(Click on the actual strip for a larger view)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

He completes me.

Up through college, very few people had the singular impact on my life that Charles Schulz did. I can thank my parents for the encouragement, art lessons and opportunities, but I don't need to look much past "Peanuts" for the inspiration. You'll hear this from most cartoonists, syndicated and otherwise, of the last 20-30 years, so it's by no means an exclusive claim. I've collected his compilations my whole life, and am in the process of amassing the definitive collection right now, via the hardcover series currently in print. Unlike mine, his strips are timeless and speak to issues far beyond the punchline. Freshman year, my strip ran directly beneath "Peanuts," and I took this occasion to fashion a little tribute (and borrow a little material in the process).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What would Einstein do?

In Beagle's defense, he is not doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. He's trying new variations all the time, thinking it's not the messenger, but the message that offends Patty. Either that, or he thinks that he'll eventually wear her down, which I personally think is a terrible way to get a girlfriend, but whatever. "So, why'd you marry him?" "Oh, he wouldn't leave me alone." See what I mean? The DTH co-editors at the time said this series eluded them, and asked if I could focus on more topical themes, like "why are the lights always on in Wilson Library all night long?" I nodded, then kept right on doing what I was doing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When life gives you lemons.

Unlike me, Bill Beagle has this amazing resilience about him. Maybe being a fictional character helps him cope with rejection better. If I were him, I'd have moved on long ago, but he's bound and determined to hook up with Patty (in one sense or another). Here, he's turned a liability into an asset--the growling stomach that embarrassed him as recently as Monday now does his bidding on Wednesday (you should know the strip ran on a Monday/Wednesday/Thursday schedule, based on the DTH's editors' estimates of readership). Speaking of editors, this was the series that caused them to summon me to their office. More on that later.

Monday, December 28, 2009

It's going to get a little weird.

After being embarrassed by my own growling stomach in an 8:00 class one morning, I decided to turn it into material for the strip. Hey, inspiration can strike at any time, in any location, and even on an empty stomach. Yes, it's weird, but it's also original--I can't think of any other strip that did something like this before or since. Maybe there's a reason for that. Anyway, it was a fresh take on how I could get Patty to keep rejecting Bill. In this case, it was sheer repulsion.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

More than words can say.

"More than words." It's not just a sappy Extreme song from 1990, it's also something every cartoonist who's in it for the long haul needs to remember. Verbal gags are fine, but give the reader something to look at. When I started writing TV spots for McDonald's after graduation, I would start out by writing a radio spot and then trying to put visuals to it. Backwards, all backwards--particularly since radio is, above all, a visual medium. As for this strip, it was a kick to draw, and I dig it to this day.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The learning continues.

If you remember the first strip in this blog, the incendiary "Welcome to UNC" travesty that nearly ended my career as the Daily Tar Heel's cartoonist, then this one should prove that my first semester had done me a world of good. I could have easily drawn a sexy coed sitting next to Nick, popping out of her top and microskirt while he (and the readers) ogled her. I could have made the same joke that way, from Nick's P.O.V. and objectifying yet another cartoon female in the process. Instead, I chose to make the joke verbal and have the reader imagine the girls in question. Awfully mature of me. (Incidentally, the girls in psyc were prettier than the ones in econ.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Fresh Start.

See if you can catch the indirect "Peanuts" tribute going on here. Unless you're an obsessive collector, you won't. Schulz did a brilliant series of strips where Lucy was "breaking up" with Schroeder. Over the course of the series, she went to all kinds of trouble to make sure he got the message that they were through. For example, she showed up on his doorstep and said (I paraphrase here), "Now that you and I are through, I'm returning all the gifts I was going to give you.") He accepted the gifts, thanked her and closed the door. She turned to camera and said, "That didn't even make sense."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

I've always loved Christmas. Heck, I've always loved December. My birthday is two weeks (to the day) before Christmas, so for me, Thanksgiving gets one festive ball rolling. Christmas at UNC was especially fun, because I got to do my shopping on Franklin Street and I got to pre-celebrate with my friends, then do it all over again with my family. Long story short, this was the first of a series of holiday strips, with a decidedly topical spin. As a freshman, I didn't have a car, but the problem rang true for a lot of my friends.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Quitters never win, winners never quit.

But winning makes for lousy comedy, doesn't it? What's funny about Charlie Brown kicking the football, or getting kissed by the little-red-haired girl? If this strip had gone on for decades, I would've needed far more variations on this rejection theme, so I could keep Bill Beagle coming back for more torture at the hands of Patty. But since I knew I was in for a four-year run, I had to collapse the narrative arc to fit the allotted time. That just means Patty would need to give in eventually and go on a date with this guy. But for now, she could shut him down without giving him so much as a glance.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuition dollars at work.

