Moon Town and what makes a story tick


I want to talk about Moon Town for a bit.

Wayyyy back in 2005, wildly inspired by Brian Taylor’s Rustboy project (in which one guy was making a gorgeous animated film in his spare time) I decided to make an animated film… the adventures of a lunar miner and a rookie space cop who accidentally discover an alien race.


I had fun designing and building spaceships and environments. I was planning on releasing it as a series of little one-minute episodes, and I was well on my way.


But by 2007, I realized to my disappointment that at the rate I was going, it would have taken me decades to make even the first one minute segment in my spare time, after demands of a full time job and family. I set Moon Town aside and worked on some other stuff.

But then, in 2009, I saw the trailer for Duncan Jones’ MOON and it really kickstarted me, and I had Moon Town fever all over again.


I knew I couldn’t do it as a film in my spare time, and the notion of getting signed to make it with a team for real seemed unlikely, so I began making it as a graphic novel online. It was well-received, and even won an award. But to me, it fell short of what I wanted to make.

I have had a lot of time to think about what bugged me about Moon Town, and it’s clarified by comparing it to Moon, which re-inspired me. MOON knew what it was. It speaks to isolation and the sometimes dubious value of a worker to a company. It’s horrifyingly relatable.


MOON TOWN, on the other hand, did not know what it was. Alien, Star Wars, Flapjack, Secret Show. Where on that spectrum should Moon Town be? I had young kids, and leaned toward cartoony, both in presentation and idea. I worried people would dismiss it as silliness. What to do?


I waffled, which is the worst thing you can do creatively. I wanted it all, something silly and fun, but something you could take seriously. Something with adventure and horror and cartoony jokes and yada yada. Even during production, I was spinning in circles, and it shows.

And I guess that’s my message to anyone thinking about trying to make something: They say “make something you want to see.” But how can you make what you want if you don’t know what it is? “I like everything” is a terrible answer. You have to edit. Be intentional. Disciplined.

As far as Moon Town goes, I’m proud of wide swaths of it, but I see now that I needed more discipline in creating it. In making something that knows what it is, it will have a better chance of being worthwhile. And of connecting with an audience.

If I dig into it again – and I sincerely want to – it will be with that in mind.


A Trick of Time

I fell down an internet rabbit hole the other day, and wound up at Rick Beato’s “What Makes this Song Great” installment for “Dance on a Volcano” by Genesis. If you’ve never listened to Rick walk you through the time signatures and chord structures of a song, you’re missing out. I highly recommend for musicians and non-musicians alike, as his breakdowns definitely increase my appreciation.

But what struck me is that I had this album once, and I loved listening to it. I stopped listening to it about 30 years ago, though I don’t remember why, and eventually forgot all about it. But I re-listened to the album over the weekend and all these memories of my late teens came flooding back, memories of this person I used to be and hardly recognize now.

When I was 17, 18, 19… I wanted to be a musician. I was a singer and bassist in several bands, dabbled in drumming and songwriting here and there. I recorded a few songs in my humble home studio. Through it all, I had visions of sugarplums dancing in my head – Sting, The Police, Rush, Yes, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins. As in other areas of my creative life, I never reached the lofty heights of my dreams, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. It’s clear to me now I was never going to be a pro, but I don’t regret chasing after giants.

It’s funny how music can tie your memories to a certain time and place. Songs that once resonated with you in your hormone-ravaged late adolescence can fall flat to your new, enlightened future-self. Such was not the case with A Trick of the Tail. It held up very well. Loved it. I was driving, alone in the car as I listened to this album after over three decades, and I was surprised at how many of those old songs I remembered enough to sing along with.

It was like there were two of me – the younger version, who remembered it all and somehow doubted the older one had ever heard the record, and the older one, eager to prove he had. In the end, the older guy acquitted himself rather nicely.

Rick Beato focused on “Dance on a Volcano“, and it is, like the rest of the album, a pretty amazing bit of musicianship which occasionally veers off into over-the-top progressive rock wackiness. But the rough spots only serve to enhance, not detract from, the rest of the brilliance.

