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Refurb ~ A Journey ~ From Magic Fish to Dino Robot

I wanted to post this last week when Refurb was introduced back into the strip but of course I got behind and well, you know the rest…

For comic geeks who love seeing the process of how a character comes to life, this is for you. Sometimes characters float around in your brain and are doodled in the margins and on napkins for years. Refurb was created about 24 years ago but didn’t make it to the “Big Time” until 2008. He wasn’t always the loveable, malfunctioning dino-bot that we all know and love….

Back in high school, I created a character called Stinky the Magic Fish (hey, it was high school! This got big laughs in English class) He was magic because he was dead and he floated. In spite of these apparent shortcomings, he was an optimistic guy and always saw the best in life. What’s funny, is his personality has remained pretty much intact right up to the present.

A few years later he surfaced again when I started trying to get syndicated. I renamed him Fin and made him a fish who lived in a recycling box and had forgotten how to swim. (I still can’t believe this comic got rejected…”several” times.) He no longer floated and I dropped the “being dead” bit. This was 1993 and the practice of recycling was taking root so I thought it was a good fit. It wasn’t, but I was starting to get a better feel for drawing him.

Finally, I had to have that talk with myself. That talk a cartoonist has when you have to face facts and admit that a character or an idea just isn’t working. I started on some new ideas and left the fish and his friends behind….that is until about 14 years later.

In November 2007, a year and a bit into my new comic Bleeker, I was thinking of adding a third robot to the mix and look who pops up. I thought a toy dino-bot would be funny and the fish seemed to fit, both in looks and in personality.

As you can see, I started playing with names. Right off the bat I wanted him to have a malfunctioning problem. So Recall was the first shot at renaming him.

A few weeks later and in the corner of my sketchbook, I added some spikes to his back and made him more robot-like. At this stage he was still just an idea floating around. I would doodle a few little pictures and then in a couple of days add some more.

More names and different legs and feet.

About a month later he’s back. This sketch is from Christmas Eve 2007 (clearly avoiding family and drawing in my sketchbook…..or were they avoiding me?) Here he looks more dinosaur than dino-bot.

Another month goes by and he appears again. This time his legs have been replaced by wheels and I think he’s coming more into focus. I still don’t have a name but I’m beginning to think about a story for him joining the comic.

It’s now March 2008 and he’s just about ready. I hit on the name Refurb (as you can see I put a box around) settled on the arms and striped his tail. I’m not a 100% sure of his final look but overall I’m really pleased with him and looking forward to writing him into the comic.

By the end of March he was ready and joined the rest of the gang in the comic. When the comic relaunched this year I had to reintroduce the characters back into the strip. Refurb started out as Skip’s friend Lewis’s robot which made it difficult to explain why he was always over at Skip’s house. With the relaunch, I was able to sort that out so it made more sense. Sometimes a second chance at things is a real bonus and with Refurb he’s had a few!

Welcome Refurb! ~New Character~

Refurb the refurbished dino-bot makes his first appearance (back) in the comic today! Refurb is not only a fun character for me to draw, he’s also a lot of fun to write for. He’s always losing a part at the wrong moment and he turns up when you least expect him…or at least some portion of him shows up.

I played with a variety of color combinations for Refurb and settled on the blue and purple. Then, I did a comic where he meets Karl for the first time and realized that they were too similar in color. I want each character to stand out and he just blended right in. So, that triggered a fun new comic to switch up Refurb’s look…which you’ll see in a couple of weeks.

With Refurb back in the mix, it feels like the pack of robots in this comic are finally complete again. Woo-hoo!

Junk Bot Bleeker

A couple of weeks back I thought it might be fun to construct a mini Bleeker out of junk I found kicking around. I had seen a few web sites of artists who have constructed really fantastic robots out of found objects and since I have a ton of junk I figured it was a natural fit! (my Grandfather pulled many treasures out of the dump and would occasionally send us kids in if the space was too small for him to reach…so it’s genetic)

I started off with this perfectly shaped tin for the body. I found some parts from a 1960′s stereo my parents had when they were first married and used the turntable bumper pads for the feet.

I used some green painter’s tape to mark out the center lines for the face and arms. Two small brackets from that old stereo worked out great for the ears. (I took apart that stereo years ago to use the wooden cabinet and threw all the little parts in a box)

For the arms, I took apart an old JVC boombox I still had in the garage. The radio still worked but everything else had fried long ago. I used the handle ends for the arms and slipped in the 45 record adapters for the shoulder patch.

The rubber pads from the old stereo proved not to be stable enough for the feet so I switched to a couple of steel furniture ends. I found a little dial for the nose (made it look less Bleeker and more pig-like but it worked too well leave it off) and two black screws for the eyes. (Still not 100% happy with the eyes….feel like there is something better out there.) I also used that little processor board with the red LED as the tail and back control panel.

Finally, I added a series of connecter pins from the boombox for the mouth-area (looked very robot-like) and black webbing for a band around the base.

So, did it end up looking like Bleeker? …..hmmm, kinda?  Was it fun?  Absolutely!  Am I going to quit the comic business and build these full-time?  Maybe I’ll save that for my “Crazy-old-lunatic-who-lives-down-the-street” years. (…or am I already there..?) Next I’d love to see a Karl take shape…I have an old salad bowl with his name on it.

If anybody out there wants to take a crack at building some junk bots (they don’t have to be characters from the strip and they could even be REAL working robots) send a picture to me and maybe we’ll get a gallery going here on the site and on the Facebook group. (Maybe even get some Bleeker prizes going as well…?)

Now, I have to go chase some kids off my lawn.

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