BIO – Choosing to be a Graphic Novelist

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I have a letter written to myself from the 6th grade where I wanted to work as an animator for Walt Disney Studios. I got close by becoming a TV animator for the Attack of the Killer Tomatoes animated series. But something I’ve always found frustrating about animation is that I’m not so in love with making things move. Oh, sure, there is immense satisfaction in creating what Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson call “The Illusion of Life”, but I realized I was far more interested in the story of why the character was moving.

It took a decade of working in television animation and video games before I realized that comics was the perfect medium to combine my writing with my art. That’s when I became a dedicated long form comic book writer, or, a graphic novelist. Today, I’m starting my eighteenth book and there is an energy (and a great deal of frustration!) with cracking a new story. It can go any direction, and as I write the words my mind goes to how difficult some moments are going to be to draw.

If your interested, you can buy a ton of my books on Amazon or your local bookstore can order them:

I’m starting this new book with an outline, written out long hand but based on a pile of notecards. The outline will be about sixteen pages of pullet-points and scratched out lines, and I’ll go to script from that. It is hard to believe that this is the most important part of the process because everything seems so… thin. Before a story gets more gravity and meat hung on it, the words aren’t very convincing. The story isn’t thickened with rich characters and I find it bad to put too much writing into a bullet point because a bad moment could look like it’s going to stay when I might just as well need to draw a line through and go in another direction.

With any luck, I’ll start writing the script next week.

BIO – Finding Facebook 2007

I graduated high school and went to Point Loma Nazarene College in 1984. We all knew what college was for, we would train for a job and were promised a higher income because we graduated college. The problem was that I was an art major. Not just any art major, but an art major who graduated in 1988 a full five years before things like the internet were widely used by consumers.

Below is a picture of me with my college buddies after graduation. We’re hiking in a desert, camping, going to the beach, and now we’re middle aged men texting each other all day:

There was no preparing for the computer revolution of the 1990s… imagine going to college and not knowing anything about the industries to come like EBAY, and Facebook! These companies have changed the face of business and all I got was an art degree. My generation learned quickly and bought our cellphones and posted on the internet and bought stuff from Amazon and used our Apple products like good like tech-heads. Most of us still can’t set the clock on the VCR but that console is going in the trash anyways because we stream our video rentals through Amazon.

I can’t remember if I got on Facebook in 2007, but it slowly took over so much of my social life that it scared me. I fasted from Facebook for all of 2010, but all that did was develop my addiction to Twitter. Like so many other Facebook or other social media users, our lives have been changed. I’ve reconnected to long lost friends I grew up with, even the people I graduated with in 1988 found me and we can see each other’s families or send notes of prayer and support.

My Facebook page has become a live studio experience where I can paint and draw in front of my friends. This isn’t exactly putting on a show, I’m not performing, I’m just drawing with the camera on:

Facebook has become how I check in on my mom, my mother-in-law, my wife and the various clubs and groups of friends I’ve grown to love over the years. Still, it’s hard to like Facebook. I sort of resent it, because I want to meet people in reality and I have to settle for an experience of a few well-posed pics and a glance at 5,000 people’s lives.

I recently asked a question to a group about if they were happier before they got a smart phone and nearly everyone responded that they were happier before they had a phone. My question to you is were you happier before you got on Facebook?

BIO – a quick look back at my slow career

I remember first seeing cartoons and marveling at what I saw. I knew how to draw but I didn’t know how to make my drawings come alive. I was naturally drawn to animation and probably had the most fun doing little flip books in the corners of my school textbooks. I set a goal to one day be an animator.

What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that animation is easy enough on flip books, or even in my high school puppet animation, but to get good enough to be a professional animator was above my skill set for how undisciplined I was with drawing. You see, I’ve always drawn because I enjoyed it. I didn’t do it because I was good at it, though I got better simply because I drew so much. But merely loving to draw isn’t enough to become a great animator, you have to be psycho about it.

So while I made it to professional animation status for animated television and for video games, I couldn’t cut it for feature animation. I don’t know for certain I couldn’t do it, I just tried once at a feature submission and quickly gave up. I was far more turned on to story-telling, and I mean telling the whole story, not just animating a few scenes of a movie.

Over the years, I’ve told hundreds of stories, some as director, some as storyboard artist, even some as a video game developer. Here’s a list of some of my work that made it to IMDB, though this is not a complete list of my 25 years of work:

One thing I’ve learned is that my career has ups and downs, and battle-worn creators learn to get a thick skin when the money truck doesn’t back up every day to your house. My art is a commitment, and where my career has failed me every so often, my love for art and story-telling has not.

