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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.

FallCon XL 2021

September 25th, 2021

“Return of the Mack” played on the radio on my way home. That’ll be important later.

FallCon XL was today and I just want to say THANK YOU with the full power of my caps lock to everyone I met, saw, or saw again today (and to the staff who made it all happen). You made today one of the most successful convention days I have ever had in every sense of the word and I am just so full of gratitude for you.

So much happened today, some of which I’d love to write more clearly about in the future, and it was just so joyful to be in a big room full of nerds just like me, who were clearly ready and hungry for this.

If you’re new here: welcome. I hope you stay a while. If you’ve been here since we got started: you know this all exists because of you.

When “Return of the Mack” started playing on the radio, it took me back to when I was kid growing up in Faribault. If you would have told him that one day he would not only be hanging out with some of the most talented people on the planet, but be a part of their community, he wouldn’t have believed you.

He would have thought he wasn’t good enough.

Thank you for reminding that kid he was wrong. This timeline can be so dang beautiful.

All my love.

Conned

September 24th, 2021

Tomorrow is FallCon XL at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds; it’ll be the first convention I’m participating in since February of LAST year, and I could not be more excited.

It had me thinking about my first convention as a creator, and the first comic book of mine I ever sold.

It was Fan Fusion at the Xcel Center back in the summer of 2018. I’ve done a lot of contests at my tables; they’re a fun way to start conversations and set yourself apart from other people, especially if you don’t have a lot of work to sell.

The contest for that con was “Name That Dog!” In The Flying Squirrel #1, Ashley has a dog whom he never refers to by name, so I thought it would be neat if I gave people the opportunity to give me suggestions. If, after the weekend was over and I looked at all the entries, I chose the name they gave me, I would use it in The Weirdos and send them a free copy of my comic book.

Simple rules, right? I explained them hundreds of times over the course of the weekend and received as many submissions.

I hadn’t sold a single comic when a girl walked up and I told her about the contest. She thought it was cool, filled out the entry, dropped it in the box, and then picked up a copy of The Flying Squirrel #1… and just walked away with it.

It happened so fast and I was so confused that I didn’t say anything, nor had the wherewithal to get up and track her down.

And so it goes that the first comic book I ever sold at a convention was actually stolen from my table in broad daylight as I sat there smiling like an idiot.

I hope she liked the book.

See you tomorrow.

Introduction: Fall 2021 Collection

September 19th, 2021

Hi. Hey. Hi! I wasn’t sure how to start this introduction to myself so I used all three as a placeholder and I forgot to go back and delete two. I’ll be going out into the world for the next month and meeting new friends and possible fans and hopefully not potential stalkers and I wanted a new introduction post to pin to my social media so people who don’t know me can get to know me and my work better.

This is the post.

Hi!

My name is Dennis Vogen. I’m a writer and a lot of other things but if you tore me apart and looked at the thing that was deepest inside myself, it would be a writer. And maybe a squirrel.

I was born in the 80’s and a child in the 90’s and a child in the 00’s and 10’s and 20’s, too. I’m an advocate and victim of both nostalgia and the future.

I write a lot on the internet, about a lot of things, but I generally write about them in my voice from inside my head and from my tilted point of view. “Radical empathy” is one of my favorite phrases and I try to use it as the facet I project my light through.

As of this post, I have released seven books, three albums of music, countless videos and posts and essays and just a lot of words and sounds in general.

So what should you read? Let me try to reduce each book to a sentence or two.

Them & Us, my first and third novellas, are about Kim, a young woman whose parents disappear on the same day our planet is attacked by people from another world. It’s violent and funny and absolutely the work of a first-time author.

Flip & Push, my second and fifth novellas, are about Liam, a man who has vivid dreams and becomes obsessed with a serial killer named Alen, who is murdering people in theirs. These books are about dreams and loss and grief, and people have reached out to me most about them.

Theia is my fourth novella, about a silver Boston Terrier who is trapped in an shelter and just wants to get out. I wrote it at the end of the summer of 2020, and it is very much a book about 2020 as told through its animals.

The Weirdos is my first graphic novel, about people with problems who have potential; superheroes who deal with real shit, like alcoholism, depression, cancer, anger and other mental health issues.

And Time is a Solid State is a collection of online posts and essays, from a span of almost five years and about a multitude of topics. Some people told me they wanted a book of my non-fiction stuff, I wanted a book of my non-fiction stuff, so this is a book of my non-fiction stuff.

This introduction is entirely too long and I still have a lot to say so I guess it’s good you’re following me on social media where I say all of those things.

Thank you for reading. I hope you keep reading. All my love.

buoy

September 17th, 2021

I was trying to describe how it can feel to open up to someone tonight and it felt oddly comforting to find the words and say them.

