It has taken me 6,343 strips to get to this point… and in some way I still feel like I’m faking it. Like someone is going to find out my secret and blow the whole show. Seriously.
Today Bob the Squirrel turns 19. Nineteen years ago I was in the right place at the right time with the right tools and the right desire. Funny how I ignored all that and started drawing a squirrel. Story of my life really… at least 19 years of it.
In squirrel years, a 19-year-old Bob would be past a fossil and rapidly becoming crude oil… still useful, but hard to write a comic with.
I can’t stop now, I’m just starting to understand what maybe being warmed up feels like.
Yesterday, we made the difficult decision to put Maggie, our beloved pug, the matriarch of the clan, to sleep.
Over the last year, her health had steadily deteriorated. She lost both her sight and hearing. She was hospitalized for nearly a week with pancreatitis… and we were giving her daily steroid treatment and insulin injections. We would carry her everywhere. When we didn’t she would use her sense of smell to get around the house. Every now and then, when Lez would be in her office and I in my studio, we’d hear a little thump… which was Maggie walking into walls and doorways. I would joke that we should get her a small helmet for when she walks.
When handing out snacks to the crew, we’d have to tap Maggie on the head and let her smell so she could get her snack. Otherwise she’d search the floor for it.
We adapted to her increasing disabilities… because that’s what you do. It was frustrating at times, but it was Maggie. You (well, mostly me) grumbled a little, but you did it.
There were at least three times we thought she was going to pass away, only to have her bounce back as if she were never ill. Sometimes, all it took was a helping of Lez’s rigatoni to brighten her up.
She was a little fighter… yesterday she just couldn’t fight anymore.
When Maggie was a puppy, she was left for dead. Animal control found her wandering on a street. She was a little runt and had a cherry eye… which made her unattractive and perceived as deformed. The animal control people estimated she was only a few weeks old when they found her. What kind of sick person would do that?
It was fate. Lez was at the humane society just as the truck pulled in… Maggie was in the cab. Lez took one look at her and just had to have her. She called me and said, “We need to talk.”
As soon as she showed me a picture of this helpless puppy, the conversation was over. No one but us and our island of misfits could give this puppy the love and home she deserves. From there we had nearly eleven years of stories, pictures and just love. Maggie was the second child that Lez never had. She’d carry her like a baby… and whenever anyone would come near Lez while Maggie was in her arms, you’d get a Maggie warning to keep your social distance. I would often say that if Lez had to choose between Maggie and me… Maggie would win… and I’d be cool with that.
When Lucy passed away I remarked that she was “the best worst dog ever” because she was so bad. Maggie was just the best best dog.
She will be missed. Life will be different. It always is.
Today is the last time I will draw Maggie in my ongoing Family Styles series. Thank you all for your kind words and accompanying us on our journey together. Maggie will make her last appearance in Bob the Squirrel starting the week of February 15, 2021.
So… I was (have been) hesitant in writing my nearly annual year in review… for this year.
You know what? That is not true at all. The fact is, I was (am) terrified to write this. Yes. Terrified.
2020 was a year where I pretty much began to fear everything. I’ve never been terribly fearless to begin with, so whatever progress I’ve made as an adult went out the window. I the closed that window, sanitized it and decided that, for safety sake I would never open said window again. I talked about this fear in a post in April, when the COVID-19 deaths stood at 55,000. Eight months later, the toll stands at about 341,000.
The year started with me having an art show. The lock downs began just as the show was ending. I wasn’t sure if I would even be allowed to get my art at that point. I did get it in case you were wondering.
This just started the downward slide. As more and more limitations were placed on our daily lives, I just retreated deeper and deeper into my work… but not in a way that was outwardly noticed. I was productive , sure… but it wasn’t like there were a million books available to you, or video series (aside from my step-by-step art videos). Those few hours in the morning when the whole world was asleep and it was just me and something blank for me to fill, were the hours that I truly lived for. Not to say that I don’t live for my family… I definitely do that. But, the escape of creating is my way of keeping Frank distinctly Frank… and giving myself a bit of escape. Turns out, seeing a blank page once gave me a twinge in my gut… I wouldn’t call it fear…maybe anxiety. Now, that anxiety is everything around me. The one thing I DON’T fear is my art. Funny, huh?
But… I’ve prioritized things differently. I’ve yet to put a Bob book together. Traditionally, I’d have a new book available for sale right after Thanksgiving. Not this year. I don’t have a reasonable excuse and there’s no point in making one up. The book will be late… if I even decide to do one. And that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It once MAY have been the end… but it’s a different world now.
These are difficult times. I’m not sure of anything from one day to the next. I try not to let that anxiety ruin the tiny bit good that does still exist. Some of my friends have contracted the virus…and thankfully have recovered. I have to think that I could get it next…if for nothing more than to maintain my cautiousness.
In an unlucky year, with our income slashed, our anxieties heightened, our milestones paused or re-imagined, I still feel lucky. My family is healthy. We have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboard, dogs that are insane and a squirrel that… well… is still around.
The strip is different now because our days are different. That’s the great thing about Bob… in the nearly 19 years it’s grown with me…with you. Maybe one day I’ll achieve what I want to achieve with it… maybe that’ll happen in 2021. Maybe not.