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Reintroduction

Howdy.

September 6th, 2019

Some people need no introduction. Some people beg to be reintroduced. So whether you’ve never even heard of me or you feel like you know me intimately, this is my #fridayintroductions — and maybe we’ll all learn something new today.

My name is Dennis. I’m the guy in this photo. Not the guy with his back to you. I’m the guy sitting at the table, working on his dream.

I was born in the 80’s and am a lifelong comics and pop culture fan. Both have saved my life countless times. I’ve expressed myself artistically in a lot of different ways over the years — I released a trio of albums when I was a puppy, I started publishing my own books soon after with the help of Kickstarter, I started 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. In February of this year, I released two more books in the series: The Sketch and The Blue-Ringer. And finally, just this August, I released the fourth and fifth books: The Wait, and (the grand finale!) The Weirdos. I write, draw and produce all of my own work. I went 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.

I’m always getting better, though! I write about people, with problems, who have potential. My books explore adult themes — alcoholism, cancer, depression, mental health, physical illness and more — with a hopeful, realistic and fantastical lens.

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. I really believe in that.

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

No Matter What

October 21st, 2020

During my high school years, at least once a week, my mom asked me if I’m gay.

Spoiler alert: I’m not. But she would make sure that I was sure. And when I would reaffirm that I was not gay, despite being an absolute nerd who loved theater and musicals and dressing up and just had a lot of friends who were girls, she would remind me that she would love me no matter what I was or who I loved.

It seems like a silly story to share, but it’s always what comes to my mind when someone asks me what kind of person my mom was.

That’s who she was. She loved me so much that she would imagine situations in which I might believe she wouldn’t love me, and she assured me that she would love me. There were times I wished I was gay, or that one of my gay friends had my mom as their mom, just so she had that chance to prove her love.

Not that she ever had to prove it. Everyone felt it. The entire world was her gay-not-gay son. She defied conventional boundaries and social expectations to deliver the most pure love, a kind that exceeded imagination.

I cry a lot. I’m crying right now, in fact, writing these words. I get that from her. I inherited those intense feelings she forged, and I spent a lot of time trying to ghost them. She knew better, and I eventually learned her lesson.

Love people in a way that they could never believe you wouldn’t.

It’s easier said than done.

Things I’ve Learned Happen When You Lose Someone Close To You

October 17th, 2020

If you’re an obituary person (which is an odd kind of person to be, but no judgement), my mom’s will be in Sunday’s edition of the Star Tribune. You can also read it online here:

https://m.startribune.com/obituaries/detail/0000371633/?fullname=diane-marie-vogen

I’ve been told by many people that apparently I am the type to write down words, and that I should continue to do that process through this new process. With 48 hours under my belt, I humbly present:

Things I’ve Learned Happen When You Lose Someone Close To You

– Nearly everyone will say the wrong thing, because you realize there isn’t really a right thing to say.

– People who have also lost a loved one will  look at you like you’ve just joined their club, but you will initially resent them because this isn’t a club you ever wanted to join.

– As long as you remember that this is just waves, everything can be okay. When I find myself in a deep dip, I just have to imagine the oncoming crest and I am fine.

– Remembering that this is a wave won’t stop you from sobbing in the frozen section at Wal-Mart.

– Despite how well you’re doing, the absolute dumbest things will make you cry. I can say with complete honesty that, until this week, I hadn’t even realized that song from the Fast & Furious franchise about Paul Walker was a sad one.

– I don’t have any regrets, as far as my relationship with my mom goes. We both always knew how the other felt, and I can’t remember a time in my life when we let anything substantial come between us. In fact, her approach was to love any problem, and she was a genius mathematician.

– You will start to credit your departed loved one for everything good that happens. Example: when a green light stays on just a little longer to let you pass through, you find yourself saying “Thanks, mom” even though that makes no fucking sense.

– Same thing when something annoying happens. Just add “Thanks, mom” with a side of shade and sarcasm.

– Acknowledging the person isn’t physically here while still referring to them like they are is the only way I know how to do this.

– Flexible spirituality begets remarkable solutions. No system of comfort goes unconsidered or ignored.

– Most grab bags, like those found at birthday parties and soirees, are delightful. The grab bag of mourning — with its guilt and anger and sadness and humor and longing — is a terrible substitution but, like the former kind, is better when you share.

– You find out how strong your family is when they’re placed on the ropes. To not see a single member of mine shrink in the face of something unbearable was an extraordinary show of who we are, and that strength will be there when we need it.

– Dogs make everything better, even slightly, which is sometimes all you need.

I love you all and can’t possibly show you how much I appreciate every word, gesture and emoji. I know this is a process, and we’re just starting it. My mom was always bigger than life, so this new chapter is just a literal extension of that. All my love. ❤

Bigger on the Inside

October 15th, 2020

My dog loves everybody.

She cannot handle her damn self when presented (or creating) an opportunity to love on someone. This often displays itself as complete face-licking abandon; sometimes she pulls on her leash so hard my arm is dislocated from the shoulder.

