Archive for January, 2009

New Year

In the spirit of peace and happiness, I wish everyone a happy new year.

(song by Dan Bern)


Well, you can’t stop
on the side of the highway
see if someone
needs help

You can’t pick
a hitchhiker up
He might
have a gun

How could you send your kid
to an American school now?
I could not send my kid
to an American school

Well I can almost see you
having a gun
if you lived out, way out
on the open range

If there was no one
within 30 miles of you
But these days we live next to
and right on top of each other

Well back in 1933
Einstein left Germany
He knew what he was feeling
And he wasn’t feeling safe

I wonder if he felt like his number
could come up any time
I wonder if he felt entered
in some dark lottery

It’s no wonder
we need so many drugs
The mall on the edge of town
has turned into Beirut

I do not like
anyone walking behind me
And I do not want to get stopped
by the cops for anything

I’m talking disarmament

Talking disarmament

See, I do not want my politicians in my bed or in my house or house of God
I don’t care what they believe in
Or what they look like or who their daddy is

And I do not care
who a senator sucks or a president fucks at all
How many ads they got on TV
What they did or did not do in the war

See I’d rather kill the guns
Then have to kill off my emotions
I’m scared to speak my mind, or disagree, or even move
I might get noticed

Man, it’s just no fun anymore
The golden rule has changed
Fire unto others
before others fire unto you

I don’t need no more erection pills
I don’t need a million baldness cures
Hell, these days to die in a car crash
Is practically dignified

What’s the point of going to the health club
building your body, pumping them weights?
If a five-year-old can walk up
and blow you away

Hey governor
What you doing about the guns?
Hey candidate
What you gonna do about the guns?

I don’t really want to die
‘Cause someone’s pissed off at his girlfriend
I don’t want my kid to die
‘Cause someone didn’t make the football team

I don’t care what John Rocker says
The first amendment’s good by me
But the second one’s outdated
Its ashes ought to be burned and scattered

We’re talking disarmament

Talking disarmament

I write this from some highway rest stop
Now I’m gonna go sleep in my van
In America these days
That makes me practically a hero

I don’t care what the top ten movies are
I don’t care who just won a million dollars
I don’t care what you think of abortion
Though I think it’s probably better to eat the egg than kill the chicken

Hey senator
What you gonna do about the guns?
Hey Mrs. President
What you gonna do about the guns?

Hey Batman
What you gonna do about the guns?
Hey Superman
What you gonna do about the guns?

Hey Lone Ranger
You ain’t alone anymore
Too many other rangers
Time to turn in your gun

Hey policeman
Time to turn in your gun
Hey everybody
Time to turn in your gun

England isn’t coming
We ain’t holding off the Huns
If you want to hunt the elk
Check out a gun like you check out your bowling shoes

See, I’ve heard all the arguments
“We need the guns against the government”
But the last time that I checked
The government’s supposed to be us

And if that isn’t true
Let’s have a revolution right now
But if the government is us
Let’s get rid of all the guns

People say it could never happen
Well, that’s what they said about Jim Crow
The day he became president
John Kennedy said “Let us begin”

We need disarmament

Talking disarmament

I used to live next to a nursery school
Those kids screamed all day, every day
I often dreamed about killing them
I’m glad I didn’t have a gun

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Dear Ryan Seacrest

seacrest-2009Grow in your beard. Don’t leave it as one-week stubble.

You don’t look like Indiana Jones.

Please, finish the beard.

Your bearded friend,

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Friday Robots

“Swimming in January” edition.friday-robots-1-2-09

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suggestion box

This blog, as it is read by the most intellectually stimulated people around the world, is a good place to suggest improvements on anything from foreign relations to weapons manufacture. In the spirit of the new year, I humbly submit a list of improvements that should be implemented worldwide in the coming year. Should these fail to be carried out in the next 365 days, I would certainly like to speak with whoever’s in charge.

A few things that should be changed in the calendar year 2009:

Car steering wheels. We have been using these outdated contraptions for far too long. Why is it that we’re stuck with a tool used for ships? My suggestion: joysticks. I have read these have already been tested, so all that really needs to be done is put them into the cars that people buy. No big deal here. This can be accomplished by mid-February.

