I had a great time going through the Cubicle Counts and reminiscing about the BIOSIS “glory” days.
When I was drawing the cartoons, the strip was nothing but a silly throwaway hobby. Looking back over them so many years later, though, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the strips represent something more. For all the disdain I heaped on BIOSIS in these blog posts—and I regret none of it—I still can’t help but smile as I think about the people and events from the BIOSIS years. And I can’t help but feel that Cubicle Count won’t really be “complete” until I capture some of the people and events that make up my best (and/or most vivid) memories from those years…
Which brings us here. For obvious reasons, this time around I’m not going to follow my usual practice of tagging all the people that appear in the, um, strip. But there’s no question that the Cubicle Count oeuvre would be incomplete without an appearance from this character, and here she is (and then some!).
I only just drew this, but already I’ve found something I wish I’d done differently: despite the title, I didn’t use an actual interrobang (‽). Should have used one in panel 3.
Without looking back through my journals, I’d peg this “missing” Cubicle Count to late 1992.
This drawing is from one of the many letters exchanged with my friend Nancy, who I met at college. I almost never see her these days, yet she’s one of my closest closest closest friends. Really, “friend” doesn’t begin to cover it. I’m a words guy, but there’s no way I could do justice to the back story here.
So, with that said (and unsaid), I wish you HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY, Nance.
Curatio currently ranks at #2 on my job length-of-tenure list, checking it at 7+ years (close to 8 years if you count my service as Beth’s understudy).*
The company changed a lot in the time I was there, and nowhere was that more evident than in the tradition known as “weekly status.” When I first reached Curatio, this meeting was an entertaining free-for-all where all six (!) participants just let the one-liners, putdowns, and practical jokes fly (who can forget the classic Elayne D&D die roll at Denise’s expense?). It was perfect cartooning fodder, and in fact somewhere in my sketchpad I have a very preliminary drawing of a typical scene from those old status meetings. But aside from that one sketch—though the idea always nagged at me—I never got into drawing any Curatio-inspired cartoons.
One random week (much to the bemusement of my coworkers), I took a bunch of camera-phone pictures during the status meeting, and I used them to rough out this drawing. I’m not sure why I never finished inking this in. Short attention span is a pretty good guess.
This drawing does a fair job of capturing my view of these meetings. But the fact is that status meetings during the era of this drawing were pretty button-down affairs. Witty one-liners had by this point long been supplanted by beaten-to-death corporate buzzphrases, and that doesn’t translate well to cartoon. I’m not sure exactly when or why status jumped the proverbial shark, but I’m guessing it had something to do with Donner and the optospectometer.
I should note that this drawing is based on what my pictures captured. Denise—if you ever see this—you were indeed having the mini-freakout depicted here. And I am certain I was playing Yahtzee.
*The two companies that I worked for the longest were both well-established businesses…and both wound up closing. Hmmmm.
A few minutes in the day of the life of a Caldor clerk (and his pals).
What’s Caldor, you ask? It was a department store, kind of like Target meets “Clerks” (the movie). By today’s standards, it’s hard to imagine that the chain (once the prairies were black with ’em!) ever stayed in business: imagine a Target where each department had 5–8 employees and cashiers had to enter all purchases on an abacus by hand. Anyway, it’s long gone.
This cartoon pretty much stinks. My insecurity about my inability to draw people to look like themselves was at its peak, so everyone here has a soundalike name (Derek = Eric, Kim = Lynne, etc). The few visual gags I threw in are unsubtle and unfunny.
I suppose I’m glad I have this drawing, if only as a visual record of the Caldor era.
My first “real” (ie, post-college) job was working for a company that manufactured electronic components for radars and communications systems…or something. The job dropped in my lap courtesy of a high school friend’s dad (Ray Sawin, a great guy). Phonon’s president and founder, Tom Martin, was also the father of one of my classmates.
I worked in a clean lab, which meant that I spent most of my days putting on and taking off special clothing that kept everything particle-free. It wasn’t a particularly challenging job, and because it had nothing to do with anything I’d studied, it wasn’t a very interesting job. My efforts to make it more interesting included growing Sea Monkeys and checking them out through my lab’s microscope (they never did brandish tridents, build castles, or grow three-pronged heads).
One of the more irritating aspects of this job was having prospective clients peer into my lab as they toured Phonon’s stately facility. The windows to the lab were huge and tinted, and it really felt like working in an aquarium. One day when I knew a client tour was coming, I filled one new beaker full of orange Tang powder and another with fresh water, then waited for the tour to stop at my “cage.” I pretended not to notice them as they gathered at my window, and as I went about my business, I took the beaker of water, added it to the beaker of Tang, drank it, then staggered around the lab (a la “Altered States”). The onlookers were visibly startled by this, which made me double over with laughter, which only made them MORE visibly startled. Good times!
One good thing about Phonon is that the company brought in lunch every day and was thus directly responsible for introducing me to General Tso’s chicken (from Main Moon in Simsbury center). So that’s something. Oh, and I also won the company’s Super Bowl pool the year I was there.
