Since 1988, Bill Amend has chronicled the adventures of the never-aging-but-constantly-dysfunctional Fox family in the syndicated comic strip FoxTrot. Whether it’s balding dad Roger, perfectionist mom Andy, would-be-jock Peter, would-be-diva Paige, or ultra-brain Jason, everyone either has a family member like one of the Foxes…or is one themselves.
Amend cut back doing the strip on a daily basis to Sundays only a few years ago, but he’s doing an extended retrospective of the strip in the all-new The Best of FoxTrot, which comes out in November just in time for Thanksgiving. It’s a special two-volume slipcased edition containing Amend’s favorite storylines from the first 20 years of the strip, along with his commentary.
FoxTrot has long been a favorite strip of comic fans, thanks in no small part to Jason Fox’s constant references to comics, movies, TV, video games and more (there’s also been enough math in the strip to spawn its own collection).
So we decided to have some fun and email up Amend for some questions about his strip and the upcoming collection. WARNING: This also contains what may be the single geekiest question in the history of Newsarama.
Newsarama: Bill, tell us about this new “Best of” – what's in it, and what readers can expect?
Bill Amend: It's a two-volume collection of my favorite strips from the first 20 years with some annotations by me sprinkled in here and there.
I just got a copy and it turned out really well. It's 560 pages total, with around 1500 strips. I'm told it'll be available in stores sometime in mid-November.
Nrama: What are some of the storylines contained in the book?
Amend: Most of the ones people would remember as being any good are probably in here. Originally, this was just going to be a single volume 300-page book, and the cuts I was having to make to fit stuff in were just too brutal.
By going to two volumes, I had enough space to not only include entire storylines most of the time, but also lower the threshold for inclusion just a tad so I could really feel like the whole scope of the strip was represented.
Nrama: Why did you decide to do this collection?
Amend: My publisher suggested it and I liked the idea, especially once it evolved into two volumes. I've been doing FoxTrot for a long time, so if nothing else, it's nice to have a single book project that recaps the history of these characters and the better stuff I've written over the years.
Nrama: What was it like for you revisiting this material? What held up the best, and what would you have done differently? Do you have any one all-time favorite storyline or gag?
Amend: In order to settle on the strips to include, I had to read through all eleven of my treasuries about three times, which was a really painful process. Looking at a lot of my strips years after I've drawn them was akin to looking at old high school pictures where I'm wearing dorky clothes and a bad haircut. You know, that “what was I thinking?!” feeling.
Once I'd settled on the stuff to include, the proofreading and annotation writing was far more pleasant, since these were all strips I generally liked.
I don't really have a favorite storyline, but I always liked how two of my Christmas stories turned out. One was the Scrooge spoof I did with Jason dreaming and the other one had Andy Fox as “Mrs. Grinch” drawn in a sort of Seuss/Jones hybrid style.
I've also always been happy with the way the long summer camp storyline went, even though the stress of writing it on the fly (I'd write/draw a week and turn it in, without knowing what would happen next) practically killed me.
Nrama: How do you feel your perspective on the characters has changed – if at all – over the years?
Amend: Well, when I first came up with the idea for FoxTrot, I was 22, so I was essentially writing it from the kids' perspective.
I'm now in my late 40s with a wife and two teenagers, so I'm sure my point of view is often closer to the parents'. Fortunately, I've been blessed with a rather immature sensibility, so thinking like Jason, Paige and Peter isn't too huge of a stretch.
Nrama: You were an early adapter for doing a website and references to SF/fantasy popular culture in your strip. Obviously, you did the Penny Arcade guest-strip and have mentioned other webcomics in FoxTrot -- what is your take on the increasing popularity of webcomics, and given the troubles faced by newspapers, what do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of the digital medium?
Amend: I think it's really exciting to see so many people publishing and reading comics on the web. When I was starting out, there really weren't any alternatives to print newspapers if you wanted to do a comic strip, and to get into newspapers (besides getting lucky) you had to do work that would please the syndicate editors and also please the newspaper editors and also please their readers, especially the older readers who tended to complain the most.
