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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.

2%

June 21st, 2021

Sometimes it takes an animal’s perspective to help us understand our own lives; the way that humans tend to overcomplicate things often gets in the way of seeing them clearly.

This has become very apparent as I finish up hundreds of pages of squirrel research.

I have fun facts for days (I can explain to you at length why squirrels will eat white oak acorns today and bury red oak acorns for later) but I’ve been thinking about this particular anecdote a lot lately.

In general, female gray squirrels practice something called natal philopatry; it means that, more often than not, they will remain in the same home where they were born after they mature. It allows them to have strong bonds with kin and build generations of family. Male gray squirrels, on the other hand, almost universally leave their place of birth once they’re of age.

Almost universally.

In one study, the scientists noted that 2% of the male squirrels they observed did not leave their nest once they were grown.

These two squirrels had lost their mother at a young age.

And realizing that grief has an enormous impact on even a creature so small is a powerful realization.

We wonder why we can’t just move on, and we analyze it and we rationalize it and we expect to be the same person more or less after it happens. Animals show us that loss is life-altering in a permanent way that can’t be explained by words.

Humans love to think that our intellect means we experience certain things that no other creature could possibly get. Animals show us that grief is universal, and humans aren’t lucky enough to carry it alone.

Everywhere You Look

July 20th, 2021

It’s been brought to my attention by multiple people over the last few weeks that I have been talking about Full House a lot, and watching it with curious regularity.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t begin questioning why I’ve been doing this.

With the 90’s being the latest era to be co-opted as a trend by a later generation, I’ve again been reading and watching a lot of viewpoints on the power of nostalgia (which is an entire essay in itself).

There is one point in particular that has been highly resonating with me:

Nostalgia exists because of our imperfect memories.

And as soon as I reconciled that theory with my behavior did I figure out why Full House has been on my mind.

I grew up as part of the TGIF generation, and Full House was the crown jewel of that line-up in our household. I don’t know if our family missed an episode, and I have so many warm memories of those Friday nights.

One-liners, guest stars, musical numbers, marriages, pregnancies, deaths — the show opened doors to actual conversations and real feelings and it was a major part of my childhood.

And thinking about that made me realize I had, like almost everybody else, an imperfect childhood, but those nights spent with my mom and the rest of my family felt perfect. And keeping the artificial parts, the episodes of an old TV show, running through my head gives me very real feelings of peace and security and happiness.

It’s a coping mechanism, and one that has been helping me with grief since day one.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if someone around you is dealing with stuff and they’ve found themselves obsessed with the healing properties of their favorite piece of nostalgia, you should heed the words of Uncle Jesse when dealing with them: have mercy.

And if they ask you to sit down and enjoy an episode with them, it doesn’t take much to respond: you got it, dude.

Let’s Talk!

June 19th, 2021

Hey.

Are you the one-in-three Americans who currently has a podcast? Let’s talk.

Are you a prolific blogger who does interviews or individual features as part of your content? Let’s talk.

Are you a journalist for a local publication or writer for a website who needs subjects for spotlights or specific interest pieces? Let’s freaking talk.

I am open to be a guest on whatever it is that you do. Drop me a line and let’s create something fun together. Or something absolutely bananas. That all depends on what it is you do. Let’s talk.

Change, or Die

June 16th, 2021

Working in a bar as long as I have, I’ve heard a lot of stories.

Most of them about other human beings. Most of them some kind of drama or hardship or horror.

Quite a few of them about people who didn’t make it.

Some of the people just had bad luck, uncommonly. But most of the stories about the people who have tragically passed are the stories of a downward spiral. Of a battle. Of a war.

About a person who couldn’t beat the dark thing that lived inside of them. (Or even find ground to negotiate.) And these stories, they inevitably lead to worse ones, and the conversation invariably evolves into one of inevitably, impossible odds, “I knew it was going to happen,” “People like that don’t change.”

The next time you’re in a conversation like that, will you do me a favor? Tell them, “Actually, I know a guy…” And feel free to tell them anything you want about me.

Mind you, this isn’t about me. This is about changing the trajectory of the conversation. Instead of accepting the things that can clearly be changed, this is about injecting our words and intentions with hope.

