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.

Delusional Resolutions

January 24th, 2022

Have you ever started a day by telling yourself that this is the day you’ll get better, and at the end of it you’re not?

If so, then this one’s for you.

When I was a mess, I would often have conversations with future me.

I would say, “Hey. It’s me. I’m so sorry I’m putting you through this again. If you can just get us through the rest of today, I promise you that tomorrow will be different.”

I’d go on.

“I promise that I’ll take it easy on you. I won’t drink, the whole day. I’ll let you detox and rebalance. I’ll apologize to whoever is mad at us for whatever it is I’m doing right now. I’ll be nice to people. I’ll be kind to you.”

And future me would get present me through that day.

Then the morning would come.

And I would tell myself that this is the day that I will get better.

Sometimes I would dash that hope within moments of waking up. Sometimes it would take a few hours, but I would find a reason to resort to who I assumed I was at my core.

It was often as simple as realizing I had scraped by another day without losing anything significant, so I could scrape once more. By the end of the day, most likely, I had deflected and projected and irrationally rationalized myself to the place and person I had been the day before.

It was demoralizing. I often woke up already defeated. But — and this is the point of me writing this down — I never stopped telling future me that tomorrow was the day I was going to get better.

And one day I did.

And it was awful and led to one of the worst weeks of my life.

And that week led to me finally keeping a promise to myself that I never thought I could deliver.

Day after day after day.

Hope isn’t something you have to go out and find.

Hope can be something as easy as saying the most delusional thing to yourself, over and over and over again.

And then, you know — doing it.

What if God was (not) one of us?

January 23rd, 2022

I wrote a little last week about this book, “God Is Not One,” by Stephen Prothero, and now that I’m finished I could not recommend it more.

Learning about all the things the world believes in makes you believe in the world more.

The book is both expansive and intimate, covering the people, places, history, traditions and words of the eight greatest and most influential religions, and it is casually readable, like a conversation over coffee with a world-class pal who happens to be a religious scholar.

It presents the idea that religion is not one mountain or singular goal with different paths; no, each religion identifies what it considers to be life’s big problem, and then offers what it believes to be its one big solution.

And it has deeply affirmed what I already believe.

In each religion, I found at least one thing I wholeheartedly agreed with that was not to be found in any other. As the chapters on each end, you start to see them borrow and swap and integrate ideas from others into their own.

You might guess the next thing I’ll say is that means each religion is wrong.

But no.

My assessment is that every religion is incomplete.

And only by keeping my eyes, ears, and heart open might I find the thing that I’m looking for, the thing that other people might miss because they’ve already decided their incomplete thing is the right one.

One of the most interesting things I noted: every single religion in this book highly values justice, compassion and, in particular, helping the poor and the less fortunate. It’s one of the only universal traits they share.

In that regard, every single religion has objectively failed on the large scale, despite individuals who do their part to help their friends, families, and communities.

This isn’t a condemnation of any religion, but rather something to contemplate if you ever think that yours is any better than someone else’s.

One of the best ways a person can see more of the world is by seeing the same world through somebody else’s eyes. It can expand your empathy and perspective and appreciation, and this literary trip gave me all that and more.

Amen, L’Chaim, and may the Force be with you.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

January 19th, 2022

I still don’t know what a Wordle is. (I’m actually not fully convinced it’s not a Pokemon.) But I love me some Wheel of Fortune.

So, here’s the name of my next book! Well, okay, here are blanks that represent the letters in the name of my next book.

_ _ _ _    _ _ _ _ _

Happy guessing! Oh, and want to be the first to know what it is?

I’ll be seeing you at LPR in Lakeville on Wednesday, February 2nd (2.2.22) from 4 pm – 8 pm, where I’ll be debuting the name and cover of my new novel, as well as talking about, selling and signing my current work.

See you soon!

The Fastest-Growing Religion

January 18th, 2022

God Is Not One has been one of the most enlightening and empowering books I have read.

Religion isn’t going away. I’m not a religious person, but I take it as a personal responsibility to learn about the people I live with on this planet. Like most people, I always felt religion was one mountain and the varieties were different paths leading to the same peak. I realize now that’s akin to saying “I don’t see color,” discrediting billions of experiences I didn’t really understand.

Now let’s talk about Islam.

I learned so much about the fastest-growing religion in the world last night (Christianity is still the largest but dropping, from 35% of the world’s population to 33% in the last hundred years, while Islam has doubled in the last 30 years, from 11% to 22% or more). But I really want to share a revelation that helped me see things as they are, and not how America wants me to.

In the Bible, there are passages that blame the Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. This is accurate information.

In the 1940’s, some Christians pointed to these passages to justify the genocide they were commiting against the Jewish people.

These Christians were also called Nazis.

Now, if I were to tell you that you were a Christian like those Nazis were Christians, you would be upset. You might even punch me in the face. You would tell me your understanding of your religion would never allow you to murder innocent people.

Still with me? Because those Christian Nazis are to most Christians what those terrorist bombers are to most Muslims.

