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Category: Cartoons

Going Public
I’ve been keeping a secret for a while now, but I’m about to go public with it. In fact, I’m doing it right here and now with this blog. I’ve talked about it to friends and family, but no one else. Maybe I was just being superstitious…as if just the act of blabbing about it might keep it from happening.

But that’s over. My big secret is… I’m making a book. It will be about 100 pages, hardbound, with a full color bleed on good quality paper. For awhile, I was calling it a graphic novel, but that never sounded right to me. “Book” is what I’m going with, even though it’s really a comic novel. If you wonder what that is, exactly, think of the Scrooge McDuck adventures created by the great Carl Barks. The art and storytelling of those comic books set formidable standards of cartoon excellence … ones that I will be reaching for with my book.

Head First has been sitting on the desktop of my computer for over twenty years, waiting for its moment. The file contained bits of plot summary, dialogue, and a list of conundrums needing to be solved. I would go in every once in awhile and tinker with it, but never really got serious until I stopped producing Deep Cover on a weekly basis. That opened up a hole in my work schedule. I’ve been working on the book ever since, hammering out the script, sketching characters, streamlining the plot.

The original idea for the book dates back to the mid-90s when my partner and I were trying to get Subconscious Comics made into a movie. We actually made some decent progress toward that goal. By the time we finally threw in the towel, we had churned out a treatment and then a script, found an enthusiastic agent, and collected a passel of near misses from studios both big and small. In the end, though, nothing came of it, and the dream went into hibernation.

At the end of my scintillating brush with Hollywood, however, I did come up with an idea for a second script, also with Subconscious Comics at its core. I worked on it for a short while, but since my agent had moved on and I had no place to go with my brainchild, I ran out of gas. My work on it all went into the file on my desktop, and that’s where it stayed until last summer when I opened it up again and got started wrestling with it in earnest.

At this point, I’ve worked through several sets of roughs, and finally, last week, I started inking. There is still a long way to go, but now it’s just a matter of executing. Even my superstition cannot stop me. What’s more, I find that I am truly excited by the prospect of completing the book…excited in a way that is new to me, and that is exciting in itself. But enough said about that. My superstition is starting to tingle again.

If you are a Subcon fan or if you’d just like to peek over my shoulder while I work, I invite you to search for “timeagancartoons” on Instagram and watch as the work unfolds. The inking has been a little slow here at the beginning (and that’s fine), but I’m guessing that the pace will pick up a bit as I go on. It will take at least a year, maybe even two, to finish. At this point, I foresee posting a detail every other day or so until I’m done.

As I envision the project here at the beginning, most of the posts from the book will be in black and white. That is because I intend to do all the inking first, then come back and do the color. As I post details from individual pages, though, I will likely include a few color experiments using old Subcon strips as the source of my line art. With the exception of the cover art for The Collected Subconscious in the 80s, my drawings for Subconscious Comics have never been touched by color.

So now my secret’s out. Hope I didn’t jinx it. When the book is finally in my hand, fresh from the printer and ready to send out into the world, you will be the first to know.
My Undead Neanderthal
Alley Oop, as I have said, used to to be one of my favorite comic strips. It has an apish caveman, a time machine, dinosaurs, and a fully human girlfriend who is jaw-drop gorgeous. What’s not to like?

When you add to that the cross-medium immortality that came with the Hollywood Argyles’ 1960 rock ’n’ roll classic “Alley Oop,” you’ve got a strip that has to be in the running for top five of all time (Calvin and Hobbes, L’il Abner, Krazy Kat, and Nancy would round out my list).

I’m pretty sure those other strips all ended when they should have — when their creators moved on. Oop, however, has persisted as a comic zombie. He has been re-animated by a succession of artists and writers under the corporate control of Andrews McMeel and a string of equally soulless predecessor syndicates.

The latest incarnation of this living death recasts the title character as a goofy wisecracker who time travels through a chain of parallel universes while trying to simultaneously spin out a gag a day. Neither the jokes nor the story are enough to keep me going. I only return to the strip because of my morbid fascination with a once noble character forced to live on as one of the undead.

I won’t blame writer Joey Alison Sayers and artist Jonathan Lemon, who currently crank out the Oop strip. They’re producing a daily comic and making a few bucks at it, which is a good thing. In fact, I give them credit for daring to take on a big challenge with the strip: telling a continuing story that produces a laugh every episode. Those two goals are daunting enough by themselves; together, they are next to impossible.

People don’t pay attention to daily comic strips the way they used to. Newspapers are in decline, and with all the competition from other media, there just isn’t enough attention to go around. The drawings have gotten smaller, dropped their color, and narrowed their focus. If you try to stitch together a multi-part story, readers who miss a day can easily lose the thread of your narrative. Once that happens, you're likely to lose them permanently.

Sayers and Lemon do have the benefit of a recognizable and well-liked lead character, and they have tried to use that familiarity as much as possible. Their work has been a marked improvement over that of the two previous caretakers of the strip. They have added a fresh voice and vision of their own in trying to make it work. I salute them for their efforts.

Sadly, however, it has all been in vain. Poor ol’ Alley Oop is dead. Dead as an undead Neanderthal. All that remains is a decent burial for a once-great comic strip star. Once again, I pray to the cartoon gods to end his misery…and mine.
Blink
Just in case you weren’t paying attention last week, I didn’t post anything new here on timeagan.com. That was the first time in seventeen years that that has happened.

