Whatever Happened to The Family Monster?

[This originally appeared as an at the top of the site to explain the origin and reason for my comic strip, Welcome to Falling Rock National Park (2006-2012). I am reprinting it here as a post.]

My previous comic strip, The Family Monster, ran from October 2002 to May 2006. While I was writing it, I began to develop the idea for Welcome to Falling Rock National Park. I moved from Colorado to Oregon in the summer of 2006 and the timing seemed right for a change.

That’s the short version. Here’s the longer one.

The characters in The Family Monster were created in my senior year of college. I was finishing up my college comic strip, Atticus and Glen. Atticus was a wise old squirrel and Glen was a naive college student with a strange hat and a large dot on his shirt. Glen’s unrequited love was a fellow college student named Dee.

When I graduated college, I left the characters of Atticus and Glen behind. I decided that they belonged to that world, and since my life was about to change drastically, my comics had to reflect that.

The Family Monster was the first comic strip I did after college. It ran in The Colorado Daily. I am still amazed that they took a chance on me, given the horrendous comics I gave them to review. After a few years in that paper, I was picked up by the McClatchy-Tribune Campus, a college-friendly wire service. The Family Monster could then appear in any college paper that subscribed to the MCT Campus. Welcome to Falling Rock National Park is still thankfully run by this service.

For The Family Monster, I took Dee back in time to when she was just a girl growing up in the Arizona desert. Three monsters – Monster, Dirch, and Eggman – moved in with Dee to scare her silly. They failed miserably. Nevertheless, they stayed on, living in an underground fort in Dee’s backyard. The strip came to be about the interaction of the four main characters’ personalities.

The Family Monster was fairly open-ended in terms of the stories I could tell because of guest characters. If I wanted to do a story about pirates, I’d have pirates visit. If I wanted to tell a scary monster story (as opposed to the decidedly unscary three main monsters), I would bring in a character called Brulock the Destroyer. Another recurring character was Monster’s brother, Theo. Theo had renounced his monsterhood to become a wandering Buddhist, much to Monster’s dismay.

I had a lot of fun with The Family Monster. It was a comic strip that could never be syndicated, though. The responses I got from the syndicates (who, in turn, sell the comic to daily newspapers) were: the art is too alternative and the story not accessible enough. I also grew tired of the restrictions of drawing the monsters – they were basically sticks with heads, and I wanted to draw characters more capable of expression.

When I thought to set a comic strip in a National Park, I got the same feeling I do whenever I see vast possibility in front of me. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but it will be a long, long ways from where I started. Just as if I was visiting an actual National Park, there are many directions I can go without sacrificing the cohesiveness of the comic strip. The landscape is very much a part of the story.

Dee is still around. This time, I’m taking her to her first job after college. She’s a park ranger. She’s easy to spot: she has the big goofy hat. Maybe by the end of my career I’ll have told Dee’s entire life story. I would like that.

I learned a lot from drawing The Family Monster, and I appreciate everyone who took the time to read it.

autobiography Blog comic

sambora visits The Family Monster

Sambora influenced my work in many ways.  In October 2004 she made a brief but memorable visit to The Family Monster.

autobiography Blog comic The Family Monster

globulus in falling rock

Today marks a special day, not just for Falling Rock but for my cartooning career.  While drawing Atticus & Glen for my college paper, I created what has become one of my favorite characters of all time.  His name was Professor Globulus.

Globulus looked like Jabba the Hutt.  He was a combination of all the worst characteristics of college professors, including the (to my knowledge) totally fictitious trait of eating students.

I liked him so much, I brought him back frequently during Atticus & Glen’s four year run.  He even became the villain of my 17-page Atticus & Glen comic book, published at the end of my senior year.

When I ended Atticus & Glen I figured I’d leave all those characters in Ohio.  Dee followed me west, however, and became the starring character in The Family Monster.  Since it was a comic strip about monsters, I couldn’t well leave Globulus out.  He made two appearances, one as a bureaucrat…

And the second as a lowly ranger for an interestingly-named park.

When I began Falling Rock, I knew Globulus would show up eventually, but I couldn’t throw him in unceremoniously.  No, a character of his sliminess needed a good reason to reappear in my work.  It took almost six years, but I found the perfect place for Globulus: Park Superintendent.

Over the next week, you’ll see Globulus in his most recent incarnation.  He’s still troubling Dee.  I doubt he’ll ever really leave her alone.

Blog comic The Family Monster

un-april fool’s day

You’ve all heard of Un-birthdays, right?  It’s the date six months away from your real, actual birthday.  Some people, weirdos mainly, use it as an excuse to celebrate what would be an otherwise boring and forgettable day.  Two days ago was the Un-Birthday of April Fool’s Day.  What I’m not going to do is play a trick on you.  What I am going to do is show you the memorable (and always fun to create) April Fool’s comics that I’ve run over the years.

As many of you know, I drew a comic strip before Welcome to Falling Rock National Park called The Family Monster.  In 2004, my then-girlfriend Isis filled in for me on this installment:


Much inspired by Sex and the City (a feminist literary journal, I’m told), this episode set the tone for future April Fool’s Day comics.

The next year, my friend (and underground pop sensation) Andy K produced this masterpiece.


I hadn’t realized it until this was made, but my four main characters fit the archetypes of the four Beatles.  Who would’ve thought I had unconsciously re-created my favorite band in comic form?  Well, probably everybody who knows me.

2006 marked my brother’s debut as a cartoonist.


