(Click on the actual strip for a larger view)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

He speaks too soon.

It is not now, nor was it ever, "cool" to be a Billy Joel fan. Particularly since he's slid into self-parody, flogging the old hits with one hand with his other wrapped around the neck of a Beefeater bottle. Even his touring partner, Elton John, has lost patience with him, publicly announcing the man's desperate need for some "real rehab, with no TVs." But even back then, when he was at the top of his game, he got little respect. This has never deterred me from liking anything, of course. I never based my fondness for something based on someone else's fondness for it. If I had, I might have been a lot less homesick, with a lot more friends those first few semesters. But I can't fake it. What's ironic about this strip is it ran before the Dean Dome was completed, and one of the first concerts in the Dean Dome was...you guessed it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I've struck a nerve.

Believe it or not, it took me until sophomore year to get around to some good ol' cheap-shot State-bashing. It would be a popular well I would go back to time and again, but this represents its debut. On the side, I was designing t-shirts for various campus organizations (payment: a sample shirt and a six-pack), and many of their themes revolved around UNC's superiority over our Raleigh neighbor, particularly when it came to athletics. I just took it to the next level (borderline libel). Not that anyone remembers now, but the cow was a loving homage (i.e. ripoff) of the cows Gary Larson used to draw in The Far Side.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Celebrity Couple-of-the-Moment

Nothing dates your strip faster than a pop culture reference, particularly one as flash-in-the-pan as Sean Penn and Madonna. Who ever thought that was a good idea, huh? It provided good comic fodder while it lasted, though (I believe I even go back to this same well junior year). For you younguns, their courtship and marriage basically consisted of paparazzi swarming around them followed by Sean punching as many as he could before they scattered. Naturally, this escalated the tension between the two of them until SeanDonna (it never caught on) imploded. Artistic detail: there's that rotary phone again! So much fun to draw, especially the cord.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Breaking the borders

Well, not so much "breaking" as "rearranging," but I liked the alliteration. I'm typically a fan of the time-tested, Peanuts-proven four-panel structure. Occasionally I'll use three (a la Garfield), for more space per panel, or if the gag works better that way. Here, however, I went for a hybrid: panels one and four are the same size as they'd be in the four-panel approach, but I've eliminated the middle gutter to create one doublewide center panel. Makes for a nice panorama of the fraternity's interior. Personal favorite detail: note the record-scratching sound effect.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Too much humor, too few panels.

Despite the cinematic ambitions for this strip, I was severely limited by the four-panel format (incidentally, when a cartoonist trips up, it's customary to blame the medium). Having established Goebel the house dog, I proceeded to give him a bad-ass attitude. Very un-Snoopy, although Snoopy was a bad-ass in his own way. Again, the gag here hinges on Goebel being insulted, or being treated like a typical dog, when he's clearly a more advanced being. He walks on two legs, he has coherent thought balloons, he even wears a turtleneck, for Pete's sake! Nick condescension takes it a step too far for Goebel's taste. So with a snap of his fingers (wait, a dog with fingers?), he bolts Nick in the bathroom as punishment (wait, where'd that board come from?). He just wants to show Nick who's boss around KEG. He was most certainly not the boss of the strip, and the sooner I took away his power, the better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shoehorn, stet!

Yeah, about that dog. I've always loved drawing dogs--my first attempts at cartooning were of Snoopy. Why I thought this was the place and time to introduce a thinking, anthropomorphic dog, I cannot tell you. I know the fraternity I was pledging had a house dog, as did most. And of course, I had (for the time being) free reign over the strip's content and characters, so I probably thought, why not? What did it matter if he had a legitimate place in the strip? Or that I'd drop him like Richie's brother Chuck in "Happy Days" within another week or two? So I named him "Goebel," with the ersatz-French pronunciation (jzho-BELL). I don't think we invented this; I was pretty sure it was a joke that had been passed down from one incoming freshman class to another, like calling Target "tar-JAY" to make it sound upscale. In any event, the dog is offended that his name received the gutter pronunciation, emphasizing his lower-class status. His revenge? Pants the guy. Now that I've explained it, isn't it so much funnier?

