Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The First Story Part 2 - Holes, TVs, and a Big Box

Growing up, my brain craved stimulation (a fact that hasn't really changed). TV and Appliance stores were kind of perfect for someone like me. There were always tons of television screens, sometimes tuned to the same channel, sometimes showing different content. Everywhere I turned there was something going on. I think we had one in Kiester. Or maybe I'm remembering one from one of the neighboring communities. It definitely wasn't "Dick's TV and Appliance." Regardless, we didn't go there often. But when we did, it was a real treat. So, when I wanted an interesting location for the first story for Furble and FC, this store is the first thing that came to mind.

Strip 5/166 - Hopping through the hole in the wall (!)

So, there's a hole in the wall. That leads directly from the outside into the store. Hey, it's a comic. No one said it had to make sense.

Strip 6/166 - Learning: it's not for everyone

In comedy, there is something known as the "rule of three." You set up your gag, you give it a little poke, and then you deliver the punchline. Like the old knock-knock joke, where you say "banana" twice, then the third time is the punchline response of "orange." If you run the joke twice, it doesn't have the same comedic impact. If you pull it four or more times, it goes on too long. This isn't to be confused with a "running gag" which is something that comes back multiple times for comedic effect (like the "slap bet" in How I Met Your Mother). I don't know the psychology behind it, but it's there. Now, whether the joke works, that's something else entirely. By the way, this is more than you ever wanted to know about comedy. You're welcome.

Strip 7/166 - Solving the problem (sort of)

Can we address the fact that Furble and FC are part of an advanced race capable of interstellar space travel. Yet, they were fooled not once, not twice, but three times by a television screen (well, a window and a television screen, but you get the point) showing a warm locale. Oh, that's right. It's a comic. Doesn't have to make sense. Just keep that in mind while reading the rest of Furble and FC's adventures.

Strip 8/166 - Any television box in a storm

I initially wanted to do a lot more with the television box. Although it eventually returns after a fashion, the next time we see it is the last time we see it as a make-shift house. I wanted to do a TARDIS gag, making it bigger on the inside than on the outside. But like many plot points throughout the comic's run, it doesn't end up evolving like I originally envisioned for whatever reason.

Oh, and regardless of the stereotypical idea of people living in boxes, it absolutely was not a social commentary. I just remember how much fun a big box could be. There will be plenty of cringy social and political commentary later in the strip's life (we'll deal with that eventually, obviously).

Tune in next week...

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The First Story Part 1 - Ships, Snow, and TV Stores

The "bio-blurb"
(Click to enlarge)
The comic strip went simply by the name "Furble" for the entire run, and was attributed to "Marc". 

If you didn't know me, or didn't read the bio-blurb published along with the first strip, you wouldn't know who created it. It's something that, until recently, I never really considered. Although I didn't intend any level of anonymity (especially in a town of just over 600), I never did it for any sort of adulation, either. At the most, I simply hoped that I wouldn't get made fun of at school for what I was doing. And while it was never a major subject of bullying, it did happen. We'll get to that later.

The story starts out with Furble and FC crash-landing on Earth. The mashed-up exposition text in the first panel goes as follows:

"The alien Furble's spaceship is traveling through the universe exploring other planets for other intelligent (or unintelligent) life forms. The ship has just made it past Mars and the dangerous astroid [sic] belt and is now orbiting the planet Earth. But unknown to Furble and his companion, FC, it has entered the Earth's atmosphere."

Strip 1 of 166 - I think we're gonna crash!
As my penmanship was inconsistent at the best of times, lettering was a challenge. My first attempts at dialog were a mixed bag, as well. The decision to try and elide the word "systems" and the exclamation "yipes" is baffling to this day, but there it is.

Strip 2 of 166 - The ship gets the boot (never to be seen again)
The second strip serves three purposes: to trap our protagonists on Earth (for now), to establish the physical scale (our main characters are actually very small), and roll out the old "it couldn't get worse" joke. Always a winner (maybe). 

Strip 3 of 166 - It's a science joke, get it?
While I think I referenced a specific geographical location maybe once (beyond "the planet Earth") a wise person once said "create what you know," or words to that effect. So, I set the strip in Minnesota, at least in my mind. Of course, when I started writing the strip it was in the dead of a Minnesota winter, so there's going to be snow.

Strip 4 of 166 - There's a window there, even if you can't see it
I don't know who made the decision to ditch the fountain pen and India ink and move to felt-tipped pens, whether it was me, my mom (my de facto creative consultant), my editor, or a combination. But, the thin lines of the fountain pen simply didn't always translate well to the paste up process, which is obvious in the first four strips as lines disappear from various areas of the panels. While I wasn't able to be as detailed with the felt-tipped pen as I was with the fountain pen, it worked out much better in the long run.

