Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Pets (or Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Apparently, the Internet is good for two things. One, well, I won't discuss that here. But the other thing is cat videos. And I really cannot argue the point. There are few things that calm me more than watching a video of a cute kitten doing cute kitten things. In fact, you could show me nothing but cat videos for hours on end, and I'd be perfectly content with my lot in life.

Needless to say, I'm a fan of cats. I'm a fan of pets in general, cats specifically. We always seemed to have some sort of pet while growing up. Whether it was the various cats that would find their way to the farm, or animals that we would adopt, there was always something. We tried hamsters for a while, but it turns out that they are actually quite a lot of work to take care of properly, so that didn't last long. We had fish for a while, as well. Unfortunately, that ended when the fish tank didn't survive the U-Haul move from Minnesota to Nebraska my senior year.

We had a few different dogs while growing up. The first one I remember was a huge Doberman Pinscher who was less of a pet and more of a guard dog for the hog farm we lived on at the time. My brother and I had a pair of Australian Shepards for a while. I had a Cocker Spaniel who, while a sweet and wonderful pet, was not the most intelligent of dogs. My brother had a Rat Terrier who was super smart (per breed).

There were only a couple of occasions growing up where we actually had cats that were proper in-the-house pets. Most of the time, as I said, they were cats that decided to take up residence at the farm. Of course, we fed them, and actually built a little house for them, but they were firmly outside cats. I don't know why, but I became a cat person. When I was finally able to get a pet of my own after college, it was always going to be a cat, no question in my mind (and Johnny was the best boy). Even today, my wife and I are decidedly cat people.

There's a human need to love something, and have that love returned. Pets are the perfect vessels for that purpose. And not just cats and dogs. I've known people with ferrets, rabbits, rats, even knew someone who owned a chameleon. All loving their owners, unconditionally, in their varied ways.

Pets may not be for everyone, but I think that everyone should at least investigate the possibility.

Strip 83/166 - Spike, the living asterisk

Furble's nemesis, the Admiral, has brought his own pet to the show. Named Spike, he bears an uncanny resemblance to an asterisk, that little star character that exists about the "8" on your keyboard. When I decided to introduce the little guy in the strip, I considered many options for drawing some sort of small creature. I've already discussed my illustration prowess (or lack there of) on numerous occasions, so no need to elaborate, other than to say I figured it would be best to come up with something that I could easily recreate. Implementing the concept of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I chose a simple star-like creature. Four intersecting lines that could be bent around as needed. I think it came off pretty well, given the design aesthetic of the rest of the strip.

Strip 84/166 - The blame game

Furble and FC play the blame game while sining the jailhouse blues. I assume that Spike managed to shut the cell door somehow.

Strip 85/166 - Deus ex whistle

Furble is supposed to be blowing into something similar to a dog whistle to summon the "time machine", which is why all you can hear is the "FFFFFF!" of him blowing into it. It may not have come off exactly like that in the end product.

Strip 86/166 - Punishment protection

PSA: don't punish your pets by hitting them. Only evil Admirals do that.

Hug your pets extra tight (unless they are fish, that could have adverse effects), and see you next week!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

My Nerdy Fandoms (or Totally Not a TARDIS)

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a nerd. Or, something like that.

I do know that one of my earliest memories of the movies was going to Star Wars in '78 when it was re-released in theaters. I was amazed by what I was seeing on the screen. The spaceships, the lasers, the aliens, it was all so fantastic. From that point on I was hooked. I became a card-carrying sci-fi/fantasy nerd.

Shortly after I was introduced to the wonders of that galaxy far, far away, another strongly similar concept appeared on our television screens, in the form of Battlestar Galactica. I was 5 going on 6 when it premiered, so I wasn't exactly critical of what was being portrayed, or ow it was being received. I saw more spaceships, more lasers, and more aliens. Of course, by the time Galactica 1980 rolled around, 8-year old me was starting to have a more discerning eye, and I had an idea it wasn't what the original series was. But, I digress.

