Category Archives: Comics

Vote Early and Often

A couple of things about voting. First of all, my work colleague and carpool buddy, Sean McArdle, has a comic book project in the top three of Platinum Studios’ 2008 Comic Book Challenge. He’s made the jump from the Top 50 to the Top 10 thanks to the judges, and voters have put his project into the Top 3. Now it’s up to voters to choose the top entry, which will win, among other things, a publishing contract with Platinum – kind of like American Idol, only with super powers and wearing spandex. Wait a minute…

(Speaking of Idol and voting in this manner, I’ve never seen the logic in letting people cast as many ballots as their endurance allowed – especially since there’s technology to at least slow it way down. I suppose they went the easy route and decided if you can’t totally beat them, join them Oh, well.)

So here’s the link to Sean’s project. Vote early and often. And here’s the main page if you want to get a look at the competition.

In the meantime, I’m done with the redesign of this site. When I made the flip to this current version, I said I had been in a mood when I came up the the previous design. Well, I must have been in a mood when I did this one, too. Have you looked at it lately? Manila folders with red Dynamo labels, indeed.

Anyway, the new design is a lot cleaner and uses some tricksy CSS technology to display the data. I’m happy with it, and I think I’ll work until I change my mind again. So far, that happens about once a year or less.

Look for the redesign to launch on September 3rd, in conjunction with… something else.

I’m also in the process of compiling a to-do list that I thought I would post here. Long-time readers know that I do this from time to time to push myself to get things done. It’s no quite ready, but I’ll get it posted soon, I hope.

But don’t look for immediate progress when the list goes up. I’m a little busy until after the first Tuesday in November:


Celluloid Lio

From my friend Scoob comes a bit of news that I should be happy about – but I’m not sure I am.

He sent me this article discussing how plans are afoot to bring my favorite comic strip, Lio, to the big screen.

(“But Faust,” I hear you cry, “I thought Calvin and Hobbes was your favorite strip!” Of course it is – I think it’s the best comic strip of all time. But alas, it is no longer in production. And of all the current crop of strips out there, Lio is my hands-down favorite, appealing directly to the part of my funny bone that loved Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson.)

While I’d love to see this happen and get the strip more exposure (none of the local papers here carry it, so I get it delivered daily to my inbox from here), I can’t help but think that this is a bad idea. True, the Addams Family movies were well done for being based on a series of spot comics, but there are some differences with Lio. First and foremost, it’s a pantomime strip. While there are onomotopaeic sound effects and the occasional label or sign, Lio is silent (although others have been known to talk). Those of you who don’t think this is a problem haven’t seen the first Mr. Bean movie, where they couldn’t make it through without having his Mostly Muteness talk (and shame on me, I haven’t seen the second film yet).

While the right director could make a go of this (I’m thinking Barry Sonnenfeld, who made the Addams family films, could pull it off – much less so Cinematical’s other candidate, Tim Burton, who is too uneven and heavy handed with his own vision), the odds of it being a bust are high. But I’m guessing the odds are even higher of it actually making it to actual production.

So while I hope that if it does get made, it’s great. If it’s not great, there’s still the strip to fall back on. What if it doesn’t get made? Eh. Thanks to Bill Watterson, there’ll never be a Calvin and Hobbes movie, and I’m fine with that, too. My advice to Lio’s creator, Mark Tatulli, is to take the advance and run. And I’m speaking from experience.

I Got Some Catching Up To Do

The sun is out and The Darkest Month has about melted away. I’ve had a couple of passing urges to pick up a pen, but couldn’t seem to decide, or perhaps was unwilling to contemplate, which set of words I should direct to come out of the other end.

Since it has been a while since I have arranged electrons for display, I suppose I should catch you up on what has been happening. I’ve been busy, but that is with the everyday kind of stuff. Nothing earthshatteringly creative or anything like that.

Here’s some notes on what I’ve been up to, and some other random postings:

I Visited St. Paul in the Dead of Winter
My son posted and won a job inside the Large Corporate Giant he works for. It entails a raise, a promotion, and a move to what is probably the next state that Sufjan Stevens will write an album about: Minnesota. Specifically, St. Paul.

