Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

RIP: Richard Thompson, creator of “Cul de Sac”

A few years ago, I wrote a recommendation of the strip “Cul de Sac,” by Richard Thompson, a gentleman I had the privilege of meeting several times. I wrote:

The characters are eccentric in ways that continually delight and surprise. I read individual strips in bits and pieces (here’s the strip’s official online home), but it wasn’t until I sat down with the full books in-hand that Alice, Petey, and their parents and friends took on strange and hilarious personalities. The language is clever and specific; the drawings are weird and delightful…

In 2012, Richard retired from drawing “Cul de Sac”, following the worsening of his Parkinson’s disease. To aid in a fundraising effort for Parkinson’s research, I and many of my cartooning colleagues contributed original art to a book called Team Cul de SacThe next time I saw Richard was in my buddy Dave Kellett’s cartooning documentary Stripped.

This week, Richard passed away from complications from Parkinson’s. He was 58 years old.

Here’s a video that shares a little bit of what made Richard’s art — and his life, and his personality — so marvelous:

I hope everyone takes the time to read some “Cul de Sac”, or his editorial strip, “Richard’s Poor Almanac”. Richard was a phenomenal talent, a cartoonist’s cartoonist whose work overflowed with wit and exuberance, and I hope his voice will endure to inspire generations of artists in the way it has me.

He was also a kind, generous, gentle man whose acquaintance I was supremely honored to have made:

Miss you, Richard.

To David, the genius behind Wondermark, with admiration from your fan —
Richard Thompson, SPX 2010

He did not have to be so kind, but he chose to be. I will always be grateful that I met him, that I got the chance to experience his work, and that I could be a tiny, tiny part of his life.

We will miss you, Richard.

Wondermark is now on GoComics!

Go Go Wondermark Comics

I’m pleased to announce that starting this week, Wondermark will be running three times a week at GoComics.com, online home of a bajillion newspaper and newspaper-style comic strips.

Nothing will change here — I’ll still be posting new content like usual. The GoComics version of Wondermark will be a TIME MACHINE, starting with the very first Wondermark strip (originally published on this website back in 2003) and marching forward at a steady pace from there, slightly faster than real time.

I think whis will be interesting for several reasons!

Firstly, there is a decent amount of topical humor buried in the ol’ archive that might end up unearthed and reheated. It’s one thing to read, say, a MySpace joke in a book collection, or on an archive page on a site, where its original context is clear. (In my books, I include a “Topical Reference Explanatory Index” as an aid to any reader from a future beyond our own.)

I recognize, though, that that hypothetical MySpace comic may read differently to someone encountering that strip as a “new” post on GoComics! MY GENIUS SOLUTION FOR THIS PROBLEM IS: Not to actually worry about it, or alternately, to find it hilarious.

Secondly, and maybe more interestingly, I made the earliest Wondermark comics OVER THIRTEEN YEARS AGO. I was much younger then, and maybe not as good a writer (opinions differ), and definitely not as experienced a visual designer.

I don’t mind the material being rough-edged in its youth — that’s part of the charm, after all — but I am enough of a nitpicky perfectionist to want to spend a couple minutes brushing off the dustiest bits and straightening a lapel or two.

The most obvious of these little touch-ups is fixing lettering errors:

I have GOT to stop redoing decades-old work

In this panel from Wondermark’s second episode ever, the original version (at left) has the word balloon cutting off the nightstick for no reason, and it also uses the wrong “I”. (In comic lettering, the pronoun “I” should be rendered with crossbars; other instances of the capital letter I are not.)

I didn’t get that right in all the early comics, and while I don’t know that I’ll go back and obsessively fix everything that strikes my now-wizened eyes as wrong, I did feel compelled to spit-shine at least the first handful of strips. You can see in this one that I also added a suggestion of a shadow/horizon, and increased the contrast a bit for a sharper, more handsome image. I also went on to give the character an elaborate backstory that no one will ever know but me, and I’m quite satisfied to have done so.

What’s dumb, though, is that I already re-lettered that strip, in 2005, for my very first book The Annotated Wondermark (now out of print). My very first (2003) versions of the first hundred strips or so were done at web resolution, using Comic Sans. I know!!!

In order to be able to make that book, I had to go back and recreate all those comics from scratch, using new higher-resolution scans and a better typeface. But looking back now, a decade later, I notice how in some of the cobwebby corners where no one ever looks, the workmanship is a B+ job.

I tried my best, but then I got better than that.

The first comics I made are very unsophisticated. I made the first twenty in an afternoon, just trying to feel out the format. All through the first couple of years, I would just write anything, because why not, nobody was reading anyway.

