Monday, September 26, 2011

Oops

On the morning of Wednesday, September 14th, I crashed my bicycle. I was standing on the pedals, accelerating downhill from the intersection of Pine and Boren, when the chain popped free of the chain ring and the pedal jerked itself free from my cleat. I don't remember the crash. There was a "ping" as the chain came free, and then I was on my back, trying very hard to breathe. Some other bike commuters dragged me out of traffic and stayed with me until paramedics arrived, at which point my shirt was cut from my body and I was loaded into an ambulance. My shoulder hurt something fierce, and I had some pretty nasty road rash.

So what did I break? Well, I'll start with what I didn't break, which was my head. My helmet was completely cracked open above my right temple, so if I hadn't been wearing a lid, I would now be either dead or waiting in line at the brain store, receipt in hand. Let this be a lesson to you fellow velocipede cartoonists: the quality of your comics is likely to suffer if you damage your noggin. Please wear a helmet.

As to the final toll: I'll let this x-ray do the talking.


That thing that's in three pieces -- that used to be a collarbone. One surgery later, it looks like this:


I also broke my scapula, which means that when I went over the handlebars, my right shoulder took a very hard hit. Every bone connecting my right arm to my torso was broken.

In accordance with Murphy's Law, I'm right-handed. So Nonplayer #2 will be on hold until my arm comes out of the sling. I've heard a few theories about how long it'll be before I can hold a stylus again, ranging from one to three weeks. I've tried to write my name with my arm in the sling, and I can say pretty confidently that I'm not ready yet. Because ouch.

So what to do in the meantime? Besides watching MST3K reruns, of course.

I'm trying to use this time to review how things were going with the book before the crash, so that when I jump back into the work I can apply all that stored hiatus energy in a useful way.

If I'm grading the last six months of work honestly, I think I've earned a solid D+. I've done a few things right, and a bunch of things wrong.

Here's what I did right: I put in the hours. Though some have assumed that I've been goofing off for the last several months, I have never stopped working on the book. In fact, I probably put more hours per day into the second issue than I did into the first one, at least partly because of the increased pressure associated with having a first issue out in the wild. In fact, go ahead and replace that word "pressure" with "abject terror," because as soon as retailers started telling me I'd committed career suicide by not releasing an issue a month, I went into full-on panic mode.

And that panic was the source of almost every mistake I made. I've written here in the past about going slow to go fast, and while I believe strongly in the theory, it takes real guts to put it into practice. From the day issue 1 hit the stands, I've been hearing the rumble of that big boulder of failure coming down the tunnel after me, and I hit the ground running as fast as I could with issue 2. I roughed 25 pages in a couple of days, and then jumped right into final linework.

After six pages were complete, it dawned on me that they were boring. I'd begun the story with several pages of exposition-heavy dialogue between two people sitting in chairs. As with many prior impasses, this problem was resolved by talking the scene over with my wife. The solution turned out to be a fairly neat application of the adage "show, don't tell." But the prospect of implementing the fix forced a showdown between two equally horrified parts of my brain: one side was scared to release the book late, but an equally-frightened mental faction was mortified by the prospect of releasing a bad comic book. In the end, quality won out. The first six pages were re-drawn from scratch.

That's several weeks of work lost, but the drama doesn't end there. Soon after I fixed the intro, I began to sense that the book's pacing was wrong. There were several pages in the 12-panel range (which is high), and there wasn't a single one-panel page. Too much story was getting shoved into too few pages. Again, in my hurry to get the job done quickly, I'd made some questionable editorial decisions in the early going. My initial mantra had been "25 pages, no matter what." But after living for several months with a clunkily-told story, I began to despair.

Once again, after talking it over with my wife, I decided to make some changes. In this case, it was determined that since I technically had 30 pages to play with (a standard comic book is 32 pages, including the front and back covers), that I might as well use all of them. The idea of pin-ups was shelved, and the story was allowed to expand to fill the available volume. Suddenly, everything felt right. But there was some bad news. Yes, some radical surgery had to be performed yet again on the first six pages.

By now you're probably thinking that I'm an idiot. I won't argue with you. At the very least, this last half-year has been an expensive lesson in panic-mitigation. None of these problems would have occurred had I spent a couple of calm weeks roughing out the entire issue without letting circumstances frighten me into jumping the gun.

For issue 3, I think I may end up setting aside some large chunk of time (say, two or three weeks), and not letting myself do anything but thumbnails for the duration. If I finish them in three days, that'll leave two and a half weeks for revisions. And I'll be subjecting the results of this planning process to multiple third-party reviews. Lesson learned.

