Character design is… hard.
I do not profess to be even somewhat competent on character design. I do enough get in trouble.
There’s not much out there to look forward to in January. At least for me. And this January has sucked beyond suck. But I DO look forward to seeing how my character has evolved. I think maybe I’ve hit an evolutionary plateau with Bob. He’s about as Bob as he’s gong to get. Maybe I’ve approached a point of (dare I say it) perfection? At least with him visually.
Of course in 2020 I’ll probably say the same thing.
Lucy was the best worst dog ever…
It’s safe to say that both my strip and my life took a dramatic turn when she was introduced into my life.
I’ve used her nearly daily destruction time and time again in my strip. Her escapes from the backyard were legendary. Her insanity… unmatched.
Whenever I was at my drawing board, she was usually in the room with me…looking out the window for rogue intruders or just snoring away. Dog snores are so soothing. Lucy’s snore was like audio prozac to me. It calmed me down… because I knew if she saw no need to be bouncing around then neither should I.
Lucy never showed pain… through ‘cat trauma’ cuts to her face or nail extractions she was stone cold.
I loved this dog like no one or thing I’d ever loved before. I had to…
She started to slow down before Christmas. She’d be 15 years old in 2019. Now Lucy was always a weird eater. Most dogs eat when you put the food down. Not Lucy. We’d make her bowl every morning, but she’d let US know when she wanted to eat. It just became part of the routine. That’s how she was.
Well, she wasn’t letting us know anymore. I’d have to feed her by hand. The regular dog food wasn’t doing it for her. I tried everything: ground chicken and rice, hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese, ravioli, sausage, Lez’s famous oatmeal cookies… just to get something in her. The one thing that worked MOST of the time was peanut butter on greek-style pita bread. I would spread a think layer on the bread and feed it to her piece by piece. At first, I assumed she was going through a picky stage and would snap out of it.
But she wasn’t snapping out of it… as far as eating went. Everything else she was Lucy – crabby, barking, running. My dog.
Then one day she peed blood. That was not good. Lez took her to the vet and they gave us antibiotics for the infection and for the abscess in her mouth.
On Thursday, Lucy began to bleed from her mouth. Lez called the vet and they said that the abscess probably ruptured and it’s beginning to drain. Just monitor her and keep everything clean.
It’s at this point that I began to think I’d lose my friend. Lez was optimistic, but I just knew. You know how you just know your dog? It’s not a detail, just a feeling.
I slept with her all night. She was weak. She was drinking but not eating.
The next morning she was still bleeding from her mouth. Lez called to vet to get us in.
I spent the last morning I’d ever spend with my dog. I let her rest in my studio, as I always had, while I tried to draw. Everything about me is about drawing. It’s my escape. It’s my comfort. It’s how I deal with shit. And this was shit.
My back was to her. I could hear her snore. I knew she was bad, but just hearing that snore… that beautiful peaceful snore. It felt like any other night. My dog with me while I was at my board. I consciously made an attempt to remember every second of the morning. Just because… it’s my dog. It’s Lucy.
I took some pics of her resting in the sun… she loved being in the sun. The golden orange light just barely touching her white fur, her greyed out, once deep black eyes…resting.
Lez and I took her to the vet. Lucy historically was not a good traveler. She hated the car and would be wild and bouncing the whole ride. But this morning, she was just laying in the back seat… on that same blue blanket my grandmother gave her a decade before. Lez was still being upbeat. I don’t know if she was doing that for me or she really believed it.
Me? I was angry. I was hurt. I was confused. I didn’t want the journey to end. 2018 had been a horrible year for us… and here we are four f–king days into 2019 and I’m probably going to lose my friend.
We get to the vet and they take Lucy for tests. I could tell when the vet looked in Lucy’s mouth and said, “… oh dear” that this was it.
I was right. The blood tests showed that her kidneys were failing. The options were: Hospitalize her, IV fluids and send her home, send her home with meds and a kidney friendly diet or euthanize. I asked the vet if we choose one of the first two would she be Lucy? The vet was very honest with us and said no… she’d be weak and in pain.
The choice was simple and excruciating… say goodbye to Lucy.
The doctor gave us a few moments with her. Lez and I are sobbing. We called Lauren at school to tell her. She didn’t get to say goodbye to Lucy… we didn’t know for sure this would be happening.
We held her for a bit longer. The doc came in and Lez left. I’m sobbing.
I whispered, “She was the worst dog ever.”
The vet said, “The best ones usually are.”
With that, she gave Lucy the first injection. As she drifted I said, “See you later poochie…” The second injection went in. 10 seconds later, her floppy bent ear straightened out. She was gone.