My father-in-law and I loaded up most of his earthly belongings and drove him up there during The Darkest Month. As it turns out, the time we chose had a special relationship with three massive storms that hit the state in general and the city in particular – we missed the first one by a day or so; we drove into the second one (and nearly got marooned in Madison, WI), and we left STP just hours before the third one hit and outran the sucker coming back to Ohio.

Not much time for a lot of tourism, but we did swing by the Mall of America just to say we’d been there. The next trip out will be the More Fun, I hope.

When I Say I Died Onstage, I Really Mean It
I auditioned for and was cast in the local community theater production of To Kill A Mockingbird. While I told the director I’d play the picket fence just to be in the show, I snagged a juicy role – Bob Ewell, the drunk, racist, child beating-and-molesting villain of the piece.

Given that I’ve played Nazis (The Sound of Music and The Diary of Anne Frank) and an anti-semitic tool of the Tsar (Fiddler on the Roof), I guess this was just the next step up – or down – for me.

And for the first time I get to actually lie dead onstage.

I’ll try and remember to post the details on the Appearances page.

The Rock Hall Restrospective on The Clash Had Nothing To Do With It

I bought a Fender Telecaster. It’s a basic Standard Telecaster, MIM (Made In Mexico) with a black finish, just filled with twangy single coil goodness. I stole bought it from a friend at church who had it as a backup but didn’t really need it.

I also did see the exhibit on The Clash at the Rock Hall, and yeah, Joe Strummer was a dedicated Telecaster player. I wanted one before, though (and I think the purchase was made before – I don’t remember now).

I need to make note that Johnny Hart, creator of the comic strip B.C., passed away over the weekend. I always knew about the strip in the paper, but didn’t develop an appreciation for it until I went through some of my brother’s paperback B.C. strip collections, and for years I was hooked. During its heyday, the caveman strip was the focal point for edgy, subversive humor within the realm of the daily funnies, and it was a definite influence on me during my Cartoonist Wannabe stage.

I drifted away from the comics page entirely over the years, and when I came back in time for The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, I thought B.C. had lost some its edge (as had Peanuts). When Hart underwent a religious conversion, he carried it over to his strip. Not everyone appreciated it, but I for one especially looked forward to see what he would do for his Easter Sunday strip.

It’s rumored that the strip will continue, making use of scanned and recycled images from Hart’s own catalog of work, with outside writers. I hope that’s not the case. Nor would I like to see it recycled, rerunning old strips as is happening with Peanuts and Lil Abner. I don’t think that’s appropriate, either, and I wish the estates of Schultz and Capp felt the same way.

Were it up to me, I would just let these strip go, let them rest, and let Hart and the others be remembered for their best work – and let it be collected into book form.

By the way, Hart died at his drafting table.

NP – Pat Metheny Group, “Across The Heartland” (American Garage

The Cult of Mary Worth

This was just going to be a simple post. I realized after writing about character names that I’d left one category out – that of Anagrams. I was going to cite the name I had in my children’s book for a goofy alien despot, Diputs, as an example (read it backwards and you’ll figure out why my then-agent Kurt Busiek requested I change it to something else, which I did).

Another recent example is… or rather was until very recently… found on the comics page – Aldo Kelrast, the unwanted love interest of comic strip meddler Mary Worth. Maybe it was because I think about words a lot, but it was rather obvious from the setup of the story that Aldo’s last name is an anagram of the word stalker, which should give you an idea of how that particular story arc went.

My overall recommendation is to avoid this kind of naming, unless you’re working the way Joseph Heller did in Catch 22 or Kurt Vonnegut did in almost everything he wrote. In a more mainstream work, you run the risk of tipping your hand too soon, as happened with Mr. Kelrast in Mary Worth. Unless it’s really obscure like in Rosemary’s Baby, where an anagramed name turned out to be an important clue (I don’t know if it’s in the book – I’ve only seen the movie). In a novel with a looser grip on reality, these kind of names are fine because it doesn’t matter if you tip your hand – in that kind of book, it’s the trip that counts, not the surprise.