In other words, I blinked. Even though seventeen years is a long time to keep your eyes wide open, I was surprisingly casual about the lapse — especially since (I should tell you) it could mean an even longer hiatus for my political cartoon, Deep Cover. I’m not sure how long this will last, but when I got to last Tuesday afternoon, when I normally would have begun to focus in earnest on putting the cartoon together, I found that I wasn’t really that interested in doing it. It seemed like a good time to stop and think, so much so that I decided to let Subcon and Eaganblog go, too.

The juice just wasn’t there, and I’m not really certain why. I hope it’s not because of the depressing, relentless trend we all see in the news. I hope it’s not my own disillusionment with our democracy and the cravenness of our politicians. I hope it’s not a sign that my view of humanity, which I thought was balanced and clear-eyed, has changed to something darker and less optimistic. And I hope Trump hasn’t driven me out of the political satire game.

I don’t think he has, given my long history as a political junkie. But I can’t deny that some of the fun has gone out of it. Hundreds, if not thousands of children are being hideously abused in my name (and yours) at the border. Cruelty is mistaken for toughness by the President’s followers. Indeed, cruelty is seen as a good thing in and of itself by some of those people. Beyond that, incompetence and corruption and rampaging abuse of power are shrugged off by the same party that honors Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt in its hall of heroes. And no end in sight.

It is a dark time, no doubt, and maybe this is just the time I should be digging deeper for that one, deeply incisive cartoon that cuts to the heart of some universal truth and changes the world. And maybe that will still happen…sometime. Just not right now. I’ve got to save myself, or I won’t be ready for that moment of clarity when it comes.

I’ve posted a Vintage Deep Cover this week, just to keep that consciousness alive. And maybe I’ll post an original now and then if it strikes me. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Subconscious Comics goes on forever — in a world all its own where blinking isn’t even possible. And Eaganblog, too, as you have just discovered. See you next week
Make a Face
When I teach cartooning, my first lesson tries to help my students find a character they like. Ideally, the persona they create should be one they can live with, one who can help them tell their story. As a way of looking for that character, we explore different facial expressions, especially as indicated by the mouth, the eyes, and the eyebrows.

Those three simple elements can communicate a wide array of human emotions. We usually go with anger first. For that emotion, the eyes are wide, the mouth turns down at the corners, and the eyebrows slant down in the middle. It is the least ambivalent of all expressions, one that everyone recognizes immediately.

After anger, I ask my students to change one of the elements. We swap out the frown for a smile. The eyes and eyebrows remain the same, but that one change makes a big difference in the emotional impact on the face. While anger is an intimidating expression, what we have now qualifies as frightening. It is a face of evil — with an edge of madness.

This face always gets a big reaction from the 13-year-olds who normally make up my classes — especially the boys. They receive the message of that face loud and clear, and it goes through them like a thrill of electricity. Danger, menace, and fear will do that, even if the character is a little bunny. Inevitably, some of the young cartoonists will seize on this expression and make it the defining feature of their character’s personality.

Unfortunately, pure evil is not the most promising character trait for good storytelling. Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil and Felonious Gru of “Despicable Me” are evil main characters, but their evil side is played against their own cluelessness, and always for laughs. Most of my students, however, aren’t interested in that kind of complexity. They just want the danger and the menace. I do what I can to gently dissuade them, but it’s not my job to tell them their creations are doomed to fail. The stories they produce tend to be about bad characters doing bad things, and even they find that result a bit boring. That’s when I allow myself to step in with suggestions.

I don’t have that option when it comes to cartoon characters I see popping up the wider culture. When I see characters displaying wide-eyed evil out there, there is nothing I can do to warn their creators away from this course of action.

I would probably be ignored anyway; evil is wildly popular these days. You see it a lot in the universe of team mascots, for instance. I am not sure why maniacal wickedness is chosen as a desirable quality when it comes to athletics, but these demented creatures are everywhere in the world of sports. Perhaps it is thought to be intimidating. Personally, if I were designing a representative for my team, I would choose something with cold-eyed determination. That trait, at least, might contain the possibility of strategic thinking or at least guile. Such attributes have proven value when it comes to winning, and that’s the whole point, after all. Even simple ferocity would be a better choice for that purpose than batshit crazy mean.

It’s the same appeal felt by those teenage boys, I guess. People think evil is cool or hip or funny or something, and I find that disturbing. And it’s not just in sports. I see skulls (which don’t take much tweaking to look evil) appearing as tattoos everywhere these days. Surfing and skateboarding brands like Spitfire feature evil-looking characters as the face of their businesses. Isn’t this glorification and monetization of evil, like, a bad thing? Not to mention kind of boring?

If anyone were listening, I might suggest that these image creators go instead with sardonic, which is a similar expression. That’s the look Matthew McConaughey gets when he’s driving around in his Lincoln. The eyebrows are down in the middle, as they are with anger and evil, but the smile is only a half smile and the eyes aren’t wide with emotion but calm instead. A wiseguy grin under a dark brow. Sardonic. It’s still not the friendliest of expressions, but at least I’d be open to any story that character might have to tell.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon