What to say about Doctor Fun? It's difficult for me to write about Doctor Fun because, as odd as it sounds, I hardly ever thought about the cartoon except when I was actually working on it. To me the essence of the cartoon was that as soon as I finished a cartoon I wanted to forget about it and get on to the next one. Later I'll show you how that attitude sometimes backfired on me. It took me years to write an FAQ, and the first time I really sat down and looked through the old cartoons myself was when I was putting together the book. Doctor Fun rarely intruded in my day-to-day life away from my laptop in the dining room. It seemed odd, but who wants to be wacky all the time? I've often thought it would be best if someone else stepped forward to play the author of Doctor Fun. Gary Larson, maybe. (That's a joke, although the kiss of death is to be "the next Gary Larson".) As the years went on and the cartoons piled up, the situation just seemed odder and odder, which is mostly why I said nothing about the impending end of Doctor Fun. I wanted it to be business as usual up to the last cartoon. In the past I've mentioned that it would end at 520 weeks. Was that the plan from the beginning? No, because there was no plan at the beginning other than to show people some neat cartoons in a whole new format. A couple years ago, after I came back from a long break I decided that Doctor Fun needed an end date, and ten years looked like a fair deal for everybody. If I hadn't set an end date, I doubt the poor Doctor would have made it to 520 weeks. Some kind people have pointed out that ten years is really 522 weeks. Math was never my strong point. 520 weeks is close enough.
So, why end it? Mostly because a good chunk of my free time has been occupied by Doctor Fun since what seems like forever now. And while it's been satisfying, it was time to wrap it up and do some other things. Some good things happened along the way - I was picked up briefly by United Media, and much later a book came out, and both of those things were very exciting, although the process was perhaps more exciting than the end result, but that's true for many things. I've had a lot of good back and forth the people who read Doctor Fun. Most of all, it's important to do something creative when you have the chance and can make the time, rather than put it off to later. Even if fame and fortune never follow, later may never follow either, so I've no regrets. Some people tell me I'm old now. However, when anyone asks me what I did in my 30s, I can say Doctor Fun was what I did in my 30s. What is my life like outside the glamour word of Doctor Fun? Most people I know have never heard of Doctor Fun. I live in Chicago, I drive a Saab, and I have two rabbits. I run a lot. In fact, running is mostly why after 520 weeks of Doctor Fun I don't weight 250 lbs. Many things have changed since I started Doctor Fun, but some have stayed the same. For instance, I have the same job I had when I started the cartoon, working for the University of Chicago Library.
Producing the cartoon has always been time-intensive. The only real skill I have is scribbling down batches of bad ideas. Often I can't read my notes later, which is a real problem, because the funniest ideas might be the illegible ones. I have only the most rudimentary artistic ability, and drawing and coloring the cartoons has always been a grind. The process changed over the years, even though the format stayed the same. When I started, the equipment I was using was too slow to keep up with free hand sketching with a drawing tablet, not to mention that the tablet I could afford at the time didn't have pressure sensitivity, and the pen was attached with a cord. So the cartoons had to scanned in and colored in Aldus PhotoStyler. But in some ways I was on the bleeding edge - I had an Opti Mona Lisa video card I bought off of somebody on Usenet that could do 1024x768 in 24-bit color, which doesn't sound like anything special now, but was a huge deal in a PC in 1993. However, it was slow. Slow so that trying to sketch a cartoon on screen resulted in a bunch of scrambled polygons, but it was fast enough to do coloring. At the beginning there was no such thing as layers, only multiple copies,, so if something got screwed up in a major way along the way it was sometimes start over. Once I had a major multi-drive failure and lost some of the unpublished cartoons forever. Over the years things got better - tablets got better, computers became faster. Eventually I switched to Adobe Photoshop, and then started drawing the cartoons from scratch on the computer. Although the hardware changed, things basically stayed like that. For the past few years, I've been drawing Doctor Fun on a laptop. The routine of drawing Doctor Fun over the years has changed. For the first couple years I was often able to stay weeks ahead of schedule, and the self-imposed deadlines weren't so onerous. For years now I've never been able to get more than a couple days work ahead, and usually the cartoons have been drawn the evening before their posted. That's just the way it is, life changed and whenever something came up I had to take a break, which I disliked. For the last months I've made a point to spend as much time as possible on the cartoon without taking many breaks, but that was something I couldn't keep up indefinitely.
I've seen some discussion online about what was the first Internet cartoon, what was the first web cartoon, what was the first cartoon for the web, etc. Doctor Fun was not the first Internet cartoon. That would be Hans Borjdahl's "Where the Buffalo Roam". Charley Parker's Argon Zark seems to have been the first comic designed for the web, although it started later than Doctor Fun. So, Doctor Fun was not the first Internet cartoon or the first Web cartoon, but he was in there somewhere.
And now the uncomfortable question, why wasn't Doctor Fun successful? Well, in some ways it was. Traffic steadily increased at ibiblio over the years, but not in an earth-shaking way. There was a book. There was the association with United Media for awhile. After awhile, Doctor Fun reached a plateau and was as successful as it was ever going to be. Perversely, I noticed that the traffic on the Doctor Fun pages climbed last year as I took more breaks, but began to fall during the last couple months when I was making an effort to stick to it as much as possible. It is difficult to find a place for a single-panel cartoon without continuing characters, although I sort of fudged by creating "Doctor Fun" for the logo. It was probably even more difficult to find a place considering some of the subject matter, although my attitude was that the internet was exactly the sort of place to put jokes editors think nobody will get. (Scott Adams has an essay on his pages called "How to Become a Cartoonist" that's practically a point by point analysis of why Doctor Fun never worked.) Over the years, more than one person has written me saying that they can't imagine anybody else gets all the jokes so it's like a cartoon drawn just for them, which is all the success anybody needs (besides the imaginary giant royalty payment checks). All you guys and girls should get together. And then there was Billo...
One thing that fascinates me more than anything are the repeats. Three times I've drawn the same cartoon. How can this happen? I usually sketch more ideas than I ever use, so being stuck for ideas was not the problem. I don't generally go back and look at the Doctor Fun cartoons after I draw them. In fact, the first time I did was when I was putting the book together. My favorite theory is it's because I subconsciously remembered something I drew before, and when sketched it again it seemed "perfect" - because I'd drawn it before! And even stranger, two of them are about chickens. So, chickens are dangerous - they cloud the mind.
Here they are - to me at least it's quite interesting how I approached the drawing each time, not realizing I'd already done the cartoon once before.
First one isn't exactly a dupe, but close enough that somebody immediately pointed it out to me (meaning, other people remember my cartoons better than I do).
Maybe there are more I don't know about yet.
What's in the future? Probably more cartoons, sometime. I won't call it Doctor Fun, unless I get really lazy and can't think of anything better to call it when I draw some new ones. I suspect it will be batches of cartoons, maybe all on a theme, updated on an irregular schedule. We'll see. I've already promised to draw more Peeps cartoons. Although to be honest, I don't even care much for the gooey things. Circus Peanuts are superior in every way, except for the lack of personality. And on that note, thanks again for reading Doctor Fun!
If you read this far, you may even want to look at the old FAQ. Keep in mind it was written when Doctor Fun was still an ongoing concern.