One day back in the early 1980’s I was sketching & fooling around with different faces when I drew a primitive (in hindsight) version of Alden. One of my best friends & one of the funniest people I know in my life is my little brother Kieran, whose nickname at the time was “Geek.” I took the cartoon face I drew & wrote, “Have you hugged your geek today?” as a caption and taped it to the inside of my briefcase where it stayed for many months.
Then one day I was working the midnight shift as a security guard at a company that had “Alden” in it’s name. (“Alden Printing” or something like that.) While messing around drawing, I drew the body for the head and created Gordon the Mouse in one of the most incredibly creative nights of my entire life. I named the character “Alden” because of the company where this magical night happened. And because of my brother, the complete name is “Alden K. Geek,” although Kieran is NOTHING like Alden. Some of my characters may have features of the folks they're inspired by, but for the most part they all are parts of me.
Alden is an innocent. He’s not dumb, he just doesn’t have the inherent cynicism & jaundiced eye that most people have. He takes people on their word, and the fact that they have ulterior motives doesn’t even occur to him. He’s an expert on technology; computers purr when he comes near. He can perform miracles with a keyboard and mouse. He’s physically very clumsy; he trips over footprints in the dirt, and the mysteries of tape dispensers give him nightmares. Every swing of a hammer hits a thumb (but not always his.)
Alden is naïve and innocent, but he spontaneously acts upon his secret dreams and fantasies… he leads an interesting “hidden” life. Kinda like if you found out that your beloved great aunt Mabel jello wrestles bikers down at the Emporium on Saturday nights, and has the championship belts to prove it. He has the fashion sense of a four-year-old, favoring fuzzy bunny slippers, tutus, and Carmen Miranda fruit hats.
Gordon is named after my brother Kieran’s best friend, Gordon “Buddy” Carlson. (At the time I created the character, no one called him Gordon.) The three of us shared an apartment for a year back in the early ‘80s. The only reason Gordon has a beard is because Buddy has one. (I drew him without one for a few months in the beginning.)
Gordon is a MOUSE. Calling him a rat or hamster or anything but a pure Mus musculus will get your eyebrows removed. Kinda like calling an Irishman “British.”
Gordon is a mechanical wiz. Small engines seem to heal themselves in his hands. He’s a cynical coffee addict who is frequently grumpy. He has very particular tastes and habits, and he HATES getting blood in his caffeine system. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly; his sarcasm has knocked crows off a fence from 30 paces away. He is a long-suffering best friend to Alden.
Griswald started life as a plant in the community room of a commune in northern California. He was loved and nurtured in a loving, joyous place… until the commune got busted by the feds for manufacturing large amounts of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. During the raid, a large jar of pure liquid LSD was poured into his pot in an effort to conceal it.
As a consequence, Griswald spent the next four years during the late ‘60s in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park convinced he was a giant redwood tree. Then he had a vision from the Great Floral Couch In The Sky that J. Edgar Hoover was Hilter’s barber’s girlfriend’s babysitter’s second cousin twice removed… and set out to Washington, DC to prove it.
While traveling through central Illinois, he had another vision from the Celestial Floral Couch that there was a guy in Chicago named Murray who had saved the world, and no one knew it. So he set out for Chicago to find & thank Murray personally. While in Chicago, he fought on the front lines of the War Against Disco, and is very proud of his combat record. And then he went to… oh, never mind. I’ll be here all week telling stories.
Griswald is a news junkie… he reads the newspapers & watches the news channels. He is liberal almost to the point of being an anarchist. He is always hitting on Bernie the Philodendron in the kitchen (who thinks he’s a total weed) as well as any other flowering vegetation within sight.
Griswald is always bumming rides in a radio flyer wagon or a furniture dolly or anything else that would work. He sometimes rides on scooters or Seqways, but is too proud to ask for gas money or help. Occasional acid flashbacks & random hallucinations.
Broderick (Brody for short) is named after my grandson. I had this character in my strip as “Spike” for many years, & one day I was sketching at the kitchen table while my daughter fed Brody. He was brand new to solid foods, and you couldn’t shovel the bananas & cereal into his mouth fast enough. I drew a cartoon (which is included in this collection) of Brody the Cactus scarfing a hot dog out of Gordon’s hand that completely captured my grandson’s look… so this character was renamed.
