Frayed Knot by Jon Winebrenner
Welcome to "Frayed Knot". This is a comic strip I drew back in the late 90s with the hopes and aspirations of becoming a syndicated comic strip artist. I sent it off to all the big Press Syndicates. At one point, I had all of the rejection letters to prove it. I am not sure where they have gone. They're likely lost forever at this point.
Drawing has never been my strength, whether it has been as an industrial designer, or as a comic strip artist. Before I graduated from High School, I had wanted to become an animator. I spent one of my summers trying to learn how to draw like a Disney artist. I studied my two favourite animators out of the Disney Animation Studios, Glenn Keane and Andreas Deja. I spent many hours trying to recreate cels from movies like "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast". It was an extremely frustrating process for me. I wanted so badly to see improvement but, being my own worst critic, I didn't see it happening.
What I find interesting about this feeling of inadequacy, is that is something I've carried with me on many things. What I enjoy about this process of reflection, is I can SEE the improvement. It wasn't until the about 30 strips into "Frayed Knot" before I started to hit my stride. Line weight started to improve, along with craftsmanship. My characters also started to tell me who they were. There's a part of me who misses them as I read these.
Along with trying to emulate my favourite Disney Animators, I would try to emulate my two favourite comic strip artists, Berke Breathed and Bill Watterson. Going back through these, I see more of the influence of my first comic strip love, "Bloom County", as opposed to my ultimate favourite, "Calvin and Hobbes". But I can definitely see the Calvin influence also. I'd be curious if you see it as well.
I have put in some artist notes throughout this collection of strips. There's 136 strips listed here. I'm missing a few from the original collection, including one of my favourite strips I drew. Maybe I'll recreate it someday?
No matter how you slice it, I hope you enjoy these. They were originally created in 1997/98. I can't believe it has been that long.
This is up there with one of the things I'm most proud of. I hope you enjoy this little walk down memory lane with me.
Stanley the Basset Hound is modeled directly after the dog I had growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. He was a basset hound named "Stash", which my parents claim was a Polish name for Stanley. We used the two names on him interchangeably. Writing this now, I do wonder if he was every confused by that.
One of the rejection letters I received, I believe it was from United Press, there was a handwritten note on their form letter. It said something along the lines of, "There can be absolutely no physical abuse of animals or children on the comic pages."
I remember being annoyed by this. I grew up watching, and loving, shows like The Three Stooges. Bugs Bunny as well as Tom and Jerry were similar slapstick humor. I have a lot of gags throughout my strips that follow something of a slapstick protocol (for better or worse).
It was around this point where I started to figure out the importance of writing. I realize, especially in hindsight, that I relied too much on words. Writing a comic is in the subtlety of the blank spaces between lines and words. Writing also doesn't mean words. But its in how you tell your story.
I was never a shoe guy. As a designer, I have always been concerned about being ejected from the club because I couldn't care less about designing shoes or cars.
Parker's frustration with his drawing was spawned directly with how I was feeling about my drawings for Frayed Knot at the time. All three characters (Parker, Duncan, and Stanley) were very much parts of me.
The butt-bubble strip came from a real life scenario with the "real Stanley". He was an '80s dog, and in the '80s we ate bologna (baloney?). At least I ate bologna. One day I had made a bologna sandwich and walked away from the table having left a few pieces on the table unattended. This particular bologna still had a thin red band of wrapper attached to it that you needed to remove before you put it on your sandwich.
Well, Stanley ate said bologna but he never took the wrapper off.
The next day, Stanley had that same red wrapper dangling out his backside...stuck half in/half out. I ended up using a stick to coax the wrapper the rest of the way out. The trauma of that experience (I was maybe 10?) stuck with me and resulted in this comic strip.
The 70s and 80s were a different era. We didn't have a fence for our yard, so Stanley stayed outside on a chain. The intention was to allow him to hang out outside rather than be stuck inside. I'm not sure that would fly today.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, squirrels were our neighbours. I even had one that would climb up my pant leg and eat a peanut out of my hand. Otis the squirrel comes directly from that experience. He was named after a friend's cat.
My mother used to sing this song to me and my brother. Usually in the morning to annoy us, and presumably to wake us up. Yet another strip directly from my life.
These laughing strips were probably the most fun I've ever had creating something. I was laughing right along with Stanley and Otis. Is there anything better in the world than gut splitting, contagious laughter with friends?
It is about here that I feel as though I started to hit my drawing stride. I knew the characters, I was learning how to be economical with the lines. Each line started to have purpose. I was a bit heavy handed with the corner shading. Blame Berke Breathed for that influence.
The drawing of Stanley bending over the table to look at the spider is probably my best rendering of him. I was influenced by Bill Watterson's use of a brush to draw "Calvin and Hobbes". I drew "Frayed Knot" with a brush and India Ink. It's incredibly unforgiving but insanely rewarding when you get the lines right.
Everyone blames the dog. Period.
There was something heartwarming about the idea of a dog and a squirrel getting excited about Santa. It still makes me smile.
I can only imagine what goes through a dog's head when they are looking at food on a counter and told "no". I can't help but think that their head is quietly exploding.
Parker started to become my channel for dealing with the annoyances of life. Murphy and his Law had it out for him.
This series came out 10 years or so before Dug the Dog from the Pixar movie, "Up" coined the term "cone of shame". I'd be lying if I said that I didn't wish I had come up with that turn of phrase first 🙁
I was in discussions with a newspaper in Los Angeles to draw Frayed Knot for them. It was right around this time that I started adding the copyright notice to the strips. Looking back on them, I completely forgot that I used Geocities to host "Frayed Knot".
You can save your energy. I tried to see if Geocities was still active. It's not.
I always wanted a dog that would play fetch. Real Stanley was not that kind of dog. Neither is my curent dog. Both of them seem to ask the same question of, "why" any time I throw a ball. Every now and then Angus will appease me and go get the ball. Giving it back usually isn't in the cards.
I have a feeling this might have been the strip the Syndicate was referring to when talking about no harm to kids or animals.
This one has a few layers to it. Chester Smoger was a grumpy old coot that I used to work with at a summer job in high school. Quintessential grumpy old man. This was also a strip where I tinkered with having it so that Stanley only spoke to the family and presented as a "normal" basset hound to everyone else.
It felt far too close to Calvin and Hobbes. While I published it at the time, I have kept it out of most every other presentation of this work that I've done in the past. I didn't like this direction, still don't. But I figure there's no harm in showing a bit of the good with the bad.
Another one of the more fun strips to draw. I think it showed in the rendering of Parker that I was having fun with this one.
Grandma Kay was modeled directly after my mom. This was 5ish years before she became a grandma. Fun fact: She is now called Grammy Kay.
This is the second to last "Frayed Knot" I ever drew. It seems as though it was emulating my exhaustion trying to work a "real job" and stay disciplined and draw a strip a day.
I honestly can't remember what caused me to stop, but it was something along the lines of choosing between eating or not eating. It was shortly after I made the decision to stop drawing "Frayed Knot" that I landed the job that lead to my first big design gig as the lead designer for Sierra Wireless.
I still wish I could have figured out how to make this into a syndicated strip.