A couple years later, strictly by a chance turn of the channel to our local PBS station one Saturday afternoon, I found myself watching a quirky British sci-fi show staring a man with a mop of curly brown hair and an impossibly long scarf. At the end of the story, he popped off with his assistant, Sarah Jane, in a blue police box. And thus, my obsession with Doctor Who began. It would be a few more years before I was able to see the seasons (and Doctors) that came before Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor. And while I've liked various aspects of all of the Doctors that have come before and after, Baker's Doctor remains "my Doctor".

Upon entering junior high school, I really expanded my interest in all things sci-fi and fantasy, not only because I truly loved it all, but more so that it was an escape from what was happening at school. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. I got into reading sci-fi and fantasy, from The Lord of the Rings to the variety of AD&D novels to novelizations of various Doctor Who stories. 

While I had been a low-key fan of Star Trek (I didn't view it as favorably as Star Wars at the time), that all changed when Star Trek: The Next Generation graced airwaves. The stories were good (arguably better after the first season), the visual effects were better than anything that was on television at the time, and the characters were interesting. And though at the time it was probably an unpopular opinion, I was a fan of Wesley Crusher. As someone with an active imagination, I saw some of myself in him, and seeing him succeed on-screen gave me hope. While I will always love Star Wars just a bit more, I'm a full-on Trekkie.

All of this to say, don't be afraid to do what you need to do to be comfortable in your skin. You're the only person that you need to impress, no matter what everyone else thinks. Call it a lesson learned.

Strip 79 - Original lettering

Starting with this comic, I began lettering with a much thinner pen. While it mostly looked great in the paper, age did not serve it well, and the lettering has become hard to make out, as you can see in the original strip above. And, unfortunately, in some cases it didn't even make it through the paste-up process, so young archivist me tried to rescue the lettering with a ballpoint pen. Spoiler alert: it didn't go well.

So, from this point on, I've made the decision to re-letter each strip using a typeset font. This will both make the text legible, and keep things looking more consistent going forward.

Strip 79/166 - Totally not a TARDIS!

Last week, I talked about imitation. This strip, and many going forward, take place in a time machine. Made out of a cardboard box. That is larger on the inside. Yes, this can be attributed to not only Doctor Who, but also Calvin and Hobbes. As I said, if I would have been syndicated, I would have gotten a stern talking to from my editor.

Strip 80/166 - Poof, there it is!

I got better at onomatopoeia as the strip went on. I suppose I could have come up with a more complex sound design for the time machine disappearing and reappearing, a la the TARDIS, but *poof* seemed to serve it well.

Strip 81/166 - Puns, puns, puns, puns...

I find it interesting that, even though they are in the "frig" (yeah, yeah, I know) ostensibly with the doors closed,  the light appears to be on. It's fortunate, but and good to know that the milk will always be able to see where it's going.

Strip 82/166 - Oh, it's you again

Furble's nemesis returns once again. Like a bad penny, he seems to show up just when things are going well. Every hero needs a foil, and our admiral first the bill. But, how will he handle things this time around?

Tune in next week and find out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Sincerest Form (or A Behind-the-Scene's Look)

Once upon a time, someone said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That someone was Oscar Wilde. The full phrase, for those that don't know, is "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness". It definitely gives a slightly different spin to the maxim.

If there was something of which I, as a budding comics artist, was guilty, it was imitation. As I've said previously, I based the characters' initial use of thought balloons on the fact that Jim Davis had Garfield (and all of the vocal animals in his strip) speak in thought balloons. And while I did develop my own style of story telling as the strip went on, it wasn't the last time I would imitate a famous work.

I think that I had a hard time, as a young artist, telling the difference between being inspired by something, and the wholesale copying of an idea. Fortunately, I never had to worry about intellectual property issues, since no one outside of the readership of a few hundred people actually knew that Furble existed at the time. Had I been syndicated, I certainly would have run afoul of legal action, or at the very least a stern talking to from my editor.

This will become quite clear next week, especially if you are a fan of Calvin and Hobbes (as I was and still am).

So, while I am very proud of my accomplishment over the course of just over three years, it didn't come without the help of others' greatness.

Strip 77/166 - Attack of the meat cleaver!

