Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Return of the Unknown Enemy (or The One With The Retcon)

Retcon /ˈretkän/, noun, (in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.

The word is a shortened form of retroactive continuity and in modern times is most often seen when talking about comic media and science fiction/fantasy, with daytime soaps and primetime sitcoms in there for good measure.

The qualities of these retcons vary greatly, often depending on how closely a particular franchise follows any sort of internal continuity, or canon. The most famous example of canon is the various Star Trek movies, TV series, and related media. As such, it contains notable examples of retcons, from the look of the Klingons, to the importance of currency in the universe, to an entire period of history known as The Eugenics Wars. Some of these are explained away during subsequent episodes of more recent series in the franchise (with varying degrees of success), while some are simply ignored.

Another franchise that deals in frequent retcons is Doctor Who. Over the nearly 60 years of the series, it has struggled to sustain a consistent internal continuity. During the Classic series (1963 - 1989) there were many times when the series contradicted itself, and rarely did the writers do anything to explain these continuity errors. The New series (2005 - present) has been more successful in maintaining canon, although it, too, has had issues. But, what they have often done is made attempts to retcon some of the continuity errors from the Classic series when they've affected events in the New series. As the Doctor might say, "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey".

Of course, some of the most hilarious examples of retconning come from the sitcom "Friends", where the backstories of nearly every main character changes from how they were introduced at the beginning of the series. While some were more major retcons than others, Phoebe's backstory was in a constant state of flux, to the point where I don't believe even the character really knew what their true history was.

On the deck is the first retcon of Furble's run. But first...

Strip 57/166 - Apparently he'll eat anything!

Our intro to the character Bitem continues. He's a hungry little snake, which makes sense since it's the middle of winter and most of his prey is probably busy being scarce. But where does such a little snake put so much food? Your guess is as good as mine.

Strip 58/166 - And I mean ANYTHING!

The way in which Bitem holds his head up as he interacts with Furble and FC was actually inspired by Slimey, Oscar the Grouch's worm friend on Sesame Street. He's probably one of my favorite classic Muppet characters, just a simple worm controlled by two control rods. But, like all of Henson's creations, still able to express a wide array of emotions thanks to expert puppetry (or Muppetry).

Strip 59/166 - Why? What did Furble do to you?

The continuity error: our mystery Admiral, last seen scurrying away from Furbulia after he failed miserably in his attack on the planet, has made a triumphant return, and he's here for Furble! Sounds ominous, yes? One problem: he doesn't know Furble. Didn't meet him, didn't even make it to the planet's surface. So, how do we resolve this mistake?

Strip 60/166 - You know that feeling when someone is behind you...

The retcon: Furble and FC "remember" the Admiral as he escapes his decimated ship, thus completely ignoring the fact that they never met, didn't even know that he had plans to attack Furbulia. Again, I don't know precisely what I was thinking here, other than I wanted the Admiral to be a "big bad" for the comic strip (for a bit, at least). Perhaps I knew I would want a chance to talk about retconning sometime in the future in a blog when I revisited these comics. Yeah, that must be it. 

There, I just retconned my life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Year in the Life (or Do Reptiles Like Snow?)

At last, we've come around to the first anniversary of the Furble comic being published. I'm not sure if I truly had any concept of how long I intended to do the strip, or if I had even given it a second thought. It was something that I truly enjoyed. It gave me a creative outlet that was not related to my current school experience, separate from the bullies that tormented me daily. The money that I was paid for it each month (though not much) was nice to have to get snacks and what-not during off-campus lunch hour, or to plunk into the arcade games when I would find myself at the youth center or the bowling alley. 

But, beyond that, it gave me a sense of importance. I was providing content to the local paper that, I hoped, people were enjoying each week.

Anniversary blurb

It made me feel happy.

It made me feel useful.

I'm forever appreciative that my home life was largely normal. Two parents who loved each other. Three of us brothers who, while we did have our sibling differences, were by-and-large fine with the existence of others. I had a friend whose mother was divorces, so I wasn't completely unaware of that aspect of some kid's home life. But, for the most part, I was largely unaware of the darker sides of family dynamics. And I came out remarkably well adjusted.

A normal home life and a creative outlet helped me survive my high school years at Kiester. And I'm grateful for both.

Strip 53/166 - A happy (and snowy) anniversary!

My guess is that FC has some sort of internal chronometer that would alert them to the fact that it had been a full Earth year since they first landed on Earth. Although, without somehow observing the planet first, how would they know how long a year was on Earth? Is it the same length as a year on Furbulia? Do they keep track of years the same way on Furbulia? Will I stop asking questions to which only I would know the answer? What do you think?

Strip 54/166 - It snows in Minnesota. A lot.

Turns out that I actually did mention Minnesota by name as the place where Furble and FC had crashed. For context, I drew this group in January of 1988. At the time, we were in the midst of a massive snow storm that dumped over a foot of snow on the area, so snow was most definitely on my mind. I don't think our snow came quite as quick as shown in the strip, but sometimes it certainly felt like it, as I would look out the window, not being able to see more than a few feet through the heavy falling snow.

Strip 55/166 - Introducing a new friend

I always strived to do whatever I could to keep the strip interesting and fresh. In pursuit of this end, I decided to introduce a new character to, at least temporarily, make our duo a trio. Bitem (Get it? Bite them? Bitem? Because he's a snake? Eh?) is a snake that is, somehow, surviving in the frigid Minnesota winter, despite being a cold-blooded reptile that should be deep in brumation at this time. He's cute, though.

Strip 56/166 - Actually...

Snakes don't store food for the winter. They wake from their slumber occasionally to forage for food and water. I suppose that might actually be what's happening here, especially given how the story unfolds in the next few strips. But I'm fairly certain I hadn't put that much consideration into it. I was too busy having fun creating a comic strip, at least for a couple more years.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Back In Time For Winter (or Minnesota's Two Seasons)

It's an old joke: Minnesota (or insert northern midwest state of your choice) has two seasons, winter and road construction. This is, of course, an exaggeration. There are a couple of days between road construction and Winter when the leaves change color and fall from the trees, and a couple of days between Winter and road construction when the temperature jumps from -30° to 85°. But it's essentially correct.

If you want to sound like an "old person," there are few better ways than to start talking about the weather "when I was young." However, my personal recollection suggests that winters in Minnesota were a bit harsher back in the 80s, in general, than they are today. Meteorological data may refute that, but it's my story, so what?

One particularly nasty winter I recall came during high school, specifically February of that year. We lived in the country, about 10 miles away from town, on a gravel road, about a quarter mile from the highway. The snowfall was so significant that we found ourselves snowed-in on the farm for nearly a week. I remember the driveway was just a massive drift of snow, and the only reason you could tell where the road was was because there weren't telephone poles in the middle. School was cancelled for a couple of days, but as soon as the paved roads were clear, they opened school at ran the buses only on the paved roads. So, in order for us to get to school, we had to walk up the gravel road to the highway and wait for the bus. We literally walked to school in the snow, uphill one way (fortunately, back home was downhill).

Another winter I have vague memories of consisted of a snowstorm that left a drift that went up to the roof of one of the sheds on the farm (about 7 feet high).

Yet another winter saw us on the bus on the way to school. We turned down one of the country roads, only to find out that we had driven into snow that was simply too deep for the bus to drive through. Our bus driver, a hard-core dude that was one of the coolest drivers I had ever had, got his shovel out and dug the bus free so we could make it to school, even if we were a bit late.

Those are the winters as I remember them. Minnesota winters were impressive, and left an impression.

Strip 49/166 - Nothing under my hat (except aliens)!

These strips dropped in January, so it made sense for Furble and FC to come back to Earth in the middle of winter. I'm not sure where the idea of the pair being trapped underneath a toque came from, but it did set up a number of strips where I didn't actually draw the characters, but they were all standard story strips (no galleries).

