01 July 2012

Squish on Sundays.

There’s been some minor outrage over how I took my previous blog posts offline. Really minor outrage, of course. It’s more like, “Aww, that bit you wrote is gone,” rather than, “PUT IT BACK. NOW. OR DEATH AWAITS YOU. WITH NASTY BIG SHARP POINTY TEETH.”

Relax. I may restore some of the posts. Or I might recycle them and post them elsewhere. But they’re staying offline for now. (Well, sorta offline; some of them are still in Google’s cache, so if you do a Google search for them, they’re still floating around in the ether for the next month or so, until the cache is updated.)

And I will be re-posting the Mr. Squish strips. Starting with this one. And the following memoir of it.

Mr. Squish. September 1990.

Decades ago (yep, it’s actually been decades now) I joined the staff of the CSU Sacramento Hornet. (It didn’t get re-renamed The State Hornet till the next year; that’s another story.) I was hoping to get a weekly column on the op/ed pages, like I had at the Solano College Tempest. But then again, so did everyone else. Journalism students are opinionated like that. So the column was a big no. But there was one other way to get onto the op/ed pages every week: All it took was my limited ability to draw.

This was not the first-ever appearance of Leonard Squish. I had invented him for the strip I produced in my last semester at the Tempest, “The Adventures of Mr. Squish.” Leonard had a few significant differences. “Squish” wasn’t his literal last name. “Leonard” was not his first name yet. He tended to wear wifebeaters and dog collars, and his spikes were way pointier—definitely a punk rock kid.

But I figured the above strip wouldn’t work if he were dressed that way. So I put him in a tie and toned down the spikes a tad. And this look stuck; I kinda liked the juxtaposition of spiky hair and a tie. Remember, this was 1990: Spiky hair and ties weren’t mainstream until metrosexuals went mainstream in the late ’90s. I was way ahead of the trend. Not that I was trying to start one. (Honestly, on non-cartoons, it usually looks stupid, like you‘re trying to desperately hold on to your fleeting youth. Just warning you. You’re welcome.)

True, I was accused of ripping off Bart Simpson for Leonard’s look. But I had been drawing variations of Leonard for a few years before The Tracey Ullman Show started showing Simpsons shorts… for all the good that argument does me.

This was also not the first “Squish” strip I drew for the Hornet. I drew another. The assistant editor-in-chief, Chris (who was my EIC for a semester at the Tempest, and later became EIC of the State Hornet in ’92), rejected it. He didn’t find it funny.

Chris had particular guidelines on what constitutes “funny.” I believed, then as now, humor is subjective. We regularly debated this. But as editor, Chris was in a position to enforce his view, and felt it part of his duties to improve me—to insist I be “funnier,” or, sometimes, less offensive. He was the only editor I ever had who rejected my strips. My other editors, who agreed with me that humor is subjective—and agreed my strips were funny—gave me a free hand.

I’d like to say Chris’s constructive criticism brought out the best in me. Man, would I like to say that. But it just isn’t true. I resented the hell out of it. I was used to drawing what I wished, and his editing seemed to me to be arbitrary or paranoid. Once he became EIC of the State Hornet, we clashed regularly. He kept trying to “fix” things I didn’t consider broken—and the fact that “Squish” was so popular at CSUS regardless, seemed to dumbfound him. In his mind, I was still the angry right-wing columnist at the Tempest whom everybody hated. (Well, everybody he knew.)

To be fair, I was a bull-headed jerk at the time. If Chris actually did improve any of my strips, I wasn’t in a mindset to see it: I was too angry about being “censored.” And there were many times where he totally didn’t get what I was doing, but let me publish stuff anyway.

No, Chris is not the bad guy. He was my editor. Much as I disagreed with him, he had every right to edit my stuff. That’s the editor’s job, after all. I was just far too used to being off the leash. Even today I don’t agree with his edits, but that’s not the issue: My attitude was. Back then I was far more of a blunt instrument, far angrier, and my attitude was, “Don’t like it? F--- you.” Hardly Christian of me, I know. You’ll see a bit of this in the “Squish” strips.

Nowadays, my attitude is that I do care what others think. I’m trying to provoke, but not offend. Offense makes people irrational, and you just can’t have a discussion when people are irrational. I didn’t realize the difference back then. I was too much of a pessimist to believe I could have any meaningful discussion with opponents: I was right, they were wrong, that was that. But that was then. Today, I’m an optimist. And at the same time, I believe we’re all wrong. …There, that’ll confuse you.

Well. Chris’s editing, which I called “micromanaging,” sucked all the fun out of my producing the strip. So as soon my job made my State Hornet duties difficult to juggle, I figured, “Screw this,” quit on him, and dropped the strip in mid-semester.

But that’s getting way ahead of the story. This is only the first strip, after all.