I didn't even have an internet connection in 1993. I didn't really consider syndication to be even remotely possible, so I had absolutely no inkling that Absurd Notions would be a going concern in the 21st century. I'm glad there is such a wide gap between the old and the new, because I got a lot of things out of my system the first time through that I wouldn't want to be part of the current work. Case in point: "Hey, we're in a comic strip!"
Two things happened when Berke Breathed ended Bloom County. One was the loss of the setting, and with it the sense of place that had been holding his work together and giving it form, hence Outland, an ill-fated attempt to continue without it. The other was that Bloom County became the de facto standard for new cartoonists to imitate. A strip where the characters are almost constantly aware of their fictional status, and of the audience watching them, was actually sort of a novel thing when Breathed did it. But there was an amateur-cartoonist zeitgeist that lasted through the rest of the Nineties wherein seldom did anyone think of not doing it that way. When I wrote the above strip, I didn't stop and think, "Do I want to cross this line?"; it probably didn't even occur to me that there was a line to be crossed.
I was pretty stuck for an idea until this odd little snippet from Cop Shop (the Signal's regular campus police blotter feature) saved the day.
I think this one is dismally weak, but there it is.
Louis Farrakhan came to speak at the college. A lot of students found themselves attracted to his two-wrongs-make-right philosophy, especially if they were the ones who got to take revenge for things that they didn't even experience upon people who were a hundred years too young to have done them. I needn't have worried that I was talking down to people too much with this strip; it was subtle enough that many readers didn't even catch on to what it was actually about, even while the storm was going on all around them. It was just a bit of slapstick with physics. That was fine with me; it saved me from the tarring and feathering. Maybe I'll get some of that flak now, but now I don't have to worry about walking across campus and being accosted face-to-face on my way to class. That's what my friend Craig went through after he wrote an opinion article for the Signal in which, as a film buff, he lamented that he couldn't go out and see Spike Lee's Malcolm X in the theater without his fellow moviegoers making him feel unwelcome, and dared to suggest that all people were capable of prejudice. He somehow didn't realize this would be an invitation for people to prove his point. The Signal caved immediately to public reaction and hung him out to dry, putting a special "Craig is a bad man" eight-page spread in the next issue.
Near the end of the college run, I was obviously slipping. Even when I had just done it, I didn't really know what this strip was supposed to mean. But I did it, I submitted it, and it was printed.
At best, I can rationalize it as a game of "What did I miss," forcing the readers to guess the setup. One could assume there was a moratorium declared on the question. After all, it's easy to get tired of the same predictable smalltalk.
And, perhaps, since some readers had responded positively to the physical humor they saw in the previous strip without knowing what it was about, this was my cynical reaction: A strip with straightforward violence, no reason supplied or needed, and reading optional.
But I think the real inspiration here was that I and most of the people I knew had had a pretty poor spring break. This strip came from the gut, and anyone who had had a lousy break might get a laugh out of it. Anyone whose break had been just fine wouldn't be in on the joke, but they were having better lives, so tough for them if they didn't enjoy one little cartoon.
Other universities and colleges have "college towns" around them. You can walk around and shop and stuff. We din't have that; there was no college town. There was just the campus, surrounded by residential areas, and anything else required a car. The store in the student center closed on weekends. We were like inmates desperate for entertainment, and if we got one opportunity a year to stay up all night in the student center for the equivalent of a small-town street fair, we took it.
Gam-Bel-Fling. Only the name itself is more ridiculous. You get a bunch of fake money for free, which you gamble away and then go ask for more. You can get lucky and win more fake money, which you can redeem for... nothing. You could call it gambling practice, except that gambling isn't a skill.
Film festivals. Miss all the excitement; sit in a small dark room watching Sixteen Candles until 4 A.M.
Fortune telling. The queue wrapped around the whole building three times. If I get on a line that long, there should be a roller coaster at the other end.
Comedy in the Rathskellar. You can probably guess the real name of the improv comedy troupe on stage by changing one letter, and an apt name it was, if you pronounced it right. "Uh, no, give me an easier one" was the prevailing theme of the performance.
I am indebted to Craig J. Clark for many things, and one of them is the idea for this strip. He basically wrote panels two and three, and I managed to extend it into a whole strip.
One of the Signal staff threw away her toaster because it wasn't working. Specifically, she chucked it into the middle of a frozen lake. The ice, however, did not break, and the toaster sat out there for a couple of days. Then it was gone, the ice still unbroken. Someone had actually gone and retrieved it. After that, the Signal and its cartoonists made an inside joke of speculating on just what had happened to the toaster.
The thing that makes this typical scene different is the implication that Biff could be said to have a legitimate concern.
The third and final Signal cartoon crossover, much like the previous one, hinged on the structure of the comics page. This comic by Craig and Elena had a title which fluctuated through many variants before settling on This Happens. You can read all of it, also with commentary, here.
I was among those at TSC who could not fit their requirements into four years. I don't have statistics handy, but I had a lot of company. I was to graduate in December, and they allowed me and those like me to stand with the others during the June ceremony and pretend. In the coming semester I would have plenty to worry about, and I wouldn't be staying on campus, so it was time to draw Absurd Notions to a close.
This final strip is very ambiguous and awkward. Our boys aren't terrorists; that's some kind of harmless smoke bomb. I didn't really make that clear. And the resolution just sort of falls flat for me. I wasn't really happy with it as the end of Absurd Notions, which may have played a part in prompting me to start it anew five years later. And, while I'm sure there will be many more pauses along the way, I intend to be much, much older before I have to again consider how it ends.