Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Rain, Erasers, and Social Commentary

Growing up, I was never one who was much involved in social, political, or environmental issues. Coming from a small midwest town in the 80s that didn't even have a recycling program, it just wasn't on my teenage radar. Of course, I was aware of many of the issues. Dad was a regular watcher of the nightly news, and I wasn't one to ignore what was on the television (for better or worse). 

For a time, my friends and I decided that we were going to be Republicans, not necessarily because of the ideality, but mainly because our parents were primarily DFLers, and we weren't going to be like THEM. Also because, even in the post-yuppy late 80s, Alex P. Keaton was still cool. Today, this group of individuals encompass a wide spectrum of political beliefs. But that's not the point.

In the late 80s, there was a TV movie that was part of the Wonderful World of Disney called "Earth*Star Voyager." It was pretty standard family sci-fi fare, but the primary plot device was that Earth's climate had degenerated so badly that humans had to find another planet to live on. So a groups of teenagers were chosen and trained to go on a mission to a habitable planet discovered orbiting a distant star. One of the scenes involved the characters getting caught in the rain in the over-crowded city. Since the atmosphere was so polluted, it was producing acid rain, and the characters had to use breathing apparatuses while out in it.

Strip 17/166 - No, acid rain won't melt your umbrella.

Now, even back then, I understood that the term "acid rain" didn't equate to sulphuric acid falling from the sky, dissolving things. But, the visual stuck in my head, and I thought it would make a funny gag, without being too heavy-handed on the climate issues.

Strip 18/166 - The eraser strikes!

A couple entries back, I stated that I love the concept of the "fourth wall". Obviously, like any trope, it needs to be used sparingly (unless it's part of the story or character), but I did use it a fair bit.

This particular instance was directly inspired by the Daffy Duck short "Duck Amuck", where Daffy's antagonist is the artist drawing the cartoon (which turns out to be Bugs Bunny in the end). It's definitely one of Chuck Jones' more surrealistic outings. The idea that the creations were alive, being created on the fly by the animator, was great.

Here, the artist is represented by the eraser, with FC calling upon him like someone calling upon God to strike him down if he's lying. But, instead of lightning, we get the other end of the pencil. Even some eraser dust left over.

Strip 19/166 - Escalation can be dangerous.

I'm trying to figure out where my brain was when I created the call-back to the previous strip. It was meant as a punchline to the punchline, but where did the little tank come from? And why is FC all of a sudden so violent? Laughing Furble looks slightly psychotic, as well. Over all, probably not the best idea, but at least FC driving the armed vehicle had a certain charm.

And it was definitely not a commentary on arms proliferation. Just the cuteness of little tanks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Fans, Planes, and Finding a Way Home

I find it interesting to look back at how ideas developed while I was writing "Furble" as opposed to how I remember having originally envisioned them.

I stated back when the "TV box house" was first introduced that I had originally intended to do a lot more with it. It was going to serve as a sort of base of operations for them, something that they could come back to after each adventure to rest and relax. It was going to be bigger on the inside than on the outside, and have things like a game room and a pool and big screen TV, all the things that I felt would be in a house if space (and money) was no object. But, for some inexplicable reason (at least no reason that I can remember so many years gone) I decided to snuff it.

As I was working on these strips, we were starting to get into the summer months. Which, when you live in an old farm house with a window air conditioner in the living room and nowhere else, forces you to depend on fans to move the air. The fan in this strip is modeled after an old metal circulating desk fan that I had in my room at the time. Perfect for the Tommy Boy gag.

Strip 13/166 - The end of the TV box house

For the record, the fan in my room actually had a cage around the blades. Given that the blades were metal, it was an important safety feature. The fan in this strip was a death trap before it blew anything away. I mean, look at those blades!

Although the fan in my room did move a fair amount of air, it was nowhere near as powerful as this one apparently was. Furble and FC grab their home, trying desperately to keep it grounded. But, alas, it is not to be, and their box becomes not but a crumpled pile of cardboard. And a cautionary tale for anyone who finds an old metal circulating fan sitting outside in the wild. DO NOT TURN IT ON!

Strip 14/166 - Paper airplane pilots!