For example, the people who crashed into the Twin Towers broke countless rules of Islam, including laws against suicide and the killing of other Muslims, not to mention the basic principles the religion is based on, like justice and peace.

In short, they were crazy people.

Every religion, every workplace, every family has crazy people.

And if you’re the type who says, “The Quran says scary things!”, I’ll play a game with you: you give me a scary line from the Quran, and I’ll give you one from the Bible. Probably one of the passages where God literally tells people to kill other people.

And the thing is, you’ll lose, because the Quran is way shorter than the Bible.

There are Moderate and Progressive Muslims, who can recognize the parts of their religion that may be antiquated and grow from it, just like there are so many brands of Christianity. I’m kind of obsessed with Sufis now and how they see the world.

It really is a beautiful religion.

Anyway, this is a reminder: if you decide to not learn about the people around you, whose fault is it when you don’t understand?

If you’re having trouble answering that question, then your problem probably has two thumbs.

Dennis Book Club

January 16th, 2022

Today, at work, some of my co-workers, organically, spontaneously, decided to choose one of my books and started a book club around it.

It was one of the neatest, sweetest things I have ever, as a writer, watched unfold around me, and I literally did nothing to make it happen.

But I did say, “Hey! If you’re all going to buy the same book of mine for a book club I can give you a discount on that!”

And I thought I’d offer it to you, too.

If you ever decide that you want to start a book club with one of my books, reach out to me and I will give you a discount on books. I would say a club consists of at least two people, so it has to be at least two books. And the more books you need, the better a discount I can offer.

Even if the book club formed today doesn’t manage to get together or even finish the book, the sentiment gave me an overwhelming case of the warm fuzzies. I can still feel them. Plus, they paid me in cash so that’s easier to hide from the IRS. More warm fuzzies.

Maybe someday I’ll even crash some of your book clubs. I’m a great houseguest. I like cheese and am allergic to wine.

All my love.

P.S. They’re reading Flip, if you’re curious.

My Covid Diary

January 14th, 2022

I just made it through my CDC-recommended quarantine.

I think most of the people who have had covid (and talk about it) share their physical symptoms. Because of this one-dimensional barometer, you’ll find other people minimize what it is that happens when you’re infected.

By that measure, I had sniffles and coughs. I was more exhausted than I have been in recent memory. My breathing is weaker. As a person who is fully vaccinated and boosted, it actually causes me concern to think about what would have happened to me if I wasn’t.

Let’s talk about the other stuff, though.

This week, my anxiety about money destroyed my nerves. I don’t have a salary. I don’t have vacation or sick time. I’ve been dealing with pretty severe loneliness issues that I know are related to grief, and being isolated from everybody actually tore at my sanity. Every day I woke up wondering if I was going to get worse in a way I hadn’t imagined, and briefly before bed every night, I hoped that I would wake up to find out. The exhaustion I had exasperated my feelings of worthlessness, which, as a creative person, is something that is already hard for me to regulate. Scrolling the internet, I got so angry, unthinkably furious, at the people who persist in not caring about others and being ignorant and obstinate, because now, laying in bed and feeling all the things I just described, it felt deeply personal.

I had a real bad week, you guys.

It’s these layers of being sick in a pandemic that are hardly discussed. We say “it’s like a cold” if one person describes their physical symptoms like a cold, but what I described, for me, was not a fucking cold.

And I will joke and I will laugh it off and I will do all of those things that I do, but I also wanted to be honest with you, because that seems to be in short supply lately, along with compassion and that radical empathy our pal Jesus endorsed.

I’ve never meant this more: I hope you’re hanging in there. I hope the people you love are staying well. I hope you’re safe. I hope you know, if you’re feeling any of the things I felt, you are not alone, and we’re going to get to the other side, together.

I’m back in the real world tomorrow. Wish me luck. All my love.

Nothing Around Us Changes

January 12th, 2022

Weirdly enough, I finally got covid, but that’s not what’s inspiring me to write tonight. (Presuming nothing terrible happens to me over the next few days, I’ll probably write about that later.)

No, I’ve been quarantined all alone in the bedroom (with occasional visits from my doctor, who is actually my dog), so I’ve just been catching up on a lot of TV. And one of the shows that I finally got around to was Midnight Mass.

It deals heavily with spirituality and addiction, which I dig.

When I first got sober, I thought the hardest thing I would ever have to do was not drink. After I did some work and realized that was an attainable goal, which I could reasonably achieve, another hardest thing would present itself. And I would conquer that. And so on and so on.

Until I got to the actual hardest thing I will have to do again and again.

In the show, two alcoholics are talking and one asks the other, “Does it ever get any different for people like us?”

The other shakes his head no, and says he doesn’t think so. Then he added four words that shook me, the four words that define my life now:

“Nothing around us changes.”

Getting your shit together does not mean the rest of the world will get their shit together, too. And you can share and inspire and support and help all you want, but there is nothing a person can do to make another person want to be better.

And it is impossible for me to fully accept. Which means I find myself having to accept it again, over and over, every single day.