But this brought up a painful question: What is Joe Clifford Faust doing reading Mary Worth? Actually, I’m not. I’ve kept up with it by osmosis: one of my regular reads is The Comics Curmudgeon, Josh Fruhlinger’s mostly-daily take on the funny pages (and the lack of funniness in them). Mary Worth is one of his many targets, and the start of the Aldo Kelrast story arc sent Josh and many of his readers into a frenzy – one he wisely called Aldomania. He even started selling Aldomania t-shirts out of the trunk of his blog.

But this was only the tip of the iceberg. When Aldo learned the hard way that drinking, driving, and sharp turns on fortuitously placed cliffs don’t mix, there was an outpouring of… well, I guess you could call it grief… on Josh’s comments page (more than 350 comments when I last looked). As creepy as it seems, the Captain Kangaroo lookalike stalker (and that resemblance was intentional, according to the strip’s creative team) caught the fancy of comics readers across the country. Many are in denial that Aldo has really gone on to that great restraining order in the sky, because after all, this is the comics page, and nobody really dies – they just get dropped by their syndicate.

All this Mary Worthiness had been unsettling for me since I never really gave that strip a second look (I will admit to being hooked on a storyline in Rex Morgan, M.D. several years ago, until I realized that all the Rex Morgan storylines were that way). I feel like I’m at the point where I’m being offered the red or the blue pill, and I’m not sure that I want to know how far down the rabbit hole really goes.

As an example, here’s a link to something that is simultaneously eerie, surreal, and hilarious. A group of aspiring filmmakers shot a storyline from a series of Mary Worth strips, trying their best to replicate the look and feel of the strip as you see it in the paper – it’s in black and white, and the actors hold the stilted poses of the characters as seen in print. It comes across almost like a Bergman film, or perhaps Sin City gone mild.

I will say that the rabbit hole does extend to the not-long-for-this-world For Better or For Worse. Like Mary Worth, its audience falls into two camps, those that like it, and those who keep reading it so they can revile in what they see as a Plan Nine from Outer Space badness.

As for that strip, I always felt that it fell into same trap as Funky Winkerbean – I don’t think that either strip is drawn well enough to sustain dramatic story arcs, and when they have humor, the funny business doesn’t strike me as funny. In the case of Funky Winkerbean, I always felt that since the 1992 Reboot, Tom Batiuk was struggling to make his strip “relevant” by making his characters alcoholics and giving them cancer. I like the way that Josh analyzes this strip: “Is Funky Winkerbean where joy goes to die?”

And speaking of strips on the way out, it looks as if Boondocks may not be returning. This is another one I won’t miss. Yes, there’s a market for a hip urban comic strip, but I don’t think the underlying tone of bitterness in Boondocks did the urban community any favors. Hopefully the disappearance of this strip will open the door for something a little more positive for that market, without the blandless of For Better or For Worse.

So is there anything I like on the comics page? Let me put it this way: every day in my e-mail in-box I get the greatest comic strip ever: Calvin and Hobbes.

Now some among you may be saying, “Hey, Faust, you’re badmouthing the funny pages, but have you ever tried to write a comic strip?” To you I reply, actually, yes I have.

See you in the… nahhh. I’m not going to say it.

It’s the boundary I desire
There is always room enough to feel
Miles and miles of hilly road ahead
And she’s got one hand on my heart
And one hand on the wheel

(via iTunes shuffle play)

Scary Monsters

More fodder from my friend Scoob, spinning off of an e-mail discussion we were having about comic books part of which was referenced here. Only this part of the conversation has to do with fear. Namely, things that scared me as a child.