The other day, she was happily flopping on the end of her line when a neighbor walked past. The neighbor made me snort when she said to my girl:

“You are too little to be doing all that.”

I laughed and agreed with her in the moment, but in reality, I couldn’t disagree more.

Never let anybody tell you that you are too small to be who you are.

I would argue that none of us have a body that adequately contains everything we keep inside.

In one of the multiple universe theories, it argues that are there are an infinite number of infinite universes that are perpetually growing. Think about that. In order for there to be separate universes, it requires that each universe has a border; but within each so-called border, the universe is infinite AND growing.

As my favorite doctor would say: “It’s bigger on the inside.”

So let it spill out. Let your enthusiasm and knowledge and curiosity and heart — your infinite love and soul — escape your pores and break through your dams and let yourself do “all that.”

Love on everyone around you, with complete, face-licking abandon.

There is no greater lesson.

Half/Hearted

October 11th, 2020

When I tell somebody I’m going to do something, it’s always half-heartedly.

In my head, a plan has as much of a chance failing as it does succeeding. Me saying it aloud isn’t a declaration of my certainty or confidence; it’s more akin to me casting a spell, pushing forth the initial ingredients needed to start the process.

The magic is in the encouragement.

If a person says something doubtful or negative about the thing, it swings my own opinion that way, too. It’s someone taking the air out of the balloon. It doesn’t mean that I won’t do the thing, but it does mean that the thing will have more power over me, it will be more challenging, and the potential rate of failing will be higher before I even begin.

But the magic is in the encouragement.

It’s when someone decides to see the worth in a plan that it sets early roots. A faucet turns on above my glass-half-full, and the positive vibe ratio increases, giving me the energy I’ll need in reserve when the thing isn’t happening like it’s supposed to.

And the thing rarely happens like it’s supposed to.

This is just a reminder to think about how you react to the plans presented in your life. Do you generally find strategic ways to shoot them down, even when you think you’re doing it for the right reasons? Or do you staple on paper wings with your words, giving the ideas lift while they find their own strength to become reality?

Your encouragement is magic. And I think you’ll find your world enchanted by the dreams you decide to approve instead of deny.

Artists Gotta Art

October 7th, 2020

I’ve seen countless posts, mostly from well-meaning parents, about technology and how it’s taking away our artists. How our children are being deprived of creativity by cell phones and video games and computers.

I, respectfully, disagree. But (also respectfully!) I feel like I have the pedigree and point of view to explain why.

If a person is a creator, they will find a way to create. Period. If a person is an artist, they will create art. Period. If they’re a writer, they will write words. Yet another period.

And how do I know this?

Because for my entire existence, creating art has never been easy. In fact, it’s been consistently hard and sometimes nigh-impossible. And yet I keep finding ways to do it.

I loved making movies when I was young. I did have a camcorder or two. Okay. But I didn’t have editing equipment. And tapes were both expensive and barely held any length of footage. And I only had so many friends — not enough for a crew of actors and technical positions and directing roles and everything else a normal production would require.

But we made movies.

I’m a writer. But I’ve never had a publisher. That hasn’t stopped me from releasing four novellas and a graphic novel. And not just digital versions; real-life books to hold were part of the package. Do you know what that required of me? I had to learn how to write (and it’s debatable if I did), how to edit, how to format, how to art design, how to digitally produce, how to find a place to print material, how to raise funds, how to promote — I had to do everything a publishing house does. It wasn’t easy.

I still did it.

And on and on. So what does this have to do with technology? Technology makes it EASY. Look around at the young artists in your life. They’ve been given a near infinite canvas to express themselves, and they do.

They take photos. They use filters. They make movies to share on social media and YouTube. They paint in Photoshop. They type on Word. They play video games with artistic depth that rivals feature films and literature. They create memes (and brilliantly). They play music, and often learn how to play with online tutorials. They do things with make-up that I could never imagine.

They express themselves with the voice they possess and the tools they have with as much ferocity and ingenuity as I have ever seen any creator express themselves.

So don’t worry about our artists. We will always make ourselves heard.

Instead, just make sure you’re listening. Caring. Supporting. Because we’re creating in more ways than ever before.

Live & Let Live

October 3rd, 2020

Superheroes have taught me a lot of lessons, but I learned one as a kid that I never forgot, and it feels especially relevant now.

At the end of any Spider-Man or Batman cartoon or comic book, I always found myself with an uneasy feeling.

I didn’t like how they let the bad guys live.

To me, it made sense to kill them, so they couldn’t hurt anybody else. I wasn’t a psychopath or anything (though that’s arguable); my soft, feeble brain just saw a primitive logic in removing evil from the equation of life.

By doing something over and over again that I didn’t quite initially understand, they normalized the idea that every person’s life is important, no matter who they are.

This means that we don’t wish for anyone — not even the bad guy — to die.