This isn’t pessimism. In fact, I spend a lot of my life talking about how I used to be and how I got better in the hopes that somebody else will hear it and get better, too. If I were pessimistic, I would keep me to myself because I’d figure it doesn’t matter anyway.

It matters. What we say and do matters.

But what we say doesn’t matter as much as what we do, and even if you decide to do, the world will mostly not follow suit. Jesus said stuff thousands of years ago that is still revolutionary today, which is a clear example of how slow we are to catch on. Loving people should be easy as hell.

I’m not saying we can’t be different. People are glorious, complex creatures that are capable of limitless change, internally and externally, from the quantum to the cosmic.

But that change is up to you, and whoever you think is in charge of you. And whoever you think is in charge of you isn’t going to make the world change with you.

An Evening w/ Dennis Vogen & Labyrinth Puzzle Rooms

January 7th, 2022

I was hinting at something fun yesterday, and I am so happy to announce it today: I’m doing a collaboration with an amazing local business in Lakeville, Labyrinth Puzzle Rooms!

I met with them yesterday and they have the kindest and most radical idea: instead of their lobby being solely a place to wait, they want it to be a gallery of sorts for other local artists and artisans to exist. And that includes me!

So I’ll be all up in their space on Wednesday, February 2nd, from 4 to 8 pm, doing my first-ever Lakeville appearance, with books for sale and me signing some stuff (preferably my own, but hey, I’ll sign whatever you want!). We’re going to have treats, too, of course, and I can’t wait for those of you who haven’t checked out LPR yet to see it in real life, and to talk to the passionate and knowledgeable owners about what it is they do. (They have one of the coolest jobs ever and they care so much about their work.)

On top of all this, I will also be announcing my brand new novel, in-person only at the event. That’s right: I won’t be sharing it on the internet for a minute, and the people who come to the event will be the first to know; there will be a physical preview that I’m putting together to introduce you to the new world I’ve created.

I mean, how dope does all that sound?

So — please go follow LPR on social media, RSVP on our event page, and I cannot wait to see you all next month! (We will follow all safety protocols, as well, because we care about you, duh.)

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page and set yourself a reminder with my Instagram post. Because there is just too much to remember nowadays.

Circus Wisdom

January 4th, 2022

When I was teased, or made fun of, or laughed at growing up, my dad would tell me to laugh with them. Or, if I could, laugh at myself before they had the chance.

That sentiment is terrible for a child. But it’s advice I take more to heart every day I get older.

I think there is a general idea that the things you keep private give you power; that your secrets are cards in your hand that give you some ineffable advantage over other human beings.

I’ve learned the opposite is true for me; that the more I share about myself, the less power others have over me.

I share things like the fact that I’m a better person when I don’t drink, that I’ve made really bad mistakes, that I’ve hurt the people I love but some of them have chosen to keep loving me, anyway — those are the kinds of things we lock away in a closet with the hope that nobody discovers that extra door at the very end of a very dark hallway.

Being honest about myself — sharing and then laughing about the things I hate about myself before anybody else gets the chance to — has both saved my life and given me a life worth examining.

I remember getting picked up at school when I was really young, and I couldn’t stop crying, completely inconsolable. My dad asked what was wrong.

Referring to some kids in class, I told them, “They said my parents were deaf!”

“Am I deaf?” he asked me.

Well, yeah, I replied.

“Then why are you crying?”

I kept crying after he said that. Maybe because that was the moment I realized that the world is both beautiful and cruel, and often simultaneously.

But I was probably crying because he was right. The truth is hard. But accepting it, being honest about it, and being able to laugh at it can be the easiest thing you ever do.

Being serious is for the immature; the best wisdom comes from the oldest clowns.

New Myths

January 3rd, 2022

“Just because something’s been around longer doesn’t make it better.”

This immortal line is spoken by the legendary Johnny Lawrence in the season four opener of the karate-chopping, always-inspiring, instant-classic Cobra Kai.

In either a cosmic coincidence or a divine slap in my face, this quote is a perfect distillation of what’s been on my mind lately.

Last week, I found an old interview with George Lucas on YouTube from right before Star Wars: Episode I was released. George has often been praised for bringing classic myths and structures up-to-date with his franchise; mythographer Joseph Campbell was both his idol and mentor.

Over his lifetime, Lucas has repeatedly spoken on the importance of myth, and how it is our responsibility to keep bringing them with us into the future.

As I look around at the world, and see its chaos and disarray and how, collectively, we don’t even remotely have our shit together, I wonder: what have those myths done for us?

And as a creative person, I can’t help but wonder: maybe it’s time for new myths.

Sure, learn your history and the rules. But learn them to break them; to make a new world with better stories.

Another conversation I’ve had a lot lately is how dumb it is that we don’t use the metric system, which is clearly an easier system of measurement to use. The reason we don’t is because people are stubborn and do not like change, and those people were taught a very stupid way to measure things by people who were also taught that way. And so on.

This goes for many of our systems.

But like Johnny says, this does not make any of them better. And what doesn’t make us better needs to go.

We need new systems. We need new myths.