But my favorite is “Mad Man Moon”.

I’m particularly drawn to this lyric, near the end:

Within the valley of shadowless death
They pray for thunderclouds and rain
But to the multitude who stand in the rain
Heaven is where the sun shines
The grass will be greener till the stems turn to brown
And thoughts will fly higher till the earth brings them down
Forever caught in desert lands one has to learn
To disbelieve the sea myth

Love it even after all these years. That “Grass is Greener” thing has resonated with me for almost 40 years and become a part of what I create even now. Such is the power of music.

Great to have rediscovered this album. I feel like I found a long-lost diamond I had forgotten I even possessed, and in so doing, rediscovered a little of the boy who once picked it up. He was funny and creative. He had a lot of big dreams.

I wonder what ever became of him? 🙂

RIP Nina, GOODBYE Magnificatz

Once, we had two cats – a fluffy, savage, rollie-pollie dog of a cat named Samurai Jack, and a cute, sweet, skinny, slightly skittish cat named Miss Jilly. Somewhere in the late 2000s I began drawing silly cartoons featuring these cats to amuse our children. We’d make silly jokes and goofy voices for them and it was a lot of fun.

Eventually, I turned them into a cartoon called Magnificatz, and I fulfilled a life long goal in getting that cartoon syndicated through Universal at their GoComics portal.

When Samurai passed away early in the strip’s run, I saw continuing Magnificatz as a way to keep alive his memory. Along the way, I lost my sister Janet, who loved the strip dearly and often offered me advice and support, and last year, I lost my father, who loved collecting the books, always asking me when the next on was coming out. Again, I continued the strip as a way to keep their memories alive. I thought of them often while drawing it.

Of course I have other people out there who love the strip – many fans and of course my wife and our kids, who really were the reason I started drawing this, after all. But the kids have grown up and moved out, my wife and I have turned our attention to more challenging art projects, and it’s become harder for me to find the inspiration or time to keep drawing Magnificatz.

Sadly, last night, Miss Jilly passed away. It’s probably no secret that I have been struggling creatively over the past year to find my footing. I tried out a bunch of new comic properties during the COVID times – Taraniki, Pandora’s Bones, Cubicle Pigs, Dani and Dax, Doc and the Deathbot – all while returning here and there to my beloved Magnificatz.

But I think the passing of Jilly last night has sort of shut a door for me. Maybe the wound is still too fresh to make any decisions, but I’m just not in the mood to make funny jokes about my cats any more now that they’re both gone. Magnificatz should be a labor of love. A labor of joy. It was once and it’s not now. I’m finally ready to let go.

I won’t be drawing any new strips, and Magnificatz will be leaving syndication APR 15. For those of you who have loved and supported Magnificatz over the years, I am very thankful. And I know you will miss enjoying the strip online as you have for so many years. But I will be releasing Magnificatz Collection #2 and #3 this year (summer and fall is my plan, however, I’m the publisher as well as the artist, so we’ll see if I can find the time and energy to do it justice).

But for now…. Jilly is gone and I didn’t realize how much of a Last Straw that would be for me until it happened.

Take care of yourselves out there. See you online.


Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

…And some have it encouraged in them by others.

Steve Ogden

I was a terrible student. Didn’t apply myself.

I got this one test back in Chemistry (on which I had earned a D+) and scribbled in the margin was “I see greatness for you.” Initially, I assumed the teacher was mocking me. I asked her about it.

She said no, her mother had helped her grade the papers, and it was her mother who had written that.

“I dunno. She just gets feelings about people,” my teacher said. “She’s weird like that.”

But those words lifted me up during the darkest days of a misfit’s High School career. Greatness! She saw GREATNESS… for me? I clung to hope that one day I’d be better than who I was. And so I did learn to apply myself eventually. I became… well, if not exactly GREAT, at least more like she saw me. So often kids will rise to the level of your expectations.