BIO – Writing Earthboy Jacobus

The first graphic novel I ever made was GEAR. Nickelodeon picked it up and we made it into the TV series Catscratch. That seemed easy. My next graphic novel was Creature Tech, a personal, idiosyncratic, strange journey of Dr. Ong, a man with an alien attached to his chest trying to bring him back to God. I sold those movie rights to Fox/New Regency. The next book I made took me just three or four months to write and illustrate and it was called Tommysaurus Rex. I sold the movie rights to Universal for the most I’ve ever sold anything to anyone. This seemed easy! I decided to write my masterpiece, Earthboy Jacobus.

I spent over two years pouring over that book, writing and sketching everything to perfection.

Earthboy Jacobus
(above) A heavily edited script page with corresponding thumbnails for Earthboy Jacobus

Nobody wanted what I still consider one of the best stories I’ve ever told. It remains unsold today, and I kind of like it that way. It keeps me humble, hungry and has lowered my expectations on all of my books since then. It’s important to not just make books to be sold, but to tell stories just so they can be told.

BIO – My Daughter Turned Me into a Father

My daughter is now 6’3″ at sixteen years old. While she spent this weekend in Atlanta playing in a volleyball tournament, I’ll always think of her as the person who has changed me the most. The thought of having kids before one has kids is an intimidating thing. I didn’t feel adequate or complete as a person, I didn’t know if I would be glad that I had kids, I didn’t know if I would rise up and be the kind of great parent I had. All of that disappeared once my daughter came along.

It’s like a little switch is flipped inside your person. You have a baby, and life quickly (perhaps, instantly) prioritizes itself. Going from being single to married is a big shift, but even when we get married, we’re dealing with an adult mind, a peer, a partner. But a baby is none of those things. A baby changes you into someone who is bigger because you have to be bigger, is selfless because you have to be selfless.

But the thing I like most about being a parent are the little moments humor that kids create just by being kids, like when they blow their loose tooth in and out like it was a rickety shutter unhinged from a dilapidated house.

Doug TenNapel BIO 2007: Pitching for Survival

“Doug TenNapel can pitch.” I’ve heard this phrase more than a handful of times and while I don’t take compliments well, I get a little charge every time I hear it, not because I doubt my ability to pitch, but because I know where I came from.

I have two qualities that conflict in that I’m both an introvert and a class clown. I see this dual-attribute in many kids we see putting on a show in front of people, my son included. I suspect that people who perform for others or draw attention to themselves are seeking some form of social validation. In many ways, we all want that. Most people like the sound of their own name spoken by another. That’s something deep in us where we enter into a relationship any time someone is addressing us. Given I believe that loneliness is one of the most gnawing form of torment one can experience, we must get relief when we get attention.

Which came first? The clown or the introvert? In my case, I can remember being shy or uncomfortable around others before I started doing and saying things that got attention. So I assume the shyness or introversion came first. Most public speakers didn’t become comfortable until they regularly spoke in public. So we’re all naturally shy or uncomfortable when addressing an audience. Like any skill, speaking in public takes some more practice to gain the skills than others.

But one thing happened that kept me from being a wallflower forever. There was a time when I could get away from being noticed, when I could turn off the performance switch and disappear when I really wanted. Then in tenth grade I great to a height of 6’8″. My life of disappearing was gone forever. Ever see video footage of criminals in ski masks holding up a mini-market? They’re never 6’8″ because they’d be pretty easy to find in a line up of suspects. One can’t height when one sticks out more than just about anyone else.

When I went to college, being an art major was a natural choice. Part of my studies included not just painting and creating abstract art, but having to defend it during a critique of my peers. I had to present cogent reasons why the art was legit, and that too helped me become a better public speaker. Little did I know that step-by-step my life experiences were training me to be comfortable with speaking to a room that would be the key to the greatest successes in my career.

By the time I got my first video game job I was frustrated with not being able to work on my own ideas. I knew there wasn’t anything in the natural course of events that would lead a video game company to just magically make one of my ideas so I had to make it happen. I pitched game ideas at every company that hired me to animate. I’ve long believed that nearly everything we do is a form of pitch from marriage proposals to job interviews to explaining yourself to the cop who just pulled you over. You have an idea and you pitch it. It amazed me how successful I was with my earliest pitches and it was largely due to desperate love of a gaming idea I believed in not my own comfort with public speaking that drove me.

When asking why Carl Sagan was so passionate about science he said, “When you’re in love you want to tell the world.” That’s how I feel about the things I pitch, I love the idea so much that I have to tell someone about it, and many times the pitch is the only way those ideas are expressed, because so many of my pitches are turned down before any one of them is picked up.

Here’s a pic of me pitching a Nickelodeon short back in 2007.

BIO July 10, 1966

I was born in the heat of American turmoil, war protests, The Beatles and the recent deaths of both JFK, Huxley and C.S. Lewis. My dad and mom don’t have a clear idea of how they came to name me Doug other than they liked the sound of the name.