I'll admit I wasn't much of a partier in high school. In fact, during freshman orientation, a girl asked me, "Do you party?" and I replied, "Sure," thinking only of the verb meaning "carry on with the intention of having fun." Only later did I find out what she really meant. My point is, back in high school, I couldn't have possibly written this strip, because my knowledge of alcohol began and ended with beer. So while I may have been sleeping thorough my English novel class on a regular basis, I was still learning--absorbing the strange and wonderful world of mixology. (Bonus: dig the swizzle stick in the last panel.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Shameless info-tainment.

In the few short weeks I'd worked with the campus police, I'd already picked up a thing or two. Bicycle and stereo theft was a big issue at UNC. To make it harder for the thieves to fence the loot (I'd picked up some jargon, too), the campus police recommended students etch their driver's license number (not their social and not their student I.D.) onto "at risk" items. This strip just took things to the next level. If I prevented just one beer can from being stolen, I did my job.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Worlds colliding.

Those who've read my first (unpublished) novel and those who've read my strip will find that this is the precise point where the two intersect. In the novel, a college student is enlisted (dig my passive voice) by a campus policeman to draw cartoons for safety presentations around campus. Also in the novel, the student draws a semi-regular strip in his college paper. This very strip is quoted by the fictional campus cop as being one of his favorites. Art imitating life, and I'm being generous with the term "art."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My first series.

"Real" comic strips routinely introduced storylines on Monday that wrapped up by Friday or Saturday. Charles Schulz, my hero, often had sagas that continued for several weeks (Sundays excepted). Since my strip didn't appear every day, and since I couldn't count on my readers to follow the strip every day, I had resisted the idea of going beyond the joke-a-day format. But this idea was too good to pass up. It coincided with the beginning of my stint as "force cartoonist" for the UNC Campus Police (more on that later). Dedicated to former Sgt. Ned Comar

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Some people took this to be an insinuation that the main character harbored closeted gay tendencies. Come on--I just spent the past few weeks having him chase after a hot blonde chick. Of course, he does lounge around in a bathrobe, but so does Hugh Hefner. I suppose in comparison to his roommate, with alleged conquests nearly every night of the week, almost anyone would come off as a raging fan of "Glee."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You can't make this stuff up.

Every once in awhile, the strip wrote itself. This exchange actually occurred in a pizza joint in Rockville, Maryland. Before the state raised the drinking age, but also before I was 18, I laid the "pitcher of Bud, pitcher of Lite" line on the waitress on a lark, just to see what would happen. What happened is she brought us a pitcher of Bud and a pitcher of Lite. The next time we occupied that booth, I tried it again on a different waitress. Her response? "Can I see some ID?" What followed is the off-the-cuff response you see in the last panel. True story, folks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back when VCRs were the height of technology.

Sounds weird, because CDs were just appearing on the scene, but in the mid-80s, VCRs were still all the rage. And remember, we were lucky to have a 9" black-and-white TV in our dorm room (with no cable, either). So I imagined Beagle's beat-up station wagon to be worth roughly the cost of a new VCR (something in the $500 range back then, I would imagine). Since freshman weren't allowed to have vehicles on campus, he was forced to leave it behind, only to have it sold out from under him between Labor Day and Fall Break.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ye of little cash.

As freshman living on campus, we were shocked and appalled at the mandatory meal plan we (or our parents) were forced to buy into. My shock reached its peak over Labor Day weekend, when the dining hall shut down for three days, since 90% of UNC students go home for Labor Day. I hadn't yet received my ATM card from good ol' Wachovia, and didn't know to personally withdraw a big wad to get me through the weekend, so there I was, with no cash and no food options. Luckily, my roommate bailed me out repeatedly, Pizza Hut being his savior of choice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

When in doubt, turn to bodily fluids.

Another true-life inspiration. Not me, but a suitemate. Got so drunk on Halloween he threw up into his own hat, removed from his head only seconds before. As you might imagine, a mesh-backed baseball cap is not the most effective device for retaining large quantities of any kind of liquid, and it promptly spilled onto his "date." I don't think either of them remembered it the next day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

You knew it was coming.

This was the first of many missives fired from my pen to our dual rivals: Duke and NC State. How long can you be a Carolina student with a forum like this and not bash on Duke? Admittedly, this was another leftover joke I updated to the locale, but a good cheap shot is worth recycling. At the time, I had a few good friends who went to Duke, but I knew they'd never see this strip. I visited them a few times over in Durham, and it was a whole different world. One I'm glad I wasn't a part of.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Puns, meet characters. Characters, meet puns.

So this was a leftover joke from high school, and it shows. But I managed to work it into a character situation, so it's not completely devoid of context. This was also my first attempt to insert musical relevance into the strip. I came to college still embracing my Billy Joel, Paul McCartney and Huey Lewis albums (CDs had yet to go mainstream). My freshman-year roommate, however, was deep into alternative, exposing me to a world of Talking Heads, Echo & the Bunnymen and U2. Yes, back then, U2 was considered "alternative."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bring on the female lead!