Brody the Cactus is young, and while naïve about the world, he’s learning fast. He hangs out with Griswald, Bernie & Roger... just one of the veggie crowd in the house. Bernie has taken to protecting Brody from the world like a good mother, & has taken him under her fronds… as it were. He has nightmares about a gang of drunken Mexican mice in need of some tequila mistaking him for an agave cactus. He has learned to shoot his spikes in self-defense and because of youthful exuberance gets into occasional tiffs with Belky. (Yes, yes, I know. Cacti and porcupines don’t shoot their quills. It’s a cartoon strip. Chill out.) He always comes out on the worst side of these confrontations because Belky is older, smarter, and more ruthless. No one gets hurt, though. Bernie would pluck Belky bald if she caught him hurting Brody!
I once had two goldfish and a miniature catfish as pets for several years. They were named Fido & Fluffy (the goldfish,) and Rochester. They lived for years in the up-turned plastic lid of a cake cover that they were hurriedly scooped into when a drunk friend knocked them off the table in the middle of a wild gesture or something, shattering their goldfish bowl. They survived everything except one fateful party, when an idiot thought that they needed a shot of Jack Daniels to help them relax. Thanks, pal. MORON.
Fido HAS a bowl, and sleeps in it. The rest of the time, he swims though the air & interacts with everyone. (I always told people it was because of the very high humidity of the strip.) He is constantly amazed at the foolishness & antics of Alden, & is fascinated by him. He is traumatized by finding fish sticks in the freezer… it brings back horrible memories of his beloved Uncle Murray. (A long story that never gets told.) He has a contentious relationship with the plants in the strip because they see him as potential fertilizer; they constantly ask him how he’s feeling, on the off chance that he might want to “lie down & rest for a bit in the dirt” of their pots. He is very political (though not as left-wing as Griswald the Potted Palm) and loves to spar with Carson & Moe; he is smarter then the two of them put together & then tripled.
Fido is, by the way, my wife Chris’ favorite character. :o)
Bernadette Cartland was an old friend from the poetry community in Connecticut. She was smart, hilarious, and a formidable woman. She had long been one of my biggest supporters & cheerleaders. With a few exceptions, again the character share very few traits with the person they were named for. In THIS case, Bernie Cartland was every bit as insane as Bernie the Philodendron is. There are some days where if you don’t have a fresh package of Oreos and a perfectly mixed gin & tonic about your immediate person, it might be a good idea to just go away for a bit. And then there’s that smart, funny, formidable thing. Rest In Peace, sweet Lady.
Bernie the Philodendron, though, is spoiled rotten. She’s a bit prissy, can be snippy at times, and can be a bit of a tattletale on occasion. She has bad veggie PMS (her pistels itch & she craves Oreos & Doritos) and she has been known to throw epic hissy fits. She’s in the kitchen, the center of EVERYTHING and gets pampered by Alden & Gordon. She has the prime hook on the front porch when the weather is nice, and she holds court with anyone who passes by. From her front porch she can see Hieronymus the Oak in the large yard… and worships him from afar. He has no idea that she exists, and the only one who can help her to get his attention… Griswald the Potted Palm… wants her all for himself. She has an active account on Match.com, but is immediately dismissive of any message she gets… because she dates “only the FINEST flora and WHO IS VINNIE FROM BROOKLYN?!?”
Bernie hangs out with the rest of the non-mobile veggies. She generally thinks Griswald is a weed (she’s woken up a couple of times to find him licking her fronds in his sleep) but has been known to succumb to his charms when she’s bored. (After all, “philodendron” is Greek for “Love Tree” and she will never let you forget it.) Bernie is protective of young Brody the Cactus, and she teams up with Roger the Pansy on occasion against the others.
Roger Ochs is an old friend from Connecticut who is one of the rudest & most talented poets & Shakespearean actors I have ever had the pleasure to have known. He is a Vietnam veteran of multiple tours, and has the “screw ‘em all” attitude against authority & life in general that only those who have looked death squarely in the eye at a young age have mastered. He of the Shaved Skull has a very deep & sonorous voice (think James Earl Jones) that truly does justice to, among other gems, his thoughtful & eloquent poetic tribute to oral sex. (Trust me, it’s worth a listen.)
Roger the Pansy, like Roger the poet, is always grumpy. He’s a tough guy who has to live with the fact that people think he’s… well, a pansy. He proves that even pretty flowers are tough & don’t take no smack from anybody. He is a war vet (he grew up in a marijuana grove on the fringes of the jungle surrounding Da Nang Airbase in South Vietnam, planted & brought back to America by a home-sick soldier) & is very proud, like Griswald, of his combat record in the War Against Disco in the late ‘70s. He is always battling for respect with almost everyone… even if only in his own mind. His best friend is Bernie the Philodendron; they make a formidable team against anyone looking for trouble in the kitchen or front porch.
Belky is named after the very best comic book artist I have ever seen. Mike was my best man at my first wedding; “Belky” was one of the pseudonyms that he used to draw under.
While Mike is a very smart & very funny guy who is pretty good at dishing out the sarcasm, Belky is more the Don Rickles of the strip. If you want to get someone sobbing and whimpering in a corner sucking their thumb, ask Belky to help. His sarcasm is a weapon of mass destruction when he goes on a tear about something he feels passionately about. He’s very cynical (more so then Gordon) but unlike Gordon, he doesn’t feel that his fellow denizens of the strip have any redeeming qualities... but every once in a while something will strip away the layers & he shows his heart. Over all he’s happy with his OCCASIONAL interactions with the other characters… he spends most of his time under the porch, where he has a very tidy little space created for himself. He’s very fussy and anal; he likes things JUST SO. He’s like Felix Unger (from The Odd Couple) with a very bad attitude. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge year round. He can shoot his quills, and takes great delight in shooting balloons held by children & clowns. He occasionally gets in shooting wars with Brody the Cactus. He rarely loses, but knows better then to hurt Brody or anyone else. Bernie the Philodendron is NOT one of his biggest fans, and will use her black belt in Vine Fu against him if provoked… so he doesn’t mess with her.
My personal pet for the past decade or more is Hieronymus the iguana. She’s almost five feet long now from nose to tail; she’s grown considerably since I acquired her. I named her after the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (died 1516), one of my favorite all-time artists. My iguana loves to climb the oak tree in my backyard; she’ll spend days up there, swaying in the Texas wind & soaking up the Texas sun. So, by extension, the tree in the spacious backyard in the strip is named Hieronymus.
Hieronymus the Oak Tree is a wise, gentle soul who is highly amused with the antics of all the creatures around him, but especially with the squirrels. They are almost his private army, and because they almost worship him (he provides everything they need to survive, after all) they are his “ambassadors” to everywhere that he can’t reach. Unfortunately, when he requests them to help, their interpretation of the request can be pretty wild & screwed up. They might be his hands, but they are comically unreliable in carrying out his wishes. The results can be pretty catastrophic & hilarious.
Bernie the Philodendron can see him from both her perch in the kitchen, & from her hook on the front porch. She is completely in love with him, but he has no idea that she even exists… & she’s too proud to do anything to capture his attention.
So Hieronymus sits in the backyard, dispensing wisdom & environmental philosophies to anyone who wanders by. He is an expert on global warming, soil solarization, organic fertilizers, the mating habits of sparrows, and anything else having to do with Nature. He couldn’t care less about politics but he has laser insights to the nature of politicians.
Several years ago I created a tribe of squirrels for a strip, and promptly forgot about them. Then several months later, out of the blue, all these ideas for ‘toons started popping into my head… almost enough to start their own strip. They quickly became a standard “character” as a group.
You will never hear them speak. They communicate, but it’s right before the strip starts; you only see the other characters’ reactions to them. I considered separating one out & making him a single character (like Charles Shultz did with Woodstock; he started as a flock of birds before becoming Snoopy’s best friend) but I like them better as a collective. Sort of like a group mind. They have sophisticated tastes (they throw wine-tasting parties in the branches of Hieronymus the Oak) but are silly and a bit on the hysterical side. (Ever seen squirrels chase each other around the backyard?) They come up with complicated harebrained schemes (organizing their own Homeland Security detachment, trying to convince Griswald the Potted Palm to go condo) and generally run rampant outside; their plans are very Rube Goldberg in concept & execution. They are a constant source of irritation & amusement for Hieronymus the Oak Tree, and much to his annoyance they tickle him when they chase around his branches. He is the only creature on the planet that they respect; he’s like a demigod to them & they are very protective of him.
“Carson” is the middle name of one of my buddies from high school & the Marines… Mark Carson McLeod. Moe is named after my brother Maurice (nickname Moe) but with both of these characters, the resemblance ends there. The cartoon characters are muscle-bound bullies; both are weightlifters. Both bought into Madison Avenue Barbie Doll Prefection thing long ago, where just flexing & looking good should get you through life. Carson the Duck is happy-go lucky, where Moe has a very bad attitude. Both are politically conservative but miserably ignorant with no coherent thoughts in their heads. They’re pure dumb instinct… and even rocks are offended when compared to them. If this strip had any dumb blondes, it’s Moe & Carson the Duck. They hang out, party, & fight together.
The difference between the two is that Moe will NEVER admit that he’s wrong, while Carson is a good guy at heart who honestly wants to do the right thing. Moe is a solid Dittohead (Rush Limbaugh fanatic) who gets totally pumped up & frothing at the mouth from watching Faux News & Sarah Palin speeches. Carson is a follower & even if he doesn’t always see the error of his ways (and wild conclusions) he at least is willing to admit that he may not always be right. He’s easily influenced by Moe… essentially, the blind leading the blind.
Moe & Carson are, naturally, political conservatives who think that Bill O’Reilly is a genius who knows more then any man ever. Ever. Ever. EVER.
They think that Glenn Beck is the greatest philosopher since Jesus Christ or even Ronald Reagan. (Carson: ”He MUST be telling the truth. He’s SO honest & sincere! Why else would he be crying?!”) They both proclaim themselves to be good Christians, then set about using the Old Testament to show why we should destroy our enemies & turn their countries into parking lots for Walmart… then immediately turn around & use the New Testament to prove that they are, indeed, good Christians.
Moe owns all of O’Reilly’s books, and displays them prominently in his living room, right next to the tattered wicker mammasan chair he garbage-picked from the side of the road five years ago. He’s never READ any of them, but has watched Bill O’Reilly over the years so religiously that he can pretty much recite entire pages… because Mr. O’Reilly does that, over and over and over and over again.
Carson thinks he’s physically gorgeous, & has an easy self-confidence in his looks. Moe works out because he doesn’t like himself; is very insecure and will go Terminator on you if he feels that you think him anything less then a mental giant… because after all, that’s how the greatest geniuses in history have proven their superiority. By beating the snot out of you. Don’t MESS with a pissed off Einstein, homey. Carson & Moe feed off each other, convincing each other that it really WAS a UFO over the golf course last night, that Bigfoot really IS eating all the birdseed in the backyard (squirrels just ain’t that smart), and Sarah Palin really IS the second coming… and she is HOT.
The character of Brianna the Mythical Dragon is unique among the other characters in the strip because she was created at the specific request of the little Lady she’s named after. Brianna was six years old when I first met her, and she loved my songs & my cartoons from day one… even if she wasn’t quite sure about the big ugly guy creating them. She was fascinated when I was sketching dragons, and demanded that I create a cartoon character… so I did. How could I deny those sparkling blue eyes? :o)
Brianna the Mythical Dragon is mischievous & playful… the fact that she’s a mythical creature & can just fly away in a flash gives her the courage & moxie to pull stunts & pranks. She gets along with the plant community better then the rest of the characters because they’re closer to the Earth… that mythological thing again. She has a huge crush on Griswald… but would never let him know. She can breathe fire, but only after a good meal at her favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in South Austin. (Yes, she flies in occasionally when the urge hits her.)
Brianna is a sports fanatic… she plays basketball (she dunks, of course) and baseball (no one on the opposing team has hit a ball out of the park since she took the game up; wings are a distinct advantage when it comes to stopping fly balls) and anything else that strikes her fancy… except football. She’s a huge Steelers fan, but she might break a nail playing.