The Joys of Microsoft – And a New Hiatus

Ok, so I have this little laptop PC that I bought as a discontinued product a little less than 6 years ago. The fan has always been a bit noisy, and for months the system status has said that I should buy a replacement battery. But it’s been a real soldier, acting as both my work machine, my photo touch-up system, and my video editor. So, a few days ago I had to prep the laptop for use on Google Hangouts for a Japanese translation course I’m taking. As I’m going through the Hangouts setup, I notice that the internal microphone on the laptop is permanently on. This is not ideal, because an outsider could hijack it and use it as a listening device. So I go through all the Windows menus for changing the microphone settings, and none of them actually disable the internal mike. By “accident” I click on “advanced settings” on one of the screens and the next thing I know, I’m in the activation screen for Microsoft Voice Recognition.

I don’t want this so I exit out. Unfortunately, Microsoft has other plans. Over the next couple hours, I’m getting random characters showing up in the documents I edit, and corrupting filenames as I try to type them in. I try deactivating the internal mike again, and to find some way to turn off voice recognition. Every time something appears to be working, the noise comes back. I try cutting up a new headset microphone jack and soldering the wires together to ground the input lines to make a dummy jack, and that only works for a short while. The noise comes and goes, with no real pattern. Sometimes it looks like it might be the keyboard burning out, other times an oversensitivity of the touch pad mouse. I don’t use the keyboard, I deactivate the touch pad, and even if the noise subsides for a bit, it still eventually comes back worse than before.

I went online to see if anyone else had the same problem and if there’s a fix for it. I found a few people pleading for help in deactivating Microsoft voice recognition as far back as 2010, and no one had ever gotten a solution that worked for them (a few people turned off their speakers to prevent feedback whistles, and had tried taping over their microphone slots, but Microsoft apparently just voted to ignore the issue).

Bottom line is that I’ve had to wrestle my way through the mess in copying my files off the old laptop and on to a new machine. I don’t know if there’s a point to sending the old laptop to a repair center to have it cleaned up and a fresh copy of Win 7 reinstalled on it. But, I may be willing to pay for that, because I prefer using a smaller keyboard than what I have on the new machine. Thanks a lot, Microsoft!

Anyway, it’s taking time to set up the new machine with all the applications I need, and things have been really slowing down on Basket Case the last couple of months. It’s been getting increasingly harder to get cartoonists to respond back to my requests for interviews, or to give me their answers after I send them the questions. I think I may have to take a hiatus and rethink my approach to how I run Basket Case. In the meantime, thank you, everyone, for your support of the blog so far, and I apologize for wimping out like this. I don’t know about you, but *I* enjoy reading these interviews, at least.

Bill Holbrook interview

I wrote about my interest in Bill Holbrook’s works in March, and I’m happy to say that Basket Case is proud to be a patron of Kevin and Kell. [Edit: Added the strip I appear in.]

(Me, in the KnK universe.)

BC: What personal information do you think is important for readers to know about you?
BH: I grew up in the Space Age atmosphere of Huntsville, Ala. in the 1960s. On graduating from Auburn University I was hired by The Atlanta Constitution as an editorial staff artist. After several attempts at syndication, my office strip On the Fastrack was picked up by King Features and debuted in 150 papers on March 19, 1984. Eleven days before that I’d met Teri Peitso on a blind date. We were married on Pearl Harbor Day, 1985, and now have two daughters. That also gave birth to a second strip about kids called Safe Havens.

(from Safe Havens)

BH: In September 1995 I began a new strip called Kevin & Kell which is now the internet’s longest running daily webcomic. I was named Cartoonist of the Year at the 1998 Pogofest, an annual gathering in Waycross honoring the great Walt Kelly and Pogo. Kevin & Kell was given the Ursa Major Award in 2003 for Best Anthropomorphic Comic Strip, and in 2016 it was one of three nominees for the National Cartoonists Society’s Silver Reuben award for Best Online Comic (Short Form).

BH: I also collaborated on the comic book A Duel in the Somme, written by Ben Bova and Rob Balder.

BC: Do you consider yourself an artist, cartoonist, or something else? How did you get started as that?
BH: The term cartoonist best sums up my skill set, so it’s what I’ve always called myself.

BH: As for getting my start, there were a number of crucial moments. In one sense you might say my start was drawing constantly as a two-year-old, but the biggest leap was in July 1983 when King Features responded positively to my submission of On the Fastrack. They flew me to New York to meet the staff, and I signed the contract in December of that year. Fastrack debuted in papers on March 19, 1984.