My trepidation contributed to one other unforced error. In my eagerness to finish the comic as quickly as possible, I decided that I'd need to work day and night. While I'd happily worked in a shared studio space for the last year, I didn't want to spend every waking hour away from home. So I packed up my Cintiq and moved my operation back home so that at least my nighttime work hours would take place in the general vicinity of my wife.

Now that I've worked at home, then at a studio, and then at home again, I can say one thing with certainty: working at home is a bad idea. There needs to be a clear distinction between the place where you work and the place where you relax. What gains I may have made by working at night were more than offset by all the extra recess minutes I snuck by sleeping in and taking long lunches. When my arm works again, I'll be giving some serious thought to moving back into a studio. If homework is still something I need to do, I'll go ahead and buy a second Cintiq (who needs to buy food anyway, right?) and set it up at home.

So where do things stand now?

Band-Aid removal in three, two, one: I was working on page 13 when I took my spill.

As bad as that sounds, I'm very happy with where things stand. Some really cool stuff happens in the second issue, and what's been drawn so far looks pretty good. In addition, the rest of the issue has been roughed out to the point where everything works well. The trick from here on out is to work quickly and efficiently without letting panic set in again.

What does that mean in terms of a delivery date? In the afterword to issue 1, I said it would likely take less than a year. In an effort to satisfy the letter, if not the spirit, of that promise, I think I'm going to shoot for March. This decision's a bit of a nail-biter, because I'll need to commit to that date before completing the comic. Which means that if page 29 suddenly turns out to be a trench-warfare drawing, things could get pretty ugly. But again, if I'm making sober decisions, uninfluenced by fear, everything should be fine.

So that's what I've been doing. How about you?

36 comments:

  1. Congrats on wearing a helmet. I tell every cyclist I know to wear them. Mine has saved me from concussion or worse at least 3 times.

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  2. First of all, I'm sorry buddy. I know how much you like cycling, and I hate to see you out of action for two things you enjoy.

    It sounds like you have a plan, and perhaps this is just the break your brain needs, in a good way.

    Hang in there. If you need soup, I'll bring some by. :)

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  3. Damn dude! Good to hear you're alright. Guess people people will just have to wait for the second issue, which is far better than the series ending abruptly due to your untimely death. And besides, you're loyal fans will wait anyway, so take the time you need. Get better man. Look forward to the next issue.

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  4. Ugh, condolences on the break to your drawing arm. Hope you're up and drawing again for your stress-level's sake.

    Still think your stuff is brilliant!

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  5. Sorry about the spill. But that is an amazing story about the creative process, and the pressure one feels to create commercial art, especially in the field of comics. Although, I won't be able to read Nonplayer #2 for quite some time, I will be back to read this blog as much as possible. Keep the updates coming, what an awesome insight into your mind & this whole ordeal with the delays. Great read!

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  6. yikes, sorry to hear about the accident Nate. I hope for a speedy recovery for you, and that the time off allows you work out the issues you are facing with no 2. Stay safe, God bless mate

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  7. Get well soon, Nate. You now have an official reason to relax and take it easy for a while. I'm sure that in a weeks time you'll be itching to get back to work but I better not see any pictures of you holding that stylus pen with your mouth!

    Wish I had a reason for my slow progress other than laziness and a lack of willingness to become a starving artist, totally devoted to his work of passion. Maybe I should break something to make myself feel better?

    Na... :)

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  8. Heal up soon, and take your time. You got where you are (see award on shelf next to great issue 1) by going with your gut. Don't let the business end make you too crazy.

    I just finished and sold my first sculpture in 10 years, but still dream at night about my story. Time to get back to it! Cheers man.

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  9. Sucks about the fall. Glad your head didn't get scrambled. Excited to hear that the book is coming along well.

    What have I been up to? Well I started making my own toys. I was inspired by you making your own comic as well as some other folks on the web. I decided to start making my own world and use that to make some art and some cool toys that I thought needed to be made. Since you're sitting about healing up, maybe you'll have time to take a look. rivetwars.com It's been interesting, but I wish I had more time. There are so many things I want to do. Making just a comic makes a lot of sense, but for now, I really want to make stuff out of plastic :)

    Heal up fast.

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  10. nate, so sorry to hear about your shoulder and the accident. I hope it all heals quickly.

    and please be gentle on yourself. nonplayer was literally the best single issue comic I've ever read. but if the quality/pacing/art of number two drops beneath that of number one... well, you'll still be better than almost every comic out there.

