Featured

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.

Unconditionally

July 28th, 2020

I’m seeing a lot of copying & pasting. An abundance of sharing of other people’s words.

I don’t give advice, but as someone who cares deeply about humans, I feel like there’s a better way.

Maybe you could speak from your own heart. Maybe you could use your own words.

A generic message that took someone mere seconds to share has rarely changed a world, big or small.

I’m also seeing a lot of people feel called out. It’s especially telling when the written thing they feel called out about never mentions them or the thing they feel passionate about.

I’ve been attacked a lot lately.

Again, no advice, but a suggestion: maybe — just maybe — the reason you’re constantly feeling called out is because that fiery voice in your chest we call a conscience is trying to tell you something.

Nearly everything I post is from a place of compassion, hope and love. Everyone has the right to be; if something you do or say infringes on that right, then you’re wrong. I don’t claim to know Jesus like some of y’all, but he seems like a good dude who would be mighty disappointed at the state of the way some people are treating people.

I included these insights with a cute picture of my dog for a variety of reasons.

To get your attention. To get those likes. To show people my dog.

But my dog is also a great equalizer. She’s a neutral subject; she loves every single person unconditionally, whether they deserve it or not.

Even those people on the internet who hate me, or call me an idiot, or a snowflake, or a piece of shit. Which they do, with gusto.

She loves me even though those people don’t think I deserve it.

And because of her, I love them, too.

Walls Come Down

July 26th, 2020

This is America.

So, you can look at this photo; but I need you to really see it.

See her face. See her behavior. See her shirt.

This is the kind of facade that hate has built in this country.

Trevor Noah was on Hot Ones last year, and he had an interesting thing to say about hate. He compared it to hot sauces. He said some bottles say “Hot Sauce” and you put it on your tongue and it’s hot. But some sauces, you put on your tongue, and it’s not hot at all. It’s only when you go to the bathroom later that you realize it was, in fact, hot sauce.

He said he prefers to deal with the first kind; at least they’re upfront about their hate, and it gives you somewhere concrete to go. You can ask specific questions and they’re not hiding their intentions.

Beware of the second kind, though. Good luck with them, he says.

That’s what this woman, photographed yesterday in Bloomington, embodies.

Her shirt says Love Love Love.

Her words and actions scream hate hate hate.

The couple who were captured wearing Nazi masks at a Minnesota Wal-Mart, however, were the former — and it made my blood boil watching nonetheless.

So, I’d like to make an update to the hot sauce metaphor: it’s all bad. There is no preferred level of hate, nor should there be a kind that is tolerated.

This isn’t a matter of free speech. This isn’t political; the people who call hate political are the kind who can’t deal with the fact that it exists simply as a human problem.

It’s human, which means it can infect anybody, and that is what scares people.

There are infinite, complex reasons to hate, as there are to lie. People see the world changing, and if it’s currently a world that benefits them, you’re seeing their true colors now.

The facades exist beyond clothing. People hide behind their religions, their families, their friends, their philosophical or intellectual strengths. But if you look past all of it, you will see love or fear. And if you see fear, then know that the person behind it is wrong.

Some us are trying to push open ourselves, our capacities for compassion and reason and respect.

And some of us are wearing shirts that say Love Love Love while trying to destroy the world.

Take the time to figure out who you are.

You’ve Already Done Enough

July 26th, 2020

This was crazy fun to discover tonight; it’s definitely a highlight of my summer.

Like so many before me, I feel like I artistically wasted my twenties (despite releasing three albums [with accompanying music videos], playing countless shows, putting out a web series, publishing three novellas, blah blah blah).

Then you find a treasure trove like this and you remember things a little differently.

This dusty box I found while organizing my junk was filled with scripts that I had written throughout the decade. And since some of you have known me for a while, I thought I’d give you an update on the projects. 

JARGON
WHAT IT IS: A four-episode web series that tried to find a balance between The X-Files and Adult Swim. Taking place in my hometown of Faribault, Jasper Line’s girlfriend is apparently murdered, turned into a tiny ball of metal, and suddenly a mysterious organization called the H.I.G. is after him and his friends.
STATUS: Completed. All four episodes of the first season were released on my YouTube channel ten years ago this summer.

THE GREEN HOUSE
WHAT IT IS: I wrote two half-hour long episodes of this comedy; a couple of bachelors accidently adopt a child and decide to keep it. Hilarity ensued.
STATUS: We actually filmed about 50% of this, but not enough to put together an episode. Usually when this happened, it was hard to get everyone back together to complete the work.

