I’ve always had a soft spot for funny animals. When I was just a tadpole, my Aunt Greeta gave me a subscription to Walt Disney’s Comics And Stories, so my formative years were shaped by writer/artist Carl Barks’ wonderful adventures of Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Uncle Scrooge.
When I got a little older, I graduated to Walt Kelly’s Pogo in the Sunday papers, even if I didn’t understand what the heck he was talking about half the time. It didn’t matter, since the action and visuals were so lush you could get lost in Okefenokee Swamp just admiring the scenery.
When I got into cartooning, I was introduced to George Herriman’s classic Krazy Kat. I was too young to have enjoyed them in the newspapers, but there were many collections to ogle over. Krazy, and his (or her, we’re never quite sure which) reluctant suitor, Ignatz the mouse are considered to be the apex of sequential art by the majority of those in the cartooning profession. Subtle and whimsical, the strip was treated with indifference by readers and despised by editors, but it was the favorite of publishing monarch William Randolph Hearst and therefore was given a long run in his vast newspaper empire until Herriman’s death in 1944.
With all that fur influencing my anthropomorphic education, it was only logical that my first comic characters were Junior Jackalope and Suicide Squirrel. Their first appearance in The Nevada City Independent coincided with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and they went on to star in twelve comic books and numerous strips in other publications until the early nineties.
I drifted away from animals for awhile, doing underground comix about rock’n’roll and my own bizarre life, but in 1994 I approached The Union with a new batch of beasties in the daily comic strip Roadskill. The idea was to build up a pile of strips and then submit the best to the syndicates. My ace in the hole was Jay Kennedy, Editorius Maximus at King Features, who knew my work from the undergrounds. (Kennedy was himself an underground cartoonist before he went legit with the Hearst syndicate. He was responsible for getting Zippy the Pinhead into the mainstream papers.)
Jay was supportive of me, but felt the strip was too weird for general consumption. It’s no secret that many editors hate funny animals, because audiences become attached to them and they’re hard to get rid of. (Isn’t that what comics are supposed to do?) At any rate, I could see that the only path to syndication was to lobotomize my characters down to the Garfield level. For me, that road could only lead to the insanity and suicide. Roadskill eventually morphed into It Takes a Village Idiot and left the comics page for the editorial page.
But this spring, I began to notice that squirrels were watching me from the blossoming trees. I could hear their frenzied chatter and the drumbeat of cracking nuts calling out to me. One afternoon I was lying in bed watching TV when I happened to look up through the window to see one of the fuzzy tree rats staring down at me from the eaves of the roof. Creepy.
And so, starting this week, the new improved Roadskyll will appear on this blog every Sunday. To move things along, I’ll run a cartoon every day for the rest of this week so those of you who are unfamiliar with the characters will get some idea where we’re going, if that’s possible. These things tend to take on a life of their own.
So check in tomorrow. As we say in the biz, See you in the funny papers!