Changes [comic strip]

This is it!

This is the 1982 Louie & Bruce strip showing the day when the boys lost the sawmill—their place of employment for over a year (in actual human years; time runs wibbly-wobbly-whacky in cartoon worlds).

Writing and drawing large, multi-panel strips were fun because of the room they allowed for storytelling, which was good practice for me to sharpen my writing skills—especially writing dialogue.

Unfortunately, newspapers only ran multi-panel strips on Sundays; the rest of the week was reserved for shorter strips. You could call them the “Flash Fiction” strips of the comic world. My story strips were a hard sell to local newspapers, and a harder sell to syndication outfits.

Meanwhile, back at my little studio, I drew another multi-panel strip after this one, which featured the boys at their community college. I’ll include that one in my next post.

Until then, peace and love!

10-Year Blogging Anniversary

I received notice last week from the good people at WordPress that my blog reached its 10-year mark.

Happy Anniversary, dear blog.

I recall when I began chiseling its foundation in January all those years ago, publishing my first post in February, and getting my first follower. I received many more followers in the next ten months, and I eagerly followed my followers, we commenting back and forth, and I feeling like a new tenant of part of a happy community. Sadly, I no longer hear from those bloggers. Two of the blogs from 2011 are in limbo and haven’t shown activity in several years; the rest of my followers of that year are no longer around.

All the same, it has been a fun ride and I haven’t run out of things to post! Here’s to ten more years.

John Sells the Mill [comic strip]

It’s August 1982 and the boys find out that the owner of the sawmill is selling and moving to Florida. Life for Louie and Bruce is changing. Oh my!

But this strip never made it to publication. None of the large format strips that I drew in 1982 did. I turned to 3- and 4-panel strips that year, which put this little gem in a drawer and then lost over the years until recently when I found some old boxes in my basement.

Two more large panel strips are coming, as soon as I digitize them and clean them up.

I hope this comic strip manages a chuckle or two, despite the jab at Florida at the end.

Until my next post, peace and love everybody. And for my readers who still follow my blog, I am still busy getting my Vree Erickson books back into publication with Amazon. More on that later this year.

Rude Awakening [comic strip]

I spent January away from WordPress while I worked on some art and writing projects. Since retirement from my 9-to-5 job, I’ve been busy planning to republish my books at Amazon and setting up a workspace so I can paint again.

Last week, I found more Louie and Bruce comic strips. Two were heavily damaged from age because I didn’t draw them on archival paper. They were test runs of ideas and were never published. But they were always a part of the Louie and Bruce storyline.

So, I cleaned them up on my computer with barely any difficulty. The first one, which is from January 1982, is today’s featured post. It shows our friend Louie having a dream. The figures (except Louie) in the dream are out of focus. I illustrated those characters by using broad strokes to minimize detail. They are secondary people in Louie’s life during his first year as a student at his community college. He dreams of being someone important to them, perhaps a desire to overcome his insecurities.

The other characters were based on models from a fashion catalog. By the way, plaid shirts and blouses were popular apparel for women in the early 1980s. And a lot of “tough guys” wore sleeveless shirts.

I’ll probably post the rest of my finds in the days to come, but I don’t want to take too much time away from my projects. Until then, peace and love.

A Louie and Bruce Christmas Surprise [comic strip]

While going through more boxes in storage, I found this Louie & Bruce comic strip among my papers from teaching cartooning to kids years ago … I think it was 1988.

I know … I thought I had finished writing about my old strip, but chance and fate had other plans.

With Christmas five days away, this strip fits with the season.

This comic strip is unique because I’m not the sole author. While teaching, I had my students help write the strip by first calling out ideas and then dialogue. This way, they saw the strip grow from beginning to end.

I’m not sure why we chose Christmas and Santa for a theme during a summer class, but the theme was fun to work with and caused a lot of laughter and excitement in the classroom … especially the idea of Louie sitting on Santa’s lap as if he were still a little boy.

Merry Christmas everybody, and Happy Holidays.

Teaching Art Is FUN

Not long after I stopped drawing my Louie and Bruce comic strip, I began teaching art courses to adults and children. One of the youth courses was Drawing Cartoons, so I used my strips as teaching aids during the 6-class course. About halfway through the course, we discussed anthropomorphism—giving human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects. From that, we created the character, Frank The Dog.

From Frank The Dog came Fred The Dancing Dog and his all-girl entourage. This lesson introduced drawing action and showing movement in the cartoon.

I enjoy teaching children because their ideas are fresh and inventive. This in turn sparks new ideas in my mind. Teaching art to children is an adventure to an end I never envision when I create my lesson plans. And bottom line: children are funny. They make drawing cartoons, which is already fun to do, a delight to do.