BC: Which of your works are you happiest with or most proud of?
BH: I’m proud of all of my works, but I’m always trying to improve them. I keep introducing new elements so they stay fresh.

BC: Where can we find your collections?
BH: Readers can find all of my books at the Bill Holbrook Store.

BC: How do you get started when you sit down in front of that blank sheet of paper?
BH: I write every weekday, and the process begins by focusing on the characters of which strip I’m writing for that week. From that point I let my mind wander, imagining scenarios that force the characters to respond. Usually they surprise me.

BC: Your strips have been running on “cartoon” time, so one year strip time isn’t one year of real time. Yet, your characters age and go through various life changes. How do you decide to have a strip leap forward a few years to get to the next stage (Rudy graduating high school, Coney exiting diapers and entering school, the Safe Havens kids growing up, etc.)?
BH: The strips all take place on different time lines. Safe Havens is completely chronological, currently depicting life in April 2017, and the characters age accordingly. In Kevin & Kell the characters age, but slowly; since the strip’s debut in 1995, five years have elapsed. Fastrack takes place in “comic strip time” in which the characters are frozen at specific ages, yet always interacting with current events. This leads to some anomalies, like that in Fastrack Dethany will always be a lowly personal assistant, but in Safe Havens we’ve seen that she has risen to become the project manager for humanity’s first mission to Mars.

(from On the Fastrack)

BC: What was the inspiration for Dethany, and why move the focus of On the Fastrack from a group of functional computer geeks to a death-obsessed goth? Has her reader popularity changed over time? Has she generated any reader push-back? Has anything about her surprised you within, or outside the strip? [Followed by: How popular have the strip-related twitter accounts been? What was the rationale behind setting them up? Have there been any advantages or drawbacks to having the accounts, or having the presence of the strips in so many web outlets?]
BH: Dethany’s arrival in Fastrack was entirely by accident. When I created her I figured I’d get a few gags out of her unusual nature before she moved on, but I was astounded at how easily the material flowed when she interacted with the other characters. That was confirmed when the strips featuring her began appearing, and readers would send me messages simply saying how much they loved her. None of this was part of a master plan, but I went with it.

BH: This naturally leads to the question about social media. It was online interaction with the readers that reinforced my initial feeling that I was on the right track with Dethany.

BC: Are there any real differences between doing a webcomic versus a syndicated newspaper strip? Which format do you prefer? Kevin and Kell seems to offer you the greatest leeway in terms of addressing social issues (trans-species/transgender, mixed marriage, non-traditional family structures, etc.) – Does political commentary belong in a family “comic”?
BH: Webcomics don’t have to follow the same format restrictions that newspaper comics do, but I still work within them for Kevin & Kell since I’m most comfortable inhabiting those structures.

(from Kevin & Kell)

BH: That said, I created Kevin & Kell expressly as an outlet for social commentary that newspaper editors might find uncomfortable. I knew that my stances would generate some hostility in certain quarters, but that was part of the terrain I chose to take. The good news is that the positive comments have outweighed the negative ones by 100 to 1.

BC: I know that this interview is going to be printed too late for this question to be relevant, but are there any plans for any of the characters in the strips to do something for Earth Day (Apr. 22)?
BH: I don’t have anything planned in the strips for Earth Day, but I do plan to personally take part in the March for Science in Atlanta that day.

BC: [Later] How did that go?
BH: The march went very well. I haven’t seen the official numbers, but the crowd was in the thousands. It took about an hour to cover the 2-mile route around Candler Park, which is in a residential neighborhood close to downtown Atlanta. Here’s a picture of me and my sign. 🙂

BC: With Samantha’s current involvement in preparing for the Mars mission in Safe Havens, have you gotten much in the way of a reaction from NASA or any other space program world-wide? Are there any Safe Havens strip clippings on the fridge on the ISS? What’s your reaction to the Trump administration’s plans to cut funding to NASA or any other program?
BH: I grew up in the space program, as my father worked for the company that tested the boosters of the Apollo and Space Shuttle rockets. Obviously I have a personal emotional investment in NASA’s funding. I haven’t gotten any feedback on the Mars mission in Safe Havens, though, but that may change when they launch in January.

BC: Are there any plans for future story lines for any of the strips you’d like to tell your readers about?
BH: I have plans for future stories in Kevin & Kell and Safe Havens, but they’re all surprises. (For the latter all I can say is, yes, they’ll be going to Mars.) For Fastrack, I let trends in technology and cyberspace determine the direction. (It was that intentional openness to improvisation that allowed Dethany to take center stage.)

