A whole ten years in the making, SPQR Blues is finally being collected in graphic-novel format — as long as we can all help fund Carol Burrell’s Kickstarter, that is!

If you haven’t already read the comic (get started here!), here’s a bit about the story:

SPQR Blues is set in ancient Rome in the years leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I (aka Klio) began the webcomic ten years ago as part of relearning to draw after recovering from repetitive stress and nerve injury.

Ordinary guys need epics too: Rather than the more typical Roman epic about gladiators and orgies and imperial assassinations (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s about the lives of ordinary people in the city of Herculaneum, Pompeii’s less famous neighbour–though there are the occasional murders, mysteries, banquets, and battles. Many of the characters are based on people who really lived in the town. Our hero Marcus Antonius Felix, the self-described descendent of a slave of the much more famous Marcus Antonius, arrives jobless, homeless, and missing his clothing, but carrying a lot of secrets. The first job he gets (after putting on some clothes) is as bodyguard for a wealthy teenage girl in danger, Petronia Iusta.

Subsequently: intrigue, murders, flashbacks, goddesses, star-crossed lovers, ursine intervention, more misplacement of clothing, heroic accountants, gambling, slave-dealing, swords, sandals, earthquakes, seven emperors, and a jug of wine.

On top of being a fantastic artist, writer, and editor, Carol’s an all-round super person. Please take a second and have a look at her comic, and if you’re able, make a pledge!

Apostle Islands

About a month ago, my paddling buddy R. emailed me to invite me along on a kayaking trip to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin. This was a leap of faith on R’s part, because the last few years I’d been so busy with comics and other hobbies that I’d put her off on several other invitations. Fortunately for me, the stars aligned this year, and I spent the month of July training up for the trip.
Located in the far western corner of Lake Superior (if you imagine it as a wolf’s head, they’re just below the point of the wolf’s nose), these 22 islands boast some of the most pristine wilderness in the Great Lakes region. And because they’re located in Lake Superior, preparation is paramount. the water there never gets much above 55F (even in mid-August, when we went) which means wetsuits at a bare minimum, and drysuits most of the year. I was fortunate to have a “farmer-jane” style suit I’d bought for a previous trip that I never got to take (see R’s leap of faith, above), and so I didn’t have to buy much new safety gear. I did elect to rent a longer, faster boat than my dear little Tsunami, because we were doing open-water crossings and I didn’t want to fall behind. It turned out to be a good choice, and the Scorpio I brought was speedy and a delight to paddle.

Day One
After driving through Chicago traffic and spending the night in Wausau, we arrived in Bayfield around 1pm and picked up our permits, then headed out to the lakeshore to put in. The weather shifted from overcast to bright and sunny, and we were super excited to get on the water. No sooner had we taken the lines off the boats and struggled into our neoprene when an impenetrable bank of fog rolled in and diminished visibility down to ten feet. We were crushed — but then we noticed the signs for the hiking trail and decided to have a walk along the shore, so we tied the boats back up, struggled out of the neoprene, and changed into our hiking clothes. This turned out to be a very wise choice, because we still got to see all the famous sea caves from above, watching other, braver (?) paddlers below weave in and out.


The hike was great, and it was nice to stretch our legs after having been in the car for so long that day, and the day before. We got to see all sorts of neat plants like reindeer lichen, blue bead lily, and thimbleberry bushes, plus the gorgeous natural formations of the sea caves, and this natural land-bridge over a deep crevasse of a sea-cave (we’d paddle that same cave the next day).


After a good 6 miles, we were ready for dinner, so we drove back to Little Sand Bay and made a gourmet dinner on our camp stoves: thai green coconut curry with fresh veg, brown rice, and dark chocolate cook-pudding. One of the perks of kayaking is that you don’t have to carry dehydrated space food, and we ate beautiful satisfying meals every night of the trip.

As we packed our mess kits away, the last of the fog lifted, and we still had time to take a sunset paddle:


Day Two
Our adventure started in earnest as we returned to Myers Beach, scene of our previous defeat by Lake Superior fog. We put in at around 10am and paddled out to see the sea caves along the mainland.


Here’s R’s sister K and I exploring that crevasse of a sea cave. The cliffs must have been fifty feet high, and the cave narrowed down to a tiny point you could just stick the stern of your kayak into.


The caves were tremendous, and were so spectacular that throughout the course of the morning, we would find ourselves spontaneously shouting “SEA CAVES!” and “WE GET TO BE HERE!” just out of pure joy. There were enormous caves big enough to house small buildings, some so tiny you could only fit a single-person kayak through, some dripping with sheets of the previous day’s rain, some covered in lichen and moss in a dozen colors. We squeezed our boats through stone arches and into caves so low that we tucked our paddles under our arms and pulled ourselves along with our hands on the ceilings, the water lit greenly from below by the sunlight spilling in between the sandstone pillars.