He decided to go meta and introduce me as a character in the strip.  I asked my collaborators to make April Fool’s Day strips mention the oddness of the occasion, to let the reader know that, beyond the different drawing style, something was afoot.  My brother took this concept to its very limit.

A few years later, I was drawing Falling Rock.  My friend and partner blogger Nate stepped in.  He really knocked it out of the park.  Featuring Nixon as a disembodied head was a stroke of genius, to be sure, and it made me wish I could have included it during the strip’s regular run.


I flaked out in 2009 and didn’t find anybody in time, so I drew this April Fool’s comic myself.  Since I don’t often draw one long panel, I did that.  And since I love those Easter Island heads (moai), I drew them.


My most recent April Fool’s Day entry was done by my friend Ian.  Since his dad started an ad agency, and since his dad told all his kids to never go into the advertising business, we naturally came up with this:


Modeled after old newspaper ads, and featuring the name of an old building downtown, it was nice to see how my characters would fare if I ever get the chance to sell out.  Believe me, I can’t wait to sell out.  I hear snake oil is big business.

Happy Un-April Fool’s Day, everybody!  I’ve already had some requests for 2011’s episode, so stay tuned…

Blog comic The Family Monster

pirates! invade The Family Monster

Here’s another storyline from my old strip, The Family Monster. I’m having fun looking through these. Sometimes they even surprise me by being good. Take this story, where pirates crash in the desert and need Dee, Monster, Dirch and Eggman to help them get going again.

If you look closely, you can see my old web address. And look! It still exists!
2003-11-10-the-family-monster 2003-11-11-the-family-monster 2003-11-12-the-family-monster 2003-11-13-the-family-monster 2003-11-14-the-family-monster 2003-11-17-the-family-monster 2003-11-18-the-family-monster 2003-11-19-the-family-monster 2003-11-20-the-family-monster 2003-11-21-the-family-monster 2003-11-24-the-family-monster 2003-11-25-the-family-monster 2003-11-26-the-family-monster

Blog Falling Rock The Family Monster

abe lincoln’s long shadow

For no real reason, here is a week of The Family Monster from April 2004.

Abraham Lincoln has long been a source of inspiration for my comics. He’s the flip side of Nixon in almost every way. Tall & lanky, bearded, and honest by very definition, Abe is probably my ideal President.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Family Monster (the comic strip I drew before Falling Rock), you can read up on its sordid history right here. As you can tell even from this small sampling, its format was more freewheeling than Falling Rock. That is because I had no idea if anyone was reading it. As it turns out, people did read it because I was picked up by the McClatchy-Tribune (formerly KRT) Campus.

Although I’ve left my monsters behind for now, Lincoln shows up in Falling Rock from time to time. So if you’re searching for continuity between the two strips, look no further than our 16th President.

Blog The Family Monster

the family monster: a panel from the vaults

Going through The Family Monster Archive, I discovered that this panel could pretty much stand on its own.

I don’t think of myself as a single-panel cartoonist. This is as close as it gets.

autobiography Blog comic

great minds

Today brought us Berkeley Breathed’s final Opus comic strip. Will Opus the penguin be gone forever? Who knows, but at least he’s in a happy place.opus_final
However, does Mr. Breathed know that a little-known, unsyndicated cartoonist beat him to the punch a few years ago?5-5-2006colorWhen I ended my comic strip The Family Monster in 2006, I went in a very similar direction.

I also used the expression “good-night Opus” in my blog post earlier this week, a reference to the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon.

If anyone is paying attention, the unsyndicated cartoonist came up with this idea two years ago, followed belatedly by the world famous syndicated cartoonist.

I expect some royalties, Berkeley.



There is a Bruce Springsteen song called Reason to Believe. The title is ironic, because the characters in the song are living hopeless lives without chance of making them better. They look for some reason to keep going, but Springsteen questions if there really is one. This would make for a completely depressing song if someone else had written it. But Springsteen has another kind of song: Promised Land and Thunder Road fall into this category. It’s the Escape Is Possible song. It’s the song of his life: you can transcend the ordinary by writing music, by getting in a car and driving, by making your own reasons to believe.

In a class about Tibetan Buddhism, I learned that there are certain rituals that must be performed thousands of times. This consists of saying a single line and bowing to the floor repeatedly. You will do this for a couple of hours a day until you reach the correct number of repetitions (up to 50,000!). It can take years. Once you’re done, you have achieved a greater state of awareness. The ritual is about losing yourself in the practice. Saying this single line over and over and bowing is a physical and mental task, so you become completely preoccupied in it.

I think about these two ideas a lot when I’m drawing comics. Like Reason to Believe, there is no guarantee that my comic will ever be widely distributed. There is no defined finish line. More importantly, if I do not make it happen myself, no higher power is going to come down, touch my forehead, and grant my wishes.

There is also a repetition about filling in many boxes with pictures. I’m not trying to say it’s a religious experience, but there is a parallel to the practice I mentioned above. When I looked back at the four years I drew The Family Monster, I realized I had drawn over 800 comics. That’s a lot of individual panels. Besides the tangible evidence of my achievement, there was a sense of growth and change on my part. I couldn’t say exactly what that change has been, but I know it has occurred and continues to occur with Falling Rock.

Belief is a strange thing, and saying you believe has serious (often conflicting) connotations to religious and non-religious people. No matter what you believe in, it is an important, perhaps essential, part of life.

Keep on truckin’.