Monday, January 25, 2010

And off we go.

This was a subject ripe for satire, and while I'm not sure I did the best job, at least I tried to cover all the bases. I thought this made for a pretty effective setup--remember, in a series, each strip has to stand on its own as well as further the continuing narrative. Once I figured out the name of the frat (by the way, those actually in a fraternity are forbidden from calling it a "frat"), the rest of the series fell into place. It is during this period that I think my drawing style finally began to achieve a level of smoothness and consistency. Nick, for example, had evolved far beyond his debut my freshman year, but was a far cry from the hideous man-attached-to-a-nose he would become. For you art geeks, I drew every single one of these strips with a Penstix India ink felt tip (not sure if they even still exist) on a half sheet of 14" x 17" vellum surface Bristol board. The boxes were hand-inked with a Sharpie.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Art imitates life.

The strip here makes much more sense if you remember--as I'm sure no one did--that Nick and Bill lived in a dorm. Everyone always used to ask me, "Where do you get your ideas?" Groan. Oldest question in the book. The short answer is everywhere and nowhere. Sometimes you seek them out and sometimes they find you. And sometimes--like in the strip above--your "idea" is simply what's going on in your life at the time. I was in the midst of pledging a fraternity (sophomore year? I know...) and I was being bombarded with material on a daily basis. The series that follows had its roots in my initial exposure to Greek life, but of course, it was bound to take some twists and turns that could only happen on paper.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

First Amendment? Don't make me laugh.

I had a few brushes with censorship during my tenure at the Daily Tar Heel, though none as commercially-motivated as this one. In retrospect, after spending the last 20+ years in advertising, I kind of understand, but only kind of. The editors felt that this strip was offensive to one of its major advertisers (guess who), and didn't want to jeopardize its ad revenue. Didn't they realize that controversy leads to readership? And readership boosts ad rates? And lures advertisers? Evidently not. Plus, while this "nickname" was new to me, as a transplant from Maryland, it had been kicking around North Carolina for decades. Would "The Man from UNCle" start the name-calling anew? Seriously. On another note, I like how I treated the pseudo-silhouettes in the center panel. Dig the outdated Communist reference!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Can't beat the system.

Up until college, the only bank account I had was something called a "passbook savings" account, where you literally kept track of your balance in a little book the bank gave you. After every deposit or withdrawal, they'd stamp it and you'd write in your new total. It was a tiny strip mall bank, and that was quite possibly its only location. This left me wholly unprepared for the juggernaut that was North Carolina's largest bank, and the sterile, "corporate" vibe I got whenever I walked in the place. Look, if you don't want unshaven, beer-burping, flip-flop wearing, destitute, slacker college students as customers, then don't build a branch on Franklin Street. Just sayin'.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's (kind of) funny because it's true.

The upcoming mini-series of strips was inspired by my real-life encounter with my not-so-friendly neighborhood bank (which, thanks to a little censorship, shall remain nameless--for now). I dreaded the thought of closing an account every spring and opening a new one every fall (seriously, is there any more boring place for a college student to spend time than in a bank?). So I left a little "cushion fund" in my account that I assumed would slowly wither away over the summer due to service charges (minimum balance? What's that?). How could such a perfect plan go awry? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Virtual time travel.

In real life, it was more than three months. Here, you just click and a link and--bam! It's fall semester! My life is flying by too fast as it is, thank you very much. Good thing I have these strips to keep me firmly rooted in the past. As you can see, I'm merely setting up the dynamic once again--Beagle, the reserved, bookish one, and his obnoxious, cooler-than-thou roommate Nick. I knew roughly 1/4 of my audience would be brand new every August--thus, it was necessary to reintroduce the cast year after year. Who am I kidding--even faithful readers of the strip probably couldn't name the main characters if they had a gun to their head.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Any resemblance is purely coincidental.