Strip 50/166 - TV Box Callback

A quick callback to the TV box from early in the strip. And our duo getting crushed by what is supposed to be some sort of large clump of snow, but ends up looking more like an unbaked pizza dough. Which, I guess wouldn't have been that much more odd than getting caught under a random hat.

Strip 51/166 - Use the tools you have...

I mean, given FC's design, he probably could be used as a shovel of sorts. Probably not the most dignified use of a companion, but desperate times...

Strip 52/166 - Questionable structural integrity of that snow

I don't know if Furble is using FC as a shovel or not, but they've made it out from under the hat. It's more subtle that I intended, but if you look at the top of the snow, you see the snow being upended like Bugs Bunny burrowing through the dirt. Unfortunately, that left turn at Albuquerque isn't going to help get them out of a Minnesota winter here. Maybe once road construction season comes around.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Moving On From Furbulia (or Do I Have To?)

Sometimes you don't have a choice. Sometimes you have to do something, whether you want to or not. That's a lesson that everyone eventually learns, some earlier than others. 

Having to do something that you don't want to do can be really depressing. What's more depressing is doing something that you love to do, and then having those around you almost ruin it for you because they're being forced to do it. This was my experience with junior high choir and band.

Music has always been something that I excelled at, and in turn, something that I have truly loved. No matter how bad of a day I might have been having during my classes (or between classes) at school, that hour out of the day I spent in either band or choir would bring a smile to my face. And then the rest of the class would arrive.

Don't misunderstand, I wasn't the only one who legitimately wanted to be there. There were a number of us that actually enjoyed making music. But, there was a vocal minority of students that had to be there, didn't want to be there, and wanted to make sure everyone knew it. Some days the teacher spent more time trying to get people to stop talking between singing or playing than making music. And forget about time spent learning about things like keys and dynamics. Fortunately, the music teachers did offer a few of us who were interested in such things more personal learning opportunities. 

As such, I am of mixed feelings on the subject of required choir/band classes in junior high. On one hand, some of these kids might not ever think to explore music beyond what they learned in elementary school had they not been forced to sit though it, and they may find a new passion. On the other hand, it becomes a major challenge for both the students that want to be there, and the teachers, trying to wrangle kids who are only there because they are made to be. Given the choice, I would rather the students be exposed to music, then be allowed to decide whether it's something they want to continue to explore in high school.

How does this relate to this week's Furble strips? I shall explain:

Strip 46/166 - BOOM! There it is!

Furble and FC, who have been visiting their home world of Furbulia these past few weeks, are out stargazing with Furble's mother. Suddenly *BOOM* something appears in the sky, knocking everyone back. Looking like something out of the Wizard of Oz, it becomes (absurdly) obvious that this is a way for the duo to make it back to Earth. But, Furble and FC have only been home a short while, and haven't even discussed wanting to go back to Earth. So we just ignore it, right?

Strip 47/166 - A cyclone in space?

Well, there's no discussion. No thought of "maybe we can stay at home", "do we really want to head back to an alien planet?", or "hey, is it safe getting sucked up in a cyclone in space?". Apparently, this is one of those things that you need to do, no choice in the matter. If there had been a series of strips dealing with Furble trying to get back to Earth the same way he tried to get back home, or even brought the subject up in casual conversation, it would feel more natural. But, I decided to send them back to Earth. So, they say their brief good-byes and *POOF* they're gone. And, while they won't make it back to Furbulia again, they will travel the universe, and the readers will revisit the planet in the end.

Strip 48/166 - Same as it ever was

And, just like that, we're back on Earth. Seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Now, the only thing that Furble and FC have to do is survive Earth, once again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A New Challenger Appears (or Much Ado About Nothing)

Every good story has an antagonist. Whether it's a specific individual or group of characters, or something more esoteric, like the environment or a situation, the hero always has some sort of foil that acts against them. Holmes had Professor Moriarty, Superman had Lex Luthor, Frodo faced the elements of Middle Earth in his quest to destroy the One Ring

In my own personal story, I have certainly had antagonists.  As I think back on events during any particular school day, while many of my classmates would join in on the bullying, two or three specific kids would usually initiate the behavior. It helps to put into perspective how people acted around me. Some people, while I wouldn't classify them as "friends" necessarily, would at least leave me allow, unless one of the antagonizers was around. Whether you call it mob mentality or wolf pack mentality, it made me wonder what I did to attract their ire. Truth is, probably nothing. Nothing beyond being different.

