I don't know if this is typical of other comic strip writers, but I have a hard time steering from Point A to Point B in a storyline. It's like reading a map, considering every possible route -- milking MapQuest and Triple A of every shortcut -- and deciding to drive all the roads simultaneously.
Pulling into Point B can take a while. And by the time I stretch out of the car, my legs are shaking as if I've finished a marathon run. (footnote to fully appreciate the metaphor: the last time I ran I was in college, late for a class -- after a 30 second sprint, my various parts were shaking and threatening to fall off, even though I'd just run downhill.)
Last week I detoured all over the map.
I introduced a new character. Rather than selecting one trait and letting it hook the reader, I installed several -- it bristled with so many hooks it couldn't be handled. Soon the strip was twisted in my hands like a snarl of fishing line.
I decided to transplant the three finished strips into the following week, or the week after that, which left me three strips short for the week at hand.
I'm not a mellow guy. Sanguine is not an apt description, unless I'm bleeding. It made for an interesting week as I fought the temptation to grab those displaced strips -- sidestepping the need to write three more -- and aimed for the deadline.
I once had the idea that writing seven strips a week would be easy. I wrote far more as a magazine cartoonist. How hard could seven be?
But the difference is that most of my magazine material would be rejected. I could hope that the paying editors would only buy the best ideas. And if something sold that was less-than-satisfying (the sort of cartoon I'd include to round out the batch), that was fine. I'd get a check, pay a bill, and few readers would notice that this particular cartoon wasn't as sublime or sharp as I'd like. Even fewer would notice my name. Magazine cartoonists are literary spies, rarely noticed.
With Spot the Frog, however, I have regular readers. I decide which strips will appear. My name is stamped on my work like Coke on a can. There's an email link, with directions to my website, stopping just short of guiding you to where we hide the house key. When you read a daily or Sunday and it doesn't work, there's no hiding from the review. It's clear that I've driven the strip into a ditch.
Deciding at the last minute to write three more strips is a nerve-rattling ride I'd like to avoid, if only to spare Mary the excitement of living with a manic driver who never leaves the house.
In the spirit of the retrofitted Star Trek episodes I mentioned earlier, here's a Spot daily from last week, burnished with the cutting-edge special effect of color (I understand that the latest Superman movie may be in color, as well.)
When I writeSpot the Frog ideas, it helps to frame them in boxes from the start (other cartoonists might doodle ideas on a blank sheet.) The above fits on a regular sheet of bond paper. The panels are stocked with lettering guides. They're perfectly horizontal, and still my lettering tends to skew a few degrees. It's likely a consequence of being slightly skewed in everything I do.
I should have commented on this sooner, because now I've forgotten the particulars. But in an early episode of Wild Wild West, Artemus Gordon presents James West with an invention: a rebreathable lung, a rubbery sack you clamp to your mouth when underwater or locked in a gas-filled room.
A few episodes later, the same device, previously shown to be the exclusive creation of Mr. Gordon, turns up in the hands of the bad guys. It's appearance is unremarked. No one brags about stealing the invention, or reverse-engineering it. Mr. Gordon isn't accused of selling patents to the enemy. It's just there, as if anything the heroes devise will eventually fall into common use.
A touch of realism in a series not known for it.
I wish they had carried this real-world logic further, where every villain wore boots with smoke bombs in the heel, or ropes of plastic explosive stuffed into coat linings.
There's a Tex Avery cartoon (I think it's a Tex Avery cartoon) where two characters chase each other in and out of frame, each time reappearing with a new weapon, the upperhand passing back and forth between them...little gun, bigger gun, cannon, bigger cannon, until finally the world is blown up by some ultimate weapon.
I'd love to see a spy series where the clever inventions of the first week appear in general use the next week; where each gimmick has a consequence beyond the initial ooh and ahh.
This is a present just waiting to happen, for those of us who enjoy satire and August 29 birthdays.
The Tick, the first season, minus one episode, release date: August 29.
I haven't seen this cartoon in many years. I'm hoping the laughs in my memory are high-fidelity memories, not echoes of something more modest. (I just finished watching the first season of Wild Wild West on DVD -- I enjoyed it, but it didn't have the same punch I remember from watching it as a kid...probably because I'm taller now, and the same dizzying blow to the head -- the music, the gadgets, the cliffhanger endings -- now connects with my gut, where old memories eventually settle in a nostalgic soup.)
Here's half of the sunday I showed earlier when it was in black and white pieces. The other half with the punchline will appear on August 6.
If you're compiling a list of the species that appear in Spot the Frog, these birds might be sparrows. I'm not sure. They're definitely birds, the same generic flock I've drawn for years. When I've drawn something long enough, it loses fidelity with the real thing. Way back when, my frogs looked like frogs. Now they look like dogs (Spot especially.) When I draw something new -- a truck, a fork in close-up, a piece of machinery -- it tends to look like a photo (for the obvious reason -- I'm drawing from a photo.)