College was a time of enormous growth for me. And not the Freshman 15, either. In fact, early on, I was so homesick and introverted that I actually lost about 15 pounds from all the running and exercising I did to fill the time. My grades were pretty decent, too, since I had plenty of time to study. Alcohol tolerance, however, that grew a great deal, as did my awareness of "the great big world out there." I never thought I had lived a sheltered life until I got to Chapel Hill and was thrown in with 20,000 of my peers. Suburban Rockville, how could you have shielded me from all this excitement? Well, as you might suspect, by the end of freshman year, I still looked forward to going home for the summer, but--significantly--I was also looking forward to coming back.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Did he or didn't he?

I know the question burning up everyone's lips that semester was, "Did Bill Beagle get some?" Okay, maybe not. I could be inflating the strip's impact on the student body a tad. Still, like a great sitcom ("Cheers," "Moonlighting"), I was maximizing the tension by keeping the male and female leads apart. Didn't want to jump the shark too early. So I threw Beagle a bone (get it?) in the form of the never-before-seen (and never to be seen again) character of Barbara Helms. Did he get lucky? Which base? Did too much Goebel impair his ability to...stand? I wanted to end the year with a good cliffhanger, so I kept everyone--including Nick--guessing. In retrospect, I'd say nothing happened. Well, not nothing, but not what he wanted to happen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The perils of budget beer.

While the drinking age was 19 in North Carolina, beer was still legally off limits to freshman. Did this stop us? It did not. We were traipsing through the aisles of Big Bertha (the walk-in cooler at Fowler's Supermarket, Franklin Street's only grocery store) alongside sophomores, juniors and seniors. And what did we reach for more often than not? Goebel, a product of the Stroh's Brewing Co. since 1964, and mockingly pronounced "jo-BELL," as if it were a fine French lager. At roughly $3 a six-pack, it suited even the emptiest of wallets. Problem was, it didn't sit well in the G.I. tract. I don't think they used Artesian water.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

One of the (many) woes of being a freshman.

As a freshman living in Morrison, I was unduly reliant on the bus and my feet to get around. A suitemate of mine--and a fellow freshman--somehow managed to get his car onto campus under the radar, with a coveted parking pass and everything. Of course, he was a Morehead scholar, the unofficial royalty of Chapel Hill. His license plate read "FU MANG," which makes much more sense if you've seen Scarface. Since our friendship survives to this day, I don't think I was using him for his car. And in the case of the strip above, I couldn't use his car, since it was a stick. This was before living in Chicago would make not having a car the rule rather than the exception. And no, I didn't have a dial phone--they were just easier to draw.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Look out--he's on a roll!

Having taken on the UNC administration and ARA, I was emboldened enough to take a cheap shot at one of our country's most controversial and polarizing senators. Truthfully, I didn't know squat about Jesse Helms at the time--only that he was an ultra-conservative Republican in Reagan's pocket, and that he once said North Carolina didn't need its own zoo. "Just put a fence around Chapel Hill," he quipped. Well, that was enough to make him an enemy to me. In the end, though, this strip merely serves as a setup to year-ending series that finds Beagle getting lucky (?) for the first time since his debut. Totally out of character for him to pursue a strange girl in a dance club, but whatever--a setup's a setup.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Warning: political commentary ahead!

Contextual explanation: ARA was the food service company that held the contract to provide food to UNC's dining halls. During my freshman year, ARA lobbied the administration to institute a "mandatory meal plan," guaranteeing them a minimum commitment from any student living on campus. Extortion, right?

Keith Olbermann, I'm not. In fact, I've always hated politics, and by "hated," I mean "found them unsurpassingly dull." But, as a cartoonist, it's my job--some might say my social responsibility--to use my talent for good. Every once in a while I'd come across a topic that I was able to comment on without compromising the strip--that is, without turning it into a soapbox. My illustrations on the Daily Tar Heel's editorial page were usually just that--illustrations, ornamenting someone else's point of view. But the strip was my own, to shout mightily into the wind with at my leisure.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Eddie Murphy was the hottest thing going in the mid-80s, and for some reason he made UNC a stop on his tour. (Consider that oddity for a moment: when was the last time someone toured to support a comedy album?) I was among the thousands packed into a humid Carmichael Auditorium that night, and it was one of the highlights of my year. For every bit that fell flat, three more sailed out of the park. I know some comedians say, "I don't need profanity to be funny," but he does. Back then, of course, it was more shocking (ergo: funnier) than it is now, when every comment on YouTube is stuffed with epithets and the country's #1 song is a bouncy singalong entitled "F*** You."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Overdevelopment claims another beach.