Back on fictional antagonists, comic strip characters have their own, from Susie Derkins for Calvin, to the kite-eating tree for Charlie Brown, to Mondays for Garfield. I felt it was time to give Furble a proper villain. Thus, our mysterious alien admiral was born.

Strip 43/166 - Definitely not a Muppet

These new aliens bear more than a passing resemblance to the Martian Muppets from Sesame Street. But, they were actually modeled off of some little alien finger puppets that my mom had crocheted. I wanted something that was completely different from the aliens that we were already familiar with in the strip, and these little guys fit the bill. The ship was loosely based on the profile of the Star Destroyers from Star Wars, with a bit of Star Trek terminology thrown in for good measure.

On a side note, beginning with the last two strips from last week and continuing, I decided to start signing each strip with my full first name "Marcus" as opposed to "Marc" (even though the by-line in the paper continued to say "Marc" for the run of the strip). Not sure why I made the change.

Strip 44/166 - Well, that's not creepy at all

We've got an alien creeping around Furbulia, scaring poor defenseless Furbulians, making them faint. Truly evil. Of course, the real oddity of this strip is the fact that (presumably) fictional media on Furbulia includes depictions of Martians. I suppose that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Martian explorers could have made it to Furbulia as well as Earth. In reality, "Martian" becomes a term interchangeable with "alien". Since we're already dealing with aliens (compared to humans), Martians become inception-level aliens. Don't think about it too hard, it hurts.

Strip 45/166 - And just like that...

It's worth noting that the last strip here was actually the first strip of the next month of comics. I'm pretty sure, like other stories, I had more in mind for the alien admiral (maybe even a name). But, somewhere between finishing the previous month's submissions and starting the next month's, that changed, and I decided to bring the conflict to an abrupt (and absurd) end. Probably no more absurd than a high school student having his comic published in the local newspaper. Embrace the absurd.

And, don't worry: like all good antagonists, he'll be back...

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Scenes from a Planet (or Proof That Video Games Don't Rot Your Brain)

I've established previously that, while we lived in Kiester, I did not have many people my age I could call good friends. I shared a variety of interests with the ones that I did have. One of the things that we all seemed to be able to enjoy together was video games.

My family had a Commodore 64 at the house. In between sessions of my mom learning the spreadsheet program, or learning assembly code, my brothers and I would spend hours playing games of all kinds on the machine. Of course, back then, loading games from 5.25 inch diskettes took a not insubstantial amount of that time. This in turn gave us more incentive to spend more than a couple of minutes with any game that we managed to get loaded. A far cry from the "instant" availability of apps on our smart phones.

I spent hours on exploration games like Phantom of the Asteroid, shooters like R-Type and Gradius, and arcade ports like Pole Position and Bubble Bobble. Sometimes I would play a game until I finally finished it (assuming there was an ending), but more often than not I played until I got to a particularly frustrating part, and went on to something else, usually after throwing a controller across the room. I was, however, known to put multiple hours into games because I just needed to see where they went.

My friends allowed me access to systems and games that I wasn't able to play at home. One friend had a TI-99/4A, and we played tons of unique games there. His father had an IBM PC, and we spent a fair amount of time playing the original King's Quest point-and-click game. He also had a Commodore computer (a C-128), and we spent a particularly sleepless summer weekend getting as far as we could playing Ultima IV.