It has occurred to me over time that the teacher’s mother had not, in fact, seen greatness or anything else for me, but had probably just scribbled some encouragement in the margins of a D+ paper precisely to lift up a weird kid.

Well, it worked.

I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve also never forgotten that it costs nothing to encourage someone who may need it now and again.

Be kind to each other out there. It’s a tough room.

Lessons from a time loop

I love Groundhog Day.

I’ve been watching it every year on FEB 2 for about 12 years now. Not unlike the gathering in Punxsutawney each winter to get a mid-season weather forecast from a rodent, I too have a ritual: dusting off that DVD and sitting down with a glass of wine to watch Phil Connors go through his time loop hell. It’s a rite of passage, and a reminder that Spring is coming. Better days are ahead.

On the surface, the movie is really just a silly bit of Hollywood rom-com fluff. It’s the tale of a man who inexplicably starts reliving the same day over and over, and whose response to this crisis carries him on his journey from selfish boor to enlightened, well-rounded humanitarian, whereupon his time loop stops and he gets to go on with his life, changed for the better. But this movie has more to it underneath. At one point, Phil goes to drown his sorrows at a bar and idly chats with a couple of the patrons.

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” he asks.

And one of the guys next to him nods, “That about sums it up for me.” And therein lies the metaphor.

Because below the surface, Groundhog Day is a meditation on life as we tend to live it. You can live with blinders on, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to sleep, get up, do it all again. It starts to feel a lot like you’re living the same day over and over again. “That about sums it up for me.” 

As Phil Connors shows throughout the movie, there are several responses you can have to this dilemma. You can deny it. Fight it. You can become depressed, even suicidal. You can focus on your own selfish aims. Or, you can use the time you have the best way you can, to better yourself and the world around you.

For the past 11 months, the coronavirus pandemic has really done a number on us all. We are living the same day over and over, maybe more now than ever before. Front line workers live an increasingly harsh and heartbreaking reality as more sick and dying pour in each day. Essential workers – who we treat as anything but essential most of the time – keep gamely trudging to work, risking themselves and their loved ones because The Work Must Be Done. Students are in less-than-ideal situations, forcing themselves to focus in the face of the global catastrophe, and those of us lucky enough to work remotely are left to balance the often conflicting demands of work, homeschooling, and family, one job bleeding into the next without ceasing. It hasn’t been a picnic for anyone, and yes, it feels a lot like Groundhog Day.

You could be forgiven for being a little envious of Phil at the end of the movie when he finally breaks his cycle, because we are still stuck in ours. The question the movie asks is how we will respond.

But the movie also offers another takeaway, beyond the predictable Hollywood Protagonist’s Epiphany to Try to Be a Better Person. Late in the movie, there’s this sweet moment where Phil has lovingly sculpted his beloved Rita’s face in snow to show her how he sees her. She is touched, and says she doesn’t know what to say.

“I do,” he answers. “Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now…” 

I think that’s it. Sure. Strive to be better. Appreciate what you have over what you want. But also, when you’re happy? You find a little scrap of happiness in all the challenges? Own it. Whatever may happen tomorrow, be happy now. At least let yourself have that.

And remember, it’s Groundhog Day. Spring is coming. Better days are ahead.

Make Something

They tell young people “You can do anything you want. The World is your Oyster.”

I think they have it backward. I think maybe *we* are the oyster and the world is the grain of sand that makes us produce the pearl of whatever we create over the course of a lifetime. For some it’s science. For some, it’s taking care of others, or policy, or what have you. For me, it’s art. My response to the world and events around me is to write stories and draw pictures to try to make sense of it all. For me, it’s art. And I’m asked frequently to give advice to artists just starting out.

My advice to young artists is simple: make something. Take it all the way to completion – finish it! You learn much more from finishing something than you do from the entire rest of the project combined. So you have to finish.

And although you may have sentimental attraction to your early work, you will come to despise it, because as you get better, you lament the flaws. But it’s OK. Make your mistakes. Put them out there for the world to see and learn from. Learn from them yourself. In this way, everyone gets better.

