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Category: Cartoons

Meanwhile, Back at the Website
In case you’ve missed it, for the last three years I’ve been grinding out a graphic novel based on my comic strip Subconscious Comics. Now the writing, the drawing, the coloring, and the building of a Kickstarter campaign are done. I raised the money I needed to print and publish Head Start. All that’s left now is the nuts and bolts of getting it out to my stalwart backers. Thanks to all of you.

As I return my focus to timeagan.com, I notice that we are reaching another milestone. Over the last two decades, I have been on a path to republishing all one thousand episodes of Subconscious, starting with the strips from 2000 and working backward toward the very first installments from the end of 1980. Two weeks ago, I finally began posting strips from 1981.

After such a long time, I only barely recognize some of these strips. It’s almost as if I’m getting to experience them in the same way others did — just with a 40-year time delay. The drawing style (to my eye) changed a lot over the life of the strip. The Boss looks pretty much the same, but Nemo, the other characters, and the topography of the subconscious have evolved and matured.

Not Nemo’s personality, though, nor any of the other characters’. I am proud to say that they have remained consistent in that way. Nemo is still as calm, centered — and detached — as he ever was. The Boss is still a tangle of complexes and neuroses. Ava didn’t arrive until 1985 (so you won’t see her again as postings head backward in time toward that very first episode), but she has brought that same fire ever since she arrived.

I seem to have slipped into a reverie about my comic strip. That wasn’t my intention, really. Still, I am struck by the fact that, in producing the graphic novel, I’ve put those old characters back in the front row of my mind. They re-entered my daily thoughts for the first time in decades.

It appears I am more attached to them than I had realized. Strange. They’re imaginary people, after all. And not even people — creatures of the subconscious. Cartoon creatures of the subconscious. Even so, I will miss them — again — if they go away.
The Boss
Over the last 20 years, I have not drawn more than a sketch or two of the Boss. The Boss, you might know, is the main character in my comic strip, Subconscious Comics. For the twenty years prior to that, I had drawn him almost every day. Now that I am once again drawing him regularly, I am enjoying the process of getting re-acquainted.

When you don’t see someone for along time, there is a tendency to stop thinking about them, even if you were once close. It’s the same with a made-up character. As is often the case with real people, if you were close, sometimes the old, easy familiarity can return pretty quickly. That’s the way it’s been with me and the Boss.

I had forgotten how much he reminds me of Daffy Duck. That’s not too surprising, I guess. I never consciously set out to model the Boss after him, but Daffy was always my favorite animated character: zany, melodramatic, cunning, and utterly hapless. And very funny. I see now that I imprinted that same brand of persona on my chimp-in-underpants.

I had been working in earnest on the script for my comic novel — in which he is a key player — for nearly nine months. Curiously, however, I didn’t really begin our re-acquaintance until I started drawing him again. As I wrote his parts in the script, he remained a distant figure in my mind, and only when I drew his facial expressions did he fully come alive. It’s a bit like talking to your old friend on the phone as compared to seeing him or her in person.

As with Daffy, you are forced to forgive a lot if you’re going the like the Boss. He is vain, calculating, and insincere, but oddly innocent. Maybe that’s what makes him charming (at least to me). And even though I know him pretty well, I am seeing him now with fresh eyes.

One thing I’ve noticed: he has not aged. Some comics characters do, of course, like Blondie’s Alexander and Cookie Bumstead, but not the Boss. There is a character in Subconscious Comics who stands in for the older version of the hosting human, but the boss is forever early-middle-aged. It’s hard to know what age Daffy is, but whatever that age is, he is frozen there.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m “friends” with either of these characters. I like them, though, and I’m always glad to see them again. In the case of Daffy, I have to settle for cartoons I’ve seen many times. I don’t count his more recent incarnations because they are not voiced by the departed genius Mel Blanc, whose depictions added so much to the character’s persona.

With the Boss, though, I can cast him in new situations with new possibilities. For me, he’s forever fresh and new… like a real person. He’s just ink on paper, though. I can’t shake his hand, or hang out at the bar with him, or have him over to the house. Come to think of it, I can’t do much of that with my flesh and blood friends, either. Maybe the Boss will have to do until the real thing returns.
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
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz