The Aging of the Funnies

I found myself staring at the fine-print on the comics in today’s edition of the Bend Bulletin, our local paper – things like the date, the syndicated company, and the name of the artist.  Curiously, that latter bit of info – the artist – turns out to be different from the creator a fair amount of the time.  Odd, right?  Maybe not, considering how long many of these strips have been around.  While wondering about just how old these strips were, and who’s penning them now, I compiled the following list.  It’s a rundown of each comic in our paper, along with when it was started, by whom, and who is responsible for the strip today:

  • Peanuts – Started in 1950 by Charles Shultz (deceased 2000).  It is still the headline comic, reprinting old strips.
  • Garfield – Started in 1978 by Jim Davis. Still penned by Jim Davis.
  • Dilbert – Started in 1989 by Scott Adams. Still penned by Scott Adams.
  • Doonesbury – Started in 1970 by Garry Trudeau.  Still penned by Garry Trudeau.
  • Beetle Bailey – Started in 1950 by Mort Walker.  Penned by Mort’s son Greg.
  • For Better Or Worse – Started in 1979 by Lynn Johnston.  Story line “restarted’ in 2008.  Lynn still writes and sketches, but final art done by other artists.
  • Dennis the Menace – Started in 1951 by Hank Ketcham (deceased 2001).  Now penned by his assistants, Ron Ferdinand and Marcus Hamilton.
  • Blondie – Started by Chic Young in 1930 (deceased 1973).  Now written by Chic’s son Dean, drawn by John Marshall.
  • The Family Circus – Started by Bil Keane in 1960.  Written by Bil, with ink/color by his son Jeff.
  • Hägar the Horrible – Started in 1973 by Dik Browne (deceased 1989). Now drawn by Dik’s son Chris.
  • The Wizard of Id – Started in 1964 by Brant Parker (deceased 2007) and Johnny Hart (deceased 2007).  Now penned by Brant’s son Jeff.
  • Zits – Started in 1997 by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman.  Still penned by Jerry Scott.
  • Frank & Ernest – Started in 1972 by Bob Thaves (deceased 2006).  Now penned by Bob’s son Tom.
  • B.C. – Started in 1958 by Johnny Hart (deceased 2007).  Now penned by Johnny’s grandson, Mason Mastroianni.
  • Born Loser – Started in 1965 by Art Sansom (deceased 1991).  Now penned by Art’s son Chip.

Notice a theme here?  On average, these strips are 44 years old so it’s not surprising that half of the creators are dead – a handful, several decades so.  And yet their strips live on, drawn by the creator’s children, or even grandchildren, or their assistants.

It’s a rather sad situation.  Comics are an artform that does best when driven by a mind that holds an insightful, creative spark.  But most of these strips lost that spark long ago, either when the reigns were handed off to someone else, or when the artist simply ran out of places to go with the strip’s characters.  But they are so lucrative that there is a lot of incentive to keep them going for however long they can be milked.  The result are tepid strips growing ever more dated with each passing year.  The real tragedy is the lost opportunity to showcase some of the talented young comic artists that are (surprise!) emerging on the Internet, who are creating strips like XKCD, Wondermark, Questionable Content,The Abominable Charles Christopher, Cyanide & Happiness, and Drawn By Mouse, to name a  few.

David Malki, who pens Wondermark, analzes this phenomenon in more depth and insight than I could ever provide in the final post of his “Comic Strip Doctor” series.  It’s worth a read, as are any of the other posts in his Comic Strip Doctor critiques.  So go learn something about these strips you may have been reading your whole life.   Meanwhile I’ll be here staring at the list above, wondering why it is readers have tolerated this situation for so long.

DIY Whiteboards and Corkboards

Over at TechSpaceBend, we needed to put up some whiteboards and corkboards.  Big ones like you’d have in an office, not the little ones that decorate your kids room at home.  The only problem is that TSB is a non-profit with little/no funds availble, and these things tend to be a bit pricey.  A 6′ X 4′ corkboard goes for 5, and 5’X4′ whiteboards come in at ~5/per.  Ordering from a site like schooloutfitters.com (which seems to be one of the better sources for this sort of thing) was going to run us over $600-$700.

So instead, I turned this into a weekend project and got cracking in my shop.  Here’s what I ended up doing …

Making Your Own Corkboard

Total cost: ~$83. However it may be possible to reduce the cost by $20-$30 by using thinner cork (3/32″) and using 1/4″ plywood with only one good face.

Materials:

  • Cork roll (4’x6’x1/8″) – $40.
  • 1/2″ Plywood, one good face (4’x8) – Price varies.  I bought a sheet of lauan plywood w/ two good faces for ~$25 at Home Depot.
  • Contact Cement (1qt) – $9
  • D-Ring Hangers – $2.40

Tools:

You’ll need a large, very well ventilated work area for this project – a clean garage floor for example.

  1. Place plywood on your work surface with the good face up.  Roll out the cork on top of it and position so that 3 of the four edges (mostly) line up.  Don’t worry about the plywood being larger than the cork – we’ll trim everything down to size later.
  2. Firmly tape one edge of the cork to the plywood. Make sure this won’t come loose during the next few steps!
  3. Flip the cork over, like turning a really large book page, to expose the cork and plywook surfaces that need to be glued together.
  4. Using the paint roller with the adhesive cover, apply the contact cement to where both surfaces where they’ll meet.  This is where things get stinky – you have ~65 sq-ft of contact cement outgassing as it dries, so make sure you’ve got plenty of fresh air circulating.
  5. This is the tricky part, and will be easier if you have someone to help.  You don’t want to mess this up because there’s no do-overs here. Once the contact cement is tacky (30 minutes or so?), carefully and slowly roll the two surfaces back together, using your hands to work the cork onto the plywood and make sure there’s no wrinkles or air pockets. Do this by starting from the edge you’ve taped down and working toward the opposite edge.  If you’re by yourself you’ll need to reach under the unflipped-section of cork for this.  If you have help, one person can hold the cork up while the other person works it onto the board.
  6. Once you have the cork glued down, the skillsaw and a cutting guide to trim off the excess plywood.
  7. Attach the D-Ring Hangers where needed.

Making Your Own Whiteboard

Let me start by saying there are two approaches to take with this project in terms of the actual white board surface.  You can either use Rust-Oleum’s Dry Erase paint product applied to a 1/2″ sheet of plywood, or you can simply buy a piece of “tileboard” at Home Depot.  I document the “Dry Erase paint method” here, since that’s what I built, but in hindsight I would strongly recommend people go with the tileboard solution.  It’s much cheaper and less labor intensive.  I probably spent $50 and two hours more than I needed to, and got a whiteboard surface that’s not as smooth.  Which is kind of a bummer.  The only advantage of the Dry Erase paint method is that the boards themselves, being 1/2″ thick, are much more sturdy than the 3/32″ thick tileboard.

The only downside of the tileboard is that it’s < 1/4″ thick, and rather flimsy, which I had thought would be a showstopper.  However I found myself adding a 1″x2″ tray along the bottom of the board that, in hindsight, would be enough of a stiffener to alleviate this problem.

Materials:

  • (Dry Erase paint method only) 1/2″ Plywood, one good face (4’x8′) – Price varies.  I bought a sheet of lauan plywood w/ two good faces for ~$25 at Home Depot.
  • (Dry Erase paint method only) Rust-Oleum Dry-Erase paint – $20
  • (Dry Erase paint method only) Spackling compound – $4
  • (Dry Erase paint method only) Latex Primer – $7
  • (Tileboard method only) Tileboard (4’x8′) – $13.
  • 1″x2″ x 8′ board – ~$5
  • 1-1/4″ Drywall screws

Tools

Steps

  1. (Dry Erase paint method only) Use the spackling compound to fill in all imperfections in the good face of the plywood.  When dry, sand smooth with 200-grit sandpaper.
  2. (Dry Erase paint method only) Using paint roller, apply a coat of latex primer.  Let dry.  Sand smooth.
  3. (Dry Erase paint method only) Activate the Dry Erase paint and apply the first coat.  Let dry 30 min.
  4. (Dry Erase paint method only) Apply a generous second coat of Dry Erase paint.  The instructions say that 3 coats are ideal.  However I found that by applying a liberal second coat, you would get a smoother surface because the paint flows better.  Note, however, that this requires painting with the plywood completely level to eliminate dripping.  Let dry.
  5. Cut plywood / tileboard to size.  I made a medium and large board by cutting the board into a 4’x5′ board and a 4’x3′ board.
  6. Make your marker tray by using angling the tablesaw blade to 10° and ripping both short edges of the 1″x2″ board.
  7. Attach try to whiteboard as shown by clamping board to the bottom of whiteboard.  From the back of the whiteboard, drill pilot holes for the drywall screws every 12″ or so, and insert screws.
  8. Round edges of all wood to taste using sandpaper or file.
  9. Attach the D-Ring Hangers where needed.

In Conclusion

For TSB, I made one corkboard and four whiteboards.  I was careful to place the D-ring hangers at the same spacing on all of these (42″) so that they can be moved between the various offices with ease, which I’m sure will prove useful over time.

