Fans of The Comics Curmudgeon will most likely already be familiar with not only Rob “Reynard Noir” MacArthur’s The Seedy Underworld Of Slylock Fox, but also its source material, Bob Weber Jr.‘s Slylock Fox & Comics For Kids. While Weber’s original creation is a brightly colored, friendly, kid-oriented strip providing clever brain-teasers and puzzles, MacArthur’s strip — as his pseudonym implies — provides the Noir-tinged backstory to the innocent original strip. The regulars, Slylock, Max, Cassandra Cat, Reeky Rat, Slick Smitty and Count Weirdly to name but a few, are all there — but with different motivations than the strip. Or, perhaps, it may be better to say, with their motivations laid bare in a way that can’t be done in a single panel.
Part the First
At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?
Rob MacArthur: There’s a number of ways to test that, luckily for me, because then I don’t have to settle for just one. If we’re talking which I enjoy most, it’s “Africa,” by Toto. If we’re talking which do I think most highly of, it’s “Carry On Wayward Son,” by Kansas. And if you mean which I am most likely to be listening to at any given moment, it’s “The Boxer,” by Paul Simon.
What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?
Rob MacArthur: Steeleye Span. They played British folk music as if it were classic rock, and the lead singer got an X-Men villain named after her.
What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?
Rob MacArthur: A stuffed deer’s head, on whose antlers I keep my fedora.
What’s the strangest thing you own?
Rob MacArthur: That’s a tough one. It’s either my basket-hilt claymore, or my working Ocarina of Time replica.
Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?
Rob MacArthur: There was this one time I was out in Montana at a ski resort in the summer, and some of us decided we’d take the ski lift up the mountain. While we were up there, it suddenly got very cloudy very fast. We didn’t think anything of that, though. We were discussing how to get to the top, and I raised my hand to point at what I was about to maintain would be the easiest route. The next thing I know, everyone else is screaming and crouching down and covering their heads. I didn’t feel anything, I never suffered any injury, but I put together from their panicked screaming that I had been struck by lightning. It probably wasn’t very much lightning–we were up inside the cloud, after all–but it makes a nice story.
Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?
What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?
What’re your top three movies?
Rob MacArthur: Millennium Actress, Babette’s Feast, and The Lord of the Rings. Yes, I know they changed things from the book, and that was horrible. It would have hundreds of times better if they hadn’t. But even with all the mistakes, it’s still the best movie there ever has been or ever will be.
Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?
Rob MacArthur: I don’t know if it counts, but my sister did an awesome pen and ink of Slylock Fox leaning against a wall under a streetlight and smoking with heavy lidded eyes.
What is your favorite game?
Rob MacArthur: The Legend of Zelda. Proof that video games can be fine art.
What sort of pie do you enjoy?
Rob MacArthur: I’m a big fan of pie in general. My mother makes perfect pie crust. The best is either the turkey pot pie, or the chocolate truffle pie.
If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?
Rob MacArthur: “Is the fact that you want me to take you to the river and drop you in the water because the water holds you down, or does the water hold you down because someone took you to it and dropped you?”
Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.
Rob MacArthur: As long as I can remember, there’s been this crazy guy who owns a wholesale furniture and does his own commercials. They always end with him jumping up and shouting in his raspy little manikin voice that Gallery Furniture “Saves! You! MONEY!” He’s got to be close to ninety by now, but he’s still doing it. He’s even inspiring copycats; other local furniture stores are having the owners act crazy in their ads. The best has a muscle-bound guy attacking a mattress with a chainsaw yelling “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOh we’re cutting prices OOOOOOOOOOOOOH!”
What are your five most favorite books in the world?
Rob MacArthur: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton because I can’t pick just one, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Put Out More Flags by Evelyn Waugh.
What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?
Rob MacArthur: Having to read post-modern philosophy for my senior seminar. That was some of the most bigoted, self-righteous tripe I’ve ever seen. I’m looking at you, Richard Rorty.
If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?
Rob MacArthur: Theodred. No question.
What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?
Rob MacArthur: It depends on whether the dogs and cats understood their job as bullets. If they do, then the dog, being both heavier and more tenacious, would do much more damage. If they didn’t, then the cat would probably be more pissed off. The dog would just think it was a game.
What is your favorite meal?
Rob MacArthur: Roast Chicken.
What is reality?
Rob MacArthur: Reality is the totality of substantiated forms actualized by the eternal act of being carried on by subsisting existence. Each thing that is real exists insofar as it is caused to exist by some other being, in origin a singular being whose essence is wholly to exist, because no thing that does not exist can perform any action, and beginning to exist is an action, and causing another thing to exist is an action: therefore the only way to explain the existence of any finite, temporal being is to posit an infinite, eternal being. This being produces the existence of all reality freely and entirely of itself. In other words, reality is to God as the work of art is to the artist. That is not a metaphor.
Part the Second
Do you hear a voice in your head for the various characters? Who would it be?
Rob MacArthur: Not at first, usually. The problem is that I can’t always be sure, the first time I see a character, that I’m ever going to see them again–there was one character, a Owl Judge, that I knew I had seen in a strip from before I started the blog, so I thought up a voice for him and made a category for him in the sidebar, and he hasn’t been in the strip since! That, plus the fact that I’m usually in a rush to write, means that I don’t get to knowing how a character ‘sounds’ until they’ve shown up a few times. But once I do know, it makes them much easier to write. Slick Smitty, for example, sounds like Jimmy Stuart talking through his nose, and Max sounds like a hired thug in The Godfather. Shady Shrew sounds like one of the Dead End Kids, and Cassandra has the slightest hint of a upper-class southern drawl. Reeky Rat sounds like a stoned leftover hippie. The best one is Slylock; it’s always a challenge to keep him from just out and out turning into Captain Malcolm Reynolds.