It was about why someone who is hurting may not reach out to another person who is hurting, too, but might rather seek to speak to someone who appears to be doing well at the moment.

When you’re drowning, you look for a person in a boat. The fear of pulling down another human in the water with you can be worse than the feeling of drowning alone.

Yesterday marked a year from the night I got the phone call that something was wrong with my mom. We had exactly a month from that day with her left.

I construct boats out of words. No matter what situation I find myself in, I put together planks made of adjectives and verbs and made-up sounds and I appear to be standing above the water, when in reality I swim like anybody else, I tread, and sometimes I fall below the surface.

We live in a time where nearly everybody seems to be hurting, to be potentially drowning, and it’s hard to find a boat.

But I have to say, there are buoys here in the water. There are moments between the treading when we can catch our breath, when we can hold on to something on our level, when we can share stories with each other and find ways to relate and remind one another that we’re not alone.

We can point to lighthouses on horizons that we’ve visited before. We can lay on our backs and remind ourselves that both clouds and stars still exist and are infinite. We can tell tales that inspired joy while they lived and have since become legend.

This is just a person in the water letting all the other people in the water know that it’s okay. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in here. Your next breath is a second away and if you need a buoy, I have space for all of you waiting around mine.

On Brand

September 16th, 2021

On Brand

They’re called #trends for a reason.

They’re brief. They’re passing. They’re ephemeral.

I’m struggling to find things on the internet that give me any sense of co-evolution; that is, sites and people who feel like they’re growing alongside me, as a person, instead of chasing whatever trends will get them the most likes, shares, and follows, no matter how brief, passing, or ephemeral those responses may be.

Chasing trends tends to leave behind empty shells, posts bereft of lasting bite or worth.

So, though you may have read this before, maybe at a time when this sentiment was trending, I feel like it bears repeating now: the best brand you can be is you.

Genuine, ugly, deep, defective, reflective, beautiful, authentic you.

I’m so tired of the sameness I see and I feel and I digitally wallow in. And I’m not talking about ideas or emotions I’ve come across a million times; even those are thrilling when a person comes to them and expresses them in their own one-of-a-kind way.

I just don’t see a lot of effort to be more than two-dimensional in a world that offers infinite dimensions.

This is a weird thing to bemoan in the deafening silence of cyberspace, but maybe it’s what one person needs to hear before deciding that, instead of being one “thing” on the internet, they decide they want to be one whole ass person.

They’ll share their hopes and fears and thoughts and dreams, not when they’re trending, but when they feel them and think them.

And maybe we’ll leave something lasting for as many generations are left for this hysterically unstable planet.

The world, as we know, is burning. Let’s burn with it, equally bright and devastating.

Ain’t That Some Sh

September 15th, 2021

I had to walk to school, and home from school, throughout elementary school and high school (and quite a few middle school days, too).

On crisp, awakening fall days, like today, or breezy, renewing spring days, those walks contain some of my favorite memories, the kind they try to recreate in movies that try to recreate our childhoods.

In winter, those walks were a brutal hell that I would wish upon no human, child or elder.

This is a story about one of those walks.

I won’t give away what I grade I was in, but I will say I was old enough to know better. School was over, it was cold outside, and I had to make a decision about whether to go to the bathroom before I left or not. I did the math in my head (though I was still in school, thus still learning what math was) and figured I would be home before there was any immediate danger.

Halfway home, I found myself dead wrong.

At this point, there is nothing I can do. I’m in the middle of town, there are no exits, there is no escape. So I just try to walk faster, which turned into a run, which turned into me shitting myself about four blocks before I got home.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you think this was a story in which I did not shit myself?

I walk the rest of the way home, literally covered in my own feces, and I don’t know how I’m going to explain any of this to the people who live inside — I was no longer referring to them as my “family” at this point, because they were most certainly disowning me after they found out what I had done.

Luckily (depending on how you define “luck”) no one was by the door when I entered, so I was able to run up the stairs and get to the bathroom, where I turned on the bath and just started scrubbing the heck out of every inch of my disgraceful body.

The door creaked. My mom popped in. Asked how my day went. She nodded and smiled and acted like I wasn’t completely covered in my own shit.

And that’s what this story is about.

If you’re covered in shit, surround yourself with people who love you so much that they don’t care that you’re literally covered in your own shit. And when the people you truly love are covered in their shit, you nod and you smile and you ask how their day was.

And if they love you back, they will start sobbing about how they shit themselves today and feel so much better that you still love them anyways.

At least, that’s what I did.

Trash

September 13, 2021

I’m not sure how to talk about anything that’s going on in the world anymore, so let’s just discuss littering.