THE PROGRAM
WHAT IT IS: This was the first time I legitimately created A SHOW; I wrote seven half-hour long scripts to make up the first season. This was about a couple of friends who decide to start their own news show; they team up with the local public access television station, who desperately needs new content dedicated to their town.
STATUS: This is actually one I would love to revisit. We did a half-assed read-through, but nothing was ever actually filmed. There is a lot to explore with this concept and these characters; it very much has a It’s Always Sunny… vibe.

THE VISITOR!
WHAT IT IS: A feature film musical about an alien and the dude who finds him. I wanted to reimagine E.T. with music and a Judd Apatow sensibility, and I wrote a movie about friendship, loneliness and fear.
STATUS: This is absolutely “the one that got away,” and the one I would do in a heartbeat if it was possible. We probably filmed about 25% of it, but much of it is unusable due to my inexperience and time constraints. On my YouTube channel, we even got so far as to release a teaser trailer and a video blog, where I demonstrated a song from the film called “Not That Easy.”

Honestly, even though they all got to various stages of development, just the fact that I completed so many stories gives me a sense of accomplishment. Every project taught me things and strengthened me as a writer, as do my blogs and other social musings. These stories could even still have different lives in different formats, but they exist all the same.

I post this to hopefully remind you of all you’ve accomplished; the things you don’t necessarily think about, but you definitely did.

And maybe that’s enough to make you want to start what’s next. Or — maybe that’s just enough.

Comic-Con@Home

July 23rd, 2020

This is probably the only time I’ll ever get to be an exhibitor at San Diego Comic-Con.

And also be able to bring my dog.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s main event has become Comic-Con@Home, and since we nerds, geeks and weird folk go entirely all out regardless of the situation, OF COURSE I made badges for myself and my best friend, Marvel.

She is obviously thrilled to be here.

In all seriousness, conventions are one of my favorite kinds of places in the multiverse. In a world that feels very divided and disconnected, I miss what they provide even more. I miss meeting and seeing and talking to you all like the desert misses the rain.

I’ll personally be checking in on panels all weekend (I watched a few last night, including Solar Opposites, one of my favorite new shows), keeping up with the latest news and trying to keep my con-buddy hydrated and from going potty on the con floor.

Also! I myself am a comic creator. My first graphic novel, The Weirdos, was released in May and is available to buy on my website dennisvogen.com, at a number of Minnesota comic book shops, and digitally on Amazon and ComiXology. For more info, click on my bio or just check out my social media. If you’re looking to support comics at this time, I mean, it’s not a bad way!

All my love, y’all. Have a wonderful con, and I hope to see you soon.

TV Picks Of The Week!

July 22nd, 2020

Are you stranded on a desert island of stress and uncertainty? Same! Are you looking for an escape raft of the streaming variety? These are my four picks for what I’m watching (and adoring) this week.

Expecting Amy — This three-part documentary is a master class in what it means to be human; and yes, this is the same Amy Schumer who makes frequent jokes about her vagina. She and her husband, with various family, friends and camera crew, document her life as she becomes pregnant, continues to be pregnant (with significant difficulty) while she works on her career as a stand-up comedian (who is about to shoot a new Netflix special), and then brings both her human and creative babies into the world. It features twists, turns, and unexpectedly kind detours; glorious highs and hard-to-watch lows; and some of the most emotionally honest conversations I can say I’ve seen had. And I watch a lot of The Bachelor (see below).

FIND IT ON: HBO Max

Aaahh!!! Real Monsters — Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can make us feel just by simple suggestion; substance becomes irrelevant. That becomes apparent when we transform into adults and rediscover the stuff we loved as a child; it rarely holds up under the slightest weight of scrutiny, as anyone who is a fan of Adam Sandler’s early work knows. So imagine my surprise as I began to rewatch the four seasons of Aaahh!! Real Monsters; it not only holds up, but is actually far better than I recall and has any reason to be. Every episode is delightfully about *something*; monsters have been unmistakable metaphors since their inception, and these stories use them to excellent effect. You can even see their influence now: Pixar’s Monsters series simply doesn’t exist without Ickis, Krumm and Oblina; speaking of the star students, can anyone else name a trio of students at a magical school, one of whom is a confident, remarkably skilled young woman considered best in her class? Hermione had a predecessor hiding in these halls, as well.

FIND IT ON: DVD, Amazon Prime (To Own)

Bachelor In Paradise — With no new seasons filmed due to the pandemic, ABC has been producing a wonderfully wacky Greatest Of All Time series on Mondays, and they’ve also added the first three seasons of Paradise to stream. Paradise, for me, is the ultimate comfort food; the whole of the world’s complex problems wash away in a sea of tears, margaritas and broken hearts (with the occasional true love!). I’m actually not big on reality television, but the Bachelor franchise is the reality version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: these people/characters have detailed histories with one another, they cross over into each other’s shows — and their shows often cross over into their real lives. Plus, every season is the most dramatic EVER.

