That’s right, folks, I published the first Dumbstruck comic strip on March 19, 2003 — exactly ten years ago today! President Bush had just declared his intention to go to war with Iraq, I was still living in Savannah, and this website was a very different place. For starters, it wasn’t GrabBagComics.com, it was GrabBagComics.homestead.com. I didn’t buy this domain until August of that year.
A Fond Look Back
I started this site mid-way through 2002 as a way to start showcasing my art after college. I began by publishing pages from a jam comic called Limbs that a whole lot of friends and I had drawn for my girlfriend’s birthday. I intended to start publishing Dumbstruck after that comic was finished, but the start of the Iraq War made me feel like I had something to say, and I didn’t want to wait. For a while, I published both comics simultaneously. The site was just HTML at the time; it would be another two years before I switched it to Blogger, and then another five before I moved it to my own WordPress design.
In ’02 and ’03, journal comics were everywhere. The internet was finally starting to be fast enough that artists could start publishing real work online, and cartoonists found inspiration in James Kochalka’s diary comics to started publishing what become known as “journal comics.” Some of the best were by my own classmates Drew Weing and Les McClaine. Dumbstruck was inspired by these awesome talented folks and more, plus I wanted to be part of the comics community, and my day job certainly provided me with ample material.
Why Draw A Journal Comic?
Over the years, the purpose behind Dumbstruck has continually shifted. I’ve read far too many journal comics that were merely a laundry list of what the artist did that day with no sense of real narrative or attempt to delight the reader. So one of the founding concepts was that my strip be funny whenever possible. Somewhat conversely, it also provided me a place to speak my mind about war and politics — this was 3 years before Facebook would be opened to the general public and Twitter would be developed. War and national politics popped up regularly in the strip because they were subjects that I was passionate about. They touched my life in many ways, like working in a city with a large military base, witnessing Obama’s election in Chicago, and losing my job during the Great Recession. Over the years, I’ve become more conscious of the overall narrative of my life as expressed through these little comics.
Because I began the strip with the start of the Iraq War, it felt natural to end it with the final major troop pull out after the war. This time frame also coincided closely with me starting my own illustration and design business. So while one narrative thread was the war and how it affect me and the country, another thread was me leaving college and finding my place in the world. Granted, in 2009 I got so busy with working and starting a business that I had to put the comic on hold, but I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since.
So Now What?
All this retrospection at the ten year mark is fun, but I’m also spinning this yarn for a purpose. Like any eager storyteller, I’d like to tell you what comes next!
Beginning next month, I’ll be repopulating the Dumbstruck archive here on the site. For too many years, it has lived as a static HTML archive, bloated and less than useful. At a certain point, I just stopped updating it and let the comic appear in this blog stream. Now that I’ve become well-versed in the mystical ways of the WordPress, I’ve been developing my own method for strip archives using Custom Post Types that will make this archive really sing. The strips will be indexed by subject and people appearing in them, and will be grouped in useful archives by narrative threads (which is way more informative than just months and years). Now that I’ve about finished up my back-dated strips for 2009, not only will I be working on 2010 (the final year for new content), but also pulling a George Lucas on the early strips.
Pulling a George Lucas
Y’see, I didn’t really know what I was doing that first year or so I was drawing Dumbstruck. Looking at the narrative in these later years, I see what’s missing from those early days. So part of creating this archive will include filling in the gaps with new comics, which will be a challenge because I’ll need to match the style of the early strips, which were often drawn hastily at night after work. It will also be tough to tell the story of the moment, without a sense of really knowing what is to come.
I take on this challenge not just for the sake of completion, but because my goal is to collect all of this work, which will be around 1500 strips when I’m done, into one collection. What shape that collection will take — a series of small books? one large hardcover book? PDF versions? an iPad app? — I don’t yet know. I’m about a year away from making that decision, and hopefully you’ll let me know what you’d like to see. I continue to find inspiration in other artists working in the journal and auto-bio format, like Lucy Knisley and Natalie Nourigat. I still believe that the stories of our lives have the power to delight, inspire, and help others.
But in the meantime, let’s start at the beginning and see where this journey of rediscovery takes us. I’ve got two or three more 2009 strips to finish off March, and then we’ll dive in April, and this grand experiment! Won’t you come along with me?
P.S. If you can successfully identify every character in that drawing I lovingly created for you at the top of the post, I will buy you dinner when next we meet.