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Introduction Version.2021

November 20th, 2020

This may be your first (or might be your one thousandth) time here, but it’s been a minute since I introduced myself, and I want this greeting to be updated for 2021.

So, hi. I’m happy to see you today.

My name is Dennis. I’m a lot of things — I’m the guy sitting at the table in this photo, for example — but the simplest word I would use to describe me is storyteller.

I was born in the 80’s and am a lifelong comics & pop culture obsessive. Both have saved my life countless times, and I mean that literally. I’ve expressed myself artistically in a lot of different ways over the years — I released a trio of full-length albums as The Next Step when I was a puppy, I began publishing my own books soon after with the help of Kickstarter, I started a character business called Awesome For Hire — and I always wanted my strange journey to lead to comics.

In August of 2018, I released my first comic book: The Flying Squirrel, which is part of a flawed superhero series called The Weirdos. Over the next two years, I released a total of five issues of the series, eventually collecting & coloring them for a graphic novel volume that was published in May of 2020. The heroes in The Weirdos find each other through their struggles; they deal with things like alcoholism, depression, cancer & anger issues.

I write, draw and produce all of my own work. I did go to art school for a minute, said, “Nah, I’m good,” and am mostly self-taught. I write books for adults — that look like they were drawn by a child.

My latest novella, Theia, is about a silver Boston Terrier who just wants to go outside. My next graphic novel, Brushfire, will be my first for all ages.

The back of my business card has my motto: “Always Love.” It means to try to make your decisions based on love, as opposed to fear or hate. To have compassion over strength, empathy over power. I really believe in that.

I love my dog, I love words, I love art — and I ❤ you. And that’s it.

Visit my website dennisvogen.com and tell me I sent you.

You’re Going To Make It After All

January 18th, 2021

You would think that because we’re not prehistoric people fighting for our daily survival that we wouldn’t be so stressed out.

But what humans did was change the definition of survival itself.

It is no longer just having shelter and something to eat and not dying.

It’s having a home that isn’t affordable for most people to own outright. It is always having reliable transportation. It is having clothes and accessories and makeup that somehow translate all of the things you are on the inside. It’s acquiring the most current technology. It’s acquiring a lot of material things, actually. It’s throwing parties and having weddings and preparing funerals for people whose costs while living haven’t even been paid in full yet.

And it’s, you know, not dying.

When we settled the original threats to existence, we just invented more and then built them up like skyscrapers. We created traditions and expectations and then dedicated every generation to come to kill themselves by living with them.

For me, panic mode, most of the time, starts when I am thinking about how I am going to keep all of this up. I find peace in the moments when I recognize that we make most of this shit up.

I don’t know who else needs to hear this today, but these thoughts help me when the sheer volume of materialism is suffocating.

If you have shelter, and something to eat, and are not dead: I see you. You survived in the most primal of ways today. And you are the stunning result of strong, beautiful human beings who did just that.

falling asleep behind the wheel

January 16th, 2021

Highway hypnosis is the phenomenon of daydreaming so profoundly that you find yourself at the destination of a journey without being able to remember how you got there. It’s called that because it usually happens behind the wheel.

I never thought that my grief would sometimes manifest itself in this way.

Often, I’ll wake up in the morning and make a mental note of my routine and what I have to do that day. Suddenly, as I’m opening a breakfast bar or taking my multivitamin, I’ll find myself in the thoughts of a woman who is dying.

It’s visceral, stress-inducing and strange, and by the time I get back to me, I find my fingers running through my hair, covered in finishing paste, and I am somehow dressed, having apparently taken a shower.

It’s a Freaky Friday form of time travel. Sometimes it’s life-affirming, giving me the perspective I need to live the best life I can; sometimes it is soul-crushing, and enough to make me question even the simplest aspects of the life I live.

When I pull back on the entirety of my existence, I see it as its own highway hypnosis. I am a person who is made up of everything I have ever said, done and experienced, yet at any given time, I am remembering almost none of it.

When I think about that, it too makes the bottom fall out of my stomach.

I think this why we become obsessed with making a roadmap of who we are. We do it in journals, with photographs, online. We draw family trees around our hands and keep calendars that act as mile-markers.

And the most important constants we mark on our maps are the people of our lives. I wouldn’t know who I am or what I’ve been without you. Any of you.

And then the reason for the highway hypnosis of my grief, the foggy gaps I drive through day-to-day, comes into clear view: how am I supposed to accurately keep track of time when the biggest constant of my life is gone?

Brushfire In-Depth: January 14th, 2021

January 14th, 2021

The creation of my first all-ages graphic novel, Brushfire, is well underway and (as promised!) here’s an update of how it’s going.

This is concept art for arguably the most important location in the entire series: Faribault’s Central Park. Brushfire — which, if this is the first you’ve heard of it, is an advanced wildlife society dedicated to adventure, education and community — is actually located UNDERNEATH it all, in the burrow our characters call home.