FIND IT ON: Hulu

Agents of SHIELD — If you’re one of those “I tried the first season but…” people, get the heck out of here. You don’t deserve this show, which is one of my all-time favorites. Over seven wild and weird seasons, these Agents have seen it all: good guys, bad people, Inhumans, B-(and C-)list Marvel superheroes, LMDs, time travel, alternate timelines, Ghost Rider (but not Nicolas Cage). Despite all their trials, however, this show has always been about one thing: family, of all kinds, but mostly about the kind we choose for ourselves. In this season, their last, they’ve pulled out all the stops, to fantastic (and comedic and dramatic) effect; tonight’s time-warping, heart-wrenching episode (expertly directed by cast member Elizabeth Henstrige) may have been its best yet. I’m sure not looking forward to the end of this mission, but I am absolutely savoring the ride there.

FIND IT ON: Netflix (earlier seasons), Hulu (current season)

Stranger Danger

July 20th, 2020

My anxiety is like a light switch, but one of those switches that doesn’t click; meaning, it’s always on, but at varying degrees of intensity.

It’s always been that way. I vividly remember a hot day walking home from the library (which is just a few short blocks down the hill from my parents’ house). I was lugging home a plastic bag full of books I had probably checked out half a dozen times before, and I reached an intersection.

A car pulled up at the same time, and one of my worst childhood fears unfolded before my eyes: a man gestured for me to get into his vehicle.

I acted as my instincts instructed: I panicked and hollered and started running as fast as my Airwalks would allow me.

I ran and I ran and I ran until I burst through the front door of my house, scattered up the stairs into my room, collapsed onto my bed and let the tears stream down my face.

As the fear subsided, and my lungs started manufacturing standard breaths, I began to recall the situation. My cheeks felt hot as I took a moment to reassess what had happened. I was mortified.

The man had not gestured for me to get into his car at all; no, I was now fairly certain he was just waving me along to walk across the street safely.

And now I started to think about the story, but as he told his wife when he got home:

“I pulled up to the intersection, and I thought I would be nice and let a child cross the street. Fucking kid burst into tears, started screaming and running and I don’t even know where he went. I don’t even know if he knew where he was going. He was just running and screaming and crying. Craziest shit I seen this week.”

The only point I have to this story is to be kind.

That man didn’t know who I was or what I was going through. And who I am colored how I saw what was happening in that moment. It wasn’t until we both had time to reflect that we realized it was a misunderstanding.

Maybe he’s reading this, and if so, I’d like to take a minute to apologize, and thank him for his kindness. And if he’s not reading, but you’ve experienced a misunderstanding, possibly due to your own internal interpretations and processes:

May you always assume that the stranger is trying to safely get you across the street.

Happy 15th Anniversary To My First

July 13th, 2020

Today marks a neat anniversary I’d like to quietly celebrate with some introspection and a sparkling grape water.

15 years ago today, on July 13th, 2005, I released my first full-length album.

The Next Step existed before this (it all started in high school…), but this was the first time I put out a real album like a real boy and went out and played some real(ish) shows.

“Something Old, Something New” is a concept album, because I am nothing if not pretentious and ambitious. The record tells a story from beginning to end, even featuring an introduction and closing credits track, like a feature film. It details the whole of a relationship, from first dance to final plea.

I didn’t know if I would ever be able to do this. Making music is hard. I’ve had some of my best moments as a human doing something with music, but I’ve also had some of my worst and most stressful.

The best moments are always the ones that seem to matter in the end, and the ones that stick in my heart and mind and gut.

The soaring chorus of “Positively,” a song that feels like a train rolling on its side down a hill. The odd, staccato waltz of “Dance With Me,” the opening number. The haunting strings (and sentiments) of faux emo ballad “All I Need.” And one of the best songs (in my obnoxious opinion) that I’ve ever written, “Have A Nice Life.”

I remember late nights, running out to my car with a burned CD of new audio mixes, to hear how they sounded in the speakers. Fine-tuning and re-recording and re-mixing and making myself fall in love with the mistakes (some of which still make me cringe to this day). I remember sharing songs on sites like Soundclick and watching them climb the charts, and getting feedback from people all over the world.

Making music is hard, but it taught me some of the best lessons of my life, and was responsible for saving it more times than I can count.

And it all really started with this little gem. Released on CD (as all my records were), thus dating us forever.

I love this ode to love, and I just wanted to celebrate its birthday.