Because you never know who is listening to those stories.

It used to be me, behind the bar, swallowing every word. Believing in the inevitability of the monster I have in me, and make no mistake: it is a monster. Rarely, if ever, did I hear these conversations steer towards the kind of compassion and happy endings that are not only possible, but the way the universe bends.

We’re not meant to be solely our worst. We are meant to make mistakes and grow and share what we know to help others who do not.

“Change or die,” I repeat to myself, like a mantra (I stole the phrase from Neil Gaiman). Maybe not literally; but the moment we decide that we can’t learn anything new in this world is the moment we stop being a living, breathing part of it.

Fifty First Rates

June 15th, 2021

There’s this magic number we think about often as self-published writers: 50.

That’s the number of reviews to takes on Amazon to get their attention.

It is both a small number and (as someone who’s largest set of reviews is 7 for a book that’s almost 8 years old) an impossibly great one.

So I want to answer a question I get all the time: “Why do you write and publish books?” But I want to answer it specifically for Time is a Solid State, which is essentially my internet feed in book form.

There are lists and lists of writers who weren’t discovered or appreciated until they kicked that cruel bucket. Emily Dickenson had her first book of poetry published just in time — for the fourth anniversary of her death. Henry David Theroux self-published his now-classic works and sold few (which sounds uncomfortably close to my story), but Henry also didn’t have the internet in the 1800’s. Writers like Herman Melville and poet John Keats were both published in their lifetimes, but also considered themselves to be complete failures due to the initial critical responses to their work. (I mean, people hated it.) And H.P. Lovecraft didn’t have his stories published in book form until a few years after his passing (though that may have been tongue-in-cheek instant karma on behalf of his rampant racism).

Their deaths didn’t change the words they wrote. No, they were speaking for so many hearts the moment they put their pens to paper and fingers to keys. It was just that the words weren’t out there, in so many cases, and the eyes that needed to see them took too long.

And that’s why I published my internet ramblings. Over the years, I’ve received so many heartfelt comments and messages over these essays that I sincerely put my all into, day after day. And I figured that if they connected with people the way that I craved, in ways that I don’t see others writing, then maybe there’s a bigger audience out there for that.

And instead of death, all I need is 50 Amazon reviews.

But gosh: what a great number.

(You can review Time is a Solid State on Amazon TODAY. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Dedication

June 14th, 2021

One of the major themes of my novella Flip is loss. When I published it back in 2013, I wanted to give others the opportunity to honor people they’d lost by including a special dedication page in the front of the book, allowing anyone, who wished to, a space to remember a person they love.

The themes of its upcoming sequel Push are more complex, but loss still carries throughout, and I want to offer this space again to anyone who would like to use it.

The cost is free. All you have to do is leave the name of your loved one here in the comments (or through a message if that’s more comfortable) and I will include it on the dedication page in my next book.

It’s been an especially traumatic year of loss for many, certainly for me personally, and the most essential thing that has helped carry me through is simple remembrance; memories and photos and handwriting on yellowed sheets of paper. This is another way of memorializing, and it’s open to everyone.

Hope you’re all hanging in there, and I hope to hear from you. All my love.

Manufactured Bottled Lightning

June 10th, 2021

I mean this in the creepiest possible way but you don’t know what your brain is thinking most of the time.

This post is about your subconscious mind and how it relates to inspiration, supposed intervention, and mental blocks, ebbs and flows.

I forgot what I was going to say.

I’ve done a lot of reading about the subconscious, and have had significant personal experiences that have shown me the unbelievable nature of our human minds. It would be impossible to exaggerate how powerful your brain is, and equally as difficult to explain what I’ve experienced in a meaningful way.

But let’s start with a basic fact: at any given moment, you are only concentrating on a small percentage of what your mind is fully doing. Think of your brain activity as a massive grid mapped around your head; you can only focus on the lines that you can see right in front of you, but the entire grid exists, and is operating, all the time.

This means that you are always thinking about so many things that you have no idea you’re thinking about.

This allows thoughts to jump into your consciousness fully formed, like somebody is telling them to you. This is what a lot of creative people perceive as inspiration; many people also receive this information as divine intervention, or talking directly to God.

