February 21, 2014

Wherefore Art Thou, Weirdness?

Several years ago, in a fit of intense boredom while working at a calling center for a market research firm, I started drawing cartoon superheroes based on my friends. When designing these characters, I made every effort to include personality traits and quirks of the people upon whom they were based. Three of those friends were so infatuated with their alter ego characters that I began writing and drawing a comic based on them.

At first, it was just a few two-panel drawing of the standard setup/joke variety. These were so popular among my coworkers--all of them; not just the people the characters were based on--that I started work on a longer story. The first one (which I can't currently find) was about a villain obsessed with 80's hair metal and his caffeine-addicted co-villain trying to take over the world while keeping their nemesis occupied by feeding him enough cheese to bind up his colon. It ran to about nineteen pages. It was glorious. It was well-written and poorly drawn. And when it came time to name my creation, a title was suggested by the person the main character was based on: The Adventures of Bowel-Movement Man and Pee-Pee Pal.

The main cast (L-to-R): 80's Metal Man (in Bucket Head disguise),
Java Queen (in Bag Lady disguise), Pee-Pee Pal and Bowel-Movement Man

A second story included a new character who called himself Big Pinkie. He had a disturbingly large pinkie on his left hand, which he wielded like a twenty pound sledgehammer in his search for a pair of gloves that fit. A third story told of 80's Metal Man's attempts to raise funds to take over the world by putting together a festival called Monsters of Cock.

This was deep literature, people.

I would have loved to continue these stories so I could incorporate more of the characters I created for people who asked for them. (Such as The Kegger, 9-Iron and Todd...Just Todd.) But, alas, the people who gave me money requested I actually do job-related things, so I had to put the comic aside and work.

Anyway, I was looking at some of those drawings today, and I also ran across a lot of funny comics while poking around Memebase. Some of them come from pages that do that sort of thing for a living, but there were also a number of them that appear to have been done by regular everyday people like you and me.

Well, like you, anyway.

Now, keep in mind that I've never been one for the mainstream, mushy, touchy-feely comics out there. Back when I had my small but much-loved comic book collection, you were more likely to find things like The Tick and Ambush Bug than you were Batman or The Punisher. To this day, the bottom shelf of my bookshelf contains exactly zero GarfieldZiggy, or even Zits collections. You will, however, find collections of The Far Side and Bloom County. Sure, these aren't exactly subversive underground comics, but they still make Doonesbury look like Family Circus.

Now that those comics are gone, their creators retired, you don't get that kind of humor in the comic strips you find in your local paper. At best, you get cheap knock-offs that just don't have the edge the originals did.

Fortunately, there's this whole internet thing. In much the same way that social media has all but taken out traditional news media Old Yeller-style, the comics page been pushed aside by an audience that is increasingly disappointed by the available fare in favor of the kind of weirdness that can only be found at places like Cyanide & Happiness and xkcd.com, for a start.

Those guys started out creating something different that they weren't seeing anywhere else. And there are plenty of others out there that deserve more attention because their humor isn't being reigned in by some editor who's worried he'll lose advertisers if he lets them use the word "shit" in their strip. One of the great things about the internet is that advertisers don't generally ask you to change. They just find someone who is creating something that appeals to their demographic and throw an ad on it. The artists continue making their art the way they want to, and the advertiser gets to the audience it wants to. Everybody wins.

Frankie snapped later that afternoon, climbing to the top
bell tower in the town square...

So get out there and support those independent internet comics. Find one that appeals to you and tell people about it. (That's how I found out about Cyanide & Happiness and xkcd.) Share their strips on your Facebook or Twitter (or--*snort*--Google+) pages. You never know whether you'll find the next Berkeley Breathed or Gary Larson. And even if you don't, you might find something you like and the artist will appreciate the attention.

All the best,
Derek and Bosco