The dry-erase paint was a simply mistake.  It’s very labor intensive and if you can find an alternative solution I’d definitely recommend doing so.  In my case, I wasn’t as attentive to detail as I could have been on the first set of boards I made and the result came out a bit rough.  Still very usable, but definitely not the quality I would expect in pre-made whiteboard.  On the second set of boards I took a lot more care to prep and paint, which paid off, but even so the surface is still a bit orange-peal-ish.

One final note: The tileboard that HomeDepot sells doesn’t erase quite as well as you might expect.  However several sources recommend treating the surface with Turtle Wax, which should allow the board to erase better.  (Haven’t tried it myself, so if you

Reverse Image Searches w/ TinEye.com

A reverse image search is probably not something many people will have a need for, but if you do, TinEye.com is an incredibly useful tool.  Point TinEye at a picture (either a URL or upload one), and it returns a list of all the places on the web that use a similar image.

This recently proved invaluable for me, as I’m in the process of overhauling my wife’s travel website. I discovered that I had (again, damnit!) misplaced the artwork files I used to create several graphics on her site.  And, specifically, I couldn’t for the life of me find the images we had used to create the stamps in her company’s logo, pictured here.

Normally, figuring out what paintings these two stamp images came from would be a daunting task, essentially requiring a degree in art history (“That one on the left sorta looks like Renoir, right???”), but I’m no PhD in that regard. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to do a Google search –  “Renaissance Woman”, “Painting of Virgin Mary” (if that’s who is pictured here!), etc – but obviously these are such generic terms that it would take hours of sifting through search results to find the right one… if I was lucky.

Fortunately I’ve used the TinEye search engine in the past to crack a little puzzle game a buddy of mine likes to play.  He periodically changes his Twitter picture to an obscure photo of some celebrity, and challenges his followers to guess who it is.  ‘Turns out 90% of the time you can just point TinEye at the picture and it will turn up a page telling you who it is.

So that’s what I did with the stamps.  I used Pixelmator to crop the image down to two files, one showing the innards of each stamp, and then simply uploaded them to TinEye.  Lo and behold, in a few short minutes, I had the answers! (You can click either of the images to the right to see the results TinEye came up with for each.)  It turns out the first one is Delphic Sibyl, by Michelangelo (from the Sistine Chapel, no less), and the latter is Venus and the Three Graces by Bottecelli.

Pretty cool, huh!

P.S. On a related note, I just used IdentiFont.com to identify the font in Cartolina’s logo as Garamond.

Yike Bike Thoughts

My mother-in-law just pointed me to the Yike Bike, a “A radical new electric bicycle … expected to transform the way urban commuters navigate congested cities.”

And I have to admit, it looks really cool! … or really stupid.  I can’t decide which. My first thought was, “Why would you make a carbon-fiber tricycle,” because that’s sorta what it looks like (in spite of having only two wheels).  But that was soon over-shadowed by the reaction I had when I dug a little deeper, which was, “What, this again?”

Yup, the YikeBike is, for all intents and purposes, just another Segway.   Both offer high-tech solutions to the problem of getting around in an urban environment.  They feature the latest in battery technology, regenerative breaking, composite construction, and both have a top speed of ~20km/hr.  There are differences of course.  The Segway’s range of 20km gives it the edge over the YikeBike (a paltry 10km), while the YikeBike’s folding design makes it a much better choice for commuters.  But  the most striking similarity is the price.  The YikeBike will set you back a cool $4,700 (which happens to about what the Segway originally cost).

And there’s the rub.  All that fancy tech costs a pretty penny.  Unfortunately it doesn’t actually do all that much for you because getting around in urban environments is not a difficult problem to solve.  You don’t need a lot of high tech gadgetry and industrial design.  All you need is a couple wheels, rechargeable battery, motor, brakes, and a handlebar.  Bolt ’em together and you have yourself an electric scooter, of which there are literally dozens of makes and models already on the market.  $200 will get you a Razor E300 (range: 10km, top speed: 25 km/hr… sound familiar?) which, aside from it’s weight (20kg) is just as portable as the Yike Bike.  And if you’re willing to spend a bit more, you can get the Go-Ped IPed for $1,400.  Yeah, that price starts to sting, but it’s still 1/3rd the cost, and weighs only 12kg. That’s a little more than the YikeBike, but you get much better range (15 km) and speed (30km/hr).

So, props to Yike Bike for inspiring industrial design, but I’m not seeing this getting much of a following.  The company is targeting a market that simply doesn’t exist.  Or, at least, doesn’t exist here in the U.S.  Unlike Segway the Yike Bike is being launched in Europe.  Who knows, maybe those crazy Europeans see things a little differently.  But somehow I suspect the story will be the same.  There just aren’t that many people with $5K to drop on a gizmo that will only take them on a 3-mile round trip.