autobiography Blog comic

from the sketchbook: raymond’s rabbits

In the fall of 2000 I headed for northern Scotland. Nothing was going to stop me. I spent the next three months doing what is known in some circles as “studying abroad.” It was here that I met Slider K. Shaftacular and was saved from eating pasta alone every night in my flat. Our adventures are the subject of another post, though. This post is about the comic strip I attempted to run in the Aberdeen University newspaper.

I had been drawing Atticus and Glen in my college’s weekly paper for the past year and a half. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to ‘get’ Aberdeen quickly enough to draw a comic strip about that college, so I attempted a less ambitious story about a weird kid who liked rabbits.

I drew up two strips and took them to the newspaper’s office, located in the basement of an academic building. (Why are newspaper offices always located in the basement of buildings? That seems to be the case with every college paper I’ve encountered.) My plan was to see if they ran before I drew more. Although the guy I talked to was quite friendly, the paper ended up running neither strip and I never heard back from the newspaper, so these are the only two episodes of Raymond’s Rabbits.

When I found these recently I remembered drawing them in my small dark flat. I had been drawing Atticus and Glen as a two row (usually 8-panel) comic and it was fun to draw the classic 3- or 4-panel comic strip I knew I always wanted to do. This was also the last time I tried drawing my strips this small. They are about 10 inches wide by 4 inches tall – not really enough room to get the detail or line quality I like. The next semester I began drawing Atticus and Glen on full sheets of 11 x 14 Bristol board. The boost in drawing quality was immediately apparent.

What would have become of Raymond and his rabbit friends had the comic continued? That is one of the many mysteries of my life. My sketchbooks are full of corridors untraveled. Perhaps one day, when I am very old and wise, I will revisit Raymond and figure out exactly what his deal is.

autobiography Blog comic comic book

the end of daily Falling Rock

Hello friends.  This is the last week of daily Falling Rock.  Not just for the season, but forever.  As you can imagine, this is not a decision I came upon lightly.

Since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be a comic strip artist; I used to read and reread Calvin & Hobbes in the morning paper.  I drew a comic strip in my high school newspaper and my college newspaper, and when I ran out of school I found other papers willing to run my comics.  It has become a part of my identity: I draw a comic strip.  Lately, however, a number of things have changed.  Daily newspapers are slowly becoming anachronistic.  People don’t subscribe to a city’s daily like they used to.  Heck, even I don’t get the daily paper.  Because of this, the number of new comic strips being introduced each year has plummeted, and the strips that do get introduced often languish due to low readership.  Great strips have ended simply because the newspapers aren’t delivering the size audience a strip needs to (financially) survive.

I’ve changed too.  When I wrote Dancing with Jack Ketch, it was 2006.  This year I published Tomb of the Zombies.  Six long years stand between those books.  I’d like my next book to come out before 2018.  As you know, doing a daily strip 9 months a year takes up most of my time.  Not having that commitment will allow me the freedom to tell many different kinds of stories.  This idea makes me happy.

Fear not, dear readers, Falling Rock is not ending.  I’d like to turn it into a quarterly comic book.  I’ll sell subscriptions and bring individual issues to conventions.  I’ll be able to tell Falling Rock stories in a way a daily strip doesn’t permit.  It will also give me time to work on other comic projects, like Dancing with Jack Ketch and Tomb of the Zombies.  We’ll essentially have it all.

This does not completely allay my sadness at not drawing a daily comic strip.  This will be the first time since 2002 (when I graduated college and began The Family Monster) that I won’t have that daily commitment.  I guess what I’m saying is, I reserve the right to bring Falling Rock (or some other comic strip) back.  I’m going to try this out and see how it fits.  It is quite possibly the biggest change of my life, because it means not working on the profession I’ve been preparing for my entire life.  Sadly, daily comic strip artists are slowly disappearing, like snow leopards or some rainforest beetle nobody’s ever heard of.  I have nothing but admiration for those people who are able to make it their living; they are working at the greatest job ever created.

Keep reading this blog over the summer for updates and amusing (but factually inaccurate) anecdotes.  I’m not going anywhere.

Blog comic

two cowboys

From the sketchbook:

Blog comic book

vigil the ante

Back in high school, I read a lot of comics. My first love was comic strips. After a while I tested the waters of comic books. They were fascinating. They charged ahead on 24 pages of glossy paper in full color. Yet, I was ultimately let down by superhero comics. They couldn’t seem to do what the best comic strips did: tell a succinct and witty story. Page after page of splash panels, action scenes that were at times hard to follow, spandex costumes that revealed muscles I had never heard of before. There was not much in superhero comics that a skinny redhead with glasses and braces could identify with.

One thing superhero comics did give me was Vigil the Ante. Vigil was a parody of all the comic books I was reading at the time. He was also a parody of the movies I’d recently seen, the TV shows I watched, the books I was assigned at school. He took the information I was ingesting at a steady rate and rearranged it into something I could enjoy.

He was also deeply indebted to Homer Simpson.

