Though I haven’t actually been to McBone Outpost #1211, I frequently find myself imagining an evening spent at that ancient, deathly estate. What would it be like to visit the current headquarters of Palin-hating, Denzel-Washington-loving, Stabbone and McGraw?
Let’s try to paint a picture, shall we?
My wife Isis and I arrive at the gates by horse-drawn carriage at dusk. A mist hangs over the estate. I stroke my beard thoughtfully. Isis, prone to cases of the chills, says she feels chilled. It’s true, this time there is a definite feel of mortality in the air. As if our lives may very well be snuffed out at the stroke of midnight. Undaunted, we tell our driver to carry on.
A movement between the trees. Isis thinks it’s a werewolf. I say, pshaw, it’s only a trick of her over-active imagination. Either that or it’s a regular wolf. Isis begins to withdraw from reality.
As our carriage pulls up to the entrance, the door creaks open. Though we are ten feet away, the eerie air from inside the manor gives us both goosepimples. No doorman is there to greet us as we enter, and yet the door swings shut behind us. The lock closes on its own accord. There is no coat rack, yet it matters not. Isis and I are colder than when we were outside.
A shadow against the stone wall is our first sight of our host, Lord McGraw. He glides toward us as if propelled by an uncanny pulley. No wheels or rope are in sight.
“Please, let us retire to the dining hall,” McGraw coos. “My wife and I have long been expecting you.” He begins to laugh, gently at first and then gaining in intensity until he coughs violently. Isis and I glance at each other; we were not aware the Lord said anything resembling a joke.
As Lord McGraw leads us to the dining hall, we notice the pictures, of which there are many, are not hung from the walls but set on the ground as if to be hung later. They are all covered in thick black cloth. The sound of dripping water can be heard deep in the distance.
“Ah, you remember my lovely wife, Lady McGraw,” says Lord McGraw, gesturing at a woman seated at the dining room table. Isis starts. I cannot blame her. Lady McGraw is as pale as death, with dark brown eyes and hair that tumbles almost to the floor. She is wearing a tattered wedding gown, and though it looks old, it is as white as the day she was married in it. I ask Lord McGraw how long ago they were married, for, though we have been friends since boarding school, events in his life have become hazy to me. It is as if the mist outside has clouded my mind.
“Oh, ages ago,” responds McGraw, and laughs again. He finds so many things amusing, and yet no one else is allowed to share in his merriment. Isis gasps, for no apparent reason.
We all sit to have dinner. The servants are obedient and silent as they place our plates in front of us. As one slips around the corner I think I see a tail protruding from his waistcoat. It can’t be true, I think to myself. I just need to eat.
Eat we do! An eight-course feast suitable for kings. Almost every food is represented, and yet McGraw cannot go more than a few seconds without remarking how much worse it would be if it was slathered in a white glop he calls “mayonnaise.” Lady McGraw seems to have a healthy appetite, but Isis cannot seem to nibble here and there. I gently scold her. Lord McGraw notices this and tells her to wait for desert.
“It will be a delight below the heavens!” he exclaims.
“You mean, above the heavens,” I say.
Lord McGraw gently laughs.
When desert is presented to us, Lady McGraw finally speaks. Unfortunately, it is nothing more than a high-pitched wail. It is so alarming, so unsettling, that even Lord McGraw cannot muster a giggle. “She sometimes has nightmares,” he says.
“But she’s not asleep,” I protest.
“But it is night time, is it not?” McGraw opens a curtain to present us the moonless sky.
After dinner, the ladies retire to their sitting room while Lord McGraw shows me the manor.
“Here is the game room,” he says, gesturing to a room full of sharp implements and a cabinet full of skull-and-crossbones canisters.
“This is our sun room,” McGraw points toward a windowless crypt deep in the bowels of McBone manor. There are no chairs, only two empty coffins. “Lovely,” I manage to say.
Lord McGraw takes me upstairs. He has told me he likes to keep pigeons. “They are calming,” he says, as we climb the rickety wooden stairs higher and higher. I swear to myself that the house was not this tall looking at it from the outside. Finally we reach the roof.
When he shows me the coops, I am aghast. “Those aren’t pigeons!” I exclaim, for staring back at me are dozens and dozens of beady-eyed bats.
Lord McGraw tuts me. “Tut tut, my friend. These are pigeons. The night is so thick you have imagined bats. Why, I’ll bet your wife told you she saw a werewolf running the grounds earlier.”
“She did!” I say.
“The night plays tricks on even the most intelligent of us. Specters and goblins appear when only leaves and hedges are to blame. Lady McGraw once told me she saw the demon Argosphospheles standing at the foot of her bed late one night! Of course that was incorrect.” Lord McGraw turns swiftly around and heads back downstairs. Gratefully I follow.
We find Isis and Lady McGraw staring at a quilt upon our return.
“This is a quilt made by the entire McGraw line. My great-great-great-grandmother began it, and every generation has added to it,” says Lord McGraw.
Each panel seems to depict a massacre, a witch-burning, a pagan ritual, or a beast of horrific proportions. “Lovely,” Isis remarks. To me, she whispers, “we have to go.” I concur.
Our hosts, though peculiar, have shown us every hospitality. We thank them profusely, perhaps over-zealously, as we back out the door.
