It all started many years ago when I decided to try my hand at cartooning. But what subject matter could I choose that would stand out from the cluttered fields of serialized comic strips of the day? I wanted it to be Canadian with characters rendered in a new way.
First I had to have a Concept. So I decided on a beaver named Ronald Beav who could channel my inner anger in humorous ways (and would also mirror the shtick of Donald Duck, who was always quick to get angry. See what I un-originally did there?) The next stage would be Character Design. Again, I wanted the characters to be rendered in a different manner that would make them instantly recognizable. So I turned to a craft base with a dash of DIY and based my cast on common household items.
For Ronald Beav, I used a brown paper lunch bag:
We’ll get to his signature sound effect later. But below you will find my mock up made out of the brown lunch bag, white cardboard (teeth), two Styrofoam balls (eyes), and colored marker (features). Have a look:
Cute, right? A basic design that would be easy to render for the strips and easy for parents to make at home if their children enjoyed the character and wanted a version for themselves.
With the Concept and Character Design established, it was time to work out the Visual Style for the strip. So to get back to the defining attribute of Ronald Beav we have to address his temper. He can go to calm to blazing in seconds flat! Below, you’ll see what I settled on for rendering and coloration, as well as his signature gag: The Slow Burn.
‘FOOM!’ usually denoted the ignition of his anger into a full blaze above his head. The ‘POOT!’ sound effect would be used if he failed to ignite or when his flame suddenly extinguished. See, even anger can be cute! By the way, the payoff for this joke is that he’s a paper bag that bursts into flame when he is angry. It gave him a unique feature.
Lastly I had to settle on The Format of the strip itself. Would I use the standard three or four-panel square format? The one-panel round format? Or develop something else? I’m not sure if any other cartoonist has used this, but I decided on a three-panel round format. Originally I released the strip on my blog with the panels stacked on top of each other to compliment the action of scrolling down, common to blogs. But here, I’m going with the more common side-by-side distribution to more closely mimic a standard newspaper format:
Each strip is a conversation between a Narrator and one or more of the characters. Each strip also has a self-contained story or gag, although it was usually a part of a longer story arch told over several strips. But even so, each strip could be read and enjoyed on its own.
I originally drew all of the strips by hand, inked and lettered them by hand, and released them in black in white. But I soon realized that they didn’t pop that way, so I switched to a digital rendering program and colored them.
The last decision I made was to follow the trope of having the characters come out of the panel. You can see this in the strip above in Panel One as Ronald leans against the bottom of the circle, and Panel Three where he is grasping the Narrator’s box at the bottom for stability as he ignites.
The fact that I did this years ago and you have never heard of it until now should tell you how popular it became! In hindsight, I did rely too heavily on common tropes, and the humor was simple. On the plus side, I do think the use of everyday household objects in the creation of the cast was original and fun. Here are a few more examples of this:
I had many pairs of oversized work socks. I thought of sock puppets and you can see what happened when I tried to work it as a character! Another Canadian icon is the Moose, and as the sock looked like it had a big nose, Mickey Moose was born. As Ronald was a take on Donald Duck, Mickey Moose became a riff on Mickey Mouse. Like I said. Not very original. Mickey Moose became the affable friend and foil of Ronald, usually having a much more positive and optimistic view of the world, even if he did come up with some very strange ideas sometimes. Like opening a Snow Cone business in an Igloo in the middle of winter:
The Canadian in-joke is that the most popular fast-food franchise in Canada is Tim Hortons, or Timmies for short. And so Gimmies was born!
What other characters sprang from my humble abode? My wife had just about burned our oven mitts to death when I decided they would make a good pair of characters. Bears are also very prevalent in Canada, and I felt I needed a married couple in the strip to play on those male vs. female perspectives, and so:
Lastly, I introduced two characters to represent another iconic form of wildlife native to Canada, the Loon. These birds are known for their devotion to each other for life, so where the Bear couple always bickered and had misunderstandings, the Loons did everything together with joy and love. But always with disastrous results! In the conclusion to the panel below, the strip tells us that they even crash land together.
Loonie (the purple male) is named after the Canadian One Dollar coin (the Loonie, because it has a Loon on it) and Toonie (the pink female) is named after the Canadian Two Dollar coin, nicknamed the Toonie to play off of the nickname for the dollar coin, which came out first. They are intended to be balloon animals, another simple construct that most parents could fabricate with something they would likely have on hand in the house or could get easily at a Dollar Store. Inspiration for these characters also came from the wonderful Wally Boag who was known for making balloon animals in his act, named Boagaloons, and who worked for Walt Disney. I used a lot of Disney references in the strip.
And that was my attempt at creating a Comic Strip based on Canadian stereotypes, animals, and culture.