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Fox Trot's Bill Amend: Thinking Like a Math Geek

interview by matthew webber

Week 1: Monsters, Inc.'s Pete Docter: Telling Stories
Week 2: Ziggy's Tom Wilson Jr.: Thinking Like a Greeting Card
Week 3: Luann's Greg Evans: Thinking Like a Teenager
Week 4: Fox Trot's Bill Amend: Thinking Like a Math Geek
Week 5: Marmaduke's Brad Anderson: Thinking Like a Dog

Nationally syndicated cartoonists and Hollywood animators visited Marceline, Mo., Sept. 18 to speak and draw for the sixth annual Toonfest. At this all-day festival, the artists discussed their craft, as well as the legacy of Walt Disney, who lived in this small town from 1906 to 1911. In individual interviews, the artists shared their ideas on art, creativity, and dreams while acknowledging Disney's influence.

Bill Amend draws the perennial favorite family comic strip Fox Trot. (Note: Amend spoke at the 2003 Toonfest and returned this year for an evening tree-planting ceremony.) In this week's interview, he answers the question, is he as geeky as Jason Fox?

I have to say I'm a huge Jason Fox fan. What's the inspiration for Jason?<

Bill Amend: Jason is largely sort of an idealized version of how, kind of a combination of how I lived my childhood and how I wish I lived my childhood. You know, he's smarter than I really am. But I was a math geek as a kid, so a lot of that comes through in Jason. It's just sort of fun to have a character who's kind of a little naughty, a little mischievous, to create turmoil in storylines.

When do you decide to age a character? I noticed Paige is going is into high school; I thought she already was in high school.

Yeah. They stay the same. It's like a Groundhog Day loop. They never age.

Are other characters based on yourself or other real-life people you know?

None of them were by design based on anybody. Obviously, similarities exist between my own siblings and the way it portrays them in the strip. When I started the strip, I was 22, so I was sort of writing it from a kid's perspective. But the longer I've done the strip, the more I've realized all the characters kind of are facets of my personality in different degrees. Jason's the geeky side. Peter's sort of the guy who's interested in sports but lousy at sports, you know, skinny kid, can't gain weight, that sort of stuff. Paige [is] always pining for a boyfriend. Well, that's sort of me; I never had a girlfriend. But none of them are deliberately designed after people. I try to create fictional characters.

Who are some of your favorite cartoonists right now?

Bill Watterson was always my hero when I started the strip, and then I got to know him, and that was fun. In terms of strips that are running right now, I like some more than others obviously, and I don't like to talk too much about it. [laughs]

You guys are all very diplomatic.

We're all friends with each other. So if I say I read Zits and Mutts and then I don't say I read Luann, you know, I hurt Greg [Evan]'s feelings. I read all the comics; some I like more than others. But Far Side and Calvin were my favorites in the last 15 years.

Issue 27, October 2004

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