BC: After going over your bio again, I went back and reread the Duel in the Somme. What was it like working on that? Any high points or challenges? I also follow Erfworld, so, how was it working with Rob Balder? Did you use any reference materials for the planes or battle fields?
BH: I drew Duel in the Somme during the first half of 2010, and I really enjoyed stretching my illustration muscles. The requirement was that the planes would be historically accurate down to every detail, which meant a *lot* of research on Google. I worked directly with Rob Balder, which was a fun collaboration. He’s a true Renaissance man.

BC: Kevin has been kind of a mirror for the progression of computer technology ever since KaK started. Are there any trends you predicted successfully? Any trends that you regret had died out? Any tech trends you’d like to predict now?
BH: I wish I had crystal ball to see tech developments ahead of time, but the industry continues to surprise me.

Exhume Yourself

BC: If your strips had soundtracks, what would they be?
BH: It’s hard to say what kind of soundtrack would accompany my strips, since they all involve a wide emotional range. It would depend on the situation, and be fairly eclectic. That said, there’ve been three songs for which I wrote the lyrics:
Dethany- Exhume Yourself
Bambi- Free Range Love
Kevin and Kell- Underneath the Fur
BH: The voice on the songs “Exhume Yourself” and “Free Range Love” is my sister, Susan Holbrook Ridarick. She’s a professional singer. “Underneath the Fur” was created by Tom Smith.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
BH: I’m a fan of any comic that’s created with personal honesty and possesses a unique perspective.

Underneath the Fur

BC: Any appearances scheduled for conventions?
BH: I have three appearances coming up this year:
June 30-July 2 Anthrocon, Pittsburgh PA
Aug. 10-12 Otakon, Washington DC
Sept 1-4 Dragoncon, Atlanta GA

BC: If Elon Musk, Richard Branson, or anyone similar ever succeeds in establishing a commercial tourist business for space travel, would you buy a ticket (for yourself or for someone else?)
BH: While I’d love to go, I’m afraid my skill set wouldn’t be much use on an interplanetary voyage, even as a tourist. 🙂 I’ll just leave that to the professionals who know what they’re doing. Like Samantha.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Fastrack and Safe Havens (c) 2017, King Features Syndicate, World rights reserved. Kevin & Kell (c) 2017, Bill Holbrook, World rights reserved)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

Nate Fakes interview

Ever read Break of Day? It’s good stuff. Ever meet Nate Fakes? Here’s your chance.

BC: Who are you?
NF: Nathanael Fakes – aka Nate Fakes (I’ve been known as The Frustrated Cartoonist as well). I am the creator of the syndicated series, Break of Day. I also have cartoons in MAD, Parade magazine and numerous other publications. I’m also the owner of Nate Fakes Studios, that has divisions such as,, and that all specialize in creating custom cartoons for clients and companies.

BC: How is your last name pronounced? Are you tired of “are you drawing under a fake name” jokes yet?
NF: I’m one of the last of the Mohicans; I like to say, in regards to my last name. There aren’t many Fakes’ out there. But it’s pronounced like it sounds. “Nate fakes out the defense.”

NF: I get asked all the time, “Is that your REAL name?” I haven’t come up with a snappy answer yet, so I give the lame response of, “Yes.” Then the person usually walks away disappointed that there wasn’t any funny story behind it. All this being said, I like being a Fakes. I just hope it’s my real last name, and not Fake.

(from Break of Day)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
NF: I was born and raised in Ohio. I attended Wright State University where I majored in Fine Art. I could always draw, but thought art might be fun to major in and I might pick-up a few tips along the way. As a student, I became the graphic artist and staff cartoonist for the school newspaper, The Guardian.

NF: The Guardian job landed me an internship with MAD Magazine in New York City. I spent a crazy summer hanging out with “The Usual Gang of Idiots” and then became one myself when I started getting articles and cartoons published in the magazine. I believe the MAD experience has helped tremendously with my current work – which is syndication, corporate clients and other publications.

(from Break of Day)

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
NF: I always thought it would sound more sophisticated to say I was an artist, but really, I’m definitely a cartoonist.