Many dorms called the grassy patch out front their "beach." Connor probably had the best one--it was certainly the flattest and most centrally located. Hell, it even hosted Springfest. But let's not forget good ol' Morrison Beach, the sloping lawn between Manning Drive and the entrance to my freshman- and sophomore-year dorm. I was too self-conscious (i.e. pasty) to actually lie out there, but my suite overlooked said beach, so it was completely natural to wander out during a study break, lean on the railing and admire the view. These days a brand-new building sits on most of what was once Morrison Beach; still, I can picture stubborn sunbathers trying to catch the shaft of sun that falls across the lawn between 2:12 and 2:18pm.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So timely=so dated.

Every once in a while, I turned to actual events for inspiration. In this case it was a UNC vs. Notre Dame basketball game sometime in the spring of my freshman year, the details of which have long been forgotten some 20 years later. As the strip is black-and-white, one would need more than a passing familiarity with the central characters to know that Nick's hair is normally dark. Of course, having Bill shout it out in the first panel does a decent job of setting it up. This is one of those strips that works better out loud, which is rare. Have you ever read someone a comic strip? And wonder why they didn't laugh? In this case, the parallel structure of the second and fourth panels' dialogue comes to life when spoken. Or at least I'd like to think so.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Out-of-State Blues

I'll admit it: I was homesick. I arrived at UNC having never visited the campus, and not knowing a soul. As an introvert, making friends was an effort, so beer and this comic strip had to do double duty to get me through freshman year. Luckily, I made some friends I have to this day, and by the end of my four years, I was coming up with ways to stay in Chapel Hill forever (which are reflected in the strips of my senior year). One thing never changed, however--I never went anywhere other than home for spring break. My best friend was there, my siblings were there, my parents were there (I know, right?), and, perhaps most importantly, I never had the cash to go anywhere else.

Theatre-of-the-Mind Fail.

I know sometimes it's better to "imagine the visual that's being described" vs. actually being shown something, but I still can't recall what possessed me to produce this strip. It's loosely tied to spring break, which had just passed. It gave me a chance to draw Nick nearly naked, featuring a six-pack that was often mistaken for something else entirely. Worst of all, it features a stolen punchline. It was true to character, but that's no excuse. I promise to do better next strip.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Required: intimate knowledge of dorm room furniture.

I've always liked this strip for its simplicity and sheer selfishness on Nick's part. Hey, I have a bed, you have a bed, but neither of us has a Universal-type weightlifting apparatus. Why don't you surrender your bed so I can have just that? In retrospect, I'm not sure the phrasing of the last panel--or the drawing--brings the gag full circle. A cursory reader might assume Nick constructed the machine out of only bike parts, even though the mattress is clearly visible. Do I overthink? Lastly, what the heck kind of machine is that anyway? Some kind of horrific forearm/quad combo? Count me out.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Parental Advisory Warning.

Believe it or not, this strip was considered "racy" in its day. At least by me--I was a little nervous submitting this to my editor. I needn't have worried; unlike my very first strip, it ran without incident. A short while later, a girl in my dorm asked me if that was one of the strips that was based in reality (i.e. autobiographical). I assured her it was not--who walks around in real life setting themselves up for punch lines like that (let alone wears trench coats and gloves in college)? Only much later did I realize that she might have been hitting on me. It was such a rare occurrence, it just sailed right by. Note: this was the same girl who asked me during freshman orientation if I "partied." I nodded, oblivious to the super-specific meaning she had in mind. I thought she meant if I were invited, would I would attend a party? Sure--who wouldn't? I did a lot of growing up in college.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

All Eighties, All the Time.