    I reckon I'm just saying don't let the perfectionist in you drive you crazy. even your "less than perfect" will be amazing. because you're you.

    heal up. and have you watched The Wire? watched it while I was sick, and I must say it does wonders for the body.

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  11. dude, seriously dont panic. Im a massive fan of your work, i think its gorgeous and its obvious that it takes a long time. The first issue was dripping in quality and the time you sank into it, i wouldn't want anything less than the same again for issue 2, as a fan.

    take your time, i'll be waiting with my wallet for as long as it takes!

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  12. Thank God for that helmet :S I think life was trying to tell you that taking a long time to release your next volume is far from being the worst thing that can happen. Also you've experienced the hard way how trying to hurry just makes things worse. Ignore the retailers, I don't see how what they say makes any sense in the general context of successful comics, and please work at a pace that makes you comfortable! I'm willing to bet they have not encountered anything like your case before. How many years have people waiting for Craig Thompson's next graphic novel? At least 6!

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  13. Good stuff is always worth waiting for. Keep on healing. It sounds like a good opportunity to let some of your ideas bake a bit. In my experience that's a good thing. I'll be first in line at Dreamstrands for issue 2. Take what time you need. We're rootin' for ya.

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  14. Don't rush Nate, we'll be here. I'd rather see you heal right the first time then try and push it and have to live with a re-occurring problem for the rest of your years.

    And again, your wisdom is priceless for all of us taking inspiration and similar adventures!

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  15. I'll wait as long as it takes for you to put out a good product. I've been vouching for you since I heard you were headed towards publication and have no intentions of letting up. I'm glad you're okay and I know you'll make the most of this forced hiatus.

    Thanks for sharing what's been going on. I can understand a little bit about the pressure to work and be perfect; the husband and I have been working on a comic of our own and we are so torn between getting it out there and making it the best we can. It can be crippling, no pun intended!

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  16. I would much prefer to have a great yearly comic that is overflowing with intricate line-work, dazzling colors and a great story than a monthly, rushed piece of junk with bad pacing and a draft of a story.

    If I just wanted a monthly comic with no real substance I would read DC or Marvel trash. Real quality takes time and I'm glad you're willing to be self-critical and throw out work that isn't good enough.

    I loved the first issue and I'll be waiting eagerly for the second if it comes out next year or next decade. The time and energy you put into your comic is what makes it stand out from everything else. If you give that up for a faster release schedule you risk fading into all the other mediocre monthlies.

    I hope you have a great recovery and that this break gives you a chance to recover both physically and mentally. Don't worry about deadlines. As Douglas Adams said "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

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  17. ouch, get well soon.

    If you can't draw then turn this time to your advantage. Once your hand gets a little bit better thumbnail your whole story. Don't even try to draw it well. It's just for you.
    Blast though all the way to the end. never mind about the crappy bits, the bits that don't work just stroll though to the end like you don't care.
    Then you can track back and fix stuff.

    If you've got 150 pages left then you need to know what's going to be on p97 when your drawing p63

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  18. Nate, I'm so very sorry about your accident (thank God you're alive!!!), especially when you broke your right shoulder! I know how scary that could mean because that's connecting to your drawing hand, and you love drawing! It reminds me of an 'accident' happened during work last December. The company I worked for pushed us to work almost 60 hours a week for 4-5 weeks (almost non-stop work though they say we need to take breaks but there were too much work to do that I just couldn't take breaks)...then both of my hands got injured, and I was so scared coz at one point I couldn't even feel my hands and arms, and I fear that I might not be able to draw again!!! I kept praying...then the doc said I might have carpel tunnel and later on the other doc said I have tendonitis (tendons in hands, arms and shoulders got inflamed and hurt)...until now, it's almost 10 months from the accident, and there was another accident which made things worse, I still can't fully 'utilize' my hands to draw or do things like back then. I still try to work on some freelance illustrations, because I don't want to just sit at home and watch Netflix. I couldn't even play games :(, but my hands would hurt if I draw for a few hours. My hands, elbows and shoulders also hurt even if I type (as for now :p) I tried to limit my typing and anything that use my hands too much to let them heal, or else my experience tells me that it would take a longer time for me to "get back" to a previous better condition.

