Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Things That No Longer Exist (or It's a Trap!)

As I was looking over the comic strips that were on deck for this week, it struck me that they include a couple of items that really aren’t that common today. After 35 years, technology is bound to move on and leave some things behind. 

I can remember a time when people would carry change around in their pocket just in case they needed to make a call on a pay phone. You could find one at pretty much every gas station, rest stop, restaurant, and grocery store. And that's not counting the thousands of phone booths on street corners, near bus stops, and in random places in the middle of nowhere. Like beacons of communication in potentia dotting the landscape, they were ubiquitous. 

If it weren't for the phone booth, we may never have gotten Superman. Bill and Ted would have had their Excellent Adventure grounded. Maxwell Smart would never have been able to find his way into CONTROL's secret offices without it. And while it is not exactly the same, Doctor Who certainly would have been different had it not been for the police call phone box. This spunky little, nearly extinct, bit of tech has been responsible for a significant amount of pop culture.

But, alas, a better mousetrap came along, and on a few years before these strips were originally published, the first cellular phone became commercially available. Like any new technology, there were early adopters, people who were cautiously optimistic, and people who thought the whole thing was a fad and would never catch on. As we all know, mobile phones are now as common (even more so) as the pay phones they replaced. The current generation may not even recognize a pay phone should they happen upon the dilapidated remains of one in the wilderness.

Now, while people have continued to make better actual mouse traps, you can still find the classic spring-loaded styles, though they aren't quite as common as they once were. You're more likely to find them being used in a physics experiment than waiting to ensnare an unsuspecting rodent. But, again, technology marches on.

Technology is bringing this blog to you. Technology is allowing me to rescue these 35 year-old comic strips from yellowed obscurity. It's even giving me the opportunity to fix the shortcomings of the technology used to originally print these strips. A number of them, due to the paste-up process used in the creation of the newspaper, lost some of their finer lining, effectively erasing large portions of certain panes. 

Strip 71 prior to re-inking

Fortunately the modern conveniences of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil made recreating the missing bits fairly painless, allowing me to present the comics in their (almost) original condition.

Strip 69/166 - Self-help fail

I remember when bookstores were still a thing, pre-Amazon. There were entire sections devoted to "self-help" books of every kind. FC seems to have gotten his appendages on one that could help Furble's current situation. Or, not. I just hope he didn't pay full price.

Strip 70/166 - Intergalactic calling is costly!

How nice of Furble to remember Mother's Day even as he's ensnared in the diabolical trap. What's a companion to do but find the nearest communications device and try and give ol' mom a call. When I was in Europe in the early 90s, calling the US cost around 4 quid per minute. That looks down right cheap compared to the cost that FC is quoted. Going to need some more quarters...

Strip 71/166 - And, just like that...

Why? I don't know. It's a call back to our deus ex machina situation from a few strips ago. I'm pretty sure I was trying to be ironic, as opposed to lazy. Pretty sure.

Strip 72/166 - Different celebration, same problem

Fortunately, FC has remembered that it is Furble's mother's birthday. Unfortunately, we already know the hefty cost of trying to reach out and talk with her. Do you suppose FTD delivers to Furbulia? With modern technology, anything is possible!

Don't take your tech for granted, and I'll see you all next week.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Fishing Stories (or Delusions of Grandeur)

When you grow up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you are bound to have a run-in with fishing of one form or another, whether it's from a boat, a dock, or the bank of a waterway. Fishing is a way of life for many. Some do it for sport, some for relaxation, and some to put food on the table.

Fishing was hereditary on my father's side of the family. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, fished. We're talking multiple boats out on the lake to make sure everyone got their chance. 

Most summers we spent a couple of weeks up at a lake resort near Bemidji, MN, with various members of the extended family— usually my grandparents, and at least one of my uncles and family. It was one of the things that I looked forward to each summer. Everyone from grandpa down to my youngest bother was there on the lake, reel in-hand, floating bobbers, spinning spinners, jigging jigs, and just generally having a rollicking good time of it. Unless it was 4 am in the morning. That was the time that the true fishers went out on the lake. I did it once. I froze my butt off. And I caught nothing. Zero stars, would not recommend.