Vigil was part man, part ant, with a helmet, antennae, squinting eyes, a huge nose and a nifty spandex outfit. His shoes were shaped like two diamonds (I think that was because I didn’t like the way every superhero had super-smooth footwear, but maybe I just liked the odd design). Vigil stood for everything good and weird. He was my kind of guy. vigil-the-ante
Vigil, like all the best superheroes, had a sidekick. His sidekick had no name, a little joke about how he did all the hard work while Vigil took all the credit. “Friend” wore a costume as bulky and inefficient as possible. His huge goggles didn’t fit his head. A coat-hanger had somehow become lodged upside-down in his shirt. He wore a bow tie. There was a smiley face on his shirt, not unlike a giant bulls-eye. He had no pants, just underwear. He adopted the same footwear as Vigil, my only concession to a team costume.

The one advantage he had was the ability to fly. Vigil used him as his personal taxi. Friend couldn’t catch a break.vigil-and-friend

I recently uncovered my last, and most fully realized, Vigil the Ante story. Clocking in at 21 pages plus cover, it was my attempt to tell a comic strip story in a comic book format. Plenty of jokes, lots of small panels, as packed with story as I could make it. I used a brush to ink it, as I was attempting to follow closely in Bill Watterson’s footsteps.

Reading it now, 13 years later, I realize how little my storytelling goals have changed. I also notice how much the dialogue sounds like conversations I’ve had with my brother. This all follows my theory that our sense of humor crystallizes in middle school and doesn’t change for the rest of our lives.

Tomorrow I will post Vigil the Ante and Friends in its entirety. I look forward to sharing it with the entire planet for the first time.

Blog comic reviews

Best of Mutts

bestofmuttsMutts, by Patrick McDonnell, is one of the best newspaper strips of all time. It combines the artistic influence of classic strips like Krazy Kat with Buddhist sensibilities. Deceptively simple, an average Mutts daily is much deeper than a quick glance (and they are quick reading) will convey. In the introduction, Mutts is compared to a haiku, and I have to agree. The extreme brevity of each strip is used to convey a deep message that would get lost amid too many words or too many lines. One of my favorite strips from the recently published Best of Mutts contains 17 words total, yet it says more about life than some novels.

Best of Mutts is beautifully designed and fits the visual aesthetic of the strip. A simple cardboard cover (no dust jacket) lets the reader know McDonnell’s commitment to ecological awareness. Even small touches, like leaving off a dust jacket or printing on post-consumer waste paper, make a lot of difference when the print run reaches into the thousands. Inside the front cover there is a collage of Mutts comics, arranged almost like a comic strip crossword puzzle. The single panels are fun to see stripped of their context. You concentrate on the panel composition instead of the dialog.

The book is arranged as a collection of McDonnell’s favorite strips from each year of Mutts. Each year has a small blurb, written by McDonnell, explaining the major themes of that year and what he discovered along the way. It is an interesting way to read about a comic strip, to see how it developed incrementally. When you look at the very first strips, then flip to the end to see the more recent ones, it is clear how much Mutts has evolved. (This book ends in 2004, the tenth anniversary of the strip.)

I especially appreciate the novel idea of reprinting the Sunday strips as photographs of newspaper pages instead of the digital copies send out to newspapers. Mutts has always felt like an analog comic strip, and the warmer colors of newsprint are more fitting than the exact details of digital. It is also a subtle reminder of comics’ place in the world: the best place to read comic strips, even in the age of internet publishing, is still the gray pages of a newspaper.

Daily strips have been reproduced here in varying sizes. Some are printed three to a page, to emphasize each individual strip. Others have been shrunk to smaller than newspaper size, allowing up to six per page, or twelve for a two-page spread. The story of Earl and Mooch attempting to hibernate works particularly well in this format. You can almost read it as one long comic; the smaller pieces joined into one very funny narrative.

I would recommend this collection even if you already own some Mutts books. The commentary by McDonnell, as well as the unique presentation, make this a Falling Rock Favorite.

Blog comic fiction

Drawing Falling Rock

Digging into the overstuffed Falling Rock mailbag, I’ve discovered a disproportionate number of people wondering how I create my daily comic strip. At the risk of dispelling the legends that have grown up around my creative process, what follows is a step-by-step account of drawing one Falling Rock comic.

This is a picture of myself in my studio. The comics you see on my desk are merely sketches. One of these will be the strip for the day. The phone is a direct line to the White Before doing any drawing, each joke is carefully tested in my personal lab. If it gets a rating of 22.43 or higher, it is suitable for my reading public.GPN-2000-000690Me at my drawing table. The sketch, now fully tested, sits in front of me for One of my army of assistants spell-checks the comic. He will also add any background detail I’ve forgotten. He is especially good at drawing palo verde comic is ready to be shipped. It must be transferred from my studio, to this vehicle for decontamination and rejiggering, and finally to the The completed Welcome to Falling Rock National Park comic strip is being delivered to the McClatchy-Tribune Campus website. From there it will be downloaded by millions of subscribing papers worldwide. People will read it, laugh, and move on with their day.nasa-test-planeI hope you’ve found this photographic essay to be educational. It is the aim of Falling Rock Enterprises to not only entertain, but enlighten.

Also, to fight Communists.