Generally speaking, one discarded candy wrapper isn’t going to destroy the planet or any one individual’s worldview. And I think the person who drops that single piece of trash feels the same way, but also — selfishly, as human beings can be — they also have the mindset that they are the only person who has decided to litter today.

I believe that the person who decides to take a walk around the lake by their house to do some meditation and find a little peace will feel those individual wrappers add up and have a significant impact on them.

Recently, I wrote an essay in which I pointed out there has never been a time in history when children knew better that adults have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. The internet has allowed us to declare our smallest, dumbest, meanest, most divisive and least compassionate thoughts whenever we feel like it, and the impact of that is obvious.

And now social media highlights comments from your friends and family on posts that you don’t even follow.

It’s like someone sending you photos of all the trash that you wouldn’t find yourself.

I think a lot of those comments that get spotlighted by the algorithm are made by people who don’t think anyone is going to see them.

We do.

They think they’re not going to matter.

They do.

I try not remove people from my lists just because we have different views, but I also look out for my own mental health, and I’m being honest when I say I have blocked people after coming across these seemingly random comments which reveal truly abhorrent facets.

And if you’re wondering where I’m going with all this, how I’m going to tie all this together, what the point of this trash metaphor is, it’s to plead with you.

Don’t litter.

Think about what you drop on this planet. Whether it’s a Big Buddy cup in a parking lot or a comment on the internet that does nothing for anybody or, worse, does true damage or stirs unnecessary pots.

Stop littering.

And watch beauty and sanity fight back.

Dark Dreams

September 10th, 2021

“I know this sounds like a happy, impossibly perfect ending, but it’s not.

I have to work really hard for this. It’s not easy to talk. It’s not easy to ask for help. It’s not easy to accept that others want to help.

Like cancer, there is always the fear that it could come back. I have to be vigilant.

I still have dark days, and sometimes I have dark dreams.

But not every day.

That’s been the biggest change. Finally accepting that not every day will be a good one, but also knowing that not every day will be bad, either. And no matter what kind of day today turns out to be, there will always be at least one more, waiting for me like a light at the end of a tunnel.”

– Excerpt from “Push”

It Should (Not) Have Been Me

September 9th, 2021

There can be an odd guilt with grief that, if understood, can actually be a good thing.

I often talk about all these tools I’ve learned as an adult, sober person, but I usually refer to them in the abstract. One of the specific tools I have to take out of the shed daily is the ability to pull myself out of self-pity.

When someone dies, it’s a common phenomenon to feel like you should have been the one in their place.

I know I do.

You start down a path by imagining a world in which they survived and you did not, and because you can’t possibly know that world, you believe it is a better one. I know there were specific things I had felt; that I should have been the one who was sick, for example, because maybe I would have had a better chance, but at the very least the world would have still had her.

This is a very deep swamp of self-pity. I see people buried in it every day.

Being able to recognize my self-pity — the swamp — and lift myself out of it like Luke’s ship on Dagobah gives me the perspective I need to not only survive, but to live.

Because when you get over a swamp, you can see it’s only a small part of a multitude of waterways, spreading out towards the horizon in every direction. You have choices. You can go anywhere and do anything.

So I take moments throughout my day and I recognize that. If I make someone smile, I remind myself they would not have smiled then if I wasn’t here. If I help someone, I remind myself that that person would have had to do it alone today. If I write some words down, I remind myself that those words would have never existed.

And all of those things happened because it wasn’t me.

And it pushes me to do more.

So if you’re feeling that way, for any reason, just remember the words of the wise philosopher, Shrek — get out of your swamp. Remind yourself of everything that exists only because you exist. And if you’re running low on examples, go out and make some more.

A Little Shove

September 6th, 2021

Inspiration and motivation can come from the strangest and most delightful of places.

Making Brushfire is hard. It’s a lot of fun and it means the universe (multiple universes, actually) to me, but it’s been a ton of work and some days I just can’t. There’s an alternate dream reality in which my only job is a creative one, but I live in a very real world where my bills are also very real and are not paid for by art.

So I’m just a regular, tired human who gets tired regularly.

I’ve been feeling pretty discouraged lately, and then I got a message. It was from the mom of a boy who had made some art for me (I won’t call him out for the sake of his and his family’s privacy). He had done seven original drawings of the characters that I created and they are just adorable and beautiful and amazing.

And it shook my branch a little and reminded me why, even though I am a regular, tired human, I spend so much time trying to make something extraordinary.

I hope you have people like that in your life. And I hope you are the person like that in others’.

I just wanted to thank those people in mine who randomly encourage me to go on. Whether it’s a conversation about something I did or something I’m going to do, a little proverbial punch on the arm or any other kind of thumbs up, I appreciate it beyond words. Or at least these words.

Here’s a panel from that book I’m working on. It shows a few characters looking at something called the Flip Side.

I’ll catch you all over there soon.