Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

Teaching My Boy the Family Business

To those I often see in the Bay Area around this time of year, I’ll be missing Maker Faire this time around. I’ll be staying home with my little dude, who cannot fend for himself and must have everything done for him.

I grew up in a family business. I was raised behind the counter of a store; I was stocking shelves by the time I could stand; I was making change by the time I could count.

Most of my childhood, I was surrounded by adults doing work. I think it taught me a lot.

I bristle somewhat when I hear people say “don’t define yourself by your work,” because I like my work, and I think I occasionally do good work, work that feels like an authentic expression of something I care about. And I do not feel entitled to any sort of success without doing work, so I feel like work must be worth something.

Work must be important, otherwise I would just do no work and wait to be successful, and that math doesn’t compute, to me, based on my mindset or my lived experience.

So when my own son was on his way, I pictured myself perkily doing my regular work with him hanging off the front of me in one of those little carriers, cheerily observing and absorbing everything in order to become a creative person of his own one day.

It has not gone quite that way. It may still, but not yet.

He’s here, now, and I don’t know whether he’ll be a creative person, or an entrepreneur, or not; he’s got plenty of time to figure out what those words even mean, much less what to do with his life.

The first thing people ask when they see him is “Are you sleeping at all?” Like it’s a big in-joke that babies will wake you up in the night. Yes, thank you, I’m sleeping. (In little two-hour bites, but yes.)

Our boy is six weeks old — or just one week and change if you correct for his premature arrival — and as of yet he’s basically a houseplant. He stays where you put him, wiggling around like he’s imitating a skydiver. He doesn’t yet understand “objects” or “interaction” or “operating his limbs purposefully” or “responding to anything”. He lives in a world all his own, population one.

We’re also packing up our life to move to a new house, quite unexpectedly as it turns out…and we’ve got a sick kitty who requires a lot of attention…and projects and tasks are stacking up at work. I’ve been trying to wrap up a bunch of complicated projects that I started months ago KNOWING academically that they were going to be impossible to maintain once the baby arrived, but not quite anticipating just how fast the days would slip by, just how hard it would be to accomplish basic tasks in this state of mind.

This will be old news to many (you parents out there) and of little interest to others, I imagine. Remarking on the capital-C Change that the arrival of a child brings to one’s life is so mundane an observation as to be a dull cliché.

I think because of that, I figured it would be different for us, somehow. We would be smarter; we would figure it out.

And we have, so far — but we have withstood it, not bested it, which I understand one never quite does.

I’m grateful that I have the flexibility to stay home with my wife and the kitty and the baby, for a little while at least, and I will beg your forgiveness for the occasional lapse here on the site. This is my conduit to you, and I want to keep it alive, so I will try my best.

I want to make more fun things for you to take home, but I don’t want to shill products more than I provide new comics. People email me every day offering to cram my site full of terrible ads, and I turn all of them down, or ignore them entirely, because that feels gross to me, and disrespectful to you.

I will get back to work soon enough, I hope, with the baby hanging off of me or not. I will imagine myself teaching him all sorts of important things about Business and The World and Adultness, when in reality he will probably be teaching me things. Already, at his knee I have learned much about the subject of Wiggles, and we are working now on a new effort called Groans-And-Moans.

He is issuing creative product of his own, daily, but so far it kind of stinks, and I throw it away in a special can.

I need to become okay with not doing as much work, at least for a bit. But this is also my job, and I have to do some work, or else I don’t have a job.

The solution, of course, is obvious, as my own parents knew: child labor. Work hard, little one, and learn fast. Someday, this will all be yours.

2016 Errata

It’s January, which means it’s time for our grudging and obligatory corrections post, where we revisit the comics posted in 2016 and sheepishly admit where we got it wrong.

#1190; In which Brunch is exotic
Benton neglected to heighten the bit by mentioning that his corporate Amex was, in point of fact, a “green card.”

#1203; No Time like the Present
Rather than falling onto “a boat that then sank,” investigators later determined that the boat had already been in the process of sinking when Mr Whiltbang fell onto its deck, holes having previously been shot in its hull with a shotgun by Mr Whiltbang immediately prior to the fall in question.

#1207; The Hall Pass
Today, Carl Kasell’s voice is offered (by “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”) for your “voicemail,” not your “home answering machine.” With no specific mention of the fact, it would be impossible for the casual reader to know that this particular strip actually takes place in 2005, so the term used reads as an error.

#1209; Talk and Awe
The Bingus Gabberdeen Show video montage referenced here was delivered to an audience largely like-minded, but perhaps not entirely. It may have even changed the political opinions of some people, rather than no one. However, in the end it didn’t seem to have helped.

#1210; The Biscuit Burglars
It was pointed out that this fundamental joke was already done, albeit in somewhat different form, by the French cheese company Boursin in a television commercial some 26 years ago. Not sure how I could have missed that one. I have sent Boursin the requisite $10 for “stealing their joke.”

#1217; In which History comes Alive
Alexander probably pooped outside of a vase a few times, as a child, before he got the hang of balancing on the rim.

#1233; In which a Traveler is lost
Another brazen and shameless example of joke theft!! It was pointed out to me that this basic scenario has been mined in the past for comic effect on Kids in the Hall in 1991; the UK’s Big Train in 1998; and Family Guy in 1999, possibly among others. Truthfully, I probably saw that Kids sketch years ago and filed it away, deep in the ol’ subconscious. If revisiting a joke premise is so horrible, why did the latter shows copy Kids in the Hall????

#1249; One Nation, Indivisible
Dating roughly from the invention of the telegraph, this notional civic world based on agreed-upon facts ended up lasting about a century and a half.

Wondermark regrets the errors.


2015 Errata2014 Errata2013 Errata2011 Errata / 2009 Errata / 2008 Errata

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, 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, 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.”