    So Nate, don't rush on getting back to draw now, what you need is to let your shoulder and hand rest and heal!! You're awesome and you always will be! I believe in you, and your fans will wait for you no matter how long it would take! :D We don't want to see you hurt! Don't ruin your hands because of the pressure from others!! Your hands are precious! Though I also understand all the pressure after the first issue and you would always want to start working asap! I guess it could be a little bit similar to your "panic state" when first started issue #2 when you rushed through roughing the panels, so it might not be good for you to rush finishing issue #2 just because you promised to give us #2 in a year. ;)

    And thank you so much for sharing your story behind drawing the comic; I always admire your courage and honesty to confess your feelings, struggles and fear; the road you took to make your artwork from awesome to perfect! :D Watching you work on your comic makes me realize that a super-talented artist also needs to go through struggles and difficulties, and that encourages me a lot! :) Also the process you went through to draw comics is also a valuable lesson to learn.

    I sincerely hope that (and pray for you that) your shoulder can be fully healed sooner and won't affect your drawing, and won't affect the sales of issue #2! :) And remember to not rush and let your body heal, okay? ;-)

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  20. Blogger Stephen Mooney said...

    Hi Nate; long time listener, first time caller. Really sorry to hear about your injury woes man, hopefully you'll be back firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later. Must be awful having to shelve all that enthusiasm and drive for a few weeks due to a cruel twist of fate. Still, should give you ample time to thumbnail out the remaining pages for issue 2 and beyond; get the page designs locked down.
    I've been reading your blog for a good while now, and must admit that I was quite inspired by the whole thing! My buddy and studiomate Stephen Thompson had passed your link onto me when I decided it was time to tackle my own book, from script to letters., and your documaentation of the process has been both a real eye-opener and a tremendous inspiration. I'd been wrestling with whether or not I should make the leap from the regular monthly comicbook grind and try something of my own, but struggling to rationalise the time I would need to take away from paid work and financial stability(ish). Gotta say though, your blog is one of the catalysts that prompted me to take that first step, and turn down a work-for-hire book for the first time. I've given myself 4 months to write the 5/6 issue series, and pencil, ink, colour and letter the first issue. Ambitious, I know! But I needed to try something new. So, thanks, basically for helping me along, man. After 6 years of pro comics work, I'm more excited now than I have been since day one.
    I actually just wrote a post discussing the realities of Quantity v Quality when it comes to comic production times; much like you've discussed in your post here, I was mulling over how long is long enough to invest in quality work, as opposed to how long is too long? Like yourself I came down on the side of Quality, that the time spent is warranted and justified if the end product is simply of a much higher quality as a result. If you're interested at all, check the discussion out over at
    http://halfpastdanger.blogspot.com/2011/09/quantity-or-quality.html
    Hell, I'd be delighted if you just took a look at the blog when you had a second free, so that I could get your input. Anyhoo, sorry for going on so long; just wanted to let you know that you're certainly inspiring people with this project, and that we all believe the second issue will be well worth the wait, regardless of limb-repair times!

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  21. Just read the post here. Get well soon. Thank providence for the helmet! I've had to bear one cartoonist's death by accident this month, that will do for a while.
    Wonderful to hear you're a bycicle enthusiast, though, in a country dominated by the car (or at least that's my interpretation).

    There is no shortage of patience for you and your work, it seems evident.

    Thanks for the frank & clear status update. Issue 2 will get there when it gets there.

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  22. Jesus, man!

    I am EXTREMELY relieved that your helmet saved you from so much worse. I took a tumble once without one, skinned my chin. Scared the pants off me! Never again. Mine's getting pretty old now, though.

    As you touched on and others have mentioned, I feel this is an extremely important time. This accident was a literal expression of what you were figuratively doing: Operating on dangerous levels in sore need of a hard reset. Having that chain and your shoulder break now is far better than having something less tangible and infinitely more important and irreparable snap later [like a shitty second issue, for example - or your self-confidence and sanity].

    You've internalized a lot of what made you so successful during the production of the first issue. You've backed away both from the studio environment and this blog. You've been operating almost solely on your own internal hamster wheel, barring occasional consultations with your wife, who is a wonderful, extremely intelligent human being, but is also very close to the situation and may not have enough of an objective perspective. It's fantastic you've got such a powerful person to lean on, but there's also all the rest of us out here eager to help and learn with you.

    You touched on a number of points in this post that, a year ago, would have merited entire lengthy posts and lots of open discussion of their own. But we can't help you if we can't share in what you're going through.

    You never know. There may be another person that pops up to help with the theory and practice of certain details that you haven't considered yet, like I popped out of nowhere to offer advice on whatever I could.

    Getting Warren Ellis' attention was extremely important. But what got it was your art. You haven't posted anything new of your own here since bloody September 22, 2010!

    We all adore your art, but the only way for us to appreciate it now is to buy it.