Oh yes, the cartoon. This is one of my all-time favorite drawings. The lab looked EXACTLY like this. Even though it was almost 27 years ago, I clearly remember drawing this. I was sitting at my desk in my rented house in Windsor, and I just started doodling. There was no plan or intent to draw anything in particular, but this just came out.
The guy in this cartoon doesn’t look anything like me, of course, but it’s me. The only important thing about my alter ego here is the expression, which absolutely nails how I felt about Phonon.
Cubicle Count was something I’d all but completely forgotten, but now that I’ve revisited them I’m feeling irrationally proud of the strip. It’s certainly not an issue of thinking the drawings are good or that the strips are funny or clever, it’s more just the satisfaction of having stuck with a project like this for a while.
Before I close the book on the original (!) Cubicle Count run, I should throw the few unfinished strips I found onto the pile.
None of these strips have dates, but I can tell from what’s going on in them roughly when I drew them.
This first one dates to October 1991. I can tell this for the following reasons: the protagonists (Joe Riley, Kathryn Kerby, and Beth Ahrens—sorry Beth, your only CC appearance got left on the drafting table) are from the department I would eventually transfer to, Special Analysis (I know, I know). This was before Joe (“Riley-tron!”) was temporarily transferred to EID and before Kathryn and Beth left the company. Also, this was supposed to be a Halloween-y strip. The idea (which I am surprised I remember) was supposed to be along the lines of Dawn of the Dead, with the EID staff (here represented by me and Celia) in the zombie role and Joe, Kathryn, and Beth the outside observers lamenting our sad plight.
Though I remember the concept, I DON’T have any idea how I intended to wrap up this strip…which is probably why I never finished it. I also have no idea what dialogue I had in mind for the characters, though Joe (panel 2) and Kathryn (panel 3) are obviously speaking. Without remembering what I had in mind, I can say almost for certain that the panel 4 drawing would have had Beth delivering a punch line. Beth from that era seldom failed to get the last word (a trait she shares with Beth from this era).
Drawing-wise I’m pleased with how everyone translated into their cartoon alter egos (though Beth in panel 3 has that slouchy, short-armed posture that I dislike in a lot of my drawings). There’s no way anyone but me would know this, but Beth in panel 1 is reaching to open the door to the fourth floor.
This next one was from around December 1991. I was starting to hang with Tracey more, so we had a little bit of a workplace pal routine starting to take shape.
I’ll be damned if I can remember the story behind the “no baby” callout in panel 1. If I remember correctly (no sure thing), Tracey was pregnant with her first son at this time. As I understand the biology of it, pregnancy is kind of the opposite of “no baby.”
As with the previous unfinished comic, I have no idea where I was going with this one.
This one dates to June-July 1992, and it answers the question of why there was a several-month gap in the strip: I broke my left wrist and arm playing softball that year, so I couldn’t draw. The proof is right here: my one attempt to draw the strip right-handed.
Kind of a gimmicky, stupid idea, but I was probably dying to draw at this point, so I’ll cut myself some slack here.
And, finally, the one storyline I really wish I HAD finished. This was to be a multistrip wrap-up to the Cubicle Count run. I had gotten my transfer to Special Analysis (“yayyyy!”), and the plan was to leave EID in a blaze of glory by using a squirt gun full of Wite-Out to deliver Tracey, Celia, and my other EID friends from the nefarious grip of…I don’t know. Paul was hardly a villain, so I don’t think I’d have Wite-Outed him. Perhaps I would have drawn Bernadette Freedman (the EID department head) or Joel Hammond (arrogant perpetually self-satisfied EID section chief). Well, we’ll never know now.
It amuses me to see how little I’ve changed. Tracey’s panel 1 dialogue is unfinished, and I just KNOW it’s because I wasn’t sure how “Wite-Out” was spelled. I’m OCD enough that I would HAVE to get that right. But at least I’d finally learned to leave toom for the strip’s title: see how Tracey’s talk bubble politely leaves space at the top of the panel.
Here, a few months after the previous one and all on its own, is the last original Cubicle Count.
(“Last original…?!” Could there be Cubicle Counts of some other type still out there somewhere, asked absolutely no one. Could be!)
So here’s another pretty standard-issue office theme: the football pool. It was run by—and almost always won by—Mike Costello. I actually regret featuring Mike Costello in a strip, though I’m glad I did “capture” Mike Hilden, truly one of the BIOSIS good guys (and an exceptional softball first baseman).
I think the idea here is that Mike C. is supposed to be holding a wad of bills in the third panel. I’m not sure that comes across, which is probably why I drew the character making a “number one” sign. Whatever.
I’m not certain why I stopped drawing the strip. I don’t think it would have been because Dave Sturgill left—not directly, anyway, though it’s interesting that I didn’t draw another strip until several months after the “farewell, Dave” strip. I don’t remember much about how the social ebb and flow of the BIOSIS experience went for me, but I suspect that I was bumming with the loss of the last of my work peops. Anyway, I do know that I transferred out of EID not long after this strip was drawn, and my new department was way less dysfunctional than this one, so I probably didn’t need the escape of the comic strip as much.