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The road that led to BobFred

Charles Schultz is one of my heroes. I, like so many others grew up with the Peanuts comic strip, the Charlie Brown television specials and the comic digests and anthology books. At an early age, I admired the simplistic style and the honesty of the humor. It was at times heartwarming, witty and modern like no other strip, at times snarky and off the wall and absolutely hysterical. I loved Linus and his blanket and I identified with Charlie Brown as the ultimate underdog.

I had the "Peanuts Treasury" growing up. An anthology of strips spanning the scope of an entire year. From this book, I learned how a strip reflected real life and how it in some ways was a way for Schultz to express his daily thoughts, moods and ideas almost like a daily journal. I saw hundreds of ideas and scenereos. All of this sprung from the book and into my heart.

I had always wanted to do a strip among so many other things. Those "other things" seemed to keep cutting in line and for years and years, I worked as an actor and singer, toured the country with musicals and singing groups and all the while, I kept drawing. I rarely made any income from my drawing work aside from the random contract job one off.

For five years, I worked full time at IBM as a visual designer but was laid off in August of 2018. My original plan was to remain at IBM, retire in my early 60's and then begin working on a new career as an artist and illustrator. But not everything always goes as planned.

As bummed out as I was that the stability of my full time job had been pulled out from under me, I decided to think of it as a gift. I wasn't entirely happy working full time. It was difficult to do my own work and there always was the notion that I wasn't allowed to DO any outside work or that I was "owned" by "Big Blue."

I have no regrets about my experience in Corporate America. I made some great friends, had some amazing projects that included a big one with Apple, designing 99+ icons for a collaboration they did creating suites of business apps for the iPhone.

I had always been curious about that world and I was open to having the Corporate America "experience." I was proud of the fact that at 50+ years of age, I landed such a gig. Looking back at those five years from being hired to being laid off, I really DID get the experience I asked for.

So suddenly I was without a job and I knew it was time to cut to the chase and pursue what I really wanted to do. Illustration was something I had been doing practically since birth and I had a passionate life long love affair with it. I would be happy doing nothing but drawing every single day for the rest of my life.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with comic books and magazines like "Creepy" and "Eerie." I had a whole row of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" on my shelf next to my row of Oz books. I was obsessed with "The Wizard of Oz." I bounced back and forth creating both bloody horror comics and a desire to do a comic book version (pre-graphic novel) of "Oz."

So now in my post 50 years, I wanted to begin drawing as a profession. This was my new career. I wanted to draw Comics and Graphic Novels.

My debut graphic novel was going to be an adaptation of a one man show I had written called, "BobFred." An autobiography, it told the story of my life by all the variations of my name, "Robert." There was Robbie, Bobby, Bob, Rob, Bert and on and on. What glued the show together was the fact that I had BEEN each an every one of those names at one point in my life.

As I began to adapt the story, I decided to begin posting vignettes about the process of creating the graphic novel. I decided to make it a comic strip with my cats observing, asking me questions about the project and giving an audience the opportunity to get to know me. I wanted to begin building a following.

After the first couple strips, I found myself enjoying the cats and my interaction with them so much, that the strip took over. The name "BobFred" seemed perfect. It was semi-autobiographical and it was quirky and catchy.

And so, BobFred was born and I set out with the ambitious plan to try to do a daily strip. I knew that I would be developing the strip in real time with each daily comic. If you were to compare the first ones with the strip today, you can see that it has evolved. The characters and the format are more streamlined and where I would bounce from stories about the cats, stories about my childhood and offbeat quirky stories about eyeballs, I have put the focus on my life in Chicago with my two cats, a dog and a coughdrop.

With this strip, I feel I can do anything, tell all sorts of stories and tap into a bottomless well of ideas. I love doing it, I love the characters, I love the challenge of telling a story in a limited number of panels and I love editing the dialogue to it's purest form. You don't have much room to tell a story and so the telling of the story needs clarity and honesty. Simplicity is key. I also love the idea of spreading a story out over several strips as Schultz did. Sometimes a story about Linus and Lucy would stretch out over a week or more.

So challenge accepted. I want to do a daily strip and I want to create spin-off comic books and graphic novels. I would love to see someone wearing a BobFred t-shirt and I would love to see my characters continue to grow and reach out to a wide audience.

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