With the web, you can do things that target a much narrower audience if you want, you can be super topical (syndicates want stuff turned in a month in advance, ideally) and your success or failure is largely up to you and your work and not the whim of some editor somewhere.
Hopefully, the ways to make a living from the web and other digital formats will continue to improve, especially since newspapers aren't exactly growing at the moment.
Nrama: How has your life changed since you switched to Sundays only, and are you at work on any projects outside of the strip?
Amend: My life is a billion times more pleasant. Doing the strip seven times a week was a lot like having final exams every week of every year for 20 years. I skipped meals left and right, pulled all-nighters with frightening regularity and rarely left the house. Now I'm just pathetic like that one or two days a week.
I do have a couple projects I'm working on, but nothing I'm ready to talk about publicly. One is FoxTrot-related, the other isn't.
Nrama: Do you see yourself stopping the strip altogether at some point?
Amend: At some point, sure. I don't think FoxTrot would be the sort of thing I'd want to be writing in a wheelchair in some retirement home. But I don't have any plans to end it, currently.
Nrama: Do you currently read any comics, and if so, what are some of your favorite strips and creators?
Amend: I actually don't read a lot of comics, mostly because I don't want to accidentally steal anyone's ideas. I think the comic I read most regularly is Penny Arcade, both so I can keep up with gaming and also what's going on in Mike and Jerry's universe (we're friends).
I read PVP and xkcd also, but not quite as religiously. In newspapers I'll typically read Pearls Before Swine, Doonesbury, Zits, Get Fuzzy and Dilbert, and a few others if there's a paper handy, but I rarely seek them out online.
Nrama: What, for that matter, do you think Jason would be reading?
Amend: Jason reads all the cutting edge comic books, graphic novels and manga, I'm sure. Not sure which webcomics. I'm sure he's a PA and xkcd fan.
Nrama: Would you ever want to write a comic book you didn't draw?
Amend: Not sure. I'm often frustrated when I write stuff that I know ahead of time I can't draw very well, so it'd be great to work with a better artist, but my writing process often goes back and forth between words and images, and I'm not sure I'd do as good a job if I just had to write the dialogue and then cross my fingers that the joke would hold up once illustrated.
Nrama: Assume, lord help us, that the characters have started to age a little bit. What would you see happening if they were even a few years older – Peter going to college, Jason in middle school, etc.?
Amend: I haven't really thought much about the characters being a few years older, but I do have a vision in my head of where they'd end up as adults. But I'm reluctant to share that, just in case I want to use it someday...I'd rather it be a fun surprise.
Nrama: Do you ever see yourself doing an extended story for the Foxes in, say, a comic book format? What about picture books, or animation?
Amend: Animation is probably unlikely, just because I've put so much of myself into the strip and characters that I'm not sure I'd be at ease with giving Hollywood control of the creative reins (and unless you're a Steven Spielberg, that's pretty much a given).
Some sort of longer format comic book or novelization might be tempting down the road, as I do miss telling stories with these characters, but I don't have any plans at this time to do one. After 22 years of FoxTrot 24/7, I'm trying to work some different brain muscles.
Nrama: And finally -- WARNING: NERD LEVEL OMEGA -- If Jason met Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, what do you believe would happen? Would they work together, or would they be in competition? If so, who would win? And that is the single geekiest fanboy question I have ever asked in my life.
Amend: I don't watch TBBT often, but from what I've seen, Jason and Sheldon would probably see each other as the competition for alpha braniac and get into some sort of protracted duel of geek/math/science knowledge.
Sheldon would probably win on book smarts, but Jason might score an upset with a trick challenge, like “recite pi backward” or something.
The Best of FoxTrot is now available for pre-order and will be in bookstores this November. Read it, or Jason will send his pet iguana Quincy to eat your comics.Do you dig the Foxtrot?