Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig (or How I Survived My Bullies)

A lot to unpack this week, so here we go...

I want to address something that I have wanted to talk about in this blog. One of the main reasons that I wanted to do this project (with the exception of remastering my comic and getting it out there), is the subject of bullying, specifically my experiences.

I was bullied pretty mercilessly from 7th grade until I left Kiester at the end of 11th grade. I was a socially awkward kid with no athletic ability (or interest), who would rather spend time playing video games and Dungeons and Dragons than cruising main street. Essentially a geek and a nerd before they were cool. There were many vectors to attack me personally. and the kids at school managed to take advantage of pretty much all of them. My looks were a popular topic of scorn. Suffice it to say, my self-esteem was beyond low.

They would take any opportunity to mess with me during the school day. We had to provide our own locks for our lockers. I decided I wanted to get a cool looking combination lock where you pressed numeric buttons rather than turning a dial. It didn't take long for one of them to figure out the combination and start stacking my locker. For the uninitiated, "stacking" someone's locker consisted of taking their stack of books/papers/etc, placing something on the bottom that unbalanced the stack on the top shelf of the locker, closing the door, and waiting for the subject to open the door, causing the books/papers/etc to fall all over the floor. I knew it well, it happened many times. I soon replaced the cool combination lock with a simple key lock.

My grandfather committed suicide while I was in seventh grade. I had a hard time processing it, and I got emotional about it in school from time to time in the days after. Most people would have had some level of compassion, or at least would have been apathetic about it. But, my classmates made sure I knew that showing such emotion was a sign of weakness that could be exploited.

I'm glad that social media didn't exist back then. It was bad enough that I had to deal with the bullying at school, and on the bus the way there and back home, but at least at home I could escape it all. My parents would have kicked each and every one of their asses if they thought that would have helped, but they knew that wasn't the answer.

I did have a few friends on which I could depend to at least not join in on the bullying. They didn't stand up for me against my bullies, and I can't blame them. They would have opened themselves to similar attacks, and in such a small school in such a small town, there would be no way to hide from that. I didn't hold it against them. 

If I wasn't at home on the farm, I was in town at one of my friends' houses. At times during the summer I spent almost as much time at my friend Eric's house as I did at my own. Sometimes you just need a place that is away from everything, and Eric's house was that place.

The one oddity in the bullying is that, with a single exception, my comic never came into it. I'd like to think it was a modicum of respect for actually doing the comic, but more than likely it simply wasn't worth trying to bully me over it. The only time it was brought up was when one of the kids, who went by the nickname "Furry" as his last name sounded similar, demanded to know whether or not I was making fun of him by calling the comic "Furble". I assured him that I was not, and it stopped there. Believe me, making fun of any of them was the furthest thing from my mind.

It's fairly telling that I am no longer in contact with any of them on even a semi-regular basis (with the exception of being Facebook friends with a few, which doesn't really count), and my life is none-the-worse for it. When we moved from Kiester, I had to leave Furble behind, but I also left all of that animosity behind. My senior year of high school in Nebraska was the complete opposite of the last 6 years in Kiester, full of fun and friends who I actually talk with to this day. Kiester will always be my home, but there are substantial parts of that home that I choose not to remember on a regular basis.

Strip 33/166 - Catching a ride to Furbulia

I wish I could explain my lettering starting with this strip. It doesn't look anything like it started out as. Much clearer, straighter, and well-positioned than it ever was. Of course, my dialog still left something to be desired, but baby steps..

12 million miles to Furbulia is going to require a fast ship. Better get to work catching one.

Strip 34/166 - Home again

And, just like that, we're finally on Furbulia. I am particularly proud of the house that I drew in the first pane. The style came from artist Mark Kistler. He was the host of a drawing program on PBS called The Secret City Adventures. He would spend each episode teaching different drawing techniques, like shading and perspective. During each episode, he would take those techniques and add to a huge sci-fi themed mural in the studio. I filled notebooks with drawings in his style, using the techniques that I had learned watching the show. The house is directly inspired by those drawing techniques.

Strip 35/166 - Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Of import is that, apparently, the beings on Furbulia have undergone some changes since Furble has been away. I decided to make a noticeable distinction with the new character in order to make it easy to determine the difference in the characters from a visual standpoint. Of course, I could have just done something like adding a hat, but this approach seemed more ridiculous and fun, the idea that in such a short amount of time life evolved so much on his home planet. And, not just that, but obviously the current lifeforms somehow mutated. I know, it's the direct opposite of science. But where's the fun in sticking to established scientific theories?

Finally, we admit that Furble and FC have, indeed, been using thought balloons this whole time. Who's fault is that? Apparently, it's mine (fourth wall break, POW!).

Strip 36/166 - Vive la evolution!

Doubling down on the idea that Furble's mom sprouting legs and arms, and speaking using speech balloons as opposed to thought balloons is all a result of evolution. Yes, I know. That's not how it works. That's not how any of this works. But its all in service of fun.