Another friend was the owner of the coveted (at the time) Nintendo Entertainment System. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, in our adolescent minds, it was the ultimate form of entertainment. Finally we had access to games that were as good as the ones we were playing in the arcades, at home! I couldn't begin to count the hours that we spent playing games on the NES. We completed Super Mario Bros without using warps. We completed Contra (even though we used the infamous "Konami code" to do it). Sessions of these games interspersed with Rad Racer races and Duck Hunt hunts kept us busy when we weren't outside wandering around town.

I think my ability to focus my attention on these games for long periods of time in order to get good enough to complete them, or at least to not completely suck at them, helped me to be able to continue with Furble, even when the creative going got tough.

Strip 40/166 - Look ma! No TV!

With the first pane of this strip showing the front page of the local Furbulian newspaper (and being surrounded by gallery strips), you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was just another gallery strip. But it actually fits into the narrative of Furble at home on Furbulia. The confusion is further compounded by the fact that this is the sole strip dealing with "everyday life" for Furble as he's visiting his home. I originally intended to make the stay on Furbulia much longer. I know I did, because I can recall many of the ideas that I had for the strip at the time. But, once again, inexplicably I changed course, and in a couple of weeks we head back to Earth.

Strip 41/166 - Fascinating!

The real question that this gallery strip poses: why is there a need to make the perfectly flat (and rectangular) Furbulia appear to be a normal round planet? Was there actually a round-Furbulia conspiracy group responsible for all of these contrivances, trying to convince the populace that no, they won't fall off the edge of the planet, even though it's apparent that they will? It's the kind of thought process that really doesn't merit further consideration. Furbulia is flat. The Furbulian equivalent of Pythagoras rolls in his grave.

Strip 42/166 - Evolution goes "boink" (to paraphrase Watterson)

We end with a call-back to the weird evolutionary development on Furbulia that seems to defy the time-space continuum. Boink, indeed.

But, something is coming to change the course of Furble and FC's journey...

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Creative Tides Go In and Out (or Not This Again)

I think it is safe to say that in any creative endeavor there comes a time when one's creative juices do not flow as freely as they might normally. In my experience, it ebbs and flows like the ocean tides. Musicians will go through creative spurts where they write and release their most popular music ever. But then at some point it slows down, and they are either releasing music that doesn't seem to catch on quite as well as their older stuff, or they take a break from writing and concentrate on something else for a while. Hopefully, given enough time and inspiration, that creative spark appears once again.

Previously, I talked about the introduction of the "gallery" strip in Furble, weekly asides from the main storyline that I ended up using when I couldn't come up with a good idea for a particular week. They are not my best work, and if I were to go back and "edit" history, I would likely remove them, or at the very least heavily revise them. Most of the time, the jokes simply didn't land, but they occasionally provided tangentially relevant information. Thus, the existence of the three following strips:

Strip 37/166 - FMoMA

The impetus of the strip is the old joke with a blank piece of white paper actually being a painting of white cows in a snowstorm. Much like other "gallery" strips, I should have used the fourth pane to do another painting joke, instead of trying to wrap the whole thing in a punchline, which did not land. This strip also highlights another aspect of many of these strips: a stunning lack of any drawing (besides the painting frames). When you go less creative, you go all in!

Strip 38/166 - Don't listen to those "Round Furbulia" nuts!

At some point in junior high, I first became aware that, even though I had moved on from the concept of a "flat earth" sometime in elementary school, there were fully functional (I assume) adults out there who held firmly to the belief. I thought it would be fun to turn the idea on its head, and actually make Furbulia a flat planet, a concept that I'm pretty sure doesn't exist in reality in our universe. Why it is rectangle shaped is anyone's guess.

Again, the strip is conveyed using primarily text. Although the concept is tangentially related to the overall story, I still consider it akin to the "gallery" strips. It was much easier to pull off than regular story strips due to the reliance on text as opposed to art. At least the joke worked a bit better here. 

Strip 39/166 - It probably wasn't that funny, anyway

Yeah... it probably wasn't actually that funny. As an aside, Furble laughing looks positively psychotic. I should have redone that.

We can only hope that the creative tides flow sooner than later.