Who is your favorite of the Slylock Rogues Gallery?
Rob MacArthur: My preferences are almost entirely dictated by how difficult they make writing. Each episode with Count Weirdly gets harder to write, so I can’t say I care much for him. But then, the second hardest to write is Cassandra, and she’s one of my favorites. I think it has most to do with what I think I’m going to able to do with a character: someone like Buford Bull, I can take nearly anywhere; gritty Noir, elaborate caper, out and out farce.
Why do you think that Slylock (and Cassandra) seem to be so popular online?
Rob MacArthur: I think we have to thank Josh entirely for that: I doubt anyone was paying online attention to this before he brought it into the light of cyberspace. Once he did, then it’s just a matter of adding the Internet’s love of making dirty jokes to its love of nostalgia to its love of fuzzy animals, and you can see exactly why people are interested.
Cassandra is popular because she is hot.
What other comics and cartoonists do you like or are impressed by?
Rob MacArthur: I revere Calvin and Hobbes; that’s the one comic I’ll never dare defile. What Pogo I’ve managed to get a hold of has always struck me as impressive. Then there’s things like Sandman and Astonishing X-men, which are a completely different sort of storytelling, which is why the newspaper Spiderman comic has always been just embarrassing. And then a third category is webcomics, like Dr. McNinja or Sam and Fuzzy.
Do you ever hear from kids who’ve stumbled on your site looking for Bob Weber’s site?
Rob MacArthur: No, I never have. But then almost all the reader response I get is in the form of the comments, and since you’ve got to read the entry to get to the place where you leave comments, I think any kid who was looking for Bob Weber and found me instead would figure out his mistake before he got to contacting me.
Have any other comic strips ever caught your eye to write backstories for?
Rob MacArthur: I hope not. This one is more than enough work as it is. In all seriousness, though, not really.
What is it that draws you to Slylock?
Rob MacArthur: I’ve always been interested in what you might call totemic character portrayal. When you’ve got the option of making your character any animal AS WELL as all the other methods of characterization, then you’ve suddenly got all kinds of possibilities, ones that you can’t even describe literally. If I tell you that a character is devious, physically strong, and has a hair-trigger temper, then you get a certain picture of him. If I then tell you he’s a bull, then you suddenly know him so much more. If I instead say he’s a lizard, then you’ve got a completely different picture. There’re things about it I don’t get yet: for example, why do they always make the authority figures canine? It makes sense with dogs, sure, but why, in Slylock, Starfox, and Sly Cooper, is the main character policeman a fox?
That and I love the Noir setting.
Have you ever gotten any negative response, perhaps from people who are upset at making the characters more adult?
Rob MacArthur: I have seen some odd comments, but they were more incomprehensible than negative. One time someone commented saying ‘You think you’re so smart!’ I suppose that was supposed to be an insult, but I really don’t know what they were talking about.
As someone who creates art using someone else’s characters (or, perhaps a better way to phrase it would be to creating your own characters with someone else’s as a starting point), do you have any strong feelings on copyright law and the move for a less-restrictive alternative like the Creative Commons?
Rob MacArthur: Not particularly. In a certain sense, the idea of intellectual property is just silly; it’s giving people some ideas but then forbidding them from passing them on or doing anything with them. But then, we live in a consumer society. The author or artist or whatever has to get his art to the public in a way that works in that society. And they also have to eat.
If you were to meet Bob Weber, what would you say to him?
Rob MacArthur: I’d probably ask him to put one of the characters I came up with, like Officer Lupo or the Gentleman Dog Thief, into the actual strip.
Do you consider yourself a fan of the Slylock Fox strip?
Rob MacArthur: Well, not to the degree that I’m a fan of some other things; The Lord of the Rings leaps to mind, or The Legend of Zelda. But yeah, I think it’d be difficult to get this deep into a comic and not develop a certain degree of affection for it.
What other projects are you working on?
Rob MacArthur: I’ve written a few more “serious” things: there’s a play that might get performed or might not, and there’s a long epic poem that I can’t seem to get past halfway done with, and there’s a healthy assortment of other poems. The big project, of course, is getting into and through grad school.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Rob MacArthur: One thing I always do–and I won’t say I try to do it, because I don’t really intend for it to happen, indeed I don’t seem to be able to stop it–is start games of ‘find the reference’ with readers. The problem is that I can’t let them know when I’ve made a reference and thus started another round: that would take away the whole point. “Look boys and girls! I made a reference here! See if you can find it, this reference that I just finished making!” Is it those wowds that you’we pointing to with the big sign that says ‘weffewence?’ “Good Job!”
You can see how that would be a problem. So I’d like to take this opportunity to give my readers a list of references to watch for: these are things I’ve either included in the past, think of as part of the setting and thus fair game for repeated use, plan to use when I get an opportunity, or are just so ingrained in my mental furniture that they practically write themselves. No bonus points for guessing which is which type, sadly, because no points of any sort are involved.
- The Legend of Zelda
- Firefly – The Complete Series
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- Smokey the Bear
- The Eagles
- Sly Cooper
- Alfred Hitchcock
- H.P. Lovecraft
- Manos, the Hands of Fate
And many, many more.