The metric system. Are Americans still angry at the British? No? Then why do we continue with our bizarre system of measurement? Implementation date: June 1, 2009.

Dollar coins. Again, here is something we Americans cannot seem to get right. Why print dollar coins when you only get them in certain vending machines? People look at you funny when you try to use them. You feel like an idiot. U.S. Mint: either stop printing paper dollars, or stop printing dollar coins. You only get to pick one. Implementation date: immediate.

Eliminate the penny. Here’s another one for the Mint. I cannot remember the last time I used a penny when I wasn’t stuffing it in a roll to sell to the bank. Pennies are for flicking at co-workers, not spending. Why do we still print these? Implementation: immediate. Side note: find another denomination to put Lincoln’s head on. I never much liked Andrew Jackson on the $20. Put Lincoln there. He should share the $5 with Martin Luther King, Jr. They can be pictured with their arms over each other’s shoulders.

Fax machines. These have been useless since the day they were created. Send an email with an attachment. Use the U.S. Postal Service. We’re covered already. Fax machines are only used for receiving junk mail at this point. Implementation: fax machines should be immediately discontinued, and the last fax machine should be disintegrated on October 1, 2009.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Should I come up with any more suggestions, you can be sure you’ll read about it here first.

Thanks all! Have a productive New Year.

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College Cartoonist: A Retrospective

atticus+danceMy deepest and most rewarding college discovery was the life and times of squirrels. They inhabited the same space as us college kids, but unlike us transients they lived their whole lives in the quiet town. Their leader, the albino squirrel and his family, led them to become better, more productive, and more compassionate squirrels. Yes, they spent their days hiding nuts, but it was with a thoughtfulness never witnessed in squirrels before.

The squirrels made a deep impression and marked a turning point in my artistic life.atticus-and-glen-04-13-01My freshman year I was a cartoonist without a comic strip. My high school comic strip, with its undertones of Catch-22 and 1984, just would not do in this idyllic, intellectual setting. I also wanted to write characters, instead of the always-changing high schoolers I had used previously. But creating memorable characters is not like walking down the street. No, it’s more like asking everyone you know and finally getting the answer you knew all along. First, I had to get the feel for the place. I couldn’t write about the college until I knew what it was like, and my first semester was all about figuring that out. Only when I went home for fall break did I have the first inkling of what the strip was to be.

A high school friend basically handed the idea to me. We both stood next to his car in the warm Tucson winter night. I was talking about not knowing what to write. I was also talking about the squirrels. My friend, always a smart fellow, said, “Why not write about squirrels?” It was as if he reached into my soul and roped the idea with a golden lasso. Once the squirrel was in place, everything else seemed to click right in.

Instead of making a strip solely about squirrels, I decided to make it about the college in total. Therefore there was only one squirrel, Atticus. Atticus was a wise old squirrel who had lived on campus for many years. He was like the 5th year student who knew all the shortcuts, or maybe the townie, too smart to live anywhere but a small college town or a big city.atticus-and-glen-09-07-01In the beginning, Atticus befriends Glen, a college freshman. I never asked myself why Atticus chose Glen, of all the freshmen, but I think it was because Glen’s dorm window looked out on Atticus’ tree. It was the path of least resistance for the squirrel. Glen became less naive over time, but he never lost his basic sense of wonder. He never quite attained all of Atticus’ wisdom, which is probably for the best. I wouldn’t ever want to meet a cynical Glen. As for clothes, he always wore a little cap and a shirt with a dot on it.atticus-and-glen-09-10-99 atticus-and-glen-unpublished-1999Another character was Dee, who you will recognize both in my last strip, The Family Monster, and my current one. Dee came on the scene as a love interest of Glen’s. Glen was always on the verge of asking Dee out, but he was shy. Either that or he got distracted. In any event, Dee and Glen were never to be together. It was a shame, really, because Dee wore a triangle on her shirt. It seems like she and Glen had so much in common, at least fashion-wise.