As our carriage takes us away from McBone Manor, Isis clings to my arm. Her hands are ice cold. I find that I, too, am shivering. The further we retreat from those weird grounds, the more like ourselves we feel. When we arrive safely home, Isis makes me promise to wait a “good long time” before accepting another invitation to Lord and Lady McGraw’s. I find myself hedging. It possibly has to do with the peculiar bite marks on my neck, but I see myself returning to McBone Manor very, very soon.
Most days Friday Robots want to take over the world. Occasionally, though, Friday Robots kick back, eat some leftover turkey, and watch Mad Men marathons. Today is definitely the latter for Friday Robots.
Even though Friday Robots are not actively plotting conquests, they want to extend their thanks to those among you who have to work this holiday weekend. Without people working, Friday would be just another word on the calendar, and Friday Robots would just be robots.
Alan Rickman is back!
It took me a few days to realize why this blog has been reaching an unprecedented number of views lately. Turns out it’s all due to Sir Alan Rickman.
As a few of you know, the new Harry Potter movie was recently released into the suburbs. It has done pretty well there. The media hype is, unsurprisingly, focused on Alan Rickman. As this blog is THE source for all things Rickman, it is the first destination of many a Potterhead.
In an effort to dredge up my entire life history on this blog, I present you with perhaps the most important letter I have ever received. For the full back story, please read this post.
The short version is: when I was a kid, I wrote a letter to Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, imploring him to stop the exploitation of his characters. What I got back was a very nice form letter. He did sign it, at least.
This letter changed the course of my life. Soon after, I started reading Calvin & Hobbes. Bill Watterson’s strict ethic about his work and the control of his characters resonated with me. I had seen the dark side, and I never wanted to look back.
Now that I have my own comic strip, I look at Jim Davis and Bill Watterson’s ideas as opposite sides on a spectrum. There is plenty of ideological space between the two. Note that I’m not against licensing my characters. But when that fateful day does come, I will have a balanced view.
I’m glad I had this devastating experience as a kid, or I wouldn’t be the fully-formed adult I am now.
DISCLAIMER: The following comics, though originally intended for entertainment purposes, are presented here for historical value only. No entertainment derived from reading the comics contained within this post will be non-ironic in nature.
Now that I table at comic conventions, I get to talk to comics readers. I cannot express the gratitude I feel when someone takes the time to read my work. Even if they don’t buy it, the fact that they form an opinion about something I’ve written makes all the work worth it.
One interesting statement I hear a lot from comics readers is something to the effect of, “I wish I had the talent to draw comics.” This always makes me laugh. (No, I don’t laugh at them.) If only talented people drew comics, there might be three cartoonists in the entire world. The rest of us have had to work at it for many, many years. I’ve been drawing comics since I was ten and still haven’t mastered the craft. Talent has very little to do with comics. It’s more about willpower and a dash of obliviousness.
To prove my point, I present to you, dear readers, three comic strips I drew when I was 13 years old – in 7th grade. In 7th grade I already knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. I had, by that point, changed my style. It was a big decision. When I was in elementary school I drew people with huge eyes and no head. The hair grew from their eyes, the ears grew from their eyes. The nose and mouth hung somewhere below the eyes, and the body hung below that.
My new way of drawing was inspired by Bill Watterson. After copying Calvin and Hobbes, I saw the potential for a full face, and for connecting the head to the body. I was basically learning how comic characters worked.
Eager to inflict this new style on an unsuspecting populace, I joined the school paper with my friend Andy. Andy, it should be noted, is not a cartoonist, yet the examples below prove that he was by far the better artist. Had I not been so stubborn and kept at it, I would still be drawing like a cloven-hoofed farm animal. Talent has nothing to do with my improvement. It’s all practice.
Nobody knew what it meant. I had to explain this comic to people for weeks after the newspaper came out. It was so poorly executed I will probably blow up the internet by republishing it here.
Undeterred, I kept submitting comics for publication. The next few I drew were wisely rejected by our newspaper coordinator (a brave woman who was also my English teacher). Finally, in the spring semester, I came up with these two winners:
The origins of the jokes are hazy to me. The first reads a lot like something from Calvin & Hobbes. Note the headline on the dad’s newspaper. Bill Amend used that joke all the time in FoxTrot, and I always liked it. I hadn’t yet learned to size the lettering, so the joke is not as subtle as intended.
The latter strip was taken from a conversation with a friend. Of course, nobody was actually strangled – even then I preferred making stuff up. But the basic germ of the idea was ripped from the headlines of my life.
Again, I got nothing but grief from my classmates. I hear stories from other cartoonists about how they liked to draw comics and their peers encouraged them to draw more. That didn’t happen to me. I drew comics with no encouragement (outside my family and close friends) and, sometimes, outright disdain.
It is a testament to my boundless optimism that I continued at all. Looking at these now – heck, even back then – it’s clear there is absolutely no talent on display. Based on the meager panels above, Andy should have been the cartoonist.
There is a silver lining to drawing bad comics when you’re 13. Other 13-year-olds are not afraid to tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. More ruthless than a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old may be the most cynical, meanest person on the planet. By the time I began high school, I knew what not to do. And I got better.
Middle school was, without question, the lowest point of my life. For some reason, though, I stuck with cartooning. Not because I had talent – you now know I didn’t – but because I could see myself in the future, drawing good comics. I propelled myself into that future. And here I am now, living in the future exactly as I imagined it: riding in my hover car and married to Elisabeth Shue.
There’s a lot to be said for wishful thinking.