Growing up in the 1960’s was a fairly idyllic time, at least in the front half of the decade. During the back half, my father became convinced that anarchy might break out at any time, given all the increasing rioting over the Vietnam war, and one day he brought something home. He was prone to doing that, bringing home surprises from his long days on the road. But instead of a chiming table clock or a Rouvaun album, he brought home a blue steel Smith and Wesson .38 special. Took me out in the middle of nowhere to shoot at a coffee can, and when I had gone through a cylinder full of bullets, he smiled and said, “You’re a better shot than your mother.”

That didn’t scare me, though, because this took place in Worland, Wyoming, a sleepy little town on the badlands side of the Bighorn Mountains, where the most threatening thing was the ash from the sugar factory that settled over everything overnight. The fighting in the jungle and on college campuses that I saw on the TV didn’t seem real to me, and to his credit, Dad never told me why he bought the gun – I pieced that together over the years. He didn’t want me to worry, I guess, because he was worried enough for all of us.

No, I was scared of more important things. Things that mattered to a nine year-old kid. Here are some of my childhood fears, in chronological order:

  • The opening to the TV series The Outer Limits
    That ringing rrrrrrrrrrrrr sound and that voice… “We control the horizontal… we control the vertical…” They were controlling our TV set from far away! Never occurred to me that a), that opening was probably the scariest thing about the show, and b), I had control of the TV myself in the form of the OFF switch. Tell that to a six year-old.
  • Daleks
    I’ve mentioned here before how, before we moved to Worland, we lived in Canada for enough time for me to come back spelling and talking funny – and how I got to see episodes of Doctor Who fresh off the boat from being filmed in the U.K. I’ve seen that lost episode about Marco Polo (he was scary, too), but nothing matched the Doctor’s eternal enemy the Daleks for sheer hide-behind-the-couch terror (and I should confess at this point that I always went back for more). This would endear me to the Britcom Coupling many decades later, when the lead character declared that the only thing couches were good for was “hiding from Daleks.”
  • That horrible villain who took away the Blackhawks’ senses
    A World War II fighting team co-created by the brilliant Wil Eisner, by the 1960’s the Blackhawks were being shoved into superhero molds by D.C. comics. I still loved them as only a little kid can, at least until they came out with this cover, which showed each Blackhawk losing something that was really important to him – touch, sight, sound, etc. It was just too creepy for a little kid like me. I never bought the issue.
  • Virus X
    In a sleepy drug store in sleepy Worland, Wyoming there was a sleepy rack of comic books where I made my selection every week. That is, until Superman got Virus X, a form of Kryptonian leprosy. Noooo! Worst of all, there was no cure! Superman… super leper! I looked at the comic in the store, but was too terrified to buy it. I think I might have been afraid that I would carry Virus X home with me if I did. Worst of all, it was a serial story, so I had to go back each month to see what happened to Superman in what had to be his darkest hour.

    Interestingly enough, before the run was over, I had my first peek of writer’s prescience. At one point in the story arc, something happened that clicked inside of my ten year-old brain. That’s it! That insignificant thing that happened is going to be what cures Superman!. And sure enough, the next month, that’s what happened.

    Now that I’m a grownup, I’ve decided to collect this run of comics for the sake of sheer nostalgia. You’ll also be interested to know that I wasn’t the only kid terrified out of his socks by this story – check out a complete synopsis, along with another confession of terror in this excellent write up of the Virus X story arc.

  • Classic Trek
    As a kid I was also lucky enough to see the adventures of James T. Kirk and the Enterprise first run. And a couple of the episodes scared me to death. It wasn’t the people with rays coming out of their eyes (although the strangulation scene made me nervous). Nor was it the salt-seeking creature that wanted to fix it’s suction cup paws on McCoy’s face. No, what scared me to death was Operation: Annihilate!, where blobby creatures injected a stinger that wrapped itself around your spine and made you go insane. And that disease in Miri, (which took place on a carbon copy of Earth), where this disease made the kids live a long time, but the grownups got this blue-green fungus that rotted them away.

Interestingly enough, from this list you can see the core of what my base childhood fear might have been – invasive, icky diseases. Maybe that’s because I went through the whole regimen of Chicken Pox, Measles and Rubella, and the idea of getting sick with something that presented on your skin was just too much for me to take. Nowadays, I’m no longer terrified of them, but I do find them rather horridly fascinating, like that Morgellon’s thing that’s cropping up right now.