This piece was created using various painting tools in an art program called Infinite Painter on my tablet (which is one of my favorite art apps on Android, and I’ve used quite a few). The backgrounds in the series itself are quite different, but it’s fun (and helpful) to use different brushes (like the watercolor I used here) to experiment, and to create different moods and settings. I’ve been very inspired by the hand-painted backgrounds seen in Disney and Warner Bros. animated work for this series.

I’m almost done with character design for Wave I, which has been an almost overwhelming task on this project. With The Weirdos, I basically had to design four characters (one of whom was a literal stick figure); then I’d design additional characters when needed. The initial cast for Brushfire is at least FIVE TIMES that size.

The art style itself has also gone through a lot of development; this will look nothing like The Weirdos, or anything I’ve ever put out. The Weirdos has a “style” all its own that I created over five issues, and I hope to carry a tradition of not repeating myself every time I start a new comic series.

I mentioned “Wave I” a few paragraphs back, and that refers to the book I’m working on. Brushfire will consist of three books, called Waves, and the entire series is already laid out from start to finish. This allows me to plant seeds on the very first page that might not bloom until the last. That kind of stuff is exciting for me!

I hope you’re all as well as you can be. The world is really hard right now. I’m finding relief with a crew of small, furry animals who love life, science, exploration, and each other. I can’t wait for you to meet them, too.

Told Ya

January 14th, 2021

Imagine that you’re at a restaurant with your family. A few tables down sits a man, and he is drunk. Initially, he’s just rambling incoherently and maybe using language and slurs that make your family uncomfortable.

Eventually, though, he starts to say undeniably threatening remarks.

You alert some of the staff and the manager, and they ignore you. They say he’s a good man, and there’s nothing to worry about.

A few minutes later, he gets up from his booth, walks directly over to your table, and punches you as hard as he can in the face.

As you lie on your back, breathless, blood openly draining into your lungs, he does something inexplicable:

He tells you to relax.

He addresses the entire restaurant and, just seconds after hitting you, he declares that this is a time for peace and unity.

Even more inexplicably, some of the other patrons stand by him and say he is absolutely right.

The police aren’t called. Your bill isn’t comped. Your family is terrified.

And you are expected to comply.

It would be horrifying to find yourself in a situation like this. It would be degrading to be on the other end of this gaslighting.

It would say everything about the people who were inside the restaurant.

Forgive & I’ll Live

January 10th, 2021

Somebody on the internet set me off tonight.

Someone I love said, “You’re a writer. You should be better than the words that you’re saying right now.”

She’s right.

I can not, no matter how hard I try, ever understand people who live to set fire to the world, and who intentionally choose to hurt other human beings.

And as my thumbs trudge through the icy social media slush, it feels like those people are growing by number and getting louder.

And I think that’s where the anger comes from today. I feel alone.

I’m frustrated. I’m sad. I’m sorry for the times I said something mean or stupid. I’m sorry for the things I’ve done to hurt anybody.

Part of the human process, at least for me, is to get up, recognize that I am flawed, and then forgive myself for all of it — so I can live today in a way that I don’t take my past out on my present.

I don’t always succeed.

But I gather letters and words together and I try to use them in a better way, like a shovel to clear a path to understanding.

I just have so much trouble accepting that some people will choose to sit in a storm.

Truth & Consequence

January 9th, 2021

Apparently, some jerk got kicked off Twitter forever and people think it’s an example of silencing freedom of speech. In fact, there are a lot of people who think violating social media platforms’ rules and having their posts or access adjusted or removed accordingly is also that, apparently forgetting that when they joined those platforms they checked a little box that said they read AND understood the rules. Allow me to give you my bar metaphor:

If someone is being a threat or just an a**hole in a bar, we can 86 them (bye!) and it is not denying them their freedom of speech; it is telling them their words and actions are infringing on other’s right to be in that space, and that there are consequences for their free speech. They can threaten others and be an a**hole in other bars, but from personal experience I can tell you that there will come a time where there won’t be a place for them to go and drink — unless that place specifically tolerates that kind of behavior.

And lemme tell you: there are PLENTY of places like that on the internet.

I don’t know why we have to keep reminding some of you of this, but here it is for the people with their hands on their ears: freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences. Period. Exclamation point! But no question.

WAVES

January 8th, 2021

I played cribbage with my dad today. I asked him how he was doing, and the sign he did with his hand was a gentle current, like this photo of a sound wave, representing that he was in a constant state of feeling up and down.

Our universe is made of vibrations; everything macro (planets and stars and galaxies) to micro (the quantum world that we can’t see with the naked eye). We also know vibrations by their sonic qualities, perceptible to the ear.

Of those who know of the vibrational quality of life, some assume the universe is the instrument, but The Jazz of Physics gave me a different perspective.

The Big Bang is a familiar principle; first there was nothing, and then there was everything, and there are many related theories. Modern science also knows that our universe is ever-expanding, and may keep growing indefinitely. The universe, the singular resonant instrument, creator of the infinite possibilities inside.

