About twenty years ago I was set on being the next Bill Watterson. I know, I know… but one must aim high, right? I worked for a solid year developing Raf, a semi-autobiographical strip about a teenager and his sadistic brother living with their divorced mom. Even though it was the 1990s, the idea of a divorced character was almost unknown in the conservative world of syndicated cartoon strips. I drew up thirty days’ worth of cartoons (including four laboriously hand-colored Sunday strips that had the breakaway disposable top row) and sent them in. I was rejected. I did some more and sent them in. I was rejected again, but this time by an actual editor. I did not know that this was considered encouraging… these guys got hundreds of submissions a week, and to even be read by one of the top guys was a rarity.
I figured the best thing was to try again with different characters. I has an idea of a crusty old guy, Floyd Barnes, who inherits a hotel from his hated brother. The letter reads “Dear Floyd. This place has been the death of me. Hope it does the same for you. Love, Errol.” I introduced a cast of characters including an incompetent handyman, a black character and several kooky old tenants. I had discovered my need to create complex stories. I did two months of strips and was really getting into the groove, but after my grandmother died I had many other things to do and my comics art was somewhat sidetracked for a year or so.
And then I moved to Portland. At the time, Portland had a huge amount of alternative papers, and I thought I’d like to do a Sunday-style weekly strip about a house full of twenty-somethings living in a house together. I know, I know… it sounds a lot like Friends, and it was right around that time (though slightly before it). The strip was pretty successful, but the newspapers kept folding before the strip could become established.
Unlike friends, these guys actually worked crappy jobs and made open fun of people. It was fun and set the stage for what came next.