This is a very special week for me. This weekend, The National Cartoonist Society is coming to Pittsburgh.
To celebrate the occasion, I’ve drawn up a new Urban Underbrush strip with a classic comic theme. (Regular strips will return soon!)
But that doesn’t feel like enough. I want to do something more to show my love and admiration for the comic strip medium. Then I remembered. I have a comic-related secret about Urban Underbrush that I’ve wanted to share with you. Now seems like the time to do it.
This is the secret meaning of the Grass Roots Boarding House.
As readers of my webcomic may have noticed, Urban Underbrush  is a story about balance. It’s about preservation and destruction, courage and caution and (most importantly) civilization and nature. The Grass Roots House, the main setting of this story, clearly embodies that balance between civilization and nature.
Thoughtful readers may have figured out that the house represents balance, but its second meaning is known only to me (until now).
The timeline and history of the Grass Roots House represents comic strips themselves.
It’s like this:
Before there was a Grass Roots House, there was a neighborhood. This represents the early years of comics. Newspapers had just begun to carry comic strips, but there were no rules or conventions yet. Familiar patterns, punchlines, and writing styles had yet to emerge. Jokes were heavy-handed and over explained. No one knew how to draw a speech balloon.
The Grass Roots House was built in the 1940’s and served as a family home throughout the 50’s and early 60’s. During this time, comic strips now had rules, structure and snappy jokes that hit on correct comedy beats. They were also largely about families and kids.
In the 60’s and 70’s the Grass Roots house was transformed into an “Urban Commune” for a group of kindly, but somewhat clueless hippies. In the 1960’s many young adults were living on college campuses and in commune homes. Comic strips like Doonesbury and Bloom County recognized the comedic potential for putting a lot of diverse, unrelated characters together and making them live like a family. Roommate comedies about wacky friends living in close quarters has been a staple of the comic world ever since.
In the early 80’s, The Grass Roots House was bought by a shifty businessman, who rented its rooms to a string of yuppie types. If you remember comics in the 80’s and most of the 90’s then this phase should come as no surprise. This was when successful comics became big businesses. Newspapers were at their highest circulation, which meant that newspaper comics had their largest audience and were earning their biggest profits. Comics branched out into new media, such as TV cartoons, plush toys, T-shirts, and every other imaginable kind of merchandise.The 80’s were like that.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, normal people were losing interest in The Grass Roots House, as it fell into disrepair. In the real world, newspaper sales were beginning to decline, due to the papers’ inability to adapt and compete with the internet and electronic media. Comics were losing their audience.
Which brings us to the present. Cassidy and her friends and acquaintances have moved in to The Grass Roots House and fixed it up. Each of them has his or her own reason to live in the house and to keep it going. Care to guess what phase of comics this represents? (This one is easy.) That’s right, it represents webcomics! We webcomic cartoonists have found what others have left for us, and have used whatever skills, talents, and devotion we have to make comics a home for us. Can we keep it up? How long will webcomics last? Who knows? But for now, the comic tradition is ours. And we intend to make this chapter a good one.
So now you know.
-Marj