Too often we send time writing about things that directly affect and effect comic creators. Is my site user-friendly? Is the time I post new work the optimal time? Should I even bother with eBooks? The biggest question that is ALWAYS overlooked is this: What about the characters? Without the characters, none of that other stuff is even possible. How do the comic characters cope with the perpetual upheavals and re-vamps?
To answer this and other questions, I have to look no further than the upper left hand corner of my drawing board. That’s where Bob of Bob the Squirrel often sits… surveying the limited creative landscape with a set of brown, often rolling, squirrel eyes. He’s intuitive, yet annoying. Integral, yet aloof. In all the years I’ve worked with Bob, I never really sat down with him to get his clear perspective on what it’s like being a comic strip character. In all honestly, I don’t even look at him as a comic strip character… I look at him first and foremost as a friend… an annoyingly wonderful friend.
Bob is a little on edge today. He didn’t sleep as well as he normally does. It probably had something to do with the unusually early hour that I started working this morning. (Unusually early for our house is approximately 3:15am.) He’s a squirrel that has a following, but he rarely leads anyone anywhere. He’s a unique combination of a good heart, foul mouth and fluffy tail.
Bob isn’t what one would consider a “conventional” squirrel. I thought we’d get out of the house for the day and just talk. This way he wouldn’t feel as though he was on the spot… even though he totally was. We went for lunch at a local Italian restaurant. Though I’m close with the restaurant owner, the health department tends to look down upon rodents in the dining area… no matter how clever and witty those rodents may be. So, I arranged for us to eat our garlic bread, pasta and italian wedding soup in the parking lot. Somehow this environment makes our food all the more delicious.
Frank: Do you know why I’ve brought you here?
Bob: (sarcastically)You’re breaking up with me aren’t you?
C’mon dude, I just want to talk. I’ve never really interviewed you in a formal way.
You call eating pasta in a parking lot formal? When you go all out you literally go all out.
So we go back and forth like this for a bit… each of us trying to out sarcasm the other. In a sense it’s our own unique spin on playing the dozens…the only major difference being that sarcasm replaces insults.
How do you feel about me using our life as the basis for the comic strip?
You draw what you know. You know your life so you draw your life. You know my life so you draw my life. This isn’t a complex concept in need of mastering. I think it’s pretty cool. By the way, I’m still waiting on those royalty checks.
Yeah, I am too. I’ve never been one to have much business sense. Do you think I exploit you?
Wow, that was abrupt. Nah. I know you know right from not so right so it’s cool. Besides, you don;t really have to make anything up with me. I’m all out there whether you’re writing it down or not. I’m sure Lezley (Frank’s future wife) and Lauren (Lezley’s daughter) feel the same way that I do. If you need me, I’m there. If you don’t need me, I’m there.
Lezley knew going into this that I used my life in the strip. If I think something might be too personal to post I do check with her. By and large I know what not to use. People are usually shocked to learn that we really are pretty boring.
Well, you’re the boring one.
It’s hard to be Indiana Jones when you have to pump out a dozen plus cartoons a week.
If you were hoping to get anything deep out of me you might be wasting your time dude. I like that we’re in a comic strip. I like knowing that people may look at squirrels in a different way because of me. That’s all I can give you. Are you going to eat the rest of this garlic bread?
No, go for it.
I like it when there’s a lot of garlic in my system.
It’s good for your heart.
Plus it keeps vampires away.
There’s no factual basis for that…
…says the man sitting in a restaurant parking lot with a garlic bread eating squirrel.
Point taken. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten Italian food with a squirrel in a parking lot.
I wouldn’t know… I’ve never done that before.
We finish our lunch and head back to the studio. There’s nothing like the smell of a garlic infused squirrel singing along to “Hold my Hand” by Hootie and the Blowfish. Each and every chorus puts more garlic back into my atmosphere. It’s moments like this that make me see why he’s my best friend.
As we get closer to the studio, which doubles as our home, I try and think of more to ask Bob. In some ways I do think I’m taking advantage of him. I know he says he’s cool with it, but I can’t help but somehow feel a little guilty.
Lucy and Maggie (the dogs that run our house) hear me fumbling for my keys. I can see them rush to the back door, eagerly awaiting that first homecoming moment. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been gone; five minutes or five days… the greeting is just as intense, loud and welcoming. Bob stays put safely on my shoulder… there’s no way he’d survive that kind of love intact.
Plus, these dogs know me as well as Bob, Lezley and Lauren do. They know I can’t go anywhere there’s food and not have something for them. They probably smelled the container of past from four blocks away. They definitely smelled the garlic squirrel from at least six blocks away.
Once the dogs get their treat, we get back into the interview. I ask Bob about when I was thinking about ending the strip.
Toward the end of 2011, on the verge of the 10th year of the strip I was considering the end. We’d gained a lot of fans, no real conventional fame and certainly no discernible financial fortune. I thought about maybe starting something else, something that could be viable. What do you remember about my wanting to end the strip in 2011.
That for the first time in our friendship I wanted to hate you. After all we’d been through and here you were, wanting to walk away.
It’s not that I wanted to walk away, I thought I had to. I thought that if I didn’t I might not be able to later. I’d forever be known as the squirrel guy.
And that’s way more than most people would ever be able to say.
I know that now.
You’re so good at what you do. Sure, we’re not rolling in the money but we’re not busted either. I knew that the strip was something you wouldn’t leave. Especially since it saved your life.
I know. That was an even darker time for us. I didn’t think there was any other way out of my depression and misery. I was so blind to see that what could save me was right in front of me.
Yeah, me. I should’ve slapped the snot out of your nose for even thinking that. Look, the possibilities for the strip and us are limitless. We’re as good as you make us. If you want, I can go out and break something if you need some inspiration.
No… that’s fine. Besides you know I wouldn’t be able to fix what you broke anyway.
Don’t you have some drawing to do?
Just a few more questions. Do you remember when we first met?
Now are you asking if I remember when we really met or do I remember what you tell people of how we met? Because we met in a park. You were drawing in your sketchbook and I literally dropped from the tree onto you. Fate brought you to the park that day.
And gravity is what brought you into my life.
Yep, keep thinking that. If I hadn’t slipped on a leaf and fell out of the tree you wouldn’t be here now boring me with your awful interview questions. Us coming together was a happy accident.
He almost sounded sincere when he said that. He must be softening up in his senior squirrel years. Back in the day, that would have been pure sarcasm without even the slightest hint of sincerity.
Maybe the questions were too broad. Maybe the lunch was too good. Maybe the garlic was too strong… I don’t really know. But, it’s reassuring that with all the day-to-day decisions a webcomics creator has to make, at least you know your character has your back. It’s the one thing that will never let you down or take you down a rocky path. Just so long as you have plenty of garlic.
Frank Page Frank Page is a cartoonist. Throughout his life, that is one thing that has never been disputed. In 2002, he created the comic strip Bob the Squirrel. The strip has been syndicated online through Universal Uclick/GoComics.com since 2004. Page has been staff cartoonist/graphic designer at the Rome Daily Sentinel, Rome,NY. He holds a BFA in illustration from Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, NY and a MFA in Visual Art with emphasis on Sequential Art from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT.
His work is enjoyed all over the world. can be seen daily at bobthesquirrel.com and squirrelosophy.com. He currently resides in Rome, NY where he can regularly be seen chasing his Jack Russell Terrier, Lucy, through the streets.