After refining her hairstyle for a few weeks, I was finally ready to introduce the unglamorously-named "Patty" to the strip. Like Sam and Diane, I was going to throw them together and pull them apart as I saw fit. Of course, she wouldn't just jump into his arms--this was a four-year plan we're talking about, so it had to start slow. It doesn't start much slower than flat-out rejection. I have to give Bill Beagle (the lead character) credit for persisting after getting shot down as many times as he did.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hitting my stride.

Of all my early strips, I think this one captures everything I was going for: encapsulating the college experience, leveraging the personalities and chemistry of the main characters and a visual element to the punchline. I wasn't a good enough artist to produce one of those "gorgeous-but-poorly-written" strips. And I didn't want the strip to be viewed as "competently illustrated dialogue." So I strove for a balance. Note the topical reference ("State game") and eighties relic (corded phone).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Getting my bearings.

After I'd been at UNC a few weeks, I was starting to get the lay of the land. Not only was I adjusting to "life on my own," I was doing so in completely unfamiliar territory. Before my dad pulled up in the Morrison parking lot that scorching August afternoon, I'd never been to Chapel Hill. I was putting a lot of faith in that brochure. So we jump from a completely generic joke to a hyper-topical one. In retrospect, with its stiff, tilted seats and rigid armrests, Morehead Planetarium was probably a terrible place to make out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lincoln would be ashamed.

You'll come across a fair number of these type of "one-offs," reserved for situations when I had neither a storyline nor a strong character-oriented joke on hand. While I was slinging puns like this long before "Mother Goose & Grimm," that doesn't make it acceptable. And technically, this isn't a pun per se, but a contextually-dependent "play on words," more sophisticated than a mere garden variety pun. Not funnier, necessarily, just more sophisticated. And isn't that a quality you look for in your college paper comic strip?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stronger and harder than a bad girl's dream.

Back in the eighties, I loved me some Huey. Hell, even in the...whatever this decade is called, I love me some Huey. Saw him in concert at his peak and again a few years ago. I loaded "Power of Love" on my sons' iPods and they totally dig it, as they do "Back to the Future." They're not quite to the age where they scrutinize lyrics, but one day, I expect them to come to me, headphones dangling, and ask, "Dad, who would qualify as a 'bad girl,' and how exactly would her dream be 'strong' and 'hard?'"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Curse you, English 40.

First semester, freshman year, I had an 8:00 class Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. What it was, I don't remember. Why I agreed to it, I have no idea. There must have been little choice in the matter. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, however, my first class (ENG 40: the English Novel) wasn't until 11:00. Guess which class I slept through more? Guess why I was forced to buy an alarm clock with two separate alarms, and plug it in across the room, requiring me to physically get out of bed to turn it off?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My first "sale."

You'll notice the style of this strip differs significantly from that of those bookending it. That's because I redrew it specifically for inclusion in the "Man from UNCle" book I published in 1998. I had hung onto all the originals through the years, but this one had been requested by a tutor shortly after it appeared in the DTH. They offered to pay for it, but I demurred, suggesting they trade me a six-pack of beer. In those days, beer was more valuable than money--and harder for a freshman to obtain.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bodily fluids: always funny.

I've seen enough Mel Brooks movies to know what works. The secret here is what I didn't show. You should also know that I drew this strip without ever having attended an actual frat party. I'd heard stories. These stories did not include strange guys introducing themselves to each other in the bathroom, but I extrapolated. My only regret with this strip was my attempt to introduce another character, the superfluous Scott Travers. Most people couldn't tell him apart from the main character, and he never developed his own personality. Therefore, he didn't survive freshman year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In the days before flat screens.

Remember the "console" TV? Back in the day, it was the creme de la creme of television viewing. In essence, a big wooden box to house your picture tube instead of setting it directly on the floor. Who decided these were optimum viewing conditions? It certainly made lying on the shag rug, watching Saturday morning cartoons more fun. Anyway, I've always like this strip for the way the poor little black-and-white bites it in the third panel (click on the strip to really soak in the carnage).

Enter the roommate.

For many of us, college was our first experiencing sharing close quarters with someone our exact age. Sure, I had bunked with my younger brother, but I was clearly in charge. In a dorm situation, it's more of a cautious dance. Who gets to choose the music? Who has to use headphones? And what about overnight guests? Lest The Man from UNCle get too comfortable in his socially-backward ways, I threw in a foil right away to help him "man up."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Look what I started.

My big break turned out to be a baptism by fire. After consulting with the Daily Tar Heel editor on the idea of a regular (not "daily," mind you--that was too much to commit to as a freshman) comic strip and cranking out a few weeks' worth of samples to prove myself, this was my auspicious debut. Little did I know the firestorm it would unleash--or the spare time the campus' budding feminists had on their hands. I was never more grateful for anonymity.