So why bring any of this up at all? Because, with a little work, you can channel your fears, old or new, into your work – with the prospect of having a fresh idea you can deal with, more writing under your belt when you finish it, and perhaps even a little personal exorcism while you’re at it. That’s three birds with one stone.

Regular readers might be leaping up at this moment and saying, “so that’s where that icky disease in A Death of Honor came from!” Well, yes and now. Childhood fears did influence Honor, but it wasn’t disease. It was part of my extended family.

About the time I was busy being scared by Virus X and creepy Star Trek diseases, I realized something else. There were certain relatives that I dreaded visits from. And even while the comic and TV terrors faded, the dread of these relatives would linger on for several more years.

They were what I call doom ‘n’ gloom conservatives. When they got together, they would all talk about the state of the handbasket was that this country was in. One used to brag, “When the Commies take over, I’m going to be the first one they shoot!” Virus X couldn’t begin to contend with the fact that the Soviets were massing tanks at the North Pole, and Canada (“Nothing more than a socialist puppet state!”) would do nothing to hinder them from rolling south across the border until they were in the town square, where they would hang people from the sleepy lamp poles.

By the time I was in my twenties, I wasn’t scared any more. Not even by Jimmy Carter’s playing of the Nuclear Fear card during a debate with Ronald Reagan (“I asked my daughter Amy what the most pressing issue facing mankind was and she said, ‘Nuclear war'”). I might have been angry about all of that nonsense I had to listen to as a kid, but mostly I think I was fed up. Honor wasn’t supposed to be a political novel at all, but I decided to use the nightmare scenario of a Soviet-dominated world just to wash some of whatever debris remained out of my system.

And, well, you know the rest.

It can be argued that writers are exploiters. They exploit things around them, mostly in a very benign way, in order to construct their stories. Tales or incidents from folks. Things that happen to others. Stories written by others that they have put their own unique twist on. So why not exploit your own fears? Planned or not, I probably saved a bundle on psychotherapy bills.

Plus I got six grand and a published novel out of the deal.* You can’t beat that with a stick.

Celebrate we will
‘Cause life is short
But sweet for certain hey
We climb two by two
To be sure these days continue
Things we cannot change

(via iTunes)

*Your individual neurosis may vary. Current performance is not an indicator of future results.

What Makes Something Funny? (Part 3)

Ace of Spades HQ takes a break from political commentary to discuss the eternal question (and one that has brought many Googlers to these pages), “What makes something funny?”

Ace kicks off by discussing a formula for humor as set forth by Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his new blog. According to Adams, humor is created, Chinese menu style, by combining more than one of the following elements: Cute, Naughty, Bizarre, Clever, Recognizable, and Cruel. In his book, choose two and you have funny. Choose four and you’ve knocked the ball out of the park. Choose five and you have unapproachable genius, something that only Bill Watterson in Calvin and Hobbes has done.

No word on what six of six is. It’s either this Jandek album, or, more likely, the funniest joke in the world, as conceived by Monty Python.

To bolster his formula, Adams shows analyzes a couple of neophyte comic strips and discusses what made Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side so brilliant, in light of his formula. I should note here that I disagree with Adams’ feelings on Calvin and Hobbes. He contends that the strip fell flat when the gags centered around the parents. To my mind, some of the most memorable gags occurred when you realized how the parents had to connive and scheme in order to deal with Calvin. Plus, C & H was about more than just the humor. Yes, it was consistently funny, but it was also beautifully drawn and expertly paced and timed. There’s a reason why many, including myself, consider it to be the best comic strip of all time.

(And yes, I’ve told my family that the only thing I want for Christmas this year is The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. Unless it’s that amber rosewood Nashville Telecaster that I played at the music store the other day…)

After discussing Adams/Dilbert, Ace provides us with a look at his own formula for writing humor. And what do you know, his thoughts work, too. Having read Ace for a while now, and having seen how he writes funny, I can see exactly how his formula applies. He calls it Premise and Tweak. You start with a mundane premise and then give it an out-of-left-field tweak that turns the premise on end. He gives a couple of examples that are good, albeit in a PG-13 sort of way.