Because every life means something.

Just a thing to think about during these times. There are some days when even Spider-Man or Batman question whether they’re doing the right thing.

They are. I know that in my heart.

[Photo by audrey nicole photography]

Counterspell

September 1st, 2020

This isn’t a political post. Honest. It starts from a moment during the debate, but it’s deeply personal and I think it’s worth saying.

Last night, Trump attacked Hunter Biden’s problems with addiction. Joe spoke up and said he was proud of his son for dealing with those issues.

Unfortunately, Trump’s comments on people who have problems with addiction aren’t uncommon or unique.

It’s the reason I decided to go very public with my own struggles, while still lying in a hospital bed, starting a recovery from something that carries with it a lot of shame and ridicule.

It was a complex combination of things, but ultimately, I decided to normalize the pain, and anxiety, and uncertainty, and talk about the things that a lot of people don’t talk about, and I strove to do it in a positive way. I learned a lot about compassion — not just for people who struggle like me, but for all people.

And that’s the team I joined. I decided that whatever point I made, or stance I took, would have to have a basis in love, kindness and an understanding for others.

Last night, Trump attacked me. He attacked millions of people who struggle with addiction, and he reinforced what those without compassion say about them. He reminded them to be ashamed. He reminded them that what they are can be used against them, or their families.

So I want to be your other reminder.

I want to remind you that you are the light. You are duly important. You are infinitely priceless. You are loved. You are one of a kind, and this world is better for you in it.

Over the years, hundreds of people have reached out to me about how this affects their lives. Distantly, remotely, relatively, intimately.

I hear you, and I see you, and I’m sorry that we live in a world that can see us as inferior or less than.

We are bigger than any problem, and our solution is to live.

The Breakup Breakdown

September 25th, 2020

Someone at my new work asked me tonight if I missed my old work.

I have been avoiding this question since March.

It’s been asked in abundance and in different keys. And my response is usually an acute tweet that confirms I am fine and it was just a job.

But it wasn’t.

In reality, I am mostly fine. But sometimes, the feelings crash down on top of me in massive waves and I drown in it. The job was more akin to a personal relationship, which was actually a hive of hundreds of personal relationships I inhabited for almost thirteen years.

And instead of a break-up (or hundreds of break-ups), it was a sudden death in a world where we’re not allowed to have a proper party or funeral.

It is hard to miss my old work when there wasn’t a definite good-bye or certain sense of closure. And technology begets living ghosts and makes you question the nature of every relationship you have ever had (or didn’t have) at all.

It’s a simple question with a complex no-answer. This month has been exciting, lonely, engaging, scary, hopeful, exhausting and one of the most stressful I’ve had for a number of reasons. Like any break-up, I wonder if all the work I put into my last relationship means anything now, and how terrifying it is to put myself through it all over again as I start a new one.

So do I miss it? Well, yeah. And it would be easier to get over if it would have ended in a way that reflected how much of myself I had put into it over all this time.

Around The Fire

September 19th, 2020

Do you ever have a moment when you forget that you’re you?

When you do or say something that is completely uncharacteristic of who you are now, but then remember that it used to be a part of who you were?

I do.

I’ll say something negative. Or I’ll react in anger. Or I won’t speak at all.

And it feels false, but only because I’ve spent so much time building better foundations.

I think there are a whole lot of people out there who spend a lot of time trying to be better. Whether it’s working on my insides, or my actions, or my words, I feel like I’m just constantly striving to make improvements — often at the expense of losing forgiveness for myself.

So that’s all I wanted to say today.

Sometimes, you’ll do something that will remind people of the “old” you. It might remind you of a you that you didn’t particularly like.

Forgive yourself.

Instead of casting that part of you aside, bring it in. Let that part of you know that even though you’ve outgrown it, it is still welcome to exist as a part of your past, and thus, still a part of who you are.

Accept yourself.

All of yourself. The flaws, the ugliness, the outbursts of emotion that can only be classified as human. Let them sit next to the fire of who you are, alongside all the parts of you that are who you are now.

They’re not going away. We can start new chapters, but we’ll always be the same book.

Be kind to yourself. I know it helps to hear that sometimes myself.

Theia Rising

September 18th, 2020

I have some Theia news!

– If you pre-ordered a Limited Edition First Edition Paperback through my website, they are in production and will be arriving between September 25th and October 2nd! All the First Editions will be shipped with an exclusive bookmark, as well!

– For the first time ever, you can order a Print On Demand Paperback from Amazon, available now! I’ve been aware of this feature for some time, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out. (I ordered a set for myself to compare the quality to the First Editions, too.)

Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0578759322/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1600475709&sr=8-1

– All editions of Theia that are now available — print, ebook & the free PDF at dennisvogen.com — are the final versions. There were a few modifications made from the debut edition (just a handful of word and format adjustments; the story is the exact same).

I hope you get a chance to pick it up and spend a few hours with a menagerie of creatures who are very dear to my heart.