But now, in looking back at the earliest comics with the realization that, for some people, those early strips will be their first exposure at all to Wondermark, I found myself reliving a little of the silliness and glee with which I first began banging images against each other to see what kinds of sounds they made.

For this new venture, I am allowing myself the luxury of editing dialogue that I find just too cringeworthy to stand behind anymore: for example, episode one’s “genital warts” has become, on GoComics at least, “private pox”, which may not be much of an improvement but does at least represent taking a half second to consider the tone I prefer the strip to take as a whole.

I also replaced dialogue in episode four (appearing on GoComics on Monday) that related to a private in-joke I no longer recall the meaning of, which didn’t make sense to anyone then, hasn’t made sense to anyone over the last 13 years, and wouldn’t make sense to a new reader now. There’s all kinds of weird little wrinkles like that in the archive — I can tease out little references to jobs I had at the time, or people that I no longer know; and I also sigh, just a bit, reading snark that a younger version of me wrote and published, snide takes hot off a 22-year-old dome that don’t hold up under much scrutiny.

It’s hard for me not to fixate on wanting to go back and perfect everything. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with revisiting one’s work in this way — the eternal question of George Lucas aside — but I do think falling into the well of doing so can become a time sink, in return for not much added value.

It’s fine to think your early stuff isn’t that great, because how else can you be sure you’ve grown since then? There are some jokes in the early years (and in the middle years, and in the later years) that I wouldn’t make again today.

But there were also others that leveled me up, unlocked things in the development of my voice, conceptual islands that couldn’t have been arrived at without laying stepping stones down first. Whatever else I may have managed over 1200+ episodes, I’ve tried to avoid letting it get too easy.

I think it’ll be fun to replay that evolution again, this time at 150% speed with perhaps a few of the worst clunkers chiseled off, as a new set of people watches it start from something coarse and refine into something with a distinct sensibility. I might even be able to tell what folks end up thinking about it, because unlike the comic entries on this site, GoComics has a comment section. Which, full disclosure, I have seen get cuckoo bananas on some other strips.

If you’d like to stroll down Wondermark Lane with me and the cuckoo-bananas crew, check out gocomics.com/wondermark, where we’ll be posting classic episodes from the vault every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the sun burns out and abandons us all to a lonely, shivering doom. Or until I run out of material! Whichever comes first.

A Brief Statement on Eating Cheetos with Chopsticks

The following photograph has crossed my desk quite a bit recently:

poe knows

In it, actor Oscar Isaac is pictured enjoying a bag of Cheetos with the aid of a pair of orange-stained chopsticks, his fingers pictured free of that same orange residuum.

I first came across the picture in this tweet, or one like it — I can’t seem to find the “original,” but this tweet links back to a Facebook page that is probably the source of the joke:

As longtime readers know, I advocated what Mr. Isaac is practicing — specifically, using chopsticks to eat Cheetos — back in 2010, in Wondermark episode #601, “The Discovery that Changed the World”.

I am certainly not the first person to have thought of it, and clearly I was not the last! However, I am very glad that this particular “life hack” has gained popularity, regardless of its provenance. It’s simply a better way to live.

In the time since I published my version, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the comic be spread far and wide. People post pictures of themselves eating Cheetos or popcorn or similar things, and hold up chopsticks, and tag me in the picture. And it’s become one of only about a dozen specific comics whose episode number I remember by heart, since I am often asked for prints of it.

The basic idea came to me several years before I made the comic. In 2006, I was working at an ad agency in Beverly Hills. I believe I was editing TV spots for the James Franco movie Tristan & Isolde — either that, or the James Franco movie Flyboys. I forget which it was; I worked on both, for the same agency, a few months apart.

The easiest place to get lunch was a Bristol Farms supermarket a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to Bristol Farms, it’s a sort of fancy, higher-end supermarket, similar to Whole Foods but without the sanctimony.

They had (or, presumably, still have) a sushi bar in that Bristol Farms. The experience of eating there inspired comic #171; In which Hiroshi misses the Point.

So, because of the sushi bar, there were always disposable chopsticks sitting out for the grabbin’, and I made a sort of game of it, trying to see if I could eat my lunch with chopsticks every day, no matter what it was. (It was usually a panini, and so the answer was usually “not without some difficulty.”)

Since I only had a brief period for lunch before I had to get back to hitting a keyboard with my fingers for hours, chopsticks quickly became the perfect tool to prolong the pleasure of a bag of Cheetos throughout the afternoon to come.

