Madison Blues: Origins

While I was attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison,The Daily Cardinal student newspaper ran the New York Times crossword. Apparently students complained it was too challenging, though, so the paper dropped it. This left a slot open on the comics page, and somehow I got it.

Madison Blues v2 lineup
The revamped Madison Blues gang staring down the original Bucky “Cuddles” the Devil Bear.

My strip, Madison Blues, was standard college stuff — a couple of college kids getting into shenanigans in, y'know, college. It wasn't memorable. I didn't know what I was doing and was trying too hard.

Then the paper considered bringing back the NYT crossword. Hearing my days might be numbered, inspiration struck: what if this was all a plan of the crossword itself? He (it? does a crossword puzzle have a gender?) was sentient: a living, megalomaniacal crossword who wanted to transform the entire comics page into one giant puzzle — starting with replacing my strip.

Grooving on the absurdity, I finally loosened up and started doing some halfway decent stuff.

But, in the end, the Megalomaniacal Crossword was victorious. The NYT puzzle returned.

I got a second chance the following summer. Having written out all my old characters, I started a new strip, Mason Dixon Line. Starting as one-off gags only marginally about the title characters (Mason O'Rourke and Jefferson Davis Dixon — yes, still trying too hard), a narrative emerged with the first appearance of a possessed “Cuddles McScruff” teddy bear. 

Cuddles stuck around after his story arc ended (on trial for selling indulgences without a license). His anarchic presence helped keep the ideas flowing. While it'd never replace Calvin and Hobbes, there was some fun stuff.

Until it got canceled, too.

Later, I got one more shot (third time's the charm? three strikes and you're out?). Pulling Nick Wagner, the main character from Madison Blues, out of limbo (literally), I sent him on one last romp with Cuddles, Mason, Jeff, and the vulture that was always in the background for no reason.

Madison Blues: Angst Man #1

The “Angst Man” story from the revamped Madison Blues (click the image to read the full storyline).

The Megalomaniacal Crossword returned, too, channeling Gary Oldman from Bram Stoker's Dracula. (I self-published that run in (the now out-of-print) Buy This Book or the Vulture Gets It.)

And that leads us to now. I did consider continuing the comic, but there's not enough meat on that particular bone. While Madison Blues won't return, some of the characters have life in ’em still — most notably Cuddles, who's evolved into Bucky the Devil Bear (“Cuddles” was the name of the teddy bear he possessed). He's central to some concepts I'm developing currently, including Weirdness and Bedeviled.