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!

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