve as a welcome distraction from the insanity these days or function as commentary? I'll let you be the judge, but hopefully it provides a moment of pleasure either way.

I've been working hard on a BIG Grickle short and there is finally light at the end of the tunnel! If you're already a Grickle Patron then you'll be hearing more in the near future about that! And if you're not a Patron yet then have a peek at the perks and consider supporting Grickle!

Hope everyone's week is off to a splendid start!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The latest Grickle cartoon is up on my Youtube Channel. Have a look and then sit and think about it. Or just go on with your day. The choice is yours!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The motorbike that became a computer

My Dad was really into motorcycles.

He grew up fixing bikes and taking apart motors all the time. He loved it. Very mechanically minded, my father.

Me, not so much.

When I was 11 years old my Dad surprised me with what I think he felt was a monumental birthday gift.  A Yamaha MX 80cc motorcycle was propped up on its kickstand in the backyard. My very own motorbike! All for me. To learn how to drive on. Change gears. Change oil. An engine to care for.

Pretty cool.

I liked the Yamaha. I learned how to drive and got to understand the notion of gears. I was aesthetically pleased with it's yellow and black gas tank. We went on a few father/son fishing trips, each of us on our own bike, driving deep into the backwoods of Northern Ontario. Good times. Looking back I realize that it must of made my Dad so proud and happy that his only son was embarking on a tradition of loving motorcycles just like he had.

It was short-lived.

The early eighties were a time of change. A time when the idea of having a computer in the house was becoming the norm. A home computer. I became VERY obsessed with the idea of owning a Commodore Vic-20 home computer. It was hands down the coolest one out there in my mind. It's warm, off-white, creamy-colored base with striking black keys set it apart from the pack. Plus it was LOADED with an astronomical 5 KB of RAM! It was all I thought about. I pestered my parents relentlessly.  I remember visiting the little computer shop on Queen Street in downtown Sault Ste. Marie and just salivating over being surrounded by Commodore products. My parents could see how much I wanted one.

At a certain point my Dad approached me about one path towards purchasing a computer. With a heavy sigh he explained to me that, if I was willing to, I could sell the Yamaha and use that money towards a computer. He must have hoped I'd say "No way! How could you even dare propose such a thing?"

Instead I jumped at it instantly. No hesitation whatsoever.

His face didn't show it but I'm sure that stung him.

My father listed the bike for sale and within a week it was gone forever. The following week we got the Vic-20.

A REAL computer! In our HOME! It had a datasette for cassettes, a cartridge slot for cartridges, and you could write code on it and everything! Nothing could tear me away from the Vic-20 for the next few months. I'd play Snack-Man until I couldn't see straight. I'd be writing "10 GOTO 20" and all sorts of other magical phrases as I attempted to bend the computer to my will. The Vic-20 was the King of the computing world and I was part of it's royal family!

Then the Commodore 64 came out.

The Vic-20 was last year's news. A glorified calculator with crappy knock off games on it. I'd gambled a lifetime of motorcycles on the Vic-20 and lost.  My beige, has-been, archaic computer paled beside the Commodore 64's steely grey tones that just screamed "new supreme power." It didn't have just a datasette, it also came with a FLOPPY DISC DRIVE! It was unstoppable and I was never going to be in a position financially to upgrade to a 64. I was stuck in an obsolete class of computer owner shamed to the shadows of insufficient coding capacity. I could barely muster the enthusiasm to load up Snack-Man anymore on the datasette. Life had turned cold and grey.

But then the storm clouds parted somewhat. A friend of mine down the street got a 64!

I pretty much began to live in his basement on weekends. The world of the 64 was so much more vast and populated than the Vic-20s'! There were games upon games upon games! AND a lot of them weren't even just cheap imitations of arcade hits! They were genuinely built for the 64!

My friend actually didn't have a ton of store bought games starting out. But that wasn't much of a hurdle because he had a connection in our neighborhood. An older kid who was a computer whiz with an apparent disdain for authority and law. Once every month or so we'd make a trip to his house with a stack of fresh floppy discs. And hovering over his shoulder while he sipped a Coke, he'd fill my friend's discs with all manner of the latest 64 games from God knows where. He didn't tell and we didn't ask.

We'd then run back to hole up in the basement and try out the discs. There seemed to be about a 60-40 % success rate with whether a game would load up or not. But there were so many to go through it never mattered much. If it didn't load we'd just move on to the next.

One game that we always held our breath on while it booted up was Karateka. It worked about 50% of the time and it always felt like winning the lottery if we got it to load. The intro was SO dramatic and intense (check out the above Youtube video). It still gives me chills! So many hours of my life were spent just sitting there looking at a comic with the buzzing and ticking of a floppy drive in the background. Interrupted by anxious glances at the screen to see if a company logo or menu had popped up yet. Glorious and formative years.

My Dad still loves motorbikes. He's still very mechanically minded. I've never owned a motorcycle in my lifetime since that Yamaha MX 80. And I'm most definitely still not mechanically minded (just ask my tolerant wife). But whenever we visit my parents these days I do manage to sit down in front of my Dad's Playstation and play many, many rounds of whatever video games he's into lately with him.

It's not exactly a father/son fishing trip but it's a trip of sorts I suppose.