I've always been fascinated by paper airplanes. It's like functional origami. Well, as functional as a glider can be. I remember watching a show in PBS, probably an episode of something like 3-2-1 Contact or Zoom or the like, which included a segment on different types of paper airplanes. Before that point, I honestly didn't realize that there were any other options other than the standard A4 fold that everyone seems to learn. Paper airplanes suddenly became an endlessly creative physics lesson.

Long before Phineas and Ferb tried it, Furble and FC decided that a paper airplane might just be their ticket home. An unseen, unsuspecting person launches the pair on their flight.

As a side note, my issues with signs continue. That would be a very specialized sign, indeed, to have an arrow, not printed on the sign, but actually cut into the edge. Or, at the very least, separately attached. Why would you do that? I don't know...

Strip 15/166 - Crash and (don't) burn

Well, not unexpectedly, the paper airplane did not turn out to be the conveyance to their freedom from Earth. This started a series of strips (interspersed with unrelated strips) that focused on the pair's attempts to find a way to get off-planet. It began my attempt to expand the scope of the strip. I decided that I didn't want to have the focus on Furble and FC coping with life on a strange planet the entire time. There were stories that could be told about them getting home, even if it turned out to be temporary (spoilers).

Overall, I was becoming more comfortable with my art style. Drawing the main characters was something that I could do without a lot of effort. At this point, the margins of my school notebooks were full of Furble and FC doodles. That level of comfort helped me to be able to concentrate on other design elements of the strip, like figuring out how to draw a paper airplane. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.

You'll just have to accept the fact that the little blobs at the bottom of each pane are, in fact, ants. At least I gave them an ant hill.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Galleries, Writer's Block, and Questionable Decisions

Writer's block is a nasty thing. There is not much that is more frustrating to someone who is trying to create than to turn to his brain, ask for an idea, and have his brain stare back blankly and shrug its shoulders. Unfortunately for me, it didn't take long for it to strike the first time while creating the strip. I remember sitting in front of my blank panels, racking my brain, trying to come up with an idea for the final strip of that month's contributions. My brain just stuck its tongue out at me and blew a raspberry. 

I decided that if I couldn't come up with a concept for a full strip, maybe I could find a way to combine a bunch of mini-ideas into a strip. The "Furbulian Hall of Fame" gallery strip was born, for good and bad. Good, because it injected a bit of variety into the strip. Bad because it became a crutch that I leaned on whenever I had problems coming up with a full strip concept right away. They also didn't always completely work. But, like other aspects of the strip, I wasn't quite experienced enough to see it.

This time around, we'll pull one strip from the next three months to illustrate the point.

Strip 16/166 - The first Furbulian Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame concept was pretty simple: take individuals, whether real or imagined, and Furble-ize them. So, Albert Einstein became Albert Furstein. Incidentally, that was the first time I drew the Furble character head-on. I thought the eyes looked odd, so I disguised them with glasses, and ignored the fact that Einstein didn't regularly wear glasses.

Really, what 8th grader resorts to parodying Frankie Avalon as a singer? Even in the 80s, this was a bit before my time.

The final panel was supposed to be the punchline. In retrospect, it probably would have been better just coming up with a third character for the gallery.

Strip 20/166 - The second Hall of Fame gallery

Skipping ahead to the next month, and I decided to pull the Hall of Fame gallery out again. This time, I went with fictional characters, parodying the best movie franchise ever, "Star Wars", and another popular sci-fi movie, "E.T.". Points for attempting to emulate the title style for each movie. Double-points subtracted for spelling "stupid" incorrectly not once, not twice, but three times. I could say that it was on purpose, intended to emphasize the stupidity of the “stupid” in each title, but... no... it wasn't.

Even with the spelling errors, having three characters instead of two characters and a punchline helped to make each panel in the strip its own punchline, which was the original reason for doing the gallery.

Strip 24/166 - The third Hall of Fame gallery in as many months (!)