After a good three or four hours playing our favorite game, which is called “I Bet I Can Fit My Boat Through That,” we stopped for lunch, and then completed our first of five open-water crossings out to Sand Island, leapfrogging each other the whole way to pass the time. We then paddled along the beach until we came to the campground, set up camp and ate dinner, then hiked the three-mile trail out to the Sand Island lighthouse. With our campsite on the east side of the island, and the lighthouse on the northernmost point, the hike was exactly the right plan to see the stunning sunset. Up that far north it just lingers on and on, painting the sky in unbelievable colors.


We hiked back by headlamp, moving quickly over the boardwalks to avoid the terrible bugs, and made a pot of ginger tea with a camp stove on the beach to watch the stars come the rest of the way out. More stars than I have ever seen — even growing up as a kid in the country, I’ve never seen such deep sky — the Milky Way a ghostly trail across the heavens, the Pleiades meteor showers gifting us with streaks of light, the ISS tracking its unerring orbit.

Day Three
Sand Island is home to more sea caves, so we spent the morning exploring them for as long as we could. The Sand Island caves are much smaller than the ones on the mainland, but more intricate, with more little tunnels and secret chambers and tiny sculpted pillars. Plus these caves are much more difficult to reach, so there were far fewer other boats around, allowing us to play and dawdle and really enjoy fooling around in them.



Bald eagles live all over the place up in Lake Superior, but we were startled to come across a single eagle, perched on top of a cliff — not in a tree, just on the cliff — some twenty feet above us. We got into a staring contest with the eagle, fully expecting it to fly away, but it never did. The eagle totally won.


Sadly, we eventually ran out of sea caves, and began our second open-water crossing to York Island, where we stopped for lunch on some beautiful sunny rocks tailor-made for the purpose. One of the things that struck me most about the Apostles was how unbelievably clean the whole place was. The entire trip I never saw garbage of any kind, no visible pollution, just gorgeous unspoiled wilderness. Each of the campsites we stayed at was well-established, with ranger stations and vault toilets and bear-boxes, and even those were shockingly well-kept. It must be because it takes actual work to get out to the islands, and those who are willing to put forth the effort are also those with a healthy respect for the environment. Regardless, it was a real treat to see such beauty in such good care, and York Island was no exception.

Lunch finished, we made a third crossing to Raspberry Island, were we stopped for another quick break by the lighthouse for some gorp and a stretch before continuing on to Oak Island, where we lucked out and got the outlying campsite far away from all the other campers. true, it was a quarter-mile hike to the pit toilet, but the solitude was worth it. We set up camp, ate dinner, waited out a quick burst of wind and a few sprinkles under R’s mammoth tarp, then read books on the beach and watched the sun set in another spectacular display.


Day Four

It was so difficult to get going on that last day, knowing we’d be heading back to civilization with all its troubles and worries and work, but there were still sights to be seen. We made our final open-water crossing back to the mainland and began working our way back to Little Sand Bay. R. had worried at the outset that since we’d be seeing the best of the sea caves on the first day that we’d find the remainder of the trip boring, but the coast had tons of beautiful rock formations for us to see, as well as loads of little rocks that we could sport and play around, practicing our steering and maneuverability.


The remainder of the day came and went so quickly, but we still saw an abundance of eagles (juvenile and adult) and had a great time playing our way back to reality. As we pulled into the bay, K and I joked about distracting R and making a break for Isle Royale, but alas, reality called. We packed all our kit into our cars, loaded the boats, squelched out of our smelly wetsuits, and drove into Bayfield for a last look at Superior while we ate dinner.


The Apostle Islands are such an amazing place. This felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I hope I get to return someday and see the outer islands as well as the inner ones we did this time. Huge thanks to R for planning the whole thing and keeping me and K safe from both drowning and bears.


Emotional Labor

This thread is one of the most important pieces of group interactions that I’ve read in a long, long time.
It’s given me new vocabulary to describe and detect a dynamic that’s been eating at me in several different parts of my life: family, work, hobbies. So many thoughts, still parsing them all. Go read:

“Where’s my cut?” On unpaid emotional labor

Izzy progress video

Dogblogging! It’s half the internet.

Seriously, though: the woman who rescued our sweet Izzy from the pound is moving out of the area, so I made her this progress video as a going-away present. Enjoy some slobbery tennis-ball action:

Marriage is what brings us together today

After the SCOTUS legalized gay marriage, the city of Kalamazoo held an equality celebration rally at Bronson Park. Paul and I have a friend who’s a pro-gay-marriage Lutheran minister at the local ELCA church, and The Rev asked Paul to come down and play some music at the rally. Kalamazoo mayor Bobby Hopewell had already married two couples by the time I arrived at the park, and I got to witness two more marriages and a couple of vow renewals. It was an absolutely beautiful day.