I never really dealt with Dee much as a character until The Inevitable Atticus and Glen, the comic book I wrote my senior year as kind of a send-off for my characters. By then I liked her so much I had to find out more about her. That’s why she has been in all of my comics since Atticus and Glen. In terms of continuity, The Family Monster deals with Dee as a child, Atticus and Glen shows her in college, and Welcome to Falling Rock National Park shows her first job out of college. I’m still learning about her. I never lose interest.    atticus-and-glen-10-05-01 atticus-and-glen-11-09-01atticus-and-glen-02-22-02atticus-and-glen-03-01-02Possibly my most popular character from Atticus and Glen was Professor Globulus. He looked kind of like Jabba the Hut, but it was ultimately his personality that set him apart. He was more elitist and better read than the Hutt. He could be quite a windbag, using English criticism jargon until his whole class was put to sleep. He could also be fantastically cruel.

Globulus also made an appearance in The Family Monster, as a government bureaucrat investigating the three monsters. Since Glen and Dee graduated college, his whereabouts are unknown.  atticus-and-glen-10-08-99 atticus-and-glen-09-21-01 atticus-and-glen-unpublished-2002Another character I had to include was Glen’s roommate, Dylan. Dylan was an Artist. His hair looked a bit like Bob Dylan’s in the ’60’s. As far as art, Dylan knew how to play the game. His explanations for projects were always more involved and better thought-out than the projects themselves. When he graduated, he moved to New York City, drank a lot, went bald, and basically lived the life he wanted.  atticus-and-glen-09-17-01 atticus-and-glen-03-08-02 atticus-and-glen-02-25-00I remember sitting down one morning to write that first strip. Feeling faintly guilty I was not doing classwork (a feeling I also had when playing video games with my roommate for hours on end), I sat down to write ideas. I sketched out an idea and drew the finished strip all in one sitting. It was not perfect, but it was a good beginning. I needed to set up the premise and the main characters and hopefully be funny. My thought was, this would be the first of many strips, so once this ran I could write pretty much whatever I wanted.

It was rejected every week for the rest of the year.

Maybe the editors of the school newspaper thought I was one of the many cartoonists who would introduce characters and a Byzantine mythology, then quit a few weeks later. That was an annoyance to me as a reader and I knew Atticus and Glen would do neither of those things. I just had to be persistent.

Atticus and Glen ran in the newspaper beginning my sophomore year and finished when I graduated. Of the complaints I heard, a Byzantine mythology and a propensity to leave unresolved stories hanging were not among them.
atticus-and-glen-09-28-01 atticus-and-glen-04-05-02 atticus-and-glen-11-02-01The structure of Atticus and Glen was different from all my other comic strips. It consisted of two rows of panels, kind of like one strips stacked on top of another. I can’t remember why I came up with this format. I think I checked the comic that was already running regularly and used that as a template. The newspaper only came out once a week, so drawing a longer comic felt necessary if I was only getting one shot a week. I doubt I could’ve conveyed much with only four panels per week. As it was, I got to do a Sunday-length strip. I could change the number of panels as long as the overall shape remained the same.atticus-and-glen-11-16-01My biggest breakthrough, silly as it sounds, was in drawing size. It took me years to figure out what size to draw my comics. I’m still tweaking it, but at least I know better how things reduce and how to fit in dialog and pictures without cramping either. Back then, I was drawing my comics on 8 1/2″ by 11″ plain white copy paper. The writing was cramped, the ink sometimes bled. It was hard to fit in detail and hard to read afterward. Sophomore year I finally got it. I bought a big pad of Bristol board paper and suddenly everything fit.atticus-and-glen-11-30-01 atticus-and-glen-02-8-02Looking back it’s so simple, but back then I was scared to buy “real” art supplies. Fear of messing up the decidedly more expensive Bristol board paper outweighed my desire to make comics that looked good. When I finally took that plunge, and realized a piece of Bristol board could be tossed away just as easily as a piece of copy paper, it was one of the biggest leaps in my finished product I’ve ever had. I’m kind of ashamed it took me so long to get around to it.
atticus-and-glen-04-06-01atticus-and-glen-unpublished-2-1999 atticus-and-glen-02-15-02The best copier on campus was in the science library. I don’t know why. Copying comics was the only reason I went into that library. Once I made my copy, I took it to the newspaper office, which was located in a dorm’s basement. I always felt like I was going into a janitor’s closet or a boiler room. Many times I never even saw the newspaper staff, I just dropped my comic in the box and saw it printed a few days later. It was weird to think that, while my comic was a regular part of the paper for three years, I rarely saw the people who worked on the paper. The few people I did know were fantastic. I enjoyed feeling like I was a part of something, that I contributed to a periodical that most of the student population read. The biggest thrill of drawing a comic is when you see it printed somewhere. Print is validation. Even if you’re self-publishing, the fact that anyone can now pick up a paper and read what you’ve drawn…it’s the best.
atticus-and-glen-04-26-02atticus-and-glen-04-12-02atticus-and-glen-11-12-99By senior year I realized I had a lot more to say and only a finite number of strips left to say it. I used our short winter term to draw an Atticus and Glen comic book. As an homage to the Calvin and Hobbes treasuries, I called it The Inevitable Atticus and Glen because it was anything but inevitable. The longer story allowed me to show how both Atticus and Glen lived, day by day. I also got to write more for Dee, Dylan, and especially Prof. Globulus. Once I finished drawing it, I was stuck. I’d drawn comics for most of my life, but I’d never tried to distribute them before. The most logical way, in my mind, was not to try and sell it but give it away to as many people as possible. After all, the whole reason I wrote it was so people could read it. I used the campus printer to copy it into booklets, and with a little help from my friends I distributed it around campus. There were only a hundred copies made, so I wrote a preface asking people to share their copies so more people could read it. To my great delight, it did seem to get around.atticus-and-glen-02-23-01