What better way to date your material than with topical Top 40 references? This is a cheap shot, one-off strip, loosely relying on characterization. I remember the most challenging aspect was to devise a convincing handwriting for each of the characters. "Keeping the Faith" most closely resembles my actual handwriting at the time. These days, of course, it's nearly illegible, as the keyboard has subsumed everything I used to do by hand. Well, almost everything. I still like the linework and the overall balance of this strip, particularly Patty's upper body in the last panel.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Theft: the sincerest form of flattery.

Another anomaly here. You'll notice (depending on your scrutiny of my drawing style) that this strip doesn't quite match the ones on either side of it. Confession: it's another reproduction. Only instead of selling the original, it was stolen from the stat camera room of the Daily Tar Heel! An inside job at that! At first I was enraged, because I dutifully picked up all my originals on the way home from class and stored them in a big pile over my desk (lugging all those originals around for years made assembling the book a helluva lot easier, I tell you what). Eventually, I treated it as a compliment, although the thief could have accomplished the same thing by clipping out the strip from the newspaper and taping on his or her dorm room door. Maybe I should check eBay and see if I can buy it back.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The diet of a freshman.

I admit, I never cooked a Pop-Tart in my dorm room, but only because I didn't have a toaster oven. In fact, I think they were banned, along with hot plates. What I did have was a Hot Pot, which provided me with all manner of coffee, tea, soup and oatmeal my freshman year. Other staples: pot pies, tuna sandwiches, mac and cheese, peanut butter & jelly, cereal, salad and cottage cheese. Seriously, I can't think of anything else I ate that first year in the dorm. Plus, I had to save room in the tiny square refrigerator for Black Label and Goebel.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Beer and Violence.

What I like about this strip is how the humor comes from both a character trait (Nick's borderline alcoholism) and a sight gag. It's a delicate balance, and even today, professional comic strips have a hard time being consistent AND funny day after day. (Charles Schulz once said "A cartoonist is someone who must draw the same thing day after day after day without repeating himself.") But a strip like this epitomizes everything I was going for at the time: fun to read and fun to look at. It's also a good example of why I ended up in advertising--telling a verbal and visual story in as little time as possible. Basically, that's a commercial.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

This strip is smokin'!

I hit something of a peak with this series of strips. And, as usual, art was imitating life. We'd had a run of fire drills in Morrison at the time, and we were all getting pretty sick of them. Looking back, I wonder if this strip appealed only to those Morrison dwellers at that particular period of time. Talk about your narrow audience. But I think the experience was universal enough--all dorms were required to have fire drills occasionally. We just happened to have more than our fair share there for a while. I'd like to say the fire drills interrupted something important or romantic, but most likely, it was just mundane studying or listening to one of my 5 CDs.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Unmistakably Eighties.

I played the hell out of Trivial Pursuit in high school, and even into college. I even spent one entire New Year's Eve sitting cross-legged hunched over that well-worn board, sneaking gulps of beer with three other equally nerdy friends. Then, as now, my strongest categories were pink (arts and entertainment) and yellow (history). I tended to fall short on geography and sports questions. We bought a few additional card packs through the years (I distinctly remember the Silver Screen edition), but nothing ever measured up to the thrill of the original. A few weeks ago (at my request), my boys tried to buy me Trivial Pursuit for the Wii, but it was sold out everywhere. Could it possibly be making a comeback?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Inconsistency alert!

Boy, oh, boy will the Detail Geeks have a field day with this one! What do you mean, no one ever read this strip twice? I see. Well, maybe this strip can find a new home on the Sunday comics page in the "Can you spot the differences?" section. Look closely at the nearly useless secondary character. Notice anything glaring in panel #2? Yes, freckles! Freckles I had meant to include every time this character appeared in the strip, but for some reason, forgot to. Chalk it up to indifference, a tight deadline or an overabundance of Goebel's the night before.