BC: How did you get your start as a cartoonist then?
NF: I started drawing when I was in diapers and never stopped. Crayons were used constantly as a child drawing on anything and everything. I was really influenced growing up with old Disney cartoons, Garfield, and people like Mozart. Mozart you say? Well, anyone that could “make it” and really be good at something was inspiring. I watched the movie Amadeus and that sort of creativity really blew me away.

(from Break of Day)

NF: I was your typical young cartoonist. I drew things I saw out of the newspaper, drew in class instead of paying attention and loved getting comic books from the library. And it just never stopped.

BC: How long have you been at this, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
NF: I’ve been drawing my whole life, so I guess you can say I’ve always been at it. That being said, I’ve had NUMEROUS day jobs along the way as I grew as a cartoonist. And admittedly, I slacked off a bit in my mid-20’s when I was more focused on having fun than drawing (I say to this day I’m about ten years behind). So, it has taken me awhile to become professional. I was lucky and got some honest (and brutal) critiques along the way that really helped me grow. One mistake many people make is listening to friends and family tell you how good you are at something. You really need honest feedback from a professional to get better. I thought I was really great at cartooning until I learned that I had a ways to go and my drawing actually stunk on a professional level.

(Roy Doty correspondence.)

BC: Can you share some examples of those critiques, and the changes you made to address them?
NF: “Gross”- Roy Doty.
Roy Doty was my biggest, toughest critic of all time. He passed away awhile back. This post talks a lot about the critiques and how it helped me improve. Quoting: “However, he liked the material and was glad I developed a style. Yes, he let me know it wasn’t up to his standards. And it wasn’t. But he was hoping to see my work go somewhere. Roy really helped my career.”

(from Break of Day)

NF: My big break was drawing the yearbook cover for my elementary school when I was in 5th grade. I was paid a whopping five dollars – but boy, that made me more determined than ever to become a cartoonist. And then MAD Magazine was definitely my BIGGEST break. I grew up with MAD, so it’s a cool factor in my life to say that I interned with them and have that connection. Those guys are the greatest.

NF: Last year I was accepted into the NCS (National Cartoonists Society) and I feel on some level that was a major break as well. All my colleagues that I admire are members, so it feels like a real accomplishment to be there as well.

BC: What would you say you learned the most from interning at Mad?
NF: MAD was great (and – of course – still is). As an example, there was nothing like having a serous meeting discussing what word was funnier: bra or panty? At MAD, there again I learned a lot about improving. I showcased a lot of my art, and at that time, it was very mediocre. It was years later after my internship until I got a cartoon actually printed. But I began to notice how much further I needed to develop before I could ever become “professional”. Sam Viviano (MAD’s art director) was extremely honest and helpful. He even loaned me some books during my internship that showcased cartoonists’ artistic styles to pay attention to.

NF: All this being said, the writing process was what I focused on more than the art while interning. I spent most of the time with the editorial department, so it was really great to see how a magazine all came together and everything behind the scenes. There’s a ton that goes into each issue.

NF: The one thing I regret about my internship was I tried too hard. I really wanted to stay in NYC, work with MAD at the office and not head home after the internship. I didn’t have a return ticket home. It was NYC or nothing. I felt like I kind of wasn’t myself because I wasn’t relaxed. I was too focused on, “Okay, gotta make an impression.” I wish I would’ve chilled out more and just thought of the internship as it was – an internship.

NF: Naturally, when the internship was over – it was over! As you know, I continued a relationship with MAD (and still have one to this day), but I wasn’t hired to work in the office. So, I ended up a few days later waiting tables at a pizza restaurant in Jersey to make ends meet. Several months later, it dawned on me that I should head back home to Ohio, focus on my work, improving, etc. and get back to what I needed to do. There was no point staying on the east coast as a career move (even though the pizza was delicious).

(from Break of Day)

BC: What led up to your starting Nate Fakes Cartoons, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
NF: Nate Fakes Cartoons is part of Nate Fakes Studios. It’s the home base for everything I do. I wanted a site where people can check out my work and – if I’m a good fit – hire me. It’s important to have a website with a showcase of work if you’re in this field and you’re looking for clients. They need a place to go.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
NF: My syndicated series Break of Day I’m proud of because I worked very hard to get that series in the newspaper and syndicated online. That being said, anytime a cartoon is picked-up for MAD is always a proud moment. There’s nothing like opening up a magazine and seeing your work on the pages there.