What conclusions should you take away from this particular post? 

It gets better. 

No, bullies aren't likely to evolve beyond their Neanderthal ways, but I hope that the bullied can find somewhere to call home, even if it isn't home. I was fortunate to have a good home, and a good home away from home. Not everyone is as blessed. Those that are need to step up and help those that don't. They're not going to ask for help, because they don't want to rock the boat, don't want to make it worse than it already is, don't want to get others involved in a bad situation. Get involved. Change a life. Be a home.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

In Space, No One Can Hear You Laugh

There's something about space that is just fascinating. The existential dread of infinity combined with the wonder of discovery and the danger of no atmosphere creates a situation that simply cannot be ignored, and must be admired. At least, that's my take on it.

Space may not be everybody's jam, but I've been fascinated by it ever since I got my first telescope when I was 9, I believe. It wasn't high-tech, but it was enough to allow me to see things like the moon up-close, discovering things that I'd only read about in my elementary science books. The astronomy unit of my junior high science class really piqued my interest, not just because there was a more intense focus on the science, but because we actually got the chance to do some stargazing.

Picture it: 4 am on a crisp (read: freezing) autumn morning in Minnesota. Myself and a few of my classmates are standing outside our teacher Mr. Kapplinger's house, bundled in our winter gear, sipping hot chocolate, trying to stay warm enough to enjoy the view of the moon and stars through the high-tech reflecting telescope. It was truly amazing, way beyond anything I was able to see with my telescope. It made the frigid conditions bearable.

Strip 29/166 - Fly me to the moon

I did see "the man in the moon", or at least the configuration of craters and plateaus that ancient people used to attribute to a figment of lunar pareidolia.

He never talked to me, though.

I'm not sure how our duo managed to come upon a random rocket blasting past lunar orbit, but it certainly was a bit of luck for them.

Strip 30/166 - Approximately 3,720 to 1

Now that Furble and FC have made it into deep space, the strip starts to get a bit more serialized, as we head towards home. Given how tiny they both are, these asteroids that they happen upon are likely quite small, in comparison to the asteroids we usually see in movies. But, the odds of surviving them are bound to be the same, right C-3PO?

Strip 31/166 - Dun, dun, duh!

The first "official" multi-part strip, designated by the "To Be Continued" tag at the end.

Because I didn't want Furble's home planet to be just around the cosmic corner from Earth, so to speak, I needed to come up with some sort of plot device to send them a long distance in a short time. I considered some sort of FTL ship that they would chance upon, but settled on what is likely a wormhole, although I don't actually specify what the anomaly is. Although the concept was name-dropped during the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the anomaly as we now know it (a corridor across space-time, or an Einstein–Rosen bridge) gained popularity in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then Star Trek: Deep Space 9, where it was a starring feature of the series. Fortunately, the "giant doughnut" propels our heroes across the galaxy without a solid scientific explanation.

Strip 32/166 - Signs! Signs! Everywhere there's signs!

Furble and FC both exit the anomaly, apparently unscathed. And, in what has increasingly become a running gag in the strip, they are greeted by yet another sign, this one pointing the way home. I mean, how else are you going to find your way through the black inkiness of space without some sort of directional sign? What are they going to find when they finally get back home? Fascinating...

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Sports, Rockets, and Thought Balloons

I was never very good at sports. This is an indisputable fact. Although my dad didn't really pressure me into them, he did want me to at least give them a try. He was a wrestler in school, so that was one of the sports that I did end up trying while I was in junior high. While I enjoyed the process, I was not a good wrestler. I just didn't have the dedication that it would have taken to be a good wrestler. There were too many other things that I wanted to be doing with my time. Most had to do with computers or music. Wrestling simply wasn't on that list.

We were forced to do track and field events in PE. I ran the mile in... well... I'll let you know when I finish. I did a fair job at the shot put. But, my true contributions to the sports world lie in being an equipment manager, a scoreboard operator, and a member of a variety of pep and marching bands. And, once I got to college, producing sports for broadcast. I do, however, enjoy spectating a wide variety of sports. Being from Minnesota, hockey is one of my favorites, but I also enjoy a good game of football. 

Strip 25/166 - Punt into orbit? Not likely.

I'm not sure what clicked in my brain when I decided to have Furble and FC try to hitch a ride off-planet on a football, but the visual of them flying through the air down-field after a kickoff struck me as funny, so there it is.

Obviously, our heroes aren't making it into orbit on a pigskin punt, and a cleated shoe to the backside probably left a bruise, but at least the got to take in a game, right?

Strip 26/166 - Finally, a ride home?