The final Atticus and Glen was not bittersweet: it was flat-out sad to draw. I wrote an ending which is also not an ending. Nobody dies, nobody gets married. But I did give a hypothesis of what would happen to some of the characters. It’s not necessarily what will happen, but I have a feeling it’s close.finale

I knew I’d leave those characters in that place. The setting is too integral; change that and it’s a whole different comic. Plus I don’t know how many people would get the references I made. Still, it was hard to leave them behind.

Atticus and Glen taught me how to write for the same characters over a number of years. It was also the last comic I drew as a student. From there on out, I would be working to be a professional cartoonist.

play meets work

I recently read this essay on the difference between work and fun. It got me thinking about jobs like cartooning, which are essentially fun but require a lot more discipline if you want to do them professionally than if you’re just goofing off on the weekends.

I would laugh really hard if a cartoonist said he drew comic strips because all the accounting jobs were taken. I would laugh, and my eyes would tear up and then I’d pull out my handkerchief and daintily dab at my cheeks. And I would move on.

The fact is, getting paid for anything even resembling art is like climbing a sheer rock wall. Sure, you see a few eagles soaring around. They’re set. For the rest of us, it’s a matter of digging in early and never letting go. Of course you don’t have to climb the wall – you don’t have to be a professional to draw comics. In fact, if everybody tried making comics at least once in their lives, it would make the world a more bester place.

Getting back to my point. I learned pretty fast that I had to up the ol’ ante if I was going to graduate from drawing comics for fun, to drawing comics for fun and profit. This is when having fun morphs queasily into doing work. Fortunately, I like it so much deadlines have never bothered me. But I do have to force myself to sit down and draw, daily. Same with writing. Writing is fun, and I do it all the time anyway, but for Falling Rock I have to focus. Fun with deadlines can still be fun, but it is also work.

I always feel strange saying I have work to do when I mean drawing comics. It seems easier to say it that way than to explain: in order to make comics every weekday and maintain the website and send out submissions to syndicates, I can’t draw only when I feel like it. I have to draw the exact amount the strip dictates.

Can play make the transition to work? I think so, if you have the right mindset about it. If your idea of fun is a lack of time constraints, freedom of topic or media or form, then maybe you need to keep doing fun for fun. John Lennon once said that, in order to write his book A Spaniard in the Works, he’d have to get drunk every night. That’s why, he said, he never wrote another book. And that’s good: he realized he didn’t want to write that way on deadline, or to fill a certain page count. But if you can play, keeping in mind certain expectations, then you can try to make it a living.

With all this in mind, I’m going to launch my career as a Lego builder.
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