I’m not here to take away any belief from anybody; if you believe that melody or story idea or life-changing revelation came from a higher power, more power to you. But, to me, the idea that all ideas come from within is a much more powerful one.

I know a lot of creative types who get blocks, and those blocks create anxiety and stress and panic. I used to get that way, until my own subconscious started coming through for me, again and again and again. It’s why I’m so prolific and work so quickly; not because I’m smart or better than anybody else (nope on both counts), but because I recognize how the human brain works, and instead of working against it, I let it do its thing.

There are some problems you can work through. There are others that have to work themselves out and then will come to you.

So call it what you want. But I found that when I realized all this power lived inside of me, I didn’t have to go looking for it anymore.

And it was the opposite kind of soul-searching I didn’t know I needed.

Moving Days

June 7th, 2021

Moving on can be different things.

I regularly play a game in my head where I try to imagine what my life would be like if my old job never ceased to exist.

Lately, when I play that game, I get genuinely sad when I think of all the people I wouldn’t have met this last year if my life hadn’t gone this way instead.

It’s not easy to admit. But it wasn’t easy getting here, either.

Sometimes moving on doesn’t mean being over something but rather being able to appreciate all the things that have happened instead.

Some things are easier to move on from than others, and some things, at least in small, immovable parts, are impossible to move on from completely.

They instead come with, a ghost on your shoulder, as you do your best to just move along.

Sweet Tooth Netflix Review

June 6th, 2021

I just finished the first season of Sweet Tooth (now on Netflix). I am one of those nerds who has read the book; in this case, I own every graphic novel that collects the comic book series that Sweet Tooth was adapted from (and am a massive Jeff Lemire fan, the writer/artist behind the series). So I was highly anticipating it, to say the least.

I don’t know if I can think of another recent adaptation that captures the essence of its source material as well as this one does. That’s not to say it follows the plot directly; quite the contrary, it streamlines and simplifies the sometimes complex and convoluted story the comic told. The pacing of the show is impeccable and purposeful. It also benefits from a lighter touch, the book taking a darker, bloodier, more sinister tone (which, truth be told, could be in its future).

So what’s it about? Well, that’s one of the best parts: Sweet Tooth is about EVERYTHING. It’s almost impossible to pin down its countless themes. But one of the main plot points is a sickness — a *ahem* pandemic, which will definitely hit close to home no matter who you are — that infects the world as children start being born as animal-human hybrids. Gus — our young protagonist, a boy with deer antlers, nicknamed Sweet Tooth for his affinity for treats — is one of these hybrids.

That’s all of the plot I’ll give you without spoiling the series. Give the first episode a watch and it’ll be easy to decide whether you want to continue on this journey.

The characters are the remarkable, ordinary sort, with no one being all good or bad, instead varying shades of gray. They carry the big themes of love, fear, family, trust, honesty, morality and what it means to be human.

Again, it’s about everything.

I highly recommend it.

(Kind-of spoilers for the whole series starts now, but only speaking to potential storylines. Read at your own risk.)

I was delighted to see scenes of the Alaskan landscape appear in parts of the show, as well as images of an old ship. These aspects of the comic book series were easily the most absurd and out there and it looks like the show is embracing that, along with surprises not found in the book. I’m here for it.

Alarm For The Cause Of Being Brave

June 4th, 2021

I’m almost done writing a book (I may have mentioned it earlier) and it has taken me to some of the darkest places writing has ever taken me (I also mentioned that in passing).

One of its lessons is about the power of being honest with yourself (and the power dishonesty can have over you).

The most powerful thing about that lesson is that you have to learn it again every day.

Being who you really are shouldn’t require bravery, but the way our world was shaped before us makes it that way.

Conversely, I want you to remember: criticism of any kind takes absolutely no bravery at all.

None.

It’s born of fear and insecurity and cowardice.

And we live in a universe where love and hope and compassion and empathy are the bravest things of all, and they’re all formed from the particles of honesty, which we have to relearn how to assemble every day.

So, in case you forgot, this post is here to remind you.

It doesn’t matter what you unlearned overnight.

You can be honest again. You can be brave again. And you can do both or be neither at any time for the rest of your life.