Of course, I rarely was able to catch a fish even at midday. And, when I did, it was a pathetic little bit of a thing that would get thrown back. The adults did catch their fair share, though, along with tales to tell of the ones that got away. While my family wasn't ever one to embellish their fish stories, others spoke of huge fish that existed in some of the lakes around the area, fish that people swear they missed by "that much". I did imagine myself catching one of the behemoths. Delusions of grandeur, as it were. But, that's all they were.

As I got older, my fishing skill did increase a bit. On a trip to Lake of the Woods in Canada one summer, I managed to haul in a couple of keepers. But, mostly, it was about sitting out on the lake, taking in nature, and mindlessly casting the rod. It's an amazingly relaxing activity that I do miss a fair bit.

Strip 65/166 - Never trust someone who talks about themselves in the third-person

Back to "delusions of grandeur", this week Furble's head grows a couple of sizes (metaphorically speaking, of course). Obviously a setup for trouble as the "Great Furble" sets off on an adventure to explore the planet (or at least a reasonable area within walking distance).

I was particularly proud of my illustration of the coiled snake Bitem. He turned out pretty good.

Strip 66/166 - Build a better mouse trap, and Furble will find it

Curiosity killed the cat. It's an old proverb, warning that just because something looks interesting, shiny, and new doesn't mean you should stick your finger in it. Or jump on it.

Strip 67/166 - Sarcastic FC is fun

Our big-headed hero has found himself in a bit of a sticky situation, and FC isn't above doing a bit of gloating about it. I always imagined FC as having more of a sarcastic side to his personality, even though it didn't always come out that way. They're friends, companions, but not above a bit of good-natured ribbing.

Strip 68/166 - The scientific method(ish)

It seemed like a good idea. It worked for the teapot. But obviously, there's something more going on with this strange contraption that has stymied the intrepid explorer. It's going to take a bit more ingenuity to get out of this situation.

Time to start fishing for some more solutions! (I'm here all week! Try the veal!)

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Serious Stuff (or Technobabble Will Drive You Crazy)

For those that have been following this blog, you know that normally I would begin with an anecdote about my past, or some vaguely interesting bit of information that relates to the comic strips appearing below.

I had ideas about what to write.

And then serious stuff happened in the world.

It is something that I can safely say was nothing that we worried about while going to school in a small town in the 80s.

I'm angry.

I'm saddened.

I feel powerless.

The best I can do is offer some scrap of humor to take your minds off of it for a moment.

One important caveat: had these been originally published during a similar event, I would have done without the weapon.

Strip 61/166 - Technobabble

One of the tenants of television science fiction is a concept known as technobabble. It is the use of complex jargon and buzzwords designed to make a fictitious concept sound real. Star Trek is probably one of the biggest offenders here, with Doctor Who a close second. Anytime there was talk of the Heisenberg Compensators or reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, you heard technobabble.

Of course, I was deliberately invoking technobabble here, although I did put a modicum of thought into the wording for the weapon system. I imagined it as a miniature railgun that fired some sort of photon-based ammunition, which isn't any more possible than the word salad I put together for the dialog in the first place. But it sounded good.

Strip 62/166 - Recycling on a planetary scale

What would someone do with a flat planet like Furbulia? When you stop to think about it, the solution is obvious. You begin carving the planet up, become an intergalactic supplier of fine Furbulian china, corner the market on interstellar place settings, and retire as the money comes rolling in. This guy is a genius.

Strip 63/166 - There's a non-technobabble term for that...

Deus ex machina - an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.

While the intention of this resolution was just supposed to be something completely out of left-field that made absolutely no sense what-so-ever, it does illustrate the phrase quite efficiently. 

Strip 64/166 - Furble behind the scenes

The last strip for the month was another gallery strip, but this one was a bit different. I went back to some of the ideas that I had for the strip before I had worked everything out. All three were legitimately concepts that I had worked with initially, but for one reason or another I decided to abandon them. FC started out with a monopod for a leg, but I found that giving him two legs made him look more dynamic. The TV box house didn't last long enough for it to develop into a full fledged house. And I ended up liking the fact that Furble and FC were tiny characters in a large world, so having Furble grow to a larger size just didn't fit any longer. Ultimately, I'm happy with the decisions I made.

I hope I was able to bring a bit of levity to your day here. I'll be back next week with more anecdotes and stories of growing up a nerd in small town Minnesota.

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.