Hurrah for Teenage Cat

I planted a dwarf Montmorency cherry tree several years ago, and have been waiting eagerly for a year in which I could actually, y’know, pick some cherries. Previously, one defiant bird stripped all the cherries before they even had a chance to ripen, but this year, the tree not only had a bumper crop, but the birds mysteriously stayed away.

In the last week, we’ve harvested three huge bowls of tart cherries, probably around 10 quarts total. I was mystified at the good luck until Paul reminded me that a feral cat has taken up residence in our backyard — a slender, white-and-grey kitty with gangly long legs that we have taken to calling “Teenage Cat.” That seems to be the only differing factor this year — the topmost branches were picked clean as usual, but all the lower ones remained untouched — and it seems as likely an explanation as we’re going to get.

After pitting them in stages and freezing them (there’s only so much pitting one can do in a day before one starts getting aggrivated…) I’ve simmered the cherries down in the crockpot and whirled the results in my blender to make a kind of cherry butter. I’m more fond of jam with whole fruit, but this allows a nice thick jam consistency without a ton of extra sugar or pectin. I like it lots.

Thanks, Teenage Cat! We’ll have to leave you some extra food out this winter.

Art weekend

Every year for the last 20 years, Paul’s boss has led a weekend workshop for her Design Center students, where they go to the Lake Michigan shore, far out of reach of the internet and cellphones, and study the world around them, bringing what they observe into the art they create. This year, Trish decided to get some of her graduates together for a similar retreat, and Paul and I were lucky enough to be invited along.

We went to the beach near South Haven and drew textures made by the lake, melted graphite sticks with mineral spirits to create a viscous, creamy slurry that could swirl or tear, used palette knives to coat glass with thick paint so we could pull prints. We dabbled with spraypaint and blue photosensitive paper, read art books, made communal meals. The focus was on experimentation and observation, of play and practice without pressure. It was wonderful.

My favorite project was when one of the art professors brought out a dozen cigar-box pinhole cameras and turned us loose at a local antique shop. The light was iffy at times, so we tried exposures of varying length, and returned a second time for more images. The professor had stuffed a towel under the bathroom door and turned it into a darkroom, where we learned to load the cameras and develop the photos. This was a really great experience for me, as I’d never had the chance to take photography in college, and I was very pleased with the results I got. Watching the images appear in the developer was magical for me — I’m pretty sure I exclaimed aloud each time I saw one darken into something recognizable.

I’m very fortunate that I got the chance to try so many new techniques and play with so many new tools this weekend. I didn’t realize how much I needed that chance to experiment and explore — It shocked me how much I missed that feeling of pressureless creation.

Anyway, here are the photos, original first, then developed — I like seeing them side by side. Enjoy! I know I do.

Test photo of me, taken in bright light to test focal length


My first photo — a pair of old rollerskates on a table next to a small outbuilding. Bright light, 30 second exposure.


My second try — old doors for sale. Weak light, 3-minute exposure, very quick dip in the developer to keep it from overexposing.


Whoops, got the camera too close while checking focal length. Still kind of neat.


Two portraits taken of me — long exposures just before sunset.


Such a long exposure that my breathing blurred my form.



Closeups of my favorites


KRVT, finally.

Tonight the clouds parted after several days of rain, so I took my first bike ride on the KRVT so far this year. I saw a bald eagle, a downy woodpecker at work, and this lovely Jack in the Pulpit. I love biking in the golden hour, seeing shafts of light through the deep woods, watching my shadow lengthen in front of me.

Comfort and Adam’s How-To Book is Here!

It’s here! Adam Withers’ and Comfort Love’s Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics is now on sale!

Available online and at finer book and comic shops everywhere, it’s the most comprehensive book on making comics, manga, and webcomics you’ll find! Our oversized mega-chapters include: Concepting, Writing, Drawing, Coloring, Lettering, Publishing, and Marketing! Everything you need to know to make your book a reality!

Plus there are sidebars from more than 70 of the best and smartest comics/manga/webcomics pros out there, so you don’t have to take our word for it.

… or mine, for that matter. Check out these reviews from Bleeding Cool and Comic Related. Paul brought our copy home from the Local Comic Store, and it’s even more gorgeous than I’d hoped.

Thanks again, Adam and Comfort, for including us in this amazing project. I’m so glad to still be part of comics self-publishing.