When I was growing up, my brother and I were members of an organization called 4-H. It is a kids organization, similar to the Scouts, and was at the time, at least, primarily for those of us in rural areas. While many of the activities in 4-H centered around more farm-related pursuits, there were clubs for things like computers and rocketry. I was involved with both. I've since made computers my career, but I really have a love for rockets. While I was never truly artistic when it came to decorating my model rockets, I did enjoy building them and launching them. Seeing something that you built fly up into the air and (hopefully) come safely sailing down on a parachute was just awesome. Of course, the failures had their own spectacular allure, as well, which included at least one (small) explosion on the launch pad, and a rocket driven into the ground when the ejection charge fired, but the nose cone failed to separate from the fuselage.

It only makes sense, then, that our duo would finally make it off-world on a rocket. In the 80s, the NASA space program was all about the space shuttle, so manned rocket launches were virtually nonexistent, which meant that this particular launch was likely for satellite delivery into orbit. Obviously, even if it was manned, it wasn't going to make it to where ever Furble's home planet was located, but they didn't know that.

Strip 27/166 - An unexpected exit

The continuation was loosely inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, specifically when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect find themselves ejected into deep space from the Vogon fleet. Fortunately, and perhaps inexplicably, Furble can exist in the vacuum of space (FC is a robot, after all). Who knew?

Strip 28/166 - Space is a busy place

I want to take a moment and address something that I have yet to talk about: the fact that Furble and FC communicate with thought balloons. If you will remember, the original idea for doing Furble was sparked by the comic strip Garfield. In that strip, while Jon and the other humans used regular speech balloons for all of their dialog, Garfield and all of the animals communicated with the audience and each other using thought balloons. Obviously, this is because animals don't talk. At least, not to us. The easiest way to convey to the audience that Jon can't hear what Garfield and Nermal are saying is to use thought balloons. 

I don't recall why this translated to Furble in the way that it did. Perhaps it was to indicate that Furble and FC were using a language that no one on Earth, at least not humans, could understand. As a teenager, I certainly wasn't equipped to create a new language (I was having enough of an issue learning Spanish in school). But I don't believe I had put that much thought into it.

I bring it up, because it will soon become an issue, as our intrepid explorers make their way back home. But we'll need to round the bases first...

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Religion, Booms, and Computer Innards

Small town Kiester, Minnesota, was pretty religious. Not unusual for a northern midwest town. I remember it being fairly homogenous as far as religious demographics went. I knew of exactly two Catholic kids in school (although I'm certain there were more), and there was no Catholic parish in town. Kiester had a relatively large Lutheran church that some of my family members attended, but the "family" congregation was Mansfield Lutheran Church, located about 5 minutes away from the farm in a small village that barely qualified for the term.

We went to church every Sunday, rain, snow, or shine, tired or really tired. Sunday school, as well. And coffee hour after the service, because that's what Lutherans do. Probably not a shock that, not only was one of my uncles a minister (and Doctor of Theology), but my father and brother also became ministers later in life. I briefly considered the ministry when I was in college, but ultimately I decided against it. It definitely was not my calling.

Strip 21/166 - Going to church, normally not so painful

Over the course of my time drawing Furble, I really didn't delve into religious-based subjects. Later on, when the whole Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker thing broke, I did a few referential jokes, but that was more about the current event than the religious implications. So, the above stands out as the only real religious joke in the run of Furble. As religious humor goes, it's pretty tame. Nothing too controversial. The oddest thing about it was that the pastor in the strip was pretty obviously a "fire and brimstone" preacher, but my German/Norwegian Lutheran church was anything but. The only reason the pastor would raise his voice was because the kids in the congregation were being too loud. I'm fairly certain that I never saw our pastor slam his fist on the pulpit. Had that happened, the church would have fallen silent, and likely there would have been more than a couple of heart palpitations in the congregation.

If you got squashed, you'd likely avoid churches in the future, as well.

Strip 22/166 - Rocket launch (just not into space)

Furble and FC continue their quest to find a way to get back home. This strip appeared in the couple of weeks around the 4th of July holiday, so it seemed appropriate to utilize a misrepresentation of fireworks as an attempt for the pair to travel off-world. Obviously, modern fireworks have little in common with the fused rockets in the cartoons, but having them launched from a mortar into the air didn't quite have the same comic impact. Fortunately, our heroes manage to escape before the explosive display. Time to find another way home.

Strip 23/166 - Probably time for some cable management

This strip drew from one of my great loves: computers and what makes them tick. We got our first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, when I was around 9 or 10, I think. Not too long afterward, we upgraded to the Commodore 64. And, not long after that, I had taken it apart to see what was inside. We had Apple II computers at school that we got to use, but I was never able to see the innards of those machines, so my curiosity had to be satiated at home. Fortunately, I was able to put it all back together again (it was a pretty simple design), and actually used the knowledge I gained from the experience to fix the Commodore 64 of a family member.

None of these systems resemble the "traditional" IBM-style PC that is depicted in the strip above. My knowledge of these systems at the time stemmed from television and magazine articles. After 26 years in the IT profession, I now know that if your PC looks like that inside, you've definitely got issues.

I briefly contemplated, but resisted the urge to introduce an insect character into the strip at this point. A bug in the system. Get it? Huh? 

Alright, moving on...