I gave her one more hug and that was it. I left. They gave me her blue blanket back.
My friend was gone.
And even though I was driving back with my wife by my side, at that moment I never felt more alone. A Titanic-sized hole just got ripped into my life.
That night, Lez, Lauren and I went out for our Friday night dinner. We do this every Friday. We’re all bummed of course. I drift in and out of sorrow arbitrarily. I don’t know if I want to even draw my strip anymore. I just don’t. We’ve had losses before, but this one hurts like no other. I don’t say anything to Lez or Lauren about it. I just don’t know. I’m hurting. And while drawing, and that damn squirrel have saved me many times before, I don’t think he can save me now. Maybe it truly is over.
We get our food and continue family time. Midway through an older couple, who had paid and got their leftovers were making their way to the door. The woman (who we’ve never met before) stopped at our table. I thought she was just stopping to zip up her coat. While mid-zip she says to me, “Aren’t you missing someone?”
Without missing a beat, I replied, “He’s out in the car listening to satellite radio…”
We proceed to have a conversation about how bad Bruce is and the squirrel she feeds. The comic strip is the first thing she read in the paper every day. She thanked me for doing it and told me to keep it up.
Hand to sky… this actually happened.
Each day after January 4, 2019 will get a little easier. I’ll never be the same. None of my family will. I’ll miss that dog more than anything. A part of me is gone. And while I think about ending the strip because I don’t think I can do it or I’m not making any money on it I have to remember that Bob is not just a part of me anymore. I did something good. People remember Lucy because of what I’ve done. That’s pretty cool.
Thank you for your constant stream of warm condolences. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for coming on this journey with my family and I.
I guess there’s drawing to do.
I like playing with lettering. One of my favorite things to do in the strip is come up with new ways of visualizing sound. SO for the beginning of 2019, I thought i’d abandon the solid color background Bob memes and mess around with this.
What does 2019 got that I don’t already have?
In 2018 I worked harder than I’ve ever worked before. And yet, I really think this year (with a few exceptions) saw my weakest work ever. Some days I was scribbling just to stay alive. The content flow gave me purpose. Totally irrational. But, when you see a life preserver you don’t complain what it looks like, you just grab onto it and hold tight.
Yeah, it was like that.
The routine of the work, the process, was the only thing that kept me sane. Seriously. What’s worse is that all that grad school talk about process (the stuff that I listed under “total Bullsh-t”) is really true! Dammit, they WERE right. Guess that justifies the student loan I’ll be paying off until i’m 62.
All in all, this year can kiss Bob’s tail… along with assorted parts of myself. Some parts it can kiss twice.
2018 sucked. It aged me far more than the conventional 365 days would.
This year has been rough…what with the uncertainty of everything. Hold up… I take that back.
The only thing certain was/is uncertainty. 85 days this year there was nothing BUT uncertainty… along with a lifetime of wondering if it’s coming back. The “ALL CLEAR” in big bold type is followed by fine print that says, “… yeah, but watch your back… for, like…forever, sucker!”
There’s no more rest. It’s part of us now.
I started out near the edge of losing it all… with each day since January 1 doing what it could to push me closer and closer to it. There were a few times when I came close enough to look over. One time I did look over… and thought: “It might not be that bad…”
We were reminded of the brevity of it all. Of mortality. Of weakness in times of strength and strength in times of weakness. Of wondering when it’d all be over… and the emptiness of that moment when it was. I was encouraged, discouraged, enraged, emboldened and just so damn proud. Of wanting to change, knowing that change was needed, and yet still resisting the change because I was/am so damn scared.
I was up, I was down, I was like a yo-yo.
I was in my head more than I should have been. Anxiety was at an all time high. Panic attacks dive bombed me when I least expected it.
I was selfish, selfless, real and completely fake. I was alone more than I wanted to be. Ignored what I had, bitched and moaned about what I didn’t have.
Making plans that will never touch the face of reality. And reality… what a pain in the ass that is.
Reminded again and again of the risks I never took. The thanks I never gave. The total prick that I was. Seeing where I could be a better man, and wondering why I wasn’t good enough already.
Through ALL of this, there was that squirrel. The longest relationship I’ve ever had.
I love my wife, my daughter, my family, my dogs… but that squirrel… that made-up, talking cartoon squirrel, man… life preserver yet again.
I’m not hoping for a better 2019… hope like that is futile and just a set-up for disappointment. There are more challenges ahead as always. I’m just going to keep on being… protecting my life. Appreciating the little things and the big things like health and humor. I have to. Because I don’t know if I could do 2018 again.
Thank you all for sticking around. Your appreciation for my work is everything… but make no mistake, I need that squirrel just as much as you do… if not more.