    Which is also bad for you: You're entirely focused on this one thing, at all times, for far too long at a stretch.

    Look at Ryan Ottley: He stays fresh after all these years of doing one thing because he doesn't just do one thing. He sketches all kinds of stuff, all the time.

    Step back from the grind and stretch your legs, man. You're an artist. Make art!

    Make sketches with your left hand. I know it's awkward as hell, but it will probably make your right hand better, or at least make you think about every line in new ways. Frazetta did it after his accident and you're at least a small fraction of the awesome he was, so I'm sure you can manage it too. :P

    You've got so much to say, visually and intellectually. Say it! You are not only Nonplayer. You'll attract new people and keep the old ones engaged in what is such a wonderful ride. It'll reinvigorate you, I'm sure.

    I sorely miss these long posts of yours, so of course I have an element of selfishness in what I'm saying. It still makes sense, though, doesn't it? It seemed to work so well during the first issue. And you're still learning, so there's still so much to talk about. Your journey hasn't ended at all. I think this post proves it.

    The ones who scream about there not being a second issue soon enough are not doing you any favours [in my biased opinion]. Trying to structure your life around their demands has led you to this point.

    Fuck 'em.

    Play with us instead. ;)

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  23. I am so glad you are ok - well, sort of. Get better and take care of yourself.

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  24. Sorry I missed you at the Jet City Show. Justin mentioned you were in a bad way. Get well, man.

    =s=

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  25. Nate,
    The best thing, well, one of positive significance to happen in my life was my compound fracture of my right leg in a motorcycle accident. Dude, I touched my my bone but the point is, my life went in a completely different direction for the better after that. This could be the same for you. The universe telling you to chill for a bit. Recoup. Then kick ass. Go kick ass my friend!

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  26. Don't listen to those pressuring you into speeding up production at any cost to the quality. They are wrong. At some point in time, you will have a great collection that you can be proud of and that will stand for all time. No one will care how long it took between issues 1 and 2, then. They will care if the final work they are reading isn't as awesome as it could be.

    While I would love to read a new issue each week, I'd rather wait a year between issues than it not be what you want on the page.

    My best wishes for your health and future success (which is not in doubt).

    Alan

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  27. Yikes! Emily and I wish you a speedy recovery. But don't worry about the revisions/delays on issue #2. If sci-fi and comics have taught me anything, when your arm comes out of that sling it will have mutated into a sort of "super drawing arm". I 100% guarantee it.

    Or it could mutate in a completely different way causing every drawing to look like Rob Liefeld drew it.

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  28. Very sorry to hear of your injury, but very glad to hear that it doesn't sound like it will be ending your career (and did not end your life). I hope you have a smooth recovery, sir.

    As for the book, I think it is important to keep in mind that not every page needs to flawless. Sometimes just being sufficient to tell the story is all some pages need to be. Most readers will be zipping through pages anyway. So, you don't need to have every image make the reader lose his mind in detail. That is not to say that cutting corners is a great plan, but sometimes it isn't lazy so much as it is practical. Both for the reading experience and for your work load.

    Take care.

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  29. Nate, thank goodness you were not hurt more. Thank goodness you were wearing a helmet.

    As impatient as fans can be for the next issue, including me, I'm imagining how amazing it will be and I know it will be worth the wait. Also, the retailers don't always know what they are talking about. We already knew the 2nd issue would not be out right away. It might be different if the solicits already came out previewing issues 2 and 3 by now, but they haven't.

    You have a great book and a great talent. Do the book how you need to. It will get finished when its time.

    Thanks for the update, and be careful out there.

    Kristie

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  30. hope you're feeling better!

    in response to the rest of the post, everybody else covered all the angles, so i'll just say that there's diminishing returns at some point: at first every minute improves the work, then a day might make a difference. but sooner or later comes that point where huge amounts of time spent on it make only the slightest of differences (that pretty much go unnoticed by everyone except the author and five or six other artist). You can spend a decade or a lifetime refining the same book-- it's almost never worth it.

    my wife made me stop complaining about these things and it made a huge difference. so I recommend that you get your wife/gf/partner to do the same, it works.

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  31. Get well soon, dont worry about the comic, your fans are patient and understand. Just concentrate on getting well.

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  32. I just read an interview with you in the German popular culture magazine SPEX. Get well!

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  33. Nate, just heard about the bike spill. It sucks dude. Take your time and heal, your fans will be here when you are ready.

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  34. glad you're ok, and love your work.
    from one cycling cartoonist to another.

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