When I teach my classes, I have subjects on slips of paper that students choose from a hat. The subjects range from short and tall, narrow and wide, round and square, to various emotions and animals. A random drawing of “short, wide, round, silly, pig” resulted in the pig illustration above. The subject of crazy resulted in the cat illustration next to it. And from a random suggestion, the cat became a slob as I taught them how to refine their drawings.

Teaching at school may be what teachers do for work, but artists teaching children (and adults) at workshops can be a wonderful experience for those of us who can draw it (or paint it) as well as teach it to others. And with a classroom full of different personalities, there’s never a dull moment. Every day is a new adventure. You never know how the adventure is going to end, but it’s fun to find out.

Louie and Bruce Singles, 1982, Part 2 [comic strips]

Old jokes and gags were common in Louie and Bruce’s world. I sometimes stole gags from TV, tweaked them, and used them in my strips. The snowball gag above is probably older than my dad, and he’s in his eighties. But it was a perfect gag for Leroy.

Mark Twain said that because of humor, “…All our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” That sunny spirit was my life in the 1980s, and it transferred easily to my comic strips.

Of course, my sense of humor began when I was a child and drawing comic strips began in grade school, well before the 1980s. But the 80s was a decade of big possibilities that saw me take aim at an adventurous future by getting married and beginning a family. Some people may find the idea of marriage and raising children daunting and downright terrifying. But I went into it happily.

I believe being funny is possibly one of the best things you can do for your health. And if you can’t be funny, at least enjoy the humor around us and laugh. After all, laughter is medicinal for relieving our ailments.

The above strip is a variation of a gag that ran throughout Louie and Bruce at various times. Leroy could perform magic, but he was not a magician. Nor was he a magical being. He had magic ability and no one in his world made a big deal of it. His magic was only a tool to perform a gag, which is what his character was: a tool (used in the nicest way) to play out a joke.

Comedy is a fundamental part of human nature—there’s no such thing as a completely humorless individual. Many of us are drawn to comedians, sitcoms, silly pet antics—anything and everything that makes us laugh. Finding something to laugh at attracted me to the Sunday funnies in the newspapers. Eventually, I copied what I saw. As I matured and understood the process of telling jokes and drawing my own characters, a cartoonist was born.

When I drew comic strips during the 1980s, I was a cartoonist of the farcical. I wrote comedy based on improbable coincidences with satirical elements too ridiculous to be true. My mind buzzed with that kind of humor and it was practically a celebration when I drew it.

My Louie and Bruce strip employs what psychologists call “Affiliative humor.” This involves finding humor in everyday life about things that everyone might find funny. In a comic strip, Affiliate humor can easily become Situational humor, aka the anecdotal sitcom. I was a fan of anecdotal strips such as Dick Tracy and The Adventures of Tintin, and I really loved the humorous anecdotal comic strips such as the early college years Doonesbury strips of the 1970s.

Laughter is good for the heart. And scientific research has shown that laughter not only reduces stress and betters our mood, but it increases our immunity as well.

When I came through life-saving surgery this year, I needed to take a new look at my life and make some changes—most notably, reducing stress. Most of that stress was job related. Changes at my workplace two years ago created a havoc-wreaking environment that put me at the helm of constant problem solving. I cared too much about the quality of my department’s work to watch it crumble from poor design and leadership. I worried about the future of my department and I let those problems follow me home.

The laughter had stopped at work—no one was happy anymore—and I rarely laughed at home. Then something gave and I ended up in the hospital. I decided my job wasn’t worth dying for.

While I healed, I found some of my old comic strips, which had been missing for decades, and I learned to laugh like my old self again. But moreover, I felt truly happy again.

Laughter has become one of my all-time favorite stress management strategies because it’s free, convenient, and beneficial in so many ways.

The above strip introduced Leroy’s new look. Gone was the carrot top, never to return.

I think there’s a special joy from getting a new haircut and hair style—the chance to reinvent yourself and feel different. It’s no secret that a haircut can make us feel good, make us shine, feel more confident.

Of course, some people can get silly about haircuts/hair styles and go wild and crazy with them. I can see the clan at Louie and Bruce doing this. Maybe it’s time to bring my old strip out of retirement. Who knows?

Louie and Bruce Singles, 1982, Part 1 [comic strips]

Leroy is Louie’s brother. Louie has a pointed head and Leroy’s is flat. I referred to him as a carrot top—not because his hair was red (which it wasn’t), but because the three hairs that grow from the center of his head reminded me of three stems of a carrot after the leaves have been chopped off.

I drew Leroy’s first comic strip (above) in December of 1981, but didn’t reveal it until a month later in January of 1982. I drew a weekly run of single strips that year, many of them since lost.