Although it's not obvious, the punchline for this strip is definitely inspired by Garfield. Davis was known to occasionally end the strip with a character (usually Garfield) using such exclamations after particularly stressful incidents. This is pretty much the only time that it happens in the strip, so it's hard to assign it as a character trait of FC. Just a brief imitation.

Strip 78/166 - Snarky FC is the best FC

I really do like snarky FC. This is a legitimate character trait that comes up often. Snark is fun, as long as it isn't over-done. I don't think I was guilty of that, at least.

The next group of strips represents a major shift in many respects, not only for the comic strip, but for how I was cleaning them up to publish in the blog. So I thought it would be fun to give a "beyond-the-scenes" look at how I am remastering Furble.

Here's a link to the YouTube video if you can't view the embedded video above - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VtxKbp-Jxs

See you all next week for significant changes to the strip going forward.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

White and Nerdy (or Look Who's Talking Now)

The main title for this week's blog post refers to "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody of the song "Ridin" by Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone, and it describes what I aspired to be growing up in rural Minnesota. I wanted to be cool, but I certainly wasn't into the kinds of things the "cool" kids were into. As I've pointed out before, I wasn't athletic. In school, I'd much rather being singing or playing an instrument than playing any sport. There wasn't a big party scene in Kiester, but had there been, I likely wouldn't have been into that, either. My idea of a fun weekend was spending it with a couple of friends for a marathon Dungeons and Dragons session, or playing video games until the wee hours, or just riding our bikes all around town.

I think we thought we were cool in our own way, but none of us were under any illusion that others saw us as such. 

Of course, the very things that I loved, my past times and hobbies, were among the things that I was bullied for at school. A person who hasn't had to deal with that kind of bullying may think that I would have wanted to give up on those loves and conform in order to "blend in" with the crowd and save myself from the constant barrage of insults and chiding. But that's not how things went. It probably helped that I had people who enjoyed the same things that I did, that I could share those activities with. But, even so, I'm not sure I would have changed if I were the only one that was involved.

Ultimately, I'm glad I didn't give up on the things that I love in order to try and appease those that were unlikely to accept me regardless. Today, I've published articles about video games, I've sung in cathedrals in Europe, and I have a great job in the IT industry. Everything that I am today is a product of everything that has happened to me throughout m life. Although I might wish that things were different, I don't think I would actually change anything. Granted, I wouldn't want to go back and relive those years, either. I'm no glutton for punishment, after all.

Strip 73/166 - 

The first time that we got to work with computers in school was in junior high, when we got to spend a time during our algebra class in the computer lab a couple of times per week. Like 75% of schools around the nation at the time, the computer of choice was the Apple II series. Apple had shrewdly made deals with school systems all over, offering discounts to allow them to setup computer labs stocked with Apple computers. As a result, we got to learn the basics of coding in Apple Basic and Turtle Graphics, with a bit of Number Munchers and an early morning session of Conan on the side.

Therefore, the computer that Furble and FC come upon resembles an Apple family computer, even if the specifics are not perfect. And, no, I don't know how they fell in. And I don't know what FC's "suction cups" had to do with it. Or why we hadn't hear about them before now, and never again.

Strip 74/166 - A zap to the system

I've already discussed at length the fact that Furble and FC communicate via thought bubbles. In my desire to expand the scope of the strip, I thought that it would be a good idea to force them into using actual speech bubbles (as their "evolved" family on Furbulia now does). This would allow them to be able to communicate with humans on Earth without having to come up with some convoluted translation solution. So I came up with a convoluted solution to circumvent that convoluted solution. And not a moment too soon...

Strip 75/166 - Call the exterminator, we've got aliens!

Poor Frank. He likely has an over-active imagination, and his mom is sick and tired of all of his nonsense at this point. But, how often do you find aliens popping out of your computer? I'm not sure what the odds on that are, but I'm sure they're long.

Strip 76/166 - A good idea

It's probably a good idea not to tell people about the talking aliens that emerged from your personal computer and began speaking with you. If Hollywood is any indication, it never leads to anything good. Dust balls would be the least of your issues. But, "Blahh"??? Sometimes I just don't know...

See you all next week.

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 only 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.