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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Thinking Out Loud

I get asked from time to time about my web strip Mugwhump the Great - whether it's all written in advance, whether I have plans to publish it at some point, that sort of thing. The assumption behind these questions seems to be that I actually know what I'm doing; that I have some grand strategy or master plan. I'd love to be able to tell you that that's the case. I really would. But the truth is more that Mugwhump is a reaction to everything else I'm doing, and it's enough for me to know that I'm doing it. What happens when I finish it, assuming I ever do, hasn't really crossed my mind.

The thing is, Mugwhump exists on a week-by-week basis and, despite the ongoing narrative that's nominally weaving its way through the strip, it's usually thrown together at the last minute. I do kind of have an overall end point in mind (although it changes all the time), and I have a couple of nifty set-pieces I'm meandering towards (ditto), but essentially I'm busking.

That thing about it being a reaction to whatever else I'm doing? Right now, that means a couple of things. The biggie, the one that takes most of my waking hours, is the Muppet Show Comic Book. The big thing about that is that it's owned and controlled by Disney, which means that every step in the process is scrupulously controlled, overseen, filed, catalogued, approved, altered, scrapped, rewritten and generally dicked around with. And that's fine, and entirely to be expected on anything Disney own - they've got millions of dollars tied up in these properties, and to let some yahoo like me come along and do whatever he damn well pleases would be corporate negligence of the highest order. I knew the deal when I took the gig, and if anything it's been a much easier ride than I ever expected. But the fact is, it's something I have to work out way in advance and submit my thought processes every step of the way, or the system breaks down. And on my day off, I don't want to do things that way.

Hence Mugwhump. The strip where I jump off a bridge every week, flap my arms like mad and hope I land on something soft. Now that I'm approaching the final chapter, I see that what I'm doing is pretty much what the newspaper strip cartoonists of old did on a daily basis.

I read an interview with writer and Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat recently where he talked about how he never writes outlines - he just jumps in and finds the story moment by moment. His defence of that approach was along the lines of, well, you can't be writing something in a script that's there purely to get you from point A to point B, you can't be putting stuff in there that's only worth putting in for what it eventually builds up to. Every moment in a script has to work in its own right, every moment should be compelling on its own. Not knowing where the story's going ensures that you make every beat in your story as good as it can be. And, if you're lucky, talented and ingenious enough, you just might be able to pull it all together by the end.

That seems to me to be pretty much what Frank King, or Chester Gould, or E.C. Segar did every day of their working lives. It actually seems to be an approach that's tailor-made for the strip format, as opposed to the comic book or graphic novel formats. And darned if I'm not realising that that's where my heart's been all along. So I'm thinking my next web project once Mugwhump concludes should be something much more newspaper-strippish, something open-ended. And something I can do quickly. Four panels a day with a stopwatch, before my work day starts properly. During the break from Mugwhump that's coming up, I may attempt something along those lines, just to get my feet wet. Not making any promises just yet, mind, but it's lurking at the back of my brain.

Who knows? It's so crazy it just might work.


  1. Yeah! Barney Google inspiration! Do it.

  2. Only without the casual racism, yeah.

  3. I know it's not a promise, but all the same, I'd really dig seeing something from you daily. I currently look forward to Tuesdays knowing that they'll be a nice warm Mugwhump waiting for me when I visit ( and isn't that really what every person wants in life?). I'm all for it, maybe something where backgrounds can be reused such as on a ship or in a fort or something. That might hasten the process. Just a thought.


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About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Eisner and Harvey Award-winning cartoonist responsible for The Muppet Show Comic Book, Thor the Mighty Avenger, Snarked! and Fred the Clown. Would like to save the world through comics.