I ended up pulling the gallery out once again the next month. As you can see, I had definitely begun to rely on the gallery to bring me out of a creative funk, instead of taking more time and coming up with a proper story strip. This time, it was historical figures, with a "call-back" to the first gallery in the final panel. Points awarded for getting the correct style of American flags for Washington and Lincoln, although, I don't know why Furble's planet would be using those flags. Does his home planet parallel the United States in other ways? Is it some sort of weird multiverse equivalent, and Furble has managed to break the walls of his universe and find his way into ours? Has Furble rended asunder the very fabric of reality and put the multiverse on display for all to see? Or, was it not meant to be indicative of anything other than a realization that they were parodies of American Presidents? Yeah, probably the later. And, again, proof that the third panel as the punchline didn't really work with these galleries.

Fortunately, I went a few months after these without resorting to the gallery crutch. In review, it becomes an easy marker of where my creativity with the strip ebbed and flowed. Some months the ideas just poured out onto the paper. Some months, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming from my brain. And sometimes, they just stayed hidden, sticking their collective tongues out at me, blowing raspberries.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Zones, Signs, and the Fourth Wall

After two months into writing "Furble" it was time to branch the story out. Considering that timeframe encompassed a total of 8 strips, it made a lot of sense. Most "storylines" in non-serialized daily comics last 6 days, unless they also run into the Sunday strip (which is generally a full-color strip with more panes), so it was probably a good time to move onto a different story.

Since I did my submissions in groups of 4 (one month at a time) it's not uncommon for the strips to be thematically linked in groups of 4, however tenuous the link may be. There are definitely longer and shorter story arcs during the run, but this pattern will reappear.

This next group of 4 strips is actually a group of 3 and one unrelated strip. Because that's how life goes. Just when you think you've figured the patterns out, something comes to upset the basket.

Strip 9/166 - Close call!

There wasn't a Maple Street in Kiester. I'm honestly not even sure why I decided on that particular street name. It's a completely inconsequential bit of information, but one of those things that gives me pause. The creative process is such a mystery, and by my nature I need to analyze ever aspect of it and reconstruct it in my mind to fully understand it. Perhaps more thought should instead be directed at where the overly-long name "Do Not Cross Or You'll Get Squashed Zone" came from.

Strip 10/166 - Cutting down a perfectly good tree for a gag

I mean, really. What sign says "Tree Work Being Done"? Much less has it written out in sentence form. These are the things that I did not spend sufficient time thinking about when coming up with the comic. And, to top it off, another embarrassing spelling error.

To be honest. a lot of my spelling and grammar errors could have been prevented with a brief proof-read by my parents prior to committing to ink. Of course, that would require doing a draft in pencil, which I never did. Not being aware of all of the steps of creating a comic back in the day, it never occurred to me to draw and letter in pencil before making a final pass using indelible ink. While it would have increased the amount of time that it took to create my panels, they would have ultimately been cleaner. Now, if I had the tools I have today (iPads with Pencils and programs like Photoshop and Procreate) things might have transpired much differently.

Strip 11/166 - Well, that sign would have been nice to have earlier...

More signs! I think there was a song about that in the 70s

Strip 12/166 - Breaking the fourth wall (and the comic panel)

There it is. Possibly my most egregious spelling error, simply because it's so prominent and so obvious. I mean, even a cursory glance at the panel after creating it should have made it jump out at me like Furble jumping through the panel wall. Ugh.

Now we come to an entertainment concept that I absolutely adore: the Fourth Wall. You've likely heard the phrase "breaking the fourth wall" before, usually in relation to a television show, movie, or stage production. It often has to do with the actors addressing the audience directly, but can refer to any time entertainment acknowledges the fact that it is a production being witnessed by others that are not a part of that production. Bugs Bunny talked directly to the audience quite often. Zach Morris in Saved By The Bell would actually stop the entire show when he addressed the viewers. And, who can forget the meta-humor and breaks during the classic movie Wayne's World?

Comic strips are known to do this quite often. Garfield regularly speaks directly to the readers. The characters in Pearls Before Swine actually interact with the artist quite often. So, when Furble trips over a rock and launches himself into the next panel, thus making it obvious that he's in a comic strip, he puts himself in good company. Giving Furble a companion to converse with meant that I didn't have to rely on the trope to further the story during the strip, but it did get meta a fair amount. Meta can be fun, but unfortunately it doesn't always work. I was at a point where I thought it was "cool", though, so it didn't always have to work, in my mind at least.

I'll take "Things That Weren't Going To Get Me Syndicated" for $500, Alex.