What about me? This is my third outing writing about humor. I have two series of novels that are marked by their use of humor, have published one play that is a dark comedy, and am writing another that is carried along with humor. Surely I know something about the subject.

Well, the answer is that I know something is funny when I’m writing it. But I haven’t really analyzed it for what my formula is. Maybe later on down the road I’ll be able to tell you what my formula is.

In the meantime, here is what I do know about writing humor:

  1. Humor is one step away from horror and revulsion. Remember seeing Jaws for the first time? Remember how loud you screamed when the head rolled out of the wrecked boat? Remember how you laughed when it was over? You know how you laugh after someone gives you a good fright?

    Humor takes a lot of its effectiveness in the unexpected. Just like horror does. The only things that determine whether you scream or laugh are context and the other key to humor… timing.

    If you can combine the two – humor and revulsion – you get something that is unbearably funny, provided everything else works just right. There are only two movie moments in history where I was literally an inch from falling out of my seat because I was laughing so hard. One was the junction of these two elements.

    From Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: “And when they pulled the driver from the burning wreckage of the truck… he looked like THIS!”

  2. Another important factor in humor is incongruity. Hence, the reason why Ace’s humor formula works, along with a great many jokes – something comes along that doesn’t fit in, not really, but in an instant you realize it is appropriate and the surprise triggers a laugh. Such as in the joke that ends with Bill Clinton saying “Well there I was, sitting in this refrigerator, minding my own business…”

    Using incongruity is also tricky, but can pay off big time, too. The other cinematic moment that almost put me on the floor laughing uses it. That scene?

    From Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Right. One rabbit stew coming right up.”

  3. The rule of threes. Ever notice that it’s three nuns that walk into a bar? That the salesman tries three times to get into bed with the farmer’s daughter? That the penguin tries something three times before the punchline hits? That there are three guys standing in line to see St. Peter at the Pearly Gates?

    The rule of threes is important in terms of placing humor in context. In the case of the St. Peter joke, it gives you two perfectly rational explanations for why two men are waiting to get into heaven, setting you up for Bill Clinton’s story about sitting in the refrigerator. By pacing and timing the joke out, it sets you up for the incongruity.

  4. The power of humor mitigates grim circumstances. See again Jaws – the war stories sequence where three men on a boat compare scars. Right before the final battle with the shark. Or watch Robocop and think about what a grim, dark, unwatchable movie it would be if it wasn’t so bitingly funny. Incidentally, I had the idea for the Pembroke Hall novels for many years – but it wasn’t until I saw Robocop that I knew how to go about writing them. That film became my model for that project, using humor to disarm what was a very grim and unseemly premise.
  5. All the formulas work. Scott Adams’ is onto something with his formula. But so is Ace with his Premise and Tweak method. And so was Rowan Atkinson with the Rules of Comedy he gave in the PBS special Funny Business that I wish, I wish, I wish I could find on DVD.
  6. On the other hand, a lot of comedy seems to be instinctive. Some of us learn we can make people laugh and then we go back and analyze it. That’s what I’m doing in this series of posts. I suspect Ace was doing it before he realized he had a formula (if you see this, Ace, let me know). I would also bet that this is the case with Adams, too. Even Bob Hope had a formula (swiped by Woody Allen in his early, funny years).
  7. Edmund Keane was right: comedy is hard. Ask anyone that has done any theater. Which is why people who make it look so easy are gifted.
  8. For as powerful a tool as it is, humor is criminally undervalued. In my mind, two of the best film performances of 1984 were Steve Martin in All of Me and Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson. Both Oscar caliber performances, both ignored. George C. Scott was known for drama, but in my mind his best performance was brilliantly funny: as General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove. And as much as I don’t care for him, it’s a shame that audiences rejected Sylvester Stallone as a comic actor. His performance in Oscar should have taken his career in another direction.

