Keeping the "Fun" in Dysfunction: An Interview With the Creator of FoxTrot

FoxTrot's creator, Bill Amend, has consistently demonstrated that geekery is something to be celebrated, not ridiculed. How has he made the Fox clan squirm for over two decades?
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For almost 22 years, comic readers have eagerly followed the domestic miseries and dysfunction in the Fox family, but their reaction is quite different to the strife they've encountered in say, Mary Worth or Apartment 3G?

FoxTrot runs in nearly 1,000 papers and at The strip focuses on the feuding siblings Peter (age 16), Paige (14) and 10-year-old brother-from-Hell, Jason. The misguided father Roger follows in the footsteps of Archie Bunker and is an eerie doppelganger of Homer Simpson. The family's mother, Andy, may be the only character in the strip whose biological age and maturity go hand in hand, although she shares some of Paige's romantic yearnings.

The strip's creator, Bill Amend, has a degree in physics, and his strips have consistently demonstrated that geekery is something to be celebrated rather than ridiculed. Amend has recently assembled a two-volume collection of the finest moments in The Best of FoxTrot.


From The Best of FoxTrot © 2010 Bill Amend (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

By reading the strips as they proceed, readers can note how PC technology has changed since the late 1980s and how fanboy and fangirl obsessions have remained oddly static. Amend also includes notes in the margins that explain what he was thinking when he drew the cartoons and even how one early strip was a positive omen for his own marriage.

In response to questions I e-mailed to him, Amend fondly recalls how he has made the Fox clan squirm for over two decades.

Considering the popularity of the strip, isn't it surprising to discover that you hadn't gone to school to become a cartoonist or even an artist?

Wait... a degree in physics isn't the easiest route to cartooning success? Dang, to think I learned all that gobblety-gook for nothing. Seriously, though, I think it's been a huge help as I've written the strip over the years to have studied lots and lots of different things in school. It's nice to have a good assortment of miscellaneous stuff in my brain from which to draw upon.

What was it like to provide comments about the strips in the margins?

With the more recent strips, it was fun and easy. With the older ones, it was really hard to remember what the heck was going through my mind as I wrote them. I tried to be judicious with them, too, since I didn't want to comment on something just for commenting's sake.

How did you decide which strips to include in the collection?

I made several passes through all of my old books, marking strips I liked as I went. I just tried to pick the ones that still seemed funny or significant in some way. I'm sure I included strips people will yawn at, and left out others that were favorites, but I think overall I included most everything I wanted to.

Homer Simpson and Roger Fox are a pair of bald, clueless fathers that came on to the scene at roughly the same time. How would you say that Roger differs from his TV counterpart?

Apart from Homer's yellow skin? Well, Homer and Roger are both based on the dumb Dad sitcom staple, but I think Homer is portrayed as more genuinely stupid, whereas I've tried to make Roger more clueless than anything else. He's clueless about what's going on around him at home, clueless about his lack of skills in sports and home projects, clueless about technology, etc.

Denise, Peter's blind girlfriend, is a fascinating character, because comic strips rarely deal with people with disabilities who aren't also superheroes. I'm thinking of Captain Marvel, Jr., Dr. Xavier or Daredevil.

Yeah, I've always liked Denise. She has a nice mischievous side. I kinda unintentionally phased her out about 10 years ago as I began to move away from teen storylines. I might bring her back someday, but can't promise it.

Because the Foxes haven't aged since the strip debuted nationally in 1988, has it been tricky to keep them contemporary and relevant?

The hard part is keeping myself enough tuned in to what's going on in the popular culture. The 2010-12-02-besof.jpg characters are all limited by what I know, so if I have no idea who Lady Gaga is, well, then poor Paige is going to be stuck listening to the Backstreet Boys or something. But generally, it's not hard to keep the kids' interests moving along with the times. The same geeky traits that made Jason go bonkers before Jurassic Park work just as well with the new Tron movie, for example.

Jason, Paige and Peter frequently get on each others' nerves, but do you think there is any love between them?

I'm sure there is. We just rarely see it. Sincerity and love aren't as funny as treachery and conflict, typically.

In 2006, you decided to make FoxTrot a weekly strip instead of a daily one. Do you think that has helped its vitality?

I suppose it's helped the strip in so far as it's kept me from collapsing. After almost 20 years of nonstop deadlines, I really needed a change of pace if I was going to continue with a modicum of sanity.

You and your family have moved from the Bay Area to Kansas City during the run of the strip. How has living in the Midwest changed the tone and content of the strip?

I'm not sure my current location enters into things much. Most of the time when I'm writing the strip, I'm thinking of the places I lived as a kid (Massachusetts and Northern California). I suppose living in the Midwest I'm more likely to write strips in the summer that seem to have sprung from an overheated, miserable, "I hate this damn humidity" mindset, but otherwise I think it's a non-issue.

Why do the Foxes have an iguana named Quincy instead of a dog or cat?

Jason is the sort of kid who would want an unusual pet. And since I always liked to draw reptiles and dinosaurs as a kid, an iguana seemed ideal. I had a hamster named Quincy when I was 14, so that's where the name came from.

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