Don’t just talk about what you want to do. I don’t know what it means to be an artist that doesn’t create. You learn how to dance by dancing, how to write by writing, how to draw by drawing. And by the way, being an artist has nothing to do with what you do for a living. Yes, some people work in the arts. Some people don’t. But artists create all the time. Artists are always thinking, ideas are always percolating. There’s no such thing as a part-time artist.

Art happens internally first, in the soul, in the mind. It manifests externally afterward, as marks on canvas, or movements in the dancer’s body, or as words that make up a story. That artifact is a record of the artist’s decisions, a record of the artist’s point in personal artistic technical growth. But the true artistic act happens inside first.

When you embark on a creative project, people will congratulate you. They’ll make a big deal and tell you that Starting is the Hardest Part! That’s because to people who have never created anything, just beginning is a Herculean task! And they want to encourage you. You’ve started!

Sadly, starting is relatively easy. The middle of a project, that’s where it gets hard, so hard that it can make you quit. And finishing? That’s hardest of all. The end of a project, where you have to commit to your decisions and things aren’t so malleable and forgiving anymore, and all your compromises are about to be written in concrete. That’s the part that can break you.

Anyone who has released a creative project – no matter how amateurish or ill-conceived – should be commended, because just finishing is so very hard. They say no work of art is ever completed, only abandoned. Imagine how hard it is, then, to abandon them, call them done and invite the scrutiny of others. It takes bravery. It takes nerves of steel.

That’s why I don’t rag on the creations of others. I know how hard it is. I am, however, brutally harsh on myself. I would not wish that on anyone else, so my next advice is this:

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Create. And have fun.

And then there was one

A million years ago, my family and I went to the Easton Waterfowl Festival. My parents had just moved away from Virginia to NYC, but they made a special trip back down for this and my sister Janet and I came up from Richmond to join them.

My parents loved the whole Waterfowl thing. They enjoyed the brisk walks in the mid-Atlantic autumn quiet. They loved the buildings full of hand-carved and hand-painted duck decoys, and hundreds of beautiful paintings on display, each competing to be this year’s Official Duck Stamp. (You are probably unaware that the US Fish and Wildlife Service issues an official Duck Stamp each year, using an original painting of a waterfowl chosen out of hundreds. But they do!)

My sister was a painter, and I was in college learning how to be a commercial artist. Caught up in the moment and surrounded by all that amazing art, we had big dreams that maybe one day we’d work together on one of those paintings and maybe we’d get our art on the official Duck Stamp. Maybe we’d carve the winning Decoy. That would have been fun. Maybe next year. Or the year after that. One day.

I’m sad to say we both got caught up in our lives and other concerns and never did anything about it.

It was a particularly brisk November when we were there, and a certain kind of day brings those memories back. Clear, impossibly blue skies with horsetail wisp clouds. A rising sun lighting up just enough ice crystals in the atmosphere to bring a warm glow to the whole Eastern sky.

We spent the night in a nice hotel a short walk away from the Festival there in Easton. I remember getting up and looking out at that glowing sunrise while my sister turned on some morning news TV show and made herself some coffee that was really more like hot chocolate than anything else when she was done. Plenty of cream. Plenty of sugar.

I took a sip and thought it was delicious. There was no reason for I-only-drink-it-black coffee machismo. Janet loved it. And I could see why.

I made myself a cup the same way and took that habit back to college with me whereupon I was mocked at the University breakfast table. Where was my Black Coffee Machismo!? One friend said, “I feel like you’re just dumping packets into water.” And I was. And so what.

Why am I telling you all this? *shrug* Memory preservation, I suppose. I went outside this morning to bring in the recyclable bin and the Washington Post, and it was one of those mornings. Cold, crisp. Frost on the grass, blue skies, wispy clouds and a glowing sunrise. A line of geese overhead. It reminded me of that trip to the Waterfowl Festival back then, and I just wanted to share the experience.

Really, I wanted to pick up the phone and reminisce with someone who had been there with me. But of the four of us who took that trip – my mother died in 2006, my sister died in 2019, and my father died over Christmas from COVID-19 – I’m the only one left. So I can’t do that.