    It’s just a shame that much of the literati rejects humor of any kind unless it is, well, woebegone.

The question is which formula works for you? Or do you have a formula of your own? If it makes people laugh, it no doubt is a winner. And if it’s something different than what I’ve discussed here, why not drop me a line and tell me about it? There’s always room in these pages for a Part 4.

Listening: Dandy Warhols, “Everyone is Totally Insane” (via iPod Shuffle)

PS. Highway Star by Deep Purple turned up in iPod Shuffle rotation while I was writing this post. Okay, okay, it’s another sign. I promise I’ll carve out some time and work on my new play this weekend.

Artists Only

Once upon a time, I also wanted to be a cartoonist. Not instead of writing – along with writing. I did both for the college newspaper, and both at different times for the paper in Gillette, Wyoming, drawing editorial cartoons one summer and writing movie reviews the next. One of my cartoons, about the retirement of Senator Cliff Hansen, earned me a note of thanks from the Senator himself. So I sent him the original, and he sent me another note to tell me that he’d had it framed.

I later tried to break out into the national markets as a single panel cartoonist, but my art style was odd and my sense of humor odder. It was tougher than breaking into print. By the time my writing began to pull ahead in the race of artistic expression, I had sold only one cartoon to a national publication, which can be seen here. Naturally, the art side of my life went by the wayside.

I haven’t drawn anything outside of doodles on a notepad while on hold for customer service in years and years and years. The last time I was drawing anything consistently was when I worked in radio between 1989 and 1992. I started drawing a comic strip based on things I saw at the radio station, and briefly entertained the thought that maybe I could sell the idea to a radio trade mag. I never did anything with it, and I think the strips, which were drawn on legal pad paper, have become lost over time.

So I haven’t thought about drawing again for a long time. Until the last couple of days, when I discovered one of the most creative blogs I’ve ever seen. It’s called 4-Block World, and it sums up life, the universe and everything in a series of diagrams containing four blocks. My immediate reaction to it was, “Man, I wish I’d thought of something like that!” Then I thought, “Maybe I could. I could make sketches and scan them…” Then I thought, “Do you really need something else competing for your creative time that you already don’t have enough of?”

Thus, the idea of picking up a pen to draw again was scratched. In the meantime, I want to direct you to some of the other art-oriented blogs that I’ve discovered over the last few weeks that also contributed to this brief flirtation.:

  • The already mentioned 4-Block World by Tom McMahon. Distilling the world and its complexities into little boxes with four panels.
  • Doug Savage’s Savage Chickens adds another interest of mine, chickens. Savage’s intellectual poultry are rendered on yellow Post-It notes, scanned, and posted on a daily basis.
  • Chris Muir’s Day By Day is the right’s answer to Doonesbury. Only Muir doesn’t resort to photocopying panels and using it over and over and over like Trudeau does.
  • Francesco Marciuliano’s day job is as the writer for the strip Sally Forth. By night he writes and draws Medium Large, a web strip that shows what a strip can be like if it’s not worried about being family friendly. The least consistent comic on this list, it does have its moments.

On another creative front, it’s a really strange feeling to be playing a Gestapo agent in the revised version of The Diary of Anne Frank. Not because of who I’m playing (although I have joked that between this and playing the Constable in Fiddler on the Roof, I won’t have any Jewish friends left), but because I’m so detached from the production. I’ve put in less than two weeks in rehearsals, and aside from a certain set of guidelines (I’m the one who takes Anne’s diary away from her), every night is a little bit different, and therefore improvised. I show up late and do my part and get out before everyone else (except for the other three Nazis). But there’s no angst over having a larger part with real lines. I’ve never done a show under these circumstances and it’s, well, different.

As long as I don’t get the urge to start doing single panel cartoons about actors in bit parts, I think I’ll be okay.

Listening: Talking Heads, “Swamp” (via iPod Shuffle)*

*Ironically, I chose the name of another Talking Heads song as title for this post before the song came up in rotation