It’s been a long journey with this story. The basic ideas, and the ideas of several books worth of stuff that will follow, have been roughly in place since at least 2006 or 2007.
I’m two doing books that are meant to be parallel to each other, and we’ve decided to serialize the chapters as a monthly series as we go, six chapters for each series. The first book will be called Monday, and is at least as important to me personally as all the relationship comics I’ve done. It’s really about the struggle to be an artist, and also to make a living doing that, and whether the two are mutualy exclusive, which would be a cruel irony since in our society you really can’t accomplish one fully without doing the other, also.
When I was young, one Christmas I got the Calvin and Hobbes 10th anniversary book as a present, and I can’t overstate the effect it had on me. I had loved comics up until then, and Calvin and Hobbes was of course my favorite (As I have always had impeccable taste), and the descriptions Bill Watterson gave in that book about his drawing and writing processes were the very first time I’d had detail on how one went about making these things.
As anybody else who has read the book probably remembers, he also gives a large amount of space to his thoughts on art in general, and his decision to not merchandise Calvin and Hobbes. These ideas were also new to my young brain. The idea that marketing something might be bad or corrosive was something completely new to the brain of this child with a room full of Ninja Turtles action figures, and the idea of the struggles an artist goes through to make a living off of his work were also new. As was the idea that an artist might not have control over his own work- that somebody could do things with Calvin and Hobbes that were against Watterson’s wishes had never occurred to me, and immediately seemed wrong and terrifying. The idea that he had to make a Faustian bargain to give somebody else control of his creation in order to get paid for making it, these things all exploded my brain. Reading this from Watterson’s point of view created in my young brain a very strong idea of these dark forces in the world against which an artist had to heroically struggle to create his art.
Watterson in my mind became an icon of a true artist, uncorrupted and pure. However accurate that is, he still holds an unassailable place in my mental hierarchy.
For all the things that I wanted to talk about in a book about my views on art, Watterson was the perfect figure, and symbolic of Platonic perfection toward which the artist should struggle. His reluctance to do interviews and the fact that the only pictures of him that exist are from decades ago, these things create in ones mind an even more mythological figure. To tell the story of my characters’ quest for fulfillment, the idea of them going on a journey to find Bill Watterson seemed inevitable and has been part of the plan for years. That’s what happens in this book. And eventually, they find him but, since obviously I don’t personally know Bill Watterson, at that point the story goes into something that’s more of a fantasy, and more metaphorical.
It’s my commentary on art and on the comics industry, and the idea is for it also to be an entertaining road trip adventure, with the star-crossed robot and teddy bear couple of Rickets and Prester going to search for Watterson. The rabbit himself has published his first book, and is too depressed by the fact that he has to continue to pay bills by working a retail dayjob in order to go on the search for Watterson himself. Sensing his possible inertia and depending on him for cocaine money, his creations decide to take the situation into their own hands and go off to track down Watterson themselves.
My character of Capitalist Pig was created for this story, and you find out much more about him as it goes on. There’s a lot more to his character, and the mythology of my world, that will be revealed and clarify a lot of things that were in my first book, and also give a taste of what’s to come. For all these things I’ve been writing, Capitalist Pig is really the villain of the piece, which should tell you something about my opinions on capitalism,which probably also have their early origins the the liner notes from the Calvin and Hobbes collection I got that Christmas.
My original high concept idea for A Waste of Time was that it would be A Comic About Everything. I wanted to create a framework with characters who were big archetypes so that I could tell autobiographical stories and also fantasy ones, so that I could talk about capitalism and also dating and sex. It’s the sum total of those things that make up life and, for me at least, the things I find interesting enough to draw a bunch of comics about. I had the idea that I wanted to challenge the way that people compartmentalized their lives and entertainment- it always seems strange to me that if a story has a sex scene in it then, Oh now this is one of THOSE stories, and it gets put in a separate place. I wanted to write stories that were about money and art and whatever else, and then have the characters also have sex lives- and not sex lives I alluded to, but rather ones I went into great detail on.
That’s how life is, and I find the artificial divisions we make silly and frustrating. That you’re not supposed to talk about one of the most important parts of your characters’ lives because otherwise the book comes to be considered smut is infantile.
So when I’m writing all this stuff, I’ll write autobiographical strips, things about relationships I’ve had, and then stuff with robots having philosophical debates with Bill Watterson. A Waste of Time was supposed to be many different types of separate stories, and some of them true but some of them allegories, but all of it connected by the rabbit character, who would be my Stephen Dedalus. Yes, I was really that pretentious.
However, at some point in order to present these stories I need to focus and come up with a structure, and that’s been a long process for me. Originally, the whole search to find Bill Watterson story was intercut with several other stories, follow-ups to some of the dating stories in my first book, and etc. In the last couple years, I was calling this collection of things Damaged Goods. The common theme that I felt was tying it together was the search we go through to find fulfillment in life, and what it is that will make us happy. The Watterson story was me grappling with what exactly I wanted out of my career as an artist, and the dating stories were me trying to figure out what I wanted from my love life.
I eventually realized that they did fit together emotionally, but they were just two totally different stories.
So, Monday is the first story, the search for Bill Watterson among other things, and the second book is called Topsy Terby.
It’s called Topsy Terby for something an ex of mine said once. In an email he was trying to explain why he hadn’t been able to see me recently (The actual reason was that he was sleeping with somebody else), and he meant to say that he was just busy and his life had been topsy-turvy recently, because we had watched that movie about Gilbert and Sullivan. He spelled it topsy terby, I’m assuming because he thought it was spelled like that. At the time I was able to convince myself that it was endearing how he misspelled things in goofy ways, and in retrospect I realize that I spent four years of my life dating a person who was sleeping with other people and lying to me about it and also was really pretty dumb.
The theme of the book, then, is how relationships can throw our views of the other person and of ourselves askew, and how they often look very different from the vantage point of being on the other side of them. You might otherwise be a fairly logical and intelligent person, but love and lust often make things a little topsy terby.
Topsy Terby will be issues 7 through 12 of the series, and we’ll talk about what comes after that once I feel confident that trying to finish these two books won’t kill me.
Issue/Chapter One comes out in June from Northwest Press, but is now available for you to order from any local comic shop through Diamond, item code: APR141283 ! If you want a copy, make sure to let your store know to order it for you!