I don’t know why it took me four years to make a comic about it. I do remember my producer in those days calling out what I was doing, and I think it took seeing more and more surprised reactions before I realized that maybe it wasn’t 100% obvious to everyone that this was the best way to eat Cheetos. I had to come to the understanding that I’d made a discovery; I had experienced a revelation. (Similar to the time I accidentally came across a better salad fork.)

Once I actually made the comic, and I started to see that people were really responding to it, I briefly had the thought of contacting Frito-Lay and saying “Hey, maybe you could do a special thing, where you… I dunno, package chopsticks along with the bag? Or something? Is there any possible way that there could be money in this for me somehow?”

The pitch wasn’t really more refined than that, so you will not be surprised to learn it was never successful.

But every now and then, moments like Oscar Isaac, here, reassure me that word is indeed getting out, and lives are indeed being improved, one orange-stained chopstick at a time.

I don’t know if Mr. Isaac has ever seen the original comic; I’m sure the idea came to him via tenth-hand means, or perhaps he thought of it himself. But I am incredibly gratified to see that the idea is out there, and that it’s becoming obvious.

Does Frito-Lay know the secret? Surely they must have heard by now. Here is what seals the deal for me: A TV commercial from 2011, showing Chester Cheetah playing terrible piano with a lady in a piano shop.

They are playing — of course — “Chopsticks.”

wiiiiiinnnkkkkkk

2015 Errata

As we do every year around here, it’s time to look back and address any mistakes, errors, gaffes, and boners that might have snuck into our comics during the year of our Lord 2015.

#1091; A Duly Rigorous Experiment
I learned later that Charles Schulz made basically this same joke in 1965.

#1104; In which a Culture exists
The quote is original, not, as is stated by the character, from an episode of Futurama. I made the character say that it was merely for comic effect.

#1123; The Opposite of Prodigal
Deborah had not actually given the matter as much thought as she claimed, but like many of us faced with admitting an error, did not want to admit it once challenged.

#1141; Prime Time Drama
When the character references a “Skilsaw”, or circular saw, he is mentally picturing a “Sawzall”, or reciprocating saw. The latter would be more commonly used to cut through mounted drywall or sheetrock than the former, but I suppose either could work.

#1146; In which Theft is justified
This comic strip about plagiarism seems to have inadvertently exactly copied the trademark panel and character placement from Ryan North’s “Dinosaur Comics”.

#1159; In which a Frame is askew
That picture is really too high on the wall.

#1125; In which a Bean is juiced
Jeremy is describing his favorite beverage using unusual terminology. It is obvious to most that “beet stuff” represents sugar, in his unique patois, but some have wondered about the term “cactus gravy”. While not per se accurate, in the context of this comic strip cactus gravy is meant to mean agave nectar, which is a food sweetener found in the type of grocery store that allows you to scoop up your own personalized mix of granola. “Cow water”, elsewhere in the same strip, of course refers to bull semen.

Wondermark regrets the errors.

Previously:
2014 Errata2013 Errata2011 Errata / 2009 Errata / 2008 Errata

Moving Day at Wondermark HQ

I’m back from Gen Con and I’m moving into my new studio in West Los Angeles! In the next few days I’ll be catching up with the Roll-a-Sketch drawings ordered in the last few weeks, as well as the Kickstarter. Thanks for your kind support with those, I look forward to drawing your creatures from the comfort of my new digs! Once it is at all… comfortable.

It’s a weird thing, moving; I was in my last place for four and a half years, and in that time a lot has happened, a lot has changed about how I run my business. I have more stuff now, for sure: more inventory, and supplies, and books, and the detritus of a life incessantly peppered with miscellaneous projects. It was a startling thing, seeing box after box after box come out of the old place like a clown car. How did it all fit?

Now, of course, I have the challenge of figuring out where stuff will go, in the new place. I’m trying to be very deliberate with the process, looking at each object and coming up with a sensible home for it (or deciding it doesn’t need to hang around), so we don’t end up simply drowning in boxes and clutter once again, but at a new address.

It’s surprisingly hard! It feels weighty, a real responsibility, and of course giving an object a home is assigning it a value, a purpose, when not everything’s purpose or value is easy to define in a way that implies where precisely it should live. Some things just seem to want to float, to exist only in order to pop up occasionally, without any real utility besides simply being a souvenir of itself.

In addition, I want to look critically at my work habits, the processes I do often and the materials and supplies I need close at hand, and try carefully to design a workplace in concert with the sorts of things I do anyway, or want to do more of. Having a dedicated studio at all is quite a luxury, so I’m trying to take it seriously.

I’d like to invite your comments: what successes or failures have you had with setting up workspaces? What are lessons you’ve learned, or best practices, or things to keep in mind? I work well within constraints, so I guess what I’m really asking for are some rules. Let me know if you have any tips!