But what is the universe isn’t an instrument? What if, like my dad’s hand, representing his highs and lows, the universe itself is a wave of sound?

That would mean that there wasn’t *a* Big Bang; it would mean that there are many. It would mean that our universe will not keep expanding; it will eventually start to contract again, so small that it will begin the next upward swing, the next Big Bang, the next birth of our universe.

And if the molecules of our existence are musical notes, what if the universe improvises? What if it’s different every time? What if this is the only time the universe exists in such a way that we exist, too?

Think about it: why are humans the only species (that we know of) able to not just appreciate math and music, but also comprehend how they work? Math and music are the languages of the universe; is it possible that, this time around, the universe created a being who would exist to understand it? Could our purpose really be as simple as appreciating the same universe that gave us life and the ability to appreciate it? Note that this scientific theory doesn’t exclude someone who believes in a singular creator by name; replace “universe” with the deity of their faith and it means the same.

That’s the magic of science. That’s the magic of a wave. It can explain our entire existence. And it can explain how we’re feeling when we lose the loves of our lives.

Come On (Up or) Down

January 7th, 2021

I’m about to get that kind of honest where it’s hard to look a person in the eyes after. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, slide into this booth next to me and let’s talk.

With everything that’s happened over the past year, and especially after losing my mom, I can’t see a future. I close my eyes real hard and I don’t see weeks or months or years ahead. It’s hard to explain, but it just feels like a lot of ends are happening all at once.

And living through endings makes you constantly aware that you have one coming, too. If you imagine all of time rolled out like a mat — like how you know physical space to be — then you’ve actually already died and just haven’t reached that point in space-time yet. And every time I get a headache, or I feel a stomach cramp, or I forget a name, it fills me with anxiety and dread that maybe that’s all she wrote for me.

I see people taking breaks from social media, and that is great. Self-care is vital to a healthy existence, and boundaries are important. But the thing I keep thinking about is: why aren’t we making social media a place we don’t need a break from? Why are we not making it better? I feel like the internet chases all the best people away, like a coyote with bad grammar and digital teeth. There has to be humanity here, and balance.

So I’ll make you a deal, as far as making this whole social media thing better.

I’ll be real with you.

I’ll be compassionate for you.

I will find joy with you.

I will listen to you.

I’ll hear you when you call me out.

I’ll be there to support you.

I will try to make you smile.

And the most difficult one for me…

I will try to find hope and see a future with you.

I don’t know what young me is thinking about in this photo. Probably girls or Pokemon cards. But I do know he was always thinking about the future. He was always dreaming and building and laughing and his imagination had no bounds. He saw the world with new eyes daily, which is one of the only parts of his I know I still have.

Death may always be just behind door number one, but I have to keep reminding myself that there is always something behind the curtain, too.

Let’s stay in this game show together.

Land of the

January 6th, 2021

I’ve been real good at staying apolitical as of late, but I feel like I’ve lost a little of my punk rock attitude and we’ve all been getting along too well. So let’s get to it, friends!

What is happening in Washington right now is just about as anti-American and anti-democratic (as in the idea of democracy, not the party) as anything I can imagine.

I extend my love and compassion to Donald Trump as far as he is a fellow human being on this planet. Apart from that, I think he is a despicable, narcissistic sociopath who objectively does not tell the truth (objectively meaning that there is actual proof he lies).

So what did I do when he became president four years ago? Was I upset? Yeah. Very. Did I complain? You bet. But did I discredit the actual system that our entire democracy is built on because I was in an inexplicable kind of love with a man I have never met?

No. I did not do that.

And that is what is happening now.

I had to deal with the fact that more voters in this country thought like him than think like me. I sorely wish the people in this country cared about one another as much as they cared about one dude who doesn’t care about them at all. I watch these people in D.C. literally scaling walls who were, just months ago, berating folks fighting in the streets for human rights. Like, the actual rights for human beings just to be.

I don’t want to be dramatic, but all of this points to the end of democracy. Truth is the base, and if we’ve reached the point that there is no truth — there are no objective facts, what you believe is more important than what is true — then there is no democracy.

Maybe the end isn’t fire and brimstone and apocalypse. Maybe it’s a bunch of folks in red hats who can’t accept the truth or the fact that they failed at something.

And that’s too bad. It’s too bad that conspiracies and hatred have eclipsed compassion, logic and decency. It’s too bad we’re proving to the world that our ideals as a nation are unattainable. It’s too bad we’ve lost our moral compass, and dived deep into immoral territory, like ignoring science and ridiculing that and those we don’t understand or are different from us.

It’s too bad.

I fully expect backlash from this. But I started with power chords, and I will be playing them until I’m dead.

The Jazz of Physics

January 4th, 2021

I devoured this book in two days.

You guys, if I haven’t told you, I’ve been having trouble with faith and hope and happiness and stuff, and The Jazz of Physics was exactly what I needed.

Like, exactly.

I have so much to talk to you about. I have so many words and so much art and way too many feelings to share with you.

I can’t wait.

“The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible.”

– Albert Einstein