(from Break of Day)

BC: Do you have any collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
NF: I just self-published a small collection of cat cartoons called Laser Pointers, Hairballs, and Other Cat Stuff. Jim Davis, creator of Garfield, actually has a blurb on the front about it. It’s now currently available on and Nate Fakes Cartoons.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
NF: I’ve always written ideas first before drawing them. Typically, I try to write every day in the morning. Sometimes, a whole week of ideas pour out of me. Other days – nothing. Reading a lot of other comics does help sometimes. But, I always try to be as original as possible so I try not to do that too much and just put down on paper whatever comes to mind. Sometimes they’re hits – sometimes misses. If I think it’s decent though, I’ll usually end up drawing it.

(from Break of Day)

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
NF: That would be a mix between The Doors, Mozart and Pink Floyd: A bit weird, with some unexpected moments.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
NF: I’ve always been a fan of Garfield, so Jim Davis. I actually got a chance to visit his studio last January. It was amazing. Jim wasn’t available to meet, but we have corresponded via email (and he gave me that great mention of my book). The MAD Magazine artists are fantastic. Sam Viviano (art director for MAD) is one of the nicest guys out there. He helped me get into the NCS also (National Cartoonists Society). Roy Doty was a great help in offering constructive criticism. I was also influenced a lot by Walt Disney, Edward Gorey, Robert Crumb and Chas Addams. Since becoming a member of the NCS last December, I’m anxious and excited to start hanging out with more cartoonists.

BC: What do you like most about the works of Gorey, Crumb and Addams (the artists, not the law firm)?
NF: I really love the details they all add and their originality. I cherish cartoon art with lots of little details and elements to it, and their work really stands out. I used to really try to over-do-it and have since not added as much detail to my cartoons. But, if you really look at my comics, there are bits and pieces of all three of these guys.

(from Break of Day)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
NF: I honestly don’t follow any specific comics anymore, really. I read a lot of them, but that’s it. I think there’s some good cartoons out there these days and others that I can’t believe are as popular as they are. It’s an interesting time in cartooning. I’m always amazed at what does well and what doesn’t.

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
NF: I believe the writing is about 75% of what makes a good comic and the drawing is just 25% these days. It used to be the opposite (somewhat). I like good art. Some comics seem just thrown together, and I’m not a huge fan of that (unless the writing is spectacular). I like off-the-wall, odd and bizarre material that you don’t see much of. That’s one thing about writing a gag comic like I do. I feel like a lot of my material has been done before, so I try to separate it all as much as possible. I love writing and drawing really new ideas and I’m working on them constantly. A graphic novel is in my future, along with some kid books. I’m hoping to take the ideas for those and create something extremely new.

(from Break of Day)

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
NF: I tried a Kickstarter once for a graphic novel concept. It failed miserably. That being said, I went about it completely wrong. I asked for way too much money and had no clue what I was doing with it. I think Kickstarter and Patreon are a good idea for some, and not others. I found it kind of a frustrating experience and I didn’t like the hustle involved in it all. I think I have a Patreon account that I opened years ago, but I never did anything with it and it’s just sitting there. Maybe I should check it? There might be supporters on there unbeknownst to me.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up?
NF: I am excited about some new projects with BizComics and Vet Toons. There is great opportunity in the custom cartoon market these days, so those are all coming together this month and in the near future. I’m really anxious to write more books and produce a graphic novel. Kids books as well. I have dozens of books written and ready to go – just need to actually do them! My big goal as well is finding a literary agent and publisher to help with all of this. That part, I’m finding out, is not easy at all.

BC: What is involved with drawing custom cartons? Is the process any different from doing something like Break of Day?
NF: The custom cartoon market is an area that is really growing. I love working with clients and delivering them unique comics to use in marketing, promotions, social media, etc. I’ve worked with numerous corporate clients, and they all love cartoons.

NF: I make the process easy for clients. I get an idea of what they want by having a phone conversation – and take their ideas and run with them. I’ll come up with 3-5 ideas (or more, if I have them) and then they help decide what idea is best. From there, I’ll send them out a rough. Once approved, I move on to the final. I help with letting a client know what I think works best, and they tell me what they think works best. I try to research their company as much as possible before diving in.

NF: At the end of the day, there’s a finalized cartoon that (as far as I know) they’re happy with. I have a lot of clients that return, so it’s nice to have the regular work. I’m currently branching out to specific industries. An example is Vet Toons that caters specifically to veterinarians. Custom work is different than my syndicated work because I have more of a direction to base ideas on. With my daily gag comics, they’re kind of a free-for-all and I just create whatever comes to mind.

(from Break of Day)

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright of Nate Fakes (c) 2017.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)