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 subcribed 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. I hope you follow me into this next chapter.
Thanks for reading.