The character with Leroy in the above strip is Mike. I didn’t feature him often, though he and Leroy were best friends. Like the rest of the characters, Mike was single. His favorite music was hard rock and his favorite band was AC-DC. His sister, Gloria, became Frank’s girlfriend that year. She was a softer, saner side of the guys and was never fazed by their crazy world.

When Leroy wore hats, readers confused him with Louie because their lower faces looked the same. But Leroy had the magic touch—an idea I stole from Doonesbury, the college years.

I think Leroy’s flat head may have come from Bull, the grumpy, cigar-smoking truck driver, pounding on it. This was a running gag that often ended with Leroy’s head squashed inside his shirt.

I’ll finish up Louie and Bruce with more strips from 1982 in my next post. Until then, peace and love.

Louie’s Cat Acts Up [comic strip]

In January of 1982, I drew an anthropomorphic character for the Louie and Bruce comic strip: Louie’s cat.

I didn’t have a name for the stray alley cat Louie took in, so he was called “Louie’s cat.” Names that I kicked around were Barfield (a play on Garfield), Rowdy Dangerfield (because he thought he was a comedian), Ace (because KISS was his favorite rock band), and Newb, short for Newbesiah. None of the names stuck, though I referred to him in my sketchbooks as Barfield.

He was Louie’s Pinocchio. And like Pinocchio, Louie’s cat had a childlike curiosity and naiveté that got him into trouble.

I introduced another character in January of 1982: Louie’s brother Leroy. He was featured in my shorter strips (which I will present in my next post).

Debarking Up the Wrong Tree [comic strip]

It’s December 1981 and the sawmill I work at is shutting down for the winter. Life for Louie and Bruce and the gang goes on, though this is the last full-feature strip of them at the mill until 1983.

No one does a better pratfall than Louie. But falling into a debarking machine isn’t my idea of a fun ride.

I hope this comic strip manages a chuckle from my readers. But I understand if the story goes over the heads of everyone unfamiliar with the workings of sawmills.

Until my next post, peace and love everybody. And Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow to my American readers.

Frank’s Lunch Break [comic strip]

Welcome to another Louie and Bruce comic strip feature from 1981, never published at this website until now. The top 3 throwaway panels (see my last post about that) introduce and set up the problem, which carries through the strip to the end: Frank forgot his lunch.

I was influenced by cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s early Doonesbury comic strip (the college years) before his strip became political and painfully dull to read. In those early Doonesbury strips, someone turning into an instant werewolf would have happened. Those unexpected plot twists are what attracted me to the Doonesbury characters. I love that kind of humor and I understand its limitations and why Trudeau left it. I simply didn’t enjoy the political soap opera path he took.

Anyway, an unusual feature I made to my strip was extending my characters beyond their panels. I used this in an earlier strip when I shortened the dialogue from the wordy “I’ll use my handkerchief to clean off the dirt” and didn’t want to redraw the dialogue balloon. I didn’t like that the panel cut off the characters’ feet, so I extended them beyond the panel.

An interesting side note: I based these characters on people I knew and worked with at a sawmill during 1981. Someone there actually ate bacon, onion and cranberry sauce sandwiches. (He also drank them down with Stroh’s beer, but only after work.) I changed the order of the sandwich’s ingredients to fit the dialogue balloon. To date, I’ve never committed myself to try one of those sandwiches. By the way, it was best to place the cranberry sauce between thick walls of bacon and onion to prevent the bread from becoming soggy. I suggested using Canadian bacon and was told that Canadian bacon is really ham. You don’t mess with proven recipes.

Another sandwich side note is about Louie’s homemade peanut butter. One of my fellow sawmill employees used to bring homemade peanut butter in Mason jars that he gave away. The peanut butter was delicious but gritty instead of smooth and creamy. An older employee got some of the grits caught under the plate of his dentures, so he swished some root beer in his mouth to rid the annoying grits. “It was like an explosion in there,” he told me. From that, an idea for a Louie and Bruce comic strip was born. The rest is history.

Louie’s Problems [comic strip]

I’m going to feature “old” artwork—mostly comics and other drawings from the 1980s and 90s—during November and December to close out the year.

This is another Louie and Bruce comic page from 1981 that I’ve never featured here before. Like the one in my last post, I found this comic while I was going through old boxes.

The strip is divided by two jokes. I remember this type of setup featured in all the Sunday comics at the time. Some newspapers cut the three-row comics to two rows, so cartoonists would feature a throwaway gag in the first row, as I did in my comic strip here. The gag is an old joke that’s been around forever.

The second and third rows feature the story, which has Louie lamenting to Frank about life at home with his family’s pets. This is the sort of gag I remember from watching “variety hour” TV, which was a modernization of vaudeville.

I love the classic jokes.