The story continues next week...

Thursday, January 13, 2022

In The Beginning...

Set the Wayback Machine for February 5th, 1987. The place: Kiester, MN. A bespectacled 8th grader is getting an opportunity that few 8th graders will: he is about to become a regularly published artist. More specifically, a newspaper comic artist. It's probably not going to change his life, but it is going to help get him through the next 3 years of high school. And it's going to give him a good story to tell later in life.

Furble's First Comic Strip

Above is the first comic strip for "Furble," the sci-fi/comedy concept that my 14 year-old brain came up with while I was watching a PBS special about "Garfield" creator Jim Davis. I had been a huge fan of Garfield before seeing that special, but watching Davis on screen as he talked about creating the characters and drawing the strips sparked my creative juices in that moment. I made up my mind that I was going to create a comic strip. Thus, the idea for Furble was born.

I can't draw. I mean, not really. Which made my next decision even crazier. I'm not entirely sure at what point it went from "silly scribbling" to "I want to get this published", but I eventually decided that I was going to be serious about this. My parents were very supportive of my efforts. They found a fountain pen set, some India ink, and a sketchbook for me, and I went to work.

The main character design actually came from scribbles in the margins of my school notebooks. It was basically a little ball of fur with eyes and a mouth. As a fan of all things Jim Henson, I think the idea originally sprung from the design for Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal. It was easy to draw, and could convey emotion. My drawing ability being mediocre, at best, meant that anything much more complex would have been a challenge. I added antennae because I didn't want to try and give the character arms, but needed to give it the ability to manipulate objects.
Furble and FC

Now that I had a main character, the strip needed a secondary character. Garfield had John, Odie, Nermal, and any number of other characters that could be used in a story. I could have created another alien. I considered a pet of sorts. But I settled on a companion robot, named FC (Furble's Companion, see what I did there? Clever, eh?). FC would often play the straight-man in the strips, although the roles would sometimes reverse. This was less of a conscious creative decision and more a lack of solid characterization on my part. I viewed both Furble and FC as being in the same situations, with the possibility of having the same reaction to any given predicament. It really depended on who I chose in the initial setup as to what role each would play from one situation to the next.

Once I had a solid idea for what the comic strip would entail, I took my concept to the editor for our local newspaper, the Kiester Courier-Sentinel. Keep in mind, this was a small town paper. Significant portions of the paper were dedicated to who hosted what party, who attended, and what was served. But it was a newspaper with an actual subscription base and everything. There was no syndicated "funnies" page, so I was going to potentially be providing the only comic strip for the paper. Amazingly, the editor thought that it was a good idea to publish this kid's work on a weekly basis (the paper was a weekly publication). She paid me $5 per strip, marking the first time that I was paid to provide creative content for publishing.

I excitedly drew my first four strips and submitted them for publication. My attention to detail was not the best, as spelling errors definitely did get printed during the run of the strip, but I got better as time went on. It was never going to be syndicated-quality, but it did improve during the three years that I drew it.

I wish I would have had the forethought to keep copies of the original panels for each strip. My archive of this project consists of the strips clipped from the newspapers and stuck in a photo album. I've gone in and scanned the pages, and am in the process of cleaning up each strip. Below is the same first strip prior to cleanup. It's a significant process, but I really want to preserve this important part of my childhood.

Sadly, newsprint doesn't age well

See you all next time!

What do you think you’re doing?

When I’m asked to play “Two Truths and A Lie” I will often use “I created a comic strip for a newspaper” as one of the entires. Seldom is it deciphered as one of the truths.

35 years ago, I created a comic strip for a newspaper.

It was called “Furble” and to this day it is one of the most cherished achievements of my life here on this blue marble.

Now, in my 50th year on this planet, I want to share this project, as it were, with everyone, with the purpose of not only talking about the process, but my life during its creation, and lessons learned along the way. I hope that you will find something of interest in my musings, even if it’s just a laugh here and there.

My plan is to post weekly. I’ve got 3-ish years of weekly strips to go through. They probably won’t all go in order, and there will definitely be multiple strips used per entry, but when I’m finished, I will have restored all of these strips from their current yellowed newspaper clipping state to something akin to the originals, and I hope that the tale told will inspire and encourage.


Portrait of the Cartoonist as a Young Nerd
(not my desk, or my pencil)