That thing where both you and your husband get invited to speak at a function, and despite your very similar careers in comics, you get subtly different levels of interest. See if you can spot the differences:

Dear Mr. Sizer,

I’m a student intern with the [Organization Redacted], an organization dedicated to promoting literature and writers in [Location Redacted].

On Saturday, June 13th, we’re running a comic book writing and mini comic making workshop. Given your expertise, we were wondering if you would be our guest speaker.

Payment will be provided. We’d require you to do a half hour presentation plus critique the finished minicomics our participants will make in the workshop.

Given that we’d like to start advertising this week, with Free Comic Book Day just around the corner, I’d appreciate hearing back from you today or tomorrow. I look forward to hearing from you.

[Name Redacted]

Dear Ms. Irwin,

My name is [Name Redacted] and I’m a student-intern with the [Organization Redacted], an organization for supporting authors in [Location Redacted].

On June 13th, we’re hosting a comics writing and minicomics making workshop. We were wondering if you’d be willing to come and be our guest speaker and judge the resulting minicomics.

Payment can be provided. Given that we need to start advertising soon and with FCBD just around the corner, we’d appreciate you responding today if possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

[Name Redacted]

How to build a rhino

So you guys remember my buddy Mark, right? The guy who helped his daughters send up a stratoballoon? Who does a kid-science video podcast? The guy who’s been my cubemate since 2008?

Well, last week I heard that he’d tried to build a robot kit with his daughter Lucy, and, well — it didn’t actually robot well. A non-functional robot isn’t good incentive to keep building stuff, so I decided to get him and his daughters a kit that actually worked. Enter the Strandbeest Rhino kit from ThinkGeek.

What’s a Strandbeest? It’s a wind-powered kinetic sculpture invented by Theo Jansen, and it’s totally awesome:

True to form, Mark made a great blogpost outlining the build. He, Lucy and Katherine got the Beest built in pretty short order, and got inventive when it required a bit more windpower:

Now that’s better. And also: SCIENCE!

Vögelein now on Comixology!

Good news! You can now buy both Vögelein books at Comixology. These have been in the works for about a year now, and I’m really excied to have them available. If you’ve never tried Comixology’s “assisted view” reading format, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s pretty neat, and adds a subtle dynamism to digital reading. Thanks, Comixology!

Rob Chamberlin: Serendipity.

There’s an outstanding profile of my neighbor and friend Rob Chamberlin in this month’s Encore magazine. His life is exactly as magical as they describe it, and every meal or conversation I have with him and his wife Suzanne is remarkable. Rob’s a heck of a guy, and one of the things I admire most about him is that he leaves his life open for miracles and mysteries, and they find him with unerring timing. Check out the article here.

Paul’s at it again…

So hey, I know I spend an awful lot of time on this blog talking up all the awesome stuff Paul gets up to, but he’s a pretty legitimately amazing guy who’s always pushing his design abilities and making incredible art. I’m not just saying that because I’m married to him — that’s empirical data, and you can test that stuff in a lab.

He just did an installation for 826 Michigan, and I did a writeup with all sorts of photos and stuff over at the Fiery Studios blog, so you should go check it out.


I started this about two months ago as a short-story exercise, and it’s taken me this long to finish it. It’s not much, but it’s still comics. One foot in front of the other.


SPX Plans

I’m very sorry to report that I won’t have a table at SPX this year, after all. For more details, please check my post on the Fiery Studios site.

Obligatory Dog Photo.

Miss Isabel, with her favorite thing in all the world: a tennis ball. Exercising her is a breeze because she’ll chase it literally as many times as you throw it, forever. She has such strong jaws that she’s already chewed clean through a few of them, even the extra-strong ones they sell at the pet store. I went ahead and ordered a mess of used tennis balls off of eBay — even with shipping, they’re still way cheaper than most other dog toys, and then we don’t have to feel bad when she destroys them.

She’s doing very well, and has come out of her shell in the most amazing ways. For such an old dog, she’s taken to clicker training like a champ, and has learned several basic commands, though we’re mostly working on simple things that will make further training easier, like making eye contact when we call her name. Once she has those down we can move on to more fun stuff — like teaching her to run beside me when I roller skate. Yay, dogs.

Adam and Comfort’s Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics

So here’s something cool: Paul and I each have a small contribution in a new comics how-to book by our friends, Adam Withers and Comfort Love. Check out the full details at the Fiery Studios blog.

Hourly Comics Day

… Two weeks late, but still. I didn’t realize it only happened on February 1st! I’ll be more punctual next time around. Click each image to embiggen.

Carla’s got a new website

Miss Carla’s gone and made herself a whole new website, to go with her Patreon. Go check it out, and if you’re so inclined, throw her some support so that she can concentrate more on making her amazing comics.

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