P.S. I had plans this summer to play a show or two, as a fun little surprise to any fans that still exist. That didn’t happen for obvious reasons, but I might be shooting some new performances to share online, so if you have a request, let me know! All my music is available on any major streaming service.

Pocket Universe Of Joy (Or, S.O.S.)

July 9th, 2020

Releasing a book this summer, of this year, has not been the most fun.

I mean, let’s be honest: this year has not been the most fun.

So moments like this — seeing my book on a shelf at one of my favorite shops, Mind’s Eye Comics — are little bubbles of joy.

It reminds me that my work is real.

As I navigate how to share that work at a time like this, there is a way you can help, for free: write a review.

Specifically, writing a review on a site like Amazon can vastly improve its chances to be found in a heavily saturated market. Think of my book as Waldo; your review is a helpful pointer finger.

It can be really simple: click on some stars (the more, the better) and add a one-sentence description. It can also be deep; the reviews that have been posted already are so insightful and very thoughtful.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s one of the ways us small, independent creators can find the people who will connect to what we do.

And connection, right now, feels like the most important thing in the universe.

Here’s an easy link if you want to leave a review: https://www.amazon.com/Weirdos-I-Sand-Glass-ebook/dp/B086M8W8R6/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=dennis+vogen&qid=1594322985&sr=8-1

Let’s Keep Talking

July 7th, 2020

This morning, I was scrolling and came across a local post by KARE 11 about supporting black businesses. The comment section was horrifying; it inspired me to write a very angry post (I hadn’t had my coffee yet) directed at the people who still insist that racism isn’t real.

And then Facebook deleted it after I hit “post”.

I couldn’t believe it. I had spent all this time and energy crafting what I wanted to say, and then it was gone, like I hadn’t even said it. I was too frustrated and exhausted to even attempt to try again — and immediately realized that it was but a small glimpse into other lives.

In the post, I reiterated what has been reiterated, again and again: “reverse racism” is not a thing. Supporting black businesses is not a racist practice. Putting spotlights on marginalized communities are for the benefit of everybody.

But the sentiment that I feel needs to be shut down the hardest is people — especially white folks — telling others what to protest for.

You know what I’m talking about.

Posting about an atrocity that has occurred, and then adding: “Where are the protests for THAT?”

Let me fill you in on something: if you’re upset about an injustice in the world? Then YOU protest about it. You get your ass off your couch, you organize a gathering, and you tell people that you will not stand for this. That is literally how protesting works. If you’re not protesting, then obviously the problem does not affect you like you think it does — or you simply have the privilege to ignore it.

Do better.

We — the aforementioned white folks — need to let go of this fragility, these insecurities and own that this is our problem. Nobody out there is telling us that we’re responsible for slavery; but we are responsible for a system that continues to oppress others on layers and levels that we’re not committed to tearing up and breaking down.

By saying “There is not a problem,” you are confirming that you are the problem.

I’ve recently learned that being a White Ally is not a thing. And there was nothing about that new knowledge that was surprising or hurtful to me. How can I possibly “be in this” in the same way? I can’t. All I can offer is the ability to recognize how our systems discriminate and challenge some unfairly, and support efforts to change them.

This post actually ended up being much longer, and possibly angrier than the first (despite me finding some coffee). I spend time reading and listening now, and speak up when I feel like it can help.

I figure: it is the least I can possibly do.

Defund Me

July 1st, 2020

Sometimes, people just need a really big problem broken down to its simplest form. So I’m going to try.

For a long time, my way of living — my entire system — was broken. And I refused to address any of my problems in a fair way, to myself or others. This led to pain, and anger, and guilt, and every other noun it takes to get to the Dark Side.

I kept telling myself, for years and years, that “not every drink was a bad drink”; but the way that I used drinking was rarely for its intended purpose (for lack of a better term). I used a drink for every tool that I lacked in my life; as I’ve learned, I was lacking most of the tools required for a healthy, successful adult.

So I had to change. I wish I could say that the changes were small; but I had to absolutely defund my way of life, and use the time that allotted to make myself better.

Where I used to drink, I now try to help.

Where I used to drink, I now use my words.

Where I used to drink, I now ask for the things I need.

Where I used to drink, I now try to be honest.

Who I am as a person didn’t drastically change; the way I acted and reacted did. My ability to learn and adjust and adapt did. My shed, which was once just full of cobwebs and half-empty bottles, now has a full shelf of tools that I (mostly) know how to use; and I know where the drawer full of manuals is for the ones I don’t.

But none of this came from keeping things “normal.”

“Normal” did not work.

“Normal” was killing me.

And if you’re glad that I’m still here, then know it was only because I defunded the parts of myself that were destroying me — and that I had to build new parts to make a better self, and give myself a life.