So I tell you. Lucky you.

Whose story is it, anyway?

In writing a story, a few things need to be clear to the author right up front. What’s it all about? Who’s narrating? And whose story is this, anyway?

I can easily miss the point of all this when I start out. For instance on The Eidolon Stone, the narrator was this disaffected guy who had really had a bad life, and he was telling this story from his point of view.

I wrestled with my first few pages until I realized that this isn’t his story. This is Kate Winston’s story, and although Nick Peroni plays a major role, I was having to jump through hoops to allow him to narrate events he couldn’t have known.

So, I’m dumping what I had to this point and starting over, clear about who is talking (a third person narrator who is free to know more) and I know whose story this is.

It’s the little things. 🙂

The Eidolon Stone

In my spare time, I am working on a novel called The Eidolon Stone.

Don’t worry – Doc and the Deathbot aren’t going away (at least not any time soon – I will continue publishing new strips for them each MON and THU on my various social media accounts) but I will comment on my progress on this novel here from time to time. I’m one for throwing my hat over the fence so then I have to go get it. And so I am.

The Eidolon Stone is the story of a woman who struggles to trap an unspeakable evil in a mystic stone after accidentally setting the evil free. Think Pandora trying to put the monsters back into the box.

I have discovered the joy of putting some of myself into the story. When I was a charming little kid, I had a habit of getting my words mixed up. Maybe I had a mild form of dyslexia or the like, but I would say “Sotormichael” instead of “Motorcycle”, “Gubbies” instead of “Bugs”. This was not intentional at first, but once I realized the laughs I’d get from my family from these malapropisms, I kept it up well after I recognized my mistake.

As I am the master of my own storytelling universe, and no one can tell me what to do, I have given that trait to my protagonist, who we meet as a young girl in the start of the story. I also gave her the traits of loving the water, and big rocks, and looking for little critters in streams. My mother and I used to take picnic lunches down to the stream behind our house, and we’d eat on big rocks overlooking the water. All those things, all those great memories? Into the book with ya.

“There’s some of me in you!” J. F. Sebastian said in Blade Runner to a replicant whose genetics he’d helped design.

We all put a little of ourselves into our work, don’t we?

The Magic of Calvin

If you’ve spent any time at all reading my comics or talking to me much, you’d know I have a few things I love utterly and completely. One of these is Calvin and Hobbes. That strip debuted midway through my college career. I thought it was magical, and it inspired me to make the comics I make today.

Slight wakeup call today, an article in the Washington Post – yes, I still get the old-fashioned dead-tree newspaper delivered to my house – that it has been 25 years since Bill Watterson stopped making Calvin and Hobbes. What a luxury, to have time off today, to have a nice, fancy cup of coffee and a biscotti and settle into the newspaper for a nice read.

It brings back memories of why I started all this in the first place. Watterson expounds a bit on the bygone lofty perch newspaper comics once occupied. I have a bittersweet twinge in my heart as I realize those days are gone. Certainly I don’t eagerly devour the comics page as I once did. Most of what’s there are zombie comics far outliving their creators, reruns, and just plain not-funny Boomer Humor comics that don’t appeal to me.

As a guy who makes comics that bear at least some passing resemblance to newspaper comics (although I hope they at least have a measure of humor and pathos to make them worth the reader’s time) it is a shame that even I don’t enjoy the funnies anymore.

It makes me wonder, as I often do, whether this is worth it any more. The comics biz I once so admired is no longer there. I don’t know if I have the stuff to get to the top of that profession, but even if I do, it would appear the machinery to turn a good comic into a cultural phenomenon is no longer there.

Anyway. I have now done 31 Doc and the Deathbot comics, as I promised myself back when I was only at #24. I said at 30 strips, I would evaluate whether I felt it was worth continuing. I think so. Let’s go for 50 comics and see what kind of an audience the boys have attracted by then.

Until then… thanks for reading, and see you in the funny papers. 🙂